Student Spotlight: From Messy First Draft to Publishing His Debut Novel With Edward J. Cembal

success stories

I recently sat down for a conversation with one of the most wonderful and imaginative people I know, Edward J. Cembal. And in our conversation, Edward shares what his writing process looked like from having the spark of an idea, to writing a 60,000 word draft, to abandoning that draft to start a completely new project, and ultimately, to  publishing his debut novel which is called The Monster In Our Shadows.

Edward has worked with many industry professionals including a book coach, an editor, different beta readers, a literary agent, and even a screenwriter to bring his story to life—and he talks about what that entire process was like in this episode. Spoiler alert: His novel accidentally made it to Hollywood, and the story about how that happened is worth listening to the episode alone.

You’ll also get to hear Edward talk about how his protagonist, Anthem, represents a lot of his own inner struggles—and how he had to dig deep to personify things like depression and anxiety into a gruesome and otherworldy antagonist. So, this is a jam-packed episode with Edward J. Cembal, and I’m so excited to share his story with you. If you want to listen to this episode, click here or search for the Fiction Writing Made Easy podcast in your podcast player of choice.


Transcript: From Messy First Draft to Publishing His Debut Novel With Edward J. Cembal

SAVANNAH: Hi, Edward. Welcome! And thank you so much for coming on the show! 

EDWARD: Thank you. How are you? 

SAVANNAH: I'm doing great. I'm so excited to have you here! I imagine we're going to have a very fun and in-depth conversation because your story is so inspiring. I've seen you decide to write a book, take the steps to make it happen, and now you're at the point where you're sharing it with the world, which we're going to talk about more throughout the episode. But first, if you don't mind, would you tell people a little bit about who you are, where you live, what kind of books you write, and things like that? 

EDWARD:  Yeah, absolutely, thank you. I live in Toronto with my lovely wife and big softie of a pup, Juno. I write horror and speculative fiction, and this one so happens to land in the realm of dystopian. 

SAVANNAH: Yes, and this is your first novel, correct? 

EDWARD: Yeah, it's the first one if we don't include the previous one that I've buried. 

SAVANNAH: Awesome. And so speaking of that, I'm just going to give listeners a very quick highlight reel of the timeline because people like hearing  you know, how long things took to do.

EDWARD: Absolutely.  

SAVANNAH: All right. So August 2020 is when we first met we started working together on a very different story, a similar realm in terms of genre and topics but it was different. And then a few months into the process we shelved that one. We can talk about that a little more in a second. And then in November or December 2020, we started what is now The Monsters in Our Shadows. And then by September of the next year, you were done with the draft and ready to move on to working with beta readers and other editors, correct? 

EDWARD: Yes, yeah. 

SAVANNAH: And so then after that, in like March of 2022, that's you've come back to it after working with the beta readers and another editor. And then we kind of worked together to execute some of those recommended changes and get it ready to be in its final state. And then today, which is October 3rd, is your publish date, which is very exciting! So congratulations!

EDWARD: Thank you very much!

SAVANNAH: And so take us back to, like, the very, very beginning. Where did the idea for this story come from? 

EDWARD: Yeah, it's a personal story in so much as the ideas and the themes stemmed from my battle with muscular dystrophy, which I was diagnosed with 12 years ago, and the monsters are allegorical to the way that the disease feels kind of on my back—the drawing near and hungrier. And I know that you know, one day it will swallow me. So that's where that kind of came from. And maybe more so the struggles with depression and anxiety and trying to find acceptance while you're still in a state of denial. Real light conversation… An important one though. 

SAVANNAH: Right, because like you said, it's not just physical, it's about dealing with kind of what does this mean for me, you know, the depression comes up, I'm sure there's anxiety, and your character deals with similar feelings. 

EDWARD: Absolutely. Yeah. And this is almost me working through a lot of those things and seeing if I can get to the other side of it. Just like the main character, Anthem.  Seeing how he got to the other side of his story was similar. So there's a lot of symbology around the denial, anger, depression the anxious need to hide away from the world, kind of where the walls came from themes of othering, you know, a lot of these things were surprising as they came up. And I was going through them and it really helped to sit down every day and work them out on the page in this genre. 

SAVANNAH: And it's kind of cool because I remember something that was important to you is, is, and we're kind of spoiling the end. I'll read a synopsis of your book in a second. But what was important to you was that it's not like everything's magically fixed for your character by the end. Because in real life and in your personal story, we know that's not going to be the case, right? It's not a magic wand that can just come in and fix things.

