After self-publishing your first set of stories, what does it mean to you to have been signed on by a publisher the traditional way?
I love the control of self-publishing, and will continue to self-publish some of my writing despite now having a traditional publisher. That having been said, finding a traditional publisher was a very important part of my development as a professional author.
Self-publishing has a dismal reputation, often deserved given how many self-published books are riddled with typos and other evidence of bad writing. Having a traditional publisher gives a writer validation; it says to the public: somebody other than his mother believes in this writer. It’s not just the public, though; it also gives the writer a sense of validation. At the best of times, writing is a solitary craft; self-publishing increases this, since a book can be put out with no input from any other human being. When Elsewhen Press accepted my first novel, it proved to me that there was value to my writing.
One thing that I wasn’t expecting, but for which I am grateful, is the supportive community that my publisher has created, not only among all of the people who work on my books (including editors and cover artists), but the other writers that they publish. I have had two opportunities to meet other Elsewhen Press writers, and they are wonderful people. Given the solitary nature of writing, this has been a delightful perk of finding a traditional publisher.
Did the publisher approach you or did you get in touch with them?
I got in touch with them. But there’s a lesson in that story that I used to tell my students when I taught at Ryerson University: approach even the most mundane acts of career building as an opportunity to express your creativity.
When I am asked to write a bio for a science fiction convention I plan on attending, for example, I usually mix the personal information with a hefty dose of humour. One of the first cons I went to was Sci Fi on the rock, a convention held in St. John’s, Newfoundland. They printed my bio in the con programme. After I got there, whenever I would introduce myself, people would invariably point to me and say, “You’re the bio guy!” People knew who I was before they ever met me, which made talking to them (and selling them books) much easier.
What does this have to do with your question? Well. I sent a query letter to Elsewhen Press, outlining what I write and giving a brief description of Welcome to the Multiverse (Sorry for the Inconvenience). The response of the publisher, Peter Buck, was: we looked for some information about you on the Internet. You look completely bonkers – just the sort of person we’re interested in working with! Please send us the first three chapters of your novel.” Of course, he eventually published it. Would he have published the novel anyway? Possibly. But the fact that I made a good first impression couldn’t have hurt.
Don’t slough off even the smallest writer’s task; you never know what will benefit you down the road.
What is different in the writing and editing process between self-publishing and working with a publishing team? What do you see as the advantages of both?
When I decided to write humour lo these many years ago, I knew that I wanted to develop a unique comic voice. (This may not have been that smart, since it’s harder to sell people on something truly original than it is to sell them something that is a small variation on a formula they are already happy with. But, I was eight years old – what did I know?) Self-publishing allowed me to develop my voice without editorial interference; had I been more successful earlier in my career and had a traditional publishing path open to me, my writing may have developed in a more mainstream direction, which, I think, wouldn’t have been nearly as much fun for me or my readers.
An important advantage of working with publishing teams, and editors in particular, is that they force me to up my game. At this point in my writing career, I would like to think that I know my way around a story, that I know exactly the elements I need to make a sequence of events comprehensible to a reader. Still, I can’t begin to count the number of times a good editor has pointed out issues with a work that I hadn’t thought of. The process not only improves the individual works that the publishers have put out, but made me a better writer.
Please tell us more about the latest book and the universe of the Transdimensional Authority?
It’s a multiverse, actually. The basic idea is that travel between universes is possible, but it has to be highly controlled so that the fundamental fabric of reality doesn’t start to unravel. (What that means is explored in the first novel, Welcome to the Multiverse (Sorry for the Inconvenience) ) When you’re somewhere you shouldn’t be, doing things you shouldn’t be doing, the Transdimensional Authority is the organization that finds you, stops you and takes you back to where you belong.
The latest novel is You Can’t Kill the Multiverse (But You Can Mess With its Head). Different teams of Transdimensional Authority investigators are sent to universes where it appears that technologies are being used that do not belong in those universes. As their different stories unfold, it begins to become clear that the disparate investigations are actually somehow connected.
You Can’t Kill the Multiverse (But You Can Mess With its Head) was fun to write for many reasons, but I’ll give you just a couple. For one thing, it allowed me to explore some of the TA characters who had been briefly mentioned in the first book but who had otherwise been left undeveloped. For another thing, I was able to incorporate a character created by Michael Moorcock (with his kind permission). And there are dragons.
It’s the whole package, really.
Your stories thrive on humour. What is your source of inspiration for your writing style?
In reviews, my books are often compared to the work of Douglas Adams. While that is immensely flattering (not least because I am a fan), it is misleading: I have a much different set of thematic concerns and authorial voice.
My two main comic inspirations (which, apparently, surprise a lot of people) are the Marx brothers and Monty Python’s Flying Circus. At first, this may seem like an unlikely combination, but they both taught me two lessons that affect my work to this day: 1) maintain a high volume of comic elements, and; 2) use all of the comic devices at your disposal. The first point is important because the reader soon learns that if she doesn’t get a specific bit of humour, another will be along soon; as long as the reader gets most of the jokes, she won’t begrudge me some of the more topical or obscure or flat out strange ones. The second point is important because writers who use only one or two comic devices can become predictable, and surprise is one of the main characteristics of humour.
What does writing mean to you?
As I always say: writing is not what I do, a writer is what I am. It’s an essential part of my identity.
Many authors write four to six months a year, filling the rest of their time doing research and other career building things. I write just about every day (when you have to update a Web site on a weekly basis, you don’t have a choice). Because a lot of what I write is satirical, I read two newspapers a day as research. I try to read a lot of fiction, partially for the pleasure of it and partially to support my friends who are writers, but also to see if there is anything I can learn about craft from others. I carry writing utensils with me wherever I go and am prepared to make notes about projects at any time. (My friends are used to it.)
There is something about turning a clever phrase that is very satisfying. I really enjoy wrestling with character and situation (and, because I write humour, making it all funny). And, there is no greater joy than to have a complete major work and being able to say, “That’s mine. I made that.” (Okay, maybe there is one, but would it kill you to let me have my little bit of hyperbole?)
Tell us more about your future projects?
I have two books scheduled to come out in 2015. Random Dingoes is the third Transdimensional Authority novel. Noomi and Crash are the main characters (as they were in the first book); they are investigating a drug that is rumoured to make people high by allowing them to see into other universes without using any technology. Things go south when they are thrown out of the universe, sending the narrative in a completely different direction.
There will also be a sixth collection of Alternate Reality News Service articles called What the Hell Were You Thinking?: Good Advice for People Who Make Bad Decisions. It is a collection of humourous science fiction advice columns by ARNS regulars Amritsar, The Tech Answer Guy and The Biz Whiz.
I have also just about completed the Antonio Van der Whallcycle of short stories. After I have written the final story, I will write some interstitial material that will hopefully tie things together and answer questions about the world left unaddressed in the stories themselves, then I will look for a publisher for the whole package.
And there will hopefully be one or two surprises that I can’t talk about at the moment. So, for now, shhh....