Catherine Vale

 

Catherine ValeInterviewed by Alyssa Brazeau

Originally from Nova Scotia, Catherine Vale is a New York Times and USA Today bestselling urban fantasy and paranormal romance novelist. Catherine’s novels are self-published on Amazon.com. She began this in 2011 when Amazon unveiled their Kindle Publishing Platform, and has received success ever since.

Her first novel Curve Crazy debuted in 2011 under her pen Adriana Hunter. In 2014, she made the New York Times Book Review E-Book Bestsellers list with Fated Mates, a box set of paranormal and shifter romance novels by various writers. Then in 2017, the urban fantasy and paranormal romance box set Haunted By Magic made the USA Today Best-Selling list.

I wanted to interview Catherine because I was fascinated by her ability to thrive in the unpredictable economy of e-books.

Catherine graciously took time away from her busy work and family life in Ontario, to email with me.

What is your background, work and education wise?

I started out writing poetry, filling countless binders with edgy, emotionally-charged poems that were based on whatever was going on in my life at the time.

Later, I turned to songwriting and finally, fiction writing in my late teens. I had my first poem published in a book distributed by Scholastic Canada in the late 80’s titled Windows of the World. After that, I was hooked.

My first job was working at a bookstore which nurtured my love for literature. Though my paychecks went right back to the store in the form of book purchases!

When I bought my first computer in 1997, I carved out a career in writing copy for budding entrepreneurs and new businesses.

 Do you have an idol that influences your work?

As a teen, I read every mystery novel under the sun and everything ever released by Judy Blume. I was also a huge fan of V.C Andrews and have a full collection of every single book she has ever written. Today, I read a lot of books by Philippa Gregory as I’m drawn to the Tudor era. I hope to one day write a historical fiction novel when the time is right.

What is your daily writing routine?

A routine? What’s that? (wink). I write when I feel inspired to write, and thankfully I’ve managed to stay consistent over the years. I don’t force the process though. There are times where I’m able to write 10,000 words a day for 3-4 days straight, and then I take a week off to recharge.

I do find “sprinting” works best. This is where I literally shut everything else down and focus on writing for just one hour in the morning, one hour in the afternoon and one hour at night. When that timer goes off, I stop, even if I’m in the middle of a scene.

Breaking up sessions keeps my mind fresh and that way, I don’t suffer burn out. And if I stop in the middle of a scene, even better, because it’ll stay at the forefront of my mind all day until my next sprint and then my fingers fly! It seems to have worked well for me for the last few years because I’ve never missed a deadline!

Is Vale your only pen name?

No, Vale is one of many. I came up with Catherine Vale based on my name, Catherine Valerie. I started writing as Adriana Hunter, and have recently launched a pen name, Kate Nova, in reverence to my home province, Nova Scotia.

Do you use different pen names for different genres?

Yes, I do. I was told early on not to confuse readers and so I segment my books based on genre. Recently I’ve decided to test the waters and publish books from different genres under my main pen, Catherine Vale. I’m hoping it works out because it’s a lot easier to manage just one pen name. We’ll see how it goes!

Which genre is your favorite to work in?

Urban fantasy is currently my favorite genre to write in. I wrote a lot of books in paranormal romance before I ventured into urban fantasy, but there’s nothing more fun than writing about magic and mayhem!

Do you think there’s a particular genre that’s more lucrative?

The popularity of genres changes with the wind. I started out writing erotic romance for BBW readers, and then ventured into paranormal romance when vampires and werewolves were suddenly popular. If you write to market, you need to stay on top of the changes and demands, which isn’t always easy to do. Recently, military romance and cozy mysteries have become popular again, but in a few months it could be something entirely new.

What are some rookie mistakes that new authors should look out for?

Not investing in themselves. If you want to maximize exposure and build an audience, you need to invest in your craft and treat it like a business. Hire professional book designers, editors and set up a beta team of readers as well as an ARC (Advanced Review Copy) group. Don’t try to do it all yourself just because you’re trying to save money. If you can’t afford to properly package and launch your book, wait until you’re able to save enough money to give it the attention it deserves.

