Claudie Arseneault was actually the first person to introduce me to the term solarpunk (a genre I've been rambling non-stop about ever since), through the call for submissions to her solarpunk dragons anthology Wings of Renewal. I've been following her career ever since, and it turns out she's just an all-around good person and awesome writer whom I'm glad to have encountered.
Today, I've invited Claudie onto my blog to talk about her new fantasy novel Baker Thief.
Here's what the book is about:
Adèle has only one goal: catch the purple-haired thief who broke into her home and stole her exocore, thus proving herself to her new police team. Little does she know, her thief is also the local baker.
In a nutshell, what was the path from idea to publication for BAKER THIEF?
I started Baker Thief as a project that would be as fun and tropy as I wanted it to be, a story in which I’d allow myself to write Whatever I Wanted. The first glimpse of the project involved an investigator looking for a thief at a masked ball and a f/f romance—that changed quite a bit, but I was already aiming for The Good Tropes.
I hadn’t even put the first word down before I knew one of the MCs would be bigender and aromantic, and that I didn’t want romance, but a queerplatonic relationship. These stories were near impossible to find (they still are hard, but it got better), and I felt drawn to them. Turns out that was because I was aromantic myself, but I didn’t know at the time. I also… jumped in with as much French as I wanted to, and to have my language in there quickly became incredibly meaningful and important to me.
It took me quite a few drafts to get the ending right, then it made the typical rounds of dev editing through writer friends, sensitivity readers, beta readers, and copyediting. I started the first draft in February 2016, and here we are, about a year and a half later.
What’s your typical writing routine? Do you write at a certain time of day, have word count goals, a particular playlist you listen to, etc.?
It really depends on what part of the process I’m at. If I’m creating new words, typically for first drafts, I will write nearly every day and set word count goals (usually around 700-1,000 for weekdays, and 1,500-2,000 for weekends). As a writer, I do a lot better if my progress is constant. My full-time job makes this rather difficult, however, which means that I will write whenever I can. At least half of Baker Thief has been written on my cellphone during transit, and a good chunk of the other half was over my lunch break.
I don’t have playlists as much as I have artists I’ll put on and listen on loop. And I don’t mean many of them. Most of my previous novels were written and edited on a background of Mumford and Sons. For Baker Thief, though, I stuck to artists from Québec, either Karkwa or Dumas. It felt right to listen to local music for a WIP that drew so intensely from my roots.
What advice do you have for young writers who are struggling through the first draft of a fantasy novel?
The first and most important for me is… don’t give up. Get to the end. Writing the end will teach you so much about the craft, about your story. Even if you end up trashing the story, it will be worthwhile (and you will have finished a draft!). That doesn’t mean you have to power through unquestioningly, though. Different writers need different things to get to the end. I handle unclear drafts very well, so I write start to finish without ever revising what’s behind, even if I decided halfway through I need to make a major change. I just take a note, act like the change is done, and move on. I know writers who couldn’t do that—no chance in hell—so they revise as they go, and their first drafts take longer but are a lot cleaner.
So I guess my biggest piece of advice is experiment. Try things out! See what works for you, what allows you to progress and what just makes you hyper-anxious and unproductive. We all work differently, and sometimes our process even changes from one story to another. But if you find yourself never finishing anything? Find a way to get to that end; you’re limiting your growth otherwise.
You’re very invested in the topic of asexual/aromantic representation. Do you remember the first time you saw this type of character represented well in fiction? What are some other published books that get it right?
My first time was for a sex-repulsed asexual character, Nadin from Fourth World by Lyssa Chiavari. Nadin struggles a lot with her sex-repulsion and there are scenes throughout the novel that felt like someone had spied on my life. One in particular made me set the book down, because I needed time to take it all in.
That was my first time, but by actively seeking representation over the course of the last 2-3 years, I’ve found so many more. I couldn’t even begin to list them all here. I recommend picking up the Chameleon Moon series, as it has an alloromantic asexual MC in the first book, and an aromantic asexual one in the second (and a whole lot more queer disabled diversity). If you’re more a contemporary person, then Let’s Talk About Love is about a biromantic asexual black girl. For aromantic characters, Darcie Little Badger has a wonderful short story, “Nkásht íí”, that is online for free and is all about friendship. I also thoroughly enjoyed A Promise Broken, from Lynn E. O’Connacht—a low-stakes fantasy of manners about a girl grieving and her aroace uncle.
