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Ben Payne
07 June 2012 @ 08:36 pm

Grant Watson


I think a core appeal of the fanzine is that it isn’t transient. Individual episodes of podcasts and blogs in particular feel very ephemeral and disposable. Since each issue of a fanzine is a discrete, concrete object, it feels like is has a bit more weight to it than other media.


I don’t think fanzines are likely to ever go away, but they’re certainly never going to be the predominant form of fan expression ever again. One thing that’s definitely keeping them around is e-publishing: there’s a fantastic resource calledwww.efanzines.com where you can download a regularly updated range of fanzines from the UK, USA, Australia and other countries. Anyone who says “I’ve never read a fanzine, I don’t really get what they’re about” should definitely go download a few and get a better idea.




Andrew McKiernan


Maybe editors and publishers are paying attention when it comes to novels, but I don't think so with short stories. Again, I still hope that the story is the important thing there, and not whether you've got a 1,000 followers on twitter. I am on Facebook and Twitter, but I don't really use them as tools to further my writing career. There's nothing worse than being bombarded with messages about some author's latest self-published e-book release on Smashwords. It actually turns me off the thought of reading their stuff, and I'm sure it's the same for a lot of others too. Using social media soley as an advertising tool seems like a very bad idea to me. Using to engage with your readers? Well, that's a totally different thing and I feel that as long as I'm being myself and posting the sort of things I and my readers are interested in then I'm doing the right thing.


 


Felicity Dowker


Yes, it can sometimes be difficult to balance family commitments with writing commitments, as I’m sure every writer who is also a parent or carer knows. I also work fulltime Monday to Friday; again, I’m sure I am no different to many other writers in this respect. With my husband’s support, I structure writing time where I can squeeze it in around my main priority, which is and always will be my family. It can sometimes take me longer to get things done than it may take others whose situations differ from mine, but that’s life.

I don’t believe social media and/or blogging has played a significant part in the development of my writing career. It can have a role to play (especially when you’ve written just one story and nobody has ever heard of you or of it) but at a certain point that usefulness can become exhausted, and can turn into negativity and distraction. I personally found blogging was sucking up far too much of my time and creative energy – not just writing my own blog, but reading the blogs of others – with far too little pay-off, and so I made a conscious decision to cut that out of my schedule quite some time ago. It freed up a huge amount of time. I’ve replaced it with ventures like Thirteen O’Clock which I feel contribute much greater value to me personally and also to my community. Regardless, I have never identified as a “blogger”. I have always been a writer.

I wouldn’t say writers should “improve” their use of social media (although I will say it sometimes bemuses me that some editors, more so than writers, seem unable to spell or punctuate on social media!). I think they, and everyone else, can use it however they like. It can be an effective promotional tool, but if it’s used solely for that, without at least some personality in between, it becomes ineffective spam. Personally if I want to see promotional material and nothing else, I will visit a publisher’s website (for example). If I want to see the human being behind the words, I’ll look at a writer’s social media, if it’s available. I might then find I don’t much like the writer, but that doesn’t mean I can’t still like their work (or vice versa). I prefer to see people being real people, not automatons. Go on with your bad self and cut loose on your social media. Use naughty words. Have fights. Whatever. At least it’s honest. I don’t really care!


 


Joanna Fay


I’ve only been identifying as a SpecFic writer for three years. I’ve only been involved on the fringes of ‘the scene’ and don’t have a long view of its evolution. But the big change that has swept all genres and the publishing industry as a whole is, of course, the rise and rise of e-books. I know writers who are self-publishing, others publishing with traditional publishing houses, others going with indie press from micro to mid levels. The ground under all this is a moving carpet, and adaptability is called for. Interesting times indeed!



Alison Goodman


I suspect a bit of both. In terms of genre, I go where the story takes me. When I have the initial idea for a book or series, I take note of where it seems to fit in the genre market and think about the conventions of that genre. If some of them work for me, I’ll use them (either with or against the expectations). However, I don’t feel obliged to stick faithfully to the conventions or, indeed, to one genre. I do like to meld genres, which can bring a whole bucket load of problems with it but is a lot of fun to write.


In terms of themes within a novel, I usually find that I may start with an idea of a thematic line – developed from the plot and character – but find that other, stronger themes emerge as I write. Having said that, the thematic starting point is not usually the driving force for me in my writing process – I am more engaged by character and plot and these supply the passion that propel me. So, I don’t feel that I pick stories to write by the appeal of their themes. Still, it is not really possible to separate out those three elements – plot, character, and theme. They are so deeply entwined in the development of my fiction that at least some of each needs to be in place before I start writing.


 


Brendan Duffy


I can’t really claim to have my finger on the pulse of the beating heart that is Aussie spec fic because these days I’m more a truant or vagabond than an ongoing genre contributor locked into dynamic dialogue with the zeitgeist. I haven’t been keeping in touch with the scene at all, and of late there have certainly been many anthologies I’ve not contributed to or even been aware of (and I rue that fact), so I can really only answer this question with one eye open. I write less than one short story a year, and hope to place it well, so was thrilled to get into AbE with a freight train of great writers. AbE is an exciting read with some truly wonderful stories, yet I was surprised by the lack of online buzz it generated and wanted it to achieve a larger presence, including more reviews and some discussion on what the antho had to offer and how it dealt with the theme. On the other hand, the genre itself formally supported AbE with AA nominees and a winner. And as far as the future goes, I would like to see more anthos.


But thanks for asking how Space Girl Blues came about. I grew up in green-belt suburban Eltham among sylvan trees and dams, where Don’s Party was over and the children of those mud-bricked hippies grew up to be football hooligans or fist-fodder. My high school was staunchly proud of its statistically aberrant processed white-breddedness. My older brother fled Beer-Garden Australia and mailed care packages back from London that contained all kinds of cultural oddities for those remaining behind enemy lines, including music from another planet; some strange band from Akron Ohio that couldn’t get a deal anywhere had found an indie label in London to press limited runs of post-punk new wave 45s. One of these was a song from 1978 called Automodown about the Kent State massacre, and sandwiched behind this with no pregap was an unlabelled two minute add-on called Space Girl Blues with offworld lyrics and theraminesque riffs that made me know my teenage brain was buttered on the sci fi side. This song stayed with me, engendered a ferment that I knew one day would write itself a story. The internet allows you to mine, commodify and recolonise your past with the methodical relentlessness of BHP, the pedantry of a trainspotter, and I now have over 49 of their albums, demos, outtakes, alternate versions


Clarion South was wonderful, and I left ultra-positive, enthusiastic, and with a feeling that things would move a touch quicker than have. Its ironic that Clarion South is now a fictional world in itself, the intensity, the workload, the think-tank environment; and as I boldly tread through a brave new world of used nappies, bills and play-lunches the memories of that wonderful time crystallise into hallowed things of legend from an Eden lost and gone. Clarion South generates Australian culture. It had a major impact on my life, helping to clarify my goals and aspirations with surety. I don’t really have a ‘career’ as a writer yet, its more an MO for a few short bodies of genre bladework, but many writers from CS have carved niches as short story writers, while others have gone on to become successful novelists. I hope to join the latter and have my novel out shortly. Don’t ask what shortly means.




And so endeth the lesson.


I hope you've enjoyed reading these summaries and indeed the full interviews! I've certainly found it fascinating to tease out the themes and conversations, and look forward to reading them again at more leisure later.


See some of you at the con! If I've missed any interviews, let me know and I'll do a catch up post later.


 

 
 
Ben Payne
07 June 2012 @ 08:08 pm

Matthew Chrulew


>Two years on from Aussiecon 4, what do you think are some of the biggest changes to the Australian Spec Fic scene?


The rise of self-promotional spamming as a way of life


 


Simon Brown


Difficult to assess from a distance, but surely the big development not just over the past two years but the past decade has been the increase in the number of Australian specfic writers and the quality of their work. I thinkClarion South has a lot to do with this (and by implication Clarion South’s organisers), as well as the continued and it seems to me against-all-odds existence of short fiction markets such as Aurealis and Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine.


The other big change has been the slow but inevitable move in Australia from ink to phosphor dot and LED, including e-books and online magazines. We’ll have to wait a year or 10 before properly assessing what effects this has had on writers and writing. If I’m still around, feel free to ask me again in 2022.


 


Rjurik Davidson


Oh, I have several responses, all pretty contradictory. My first response is that the division is false. Writers like AtwoodIshiguruHoullebecq andWinterson are clearly writing SF. On the other hand, there are plenty of SF writers writing very ‘literary’ science fiction: Gene Wolfe or M John Harrison, for example. Partly the division is invented by the marketing departments of publishing companies, partly there’s an inherited prejudice against SF in the ‘mainstream’ (which I find ignorant and repulsive), but there’s also quite often a self-reinforced ghettoisation from the SF community also.