EDWARD: Yeah, unfortunately not.

SAVANNAH: Yeah, so unfortunately not, and so you really wanted to show that in your character, which I think you've done, and like, he, he does a great job with the tools he has, he saves people, he's a hero in his own way, right? But he still deals with some of these demons and some of his struggles still by the end. Which I think is very realistic and very cool. 

EDWARD: Yeah, he's definitely not a shining knight and a typical hero by any means. I don't think I could write that honestly.

SAVANNAH: Yeah. Let me go ahead and read the back cover copy just so listeners can get a sense of kind of what we're talking about before we keep digging in. Is that okay? 

EDWARD: Beautiful, yeah. 

SAVANNAH: So here we go. Here's the back cover copy. 

It’s been a century since “the great consumption.” Humanity has been devoured to the edge of extinction by the ever-ravenous Shivers – terrifying, shapeless creatures that latch onto their hosts, tormenting them over time before consuming them all at once. The last of civilization lives in the crumbling city of Atlas, where they subsist on processed insects and await their inevitable fate.

Anthem is the city Exilist, tasked with trapping the Shivers and banishing them to the malevolent Deadlands outside the city walls. But Anthem is ailing and destined to soon fall victim to his own Shiver, a fate he’s reluctantly accepted. As Anthem begins to withdraw from his world, a threat he’s unprepared for comes hurtling home. If he is to save anyone, he will have to travel into the Deadlands in search of a remedy to tame these creatures. But no Atlas dweller has ever made it back alive, and Anthem must confront his own darkness before humankind is forever lost to the monsters in our shadows.

So, a) amazing back cover copy! That’s awesome. And b) I can totally see what you were just talking about even in this back cover copy. So the shivers represent multiple things—it’s like the depression angle, the mental health struggles that a person—Anthem in this case—is going through, and they also represent kind of that physical symptom, right?

EDWARD: Yeah. 

SAVANNAH: And so, I don't want to spoil it too much, but you'll see in the opening pages, I'm sure… That the shivers kind of show up and haunt the person they're attached to until it's ultimately time to destroy the host they're attached to. 

EDWARD: Yeah, so it's kind of tied to the feeling of, you know, maybe just an early diagnosis or the beginning signs of depression or even grief where you can kind of deny it and look away from it and it's back and hidden in the shadows and you can kind of get on with your day. But over time it gets harder to ignore as it gets more prevalent—more and more haunting until it's, you know, you can't stop it and it has its way. But then there's also this interesting, I don't want to say comfort, but familiarity with depression here too, that grows more reliable for you. And this isn't to say that the spectrum of depression is so narrow, but for everybody in the story, the way they deal with it is a failing to the people going through it. So that you'll see the, you know, different citizens looking away from people who may be afflicted with a shiver—which is what the monsters are called—and it's not really because they don't want to help the person next to them, but they don't really want to be reminded of the shivers or the monsters that may be in their own shadows. So you'll see that everybody has this mask of felicity that they're growing really too tired to maintain by the time we get to the start of the story. And that's a key feature. 

SAVANNAH: Yeah. And Anthem does too. So he knows there's a problem and it just gets worse and worse throughout the story.

EDWARD: Yeah, he's too close to it all to ignore it. His job is to deal with the shivers face to face as he exiles people and their shivers from the small populace of Atlas. So he's, he's almost isolated in that experience. 

SAVANNAH: Right. And so rewind to that initial spark of an idea… We were already working together on a different book. But if you kind of rewind three months before that, when did you know that you needed to get some help? Or, or what was that like when you were like, I don't know what to do with this idea? 

EDWARD: Yeah, that was a hell of a day. I remember when I brought that up. I said, “Listen, Savannah I think it's time to put this one to bed and bury it and start again.” And I remember you saying like, “No, no, no, don't do that!”  But after we talked a little bit, it made sense. I mean, I was 60,000-70,000 words into the previous novel and I was kind of meandering through while I was writing kind of aimless… Well, I mean, I had aim, just, I wasn't hitting anything. And at that point I was fairly well invested in education, kind of eating up and reading anything that I could to make me a stronger writer. I mean, like Masterclasses, I'm a sucker for the Elements of Style by Strunk and White. On Writing by Stephen King… Anything like that I was ravenous for. But I knew nothing would beat one-on-one support. So it was kind of a no-brainer when I came across you in the first place. I mean, I actually read your articles before we even spoke. But when I got to this point where I thought this novel wasn't really doing the things that I wanted it to be doing with the previous novel… And I wanted to really nail down the science of the structure and I mean, you are the master at that and it was kind of the same time when I learned to be more honest with the content and what I was going through felt like, and like, it still feels like a literal monster in my shadow here. So once that kind of got into my head, I couldn't put it away. I was so excited.

