Friday, May 30, 2008

The Stars of Speculative Fiction #14: Andrew McKiernan


Jolly nice to be able to have this chat with you, Andrew, as one of those on the rise within speculative fiction, I thought it would be good to get an interview with you before you got too big and too famous to want to talk to me.

Why, thank you, Sir. It's a pleasure to be here. Although I don't think there'll ever be a time I would be too big to talk to you... unless I was so big my larynx collapsed under its own weight and my lungs were unable to create the extraordinary pressures needed to breathe.

1. Well you've been on the Australian scene for quite some time now as artistic editor and illustrator, why the move over to fiction, and how does that feel at the present?

I'm not sure if it was actually a move from one to the other. In my mind I've probably always seen myself as a writer first. I know I was writing my own stories pretty much as soon as I could string a sentence together. Back then, I think I had this notion that all stories were illustrated. All the books I owned had illustrations, and so my stories needed illustrations too. Being quite a solitary child, I gave myself the task.

I don't think I was ever really a huge comics fan, but for me, words and images seemed to always go together. I was always writing though, secretly for much of my life. I never really felt the need to show others the stories or poetry I was writing. I kept drawing too, until the end of Yr12 Art in High School. My art teacher didn't see 'illustration' as art. And, as I chose air-brushing for my major works instead of the more traditional oil-painting or sculpture – and the fact that I didn't have breasts, which he enjoyed looking at more than the artworks – my teacher marked me down and told me "if you can't paint or sculpt, you'll never be an artist". I gave up for a long while after that.

It wasn't 'til I got fed up after 8yrs working in Purchasing and Logistics that I said 'stuff it!' and started my own graphic design business. I had no training, and little real experience, but lots of drive and ambition. I think that has worked out pretty well for me. Running my own business also gave me the time to concentrate a little more on my writing. Joining a couple of online writing groups in 2002 – plus constant pressure from my wife – gave me the confidence to finally start sending some of my writing out into the market place. So far, that's worked out pretty well for me too.

Having my writing accepted for publication sort of feels like I've finally got to the place I wanted to be right from the start. I'll never give up illustrating, but it was almost like it was always more of a stepping stone than a goal.

Sounds brilliant and very much as though things are moving in the right way!

2. In terms of you being a newbie to the writing scene (in terms of publication) but having being involved in the industry as a whole for quite some time now, do you think you have come in the Australia speculative fiction scene at the right time, how do you assess it just now?

Oh yes! Most definitely. Australian Spec-fic is going great guns at the moment – here and overseas. Fantasy and Science Fiction authors such as Trudi Canavan, Karen Miller, Jennifer Fallon, Sean Williams and Marianne de Pierres have really started making names for themselves in international markets. Some of the Aussie short story writers have created some buzz too.

The small-press scene is still chugging along much as it always has, but I think the big difference is that the product has become much more refined and professional. Some of the anthologies that have come out over the last 2yrs, and those that are slated for release this year or next, look like they are going to be absolutely brilliant.

I'm pretty proud to call myself predominately a 'horror' author over here at the moment too. The formation of the Australian Horror Writers Association has done an enormous amount both for its members and to increase the awareness of horror fiction in the general media. Will Elliott's 'The Pilo Family Circus' winning the ABC Fiction Award was quite a coup for horror fiction, and films such as Wolf Creek, Rogue and the Australian written Saw have done enormous amounts to bring 'horror' back to the masses. The resurrection of 'Horror' is a worldwide phenomena at the moment, and I think Australia is really riding the crest of that wave.

I didn't realise Saw was Australian written, although have tended to avoid those type of films – enjoyed Wolf Creek though!

3. You mention horror as a particular favourite of yours. Who got you started with your own writing and who are your inspirations now?

I remember my Great Grandfather telling 'The Monkey's Paw' on a stormy night when I was really young. That scared and excited me a lot. And my grandmother cleaned a local library at night. She'd pick me up each evening and I'd browse the shelves, all on my own, for a couple of hours while she cleaned. The library was dark and very, very empty and silent. That was really creepy, but I loved it, searching those dark shelves. That atmosphere probably helped refine my enjoyment of the darker literature.

I was watching the early Universal and later Hammer Horror films from a pretty young age too, and I read 'Carrie' when I was nine years old. From there I immediately grabbed a copy of 'Cujo' and the 'Nightshift' collection and I was pretty hooked on Stephen King from then on. My love of horror literature (both old and new) just sort of blossomed from there.

I'm pretty inspired these days – at least in my mind if not in my writing – by authors such as Mark Z. Danielewski and Chuck Palahnuik. 'House of Leaves' was a pretty amazing book – what it did with the way written stories can be told really had me scared whilst reading a book for the first time in years. Palahnuik is good too. Some of the tales in 'Haunted' were just wonderful. Others fell a little short of the mark and one – you know the one – went a little too far for my mind, but I feel he's really trying to do something different. Otherwise, Stephen King still gets me going when he writes well - 'Duma Key' was a good return to form. And Dan Simmons: when he writes horror it always impresses me. 'The Terror' was definitely one of my favourite books of 2007.

*nods* some good stuff there and interesting with the library story, sounds fun! I've never been a big lover of King but then that's just me.

4. What would be your advice for new authors then, or at least those trying to break into the market?

My advice on writing is only ever one thing – just write! I'll have plenty of advice once you've actually written something – on grammar, on character and plot and voice – but until then my advice is just to write.

There is a lot you can read on how to write and every author seems to have a different opinion. I'm sure their advice works for them, and I'm sure I have my own idiosyncrasies, but I don't think there is ever any 'magic bullet' advice. You could spend your entire life reading up on 'how to write' and never get anything accomplished. I think that is a very big trap some people get caught up in.