I find it all pretty frustrating because there are all sorts of deleterious effects of the division. SF writers are unfairly ignored and ‘literary’ writers writing SF too-often claimed as ‘original’ when they’re really borrowing tropes that have been around for decades. At Overland we try to be inclusive: we’ve had special SF editions, publish SF stories and articles, but I do feel fairly sad that the SF community pretty much ignores us — something reflected not only in terms of our submissions but reflected in things like awards, links to our online articles and so on.


Another passed-down quirk of the division between the literary and SF worlds is the over-emphasis on plot-driven narrative in genre. Genre writers, readers and editors probably do want more ‘action’ than the literary world (which could often do with more action!). I’m not sure that’s healthy. Having said that, the SF community is a really welcoming and in the end, in terms of fiction, that’s where I happily exist.


 


Rocky Wood


The King who would burst into the literary consciousness only four years later was fully formed in this story. I am grateful that Steve later allowed me to publish it in my book, ‘Stephen King: Uncollected, Unpublished’ so now all King fans and those who want study his development can read it. Here is a true horror story and like so much of King’s fiction it’s not supernatural but examines the horrors that people will commit against each other, given certain pressures.


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Which brings me to the horror literary community – it must be the most supportive community there is. My ‘colleagues’ all over the world rushed to deliver many projects and spread the word for every fundraiser I had, large and small. The Australian Horror Writers Association, particularly Geoff Brown and Talie Helene, were instrumental in organizing a worldwide online auction to raise funds and to organize a Halloween event we held in Melbourne last year. They are both special, generous people.


 


Stephanie Gunn


I’d like to say that the state of the horror novel in Australia is an anomaly, but honestly, I feel like the true horror novel has been on a decline.  If you look back at the history of the awards, you can see some stellar books shortlisted and winning: Kaaron Warren’s “Slights” (which still haunts me), Kim Wilkins’ novels and Kirstyn McDermott’s “Madigan Mine” are all examples.  Books like these just aren’t being published in Australia frequently now.


Maybe the success of so many Australian fan tasy novelists is edging out the shelf real estate, maybe it’s just a general decline in traditional kinds of horror.  It’s hard to be afraid of things that go bump in the night when the world is filled with other kinds of terrors, sometimes.  I think the rise of other subgenres like paranormal romance are also impinging on traditional horror; while there is a lot of fun and well-written PR being published, not a lot of it is truly award-worthy, if I’m honest about it.


 


Amanda Rainey


Yes, they're quite different. With print, you need to focus on getting the page right, whereas with ebooks you need to focus on flexibility, on making sure it works well on each ereader, and with their individual settings. And covers are different too. Print covers have to look good on a shelf next to other, similar books. With online sales of print and ebooks, covers need to look appealing at thumbnail size, and it's more difficult to predict what covers will be viewed alongside it.

But there's also more flexibility with online. Covers don't have to appeal to generic booksellers, they can be more adventurous and aim at smaller niche audiences. And the wide availability of technology means that more people can create their own books and covers. That can mean some ugly results, but it will also lead to more creativity and experimentation.

It's all completely up in the air at the moment. We're trying to predict the future, we're trying to predict what we will do. But we're the ones who are making the new rules. I think the best thing I can do as a designer is to pay attention to what's happening and make the decisions I think are best. Rather than trying to predict what others will do its great to have this opportunity to be part of creating something new. That's what I love about Twelfth Planet and FableCroft. They're trying new ideas, and expanding the range of writers and stories in the world. It's an honour to be part of that.


 


Robert Hood


Fragments Of A Broken Land: Valarl Undead – Fragments, for short — has been a long-running obsession. It’s a fantasy novel in the “other-world” mode, both straightforward and paradoxically complex, that was begun several decades ago, and has been re-worked many times since. It has a long history of near publication and I’m quite serious when I say it’s only the enthusiasm of Jack Dann that has stopped me from abandoning it altogether. Jack enthused about it – and did a thorough structural edit on it – before I knew him as more than one of science fiction’s greats. He has become a good friend since and has tried hard to get the book into print, driven by his enthusiasm for it — without success, until recently. Why that is may be open to conjecture, but two agents who also tried to sell it both claimed it was the novel’s unexpectedly literary nature that lies at the heart of the problem. I’m not entirely sure what that means, but it’s been a struggle and has caused me to work at the book, on and off, for many years. Now Borgo Press – a long-established US small-press that has become an imprint of Wildside Press – have contracted it and it is due to appear, in various formats, either toward the end of this year or the beginning of the next. I await that Event with mingled fear, excitement and relief.


 


 
 
Ben Payne
07 June 2012 @ 07:26 pm

John Richards


My dream is that we would make any science fiction for adults at all. I had a meeting with a TV executive recently who seemed terrfied I was going to mention spaceships. He kept saying “no spaceships!”. So obviously now I want to make something about spaceships. I’ve always been interested in doing a Star Trek style thing cast entirely with Indigenous actors – to have some great Aboriginal heroes on screen for kids to look up to. But I’d love to see us do a great Buffy/Almighty Johnsons style series. I think we could do that and get away with it. And I really enjoyed Spirited.


 


Amanda Pillar


Patience; that’s the personality trait you need. You have to be very, very patient and your co-editor also needs to be the same. Before you both begin reading, it’s really important to sit down and discuss what you want – so that you’re both on the same page (so to speak) when reading submissions. 

With slushpiles, it’s not always a matter of good story/bad story. It is about the ‘feel’ of the anthology (I know there are some authors who want to hurt me for saying that). I have rejected stories that have gone on to win awards; but they just didn’t play well with the other tales in the book. So picking stories – on your own, or with a co-editor – really comes back to remembering the guidelines you set and the end product you want to make.


 


Sara Creasey


It’s hard to track book sales quite that accurately, but I noticed a resurgence of buzz about the book after the Philip K. Dick Award nom – this was 9 months after the book’s release, and most of my sales had been in the first few months. I think it’s probably true what they say, though, that word of mouth is the main source of sales. You can blog and do book signings and get award nominations till the cows come home, but ultimately you need readers talking about your book to other potential readers (and the internet is invaluable there, of course).


 


Scott Robinson


Joys: my books is out there in the world for people to read. I’ve had some great feedback from readers and really can’t get enough. The sorrows: not as many people are reading them as I would like.


Marketing has always been a problem for self-published authors, but these days I have to be compete against the good stuff out there as well as fighting the negative image created by the ‘writers’ who decided to knock up a book over the weekend and make their fortune. At least in the old days, the wife or husband or other keeper of the funds was something of a gatekeeper. Now, it takes no time or money as all to publish a book. Apparently, for some, it doesn’t take any effort, either. So, I just keep hoping for some word of mouth to kick in (The Brightest Light got a great review on Amazon the other day) while I work on the next book.


 


Jack Dann


The main challenges of putting together an (original) anthology… Well, as I said, you need to come up with a killer concept, get the best authors to commit to writing a story, find the right publisher (and the right money!), work out the contract, and that’s just the beginning. One of the main challenges (and I consider it a rewarding, often joyful challenge) is the back and forth between author and editor to get a story that’s “almost there” over the editorial bar. Admittedly, this is subjective on my part. No excuses. The challenge is to work with the author to produce the story s/he is really excited about. To put it bluntly, the editor’s challenge is to assist when needed and not “piss in the soup.” I’ve been told I’m a pretty good story-doctor. But for the real skinny, you’d have to talk to the authors.


 


Nick Stathopoulos


I’m not sure if the genre has become more marginalised or whether it’s now so ubiquitous as to render fandom irrelevent. The face of publishing has changed dramatically over the last ten years. It’s taken a while, and there has been a great deal of resistance from publishers, but e-books/publishing have finally challenged the hard copy book as the prefered delivery system. We’ve seen the rise of small ’boutique’ publishers geared directly to serving a specific fan base. The major publishers have consolidated themselves and their products along demographic lines. We see less hard SF published and more high fantasy written for, by, and published by (older/mature age) women…whereas once upon a time it was predominantly a college-age male dominated scene. Fandom has also taken a hit. The traditional Worldcon is no longer the premier event…certainly not in terms of attendance figures. We’re seeing fandom (as I knew it) aging and dying. Technology has rendered the fanzine obsolete. In fact, as a one-time cover artist, I feel sidelined and utterly obsolete. When I was younger I dreamed of being Chris Foss or Bruce Pennington or Michael Whelan. But the reality as been a bitter, harsh, and ultimately futile struggle. I find myself often wishing I had pursued a fine art career a lot earlier in life. But it’s all been grist for the mill.


