In April 2007 IROSF started a bold experiment—to conduct an ongoing cycle of interviews with a group of tenacious, Janey-on-the-Brink writers. These five have had various levels of success and have various definitions of success.
Time is relentless and while we started with five, we're down to only four now. Shawn Scarber's whereabouts remain unknown as of the publication of this second round of interviews. Emails are bounced back. Livejournal account—gone! Personal web page—Page Not Found! With any luck he didn't end up dead in a ditch somewhere in the pitiless state of Texas.
It's time to check in with our four remaining writers and see where they are 12 months later. Time to see if they are crowing about success, or eating crow, and with Shawn's leaving the game, to reflect on the difficulties of the long-haul of trying to "make it" as a writer:
How do you feel about your progress over the last year? What are the big successes?
Jennifer Pelland: I'm actually feeling pretty good about my progress in the short story arena. My story "Captive Girl" was a finalist for the short story Nebula this year and also made the Gaylactic Spectrum Awards short list, and in February, I released my first short story collection, Unwelcome Bodies, which was put out by Apex Books. I still haven't managed to get published by any of the Big Three magazines, but I did finally make my third "professional" sale (as judged by SFWA)—I'll have a story in The Solaris Book of New Science Fiction Volume Three early in 2009. So things are generally looking up, at least for my short fiction.
Lou Antonelli: I think I've made steady progress—especially considering the amount of time I spend at this. I had a story published in a British e-zine called Dark Matter last year that got excellent reviews (Avatar) and in April of this year I had a story published in Jim Baen's Universe ("The Witch of Waxahachie"). At the end of last year I had my first successful collaboration (with Ed Morris) published in a Canadian magazine called Dark Recesses. My story "Body by Fisher" was published in the 2007 souvenir book of Dallas FenCon.
Linda Donahue: Hard to say. In many ways, it feels as if it's about the same. However, this year I was an author guest of honor at a small convention and I was a panelist at World Fantasy Con in Saratoga Springs. So that shows some progress. As well, I've made a few more sales.
At this point, one of the bigger successes is getting a novel deal from a small press. Later this year, I'm hoping to have 2 novels come out from Yard Dog Press. One is a collaboration with Julia Mandala, Rhonda Eudaly, and Dusty Rainbolt, the sequel to our 4 Redheads of the Apocalypse chapbook. Instead of independent stories, this one is going to be a novel with four viewpoints interchanging, called The 4 Redheads in Apocalypse Now! And I'll have a solo novel as half of a double dog—two novels printed one reverse from the other, so they each have a cover. My novel is a supernatural adventure called Jaguar Moon. It'll be paired with Julia Mandala's novel The House of Doors.
And this year, I'll see the collaboration story with Mike Resnick in print, a Martin Greenberg anthology, in Future Americas from DAW Books. And I just sold a story to Sword & Sorceress 23, edited by Elizabeth Waters.
Patrick Rothfuss: It's impossible not to feel good about how things are going. My first book, The Name of the Wind, did incredibly well in hardcover, and is currently in its fifth printing. We've sold the foreign rights in 24 countries, and so far the paperback has spent three weeks on the New York Times Best Seller list.
Where do you think you are toward achieving last year's stated Dream Goal?
Jennifer Pelland: Potentially a lot closer. I've had no luck with agents, but a small press came to me to ask if I had any novel manuscripts, so I hit them with a short synopsis of the two I have completed. They liked the sound of one of them and asked to see the full manuscript. So I now have a manuscript under active consideration with a legitimate publisher. And if that doesn't work out, Apex is considering branching into novel publishing once they establish a foothold with their collections and anthologies, and they've said that they'd be willing to look at that same manuscript when the time is right.
Lou Antonelli: Maybe five percent.
Linda Donahue: Considering my goal is really to keep trudging onward, forever striving, I suppose I'm still on the path, still struggling, still sending out stories—some sales and lots of rejections. But you don't get sales if you don't send things out. And even with rejections, you make contact with new editors.
Patrick Rothfuss: What did I say that was? (Goes to check)
Heh. That's funny, I'd forgotten I'd said that.
In terms of being rich and famous, I have to say that I'm 70% there. I'm out of debt and have money in the bank for the first time in my life. And I'm not rock-star famous, but by this point a lot of people in the Sci-fi Fantasy world have heard of me.
Unfortunately, the University has not expressed a sudden willingness to let me teach creative writing. Hopefully landing on the New York Times Bestseller list will help with that.
The projects you were working on last year, where are you on those?