And, when you do write, just write the story that you want to read. Don't try and fit it into a market or a genre or worry about whether it will fit into the roster of Publisher X. I think doing that does a great disservice to the story you are trying to tell.

Then, once you're done, don't be afraid to send your stories out there into the market place. That is a hard step for first authors to take. If you're still a bit insecure about your writing, there are plenty of writing groups – both 'real-person' and online – that can offer advice and support.

I think that sums it up perfectly, I don't think I've met two writers yet who have the same technique for writing!

5. Moving on to your artwork now and there have been some rather big developments there too. Care to tell us about them?

Well, "Shards" is probably the biggest thing, and definitely the most challenging. "Shards" is a book of 40 short stories (mainly flash) written by Shane Jiraiya Cummings and due out from Ticonderoga Publications in October. I'm doing the cover and illustrating all the stories with full page black and white images and have been working on this with Shane for around 2yrs now. I'm quite eclectic in my artistic style and methods and trying to keep all 40 images in a coherent style that carries through the entire book has been quite tough. Shane is a brilliant author and the stories are sometimes quite hard to find the right image to illustrate without giving everything away with a glace. This is especially hard with the flash fiction where you don't have too many words to work with. I'm very happy with the results though and with how the constraints have helped me develop my own style.

Other than that, I have an illustration and a short interview forthcoming in multiple Stoker winner Jonathan Maberry's next non-fiction book "They Bite". I've also done the cover for Eneit Press's next installment in the 'In Bad Dreams' anthology series and have an illustration for a Nathan Burrage story in Aurealis #40.

Productive indeed!

6. What do you do when you're not writing?

I design and develop websites and maintain quite a few for my clients. That's still my main bread and butter. I also do graphic design work, commission artwork for Aurealis and do all the layout and typesetting for each issue. On weekends I work in a bookshop.

I play with my boys whenever I can and spend a couple of hours each night just chatting with my wife about stuff. I don't watch too much TV anymore, although there are a few series (Deadwood, FarScape, Firefly) that I've enjoyed watching in their entirety on DVD. I play computer games every now and then but I'm bored if there isn't a decent storyline or enough freedom for me to play the game the way I want to. Recently I've really enjoyed Far Cry, BioShock and Stalker:Shadow of Chernobyl... especially Stalker, which is a very dark and atmospheric game, and very open ended in its gameplay. You can basically go where you want and do what you want. You can create your own story and I like that in a game.

Most of the time though, I'm just reading and/or listening to music. There are too many good books out there that I haven't discovered yet for me to ever stop reading.

Stalker is something I've been thinking about... hmm...

7. What is speculative fiction then?

Probably the toughest question of all. A marketing term? A catch-all phrase for genre fiction that is not Crime or Romance? I personally think that all Speculative Fiction can be classed as "What if....?" stories regardless of which sub-genre they tend to filter down to. That includes Science Fiction, Science/Epic/High/Urban Fantasy, Horror, Alternate History, Slipstream and many others. I'm the sort of person that doesn't really have a preference either. I'm just as happy reading or writing in any of those sub-genres of Speculative Fiction.

*nods* I think the fact that the descriptions have varied in my short section of interviews says much about the term.

8. Onto a topic now that we have spent many hours discussing and that is music. How important is music to you when you write and are you a believer in mood music or can you write to anything?

Yes, music is very important to me. I can't really accomplish much in my life without having some sort of soundtrack behind it, and writing is no exception. I've tried to write in silence a few times and it has been an absolute disaster. Music seems to really help insulate my mind from the distractions of the outside world and, living next to a main road and having two young boys in the house, I've got plenty of those. I've got pretty broad musical tastes and most of the time, especially whilst doing art or coding a website, I can just keep my music collection on random. 4,500 songs, and I never know what's coming up next. It is like having your own radio station!

When I'm writing though, I tend to find mood music to suit the story. I listened to lots of Dead Can Dance, and all sorts of TajikPop and traditional Tajik music whilst writing 'Daivadana' for In Bad Dreams 2. I can possibly take that to a little bit of an extreme sometimes though. Whilst writing 'All the Clowns in Clowntown' (forthcoming in the 'Macabre' anthology) I thoroughly alienated my family by playing nothing but hour-after-hour of Circus marches like Sousa's 'Liberty Bell March' (better known as the Monty Python theme). They threatened to take my computer away from me if I didn't stop.

Heh, must remember to dig out my old The Best Circus Themes in the World Ever (vol. 18)

Really? You've got a copy of vol.18? I think that's the only one of the 50 volume set that I'm missing!!

Oh, I'll do you a copy! *uncrosses fingers*

9. So what's your future plans, what's coming up for Mr. McKiernan?

The rest of this year looks like the time when all my submissions and acceptances will see the light of day. I've got stories in Brimstone Press's 'Macabre: A Journey Through Australian Horror", Shadowed Realms webzine and Black Box anthology, as well as one in 'In Bad Dreams 2' and Aurealis #42. There are a couple of other completed shorts that I'm still shopping around.

After that, I've got some stories you'll have a big hand in bringing to the public. My Gilgamesh story for Gilgamesh Press is finished the research stage and just about to hit the hard writing stage. The research has been a lot of fun, and I think the writing will be even more fun. I've also got a God Machine story to produce for Morrigan Books and I've got a lot of ideas percolating for that one.

When I'm done with those it will be back into novel mode. I've got a total of 8 already planned (two trilogies and two stand-alones) and one stand-alone is already about 1/2 done. By the end of next year I expect to have at least two of them completed and looking for homes.

Taking it easy I see then...

10. I know you've moved away from the web design a little over recent months but would you have any advice for authors wanting to set up their own site (or indeed fancy a revamp of their existing one)? What should they be doing/not doing?

I think author sites have become a pretty essential part of marketing your work these days. The internet is a great tool for social networking, and book readers are a big part of that. Word of mouth through internet channels has been extremely effective for a number of authors and their websites have played a big part in getting that information out there and keeping readers informed.

