L.A. Jacob (00:00:15) Hi, and welcome to Small Publishing in a Big Universe. In the middle of February. This month, we have author Vanessa McLaren-Wray talking about her novel: All That Was Asked and her short story “Parrish Blue” coming later this month.
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L.A. Jacob (00:01:46) Water Dragon Publishing has a call for submissions. The Future’s So Bright. If you could catch a glimpse of the future, what would you hope to see? High-tech advancements newly evolved species of wildlife. For this collection, we want positive visions of the future. Show us terraces covered in gardens and solar panels, sprawling colonies under glass on Mars, and the explorers of tomorrow. Tell us what you think cities will look like in the year 2300. What it would be like to take a cruise on a spaceship or what new organisms might evolve in the Amazon rainforest? For more information, see this page on their website, waterdragonpublishing.com/submissions/future-so-bright.
Welcome back. This month we have Vanessa McLaren-Wray telling us about her book, All That Was Asked. We discussed why and how she wrote it, and whether there will be more novels or short stories coming from Vanessa, we would like to welcome Vanessa McLaren-Wray to Small Publishing in a Big Universe. Hi, Vanessa.
Vanessa McLaren-Wray (00:03:19) Hello.
L.A. Jacob (00:03:20) Thank you for coming. I’m just gonna dive right in. You’ve published the Dragon Gem story “Parrish Blue”, and you’ve also published All That Was Asked, which is a novel. Which do you prefer to write in the long form or the short form?
Vanessa McLaren-Wray (00:03:37) I’d have to confess that I’m a long form writer and that may seem strange given “Parrish Blue’s” short story. All That Was Asked is kind of a short novel, but I tend to go on <laugh>. I write long, I like to put in stories, a lot of themes and not just one point <laugh>. And that tangles the relationships and tangles the storytelling. And you have to go on further to have things get resolved. And the next thing you know, you’re at a hundred thousand words and you have to say, oh my God, I’m mainly writing a novel form, but I’m learning to do short story form, which is why “Parrish Blue”, the Dragon Gems made me kind of sit down and say, okay, I have this partial story that I’ve written and I think I can actually finish that and leave it a short story and tell myself that I could write other short stories in that universe to walk myself back <laugh> from going too far. And that worked for me. So I managed to finish that and it was great to get it out there and feel validated that yes, I can write a short story. And I’m now currently working really hard on generating more short stories. I did this anthology with the California Writers Club. There’s a sci-fi story in that that is a short story.
L.A. Jacob (00:04:49) <laugh>, Is that available?
Vanessa McLaren-Wray (00:04:50) It is available from a Sand Hill Review Press. It’s called Fault Zone: Reverse. And it’s a wonderful collection of stories and creative non-fiction memoir and poetry, some ah, awesome poetry in there. Everyone run and read Fault Zone after you read “Parrish Blue” and All That Was Asked, gotta prioritize.
L.A. Jacob (00:05:11) I do really like it and I do agree that everybody should run out and pick that up because it’s a short read. According to Kindle, it’s a two and a half hour read. How long have you’ve written a book that published or not? How long have you gone?
Vanessa McLaren-Wray (00:05:27) I have twice gotten a story to about 150,000 words.
L.A. Jacob (00:05:34) Wow.
Vanessa McLaren-Wray (00:05:35) Put down the laptop <laugh> and stepped backwards and said, okay, this is too long. Nobody’s gonna sit through this. I am not Dickens. And once the story gets that long, you can pull back and look at the overall arcs and decide a, what really matters in that story. So that you usually find things you can just pull right out that are like a short story <laugh> or a scene that you can delete that doesn’t hurt the story that you could maybe use for promos later. Or I’ll put them in my newsletter. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, here’s a scene I had to cut, but uh, it’s actually kind of good. And then at that point maybe I’m down to 140,000 and then I can look at the broader arcs and say, now wait a minute. The, there are really two stories here. Both times what’s happened is I’ve looked at it and said, now there’s really two stories here and there’s a twisting part somewhere near the middle where something changes and we’re going somewhere else.
Vanessa McLaren-Wray (00:06:30) And maybe that’s just in the nature of the way I’m writing. Maybe I am internally writing series and I just don’t know it. So I’ve found the part, the place where it needed to stop that something important in half two people finally find each other and ah, and that’s an okay place to stop. And then in the second half, well everything goes to hell in a hand basket, shall we say. Right. And then they have to get back together. So there’s a broad story where terrible things happen and then everything is okay and then even worse things happen and things are okay. So that’s kind of, that is kind of a series like pattern, but we’ll see how that goes.
L.A. Jacob (00:07:08) Do you usually write stories with a romance?
