…we're keeping our name but expanding our offerings!
Before you were published, what were you doing to scratch the writing itch?
I, err, I didn’t really have much of an itch, to be honest. I mean, obviously life is full of opportunities to put words into an amenable order, and I’m a natural dilettante so I’ve done a bit of everything (computer game design, academic writing, technical writing, and so on) but I only really developed an itch once I discovered what terrific fun writing can be. And now, at the risk of sounding a bit flea-bitten, I’m pretty damn itchy. It’s kind of become my major hobby, and I think about it all the time. I worry it makes me pretty boring, actually, because there’s a touch of fanaticism about it and the single minded pursuit of anything isn’t particularly engaging. It’s like having an extensive garden gnome collection I secretly want to be telling you about.
How did you end up getting your first book published?
It was kind of an accident really. I’ve always vaguely meant to try writing fiction, and I sort of looked up in 2012 and noticed that the rise of the e-reader had changed the entire publishing landscape in some pretty profound ways. And I realised that there was much greater scope for semi-niche products – like wanting to write about queer characters, which I do – so I looked around at the various calls e-publishers were putting out, and tried submitting stuff for them. The first thing I ever published was a largely disregarded steampunk short for Torquere, which I’d probably like to re-work when I get the rights back since I’ve learned quite a bit more how to do this writing thing since then, and there were some ideas in it I liked. It has a sort of split-level Oxford skycity for one thing. And, yes, I am kind of obsessed with skycities.
Then I wrote this thing for Riptide which they didn’t want, on account of it not being written in standard English, but they were super-nice about it, and that was really encouraging. They had another open call at the time for lesbian fiction, and I’ve always wanted to write some proper Anita Blake / Harry Dresden style urban fantasy, so I sat down and IRON & VELVET happened. And this sounds totally nuts but while that was in slush, I had this idea for GLITTERLAND, so I sat down and wrote that too. By the time I’d finished it, I&V had been accepted so I sent this really sheepish email going “um, how about this thing about a bipolar depressive and a glitter pirate” and they were like “yeah okay.” But due to one thing and other, scheduling, I don’t know the details, GLITTERLAND ending up coming out first
Was the process anything like you imagined? What fit the dream? What was different/surprised you?
To be honest, I didn’t really have much of a dream, so I had no idea what to expect. I mean, I have some friends who are proper grown up author types, so my main expectation was “probably not remotely like that.” Which was pretty much correct. I mean, it’s not a particularly glamorous business, but then I don’t think anyone really believes it is.
I think the thing that really surprised and delighted me, though, was the value of editing. I think I just got incredibly lucky with this because I understand relationships with editors can be quite, shall we say, fraught. And, actually, I can completely understand why because sometimes there seems to be absolutely no middle ground between the integrity of a text and its marketability, and the latter is obviously a big concern for the major publishers. But I am completely spoiled because it became apparent within about five minutes of reading the first ever developmental edit email she sent me that Sarah Frantz (my editor at Riptide) gets me better than I get myself. I’m not particularly precious about my writing and I’m usually pretty happy to change things, but I think part of the reason I’m able to be so laid back about it is that Sarah has never ever asked me to do anything that hasn’t massively improved the book. I trust her, and she makes me a better writer, and I owe her a massive debt of gratitude for that. And I think that kind of thing is a gift that many writers – experienced or otherwise – don’t actually get, so I do feel simultaneously blessed and slightly sheltered because of it.
The rest of the process is largely logistical, I think? To my mind, writing and editing is kind of about writers and editors. Publishing is kind of about publishers and readers. So once the book is written, and the editing process is finished, that’s kind of the point at which I lose interest because there’s nothing further for me to do except flap around in the background being vaguely anxious. I like my books best when they’re still living things. I tend to go off them quite considerably after that, and want to get on with the next thing. It’s kind of like a really short lived but intense love affair. So, while I’m writing, I’m completely obsessed, can’t keep my hands off the thing, and we’re spending every spare minute of every day together. And then the book is published and it’s suddenly the morning after: this stream of harsh daylight illuminating the worst of you both. And you’re like “bloody hell, what was I thinking?” But I hope, in time, I will look back, and the extremity of immediate mortification will have passed, and I’ll be like: yeah, okay, you had your flaws but you meant something at the time, and that has a kind of value.
How long did it take you to write your first published book?
IRON & VEVLET took about half a year, I think. GLITTERLAND maybe three months?
What’s your advice to unpublished authors trying to get their work read?
Gosh, I don’t know. I did it so haphazardly myself, and I’m notoriously bad at selling myself, so I really am the last person to ask. Yeah, I think my advice should probably be to ask someone who has a clue what they’re doing.
Is writing not as fun/as fun/more fun once you have your first book published?
Writing remains wildly fun – possibly more so because, like anything else, the more you do it, the better you get at it. Um, obviously I’m not making claims about my own ability there, but I think I’ve learned a lot, from readers, and other writers and from Sarah Frantz (my editor) so I feel I’m sort of improving. Levelling up as a noob writer. Should I allocate my skill points to being able to use a goddamn comma, or not defaulting to sounding like an over-educated bipolar depressive?
Truthfully publishing isn’t a lot of fun. But, it’s kind of a job so I can’t imagine why it would be.
I suppose one of the slightly strange things about writing post-publication is that you’re conscious of the impact of your work on other people, I mean bad and good, and just the fact that it has an impact. I mean, I’m pretty damn tiny, so it’s nothing like a big deal, I can’t imagine how it feels to write for a huge audience, but you kind of have to insulate yourself from the slightly hubristic sense that people are watching. Largely because, well, they’re not. I find “you’re just not that interesting” a pretty safe motto for getting through life in general with your sanity intact.
I try not to interact too much with reviews of my work partially because reviews are for readers and but also because there’s simply nothing you can do about a book you’ve already written, and it’s far too easy to spiral into paranoid reactiveness. “Well, one human on the internet thought I was too [x], so maybe I’d better try to be less [x].” Which is, of course, silly. You just kind of have to … be what you are, and do what you do, and people will either like it or they won’t, but either way it’s out of your hands. Weirdly, something my brief spate of writing about romance novels taught me is that you can’t write for people who don’t like you, or don’t like what you do. It was a useful reminder of something I already knew: you can’t win acceptance, it can only be given. I honestly think there’s something kind of liberating in that. Difficult, because we all crave belonging, but still liberating.
That said, I’m just so incredibly grateful to everyone who has responded positively to what I’ve written, or simply been kind regardless. There’s no denying that writing makes you vulnerable – no matter how many times you stare into the mirror and recite the “I am not my book” mantra – so I hold these moments of human connection very close to my heart. And when things get difficult, I remember them.
What’s next up for you?
Hmm, good question. There’s the second Kate Kane book coming out in June, I think. Otherwise I’ve got various things written – there’s some genre stuff and another contemporary m/m – but I’ve no idea what I’m going to do with any of it yet, or if anybody will want to publish it. I try not to worry about that sort of thing too much. I just do the bit that I love, which is the writing, and hope.
Title: Shadows & Dreams (Kate Kane, Paranormal Investigator #2))
Publish Date: June 16, 2014