 


Kate Eltham


Two things. Firstly, the larger trade publishers have finally woken up to the value and appeal of genre fiction. It used to be the case that there were really only two publishers to whom a writer or agent could submit speculative fiction novels with any realistic expectation of a fair reading, particularly adult science fiction. Today, I can think of at least six off the top of my head, with a bunch more who publish it (but are still cloaking it beneath the more respectable shroud of "literary fiction"). I've had endless discussion with friends and peers about why this might be so. Partly I think its generational. There are some younger editors who have finally made it into positions in publishing houses where they can influence the titles being acquired. In more recent months, I believe it is almost certainly influenced by the wild commercial success of genre fiction in ebook format. It has helped make more visible what we speculative fiction writers and readers have known all along. People actually want to read this stuff.


Secondly, I also see a new professionalism and confidence among the growing indie publishers. If ever there was a moment in publishing to build a business around a niche audience (or "vertical" as some like to say) this is it. And there's absolutely no reason a smart and entrepreneurial small press from Australia can't build a global readership for its titles. I'm pretty encouraged to see some of them attempting this and even more excited to see the early successes of it. Not that it's easy or fast, but it's possible, and I think that has led some publishers to realise that small press doesn't have to be amateur.


On a final note, it feels at least anecdotally true that the Aussie spec fic scene is more and more based around writers, and less so fans. I think fan culture of speculative fiction has broadened and migrated to places like Supanova. Given how overwhelmingly young (and massive) the audience for Supanova is, I can't help but feel this is a good thing for both creators and fandom generally. But it's a little sad for the older fan communities around the Natcon and other long-running conventions who have failed to attract the next generation. On the other hand, every other person I meet at a con these days is a writer or editor so perhaps it's simply that this community has focused itself around the professional aspects of the artform/genre.

 
 
Ben Payne
06 June 2012 @ 07:58 pm

Anna Tambour


But yes, living in a place uncluttered by humans constantly slaps me with how little I know, and pricks me, often literally – about this roiling mass of curiosities and contrarinesses that is the world. But it doesn’t matter where one physically lives these days. Almost everyone has the ability to shut off observation and contemplation, the more we are Connected; and the more we accept that to write, one must firstly, be taught, and secondly, write every day. The greatest unwritten modern horror story is that of the auditorium in which the victims of creative writing are laid out without their consent, probed and dissected (in front of underage children, no less!). To then think that any student would want, afterwards, to love these defiled creatures is a fiction that is oddly, not a subject in any story I’ve read, but deserves Poe.


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And better than any writing course are life experiences, especially two things: failure and cross dressing (and if the shoes rub, all the better). Writers who haven’t failed (and I don’t mean just getting rejection slips for writing!) tend to be shallow; and writers to whom characters are components, are only themselves, mere machines producing at best, unpreservable junk food. The writers we love, lived everywhere from Mannaville to hell itself; but for the most part, followed their own unprescriptions.


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I’m also not only very much looking forward to reading the novel that Ben Peek is working on, but hoping that it gets an international readership that Peek deserves. Although he could bore anyone with details of structure, his fiction shows nothing of that pedantry. Instead, he is what the bloated Thing maybe was, before Mieville’s hungry Ego hadn’t, when he was very young, mistaken him for a vanilla shake. What I admire about Peek is that his passion about society and the people that are its components are real, yet this fierce interest doesn’t hinder him from writing lucid, visceral fiction of great power and thought-provoking resonance – minus melodrama, manifesto, and Peek.


Thoraiya Dyer epitomises the ideal writer, in my eyes. She has so many interests, talents (that she hones), and could be called to be an expert witness in several fields. I especially love her fiction when it relates to science and the natural world. Yet she is always invisible in her fiction, and is like many people of true worth – so modest that to open her up, you need an oyster knife.


 


Sean McMullen


Without humour a novel cannot be realistic. Humour is everywhere in our lives, so how can anyone leave it out of fiction? Humour helps us cope when we’re staring into the abyss, just as it gets us through the mind-numbingly boring bits of our lives. We use it to deflate the pompous, to take the edge off tragedy, to get over loss, and to resist the temptation to take success too seriously. I can’t write anything without humour sauntering in and making itself at home. I’m particularly proud of getting some laughs into my PhD thesis and still passing (warning to other PhD students: don’t try this at home, I was probably just lucky). So what does humour add to an otherwise enjoyable story? Realism, as far as I’m concerned.


 


Talie Helene


There is an amorphous danger zone of gender politics in the speculative fiction community in Australia, and in horror more than any other genre. It is in part due to a disparity in theorised feminism, because writers range from all walks of life – can I say thank fuck? That is something I can appreciate from both sides, because I’m not a theorised feminist myself. (I don’t have a degree, and while I do read feminist musicology with interest, I’m truant on Feminism 101.) I think the sticking point is that horror is often violent, and historically violence precedes from the patriarchy, so there has been confusion in separating confronting language from gendered language.


As horror editor of the Year’s Best, I’ve had to remain silent on feminist issues I might have otherwise been very vocal about, because I have conflict of interest – and I support people in their artistic practice who have completely contradictory views, including views that I don’t agree with. It doesn’t mean I’m not participating in the discourse, because I will recognise writers who are disrupting and interrogating those issues in their work, and that becomes an influence in my editorial process. I want the anthology to be a powder keg of awesome! My philosophy is stolen from an old 3RRR Radio Station ID: ‘Diversity in the face of adversity’.


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The unfortunate melee that Robin Pen hilariously sketched as ‘Ballad of the Unrequited Ditmar‘ seemed to cause a lot of hurt – factions seem delineated, which I think is a pity because in a scene this small we all move forward together. (Who knew I was such a hippy?)


 


Simon Petrie


Well, the zombie apocalypse seems to have fizzled out … and I also have the sense that the horror scene has been a bit quieter of late. In fact it sometimes seems as though the local spec-fic scene in general is in a bit of a lull. I mean, there’s still plenty happening, a good number of exciting new writers appearing on the scene. But there’s a sense in which Aussiecon 4 was a crescendo towards which the scene was building, and things have been that bit quieter since then. I haven’t been around fandom long enough to know whether that’s always the way it goes, but maybe it is.


On the flipside, I will miss Paul Haines, lost to us at the peak of his powers; and Jimmy Goodrum, who was just starting out as a writer. We should’ve had novels from both of these guys.


In terms of broader changes to the scene – the biggies would seem to be e-books, and the (related) proliferation and rehabilitation of self-publishing as a valid way of ‘getting the stuff out there’. I’d like to hope that these things will be a force for diversification. We need variety, we need people willing to take the genre into new and unexpected directions, and I hope that happens. Time will tell.


 


Stephanie Smith


Lovely to be called the Voyager Queen; I think the new Voyager publisher, Deonie Fiford, will quickly establish herself as the Voyager Queen in her own right! It was wonderful to be able to be at the forefront of SFF/speculative fiction publishing in Australia for 20 years. When I started on Voyager, Louise Thurtell had already commissioned Sara, Sean Williams, Traci Harding and Simon Brown. So the groundwork was there and I was proud to be able to acquire authors such as Fiona McIntosh, Jennifer Fallon, Russell Kirkpatrick in those early days, and others such as Kim Westwood, Kim Falconer, Duncan Lay and Paul Garrety in later years. I'd love to list all the authors as stand-out experiences, but I'll spare you that! It is amazing to be able to phone someone and say that their book has been accepted for publication by HarperCollins … the delight on the other end of the line is always very heartfelt and warming. A standout experience for me personally was receiving the Peter McNamara Achievement Award in 2004 … that sort of support and feedback and appreciation from professionals in the genre was and always is appreciated by those receiving such an award.


 


Zena Shapter


Well, it depends on what you want to get from social media. Social media is important to me because I get something from pressing my finger into the pulse of the communal psyche that is social networking – I guess it nullifies the existential loneliness that I would otherwise have to bear sitting alone at my computer all day! I also like to be social with both colleagues and fans. Plus, it helps me to stay up-to-date with the latest news and events – while the past and the future both fascinate me, I do enjoy being in the ‘now’ of living, and I love popular culture. So, if such things are important to other writers then, yes, they too should establish a social media presence.


However, I don’t think that any degree of social media presence can win you a publishing contract, an agent or fans – in that, your writing has to stand for itself. There are plenty of writers whom I admire with only the simplest website where you can read more about them, no interacting, and I still buy their books.


