Category Archives: E-Zines

Meet Nalini Haynes, Editor of Dark Matter ‘Zine…

I have been featuring fantastic female fantasy authors (see disclaimer) but this has morphed into interesting people in the speculative fiction world. Today I’ve invited the talented Nalini Haynes editor of Dark Matter E-zine to drop by.

The production of fanzines and magazines by dedicated fans of the speculative fiction genre is an old and proud tradition. Back when the ‘zines were produced on paper smelling of spirits and printed in faded purple ink from the roneo machine, editors compiled articles, interviews, reviews and stories which examined and celebrated the genre. And they are still doing this today, only now they don’t have to worry about squeezing their ‘zine into X number of pages and they can include wonderful colour covers. We’ve come a long way from the roneo machine.

 Q: You started school at the age of three at the Bruce Hamilton Sight Saving School for the Visually Handicapped. In an article in issue 9 of dark Matter you say: ‘I lost all disability access and support aged 5 and did not receive any more support until I was in high school, when I was given a telescope to read  the blackboard and a magnifying glass to read small print. It’s hardly surprising that I lean towards advocacy and over-achievement.’ Are you planning on doing your doctorate in disability in SFF literature? 

I would love to do a PhD in disability in SFF literature, but I haven’t been able to gain entry to a university to do a Masters as a lead in to this program or any other.  I was effectively expelled by the University of South Australia because of being disabled after the Human Rights and Equal Opportunities Commission made a finding of disability discrimination against UniSA.  In 2007 UniSA offered me $4000 as compensation for being permanently barred from further education and being gagged.  This offer was made through HREOC.  I was accepted back into UniSA after threatening to expose them on radio, then I was effectively expelled in 2008 after which their lawyer offered me $3086 with the same conditions.  Disability access would have cost far less than the compensation I was offered, let alone the lawyer’s fees.  I believe this has influenced universities’ handling of my applications for degrees since moving to Melbourne.  I would love to undertake a PhD in disability in SFF literature – I’m collecting a list of books to reference – but I don’t hold out much hope of being accepted into a program.

Q: Since 2010 you have produced nine issues of the Dark Matter E-zine. (Issue one is 53 pages long and issue 9 is 245 pages). This amounts to a lot of work, interviewing, writing articles, collating and editing. What prompted you to start Dark Matter and what do you hope to achieve with it?

My first memory of science fiction was watching Dr Who from behind my uncle’s chair when I was about 3 years old; it was a UNIT episode in black and white.  I’ve loved science fiction and fantasy ever since.  I started reading adult SF when I was 10 years old because Mum lent me her SF books when I was bored.

I worked on my high school newspaper.  It wasn’t much fun because we had no autonomy, it was more like being given assignments, but I was interested in doing a newsletter.

In 2008 I was selected for the upstART program in the Adelaide Fringe Festival.  I supervised my exhibition in the Fringe Factory for a few shifts, during one of which there was an exhibition/activity with zines in the next room.  This reminded me of the school newspaper and showed me that zines were around, with a vibrant community.

A few months later we moved to Melbourne.  I searched for some kind of connection to science fiction in Melbourne and found the Melbourne Science Fiction Club.  I was appointed as editor of Ethel, the club’s zine, for one issue, during which time I discovered the amazing resources and potential of zines.  After this, I decided that I didn’t need anyone’s permission to create a zine.  I came up with a name then I contacted publishers telling them I was now independent and asking them if they’d continue to support me.  I was off and running!

My goals for Dark Matter are many layered.  I’m learning about fandom, never before having participated in fandom due to growing up in Tasmania then living for 8 years in Adelaide where everything is a well-kept secret.  I believe that you get out of something what you put into it, so putting time and effort into Dark Matter – and fandom – rewards me in learning, building bridges and networks.  I am sharing my journey with everyone by writing about it in Dark Matter.  By interviewing a range of people I’m learning and sharing these discoveries with others while promoting good work.  I’ve met some amazing people and I’ve interviewed them *pointed look at Rowena*

I’m pleased and surprised to have an international following.  I try to have a balance between interviewing international and local authors.  By promoting the local authors, I hope to share the bounty we have with our sibling geeks across the water, enriching our shared culture.

