AWW2014: Mullumbimby by Melissa Lucashenko

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A darkly funny novel of romantic love and cultural warfare from one of Australia’s most admired Indigenous voices.

When Jo Breen uses her divorce settlement to buy a neglected property in the Byron Bay hinterland, she is hoping for a tree change, and a blossoming connection to the land of her Aboriginal ancestors. What she discovers instead is sharp dissent from her teenage daughter, trouble brewing from unimpressed white neighbours and a looming Native Title war between the local Bundjalung families. When Jo unexpectedly finds love on one side of the Native Title divide she quickly learns that living on country is only part of the recipe for the Good Life.

I’m not going to put anyone in suspense here.  I loved this book.  No, I loved this book.

One of the things I’ve tried to do with my reading for the Australian Women Writers’ Challenge is to expand beyond the normal limits of my reading – which, for me, means picking up more non-speculative work, and especially trying to pick up works by Indigenous authors.

Side note: I’m finding myself staring at the cover of Mullumbimby as I’m typing this.  The image of a bird’s nest woven from barbed wire, but lined with soft feathers and leaves for the baby birds, is one of the strongest in the book.  For me, that single image sums up many of the themes in the book: Jo’s personal struggles as she fights to make her place on her own piece of land, her relationship with her daughter and with the man who comes into her life, Twoboy, and the greater battle Indigenous Australians fight for Native Title, the rights to the land that they believe is theirs by right and that was stolen from them.

Jo Breen is an incredible character.  From the moment she steps foot onto the page she is living and breathing as she fights to establish her farm.  Her love for the land, her daughter and her horses is so incredibly strong, aptly mirroring the strong ties that many Indigenous Australians feel to their native land.

Some reviewers have complained about the choice Lucashenko made to incorporate Bundjalung dialect into the book, but I felt that it served to give the story even more power.  A glossary is provided at the back of the book for those who need it, but I found that Lucashenko’s writing was almost always good enough to divine the meanings of words unknown to me simply by their context.  It’s possible that non-Australian writers may struggle slightly more with this, since both landscape and language could potentially both be unfamiliar. In particular, I believe that the use of dialect highlighted the fact that I, as a white Australian reader, was oftentimes being given a look into a world that both was and was not mine.

There are many extraordinarily powerful moments in this book.  Jo as she works to maintain the cemetary, even as she returns exhausted from that work to wrestle returning her own land to health.  The aforementioned bird’s nest, and the things that Jo experiences in the bush, evidence of the ancient spiritual connections of her bloodline to the land.  All of this works to highlight some of the separation that Jo feels to her own past, which mirrors the breaking of much of Indigenous Australia with the land.

There is heartbreak, and there is struggle and loss as Jo fights for her place in the world.  But at the end, Mullumbimby also gives much hope.  Lucashenko should be commended for the sensitive manner in which she deals with major issues relating to Indigenous Australia.

This is a book that I highly, highly recommend to anyone living within Australia, or with a desire to learn more about this country.

 

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AWW2014: Perfections by Kirstyn McDermott

Note: I was on the judging panel for the 2012 Aurealis Awards which awarded Perfections with Best Horror Novel.


Perfections

Two sisters. One wish. Unimaginable consequences.

Not all fairytales are for children.

Antoinette and Jacqueline have little in common beyond a mutual antipathy for their paranoid, domineering mother, a bond which has united them since childhood. In the aftermath of a savage betrayal, Antoinette lands on her sister’s doorstep bearing a suitcase and a broken heart. But Jacqueline, the ambitious would-be manager of a trendy Melbourne art gallery, has her own problems – chasing down a delinquent painter in the sweltering heat of a Brisbane summer. Abandoned, armed with a bottle of vodka and her own grief-spun desires, Antoinette weaves a dark and desperate magic that can never, ever be undone.

Their lives swiftly unravelling, the two sisters find themselves drawn into a tangle of lies, manipulations and the most terrible of family secrets.

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Perfections is the second novel by Kirstyn McDermott, originally released as an ebook only from Xoum, and recent re-released by Twelfth Planet Press as a gorgeous paperback.   McDermott’s debut novel, Madigan Mine is also being re-released by Twelfth Planet Press as an ebook.

First thing: I am so happy to be able to own a physical copy of this book.  I read a lot of ebooks, but for books that I really love (spoiler: I love this book), I really like having a physical copy on the shelf.  And this is a seriously gorgeous book, with stunning cover art by Amanda Rainey.

Second thing: I am a massive fan of McDermott’s work in general.  In terms of craft, she is extraordinarily talented – at a sentence level, her prose is lyrical and evocative, and her characters are always exquisitely drawn.  From the moment they step foot onto the page, they live and breathe and feel; combine this with the darkness that twines through most of McDermott’s work, and you have something truly extraordinary.

Perfections is what I’ve come to expect from McDermott – grounded in reality, but a reality slightly twisted, threaded through with dark magic.  I don’t want to talk too much in depth about the plot of the book – there are details that aren’t really spoilers, but I believe that the reading of the book is a much richer experience if you don’t know them.

Perfections is, at its heart, a book about sisters, about daughters, about mothers.  It is a book about the way families can twist around secrets (and oh, the secrets that this family has).  The reader moves back and forth between the viewpoints of two sisters, Antoinette and Jacqueline.  Both are skilfully drawn, and it is very easy to feel empathy for both of them and the situations that they are in; especially well done is the juxtaposition between how they see themselves and how they are seen by their sister.

There is darkness here: both of the human variety (and kudos to McDermott for how well she handles some of the true nastiness in her characters – it always makes sense, and is never there for the sake of a character having to be nasty to justify a dark genre), and of the fantastical.  There is some particular imagery from near the end of the book that I will likely never be able to get out of my head (if you’ve read the book, I bet you know what I mean).

And, without spoiling anything, Perfections has a seriously good ending.

Reading as a reader, I was utterly captivated by this world (and loving some of the connections to McDermott’s other work).  As a writer, I was torn between deep envy and deep admiration for just how damn well McDermott writes.  The envy doesn’t last long, of course, especially when an author is as damn nice as McDermott is.

Horror and dark fantasy are genres that have, at times, a bad reputation – I know plenty of readers who won’t even touch something that might be horror.  And honestly, with some of the books and movies that are in the genre, I don’t blame them (reputations are, sometimes, justified things).  And yes, sometimes there is absolutely nothing wrong with gore for the sake of gore, fear for the sake of fear.  I do wish that some of the readers who shy away would pick up books like Perfections and realise that there can be much more to the horror/dark fantasy genre.

Perfections is an incredible book.  It is haunting and evocative, presenting a world that is just so slightly askew from our own, but populated with characters who live and breathe so well that they could be anyone you know.  McDermott is one of Australia’s best writers of dark fiction, and if you haven’t read any of her work, Perfections is an extremely good place to start.  And then prepare to devour everything else.
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Review: Kaleidoscope

kaleidoscope

 

 

I make no secret of the fact that I am a huge fan of the work that Twelfth Planet Press has been putting out over the last few years.  So when the crowdfunding compaign for a YA anthology, Kaleidoscope, was announced, I was already on board.