There are also plenty of writers whom I only heard about through social media, but that’s not to say I wouldn’t have eventually heard of them through some other route, and it’s also not to say that I enjoyed their writing enough to buy again. Story is more important to me than social media presence, and I’m guessing the same is true for most readers.


Strategies? Just be yourself, keep your manners, but have fun. Connect with readers and other writers, have LOLs with them, and you’ll soon build yourself a huddle of unmitigated support.


 


Liz Grzyb


At Worldcon Russell and I were talking about the idea, and how fun it would be as a tribute to the Datlow and Windling Years’ Bests. I don’t read a lot of horror, so we needed to find a joint editor. Talie was a great choice, as she’s got a thorough background in the horror genre in Australia and we work well together.


I’ve found the Year’s Best a really interesting process to read for: quite different to the way I read for original anthologies. To start with, only reprinting stories means the choice becomes immediately more difficult – most stories are of a pretty good standard because they’ve already gone through the slushing and editing process! In the end, the pieces Talie and I choose have to jump through a lot of other hoops as well as being a great tale – we try to not include too many stories from any one anthology, from any one author, and we like to have a range which reflects the breadth of each genre. Then we argue about whether a particular story “belongs” in Horror or Fantasy … and there is a lot of Australian writing in the past couple of years which really straddles both genres. Lots of fun!


 

 
 
Ben Payne
06 June 2012 @ 07:20 pm

Abigail Nathan


A traditionally published author usually comes to editing through a publisher (although yes, they may have hired an editor to polish their original manuscript for submission). The editing process is provided for them – and forced on them, really; they might retain the right to refuse certain changes or resist editorial suggestions, but there’s no way they’re getting published by a traditional publishing house without being edited. Even if the manuscript is squeaky clean and the story engages every person who reads it, it will still go through the editing process.


By contrast, a self publisher could publish their first rough draft if they wanted to. If they don’t want to, if they want the services of a professional editor, they have to pay for those services. With traditional publishing all those editing costs (whether they’re in-house or outsourced to freelancers) and any delays resulting from this process are swallowed by the publishing house. For a self-publishing author those costs and delays are personal. A self-publishing author has to decide, at every step, whether they can afford to pay for another round of editing – and whether or not it is worth it to them, to their project, perhaps even to their writing career, to do so.


So I think self-publishing authors and traditionally publishing authors come to their editors with different values, ideals and requirements. I do get the impression most authors, once they have been through the editing process – no matter whether they self publish or go through a trade publisher – understand what an editor can bring to their work. All those queries and track changes and pencil marks have to be worth something, even if the authors don’t agree with any of them!


 


Gilian Polack


The shape of the scene has changed. The non-public side of it is quite different from the side that gets seen on awards nights or from the outside. It’s still burgeoning delightfully, but we’re beginning to set up gatekeepers and opinion makers, which worries me somewhat, as we also seem to be struggling to regain the complex and fascinating criticism that was the hallmark of the earlier industry. Many of those critics are still among us and doing good work, but they are read mainly within academia and not noticed by the wider community any more. Our awareness of our own history and of some of the best sources of interpretation and understanding among us is sadly low.


We have some fabulous small press work being produced and some equally fabulous work coming out of the larger press.


We’re affected enormously by changes in technology, but it hasn’t quite reached the stage where we find out what is going to go where and what the scene will look like. I find myself wanting to do diagrams and cultural analysis to see who goes where and what happens.


It’s a very exciting time to be a fan/writer/critic/editor of speculative fiction, and Australia is a rather exciting country to be all these things in.


 


Jay Kristoff


Victory without sacrifice feels cheap to me. If I read a book or see a film in which all that was required to beat the Big Bad Guy was a little sleight of hand or some sharp-shooting, I feel cheated. I want to be afraid for the characters I love. When I’m in a book or film, I want to know not everyone I love is going to make it out alive, or intact, because to my mind, that makes me love them more. And I’m not talking about pathos for pathos’ sake. I’m talking about the [redacted spoiler] in Serenity, or [spoiler redacted] by the slake moth in Perdido Street Station — that kind of thing. Characters feel more real and tangible and alive to me when I know they could be gone at any moment, because that’s what real life is like. Triumph means more when it’s purchased with the things heroes hold dear.


 


Kyla Ward


No, no, no: it’s the audience who are supposed to get the chills!


Being able to read your work in public is a great resource for a writer. They are the most difficult aspect of a work for the general public to ignore, or pirate. Readings can make a launch or signing into an event. Readings can be filmed and placed on YouTube. Plus, nothing displays the artistry of a piece, the flow of sentences and the aptness of words, like performance — assuming that the performer doesn’t freeze up and treat gripping prose like it’s a list of ingredients on a cereal box. The life is all there on the page, you simply have to release it out. Practice is the key: first getting used to the sound of your own voice and then learning how to control it. In my case, I can’t pretend that lengthy drama training didn’t help.


 


Gaston Lacanto


I have always been a genre fan having been inspired by not only the best writers of the 80s and 90s but by the amazing artists whose work adorned many a book cover. Artists such as Michael Whelan, George Underwood, Patrick Woodroffe, Bob Eggleton to name but a few. As I’m new in the field there isn’t much visual diaspora from me currently but that will change as time lurches forward.


 


Kitty Byrn


The con was everything I had hoped, and much better than I expected. I had a fantastic crew working with me to make sure everything got off the ground. I set out to make it as woman-friendly as possible, which was not an easy task. As progressive as the SF community likes to think, it can still be just as sexist as the rest of the world. I benefited a lot from having people in the committee who shared my vision, so when I said I wanted to promote female work and female achievement no one questioned it. More than just supportive, the committee was actively trying to think of ways to make this happen.


There were a few moments that made me quite proud. Most of these moments weren’t inside the con itself, but part of the organisation of it. When the programme books came back from the printers complete with an Anti-Harassment Policy I was over the moon. Every time I had a woman tell me they were excited to be on a panel item I felt glee.


 


Karen Healey


Definitely asexual teenagers who write thanking me for portraying an asexual character in Guardian of the Dead. But that also makes me really sad, because Kevin is not a main character, and may not even be a terribly good portrayal of an asexual person, and yet I get these emails saying "This is the only time I've ever read about someone like me in young adult fiction," and that shouldn't be true! There should be dozens, hundreds of acknowledged asexual characters in our cultural products, on account of asexuals exist.


 

 
 
 
Ben Payne
06 June 2012 @ 06:24 pm

Well no, I'm not quite egotistical enough to post my favourite quotes from my own interview.


So you'll just have to read the whole thing :-)


Originally posted at David McDonald's blog:


 


2012 Aussie Snapshot: Ben Payne



Ben Payne was born from an egg on a mountain top. During his time in the house, he has editored verious publicatons with varying decrees of succest. As a writer, he makes a great baker.


Since the last paragraph he has travelled to the outer climbs of North Angria with a pleasant garlic sausage, where he unearthed a mysterious pot composed entirely of lintels. Out of this pot he has written eleven masterpieces. But he will only allow them to be published preposterously.


You’ve been a perceptive and passionate commentator on the Aussie Spec Fic scene for a number of years now, and have never been afraid to present ideas and opinions that might not be popular. How effective do you think the Aussie Spec Fic community is at keeping itself accountable? Do we do open and frank discussion well?


Well, that’s a tough question. I’ve never courted controversy, but it’s in my nature to brush against the grain. I’ve always had a particular distrust of consensus, groupthink and conformity, I guess.
So in instances where I’ve felt differently to other people I often feel a kind of obligation to speak out. No doubt sometimes I miss the mark. That’s part of life. But I’ve always tried to speak honestly and to adhere to my own principles.


I think as a community it’s a tough balance to tread at times, between mutual support and encouragement on the one hand, and a vibrant and intelligent critical discussion on the other. The two aren’t always easy to reconcile. But I think that, on the whole, we do pretty well at creating a scene where both critical intelligence and community can exist side by side. There are times when we might err toward one or the other, but on the whole I think it all balances out.


I’ve always tried to maintain a balance between discernment and kindness in my own criticism and commentary. And I’ve probably failed on plenty of occasions. But that’s how it goes. The most important thing, I’ve always thought, is to keep the conversation alive. Silence is the biggest enemy of all writers.


As the inaugural editor of Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine, you must be delighted with its longevity and how it has become a pivotal part of the Aussie landscape. What do you think it is about ASIM that has allowed it to thrive for so long while so many other Aussie Spec Fic magazines have closed or had to radically change to survive?


