October 27, 2020

Glynn Stewart was struck by lightning.

In the wilds of Amazon.com, his ebooks sold. That lightning bolt ignited a wildfire of writing resulting in 47 titles in six years (without razing forests).

“We got lucky. We had the right product, I had the right product at the right time that people were looking for,” Stewart, 35, says of himself and his wife.

That product was Starship’s Mage, five novellas set in a sci-fi future where space travel is fuelled by magic.

Stewart says the admixture of science fantasy — rare in the early 2010s — and a different tone were integral to his success.

His wife, Jack Giesen, says of him, “You have a relatively optimistic way of looking at science fiction. At the time I remember you talking about how Earth got blown up a lot, especially in indie science fiction …”

Stewart complains of the grimness and “hard men making hard decisions” that were common in science fiction when he started publishing.

“This is a genre that I loved, that I loved the tropes of, I loved the style and the feel and the stories that could be told there, and I didn’t like the stories that were being told. And apparently a whole bunch of other people were looking for that slightly different take as well. So we sold a whole bunch of books and here we are.”

Yet the settings aren’t utopias, or he couldn’t tell his brand of stories.

“These are functional futures where humanity is doing relatively well, but humans are humans. And there’s a war in basically every series I write.”

Before his phenomenal online success, Stewart quit writing.

He had an agent and five or six novels written by about 2010, he says. Then he gave up because of a lack of interest from traditional publishers. He says one manuscript sat on an editor’s desk a year and a half without being read.

Starship’s Mage was born out of his struggle to resume storytelling.

“As I’d been trying to get writing again, I hadn’t managed to get a single project past about 25,000 words (a standard short novel is at least three times that). So the solution was 25,000-word novellas,” a set of five published over a year, beginning in December 2013.

Giesen helped spur him toward online publishing.

“I came from fine arts. So in that area and in music as well, it was very much, why would you go through the gatekeepers when you can just sell your work yourself, right?” Giesen says.

“She was poking me about this,” Stewart says. “… I was kind of being wishy-washy over it. And she offered to do the covers for me. I think that was kind of the final thing that kicked me over into at least giving it a shot. And I mean, over the five novellas and one novel we launched over 2014, it paid for the down payment on our first house.”

Novelist Glynn Stewart and his wife, Jack Giesen
Author Glynn Stewart and his wife and Faolan’s Pen CEO Jack Giesen pose at
The Round Table Board Game Cafe in Kitchener, Ont., Friday, Nov. 29, 2019,
with some of Stewart’s books (art by Jeff Brown or Tom Edwards).
Caleb Burney/Conestoga College Journalism

That was in Calgary. The couple moved to lake-bound southwestern Ontario in 2016 to combat Giesen’s weather-induced headaches out west.

Stewart has lived in Mississauga, South Africa and Britain (and says this has mangled his spelling).

His parents’ library was full of science fiction. As an adult, he ran out of books by his favourite authors and turned to self-published works to consume on his Calgary commutes.

He’s no longer a voracious reader. Now he’s a voracious writer.

As an accountant, he wrote 2,000 words a day in his spare time. Now he writes up to 2,000 an hour, two hours a day: 15 minutes on and five off.

“I have to have an outline to do that,” Stewart says. “… I didn’t use to. I used to try the ‘just write it and see where it ends up’ theory. But I can’t write as quickly when I do that, and the books end up feeling a little bit more disorganized.”

He hasn’t always followed the break-taking Pomodoro routine variant, either.

“I have done a lot of different things over the years to try to keep up the pace. For a while it almost seemed like changing the process every six months was almost an essential part of the process.”

Stewart writes one draft, though he’ll revise if necessary.

“I start at the beginning, I write to the end, and by that point I am so done with the book.”

Giesen adds, “I have a theory that it is partly to do with the fact that he’s a really good storyteller as a GM, as a dungeon master or a game master in (Dungeons & Dragons) or in another system, because if you don’t even have players to wrangle to make a good story —.”

“Oh yeah, it’s great,” he says, and Giesen laughs.

Stewart says he has a shelf of role-playing game manuals at home, rule books for collective storytelling and gamed combat in fantasy and science-fiction settings. As a frequent game master, Stewart sets the narrative framework and plays the supporting cast and foes the other players’ characters interact with.

He doesn’t set his games in his published worlds. Authors are a bit too attached to their imagined realms for that, he says.

Yet despite this cataract of ideas, Stewart says he keeps a blue-sky folder online with concepts for three series he doesn’t think he’ll ever be able to write, plus assorted other novels.

“If (he) didn’t release a book every six weeks,” says Giesen, “then he would get so many fewer books to work on.”

As to the secret of writing compelling fiction, though, Glynn Stewart is succinct.

“Blow shit up.”

After that, it’s down to serendipity.

“A lot of publishing in general and selling (books) in general is standing on the top of a mountain, trying to get hit by lightning. You can wear copper armour and shout that the gods are jerks, but you’re still only so likely to get hit by lightning. We got lucky.”

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