As I said, there are many more out there! You can check out Penny Stirling’s list of aromantic or asexual fiction that’s free online, Queer Books for Teens recommendations for aromantic and asexual, or even access my database which has a record of all the aro or ace fiction I could find, with tags and filters to make it easier to narrow down on what you really want.
How have your own baking adventures informed the development of BAKER THIEF?
Not in major ways. I was already well into the novel by the time I got really into baking, and I’d done my fair share of research before. It did change the way I described it—the details, basically. It’s just not the same until you have both of your hands in the dough and your lower back kinda hurts from all the kneading and you got flour over your clothes again because you keep forgetting an apron.
Do you have any readings or signings coming up? Where can readers find you, online or off?
I don’t have a lot of in-person stuff coming up, but I attend Can*Con every year, and I expect to be at Sirens Con this year, too! October is my convention month, haha. I am much easier to find online, however. I tweet at ClH2OArs and my website is at claudiearseneault.com. You can also support me more directly on Patreon.
Claudie Arseneault is an asexual and aromantic spectrum writer hailfing from Quebec City. Her love for sprawling casts invariably turns her novels into multi-storylined wonders centered on aromantic and asexual characters. Her high fantasy series, City of Spires, started in February 2017. Her next book, Baker Thief, features a bigender aromantic baker and is full of delicious bread, French puns, and magic.
Claudie is a founding member of The Kraken Collective and is well-known for her involvement in solarpunk, her database of aro and ace characters in speculative fiction, and her unending love of squids. Find out more on her website!
Like a lot of writers, I have many random notes for story ideas, most of which go nowhere or sit in a notebook for years before they actually become a story. "Under a Rock" started as one of those: I had the idea of an inexplicable gigantic tooth showing up in someone's backyard, and them charging admission to see it, a la "A Very Old Man With Enormous Wings." I plucked the idea out of my notebook after seeing an anthology call that had something to do with sharks and dinosaurs; I decided the giant tooth I'd imagined could be a cosmic-sized version of either. After looking into the anthology a bit more, I discovered it was actually a revenge market, something put together to get back at/make fun of some other editor or author. These happen from time to time as manifestations of publishing world drama—the recent Cocktales and The Cocky Cockers anthologies which were reacting to the CockyGate "trademark" fiasco are prime examples. But considering I didn't know or have any stake in whatever this shark-related drama was, I decided to just be grateful for the prompt that helped me get this idea on paper, and submit it elsewhere.
I wrote this story just after I quit my "day job," which I'd been working at the same time I took over management of World Weaver Press, and I was feeling pretty stretched thin and out of touch with the rest of the world. This was one of the first stories I'd written in nearly a year. All of that exhaustion and disconnection got poured into this story, the sense that remarkable things were happening all around me and I couldn't even look up to witness them. I guess "Working Like a Dog" and "Brain Child" have similar themes—I'm just not a writer who deals well with the drudgery we so often need to pay our bills.
The character in this story ends up at home from her overbearing job because she's suffering from a cold. It was a convenient way to take her out of her element, but it was also an idea I'd been wanting to explore for a while. Protagonists are usually healthy and ready to run, or else they're suffering from some sort of severe trauma or disease. So much of my life has been spent in sniffles, or in not-great-but-not-fatal health, so I gave my character a cold to see how she'd face this adventure with a tissue in her hand.
Here's an excerpt of "Under a Rock":
A giant dinosaur tooth sat smack in the middle of our un-mowed back lawn. Truly giant: a good eight feet tall, and twelve or more from root to tip.
Read the rest of the story at Silver Blade Fantasy Magazine: www.silverblade.net/2018/06/under-a-rock/
Joanne Merriam is the publisher of Upper Rubber Boot Books, a fantastic independent publisher who has brought you amazing books such as Sunvault: Stories of Solarpunk and Eco-Speculation and Choose Wisely: 35 Women Up to No Good. Now Joanne is running a Kickstarter to get two new anthologies off the ground. Broad Knowledge features a story by my good friend and Clarion classmate Vida Cruz, as well as stories by Wendy Nikel and Aimee Ogden, two authors I've been lucky enough to work with through World Weaver Press. Sharp and Sugar Tooth looks pretty awesome too, featuring some familiar names that always deliver amazing stories: Catherynne M. Valente, Alyssa Wong, Damien Angelica Walters, Caroline M. Yoachim, and many others.
