Manitoba Book Award winner S.M. Beiko, who was in the city recently, talks how pivotal it is to develop a thick skin to survive in this industry
Author of the fantasy fiction Scion of the Fox, Samantha Mary Beiko was at the Type Bookstore for the launch of her latest novel. The Winnipeg-native interacted with the fans at the Trinity-Bellwoods’ bookstore, signed copies and even distributed free prints of artwork featured in the Scion of the Fox. Her first novel The Lake and the Library was nominated for the Manitoba Book Award for Best First Book and Aurora Award. Her next series, The Realms of Ancient, has been signed for a three-book deal with Toronto-based ECW Press. The first book, Scion of the Fox, was released in 2017; the sequels to follow are Children of the Bloodlands and The Brilliant Dark.
Working in the Canadian publishing industry as a freelance editor, graphic designer, and consultant in the trade book and comic industries, Samantha lives with her husband and rescue dog, Lucy. In a candid interview, the 28-year-old author spoke about her love for writing, the incredible world of the Scion of the Fox, and her loving and supportive family.
Q1. What were some of the key events from your life that shaped up the fictitious world of Scion of the Fox?
I was an outgoing kid in high school, but I was also extremely introverted. I spent the majority of my time dreaming and devouring any and all fantasy media in order to build a sturdier inner life to combat severe social anxiety as well as stress at home.
I became very obsessed with folklore and fantasy tales, but I also really wanted to see more of that represented in the things I saw around me—particularly the wildlife in my neighborhood which borders a forest and extensive farmland. I spent a lot of time on my own wandering the Assiniboine Forest and rural Manitoba, and building realms and people who would be as affected by the landscape as I have been.
The actual kernel of inspiration that started Scion of the Fox and its sequels came from a benign encounter in the middle of the bleak Winnipeg winter. I was walking home at night along the Assiniboine River and a red fox jumped into my path. I asked myself a wild hypothetical (which is where a lot of my story ideas come from): What if that fox followed me home and gave me a wicked mission? It really doesn’t take much, but 120,000 words later a novel was born.
Q2. Was there ever a time when you came very close to giving up on writing?
I think all writers, or artists of any stripe, experience occasional crippling self-doubt as the rejections pile up. I wouldn’t say I had ‘given up’ as much as I ‘took a break’ from my extensive visions of grandeur of being a bestseller like J.K. Rowling. I was 19, had only really submitted one or two books around to publishers and agents, and had a few rejections already when I was like ‘Oh, maybe it’s just not going to happen for me…’ and I tried to just focus on finishing my post-secondary degrees. Then, very randomly, an editor from ECW Press (who is still my editor to this day) contacted me saying ‘Hey, sorry I was on maternity leave, but I plucked your MS (The Lake and the Library) out of the slush pile and I think there’s something there! Let’s chat!’ I had completely forgotten I’d submitted to them at all, and a publishing contract from the slush pile is pretty rare.
That was a pretty great feeling, but being an author continues to take work and time and effort in addition to cultivating a fairly thick skin since it is an exhausting as well as a vulnerable pursuit. Eight years later, my career is going along at a nice pace, and I’m currently trying to land a literary agent. This year alone I’ve received about eight rejections out of the gate, with many no-responses. Which I celebrate by submitting to another agent!
I’ve found that it doesn’t necessarily get easier, but one does get better at saying ‘Okay, that didn’t work out. Let’s move on to the next thing and see what happens.’ I’ve also finished drafts of six new projects this year. Being a writer is sometimes much more than just putting one word in front of the next, or absorbing the blow of a rejection. If it’s something you really want to happen, you will make it happen. You just have to try to be better than you were yesterday and open to radical possibility as failure of all shades is often inevitable.
Q3. Has there been anything you have written/drawn you have never shown anyone?