My main piece of advice is... get a professional to do it. I'm not just saying that to get business either, as I'm happy to be moving away from web work. But, if your site looks unprofessional people will assume your work is too.

Also, don't overburden yourself! If you spend too much time updating a fancy website you'll leave little time for writing. If you don't think you can maintain a regular author-blog, don't commit to one in the first place: no blog at all is better than one that hasn't been updated in 12 months. If you can't see yourself spending an hour a day writing a blog post, you're better off just posting a bio, a list of your published works, and maybe an extract or two.

Only do what you can manage, and don't let it take away from your writing time. That's probably the best advice I can give.

All sound advice, I'd agree with pretty much all of that too.

Thank you so much for coming along Andrew and I hope all goes well for you on all fronts for many years to come!

My pleasure, and thanks very much for inviting me along.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Voices cover artwork announced!


This cover was designed for us by the wonderful Reece Notley, and we are very proud of it. We think it's a stunning image and complements the work within beautifully!

Almost all the stories have been edited now and three of them are ready for publication - we will easily be ready for our September release deadline with Voices!

Friday, May 23, 2008

The Stars of Speculative Fiction #13: Simon Haynes


So Simon, things are on the up and up for yourself, with Hal Spacejock 4 on its way soon (following the stylish magnets) and all manner of mention of you on the blogosphere. Your other baby ASIM (Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine) seems to be enjoying success too.

1. So what's with this Hal Spacejock series then, how did it start and how are plans for number four going?

Hal's as up as he's ever been, but Clunk's a bit down. Nothing specific, it's just that his batteries are running low and his facial motors are the first to feel the effects. Picture a tin-foil beagle.

The first Hal novel began with a flash of inspiration. I was supposed to be doing some programming, but the idea of an overconfident space guy and his dodgy robot seemed much more interesting. I dashed off 25,000 words, then discovered two things: One, a newborn baby is the best possible antidote to a fiction writing career, and two, actual published novels were a tad longer than my own effort. Discouraged, I gave it all up for the next five years.

By then I was busy studying for a grad dip in computer science. The lectures started around 6 or 7pm, and I used to get there from work at around 5. It was so close to my workplace it wasn't worth going all the way home in between, so I had a couple of hours to kill twice a week. I started dragging a laptop along with me, and before you know it I'd rediscovered Hal Spacejock and Clunk. I used to sit up the back of the lectures, writing new scenes on the laptop.

There are so many times when I could have zipped up the writing folder and stashed it away forever. To be honest, I don't like to think about it.

Number four will be hitting shops across Australia and New Zealand on the 1st of June. We're having a book launch at Dymocks Carousel on the 27th (details on the website)

There's a huge announcement coming from my publisher at the end of May, but I'm not even allowed to hint at it. We've been having clandestine meetings in coffee shops, and sweeping the places for bugs and reporters after every cup.

Ooh, sounds very exciting, I'm looking forward to hearing about that!

2. Is it true you are going to write fifteen Hal Spacejock novels and if so why that number?

I used to joke with the staff at Dymocks Carousel about this. I pointed to the whole shelf of Pratchett books in their crowded displays and said the only way I'd get a row like that to myself was if I wrote fifteen books. Two copies of each = 30, which would fill a shelf nicely.

Over time it changed from a joke to a goal. I don't know whether I have 15 Hal books in me, because I'm determined not to repeat myself and I don't want the series to get stale. On the other hand, I have half a dozen workable plots lying around and I keep coming up with more of the things. It's a huge galaxy, after all.

*nods* Would be interesting to read them all though...

3. How did ASIM come about and what's your current involvement with it?

There was a discussion on the Eidolon mailing list about the lack of markets for old fashion pulp fiction. Where was the SF from the golden age? We all wanted to write (and read) stories which weren't all deep and meaningful, just entertaining and fun. I piped up with the Andromeda Spaceways name and after that we got serious about it.

The launch at Convergence was a blast. I think we even won the Ditmar for that presentation.

I've gradually been handing my ASIM duties over to others, simply because maintaining the website has become a bigger and bigger job. I did a complete rewrite earlier this year, and once we started putting original interviews and book reviews on the site, it became more of a publishing venture in its own right than a set of static pages.

It's well worth checking out.

It is indeed, I am a subscriber and think it's a good way to check out new writers!

4. What tips would you have for writers reading this interview, generally, and writers wanting to get into an ASIM magazine specifically?

Write to entertain, not to impress.

Heh! But what if you can do both?

5. Who got you started with your writing? Who are your biggest influences?

My high school English teacher at Como SHS. It was Year 11, and I'd only been in Australia about two months so everything was new and strange. (I grew up in Spain and the UK.) Anyway, she set the class a story writing assignment, and I knocked out a horror effort about a guy using this steampunk-ish contraption in his basement to kill off half the neighbourhood from a distance. The last line revealed he was only trying to build a machine to turn water into booze.

It was all very Twilight Zone (even though I didn't know what TZ was at that point – growing up without a TV does that to you) but my teacher liked it so much she asked me to read it to the class. My desire for publication (and an audience!) was probably born in that instant. It was another ten years before I wrote the first sentence of Hal Spacejock though.

I always mention Asimov, Clarke and William F. Temple because they were the first SF authors I encountered. And Tolkien, even though I don't write fantasy.

6. This brings me to my next question about your multiculturalism *wry grin*. Do you consider yourself an Aussie, an Englishman, a Spaniard even and what do you think living in these three countries has brought to your writing?

I've lived in England for eight years, Spain for eight years, and Australia for 25 years. I have dual nationality (Brit/Aussie), but it's very hard to shake off those early eight years of my life in England. All my family – barring my brother and my parents – lived in the UK, so that was 'home' all the time we lived in Spain. After we moved to Australia, Spain seemed like an extended holiday and England still felt like home. Twenty-five years is a long time, though, and I'm well settled here.

