Novels: Goblin Quest
Heroes in Training - Edited with Martin H. Greenberg
Stories: "Blade of the Bunny" - L. Ron Hubbard's Writers of the Future XV
"Spell of the Sparrow" - Sword & Sorceress XXI
Pitch your latest novel OR the first novel of your series.
> There's a scene in Lord of the Rings where our heroes are making their way through the Mines of Moria as a part of their Great and Noble quest, when they're attacked by goblins. Have you ever thought about that scene from the goblins' point of view? That's your home. Imagine trying to live your life, always being interrupted by those blasted heroes running amuck on their silly quests.... Goblin Quest is the story of Jig the goblin, a nearsighted runt who was minding his own business when a band of "heroes" showed up, killed his companions, and captured him to be their guide through the mountain. In order to survive, Jig has to help battle everything from dark wizards to a dragon. All three books are a lot of fun, and they challenge a lot of our assumptions and preconceptions about the fantasy genre. Also, Jig has a pet spider named Smudge who sets things on fire. What's not to love?
What are your favourite three books (not by you, either in the field or out of it)?
> That's a very difficult question, in part because the answer changes from week to week, depending on my mood and what I've been reading lately. I've always been quite fond of Janet Kagan's Hellspark. There's a warmth to Kagan's writing, and her cultures are very well-developed. As someone who writes on the humorous side of the street, I love Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman. In non-fiction, I really enjoyed Ursula K. LeGuin's collection Dancing at the Edge of the World.
If you could, would you change places with any of your characters?
> Heck, no! Authors are cruel, cruel masters. We have to be. Nobody wants to read about characters who live a nice, peaceful, happy life. So we toss one problem after another at our poor heroes. If Jig the goblin ever finds a way into our world, he's going to track me down and kick my butt from here to Australia.
What was the hardest scene for you to write?
> I wrote a mainstream novel called Goldfish Dreams, which was published by a very small press years ago. It's the only non-SF/F thing I've written, and it's very different from the rest of my work. I was fictionalizing a lot of the things I had seen and experienced during my time as a sexual assault counselor at a local crisis center. Trying to put myself into the mind of both my protagonist, an incest survivor, as well as the perpetrator ... it was more than a little disturbing. I'm very proud of the end result, but it wasn't an easy book to write.
What was the most fun book signing, convention, etc. you've attended and why?
> That would be the group signing we did this January at the World's Biggest Bookstore, of course! Okay, maybe I'm kissing up to the bookseller a little bit there. But I did have a great time visiting Toronto, meeting the other authors, and visiting with folks in the store.
If you still have one, what's your day job?
> I'm a state employee in Michigan, doing customer support for the department that gathers and maintains education-related data. Not the most exciting job in the world, but it pays the bills, and my coworkers are good people. My writing career has been going really well these past few years, but with two young children as well as a few chronic health issues in the family, I can't afford to lose the steady paycheck or the health insurance. (Curse that U.S. health system!) I would love to cut back on the day job, but looking at the numbers, it's not going to happen any time soon.
When and where do you write?
> Finding time to write has been a bit of a trick. The bulk of my writing is done during my lunch break at work. One hour a day, five days a week lets me churn out about 5000 words in a week. Deadlines have been crunching me a little harder lately, so I've been squeezing in some evening and weekend writing sessions. But every night I spend trying to get a short story finished by the anthology deadline is a night I'm not playing with my son or reading to my daughter. I'm okay with sacrificing video games or TV, but there are limits to what I'm willing to give up. (Any wealthy patrons who feel like adopting a fantasy author, please contact me!)
What's the best/worst thing about writing?
> That's another one I could talk about for hours. One of the best things is the connection with my readers. Whether it's an e-mail telling me how the goblin books helped someone smile during a really rough time, or chatting with fans on my blog, or talking to a teacher who used my books to get a student excited about reading, it's an awesome feeling. The idea that your words -- even the silly ones -- could make a difference in someone else's life ... I'm incredibly grateful that I'm able to do this. The worst thing? Probably the emotional ups and downs. When you're struggling to break in, the rejections and the uncertainty can really wear you down. Then when you start selling, you get a whole new batch of neuroses to worry about. Will the books sell? Will my publisher drop me after the next book? How am I going to find time to finish that interview when I've also got a book to revise, a short story to finish, and two proposals to turn in? Honestly, I think the smartest thing I ever did as a writer was to marry a trained counselor.
Any tips against writers block?
> One of my most-repeated suggestions -- one which has also helped me when I'm feeling blocked -- is to give yourself permission to write crap. I used to get stuck a lot because I didn't feel like the words I was writing were good enough. Rather than risk writing a lousy story, I'd freeze. Sometimes for days at a time. The thing is, you have to take those risks, and it's okay to write crap. Even an awful first draft gives you something to work with. You can always revise, and the story isn't done until it's sold, proofed, and typeset. Writing is a skill like anything else, and I've yet to meet a writer who produced brilliant fiction from day one. A lousy story doesn't mean you're a lousy writer. It means you've got to keep practicing and learning ... just like the rest of us.
How many rejection letters did you get for your first novel or story?
> Oh, man. I've collected over 500 of the things since I started sending my work out back in 1995. The first story I sold was "Blade of the Bunny." That one was a fluke, and only got two rejections before taking first place in the Writers of the Future contest back in 1998. Goblin Quest, on the other hand, was bounced a total of 33 times, mostly by agents. You can write the best book in the world, but if you don't know how to write a good query letter, most agents aren't going to bother with you.