And then I read what Twelfth Planet Press were aiming with, and I couldn’t throw money at the project fast enough.  To quote from the pozible campaign:

Kaleidoscope is an anthology of diverse contemporary YA fantasy & science fiction stories, which will be edited by Julia Rios and Alisa Krasnostein, and published by Twelfth Planet Press. Too often popular culture and media defaults to a very narrow cross section of the world’s populace. We believe that people of all kinds want to see themselves reflected in stories. We also believe that readers actively enjoy reading stories about people who aren’t exactly like them. We want see more stories featuring people who don’t always get the spotlight, so we’re gathering a wonderful variety of:

* YA fantasy stories [Update: As of 10/23 we are also open to science fiction]
* Set in the modern world 
* Featuring teen protagonists from diverse backgrounds

The main characters in Kaleidoscope stories will be part of the QUILTBAG, neuro-diverse, disabled, from non-Western cultures, people of color, or in some other way not the typical straight, white, cis-gendered, able-bodied characters we see all over the place.

That said, these aren’t going to be issue stories. The focus here is contemporary fantasy, and while the characters’ backgrounds will necessarily affect how they engage with the world, we’re not going to have a collection of “Very Special Episode” stories about kids coming to terms with their sexuality/disability/mental illness/cultural identity, etc. We want to see protagonists from all sorts of backgrounds being the heroes of their own journeys.

A note before I begin: the stories from Australian authors in this anthology are currently entrants in the Aurealis Awards; I am a judge on the YA panel, and as such will not be talking about these stories in this review.  I hope to come back and add a review of the Australian stories once the judging period has ended and the awards announced.

First of all, this is a pretty, pretty book.  Twelfth Planet Press have produced some really gorgeous books (seriously, I don’t think the TPP team is capable of producing anything less), and, in my opinion, Kaleidoscope and the recent reprinting of Kirstyn McDermott’s Perfections have taken the quality to an even higher level.  Many kudos to Amanda Rainey for the striking cover art.

One of the aims of Kaleidoscope in the Pozible campaign was to be inclusive, but that the stories included in the anthology were not going to be “issue stories”.  Does the final product follow through on this aim?  Oh yes, and then some.

All of the stories in the anthology are exceptional – even those that didn’t resonate for me (and that says much more about me as a reader than it does about any of the stories) are extremely good stories.

I’m not going to talk about every story, just the ones that are particular favourites of mine:

Alena McNamara’s The Day the God Died, in which a gender-questioning teenager encounters a strange, dying god.  The image of the god itself haunts me, long after I finished reading this story, and I’d very much like to read more of McNamara’s work.

E.C. Myers’ Kiss and Kiss and Kiss and Tell, in which a mentally ill girl encounters a new drug that supposedly shows you the future, only no one knows how the drug interacts with psychoactive medication.  The treatment of mental illness in this one is brilliant, and it is highly recommended.  Also, points for great title.

Sofia Samatar’s Walkdog, which is written in the form of a term paper, complete with mispellings here and there (and all I can think about is editor’s brains breaking as they leave them in).  This story is my favourite out of the anthology – it is brilliantly written and seriously haunting.  I think Samatar is one of the most talented writers being published right now, and this story is perhaps one of the best things that she has written.

Amal El-Mohtar’s The Truth About Owls, in which the Lebanese-British protagonist finds herself drawn to Welsh mythology in an attempt to try to understand herself.  Just beautiful.

Shveta Thakrar’s Krisha Blue, in which a teenage artist who feels that she does not fit in discovers a strange new power.  This story speaks so much to the teenage girl I was – I wasn’t an artist, but I shared Neha’s feeling of isolation, and reading a story like this would have made me feel less alone.

John Chu’s Double Time explores a world where people have the technology to jump back in time; in this case it’s used by figure skaters to jump back and skate routines beside themselves.  Chu captures that feeling of being a teenager, never feeling like you’re going to live up to people’s expectations, so perfectly.

Overall, Kaleidoscope is probably one of the strongest anthologies I have read.  I can see so many teenagers and adults opening this, people who feel other and alone, and finding themselves in the pages somewhere.  And anyone who doesn’t might just be able to take a step back from their own life and feel compassion for the people they have always seen as Other.

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Snapshot 2014: Lindy Cameron

Lindy Cameron aAn independent publisher and crime writer, Lindy is author of the Kit O’Malley PI trilogy Blood Guilt, Bleeding Hearts and Thicker Than Water; the archaeological mystery Golden Relic; the action thriller, Redback; and the sf crime Feedback.

She’s also co-author of the true crime collections Killer in the Family & Murder in the Family (with her sister Fin J Ross); and Women Who Kill (with Ruth Wykes).

Lindy is a founding member and National Co-Convenor of Sisters in Crime Australia, and the Publisher of Clan Destine Press.

www.clandestinepress.com.au

1. You have been involved in many aspects of the writing industry – as a writer, as an anthology editor, and now you have your own press, Clan Destine Press, which aims to publish all kinds of genre fiction, both from new writer and established writers.  Since 2010, CDP has produced an impressive array of work, and shows no sign of slowing down.  Can you share something about the process by which you set up CDP, and do you have any advice for anyone who’s thinking of beginning their own small press?

The start-up process for CDP was to jump from high orbit with untested rocket-boots and no parachute.  Since then I’ve been rocketing around like a lunatic collecting authors who are well known in other genres, (with other publishers) and letting them try something different with the Clan.

So, we publish the ancient history novels of famous crime writer Kerry Greenwood; and the gritty crime novels of best-selling fantasy writers Rowena Cory Daniells and Alison Goodman.

We’ve also adopted some well-known writers and their latest books – Narrelle M Harris, Sandy Curtis, Jane Clifton, Jane Routley, Patricia Bernard, Goldie Alexander.

As ‘uncovering new Aussie genre writers’ is one of our prime objectives I’m pleased to say our debut author list is growing too: with urban fantasy already out from Cheryse Durrant and Dean J Anderson; new crime fiction coming from Sandi Wallace and Barry Weston; and new YA specfic from Mary Borsellino.

Some of our authors have taken to writing erotica for our Encounters imprint; and Crime Shots, our true crime imprint, is growing.

We are also determined to thoroughly thrash the outdated concept of any author’s ‘backlist’ by publishing our authors ‘previous novels’ as CDP front list eBooks.

I realise the problem with my rocket-boots was neglecting to factor in a landing pad.

My only real advice for anyone starting their own small press is: ‘be prepared to work 24/7′.

2. Several of your books have won major Australian crime fiction awards.  What is your opinion on the importance of genre awards to Australian writers and readers?  Do you believe that we as a community value our awards enough?

Awards are important – if for no other reason than they draw attention to all the contenders. Once we know what books are eligible for the Aurealis or the Davitts every year, we know what we have to catch up on reading.

While we don’t write for awards (any more than we write for money) their existence gives us writers a standard to aspire to; and a club to hopefully join one day.

3. What can we expect from you, both on an individual level as a writer, and from CDP, in the future?

Redback sm I am currently working on the sequel to my action thriller Redback; and on a timeshift novel featuring archaeologists and Amazons.

It looks like 2015 will be the year of spec-fic and sf for CDP. My coup is the snaffling of Jason Nahrung – he’s mine all mine! – and his awesome outback vampire action duology. There will also be some digital-first space opera from Pete Aldin and Rick Kennet.

One of our newest innovations is Clan Destine Fictions which is a digital imprint that allows us to publish short fiction – in every genre – and in any length from a single short story to a novella, to collections of short stories.

We have published some fantastic – and some award-winning – specfic, horror, sf, crime and cats (yes, cats they’re everywhere) by writers like: Emilie Collyer, Liz Filleul, Lindy Cameron, David Greagg and Sarah Evans

4. What Australian works have you loved recently?

Jason Nahrung’s Blood & Dust is an incredible action novel that simply oozes the Australian outback; Ellie Marney’s YA crime novel Every Breath is breathtakingly good; and now I’m headlong into Alan Baxter’s excellent Bound.

