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2012 Aussie Snapshot: Jack Dann

Jack Dann is a multiple-award winning author who has written or edited over seventy-five books, including the international bestseller The Memory Cathedral, which was 1 on The Age Bestseller list, and The Silent, which Library Journal chose as one of their ‘Hot Picks’ and wrote: “This is narrative storytelling at its best… Most emphatically recommended.” The West Australian called his novel The Rebel: an Imagined Life of James Dean “an amazingly evocative and utterly convincing picture of the era, down to details of the smells and sensations—and even more importantly, the way of thinking.” Locus wrote: “The Rebel is a significant and very gripping novel, a welcome addition to Jack Dann’s growing oeuvre of speculative historical novels, sustaining further his long-standing contemplation of the modalities of myth and memory. This is alternate history with passion and difference.” He is the co-editor, with Janeen Webb, of Dreaming Down-Under, which won the World Fantasy Award, and the editor of the sequel Dreaming Again. His latest anthology Ghosts by Gaslight, co-edited with Nick Gevers, was listed as one of Publishers Weekly’s “Top Ten SF, Fantasy, and Horror” Picks for the Fall. It has been shortlisted for the Bram Stoker Award and has just won the Aurealis Award.

Jack lives in Australia on a farm overlooking the sea. You can visit his website at www.jackdann.com and follow him on Twitter @jackmdann.

Your latest anthology, “Ghosts by Gaslight”, has been incredibly well received, including a nomination for a Bram Stoker Award – congratulations! It’s far from your first, though, you have a long history of producing quality anthologies. How long does it usually take from coming up with a concept for an anthology to it hitting the printers? What are some of the main challenges in putting one together, and have you had to face new challenges over the years?

Yes, my co-editor Nick Gevers and I have been very pleased with the reception of Ghosts by Gaslight…and chuffed that it won the Aurealis Award.

I’ve certainly done a few anthologies, and I’ve found that the length of time from concept to a book-in-the-hand varies, as it can sometimes take quite a while to (a) sell the concept, (b) go through the contract process with all its to-ing and fro-ing, and (c) gather the stories (which basically comes down to pestering overworked authors!). Now I’m talking about an anthology of original stories. A reprint anthology is much faster endeavor because I’ve already collected the stories I want to include. Also, sometimes I collect a spine of reprint stories and ask selected authors for original fiction—that’s what I did when I edited Wandering Stars. However, to (actually) answer your question, it can take anywhere from a year to two years + from concept to actuality. How’s that for fudge-factors?

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.

New challenges? There are always new challenges. I’ve seen a few changes in the publishing industry, the transformation of family companies into rather large international corporate entities; the Roger Elwood mega-selling of anthologies in the 1970’s and the subsequent bursting of the anthology bubble when it became very difficult to sell anthologies…and now there are the current challenges of the post-GFC publishing environment in a new digital age. It has become more difficult to sell anthologies to established publishers for the kinds of advances needed to buy stories from top-selling authors. But, of course, we author/editors just thrive on challenges. <Grin>

In the past you have, whether as a writer or editor, collaborated with a number of different authors, including some of the industry’s biggest names. Are there any figures from the past you would have loved a chance to work with but didn’t get the opportunity?

I’ve always enjoyed collaborating, both as writer and editor. Writing novels and shorter works does make for a rather hermitic lifestyle. Gregarious as I might seem on a podium with a microphone in my hand, I’m at base a loner. I suppose that’s why when I was living and writing in upstate New York George Martin used to call me “the hermit of Binghamton.” I’m still a hermit, except I’m a hermit who commutes from a farm in South Gippsland to the apartment in Melbourne. But when I’m working with another author (or editor), everything seems much easier.

If I’m writing the beginning of a story with, say Gardner Dozois, I do so with the knowledge that he’ll fix any infelicities or Jack Dann jarring stupidities. So I don’t get caught up on worrying about this or that sentence…I just write, pound away at the keyboard without any concern for style or consequence. (Because…Gardner will fix it all up.) And if I’m working on a draft sent back to me by, say, Barry Malzberg (who can write faster than I can talk!), I don’t feel the pressure of actually writing. It feels like I’m editing, even if I end up adding another five thousand words to the story. I’ve often envied script-writers because they usually work in partnership with other writers. Certainly beats the hell out of sitting alone with the laptop on my lap and concentrating until I start the proverbial sweating of blood. But you’ve got to find the right collaborator: a great collaboration combines both writers’ strengths; a bad one combines their weaknesses. So, yes, I’ve been lucky to be able to write my own strange visions and also to collaborate with such wonderful authors and editors such as Gardner Dozois, Michael Swanwick, Janeen Webb, Barry Malzberg, Nick Gevers, Jonathan Strahan, George Zebrowski, Paul Brandon, Greg Frost, the late Jack C. Haldeman II, Susan Casper, Pamela Sargent, and Keith Ferrell.

But, aha, I really haven’t answered your question, have I? Okay, yes, there are a few “figures from the past” I would have loved to have worked with. Philip K. Dick comes to mind first. When the galleys for my novel Junction were ready, my editor sent one to Philip K. Dick for a blurb. Phil apparently loved the book because he sent back a long and wonderful quote. Being young, immature, and supremely confident (of course), I reacted by writing Phil a thank-you note. It began with something like “I realize that you probably owed my publisher a favor, but…” He wrote back to tell the slack-jawed numbskull of an author that he really loved the book. When I wrote my next book The Man Who Melted, I could almost feel his presence, and I thought that, in time, we’d certainly collaborate on a story or novel. (Remember the aforementioned “young and supremely confident”?) Sadly, the galleys of The Man Who Melted were on his desk when he died. But the older “me”, the one with the shock of grey hair and the face that looks like an old guy…he’s still confident that in some alternate universe Dick and Dann are collaborating on some crazy, wild fiction.