SAVANNAH: Yeah, and it was interesting because like you said, you were pretty far into a draft and usually my advice will be like, “Let's just stick with it! You've come so far!” And writers tend to go through this dip anyway, where they're like… Yeah, I hate my story. Everything sucks. You know? And so I always try to be like, “No. Everybody goes through this!” But for you, it was a little different because it wasn't like, I loved this idea and now I don't. You were kind of like… I had this idea. I never really felt that, like, deeper connection to it. And now I've had this new idea that I really feel connected to. And like you said, you were able to dig deeper and really express kind of all that stuff that was on your heart. And I think it really shows in the draft that you eventually came up with and the book that you're publishing today. Which is so exciting!

EDWARD: Yeah. I think it does. And for that last novel, what I was kind of doing, I think, is just learning the ropes and messing around. And when I got to the 60,000-70,000 word mark in that novel, I thought, you know, I'm ready for the real story—which was kind of always the monsters in our shadows. So I'm glad that we leapfrogged that one and got to this one.

SAVANNAH: Yeah, and that's kind of fun. You know, the first version of anything is usually just like a playground. So it was kind of… In hindsight, it's really good that you were able to say like, this isn't what I want. Let's move on to something that feels more aligned. But as you think about kind of those early days. Was there anything that either stood out as like an aha moment or a big hurdle for you in the writing? And I have something I remember, if you want me to lead that. 

EDWARD: Do you? 

SAVANNAH: Yeah. So I remember when we were outlining and you were kind of writing the first draft, you love sinking into the world-building and writing description. Is that accurate to say? 

EDWARD: Yeah, that is accurate. 

SAVANNAH: Yeah, and so how… Was that hard for you to deal with? Like, realizing, “Okay, Savannah gave me a budget for word count per scene and I'm just blowing that out of the water.” Or was it hard balancing that with scene structure? I'm asking because I know a lot of listeners are also this way, where they love world-building, they love putting in the details so anything kind of coming up about that?

EDWARD: Yeah, that's a great question. I do remember that. That was a big aha moment. I remember kind of figuring out that with your quota, I had 1,5000—or 3,000 at one point—words to play with to get this point across. And there's only so much world-building you can do with that. Which kind of helps formulate the scenes in a more concise manner which I kind of just, you know, after working with you do naturally now. In my other life, I'm a musician. And in the same way that music theory kind of enabled me to appreciate the complexities and layers of music, learning scene structure and the methodology behind plotting and the story beats that we worked on, you know, the large and small scene structures really helped me see other stories for their components. And it really helped me understand my own mess of ideas and organize them into a concise piece of work. So each of these beats and each of these scenes could be, you know, 1,500-2m000 words, you know, and I think just as fiction writers, we create this entire world and it's vast and complex. And this big aha moment was learning that this structure helped me zoom in on the specific elements that helped me make up the story. So yeah, that was definitely a big aha moment when I got into the theory of it and the structure with you, and yeah, to circle back the quota for words per scene.

SAVANNAH: Yeah, and I remember it took us a while because in the beginning, we were like, all right, we're just gonna, you're gonna write the scenes. It's gonna come out, however many words it's gonna come out. And then over time I would give feedback like, we don't need these three paragraphs, or whatever. And so eventually you kind of learned to hone in on what, like you said, what was the most important, and by the end you were getting that really nice balance of world-building and description versus actual movement in the scene, which is pretty cool. And then, you know, through editing, you were able to apply that to the front half of the book.

SAVANNAH: What was your relationship to getting feedback in the beginning and like, do you feel differently about it now or do you feel the same? Talk to me about that. 

EDWARD: Yeah. I mean feedback is always unnerving.  And it's definitely a vulnerable thing, but every step of this is right. And I mean, I think calluses are best built slowly over time. So finding the right source for feedback is important. Especially if you can control that, like in the first drafts. I did learn that by accident—luckily enough to work with you—but  I was guarded when I started. I mean, I didn't even tell anybody I was writing for a handful of years. But because I think I'm used to getting more feedback now… It's still unnerving, for sure. But I think feedback is great because there's so much you can learn from it and use it as a tool. And there's so much you can do with it.

