We’re continuing the celebration of the new Transmedia Mutts website and blog with an interview with two Adult fiction authors: Sarena Ulibarri and Janet Walden-West. I’m so excited to have these two women as guests! We were in Pitch Wars together in 2014, where the mentees formed a Facebook group to support each other, so we’ve been together through a lot of ups and downs during our publishing adventures.
Sarena and Janet share some of these ups and downs in the interview, as well as tips for finding inspiration for new stories, helpful resources for improving your writing craft, and figuring out ways to make book promotion slightly less painful. Give it a watch and soak in their advice!
Here are a few of the things we chatted about, condensed and edited for readability.
Jocelyn: Sarena, your latest novel Another Life releases in May, and I know that book itself had a long journey – tell us about it.
Sarena: I wrote the first draft of it in 2017, and it became a full-length 90,000 word book. And I queried it, but I queried it really selectively, like, maybe five. I think it was because I knew instinctively that it wasn’t quite ready. I felt like it was as good as I could get it, but it wasn’t really ready for Showtime. And so I queried a few, just tested the waters, and then I shelved it.
Several years later, a friend of mine that’s in my critique group noticed that there was a small press getting ready to open up for submissions. It was climate fiction and that’s the sort of niche that I’ve been working in the last couple of years. And she was like, you know, you should really pull out your Death Valley book and send it to the small press. And I was like, eh, but I pulled it out. I looked at it, and it’s a mess! And I was like, no wonder I didn’t get requests on this. It was a disaster.
But I really still liked the core of it, the heart of it. So I was like, I’m gonna kill all the darlings in this: this plotline doesn’t make sense, and I’m gonna get rid of this character. I really just pared it down to its core, and it became a 40,000 word novella instead of a 90,000 word novel. And I queried it to Stelliform Press and got the offer of acceptance. Like, pretty quick! So it was a combination of getting the right market that was looking for exactly what I was doing and paring it down to the core of the story that I was trying to tell.
Jocelyn: There are so many lessons in that anecdote! Kill your darlings gets said so much that it’s cliché, but it’s true! Get distance from your writing so you can see what it needs. Make your writer tighter and concise. Target your niche.
Janet, what was the journey like for your debut novel, Salt + Stilettos?
Janet: For the novel I got into 2014 Pitch Wars with, I queried the heck out of it, like 100 agents, maybe. Don’t do that. I did not know better at the time, but don’t do that. It was right about the time that urban fantasy in traditional publishing kind of went off a cliff, and the market really contracted. So I spent several years revising it, and revising it again, because there were still so many holes in my knowledge of what I did and didn’t know. And then finally, I literally ran out of agents to query. And at that point, it’s like, what is the point? But then I think like every writer, I couldn’t stop. I just started writing again, but I flipped into something fresh and different, only temporarily because I wasn’t even thinking publication with it. I wrote a contemporary romance, and I got into the 2017 Pitch Wars with it, and it became my debut novel.
Jocelyn: I think that such an important part of being a writer is being able to experiment. You feel like you know what you want to write, but trends change and skills change, everything changes, so you’ve got to be willing to jump in there and try new things. Speaking of new things, one thing that’s usually new for writers is promotion. Have you found a way to promote your books that you enjoy?
Janet: I started a newsletter as you know you have to do one, but it has actually turned out to be a lot of fun. I leave the lines of communication open and readers can drop me a line on any social media or my email and say, “Hey, I love this,” or, “Hey, I hate this,” and you know, look at my cute dog. It’s turned out to be a really great community. And that is one aspect of marketing that I did not expect, and it has turned out to be a lot of fun. It’s very much about community.
Jocelyn: I’ve been putting off starting a newsletter, but I know I need to. Hearing your positive experience with it, Janet, maybe it’s not so scary! Okay, any last piece of advice you want to share?
