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Clare London and E. Davies join us for a round of questions and answers, offering insights into their different author journeys.

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Show Notes

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Interview Transcript – Clare London

Jeff: Clare London, why do you write?

Clare: I write to tell a story because I enjoy working with words, I enjoy finding the right ones, the ones that are attractive, that are entertaining, that will evoke emotion. And I think there’s two questions between why do you write, why do you publish, but I publish because I want to share all that with…I write for an adventure, for my own adventure as well as the readers.

Jeff: And how do you write? We can break that down and start with are you a plotter or a pantser?

Clare: Well, a pantser. I’m a pantser. I try again and again to plot and to outline and fail almost every time, so I’m a pantser. I write in Word, I’m very basic. I don’t use any programs. I do write in separate chapters, which fills some people with dread and horror when I mention it and then pull them together at the end. I’m a little bit anal about moving the same length and things like, or similar things like that so I am quite strict.

I used to write very early in the mornings, I’ve found, when I was at full-time work outside of the home, but nowadays it seems to be later in the day. Funnily enough, I had to pretend to. And I like quiet. The people who have a playlist or things going on is great or coffee shopping but I like quiet. I need to find myself going and acting out the dialogue so I think it’s probably best I have quiet.

Jeff: I would love to see you do that.

Clare: Yeah, I got to be. And then I, it does go like that, but you’ve got to. Well, you’ve got to, because it’s got to sound right spoken, doesn’t it? Dialogue.

Jeff: That’s very true.

Clare: Yeah. Well, that’s what I do. That’s very true, yeah, just not when people can hear.

Jeff: And you have an accountancy background, and so right now you’re kind of part-time author and part-time accountant thrown in there, the two?

Clare: It’s probably 75% accounts, 25% writing at the moment, yeah. I mean, yes. I’m not sure I ever wanted to be a full-time author. I want to do it well, I want to do it successfully. I think people, it is difficult to juggle two jobs because you’re trying to do both of them at 100% capacity even when you’re giving them 100% time.

And so I think an author career deserves all your time and attention if you want to do it full-time. I don’t think I have the discipline. I’m not sure I would write more if I had more time. I love doing it, but luckily it doesn’t have to support me and so I don’t have to do it for a financial reason although I like to succeed as I say. So, no plans at the moment. It will continue to be juggling.

Jeff: Yeah. And I think it’s important for people to know, too, that you can have a writing career that’s also not a hobby, but it is a business for you while you have other business as well. And in this case, you know, it’s what we would consider a day job.

Clare: I think there are very different models for writing and for authors as well, so people will write. I think a lot of creative outlets are like this, creative careers are like this. You will work for a particular, perhaps financial or positional success. You will then write for something that you want to write that might not be commercially a success.

I mean, I think people make a choice at a certain stage to go one way or the other, and that can be done full-time, but it definitely become, particularly with the advent and the growth of self-publishing, a huge amount of work that I still think a lot of people don’t understand that it is a business, you know, whatever you…because you have to be, so many different hats you have to wear, don’t you? You have to be a marketer, you have to be a writer, you have to be a social person to some extent. So, yeah, there’s many different business models, but they are business models. You are exactly right, it should always be done professionally, even if you’re not paid very much for it.

Jeff: Yeah. And even if it’s not what you’re making the bulk of your income from at the time.

Clare: Precisely.

Jeff: Because you may over time scale one up, scale one down.

Clare: What I will always say and I perhaps I’ll answer another question sometimes, but if people say, “Why should I write?” or what, you know, you have to be very honest with yourself why you’re doing it, what you want to get out of it, and then you can never be resentful or upset because you must pursue what you want to do or as much or as little or in what direction that you’re on.

Jeff: Very true. You’ve been in this for over a decade. We all have mistakes along our author journey, what’s something that you learned a lot from?

Clare: And this sounds contrite, but there was a blog post this week and the headline is if “It’s not on the page, the reader doesn’t know it.” And I thought, my God, I mean, it’s trite, but it’s true. And I think when I started out, a lot of my writing, I knew what it was all about. I knew what was going on, I knew what I was trying to say, but I might not have always been able to got that across to the reader.

And so I think that’s what I’ve learned from reading other books and from feedback on my own and from craft knowledge is to write it for a reader even if you are the reader, you know, but it’s, so that it’s a pleasant reading experience, not just splurging out what you want to say.

Well, you know, I think a lot of it, I think that’s a craft that you learn gradually and you learn it from reading. I’m surprised when authors say they don’t read much because I think you need to if only to see that’s not the way I express myself, but that book worked for me, why did it work for me? Those sorts of things.

