Rejection, then and now.

When I was 25, I didn’t wear my heart on my sleeve, my sleeve was made of my heart. If I had to pinpoint the worst years of my life, it would be my early to mid-twenties. If I wasn’t writing, I’d have no idea what to do with (to quote Troy from community, “MY EMOTIONS! MY EMOTIONS.”)

So I wrote this book. I’d imagined was going to be the book that was going to complete my childhood dream of being published before 25. I’d just sold a couple short stories to some excellent semi pro-markets and I thought this was the next logical step.

And Boston had been magical. I’d listened to Neil Gaiman read, I had him and Sir Terry Pratchett sign a copy of Good Omens, one of my wife’s favourite books even though it took probably most of a day in line to get them both to sign it. The panels had been great — The Tor panel on what to expect as a first time author as in published author was probably the most I’d learned in a panel. When Anna and I decided to skip the last day to go to Salem, because Salem was only a train ride away, we both jumped at the chance to get away.

Salem was amazing. As cheezy and commercial as anything you could imagine, and extremely modern considering in the seventies, they’d knocked down the old jail that had kept the actual “witches” (read, good Christians who wouldn’t give up their faith or the lands though it cost them their lives) to build a power company building. The graveyard was epic. There was this old oak tree that had probably greeted the first townies as they arrived. It had this one jutting out branch that ran parallel to the earth almost as long as the tree was tall, and so strong and thick that Anna could run on it. The gravestones were written in a time before S and F were two different letters.

So of course we got our cards read, and the sum of mine said “Not yet.” Man, I was upset walking out of that room, but I have to say, I hated the submission process. I’d sent out a couple of queries prior to the convention, and had gotten form letters. My god, they stung. All I needed to hear was one “no” and that story was never opened again.

But I was extremely lucky. I’d submitted a book to Loose Id that I’d written as a birthday present to a friend and sent it in before going to Boston on a lark. After that, my books from MLR, Amber Quill and Less than Three were all invitations. As long as I didn’t have to worry about rejection, I was writing my heart out, pumping out four books a year.

Then it took three years to get my heart back. In that cavernous silence in which I didn’t write anything for the first time since age 11, I decided in a fit of wisdom to go back and get my MFA. I hadn’t written in three years, but really, it was the perfect time.

And then the words came back and I’m twenty years older than that broken kid on a flight back to Calgary. My heart’s back in my chest where it belongs. Rejection just means the inconvenience of having to find the next person who will be able to see what I put into Kakotopia.

There’s three ways to get published in this world. Be great, be lucky, or be incredibly stubborn and learn how to grow between being good and being great. I was never a great writer. I had some skills, but the weaknesses dragged the story down more than the strengths made them float.

I think there comes a point where rejections are just rejections and I move on. I’m not great. I’m not lucky. I’m skilled and stubborn and happy with my choices. When I started out, each one sure felt like the death of my dream. What a difference time makes.

More self-published thoughts

I was on a Lethbridge Wordbridge panel yesterday about self-publishing, and I just want to share all that I couldn’t say because of time restraints. To recap my main points, the advice given to self-published authors to succeed were formulated a decade ago at a time where there was only about 200,000 books being published that year. It was still possible, though even then, extremely hard to do, to get your gem of a book noticed from all the other self-published books out there. As I said on the panel, I’m going to be a Debbie Downer and not a Debbie crusher of all hopes and dreams here, but I think something has to be said for the millions of self-published of authors who tried and failed at it who think they failed because they didn’t try hard enough and not because they had an infinitesimal chance at it to begin with. The only people you hear touting the process are the winners and the people changing their dollars to tokens to start playing the slots. Everyone else is dead silent.

And I want to repeat, there are lots of legit reasons to self-publish. Poetry books almost have to be self-published but for some exceptional exceptions. Family history books that aren’t meant for beyond the family or cook books or niche market books or stories about narrow regional interests make great self-published titles. If you already have an existing following who would love to read what you write, go for it. If you have a great platform and can sell books to those who listen to you as well. What self-publishing isn’t is a quick and easy short cut around the dread-pirate “gatekeepers” set up between you and your loving fans on the other side of the fence.

In 2016, 800,000 books were released, in 2017, a million books were released, in 2018, 1.3 million books were released and, this year thanks to the most recent numbers from Bowker.com, if the rate of increase hasn’t gone up since the 2017 numbers (and it has been on the increase for a decade now), 1.6 million books will be self-published in this year and almost 2 million books will be released next year.

