L.A. Jacob 00:00:11) Hello and welcome to Small Publishing in a Big Universe. I am your host, L.A. Jacob. This month we will have part two of our interview with Vanessa MacLaren-Wray, you can listen to the first part of the interview in our February episode.
Here are some things available from our sponsors: coming in Water Dragon Publishing’s Dragon Gems series, available at the truck stop this month, The Smugglers by Vanessa MacLaren-Wray. Water Dragon Publishing also has a new audio edition of Gray Mother Mountain, written by Elise Russell and read by Jenn Broda. Coming up our interview with author Vanessa MacLaren-Wray.
From author Ryan Southwick and Water Dragon Publishing is a series where modern technology battles against an ancient evil. In an alternate San Francisco, meet Anne and Charlie and a whole host of extraordinary people who fight against a vampire plague gripping through the city. The Z-Tech Chronicle series includes Angels in the Mist, Angels Lost, Angels Fall, Angels Found, and more to come. All are available in hard cover and paperback by Water Dragon Publishing. Once Upon a Night Walker and Zima: Origins are also available as short stories taking place in the same detailed world. Created by Ryan Southwick. See waterdragonpublishing.com/z-tech-chronicles.
And we have back with us Vanessa MacLaren-Wray, who is here to tell us a little bit about her previously secret short stories that she wasn’t able to talk about before, but now she can talk about.
Vanessa MacLaren-Wray (00:02:38) Yes, because they’re out. So the first one is a short story. It’s called Coke Machine and it’s a madcap story of trying to repair a spaceship where bad things are happening, but it’s also funny. So don’t be afraid, nobody will die. Not in this story. And the second one is called The Smugglers and it is actually set on the truck stop station. Have we talked about Truck Stop yet? No, we haven’t. Oh, we haven’t. Oh, I get to tell you about the Truck Stop. The Truck Stop is a space station that is orbiting the black hole that lives at the center of our Milky Way galaxy. And given where it is, that makes it a wonderful crossing over point for good people, not so good people. Uh, and everything in between. And at this point I think we have, what, about six stories out so far?
Vanessa MacLaren-Wray (00:03:29) And it’s a team effort. Yeah, we’ve got, uh, working on it, we’ve got me, we’ve got Steve Soult, you, we have Lisa here in her SFF persona, L.A. Jacob, Steven Radecki. All the stories planned are on the website even if they’re not out yet. So, you can anticipate. My second story, The Smugglers, a charming little mother child story, they come to the truck stop only of course the charming mother and child are really, really terrifying aliens who conceal themselves so that the humans can’t detect them because they’re doing a little bit of illegal merchandise transfer and things are gonna go wrong. The child is going to need to go through some tricky life changes that happen with their species that can be triggered by stress, but also are just triggered by, you know, just growing up. So, you know, it’s just a nice little middle grade novel.
Vanessa MacLaren-Wray (00:04:18) That’s what it is. But it will be banned in Texas, Oklahoma, Florida,
L.A. Jacob (00:04:22) So do you have a novel out?
Vanessa MacLaren-Wray (00:04:24) I have something new coming in November, which is punitively a sequel to All that was Asked, which is a short novel in which an alt-universe, tribal college student picks up an alien on a cross world expedition and then has to grow up a lot in order to cope with the fact that they’ve adopted an alien. In the next novel, Shadows of Insurrection, We have a cameo by one of the main characters in All that was Asked. We have two characters from that story turn up as secondary characters. It is a rather different story. It’s more of a sociopolitical novel and it’s a full-scale novel. In fact, I have a planned sequel to it that my critique circle is currently giving that going over.