5. Have recent changes in the publishing industry influenced the way you work? What do you think you will be publishing/writing/reading in five years from now?

I am living the changes in the publishing industry and trying to make them all work for CDP and my authors.

I do wish the indie booksellers who complain about people buying online, would actually commit to stocking and promoting Australian books from Australian (indie) publishers – then the paperback just might survive in a real-world bookshops.

 



SnaphotLogo2014This interview was conducted as part of the 2014 
Snapshot of Australian Speculative Fiction. We’ll be blogging interviews from 28 July to 10 August and archiving them at SF Signal. You can read interviews at: Tsana DolichvaNick Evans, Stephanie Gunn, Kathryn Linge, Elanor Matton-Johnson, David McDonald, Helen Merrick, Jason Nahrung, Ben Payne, Alex Pierce, Tansy Rayner Roberts, Helen Stubbs, Katharine Stubbs, Tehani Wessely and Sean Wright.

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Snapshot: Russell B. Farr

Russell B. Farr is the founder of Ticonderoga Publications. In 2013 he was awarded the A. Bertram Chandler Award for outstanding achievement in Australian Science Fiction. His life revolves around his incredible wife Liz Grzyb, and he is ruled by their cat.

1. Ticonderoga Publications has published an incredible variety of books since it was founded in 1996. Ticonderoga has contributed to the careers of many of Australia’s speculative fiction authors, and has published many successful collected works. The most recent release is Janeen Webb’s Death at the Blue Elephant. Can you tell us something about the process by which you work with authors to produce a collected work?

Working with Janeen Webb was fabulous and painless. I’ve been a fan of Janeen’s work for quite some time, and during a brave moment suggested that we do a collection. It’s hard to describe the process of putting together a book like this because things came together wonderfully and smoothly, almost organically. It’s a collaborative process, a shared vision, even though the final book I think has exceeded both our expectations.

Generally speaking, collections start with me, in an instant of fear-induced courage, approaching a writer whose work I love. Some, like Greg Mellor, turn up on the doorstep with a recommendation from a writer whose work I love (something along the lines of “you really need to publish this person, or else”). Either way, I have to love the stories: I’m not going to publish a book that I can’t personally recommend.

There’s almost always an interesting discussion around how much original content a collection should have. Much as I love to be publishing lots of original stories, I think it’s important that there be a balance – any original story in a TP collection is one less story a writer could be getting another payment elsewhere, and I’d like to make sure writers get paid. Some writers want lots of original stories in collections. Depending on the collection, between 2 and 4 originals can be a good balance.

I’m keen to involve writers in the cover design; it’s important that the writers get a book that they are proud of. While we can’t always afford to give a writer the absolute book of their dreams, I’m confident that every one of our writers loves the way their book looks.

There’s an art to putting stories in order. Some stories play well together, others don’t. It may just be a turn of phrase that a couple have in common: gotta keep them separated. I like to balance longer and shorter pieces, and finish the book on a story that ends with hope.

2. When Ticonderoga Publications was founded, what did you envision for its future? Has that vision changed in the years since, and if so, how?

There were no long term plans when TP kicked off, it started with me reading a bunch of stories by the late Steven Utley and wondering why no one had published a collection of his work (ah the days of being a 23 year-old with attitude). The result was Ghost Seas, still one of my favourite books. Then I started looking around at Australian writers publishing brilliant and uncollected short stories. It was definitely a project to project approach, with no real long-term vision.

Some of that hasn’t changed, I still think that at our core we’re looking to bring books into the world that deserve to be read and enjoyed. A few years back I started almost over-planning things, working to make sure we produced a number of titles with a cross-genre spread each year. That worked until life happened, as it is wont to do, and the inflexibility became a bit of a burden.

I’m still looking for a happy medium, where all our books get the attention they deserve, are released to a schedule, but there’s a flexibility that allows for some spontaneity.

3. What can we expect to see from Ticonderoga Publications in the future?

Beautiful books. Too many books, as we’re a little off schedule this year. August should see a limited hardcover edition of Angela Slatter’s Black-Winged Angels, illustrated by Kathleen Jennings and introduced by Juliet Marillier. Also coming up is the first novel in a fantasy series, The Assassin of Nara, by R.J. Ashby. There’s a steampunk novel, The Emerald Key, by Christine Purcell and Stuart Sternberg. Our fourth Year’s Best Australian Fantasy & Horror will hit the shelves shortly. There’s a fantastic collection by Ian McHugh, Angel Dust. I’m hoping to round out the year with Aurum, our 50th title, an anthology of original novellas by a bunch of writers I’m really excited by.

4. What Australian works have you loved recently?

You mean reading actual published books? I’m woefully behind on my reading pile (and sadly only a bit more up to date on my slush reading). I’ve loved Jo Anderton’s Suited and Debris (haven’t read Guardian yet). I’m currently sitting on some fabulous novellas by Anderton, Susan Wardle, Angie Rega, and yourself, among others. Loved Kate Forsyth’s The Wild Girl. Most of the time if I’m reading genre I’m feeling guilty about not reading some of the fabulous subs waiting for my attention.

Publishing the Year’s Best Australian Fantasy and Horror series has been fortuitous – Talie Helene and Liz Grzyb present me each year with a bunch of stories by writers like Angela Slatter, Lisa Hannett, Isobel Carmody, Margo Lanagan, Martin Livings, Ian McHugh, Anna Tambour, Dirk Flinthart, Jason Fischer, Kaaron Warren, Thoraiya Dyer, Terry Dowling, Richard Harland, Cat Sparks, Robert Hood – I’d say ‘the usual suspects’ but these days it’s more of a chorus line than a line-up.

Of course I’ve loved every book we’ve published recently, too!

5. Have recent changes in the publishing industry influenced the way you work? What do you think you will be publishing/writing/reading in five years from now?

Recent changes like crowd-sourcing, ebooks, and online vs bricks and mortar selling, probably haven’t made things easier for us. Ebooks have been a disappointment, as I’m yet to feel truly comfortably with the quality of the medium – I have a feel for what looks good on a printed page, but still struggle with a medium that comes with multiple formats and that I can’t control the way the finished product is displayed. I like to make good looking books, and I don’t feel the same sense of accomplishment and satisfaction in making ebooks.

Crowd-sourcing is a good model for some industries, like gaming and film, where there’s a lot of up-front developmental costs and it’s really about a single product. I’m not sure that it translates well to publishing: the goal of a press should be sustainability, not a one-off book. When we say we’ll publish a book, we will. It doesn’t matter if we get 100 pre-orders or 0. While participating in a crowd sourced venture, promising someone money to do something cool, does have an emotional payback: that overt feeling of satisfaction to know that coolness happened partly because of your contribution. I’d like to think that you can also get that feeling from buying from a small press publisher. Anyone who buys a Ticonderoga book can say that they have contributed to the creation of all of our books.

If I’m still making books in 2019 I’d like to hope that they are still beautiful, meaningful, thoughtful, and entertaining. If they can be profitable by then that would be a bonus. I’d like to be publishing a good mix of short fiction and novels, maybe have ticked off a few more names on my hit list of writers I’d love to work with (and some folks only just beginning their careers). Maybe by then I’ll have things worked out so I can read more of everything.