I don’t think there would be a single member of the original ASIM collective who didn’t think, at heart, that it was a crazy idea with no hope in the world of succeeding. We didn’t admit it too often, out loud. But it really was a crazy shot in the dark kind of venture.


I haven’t been a member of ASIM for about five years, now, so I can perhaps see it with some objectivity. To my mind, its success is attributable to two factors. One; it coincided (not accidentally) with the small press boom of the early 2000s, and rode a wave of goodwill from new readers and new writers. I think that goodwill got us through the early years as we found our way. When I look back at Issue 1 now, I don’t think it was the greatest thing I’ve produced in terms of quality (I was much happier with the second issue I did). There were some good stories in it, but I look back on it more as an artefact, a time capsule or photograph of a particular time, a particular energy that was present in the scene at the time.


The second factor in its success is that most of the original crew buggered off before it became jaded. I think the rotating editorship, for all the problems it brings, has helped to keep the magazine fresh and to keep the enthusiasm from waning. So I like to think I helped save the magazine by jumping ship :-)


You’ve been responsible for creating some fascinating and wonderfully named projects in the past. Do you have any ideas for new ventures, or anything in the pipeline?


Not at all, actually.


When I started editing and publishing, there were a lot of writers looking to break into the scene, and very few venues where they could be published. I think when Potato Monkey began, there was only Aurealis, Eidolon and Altair on the scene. And so it felt like I could really contribute by providing a venue where new writers could get a break.


Since then, a lot has changed. With online publishing, it has become a lot easier to read and to write for international publications. And the local scene has grown to such an extent that, I would argue, we now need good writers and stories more than we need one more publisher.


Looking back with a little distance, I think I’ve been a better editor than a publisher. I like to think I’ve had a good eye for stories, and how to improve them. But I have never had the drive or ambition to really dive into the business side of things, to create a publicity machine and to generate the buzz that you really need to create to compete with the best in the world. People like Alisa are doing that better than I ever could.


I actually said, just over a decade ago, that I would devote ten years to the scene, in terms of editing, publishing, criticism and behind-the-scenes work, and then concentrate on my own writing. And soon after I said it I thought well, that was a vague throw-away line that I’ll probably forget about and never stick to.


But here I am, oddly, a decade later, and I think it’s time for me to devote some time to my own writing, for better or worse.


What Australian works have you loved recently?


Twelfth Planet is producing some awesome stuff. I should disclose that I’m friends with Alisa, and so I might be biased. But I usually don’t find myself judging my friends’ work overly generously. If anything, I’m harder on them because I have higher expectations :-) So I mean it when I say that Alisa is publishing stuff that I read for genuine pleasure, not out of any kind of loyalty. The recent collections by Sue Isle, Tansy Rayner Roberts and Deb Biancotti, as well as Ben Peek’s novella, were all first rate stuff.


There was a lot of other great stuff published last year. Paul Haines’
collection deserves special mention. Brimstone did a great job and Haines is a unique talent. I like a lot of what Peter Ball does, too.
And there are plenty of other great writers working in the scene at the moment.


I am a bit out of touch at novel length, I’m afraid. I’ve been telling people for years that they should read Penni Russon, who I genuinely think is one of our most powerful and talented voices, but who is often overlooked because she writes YA. Her novel Only Ever Always is simply beautiful. I don’t think anybody else in this country is writing prose as gorgeous as Penni, and there is a warmth and heart to her work that I just love. I am predicting she will be the writer people remember in a hundred years.


Two years on from Aussiecon 4, what do you think are some of the biggest changes to the Australian Spec Fic scene?


I wasn’t at Aussiecon 4, sadly, so I can’t specifically talk about that con. In terms of how the scene has developed over the last few years, I think we’ve seen an increasing professionalism. If the early part of the decade post-2000 could be defined by a vibrant, optimistic amateurism, I think the second half can be defined by a growing professional focus and higher quality works, both in terms of the writing and in terms of production values. People like Alisa, and Russell at Ticonderoga, and others, are producing genuinely good looking books.


We’re seeing more authors being collected. A whole bunch of authors who cut their teeth in the late nineties, who formed part of the nucleus of the small press boom of the early 2000s, are now reaching the stage where they’re producing world class collections and/or novels. I’m thinking of people like Trent Jamieson, Kaaron Warren, Deb Biancotti, Tansy Rayner Roberts, Kirstyn McDermott. You could probably count Margo Lanagan in that group too, although she was writing a little earlier. And we’re seeing the next generation of writers, people like Peter Ball, Ben Peek, Cat Sparks, Rjurik Davidson, Angela Slatter, making regular international sales, and those writers will probably be big names in five years too.


So we’re in a good place at the top end of the field. I am probably less well placed to see where the new voices of the generation after that are coming from. The scene at the newer end of the spectrum feels a lot more diffuse. But that’s exciting too.


If anything it feels like expansion is no longer a problem. We could keep growing and growing. The challenge in the next decade, I feel, will be in finding focus. It’s easier to publish than it used to be, and ebooks are gonna make it even easier. Increasingly, it’s not getting published that’s the hard part, it’s being *read*. That’s always been the case to some extent, but self-publishing and ebooks are going to make it more so. The challenge for publishers and authors in the period to come, I think, will be in finding a way for their voice to cut through the signal to noise ratio, to find an audience and connect.


It’s going to be interesting times, and if the last decade is anything to go by, unpredictable. I can’t wait!


064


This interview was conducted as part of the 2012 Snapshot of Australian Speculative Fiction. We’ll be blogging interviews from 1 June to 8 June and archiving them at ASif!: Australian SpecFic in Focus. You can read interviews at:


http://thebooknut.wordpress.com/tag/2012snapshot/


http://kathrynlinge.livejournal.com/tag/2012snapshot/


http://helenm.posterous.com/tag/2012snapshot


http://bookonaut.blogspot.com.au/search/label/2012Snapshot


http://www.davidmcdonaldspage.com/tag/2012snapshot/


tansyrr.com/tansywp/tag/2012snapshot/


www.champagneandsocks.com/tag/2012snapshot/


http://randomalex.net/tag/2012snapshot/


http://jasonnahrung.com/tag/2012snapshot/


http://mondyboy.com/?tag=2012snapshot


 
 
Ben Payne
05 June 2012 @ 08:48 pm

Greg Mellor


The actual theme for the collection came about during 2011 … I won’t give too much away, as I’d like readers to see for themselves, and I don’t want Russell to tear up the contract before the book is published! What I can say is that there are stories about discovering who we are in the face of life-threatening technology and aliens; or working out how we fit into a society increasingly driven by collective thinking; or saving the people we care about in post-singularity settings. I think the theme is particularly important for us men. We seem to have a habit of tumbling along life’s avenues, stuffing things up, and expecting our loved ones – parents, siblings, children, friends and work mates alike – to put up with our BS along the way!


 


Dirk Strasser


It became obvious to me while we were looking for a new editor for Aurealis that the magazine needed a complete overhaul. It was doing reasonably well, but it it looked to me, after not being involved in the day-to-day running of it for quite a while, that we were running madly just to stay on the same spot. Postage just kept going up, and we had to keep increasing our prices, and subscribers understandably don’t like it when magazines increase their prices. It was also incredibly expensive for overseas people to buy Aurealis. I realised that we weren’t going to increase our readership the way things were going. I finally came to the conclusion that epublication was the way forward. Although I set up the first four or five e-publication issues, Stephen Higgins, Michael Pryor and I decided from the beginning that we would be joint editors. The three of us have the joint final say in the choice of stories, covers and format of Aurealis, and we are rotating the actual editorship between us.


Aurealis now is published as a epublication for all eReading devices each month (except December and January). We publish two stories per issue plus a large number of up-to-date reviews, interviews, articles and news. I’m really enjoying being in the thick of things at the moment. A monthly schedule means you can see the fruits of your labours pretty quickly.


 


Kirstyn McDermott


As a natural introvert – yes, really! – I also deeply appreciate the social interaction that seems to go hand in hand with podcasting. Both the feedback from our listeners and the ongoing banter that happens between various podcasters both here in Australia and internationally. I love the spec fic community and it feels great to be able to contribute to and help build that community. Ever since I stumbled upon my first fanzine a couple of decades ago, I’ve toyed off and on with the idea of publishing one of my own. Problem is, I really don’t have the time, patience or spare words to successfully do that on a regular basis – it’s been hard enough maintaining an online blog and so on while still finding time to write my fiction. Podcasting is definitely a quicker and easier medium for me, production wise, and I’m very glad that Ian was finally able to talk me into it.