I’ve agonised over whether to keep DMF entirely positive – like SF Squeecast – or to balance the positive with the negative.  Various people have argued from different positions, helping me shape DMF with some balance, including some negative reviews.  I have been strongly encouraged to be more negative with a view to helping raise the bar or to ‘really rip into things’.  I’m reserved with this because authors spend a huge amount of time writing their books, often while holding down a day job.  If I feel the need to write a negative review, I spell out clearly and respectfully the reasons why I don’t like the book.  If I feel that the target market will like the book but I’m not the target market, I’ll try to find a reviewer who is the target market.  In the meantime, I write a review bearing this in mind.

On a more personal level, I hope to prove to myself and the world that ‘I’m a real boy’, with skills that are viable in the workplace (computer skills, reading, writing, editing etc).  People tend to believe if you’re vision impaired then you’re incapable and incompetent.  I’m trying to prove that’s not the case.  I’m also hoping for an alternate career path to open up.  Failing that, I’m keeping myself busy focusing on an area that I enjoy.  I’ve never been the stay-at-home type although I did the full-time mum thing for a few years before studying counselling between child-raising, my son’s many operations etc.

Dark Matter is a positive focus for my time and energy, opening up a wonderful world of creativity and opportunity.  One day I hope to make this a real (read: paying) job, or get a similar job elsewhere (that pays).

 

Q: You have a Master in Social Science from the University of South Australia. With a background like that you must be very tempted to write social commentary either in article format, or by using fiction to examine possible futures. What kind of stories do you write?

I have lots of ideas, which I tend not to put to paper or even to electrons, however I have written some down.  I find it easier to write non-fiction, which is probably due to my academic background.

Recently I wrote a story about the thin veneer of civilisation, the inhumanity of man to man, called ‘Lighting the Way’.  This story still needs more work; I was in Kelly Link’s writing class at Continuum  (this year’s state and national SF convention) and received great feedback and lots of encouragement from Kelly and the other participants.  I haven’t finished the story yet.

Jim Vinton asked me if I’d replace my eyes with cyber implants if it would give me 20/20 vision.  My response: if it was proven to work, I would not have a choice because of the nature of definitions of disability; disability access would be closed to me unless I had that surgery.  This got me thinking… what if I had that surgery imposed upon me?  People don’t understand how I see: I perceive the world and cope better than I should be able to with my level of vision due to this being a life-long condition.  No-one would have any understanding of the changes that this surgery could cause.  I have studied psychology: when a limb is amputated, the brain structure changes, the area of the brain dedicated to that limb can be reassigned.  What if I had this surgery and the reverse happened?  What possibilities would open up to me?  What are the potential ramifications?  I have the entire story mapped out in my head in the style of ‘He says, She says’ the awesome ABC drama, I just haven’t put it to paper.

Back when the French were testing nuclear devices in the Pacific I wrote a short story about a woman who was eating fish regularly to ensure her baby would be healthy but…

I entered a public speaking competition where speakers were supposed to argue intelligently and emotionally about any topic of their choice.  I talked passionately about genocide and prejudice, relating the Hutus and Tutsis to my Irish grandmother’s hatred of Catholics…

So yes, you’re spot on.  I’m passionate about people and the human condition.  I think good storytelling relates to us here and now in some way, whether it’s as role models, teaching, challenging ideas, exploring ethics and philosophy.  Science fiction and fantasy is about people.

 

Q: In Dark Matter #9 you dedicated 25 pages to Gender in Publishing. You say: ‘If Jonathan Franzen writes a book about family it’s described as ‘a book about America’, whereas if a woman writes a book about family, it’s described as ‘chic lit’.’ You’ve promoted the Australian Women Writers’ 2012 Challenge. You’ve included interviews from male and female writers on the topic. The whole reason I started interviewing female fantasy writers was because US and UK interviewers seemed surprised to discover that I wrote fantasy. Have you had many responses to Dark Matter #9 yet, or is it too soon?