Five years from now I’ll have been doing Ticonderoga half of my life. That’s a scary thought.

 

 

 



SnaphotLogo2014This interview was conducted as part of the 2014 
Snapshot of Australian Speculative Fiction. We’ll be blogging interviews from 28 July to 10 August and archiving them at SF Signal. You can read interviews at: Tsana DolichvaNick Evans, Stephanie Gunn, Kathryn Linge, Elanor Matton-Johnson, David McDonald, Helen Merrick, Jason Nahrung, Ben Payne, Alex Pierce, Tansy Rayner Roberts, Helen Stubbs, Katharine Stubbs, Tehani Wessely and Sean Wright.

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Snapshot 2014: Pia van Ravestein (Pia Ravenari)

paperblanks - portrait 650x482 JPEGPIA VAN RAVESTEIN lives in Ellenbrook, Western Australia. She studied writing and scriptwriting at university, and has published short stories and won several poetry competitions. Recently, after several years of focusing almost exclusively on her artwork (including the cover of Juliet Marillier’s Prickle Moon), Pia has returned to hard science fiction, m/m erotica, fantasy and Australian literature writing. She is hoping to find some kind of balance between the visual and written arts, which mostly involves chaotically bouncing between the two.

Pia’s artwork gallery, under the name Pia Ravenari, can be found at deviantart.

1. Your short story, Street Dancer, published in the Ticonderoga Publications anthology Dreaming of Djinn, recently won a 2014 Tin Duck award for the best Western Australian short story.  First of all, congratulations on the win.  The story contains both memorable characters and gives the reader a glimpse into a fascinating world (and has the best cat ever to be written in a short story).  When you’re writing, do you find that you start with characters or worldbulding first?  Are you the kind of writer who tends to do a lot of research?

That cat needs a book of his own, I swear. With writing, it really depends. Street Dancer was about the characters. I really wanted to write about these two men in love, where one was a male street dancer (specifically bellydancing) and the other was in many ways his opposite. The world was incidental at first, until I realised they had a mechanical cat that needed repairing, that the sky they looked towards was constantly polluted due to exhaust fumes. But the worldbuilding definitely came second. There always comes a point for me where eventually the worldbuilding is as important and everything intertwines and becomes interdependent on each other (like any good relationship) – but until that point, I’m all about characters.

I really enjoy research, and sometimes suffer from doing so much that I can intimidate myself out of a story – I deal with that by just throwing myself in the deep end and researching as I go. I have the habit of picking up new side hobbies from research – for example, I’ve become something of an amateur meteorologist and avid cloud-watcher thanks to researching weather patterns and inclement weather for a science fiction trilogy.

2. As well as being a writer, you’re also a prolific artist, and have illustrated several book covers, with your first foray into illustrating speculative fiction being the cover for Juliet Marillier’s Ticonderoga Publications collection, Prickle Moon.  How does your process work as a cover artist, creating the kind of cover that a writer and publisher, as well as you, are happy with?

Click to view full size at Deviantart.

Full artwork for Prickle Moon. Click to view full size at Deviantart.

pricklemoonI was really fortunate to work with Juliet Marillier and Ticonderoga, who were both so generous with their time and thoughts and willingness to give me a lot of creative control. Juliet and I conceived the cover together – she had an idea of what sort of feeling and energy she wanted to convey, as well as the subject matter, and I brought a sketchpad and did some very rough mock-ups for her to look at and choose what she liked most. We were in an unusual situation in that not many publishers let an author choose their cover artist, and not many authors and cover artists get to collaborate together in such an awesome way; so I suspect my process with the Prickle Moon cover might not be repeated again in the same way in the future. But it was a great way to create something that felt atmospheric and magical, using art to really communicate elements of such wonderful writing.

As for that process, I went from sketches, to a rough draft, to a more formal draft, into the actual inking / colouring – sending updates as I went. I worked in traditional mediums – ink and coloured pencil, and the detailed original took a few months to create. The original is now with Juliet, which is very humbling. Communication and making sure folks are in the loop are two important parts of how I work as an artist – it seems to work okay!

3. What can we expect from you in the future?  Are you open to offers to illustrate more book covers?

I’m definitely open to internal illustration / external cover work at the moment, as long as people are happy to have my style. I have an Australian literature novel I’d like to start sending around to agents at the end of the year, and I have a science fiction trilogy that I’m still sinking my teeth into. I’m aiming to start writing more spec fic short stories in the last half of 2014 / beginning of 2015. I’ve been very busy writing LGBTQIA fantasy and erotica under a different name, and that’s been going very well and has gotten me in touch with some amazing artists and writers. After a hiatus from artwork, I’m heading back into it, especially works associated with fantasy, science fiction, horror that have a heavy thematic bent towards the natural world.

4. What Australian works have you loved recently?

The Ticonderoga anthology, Kisses by Clockwork, was incredible. I’ve been re-reading Cecilia Dart Thornton’s Bitterbynde Trilogy; which I always seem to do at least once a year. C. S. Pacat is releasing the third Captive Prince novel this year and I’m so excited for that I actually feel like I’m going to explode whenever I consider it (the first two novels are exquisite, and I love the thought that’s gone into the worldbuilding, and the astute characterisation).

5. Have recent changes in the publishing industry influenced the way you work? What do you think you will be publishing/writing/reading in five years from now?

It’s funny, you know, but alongside the original fiction and the artwork, I’m actually an avid fanfiction writer and reader and really love that world of things as well. It’s becoming more accepted (slowly, painfully) amongst original content writers to sort of admit that they have affiliations with fanfiction and fanworks, and I’ve noticed a lot more interplay between fanfiction authors becoming published (not always a good thing – but sometimes it is!) and original content authors being more willing to admit they write, or wrote, fanfiction. I actually really love the fanfiction model of content release – serialised format, liberal warnings for those who are possibly triggered by content, easy accessibility and often more experimental styles of narration, and a greater willingness to include erotica in fleshed out stories. Some of the best Australian writers I’m reading this year are writing fanfiction.

That, as well as the world of self-publishing and online indie publishing, has really influenced how I look at the world of publishing and what it can do for me. The traditional model doesn’t really some of my preferred genres of writing, and I’m finding a surprising amount of success using a fanfiction model for original writing. I know authors like C.S. Pacat have found the same.

As for what I think I’ll be publishing / writing / reading, hmmm. Publishing – hopefully a mix of things! I’ve never been content to be tied down to one genre. As for writing, I have book ideas that are planned / plotted out in LGBTQIA fantasy and erotica that will see me through the next 5-7 years and an Australian literature novel that I’d like to have completed by 2020. Short stories are back on the table in spec fic, as well as a few novel ideas. As for reading, I seem to have settled between a 60 / 40 split between fanfiction and original fiction. I’m hoping to get that back to about 50 / 50 – but reading fanfiction and finding things that cater so specifically to my needs as a reader has made me a lot more discerning about what I’ll spend time reading in terms of original content work – so we’ll see!

 



SnaphotLogo2014This interview was conducted as part of the 2014 
Snapshot of Australian Speculative Fiction. We’ll be blogging interviews from 28 July to 10 August and archiving them at SF Signal. You can read interviews at: Tsana Dolichva, Nick Evans, Stephanie Gunn, Kathryn Linge, Elanor Matton-Johnson, David McDonald, Helen Merrick, Jason Nahrung, Ben Payne, Alex Pierce, Tansy Rayner Roberts, Helen Stubbs, Katharine Stubbs, Tehani Wessely and Sean Wright.

