How did you start writing?
I first began to write by attempting a novel in grade nine, about a ninth grader (surprise) who learned how to hack his classmates’ email accounts and then created social havoc by impersonating them. I got distracted halfway through Chapter Three, and it was never finished. I succeeded in completing my first book in grade twelve–an untitled science fiction novel that is too terrible to let anyone read!
When I’m being concise, I call it a novel that asks the question: can a man who throws his dates in a dungeon succeed romantically?
When I’m being verbose, I say it’s a story about a man known only as the King, who rules a land known only as the Kingdom. The King searches for love repeatedly, and is duly kicked in the face by love, repeatedly. That’s sort of karmic, though. The King is the kind of guy who, when forced to defend his castle against a siege with only his royal fiddler, tries to steal his royal fiddler’s girlfriend.
Good question. It’s similar in feel to Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. If I were to assign it a genre, I guess I would call it medieval comedy with a splash of fantasy. (There’s a zombie advisor, you see.) So it treads some of the same ground as Monty Python, as well as Terry Pratchett’s Discworldbooks.
I based the book on some short stories I wrote during high school and my first year of university. And those short stories were born from a single idea, which became the climax of the first one. That was a scene in which a man lies on the ground with his chest bared, demanding that a nearby woman, who has broken his heart, remove said heart with a scalpel. I knew right away that the scene would be both comedic and melodramatic. The man lying on the ground turned out to be the King–the main character in Royal Flush.
How long did it take you to write Royal Flush?
I wrote the first draft of Royal Flush in 18 days. But that didn’t mean I was finished! I’ve gone through 10 drafts since then. I’m a firm believer that editing and revising should make up at least 90% of the work!
Who are your major influences?
Douglas Adams (for his fast and loose play with the rules of fiction), Stephen King (for his big questions and big plots), Kurt Vonnegut (for his funny, bittersweet treatment of life’s tiny victories and inherent tragedies), Chuck Palahniuk (for his willingness to stride laughing into the dark), and Dave Eggers (for having the gumption to call a book A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, and to experiment as wildly as he did in that book).
As well, the poet Ted Hughes (specifically, his Crow collection) has been a huge influence on my latest novel, Taking Stock.
It’s been so long that I really can’t say. I can tell you that I remember the writing of this book coming easier than anything I’ve ever written, with the exception of one short story that I wrote in high school.
Sure! It’s changed quite a lot over the years, and has also included several fallow periods. I’m pretty deadline-driven, and two of my three novel first drafts were written in a period leading up to a competition deadline–18 days for Royal Flush. (Make that 18 highly antisocial days. I spent large swaths of them in the computer chair.)
Lately, I try to do my creative work (i.e. writing fiction/editing/blogging) in the morning. I’ve found my creativity dwindles as the day wears on. In the afternoon I do writing-related things, like promote the book, go through my RSS to get ideas for my blog, read books, etc. And in the evening I’m usually ready to throw on a podcast and listen to it while I play a mindless video game.
Long! I revised 10 times, like I said. Around the 3rd or 4th time through I grew weary of reading Royal Flush. But I continued. If you don’t edit properly, you risk yanking the reader unceremoniously from the story with grammar, spelling, or continuity errors.
Quite simply, I try to explore every available avenue of getting read, and it’s a major one! Authors worry about piracy, but honestly, I would consider getting pirated a compliment.
Nope–not yet! In addition to my writing efforts, I’m currently a full-time youth care worker. I have been a full-time writer intermittently, however. In 2011 I received a grant from the Newfoundland and Labrador Arts Council, which, combined with my savings, allowed me to work on (and complete) a novel as well as various other projects, for the span of a year. And right now I’m saving money to do that again. I should have enough by January–can’t wait. (I’ll also be applying for another grant in March.)
Do you have a writing group?
I have in the past–I attended a few meetings of Under the Bed, which was a writing group comprised of WANL (Writers’ Alliance of Newfoundland and Labrador) members. I took excerpts of Royal Flush along with me to the meetings, and the feedback they provided was very useful. I mentioned them in the book’s Acknowledgments!
I’ve also taken a few writing classes in the past that had a writing-group sort of format.
Tips for aspiring writers?
The only thing that will improve your writing is writing (a lot). Reading the sort of thing you want to write, reading about the craft or the business of writing, taking writing classes, joining writing groups, thinking about writing–all these things will supplement your writing, and may help you figure some things out faster than you would have otherwise. Indeed, I encourage aspiring writers to do all those things, a lot. But only actual writing will bring you closer to getting read, winning an award, getting an agent, getting a book deal, or whatever your writing goals may be.
Advice for readers sitting with their own manuscripts?
First off, edit them quite a lot! Hemingway had some choice words for first drafts, which I shan’t repeat here, but the upshot was that they stink.
Second, seek the feedback of others–whether it’s the members of your writing group, an instructor, a writer-in-residence, competition judges (sometimes they give feedback), your coworkers, your friends, or even your mother! My Mom is one of my best editors. What I’m getting at is that it’s important to cultivate a small group of contacts to whom you’re comfortable sending drafts for review. They will catch so much that you won’t. (Mind you, you shouldn’t take every piece of feedback to heart. But if you’re hearing a suggestion repeatedly, pay attention!)
Third, if you’re confident your manuscript has been edited to a professional standard, start submitting it!
Or you could self-publish it–that’s what I did! Be warned that doing that well will rob hundreds and hundreds of hours from whatever else you might like to do.
I don’t–I am an indie author in every sense of the term.