Novel Matters: Art, you write YA fantasy novels that are read by all age groups. What made you chose YA?
Arthur Slade: Fate. Well, not so much fate but a reading service provided by the Saskatchewan Writers’ Guild. I sent one of my early books to the Guild to be “commented on by a professional writer” and that writer said, “This is a great book for young adults.” Alas, I thought I’d written a book for adults. So I was offended! I’d put my grown up words and thoughts into that book. But once I reread the edit letter several times, it dawned on me that it was a compliment (and the letter was basically saying that I was writing work that should be published…who doesn’t want to hear that?)
NM: That’s the power of taking feedback and letting it inform your writing. How did you snowball that writer’s comments into your own sensibilities as a writer?
AS: I tend to writer shorter books and don’t dwell on too much description so I realized that my style of writing was suited for the storytelling drive of fiction for younger audiences.
NM: Tell us about your backlist.
AS: I have seventeen novels so it might be lengthy to do a dissertation on all of them. They do all appear on my website. The first book, Draugr, came out in 1997 and is a lovely little horror book about an Icelandic man who comes back from the dead (becomes a draugr, that is). It’s the first in a series. I have several stand-alone novels, including Dust (2001) which is a happy little story about a mesmerist rainmaker who takes control of a small town during a drought. Then there’s The Hunchback Assignments series (2009) which is all about a young hunchback who has the ability to change his shape and becomes an agent for the Victorian British Empire. That’s a few of the books, anyway.
NM: Some authors write one book a year and others write a handful over a lifetime. In the beginning, did you consciously choose to be a writer of multiple, multiple books?
AS: It’s more just the way it turned out. My first novel to be published, Draugr, was written in three months.
NM: Gah? Three months?
AS: Yep, that’s all.
NM: I was just beginning to like you, Art.
AS: I thought I’d write three books a year with time off. But it turns out I was just lucky. Every novel since then has taken at least a year to write on average.
NM: What’s the take-away for that lesson, for all the writers and fans out there in blog-land reading this?
AS: Don’t expect it all to happen overnight. Long ago, a fellow writer said it’d take about ten years to get published. She was wrong. It took me twelve.
NM: Twelve years. I’m starting to like you again. Does it make me a bad person to enjoy knowing other writers struggled too? Rhetorical question. The answer is: no, it does not. Tell us about those twelve years of in-between time.
AS: In that time I wrote six unpublished novels.
AS: Uhhh…they were good practice. And I had submitted those books to every publisher imaginable. I had hundreds of rejection letters (in fact I used to write letters to my friends on the back of my rejection letters…just so my friends could have rejection letters of their own).
NM: What kept you going?
AS: There were times when I came close to being published, and that was encouraging, but it wasn’t until my 7th novel that I was published.
NM: And we're grateful you persevered. My twelve year old son is currently reading Dust, and he's loving it, and asking for more books by Arthur Slade. Tell us about your newest novel.
AS: My latest novel is The Island of Doom (2012) . It’s the final book in The Hunchback Assignments series, and it’s about how Modo and his fellow agents take on the evil Clockwork guild at their island stronghold. The novel features a Frankenstein monster and I must say I had great fun re-reading the original novel and watching the movies. Well, not all of them. Just the good ones.
NM: Just the good ones. Everyone is a critic. That phrase is more true today than ever with the surge in popularity of sites like Amazon and Goodreads where readers offer reviews. How do you cope with the volumes of feedback on your work? Can you separate yourself from opinions to give your creative self freedom to write and keep writing?
AS: I rarely get too upset by a bad review. Everyone comes to a book with a different viewpoint and those viewpoints might clash. I certainly haven’t enjoyed every book that I’ve read.
NM: That sounds like the voice of experience.
AS: I was more concerned about reviews at the start of my career and would take them more personally. But now, with the advent of Amazon and Goodreads, I actually get a kick out of the bad reviews. Sometimes they can be quite creative (my favourite had a line that went something like “I had to drink a Coke while I was reading Dust in order to stay awake”). The only time I am frustrated by reviews is when they say something that is truly false about the book. Oh, plus my mom always says the books are good.
NM: Huh? Oh, sorry. I was drinking a Coke while you answered that last question. Okay. Seventeen published novels. Here’s the burning question: outline vs. no outline. Plan it out, or go with the gut and let epiphany take over your writing?
AS: Who is this Epiphany person?
NM: A rare and deeply cool person who only visits writers when they are asleep.
AS: I rarely do a detailed outline. I have a few notes and a general idea of the first scene and perhaps a few sketches of other scenes. Then I just jump in the car and drive. Not a real car, I mean a “prose” car. It really is a journey of discovery and epiphanies for me. It makes the process more interesting…but can lead to a lot of rewriting.
NM: It seems like Epiphany visits you when you’re awake. Lucky guy. So, besides our friend Epiphany, what’s the one thing (be it a technology, a notebook, a wristwatch, or pen) that you can't be without as a writer?
AS: Scrivener. The writing program that I use. Hands down it is the best for writing prose and comic books. I know you asked for one thing…but I also can’t imagine writing without my treadmill desk. It sounds like the oddest thing in the world…but it keeps we awake, alert and active enough to eat several Turtles a day.
NM: Speaking of things you can’t do without, who, besides the obvious agent and editor, do you turn to for advice when things are rocky on your writing journey?
AS: My wife, Brenda Baker, is a fellow writer and very good at pointing out the faults (in my novels) in a gentle way.
NM: It seems more and more people are stretching their writer wings, and want to learn the craft of fiction writing, and navigate the world of publishing. What advice do you give to writers who are looking to seize the year and take control of their writing career?
AS: It’s such a cliché, but write every day and always look for ways to improve your craft. Writing is like working out for a Triathlon. I’ve never done one, but they look hard and you have to train hard. Writing is the same. It takes training. And tea breaks.
NM: Triathlon with tea breaks. Gottcha. Art, what are you working on now, and when will it be in reader’s hot little hands?
AS: A novel titled Flickers that is set in Hollywood in the 1920’s and is about the change between silent to sound films. Except in my book the first sound film is a horror film with a scream in it that summons a dark creature from another dimension…another happy story. It should be out by 2015.
NM: Happily, you have a long backlist we can read and reread while we wait for the new one. The theme this year on Novel Matters is Carpe Annum: Seize the Year! Tell us about a turning-point time in your journey as a writer when you took hold of your career. What did that look like? How did that moment change your trajectory as a writer?
AS: Honestly it would be back in 2001 when my novel Dust won the Governor General’s Award. That part was out of my control, but I did “seize” control by putting my very best book out there into the world. The award did help the general public learn that I actually existed (which is always nice as a writer) and led to a long list of invites to travel across the country and sales that paid the rent. And from there I just try to keep making each book a little better than the last one. I try not to repeat myself in my writing, so I’m always looking for a new storyline or way of writing a story that will be interesting to the reader (and to me).
NM: Art, thank you for dropping by today, for sharing a part of your writing journey with us. Lots of encouragement and wisdom, and good books to read. We so appreciate you, your work, and your story.