I haven’t had many responses to DMF9.  This is the only letter that addresses gender parity or the AWW in any way, from a guy who isn’t really a fan of parity but is a fan of Sean McMullen.  Between the lack of articles and the lack of letters, I am sad to say that issue 9 may stand alone in DMF’s attempt to tackle this issue.

Q: On the Dark Matter site there is a page dedicated to audio interviews. When you interviewed me at Sisters in Crime, you recorded us chatting, and later transcribed the interview and printed. Now this interview and others are up on the audio interview page. As an interviewer, what’s the difference between doing an interview that will be listened to as opposed to an interview that is transcribed and read?

HUGE. ENORMOUS. TERRIFYING.

Oh, you want specifics? ;)

An interview that will be transcribed and read can be much more casual.  There doesn’t need to be a formal introduction at the beginning, so we can meet or chat on the phone and just casually get into the interview.  An interview that is recorded for podcasting needs a formal beginning, an introduction to the author.  I’m still getting my head around this.  Recently I started interviews by just saying hello and thanks to the author I’m speaking to, but I think this needs to be expanded to a brief toast-master-style introduction.  I’m also thinking theme music to lead in to the interview and close would be good, as well as audible credits like with other podcasts.

Sound quality is an issue when putting interviews up as a podcast.  I was fairly casual when I interviewed you, putting my Dictaphone on the table so we could both be heard.  This is detrimental to audio-pickup, so I’ve started using the Dictaphone microphone.  This gives far superior sound for the interviewee but means anyone else is too quiet.  Mikey, the amazing audio guy at NatCon2012, suggested I record my questions separately and edit them in so there isn’t a problem with interview questions being too quiet in contrast.  This will take longer and require more editing, but it’s do-able, it’s much cheaper than buying good recording equipment and it’s easier than lugging good recording equipment around.  The downside is that joint interviews won’t work – unless I get 2 dictaphones and do more editing…

More on sound quality: I’ve interviewed people in some interesting places like coffee shops and outside the Spiegel tent.  Background noise can be a problem as well as interruptions.  Some interviews’ sound quality is so poor they cannot be put online, I’ve struggled to interpret what was said when transcribing them.  The other day I interviewed Yunyu for the second time over Skype and someone was talking in the background.  Background noise issues are simply unavoidable unless I get access to a professional recording studio, which is not in the foreseeable future.  I do the best I can with what I have and hope for the best.

In a transcribed interview it’s ok to go off-track, lose focus, or for people to say things that need to be edited out, like the classic, ‘Oh, wait, my publicist wants to release that information later, can we edit that out?’  In a recorded interview it’s important to stay on topic, to try not to ‘um’ and ‘ah’, and to keep things moving.  Also to turn off mobile phones…

From all the above, you probably think writing up interviews is easier, but really it’s not.  An hour interview can take 6 hours to write up effectively, more if the sound quality is poor or the person talks really quickly.  That’s before editing, proof reading, sending it to the interviewee for proofing, checking and making changes when it comes back…  It’s a huge amount of work.  I love the actual interviewing part, it’s fascinating listening to people’s stories, but I am over some of the other aspects of the work.  Seriously.

 

Q: Your cover Girl Torque (Dark Matter 3) was nominated for the Chronos Award. Do you also have a background in illustrating and which artists have inspired you?

I am a visually impaired person who is visually oriented.  Yes, I know that makes no sense, but it also helps explain why I’m such a photographer: auto-focus win!

Mum studied at the Tasmanian School of Art when I was a young adult.  I fell in love with art school then, but the pragmatic side of me – the part that never wanted to go hungry again – wanted a real, paying job.  That coupled with a desire to save the world resulted in me qualifying as a counsellor.  As I finished counselling studies I rewarded myself by beginning a Bachelor of Visual Arts degree as a counterpoint to counselling people and then as a substitute for working after losing my job.  I completed over a third of this degree at the University of South Australia with a distinction average due to working my butt off, but was effectively expelled for being disabled, unable to study theory or complete computer-oriented classes like Digital Art without disability access.

