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


6 thoughts on “2012 Aussie Snapshot: Jack Dann

  1. Steve Cameron

    Fabulous interview – and a fitting conclusion to the whole series. PKD would be my first choice to collaborate with also. And Robert Sheckley and a whole bunch of others that Jack mentions would also be on the list.

    After taking Jack’s workshop, he’s on my list also. 🙂

    Well done, David – and thanks to the entire Snapshot 2012 team. I know I felt honoured to be included as an interviewee.

  2. David Post author

    Thanks, Steve – I’ve felt honoured to be part of it, both as an interviewer and an interviewee. It’s easy to look good as interviewer when you have such great subjects, who have given such wonderful answers.

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  4. Sean the Bookonaut

    I really enjoyed Jack’s moderation of the Independent publishing panel. His name constantly pops up in relation to the best of Australian works. I am kicking myself that I didn’t avail myself of the opportunity to have a quick chat with him. Great interview and questions Dave.

  5. David Post author

    Jack is definitely one of the legends of Aussie spec fic! I was really thrilled with the time he took to provide such excellent answers, especially considering what a busy guy he is. 🙂

    Thanks for checking out so many of the interviews, Sean, and it was a real pelasure to meet you on the weekend 🙂

  6. Pingback: 2012 Snapshot Archive: Jack Dann | Australian SF Snapshot Project

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