An Interview with Douglas Smith – Short Flights Bundle Author

Well, finally I get to chat with a fellow Canadian (and he won’t be the only one in this series, but you’ll have to stay tuned…)!

My interview guest today is Douglas Smith, an award-winning Canadian author of fantasy, SF, horror, and supernatural fiction. Doug is from Ontario, and his work has been published in twenty-five languages and over thirty countries around the world. He’s a three-time Aurora Award winner and has been a finalist for the international John W. Campbell Award, Canada’s juried Sunburst Award, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s ‘Bookies’ award, and France’s juried Prix Masterton and Prix Bob Morane. He keeps a website at http://www.smithwriter.com/.

SDR: As I’ve asked the others, please tell us a little about the story you have in the Short Flights bundle.

DS: In “By Her Hand, She Draws You Down,” Cath, a beautiful sidewalk artist, is driven by a mysterious hunger that feeds from the portraits she draws of her victims. Joe loves Cath, but as Cath’s hunger grows, so does Joe’s fear that one day she may draw him down.

The story was described as “delightfully creepy” by Library Journal, which was just the reaction I was hoping for. It was a finalist for Canada’s Aurora Award and was selected for The Mammoth Book of Best New Horror that year. The following year, an indie film maker adapted the story into a 30-minute short film of the same name that went on to a batch of awards around the world when it toured festivals.

SDR: It does sound delightfully creepy! Do you remember what sparked the idea for this story? What was it?

DS: I was staring out a window, the window of a bus to be exact. I wanted to write a story about creativity, but a form of creativity other than writing. Maybe the constant flow of visual images flashing by the window led to the idea of a story about a visual artist. From there, I thought of the portrait artists that I’d often seen during family visits to Ontario Place, a lakefront tourist attraction in Toronto–and Cath and her situation was born.

I also wanted to try my hand at a pure horror story, something that couldn’t be classified as anything other than horror. I don’t know where the idea came from to start with a poem, and I can’t remember if the poem led to the rather long title, or the other way around. But once I had the poem, I had the story structure: single point-of-view, told in four sequential scenes, each introduced by a line of the poem that opens the story.

SDR: Why do you write short fiction? Love, necessity, marketability, or something else?

DS: I’m writing solely at novel length now, but will always keep my hand in writing short stories. I strongly believe that short fiction can help a writer in their craft and career in multiple ways: learning the craft of fiction; experimenting with styles, voice, story structures and points of view; testing the waters to see if editors are willing to pay money for your work; building your resume of writing sales; exploring and building ideas for novels; using short story tie-ins as loss leaders and giveaways to promote related novels; building a network of editors and contacts; raising your profile with award ballot appearances and wins; learning part of the publishing business, and many more. I go into the benefits of short fiction and how to use short fiction as a foundation for a writing career in my writer’s guide, Playing the Short Game: How to Market & Sell Short Fiction.

SDR: You’ve obviously put a lot of thought into short story writing–what’s the most perfect short story you’ve ever read?

DS: “The Story of Your Life” by Ted Chiang, which was recently adapted into the movie, “Arrival.” The movie was excellent but the story was much better.

SDR: Are you a planner/outliner/architect or a pantser/gardener/discovery writer?

DS: I’m a “headlights on the highway” writer. I wish I could tell you where I first came across that term, but I can’t. But it fits my approach. I think of it as a compromise between outlining and pantsing.

I’m a character-based writer, so I can’t / don’t start until I know my main characters. I know where I want a book to end up at the climax, and I generally know the main “tent pole” events in the book, typically the big turns, events, or surprises that happen, generally end of Act 1, 2, and before the climax. Then I just start writing, usually with the next 2-4 chapters outlined roughly either in the ms or in my head. If I’m happy with where those chapters go, I move on to the next batch. If I’m not, I fix / change / redo that batch.

The “headlights on the highway” metaphor comes from how the approach resembles driving across a desert at night. You know the highway will get you to your destination town, but you’ve never driven it before. You don’t know what twists, turns, crossroads, etc. you’ll encounter. But you can see enough of the highway ahead of you with your headlights to keep driving.

