Welcome, one and all, to another MDM Projects Author Interview! Today, I’m welcoming Stephen Coghlan aboard.
Stephen, for those that are unfamiliar with your work, can you give us a quick introduction to yourself?
Sure thing. I’m a growing Spec-Lit author who hails from just outside Canada’s capital city. (That’s Ottawa, not Montreal, Toronoto, or Vancouver, for the uninitiated.)
I started writing with the intent to woo a girl, and when the relationship ended I continued inscribing as I had fallen in love with the written word. It became my catharsis, my emotional purge, and a place to vent the many ideas running through my head.
I kept writing for 15 years before I finally became a published author. I had been submitting on-and-off, with no real success until I asked my wife to review one of my works. She told me the introduction to the book made no sense. At first, I was furious, but I was not angry at her, rather, I was upset with myself.
One MAJOR rewrite later, and GENMOS: Gathering Storms, was tentatively signed to Thurston Howl Publications.
Finally, I had learned to listen, and thus, began my adventure as an author.
Your current novel, Gathering Storms, is the first book in your GENMOS series. The story follows the Genetically Modified Species (Genmos), super soldiers designed by Devlin Keper. In particular, the story is focussed on the events that led to the Genmos fighting for their rights to be recognised as living beings. In an era where many marginilised groups are still fighting for their rights, this seems quite timely. Were the struggles of the Genmos inspired by real life events at all?
Yes it is. Originally, I penned the story during my college years, but I was blissfully ignorant of many of the marginalized groups around me. I just thought I was writing something cool, some action/adventure novel. It lacked much, including, the emotions of someone who has to remain hidden to preserve their lives.
Realizing this, I began to research refugees, persecuted ethnicities, and marginalized groups. I found my biggest source during my rewrites from my Wife, who herself, is not native to Canada, nor is her skin colour common where we live. She regaled me with stories and emotions.
The other community who I drew much from, was the LGBTQA+. Of which, Genmos owes a large part of its creation to the Trans community. My friends who were closeted told me of the prejudice they faced, of the fear of exposure. Their strength and desire to be their real selves, their courage, their need to be recognized for who they are is just awe inspiring.
How did you come to conceive the various characters within the book? Were any of them based on real people, or are they entirely fictional?
While each Genmos is a part of me, or something I desire to be, ( one character is highly observant, another is an incredible MMA fighter etc. ) There are a few characters who are based on real people. I asked permission to use their likeness, their attitudes.
Devlin is partly based off of my Dad, who was and is a bit of a hero to me. Tabitha has some rough elements of my sister, and Chad Wilkes was based upon my brother’s stage appearance as Bill Sykes.
To build on that, I loved the variety in the different species on display with the Genmos, and in particular the different skills that they possessed. Did you come up with the skills required first or the choice of animal hybrid first in each case? And what influenced your decision to have some of the Genmos as single animal/human hybrids and some as multi-animal/human hybrids?
To be honest, I started selecting the Genmos by researching which animals I thought would be cool, which ones I thought would add a touch of unique. From there, I allotted each a gender, a talent, and a backstory.
From there, I then trimmed the number down to a more feasible level, as there were originally 20 Genmos, not 15. It became too much to handle. The idea of the blend types came because I wanted some tragedy to the older plain types. The eldest Genmos were originally called the sacrificial class, because they were merged with living creatures,
essentially killing the animal in order to change the child. I dropped the more tragic elements in the end, but the idea of using a whole host animal remained.
The Hybrids were answers to the sacrificial, as they used multiple donors, saving all the animal lives, and creating some very unique abilities. The later pure class were even more advanced, giving stronger powers in relent of physical abilities. Long story short, there’s a lot about their creation that has yet to be explored, but it does make an appearance in the planned third novel.
Did you have a favourite Genmos? Or where there any that you wanted to
add but couldn’t?
I wouldn’t say I had a favorite outright. While Kobalt is certainly thought of very fondly, and was the original Genmos, I realize that later stories focus more on the other characters and their stories. Peter the Panther already had two extra storylines of his trimmed for speed.