A last ironic note on the subject: I later discovered that Phil had written somewhere that he believed I was a CIA agent. Ah, well… (Oh, just for the record, I wasn’t.)

And I wish I’d done some writing with my old friend Bob Sheckley…and that master stylist and cat’s-cradle magician Roger Zelazny, who used to thread several sheets of bond and carbon paper onto his typewriter platen and type absolutely clean copy.

Living writers and editors I’d love to collaborate with? Where to start? Stan Robinson, John Kessell, Bob Silverberg, Ellen Datlow, Lucius Shepard, Pete Crowther, Neil Gaiman, George Martin, Sean Williams, Terry Dowling, Kit Reed, Kate Wilhelm, Sonya Dorman. The list would just go on and on. In the meantime, I’ll just have to stay in my studio, blinds drawn, and write by myself.

You’ve had phenomenal success across a range of formats, whether it is short stories, novellas, novels or anthologies. Are there any other mediums that you would like to explore in the future?

The short answer: film, television, and graphic novels. (Yes, believe it or not, I can be concise, even if pithy is a long way off!)

What Australian works have you loved recently?

As with my response to who would I like to collaborate with, there are too many to name; and I certainly don’t wish to leave out the many authors I love and respect. So here are just five titles that popped into my head: Antique Futures by Terry Dowling, The Girl with no Hands and Other Tales by Angela Slatter, Worldshaker by Richard Harland, The Courier’s New Bicycle by Kim Westwood, and The Library of Forgotten Books by Rjurik Davidson. No, I lied, there are six titles: add Jason Nahrung’s Salvage.

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

I think digital technology is changing the entire publishing industry. We’re experiencing a digital tsunami. As the established publishing paradigms keep shifting, I suspect that Australian literary and category fiction will look very different…very soon.

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.

You can find the past three Snapshots at the following links: 2005, 2007 and 2010

 

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2012 Aussie Snapshot: Brendan Duffy

Brendan Duffy emerged on the Australian speculative fiction scene in 2002 after finishing an 80,000 word PhD about the deep molecular evolution and comparative analysis of mammalian sex chromosomes. He has always maintained an interest in the science of evolution, and also the evolution of science, having also studied the history and philosophy of 17 & 18th Century biology. He writes fiction set in past and future worlds where paradigms of antique or fantastic science yield milieux with technologies that function alongside contemporary belief systems such as religion and/or magic. Brendan mainly writes cyberpunk and steampunk, though is still exploring different realms of the genre. Themes explored include consciousness and colonisation.

Brendan Duffy is the Aurealis Awards winner for science fiction short stories in 2003 and 2004, with ‘Louder Echo’ and ‘Come to Daddy’. ‘Louder Echo’ was also selected for Hartwell & Cramer’s Year’s Best Fantasy 4, and ‘The Tale of Enis Cash, Smallgoods Smokehand’ was selected for Congreve & Marquardt’s Year’s Best Australian SF& Fantasy 2004.

He is a graduate of the inaugural Clarion South speculative fiction writers’ workshop of 2004, and was awarded an Australia Council for the Arts emerging writer’s grant in 2004.

He was also nominated for Best New Talent Ditmar Award (2003 and 2004), Best Novella Ditmar Award (2004), Best Fantasy Short Story Aurealis Award (2003), and the Pushcart Prize (2004).

Brendan is currently writing a novel set in 16th century Italy, based on the secret life of the renaissance scientist and playwright, Giambattista della Porta.

Your story, Space Girl Blues, appears in Coeur De Lion’s latest anthology Anywhere But Earth amidst a veritable “Who’s who” of Aussie Spec Fic writers. Editor Keith Stevenson has recently come out and spoken of some of the challenges facing small press anthologies, including lack of reviews. Do you think the scene is supportive of anthologies? Do you see a continuing place for anthologies in the future? And, where did Space Girl Blues find its genesis?

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.

You were a member of the inaugural Clarion South class of 2004 ( a class that has gone done in legend!). How much of an impact did that experience have on your career as a writer? How important is it to Aussie Spec Fic that Clarion South, or something similar, happens again in the future?

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.

You’ve written a number of acclaimed and award winning short stories, and built quite a reputation in the field. Is your focus still on the short form, or are there other projects that you are working on that we might see in the future?

I have a lot of works planned, but I’m a slow writer without an abundance of spare time, so most of these will remain submerged and not get to gulp air. I guess it comes down to choosing the right bait for my hook. I hope to keep writing a few short stories while mainly concentrating on larger projects. I have almost finished writing my first novel, but it’s been quite a lengthy experience (I wrote my first draft at Clarion South back in the dreamtime). I’m currently interested in late medieval science and milieu, witches and the Inquisition in Languedoc, time travel, and have recently been attempting to enthuse colleagues in a manifesto of post-transhumanism that builds upon Mundane SF.

What Australian works have you loved recently?

The Courier’s New Bicycle was a great novel that took Aussie spec fic to new places. I was impressed with the work and thrilled for its success, and I hope there is more where that came from. I also enjoyed the Slice of Life collection, he was a canny one.

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

I’m so non-scene I really couldn’t say.