So I’ve had to learn a lot. I used to write, I still do put a little too much in, or it’s a bit front-heavy in my books. I have to try and peel myself away from that. So those are the things, I think the craft things that you learn making it more of an accessible product, I think, to people.

Jeff: And kind of on the flip side of that, what’s something you think you’ve done really well in your career?

Clare:What I’ve done well, done in my career. Well, actually, that’s interesting because I thought of that first as like a writing question, in which case I would say that I really worked a lot on and enjoyed learning to write dialogue and humor and those sorts of things. But actually, if you looked at it more as a technical thing, I am quite pleased to have started so long ago before Kindle. You could write almost anything you wanted.

And I came from a fan fiction background as well when, I mean, I was writing before that as well but it suddenly, you could go off, you could do a horror short, you could go and write a totally dialogue piece. Oh, I’ve done loads of those. Those sorts of issues. And I think in those days, there was less pressure perhaps on what you had to write.

I mean, you didn’t make a lot of money or anything like that, but you could look at it and say, I want to write essentially gay romance. I want to write for people who have not traditionally in the bookshelves had their happy ever after. I want to be… And so that, I think, I’ve learned and it’s helped me hone skills, I would think, over the years that may be it. Of course, I read an awful lot as well.

Jeff: It’s amazing how much of it does come back to reading.

Clare: Doesn’t it? I mean, I write, I read a lot of crime. I read a lot of, you know, all the things that I wouldn’t necessarily write and it’s very difficult. I expect lots of perhaps authors to read once you’ve written and published. I go back now. I’m terrible, I proof as I go. Mainstream novels still need some proofing and these sorts of issues, but you’re thinking, “Oh, I see what they’ve done there. That was interesting. I love the way that this is written,” whether it’s a sharp style, whether it’s the characters. And you don’t necessarily copy, but I think you absorb it as you go, don’t you?

Jeff: Yeah, I totally agree. What do…

Clare: I’m fascinated with the whole industry, honestly. All of it, art and publishing and formatting and writing and everything. They are a jack of all trades, really.

Jeff: And it’s something you gotta keep up with, too, because it constantly changes.

Clare: I mean, I think you have to know that because otherwise, you are still clinging to things that are no longer relevant or no longer the best for you because, Christ, I’m sounding like me grandmother now, but you change personally, don’t you, through life and you want different things. Like I was saying, you always have to be very honest of what you want out of your writing. And the same things may not sell, the same things may not resonate. Yeah, it’s fascinating. I mean, it’s great. I think that’s great.

Jeff: So, what’s a piece of advice you would have for someone just starting out?

Clare: Writing is not just putting the words down because you’re trying to tell the story and I’m like, God, again, that sounds really trite and really simplistic, but you’ve got to make something entertaining. You’ve got to try and tweak emotions, haven’t you? You’ve got to try and make somebody remember your book after another one for some reason whether they hated it or whether they loved it, I suppose.

But I think that’s important to not just start off writing. I mean, the first writing book I picked up, just the first word was “write,” which is true. You’ve got to write something. Doesn’t matter if it’s rubbish, just write something and then see how it reads and see whether you would buy that or read it yourself. But you want to be able to create a world, don’t you? And create adventure and emotion and a story and a character.

What was the question? What would you say? Yeah, I would just say that I would say write, obviously. Start writing something because it doesn’t matter. Don’t start writing your epic thing necessarily, do a short story. I love the idea of learning craft for different lengths of stories. I love writing flash fiction. I love writing shorter stuffing because that’s different skills. It’s not just less words. And so I like that. I like trying to gather a little portfolio of skills and I think you do that by reading and by gradually adding bits to your portfolio as you go.

Interview Transcript – E. Davies

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Jeff: Ed Davies, why do you write?

Ed: Because I can’t not write. Last year, I spent a couple months without being able to use one hand and I couldn’t write. And it absolutely drove me out of my mind. That’s actually what inspired me to write, “Hard Hart” which is my first Hart’s Bay novel. That was literally the town I dreamed of as my own personal refuge from that situation. And because writing matters to me on a personal level. I write because we’ve been denied happy endings for so long systematically.

And we still have a very long way to go until we make that up. And I personally was denied the language that I needed to understand myself until I was 20. I don’t want that to happen to other people. I want to show these possibility models for how queer life can be happy, and resilient, and loving. And queer lives are not tragedies. And just how many different ways of being queer there are.

Jeff: Wow, that gave me goosebumps. So let’s talk a little bit of how you write. We’ll start with are you a plotter, or a pantser, or something in between?

Ed: I’m definitely something in between. I’ve tried pretty much all the variations along the spectrum between the two at different points in my career. So, I’ve gone from purely pantsing to 100% plotted. I have a detailed outline before I even start. And now, I’m somewhere in the middle. So, I always know where my next chapter or two is going and where the endpoint is going to be roughly. But now that I’ve kind of got that structure more embedded into my brain, I trust my brain to get me through the, like, bog war that happens in the middle.

