Will this author and book release goodness ever end???
NO, NOT YET!
I'm delighted to welcome another book birthday author to the blog today to learn more about their journey to publication!
Here we go...
Urban explorer, adventurer and science fiction fan, Claire McKenna is a Melbourne -based SFF writer who is wrangling the release of her debut novel, the gothic fantasy-mystery MONSTROUS HEART. She is a graduate of the first Clarion South Writer's Workshop, and her short stories have been nominated for both Aurealis and Ditmar awards. She can usually be found in a science fiction convention in the vicinity of either the bar, or wherever some juicy gossip is being exchanged.
FOLLOW CLAIRE HERE!
MONSTROUS HEART is a nautical gothic, a cold-climate mystery set amongst decaying lighthouses, sea-monsters and mystical islands to where cursed lovers have fled...
If you pierce a man’s skin the great portside city of Clay-Lyonne, all they’ll do is bleed. But the blood of an ignis sanguis can maintain fire—a necessary talent for those signallers and light-keepers in a seafarer’s realm measured by unforgiving ocean and hard tide.
However, Arden Beacon—disgraced, dim-blooded daughter of a fading Ignis family—came into her talent late, and weak. Her last chance at redeeming her genetic misfortunes will only be in duty: tending a remote lighthouse in the wild south country of Fiction. But her only neighbour upon her lonely promontory is the reviled Jonah Riven, a monster caller, and murderer.
Arden has been sent to live on the same promontory as a killer, and it appears, not by accident.
Who are you and what do you write?
Hi, I'm Claire McKenna and I mostly write science fiction and dark fantasy short stories. I say "mostly" now, because for the past couple of years I've been working on novels! Before that, I've been doing a lot of solar and biopunk. Though it has been a few years since my university days, I was always keen on biology and genetics, and that’s worked its way into my stories. My dark fantasy excursions are for all those other weird ideas that I can't find a sensible place for.
Where and when and how did the writing life begin for you?
I think like most teens who became writers I had the "never ending novel" that I would work on for years but never get anywhere with. And of course the book was a glorious six-hundred page mess. But I sold a portion of it as a short story, my first sale, so it wasn’t all a wasted effort.
After I realised my big messy novel was a dead end I wrote another. This one ended up being shortlisted for a major SF first-novel prize, and then I knew my dream was just about in my grasp. There followed a wild ride of novels and literary agents (I've had four agents, so far) and a l m o s t publishing for years until this book came out.
Monstrous Heart is probably "completed novel number ten". Nearly all writers will have a few starter novels in the trunk before publishing their first.
How has the journey to this point been? Can you give us a basic rundown?
Equal parts exciting and frustrating. I think that’s how it goes for everyone! It’s exciting when you are on submission to publishers and talking to important people, frustrating if a story or relationship falls apart, or if deals don't quite turn out how you would like them to, and you might be back on square one.
I queried Monstrous Heart to agents—and eventually publishers through my agent Sam Morgan--under the title The Sea Above, the Fire Below. I knew it would probably change once it sold. (Unless you can think of a very clever title, the publisher will almost always re-title it!) Fortunately the whole path afterwards was relatively quick… make-up time for the long journey before.
So from querying in February and March 2018, it came out in March 2020.
What's been the hardest part of your writing/publishing experience so far? And the most enjoyable? Would you go back and change anything?
I’ll try and write on POST landing-a-publisher issues, as there is a wealth of information up to that point, then people get very quiet. Probably hoping not to jinx things!
Unless your book is very timely there can be many months between the “verbal offer” and the eventual contract. I was sitting at a table recently and one new author asked if there was supposed to be such a long wait between the offer and the publisher sending the contract. We all said yes… up to six months! (Smaller publishers can be a bit quicker of course.) The wait can be a bit stressful if you’re not a flashy lead title so the best advice is to concentrate on a second book.
I think if definitely I knew I was going to land Harper Voyager UK, I would have written Monstrous Heart as a Young Adult book, ha-ha! Despite publishing a lot of spec-fic genres, HVUK are best known for high-quality YA books, so their “early readers” expect a lot of YA fantasy. As you can guess, my early reviews are full of people being confused… getting dark grown-up stuff thrust upon them after expecting a light YA fantasy! Hopefully once Monstrous Heart is published to a wider audience I can escape the YA ecosystem and find more appropriate readers. Getting your book in front of the right eyeballs can be hard.
Where would you like to be in 5 years time? And 10? Or, what are your plans for the future?
In 2025 I’ll have finished my next big project and halfway through my third. In 2030 I’m still writing, perhaps on my million dollar cabin cruiser, but more realistically on a little boat that won’t sink.
What's one piece of advice you'd give to new writers just starting out?
If you want to traditionally publish, hold that dream tight and don't let the other knockbacks make you give up.
Also in the agent (and perhaps less, publisher hunt) you have to query each project A LOT. That means querying fifty agents in a very short timeframe of say, 12 weeks or less if you want a real chance. I'm not sure why, but sometimes there is a disconnect between the idealised person who we think will like our work and the one who actually does. Only by powering through the first 20 queries can you overcome your subtle bias and start getting better fits.
On the writing side, there's always a point in every story where you'll get bogged down. The problem may actually be a plot point earlier in the story. Its OK to go back and fix it! You don’t have to finish the whole book in one go.
And most importantly...
Ketchup or Mayo? - Mayo! Aioli (which is Mayo and Garlic) if I was cheating!
Night or Day? - I like night, but I get more done in the day, so I'll say day.
Inside or Outside? - Hmm, Outside? I do a lot of bike riding and I like it better out than in.
Dogs or Cats? - Hmm, Dogs by a very small margin, although we own a cat.
Twitter or Facebook? - Twitter! It’s where I get all my news and pick all the random arguments.
eBook or Paperback? - eBook, so handy!
Sun or Rain? - Sun, if I'm going outside.
Keyboard or Pencil & Notebook? - As a person who owns twenty typewriters and ALL the mechanical keyboards, I'll say keyboard.
Comedy or Drama? - Drama. So Serious.
Chips or Chocolate? - Chocolate of course. The King of Empty Calories!
Want to guest blog or be interviewed? Got a cover reveal or book coming out?
Get in touch today!