Success stories in genre fiction are rare, but inspirational. It’s not every day we see a J.K. Rowling gain monumental fame and wealth from one big hit, then create an entire best-selling series and franchise around her ideas.
Most genre writers build up a stable career slowly, garnering publishing credits, earning positive reviews for their work, and one day, they look around and realize: “I’m a successful fiction writer.” But self-doubt lingers, because, after all, we’re writers. Then a crowning achievement occurs, something like a Hugo nomination, and it really hits home.
This is where young Rachel Swirsky, full-time science fiction and fantasy writer, finds herself today. She’s got a hefty list of publishing credits for short fiction to her name, a collection of short fiction and poetry on the horizon from Aqueduct Press and — most recently — Hugo and Nebula Award nominations.
Rachel took time from her busy schedule to talk to us in this four-part interview, with in-depth advice on how to become a science fiction and fantasy writer, how to market your work, and the craft of writing fiction and poetry.Â If you’d like to learn more about Rachel, please visit Rachel’s blog.
Dawn: Let’s start with the big news. You were nominated for a Hugo for your novelette, “Eros, Philia, Agape“. What was the process for that?
Rachel: The Hugos are selected by people who attend the Worldcon Science Fiction Convention. Attending and supporting members are eligible to recommend stories they’d like to see on the ballot, and the ones with the most recommendations are nominated. The same pool of people will also select the winner.
Dawn: Eros, Philia, Agape was published on the Tor website–is it available in print too? What was the process to have it accepted?
Rachel: [Tor Editor] Patrick Nielsen Hayden invited me to submit a few months before Tor.com was launched. I eventually sent him both “Eros, Philia, Agape,” which has been nominated for the Hugo award, and somewhat later, “A Memory of Wind,” which has been nominated for the Nebula award. Tor.com is an online magazine, so the stories were first published online. Tor.com has also made them available in a number of downloadable formats, including PDF and as audio fiction MP3s.
Rachel: A big turning point for me was attending the Clarion West Writing Workshop in 2005. Our first instructor was Octavia Butler, and she asked all the students what our long term goals were. I said I’d be happy with something modest like publishing a couple of stories. She said everyone should try to shoot upwards, to expect the best from their careers. Why not try to be full-time writers?
That conversation–along with a number of others at Clarion West–helped me to look at my writing from a more professional angle. Everyone can improve their writing technique, of course, but by that point I had the basics. I needed to take myself seriously–to write, submit, and write more, to take the writing seriously as a job. Within a couple months of making that decision, I started seeing sales, and eventually those started accumulating faster.
Dawn: So you’re writing fiction full-time now?
Rachel: Yes. In 2006, I went through the Iowa Writers’ Workshop with a teaching fellowship. In 2008, I got married and my husband and I moved to Bakersfield, California. He works full-time as a geologist, and I write full-time. I’d like to teach fiction part-time at the college level, as I did during grad school, and hopefully that will work out in the future.
You can read stories and poetry by Rachel Swirsky at:
Find out more at RachelSwirsky.com
Dawn: What are your goals now? Is a novel in the plans?
Rachel: A collection of my poetry and short stories, THROUGH THE DROWSY DARK, is coming out from Aqueduct Press at the end of May. I’m still working on a number of short stories, novelettes, and novellas–but I am thinking about novels.
A lot of writers find they trend more toward working with either short stories or novels. For instance, it’s pretty common to hear people say that novels are much easier to write than short stories. I’m the opposite; my intuitive grasp of fiction trends toward shorter lengths. Some writers never really transition from one form to the other, but there are also plenty of people who are dexterous enough as storytellers to move back and forth between the two forms, seemingly effortlessly. I’ve spent a lot of time working on short stories, and I think it will take a commensurate amount of effort to understand novels. But I’m hoping the time and effort will pay off.