Experiencing those three different cultures gives me something to draw on when I write. (Britain in the late sixties/early seventies was a very different place to modern Australia, so bear with me while I regard it as another culture.) Spain to me was dirt tracks, motorbikes, air rifles and a local school whose entire teaching facilities consisted of wooden desks and the chairs we sat on. Teachers were happy to belt the kids when they misbehaved, too. If you haven't sat in a classroom where teachers have that total and absolute power over you, I can tell you it's nerve-wracking.

Belts and a bit of wood, sounds like Northern England...

7. What do you do when you're not writing then?

Programming! I get more than a hundred emails every day about my software – pleas for help, suggestions for new features, lost registration codes, you name it. It's a full time job for three people, but I do my best.

Eek, sounds like... fun...

8. As an honourary Australian, what's your opinion on the health of the Australian spec fic industry just now?

Booming. When we started ASIM there were three or four mags putting out one issue a year, if that. One of our the first things we decided to do differently was publish frequently, and on time. Six issues a year allows us to publish fifty or more stories instead of the 7 or 8 per year other contemporary mags were offering. We also threw our subs open to all, not just Australian writers, and were amongst the very first to accept submissions by email.

Not that quality suffers – we have a three stage slush process which means most submissions are read by a minimum of two and a max of five or six people ... plus the editors, if they get through to the last round.

As for full-length novels, Fantasy seems to be doing very well in Australia but local Science Fiction is a radioactive wasteland. We seem to import an awful lot of UK science fiction writers though ... hence my all-consuming desire to see the Hal Spacejock books published there. Turn about and all that.

*nods* Fantasy seems to be doing very well everywhere at the mo...

9. You've participated in NaNoWriMo three times now. How has that worked and what are your views on the whole concept, especially as it has come under a lot of criticism over recent years?

I love the whole concept. For the past three years I've handed in one book just before the end of October, after months of incredibly intensive work, only to leap into Nano on the first of November.

At its most basic, NanoWrimo gives me fifty thousand words of raw material to work with. I cherry-picked scenes and ideas from my 2005 and 2006 efforts to create the latest Hal Spacejock novel, and I've no doubt I'll do the same for the next.

I have a yWriter project with over a million words of Hal Spacejock scenes in it. Some are older versions of those in the four books to date, but there are also three incomplete Hal novels and a load of dead ends. It's my own personal Spacejock mine, and as long as I keep doing Nano every year I'll have material to last me for many novels to come.

As for the criticism ... a lot of it seems to focus on the fact that very few NanoWrimo efforts amount to a publishable novel. As you can see from my previous comments, that's missing the mark by a huge margin. I usually write 150,000 words or more to produce one 80-90,000 word novel, and even though the additional words might never be read by anyone else, they're a vital component in the construction of the finished book.

You can either write lots and keep the best bits, or you can attempt to write only the best bits and nothing else. I prefer the former.

Agreed, I've tried (and failed) twice now but have some pretty juicy material for future books!

10. Totally off the beaten track here but it's bizarre enough that I have to ask: what's this thing about you not watching a TV series until it's completely finished and then getting the DVDs?

Well, first off I'm not programming my life around a TV schedule, because that's completely backwards. I work from home so there's no need for me to be up to date on all these TV shows, because I don't hear spoilers and I don't have to discuss “last night's episode” with any workmates around the water cooler.

Also, shows get cancelled at the drop of a hat, and it's incredibly irritating to get to know a bunch of characters only to have them left hanging because some suit decided the series wasn't selling enough air freshener, toilet paper and razor blades.

So, I picked up the whole boxed set of Buffy 2-3 years after the season finished. Ditto Angel. Ditto Stargate SG-1. You get the whole series arc in one box, you can watch the things whenever you want and you know they're not going to pull the rug from under your feet.

Also, I quit watching TV around 1994, so there are tons of older shows I can catch up on. By the time I've seen the best of them, current shows like Lost and Heroes and (insert show of the month) will be done, dusted and selling in mega-boxed-sets. Let them sit on the shelf for a year or two, then pick them up at a reasonable price.

The other thing is, the average 1-hour show lasts 40-42 minutes on DVD. I save 18 minutes per episode over watching the same show crammed with ads, or nearly seven hours over a season. That's an awful lot of writing time to spend watching sales pitches for air freshener, toilet paper and razor blades.

This is very true, I tend to watch them without the ads too (not saying how) but don't know if I could wait - I mean BSG...

Thank you so much for agreeing to this Simon, I wish you huge success with Hal Spacejock 4 and I hope all goes well with the launch next Tuesday. I look forward to the other 11 books in the series too!

Thanks! There's a major piece of Hal Spacejock news which all SF Humour fans worldwide will find much more interesting than the Australian Book launch, but I can't reveal what it is because this interview appears before the 1st of June embargo date. So, I've set up a page on my site which they can bookmark:

Hal Spacejock Free Gift

Just hit refresh on the 1st of June, and the news will be revealed ;-)

Friday, May 16, 2008

The Stars of Speculative Fiction #12: Tansy Rayner Roberts


Well it's definitely been a productive time for you recently, short stories, novels, and all manner of writerly projects, as well as having a toddler underfoot...

1. What's going on for Tansy at the moment, what you working on and what's coming out?

I'm currently in the final stage of trying to bang out a rough first draft of a YA novel about ghosts, Tasmanian history and gothic literature. Which is an interesting experience because generally speaking, banging out first drafts is not what I do - I have been a very methodical writer in the past, laying down very densely edited prose. But I'm trying this technique with mixed results. Then of course I have to make it actually good. The book, currently under the working title 10 Random Things About Lady Jane Franklin, was supported by an Arts Tasmania grant which basically covered my childcare fees for the year, which is an awesome thing.