Check out my interview with Joanne Merriam, and then support the Kickstarter here:
Sarena Ulibarri: Your description for these anthologies says they focus “on ‘bad’ women, and ‘good’ women who just haven’t been caught yet.” This reminds me of that famous quote about “well-behaved women rarely make history.” What made you want to publish stories about this kind of character?
Joanne Merriam: That description is defining ‘good’ and ‘bad’ in reference to what we expect women to be, and I’m really fascinated by social expectations and how people structure their lives to adhere to or challenge them. The women in these anthologies appear to be doing everything ‘right’ while getting their own way, or decide they won’t be held back by others’ expectations, or, tragically, try to adhere to or challenge expectations and pay a terrible price for it.
I hope that the breadth of stories will collectively show different ways of being, and open up a mental space for thinking about their own options for our readers (whether or not they’re women), in addition to entertaining them.
SU: Can you give a couple of teasers about some of the stories we’ll find in BROAD KNOWLEDGE and SHARP & SUGAR TOOTH?
JM: Broad Knowledge includes a scientific paper written by a researcher who contracts Innsmouth Fish-man Syndrome, an article for biblical scholars on a seraph’s visit to Earth, an in-depth ethical discussion for journalists covering a woman who has been quarantined on a military base so her ideas don’t spread to the general population, and a series of newspaper headlines and excerpts covering the invention of time travel—but the story that’s probably the most fun, and also possibly the darkest, is “Mary in the Looking Glass,” about the legendary horror figure Mary Whales, and her ex-lover.
Sharp & Sugar Tooth features the ritual consumption of funerary meat, poison as a replacement for war, chefs who heal society one meal at a time, alien biomes which entirely consume their hosts, and women turning into chocolate, honey, pastry, fish food, and apple-bearing trees. I’m particularly taken with Jasmyne J. Harris’ “What the Bees Know About Discarded Girlish Organs,” in which part of romance is being eaten by your partner, and what happens when people split up before the process is completed. It’s really haunting.
SU: You are editing BROAD KNOWLEDGE, while SHARP & SUGAR TOOTH is being edited by Octavia Cade. Did the two of you take different approaches to curating these books?
JM: Yes, I think so. Octavia is quite brilliant! She struck me as very deliberate and careful and thoughtful about how she structured the book, both in selecting stories and in ordering them, to fit a kind of overall narrative arc. I took a more topic-oriented approach to ordering, and am perhaps not as smart, but I’m always saved by the amazing writers who send in their stories and make me look really good as an editor.
SU: How do these two anthologies differ from CHOOSE WISELY, the first anthology you did of “Women Up to No Good”?
JM: The main difference is the theme, of course: Choose Wisely is all about choices, while Broad Knowledge is about (you guessed it) knowledge, and Sharp & Sugar Tooth about food and consumption. They are also more diverse: Choose Wisely has more white authors, and more Americans, than either of these anthologies, and that’s reflected in the stories in these anthologies being more varied and reflecting more of our world.
SU: You have some excellent writers lined up in these two anthologies. As an editor/anthologist, how do you go about reaching out to writers to ensure a diverse table of contents?
JM: I use social media extensively to reach communities I’m not a part of. For calls for submissions, I post, where appropriate, on the FB groups Call For Submissions; Calls for Submissions (Poetry, Fiction, Art); Open Call: Science Fiction, Fantasy & Pulp Markets; Open Submission Calls for Horror/Paranormal/Mystery/SciFi Writers; Call For Submissions : QUILTBAG; Asian Science Fiction & Fantasy; Feminist Science Fiction; The State of Black Science Fiction; Women of Color Writers' Community; and WOMPO (Women's Poetry Listserv). I also tag writers who I’m interested in seeing work from, and post using hashtags like #diversesff on Twitter and Tumblr, and note the call for submissions in my emailed newsletter, which goes out 2-3 times/year. I’m also on Duotrope, so people who use that to search for markets will find our listings.
When I’m selecting stories, I try to read blind by saving all of the stories under their titles and removing author identities. Of course, it’s never entirely blind because I can recognize some writers’ voices, but I make the attempt, which means that I have to address diversity in my submissions pool before I get to that largely-blind selection stage. Midway through my submissions period, I’ll go quickly through the submissions I’ve received to get a sense of who is submitting, just looking at names, and faces where gmail has included a photo, so I can see if I need to work harder to get the word out to certain communities. It’s necessarily an incomplete and uncertain process, so I try to err on the side of assuming I need to do more work. I try to do this at least a month and preferably longer before submissions close, so people have time to respond to renewed calls for submissions.