---


That’s a really difficult question, because it’s not something I tend to reflect upon. What I have seen over the past couple of years is a rise – or perhaps the resurgence – of a DIY mentality in the scene. Podcasts and new fanzines are launching, small presses are ramping up their ambition and output, and a lot of authors – both emerging writers and those more established – are experimenting with digital publishing, self-publishing and new media. There seems to be a real confidence in the scene right now, a lot of optimism for future opportunities, or at least that’s what I feel among the people with whom I find myself interacting these days. And it seems to be working, because a lot of Australians are popping up on international awards ballots and in year’s best collections, being widely published outside of Australia, and generally garnering favourable notice beyond our shores. The internet has made the world smaller, but it’s also a much noisier place now, and it’s great to see Australian voices rising above the madding crowd. More importantly, I think, it’s great to see them remaining Australian voices, telling our stories in our words. I love that.


 


Tehani Wessley


Interestingly, that tweet came out of both my day job as a teacher librarian and my editor/publisher thoughts. Curation (and its cousin, gate-keeping) is an essential part of both arenas, and a role which I think is often underestimated. Without curators, the work of talented creators can go un-noticed, or worse, unseen (as in, never published) - our job as curators is to bring together and put forth creative work in such a way that people who will enjoy it will find it. Whether that is as an editor who puts out an anthology, a publisher which produces great books, a librarian or bookseller who buys and displays the work, a judge who shortlists pieces for wider recognition or a reviewer who examines the book critically for a public audience, each role is essential to the ability of readers to discover the work of creators. I think curation is especially important in the currently publishing climate, where e- and self-publishing are such growth areas, but it's becoming more and more difficult to find quality work even as the number of publications soar.


 


Jonathan Strahan


It’s both similar and quite different. Obviously with a theme anthology you need to solicit stories within quite a narrow range. They have to address the theme, but not be repetitive, and while you have scope to control the feel of the book the direction is pretty much set. With an unthemed project like Eclipse you have almost total freedom, at least at the outset. You’re only limited by what you and the publisher have agreed, and by the stories you can find. I revelled in that freedom, and really tried to reach out to a broad range of writers whose work I loved.


---


When I started to think on this my initial reaction was to back away from the question a little. I think a lot has been happening in Australian SF, but initially I wasn’t sure how transformative it was. On reflection, though, I think there have been changes. The most obvious one, from a personal perspective, is the rise of podcasting. Before Aussiecon 4 it was a side event, but now it’s an important central part of Australian SF and we contribute significantly at an international level, with two of them (he notes immodestly) currently up for the Hugo Award. I think the small press has also been invigorated. Perth’s Twelfth Planet Press has been undertaking a series of really ambitious projects and publishing some very fine books, and Ticonderoga Press has really emerged from a long quiet period with some terrific books. That change has to be good for the field. I also think there is some potentially important change with our major publishers. I’m not sure if a publisher like Voyager would have published Westwood’s The Courier’s New Bicycle five years ago. They seem, perhaps, willing to take more artistic chances, and that can only be a great thing.


All in all, the the nearly two years have proven really vigorous and adventurous and I’m optimistic for the future (though I’d still like to see some more SF being published <g>).


 


Alisa Krasnostein


I fell in love with the local specfic scene. I spent a lot of time watching behind the scenes at ASIM and learned a lot. By 2005/2006 I was very keen to have a go on my own and see if I could make small press work. I had a lot of ideas about the kind of press I wanted to create and I really wanted to see if you could make small press work, financially.


TPP has well exceeded my expectations. The jury is still out on whether you can make a small press work financially (though certainly there are more than a few American presses that do). A start up can take 5 years to get on its feet and this is about year 5 for TPP. There have been more successful projects than others. And both the successes and the failures have taught me a lot about publishing, editing and business. The recognition TPP has received and the work we have published has been far more than I could have ever dreamed possible this early on.


---


It feels like more authors are gaining international recognition but I’m not sure if that’s just my perception in that authors *I* am friends with are progressing and growing in their careers. It also feels like a lot of authors have left short stories to work on novels. Certainly a lot of the authors I came into the scene reading in the short form have sold novels in that time and have tended to be quiet, working at the long length.


Novellas have kind of grown too. I remember a time when the Ditmar ballot could field a shortlist for novellas/novelettes and now this has become one of the most competitive categories. Again, I think this relates to the maturing of a lot of our authors as they play with form and length towards the elusive novel.


Women authors are being taken more seriously outside of the epic fantasy subgenre. And more women are being collected.


Podcasts – Australians really are punching above our weight class in the podcast department and I think that’s brought the world closer to us in ways that have really previously been hard to overcome. We have a greater voice in the international scene and with that comes the ability to get the word out about what we’re doing here. Exciting, when I think about it. Where will be next time the Snapshot comes round to take a picture?



 
 
Ben Payne
05 June 2012 @ 08:17 pm

Satima Flavell


The boom in self-publishing has also played a part in the shift of emphasis, of course, and I’m pleased to see that many self-publishing authors are now not rushing to put their first drafts up on Smashwords, but are seeking professional editing services first. I now specialise in doing ‘mini-assessments’ for less experienced writers, so my work involves not just editing but a fair bit of mentoring as well, which I enjoy very much.


 


Gitte Christensen


Workshops are useful because they get you out of your own head and make you look at your work through the eyes of others. You discover, much to your amazement, that other people’s reading tastes vary and that not everyone is in awe of your particular genius. You find yourself having to stick up for your characters, explain your plot and defend your choice of words, and either you can do so and go on to create a stronger piece of work, or the thing crumbles under the weight of its own ineptitude and you trunk it.


Workshops are also invaluable for networking, and, especially with speculative fiction, making new friends who enjoy many of the same things that you do. The fact that there are a few people I can now wave to or chat with at conventions is mostly due to the various workshops I’ve attended.


No, I don’t think enough new writers utilise these resources, or utilise them fully. Critiquing can be a raw experience, and often those who do sign up are put off by the ego-bruising awkwardness of the first few sessions and don’t stay the course. They end up missing out on the best part, which occurs once the participants have settled into the critiquing process and realised it’s not about personal attacks, but about improving their writing.


 


Stephen Dedman


I worked in SF/F bookshops, on and off, from 1985 until 2011, and while it’s occasionally alerted me to the presence of new markets (notablyAphelion and Aurealis) and books that are useful to genre writers, the main thing it’s taught me is that there’s little point in new writers trying to cash in on a trend, be it cyberpunk, epic fantasy, zombies, or sparkly vampires. By the time they’ve finished a draft and sent it anywhere, hundreds of other writers will have done the same. Instead, writers should go to the bookshops and the libraries and look for the books they want to read, and if no-one’s written it yet, write it themselves. Write the stories you would pay to read.


---


There are some themes I keep coming back to, beyond the obvious SF and horror themes of possible futures and things that scare us. Outsiders and otherness (most of my protagonists are from somewhere else). Obsession. The relationship, and often the gulf, between our fantasies and what we actually want or would let ourselves do in reality. And dinosaurs and ninja, of course.


 


Lisa Hannett


This question is so hard to answer! Bluegrass Symphony is my first book, a series of stories that are all set in the same weird world — and only one of the pieces had previously been published elsewhere. So I didn’t have the comfort of knowing they’d been published before and that they’d already been successful in other anthologies or magazines. The book was all new, so I had no real way of knowing how it would be received. It could’ve been a huge hit or a huge miss. But I really enjoyed writing the stories, and I definitely hoped readers would like the pseudo-Southern setting and the characters as much as I did.


I love reading weird stories, so I’m naturally drawn to writing weird things as well. And as I said, I’m now working on my first novel, The Familiar, which is a dark fantasy story about witches that is more fantasy than weird — but having said that, I’m apparently really bad at judging how dark and/or weird my stories are, so it might be more weird than fantasy. Who knows? There are a few stories in Bluegrass that I think of as quite “happy” tales, but I’ve had several people tell me that they find these ones the creepiest in the collection… At any rate, yes, I am branching out into longer narratives but I’ll never stop writing short.


