Owen Laukkanen: “Keep writing and edit your own work ruthlessly”

Owen Laukkanen is unabashedly a writer of commercial fiction, also known as “genre” fiction, having produced a novel every year since The Professionals came out (and was nominated for four major genre awards) in 2012. The Professionals was Book 1 of the successful “Stevens and Windermere” series, and has been followed by five others.

In addition to that series, he has written young adult fiction under the pen name Owen Matthews – books that he describes as “wildly inappropriate novels for young adults.”

His most recent novel, a maritime adventure thriller called Gale Force, will be released in April.

Born in Vancouver, B.C. and raised in Windsor, Ontario, Laukkanen recalls being a voracious reader as a child.

“My family’s house was filled with all kinds of books, and trips to the library and school book fairs were among the happiest times for my brothers and me.”

He cites a Grade 11 English assignment to read Steinbeck’s Cannery Row as having a big influence on his thoughts about the craft.

“I remember wanting very much to be able to evoke those kinds of memories and emotions in my own writing.”

While he always had the notion that he would like to be a writer, he didn’t start out studying English at university, and only switched after a year of focussing on biology.

“I switched to English and creative writing and knew it was the right decision. Later, I was accepted into the creative writing program at the University of British Columbia and I imagined that it was that moment that meant I was destined to be a writer.”

His degree in creative writing from UBC hadn’t been getting him anywhere in the world, when he lucked into a job writing about poker, a game about which he knew almost nothing when he started. He did that for three years, travelling all over the world to cover tournaments.

“I guess in the strictest sense I knew I was a writer when I signed a publishing contract that would enable me to focus solely on my writing. But it’s a tenuous way to make a living, and I’m still, in a lot of ways, trying to make it as a real writer, despite this having been my job for nearly seven years.”

And it is a job. He writes Monday through Friday, with a plan to achieve a certain word count each day. Initially he aimed at 5,000, but he’s cut back in recent years.

“I write the first draft flat-out, and then I set it aside for a month before I print the whole thing out and tear it to shreds with a red pen. Then I make an outline for the second draft and retype it all. I rinse and repeat as necessary, and then I send it to my agent and my editor and they chime in with edits as well.”

Laukkanen has some experience with mentoring young people, volunteering with the Vancouver School Board as well as visiting classrooms. He has some basic advice for young writers, or any writers for that matter:

“It sounds pat, but keep writing. What separates successful writers from those who don’t make it is a willingness to keep going even when logic (and everyone you know) is telling you you’re better off doing something else with your time.

“If you want to write a novel, write a novel. Figure out how to edit your own work ruthlessly, then show it to people and set it aside and write another novel. Just keep writing.

“And finish your projects! If you start a writing project there will come a time when you fall out of love with it and want to write something else. And if you set it aside, sooner or later you’ll find yourself with a hard drive full of half-finished stories and no finished work.

“It’s normal to fall out of love with a story, but it’s like a relationship; you have to work and see it through. Get your first drafts done quick and you can move on to that next thing and have a finished story to polish. Nobody’s giving book deals for half of a story.”

Owen Laukkanen’s Schedule (Free events)

  • Burwash Landing Library (May 1, 12 p.m.)
  • Kwanlin Dün Cultural Centre (May 2, 7 p.m.)
  • Faro Library (May 3, 2 p.m.)
  • Ross River Library (May 3, 7 p.m. )
  • Carmacks Library (May 4, 10:30 a.m.)
  • Isabelle Pringle Library in Carcross (May 5, 7 p.m.)

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