Tag Archives: cat sparks

Paying for Our Passion – Cat Sparks

In this series of guest posts, I have asked a number of writers and editors to share the price they pay for pursuing their creative passion or what they sacrifice–whether that is money, time or lost opportunities. It might be how they pay the bills that writing doesn’t, or how they juggle working for a living or raising a family with the time it takes to write or edit. The people who have contributed have shared their personal stories in the hope it might help those new to the scene manage their expectations, or help others dealing with similar things realise they aren’t alone. You can read about the inspiration for this series here, and if you want to be part of it please let me know.

One of the first people I met when I became involved in the Aussie spec fic community was Cat Sparks, and ever since then she has not only been a great friend but a mentor who has encouraged and supported me as a writer. I could list all her achievements, but it would end up longer than this post–it is safe to say she is one of Australia’s leading writers, editors and designers. Welcome, Cat! 

David has had to nag me a great many times to get this post for his blog series. Thing is, I thought I’d written it already and that it had been published and, quite possibly, that I had spared a minute to glance over it. Turns out none of those things were true. Right now, I’m juggling way too many plates and everything’s a multicoloured blur.

For the past three years I’ve been engaged in a PhD on YA climate change fiction whilst simultaneously functioning as Cosmos Magazine’s fiction editor and wrestling with an Ausco-funded science fiction novel that never seemed to get finished, no matter how hard I tried. The ending was rewritten many times at my agent’s request. Finally it passed muster and now I’m waiting to see if she can sell it.

I guess you could say my writing career is going well at the moment, the main effect of which seems to be that finding time for actual writing is becoming problematic. As Tansy Rayner Roberts once pointed out, the reward for successful writing tends to generally be more work – which means, of course, more writing and writing related activities such as speaking opportunities: panels, workshops, festivals and the like.

The Bride PriceDon’t get me wrong – I am privileged and I know it. But I worked damn hard across many years to score my luck. Being a professional writer means other people want things from you: help, endorsements, participation, advice. You’re always paying it back or paying it forward.

I recall many years ago Sean Williams explaining that I ought to try to enjoy the pre-pro state I inhabited at the time. What he meant was that having no deadlines aside from the self imposed kind meant I could write whatever I wanted, write freely for enjoyment or experiment. Once I’d reached where I thought I wanted to be, the next rung up the achievement scale, everything would change and get much harder.

He was right because Sean is always right when it comes to the nitty gritty of the publishing landscape. I didn’t get it then, I was so hung up on making the grade, such as I saw it. That grade was everything to me and my passion to catch up with it has cost me plenty. Here are a few once treasured activities that have fallen by the wayside:

Dance: I was part of a group who learned and performed raqs sharqi – Egyptian folk dancing. It was fun and I particularly enjoyed mixing with women from walks of life far different from my own. But I gave it up because of the time and distraction factor.

Art: A fundamental element of my character and had been since I was a child, but art slipped through my fingers, piece by piece, once again, because of the time it took away from words. This sort of thing doesn’t happen to everyone, of course. Many of my colleagues are heavily into art and craft, but things did not work out that way for me.


Friendships: I have lost some to this game for a variety of reasons. Sitting around on a sunny deck sipping wine and nibbling cheese with lovely people sucks up valuable storytelling real estate. I am blessed with many friends but some of them I just don’t see much of anymore.

The Home Beautiful: [insert hysterical laughter]. I blame the fact that our house is falling down around us on the fact that we both write. Yeah, that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

I’m slow. I’m ponderous. I get sucked down infinite rabbit holes of reading and research. I polish everything I write to the nth degree. Long gone are the days when I could dash a story off across 48 hours.

My biggest support continues to come from my partner Rob. He has been the main breadwinner across the past fifteen years, although up until the grant, I always had a day job. In our house, writing is important. It gets to come first, before other things. I cannot imagine successfully co-inhabiting with the kind of guy who wanted to drag me off to boat shows or whatever on the weekends. Rob and I both dig genre. Our house is filled with pop culture crap. Nothing matches anything else, a fact that, fortunately, suits us both.

with jawa-cybermen

Cat Sparks is a multi-award-winning author, editor and artist whose former employment has included: media monitor, political and archaeological photographer, graphic designer and manager of Agog! Press amongst other (much less interesting) things. She’s currently fiction editor of Australia’s Cosmos Magazine while simultaneously grappling with a PhD on YA climate change fiction. catsparks.net

Wednesday Writers: Cat Sparks

Often it is something said as a polite fiction, but Cat Sparks really does need no introduction. One of the brightest lights of Australian spec fic, she has done it all from editing award winning anthologies to writing award winning fiction. As the Editor of Australia’s only pro sci fi short fiction market and as a writer of exquisite short stories sharp enough to cut you if you are careless, there is no one more qualified to talk about the craft of writing. Here, Cat tells us about the importance of finding the right title.

