This is the fifth entry in the IN CONVERSATION series. Click here to read last week’s entry with Humai CEO Josh Bocanegra.
Danika Stone is an author, artist, and educator who discovered a passion for writing fiction while in the throes of her Masters thesis. A self-declared bibliophile, Danika now writes novels for both adults (Edge of Wild, The Intaglio Series and Ctrl Z) and teens (All the Feels). When not writing, Danika can be found hiking in the Rockies, planning grand adventures, and spending far too much time online. She lives with her husband, three sons, and a houseful of imaginary characters in a windy corner of Alberta, Canada.
This is my exchange with Danika Stone.
JAYME KARALES for CLASH: I’m curious about where your writing career started; how long have you been at it and what kind of a situation were you in when you started scribing your first manuscript?
DANIKA STONE: I always wrote, but I didn’t take it seriously until my twenties. Once I started, I was hooked. I plotted out a novel, wrote about half of it and then LIFE happened. At the time, I was working a couple jobs and freelance writing, and I kept rationalizing that the stuff I was being paid for was worth more of my time. The outcome was that the book sat, unfinished.
Eventually I returned to university to do my Masters and started a thesis about technology and learning. Unlike my freelance nonfiction, I had to stick with my thesis for over two years. I hated it. But it gave my writing the kick in the ass I needed.
I opened up the ancient Word file I’d put aside years before and reread it. The writing bug hit me hard. I rationalized that I’d only write one page to get me through the next section of meta-data analysis. But that single page of fiction became two hundred, three hundred, rewrites, copyedits, EVERYTHING. And finally – many years after I started – I finished my first book.
KARALES: You’ve released a couple of books over a relatively short period of time. What was your path to publication like with each one, and have you been satisfied overall with each?
STONE: Book 1 (AKA the novel that almost wasn’t) was The Snake and the Coins. I queried it and failed, but got a lot of good suggestions. One agent told me the publishing industry was changing and that though he liked my book, he wouldn’t sign me because he couldn’t take the risk. He suggested making a name for myself.
I took his advice.
Over the next couple years I built an online presence and connected with other writers – beta-reading, editing, reviewing for them – anything people needed. They did the same for me. Eventually, I released the book (and its newly-written sequel) independently.
It’s amazing how much you learn by taking on the process yourself. You appreciate the enormity of publishing, the effort that goes into each step. I learned to promote, build social media connections, engage my audience, and write at the same time. From release weekend promos, to book trailers, to layout and design, to branding… I did it all.
I also entered every contest I could find and in 2013, my mystery-thriller, Edge of Wild (previously entitled Tathagata) was selected as a Quarterfinalist for Amazon’s Breakthrough Novel of the Year Award. I knew this book had potential.
I queried a second time. Within two weeks had signed with Morty Mint – the one-time Vice President of Collins Canada, President of Penguin Canada and President and CEO of Penguin USA. Morty and his editors helped me polish Edge of Wild into its most saleable version before he took it to publishers. I signed with Stonehouse Publishing (Canada) in December of 2014. What a feeling!
But that wasn’t the end…
In the spring of 2015, All the Feels – which I’d written during the editing maelstrom of Edge of Wild – was chosen by readers in the Swoon Reads crowd-sourced selection process. Quite unexpectedly I had made the leap from indie, to small press, to Big Five all in one year. What a ride!
KARALES: How has social media played a part in your writing and how you promote it?
STONE: I’m a huge fan of social media. I spend FAR too much time online, and since I teach technology, my work and writing life occasionally merge. All the Feels is very tech-focused, with digital images, text messaging and links to online content, so it makes sense that I’m promoting with an online focus. But even with Edge of Wild, which is a traditional novel, I use as much social media as possible. I live in Canada. Getting to book conventions is costly and time-consuming, so I have yet another reason to leverage the power of the internet.
KARALES: I’m actually weirdly, strongly interested in reading your forthcoming book All The Feels. It’s not even remotely my genre of choice but there’s something about the synopsis and general vibe of the book that has me interested.