As far as the removed Genmos, yes, there were five taken out, and two of the existing underwent drastic changes. That being said, and not to spoil too much, I do have plans to have the other cut Genmos feature later…
Let’s just say, I have 400 years of Genmos plotted out. I don’t plan to feature every generation, but the present VERY HEAVILY influences the future.
Should readers expect more to join the cast as the series goes along?
Yes, but not as many as originally planned. I’ve removed so many useless side characters, and there may yet be a branch of the plot that really explores the children’s origins.
At least, for the first trilogy…
The book is based in Canada, which just so happens to be where you were born and raised. Was it always your intent to set your tale in Canada, or did the setting evolve this way as you went along?
Hehehe… um… Originally, I wrote Genmos taking place in a non-named country. I wanted it open enough so that whoever signed it, I could make it work within their land. I thought it would be the best way to woo an agent or publisher.
It wasn’t until years later, when I finally tried to get published with a Canadian publisher exclusively, I altered it and “Canuck”’ed it up. When I did that, I was signed, until a reorganization of that company ended up with my work lost, then dropped. The seeds however, had been sown, and it was one more step in making a story into a novel.
How long did it take to take the book from first draft to being ready to submit to publishers? Were there any particular road blocks that meant that it took longer than you’d like?
I started writing Genmos Book 1 back in my 1st year of college, back in 2001/2002. I arrogantly thought, in 2006, that the four books I had composed were ready, and submitted it to an agency.
That landed a nibble, but no bites.
Over the years, I adapted it again and again, landing a nibble in the fall of 2011 with Chestnut Publishing, but when Jim Black, who had sent me the letter of approval, left the company, the stories he had accepted were lost. When I found out he was gone, I emailed the publisher, and after reviewing the work, they dropped me.
I was disappointed, but now, I was also angry, and I turned my rage into determination. GENMOS was desirable, so I WAS GOING TO GET IT PUBLISHED.
Unfortunately, I was too stubborn, I was convinced it was gold, convinced it was flawless, until my wife proved me wrong. I had other beta readers make comments, and I had only listened to the positives, I had always argued the good parts, and they had caved. She did not.
Taking four months, I rewrote one chapter at a time, cut out the fluff, and in the summer of 2016, I submitted to 2 publishers. THP responded. They saw an unpolished gem that with a little polishing, would shine.
Yeah, it took longer than I liked, but that’s because I had to mature, alongside my work.
Do you have a favourite scene from the book?
I’m so happy with the way the novel turned out that it’s really hard to choose, but certainly, there’s two father/daughter moments I enjoy the best because I’m a bit of a sap. The father figure of the series, Devlin, interacts with his youngest and oldest creations. Both scenes, although complimenting themselves, are also a contrast. When he talks with the eldest, he has recently rescued her, and their conversation is about how things changed while apart, and the hopes they have now that they are reunited. When Devlin has his chat with his youngest daughter, it’s a conversation about change, and how she fears he’s going to grow distant from her now that there are more of her siblings about.
Any reader who dives into the free preview on the Gathering Storms Amazon listing will see that the book moves between regular narrative, memories, and memos. Was it difficult to work with multiple styles within the same story, or did it come easily?
Consider the original draft was written in multiple 1st person, no, it wasn’t hard to change at all, and even though memories do play a part, they are used sparingly and are in Italics, so it should be easy to tell.
As far as the whole memo thing… Those are from my notes I assembled over the years of building and formatting the Genmos characters. It was literally a drag-and-drop, which hopefully will help any readers who get confused by so many characters.
There is another free preview you may not have seen. One chapter that was removed during self-editing of Gathering Storms became a short story all on its own. If you visit my website, or run a search for GENMOS Emily’s Flight, you’ll find the small adventure readily available for free.
The second book in the series, Crossroads, is currently in editing. What can readers expect from this continuation?
Action, of course. J
Now, I’m going to also warn readers, Genmos was originally four books long. Crossroads is a combination of the two middle novels so a lot happens in a short amount of time. (Try 183,000 words condensed into 93,600 at present) I’m hoping it’s just the right pacing to keep the reader burning through the book well into the night.
What led to Crossroads condensing the two books into one? Was that something advised by your editing team, or did you make the decision yourself?
Gathering Storms originally ended rather abruptly, with a few characters in over their heads with troubled waters, and with the primary villain having just demonstrated their ability… but it didn’t conclude the first story, which was the gathering of the children, each a tempest in their own right. (See what I did there?)