What motivates you to keep writing despite an unstable industry?

I write for the pure love of writing. It has never been about sales or distribution for me, though I’ve been very fortunate to have had success with both. I do work in other writing fields as well, including as a copywriter for a very successful marketing company. I also create content for several companies in nonfiction markets, and am currently working on content for www.WritersHustle.com, a website I plan to launch in 2018 that will provide tips and resources for budding writers who want to break into the fiction market.

What advice would you give others that are struggling?

My best advice is that if you are writing for the pure joy of it, write what you are most passionate about. If you are writing with the hope of earning a full-time income, then write to market.

If you are lacking motivation, join an online writers group and network with other new writers. Join a box set. Not only will that allow you to form valuable relationships with other authors, but it’ll provide you with a front row seat into the entire marketing and book launch process. And you never know, you might even hit a bestsellers list!

Alyssa Brazeau is in her final year of the BFA Creative Writing Program at the University of British Columbia. She is currently juggling projects, including a children’s paranormal/sci-fi novel, and a television crime drama.

 

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Michael Hingston

Michael8057Interviewed by Alex Migdal

Michael Hingston’s byline is well known in Edmonton. He served as the Edmonton Journal’s books columnist from 2012 to 2016 and regularly writes about the city’s oddities, from West Edmonton Mall to the failing Oilers to why so many of its local landmarks are named after Winston Churchill. His stories have also appeared in The Washington Post, Wired and The Guardian. Hingston published his first novel, The Dilettantes, in 2013. His newest project — a book about Calvin and Hobbes called Let’s Go Exploring — is slated for release in May 2018. I caught up with Hingston by phone as he drove to Calgary to promote another one of his projects, a short story collection titled The Ghost Box.

 

When did you commit to being a full-time writer?

 

I’ve always told people that you should keep a day job for as long as possible if you’re trying to be a writer. Not having to count on that work for money gives you a little bit more freedom. You’re not hustling quite as constantly and taking on every single thing that comes by for fear of missing out.

 

For eight years, I had a full-time job and freelance on the side. I had kids and a family life at home. My partner had been home with the kids all that time and I felt it was my turn to be at home with them. My son was in kindergarten for two hours a day. I felt confident enough at that point that I could easily fill those two hours with freelance writing. Which is to say that after eight years of freelancing, I was confident I could spend a quarter of a day with freelancing work. That maybe speaks to the constant insecurity of freelance work.

 

Were you able to fill two hours a day?

 

It was way too conservative of a guess. I instantly had too much work to do. I got a contract a month after I quit. I also got a pretty big contract doing a freelance project for the City of Edmonton. It was not a luxurious home life. I ended up doing weekends and evenings more than I wanted to. It was for the best, I think. I like being more conservative than more optimistic because there’s nothing worse than having the time and not having anything to do with it.

 

What’s your writing process like? It sounds like you work in chunks.

 

Chunks, for sure. That was the other fear of quitting to become a full-time writer. I can’t write for eight hours a day. I have to be switching gears between things. Even in university, I was only able to write a page of an essay per day. I would have to then work backwards. If I need to get this done in a week, and it’s a seven-page essay, I would give myself enough time that way. That formula still holds out.

 

The nice thing about the journalism that I do is you always have a chance to do other things when you’re not writing. There’s always researching, pitching, bookkeeping, invoicing, updating your spreadsheets. Even in a full workday, that still gives you a couple hours to write. And for me, that’s all I need. I find I do have to write often. But it has to be small, steady doses.

 

Do you ever have days where you don’t get any writing done at all?

 

No, I don’t. By the time I sit down, it’s been kind of marinating. I have a clue of where to start. I don’t have a problem writing. I don’t have a problem churning out two bad pages in a day. That’s all progress, too. Getting it out of your head and onto the page is sometimes the hardest part. I try not to chastise myself too badly for that.