It’s an approach that lets you make discoveries along the way, but still keep control of the overall direction of the book. Most of the cool things that show up in my stories come from this approach. I know I’d never have discovered them in an outline. The story is discovered in its writing, as someone said. Yeah, I’m not great at attributing quotes.

SDR: I might know that first reference (because I used to have it taped to my monitor!). The one I’m thinking of is E.L. Doctorow: “(Writing is) like driving a car at night. You never see further than your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.” It’s certainly a similar sentiment, anyway. :)

Do you think there were early influences as a reader that have guided the stories you create as a writer? What were they?

DS: Not sure, but I’ve always been fascinated by shapeshifter stories and have my own Heroka series. That fascination might have come from an early love of anthropomorphic animal stories like those of Beatrix Potter and the “Freddy the Pig” book by Walter Brooks, and later the work of Jack London.

SDR: Do you prefer music, silence, or some other noise in the background when you write? If music, what kind?

DS: I tend to prefer to listen to classical music when I write (with headphones, since I’m often writing in a library, coffee shop, or public place). It drowns out the background noise, since conversations can be really distracting to a writer (we love to eavesdrop). Instrumental music, no vocals, and preferably baroque or early classical. Vivaldi, Corelli, Bach are all good. Their music is more cerebral than emotional, which makes it perfect for writing.

SDR: Tell us about your other works, projects, publications, and what’s on the horizon next. This is the shameless self-promotion portion of the interview!

DS: I’m finishing up the second book in a young adult urban fantasy trilogy. I don’t like to talk about WIPs, so I’ll just say it involves mysterious artifacts, a lost jungle expedition, dream walking, astral projection, rune magic, a search for lost parents, and the end of the multiverse. After that’s done, I’ll write the next book in my Heroka shapeshifter series. I’m also planning a stand-alone novel based on my novelette, “Memories of the Dead Man.”

SDR: Well, thanks for stopping by for a chat, Doug! And thanks for being part of the bundle.

The Short Flights bundle from BundleRabbit is available now across many online platforms. Along with Doug’s story, you’ll find nine more single stories and five full collections in the bundle, enough short fiction to keep you reading for a while! At just $4.99, it’s a real steal, so don’t miss it.

Talking About Bundles

I’ve been pretty active with bundles lately, and a good writing friend asked if I could talk about them a little here. So I’m happy to dish the low-down on bundles as I’ve experienced them.

To start with, book bundles are primarily a marketing tool to draw in readers with a good value deal on multiple books, and from the participating authors’ perspective, introduce one’s works to a new audience. Bundles generally originate with publishers, author collectives, or through bundling sites or platforms. They may also be known as “box sets,” which are essentially the same thing.

One of my first introductions to being included in a box set or bundle was one my publisher, Tyche Books, put together a few years back. It was a space opera box set called Rogues, and (from my perspective anyway) sold well. It included the first book in my Nearspace series, One’s Aspect to the Sun, so would serve as an introduction to this series for new readers, some of whom might go on to buy others in the series. Just the other day I happened upon a review of Rogues I hadn’t seen before, and the reviewer said,  “There were a few great stories (I really liked One’s Aspect to the Sun, for example)” so that kind of made my day! This reader might not have seen my book if it hadn’t been in the set, but they enjoyed it and who knows? They might buy Dark Beneath the Moon and Beyond the Sentinel Stars.

While I’m thinking of it, One’s Aspect to the Sun is currently in a new box set from Tyche, called Shadows and Light; it’s a “first in a series” set, again meant to introduce new readers to a series. And it looks beautiful!

A large part of the thinking behind bundles or box sets is cross-pollination–someone might initially buy this set because of one of the other authors included, but then read my book because it’s there, and become introduced to me as a writer in that way. And hopefully go looking for other things I’ve written.