The editing team read ahead, and helped me chose a good point to end the first book, but after editing, the second book come to less than 30k words. Its original story, about how the Genmos form cliques before finally working together properly, was now in shambles. The plot for book 3 though, was intact, and easily fueled by events of the second, so I made the decision to merge them into something hopefully fast paced but emotional. Of course, I’m presently waiting on the publisher’s decision.
Gathering Storms is published by Thurston How Publications. How did you come across this publisher, and how have you found working with them thus far?
Finding THP was a bit anticlimactic. I did a search for furry books, found a few, traced their publishers, and voila, there was a submission page. Bookmarking the site, I sat on it for two days. The agent I had sent my work to recently had said no simultaneous submissions, but something in my head told me it was too good an opportunity to pass up.
I’m glad I didn’t. The crew at THP has been fantastic and patient with me through and through. Sometimes they can be busy, especially when I’ve had to make large orders, but they’ve always been polite and accommodating.
How did it feel to first see your work in print?
It was a literal dream come true. I have never put so much time and tears as I had into Gathering Storms as I have other books.
You have also been working a novel titled Nobilis: Seedling. What can you tell us about this project? Can we expect to see it released soon, or is there still work to be done?
I talked with the staff, and they’ve confirmed you’re going to see it very soon. March 2018, the adventure will begin.
Logline: When her family of intergalactic hippies are brutally murdered before her eyes, a young woman inadvertently recruits the help of a grizzled veteran turned janitor, an exiled alien princess and her indebted human husband, four enslaved children, a genius scientist with not one social grace, and a giant alien that contains her brother’s soul, in order to help her maintain her freedom and her life.
Nobilis was my first work after Genmos, and had been brewing a long time. Inspired by giant robo animes, (specifically, Zone of the enders, Brain powered, and Gundam ) I wanted to make something with a realistic but mystical touch, while focussing on a small group of characters where humans, specifically, are the rarity. Humans are not the dominant species, and one character, despite being Terran, does not identify as it, and is constantly mis-specied. It’s also a satirical stab at the modern North American economy.
Also, I live in an area of Canada where French and English combine, and I wanted to include the confusion that can sometimes occur. In order to do that, I gave the galaxy 2 official languages, and the impact plays critical parts to the story.
You have made multiple appearances in anthologies, both furry and otherwise, over the last few years. How do you find working on shorts compared to full length pieces? Do you have a preference for which you work on?
Yes and no. I love short works because they force me to say so much with so little, but novels and series let me really explore. I enjoy them both.
Of the stories you’ve had featured in anthologies, which is your favourite?
Oh yeah, sure, make me choose. All things considered though, there’s a tie. (Hey, I’m a Libra, alright)
The Preacherman is a dystopian furry work that I originally wrote for a separate anthology about religion gone wrong. When it was not chosen I put it in my slush pile. It took a major rewrite, months later, but it’s probably my best work as far as pacing and emotion. The change from standard to Fur, enhanced the story further because it cuts clear images. Badgers are known for their temper, and the creature that represents God in the story? Well… I’ll just smile at that.
In the mid-19th century, the descendants of convicts are forced to labour for both the crown and church. When a young badger kills his best friend in a crime of passion, he must make the decision to flee and live with the guilt, or accept responsibility for his actions and face his fate at the hands of a totalitarian state.
The Dead Squad is a post-apocalyptic article written in the vein of a national geographic submission. I wondered what it would be like to be a reporter in the time of zombies. (Note: I wrote the 1st draft in 2005, suck it, World War Z.) The reason I love this piece so much is because, not only was it one of my earliest pieces I ever wrote, (I think it was my 4th short story) but it survived a year-long evaluation period and was selected after three tiers of competition from Siren’s Call Publication.
If I could surpass others in such a competitive field, it meant, I was an author of some merit.
The Dead Squad is a unit, composed of soldiers who will soon succumb to the disease that infects all living things, from insect to human. Janice Bell has served with distinction on the front lines as both a soldier and a journalist, and when she’s invited on a mission with the men and woman of the Dead Squad, she willingly goes along. As the mission progresses and her teammates start falling away, she takes a more active role in a chance to save humanity.