 

I believe in very strongly in filing early and starting early. I don’t handle pressure well at all. If I had to do 500 words by 4 p.m., that’s a nightmare for me. Whereas if I started two days earlier at 9 a.m., I might get those 500 words done by 11 a.m. That might come from the fact that I’ve never really worked in a newsroom and never had to build that skill.

 

I know you employed the chunk method when writing your first book. Tell me about that.

 

I wrote the book on my lunch breaks in one of my day jobs with the government of Alberta. I did basic math. I know my book should be 300 pages long and I wanted a first draft done in 18 months. I just divided the days. I realized to get there, I would have to write 120 words a day, every day. That’s two paragraphs, which is nothing at all. I wrote up these homemade calendars and I would note how many words I had written each day. Seeing a couple zeroes on there would give me a kick in the pants. I don’t think there were ever three zeroes in a row. It was always satisfying to look back and see that very glacial progress. It did add up. Each week I would have 1,000 words by the end of it, which goes a long way.

 

The block I did have with writing fiction was opening the documents. That was daunting. Getting back into the world is the scary part. If I told myself, you have to write 120 words today, that would convince me that it wasn’t going to kill me if I opened the document. I could get through it. Once it was open, then it’s super easy. You see a sentence you don’t like and you change it. But I look back the novel and think, man, that was hard. I might have to trick myself in more sophisticated ways.

 

The Dilettantes was published in 2013. When you read it now, what do you think?

 

I don’t read it now. That’s the trick. I went to a Sloan concert a couple nights ago. I was just thinking, man, the bands have to just play the same hits every night. That 45-year-old man has to play a song he wrote when he was 21. I don’t know how you stay OK with that. It was crystallized at a certain time. Fans love it. That is just so scary to me. Writers can just disown books and not read from them.

 

I haven’t read from The Dilettantes in awhile. There are a couple of sections I enjoy still. But even then, I still edit stuff. And I think that’s actually instructive with how I would go ahead writing fiction in the future. Not because the books are dated, but just the language itself, the way that the sentences work. You figure out what works pretty quickly in front of a crowd.

 

You’ve just finished a book about Calvin and Hobbes. What’s the premise of the book?

 

It’s part of a series that ECW Press in Toronto does called “Pop Classics.” It’s a series of books about pieces of pop culture that are culturally significant. One that’s coming out after mine is about The Bachelor. It’s a funny topic about something that people like on a simple level and you’re going to tell them why it’s more significant than that.

 

When I quit my day job, I had been figuring out what my next book was going to be. I knew it was going to be non-fiction of some kind. I tried selling a couple of full-length non-fiction books and they didn’t sell. I thought an entry into a series would be an easier way. And these books are shorter. They’re just 120 pages. Anyone can submit a proposal.

 

The thing with Calvin and Hobbes is that fans already know it’s a significant piece of art. The fun was lying out why that is. The strip hasn’t appeared for 20 years. The creator is this semi recluse. The book is about why the strip matters, but specifically this idea of imagination. The main character, Calvin, has his best friend named Hobbes who turns to life when he looks at him, but everyone else just sees this stuffed animal. So I talk about how imagination functions in the strip — and what it means for Calvin in his childhood.

 

How has the workflow for this book differed from your first book? Is there more pressure this time?

 

I had three months to write this one. I had my plan to become a general freelance writer and immediately I got this book contract. I was writing the book and not doing much else. It was a lot more condensed, a lot more pressure. But I really enjoyed it. Just because it was a longer non-fiction project, which I hadn’t really done at that point. It’s 30,000 words. I really like the structure of non-fiction. A 1,500-word piece has its own rhythm and structures that are different from a 30,000-word piece. Just discovering what a detour in a book chapter looks like was super fun.

 

You’ve written on a really eclectic range of topics. Your two most recent book proposals, for instance, were about the history of teeth and why the Oilers suck. What draws you to a subject and makes you want to write about it?

 

I really love the notion of taking interests a bit to the extreme. I’m always interested in how people have the confidence to do that in an age where it’s easy to be ridiculed online for having an obscure interest.