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Snapshot 2014: Allyse Near

author photoBorn in 1989, Allyse Near counts Neil Gaiman, Angela Carter, Francesca Lia Block and the Brothers Grimm among her biggest literary influences. She obtained a Bachelor of Arts from Deakin University, majoring in Professional and Creative Writing, and won Deakin’s inaugural Judith Rodriguez Prize for Fiction for her short story ‘Venus In The Twelfth House’ while in her second year.

Allyse writes deconstructed pulp-fairytales that almost always revolve around women, the wilderness and witchcraft. Her debut novel is ‘Fairytales for Wilde Girls’.

 

 

1. Your debut novel, Fairytales for Wilde Girls, recently won Aurealis Awards in both the Best YA and Best Horror Novel categories, and was shortlisted for the Children’s Book of the Year Awards.  First of all, congratulations!  How does it feel to have your first novel garner so much positive attention?  Did you ever think that you were writing something that would win and be shortlisted for national awards?

Thank you – and not at all! It was supremely cool and unexpected to win both Aurealis Awards I was nominated for. I didn’t even write an acceptance speech beforehand – it felt too optimistic! The CBCA nomination is great, too – I can tell relatives that it’s the one that puts the little golden-bronze medallion on the book cover and they know exactly what I’m talking about.

 

fairytales cover

 

2. Fairytales for Wilde Girls is your first novel, and a pretty spectacular debut.  Can you tell us anything about what inspired it, and about the process of writing it and getting it published?

I wrote it in a feverish whirlwind, actually spending much longer on the subsequent editing than the initial book-crafting, and I’ve got to say, if you don’t enjoy line editing then you won’t like being a writer since that’s the bulk of it! ‘Fairytales’ was two projects originally, the major one being a book of short, original Grimm-style fairy-stories, and the second a vague scrap about a girl with six magical guardians who represented facets of her personality and past. Those projects collided and made a baby, and that baby became ‘Fairytales for Wilde Girls’. I sent the first fifty pages to Pippa Masson at Curtis Brown Australia, and then she got me signed up with Zoe Walton at Random House Australia.


3. What do you have planned next for your writing career?  

Next up I’ve got The New Book, which currently has two warring titles (neither of which is ‘The New Book’ – it’s just a placeholder). I think of it as a big, poisoned wedding cake of a novel, about a teenaged mother trapped in a cult, and the twistedness of child beauty pageants, and the memories contained in childhood dolls. I’m hoping to wrap it up in the next month, so it can be sent off for publishing in 2015. In the future I’d love to collaborate on a graphic novel, write something spooky for adults, and one day write a princess movie for Disney. Those are the ultimate dreams!

4. What Australian works have you loved recently?

Well, it’s awards season, so there’s so much on my to-be-read pile! Most recently, I’ve enjoyed Margo Lanagan’s ‘Black Juice’ – I love short stories, and she’s just so, so good it – and I’ve just started on Melissa Keil’s ‘Life in Outer Space’, which promises to be a super-fun read.

5. Have recent changes in the publishing industry influenced the way you work? What do you think you will be publishing/writing/reading in five years from now?

If books are to survive in the digital world – and they will! – then I want to see a return to leather covers, embossed spines, gilded edges, art, texture – that’s my dream! I want to see book designs become more sensory, to play up the differences between digital and physical books. If people are going to spend more on paper books then I want them to be worth it. For example, I specifically asked for character portraits in my novel because I wanted it to have that tactile feel of a proper book of fairytales, which always had those bookplate-style illustrations inserted between stories.

 



SnaphotLogo2014This interview was conducted as part of the 2014 
Snapshot of Australian Speculative Fiction. We’ll be blogging interviews from 28 July to 10 August and archiving them at SF Signal. You can read interviews at: Tsana DolichvaNick Evans, Stephanie Gunn, Kathryn Linge, Elanor Matton-Johnson, David McDonald, Helen Merrick, Jason Nahrung, Ben Payne, Alex Pierce, Tansy Rayner Roberts, Helen Stubbs, Katharine Stubbs, Tehani Wessely and Sean Wright.

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Snapshot 2014: Lisa L. Hannett

lisahannett

Lisa L Hannett has had over 55 short stories appear in venues including ClarkesworldFantasyWeird TalesChiZine, the Year’s Best Australian Fantasy and Horror (2010, 2011 & 2012), and Imaginarium: Best Canadian Speculative Writing (2012 & 2013). She has won three Aurealis Awards, including Best Collection 2011 for her first book, Bluegrass Symphony, which was also nominated for a World Fantasy Award. Her first novel,Lament for the Afterlife, is being published by CZP in 2015. You can find her online at http://lisahannett.com and on Twitter @LisaLHannett.

 

 

1.  The collection co-authored by you and Angela Slatter, The Female Factory, is due out this year from Twelfth Planet Press (as part of the Twelve Planets series).  This is the second collection that you and Angela Slatter have co-authored (the first being Midnight and Moonshine, from Ticonderoga Press).  Can you tell us something about how you and Angela Slatter came to collaborate (and to do so very successfully), and how the process of collaboration works for you both?

The first and most important step in our collaboration process, I’d say, is that Angela and I already knew each other, and knew each other’s work intimately, before we decided to try writing something together. We’d spent six weeks critiquing each other’s stories at Clarion South in 2009, so we knew that we could give and take criticism from each other — and, more crucially, that the feedback we gave each other was usually helpful (or, indeed, spot-on). So before we put our minds together on a co-authored work, we already trusted each other immensely. That trust is what has kept us working together since our first story, ‘The February Dragon’, came out in 2010. (An added bonus, of course, is that this first collaboration won ‘Best Fantasy Short Story’ at the Aurealis Awards! That was certainly encouraging!)

As for the nuts and bolts of how we collaborate: we usually start with an idea sparking an excited What if? discussion; an image or concept that leads to a flurry of questions like, “what if this happened” and “what if she does this” and “what if they do this because of that — oooh, and then that…” Since we live on opposite sides of the country, this is done via email, text messages, Skype and over the phone. With Midnight and Moonshine, we spent a productive day at a convention one year, holed up in our hotel room, plotting the story arc for the book as a whole, roughly planning how each story would lead into the next, and so on. It was great fun getting to brainstorm in person!

Next, we usually compile our scribbles and brainstormed thoughts and share them to make sure we’re both on the same page. From there, one of us will start a draft of the story — and how far we go with each draft changes from story to story. If we’re feeling inspired, we might scribble down a whole draft before we send it back; if not, we write until the words run out, then hand it over with a rough “This is where I think the story’s going…” note attached. Sometimes the story comes out chronologically, but sometimes we’ll build it all out of sequence, jumping between early scenes and later ones, until the whole thing comes together. The story flies back and forth until it’s done — and with two of us working on it, this usually means there are way more drafts than if I’m working on a piece solo. Meanwhile, we use track changes and comments until the document is multi-coloured and the margins riddled with bubbles; so we ‘talk’ to each other throughout the writing and editing process, making it perfectly clear why we’ve made the changes we’ve made, added the things we have, deleted or rearranged scenes the way we have, etc.

Good communication + bearing in mind that you are sharing this work / it is not yours alone + not being precious about changes +  being willing to compromise = continued and happy collaborations.

2. Your short stories have garnered an impressive number of awards, reprints in Year’s Best anthologies and honourable mentions in several of Ellen Datlow’s Year’s Best Horror anthologies.  How much do you feel that awards and recognitions feed into the strength of the speculative fiction community in Australia?  Do you feel that we value our awards enough?