The short story market often seems quite hard to crack. Do you have any advice for those who are struggling to place stories?
Yes. Don’t write a short and submit it randomly. Look for calls, look for requests, and design your shorts for the open market. If you begin by Telling a Story that FITS the guidelines, your chance of being published climbs rapidly. It’s also a fun challenge to write something within ALL the guidelines. There are a few websites I scour for information as to who is open.
Moving away from writing for a moment, there is a clear furry element to a lot of your work. How did you stumble across the furry fandom, and what inspired you to be part of it?
Not anything profound. To me, anthropomorphics were always around, and so were furry characters. In my early years, shows like Fables of the Green Forest, The Raccoons, and CUCUMBER (Look it up. It starred a beaver and a moose in full fursuit, and featured John Candy as a weatherman) were constantly playing on local TV. Disney’s anthro phase (Robin Hood) was popular on repeats and for rent, and I remember seeing The Great Mouse Detective and Land Before Time in theatres.
My books included Max and Ruby stories, The Church Mice series, Peter Rabbit picture books…
And as I got older, Narnia, The Chronicles of Pern and Doona (Anne Mccaffrey and Jody Lynn Nye) found their way into my collections. Being a furry is natural, and when I admit that to my co-workers and they ask, why? I answer, do you like The Lion King, Ninja Turtles, Looney Tunes? Congratulations, welcome to the fandom.
I enjoy writing Furry Characters because it is so easy to study society and humanity by looking at it from another angle, even if that angle has a tail.
The fandom has suffered from mixed press since my own early days reading about it in the 90’s. For those that have only known the fandom through what they read online, how would you describe it?
To me, it’s been a place of support. Furs are hungry for material and are willing to consume different media. It’s not just a visual art or fursuitting, it’s a community of charity, of talent, of compassion.
Sure, there are a few bad apples, but that’s going to happen wherever you look.
I hear that you’re a fan of anime and manga. Do you have any current favourites to recommend?
I’m not a serious Otaku, so I can’t really recommend anything new, but I will recommend my favourites, including almost anything Macross, Guyver, and the comic that I collected and read it every year…Hiroaki Samura’s Blade of the Immortal. It’s even mentioned in Genmos.
What was your first exposure to the style?
Astro boy, Voltron and Robotech. They were all on TV in my young years. I remember many a morning, waking up with my dad, going downstairs as he got ready for work, and watching Astro Boy, or hurrying home from kindergarten and elementary school to enjoy high mecha action.
To this day, I still cheer when I see a veritech kicking rear end.
Have you managed to attend any cons – anime, sci-fi, furry, any really – and do you have any favourite experiences?
When I was single and had some excess finances, I did attend Fan Expo for a few years, as a cosplayer and enthusiast, but as the responsibilities of adulating caught up to me, I haven’t been to one since my eldest son was conceived. I’m hoping to attend a local con in the summer, as a vendor, but it will be a blessing if I get accepted, have the time, and the moola.
Having lived in Canada all your life, what would you say is the biggest misconception that people have about the country?
That we’re polite pushovers. I was involved with the cadet program and the military for my teens and early adulthood. I’ve known many a brave trooper, and I’ve seen the skills of some of the elites.
I’ve even, foolishly, sparred with a couple, and I have the scars to prove it.
What’s the best part of living Canada?
The chance to live in vast natural resources. Presently, I live in the Maple Capital of Ontario, and I can walk to the local canoe club, old fishing grounds, walking and biking paths, and I can breathe fresh air while watching a sunset over a lake or take a 15 minute drive to a ski hill
Finally, I wanted to thank you for stopping by today. Did you have any final messages for potential readers? Where can they go to find out more about you? Feel free to link to anywhere that you’d like.
I keep a website, http://scoghlan.com and I try to keep it, and the blog, fairly up to date.
Let’s go nuts.
Smashwords, which has some of my free shorts: https://www.smashwords.com/profile/view/SCoghlan
And Twitter, where I am at my most active, at the moment. https://twitter.com/WordsBySC
Welcome, one and all, to another MDM Projects Author Interview! Today, I’m welcoming Stephen Coghlan aboard.