 


Helen Merrick


Both, actually. I think we are seeing some really important conversations happening around feminism, gender, sexuality and race within the community in the last few years. And while there are certainly times when it feels like we are still fighting the same old battles Joanna Russ, Vonda McIntyre and others were waging back in the 70s, I think there is an improvement in terms of the kind of audience that are listening, and changing their views. What really encourages me is the impact of a younger generation of awesome feminist authors, editors and readers on this dialogue: like the Galactic Suburbia team (yourself, Tansy Rayner Roberts and Alisa Krasnostein), Alisa’s Twelve Planet series, and others such as Brit Mandelo (Tor) and Julia Rios (Outer Alliance), and authors such as Cat Valente, NK Jemisin and Karen Lord. This is not to overlook the work of others like TImmi Duchamp at Aqueduct Press, the Wiscon group, the Tiptree award and other feminist initiatives in the field that have kept these conversations on the board. On the other hand, I do wonder, along with Gwyneth Jones, about how well contemporary feminism/s are being expressed in the SF/F fiction itself, and whether we are too ready to welcome kick-ass female heroines as an easy sign of success? Not that I don’t enjoy reading books with kick-ass heroines, but I worry about what it means if this becomes a mainstreamed, diluted sign of what feminism in genre is about. But then again, we have had recent works as diverse as Kameron Hurley’s God’s War, Nnedi Okorafor’s Who Fears Death, and Kim Westwood’s The Courier’s New Bicycle which all do brave, confronting work with gender, sex and sexuality which are anything but comfortable!


 


Adam Browne


To be frank, I’ve long been driven by the need to impress. Historical science fiction offered opportunities along that line.


But I sometimes think that what we do is try on affectations to see which ones fit. This one fit me in a deep way. Historical SF dealt with my misgivings about fiction set in the future – the future was over, for me at least – and history provides atmosphere, which is so important in fantastical storytelling. The baroque period suits me best, as it suits my love of crammed, adjectival prose, and I think it feels rather like the present – the heedless headlong nature of it – the horror vacui – decadents dancing on the brink of the abyss.


---


The biggest change was Paul Haines’s death. Without being too sentimental or eulogistic, he’d be king of the scene by now; with his Penguin deal, his novelisation of the Wolf Creek prequel, all the rest of it, he’d have been a Proper Writer, object of awe at the conventions. I’d have been jealous of his success, but his largesse was such that he would have shared it around, would have been admonishing me and my more insular contemporaries to keep ourselves out there; he would been sending this or that opportunity our way and encouraging us with his enthusiasm — all that stuff. Ah, he was such a fun guy. I’ll always miss him.


 


Meg Mundell


Journalism trained me to be practical about my craft: to write to deadlines, to churn out words every day, without waiting for some mysterious muse to descend and wave a magic wand. (Although sometimes I wish she’d do that…just turn up and waggle the wand on cue!) Journalism probably also trained me to look at things from a multitude of perspectives – and I think you can see that in the novel, that idea that your take on reality depends on your point of view, your position in the world.


My time at THE BIG ISSUE magazine, where I spent five delightful years as staff writer and deputy editor, opened my eyes to stories and perspectives that I would otherwise have missed. The experiences of the homeless characters in BLACK GLASS – all of that was heavily influenced by my journo training at THE BIG ISSUE, and my many conversations with the magazine’s amazing vendors.


 

 
 
Ben Payne
05 June 2012 @ 07:28 pm

Glenda Larke


As an Australian, the daughter of a farmer, I know about the preciousness of water. We bathed in untreated water pumped up from the river when I was a kid. Some of my earliest memories are about shortages – the summer a rat drowned in our rainwater tank, for example. Or the night my father walked through the smouldering remains of a bushfire to pump more water from the river so we could fight the fire. They are the stories of my childhood, and they have been reinforced by what is happened in today’s world. Wars are going to be fought over water.


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It certainly seems to be a widespread complaint among authors that proposals have been a hard sell lately, especially last year. I was astonished by some of the Big Name Authors who have had been unable to sell their next works without a finished book in their hands. I think it stems from publishers being more circumspect about buying on spec while they try to work out where their industry is going. Once they decide what direction their company is taking, and have invested in new methods of distribution and sales, then things will settle down. It won’t be the same industry, but it will be perhaps less volatile and a tad more predictable than it has over the past year or two.


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From a distance, then, I would say it has been the healthy growth and outstanding success of the small press; the international success of Australian podcasts; the success of Australian woman in fantasy, horror and science fiction writing. Generally, Australia appears to produce a huge pool of talent when you consider the small population. What I’d love to see in the next couple of years is some great Australian fantasy from indigenous writers and immigrant writers drawing on their own cultural/ethnic roots.


 


Marianne De Pierres


I think the rise of small press in TPP, Ticonderoga and Clan Destine has brought some real staying power to spec fic publishing in Oz. Particularly at a time when major publishers have become nervous about what to buy. The announcement of Genre Con is also a significant sign that we’re here to stay in a way that can’t be ignored.


 


Peter M Ball


There's nothing hiding under the bed, but there's a big list of novel ideas on my hard-drive and a bunch of works in various states of completion. I've backed away from writing short fiction in recent years so I can start figuring out how novels works, and I'm discovering that I rather enjoy writing in long form. I'm not good at it yet, but I'll get there. It took a few years of writing short stories before I really figured out the form and felt comfortable writing them, and I figure it'll be the same with novel-length fiction.


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Short story collections. I mean, holy hell, those thing are everywhere these days. Between the Twelve Planets series and the Ticonderoga collections, fans of short stories (which I am) are seeing a lot of really cool collections coming out in a variety of formats.
I'm also really interested in seeing the increased discourse about gender and feminism in Australian SF. I'm a haphazard feminist - it comes with the territory when you're white, male, and middle-class, for obvious reasons - but I've always been interested in the discourse that surrounds feminism and the discussions about gender that results from that.


 


Claire Corbett


My experience in feature films is mostly in the cutting room as an assistant editor, which taught me a lot about structure and story. I’ve always worked as a prose writer first and foremost; writing scripts never used to appeal to me. There’s not much beauty in a film script and I was all about the beauty of a sentence.


Now that I’m more experienced I realise how much I’ve learned about structure from film and that the gulf between writing novels and making films isn’t as vast as scriptwriters and novelists would have you believe. Character and story are key, as is good dialogue. I picked up a book by a famous novelist the other day and quickly put it back when I saw it had almost no dialogue. You lose so much if you don’t write good dialogue, including humour, and the ability to show your characters’ relationships economically. When Jane Campion read the book, she told me she particularly loved the dialogue and that meant so much to me, coming from a film director.


 


Steve Cameron


I believe new writers need to determine their goals. Why are you writing? Who are you writing for? What do you hope to achieve? It’s also very helpful if you can become realistically aware of your own abilities and try to establish your level as a writer. Most people believe they can write, and most beginning writers tend to believe they are more able than they truly are. I find it fascinating that so many people don’t regard writing in the same way as other skills. If I decide, for example, to become a football player, I don’t turn up at an AFL club and expect to get a game. I develop my skills and abilities and work my way up through the leagues until I reach the highest level of which I’m capable. Which may only be district or local football. In my case I wouldn’t get a game at all.


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I think there’s a new vanguard of emerging writers developing. I see myself developing as part of a cohort of new authors. Many of them are further along than me – maybe I’m in the middle of the pack. Some of us network, encouraging and supporting one another. It’s great when I open my facebook page or email and find a message from a peer. And I must say it’s even more exciting when I receive a few words of support from one of the ‘name’ writers. Just a comment about how they enjoyed my work.


Small press magazines seem to be declining slightly. I don’t know whether they just reached the end of their natural run or had financial issues or found it difficult to compete with online mags. Borderlands, Orb and a few others have gone, while Aurealis has shifted to a different format and release schedule.Andromeda Spaceways and Midnight Echo, however, seem to be going from strength to strength.


Independent publishers are on the rise and appear to be publishing more frequently. There is an increase in the number of themed anthologies. I’m aware of more publication opportunities in Australia than before.


 


Paul Collins


Money is for me is okay, as my writing is still paying royalties. And I’ve had some winners – mostly notably Trust Me!, an anthology is edited a few years ago, and several picture books that have sold exceptionally well. But most small presses do struggle financially. Although my books are distributed by Macmillan, it’s still hard getting small press titles into the shops. There’s always been a perception that books from a small press can’t be any good. If they were, they’d be published by a major publisher. Totally ridiculous, of course – many of the world’s classics and best-sellers were rejected by major publishers – the Harry Potter series is a recent example. My short-listed titles in Premiers’ awards were rejected by major publishers. So if you can’t get your books into the stores, they’re not going to sell. I get around this by organising festivals in schools and selling direct to the students, although this is time-consuming, and I rely on the good will of my authors and illustrators.


 


Kate Orman


I loved being able to play in Ben Aaronovitch’s African future. In Transit, Ben introduced the genuinely futuristic idea that Africa will become the “first world” – culminating in the 30th Century aristocracy of which Roz Forrester is a part. I borrowed this future for Sleepy, and it was also an influence on Seeing I and The Year of Intelligent Tigers.


