Seeing as I spend a LOT of time in my office, over the years, I've filled it with all sorts of things I enjoy to make it a fun space to be. Here are a few shots I snapped this morning to give you a sense of what it's like.
It's been 24 years since I last canoed Milligan Creek, right around this time of year. It was one of the voyages that inspired me to write Up the Creek years later. I've always regretted that we didn't have any photos of those trips, but then I realized we did! My mom gave me a photo album for my birthday this year, and to my surprise, included in it was a photo of us right after we set out. I'm in the stern of the second canoe in the photo below. My brother Al is in the bow. The guy in the lead canoe is Nevin Halyk, now the principal of my old high school in Foam Lake. Just out of frame is Victor Loeppky, who made the trip with me the previous year when we hit a dead tree and capsized. Looking down from the bridge is my mom, a.k.a. "Killer Miller."
As I've discussed on this blog, I'm going to be launching a new young adult "light" horror series called the Uncanny Icons series. By light horror, think "Stranger Things." A coming-of-age story within a supernatural setting. I'm looking for a team of readers who would like to receive a signed advance review copy of the first book, "Pumpkins," in either paperback or hardcover, your choice, in exchange for a review on Amazon.com, Amazon.ca, and Goodreads. You can cut and paste the same review on all three sites, so it won't be too onerous to do. I'm planning to release the book in September, but I'm looking to form a team of advance readers now to give you plenty of lead time. If interested, please message me, and I can give you the details.
Like many of the authors featured in this interview series, David Blaze's books first came to my attention when I was setting up Amazon ads for my books. As I looked at the best-sellers in various middle-grade categories, his book My Fox Ate My Homework kept coming up. Later, I've gotten to know David and learn more about him as part of a middle-grade mastermind group started by Steven K. Smith. In addition to writing his own books, David also did a novelization of the movie Frozen II. However, like me, David publishes the rest of his books independently, which makes him my kind of guy. To learn more about David, visit his website.
Who were some of your early inspirations as an author?
I grew up with stories like Charlotte’s Web by E. B. White and The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams. Many years later, when I decided to write books for kids, I studied the one book that looked the most interesting to me – Diary of a 6th Grade Ninja by Marcus Emerson. His work made me feel inspired and confident I could write for kids.
How did you get started as an author? Did you start by writing books or something else?
I started writing short stories for adults back in 2013. These were mostly horror and suspense. This was when I had one year of free time because I was disabled and had to stay home. I remembered how much I loved writing poems and stories when I was younger and for the first time in my adult life, I had a ton of time to write.
What was your inspiration for the "My Fox . . ." series?
I’ve only ever seen a red fox once, on a nature trail when I was kid, and have always been intrigued by it. Much of the My Fox series is based on my childhood, sans the talking fox.
What draws you to write for middle-grade readers? Do you plan to write for other audiences too?
It’s funny you ask this question because I realized the reason only recently. My earliest memories start at age 9. I’ve done school presentations for preschool through the sixth grade. No matter how many books I write and for how many ages, the greatest response I get is always from third graders. They are the ones who contact me (well, their parents do) to say how much they love my books. Sure, I hear from other grades and ages, but they are by far the biggest fans. I’ve written books for early readers, middle grade, teens, and adults. As of now, I don’t have any intention of returning to any group but middle grade.
What motivated you to publish independently rather than going the traditional route?
When I was a teenager and young adult, I submitted stories to magazines and book publishers. I always got back form rejection letters and sometimes short notes about how I didn’t have what they were looking for at the time. This discouraged me from writing stories and books until the year I was temporarily disabled. Some time later I read an article about Amazon Kindle and how to self-publish on it. I was intrigued by the idea of publishing directly online without anyone rejecting it. I published my short stories in a book collection the next day.
At what point did you realize you could do this full time? What was the tipping point?
Less than six months after writing my first MG book, My Fox Ate My Homework, I was making as much money from it as I was working full time. I’m a realist and knew it might not last forever. However, in the following months, as I released more books in the series, I made more and more money. I set a goal of maintaining that income for a full year before I considered leaving my job. I also made sure I had a minimum amount in savings in case there were months when my sales declined (this turned out to an extremely smart decision!) I did it!
What are some of the biggest benefits of being an independent author?
The biggest benefit to me is the time I get to spend with my son. If he’s ever sick, I’m here to stay home with home. School events? Spring break? Summer? I’m here for my son while my wife works. This works for her because she loves to work and can’t imagine staying home. I work by my own schedule. Sometimes I go weeks without writing (still working story details in my head). Sometimes I go months without coming up for air. I’ve never been a fan of being told what to do, so figuring out things for myself is awesome!
What are some of the biggest challenges?
Time is the biggest challenge. I incorrectly believed I would have more time to write without a job. The same things I’m grateful for (time with my son) take a ton of time away. His ADHD requires constant attention and makes it impossible to write when we’re home together. I’ve also found it impossible to change my sleeping schedule. I’ve always been a late-night person (even as a teen), so that’s when I write. In the end, I have the same amount of time to write as I did when I was working full time (I wrote when I got home after midnight).
