Emily S Hurricane on Fanfiction, Freelancing, and Pen Names
Laterpress Fellowship winner Emily S Hurricane discusses her writing career.
Emily S Hurricane is a 2022 Laterpress Genre Fiction Contest Fellowship winner for her story, The Beginning of the End. She’s published serial fiction on Wattpad, ghostwritten erotica, and published original fiction in multiple genres across various pen names. Her most recent project, King of Demons, ventures into gamelit territory, where a streamer finds herself sucked into the game’s world.
Our conversation was conducted over two sessions. I have edited the conversation into a single transcript, with additional changes made for readability.
Nate Gillick: I'm talking with Emily S Hurricane, who was one of the winners of our Laterpress Genre Fiction Contest in the Best Novel category, with The Beginning of the End. How's it feel to be a contest winner?
Emily S Hurricane: I am still buzzing like crazy. It's wild. My family keeps bringing it up. And I'm just like, "What are you talking about?" They're just like, "Oh, my award winning wife?" What? Oh, my gosh. Yeah, it's crazy.
Nate Gillick: What is the Beginning of the End? How would you describe it for folks who aren't familiar with it?
Emily S Hurricane: It's kind of a bit of a mishmash, because I wanted to do a dystopian apocalypse kind of deal. But I also wanted to do a really character driven story with a paranormal twist. So basically, what we've got is that a deadly disease wipes out all of humanity, and our protagonist is left all by herself. And as everybody's just dying around her, she's slowly going a little bit insane. And on her mother's deathbed, she finds out that she's got some parentage she didn't know that she had. And she's thinking, maybe that's why she managed to survive, and nobody else did. So she goes off on a quest across Canada to find other survivors. And that's pretty much yeah, that's Volume One.
Nate Gillick: When did you start writing it? The timing on it from my end was a little funny in that when I come into it, where we're in the middle of a pandemic, with people staying at home and going insane. It hit particularly hard.
Emily S Hurricane: What's really terrifying about when I started, it was November, or the tail end of October of 2019, was when I started it. And then we, my family and I, moved across the country, and took up roots in Nova Scotia. And that's kind of what inspired Daphne being from Nova Scotia. We had come to visit in February of that year and fell in love with it, and then ended up buying a house down here. And so that's what inspired where she came from, and where she started, because I was just like, man, if like the zombie apocalypse happened, it would be awesome to be out here. There's like nothing out here. It'd be totally fine. Because we live way out in the middle of nowhere. And so yeah, that's when I started it. When we were making this big life change, and moving across the country.
And then, you know, December of 2019 is when all of the stuff started to happen. And then my husband was just like, "Okay, you're not allowed to write scary stuff anymore. Because if this is the thing that's happening, like please stop writing horror. It was actually a flu in the first draft. And then in January, February, I changed it because I was freaking myself out a little bit and I was just like, okay, nobody's gonna want to read about this because of what's happening in the world right now.
Nate Gillick: You don't always want art to imitate life too much.
Emily S Hurricane: Yeah.
Nate Gillick: I was looking through some of your other fiction in preparation for our chat. And one of those I wanted to ask you about was fanfiction you've done. One of those was a Walking Dead fanfiction featuring Daphne, a woman who had to deal with an apocalypse. And then, in the Beginning of the End, there is another Daphne dealing with an apocalypse. So I wanted to understand better the transition from fanfiction into original content. How do you borrow from yourself? How do you approach the balance of making things similar, yet different?
Emily S Hurricane: Well, I've written fanfiction and original fiction since I was pretty young. And I enjoyed both for different reasons. I find fanfiction is kind of relaxing in a sense that you can never sell it, right? You're never doing it for money. So it's always like this is for sure a hobby right? This is the chill time. But I also enjoy the challenge of -- and we were chatting about this not too long ago with another writer group that I'm in -- about how when you're writing fanfic, if you want it to not be totally alternate universe, it's really difficult to capture character voice and keep things canon and keep things believable.