SAVANNAH: What you're saying is interesting for a couple of reasons. One, because you've already shared how like intimate this story is or how much it is you on the page. We really had to have some of those hard conversations to get to the meat of who Anthem is, you know? So it's an important thing that we had to do, but it also makes getting feedback on what you're producing potentially harder because it's so much of you, you know?

EDWARD: Yeah. And I think that was necessary and I'm so glad we did that. I remember there were a few things that I was really guarded about and I didn't want to be that honest. I didn't want that much of myself bleeding out on the page, but yeah, I'm so glad, so glad we did that. 

SAVANNAH: Yeah, and then, so, I remember we spent some time on your outline too. What is your opinion on outlining? Like, if you're thinking about writing your next book, are you going to outline? And then kind of, how did outlining help you—or if it stifled you—tell me about that in working on The Monsters In Our Shadows.

EDWARD: Yeah, I mean, I know what it was like to write without an outline first. I was kind of lost, circling the drain. And as I was writing it, I was figuring out the plot points, the obstacles, and the decisions on the fly. So kind of figuring things out as I was writing. And that kind of just paved the way for a heavy second draft—and almost a rewrite in one of my cases. So after working with an outline, I can focus on the characters in more detail, the feel of the space around them, the rhythm of their heart at the moment. So my first draft is closer to the final because of all that work it is. 

SAVANNAH: Yeah, which is super exciting because I think, you know, a lot of people they assume kind of… If I hit all those plot points and I just do like a day's worth of outlining, I can be done and then That's not really much more efficient than just writing a first draft by the seat of your pants. But if you spend the time to really pressure test the outline—like we did—and think about, you know… Bause the kind of the way that we work together is like you had all the creative ideas and then I say, okay, I'm the container person. So you have this idea, let's, let's shape it like this so that it becomes an engaging plot. And then you kind of would tell me, well, that doesn't work because of X or, you know, Anthem would actually do this. So, it's for people listening, like, even if you're worried about getting feedback, it is nice sometimes to have someone to kind of pitch and catch with, just because it's really hard for our own brains to focus on everything at once, you know?

EDWARD: Yeah. And on multiple occasions, I remember us talking about, or you saying to me, you know, what's the conflict here? How is he reacting to this? What's the dilemma? What's the decision? And we would flesh those out. And what's interesting is in a lot of those cases, I would know those answers but they wouldn't be on the page. So it was really helpful in structuring this and then being able to kind of carry the reader's emotion through. 

SAVANNAH: Yeah, and to see a plot arc and a character arc unfold at the same time in a draft, which a lot of people don't quite get to in the first draft. So that was really encouraging. But yeah, and so you wrote your first draft, and then like you said, you felt pretty good about the quality. And so then. I remember at one point we were kind of, you had some life events, like you were getting married, which is so exciting!


SAVANNAH: You had just gotten a beautiful puppy, so you had to like take care of her and all that. But you were, we were like, okay, we agree it's time to step away from this, send it to other people. And you worked with beta readers and another editor, right? 


SAVANNAH: What was that process like? 

EDWARD: Yeah. Like the feedback, it was unnerving. I sent it out to beta readers and a big part of me really thought they'd come back and say, “We caught you! You're not a writer! Please hand in your paper and pencil and you're done.” But that wasn't the case. Well, luckily they actually really connected with it. And the biggest moment there for me was when somebody said they cried at the end and forgave themselves for years of shame around their depression. And honestly, I mean, that was the goal the whole time—to affect anybody. So that was the end all be all, you know, that's the dream. But yeah, I mean, the reason I got beta readers in the first place was to get a multitude of diverse, objective points of view on the work to see if there's something that I was missing. You know, I'm too close to it at that point and I don't know what I don't know. So just covering my bases, making sure that the work is as strong as it can be in the places that I might not be aware that it needed strengthening. But yeah, that was incredible. And that allowed me to go back, edit a couple of things, plot points that, you know, needed to be a little stronger, and then send it to an editor, Andrew Lowe. I worked with him to get the whole thing edited and we firmed it up. And that was basically the last draft and the end of it—or one of the last drafts. 