I’ve been in a few art exhibitions – selected and otherwise – and I was selected for the Adelaide Fringe Festival’s upstART program, an arts mentoring program for emerging artists.  I won the Dawn Slade-Faull Award in 2008.

Girl Torque and the cover for Dark Matter issue 1 are about the only artworks I’ve completed since moving to Melbourne, apart from photographical works.

Artists who have influenced me would largely be friends of the family as I grew up, friends while Mum was at art school and lecturers at art school like Mark Kimber, Deborah Pauwee and Aurelia Carbone to name but three [I did mention I love photography J].  Andrew Hall was my painting mentor for the upstART program but I was using acrylics.  I think I need to return to gouache, I find acrylics too heavy and I’m allergic to oils.  Trina was my lecturer for drawing.  I loved life drawing and Trina said that perhaps my poor vision was a blessing in disguise as I couldn’t see the finer detail that distracted others.  I have contrast vision ‘within normal parameters’ as well, so that helps with shading and tonal qualities.  I haven’t explored the world of SFF art much as I wasn’t really aware of fandom until after I moved to Melbourne, by which time I’d had the stuffing kicked out of me.  Also there is a bias against SFF art as ‘illustration’ (read: not real art) in art circles.

Being nominated for the Chronos Award for my painting was a huge honour and complete surprise.  I did my impersonation of a fish, opening and closing my mouth, while I read the announcement page about three times, checked the url and so forth, until gradually it sank in that yes, I’d really been nominated for my artwork.  I feel really self-conscious but also really encouraged by this nomination; I feel it’s a vote of confidence from others, encouraging me to take up paintbrush, charcoal and pastels once more.  I should probably also put some of my fan art on the webz, like my charcoal drawing of Chianna that is sticky-taped to a wardrobe door in the [laughingly titled] studio [aka third bedroom with an east-facing window L].  Friends came over not so long ago and were given a tour of our bookshelves.  I think they were more interested in the artwork in that room than the books on those particular shelves. ;)

 

Q: I was prompted to start this series of interviews because there seems to be a perception in the US and the UK that fantasy is a bit of a boy’s club. Do you think there’s a difference in the way males and females write fantasy?

Perceptions are that there is a difference between the way males and females write fantasy, but I grew up thinking Ursula le Guin was a guy.  You could have knocked me over with a feather when I discovered Andre Norton’s Witchworld was written by a woman.  I wish someone told me these authors were women when I first read their novels in primary school and high school respectively; I thought being published was effectively barred to women.

I think the stereotypical difference is that men write ‘hard fantasy’ (think A Song of Ice and Fire) while women write about relationships, often with a focus on romance, which has traditionally been looked down upon as soft fantasy.

 

Q: Following on from that, does the gender of the writer change your expectations when you pick up their book?

 

Yes, it still does.  When a man is writing I still expect more action, less focus on women and possibly less focus on relationships.  For example, the Science and the Capitol trilogy has a lot of discussion about a non-traditional lifestyle and a huge focus on the main protagonist’s sex drive, but not a lot of focus on women as point of view characters.  No matter how well-equipped the protagonist was, the gender of the protagonist needed to be male.  The vulnerability of a homeless woman, the likelihood of being stalked and raped, would have made this a very different story with a gender change.  I wonder how conscious KSR was of this issue?

In contrast, the Wall of Night series by Helen Lowe has a variety of point of view characters, regardless of gender they come alive on the page.  Relationships are important, sex is more than just scratching an itch and yet the act of sex does not make a couple.  The first novel in this trilogy, Heir of Night, just won the Morningstar award, so instead of me spoiling the story read it yourself :P

I’m reading a lot these days, so these differences are good.  I try to vary my reading diet: Australian, overseas, serious, comedy, SF and fantasy…  A change is as good as a holiday they say, and it certainly helps to re-energise me when I’m feeling a little burnt out.

 

Q: And here’s the fun question. If you could book a trip on a time machine, where and when would you go, and why?

This is the wrong question.  The question should be: what is your preferred time machine and with whom would you travel?  The answer:  a blue police box. Christopher Eccelston.