STONE: I’m weirdly, strongly flattered…? No seriously though, thank you! I think the sign of a good book is that it crosses genre boundaries. I’d like to think my writing does.
KARALES: It seems very ‘current.’ How important was it for you to capture millennial culture accurately and online personas?
STONE: I think it’s essential to represent the culture you’re writing about in an accurate, respectful way. (A poor representation can be worse than none at all.) Given that I wanted to tell a story about millennials, I based my characters on people I knew, and used texting / social media as a form of communication. Ever people-watch on a bus? Teens live on their phones. Even sitting side by side, they have conversations via texting as often as verbally. That’s what I wanted to capture.
The plot of All the Feels is fictional, but the premise of bringing a character back from the dead was inspired by my friend E, the very real person behind the @CoulsonLives twitter crusade that took off when Agent Coulson died at the end of The Avengers. That idea – of being able to actually change media through force of will – has grown in the last decade or so (though I suppose you could argue that fans of the original Sherlock Holmes brought his character back after Arthur Conan Doyle killed him off over a hundred years ago).
Of course, I’m sure some writers would disagree with the notion of fans guiding the events onscreen, but as one of the characters in All the Feels says: “An actor works for us, not the other way around.”
KARALES: Could you tell us a little bit about your upcoming novel Edge of Wild?
STONE: Stonehouse is a literary imprint which made it a good fit for Edge of Wild, since the book straddles literary and genre fiction. On the surface, it’s a mystery: American business man, Rich Evans, travels to the sleepy mountain town of Waterton to revamp a dying hotel, and finds himself in the crosshairs of a murderer.
Beyond this, Edge of Wild is a story of personal struggle. Rich’s brush with back-water isolationism is laced with self-discovery. With a cast of unique characters – from drug-smugglers, to mystics, to reclusive back-country ranchers – Edge of Wild probes the dark underbelly of human nature, and those personal connections that forge our humanity. I’m really excited to share this story.
KARALES: What would you say was your inspiration for writing it?
STONE: I’ve always been intrigued with the narrow line that separates good and evil; people who seem normal at first glance, but have a completely secret life no one knows about. I spent a lot of my childhood in Waterton, which is as reclusive as I described. As a kid, I always wondered about the unspoken stories. Edge of Wild is my homage to that.
KARALES: Have you considered putting together a tour to promote your upcoming books?
STONE: I was hoping that Macmillan was going to do a venue-by-venue book tour for the Swoon Reads releases coming out in 2016, (much as they did in 2015). I don’t think that’s going to happen, but if I had a chance, I’d jump at it! As for online tours, I will definitely be getting one ready as I near the release dates of both books.
KARALES: What would you say your long term goals as an author are?
STONE: One of my bucket list items is to make the New York Times bestseller list. So, there’s that. I also daydream about the Giller Prize, but the truth is, my writing is far too commercial to fit the requirements.
In a general sense, I have a number of unpublished projects waiting in the wings that I’d like to see in print. (Two are YA novels, one’s a science fiction, another is a paranormal fiction.) Lastly, I’d like to be able to give up my day job. Don’t get me wrong. Canada’s cold ten months a year, and I like being able to pay my heating bills – and teaching’s how I do it. But it would be really nice to be able to just write. Period.
KARALES: When can we expect All the Feels and Edge of Wild (and any other books of yours) to come out?
STONE: Edge of Wild (Stonehouse), will be released May 1, 2016. All the Feels (Macmillan), is coming June 7, 2016. And lastly, I can tell you that Internet Famous (another YA from Macmillan) will be arriving sometime in 2017. I have a very exciting year ahead!
KARALES: Where can people find you online and pre-order the books?
STONE: The easiest way is through my website: http://www.danikastone.com/ All my social media links are there, so check them out. I love to connect with readers!
Thanks so much for inviting me to be part of Clash, Jayme! It was great to talk to you.