So you go, "Okay, I really liked this source material, but what if..." But then also you have to make it believable to fans of the original thing, right? And that's kind of what I was trying to do with Daphne. It starts again with a character where it's just like, "Okay, I want to explore this facet of the fandom." And then the easiest way to do that is by throwing in a new character to experience it or kick things off. And Daphne basically came from a desire to explore some of the villains in The Walking Dead, from the perspective of somebody that was on their side.
A big part of why I enjoy the Walking Dead so much is that there's really no good or bad guys. Like there's some people that are maybe a little bit sadistic, or they're doing some gross stuff that we wouldn't agree with. But for the most part, everybody's just there trying to survive the zombie apocalypse. The protagonists would be based on what side you're on, right. So in the sense of, like, say, the Savior's versus the protagonists, a lot of it, like both sides did some horrible stuff. So I wanted to explore it from more of a side of like, well, what if the story was centered around the other guys, then how bad would the protagonists of the show look, if you were on the other side kind of thing? So I crafted this character that was more ambitious than anything else, who goes, "Hey, this looks like the winning side. So like, I'm going to choose it."
A lot of my readers on Wattpad resonated with her so much, and enjoyed her character so much. And then, 120 chapters later, they're just like, we want more of that. And I'm just like, "Dudes, there's no story left, like they've had their happily ever after, there's been so much stuff. It's wrapped up."
My husband is not a writer. I joke that he's my idea guy, because he comes up with just the most off the wall stuff. And he has no brain-to-mouth filter. So he just spits out weird ideas all the time. And sometimes we laugh about how ridiculous they are. And then sometimes one will stick. One that we were, you know, laughing ridiculously about back in like 2018 was about vampire werewolves from space. Or pirate werewolves from space? And I was like, "Oh, ha, that's so dumb." And then months later, I'm just like, "Man, pirate werewolves would be super fun, actually." And that kind of started this thread of, "What if they'd always been in the world, the whole time infiltrating, and we didn't even know?" idea that kind of snowballed. Anyways, a whole bunch of snowballing later, it became "What if supernatural beings didn't know they were supernatural until something wiped out the whole planet, and all the humans were gone?" And the only people that were left are people that had abilities that they didn't even know they had.
It just felt right that Daphne would be the one to experience this because of the history that I had with her, and the way that she had resonated and grown. Now, granted, she's not exactly the same character. Because with these types of things, you know, I threw her into the situation to see what she would do. And a lot of her relationship with her parents and stuff like that ended up turning out very different than the original one. But she's definitely inspired by that same core character with the core values of ambition, and the way that she carries herself. So, yeah, long winded answer, I know. That's how my fanfiction original characters had transitioned into some of my original stuff.
Nate Gillick: I like what you said about having an idea person you can just bounce things off of. For me, one of those people is my dad. I'll talk with him about my novel and stuff. And the dynamic is funny because he'll just shoot ideas out and my mom gets annoyed, like, "Let him do his own thing! Let him write it how he wants to write it." And I'm just egging my dad on to keep throwing ideas at me. Like, "You should have narwhals in your story." And then I did it.
Emily S Hurricane: Sometimes the crazy ideas are the ones that when you actually think about them, it's just like, "Oh, you know, that's wild, but it's unique and I could actually do that. It's a workable thing." Or even if you don't use it, exactly. It might inspire something else that if you just think on it long enough, sometimes it churns out something totally different.
Nate Gillick: I know you've written under several different pen names. Your main one Emily S Hurricane. But you've done some for erotica and some for Westerns as well. What are your feelings around using pen names? What are the pros and cons?
Emily S Hurricane: It's so situational. I definitely like to think of myself as a guinea pig for a lot of things in indie publishing. I love tech, and I love research, and I love, you know, the whole industry. And there's so many different services and things to try. I mean, that's how I ended up here, with Laterpress, because I'm like, "Ooh, new indie publishing thing."
