Busting Myths about The Usual Path to Publication and Telling it True: Author Interview with Shannon Page
I heard about Shannon Page and her new edited book, The Usual Path to Publication: 27 Stories about 27 Ways in from a podcast. I immediately thought, what a brilliant idea for a book—one that pulls back the curtain on “breaking in”. I picked up The Usual Path soon after and finished it in one sitting. The book is poignant, funny, heartbreaking, inspiring and much more. The authors, many who write speculative fiction, share intimate experiences about the writing life and the often nonlinear ways that one becomes published. The stories clearly demonstrate that there is really no one secret path to getting published, especially in this current moment of change in the publishing industry. This book provides useful insights for both established and emerging writers about building community, dealing with rejection and interacting with editors and agents. I’ve been pressing it in to the hands of many writer friends.
This book evolved from a panel at the Cascade Writers Workshop. Intrigued by that fact, I decided to reach out to Shannon and learn more about her experience as an editor.
Shannon Page’s work has appeared in Clarkesworld, Interzone, Fantasy, Black Static, Tor.com, the Proceedings of the 2002 International Oral History Association Congress, and many anthologies, including the Australian Shadows Award-winning Grants Pass, and The Mammoth Book of Dieselpunk. Her books include Eel River; the collection Eastlick and Other Stories; and Our Lady of the Islands, co-written with the late Jay Lake. Our Lady received starred reviews from Publishers Weekly and Library Journal, was named one of Publishers Weekly’s Best Books of 2014, and was a finalist for the Endeavour Award.
I’m delighted to welcome Shannon Page to the Practice of Creativity
-Tell us about your recent edited collection, The Usual Path to Publication: 27 Stories about 27 Ways In. What are you hoping this book will provide readers?
I definitely hope folks will have fun reading it, but I hope even more that writers (newer and otherwise) will find it inspiring and encouraging. Writing can be a lonely, frustrating endeavor, especially after the first time you show your golden words to someone…and get a rejection. I truly believed that the first novel I ever submitted—a giant, overwritten doorstop of a thing, mailed over the transom to Farrar, Straus & Giroux, because I was that delusional—was going to result in a gushing acceptance letter and a fat check. Well, it did not, and my efforts for a few years thereafter to get an agent met with similar results.
But in the process of gathering rejections, I started meeting other writers and sharing stories, and that was what kept me going. I learned that “overnight success” never came overnight at all: that it took years of persistence, of honing one’s craft, of not giving up. I learned that we are all in this together, and that there is no one true path to making it—despite all the how-to-get-published advice I devoured every chance I got. Yes, there is random lucky chance involved in a lot of publication stories, but that random chance will not find you if you are not out there, open to it, working on it.
-This is your first nonfiction project as an editor. What did you enjoy about being an editor? What did you learn about yourself while editing this project?
I love editing; I learned that when I edited the anthology Witches, Stitches & Bitches for Evil Girlfriend Media a few years ago. I love gathering all the pieces and assembling them into a compelling whole. There’s a lot of the same creative joy that comes with being a writer, except with editing, you get so much more diversity. I can write a dozen stories—dark and light, fantasy and science fiction and horror, long and short—and put them together in a collection, but they will still all be by me; my voice, my themes, my sensibility will come through. With an edited collection, you can range so much more widely.
And I just LOVED it when the stories came in. I would squee with delight each time a new one hit my inbox. It was so cool and generous that so many wonderful authors were willing to share their stories.
-You knew some of the writers prior to this project and maybe even some of their publication stories, but probably not all. Which essays were a surprise to you?
I actually didn’t know most of the stories, or not in any detail. Chaz Brenchley is one of my best friends—he was my Best Person at my wedding, in fact—but I didn’t know his story, or, well, his three interwoven stories. Though I knew there were lots of odd tales out there, I was perhaps a little surprised at how few writers followed a “traditional” path to finding their way in (make your name with short stories, then leverage that into a novel deal). Even those who did so did not follow that path in any straightforward way. So I would say almost all the stories surprised me in their particulars, even though I’d expected a variety of unusual paths.
-What kind of advice about pursuing publication would you offer to a younger writing self?
I’d say keep trying—and not just trying to get published per se. Learn your craft, and hone it. Join critique groups, and listen to the feedback. Write a lot, a lot, a LOT. And read a lot. Persistence in all these things is the answer: make your work as brilliant as you can, and keep sending it out there. You will find your audience.
-What’s next for you? What are you working on?
I’ve got a few things in the works. Next up is a SUPER fun project, a cozy mystery/romance novel I wrote with my good friend Karen G. Berry, set on remote Orcas Island, Washington. We’re publishing it under the not-secret pen name Laura Gayle (our middle names, sort of); it’s called Orcas Intrigue, it’s recently released and you can find it here.
Beyond that, I’d like to do another few “Usual Path” essay collections, because I love people’s personal stories, and the first volume was so much fun. My ideas for future volumes include The Usual Path to Love and Romance (relationship origin stories) and The Usual Path from Here to There (moving stories—why do you live where you live?). But I am not allowed to work on those until I get a few unfinished novels out of the pipeline. Plus volume 2 of the Orcas mystery.
-What’s your best writing tip that you’d like to share?
Sort out your space and time needs. What I mean by that is, none of us have enough time; and the vast majority of us do not live in palatial mansions with endless rooms. But writing takes focus; it’s very hard to write in the midst of chaos and interruptions. Everyone’s particulars will vary, so you need to figure out your way of carving out your writing time and place. When I had a full-time day job, I wrote right when I got home; my then-husband had a longer commute, so he got home an hour later. That was my hour, every day, and I used it diligently. A friend who lived in a tiny apartment with her spouse converted a closet into an “office”. By which I mean, she just stuck a desk in there and took off the closet doors—voila, writing space, and when she was in there, her spouse knew she was working. Figure out what your obstacles are and do what you can to fix them. Get up an hour early in the morning; meet a friend in a café on a regular basis; turn off the internet; get noise-canceling headphones or a room with a door that locks or whatever it takes. And write as regularly as you can. If you’re working on something every day or nearly every day, it starts to come alive in your head. Pretty soon, you won’t be able to not write.
Shannon Page was born on Halloween night and spent her early years on a back-to-the-land commune in northern California. A childhood without television gave her a great love of the written word. At seven, she wrote her first book, an illustrated adventure starring her cat Cleo. Sadly, that story is out of print, but her work has appeared in Clarkesworld, Interzone, Fantasy, Black Static, Tor.com, the Proceedings of the 2002 International Oral History Association Congress, and many anthologies, including the Australian Shadows Award-winning Grants Pass, and The Mammoth Book of Dieselpunk.
Her books include Eel River; the collection Eastlick and Other Stories; and Our Lady of the Islands, co-written with the late Jay Lake. Forthcoming books include The Queen and The Tower, first book in The Nightcraft Series; a sequel to Our Lady; and, writing with Karen G. Berry as Laura Gayle, Orcas Intrigue, the first book in the Chameleon Chronicles. Edited books include the anthology Witches, Stitches & Bitches, from Evil Girlfriend Media; several well-received novels from Per Aspera Press; and the essay collection The Usual Path to Publication.
Shannon is a longtime yoga practitioner, has no tattoos, and is an avid gardener at home with her husband, Mark Ferrari, in Portland, Oregon. She has a tiny office made from a toolshed in the back yard, where all the magic happens. Visit her at www.shannonpage.net.