Jennifer Pelland: The novelette was published in my collection. The novel got stalled after a few months. I don't think I was quite ready to write it yet. Plus, I think it was a mistake to base the characters so closely on my own family. I've been outlining, though, and feeling more and more like it's time to start in on it again, so my tentative plan is to spend the summer banging out a complete rough draft.
Lou Antonelli: I'll probably be completely done with my book project very soon. It's been lots of work, but also lots of fun. It's a Howard Waldropian high alternative history that puts a very different "twist" on American and world affairs of the mid-20th century—it's got me feeling like the fellow on the old Ed Sullivan show who used to spin plates.
Linda Donahue: Since I like anthologies, my projects come with deadlines. And so, most of them are where they needed to be. Written and submitted by the deadline. And, as mentioned, some sold, some didn't, but now I know some more editors who were all very interested in my work. But sometimes, a good story doesn't quite meet the theme. I suppose one goal that's ongoing and a constant learning experience is to better figure out what an editor is looking for.
Patrick Rothfuss: Book two is coming along fairly well, though more slowly than I'd hoped. My not-for-children children's book is coming along fairly well too. That should hopefully be out by the end of the year.
Last year you mentioned some goals you wanted to achieve; where are you on those?
Jennifer Pelland: Still no agent, still no new manuscript to start showing around. I did revise an older novel, though. The plot was sound, but the characters blew, so I rewrote them while leaving the plot largely intact. It's still quite rough, but I may polish it up some day and see if any agents find it appealing. If nothing else, it makes me feel good to have salvaged it, even if no one ever reads it.
Lou Antonelli: No progress on cracking some of the major markets that I've wanted to, but on the other hand, I'm personally satisfied with how the book's come along.
Linda Donahue: I think I covered this one in question #2...
Patrick Rothfuss: I've met a lot of cool authors over the last year. Some of them in person, like Tad Williams and Neil Gaiman. Others I met over e-mail, like Orson Scott Card and Ursula K. LeGuin, who blurbed my book. That's been very cool.
And I've come to know a lot of my fellow newbie authors as well. I met David Anthony Durham a couple of times at different conventions. His first book, Acacia, came out a couple months after mine, and I liked him a whole lot, he's really my sort of person.
Boy, there have been so many: Cherie Priest, Sarah Monette, Anton Strout, Jim Hines, Caitlin Kittredge, Richelle Mead....Too many to list. I really enjoy hanging out with authors who are still new to the game. It's nice having people to compare notes with....
I've also been having more luck getting onto panels at conventions, now that people are starting to know who I am. I even got my first Guest of Honor invitation. It's to V-Con. I'm excited about that.
Life often intrudes on the plans of writers (which I suspect is what happened to Shawn Scarber). What have your experiences with that been over the last year? Were there kinks in the plan? Major upheavals? How do you deal with them?
Jennifer Pelland: Thankfully, no. My job is stable, my marriage is stable, my cats are healthy, and no one died this year.
Lou Antonelli: I had a good turn of luck when I changed jobs in mid-year and got a better position with a nice pay increase. The bad thing is that the city where we live is so small, my wife can't find work.
Linda Donahue: Last year my father-in-law died, my aunt and her only son (so my cousin) died within two weeks of each other. And my friend's father, who was a really great guy, also died. So I had a lot of funerals last year. And I had two weddings. One of my collaborators, Rhonda Eudaly, was married and I was in the wedding party. And one of my ex-students from teaching high school got married and I was invited to that. So I caught up with a number of old students. I suppose I deal with funerals and weddings like anyone else.
Since I spend my days writing and a few nights teaching tai chi and belly dance, I don't have as many upheavals. Of course, from spring to fall, my dance troupe (which includes Julia Mandala and Julia Burchard) stays busy with new choreography and that often adds from 9 to 12 extra hours a week of exercise to my usual 10 or so already. Lung issues, arthritis, psoriasis and my sleep issues have been flaring up lately, but you treat them as best you can. Actually, sleep is always an issue. But, since I can't sleep, I get most of my writing done from 10 pm until 3 am.
Also, my parents decided to sell their house and move last year, so I was busy helping them with packing, moving, and unpacking.
Patrick Rothfuss: Good lord. This last year seems to have been one giant kink, and not the fun kind....
The business of being a professional writer takes up way more time than I ever thought it would. Doing your taxes, looking over contracts, working with translators, it all takes time....
The same thing with the promotional end of being a writer. Blogging, answering fanmail, going to conventions and signings....It's fun, mind you. I enjoy it. But, again, it takes time. Robin Hobb referred to blogging as "anti-writing" and she really does have a point....