I’ve also worked with a bundling platform called BundleRabbit. BundleRabbit is the brainchild of Chuck Heintzelman, and provides authors with a place to list works they’re willing to have included in bundles. Authors participating in a bundle share in the revenues generated from that bundle. I curated one of the first BundleRabbit bundles, and have just done a second one, the Short Flights of the Imagination bundle. I love short fiction and I’ve wanted to do a bundle featuring short stories for a while now, and it has finally come together. So the curator decides on a vision for a bundle and searches through available titles to find pieces to include. Authors are invited and may accept or decline. Then when the bundle is finalized, hopefully all the authors will participate in sharing and promoting the bundle out to their social networks; this is where more cross-pollination comes into play as readers learn about other authors from one they already know. BundleRabbit does all the heavy lifting of setting up and distributing the files and downloads, participates in promotion, and collects revenue and pays out royalties.

Of course, to list your work on a site like BundleRabbit, you must have the rights to do so; I wouldn’t list my traditionally published titles there because my publishers look after that marketing and have the right to set prices and oversee distribution. However, for my independent titles, I’m free to do as I wish. And of course I mention my other trad-pub works in the ebook files I use for bundles, so it’s roundabout promotion for those, as well.

I’ve been invited to several bundles, some of which are current right now: Immortals, Weird Fantastic Detective Stories, Gumshoes Redux, and Short Flights, which is on pre-sale now and will release in full on March 15th. It’s good to have a variety of titles available if you’re going to get into bundling, and of course, as with all independent titles, they should be of high quality, with professional covers and blurbs, so that curators can include your work with confidence.

More questions about bundles? Ask in the comments and I’ll do my best to answer. Now if you’re looking for some new material for your ereader, be sure to click some of these links… ;)

The Power of Books–and Writers

IMG_5005-cropIf you’re like me, you’ve been saddened and horrified at the crisis in Attawapiskat, Ontario. The thought of these young people with so little hope for the future, that children as young as ten years old would contemplate suicide, is a terrible one.

And if you’re like me, you feel helpless to do anything about it. Most of the problems in the country–in the world–are too big, too overwhelming for individuals to contemplate. No-one can help everyone. We can donate our time and money to organizations who might provide assistance, but beyond that, it’s hard to imagine being able to do anything on a personal level.

However, the youth in this isolated community have identified some things that they feel would help their situation. And one of those things is a library.

As a writer, I know the power of a library to change lives; when I was young, our local library was one of my favorite places, and I know that I have become who I am today partly because of those books. They took me places and showed me things that helped to shape my life. I think that all children should have the opportunities that libraries offer: to read, discover, learn, escape, and imagine. I’ve been a library volunteer at a local elementary school for over ten years, and stayed on long after my own children were gone from the school, partly because of that belief.

And now, instead of simply reading stories, I tell them, too. So today I acted on an idea that popped into my head a couple of days ago. I packed up a few of my titles and mailed them to the Attawapiskat First Nation. I told them, in my letter, that I hoped the books might form part of the library they want to build.

It’s a small thing. But even though, as I said above, no-one can help everyone, we can each help someone. And so I’m challenging other Canadian writers to do the same as I’ve done. I’m sure that many of us (probably most) have extra copies of our own books, ARCs, or promotional copies filling shelves, filing cabinets, or boxes. Imagine if we all picked out something appropriate and sent it off with a word of encouragement.

The power of books. The power of libraries. The power of writers.

Imagine.

The address is: Youth in Attawapiskat, P.O. Box 248, Attawapiskat, Ontario, P0L 1A0

Friday Desk Report ~ March 4, 2016

Rumsey-nova scotiaWhew! That week went fast, and it was a busy one.

Yes, that’s a map of Nova Scotia on the side, including Cape Breton. We’re in the news so much lately, of course I have to try and capitalize on that. After all, my desk IS in Cape Breton, right? And this report is coming from my desk. So it’s not such a stretch. ;) #capebreton

Most notably this week, I wrote a new short story–in a day. That never happens! My short stories are rarely all that short, and they normally take weeks or more to come into being. But this one just popped into my head and I wrote it. Boom. It also sparked the idea for several more, which are currently rattling around in my brain. Possibly a whole project’s worth. But we’ll have to wait and see what comes of it all. I was also moved to pick up an old, abandoned story and work on it some more. I think I still haven’t solved the main problem that stalled me on that one before, but I’m a lot closer to having it figured out.