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.

You can find the past three Snapshots at the following links: 2005, 2007 and 2010

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2012 Aussie Snapshot: Nick Stathopoulos

Nick Stathopoulos was born in 1959. The son of Greek migrants, he grew up in the Western suburbs of Sydney and spent way too much time drawing in front of the b&w television.

A graduate of Macquarie University, he is a founding member of the Illustrator’s Association of Australia, and has worked as an artist for over thirty years in film, television, animation, and book publishing.

He is a multi-award winning illustrator – including eight Ditmars, a Gold Penguin Television Award for art direction – and is a multiple finalist in the prestigious Archibald and Doug Moran Portrait Prizes with his hyper-realistic portraits.

Nick exhibits his fine art regularly, and his obsession with pop-cultural icons and his collection of die-cast and collectible toys have taken on a new life as the subject of a series of one-man shows called Toy Porn at the NG Art Gallery in Chippendale.

He now spends way too much time drawing in front of the LCD television, only this time running DVDs of the same old shows he watched as a child.

Congratulations on once again making the list of finalists for the Archibald Prize! How do you go about picking subjects for portraiture? Are there particular qualities you are looking for? What statement were you trying to make with this year’s entry?

Thank you. It’s always a big deal to make the Archibald finalists. My Archibald portraits are personal projects, and they seem to be taking longer to paint every year. As for chosing a subject; it can be tricky. Celebrity plays a significant factor. I remember discussing this with art critic John McDonald, that the Archibald is a popularist show, and unless your sitter is a celebrity, your chances of selection are dramatically reduced. That notwithstanding, I have a mental shortlist of people that I think would be interesting to paint for various reasons. The Archibald is a great way to meet all my heroes! This year’s sitter, Fenella Kernebone was chosen because she’s immeresed in the media arts world, is familiar to veiwers, and has a really charismatic presence. The rather literal message of this year’s entry “Art does belong” is a response to the ABC canceling its local arts programming.

Looking back at previous Snapshots, you’ve mentioned your desire to make a film based on the life of the aboriginal artist, Albert Namatjira. Has there been any progress in realising this dream? What is it that attracted you to Mr Namatjira’s story?

This project is my most heart-aching failure. Altho the film received a significant grant from the SA Film Corp to tie up all the permissions from the extended family and it looked like it was happening at the time of the previous Snapshot, the Namatjira film is in limbo. I always thought his life story would make a great film. The failure of this project to get up is a major source of frustration and despair. I’m now working on a short monster movie for Tropfest which I’m hoping might be a calling card for a bigger project. At least I hope to get this one finished.

One of my first exposures to your art was your incredible “Toy Porn” Exhibition, which spoke both to my inner child AND my inner geek. Do you have any projects coming up that will incorporate elements of the fantastic, or that touch on speculative fiction?

The TOY PORN shows have been extremely popular. I received a huge amount of favourable publicity which I’m delighted with. I’m about to start work on TOY PORN 3 which is slated for April next year. I think that’s going to be my last exhibition of paintings based on my extensive toy collection, at least at the NG Art Gallery in Chippendale. They’re very labour intensive paintings.

What Australian works have you loved recently?

I’m no longer reading any fiction let alone local work. There’s too much out there and I can’t keep up with any fiction to be honest. I used to read lots, particularly if it was a manuscript for a cover I was working on. I also enjoyed reading works by my friends, but frankly, I just don’t have the time or the inclination anymore. I’m just too busy working on my own projects.

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

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.

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.

You can find the past three Snapshots at the following links: 2005, 2007 and 2010

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2012 Snapshot: Robert Hood

ROBERT HOOD’s long career in the fantasy/horror/SF/crime genres has always had a dark, fantastical edge. With over 150 stories published, many re-printed in his three collections to date (most recently Creeping in Reptile Flesh), his is a significant presence in the field. His novels include Backstreets and the Shades series. A dark fantasy novel, Fragments of a Broken Land: Valarl Undead, is due out in 2012 from Borgo Press (US). Hood’s website can be found at www.roberthood.net.

Your blog, Undead Backbrain, is an essential resource for fans of horror, featuring zombies, robots and giant monsters. But you are also a major fan of superhero comics. Where did your love of superheroes come from? What superhero related works are you reading at the moment, and what would you recommend to people coming to the genre?

I’ve had that particular obsession since I was a teenager and 20-something uni student, back in the mid-to-late 60s and into the 70s. For me this was when Marvel first hit its stride – at least in the form that I loved.

Back then I had a vision of what comics could do as an artform – the combination of drawing and writing gradually becoming a new and accepted fictional genre, not just a commercial oddity. Maybe that’s one of the things that led me to study the works of poet/artist William Blake for my postgraduate thesis. Blake was an artist as much as a writer and his books really need both pictures and words to properly convey his meaning. They are closely intertwined. He even invented his own world of Gods and Monsters, which he used to explore his unique vision of human life and society. He would have been a comic artist/writer, if he were alive today. After all, the line between gods and superheroes is virtually indistinguishable.

However, by the time I left Uni and full-time work became more demanding, the development of the “graphic novel” as I envisaged it hadn’t happened yet (except perhaps for some isolated examples, such as in Burne Hogarth’s gorgeous renderings of the Tarzan stories, which had even been adopted by the artistic elite as “high art”). The necessities of moving about, paying bills and all that real-world stuff convinced me to sell the huge stash of comics I’d been lugging around — and I stopped reading them as such.

