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.

A short essay on story mechanics

Over on the SFWA blog, I wrote a little post about learning to tinker with story mechanics through interactive fiction. Starts with Robert Pirsig with a detour through George Saunders.

New story: Ad Infinitum

I’ve got a short SF thought experiment up at Daily Science Fiction today, called “Ad Infinitum.”

Sundry developments in fiction-land

May was a month of good things happening, on the fiction front: it began with the publication of I Know All of His Names at Liminal Stories. (I’m really happy to see that it’s on the SFWA recommended reading list).

The month ended with the announcement that my story “The Seven O’Clock Man”, in Clockwork Canada, is one of a dozen stories on the long list for the Sunburst Awards! I think this is the first time any fiction of mine has been on any kinds of award list, long or short, so I am very pleased. And to be in such company!

In between those two things, I sold a couple of short stories: a reprint of “Cattail Heart” to the upcoming Flame Tree Time Travel anthology, and an original called “Not Valid for Spain” to the Bundoran Press anthology 49th Parallels. Both will be out later this year.

This weekend, I’ll be at the Limestone Genre Expo in Kingston, moderating panels on Killer Stories and Poetry, and on a panel about Historical Fantasy.

I’m revamping my newsletter: from now on it’ll go out like clockwork (or at least like 18th century clockwork) at the beginning of each month, and include a few notes about what books I’m reading, what I’m working on, and news like the stuff I’ve gathered in this post. You can subscribe here if you like.


New story: I Know All of His Names

I love the new-ish magazine Liminal Stories and am so proud to have my story “I Know All of His Names” appear in the latest issue (alongside works by some of my favourite short-fiction writers, eee!).

I adore the art by AJ Gabriel that accompanies the story, and it just feels so perfect, because I think one of the reasons I’ve always felt a story-itch about Rumpelstiltskin is the fact that I my childhood copy was the version illustrated by Edward Gorey (picture below).




Cabbages and Kings podcast

Here I am in conversation with Jonah Sutton-Morse on the Cabbages and Kings podcast. There’s a little about my own history as a reader and writer, but the focus is on historical fantasy. With a break in the middle for the excellent Charles Payseur to give some short-fiction recommendations.

Writing Better Opinion: A Workshop

I’m teaching an in-person workshop in downtown Ottawa, Ontario on Sunday, May 7, 2017, from 1:30 p.m. to 5 p.m. It’s a little different from any course I’ve offered anywhere.

Registration is now open!

Who’s it for?

  • While absolute beginners are welcome, the workshop will focus on honing the skills of people who already have some experience with opinion writing in some form. The course requires you to have a draft of an opinion piece ready to critique. If you’ve ever written op-eds, columns, essays, blog posts and letters to the editor — or would like to — this course is for you. One of my goals as a teacher is to help broaden and diversify the field of opinion writers in Canada.

What will I learn?

  • Sentence-by-sentence in-class critique of, and feedback on, your own work-in-progress and those of your classmates
  • Overview/revision of how to write a compelling thesis and organize your piece
  • In-class workshopping of theses and arguments
  • In-class exercises on reasoning and clear writing to help us avoid common pitfalls
  • Advice on research skills and revision
  • Individualized advice for pitching, submitting and getting paid
  • Every student gets a take-home booklet of notes and tips

Who’s the teacher?

Kate Heartfield (that’s me!). From 2004 to 2015, I was a member of the Ottawa Citizen‘s editorial board and a columnist there. I was shortlisted for a National Newspaper Award in editorial writing in 2015. I teach journalism at Carleton University and an online opinion-writing class at the Loft Literary Center. For more about me, see my bio page.

How should I prepare?

  • At least one week before class begins, email me a draft for critique of a work in progress, of between 500 and 1,000 words. Ideally, this should be an op-ed, column or essay. I will email all the works in progress to the students a week before we meet.
  • Read your classmates’ work (class maximum 12) and come prepared to critique respectfully and constructively. (I will provide guidance in class on how to frame comments, particularly when it comes to commenting on other people’s lived experience.)
  • Bring something to write with: a pen and paper, laptop or tablet.
  • Feel free to pack a snack/drink. We’ll take a 15-minute break partway through the afternoon and there are cafes nearby.

Where is it?

  • The Main branch of the Ottawa Public Library, room B125. The library is wheelchair accessible, but please let me know if you have any specific mobility, hearing or other accessibility concerns so I can check for possible barriers. If there’s anything I can do in class to accommodate (such as make sure you’re seated in a particular part of the room) please let me know.

What does it cost?

  • Early bird (on or before April 15): $50 plus HST ($56.50 total)
  • April 16 and later: $65 plus HST ($73.45 total)
  • Registration deadline is April 27, 2017.
  • Because this is a workshop, the number of participants is limited to 12 and the class might sell out. If it does, I’ll post that info at the top of this page.
  • I may cancel the class with a week’s notice to students if I don’t get enough registrations by April 27. If that happens, I’ll refund all registration fees immediately.
  • I reserve one spot as a free scholarship. If you’d like to take the class but can’t afford it, please email me at kateheartfield@gmail.com by April 10 and let me know a little about yourself (just a few sentences). I’ll respond to all scholarship applicants by April 14. I’ll keep all information pertaining to scholarships (including successful applications) confidential.
  • I may refuse registration for any reason.

How do I register?

  • Email me at kateheartfield@gmail.com. Please let me know how much experience you have with opinion writing and if you have any specific concerns or questions. Your registration will be officially complete once I receive payment, by credit card, PayPal, cheque or bank transfer. I’ll send you the details.


Email kateheartfield@gmail.com. Also, please let me know if you’re interested in the class but can’t make it on this date. That will help me gauge whether to repeat the workshop in a few months.

What if I want to learn about opinion-writing but this course isn’t for me?

Good news! I’ll be teaching another session of my six-week, online, on your own schedule, opinion writing course through the Loft in June and registration is now open.