That is a rate of almost 4,500 books a day or 183 books an hour each hour of every day. I’ve been told that the key to self-publishing to guarantee success is using Amazon analytics and using social media, but I told them that wasn’t the key, that was the bare minimum needed to be done. With so many writers desperately trying to do the exact same thing as any other self-published author using the exact same channels, how much attention can you really draw to yourself? I’ve seen writers on writing boards complaining of throwing ten thousand dollars into a marketing campaign and not having anything at all to show for it.

And let’s go back to all the authors who have a standard or typical outcome of the process, instead of being in that lucky 1% that can make decent money at it, or the top 0.1% that can compare their income to any traditionally published moderate success story, I would really like to see self-published authors newly into the game stop dismissing the outcomes of those who have come before them as personal failures instead of system failures. If the new player has that typical outcome too, what are people going to say about you when they step up for their shot?

And you really have to avoid those self-published authors who are–or say they are–a huge success at it that encourage you by focusing on how much money they make, or how much money you could make if you just do what they do without telling you exactly how much work and effort went into their fortunes. If their sales pitch sounds like an MLM where it doesn’t matter what the product is, all that matters is how much they make by working the system, you’ve got a real problem. It’s unsurprising to me that the success rate of MLMs and self-publishing seem to pretty much be on par, and the self-published guru isn’t making a dime on those they recruit. Unless, of course, that’s their platform for selling more books.

I want to make it clear that publishing is hard. It is difficult to get something that you’ve made to a level where someone who doesn’t love you loves it. People are exceptionally busy and money will always be tight. Getting your work to the point where it will be worth not only $10 and 4 hours but $10 spending money after all the other taxes and expenses the person has and 4 free time hours after all the work, sleep, social and  family time that is filling up their days, you’re asking for something extremely precious from your audience. If you want to have a good working relationship with people who want to keep coming back and reading your stuff instead of spending all that extra time trying to find people who haven’t read your first book and judged it to be not worth their time and money, you need to give them something precious in return.

When people tell you that the first thing you need to do is hire an editor, they’re telling you the actual third step of the process. They’re skipping the bit where you need to learn how to write at a level that other people will find value in your work and the step where you learn how to do that consistently. This is true no matter which path you choose to go down, traditional or self-published. It can be taught, and you can learn it. Once you get to that point though, traditional publishing bent writers just need to find an agent or editor who actively is looking for that book that ticks all the boxes that the writer has learned to tick. The self-published author with that exact same book has to throw it into the millions of books that have been released over the past three years and hopes theirs, somehow, gets chosen.

Youtubery writing resources

I ran into a problem in my thirties where as good as the writing group I was in was, I was personally hitting a wall. I was falling into the trap of valuing clean prose that wasn’t called out for basic mistakes over messy prose that might not have been as polished and I was at a point where getting standard advice over general rules no longer applied for my specific attempt at what I was doing it, yet the generic advice was being given over and over again. The critiquers who were exceptions were brilliant at it, but I found my growth as a writer was starting to plateau.

I saw new writers coming into the group full of vim and vigour with their roughly formed but interesting takes on things and saw everything that made their writing style unique getting buffed out as they turned their writing over to a committee. I saw the danger of writers writing for other writers instead of writing for readers who care more about the character and the plot than they do about clean prose.  As great as my teachers were, I wanted to reach out into other fields and glean what I could from as many places as I could.

So I went to youtube. The most help I found was a YouTuber named Vihart, who was a math-musician, of all things, but the way she talked about the creative process spoke to me, personally. Any of her videos are worth a watch, but I want to talk about the two videos that sat down and spoke to my soul, and then branch off to other channels that also are excellent and helped me before asking you guys what help have you gotten from the ‘tube.

The first video, like I said, is just great, but I want to concentrate on what is said after the 11-minute mark here. The video is about a style of creating music that deals with combinations and permutations rather than any actual skill involved, but what she says about the creative process is fascinating. Music is just twelve tones put together by people who have experimented enough that they would know how the music sounds without having to go through every permutation to find different notes that no one has come up with before that sound interesting.

Writing, to me, is the same way. As you’re just starting out, you may only grasp the dominant notes a story can have – hero, antagonist, problem, plot and put them through the obvious paces that anyone just starting out would know to do. Every once and a while a new writer can stumble down a path of notes/storylines that takes them into fascinating, new territory, but without the skill to be able to create something like that with any regularity other than luck, it’s tough to count on being able to follow down interesting paths. Being good at writing is just being able to imagine how plot points well away from the simple tunes like Mary has a little lamb but still take a unique path down an interesting line of events to get to an original ending. The more practice you have, the better you are able to set out planning to go off the beaten path but still get somewhere good.