Sarena: For anyone who is an aspiring writer, my advice is to have a community of writers. I’m lucky to have gotten into Pitch Wars and gotten to know people like you. And I have a local critique group that I’m lucky to have to. But writing is a form of madness, and normal people don’t understand. So get a community of writers and support each other: through the writing process, through the publishing process, whatever. That is really the most important thing that I think you can do.
Absolutely! Having a community of writers who understand why you just spent two hours changing that one word 358 times or why you’re stalking #MSWL on Twitter or why you’re talking to yourself in different voices (maybe that’s just me?) will keep you grounded. They will lift you up on the hard days and celebrate with you on the good days. If you’re looking for a community of supportive writers, then come join us in the Transmedia Mutts Facebook group!
Have fun and go unleash your creative bark!
Agent Zero: Region Two Series: Book One
by Janet Walden-West
Released May 24, 2021
He owns the spotlight, she lives in the shadows.
My only purpose? Keep lethal cryptids in check, and our Company existence secret.
Sometimes a girl needs a night of karaoke and tequila though. Instead, after a vicious new cryptid species crashes the party, I end up saving and carting home a way arrogant, way hot chef. With Bruce Kantor now a temporary roommate it seems like the perfect time to indulge my forbidden civilian fascination—especially the friends-with-benefits part. But the feelings he ignites threaten my oath and mission.
Damn right I’m the bad boy of the culinary world.
I live for the limelight, and the legions of #BruceTheBastard fans love my temper as much as my food. After stomping out of one high-profile gig, all I’m looking for are directions to my next. What I get is a giant Komodo Dragon-wannabe, and Vee Ramirez, the most infuriatingly irresistible woman to ever hit my radar.
Even if we survive the relentless monster on my trail, our future is toast unless I can convince Vee there’s more to life than the Company.
Janet Walden-West lives in the Southeast with a pack of show dogs, a couple of kids, and a husband who didn’t read the fine print. She writes intersectional sexy-times Contemporary and Paranormal romance, and boss-girl Urban Fantasy heroines.A Pitch Wars mentee/mentor alum, and RWA Golden Heart finalist, she’s the author of the Contemporary SALT + STILETTOS: South Beach Romances series, and the Region Two Urban Fantasy romance series. Her Urban Fantasy short stories can be found in multiple anthologies. She is represented by Eva Scalzo of Speilburg Literary Agency. Find out more at https://www.janetwaldenwest.com/
by Sarena Ulibarri
May 25, 2023
Finding out who you were in a previous life sounds like fun until you’re forced to grapple with the darkness of the past. Galacia Aguirre is Mediator of Otra Vida, a quasi-utopian city on the shores of a human-made lake in Death Valley. She resolves conflicts within their sustainable money-free society, and keeps the outside world from meddling in their affairs. When a scientific method of uncovering past lives emerges, Galacia learns she’s the reincarnation of Thomas Ramsey, leader of the Planet B movement, who eschewed fixing climate change in favor of colonizing another planet. Learning her reincarnation result shakes the foundations of Galacia’s identity and her position as Mediator, threatening to undermine the good she’s done in this lifetime. Fearing a backlash, she keeps the results secret while dealing with her political rival for Mediator, and outsiders who blame Otra Vida for bombings that Galacia is sure they had nothing to do with. But under the unforgiving sun of Death Valley, secrets have a way of coming to light.
Sarena Ulibarri is a speculative fiction author and editor from the American Southwest. Her short fiction has appeared in Lightspeed, DreamForge, GigaNotoSaurus, Solarpunk Magazine, and elsewhere, and nonfiction essays have appeared in Strange Horizons and Grist. Her novella, Another Life, is forthcoming from Stelliform Press in 2023. As an anthologist, she has curated and published several international volumes of optimistic climate fiction: Glass and Gardens: Solarpunk Summers (2018), Glass and Gardens: Solarpunk Winters (2020), and Multispecies Cities: Solarpunk Urban Futures (2021). Find out more at http://www.sarenaulibarri.com/