On the Deck of a Sinking Ship: An Interview with Robin Riopelle

On the Deck of a Sinking Ship: An Interview with Robin Riopelle

Deadroads 9781597805131Robin Riopelle is the debut fantasy author of the novel Deadroads, released by Skyhorse Publishing’s newest imprint, Night Shade, in April of 2014.

The publication of her first novel was a bit more stressful than it normally would be, because her original publisher, Night Shade Books (NSB), teetered on the edge of bankruptcy a year ago, just as the novel was about to be released.

So, just to start with the basics of the story, when did you write Deadroads, what is it about, and what was the process to sell it to Night Shade?

Deadroads was written fairly quickly about 3 years ago. I was inspired, I guess you could say, really intrigued by the connection between Acadian and Cajun cultures.

I’ve always liked darker fiction and I have always written stories with an element of magic, but not capital M magic. Supernatural elements in my stories need to feel organic and slight. Deadroads is about a fractured family with roots in both Louisiana and New Brunswick, and about how they come together while trying to find out what killed their father. Of course, a larger and more ominous mystery about their parents’ past is revealed.

And there’s ghosts. A lot of ghosts.

fool_devil_cornellAfter writing and editing the novel with the help of some very supportive and knowledgeable outside readers, I started shopping around for an agent to represent me. I think it helped that I was a dunce when it came to genre publishing.

I hadn’t been too involved in cons and writing groups, and so I hadn’t heard the stories from battle-scarred authors. If I had known what a struggle it actually was to get something published, I might have been tempted to throw in the towel early.

As it was, I just put my head down and drove forward in all things: in finishing the book, in getting an agent, in getting a publisher. I looked at each step just for what it was, and didn’t lift my head to see the big picture.

The upside of doing that was that I didn’t talk myself out of pursuing publication. I didn’t say, “It’s too hard, I’ll never get there.” Instead, I said, “Let’s see how many rejection letters I can collect.”

Once I had an agent (the indefatigable and bulldog tenacious Sandy Lu), that’s when the fun started. She knocked on a lot of doors. Eventually, we decided that Night Shade Books, with its track record of putting out great novels by first-timers, would be a great home for Deadroads.

Brule_barn christina pilz
Credit: Christina Pilz

We went in with our eyes open: we’d heard all the rumours of cash flow and distribution, knew about NSB’s probations with SWFA. We had supposed that those difficulties had been largely resolved by the time I signed with them.

Night Shade assured us that they were. I also want to stress that at all times, Night Shade staff were pleasant to deal with and supportive of my work.

Yeah. Night Shade was a professional publisher with a track record of putting out novels by writers like Bradley Beaulieu, and Kameron Hurley and Paolo Bacigalupi, and anthologies by Rich Horton and Paula Guran. Those were signs to have confidence in this company. When did things start to feel a bit weird, and how did you react?

For me, the first warning bell was when my editor at Night Shade departed, quite abruptly.

Then there was the lack of communication, the difficulty in getting information from NSB. As my publication date approached, there was less and less communication.

paradise_lost_cornell 2It didn’t look good. I started to get spooked. It seemed that elements of my contract were suddenly up for grabs: paper publication, payment offered. I had just decided to walk, to take Deadroads off the table, when the next thing happened.

So then, Night Shade signalled that its financial problems with creditors were more serious. What happened to your first novel? What was at stake? And what were your options? Were other authors going through the same thing?

There’s a wonderfully concise backgrounder on this, and what happened in general terms, over here, from Justin Landon at Staffers Book Review. I dare say, he had a lot more information than I did at the time about what was going on.

Then — April of 2013, almost exactly to the day of my supposed publication — we received news that NSB was about to go belly up and that our books would be considered “assets” that could be seized during a bankruptcy proceeding.

In my sunny side up way, I thought, “Well, I’ve written one book, how hard could it be to write another?” But many NSB authors had so much more at stake, including back catalogues, promised future books — the list goes on.

Credit: NL Cleveland

It helped that a lot of them, both new and established, were actively reaching out, on their blogs, on Twitter. I listened to what a lot of my fellow NSB authors were saying, and spoke candidly with some of them about it. SWFA was very good at keeping authors as informed as possible under the circumstances.

And then Night Shade got defibrillated and got a second chance somewhere else. Was it an easy decision to go with Night Shade under new management?

Skyhorse Publishing (out of New York) made an offer on NSB. Skyhorse didn’t have an SF/F imprint; their experience was mostly with non-fiction. Their angle was that they had the business know-how and NSB knew the content. The offer on the dollars promised to authors by their NSB contracts was initially not palatable — some felt that we were a little over the barrel, that it was either bankruptcy or this.

Authors were given the decision to sign with Skyhorse, or remain at whatever was left of NSB and pray for some last-minute miracle. So, it was a little like being on a disabled ship when a lifeboat is available. Initially, you’re thinking, “Hey, maybe we can fix that hole in the hull, because supplies on that lifeboat look pretty scant.”

SWFA was instrumental in asking for better supplies on the lifeboat, and Skyhorse was very quick at responding positively. In the end, enough authors were satisfied that the deal with Skyhorse was a good one (myself included), and certainly much more preferable to having our books in limbo for years.

Doyle100612-26Since then, Deadroads has finally seen the light of day, a year almost to the day that it was supposed to come out. The process of doing final edits, promotion, distribution, almost everything at Skyhorse/Start (the ebook publisher) has been seamless and neat. Keep in mind I don’t know what it looks like at other publishing houses, but it’s been great at Skyhorse so far. And the book, Deadroads, looks beautiful.

Still to come for the Skyhorse version of NSB is developing a great website and social media presence. I’m looking forward to that. The only downside so far has been that the previous edition of Deadroads had already been put up on Amazon and elsewhere, and it’s apparently impossible to take the defunct one down (hence initial confusion even in the title, Dead Roads vs. Deadroads).

And what is it like for the novel to finally be out, even though it was delayed while you went on a roller-coaster? Was it what you expected? Where can people pick up a copy in paper, ebook or audio?

It’s been amazing. Honestly. I’ve enjoyed all the prep work, the readings, the blog interviews. Going to cons, and getting know new people. It’s encouraging. I help run a very small kids press, and I know what goes into promoting and distributing a book. Writing and editing it is the easy part. Getting yourself out there is much, much harder. Deadroads is available in paper and ebook from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Indiebound, Powell’s and other booksellers (links below). I believe audio is in the works.

Thanks, Robin and congratulations. For our Ottawa-area readers, Robin will be do a reading with a few other writers at the Ottawa ChiSeries on June 17th at Maxwell’s, and will be speaking at Can-Con, Ottawa’s Literary Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror Conference on October 3rd-5th.

You can find out more about her at www.robinriopelle.com, @Robin_Riopelle, or you can read an excerpt from Deadroads here.

Read more about Derek at www.derekkunsken.com

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