I also made some inroads in the novel draft. Finally! It has been a dark two months on that front, and it’s only now that I’m coming out of it that I realize I really was stuck in a bout of the winter blues. Well, let’s call it what it is: seasonal affective disorder. I’m fortunate to get reasonably mild symptoms and to have discovered over the years that I can take steps to alleviate it–most notably, keeping active and spending daily time with a full-spectrum light. However, sometimes it takes me a little while (read, weeks) to clue in to what’s actually going on. Duh. I should set a reminder for myself now, scheduled to pop up next January, that says, “start walking and get out your Ott light!” Anyway, I figured it out eventually and am no longer spending long hours playing Animal Crossing and subsisting on chocolate chips.

Here’s something new happening: this excitement will be dropping around the middle of the month, and I’ve just seen the cover art:Rogues 3D_01Awesome! This looks like a great bundle (put together by Tyche Books) and a smart way to start on some really cool series. I’ll be sharing links and more when it goes live, so stay tuned!

I had a Writers In The Schools visit this week at the local high school and as usual, the kids and teachers were great to work with. Two more scheduled before the school year is up!

Things I researched this week:

  • names for parts of bagpipes
  • Cape Breton fiddle music
  • 19th c. highland dress
  • the birds of Rhiannon
  • Celtic deities

…a definite theme happening there. More on that later…

*Map: Mackinlay’s map of the Province of Nova Scotia, including the island of Cape Breton. – David Rumsey Historical Map Collection

 

A Mystery Unearthed

  
This little gem came to light yesterday and generated a thrill of memory for me. This book was one of my favorites when I was young, and I would consider it a foundational influence on my reading and writing tastes.

It was probably one of my first introductions to “mystery” as a genre, and features a lot of story in its slim 80 pages. Kidnapping in the name of love! Trial by jury! Prison and escape! Vengeance and redemption! I read it countless times and I’m not sure what ever happened to the copy that lived at our house, but I’m sure glad to have one again now. 

I think I’ll curl up and read it today. :)

July Newsletter

Paper_StackThe July issue (okay, the first issue!) of my Writing News newsletter is out. I hope to make this a regular feature; this issue includes some news items, reading recommendations, and writing thoughts. I’ve kept it short and sweet and (I hope) interesting.

If you’re not subscribed yet, you can do so from the bottom of any page on this site, or from the top of the right-hand sidebar on most pages. In the future I’ll be running contests, offering writing tips and book reviews, and adding anything else I think might be of interest. I’m also happy to hear from subscribers (or potential subscribers) about what you’d like to see.

The July issue is available to view online at http://t.co/mLaYkI7fST.

Excerpt – The Murder Prophet

MP-cover-FINAL-webIf you missed out on last week’s ARC giveaway or didn’t win, I have a consolation prize for you today. The first chapter of The Murder Prophet is live at my website so you can get a taste of the book.

As I’ve mentioned before, it’s a quirky story, a mashup of urban fantasy (not the sort with vampires, werewolves, or faerie folk) and mystery, flavoured with romance and humour. If you enjoy things like Janet Evanovich’s Lizzy & Diesel books, or Laura Resnick’s Esther Diamond books, or Kevin J. Anderson’s Dan Shamble, Zombie PI series, I think (without comparing myself to these authors!) there’s a good chance you’ll like The Murder Prophet.

Anyway, Chapter One is here, so check it out!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Summer Library Read

Library_Pataskala_025I’m working my way through my 52-book Goodreads Reading Challenge–a little bit behind, mainly because of writing projects. I haven’t done an actual survey of what I’ve read this year, but I’m going to guess that they’d shake out like this by format: Audio, then Ebook, then Print.