In my research, there's many people using multiple pen names for different niches. Maybe they want to use their real name for, you know, "serious things" that they want the accolades for, but then they use a pen name for their weird erotica, or whatever. And I think there's pros and cons to both. It depends on where you're wanting to go, and how much of yourself you're willing to share. People use pens because they want anonymity or they just want that level of protection where not everybody can just Google them and figure out where they live or whatever.
The reason why I have so many is because when I first started publishing and kind of dipping my toes into Amazon and figuring out how the whole thing worked, I was exclusively publishing erotica. And for the sake of algorithms, and for readers to find that tickle that they want, it's just way easier when one niche is all under one name. I didn't want my lesbian erotica to be popping up next to my BDSM stuff for hetero, because you'd get these people that are buying your whole back catalogue and then they'll see one thing that doesn't really float their boat and they'll move on to something else. So in the erotic author circles one of the biggest things was to create a pen name for that niche and publish under that niche with that pen. If you want to do something else, use a different pen. Or, if the books bomb and they're not doing what you want them to be doing then you can just start a new pen.
Nate Gillick: I had another question on the topic of pen names, which may or may not be a concern for you. One of the cons I am aware of is that each pen name also represents a splitting of the fan base. In erotica, that might not matter, because people are only going to want specific kinds of things. But has that been a concern or struggle you've had to deal with? Does niching down to that level make it hard to grow a fan base for any particular pen or across pens?
Emily S Hurricane: Absolutely. And this is something that people I've heard from, people with multiple romance pen names. They get a rabid following on one, and then when they want to write something different, they have to start all over again, and build up new socials and new mailing lists and all that stuff. Which, you know, if you're not going to link them, that that can be an issue, right?
For me, a lot of my erotica pens were experiments with publishing. I was getting to know how it worked. And I was always really transparent about all of the pen names that belonged to me. So if you liked this, and you like my writing, and you also like this other niche, you can read these. My website has an erotica page that has all of the pens listed. So if people are like, oh, I want to read some of your steamy stuff, they can pick and choose whichever they want. But yeah, from a marketing perspective, if you're just looking to stoke the algorithms and make money off of a specific niche, then yeah, having one pen per genre or niche of erotica or romance is a good idea. And, you know, for Kindle Unlimited readers especially, there's not a lot of engagement there. They just binge books constantly. So you've got to remind them you're there, and hope to get a follow somewhere along the line so that they'll know when you have another book out.
When I'm consolidating all of the pen names together, I'm focusing on platforms like Patreon and Discord to try and have an audience that is engaged with me specifically, because I love chatting with people. And I love the feedback and the community vibe. And that way, whatever they want to read, if you want to read horror, I got it. You want to read this, I got it, right? Because I enjoy writing so many different genres. My reader base is fairly small, but I'm tending to attract fans and readers that have broad tastes in genre and kind of like, "Okay, you're doing litrpg this week? All right, I guess I'll read that."
Nate Gillick: So the strategy would advocate, if I'm understanding you correctly, is to have different pen names for different genres. But then if you want to try to unify things, make your overall brand an obvious umbrella that everything else lives under.
Emily S Hurricane: Exactly. But it's really difficult to kind of put into proper words. Because if you want to have pen names consolidated, and you want people to read across your multiple pen names, then maybe consider not doing multiple pen names? It's a challenge. I have people that have been reading my books for years who didn't know I have a horror pen.
What I've started doing with a lot of my stuff that isn't erotica is putting Emily S Hurricane as the publisher, so at least on Goodreads and stuff, they're kind of linked. So if somebody searches Emily S Hurricane, all of this random stuff will come up, which is maybe bad, I don't know. Whatever it is, it's been a learning process over the years, right? So I'm thinking maybe if somebody did hold the gun to my head and ask for advice, I'd say if you want people to know that you're all of these pen names, then maybe don't do the multiple pen names because it'll make your life so much easier. But if you are looking to like write in different niches and and not have them affiliated with each other at all, like you're a horror writer and you want your brand to be heard, and you don't want to be associated with say, Amish romance, then have two totally different pen names and run two totally different brands for it.