Have you had those dark moments where you were just about to put the writing one the shelf and forget about it? How did you deal with that?
Jennifer Pelland: That's pretty much what happened with my novel goals. I hate the agent hunting process, and I hate spending years working on something that no one will ever read, so I just set my novel aspirations aside. I revised the old novel mostly for myself, and spent the rest of the year concentrating on short stories, which I know I can sell. It was really good for my mental and emotional health. I really, really, really hate the agent hunting process. Did I mention that?
Lou Antonelli: I just cut down the amount of time at the keyboard. I write for the enjoyment of it, so when it gets depressing, I put it aside and do life. I've found that even when I'm not at the keyboard, plots and characters are percolating, and they will spill out once I sit down again. I write very quickly (probably because of being a professional journalist) so I don't feel quite the compulsion other may feel to stay glued to the keyboard.
Linda Donahue: Stop writing? Never. I have tons of dark moments. Everyone tells me I'm bipolar. So, next visit with my neurologist later this month, I'm going to look into it. It may be part of my sleep issues. But, to answer the question, assuming I'm bipolar, the unexplained "dark moments" are always going to come. But, they don't stop me from writing. In fact, writing is sometimes a great escape from the dark moments.
Patrick Rothfuss: In a way. I had some dark stuff that led to the delay of book two. I actually wrote a blog with all the details if anyone is interested.
Writing also takes up a lot of time, and probably more time the closer you get to success. How do you carve out writing time, family time, work time, and all that? Is there friction on those fronts?
Jennifer Pelland: I don't have kids, which is a huge help, and my husband has a lot of his own interests. So for me, the issue is making sure I have a good balance. I can't skimp on the day job, I don't want to skimp on the time I need to take care of my body, and I'm one of those people who really needs downtime to unwind. So the only friction is in my own mind.
Lou Antonelli: My current job pretty much freed up my time in the evenings, so I usually spend a few hours at the end of the day at the keyboard. I do not let writing get in the way of my job and family—which I both enjoy very much.
Linda Donahue: This was sort of answered. But it's all about scheduling loving writing so much that any free moment hits you as "Yay! I can write." I get up around 9-ish and take care of household chores, feeding the pets and all. Then three days a week, there's a few hours of choreography and rehearsal from about noon until 3-ish. And Sunday morning, I have a private tai chi student or two for lessons. Usually mid-day I take care of errands (grocery shopping, etc) or hopefully, do some writing. For three evenings a week, I teach tai chi and belly dance classes. When I get home, I stay up writing until about 3 a.m. It's not exciting, but I get a lot written.
Then there's the weekend conventions. I try to attend at least one a month as a panelist. This year, I should be on panels at Denvention, World Con. My bio and a picture are up.
There's no friction because we don't have kids. My husband writes too, so he's looking for writing time himself. And everyone I know understands that writing is what I want to do as a career.
For me, it's the internet, e-mails and creating a "web-presence" that's the hardest to schedule on a regular basis. But I'm working on that.
Patrick Rothfuss: That's something I'm still struggling with. For the first time in my life I'm a homeowner. I have a lawn to mow, a sidewalk to shovel. There are a thousand things that intrude on a writer's time, and so much of it is pressing. Sometimes I like to kiss my girlfriend too....
I'm doing my best to get back into a concrete writing schedule. At least four hours a day, come hell or high water.
Friction or no, what are the goals and projects for the next year?
Jennifer Pelland: I set myself a goal of writing a short story a month this year, although I may set it aside for three months to try to bang out that new novel draft. And that's it, really. I'm just going to keep writing, keep submitting, and see what happens. Goals just seem to drive me nuts, so I'm done with them.
Lou Antonelli: In this context, finish the book (Dance with Me, Henry), keep writing enough so I keep honing my skills, but not so much that I feel discouraged by rejection.
Linda Donahue: My goals remain unchanged. I'll keep plugging at my writing. Hoping I can made more prestigious sales, more contacts. A lot of it is luck and timing. And those are things one can't predict or alter. So, I keep my fingers crossed and my eye on the lookout for a tip that might help me break into more markets.
One thing, however, that I really want to get done this year is develop a web presence. I really need to set up a website, a MySpace or something. So there's a new goal.
Patrick Rothfuss: I want to finish The Wise Man's Fear and have it be as absolutely good as I can make it. I'd also like to get fully moved into my new house and get all my books up on shelves. If this sounds like a small thing, then you really don't understand how many books I have....