On the importance of titles and why you should put some effort into ensuring yours don’t suck by Cat Sparks

If fiction is a delicious slice of cake, the title is the icing. Titles should be enticing: lush but not too rich. The perfect accompaniment to the dense slab of literary calories beneath. But enough talk of cake, it’s making me peckish. Titles are important for several reasons, yet many writers don’t give them so much as a cursory effort.

To me, it’s a bit like this: when you attend an important event, such as a wedding or dinner party, you dress accordingly and mostly that means smart clothes. To turn up in tracky pants and a dirty t-shirt is lazy, amongst other things. Boring titles are lazy. Writing is hard work. Why top off your efforts with something slack and half arsed?

Your title is an advertisement for your prose. Stylish and intriguing versus dull and descriptive. It’s a story you’ve written, damnit, not a catalogue entry.

Your title should reflect, echo, enhance or qualify your story’s theme. If your story doesn’t have a theme, no need to bother — I’m probably not going to be all that interested in reading it anyway.

A title can be important to the understanding of the work. Your title should be meaningful, memorable or evocative. Your title should resonate.

A title is often the hardest part of the story to write.

Stylish titles speak to professionalism and hint at the possibility of stylish prose to follow.

If a slushpile story title is intriguing, I am automatically predisposed to want to like the story that comes with it. Maybe I won’t end up liking it after all, but isn’t positive anticipation an excellent place to start?

A stylish title tells me that you’ve put some thought into it. It suggests you might be an artist — or at the very least, an artisan.

Some titles are so powerful or beautiful that they scream out for stories to accompany them.

I keep a lookout for potential titles for my own stories long before I have the stirrings of ideas. All the Love in the World and The Sleeping and the Dead are two examples. Both made me think long and deep about what such sets of words might encompass. Eventually the right stories made themselves apparent and I endeavoured to bring them into being. The Alchemy of Light is the title of a story I’ve been trying to get right for years. Still failing miserably, unfortunately — but isn’t the title a stunner!

I’ve never rejected a story from Cosmos or Agog! because it had a crappy title, nor have I selected a crappy story because it had a brilliant title. Most stories we buy for Cosmos end up having their titles changed. The reasons vary. Sometimes they’re too long for the page layout, sometimes too short can look odd when married with the illustrator’s work. Mostly a much cleverer option seems obvious.

Give yourself — and your story — the best chance possible of being chosen. Dress your story in its Sunday best, make sure its shoes are shiny and its nose is clean. Sometimes in life — and publishing — it’s the little things that matter.

Check out this interesting article on titles:
Titles That Didn’t Smell as Sweet

Cat Sparks is fiction editor of Cosmos Magazine. She managed Agog! Press, an Australian independent press that produced ten anthologies of new speculative fiction from 2002-2008. She’s known for her award-winning editing, writing, graphic design and photography.

Cat was born in Sydney and has traveled through Europe, the Middle East, Indonesia, the South Pacific, Mexico and North America. Her adventures so far have included winning a trip to Paris in a Bulletin Magazine photography competition; being appointed official photographer for two NSW Premiers and working as dig photographer on three archaeological expeditions to Jordan.

A graduate of the inaugural Clarion South Writers’ Workshop, she was a Writers of the Future prize winner in 2004. She has edited five anthologies of speculative fiction and more than fifty of her short stories have been published since the turn of the millennium.

Cat has received a total of seventeen Aurealis and Ditmar awards for writing, editing and art including the Peter McNamara Conveners Award 2004, for services to Australia’s speculative fiction industry. She was the convenor of the Aurealis Awards horror division in 2006 and a judge in the anthologies and collected work category in 2009.

An active member of Science Fiction Writers of America, her fiction is represented by Jill Grinberg Literary Management, New York.

She is currently working on a biopunk trilogy and a suite of post-apocalypse tales set on the New South Wales south coast.

Her story ‘All the Love in the World’ is reprinted in Hartwell and Kramer’s Years Best Science Fiction, Volume 16.

In January 2012 she was one of 12 students chosen to participate in Margaret Atwood’s The Time Machine Doorway workshop as part of the Key West Literary Seminar Yet Another World: literature of the future. Her participation was funded by an Australia Council emerging writers grant.

In March she will be embarking upon provisional candidature for a Doctorate of Philosophy – Media, Culture and Creative Arts through Curtin University.