SAVANNAH: And I want to highlight something fun that you said because people ask me often like, “Okay, so I'm going to work with you… And then we're going to create this draft… And then I'm going to feel really good about it… And I'm going to like, make all my dreams come true!” And I'm like, well, I mean, in theory, that would be great. Right? But what you said is funny because this is how it normally happens. You finish a draft. And then you're like, Okay. I don't know. I think other people are going to read it and maybe it was just like me and Savannah that really liked it, you know, so it's like people always…

EDWARD: I mean, I'm, I'm still convinced that that's the case. 

SAVANNAH: Yeah. And so people always have that feeling. It's really funny. Like, you know, I'll always hold hands with the author and be like, okay, we're ready. Let's send this out. And then they always tell me like, in hindsight, you know, I wasn't sure. I thought maybe you just really liked it. So it's really funny. If anyone else is dealing with something similar, just know it happens to a lot of people. 

SAVANNAH: But what's cool is I'm sure that having gone through this whole process… Because I know there was some perfectionism stuff in the beginning too, and you know, whether that's just because you wanted to do a really great job or because it was kind of a vulnerable exercise to, you know, put yourself on the page like this… How does that perfectionism feel now that you've gone through this process? Like, I know it's still there, right? But are you able to kind of work through it? 

EDWARD: Every day I wake up. Yeah. That's a that's a great question. That's funny because right now I'm working on a story with the theme of letting go. It's hard to know when to let go of something. And I don't have the answer as to how, but I think if you love something in that moment, then that moment is the time to let it go. But yeah, I mean, that said letting go of something that you're holding onto that that's, you know, this personal or maybe anything can feel like more often than not prying your own fingers free. But how else do you grab onto something new? 

SAVANNAH: Yeah, and I kind of like what you just said, and we don't have to go too deep into this if you don't want to, but it's almost like you needed to write The Monsters In Our Shadows to deal with your feelings—like you said earlier. And now that you've kind of gone through that process, you've obviously grown as a person from the, you know, we're talking three plus years ago at this point. It's kind of like, now that you've dealt with that more, you're ready to move on to something else. So it's like, the story is a representation of that. I know it doesn't, you know, necessarily make it go away, but… What are your thoughts on that? 

EDWARD: Yeah, I agree with that. And I think... You know, without being too pretentious, I think I do use writing like a light in the dark. You know, trying to find my way and work out my own things that I'm going through. And I definitely think that writing the monsters allowed me to get to the other side of a few things. And, you know, to understand that… Well, I don't want to give away the end of the book, but when you get to the end of the book you'll see kind of where I landed for now. But yeah, I definitely think you are, you're right for sure. 

SAVANNAH: And it's kind of funny cause thinking of the book, it's like you dealt with a shiver that was a certain color. And now, you know, that's like your feelings around having muscular dystrophy. And now you're onto a shiver of a different color, which is kind of I'm tackling perfectionism and letting things go.

EDWARD: Yeah. 

SAVANNAH: I feel like I just keep getting so excited that today is your publish date when this goes live, October 3rd! And you've indie-published this book. What led you to that decision? 

EDWARD: Oh my gosh, Savannah. That's a crazy rollercoaster that I cannot wait to get off of. It was… Okay, so I was going to self-publish from the very beginning. I did all the research and I said, look, this is just going to be a better option for me. So I started that journey. I put my book up on NetGalley for early reviews, which was fantastic. I got a great cover designer, Richard LJoenes, and my editor, Andrew Lowe. You, of course, for developmental editing and moral support. And then I got a call about, I don't know, it was a month before I was going to publish and it was from a producer in LA and he wanted to make it a movie and shop it out to some big directors. And I didn't really believe it, but I called my agent at the time, Rachel Cone-Gorham, from the RxD agency and I said, “Hey, what's going on here?” And we got on a call and started that whole process. And then another producer found me on NetGalley, and they wanted to make it a movie. And then my agent was basically like, listen, if there's this kind of interest, maybe you want to rethink self-publishing and we take it to the big five. And, you know, I was still convinced that only you and I are interested in the book. So, yeah, I mean, imposter syndrome rearing its ugly head. But yeah, we took it to submission and as you know, it's kind of a lot of just waiting for people to read, waiting for them to get back to you. But a couple of editors at the big five loved it and they got back to us and they took it up to acquisition and that was fantastic and super exciting. But in the acquisition meetings sales basically said, there's no market for dystopian despite its primary genre of horror.

SAVANNAH: Yeah, which we beg to differ on that. 