I’ve been getting back into drawing more lately because I was a visual artist before I was a writer (I started out in art school before switching to my book publishing post-grad.) I still really enjoy making art, though, and I’d like to have it figure more into my mainstream career life, so I’ve been consciously making more time for it.
That said, I’ve been drawing a lot of nudes and erotica lately because, well, it’s something I haven’t done and experimenting is also fun! But it’s tough when you literally just launched a book for teens and you don’t want it to conflict with your public brand. I will probably share that work one of these days because I also firmly believe that demonizing erotic work just perpetuates a rigid social response to something that is beautiful and absolutely natural. But for the moment, it’s just for me. And there’s nothing wrong with that, either. Not everything has to be for public consumption, which is always a tough line to tow in this day and age.
Q4. How did you find your rescue dog, Sophie?
Very serendipitously! I follow probably 10-12 local pet rescues in Winnipeg/Manitoba, and sometimes I would just troll them for the dogs that were currently up for adoption. I actually only found Sophie (then named Gizmo) through Petfinder, but when I looked her up on the rescue’s Facebook, her story was quite dire (though a familiar one.)
She’d come from Norway House, which is a Northern community about 500 km from Winnipeg. A lot of reserve communities have issues with dog overpopulation and a lot of semi-wild, ranging animals that are often targets of ‘dog culls’ (where locals will round up the dogs and shoot them.) It’s a multi-faceted issue for sure because these communities can barely afford safe housing or have decades-long boil water advisories, let alone providing care for animals or spaying/neutering. And many of these dogs operate with a pack mentality. Community members and children especially suffer from dog attacks quite frequently. So, a lot of city-based rescues will team up and go into the communities and get as many dogs as they can and find them homes.
Sophie was just another puppy who lived outside, roamed in the dumps with the other dog gangs, slept under people’s porches in the dead of winter, and never had enough to eat. When she was finally caught, and flown into Winnipeg through Earthdog Terrier Rescue, she went into foster but was immediately rejected from that home. She went to another foster, but they “went on vacation” three days later and never picked Sophie up from the kennel she was being boarded at; so there she remained for two months, with Earthdog’s funds running low just to keep her in a place which was definitely not the best situation. They were getting desperate. Without asking my husband (oops) and only after being in our new house for two months (oops again) I contacted them and said, “Yes, sure, we will foster her, send her over!”
Obviously, that failed within two weeks and she’s been ours for keeps ever since. It’s been a wild ride, but I’m glad I impulsively yanked her into my life. She is a quirky, sweet girl with a big personality, and despite the trouble she always seems to get into—destroying the garbage, eating more than one pair of my shoes, running away after the deer in our area, digging holes in the yard, stealing entire loaves of bread off the counter—I can’t imagine a life of mine that she isn’t a part of. Rescue is extremely rewarding. Adopt don’t shop!
Q5. What were some of the ways your husband and your family helped and supported you through the challenging process of writing a book?
They stayed out of my way! Seriously though, my husband has always been supportive of my writing (even before we were married) and never once felt it wasn’t a legitimate pursuit. He’s a doctor, but he’s also a concert-level cellist, so he appreciates the struggles and passions involved with going after an expressive dream. He gives me the space to do my writing, as well as watering the plants and feeding the fish and washing the kitchen after I’ve pulled all-nighters chasing my daily word count goals.
My parents, too, have always been encouraging. My mother always bought me any book I ever asked for and pushed me to fiercely go after my dreams no matter how ridiculous or pie-in-the-sky. My dad is not a reader in any sense of the word, and he finds the writing component extremely baffling (he’s an industrial millwright and can fix literally any machine, so the bafflement at our chosen fields is mutual), but he always thoroughly enjoys everything that has come with publishing stuff. Never once has anyone, family or friend, said to me, “Wow writing sounds like a lame occupation.” It’s a very isolated activity, but I’ve found I’m unable to get anything done unless I know someone’s got my back. Even if they never intend to read said book I’m writing. And that’s a huge thing.