The Oilers has this fan base that follows a god awful hockey team. How does it go wrong – how do you mess up that badly? The teeth book is also full of those characters. A lot of people are scared of the dentist and their teeth. But the people that like teeth are so interesting. There’s a dentist in Red Deer, Alberta who owns one of John Lennon’s molars. And he paid $30,000 for it. I talked to him and he said, ‘I was thinking of making a clone of John Lennon.’ That’s a crazy thing to say. But he’s just in this world where that makes sense to him.

 

In recent months, you’ve posted online your two failed book proposals. How do you grapple with failure? Does it help you to share it with other people?  

 

I dealt with failure a lot worse when I was starting out. At this point, I think I’ve had enough successes that one failure doesn’t make me want to quit writing. Writing agony makes me want to quit, but failures are never the problem.

 

Selling a novel is just an exercise in hilarious failure. I think I had 50 agents and 20 publishers turn it down. You become numb to it at a certain point. I also realized pretty early that there’s never a personal element to it. In fact, that’s the challenge of it — trying to find the right editor at the right place at the right time with the right story.

 

I like having multiple ideas on the go at once, so that’s there’s various fallbacks instead of poring over the rejection. I’ve tried a lot of different things and haven’t gotten anywhere with them. I’ve been trying to write a picture book for kids for three years and I’ve got four manuscripts I’ve been sending out. That’s just relentless failure.

 

I think people don’t talk about those failures. Or we do, but in romantic terms. I like the idea of being honest about the life of a writer. I’m not an expert on it by any means. The teeth book proposal is so long and I’ve spent so long working on it. I believe in that proposal certainly more than magazine pieces I’ve written over the years. So I hope it’s useful to other writers.

 

You’re a journalist and a writer. Do you attach yourself to one role more than the other?

 

I usually say I’m a journalist and an author. But more and more, the publishing side is catching up to me too, so I’ve got to figure out how to describe myself. My Gmail signature has three pieces to it and I don’t think that’s helpful. I was trying to order business cards a few months ago and I just gave up. (laughs)

 

I think that’s reflective of how the industry has evolved. You have to wear so many hats.

 

That’s true, hey? I’m teaching this class with Jana Pruden from The Globe and Mail right now. We’re working with a group of students on non-fiction pieces. It’s funny how we just expect writers we follow on the Internet to be able to do everything now. I assume that they have personal essays out in the world and can turn around a 2,000-word reported piece on their hometown. But those are totally different skill sets.

 

You’ve worked for years now in Edmonton. How has it figured into your writing and your network?

 

It’s been huge. If I hadn’t moved to Edmonton when I did, I don’t think my career would have been where it is right now. When I moved from Vancouver, I had a couple clips. I had written a story for The Tyee and a couple of book reviews for the Georgia Straight. But I didn’t have steady work at either of those places. Then I came to Edmonton and, at the time, it had two alt-weeklies. More than that, they were looking for writers. The writing community was really welcoming and I found it way faster than I did in Vancouver.

 

We don’t take for granted the writing community in Edmonton because there’s this fear that anything of cultural value is going to disappear unless you fight for it. There’s a sense of urgency that we want to keep the people and opportunities here.

 

As I’ve tried to become more of a national writer, I just love pitching myself as being the Alberta correspondent. The stories in Alberta are amazing. If you’re writing for a national publication, it’s a huge advantage not to be from Toronto. They want to be seen as representing all of Canada, so you’re doing them a favour. I use that geographic diversity quote to my advantage whenever possible.

 

Any final words?

 

Persistence is the only thing I would remind people of. The difference between someone who’s a successful writer versus someone who quit and went into communications ten years earlier is not that they were worst writers. It’s just sticking with it. Staying in the game and keeping your muscles flexed is your best competitive advantage. It’s not talent – it’s more just sweat.

 

Alex Migdal grew up in Edmonton and is now a Vancouver-based journalist. He’s in his final year at the UBC Graduate School of Journalism, where he’s pursuing a SSHRC-funded research project on the decline of local news coverage. He is also a fellow in the school’s International Reporting Program. His stories have appeared in CBC, The Globe and Mail, Maclean’s, Postmedia and VICE.