I have just finished the edits on Cafe La Femme, my chick lit crime novel, also set in Tasmania, which will be published by Pulp Fiction Press sometime later this year. And my next writing project, once the YA novel is rather less drafty, is to write the sequel to that, French Vanilla, which is due in February. So my life is very novel heavy at the moment!

Short stories are very quiet this year. I had one in the Twelfth Planet Press anthology 2012 which is getting some lovely reviews, and will have another in the New Ceres print anthology, but that's about it. Short stuff is not getting a look in while I have all these bigger projects breathing down my neck.

Likewise I've eased off on most of my editing and publishing projects, pretty much anything other than writing that's connected to small press, to concentrate on the novel thing. For this year, anyway. You never know what may lure me back...

Indeed, it does sound rather novel oriented doesn't it?

2. What's all this with this group of writers ROR (writers on the rise) and how did it come about that you wrote the first novel Seacastle for that?

ROR are a group of writers who gather every 18 months to two years to critique each other's manuscripts. We're all mates but have become much closer I think due to the odd intimacy of sharing your unpublished darlings with other people who love you enough to hack it to bits with ruthless abandon. All in the name of art! Our last meet was in a beach house on the north west coast of Tasmania, but we move around a lot because we're scattered across Australia.

We sold the series of children's books to ABC books as a group, writing one each, which was a glorious experiment that we greatly enjoyed doing. It helped that a few of us got regional writing grants to support the project, as well!

3. How is the book doing, are you getting good reviews for it, is it selling well?

I've had some great response to Seacastle, and am pretty pleased with how it was received.

4. You have a food blog with interviews with writers who have children. When did you start that and why?

You're a little behind the times on that one - I quit the food blog about a year ago. I started it up because I wanted to pay some serious attention to my toddler's food and nutrition, and writing seemed a good way to keep it up. I ended the blog ultimately because I'd done a lot of what I wanted to achieve with it, and 451 were demanding too much time commitment for an almost non-existent financial return. As a professional writer, I couldn't justify it. But I did enjoy the blog while I was writing it, it was an excuse to spend more time on the domestic arts. My interviews were supposed to be just with parents of children and their feeding habits, it wasn't intended to be writer-specific but of course almost everyone I know is a writer!

Me, behind the times, how did that happen? I must speak to my PR department!

5. How did you get involved with ASif! and Alisa Krasnostein – what's your role there at present?

Alisa and I met online when she was first looking for reviewers for Asif, before she got it off the ground, and I love to review books, so I signed up. My role there currently is as the suckiest reviewer EVER because I have just screeched to a halt on review production, but I need to step it up again. I love writing critical pieces about novels and I miss keeping up with what's new in the field.

*coughs* Yes, I know what you mean about productivity there *hopes Alisa isn't reading*

6. I've been reading a lot recently about many in the Australian speculative fiction scene preferring not to review fiction if they don't like it. What's your view on that.

There are several issues with that - one is of course that everyone knows everyone and putting the boot in can be socially problematic. Also it's morally dubious to review a book without finishing it, and I personally rarely have the time to be bothered to finish a book that I dislike. The other issue which I think non reviewers don't think about is that - writing a review is difficult unless you have something to say. The majority of fiction published is not something I hate or love, but that I'm just not interested in. If you don't care about a book or story, it can be hard to think of enough to say about it to justify writing a review in the first place.

If I don't see some value in a work, generally, I don't think it deserves to be reviewed. Unless it's flawed in an interesting enough way to take to pieces. Ben Peek is probably my favourite author to review because there's always something to say - whether he's infuriating me, impressing me or confusing me.

A good point, if you don't like something but can't pinpoint why, a review is not going to help.

7. What's your view of the current state of Australian and Tasmanian spec fic?

Hee, well as far as I know, published Tasmanian spec fic consists largely of the work of me, Dirk Flinthart, Sara Douglass and Sally Odgers. I think we're all lovely, but it's not really enough of a pool to discuss in the wider sense. We need more writers. Move here!

As far as the Australian scene goes - I think our authors are doing better than being noticed at an international level than ever before. Sadly - and I hate it when people say this in interviews, I can't believe I've become one of these people - I have read almost nothing so far this year, of anything in the field at all. Seriously. Meg Cabot and Judy Blume novels and the occasional bit of historical research for five months. I suspect I may be ill. But I need to lift my game on that one too, because I love being the person that people come to for new author recs. I will be her again.

The devil lives there though doesn't he? I'm not going anywhere near Tasmania...

8. Are you a listener to music when you write? If so what? Does music inspire you to write?

I am quite musically dense for the most part. I do occasionally construct elaborate soundtracks for novels in progress, but then I ignore them while actually writing. As a parent of a noisy three year old, mostly I like silence when I write. Silence. So golden.


9. What got you into writing, are there any writers that inspire you?

Writers inspire me constantly. And have done since I started reading at the age of three. I have always been writing, I spent most of my teens writing messy novels. I'm well ahead on my million words of crap. :D Right now, though, with parenting and novel writing melting my brain, I have to say that the thing I appreciate most about a writer these days is clarity. If it's easy to read and doesn't insult my intelligence, I'm so there. The writer I most admire is Diana Wynne Jones, because her plots astound me. Plotting is not my friend, sadly. I can only watch in awe as she creates elaborate plots and then presents them in simple, easy to read and swallow narrative.

10. What do you do when you're not writing?

I chase a three year old around the house, I fail to do housework, I entertain friends and get obsessive about old TV shows, I quilt, I play Harry Potter RP and I spend far too much time talking about anything and everything.

Harry Potter RP? Now I really am behind the times!

Thank you so much for agreeing to come along Tansy, and be grilled, and I hope the novels all take off with resounding success and that you can get back in to your reading.