While the spirit of the NAs is alive and well in the new show – not surprising, given how many of the book authors went on to write for it – you have to remember that only thousands of people read the novels, compared to the millions who watch the current show. So while the NAs might have prepared fandom for some elements of the new series, I think changes in TV itself have had a much bigger effect on the new show – things like CGI, much larger budgets, the explosion of pay TV and the Internet, and the greater sophistication of audiences.


 


 

 
 
Ben Payne
05 June 2012 @ 06:42 pm

Isobelle Carmody


I do think that short stories are a very different form. The story The Wolf Prince in Metro Winds is long enough to have been a book i its own right, and certainly it is longer than some books. Yet to me it is a long short story - or a novella. It is not a book. The same with The Girl who could see the Wind. For all its length and complexity it is a story, not a book. I have never tried to articulate exactly why that is and I don't want to do that now, because I like the amorphous certainty that tells me this is a story and not a book. I don't actually want to unravel a process that has always worked very intuitively, by trying to intellectualise it. But I will say that the feeling a piece will be one form or the other comes partly from the originating idea and partly from how I write. The process of writing a story is not linear at all. It is a circling inward and it is detail orientated where a book is more linear - an unwinding of a story into a road that can be followed. It is no surprise, then, that the reader reacts very differently to story or book. The form demands a different approach and engagement. In general, I would say books are easier to read and so one is inclined to lose oneself in the unwinding of the tale. The impetus catches the reader, who is entranced and borne along by the tale. But a story requires a deeper engagement and a willingness to accept that there may not be any sense of impetus or forward movement. The reader must trust more and accept that they will not lose the world as one tends to do in a book. Somehow the short story form does not allow that setting aside of reality. It requires the reader to straddle the two words rather dangerously and precariously. Reading short stories is seldom as comforting as reading a book. One never knows what one is supposed to do with ones hands and feet. They are there, and yet they are not required. There is a self consciousness that a reader cannot escape, unlike in a book. Of course there are books that fullfil all of this prescription, too, but they are not my books. Often I read a book such as A Visit From the Goon Squad, which is utterly brilliant, and works for me like a series of stories rather than as a book works.


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This is again a hard question for me to answer, living overseas as I do at the moment. But it does seem to me that a lot of people in the speculative fiction arena are looking at going the e-book and self publishing route, in a time when only the big seller or potential big sellers, are being taken on and kept on by the big publishers. Because a run that is too small to be worthwhile for a publisher can still have an audience big enough to support the writer, if he or she e-publishes. I think this is a very positive move in a time of flux, when there is an opportunity for writers to take more control of their own careers than ever before. Despite all the doom and gloom being touted about e-books killing the book industry, it is possible that whole depressed mentality is something of a cover story. If publishers are intending to put more and more of their books up as e-books, they will actually make quite a lot of money for far less outlay and effort than it took to produce and distribute traditional print books. In short, they may sell less books, but given less of an outlay, they will make more money. The writers, getting the same percentages, will suffer.


 


Juliet Marillier


As a mid-list writer of commercial fiction I’m expected to turn in an adult novel a year – less than that and there’s a danger of becoming invisible in the crowded US market. I know many writers who are far more productive than that, with several series on the go at once. I’ve found that a book a year is as fast as I can write while still producing work I can be proud of (and staying reasonably sane.) It can be extremely difficult to balance the need to earn a living from writing with the wish to exercise creative choice and to pursue the projects one feels passionate about. This is a dilemma I’ve been considering a great deal recently as I draw near to the end of my current contracts. I’ve been juggling adult and young adult projects for two different publishers in the US, and of course they don’t synchronise their dates to suit me, so the last couple of years have been stupidly busy. Part of it’s down to my reluctance to say no when writing opportunities come up!


Where short fiction is concerned, my choice to write very little of it is not related to the payment; I find short stories far more difficult to write than novels, so I am very slow at them. But when I do write a short story or novella that I’m proud of, it gives me immense satisfaction.


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I believe specialist small press is playing a bigger role now in publishing quality short fiction within the genre. It certainly seems far more visible. Aurealis Magazine has gone fully digital, and I imagine other publications have done the same or are headed in that direction.


Our writers continue to achieve international recognition – it seems to me Australians are represented more all the time in the big genre awards. At the pinnacle of this is Shaun Tan with both an Academy Award and the Astrid Lindgren Award in the same year. But our writers are making it onto World Fantasy Award ballots and being shortlisted for awards like the David Gemmell Legend Award (congratulations to Helen Lowe … oops, she’s another Kiwi.)


It’s encouraging to see the new talent coming up – writers like Thoraiya Dyer and Lezli Robyn. I predict a stunningly successful debut (as a novelist) for WA writer Lee Battersby, whose dark fantasy The Corpse-Rat King comes out from Angry Robot in the UK later this year.


We’ve had some notable losses within our ranks – the one-of-a-kind Sara Douglass, who raised the profile of Australian fantasy so much on the international scene,, and the incredibly brave Paul Haines. I salute them both.


 


Lindy Cameron


Many things prompted me to start my own publishing house, but the first was the realisation that, with over 25 years experience in the publishing industry, I actually had all the skills necessary to attempt something so crazy-brave.


The other reason was a growing disillusion with the big-time publishers and they way they have always, or were beginning to treat their authors. This was particularly true of some of the large publishers here in Australia, who’d not only stopped taking many chances on new writer, but were also dropping their mid-list authors in favour of publishing imports from, mostly, the US. They were playing it safe and blaming it on the world financial crisis.


My dream therefore was to create a publishing house for authors; and, one that specialised in genre fiction.


 


Nathan Burrage


In terms of hurdles, the problem with researching a particular place or time is that it’s very tempting to stuff all that juicy information into your work. Of course this makes for a dense, slow read, so some brutal editing was required. How brutal? Think hordes of Mongols. My first draft for the second novel weighed in at 240,000 words and is now 169,000. That’s a lot of extraneous words lying about the battlefield that is writing, but it’s all part of the learning experience.


Dealing with actual historical figures – rather than those you have invented that know said historical figures – requires a fair degree of research. It wouldn’t do, for example, to have a character besieging the walls of Jerusalem with Godefroi de Bouillon when the same person is recorded as having died in Antioch. Of course, the first- and second-hand accounts from those times don’t always agree, so you can write between the margins if you’re careful.


 


Louise Cusack


I’ve always loved a good love story, so no matter what genre I write in I’ll always want to incorporate attraction, rejection, desire and love/hate in the stories. I’m also drawn to the theme of ‘stranger in a strange land’ which lends itself to fantasy and lost world stories, but that theme was also revealing itself early in my fledgling romance writing when I had an city animal rights activist turning up at a country rodeo for example. I like the clash of cultures, of landscapes, of characters feeling like they don’t belong, and then realising that they do. I think I had all these ideas before I even started writing romance, but what romance writing did teach me was to hold the thread. Once the hero and heroine met you were never allowed to sever the thread of their attraction to each other, and while that’s less important in novels where there’s a whole lot more going on than just the love story, it taught me to hold each thread and not break it: the thread of romance, the thread of political intrigue, the thread of physical/emotional/supernatural attack for instance. Every plot has its own threads that need to be maintained, and romance writing taught me not to break them — fabulous lessons in structure for a beginning writer.


 


Gary Kemble


I found this a massive help when I sat down to write (although, of course, there's a lot of overlap between the researching and the writing - sometimes you don't know what you don't know until you sit down to write about it). It's funny -- you think you know a lot of stuff, but when it comes down to the nitty gritty... What sort of weapon would an SAS sniper use? How do organised criminals launder money? What's it like when an rickety fishing boat carrying hundreds of asylum seekers goes down off the coast?

I realised that this was a weakness in previous writing projects and I think working on Skin Deep last year confirmed that, yes, it was a weakness and, yes, if I put the time in I can address that weakness.


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I think the outpouring of emotion when Paul Haines passed away, and also the way the community has rallied to help out Rocky Wood, shows that it's really about the people. I'm proud to be a part of that community.


 


Tracy O'Hara


It is a great achievement to have 3 books published. It also is the culmination of my first contract which now leaves me able to explore different things. Sometimes I still have to pinch myself that I have actually done this. I still keep expecting them to turn up and tell me it was all a big mistake and they didn't really mean to pick up the books. I know that sounds dumb, but it just seems so unreal at times.


And two years ago self publishing was a dirty word. I still don't know how I feel about it, though the mentoring project that I am working on is looking at self-publishing the resulting anthology to help raise some money for a retreat we are going to hold later this year. So I would have to say the biggest change is in the publishing industry itself.