It wasn’t until a few years ago that I fully realized that much had happened in the graphic novel field since I last paid any attention to it. Mike Mignola’s Hellboy stories, Robert Kirkman’s The Walking Dead and Alan Moore’s Watchman started me off, and then I stumbled upon DC’s huge “event” sequence, Blackest Night – where a sort of superhero zombie apocalypse consumes the world of Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman and the Green Lantern – and out of curiosity bought the main sequence in book form. They were such beautiful books, with artwork that is stunningly dynamic, complex and painterly, no longer simply four-colour two-dimensional “cartoons”. It was like a revelation. I hunted down and read every iteration of the Blackest Night Event – all 80-odd cross-over comics – in book form mostly, and occasional comics and e-comics, when trades weren’t available. I loved it for its gorgeous art (especially that of Ivan Reis), its complexity and its sheer audaciousness. It’s not perfect by any means (and I’d hesitate recommending it to anyone unfamiliar with the DC Universe due to its rampantly self-referential nature – though if you’re willing to engage with it and follow the various threads you’ll quickly acquire the requisite knowledge), but given the logistics, it was an amazing achievement, especially when all issues are read sequentially.

As a result of all this exposure I began looking elsewhere and realized that much development had been happening since the 1990s. Not big news to some, but I hadn’t been paying attention. Moore’s work (including his brutal Batman: The Killing Joke and his re-boot of Swamp Thing) led me to Frank Miller’s 1990s re-imagining of the Dark Knight, and indeed the role of Batman generally in significantly raising the GN bar. Clearly in my absence graphic novels had become a more adult artistic experience (some of the time at least), perhaps reflecting the fact that those of us who grew up with Marvel and DC – especially the artistically inclined and more educated – went on to become either creators or adult readers, who are well-catered-for by the complexity of much of it, the occasional explosions of sheer invention and the socio-political, not to mention metaphorical, undercurrents.

One of the aspects of Marvel (and now DC) that fascinated me most in the past was the development of a sort of alternate fictional reality that embraced the various franchises. The Marvel Universe, as it was later known. Stories would continue from one franchise into another. For example, what began in Amazing Spider-Man influenced what was going on Thor or the Incredible Hulk. That is still a big interest today and it has expanded exponentially. Many readers — especially in this Age of Internet Whingeing – complain that the big Event crossover storylines (where a central event consumes the entirety of the “Universe”) are too confusing. And indeed, reading them – even working out which bits should be read in what order – can be a complicated business (the internet can help – yay for nerds!). Of course, the “Event” strategy can easily be seen as a cynical marketing ploy. But I love it. Now they’re even doing it in blockbuster movies, in a very tentative way, naturally, given the money involved. Great for business, but it also gives an added level of conceptual depth and involvement to each comic reality.

At the moment I’m reading a vast Marvel-universe sequence that began with a superhero Civil War, which sees the “good guys and gals” come to blows over attempts by the government to regulate super-heroics and which results in the death of Captain America (and others), followed by a vast invasion via infiltration by the shapeshifting Skrull race, the deposing of Nick Fury and Tony Stark (Iron Man) from their leadership roles and the elevation of Norman Osborn (ex-Green Goblin) to leadership of S.H.I.E.L.D., followed by the siege of Asgard (which has “fallen” to Earth), as well as Planet Hulk and its follow-up World War Hulk (which is exactly what it sounds like – the Hulk vs everyone – a bit of Hulk Smash! simplicity is remarkably cathartic). Taken as a whole, it is incredibly complex stuff that hangs together well, despite a variety of creators.

Geoff Johns has been particularly effective in creating and coordinating such Events for DC Comics – including a “Crisis” Event that tidied up the inconsistencies of the DC Universe (the company has done such Crisis house-cleaning several times over the past decades). Johns’ Green Lantern re-boot, somewhat disappointingly rendered in the recent movie, was a remarkable feat. Like Doctor Who, the Green Lantern mythos has expanded from its early ad hoc beginnings as Johns (and others) imaginatively rationalized its oddities in a way that integrated it into a much larger and more complex whole.

To name a few recommendations, Moore’s work as mentioned above certainly, Ed Brubaker’s run on Captain America; Frank Miller’s Batman: Year One and The Dark Knight Returns; Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale’s beautifully stylized Batman tales, The Long Halloween and Dark Victory; Loeb and Jim Lee’s Batman: Hush; Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely’s All-Star Superman; Mark Waid’s earlier Kingdom Come; and the excellent Gotham Central series by Ed Brubaker and Greg Rucka (Batman’s turf from the noirish point-of-view of the Gotham City PD). I really enjoyed Mark Millar and Steve McNiven’s post-apocalyptic Mad-Max, western, alternative future Wolverine epic Old Man Logan, too, which (like Millar’s Wanted) postulates a scenario in which the super-villains finally got together and killed off or subjugated the superheroes.

Those are just some I’ve particularly enjoyed, but I’ve barely scratched the surface of what’s out there – and of course it doesn’t cover the excellent non-superhero side of graphic novels, such as Brian K. Vaughan’s Y: The Last Man; Warren Ellis’ Transmetropolitan and Ed Brubaker’s noir crime epic Criminal. The list is, if not endless, at least extensive.