Nate Gillick: On the subject of story length, it always interests me that different people gravitate to different formats. Some people are renowned short fiction writers, but then you've got the Brandon Sanderson and the George RR Martin's who can't crank out anything that's under a quarter million words. In a prior interview, you described novellas of about 20,000 words as your sweet spot.
Emily S Hurricane: Yeah, it used to be.
Nate Gillick: Is that still your comfort zone? What's your happy place in terms of story length, and how do you go about figuring that out?
Emily S Hurricane It used to be, back when I was releasing the Westerns. I couldn't write anything longer. Or it didn't feel like I could, even though I had a couple of fanfics that were much longer, but I never thought about that since I was just going chapter by chapter. If I was going to complete something and be like, "Okay, this is a published thing that I'm going to put out into the world," I'd outline and would hit the midpoint around 10k. And then kind of maybe reach 25-30k words on the long end. That short and sweet kind of novella package, something for the one to two hour reads category seems to be what my comfort zone was. It would just organically become that length when I was writing a story. And it used to drive me nuts.
It wasn't until I got started on Radish and really started embracing serializing that I kind of got into, "It's okay to like, just live in a scene for a while." I do a loose outline, and I kind of follow it. But sometimes I just kind of let stuff happen, and modify the outline as needed. And when I was serializing, it was like, "Okay, every Monday and Thursday, I need to put out at least 2000 words in an episode." And it was like, "What do I need to happen next in the story? And how can I form that into a cohesive episode that's at least 2000 words so that readers don't get mad, because they're spending coins on this chapter." I had never done it before, and I was excited for the challenge. I had to really kind of step out of the comfort zone, because I knew that it was going to need to be long.
When trying to break into a new market, I was looking at some of these romance serials that are 100, 200, 300 chapters long, and I didn't think I'd get to that, but I wanted to be at least novel length, 60-70,000 words at least. And with my outline for that one -- that was Wrong Number, which is now on Amazon -- on my outline, I was estimating that I could maybe hit 40 or 50,000 words and then I ended up over 100,000 purely by accident. And I was like "Okay, I think I’ve figured this out now." I just need to not be thinking about the next thing in the outline and just explore what's happening right now. So you know, my characters are doing this thing for this scene and one of the characters has a thought or has a feeling or they want to go explore something over here and I just have to let them do it instead of telling them no. And then that would organically lead into other ideas and other side characters and stuff. I think the serial format definitely helped me kind of just chill out a bit and relax.
Nate Gillick: Writing my debut novel has been a kind of that experiment in trying to come up with a serial outline and then making it work as a novel. I had this whole arc that I thought would work well as a good TV show or serial arc. I'm about two-thirds of the way through it, and I'm like, "Oh my god, I'm at 107,000 words already." So I know what you mean about the work count sneaking up on you.
You spent part of your writing career ghostwriting. Do you still do that?
Emily S Hurricane: A little bit here and there.
One of my author friends, who I met through Wattpad, had a book on there about ghostwriting memoirs. And I read it and thought it was really cool. I didn't know that this was something that you could just freelance on the internet. You know, we're in quite an interesting age right now. And I was just like, "Yeah, I don't think I could do memoirs. I think it would be too much pressure." And then my friend was just like, "Oh, you like writing erotica. You can totally get people to pay you to do that."
And I was like, "Wait, hold the phone. Somebody will pay me to write erotica for them? No way." So she showed me how to use Fiverr. And I made a profile there. And yeah, within a couple of months, I had quit my day job because I was writing dirty stories full time for people. And it was like, it literally changed my life.
But a big part of that was getting over the confidence issue. Because at that point I'd been writing for myself for ages, but never shared a lot of it. Like a little bit of fanfiction here and there. But for my original stuff, my best friend, who is also a writer, was literally the only person that I would show anything to. And I was so nervous, right. And it's a huge hurdle to get over that confidence issue. "I'm just this amateur, you know, with my little pen and paper, you know, and those are real authors out there."