Vanessa McLaren-Wray (00:07:12) Kind of. I haven’t done very much where there is a romantic element, but I’m finding it that it’s creeping in more and more. “Parrish Blue” is a romance, it’s a sci-fi romance. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, it’s neat. Cute. And how that progresses. And I used to be kind of prejudiced, I will say about romance because one gets the formulaic stuff where it’s like A, B, C, D marriage, but I’m also a huge Jane Austin fan. You can’t really believe that romance is bad and read Jane Austin. You just have to grow up as a reader and say, you know, that’s a part of the human experience. So there is a little romance in All That Was Asked. It’s a subplot, but it’s in there and it’s critical to the character’s final decision making. There’s no romance in the Fault Zone stories. There’s a broken marriage <laugh> in one of them. The things I’m currently writing now, I’m open to having stories where people fall in love because it’s really nice, you know, it makes me feel good. It makes other people feel good. And why not?
LA Jacob (00:08:15) Do you consider yourself more like, is it hard sci-fi or a soft sci-fi? Can you do both?
Vanessa McLaren-Wray (00:08:21) It’s mostly pretty soft sci-fi. Uh, which is ironic because I’m a mechanical engineer and I went into engineering partly because I was a huge science fiction fan. Ah, you know, and I was gonna be the rocket ship engineer.
L.A. Jacob (00:08:36) Oh, captain.
Vanessa McLaren-Wray (00:08:39) Make it faster, You know, <laugh>. But when I sit down to tell stories, I kind of tend to put the technology in the background. I know how my laptop works, but I don’t really need to know how my laptop works to write a story on it. I don’t need to know bits from bites and DMs from Ram to operate my cell phone, <laugh> or uh, to get on the internet here and have a conversation. So I feel that if you’re writing in a future world, there will be technology and it’s fun to make it up. “Parrish Blue” has some space travel technology that I allude to and that people use casual terms for. The technology is not discussed. Oh, well we have a way to travel interstellar and that’s very convenient, but it’s uncomfortable because we’re poor and we can’t afford to pay top dollar. So there’s uh, an implication that there’s a societal divide between who can pay for the comfortable modes of travel and who has to sit essentially in a tin can for four days until you get where you’re going. So I’m really more interested in how it affects the people, which then affects the story, which then affects what happens.
L.A. Jacob (00:09:45) Let’s go to All That Was Asked. What is your favorite scene in that book?
Vanessa McLaren-Wray (00:09:51) Without Spoiling it? For me, it’s hard to do spoilers, but there is a scene where Answe, the mild mannered, super earnest central character has to make use of his mafia type family’s connections and shall we say, violent technological tools. And it’s just one of those nice little moments where he says, oh, by the way, I don’t think I’ve really been clear about one thing that I kind of know about. And I just pulled on while I go and do this thing. All my critique partners really love that scene too. It’s like, oh, that’s my favorite.
L.A. Jacob (00:10:36) On the other side of that, what was the most difficult scene to write in that particular book?
Vanessa McLaren-Wray (00:10:43) Well, that ties into our earlier conversation because the most difficult scene was the ending sequence. Okay. Because when I got to that point, to be honest, I wasn’t sure where I was gonna go. He has to make a choice where to go, what to do. It’s wasn’t really clear to me how he was going to resolve that because is he gonna go off an adventure in the other universes Woo. Or is he gonna stay home? And, and there’s a tension there. And I wasn’t quite sure how that was gonna resolve because of the romance element. That was really hard. And the thing that was good was taking it to my critique partners and having them argue about it. Cause I resolved it in my own mind and I wrote it. And one is like, oh yes, that’s great. That’s the, and the other one was like, no, you have to do it the other way because, you know, the other way would be blah, blah, blah.
Vanessa McLaren-Wray (00:11:35) Because I sort of feel like if you have conflicted feelings <laugh> at the end of a story like that, then you have cared about the character that these people whose main job as my friends was to tell me what was wrong with my story. <laugh> Where arguing about how I should end it told me I was doing it right. Right. Yeah. It’s kind of like a political thing where uh, if everybody in the debate is angry, then you know, you have found the compromise <laugh> that’s going to work. And for me, in practical terms, it sets it up better for sequels, the way I resolved it also in a mechanical way makes it easier for me to write the follow on books.
L.A. Jacob (00:12:15) So do you consider yourself then more of a discovery writer than a plotter?
Vanessa McLaren-Wray (00:12:21) Oh yeah. Yeah, definitely. And I have tried planning. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, I’ve tried laying it out point by point by point. And if I do that, then it goes in a drawer because my entire creative energy system says, okay, we’re done. We’ve figured it out. I found what’s practical for me is to go ahead and get going because you kind of have the feel for what’s happening to the characters. They’re in a, you’ve got the characters, you throw ’em in a situation, stuff starts happening, and a little bit ways along. I decide where I want it to go. I wanna decide where it’s gonna end. And maybe it’s gonna take two books to get there. Maybe it’s gonna take three books to get there, <laugh>, but I, once I know where it’s going to end, then that’s gonna guide a lot of things. You can’t kill off person X because they are the person who gets killed off at the end.