 

 

Eden Robinson

Eden RobinsonEden Robinson

Interviewed by Stephanie Chou

Eden Robinson is an internationally acclaimed author from Kitimat Village, BC. She is a member of the Haisla and Heilstuk First Nations. Her debut book, Traplines, a collection of four short stories, was a New York Times Notable Book and won Britain’s Winifred Holtby Memorial Prize. Her first novel, Monkey Beach was nominated for the Giller Prize, the 2000 Governor General’s Award for Fiction and won the Ethel Wilson Fiction Prize. The novel was also selected as a Globe and Mail Editor’s Choice. It was the first English-language book to be published by a Haisla writer. Her most recent novel is Blood Sports, and her extended essay Sasquatch at Home, first delivered as a talk at the 4th annual Henry Kreisel Lecture, explores modern storytelling through a blend of personal anecdotes and the intricacies of cultural protocol.

Eden Robinson has the most contagious laugh on this side of the globe. She shares a birthday with Edgar Allan Poe and Dolly Parton and is certain this affects her writing in some way. Combine these sensibilities with her early influences of Stephen King and David Cronenberg, and it’s natural that Eden’s writing is at once humorous and dark. As a long-time admirer of Eden’s work it was my absolute pleasure to interview her via email.

Eden received her MFA from UBC’s Creative Writing Program and is the program’s Virtual Writer-in-Residence for the Fall 2014 term.

What moves you to write? You’ve said that your characters have “sprung from your muse.” Can you explain that compulsion? 

People are intricate puzzles, and I find myself wondering how their minds work, and then try to put myself in their boots and then see where the story goes. For instance, I was listening to NPR and the Unibomber’s brother was being interviewed. He spoke very movingly of the moment when he realized his brother might be a murderer and the emotions he went through and what he knew it would do to their family, to his brother, to himself. I was haunted by him, and that’s where my muse steps in, that’s when he whispers in my ear. The resulting story was “Dogs in Winter,” whose title comes from the opening scenes of The Cook, the Thief, his Wife and her Lover. How the two things became joined in my mind is one of those quirks that I find hard to explain. [Read more…]

Miriam Toews

Miriam ToewsInterviewed by Sarah Ens

Miriam Toews is the author of five bestselling and critically-acclaimed novels and one work of non-fiction. Her novel A Complicated Kindness was shortlisted for the Scotiabank Giller Prize and won the Governor General’s Award for Fiction. Kindness was also the winner of the 2006 Canada Reads, making Miriam the first female writer to win the competition. Her fourth novel, The Flying Troutmans, was the winner of the Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize. Miriam has received the Writers Trust Marian Engel/Timothy Findley Award for her body of work, was admitted to the Order of Manitoba, and nominated for Best Actress at the Mexican Academy of Cinematographic Arts and Sciences’ Ariel Awards for her performance in Carlos Reygadas’ film Silent Light.

A long-time admirer of her work, I was thrilled to chat with Miriam via email about her journey as an author and the haunting yet hilarious characters she brings to life, from Summer of My Amazing Luck’s single mom living on welfare in Winnipeg to Irma Voth’s young Mexican Mennonite woman breaking free from her abusive past. Her highly-anticipated new novel is All My Puny Sorrows.

What was your experience publishing Summer Of My Amazing Luck? What were some of the obstacles you faced as a new novelist and how did you overcome them?

Getting my first book published was incredible. I couldn’t believe it was happening. I was absolutely thrilled. Turnstone Press, in Winnipeg, took a chance on me and I’m forever grateful to them. I’m not sure there were any special obstacles I faced other than the on-going pressure to make a living and still find time to write.