This is a tough question (also: thank you!) and one I’ve thought about a lot in the past, so please excuse me if I blab at length.

I love to see people win awards. I love going to awards shows. I love seeing shortlists and longlists and honourable mentions lists and lists of winners. I think awards are valuable inasmuch as they (a) make a few writers feel pretty darned chuffed every now and again, and (b) they have the potential to generate interest in a given work and/or publisher, for a little while. (This is why I like lists of all kinds: they’re handy reference points for seeking out authors or new works I haven’t read yet.) But at the same time, awards shouldn’t be seen as the be-all and end-all of writing.

Don’t get me wrong: I was super-excited when Bluegrass Symphony was nominated for a World Fantasy Award. (Writer = CHUFFED!) And I have no doubt that the shortlisting brought my work to the attention of some folks that otherwise wouldn’t have seen it. Winning two Aurealis Awards for Bluegrass was also wonderful because it felt like a shining moment of recognition by my peers in Australia. So in that sense, the “chuffed” factor does help to strengthen the speculative fiction community here in Australia; telling other people in an industry that you love that you think their work is special is good for morale, it is encouraging, and it helps to perpetuate great writing. But that doesn’t mean that the writers whose works haven’t been nominated aren’t awesome, that their work isn’t worth spruiking, or that their stories aren’t as good (or better) than the ones that happened to appear on awards lists that year.

There are so many factors that affect how awards are given that, really, you only have to give them as much or as little value as you see fit. In recent years, the Aurealis Awards have seemed to become really respected in our community. Authors and publishers alike pay attention to the AA shortlists because they’ve tended to get more “right” (according to popular opinion) than “wrong”. But having said that, I think the concept of “right” and “wrong” when it comes to awards is a skewed one. After all, the whole process is so subjective. They’re basically like reviews on a grander scale (but with far fewer words).

Awards panels are made up of people, with biases and unique tastes, which may or may not have a liking for your particular flavour of fiction. That doesn’t necessarily mean your flavour of fiction is horrible. Same thing applies to editors of Best of anthologies: these people are readers, with likes and dislikes, just like the rest of us. One editor might hate your story while another one loves it to pieces. Fan-decided awards may have a small pool of voters that all love certain authors that year; that doesn’t mean they are “better” or “worse” than up-and-comers who haven’t yet burst onto the scene. There may have been a dozen absolutely brilliant novels published the same year yours came out; some will win awards, others will be overlooked. The long and short of it, to quote Vonnegut, is: “So it goes.”

3. What can we expect from you in the future?  Do you have any plans to move into longer form work?

Yes, absolutely. My first novel, Lament for the Afterlife, is being published by ChiZine Publications next year (keep an eye out for it around August). Lament (as the title suggests) is a dark book; it’s a speculation on war, following the story of one young soldier, Peytr Borysson, as he tries to cope with things he’s done on the battlefield. Think Platoon meets Pan’s Labyrinth; fantasy and war all mixed together.

At the moment I’m working on a second novel, an historical speculative fiction about one of the first settlers of Iceland, a woman named Unnr the Deep-Minded who lived in the late 10th century. I did my PhD in medieval Icelandic literature, so this novel is built on previous research and is also a labour of love: Unnr is a fascinating character, and the sagas have so much magic in them, that the lure of writing her story was impossible to resist. Finally, I also have another novel in draft form, which is percolating in my desk drawer for a while. It’s called The Familiar and it revolves around witches and shapeshifting lunatics, and is the first book in a possible series of three.

In the meantime, I’m also working on short stories because I love writing short so much!

4. What Australian works have you loved recently?

Although I’ve read them recently, these aren’t all necessarily new works, but I’ll mention them all anyway. I love Kirstyn McDermott’s writing, so I have thoroughly enjoyed her latest novel Perfections as well as her Twelve Planets collection, Caution: Contains Small Parts. An older pair of books I had a blast reading was Juliet Marillier’s ‘Light Isles’ duology, Wolfskin and Foxmask (Vikings and fantasy! Right up my alley.) I was also delighted to get a copy of Jo Anderton’s Guardian — which I’ve only just started, but love being back in the world she built in Debris and Suited (which I have read, and have loved!) — and I’ve been dipping in and out of her Bone Chime Song and Other Stories, too. Another great book I’ve been savouring is Anna Tambour’s Crandolin — such a delicious work! I’m very much looking forward to seeing Angela Slatter’s Bitterwood Bible and Other Recountings in print later this year (I’ve had a sneak peek at it, and it is MARVELLOUS) and it will also be great to see Black-Winged Angels come out — complete with gorgeous illustrations by Kathleen Jennings. Last but not least, I picked up a copy of Alan Baxter’s Bound the other day and I can’t wait to get stuck into it.

5. Have recent changes in the publishing industry influenced the way you work? What do you think you will be publishing/writing/reading in five years from now?

They haven’t affected the way I work, but certainly have the way I read. In terms of writing, the only time I’d bear different platforms in mind was when submitting to a magazine that only publishes online — few people want to read 10,000 words on a computer screen. Having said that, with so many e-platforms available (iPads, etc) even that isn’t a huge concern anymore. In terms of reading, though, changes in publishing have seen me buying a lot more books, full stop. I still buy paper books, and now also buy heaps of e-books. I do a lot more impulse buying on my Kindle than I ever did on Book Depository… and I buy a lot more novellas because they are so affordable and so easy to get on the Kindle than ever before.

As for the five year prediction? I imagine I’ll still be reading widely (I read a lot more Lit fiction than anything else nowadays, but get as much SpecFic in there as possible!) and I’ll probably happily embrace whatever wacky book-related technology gets thrown my way. Reading addicts, like me, will read whatever, whenever, howsoever it gets presented to them; I can’t imagine I’ll change much in that respect in the next five years. Ditto with what I’ll be writing: I am always drawn to stories with speculative elements, so whether I’m writing secondary world stuff or historical fiction, it will have a supernatural twist. Also, I’ve got another collection of interconnected short stories on the boil (tales of fantastical foods), and would love to see that come to life within the next few years.

 



SnaphotLogo2014This interview was conducted as part of the 2014 
Snapshot of Australian Speculative Fiction. We’ll be blogging interviews from 28 July to 10 August and archiving them at SF Signal. You can read interviews at: Tsana DolichvaNick Evans, Stephanie Gunn, Kathryn Linge, Elanor Matton-Johnson, David McDonald, Helen Merrick, Jason Nahrung, Ben Payne, Alex Pierce, Tansy Rayner Roberts, Helen Stubbs, Katharine Stubbs, Tehani Wessely and Sean Wright.

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Snapshot 2014: Nalini Haynes

photo by Kevin Mark

photo by Kevin Mark

Nalini Haynes has always loved science fiction and fantasy because her extended family brought her up in the way she should go by reading to her and terrifying her with Doctor Who. Nalini was selected for Adelaide Fringe Festivals’ upstART program in 2007/2008 and won the Dawn Slade-Faull Award (2008) for her artwork prior to moving to Melbourne. In 2010 Nalini founded Dark Matter Zine, now an online magazine focusing on pop culture, literature and publishing. In 2013, Nalini won the Chronos Award for Best Fan Writer in addition to being shortlisted for several other awards (2012-2014) in recognition of her work on Dark Matter.