Jeff: And what about from a technology point of view? Are you Scrivener, Word, Google Docs?

Ed: None of the above. I write in Vellum.

Jeff: You write in Vellum?

Ed: I do.

Jeff: I’ve never heard that before. Interesting, tell me more.

Ed: I know. I get that reaction a lot. It is weird. But it makes sense to my brain. It lets me keep every chapter neatly separated. And it doesn’t have the extra functions that I don’t need. But I quite, like, Scrivener. Both times I tried. Within, like, 10 minutes because it had so many extra functions that my brain just went like, “Ah, too many things. No.” And then with Word, I didn’t like writing in individual Word documents in chapters because then, you have to, like, cut and paste between Word documents. And there was just no easy way to keep things in different chapters, whereas Vellum, you can do so. And you can rearrange things as you want to. And you can keep your outline in another chapter file and all that kind of stuff. So, I turn off the preview for the print-book and all that kind of stuff and I basically just make it look as much like a Word processor as I can, and I write in that.

Jeff: What happens when it’s time to send it to an editor?

Ed: I can export it as a Doc or as an OTF from Vellum. And then, I put that in Word as a DOCX. And I send it to the editor. And then when they send it back usually I’ll either re-import it into Vellum, or I just go and change by change. And I go back and forth between the Vellum and the DOCX which forces me to really think about the changes and what I’m doing and reread it as I work. So it’s actually helpful for my process.

Jeff: Wow. And then when you’re done, you kinda have the basics of the formatting done.

Ed: Yeah. Exactly, it actually saves me a lot of time on the other end.

Jeff: That’s amazing. Wow, you’ve given us an answer now that we’ve never had before. So, excellent. Have you tried the dictation path? You mentioned a moment ago, you had that time with your hand not working.

Ed: Mm-hmm, I tried it for about 10 minutes. And I got so abashedly angry that I just quit. It just doesn’t work with my brain for some reason. So, I never dictate. I only ever type. And I found that couple of months period, my plan was a quite literally because I was recovering from surgery at the time. And I’d had a skin graft on my arms. So, my arm couldn’t move basically.

So, I was like, “I can’t write one-handed,” because I tried that, and that also drove me mad. And I also tried dictation, now that also drove me mad. So it was, like, two months of going I just can’t write. So it’s frustrating. But I’ve accepted that my brain needs to see the words on the page and be able to kind of go back and tweak. I do lot of sentence-level editing as I write. And that’s just the way my brain is.

Jeff: Mm-hmm, makes sense. What about time and place? Do you have, like, a place you like to go or a certain time of day that is your most creative?

Ed: It depends on the season. I’m purely solar-powered. So in the summer like now, I’m getting up at 5:00 a.m. whether I want to or not. And crashing at, like, 9:00, 10:00, 11:00. And in the winter, I might not get going until, like, 10:00, if even that. And I’ll be tired out by 3:00. It is 100%… I also have seasonal affective disorder. So, I’m affected by that as well and I adjust my expectations accordingly.

So in the summer, I will write a lot of words. In the winter, I do not expect summer output from myself anymore. Because I tried that for a couple of winters, and drove myself nuts. And then as for place, I find myself bouncing around my apartment a lot these days. So like today, I’ve written on my couch, at my dining room table, at my breakfast bar, my balcony, my bed, sometimes on the floor.

Individually, I’m just, like, constantly moving around. And I find that, like, changing the location helps my energy. But sometimes when I get restless, and I don’t really know what I’m doing in a scene or whatnot, if I kinda take a walk around my apartment, and I change the location, then my brain will go, “Oh, actually that’s what’s happening next.” And then, I kind of pick up again.

Jeff: Mm-hmm, cool. Now, you are a full-time author, right?

Ed: Yes.

Jeff: How’d you get there?

Ed: Well, I have been pretty much the whole time since I started writing in 2013. I’m very visibly queer, and trans, and disabled. And the unemployment rate for each of these groups is really high on its own. So, I came to accept I’m pretty much unemployable and I love writing. So, I thought why not give it a shot and try and make it my career?

And I jumped in and learned the ropes really fast by publishing a whole bunch of erotica short stories in the first few years. And then I kept writing happily ever after. So, I started moving into writing novels. And then, I kind of kept trying and failing and trying again. And then late 2015, actually, I had a breakout success with “Buzz” which is the first book in my Riley Brothers series. And that’s the book where I feel like I really finally found my voice.