Monday, May 12, 2008

The Stars of Speculative Fiction #11: Deborah Biancotti


So, Deborah, winning a few Aurealis and Ditmar awards, currently working on a collection for Twelfth Planet Press and also a novella for Gilgamesh Press, how do you do it?

Is this a question? I don’t have an answer! I think I do it by trying not to think about it too much.

Actually, I haven’t done it yet. Maybe I won’t be able to do it at all! I probably should’ve put more consideration into taking it all on in the first place.

1. How did you get into this writing malarkey then?

Luckily writing requires no particular qualification or organisational membership. You can get into writing simply by writing! I did.

Actually, I started by being a) mostly bored witless at school; b) into superheroes; c) having a relatively meagre attention span, and d) coincidentally or consequently being a bit of a daydreamer.

Writing comes relatively easily to a person of that disposition – though not quite as easily as doing nothing at all. Doing nothing at all is, in fact, my greatest skill. But the rewards for this activity (or lack of activity) are sparse, to say the least. You do get a lot of downtime, though.

I took up writing because I liked reading, & sometimes there was nothing in the house left to read. But then I went to uni determined to be a writer, see. Something to do with John Lennon & a TV ad in the seventies that claimed Pisceans were natural artists & writers. I can’t quite recall what the logic was.

Sooooo, anyhow, I studied Psychology & English Lit & avoided actually writing for several years. Then I finished uni & avoided writing for a couple years more. THEN I joined the NSW Writers’ Centre & did some workshops. One, most notably, with Terry Dowling, whom I consider my first real teacher.

Somewhere before & after those events were a series of writing groups which were variously successful (or not) until I found I wanted to be a solo traveller for a while, to find my feet. Or, to find my voice. Whichever. Nowdays I have a couple of trusted critique sources, some published stuff and a twelve-storey mansion made entirely of rejections which I’ve built inside my head. I like to go there sometimes & hang out & remember the good old days when I was in school & mostly just bored witless.

Doing nothing eh? There’s always room for that!

2. You mentioned Terry Dowling as your first real teacher – who were your inspirations when you began and are they the same as you have now?

Ouch. Inspirations. Funny, it's a tough question, because it's similar but slightly *more* than asking who I admire or who I respect or who I want to be. Inspiration implies someone who energises & attracts & makes me want to 'be all I can be', I guess.

I think once upon a time I was inspired by single instances, single items or achievements or things. A book would inspire me, but not necessarily an author because I didn't invest in writers when I was very young. I was impressed by that one achievement but had no real idea how it fitted into the fabric of a career or life. Most of my reading was random, governed equally by whatever local public library was nearby & the fact I had no money until after I finished university.

Nowdays what inspires me is not the single achievement -- or not JUST the single achievement - it's the tenacity. The career, the creator, the life they're living. Not just the book.

I'm inspired by Gene Wolfe, for example. What a trip his books are! I read Wolfe's entire Book of the New Sun *even though* I understood less than half of what I was reading at the beginning. Yet he held me totally captive. The surprise and suddenness and bittersweetness of his books are still impressive. And he's in his seventies now.

I'm inspired by Mary Gentle. Her fabulous, rich tale Ash: A Secret History was written as a result of a Masters degree Gentle undertook -- in War Studies. Brilliant! Imagine studying war at such an advanced level, largely in order to write a book! Also her first published book was purchased when she was 18. Which is not so much inspiring as nauseating.

And, you know, in 'real life' (for want of a better phrase), I'm inspired by heroes who don't think they're heroes and sufferers who refuse to be victims, and ordinary people with ordinary lives who aren't overwhelmed by that. I got a lot to learn from those people. They inspire me to be better.

Nice answer, makes a lot of sense!

3. So I hear you were part of Clarion South a few years back, any good?

Actually, I wasn't an attendee of Clarion South, if that's what you mean. I was, though, a reader for the submission process. Good? Some of them were very good. In particular, I think Tess Kum is a compelling writer, & I'd love to see more from her. Some were really not very good. Including an incomprehensible tale featuring giant crustaceans. I'm not sure what to make of that one. Was it someone who very much wanted to be a writer, but had quite the learning curve in front of her/him? Or was it someone entirely more deranged? And how much does each one of us have in common with The Deranged?

Food for thought. *cymbal crash*

4. Where does music feature in your writing, do you listen while you write and if you do to what? Are you inspired by music or do you prefer total silence?

I think I’m becoming increasingly tone deaf as I age. Music’s never really been a big deal for me. Which is weird, because I played guitar for nearly a decade. And, y’know, you can get by not knowing much about music -- and still playing music -- if you’re a DRUMMER, but you’d think anyone else would have more love for the medium.

Admittedly I quit the day I realised it had become more of a chore than a joy.

I’ve been through phases of musical enjoyment. I’m still a fan of that wonderful celtic warble of, say, Sinead, or the grrl attitood of Garbage or Christina Aguilera (on a good day). Mainly I’m more of a sucker for a beautiful voice that doesn’t have to oversell itself: Tori Amos, Sarah McLachlan. I like some of the old fashioned soul & blues music quite a lot: music with a narrative to it. Hell, I’ve even enjoyed some country music. Especially when I was lonely in Switzerland a decade ago & the only English-speaking radio station I came across played country music. For some reason. Switzerland is a bizarrely fascinating place.

I guess I’m a jack of all trades & master of none when it comes to music. I like a lot of things a little bit, but no one thing a lot.

Music to work by: I used to play Baroque music through headphones whenever I needed to distract myself from the distractions outside my head. I read something about Baroque being perfect for concentration due to its 52 bpm speed (I may have that slightly wrong). Certainly seemed to help at the time.