Nalini is one of the contributors to Jim C Hines’s Invisible anthology discussing representation in SF and fantasy. Her contribution, ‘Evil Albino Trope is Evil’ can be found here for free but proceeds for the anthology go to Con or Bust.

Dark Matter Zine can be found here:

1. You have been running Dark Matter Zine since 2010; as a PDF-based ‘zine originally, then becoming an online entity in 2012.  What are some of the challenges you’ve run into in growing a project as large as DMZ has become?  Do you have any advice for other people who are looking at starting ‘zines of their own, in any medium?

Um. Where to begin??? Challenges I’ve faced:

  • Layout of the PDF zine took FOREVER even though it was quite a simple format; individual posts in a website are much easier and less time-consuming.
  • Website design and maintenance
  • Software challenges; these are Never Ending Stories
  • Time management; what to do and what to leave out; managing other people’s expectations
  • Sleeping at night because I HAVEN’T FINISHED ALL THE THINGS

Advice:

  • Look at what you like and don’t like before deciding on your format and style. Make your creation true to you; you’ll have more energy to sustain your project long-term.
  • Be prepared for people to flame, troll and bully you. The first hundred times this will take you by surprise so having a set process/plan is good; this way you won’t react, you’ll respond according to your plan. Remember: if you haven’t been flamed, trolled or bullied, you haven’t made an impact yet.
  • Avoid sites/writers/podcasters who slander, libel or give unfair criticism. Constructive criticism is excellent but exposing yourself to diatribe that is really just people shitting on you is pointless self-flagellation AND A WASTE OF TIME. Rolling in toxic waste will NOT turn you into a kick-ass turtle.
  • Be prepared for requests. At first no-one will send media passes or books for review. When you become established, you’ll receive lots of ‘Hi, review my book’ and ‘Will you interview me?’ This is fabulous then the issue becomes battling burn out. Most zines, online or offline, only last a year or two. If you want to make an impact, you must plan for long-term survival in the midst of the zombie apocalypse.

2. As well as organising a staff of reviewers, you write a lot of reviews yourself.  What are your opinions on the responsibility of reviewers, especially in a relatively small community such as Australian speculative fiction?  Do you feel that people who volunteer their time as reviewers are valued enough by the community?

 

Here at Dark Matter Zine we do so much more than just reviewing: we do interviews, cover launches and other events, we publish articles on various topics as well as publishing the very occasional fiction story. I love and adore all Dark Matter Zine’s readers, of whom there are over 1100 per day on average for July 2014; readers are snowballing. The shattering of breaking records is music to my ears. :)

We have reviewed some Australian works from Ticonderoga Publications, Clan Destine Press, Allen & Unwin, Scribe, Hachette, Macmillan, Simon & Schuster, Penguin and HarperCollins – aren’t they fabulous for sending review copies? Overseas publishers also post books from New York and London because a large part of Dark Matter’s readership is global, with US readers usually outnumbering Aussies alongside a huge chunk of other traffic from countries like Canada, UK, Turkey, China and the Rest of the World (Goodies reference). I am in awe of our global readers!

In my opinion reviews need to be honest to respect both authors and readers. Reviews should take into account personal opinion, target market and what the author is trying to achieve while endeavouring to avoid reviewer/author conflict. I also try to assign books to a reviewer who is, most likely, going to enjoy that book – or at least enjoys that genre. For example, Bec Muir is a devout Christian who enjoys magical fantasy but has negatively reviewed books with ‘New Age’ tropes and challenging relationships; thus Dave Freer’s Cuttlefish and Steam Mole were perfect for Bec while I have discouraged her from reviewing Kim Falconer’s trilogies with pagan witches. CJ loves horror, from Stephen King to cheese (e.g. Sharknado). CJ enjoys Charlaine Harris but dislikes paranormal romance. Evie and Liz enjoy paranormal romance… You get the idea.

Reviewers are not valued enough within the SF author/editor community. I see people complain about lack of reviews and yet when we write reviews, some authors feel free to violate reviewers’ copyright by copying and pasting entire reviews to their websites! Isobelle Carmody, consummate professional that she is, asked permission to post an excerpt – a portion of a paragraph – before posting that with links to my website. Kudos to Isobelle and others like her.

I urge authors, editors and publishers to think twice about copying and pasting reviews without permission. For sites like Dark Matter, our reward – our PAYMENT – for our countless hours of work is traffic. If you’re copying reviews to your website instead of just posting links, you’re robbing us of our ‘payment’. Traffic can open doors to media passes, interviews, more review copies etc. In contrast, denying us our traffic removes incentive to spend hours writing those reviews. If you ask permission, a suitable excerpt can often be negotiated with links back to the full interview on Dark Matter Zine.

 

3. What are your plans for the future of Dark Matter Zine?

I’d like Dark Matter to become a pop culture & literature icon, a platform to feature creators and creations, facilitating discussion and more. In my wildest dreams Dark Matter earns enough or fan funds decide to support creators by sending me to various conventions to interview authors, report on conventions, photograph cosplay…

It’s a dream.

At this point I’d be happy if Dark Matter paid its own bills and I could buy a decent camcorder for interviews.

4. What Australian works have you loved recently?

Jo Spurrier’s Children of the Black Sun because it features all the social justice issues: race, gender, class, sexual orientation and disability by an author with a disability. So often people talk about ‘White Male Privilege’ but fail to acknowledge disability because disability is even lower on the sociological ladder than gender, race, religion, LGBT et al; disability remains invisible. Likewise, I enjoyed Alison Goodman’s A New Kind of Death. Both works exhibit excellent writing from talented authors.

Rules of Summer by Shaun Tan is absolutely adorable, revealing more with every reread. I’ve also enjoyed Isobelle Carmody’s Red Wind SF/F series for children.

Readers may notice that I recently gave Razorhurst by Justine Larbalestier 5 stars and I posted her book launch, complete with author talk, on DMZ. :)

5. Have recent changes in the publishing industry influenced the way you work? What do you think you will be publishing/writing/reading in five years from now?

Have recent changes in the publishing industry influenced the way you work?

RMIT has recognised changes in the publishing industry, recognising the value of online skills and experience; this meant Dark Matter Zine’s analytics helped win my place at RMIT. That’s right – all you gorgeous people who visit Dark Matter Zine helped me gain entry into the associate degree of Professional Writing and Editing and you’ve helped me impress my lecturers since. I LOVE YOU ALL.

I’ve learnt HTML code for Dark Matter alongside a lot of other, more basic, attributes of Word Press and installed various plugins to help users access Dark Matter. Having received high distinctions for 2 IT subjects at RMIT, I’m embarking on a 3rdAdvanced Desktop Publishing – where I will, once again, create a paper magazine as one of my assessment pieces. It could be argued that these developments aren’t part of publishing industry changes per se but they directly affect Dark Matter as a published magazine.

What do you think you will be publishing/writing/reading in five years from now?

I’ll be reading more diversity in literature; there’s a current trend to publish more diverse material, even in the Big 5 publishing companies who tend to be risk-averse. I suspect that the current Australian government’s policies, reverting Australia back to the early 20th century, will cause a backlash locally and internationally. Ripple effects will include more diversity and more tolerance from some with more bigotry – possibly even violence – from others. Those ‘at the back of the bus’ and those refused entry to the bus will become martyrs once more while passive bystanders record incidents on their phones. When the dust settles, we’ll take 2 steps forward then one step backwards, but there will be some progress.