What are you working on right now?
I’m working on an interactive superhero book (middle grade, of course!). I feel great writing for this age group again. My son was home most of last year because of COVID, so the little writing I got done wasn’t even for middle grade. But I’m back!
I feel SO good to have finally reached this stage. I first started writing this YA horror novel about 2.5 years ago. While teaching screenwriting for a week at a film school in Brisbane, I went to a writers' accountability circle on Saturday morning and spent two hours pounding out a rough outline for the book, the premise of which had been floating around in my head for a year or so. Shortly after that, I wrote the first chapter, eventually returning to it from time to time and tweaking it but never quite feeling ready to write the rest of the book.
That changed in November 2020 when I inched forward on the manuscript, writing a second chapter. Then, with about 5,000 words written, I decided to devote an hour or two every morning during Christmas break to working on the book. I was able to sustain that for about 12 days, emerging from the holidays with just over 17,000 words. From there the manuscript progressed in fits and starts as I worked out various story problems until I had a series of breakthroughs that finally enabled me to tunnel all the way through to the other side of the mountain.
Now I have is on my computer and backed up on Google and Apple's cloud systems ready for editing. So far, the manuscript sits at 57,599 words. It's hard to say if the word count will go up or down from here as I do revisions, but I'm willing to bet it will come out closer to 58,000 rather than 57,000 words, not that I care too much about that right now.
For the moment, I'm just so excited to have the first book in a new series (Uncanny Icons) so close to the finish line. Meanwhile, I already have most of the plot figured out for book 2 in the series, Brooms, which involves witches and curling. I plan to get on that right after I write book 6 in the Milligan Creek Series, Quiet on Set! Exciting times. I think I'll bask in elation for a bit and then get right back to work.
I just finalized the hardcovers of The Great Grain Elevator Incident and Snowbound! In the process, I discovered that I accidentally included a chapter 26 in the table of contents for Snowbound! even though there's no chapter 26 in the book. So, whoever has those copies has an instant collector's item!
I'm slowly working my way through process of converting all the Milligan Creek books into hardcover. As of today, Up the Creek, Unlimited, and The Water War are now available. The next two books will be available in hardcover next week. I'm also planning on bundling the first three books together as a single hardcover volume. Plus, audiobooks are in the works as we speak! More news on that soon.
I love doing research, especially for novels. I'm always amazed at what I discover and how it spurs completely unexpected story ideas.
Case in point: right now I'm very close to completing a solid first draft of Pumpkins, book 1 in my new YA horror series, which I'm calling the Uncanny Icons series, with each novel based on a different icon of Halloween.
Today I took a short break and did a bit of research for book 2 in the series, Brooms, which is about, you guessed it, witches. But it's also about something else that is quintessentially Canadian: curling.
While I thought I had a good start on an idea for the story, it didn't come together until today when I was doing some research on the history of curling. All I'll say for now is that an incredible idea was spurred when I read that curling used to be called the "roaring game" back in Scotland due to the sound the rocks made as they slid down the ice. That simple term blew something wide open, and the entire story suddenly fell into place. Now I can't wait to complete Pumpkins, so I can get started on this story.
But wait! I'm having too much fun on Pumpkins for it to be over. So I think I'll savor it for a bit longer.
Meanwhile, I also have book 6 of the Milligan Creek Series to write. I can't wait to get going on this book either because it involves one of my greatest passions, movies. Plus, last night while reading a book on maverick B-movie filmmaker Roger Corman, I got a fantastic idea for that book as well.
All that to say, if you want to write fiction, especially if you're stuck on a plot point, do your research. You'll be amazed at the connection your brain makes when it's in "hunting mode."
I've held off on turning the Milligan Creek Series into audio books for a while now, partly because I wasn't sure if there was a market for middle grade audio books (I've since learned there is) and partly because I wanted to narrate the books myself but never seemed to find the time to do it.
However, recently I read something by fellow indie publisher, ad guy, podcaster, and coach Bryan Cohen where he said that even though you may be good at doing a lot of things, it doesn't mean you should be everything yourself. Instead, you should be focusing on what you do best and, perhaps most importantly, what makes you the most money.
That was a tough pill for me to swallow seeing as I enjoy learning new skills and seeing if I can pull them off. Case in point: on my last documentary, I was writer, director, producer, and editor. We only had a two person crew (me and my son, Huw), so I also worked as a cameraman, sound recorder, sound mixer, gaffer, grip, post-production supervisor, music supervisor, second-unit cameraman, and the list goes on. Contrary to appearances, it's not a control issue, just a desire to see if I can do it.
As I mulled over this advice, realizing Bryan was right, lo and behold, last Sunday my wife mentioned that someone I knew right here in town is an audio book narrator. I contacted him immediately, had him record a short sample, and just last night greenlit the project.
With any luck, Up the Creek (which just came out in hardcover) should be ready to go by the end of April, with the other books to follow. I'll keep you posted here.
Brief thoughts and updates on writing, publishing, and life