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Adrian Gibson: Five Things I Learned Writing Mushroom Blues

Two years after a devastating defeat in the decade-long Spore War, the island nation of Hōppon and its capital city of Neo Kinoko are occupied by invading Coprinian forces. Its fungal citizens are in dire straits, wracked by food shortages, poverty and an influx of war refugees. Even worse, the corrupt occupiers exploit their power, hounding the native population.

As a winter storm looms over the metropolis, NKPD homicide detective Henrietta Hofmann begrudgingly partners up with mushroom-headed patrol officer Koji Nameko to investigate the mysterious murders of fungal and half-breed children. Their investigation drags them deep into the seedy underbelly of a war-torn city, one brimming with colonizers, criminal gangs, racial division and moral decay.

In order to solve the case and unravel the truth, Hofmann must challenge her past and embrace fungal ways. What she and Nameko uncover in the midst of this frigid wasteland will chill them to the core, but will they make it through the storm alive?

Writing and self-publishing a novel is no small feat (especially a debut). The whole process is constant trial-by-fire, and, oddly enough, those are experiences I began to embrace. The good, the bad, and the ugly—all of it has taught me valuable lessons. For me, learning is one of the best parts of life, so, here are five things I learned writing Mushroom Blues:

Fungi are the coolest (and weirdest) organisms on the planet

I’ve been obsessed with mushrooms for much of my life, ever since I roamed the temperate rainforests of British Columbia as a kid. But as I’ve gotten older, my research into fungi has brought myriad insane facts to my attention. For example, the ways that mycelium and tree roots coexist in mutualistic mycorrhizal relationships, where they exchange vital nutrients and permit communication between plants (think a chemical-based information highway). Forests as we know them wouldn’t exist without the role fungi play as connectors, communicators, and decomposers. Mushrooms are also more genetically related to humans than they are plants—they breathe in oxygen and exhale carbon dioxide, after all. Even weirder, the primary building material that makes up mushrooms is chitin, the same polymer that forms the exoskeletons of crustaceans and insects. Simply put, fungi are freakin’ cool and so very strange.

All of this contributed to my decision to write a fictional world inhabited not just by humans, but by fungal people. Their society, culture, architecture, communication, and more all center around fungi—even their human-like biology is symbiotically interconnected with fungi. As a result, the very story of Mushroom Blues is tightly interwoven with mycelium, mushrooms, and mold, so much so that its foundations would crumble without them.

Self-publishing is harder than it seems

Many authors I’ve spoken to over the years have gone the traditional publishing route because self-publishing seems daunting—there’s too much information and there are too many hats to wear. Well, in some ways, they’re right. The stigma toward self-publishing is wearing off, but the reality is, the indie route does involve a lot of research, a ton of entrepreneurial multi-tasking, a good deal of financial investment, and plenty of fucking up.

Leading up to the release of Mushroom Blues, I realized that no matter what anyone told me—no matter the vast quantities of helpful advice I’d received from fellow authors and friends—the only way I really learned the lessons I needed to was by making the mistakes myself. Writing a book and having it edited are not easy. Marketing your book and budgeting efficiently are not easy. Getting a quality cover, along with exterior and interior design, is not easy. In my case, I did most of that myself (aside from the professional editing), but all of my experiences hammered home how complex creating and releasing a book actually is.

But there’s a bright side: It is possible. You don’t have to be rich or market savvy, or the greatest goddamned writer in existence. All you have to do is write the best book that you can, research enough that you feel ready to release it, package it in the best way possible, and then let it out into the world. I messed up, of course, but that was the most effective way to drill lessons into my stubborn author brain.

Routine is everything, but writing takes many shapes

As I became more serious about writing, I started to read numerous author autobiographies and writing craft books (including a few of Chuck’s). Routine is something that came up, a lot. My years as a self-employed music journalist and then as a self-employed tattoo artist taught me that I needed to get my shit together on my own in order for things to actually happen. I wouldn’t get any writing gigs or tattoo clients if I didn’t set strictures for myself with a daily routine, and it was often too easy to squander much of my “free time.” As a result, I learned to make work habitual enough that it didn’t feel like work—or, at least, not daunting.

Applying that to writing was a tough stem to snap. Writing Mushroom Blues revealed to me how difficult this craft could be, and that it required a certain part of my imagination/mind that didn’t do well with incessant distraction. That proved particularly problematic, as I’m a stay-at-home dad with two boys under four-years-old. But you know what I rediscovered? Routine really is everything. In the same way that babies and toddlers require routine to have a sense of stability in their developing noggins, adults need routine to feel that they’re in control of their lives.

