Monday, January 24, 2011

Debut Author Gets Two-Book Publishing Deal

Toronto writer, Matthew J. Trafford, gets a two-book publishing deal with Douglas & McIntyre, with The Divinity Gene coming out next month. Find out what this collection of stories is about, how Matthew got published, and how he likes his coffee.

What is your debut collection of short stories, The Divinity Gene, all about?

There are ten stories in the collection and they're pretty different when it comes to style, voice, and subject matter. A couple of the stories deal with issues around science and technology, like cloning. Some deal with religious and mythological figures like mermaids or the devil. But at their core, all of the stories are really about emotional relationships, the frailty of the heart.

What inspired you to write these stories under a particular theme?

My stories tend towards the magical and the fantastical, but are grounded in the reality of contemporary daily life and human emotion. I’m often inspired by the strange situation or magical possibility first, and then the emotional theme seeps into the writing as the story develops.

The stories aren’t linked; each one can stand alone. But when you look at them as a collection, certain themes do tend to emerge. I would say that identity politics, the relationship between parents and their children, loss and grieving, and the search for love are the main themes of the book.

Describe a typical writing day for you, while you worked on this book.

Even though my book is being published, I still feel like a hack because I never successfully maintained a daily writing practice. Even when I did manage to write every day, no two were the same.

At first I was working on the stories as part of my MFA, which I was completing while juggling a few jobs, so my writing tended to be deadline-driven and done in fits and starts, sometimes pulling all-nighters. The whole time I was working on the book I lived in a house with three (sometimes four) other people, with their own erratic comings-and-goings and no guaranteed 'quiet time.' But somehow this worked for me, grabbing an hour here or there whenever I could.

I am a big fan of house sitting and I did that often – those were generally long days when I would write for hours at a time. But even the physical act of writing is all over the place with me: sometimes I work longhand in a journal, sometimes on my computer, sometimes at home, sometimes in a library. I do have a version of a “perfect workday” in my head, but it never quite happens in reality, and ultimately I’m OK with that.

What was the pitching process like when you were contacting publishing houses? Any advice for new writers who are looking to shop their manuscripts around?

The best advice I can offer is to concentrate on producing the very best work you can. It sounds simple, but it really is key: good writing will get people excited, get people talking, and get people to take a look (or second look). Then, even if they have to pass because a manuscript isn’t right for them, they will remember your name and quite possibly suggest other places to send the manuscript or other people who might be interested.

My manuscript was rejected twice in the first few months following my graduation from UBC’s Optional-Residency MFA program. After that I felt very stuck, and unsure of how to proceed. Then two things happened that I think were key: I was accepted to the Banff Writing Studio and undertook massive revisions while I was there, cutting two stories that weren’t working and really improving many of the others. Second, I had a story accepted into the anthology Darwin’s Bastards: Astounding Tales from Tomorrow.

It was the title story of my book, and on its merits the anthology’s publisher, Douglas & McIntyre, asked to have a look at my entire (and newly improved) manuscript. After another few months of anxious waiting, they made me an offer.

Where can people snag a copy of The Divinity Gene?

As of February 12th, the book will be in stores. I always encourage people to support local independent bookstores (if there are any left!), but of course the book will be in the big-chain box-stores too. Another option is to order online. For people with e-readers, an e-book version will be available as well.

How do you like your coffee?

Most days it’s black. But I like to mix it up – sometimes I take cream and sugar as a treat, sometimes just cream or just sugar.

Monday, January 3, 2011

writing for children - a new writer shares her lessons

pdo!nk is a brand new publishing company with a mission to invent great stories that inspire learning and enjoyment for positive change and self-development. They strive to be optimistic, playful, original, and to create timeless stories for families.

Jessica Lowe has been hired as pdo!nk's writer-in-residence and has been working on their first series called 'Yogurt the Ogre'. I caught up with Jessica to find out more about her new full-time writing life after working in film and television.

Can you describe your first project with them?

My first project with pdo!nk was interesting because I was finishing a contract on a TV pilot while trying to help out with the writing of our first Yogurt the Ogre story. During this period I was providing editorial notes and brainstorming with my bosses about how we wanted the look and feel of this series to be. It took several drafts and some market testing before we felt the series was where we wanted it to be.

Have you ever written for children before?

During university I had done some children's theatre where I wrote plays for children and then also performed in them for elementary schools. But most of my life I have written material more geared towards adults.

What was your experience like writing the first story? Did you imagine it would be this way writing for children?

I was definitely nervous writing my first story. Nervous because this was the first time that someone was actually paying me for my creativity, and I was convinced they weren't going to like what I came up with. But after I sent my first draft and got lots of positive reinforcement from my bosses I learned to trust myself more and to worry less. I learned that the writing process can be a lot of fun. Unlike adult content, you can get really silly and creative writing for children. Usually the sillier the mood I get in, the better the story in the end!

What is a typical writing day like for you?

Every day varies. Some days I am able to write almost an entire first draft (approximately 1400 words) in just a few hours. Other days I might only get out a couple solid paragraphs. It all depends on the day. I find that I don't write as well in the morning, so generally I try to go to the gym in the morning. That gives me something to wake up for early and to get my energy. I work from home, so it can be really easy to get distracted. So it's important to treat my job as a 9 to 5 as much as possible.

What have you learned? What advice do you have for aspiring children’s authors?

I've definitely learned to write until you hit writer's block (which you will inevitably face) and then to walk away. Sitting and getting angry at your computer screen or notepad won't help. Walking away, getting a tea, going for a jog, etc. and then returning will help clear your head and give you a fresh outlook. Sometimes if I am writing a poem, however, (for our 8pm stories) I will get stuck on a stanza where the rhyming scheme just will not work. I often put something in (even if it sounds terrible) and I am able to continue with the rest of the poem easily. Then later I can go back and fix that one problem area. That helps me keep my momentum instead of just fixating on the one part.

I think it's important for every writer to find a system that works best for him/herself. I like to write on my couch, legs out, with my computer resting on my lap. Others may prefer a desk. I would suggest playing around with different places and different times of day to find what works best for you.

And my last piece of advice for aspiring children's authors is to WRITE! It sounds silly, but for me getting this job I had to show a sample of various things I had written to my bosses. None of it was children's stories. But with a screenplay, a sketch comedy, a spec script for TV, and a few other things, I was able to prove to them that I was a writer and I was ready to write!

What’s next for pdo!nk?

pdo!nk has just printed our first story and we are selling it on Amazon before it hits the shelves of bookstores next year. I am touching up the next two stories for Yogurt the Ogre so they can all be launched this year. We have another children's series that we will begin to develop throughout the year as well as an adult series. It is only the beginning, so it is a world of opportunities!