 

Dark Matter’s website

Follow Nalini on Twitter

Catch up with Dark Matter on Facebook

Catch up with the other blog on DMF’s website: Nalini’s ‘life’ blog

Catch up with Nalini on Google+

Interested in Fanzines? Search here at E-Fanzines

 

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Filed under Australian Artists, Australian Writers, E-Zines, Gender Issues

Meet Cheryl Morgan…

The first interview of 2012  Ta Da!

I have been featuring fantastic female fantasy authors (see disclaimer) but this has morphed into interesting people in the speculative fiction world. Today I’ve invited the talented Cheryl Morgan to drop by.

 

Q: I found collating material for this interview very challenging. You have done so much in the spec fic genre that I didn’t know where to start. So I went for the chronological approach.

In 1995 you produced the first issue of Emerald City, an Ezine containing reviews of books, movies and conventions and interviews. Between 1995 and 2006 when Emerald City ceased publication, you released 134 issues, most of which you wrote yourself. It’s great that the files of all of Emerald City’s issues are still available. So much work! This Ezine received several Hugo Award nominations and won Best Fanzine in 2004.  The ‘zine turned semi-pro and was nominated for best Semiprozine, while you were nominated for Best Fan Writer in 2006. If you could go back, knowing what you know now, and give yourself some advice before you started the first issue of Emerald City what would it be?

I think you have overdone the awards there. Emerald City ceased publication in 2006. My second Hugo win was in 2009, so for work published in 2008. That clearly can’t refer to Emerald City. There are probably other nominations for Best Fan Writer that don’t refer to the ‘zine either.

As to your question, I’d suggest that I spent more time reading reviews by people like John Clute and Gary K. Wolfe before trying to write my own. One of the interesting things about working online is that your early work is all out there for everyone to see for ever more.

Q: In an post on John Scalzi’s blog you said ‘Back when I first started getting nominations there was a huge upset about it and I was accused of, you guessed it, not being fannish enough. Apparently the fact that I published Emerald City electronically rather than on paper meant that it wasn’t a proper fanzine, and the fact that I wrote mainly book reviews meant that I was too serious about SF to be a proper fan.’ Publishing electronically back in 1995 was really cutting edge. How did you come to do this?

It was just circumstances really. I had recently moved from the UK to Australia for work, and I wanted my friends back in the UK to be able to read my fanzine. I had also just met a wonderful man called Kevin Standlee, and I wanted to send the ‘zine to him and his friends in California. The only way I could afford to do that was to publish electronically.

Q: I noticed in your photos on your twitter profile you have a Glenda Larke book and an Alison Goodman book. (I’ve interviewed both of these authors for this series). What is it about their writing that appeals to you?

I loved Alison’s last book, The Two Pearls of Wisdom (aka Eon). What attracted me about it was the accurate and sympathetic portrayal of a trans woman. That’s rare in any book, and in a book aimed at the YA market is very rare indeed. I was lucky enough to meet Alison at the recent Melbourne Worldcon and thank her for the book. She’s a lovely person. I’m now reading the new one, The Necklace of the Gods (aka Eona), and enjoying it too.

I’ve known Glenda for a long time and we are good friends, despite the vast geographic distance between us. She’s a great writer who tackles all sorts of serious themes in a very intelligent way. I have no doubt that she’d be getting awards if she were a man.

Q: You seem to be a very dedicated SF fan, driven to discuss and dissect the genre. I’ve always loved the genre, even way back when I didn’t know what the word genre meant. Discovering SF Fandom when was 18 meant discovering people who talked about the things I was interested in. (All my life before this I had been the weird one). When and how did you discover the genre and fandom?

I’ve been reading SF&F for as long as I can remember. I read Dan Dare and X-Men comics as a kid. I’m old enough to have seen the first ever episode of Doctor Who (and was promptly banned from watching it by my parents because it gave me nightmares). I first read Lord of the Rings when I was about 13. It is in my DNA.

As to fandom, I was involved a lot in Dungeons & Dragons fandom as a student, but when I started my first job one of my bosses found out about my hobby and suggested I try attending an SF convention. His name was Martin Hoare, and he introduced me to his best mate, a fellow called Dave Langford. It was all downhill from there.