Nowdays, of course, tone deaf (that, or my concentration’s improved), so it’s rare I really need anything to cancel out the distractions. I can even write in a room where someone else is watching TV. It’s really only very loud noise like jack-hammering that gets to me these days.

*looks amazed and bangs the Portishead on to cheer himself up*

You are not the first to be appalled by my detached relationship to music!

I’m hoping I won’t be the last either…

5. I’ve asked a few of the other Aussies about the state of the speculative fiction scene in Australia at present, and I’m very interested in your opinion of that, seeing as you not only write within the field but you do a lot of work to promote it overseas too.

Garth Nix is a bit of a mentor to me in that regard. He’s got a streak of generosity as wide as the sun, & when I asked him how I could pay him back for the kindly way he’d included me & assisted me during my first World Fantasy trip, you said, ‘You can’t. You pay it forward.’

I took him at his word, of course, & two years later I was working on the very project he initiated with Jonathan Strahan, promoting Aussie SF at World Fantasy in New York. And of course that workhorse Trevor Stafford was there, too, raising money & setting up some wonderful events for writers & publishers in & around New York City.

I have fallen out of the loop a tad over the past year, I confess. Too much writing to do, & Real Life becoming bigger & bigger. Or is that just a mid-life crisis? Anyhow. The o’s promotion thing was a chance to make up for all the local stuff I’d been missing out on, in a way.

The state of the local scene? It looks pretty good! Far as I can tell, there’s a lot of energy & achievement going on. Even some success! There’s a real engagement going happening with our local output & overseas attention. Sales, reviews, dialogues between local & o’s writers & editors & publishers. And there’s some fabulously innovative projects on at the moment – there’s real output being produced, being discussed, being put into people’s hands (or in front of their eyes, in terms of electronic publications). It’s a thrill to be part of it.

Agreed, I’m still in awe of the scene you’ve got over there and as I Swedish-based publisher, I still get a lot of submissions from Australians.

6. Come on Deborah, you must know, what the hell is speculative fiction anyway?

Yeah. I do. But I'm not telling. ;)


7. What do you get up when you’re not a writing then?

At the moment, renovating. Well, not necessarily renovating it MYSELF (if I can avoid it -- though it's amazing what it's not possible to outsource), but getting other people to renovate my old house. It's a pain in the neck, renovating, but not as painful as living in this ugly old place any longer without making some improvements, gah, drives me mad. I'm getting rid of a couple of old fireplaces right now (you want 'em?), using the space for storage instead. Replaced my staircase earlier this year. Removed a huge mango tree that was pushing over a back wall behind my tiny Sydney terrace (it's gut-wrenching watching trees be hacked up). Ceilings were replaced a while ago. It's a long, drawn-out & awkward project where the timeline keeps extending every time I realise how expensive it all is. One day I'll have a nice home, though. And then there will be cocktails at my place!

Apart from that, I have a full-time job as a project manager. I like project management. It's like making order out of chaos. I was doing a bit of work in multimedia & design for a few years, but haven't had the time for it recently.

I've variously had other hobbies over the years -- guitar-playing has gone by the wayside, as discussed. As have knitting and sewing (two other things I wasn't very good at). Photography. Now & then I think about getting back into drawing & painting. And in fact I'd really like to study interior decorating, y'know. I like the potential combination of art & practicality.

Mostly hobbies compete with writing time, though, & in recent years the writing has been winning. Even my correspondence has declined, with friends occasionally asking if I'm still alive.

I do still like cooking, though. We've been doing a lot of entertaining at my place in the last year or so. Had to slow it down because the renovations were getting in the way of people's ability to fit comfortably inside the house. This place is really small. I'm still managing to do some travelling, too, though the trips I have planned at the moment are largely domestic.

And of course I read quite a lot. Literary & crime/noir reading mostly at the moment. No real reason for it. I've always been a fan of poetry, & try to keep up with that, too.

I guess my other hobby is psychology. I studied it at uni & I still like to keep up with the research & ideas.

Oh work on houses always fills me with a sense of dread, although I may go for the fireplaces…

8. Have you got any five year plan (or similar) for the writing? Have you got specific goals or do you just take it all as it comes?

One of the disappointments with the writing ‘career’, I think, is the difficulty in making plans. With my day job I can make simple calculations, I can estimate durations, potential cash flow, experience, rewards, risks. I can say that with X years experience, I will be proficient at Y, or I will have Z qualifications, and I might even be ready to move on to ... I’ve run out of letters. Should’ve started earlier.

Writing, of course, isn’t so clear cut. I have no real idea if my X experience in writing has made me any better at writing Y. And I sure as heck don’t have more qualifications now than I did when I started! Personally I wouldn’t mind being able to say ‘and then after that I’ll use the proceeds from my next novel sale to fund some time off to develop an experimental novella series I’m contemplating’. And I’ve seen people make bold claims that are similar – sometimes it works out, sometimes it doesn’t. Probably depends where you’re at.

Mostly, the career depends on finding the audience, right? I’m surprised every damn time someone tells me they’ve read something of mine. Still feels like a crapshoot to me. What works & what doesn’t – I got no way to tell.

That’s the writing *career*, though.

In terms of the writing *process*, yeah, I do have plans. I have an idea in my head where I want to be in my writing – in the hours I spend writing, in WHAT I’m writing – five years from now. And the more years I spend in this caper, the clearer that vision becomes.

It could, of course, all fall apart before then. I mean, I don’t want to give you the idea I’m an optimist or anything...

Deb Biancotti, the smiling pessimist!

9. Even with your lack of time and writing taking up a big portion of your time, I’m still wondering if you have thoughts about editing.

You mean, thoughts about being an editor? No, can’t say that I do. Why, is that a pre-requisite to writing? ;)

I don’t think the world needs more product, it needs BETTER product. I’m not sure what the skillset is that achieves that, but I’m pretty sure I don’t have it! That, or the patience. I'm just not sure how you go about helping someone achieve their own vision (which is what I perceive the role of Editor as being -- though I could be wrong). But the times I've worked with a good editor have been sheer invigoration!