Vanessa MacLaren-Wray (00:05:17) It’s all to the good. It’s all to the good. Help me really clean up the opening of Shadows of Insurrection and let me know when I could leave out detail in order to get on with the story. That is one of the things critique friends can do for you. So Shadows of Insurrection follows the career of a military officer in a low-tech society that is actually more complex than we believe it first because it’s not your traditional medieval culture with kings and dukes and so on. It’s a matriarchy top society where the king is actually a couple of layers down in society. He’s very important and the people who work for him important, but their job is to defend the nation and deal with criminals and eh, collect the taxes, all those good things. So, the main character, Corin, starts out as a young military officer just starting out and then we follow the arc of his career as he learns to be a leader.
Vanessa MacLaren-Wray (00:06:16) Which uh, deals with some missteps. You know, he has to go through battles, gotta fight with brigands, form a sort of a family, uh, with the men and women around him, and then deal with this person who comes through cross universe portal who’s got different technology and different ideas about the way things have to work. And then he’s got a brother who’s kind of problematical and, and then there’s this woman, and you have two men, one woman and things ensue. So it’s kind of a love story. It’s kind of a military history, made up, history, drama, and it’s overall kind of a polemic on the way we organize our society and the kinds of mistakes that we in our world make. It will have a fair number of content warnings. There’s child soldiering, there’s death, there’s a lot of consensual relationships among adults that some people might object to. So again, you know, banned in Texas, Oklahoma, most of that stuff is pretty much offscreen. It’s mostly safe for work.
L.A. Jacob (00:07:15) Now the other thing that I heard you mentioned that you, you use critique groups?
Vanessa MacLaren-Wray (00:07:19) Yeah, I’m a great fan of critique groups. I know and I have experienced critique groups that don’t work for me. And then I have had the experience where I walked out of one and I was like, okay, I’m not going back there. At any given time. I’m a member of three different critique groups. One’s a group of friends I’ve been hanging out with for a long time and they’re kind of erratic and they write in various genres. So, it’s very outsider view, which can be really useful because if you’re not communicating at all to someone who’s outside the sci-fi fantasy universe, then you’re probably missing something because this is not that complex of a genre. If you’re not making sense to somebody who doesn’t read your genre, then you probably need to just sit down and look at your words. My other groups are both really serious sci-fi/fantasy writers and they come from various walks of life, various kinds of backgrounds.
Vanessa MacLaren-Wray (00:08:11) So I’m also using them as beta readers and I have one critique partner who is a professional psychologist. So, she can give insights just on the way people think in general. Or if I have a character who has a mental health issue, she can know that’s not really the way the DSM would view that. And sometimes just to get multiple people to analyze something gives you a good viewpoint. I mean, heck, I have a critique partner who literally teaches writing to high school students. When he critiques something, I feel like I’m getting good grades on my homework, puts you in the mood to continue it. And so, all these people are good at both telling you what you’re doing right and what’s not landing with them and disagreeing with each other too. Oh, I think that critique is not somebody telling you what you’re doing wrong. Critique is about figuring out how you can best communicate with as many people as possible and, and sometimes to say, no you’re wrong. That’s not right for my story. And no, you’re wrong. I’m not a bad writer and know you’re wrong. I know better grammar better than you do. I’m really, really freaking good at grammar. So, it can be great fun to have, uh, arguments about commas. I have a recent blog posting entirely on the participle phrase. Go read that if you want to think I’m a grammar nerd because you’ll be validated.
L.A. Jacob (00:09:33) So what in your opinion would make a good critique group?
Vanessa MacLaren-Wray (00:09:37) I think a good critique group will be, they will show up for you. They will give you a positive response. A good critique group will always tell you what you’re doing, right, and what is landing with you, no matter how awful they secretly think it is, they will tell you what is good about it, even if you’ve written it entirely in French. And all they can pick up is five words. They will say, oh, this is a story about an alien who meets another alien and they become friends. Right. I love that kind of story because you don’t want to show up for somebody, ask them to critique your work and help you and then just slam them. Occasionally you will run into a critique group where it’s all a slam party. And what you wanna do when you encounter that is you wanna say, oh shoot. You know, it turns out I have a work obligation at this time at every weekend. I just can’t come anymore. I’m sorry. Goodbye. Bye.