One name I haven’t mentioned much is Grant Morrison, who has also done some pretty amazing re-imagining of the superhero genre, including his surreal Arkham Asylum, which has to be seen to be believed – at least as a commercial proposition. Morrison is a mad Scotsman — articulate, pretentious and inventive. I recently read his book Supergods, which wittily explores the development of superhero comics and expresses my own metaphorical tendencies when I try to describe my interest in the genre – beyond the sheer imaginative enjoyment of it anyway. He interprets superheroes as modern deities. Sure, we don’t “believe” in them as objective realities, but arguably they serve a similar imaginative role for our culture as the Olympian gods and their mythic activities served for the ancient Greeks, or the Asgardians for the Vikings. They allow us to dream of greatness, of immortality, of power, and through their superhuman trials and moral confusions explore our own society’s values, our own humanity and our relationship with the world. Pretentious, sure, but why not?

As well as being an award winning author and critic, you have also been a very successful editor. Your Daikaiju! anthology series with Robin Pen was extremely well received, with international notice and a number of stories going on to make recommended reading lists. Will we see a fourth Daikaiju!, or any similar anthologies, in the future?

Seriously, those anthologies wore me out. I put a lot of energy into them and the process took me away from my own writing for at least a year. Editing – real editing – is an exhausting process, and though I’m often asked if I’ll be doing more of the same — and am often tempted by the thought — it’s not going to happen. Not until I change my mind anyway.

You have a new novel, Fragments Of A Broken Land: Valarl Undead, coming soon. Can you tell us a little about it?

Fragments Of A Broken Land: Valarl UndeadFragments, 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.

The story concerns a group of people descended from the survivors of an apocalypse that ended the previous Age, who unknowingly come together to deal with the still unresolved consequences of past greed and attendant destruction. An elusive undead creature motivates and informs the sudden escalation of violence that drags them into a vortex of supernatural horror. The title relates to the aftermath of the apocalypse, but also to the “pieces” of a lost Creator scattered throughout the protagonists’ fragmented reality … including a supra-real cosmic monster on which two of the characters’ alternate identities are exiled.

So yeah, it’s got a very giant monster, a zombie, demons and an apocalypse. There’s even a poem or two. Now that’s what I call true horror.

I’ve begun a website where I will be posting updates, information about the novel and its background, and – as publication draws near – a few self-contained bits and pieces that I removed from the book during the various revisions in order to let the plot flow faster and more smoothly. Eventually I’m planning to release a short collection of stories in e-book format, made up of tales set in the world of Fragments, but at different times. Most of these are already written. For those who are interested – and you all should be – the site can be entered at http://fragmentsnovel.undeadbackbrain.com/. There are already a few bits and pieces there, including a mini-essay on the influence of poet/artist William Blake on the book’s development.

What Australian works have you loved recently?

Mostly anthologies, such as Anywhere But Earth (edited by Keith Stevenson), Ishtar (edited by Amanda Pillar and K.V. Taylor) and Damnation and Dames (edited by Liz Grzyb and Amanda Pillar). Yes, I have a story in two of those books but that doesn’t make them any less worthy. The Courier’s New Bicycle by Kim Westwood was a very worthy winner of the Best SF Novel in this Year’s Aurealis Awards and it’s an excellent book. There are lots of other works I’m sure I’d love if I’d had time to read them, but life’s been busy and writing tasks distracting…

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

The biggest developments seem to have been in the small-press publication area. Quality anthologies and collections have burgeoned, and this is not a category embraced by commercial presses. As production technology changes, so the ability of independent concerns to produce quality books has grown, and luckily the rise of skillful editors has followed suit. Without the latter, the former would be useless. Notably, too, excellent and powerful women writers have come to the fore in increasing numbers. This is a wonderful development, and not just in terms of achieving gender equity.

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.

You can find the past three Snapshots at the following links: 2005, 2007 and 2010

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2012 Aussie Snapshot: Matthew Chrulew

Matthew Chrulew lives in Sydney where he plays basketball in the men’s over 30s comp at the Brickpit on Thursday nights – come along! His short fiction has appeared in Antennae, Pseudopod, Canterbury 2100, Macabre: A Journey Through Australian Horror, and elsewhere. His end-times burlesque novella The Angælien Apocalypse (Twelfth Planet Press) was a finalist in the 2010 Aurealis Awards. Other stories have been shortlisted in the Australian Shadows Award and reprinted in year’s bests. He blogs at matthewchrulew.wordpress.com/

I was fascinated to read about the “Black Paintings” tour that you have recently been involved in, and its intersection of different creative expressions. Can you tell us a little more about it, how you got involved and what you took away from it?

I had interviewed Trash from The Red Paintings a while back for some of my academic work. They are a sci-fi art-rock band who have always had visual artists paint as part of their live shows. I wanted to see how writing might relate to this combination of music and painting, and they were kind enough to have me along as part of their tour last summer. Some notes on the shows are on my blog, starting from: http://matthewchrulew.wordpress.com/2012/01/09/writing-experiment-the-black-paintings-tour/ It was a demanding and joyful trial, and I’m developing the ideas and prose that emerged into a longer work about anesthesia and synesthesia.

You were a member of the inaugural Clarion South workshop in 2004. How much of an impact did that have on your writing career? Is it something you would recommend to other writers?

If a writer ever has the opportunity to spend six weeks writing, critiquing, and hanging out with cool people, then I would certainly recommend they take it. My career is still, well, careering, but Clarion gave me friendships and skills and ideas that enrich my life and work.

After the success of last year’s novella double with Thoraiya Dyer, “The Company Articles of Edward Teach/The Angaelien Apocalypse”, is the novella a form that you plan on returning to soon? Or do you have other works that you are focussing on in the short term?

