Zena Shapter is an emerging fiction writer based in Sydney. She has won multiple awards for her short stories and was published last year in both Winds of Change (CSFG, 2011) and A Visit from the Duchess (Stringybark Publishing, 2011). She has two further short stories being published later this year; leads and is the founder of the widely attended Northern Beaches Writers’ Group; blogs about contemporary book culture at http://www.zenashapter.com/blog/; enjoys a successful online presence through her website at http://www.zenashapter.com/ as well as social media such as Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and Goodreads; and is currently editing her debut novel. With a BA (Hons) in English Literature from the University of Birmingham, England, she also edits.
An adventurer at heart, Zena enjoys travelling in search of unusual stories and uncommon sights, and relaxing on the beach with a good book, a glass of champagne and a bar of chocolate.
Read more about Zena on her website at http://www.zenashapter.com/ or follow her writing journey by subscribing to her blog at http://www.zenashapter.com/blog/. Find her on Twitter as @ZenaShapter, at http://www.facebook.com/ZenaShapter, or on a host of other social media also as Zena Shapter.
You seem to be very proficient in the use of a number of forms of social media. How important do you think it is to writers to have a social media presence? Are there any strategies that you use that you think might be useful to others?
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.
You‘ve won a number of short story competitions. Do you approach writing a story for a competition any differently than one for an anthology or other market? How has being involved in these competitions helped you develop your writing?
I started writing short stories as a way to improve my craft. Luckily for me, they did more than that – they helped me find my ‘voice’. I used to write in the third person, often with multiple points of view. But when I started winning competitions, it was with stories written in the first person and I realised that suited me much better. My confidence escalated as I switched styles and that’s when I knew it was time to get published.
I don’t approach writing stories for competitions or anthologies any differently. Ideas come to me all the time, I make notes on those ideas, then save them for the idea-drought that I fear may come yet still hasn’t. When an anthology or competition comes along that inspires me, I sometimes look through my ideas, but sometimes conceive a new idea altogether. The key, I think, is patience. You can exhaust yourself entering competitions and submitting to anthologies here, there and everywhere. But it’s better to save your energy for your writing, and just wait for the right one, or two, opportunities to come along.
Is your main focus on short stories for now, or do you have any other upcoming projects you’d like to talk about?
David, David, David – you see, this is why I shouldn’t go drinking champagne in Surry Hills with a bunch of writers and editors: it always leads to sharing too much! You know very well what upcoming projects I have, and where they’re at! But, true to your word, you’re being a vault. Yes, I have written a novel and, yes, it’s currently ‘out there’ seeking its best home. I can’t share too much more than that… I don’t want to jinx anything. But let’s just say… watch out world!
What Australian works have you loved recently?
I have tons of Australian works sitting in my to-read pile right now, and I can’t wait to get to them! I loved Richard Harland’s “Worldshaker” (in fact, that and Veronica Roth’s “Divergent” got me into reading YA literature). I’ve just started reading Markus Zusak’s “The Book Thief” and I already know I’m going to love that one too. But I must admit, I do read a lot of books from overseas! My bad.
Two years on from Aussiecon 4, what do you think are some of the biggest changes to the Australian Spec Fic scene?
I have to preface my reply to this question by stating that it could be much better answered by others more industry-experienced than I. But from my personal perspective, I’d say that there have been two big changes to the Australian speculative fiction scene in the last few years.
Firstly, there are more of us online – self-publishing and being published online, blogging, tweeting and just plain interacting via the web. It might be because Australia is such a vast country that’s a great distance from anywhere, making it both difficult and expensive to engage with fans and fellow writers, especially when compared to Europe and the US. Getting online is a way of overcoming that tyranny of distance and being more social (which I love, see question 1!).
Secondly, I’d say that there’s a greater acceptance these days of speculative fiction as a genre in its own right. More and more writers, myself included, have a desire not to waste good writing time thinking about where our writing sits on the spectrum between fantasy, science fiction, horror and everything else in between. I just want to write a good story that entertains, massages the grey matter a little maybe, but mostly enables readers to connect with my characters, each other… and me. Having the umbrella of speculative fiction enables me to do that.
This interview was conducted as part of the 2012 Aussie Spec Fic Snapshot. In the lead up to Continuum 8 in Melbourne, we will be blogging interviews for Snapshot 2012 conducted by Alisa Krasnostein, Kathryn Linge, David McDonald, Helen Merrick, Ian Mond, Jason Nahrung, Alex Pierce, Tansy Rayner Roberts, Tehani Wessely and Sean Wright. To read the interviews hot off the press, check these blogs daily from June 1 to June 7, 2012.