Vanessa McLaren-Wray (00:13:14) Or you can’t allow these two people to come together too soon because they need to have some conflicts in order for their relationship to matter. It’s that kind of a subplot. So that helps me have a direction to go. But it’s kind of like, I don’t know, going out to the park and you’re going for a walk and you just wanna make sure you’re back at the parking lot by sunset. But there are a lot of trails and you can use them all. And it is okay if you get back to the parking lot at 10 minutes after sunset and the Ranger is writing you a ticket, it’s okay because you had a good walk. So you can even mess up your ending a little bit. But as long as you have a goal, then you can get there.
L.A. Jacob (00:13:53) You’ve published in two different places. You’ve published with Water Dragon Publishing and you’ve published in an anthology with Sandhill Review Press and the California Writer’s Club.
Vanessa McLaren-Wray (00:14:01) Yeah. Yep. Um, but that, those are both small press experiences. The Sandhill Review press is also small press. So I guess at this point in my career, I am a small press writer and I don’t really foresee leaving that entirely. Mm-hmm. however, I am working, uh, to acquire an agent and move some of the work I’m working on into more traditional publishing, or at least to some of the bigger sci-fi smaller presses, partly because I have a little bit too much to dump on Water Dragon. I mean, my TBP pile is pretty big at this point. Well, that’s —
L.A. Jacob (00:14:37) Good to have a nice backlist.
Vanessa McLaren-Wray (00:14:38) Yes. Yes. Just wanna get it out. I’m not very interested in pure self-publishing, partly because of the feeling of community and working in a small press is quite valuable that you have other people, people that you’re almost literally partners with, other people that you can boost that are fun to promote other people who will promote you. It’s more like being in a club. in an association. Then you get in a traditional publishing situation where you’re just another person who’s producing product for a giant publisher. And granted they can get your work into more places. But my perception is that it’s more of a, a big machine operation. In my engineering work, I’ve always worked in small consulting groups and that is what that is like, it’s like working with a small press, you know, everybody in the company, you know where your work is critical and you know who else needs support at any given time. But we have, as consultants, we’ve worked with very large companies, major utilities, giant corporations, and the people who work in those businesses have a very different kind of lifestyle. I always enjoyed sticking with my small consulting firm, but we got to travel around and do a lot of things. So I want my books to travel around and do more things.
L.A. Jacob (00:15:54) How can people contact you and where can they contact you? You mentioned a newsletter.
Vanessa McLaren-Wray (00:15:58) I have a website. The website is Cometary Tales — cometary, like as in having to do with comets, cometarytales.com. And at that spot you can sign up for my newsletter, which delivers you a sneaky free sample of all that was asked. I’m pretty sure it still does that, uh, when you sign up. So I’m on Twitter and I’m on Twitter almost every day at Cometary . <laugh>, I have a Facebook page, but it’s fairly static. It is also at Cometary Tales. Cometary Tales a theme here. Twitter might be the easiest, quickest place because it has a link to the, to everything else. And, uh, I’m always present on, uh, on Twitter. Okay. Yeah, totally. So agents call me.
L.A. Jacob (00:16:44) Well, Vanessa, thank you very much for joining me.
Vanessa McLaren-Wray (00:16:48) Yes, thank you. This was really fun.
L.A. Jacob (00:17:06) Water Dragon Publishing has a call for submissions, corporate Catharsis, the Work from Home Edition. The pandemic came and the world changed. Lives have changed, work has changed. The boundaries between reality and fantasy have become as blurred as those between life and work. Corporate Catharsis, The Work from Home Edition gives you the opportunity you explore the impact of the Covid Pandemic on your personal and professional life through your fiction. For more information, see their website, water dragon publishing.com/submissions/corporate catharsis 2022.
L.A. Jacob (00:18:07) Thanks again to our guest author, Vanessa McLaren Ray. We plan on publishing new episodes every second Wednesday of the month. Watch for new episodes around that time. Music is provided by Melody Lubes. If you want to know more about Small Publishing in a Big Universe, visit our website at spbu-podcast.com. A listing of all the books mentioned, this month is available there on our marketplace. Tweet us at SPBU dash podcast and like us on Facebook at SPBU dash podcast. This podcast was recorded and edited by yours truly L.A. Jacob. This month’s episode was sponsored by Paper Angel Press and its imprints, Water Dragon Publishing and Unruly Voices. If you like this podcast, please leave us a five star review or you can contact us via our website, spbu-podcast.com. Thanks for listening and talk to you soon.