Please tell us about your book:
My debut is called The Light Years and it came out Feb. 2020 just as everyone was gearing up to shut down. The book is about a lot of things, but I think Kirkus said it best with, “On the surface, you get an engrossing space opera, but if you look deeper you will find explorations of poverty, arranged marriage, and the toll that difficult moral choices take on families.”
How did you celebrate its release?
I was fortunate to have a few live events … including one with cake … before the lock downs started. A couple of nights after the publication date, we did an event at Gibson’s Bookstore in Concord, NH. I played guitar, did a little reading, answered some questions, ate cake, and drank (really) cheap wine.
Why and when did you start writing in earnest?
I was a print journalist for about a dozen years after college, but I didn’t get serious about fiction until 2010 or so. I’d segued to teaching high-school English, and the work I was doing with my creative-writing students lit a fire under me.
What was your publishing journey like?
I started getting short stories published around 2012 and began nibbling at the ‘find an agent’ thing. I’d written a book as my MFA thesis and sent that out a dozen or so times before shelving it. In 2017, I sent a different book to Angry Robot as part of their Open Door unagented submission process. About a year later I got an email back, and two years after that they published The Light Years.
How many books did you write before your debut and what did you learn from them?
Three or four full manuscripts and a few partials. The first was my MFA thesis, and I wrote it thirty pages at a time with a critique of each installment. I likely would not do things that way again. I prefer to crank out a full draft – beginning, middle, and end – and then go back to it rather than move from stepping stone to stepping stone. Probably the most important thing I learned was that writing a book was possible and then repeatable. I recently hit 30K with my current manuscript, and it struck me that once-upon-a-time I would have found that number mighty intimidating.
How has your relationship to writing changed after finding out that your debut would be published?
I’ve been putting my writing in front of people for a long time — as a “poet” in high school, a journalist, and now as a guy with a book — and the doubts and worries have never gone away. It’s a mix of “Hey, I wrote a book!” and “Please read my humble offering” and “Don’t hurt me!” Writing is a tool that I use fairly well, but there’s still a hard knot of fear in putting it out there.
What do you wish you had known before publishing your first book?
I did a lot of work to educate myself in advance, including going to conferences and joining (and later running) my statewide writers’ organization, The New Hampshire Writers’ Project. I got into the writing community pretty deep, and I believe I was as prepared as I could have been.
What challenges do you face as a published author?
The biggest challenge is staying published and trying to build a career out of it. I wrote The Light Years by getting up at 4:30 in the morning for months and banging on a typewriter before going to work. Then revisions. And edits. And queries and submissions. And you can’t just write one book. An agent is going to ask you “what else ya got?” and you’re going to want a drawer full of work to turn to. It’s almost too hard write successfully solely as a hobby.
Do you feel the industry has been welcoming to you?
I think so. It was difficult to break into, but now that I’m here, the industry seems curious about the stories I have to tell.
How has the pandemic affected you creatively?
I had a really hard time getting anything going for the first several months. The combination of pandemic and Trump created way too much static for me to think through. I wrote a book in there somewhere, but it getting it out wasn’t easy.
Do you think that current events have changed the reception of your debut?
I don’t believe it changed how it was received, but it might have affected whether or not it was. True, I had a couple of reviews say the book was “too woke,” and that was kind of a Trumpy-political reaction, but the sheer amount of information flying around last spring made it hard to see anything that wasn’t COVID or US election related. And then it go to the point where I couldn’t leave the house to flog it, and I became just another “look at me” on the Internet.
How do you approach reviews, what was your first negative review like?
I tend to think reviews are for the readers rather than for the writers, and thus don’t spend a lot of time perusing them. By the time someone reviews something of mine, it’s already out, and there’s no way to bring it back for another round of revisions. That said, it’s wonderful to get a good review, and sometimes there is truth in a bad review. I’m not perfect, and there is always more to learn about telling a story. The first review that got under my skin was a dude who played the “too woke” card.
What are you planning next?
I’ve another novel, Twenty-Five to Life, coming out through Angry Robot in August 2021, and I’m currently working on book two of a planned trilogy.
Do you have a set writing routine?
I prefer writing in the morning, but now that I’ve left teaching, morning starts at eight or nine rather than 4:30 [am] . I have a daily 1,000-word goal. Sometimes that takes two hours, sometimes three, sometimes four, but I rarely shut down Scrivener without hitting my mark.
What is your preferred writing soundtrack?
I like jazz or hiphop or punk or classical turned down low so I can feel it rather than hear it. I want the rhythm not the words.
Coffee, tea or other writing fuel?
Black coffee by the quart, tea and water by the pint.
What was your favourite moment on the journey to publication?
I’m a U.S. writer, and Angry Robot is a UK publisher. My favorite part was the immediate expansion of my active awareness. All of a sudden, I had friends and colleagues in the UK, and my world got bigger and more interesting.
What books (or other media) have you loved recently?
Too many. So many. I love that Netflix allows me to see sci-fi from all over the world. “3%” from Brazil, “Ad Vitam” from France, “Space Sweepers” from Korea … it’s really exciting. I’ve also been getting into plot-heavy video games like “Detroit: Becoming Human” and “The Last of Us.” I just read The Only Good Indians by Stephen Graham Jones, the First Law Trilogy by Joe Abercrombie, Afro Puffs are the Antennae of the Universe by Zig Zag Claybourne, and The Wayward Children books by Seanan McGuire.