What she says about copyright and the way the author’s intent to cause an emotional reaction, done ham-handedly, can show the viewer their intention to produce that emotion rather than the emotion itself, which almost never works. Viewers know when their being poorly manipulated, and it’s not a good look.

The other video I want to share is mainly the first part of They Become What They Beheld, which isn’t even Vihart’s own word. She’s reading from the foreword of They Became What They Beheld, by Edmund Carpenter, which really punched me in all my feels. I think the initial questions that she asks are equally valid when it comes to writing as well. The dreaded feeling that we’re none of us doing this “right”, but then she pulls out the book and reads from the foreword, the most powerful bit to me is the idea that artists do not create audiences. They are speaking to themselves out loud. If what they have to say is significant, others hear and are affected. There’s no skipping that step. No amount of marketing or sales force behind you can make something that doesn’t speak to your audience speak to your audience. I know in fiction, people like to point at Twilight and say the rules don’t apply any more, but as awful as those books are from a technical and moral standpoint, they spoke deeply to their audience.

She goes on to say the problem with saying things clearly and fully, is that clear statements are generally obsolete thinking. I always saw writing as a bay leading out to the ocean, where the sand and silt on the beach and under the water are what people are trying to mine to find good stories. The closer you are to the safe beach, the more you’re digging into sand that a million other writers have tried gripping before. If you want the good stuff that hasn’t been pawed over for centuries, you have to get in a boat, row out as far as you can, and free dive all the way to the bottom and bring up whatever you can to the surface. That new silt isn’t going to be perfect. It isn’t going to be smeared on the page as it is and make something that is well-formed. It’s going to be crumpled and half there. It’s up to the writer to make something out of that raw material, and their first attempts at doing it aren’t going to match the polish that the beach people who haven’t taken any risks can make their work look like. Writing groups love the beach writing, because it’s easy to digest and quick to critique. The half-formed gunk at the bottom of the ocean may not be accessible. It may not be polished, but it can be made to be with extra work in the way that the writing from the beach can never be made to be made more complicated without even more work done to it.

Well, that rambled on more than I thought it would. I just want to mention a few more author channels without going into detail. John Green’s analogy of what a rough draft is was brilliant. If the final draft of the work is the ashtray that people my age still made in kindergarten for our parents, the rough draft is just getting the clay from the riverside to the table in the art room. I am not going to find the youtube video I saw it in, but here’s the blog post it’s based on.

Continuing on Maureen Johnson on another guest vlogbrother channel talks about daring to suck here:

Their crash course on screenplays was helpful:

I really enjoyed Lindsay Ellis (who is a genius) talk about literature in It’s Lit, a PBS channel.

As was the whole Film Courage channel:


spring asparagus and roasted cherry tomato pasta

IMG_1820I experimented a bit tonight. I’ve been trying to perfectly roast the thick asparagus without it tasting raw or turning mushy, so I broke off the stalks and threw them in our cast iron pot with a lid. I turned the oven to 450 degrees and threw in a couple cups of cherry tomatoes (sprayed with oil and a bit of salt) in a pan to roast and waited 20 minutes for the oven to come to temperature.

I removed the tomatoes, put the pot in (lid off), and roasted the asparagus for 10 minutes. Then I took the pot out, covered it off the heat and let it steam for the twenty minutes it took to bring pasta water up to boil and the pasta to finish cooking. It was green and tender, but still crisp. To make the simplest pasta ever, throw the roasted tomatoes, chopped asparagus and about a quarter cup of goat cheese and swirl it around until the roasted tomatoes and cheese become saucy. Then crack some pepper and you’re good.

Pulse is back in print!

pulsePulse is one of my few stand-alone novels. It’s an urban fantasy set in Phoenix, and for the longest time, had the working title of ZOMGZOMBIES! Here’s the blurb:

When the call comes in the middle of the night — disturbing what had been a hot, sticky dream — Chris’s troubles should have been over. The bad guy who was responsible for a series of late night attacks is dead, the waiter a hero. Everything should have been over except for the paperwork. But the young waiter, Gregory, is the one who’s been making Chris’s dreams very hot and sticky. Gregory is on the run from a hypocritical television evangelist who removes the will of people and turns them into mindless slaves. He wants Gregory back – and he’s only getting stronger.