With practice, everybody can get there, right? But you need to have the balls to put it out there in the first place. And I think ghostwriting really helped me because I was writing these weird niche erotica stories. My profile literally said, "Come to me for the weird stuff that nobody else wants to write," because I figured that would help get me sales (and it did.) And then people were paying me money for this. I was like, "People are paying me money for my words and they like them enough that they're willing to put their name on it and sell it." Like this is crazy. It was such a confidence boost. And it was like, "Okay, maybe I can do this for a living."
So then I started testing the waters with my own stories and I phased out of ghost writing erotica. I kept writing some of the weird niche stuff that I wouldn't be publishing under my own names. No king shaming to anybody, it's just not my flavor. As I've kind of gotten more into publishing different genres for myself, and exploring different platforms and stuff like that, I've gone into different kinds of ghostwriting. I do some script adaptations and stuff like that. But nothing in genres where I'm actively publishing because I don't want to compete with myself, and when you ghostwriting for somebody, you really are taking on their voice, and having to slip into their worlds and stuff. And I feel like if I was, say, ghostwriting a contemporary romance, while I'm also writing my own contemporary romance -- I'm pretty good at slipping in and out -- but I just feel like it would just be really risky to juggle that. And I feel like it would take the joy out of both of them. I have so many projects going at one time, all the time, because I get really bored staying in one lane. So I feel like if I was ghosting the same genre and same niche that I'm writing for myself that at the end of the day, I would be like, "Now I don't want to write on my thing because it's too much of the same."
Nate Gillick: What's your current balance between ghostwriting and writing your own content, in terms of how much time you spend on it?
Emily S Hurricane: My ghostwriting is pretty minimal. I work with a couple of very regular clients that I've worked with now for years. I'd say less than part time hours. I don't spend every day on it anymore. I was going full time hours for quite a while, while also staying up half the night working on my own stuff. As I've kind of been carving out more of a niche for my own books, and my royalties have gone up a little bit, I've been able to kind of balance it a bit easier. So that I'm not killing myself writing like 10,000 words a day and then having to go "Okay, now I have to do it for myself." It's rough.
I've branched out a little bit with the freelancing. I was freelance editing, on top of the ghosting, while I was trying to phase out the ghosting. Because I really love editing and critiques and stuff like that. But then I found that that was just exhausting to do too much of. I'd ended up with manuscripts that were clearly not ready for editing, that were first drafts that hadn't even gone through any kind of beta, developmental edit, or anything. And they're just like, "Hey, can you copy edit this for publishing?" And I'd be like...
Nate Gillick: Sounds rough!
Emily S Hurricane: Another issue was people arguing about cost, because, you know, they come to Fiverr and think it should be $5 for my 50,000 word manuscript. That's not how this works. I found just finding decent clients to work with was really difficult. So now for editing, I only work with colleagues of mine, and I know that I already love their work. And, you know, 9 out of 10 times, we do a swap of services, like I'll edit their manuscript, and they make me a book cover. I prefer that a lot more than going out into the wild and finding editing work.
So yeah, it's a balance, like any other day job. But there's a little bit more freedom, because I'm doing it from home. And I can be a little bit pickier with clients and time and stuff, which is nice. And I mean, a $10,000 fellowship prize doesn't hurt either, for giving me a little bit more wiggle room. So thank you for that!
Nate Gillick: Yeah, $10,000, if that's invested exclusively into author business stuff, it goes a long, long way. That's a lot of covers. That's a lot of audio book adaptations, or rounds of professional editing.
With your experiences working freelance, ghostwriting, and editing, if somebody's considering starting out in those fields, what suggestions would you make to them? What qualities do they need to have? What are the things they need to be thinking about, and paying attention to, if they want to get a start in that element of the writing business?