(Well, now that I’ve wondered about it, I DO have to go and check.) Yup, confirmed. Print is at the bottom of the list.

It’s not that I don’t like print books anymore. It’s a matter of convenience–I can multitask and do stuff around the house and garden while I listen to audiobooks. I can easily have an ebook with me wherever I go, on one of my ereaders or even my phone. So while I still love the print format, it’s harder to find space for it in my life.

But not in the summer.

Perhaps because reading print books has become more of an indulgence, they seem to go best with summer reading. I usually devour books in the summertime, and one of the things I love best is the Summer Library Read.

This is the book that you had never heard of before you stopped into the library today. It’s probably the book you wouldn’t be quick to buy, because you know nothing about it, and little about the author. But as you ran your eyes and fingers along the shelf, it spoke to you. The spine caught your eye. The title intrigued. The blurb piqued your interest.

And there was nothing to stop you from giving it a try. Zero committment. Nothing down, nothing to pay (unless you don’t return it on time). You just picked it up, took it to the desk, and then walked out with it. And you’ll settle in to read it at the most indulgent times. When you’re up late because it’s vacation and you don’t have to set the alarm. When you’re at the beach. At the cottage. Sitting out on your step with a cold drink and a bit of shade. Indulging your love of print books, and library books, and the absolute joy of discovering something wonderful and new.

The summer library read. If you haven’t tried it lately, I recommend you give it a whirl. You never know what you might find.

Photo credit: click at Morguefile.com

Exterminate! Exterminate!

256px-Book_burning I’ve read some books I didn’t particularly like. I’ve read some books that I thought had many technical and craft-related flaws. I’ve written reviews on some of those books.

I’ve never felt the need or desire to destroy an author or their book in one of those reviews. I don’t think it’s necessary, professional, or entertaining.

I’m not writing this post because I’ve received any sort of review like this for my own work (or if I have, I’ve been lucky enough not to see it!). But I’ve read some others lately that alternately make me cringe, and make me angry. Have you seen reviews like this? Where the reviewer seems to take a sick delight in completely eviscerating the work–and by association, of course, the author? They can be cleverly written, sure. But their vitriol against the book is actually repulsive. I’m not going to do any of them the service of linking to them. Sadly, they’re not all that difficult to find.

Yes, there are probably more flawed books available now than there ever were before (although don’t think they don’t/didn’t exist inside traditional publishing since its inception). But I don’t know what can prompt a “reviewer” to write such a screed. Even if you think a book is the worst piece of drivel ever written, that opinion doesn’t give you the right to decimate another human being. You can discuss the flaws you found in the book; you can discuss why it didn’t appeal to you; you can even make suggestions for what would have improved it for you. Those thoughts might be helpful to an author in writing another book, and they might be helpful to other readers in deciding whether to read a book.

But if you’re not writing a review with those goals in mind, why *are* you writing it? If it’s to make yourself look clever and rapier-witted at the cost of destroying someone else–you’re just another online bully. And your credibility with me is a big fat zero.

Photo credit: By Patrick Correia from Northampton, MA, United States (Book burning Uploaded by mangostar) [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

I Can See Clearly Now

What are you looking at?

What are you looking at?

Well, I can’t yet, but I will be able to, soon. I had one of my slightly too-infrequent visits to the eye doctor today and I was right in suspecting that I need new glasses.

However, once you’re over *cough* a certain age, you expect this will happen with increasing regularity as your eyesight begins to get worse. The doctor confirmed what I had suspected previous to this visit but felt kind of ridiculous suggesting: my eyesight has actually improved. My current glasses are too strong.

I remarked on the apparent strangeness of that and he shrugged and said, “sometimes it happens.” So there you have it. I’m not super special, just a little bit special, I guess.

Anyway, I’m glad to learn that sitting in front of screens for much of the day has had no adverse affects–at least not on my vision. Viewed from a different angle, the verdict might also be slightly different.

Photo credit: krosseel