It’s academic essays and books that seem to have the highest priority these days. But when fiction becomes an option again there are a range of half-formed things waiting. These include more Angælien stories, though with entirely different tones; more cannibalism and detached heads too; the experimental work The Black Paintings; and my long-suffering postapocalyptic novel about mammoths.

What Australian works have you loved recently?

Terry Dowling’s Clowns at Midnight is a wonderful work of cerebral horror that deserves a wider readership. It was a pleasure to read horror short fiction for the AAs this last year, and Talie Helene has selected for the forthcoming Ticonderoga Year’s Best many that could easily have made the shortlist. Lisa Hannett’s Bluegrass Symphony is an exemplary short story collection. I encourage everyone to buy six copies of Adam Browne’s forthcoming novel from Coeur de Lion: one for each bodily sense and the other for your linguometer. And while the author is Iranian, it was published in Australia so I say it counts: Reza Negarestani’s hybrid theory-horror novel Cyclonopedia: Complicity with Anonymous Materials.

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.

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.

You can find the past three Snapshots at the following links: 2005, 2007 and 2010

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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!

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.

You can find the past three Snapshots at the following links: 2005, 2007 and 2010

 

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2012 Aussie Snapshot: Abigail Nathan

Abigail Nathan has a background in copywriting, sub-editing and legal editing, but has been a freelance editor for eight years. She works with various publishing houses, including HarperCollins, Random House and Hachette, and also works with emerging and self-publishing writers. Abigail is the managing director of Bothersome Words Editing and Writing Services and the website manager for the Society of Editors (NSW).

As well as working with some of the major publishing houses, you also provide editing services for self published writers. Do you think that there is a difference in perception of the role of an editor, or their importance, by those involved in traditional publishing models and self published writers?

I want to avoid generalising here because, well, I don’t want to get lynched! But mainly because I’ve worked with people with all sorts of different publishing backgrounds, experiences and views. I’ve worked with self publishers who started out in traditional publishing, and authors from both fields with either no experience or extensive experience.

I do think self publishers and traditionally publishing authors often view editors and their role differently, but I also think it’s important to keep in mind that these authors necessarily also have slightly different relationships with their editors and with the publishing process, and they will have different considerations that will affect their perceptions.

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!

As a general rule I find the traditionally published authors I work with, particularly if they have been doing this for a while, expect a lot more nitpicking – they will want to know any errors and expect to be pulled up. (Although they might still complain about the harsh edit afterwards!)
My work with self-publishing authors is not so very different in terms of the actual editing except that, as a freelancer, I rarely work directly with authors who come to me via a publisher – there’s usually another in-house editor, or even the publisher, in between. When I work with self publishers I am more likely to work as a sounding board and give advice and some level of mentoring. Often self-publishing authors are surprised by the level of detail an edit can go into and I suspect many of them have editing confused with proofreading, even when the process is discussed up front.

It seems to me that while a traditionally published author will weigh an editor’s value by how engaged they were with their book and whether or not they really connected and gave relevant advice and feedback, a self publisher will often then weigh all that against costs. I’ve heard a lot of self publishers say that a few typos, or errant commas, or even awkward sentences, are unimportant in the grand scheme of things; as long as the manuscript is in reasonably good shape and the reader can understand the story. Sometimes they’ll mix and match professional editing with the volunteer services of eagle-eyed friends to keep the costs down.

There seems to be a growing trend in self publishing to hire editors and then promote as a sales point the fact that a work has been professionally edited, so obviously there is a certain perception of value there. However, equally, I see a lot of people querying the value of paying for such a service when self-publishing itself is so cheap and editing, by contrast, perceived as so expensive. I’m interested to see how all this shakes out in the long run.

And of course, all this is simply my perception, as an editor, of how others perceive editors. So… I feel I should really have handed out grains of salt for people to hang on to while reading this!

How did you develop the skills and knowledge required to be an editor? Are there any courses or resources you would recommend to aspiring editors?

I studied English, among other things, at university. (Step one to becoming an editor: learn All The Things – I think I took courses in nearly every discipline except Maths. Every topic I studied has come up at least once in my editing career.) After that, I managed to get a job as an editorial assistant and have since worked as a copywriter, magazine sub-editor, legal editor and now freelance editor.

Most of my editing skills I learned on the job, in-house – there is no better way to learn. Every magazine I have worked at as a sub-editor has been fast-paced, with a high volume of copy to get through every day. I can’t think of a better training ground, and magazine editing is always a lot of fun. I’ve worked at two legal publishers, which understandably had very exacting standards. They provided intense editorial training that was regularly updated and this was a great place to hone accuracy and proofreading skills.

As a freelancer I frequently take courses and workshops, and of course I’m always reading up on grammar and language. Current to-learn is ebook editing. Freelancers have to keep themselves on top of industry changes like this even faster than in-house staff, but we have to seek out our own training.

A lot of the universities offer courses specifically in editing and publishing – I know Macquarie and RMIT do. The state editors societies all run regular workshops, which are great for brushing up skills, and often the local writers’ centres run longer courses on editing, too. Plus there are various private colleges, schools and centres that offer courses.  Get hold of The Style Manual, The Editor’s Companion and Strunk and White and read, read, read. Also edit, edit, edit – because while a course will teach you a lot, the absolute best way to learn is to edit every day – look out for opportunities to volunteer your services and if you can “shadow” another editor, or get a look at some marked-up manuscripts or documents, do so.

If you could pick any author, living or dead, to work with, who would it be?