Emily S Hurricane: With any work in for yourself kind of deal -- and this applies to writing for yourself as well, if you want to get into publishing -- you just gotta have discipline. And I know it's hard. Some days, I don't want to. It's difficult, and especially when you don't have a boss breathing down your neck going, ”You need to show up to work at this time, or you don't get paid.” You've got to show up to work, get up in the morning, and have a routine to do the work that you've set out to do. Make sure that you have the self-discipline to stick to a routine you can manage.
I have to make sure that whatever target I set for myself (hours worked or words written), I'm getting done. I start trying to do it in the morning. And then sometimes I'm able to finish by noon. Sometimes it takes me till five or six at night because of the kids, and life stuff, but I try to make sure that I get certain things done before I move on to whatever other projects I'm working on for myself.
So if you have the freedom to be like, "Okay, this is from 9 until 11, these are my freelancing hours. Or 9 to 10 is marketing, and 10 to 12 is working on client work, or stuff like that." I think being able to know yourself and how you can make yourself work, instead of procrastinating, is critical. It's important to get into a routine like that, because it's easy to be like, "Oh, I'm a freelancer, and then this is great. I can work from home," and then just not get anything done.
Nate Gillick: Yeah. And how do you establish that discipline? Because I saw in another interview, you sound like one of the most organized people out there. You have spreadsheets for tracking your word counts and your monthly goals. How do you get yourself into that level of discipline?
Emily S Hurricane: I love spreadsheets.
Honestly, that's a hard question to answer, and I get this question a lot. Sheer force of will. But I think a lot of it was before I got pregnant with my daughter (my oldest child), I was working in an office, and I hated it. And my boss was awful. And there were people in tears every week, it was just a horrible place. And when I went out, I took maternity leave as early as I could possibly take it. In Canada, we get like a pretty awesome chunk of maternity leave, but the earliest you can start getting paid is if you go eight weeks before the due date. So literally on that date I was gone. I was determined throughout my year of maternity leave to find something else to go back to once I was done.
Then my baby was born, and I was like, "Okay, I need to work from home, because there is no way that I can leave and not be home with this adorable little blob." The thought of putting her in daycare had my heart breaking. No shade to anybody that does that, I understand it. Everybody has different strokes, right? But for me, I so badly didn't want to be away and out of the house, especially for like 40 hours a week. So I was like, "Okay, I'm gonna find something that I can do from home."
That was about the same time that I had been reading that thing on ghostwriting. I thought maybe I'd try it out. Maybe I tried extra hard, because I was so determined to build something up, because my husband and I talked about it, and we had figured out exactly how much I would have to make per week and then per month to not have to go back to a full time job. Or even to have to get a part time job. Because he was working Monday to Friday and daycare was stupid expensive for babies too. So it was like, "Okay, this is how much I'd have to work or make to not have to put her in daycare. Right."
Within a couple of months, I was making that freelancing. It was so awesome to be able to be home with her and do all the fun things like playgroups and not ever miss anything, and also be able to make a living doing something that I enjoy. I love writing so much. And even though the writing wasn't for me, I was still getting to write every day for money.
I never thought I could do it because it was always like, "Oh, well you know, you can write stories but you also need to have a backup plan and a day job. You'll probably never be Stephen King, so just do it as a hobby because you don't want to be a starving artist, right?" I wasn't selling my own books yet, but was literally getting paid to write. And I love everything about it. And I love spreadsheets. And I love organizing.
You have to make sure that you have the discipline. But also, examine why you want to write. Do you love it? Because I mean, freelancing aside, indie publishing is not an easy thing. It's so difficult. There's so many different fights that you have to fight. Marketing is hard. Networking is hard. Getting seen on social media is hard. Then there's the writing itself.
So if you don't have a passion for it, why would you put yourself through that, you know? I complain sometimes about some of the different facets of what I have to do every day, but at the end of the day, I'm having so much fun doing all of this stuff. It's a blast.