[Read more…]

Matt Rader

RaderInterviewed by Christopher Evans

Matt Rader has authored three books of poems:  Miraculous Hours, Living Things, and, most recently, A Doctor Pedalled Her Bicycle Over the River Arno. His fiction, non-fiction, and poetry have appeared in The Walrus, All Hollow, The Fiddlehead, Geist, and many other publications spanning the globe; his work has been nominated for the Journey prize, a National Magazine Award, and the Gerald Lampert Memorial Award, among others. Rader has studied writing at the University of Victoria, the University of Oregon, and the Banff Centre Writing Studio, and has taught at the University of Oregon, Okanagan College, Kwantlen Polytechnic University, and North Island College on Vancouver Island. His first book of short stories, What I Want to Say Goes Like This, will be published by Nightwood Editions in Fall, 2014.

A wise friend turned me on to Rader’s work; A Doctor Pedalled Her Bicycle Over the River Arno became the first book of poetry I ever purchased and revealed to me a secret history of the West Coast, half-concealed under a tangle of weeds. I caught up with Rader via email at his home in Cumberland, BC.

What does an ideal working day look like for Matt Rader?

Though this never happens, my ideal workday begins after a long sleep. It involves a cup of coffee in the morning, swimming, sunshine, fresh fruits and vegetables, various other things that we don’t talk about in interviews like this, and so on. My ideal workday involves almost no work.

[Read more…]

Audrey Niffenegger

NiffeneggerInterviewed by Kelsey Savage

Audrey Niffenegger is the acclaimed author of The Time Traveler’s Wife, winner of the 2006 British Book Award for Popular Fiction as well as the 2005 Exclusive Books Boeke Prize. In addition to also being shortlisted and nominated for a myriad of awards, in 2009 TTW was made into a film starring Rachel McAdams and Eric Bana. Her second novel, A Fearful Symmetry, keeps to the precise and haunting tone Niffenneger so flawlessly navigates in her work.

Beginning in the world of printmaking, art, and education, Audrey’s path hasn’t been altogether linear. Having admired her writing since TTW came out in 2003, I reveled in the opportunity to start up a dialogue with one of my favourite authors. Despite being immersed in projects in London, she gave me the great honour of agreeing to discuss the ins and outs of her writing career trajectory via email.

When you are working on a writing project, what does an average day look like for you?

I don’t exactly have a schedule, or a certain number of words I am supposed to write or anything of that nature. I’m a night person, so the morning is devoted to drinking coffee and reading the New York Times. My studio assistant, Ken Gerleve, arrives at 11:00 and we discuss the day’s projects. Then he goes off to do his work and I answer email, or sit and stare at the computer. At some point in the afternoon I slowly begin to do some writing or make some art. I am most productive after dinner and in the wee hours of the night.

[Read more…]

William Deverell

deverell-croppedInterviewed by Alex Niro

William Deverell is a Dashiell Hammett Prize and Arthur Ellis award-winning crime author who has used half a lifetime of experience practicing criminal law and his dabbling in environmental activism – as well as politics – to create some of the most engrossing crime fiction there is. He is the author of the popular Arthur Beauchamp series and is lauded as the best-known crime writer in Canada. Bill’s bond with his characters and his life experience make for particularly satisfying reading. Bill has also created the long-running CBC TV series “Street Legal” and other screenplays, and holds an honorary D.Litt from Simon Fraser University.

Bill was gracious enough to answer some of my questions via email in between a busy schedule.

What was your experience starting out with novel writing? Were there any obstacles that you feel are noteworthy?

I had a full-on midlife crisis at 40, decided to take a leave from my criminal law practice and follow a dream long held. I disappeared from my Vancouver home into a not-quite-completed cottage on the Gulf Islands, battled several months of block (while my father, a cynical left-wing journalist whose own literary attempts ended in failure, was suffering his own battles with lung cancer), and finally decided to eschew efforts to write according to the strict canons of CanLit, and pounded out a thriller called Needles. My father’s tragic death that year, 1979, ironically freed me to write in a genre he often declaimed against. (But I know in my heart he would have been proud, for, ironically, Needles won a literary prize, the Seal First Novel Award, and $50,000.)

[Read more…]