EDWARD: I hope so. I hope so. I mean, it was disappointing to see that the editors would love it and that it would fall apart in acquisition. So I took the book back and I went back to self-publishing and got back on the horn and yeah. 

SAVANNAH: So you've been on like a total whirlwind, which is so it's like funny in a way, but kind of not funny in the same breath, because like you wanted to start out indie publishing to avoid a lot of the stuff that happened, like the waiting and the, you know, loss of control and all that. But like, who wouldn't try to go the traditional route if they could, right? I mean, a lot of us are on the fence. So it's funny that like… I think it's the first time you told me this, I could almost have no words because I was like, Wait, what?! You know, I kept going, how did you go this long without telling me?! And so it was just—it's funny because that was your goal to indie publish. And now you've come all the way back around, which, you know, I think it was meant to be because that's what you wanted. But also, the script part of it, the screenplay, is not quite off the table, right?

EDWARD: Yeah, the script is finished. It's been finished for a few months now. I co-wrote that with Tim Doiron with Wango Films who is producing it with James van der Woerd. So that is happening. We also have a wonderful director on board, April Mullen.  So excited for her to bring this to life. And now that the writer's strike is wrapped up we are able to take it to market soon. So yeah, the film is very much still on the table and it feels crazy and also great. And then, yeah, taking the book back and out of submission to be able to self-publish it confidently like this with the right team feels really, really great. I'm excited.

SAVANNAH: Yeah, which is amazing. It's so funny because I'm sure there are people listening going like… This guy just kind of landed into a dream scenario for a lot of people. Which is, that's how you feel, right? The ball kept rolling downhill and all these things happened. This is what so many people want. And I think we were talking about it earlier that you haven't quite felt all of this as reality yet.

EDWARD: Absolutely. Yeah. I mean, imposter syndrome is definitely at an all-time high. That's for sure. Imposter syndrome kind of tells me that this stuff isn't really happening to my book. But I talked to my wife, who is absolutely incredible. And I definitely couldn't have done this without her—shout out to Leah—and she helps take up the fight against imposter syndrome and reminds me that I'm a writer. You know, she's like, “You're writing, so you're a writer.” And yeah, maybe all that'll sink in one day. I don't know.  

SAVANNAH: Yeah, and it's… I mean, honestly, the story's really important if we kind of look under the dystopian stuff and we look under the surface of things. It's a really important story, and I know that, like, you and I have talked about, we've both experienced depression and anxiety at different points in our life. And, you know, just some of the messages in the story are really needed and we need to talk about this stuff more. But yeah, it's, it's funny because I'm thinking back to the day that we talked and you told me all this about the screenplay and the publishers and the agent, and in my head, I'm like, gosh, he sounds like this is happening to somebody else. He's excited, but he's also kind of hesitant, like… This can't be real.   

EDWARD: Yeah, that's exactly how it feels. I mean, we're still at the base of the mountain here, so, you know, I don't want to get too excited. But it does feel like someone's going to knock on my door with a clipboard and take away my license to write—as if that was a thing! But Neil Gaiman said that, and if he feels like that, I mean, that reassures me that it's okay to feel the same. 

SAVANNAH: Well, and I think the cool thing is you're letting it come into your life. You know, you're not opposed to it happening. You're not thwarting any of these efforts. You're kind of being brave and just saying, okay, well, we'll see what happens. It's uncomfortable, but it's like uncomfortable in a good way, right?

EDWARD: Yeah, no, for sure. 

SAVANNAH: And so I have a question. So what would you say… Because there's… I mean, we're all just average people, right? And we all want to write books. We all want to do great things. Like, we would love to all accidentally fall into situations like yours! So, what would you say to someone who's like, “That could never happen to me. I'm just an average Joe or average Jane. I'm just writing this little book!” Like, you felt that way too, right? 

EDWARD: Yeah. I mean, it seems outlandish that my advice would be worth a damn.  So I'll quote a hodgepodge of advice that has helped me from others. I think first and foremost is that no one has heard your story. And we need to hear your story because nobody can tell your story like you. And I mean it sounds simple, but just write one word after another until you're done. Don't give up. And just do whatever you're doing with enough assurance and confidence. Do it honestly the best you can and then let it go and move on to the next thing.