I have a few stories percolating right now. One is an urban fantasy where a woman is in an abusive relationship; think Being Human crossed with Ilsa Evans’s Broken. As a former counsellor with a focus on domestic violence I feel I’m peculiarly suited to write this one, which I’m working on for the Building a Strong Narrative subject this semester. Another story features a vision impaired person forced – by the government – to accept bionic eyes. This woman is forever changed, affecting her career, her marriage and her very being. Again, my psychology and counselling studies, as well as my disability, give me unusual insight into this story. If anyone reading this says “I’ll pinch those ideas”, imagine how embarrassing it’d be if you did, only to have a crip do it better. :-P

In 5 years time… I don’t know. I imagine Dark Matter will still be rolling but it will metamorphose. Dark Matter is like a child, always growing, changing and surprising even me. I’d like to have a paying job in 5 years but a mentor in a disability mentoring program informed me no-one in the publishing industry will give me a job due to my bad eyesight. L I’d like to publish anthologies of short stories but, without a job to financially back a publishing venture, I’m too nervous. I think I’d be a kick-ass editor, though. I read stuff and want to edit it – CONTINUITY! POLISH! – but I’d have to do it independently if no-one else will employ me. I’d like to write stories and be published; I have LOTS of ideas for stories. As a child I used to tell myself stories when I couldn’t read because BOREDOM but I was told women didn’t get published unless they pretended to be men (e.g. Henry Handel Richardson). Boy was I surprised to discover Andre Norton and Ursula le Guin were women. (Seriousy!) Now I’d like to join the other side of the publishing divide.



SnaphotLogo2014This interview was conducted as part of the 2014 
Snapshot of Australian Speculative Fiction. We’ll be blogging interviews from 28 July to 10 August and archiving them at SF Signal. You can read interviews at: Tsana DolichvaNick Evans, Stephanie Gunn, Kathryn Linge, Elanor Matton-Johnson, David McDonald, Helen Merrick, Jason Nahrung, Ben Payne, Alex Pierce, Tansy Rayner Roberts, Helen Stubbs, Katharine Stubbs, Tehani Wessely and Sean Wright.

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Snapshot 2014: Zena Shapter

ZenaAHWAwinZena Shapter is a Ditmar award-winning author who loves putting characters inside the most perfect storm of their lives, then watching how they get out. She writes wild rides through the gulches of adventure that spit you out breathless, and close-to-reality books of the unexplained. She also likes to travel, having visited almost 50 countries to date in search of story inspiration. She’s won seven national fiction competitions (all blind judging) and has been published in anthologies such as “Award-Winning Australian Writing” and magazines such as Midnight Echo. Read her and follow Zena’s writing journey through the links on her website at www.zenashapter.com

1. As well as being a writer carving out a successful career, you teach other writers how to use social media to forward their own careers.  Do you believe that it is absolutely necessary for new writers to have a strong social media presence?

What a fantastic first question, Steph! Publishers today often talk about author platforms and say that an online presence is an absolute necessity for new writers. I agree that a ‘presence’ is necessary – a simple website with a contact form to enable fans to communicate with you. But a static website is not social media. Social media involves active dialogue, chatting with fans on a regular basis and keeping them interested in your work even when you’ve nothing new for them to read just yet. It’s a useful tool in a writer’s self-promotional toolkit, however it’s not the only option. If you want to carve out a successful career as a new writer, you actually have three options:

  1. Write masterful stories that demand to be read, which spread such a level of enjoyment that those stories speak for you as a writer.
  2. Physically meet and engage with readers and other writers on a meaningful level, such that they are happy to speak for you as a writer.
  3. Develop and foster a strong social media presence so that you can speak for yourself as a writer.

Ideally, of course, you’d do all three options. But Australia is so large that travelling to meet readers and writers simply isn’t as easy as in other countries, so social media becomes an alternative to that. And however masterful your story, once in the market it still has to compete against established names, so social media can help get your name ‘out there’ and deliver your high concept work to readers.

For social media to be effective, though, your heart has to be in it. Social media is all about engagement, about talking to people and being available to them. Think of social media like answering the phone – people want to hear something when they call, not just a silent line or a pre-recorded promotional message. You only get out of social media what you put in, so the key is to find the one channel that suits you and your lifestyle best, then to embrace it entirely.

2. You have won a number of short story competitions.  Do you believe that competitions are a good way for new writers to break into the field?  Do you have any advice for writers seeking to enter competitions?

To date I’ve won seven national competitions, all blind judging, and I’m very proud of that – a lot of writers would like to win just one! But I didn’t start entering competitions to break into the field. I wanted to know if I was any good as a writer and competitions were the perfect way to find out. Just as every performer has to deal with nerves, writers have to deal with self-doubt, and winning one competition after another was my way of proving to myself that I could write, and write well. After a while I realised that, yes, readers were connecting with my stories, and that was an amazing feeling. It’s that degree of confidence in my abilities that has helped me more than anything, because it’s kept me going and makes me push harder.

The thing to remember about entering competitions, though, is that it’s a competition with competitors. You’re up against writers who are determined, dedicated, experimental, inventive, talented and open. So if you’re seeking to win a competition, and you have any nagging doubts about your entry, I’d recommend you fix it before you send in your story because that’s what those other writers are doing – that’s what I’m doing. Don’t send your story in with the ‘hope’ that it might win – send it in with a knowledge that it will.

3. By any account, you’re a writer on the way up (with the Best New Talent Ditmar to prove it).  What can readers expect from you next?

I still can’t believe I won that Ditmar! It came at the best time too, shaking me out of a self-confidence low patch. I couldn’t believe I had that many supporters, that I had a watching and waiting readership! So I’m more determined than ever now to get a novel to them as quickly as possible, and my agent and I are working that. I can’t wait for you to read what’s on my computer! There will most likely be some more short stories too. To find out what gets published first and when, just follow my blog via www.zenashapter.com/blog or like my Facebook page on https://www.facebook.com/ZenaShapter. I’ll be sharing all my writing thoughts and developments on there. There’s some free short fiction to read too – just follow the links on my website.

4. What Australian works have you loved recently?

  • The Book Thief by Markus Zusak – I love first person stories. This is one of the best.
  • Anywhere But Earth edited by Keith Stevenson – sci fi short stories written by a bunch of awesome Aussie authors. Yes please!
  • Empress of Mijak by Karen Miller – it vividly transported me to a fantasy land that has inspired me as both writer and reader.

5. Have recent changes in the publishing industry influenced the way you work? What do you think you will be publishing/writing/reading in five years from now?

Change itself is never new. Humans are always evolving as a species, so too are our business practices and leisure pursuits. But the one thing that will never change is our love of story. We have always loved a good story and always will. So in that respect, the way I work hasn’t and won’t change. I will always be searching for, thinking about and creating the best stories.

In the same way, five years from now I suspect that my reading tastes will stay as eclectic as they currently are and that my writing will reflect that. Variety feeds my imagination. And you’ve got to feed your imagination when you’re a writer – it’s where you get your ideas!

 


SnaphotLogo2014This interview was conducted as part of the 2014 
Snapshot of Australian Speculative Fiction. We’ll be blogging interviews from 28 July to 10 August and archiving them at SF Signal. You can read interviews at: Tsana DolichvaNick Evans, Stephanie Gunn, Kathryn Linge, Elanor Matton-Johnson, David McDonald, Helen Merrick, Jason Nahrung, Ben Payne, Alex Pierce, Tansy Rayner Roberts, Helen Stubbs, Katharine Stubbs, Tehani Wessely and Sean Wright.

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