This is a horrible question, right up there with “if you were going to be stuck on a desert island and you could only take one book with you…”. In all honesty, I work with some incredible authors. I have to pinch myself sometimes when I realise that a latest release by a favourite author is something I actually worked on.

It’s really tempting to name someone like Douglas Adams or Oscar Wilde but I’d be far too intimidated, even in an imaginary scenario!

At the risk of outing myself as a telly addict and fence-sitter, can I cheat and change that to “writer” and then say I’d love to work on a TV series as a script editor? I’m not going to be specific about which one* because there are some amazing shows around at the moment, written by some people I truly admire and would sell a limb to meet, never mind work with. But sometimes the inconsistencies and lack of continuity make me want to cry.

Right. That sounds like a horrible and arrogant reason to want to work on such a thing. What can I say? I love stories whether they’re on screen or on paper, and the editor in me can’t cope with plot problems in either.

(*Because there are several that make me shout at the screen.)

What Australian works have you loved recently?

The biggest problem with editing is that it leaves me so little time to read not-for-work books! Particularly since I often work on series, so I spend a great deal of time doing pre-reading. Which, I hasten to add, fulfils my original dream career goal of “working with books and being paid to read”, so that is by no means any form of complaint.

If I avoid bias by leaving out anything I’ve worked on/any author I’ve worked with, and interpret “recently” as “recently read by me” rather than “recently published”…

  • I am currently halfway through Glenda Larke’s Watergivers series, which is full of the most wonderful worldbuilding.
  • I’m also enjoying Trudi Canavan’s The Traitor Spy trilogy. I absolutely adored The Black Magician series and got my entire extended family addicted. These books are all on my comfort-read shelves.
  • Margo Lanagan’s Tender Morsels was incredible. The darkest “fairytale” with such base horror. That stayed with me a long time after I finished.

And then there’re the 500 books on my To-Be-Read shelves. And the other 400 on my To-Buy list…

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

I don’t think it’s specific to spec fic, but there’s definitely been a rise in self publishing. Without a doubt, I hear from a lot more self publishing writers these days than I did even a year ago. And a lot of them have a lot more of an idea what they’re after these days.

I also get the impression there’s more knowledge about spec fic in the wider world – largely because of various supernatural and fantasy television shows that have taken off, which have in turn encouraged people to seek out relevant reading material. Certainly a lot of my previously anti-fantasy/sci fi/whatever friends have happily watched shows such as True Blood and Game of Thrones and have consequently called me up, demanding book recommendations.

It seems to me there are a lot more fantasy/paranormal/science fiction based YA and children’s novels around now*, and more often lately I’ve seen books I’ve worked on as “adult” novels, being reviewed or categorised as YA, which is an interesting trend I first heard mentioned during WorldCon.

Having said all that, the publishing industry itself is going through a tough time at the moment for all kinds of reasons, and as a result I’ve heard both writers and publishers/editors discussing the fact that actually getting published, at least traditionally, is a lot harder right now.

Obviously ebooks have taken off in a big way in the past few years. One of the things I am really thrilled to see is that Momentum, which is currently doing all sorts of interesting things in the digital world, has taken on and is publishing, or republishing, lots of spec fic. Given there are so few publishers who do take genre fiction, it’s really exciting to see a new publisher so open to genre. Long may it continue!

(*Okay, I know there are. Just today I was in a bookshop and in the children’s and YA section there was a sea of black covers, nearly all spec fic, and tucked in between a collection of different vampire novels were some hardback collectors’ copies of…Winnie-the-Pooh.)

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.

You can find the past three Snapshots at the following links: 2005, 2007 and 2010

 

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Wednesday Writers: Snapshot Madness

Due to to the ongoing Aussie Snapshot I decided not to run a Wednesday Writer this week. But, stay tuned for next week’s exciting guest post! In the meantime you can slake your thirst for news and views from Aussie writers by checking out the huge range of interviews below:

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.

You can find the past three Snapshots at the following links: 2005, 2007 and 2010

 

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2012 Aussie Snapshot: Gillian Polack

Gillian Polack is based in Canberra. She is mainly a writer, editor, educator and historian. Her most recent print publications are a not-quite-cookbook, a novel, an anthology and a slew of articles. Her newest anthology is Baggage, published by Eneit Press (2010).One of her short stories won a Victorian Ministry of the Arts award a long time ago, and three have (more recently) been listed as recommended reading in international lists of world’s best fantasy and science fiction short stories. She received a Macquarie Bank Fellowship and a Blue Mountains Fellowship to work on novels at Varuna, an Australian writers’ residence in the Blue Mountains. Gillian has a doctorate in Medieval history from the University of Sydney and is currently completing a Creative Arts one at the University of Western Australia. She researches food history and also the Middle Ages, pulls the writing of others to pieces, is fascinated by almost everything, cooks and etc. Currently she explains ‘etc’ as including Arthuriana, emotional cruelty to ants, and learning how not to be ill. She is the proud owner of some very pretty fans, a disarticulated skull named Perceval, and 6,000+ books.

You’re currently a regular contributor at BiblioBuffet, with a column called “Bookish Dreaming”. Amongst many other things, it often delves into the history of books and literature and must require a great deal of research. Is this attention to detail a result of your academic background, and if so, how does that inform your writing, both fiction and non fiction? What advice would you give to other writers wanting to improve in this area?