It’s been out of print for the last few years, and I’ve held back on re-releasing it myself, always meaning to go back and tighten up the climax of the story a bit. But really, I have so many other project on the go that it’s been on the to-do list for about four years now.

As a story, I love the atmosphere and magic in this world. The love interest had an instant presence the moment he was on the screen. It was my first falling in love story that took the course of the book instead of something that happened in the first chapter and then spent the rest of the time running and screaming. I’ve always had a weird fascination with TV preachers and their insane private greed and public humility, so this story let me explore that world and it’s something I’d love to come back to.

From a writing perspective, the thing I like most about Pulse is that it was my first attempt at laying the pipeline through the story as the main character and I found out who and what the big bad was and what the big bad wanted together. Throwaway lines in the beginning were extremely significant when I realized what the story was about at the 35 thousand word mark.

Then it was just a simple matter of finishing the rest of the book as though I’d always known what the antagonist wanted. Of course the beginning needed to be rewritten and I never did sew the two halves together, but I also learned even if you could sew the new beginning onto the old end, I’d be missing out. The new beginning lead to more interesting twists than just trying to save the old prose.

You can pick up a copy right now on Amazon.com/Amazon.ca  etc, etc, and Smashwords, and it should be showing up on other Smashwords affiliates like Barnes & Noble in the next few days–I’ll keep you posted!

Quick carbonara with a twist

I found a recipe the other day for sauteed cabbage and eggs. If you haven’t had sauteed cabbage before, once it goes all wilty and slightly brown most of the harsh cabbage-y taste goes away and all you get is a sweet, tender vegetable with a slight kick. It’s really good. Cut up cabbage as fine as you can (don’t use a shredder) and saute it with butter, salt and pepper. That’s really good on its own. The egg recipe on its own is then to scramble 2 eggs into 1 cup of cabbage.

But we had leftovers of the cabbage, and we wanted to make carbonara. I remembered the egg recipe and decided to make cabbage carbonara. And it was mad good. The long cut bits of cabbage disappeared completely in the already long pasta. While I was reheating the cabbage, I threw in a couple of pieces of bacon that also had been pre-cooked and by the time it was hot, it all tasted of bacon so it really amplified the bacon taste without a lot of meat.

I didn’t separate any yolks — we just scrambled up four eggs. Since Elisabeth’s pasta doesn’t have any gluten in it, it was really hard for it to turn the eggy mixture into a sauce, so I threw the eggs into the hot (though off the heat) pan with the cabbage while stirring continuously to give it a head start on going saucy.

I’ve made classic carbonara with egg yolks and parmesan cheese and while that tastes amazing, to my palate this tasted better. It’s definitely in my mental PDA to make again for a quick meal that uses up leftovers.

Crusted polenta cakes for New Years

Happy New Year! Elisabeth and I had scallops for dinner, so trying to come up with a side that was gluten-free, delicious and wouldn’t overpower the seafood was harder than I thought. I was hoping to do crispy oven potatoes, but we only had waxy potatoes instead of baking potatoes. But we had a tube of polenta in the cupboard from Fairmont.

I tried frying a slice plain and a slice dipped into cornstarch, egg and cornstarch again and the battered version was a million times better. It was a simple batter — I threw the cornstarch and salt and pepper into a ziplock bag and fried it in a cast iron pan with a bit of oil. Since it was New Years eve, I shallow fried them, but I could have been a bit more conservative with the oil on another night.

I followed Alton Brown’s scallop recipe (though to be fair I could have put them in for 2 minutes a side — only the centre scallops browned up beautifully but they all were perfectly cooked.) Elisabeth prepared broccoli with a bit of lemon peel she stole from the preserved lemon jar she started yesterday and it was wonderful.

Happy pre-Boxing Day and beyond sale!

Smashwords is doing a special sale between Dec 25 and Jan 1, so between now and New Year’s, you can pick up all my Angela Fiddler books for 50% off. (Except for Cy Gets A Sex Demon which is 75% off at $1.00 USD because I’m wishing you all extra snark this Christmas.)

Merry Christmas to all who celebrate it! Happy Monday to those who don’t. A belated Blessed Yule, Happy Hanukkah, very late Ramadan wishes, happy Diwali, and all around wishes for the return of light and warmth.

Wishing you the chance to go curl up with a pet, loved one or blessed solitude and quiet, along with a good book.

