20 years to overnight success

The announcement went out on Publishers Marketplace yesterday: I’m going to have a novel published! Actually, I’m going to have two novels published! By the wonderful, award-winning, kickass Canadian house, ChiZine Publications. I know the people at ChiZine and many of their authors and I feel really good about publishing there.

So this is my “long road to novel publication” post! In my darkest hours, despairing of ever selling my fiction, I used to read other people’s posts about their long journeys and it did help.

And I had a lot of those hours.

I’ve always written fiction; I wrote a fragment of a “novel” on my Dad’s Osborne computer sometime in the 80s. (It was secondary world fantasy and had a character named Camellia. That is all I remember about it.)

By the time I was 19 or 20, I had written a very bad coming of age novel, printed it out on my dot matrix printer and sent it to a few publishers. (I don’t think I even knew about agents. I didn’t know much.) One editor, who was also a prof at my university (although I wasn’t an English major) was kind enough to call me and tell me he wasn’t taking it.

Then I went to grad school and became a journalist, and I stepped away from fiction a bit for a few years. By around 2006, I had written a historical novel (not fantastical at all) set in medieval Ireland. The internet was not, then, what is now, so I bought an entire bookshelf’s worth of research books for it, despite the fact that my partner and I were starting out in life and had no money (exhibit A for why he is a saint). I even made my partner go on a research expedition while we were visiting Ireland. I still love a lot about that book. Maybe one day, I’ll rewrite it.

That was my first real agent search, and it didn’t get me very far. I decided that maybe I couldn’t rely on inspiration and talent and perhaps I should actually learn something about writing.

In 2007, I took the Creative Writing by Correspondence course at Humber College. That course sets a student up in a one-on-one email relationship with a mentor. I was lucky enough to work with the novelist Paul Quarrington. I still have all his emails and they are still teaching me. (Quarrington died far too young in 2010.) I wrote a kind of portal fantasy based on old Irish sagas and the missing years of an actual medieval writer. There’s a lot of good in that book, and I was lucky enough to have an agent call me and talk to me twice about it, but it ultimately went into the trunk with the others. Quarrington (or Coach Q, to those of us he mentored) told me it “deserved to be published”, a few words that gave me the strength to carry on. I might rewrite it one day or salvage bits from it.

Where are we … Novel 4 was another historical fantasy, this one set in 19th century Ottawa. It was lots of fun doing research about the place where I live, for a change. I finished around the time my son was born in 2010. I polished it up and started to send it out and actually got some interest from an agent on this one, but I realized before going too far with that that while I was definitely getting better, the book was very flawed. And meanwhile, I had this idea for another novel…

Novel 5 was The Humours of Grub Street, written with a toddler at home and while I was deputy opinion editor at a daily newspaper. I started working on it in 2013. It all came out of my fascination at the idea that there used to be a neighbourhood known for hack writers, in 18th century London. Why did they all live close to each other? Well, the obvious answer was that the monsters wouldn’t let them leave…

I workshopped the novel in the First Pages workshop, taught by Caren Gussoff and Cat Rambo. I also took a short fiction class taught by Kat Howard, and got serious about writing and selling short fiction. I joined Codex and SFWA and the East Block Irregulars. Meanwhile, Humours went through several rewrites, before and after I signed with my agent, Jennie Goloboy at Red Sofa Literary, in late 2014.

The idea for Armed in Her Fashion actually came out of a throwaway line in Humours (I’ll tell that story some other time), but it’s mainly inspired by this Brueghel painting:

Thus, my first published novels are the fifth and sixth novels I wrote. This isn’t unusual (as demonstrated by a survey by Tobias Buckell several years ago).

So, yeah, I’m thrilled. It’s a very big deal for me. Through all those years of writing without seeming to get very far, I’ve had the unstinting support of my parents, my partner and the rest of my family.