When I write for BiblioBuffet and do guest posts for blogs, I often delve into research and thinking from previous work and earlier intellectual explorations. I will check facts (mostly) and make sure I’m not being an idiot, but my background as an historian and as an individual certainly feeds into my BiblioBuffet work. Crucially, however, whenever I write a column for BiblioBuffet I stop and think, “What do I want to say that has meaning for me.”

I read a lot. I say this last with some caution, for I’ve heard people say they read a lot and claim as many as 50 books a year – I read between three and six hundred books in a normal year. I’m not alone in this: being a good reader is essential to most kinds of writing. It’s not only reading a range of books, but reading them while paying attention to their contexts and their writers and how they function as narratives and as evidence. My first piece of advice to other writers is usually to make sure that they read, and that they read intelligently and widely and thoughtfully.

This leads to my second piece of advice. I find when I teach writers research or worldbuilding or history, I end up explaining the same concept over and over: it’s a mindset. One of my students recently translated that mindset as mindful awareness, which works if mindful awareness involves reading with the same alertness that one observes the waves on a beach or dreams of futures and pasts.

It’s not enough to have a smattering of a subject. It’s better if one delves into it and understands it deeply. When I do that, I find that I carry that understanding with me past the moment of research, and when someone throws me a review book or a concept for an article I can see the book or the article in the contexts of that understanding. The more I understand the world and the better I understand people, the less work I have to do when I sit down to write. In other words, I seldom do a lot of research for a non-scholarly piece, but I draw upon work I’ve done in understanding ideas and people and history and books I’ve read over the years.

And that’s my third piece of advice: if you do work properly early on and understand a subject properly before you write the first words of an article or a book that play with that subject, then it’s possible to be dead lazy when it counts. Or maybe, just maybe, to focus on making the writing better, rather than being fixated on locating yet more and still more pertinent pieces of detail. Your whole life counts, not just the articles and books you’ve read for the piece you’re working on at that moment.

For a number of years you organised a yearly banquet at the Conflux convention, with elaborate historical menus and delicious food. What inspired you to start the banquets? What were some of your highlights from this experience?

I was cornered for the first banquet. Trevor Stafford said “I’d like this.” Kaaron Warren (and others, including Nicole Murphy, but Kaaron most of all) said “I’ll do the décor, and I’ll co-ordinate the rest. Just work on the food.” This made the first Conflux banquet inescapable.

I was a food historian before I ever began, but it was food history as a component of other history. I taught evening courses in food history at the Australian National University and only a few members of the spec fic community knew about this. The banquets were probably inspired by the courses I taught, but they didn’t inspire me, they inspired other Canberra writers and fen. I just assumed it was an impossible task. Then I did it (because my friends are very persuasive) and found that no, it wasn’t impossible. Chefs, my students, Canberra fandom and people all over the world stepped in to help make it work.

I got to design the menu and bring together the recipes and to check that the history was all it could be, but there were hundreds of us involved, all up. It’s just as well I had many years of committee experience before the banquets, for I needed those co-ordination skills and that ability to work out who would be comfortable with what and how to deal when things went pear-shaped. I met some totally amazing people and wonderful cooks, both virtually and in real life. It brought me into contact with people who work with food as their main job and I learned to appreciate the depth and breath of their understanding. I was very fortunate to have been persuaded into that first banquet.

There were so many highlights. There were the banquets themselves, of course. I loved the committee meetings, especially the one where we tested a lot of mixed drinks for the Prohibition Banquet. I treasure the notes everyone took that day. I remember a very special dinner one of the testers and I shared, for instance, where we ate many dishes that were sublime but would never make it to a banquet for practical reasons and the summer of icecream when every time I saw her she had a new historical icecream or two for my freezer and I had a new recipe or two for her to try.

Everyone should have life experience that’s this rich.

You’ve edited a number of anthologies, including the highly regarded and acclaimed “Baggage”. Do you have any plans for future anthologies, or are there other projects you are focussing on in the immediate future?

I always have anthologies I’d like to edit, but at the moment I don’t have a publisher who wants to bring them into being. I’ve a secret list of writers who I want to push beyond their limits and other writers who I want to gently encourage and still more writers I just want the joy of working with and for whom I harbour no cruel plans. Right now, though, my main focus is on finishing the PhD and finding a job teaching writing, and possibly finding a home for a novel or two. After that, I have two big pieces of non-fiction that need to reach daylight (the Beast – a manual on the Middle Ages for writers and others; and a book on the relationship writers have with history) and I have thoughts for more fiction. I’m possibly easily bored.

In the immediate future (the next few weeks – with a release date of July 1st!) Life Through Cellophane (my second novel) will be morphing into Ms Cellophane and will be available through Momentum Books, Pan Macmillan’s new e-imprint. I love the thought of being available on iTunes!

What Australian works have you loved recently?

I was extraordinary lucky this year. I was a judge for the Aurealis Awards in the science fiction novel category. It was a stunning year to be a science fiction judge. So many very good books. I loved all the books shortlisted, but I also loved Claire Corbett’s When We Have Wings. There were also the three Angry Robot books (Joanne Anderton’s Debris, Trent Jamieson’s Roil and Kaaron Warren’s Mistification) and more. That SF list is worth a close look. This was my third year as judge and I’ve not met so many excellent books on the long list before, even the year that had gorgeous books by Sonya Hartnett and Penni Russon and Juliet Marillier.

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

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.

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.

You can find the past three Snapshots at the following links: 2005, 2007 and 2010

 

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2012 Aussie Snapshot: Zena Shapter

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.

You can find the past three Snapshots at the following links: 2005, 2007 and 2010