Seasonal reads with drink pairings

I keep forgetting, I’ve got two Christmas novellas out there from previous years. In keeping with all the recipe posts I’ve done lately, I’ve included festive drink suggestions for each one.

Changeling1.5Old Traditions takes place between Changeling and Rabbit in the Middle Hill series, and is about Matt and Kevin’s respective holiday traditions colliding, Fae politics, and the best way to wrap Sam’s Christmas present. (Read an excerpt) Pair with mulled wine, for something traditional that feels like it has a hint of ritual to it. There are infinite variations and I usually just wing it, but if you need a guideline, Jaimie Oliver’s recipe is a solid place to start. For a non-alcohol version, sub in cranberry juice or apple cider and don’t add the sugar.

Black Shades is part of the Past and Present Tense series. When Peter’s boyfriend’s dead drag queen lover shows up to reenact A Christmas Carol over the Christmas holiday, the life lessons will be hard, but at least the shoes are going to be absolutely fabulous. (Read an excerpt) Pair with eggnog generously spiked with rum, or a fruity spiked punch. (I feel like there’s a bad pun lurking there involving drag queens and stiletto heels, but I’ll spare you that.)

My latest fruity punch rendition:

  • One can of hard apple cider
  • 2 cups of cranberry juice
  • 2 cups/1 can of club soda
  • 2 oz of vodka
  • 2 oz of rum
  • optional – 1 oz of orgeat syrup (Almond syrup used for 1920’s cocktails, and coffee–we found our bottle at a local coffee shop.)

Mix all the non-carbonated ingredients, chill if not already cold, and add the hard cider and club soda at the end, stirring gently just enough to mix. If you want to be extra-festive, add frozen cranberries.  Deceptively potent. Sub in apple juice or non-alcoholic cider and leave out the rum and vodka, and it will also do just fine non-spiked.

Cream biscuits, because I’ve been baking

I seem to be posting more recipes than writing posts lately. I’ve got three different finished manuscripts that I’m bouncing between, doing last-round edits before submitting. There’s the third book of the Tempest trilogy, the third (and possibly fourth because things got long and complicated) book of the Middle Hill series, a stand-along pirate-slaveboy-fantasy thing with the working title of Shark Punching. (Spoiler alert – there is a shark that gets punched. Other spoiler alert – the working title will not be the final title.)

So of course, I’ve been making biscuits. It all started with the need for goodies for various Christmas party pot lucks, when I wanted to try making clotted cream. (Not a spoiler – it turned out, and was delicious.)

The cream biscuits are easier than butter, flakier, and stay fresh longer.  I’m giving the basic method and the variation I actually made:

Regular cream biscuits:

  • 2 cups all purpose flour (though you could use self raising flour, which is even better, just skip the baking powder and salt)
  • 1-2 tbs of sugar (depending on how sweet you like them)
  • 1 tbs baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 1/2 cup heavy whipping cream

Mix all dry ingredients well. Add cream. Mix with a spoon until combined. Within the bowl or on the counter (tipping out the rest of the dry ingredients if you have it so as to not add more flour, don’t knead the dough so much as pat it out flat and fold it over three or four times. The pat flat and fold method will give you the layers.

You could use a biscuit cutter to cut biscuits, then reroll and cut, reroll and cut, but every time you do so, the dough gets less and less tender. So embrace the square biscuit and cut up all your biscuits at the same time. Use a bench scraper for best results. This is best done quickly. If you saw at it, you could “glue” the layers down and they won’t puff up.

Use a pastry brush dipped in the container that held the cream and dab what you couldn’t pour out on top of the biscuits. Sprinkle with sugar if going for a sweet version. Separate the biscuits on a parchment lined cookie sheet so the heat can get at all four sides. They don’t need much space, though. They’re not going to spread out.

Bake at 350F for 15 minutes. They should be lightly browned on top when they come out. Delicious with jam or honey! Even better with clotted cream.

But I made buttermilk vanilla cream biscuits, which is the same as above, just adding:

  • 1/4 cup of buttermilk powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/8 tsp vanilla seeds (you can use 1 tsp vanilla paste or even 1-2 tsp vanilla extract)

I followed the exact same method. I definitely recommend sprinkling sugar over them before they go into the oven.

You could add anything to these. Dried cherries or cranberries, chocolate chips, grated cheese and chives…they’re extremely versatile and you never have to cut butter into the flour.