The Horse and the Carrot – A story of perseverance

by Ryan McFadden

So I had a book come out. That was October, and now it’s January, and I’ve yet to hit the NYT best seller list, or the Macleans best seller list, or even the London Free Press best seller list, or any list at all. In fact, from my perspective, it feels more like a whimper than anything else. Oh, I’ve been trying – trust me, I’ve been trying to flog this book wherever I can without being rude about it. I believe in it, I think it will entertain my readers (by saying ‘my’ I mean readers that are typical of the dark fantasy story that I tell).

However, success is a funny concept. I graduated a creative writing program from York University. I loved university, and I loved the experience, and I always thought that I’d be successful quickly. My best friend gave me six months to hit it big. That was 1995.

It would take another 12 years before I made my first professional sale: a tiny little story called Last Rites (which can be found here: http://www.ryanmcfadden.com/541/).  I made $5 and I was a professional writer (though I never cashed the cheque).

12 years. That’s a long time to be alone in the wilderness.  During that time, I continued to write and I completed five novels (though really it was a 10-year period when I did that).  There’s that whole concept that you have to spend 10,000 hours on something to become good at it. Well, my 12 years was about right. None of those novels will ever see the light of day.

From there, I sold another few stories for a few bucks here and there. My good friend Eileen Bell asked me to come onto a project called The Women of the Apocalypse. They wanted a novella! Why, if I could get a novella in there, I’d be happy. Who knows what doors it could open? Women of the Apocalypse exceeded expectations and we won an Aurora award for it. Why, everything is perfect now, right? Yes, for about three days.

Then came a call for submissions for Evolve 2: Tales of the Future Undead by Nancy Kilpatrick. Why, if I could get a story included in there, I’d be set! Sure enough, I sold a story. Everything was going to be right in the world. And it was, for about two weeks.

You can see here I’m going with this: more stories, more awards, more Auroras, more inclusions in successful anthologies, and now, finally, my own novel.  Success! Right? Meh. These are all things that I wanted so badly – and don’t get me wrong, they are 100% awesome – but they still don’t quantify as success.

I’m sure as human beings, we always want more. A little more success, a little more money, a little more love. It’s like playing a video game where you’ll stop playing once you just kill this boss…

Success is a perspective.  I also wonder if I looked around at some of the things I’ve accomplished (that all seemed impossible only 7 years ago) and thought ‘wow, you’ve finally done it’ if I’d stop. Throw up my hands and say “I’ve done what I need to do here, time to call it a day.” Maybe. Maybe the lack of success is what drives perseverance.

There are many who claim to love writing: unicorns dance over rainbows and little orphans find homes. But not for me. I don’t particularly enjoy my time writing. I find it difficult – nearly painful sometimes, but I also find it’s something I absolutely must do, that my whole being is centred on striving forward.

This all sounds so incredibly negative, but it wasn’t meant to be. It was that our benchmark for success continues to move ahead, which in turn, drives us forward. Perseverance is the cart or the horse, and the success is the carrot, just slightly out of our reach…


About Ryan McFadden:

I am a writer of fantasy and horror, with short stories and novellas published through Dragon Moon Press, Edge SF & F, and Absolute X-Press. In 2014, my novella Ghost in the Machine won the Aurora Award (Canada’s most prestigious award for SF&F) for Short Fiction.

My motley past involves such dangerous work as database administration, ice cream flavouring (seriously, that’s a thing), hockey league administration, screen printing, web design, furniture building, and home renovations.

He lives in London with his two beautiful, but sometimes diabolical daughters, who he is sure are plotting to one day overthrow him.

My other writing credits include stories in Chicago Overcoat, Afterburn SF, Sinister Tales, as well as a finalist in the $1500 JFJK contest, a semi-finalist in the Writer’s of the Future (as well as receiving two Honourable Mentions)


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