Now & then I toy with the idea of doing a reprint website – like infinity plus, or like the way Anna Tambour reprints stories she likes on her site. Something that would bring writers exposure, but wouldn't be a massive timesink -- something I had the time to achieve, in other words. Something, ergo, that wouldn't require much in the way of editing. I still hope to get around to that one day.

But for now, I've become increasingly interested in pursuing my own vision, rather than the visions offered by being part of somebody else's antho. Writing what I want to write, rather than writing-to-order. It's a kinda selfish part of the journey, but I figure it's not forever. In plenty of ways, I feel like I'm only just finding my feet in my chosen 'profession'. Once I work out what the heck I'm doing, it'd be nice to find a way to pay it forward again.

I'm not saying that'd be editing, though!

Were you editing my question there? *winks*

10. Last but not least I’m curious to know what you think can be improved within the small press industry and specifically the Australian spec fic small press arena (ooh that was quite a mouthful).

Improvement, eh? First improvement: don’t call it small press. The publishing numbers for what we call 'small press' isn't always much behind the big or established press. If anything, it's 'indie press'. It's small organisations with limited staff & limited budget, sure, but it's presenting the alternative & entirely appealing voices of writers & editors with their own visions & decisions. It's similar to indie music, right -- apart from the absence of music. And no one calls indie music 'small'. What indie outlets do well is embrace a multitude of voices -- not just one voice, & not just the most popular voice or the voice that makes the most money.

After that, what I'd like to change is the time & effort available for indie press. To my mind the biggest threat to the arts is burnout. We're all working around the edges of our lives & the edges, for a lot of us, of our jobs. It'd be nice to see an unlimited amount of time & energy somehow suddenly granted to those involved in independent creations. Imagine what we'd see then! Imagine what we'd all be capable of.

Those are the two things I'd like to see change for what we call small press.

Great answer and great way to finish off this interview – I totally agree with your comments and will make sure I call indie press, indie press from now on… did that work?

Thank you so much for this and I sincerely wish you success in all your career and writing (and fireplace) goals for the future.

Friday, May 09, 2008


Last night I offered to become a mentor for a rather talented young lady, who submitted something to Voices. Her story was rejected but it was very easy to see genuine writing ability and the fact that she is only 17 makes that shine through even more. (I won't name her here as she might not want the world to know that I'm helping her out, it is a bit dangerous for her future career after all...)

The young writer in question was frustrated about markets and asked if I had any tips about them. Ralan is a very obvious one, although I really love Duotrope and think their whole approach to submissions and markets is exceptional. They have been a big help to Morrigan Books and Gilgamesh Press and if you haven't got on board do it now.

I have also decided to contact one more author regarding my collection, Nex, and this is a writer that Morrigan Books has been taking a very keen interest in. I've not had a response yet but I'm really hoping she agrees as I am a huge fan of her writing and think that she would make a perfect addition to what is already a very exciting book!

Edit: I can now reveal that Carole Johnstone has agreed to work on Nex with me, this is just too good and I am so motivated now!

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Voices - The Villains Revealed!

We now have the preliminary line up for Voices. The sections and story order may change in the editing phase but this is how it looks for now:


Prologue – Robert Hood

Section One – 'Illusions'

Sanctuary – Carole Johnstone

The Mirror – KV Taylor

His Only Company, The Walls – Brad C. Hodson

Segue – Robert Hood

Section Two – By the Hand

Paris – Todd Edwards

Just Us – Pete Kempshall

A Picture of Death – Shane Jiraiya Cummings

Segue – Robert Hood

Section Three – 'As yet untitled'

Constance Craving – Gary McMahon

Bedbugs – Martin Livings

Faking It – Siobhan Byford

Segue – Robert Hood

Section Four – 'As yet untitled'

The Suicide Room – Paul Kane

Sentinel – Sonia Marcon

The Man Who Wasn't There – Rodney J. Smith

Epilogue – Robert Hood


Pretty impressive eh? We are very pleased to announce first time publications for KV Taylor and Todd Edwards, proving again we are determined to promote new talent within the field of dark fiction.

Thanks goes to Robert Hood for agreeing to be part of this and we are very excited to see how he ties the whole book together, being as he is a master of the short form.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Voices: Stage Two

I have just completed my reading and assessment of the 26 stories that were chosen by Amanda Pillar and myself to go through to the second stage of reading for possible conclusion in the Voices anthology, and I can safely say I am drained.

I could easily publish all 26 stories and to know that we have to reject some irritates me a bit.

Why not publish them all then you might ask, and it's actually a reasonable question but a question that does have an answer.

The stories that will be chosen are stories that encapsulate mine and Amanda's early ideas of the anthology and which also allow us to set the contents in a particular way to make sure that the anthology lives up to our high expectations.

There has been a lot of interest in this anthology, from writers and readers alike and many people have e-mailed me to tell me what a great idea it was in the first place.

And the idea comes from Ross Temple, from a chat in the bar at Conflux 4 in Canberra, from a story idea in a hotel room I had, which then moved to many stories in a hotel from other writers and then to co-editing with Amanda, who has put so much work into this (and Morrigan Books), with a passion and a drive that puts me to shame.

This has been, without doubt, the most rewarding project I have worked on so far as an editor and if Amanda is willing I would be very honoured to work with her again on another anthology.

Hopefully we should be able to announce the final choices soon.

Sunday, May 04, 2008


Well I finally found a home for my witch poem, Maleficus, and rather happy I am too. I have always had a soft spot for that particular poem and after a couple of rejections it was nice to see Doorways Magazine picking it up.

It's a nice feeling when other people like your babies.