If somebody is slamming you all the time, you’re not gonna progress. A bunch of negativity is never gonna help you get better. That’s why my critique partner, who’s a teacher, is so good because he knows, so he works with students all the time. So, he knows that that’s not what works. And you may have to stumble around into multiple groups until you find a group that works. If you’re trying to write a memoir or short stories and work with other people who are doing short fiction or writing personal stuff because then you’ll resonate better with each other and you’ll be more prepared to work on the same kinds of things. Some of them, I’ve been in a critique group where it’s mainly about, I wanna pick at you and have you pick at me. And they don’t, they’re not making progress. I have experimented.
L.A. Jacob (00:11:18) So how long did it take you to find the critique groups that you’ve been with so far and how long?
Vanessa MacLaren-Wray (00:11:23) Well, my first one, the, the one that I’ve been with for a long time that it took a long time to stumble in and join them, they had put up something on Meetup because they’d lost somebody and they needed somebody else. And I just, and this was back when you could meet at Starbucks and stuff, and it took me about a month to get past walking up to the Starbucks door and peering through the door and saying, are they there? Do they look like writers? I can’t tell. To walking in and kind of getting a coffee and trying to figure out which table they were at to actually sitting down and saying, hi, are you like the [mumbling]? I worked through all that was asked with that group. I worked through another novel of that group. I’ve been through four manuscript with that group and it’s been up and down.
Vanessa MacLaren-Wray (00:12:08) People come and go, but it’s very, every week we’re just working together and that is very effective. The other two groups I’m in, I found on Meetup and through referrals from other people and you just join up, go to the meeting on Zoom. It’s a progression basically. I think I have enough critique groups right now. It takes experimenting. The main thing is to show up, to give it a try. And if it doesn’t work for you, just say, you know, thanks. This group isn’t quite the right group for me. There’s no hard feelings. Nobody minds if you leave, they’re busy writing their stuff, they’re not gonna spend the next six weeks going on about how awful you were. Definitely. Because I have had people enter my groups and leave and we do not talk about them. That doesn’t happen because they were just writing some other kind of fiction and when it didn’t really blend with our group and we understood when they wanted to leave, that’s fine.
L.A. Jacob (00:13:02) Do you have other people read your works before submission and why?
Vanessa MacLaren-Wray (00:13:07) Occasionally I have a beta reader, which is not somebody who’s in a critique group, but somebody who just agrees to read your work and give you a little feedback from their perspective. If you’re writing for a particular kind of audience or you need sensitivity reading, uh, done that a little bit.
L.A. Jacob (00:13:23) What is sensitivity reading?
Vanessa MacLaren-Wray (00:13:25) Well, if you have a character who, whose life experience is very different from your own, it helps to get their perspective from somebody who’s outside that experience. I have a novel I’m working on right now, which has a gay person in it, so I run it by gay people. To make sure I’m not saying things wrong. I have a Korean American kid who’s under pressure from her parents and is growing up in that kind of a family. And I have a critique partner who’s Asian American and she’s like, ah-huh, mm-hmm. Yeah. Mm-hmm. I have a middle grade level novel that I’ve been working on where the characters are from Africa and they are Muslim. I had a friend of a friend read it who is from Africa and is Muslim, in fact, uh, teaches Islamic studies at his mosque to get some little tips from him back on what’s okay and not okay to talk about with daily prayers and things like that. And that was just wonderfully helpful because I’d done my research and it’s really good to get just a little personal feedback from somebody in an affected community to say, okay, you got this right, you got that right, you know, you don’t really need to worry about this. And there you wanna seek out somebody who’s going to be kind to you and not get mad at you because you’re obviously wanting to improve. You’re not obviously trying to run rough shot over somebody.
L.A. Jacob (00:14:41) You are more of a firm believer that no writer exists in a vacuum.