For me, though, I’d applied routine to everything in my life except writing. The result? My days were streamlined enough that I could squeeze in more opportunities to write without sacrificing family time. I also gave myself a golden rule: Write or work on the story every day. No set word count. No forcing myself to write at a specific time, or for a certain length of time. Instead, I encouraged myself to make progress, however that took shape. Whether I fleshed out a scene over five fifteen-minute chunks, or I jotted down some great dialogue in my phone, or I wrote by hand in a notebook while hanging out in the backyard with my boys, anything meant progress. From my computer to my phone, my notebook to my iPad, I would utilize a variety of mediums to keep my mind engaged with the story, even if I couldn’t dedicate more than five, fifteen, thirty minutes to write. Piecemeal progress was the name of the game, and the consistent routine of life outside of writing afforded me the ability to do that. Otherwise, I would’ve been stuck in a vortex of frustration, blaming my kids for never affording me time to fulfill my dream. If that were the case, I’d never have written this book

Community is essential

A common adage in the writing world is that it’s a lonely business, but that’s a half-truth. It can be lonely, sure, when you’re wringing your brain of its creative juices to create a fascinating world filled with fascinating characters doing fascinating things. That is fucking hard, and it’s not exactly a communal activity. But the “loneliness” ends there, at least as far as I’ve experienced. Taking my early drafts to writing critique partners opened my eyes to the faults of my story, but that constructive criticism was also key for me to realize: “This story isn’t shit.” Then there was my editor, followed by close friends and beta readers, all of whom brought more external (and helpful) opinions to the project. And this is just as a self-published author, mind you—traditionally published authors have many more cooks in the kitchen.

Beyond the writing side, there are so many collaborators who contribute to a book’s creation: Cover artists and designers, authors who provide blurbs, reviewers and book bloggers and booktubers who help to promote a book or offer their honest critiques. On the trad side, there are also publicists and marketers. Then, the book goes out into the hands of readers, who make the book their own by choosing to engage with it. At that point, the book isn’t wholly yours anymore.

What I’m saying is, a book is not the sole effort of the person whose name is on the cover, and Mushroom Blues showed me how truly marvelous these various collaborations could be. Working with my cover artist was a dream, getting feedback from trusted early readers improved my manuscript by leaps and bounds, setting up a virtual book tour with bloggers, podcasters, and booktubers was invigorating. All of it taught me that community is essential to my social and psychological well-being, but it’s also given my book a better chance in a crowded marketplace. You’re not alone in this journey, unless you choose to be. So, why not choose to put yourself out there and find people you connect with? ‘Cause at the end of the day, the people in your community will be the ones cheering you on and helping you out when you need it most.

Genres are more fun when they’re mashed

Mushroom Blues is a big ol’ mishy-mashy blend of genres, and I did that on purpose. Earlier versions of my shared fictional universe called The Fungalverse weren’t working, but the fungal people were. So, I took them, their culture, religion, customs, architecture, and forms of communication, and smashed it all together with genres that I adore. Cyberpunk? Check. Police procedurals? Check. Noir and murder mysteries? Check and check.

My decision to mash up these genres stemmed from the desire to give the fungal world I’d created a more engaging framework. Everything I’d written up to that point was boring, and kind of preachy—that’s not fun to read, is it? And if I was aware of it, then readers would be, too. What I didn’t realize until speaking to a fellow author and interviewer was that blending genres provided a deeper value: It could ground readers in familiar story structures and beats, while allowing the surreal, unnerving, and unfamiliar aspects to bleed through in a subtle way.

This is exactly what I’d done with Mushroom Blues, albeit unconsciously. It brought me so much enjoyment to take tropes and beats from police procedurals, for example, and twist them, subvert them, and colonize them with fungal oddities. Do you want the quintessential crime scene opener? I’ve got you covered, except mine is brimming with slithering mycelium and moldy flesh. In the mood for an interrogation? I’ve got you there, too, but it’ll be more disturbing and psychedelic than any interrogation you’ve ever read. Familiar genres are comforting in a lot of ways, but I had a ton of fun manipulating the beats I love pulled from the genres I love. I did it not only to satisfy my own creativity, but to surprise readers while concurrently meeting their expectations. After all, stories should be fun for the people who create them and those who consume them.

Adrian M. Gibson is a Canadian SFF author, podcaster and illustrator (as well as occasional tattoo artist). He is the creator of the SFF Addicts podcast, which he co-hosts with fellow author M. J. Kuhn. The two host in-depth interviews with an array of science fiction and fantasy authors, as well as writing masterclasses. He lives in Quito, Ecuador with his family. Mushroom Blues is his debut novel.

Adrian M. Gibson: Website | Instagram | SFF Addicts Podcast

Mushroom Blues: Amazon