SU: What's the process a story goes through between the time it is accepted and the time it is published in an Upper Rubber Boot Books anthology?
JM: External editors have their own editorial processes, but for me there’s editing and proofreading with an outside proofreader, and then there’s all the stuff that goes into making the books themselves. So I go through any edits with the authors (reading closely, sending suggestions for changes), and possibly rewrites if they’re required, and then I figure out what order the stories should go in (usually I try a bunch of different orders until I settle on something that feels right), then create an html file of the stories, which will eventually be part of the ebook (I make the html file first then create the print book file from it so that any errors in the html will get caught). Then I do the formatting for the print files, then send those to the authors to double-check.
Check out some excerpts from these anthologies below, and support the Kickstarter until June 30, 2018 by clicking here.
Full disclosure: Jennifer Lee Rossman is one of the authors I work with through World Weaver Press. We've been lucky enough to snag short stories from her for Glass and Gardens: Solarpunk Summers and Mrs. Claus: Not the Fairy Tale They Say, and she'll have a science fiction novel that is fun and heartbreaking in all the right ways coming out with us in early 2019.
Then again, she's got stories all over the place these days, so other publishers are clearly catching onto her talent! I invited her onto my blog to tell us a bit more about her awesome time travel novella, out now from Kristell Ink.
Here's the description of Anachronism:
It's the same old story: Time traveler meets girl, time traveler tells girl she's the future president, time traveler and girl go on a road trip to prevent a war...
Sarena Ulibarri: In a nutshell, what was the path from manuscript to publication for ANACHRONISM?
Jennifer Lee Rossman: When I wrote ANACHRONISM, I had never been published and, quite frankly, had no clue what I was doing as far as publishing was concerned. I wrote my query letter in about five minutes and proceeded to send it to every publisher that came up in my "sci-fi novella publishers" Google search (typos and all and, in one case, I managed to send two copies of my query letter in one email).
By some miracle, it worked, and Kristell Ink's amazing editor Kate Coe has helped me polish the manuscript and guide me through the confusing world of proof copies and promotion. It's been a long process, but holding an actual book full of my words is the best feeling.
SU: Without too many spoilers, how does time travel work in your novella? Are there limitations and constraints your time traveling characters have to work within?
JLR: Moses doesn't like to give a lot of information about the intricacies of the science involved in time travel, but he does say that paradoxes are possible. There is nothing stopping you from going back in time and killing your ancestor, but it might make your ancestor pretty mad.
SU: What books, authors, or films most influenced you when writing ANACHRONISM?
JLR: The writing style has been compared to Douglas Adams, but that wasn't really a conscious decision. I was really inspired by roadtrip buddy movies. I love the dynamics (and hilarity) that arise when you stick two people in a car and force them to get along, and getting to add sci-fi and save-the-world elements made it really fun to write.
SU: What’s your typical writing routine? Do you write at a certain time of day, have word count goals, a particular playlist you listen to, etc.?
JLR: I write whenever I can, usually listening to 70s and 80s music. I try to write at least one page every time I'm on the computer, which sometimes results in short paragraphs and a lot of dialogue.
SU: What advice do you have for young writers who are struggling through the first draft of a science fiction novel?
JLR: Find other writers in your genre, whether that means a critique group at your library or a couple nerdy people on Twitter who will laugh along with you when you realize you accidentally stole half of your plot from Star Wars.
SU: What are you working on now? And where can readers find you, online or off?
JLR: I'm trying to rewrite a series of novellas I wrote when I was nineteen. They are... not well written, but I think they're fixable. And a bunch of people on Twitter have somehow convinced me to write a book about werewolves in wheelchairs. Called Chairwolves.
I also have a novel, Jack Jetstark's Intergalactic Freakshow, coming out next year with World Weaver Press. The editor is a really nice lady named Sarena Ulibarri, and she definitely did not force me to say that.
I blog at jenniferleerossman.blogspot.com and Tweet @JenLRossman, and you can find my stories in these anthologies on my Amazon page: amazon.com/author/jenniferleerossman
About the Author
Jennifer Lee Rossman is a science fiction geek from Oneonta, New York. When she isn't writing, she cross stitches, watches Doctor Who, and threatens to run over people with her wheelchair. Her work has been featured in several anthologies and her novel, Jack Jetstark's Intergalactic Freakshow, will be published by World Weaver Press in 2019.