SAVANNAH: Yeah, and I think something else to highlight that you did that helped this scenario is you knew what you wanted. You were clear on that. You got help when you knew that you needed help because there's a lot of people that are afraid of, you know, even joining an online writing course or reaching out to a critique partner or whatever that step looks like. And you were kind of just being open to saying, “Okay, I know that I don't know everything. And if I want to get better, I have to do it. I have to live in that discomfort of figuring out what I don't know to get to the point I want to get to. And then not give up. So you had kind of that trifecta of all of it, like I'm saying it now and I'm like, gosh, all that sounds so uncomfortable. But it's kind of like you have to do that to get the result you want.

EDWARD: I really think you do, yeah. 

SAVANNAH: And so the book's out today. How do you feel about, like, the next thing on the horizon? Are you writing another book? 

EDWARD: I am, yeah. 

SAVANNAH: Okay, good. And how was that process just compared to The Monsters In Our Shadows? Like was it easier? Was it harder in certain ways and easier in others?

EDWARD: Oh, right! You've seen the outline for the new one. You know the whole story.  Yeah, I mean, there's a new base level of confidence in knowing that I can finish it, which helps me get started. But I think, you know, sitting down and exploring the world and the characters on the page is still the same. But because of all the work we've done, I have these new tools in my toolbox to help me execute the plot and bring the ideas to life and kind of just everything that helps make the story more honest and more captivating and engaging. I mean, I've totally fallen in love with the whole process. 

SAVANNAH: Yeah, and so I have seen your outline, and it's fun for me as a book coach and editor because I love seeing someone's second try at something, and I'm like, okay, he's not doing a lot of those rookie things that he did in the first outline, which shows me, like, in my mind, I'm like, he's totally gonna be okay, you know? He's got that groundwork. Every new book is a new challenge for whatever reason, it could be the character that gives you a hard time, the world, the plot, whatever—but at least when you have those tools, you know that you will be able to figure it out. And I feel pretty good about your ability to do that. Not that you need me to say that! But you know it was very cool to see the growth in just from one book to another book. It's very cool. 

EDWARD: Yeah. It's exciting!

SAVANNAH: Yeah, so, any last-minute thoughts on your mind that you want to share with the writers out there?

EDWARD: I would say just keep writing. Put your best word after the next one after the next one and finish it. We need to hear your story. The world will be richer for it.

SAVANNAH: Yes. Great parting words! Okay, well, it's been so fun to sit down and talk with you about your writing journey. I know that this conversation is going to inspire so many other people to take action and get their books written. So truly, thank you for sharing everything that you shared today. I think you're a great example of what's possible. And yeah, I just know you're going to be so inspiring to so many people. So again, thank you for being here. 

EDWARD: Yeah, honestly Savannah. Thank you so much for having me on. This was a lot of fun and thank you for listening. 

SAVANNAH: And I know we'll definitely have to have you back for the next one. People are going to want to learn more about Anthem's story and The Monsters In Our Shadows and you. So where can people go to follow along on your journey or learn more about you?

EDWARD: Thank you. You can order it wherever books are sold  Amazon, Indigo, Barnes and Noble, Waterstones. Ask your local bookstores for it. That would be great. Little Ghost Books. I'm having a signing on October 15th if you want to stop by and say hello. In Canada, in Toronto, everybody fly on over. You can follow me on Instagram  Edward J. Cembal. And yeah…

SAVANNAH: We'll put all those links to Edward's stuff in the show notes. And again, Edward, thank you so much for coming and spending time with me. And I can't wait to see what's in store for book two because I am in love with the outline already.  So good luck in all your endeavors and please keep me posted on that screenplay and we'll have to have you back for book two.

EDWARD: Thank you so much! Truly. This was great.

Final Thoughts

My favorite takeaway from this episode is that Edward had to get uncomfortable multiple times throughout the writing, editing, and publishing process, but he didn’t let that stop him. He wanted to share his story with the world more than he was willing to let the fear and imposter syndrome win. I’m so thankful to have been just a tiny part of Edward’s writing process, and I hope this episode has inspired you as much as it inspired me. To paraphrase Edward’s advice, keep writing and never give up!

To learn more about Edward, and to get details on his novel, The Monsters In Our Shadows, you can check out his website or follow him on Instagram @EdwardJCembal.

If you want to learn more about my Notes to Novel course—and how it can help you finish your first draft—you can click here to get all the details!

Savannah is a developmental editor and book coach who helps fiction authors write, edit, and publish stories that work. She also hosts the top-rated Fiction Writing Made Easy podcast full of actionable advice that you can put into practice right away. Click here to learn more →