Vanessa MacLaren-Wray (00:14:46) No, you write alone, but if you want your writing to go out to anybody else, then suddenly you’re outside the solitude. You are living in a community, and I know we all feel very, very isolated right now, because we are physically isolated, but we’re actually much more connected to each other than we’ve been in a long time. I think I, I think we need to leverage everything we can to, to do that.
L.A. Jacob 00:15:10) What advice would you give to new authors?
Vanessa MacLaren-Wray (00:15:13) That is a tough one and, and I think probably the simplest thing is we are just talking about not being isolated. Of course, when you’re writing, you’re sitting in a room by yourself, and you’ve got the door locked and you’ve yelled at your family to go away. So, you’re alone. But beyond that, you need to have a circle and your circle might be your cat and your sister, somebody who can listen to you when you’re griping. Somebody who can encourage you when you’re having self-doubts or just somebody to sit on your lap and purr occasionally, but then you can reach out. I mean there are so many resources out there for somebody who’s just beginning to write for somebody who’s written for a while but doesn’t know how to publish. For somebody who’s publishing and wants to go further. I’m a member of the California Writers Club and I’m sure there are associations everywhere that are similar where there’s a local chapter that meets monthly and they have craft workshops, and they have speakers come in on publishing.
Vanessa MacLaren-Wray (00:16:08) They have agents come and tell you what agents need and don’t need. They’ll have publishers visit and talk about what they’re looking for and what’s hot in the market these days and stuff like that. And that gives you a sense of place in this profession because once you start putting work out there, this is a job. And just because you love it doesn’t mean it’s not a job. So, you need to be somewhat professional about it. I’m a member of the National Women’s Book Association, which also does workshops and has meetings and hosts writer events. And the Author’s Guild that advocates for copyright protections and things like that. So it’s good to, as you work your way into the professional associations, you learn about all these resources that are available to help you understand contracts, figure out how to write a query letter, what to do at a convention, all those things that help you maintain a positive attitude when things are rough and find new ways to get your stories out there. You don’t try to do it all at once. If you’re just beginning, do one of those things and that will lead you to the next thing. Uh, but don’t just sit in your room and write.
L.A. Jacob (00:17:13) How can people contact you and where can they contact? You mentioned a newsletter.
Vanessa MacLaren-Wray (00:17:17) 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. So I’m on Twitter, I’m on Twitter almost every day at Cometary Tales. I have a Facebook page, but it’s fairly static. It is also at Cometary Tales. Cometary Tale is a theme here. Twitter might be the easiest, quickest place because it has a link to everything else.
L.A. Jacob (00:18:07) A family friendly story by Vanessa MacLaren-Wray, The Smugglers, is set in the Truck Stop at the Center of the Galaxy. A mother and child spend a bonding afternoon sharing the sights of the black hole and their first taste of ice cream. But not all is perfect in this wonderful little family, as mom has a job to do. And the child sets loose the product into the Band Orange Sector. Available for Water Dragon Publishing, The Truck Stop series. Dive into the different stories each month that take place on the station where tourist traps and mysteries abound. For more information, go to truckstop.waterdragonpublishing.com.
L.A. Jacob (00:18:38): Thanks again to our guest, Vanessa MacLaren-Wray. We plan on publishing new episodes every second Wednesday of the month. Watch for new episodes around that time.
Theme music is provided by Melody Loops. Other music is from assorted free music websites found on the internet. If you want to know more about Small Publishing in a Big Universe, visit our website at SPBU-Podcast.com. Tweet us at SPBU-podcast and like us on Facebook at SPBU-podcast.
This podcast was recorded and edited by yours truly, L.A. Jacob. Executive producer is Steven Radecki. Transcription services provided by Sleepy Fox Studio.
This month’s episode was sponsored by Paper Angel Press and its imprints, Water Dragon Publishing and Unruly Voices. You can hear our podcast on Apple Podcast, Spotify, Stitcher, Amazon Music, and most of your favorite podcast services. Visit our marketplace for more information about books that are mentioned on this podcast. Thanks very much for listening and talk to you soon.