And then ever since then it’s just been keeping my eyes on my paper and writing day in and day out. It’s not a sexy answer. It’s not like, you know, oh, hard work will pay off. But it is hard work and paying attention to tropes as well. But that helped luck strike. And then that’s helped me just continue my career since then through the ups and the downs.

Jeff: Mm-hmm. And if people missed our discussion on tropes, we’ll have a link to that in the show notes for this episode so they can go back and check that out because it’s really good stuff over there, too. Now, of course, there’s always mistakes in an author business. What’s one that you particularly learned a lot from?

Ed: Biggest one for me was not getting into audio sooner. I wish I’d been able to do it back in 2016 when my ebooks were doing really well at that point. But at that point, it was one or the other. I could either pay for top surgery or I could invest in audio. And transition had to take priority. So, you know, that turned out to be the right choice for me personally.

But that’s made it really hard catching up and getting into audio now that my backlist is a little bit older because the ebooks…generally, if the ebook is doing well, the audiobook will do well. And if the ebook is older, it’s harder to make the audio fly. So, I love that I’ve done it now. And I love reaching listeners who can’t read, and don’t want to read, and whatnot.

And I love the process of working with narrators and just having another source of income. I think it’s important for writers who are self-employed. That has saved my bacon during my last couple of surgery recovery periods as well. But it’s an investment that will take time. So, I wish I’d done that sooner. You have to do that kind of as soon as possible after the ebook is released.

And if the ebook doesn’t make enough to pay for audio itself, it’s not necessarily a good investment. But if your books are topping the charts, like, jump on in. It’s so much fun. And with the audiobook growing, the sooner you get into it, the longer you have all of those different formats bringing in money and boosting each other. And so that’s my biggest regret is that I didn’t have longer.

Jeff: Mm-hmm. And you’ve certainly seen a lot of even critical success with like the first Hart’s Bay book that you won an award for. And on the flip side, your narrator with Greg Boudreaux also was nominated for an award.

Ed: Yeah, that was a really big compliment and it’s something…especially because that book meant so much to me being a book that I wrote literally during my transition recovery period and I couldn’t, you know, use one hand, and I developed that universe in my head as, like, an escape from the world. So having that book, in particular, be recognized really meant a lot to me.

Jeff: Mm-hmm. On the flip side, what’s something you think you’ve done really well? And I have a suspicion I know what this is going to be but let’s have your answer.

Ed: Just sheer persistence. Is that what you thought?

Jeff: I did not. I thought you would go on tropes and maybe the market.

Ed: No, I thought I said it’d be different. Yeah, I think it is just persistence for me because this hasn’t been an overnight success. Like I said it’s kind of been a five-year overview of success. And writing can be really alienating. And I’ve run into an odd position. I’ve been trans verbally assaulted at conventions. I’ve taken heat within the author community for standing against transphobia. I’ve had books flop.

I’ve had, you know, all the drama and lies told about me and, you know, all that kind of crap. I’ve had pushback for writing books too quickly. But all that, I’ve had from authors, not readers. Readers want more good books. That’s all that matters. They have to come first. I’ve seen so many people either fade away or be driven out of the genre. And I’ve made my mind up that I was not going to be one of them.

And I realized, you’ve got to remember 80% of your time, and energy, and worry should be about writing a great book that makes a promise to the readers about the feels they’ll get and delivers that promise. So that’s where I get into my tropes and sneakily answering that as well. So kind of anything it makes that process harder. And then do that over and over again and build a brand so that readers know your voice.

So, I think the thing I have done well is realized that my voice is low angst M/M romance, non-fetishized, and voices trans characters, realistic stories, found families. I touch on these themes all the time because they matter to me so much more than any resistance I could ever meet. You just you get up, you keep going, and you write the next book, which is kind of a good life lesson really.

Jeff: Do you have a piece of advice for someone who’s just starting out?

Ed: Don’t compare yourself to others. So that starts with being kind to yourself, especially if you have any kind of medical problems, or mental health issues, or family to look after, a full-time job, any of that stuff. Like, you are only human. But also don’t compare yourself and holding yourself back, like, what other people do, writing fast to writing slow, or outlining and plotting, pantsering, getting up at 5:00 a.m. or staying up until 5:00 a.m., these are all…think about them as data points.

I tried everything over the last few years. And now, I know what works for me. So, I ignore advice that I know doesn’t work. And I don’t feel guilty about that. I’ve learned a lot more about myself, and how I work. So now, my gut instinct is really tuned into what makes me both happiest and healthiest, which is important for a long term career. And I listen to that gut instinct first and foremost.

So there will be those disappointments. And the publish button will never not make you nervous. But it does get you… It gets easier to handle. And it feels really overwhelming, every little up and down at first, but trust yourself because you’ll learn what you need to know and how the career works for you over time.