Q: You are the person behind Wizard’s Tower Press, which releases mainly digitally, making out-of-print works available. You also published the magazine, Salon Futura. What led you to go into publishing?  

US immigration. As described on my blog, I have effectively been banned from visiting the USA. This means it is difficult for me to see all of my friends, and in particular Kevin. The only simple way I can get back there is to create a business that requires me to visit SF conventions, and will allow me to apply for a business visa. Hence I created Wizard’s Tower, which is a publishing company.

Q: The first issue of Salon Futura was launched that the World Science Fiction Convention in September 2010. That would have been the Melbourne World Con. As someone who lives in Bath in the UK that was a long way to go to launch Salon Futura. This is a ‘new online non-fiction magazine devoted to the discussion of science fiction, fantasy and related literature.’ What led you to produce Salon Futura?

As a small press, it is very hard to sell books, because you have to get them in front of people without being annoying and spammy. The obvious thing to do is to start a magazine. And I needed to do something different, so I thought I would try doing a literary review magazine, somewhere you would get serious discussion rather than just reviews and fan squee. Sadly that didn’t work to well.

Q: You also have an ebook store that provides a sales outlet for other small presses like Australia’s Twelfth Planet Press. Is that part of the same grand plan?

Not entirely. The store came about initially because I needed to be able to sell Wizard’s Tower books, but it was obvious to me that, even with Salon Futura as a marketing vehicle, people would be unlikely to come to a store that sold so few books. So I asked a few other independent publishers if they would like me to sell their books, and things have grown from there. We now have seventeen publishers represented, including ourselves, and more are being added. I’m particularly pleased to be able to bring Australian books to a wider market.

I have also become convinced that it is necessary for the health of the publishing industry for there to be competition to Amazon. Charlie Stross blogged recently about how Amazon controls 80% of the world-wide market for ebooks. That’s an astonishing level of market dominance. It doesn’t matter too much when there are plenty of alternatives in the form of bricks-and-mortar stores selling paper books, but as Jonathan Strahan and Alisa Krasnostein found out recently the viability of such stores is very much in doubt. In a few years time we could be facing a world in which most towns have no bookstore, and Amazon has a substantial majority of the market for online sales of both paper books and ebooks. Short of a technology shift that outflanks their existing systems, or government regulation, it is hard to see how they can be challenged.

This is particularly worrisome for the many mid-list authors who see ebook editions of their backlists as a good way to supplement their income. Amazon royalties right now are quite generous, but once they have consolidated their domination of the market there’s no reason to believe that they won’t start to reduce those. Right now I can give independent authors a much better deal than Amazon. I ran the numbers for a self-published book by a friend of mine – Paintwork by Tim Maughan, which recently received high praise from Cory Doctorow Tim gets 39% more money if people buy from me than if they buy from Amazon, but most people still buy his book from Amazon because they like to stick with a brand they know. It is all very scary.

Q: You are the non-fiction editor for Clarkesworld from Wyrm Publishing. One of the stories, Spar won a Nebula, the magazine has won two Hugos and was nominated for a World fantasy Award. As an editor of non-fiction what do you look for in an article?

For Clarkesworld what I looked for is what my boss, Neil Clarke, wanted. We have specific guidelines on the website. That’s very different from what I looked for with Salon Futura.

More broadly, of course, I look for the same things other editors want: good, clear prose; the ability to explain complex ideas in an understandable manner; having something interesting to say.

I should note that I have retired from Clarkesworld. December was my last issue. The job of non-fiction editor is being taken over by Jason Heller, who wrote one of the most interesting articles I bought during my tenure there: a history of science-fiction themed rock albums. I’m sure he’ll do a great job.

Q: Your discussions page on Salon Futura looks interesting. Running a Small Press, YA Science Fiction and Cross Genre Crime Novels to name just a few. It must take a lot of time to set up these discussions and edit them. You must have a huge network of contacts of people in the genre. We’ve just lost Anne McCaffrey and I noticed on the lists that people reacted as if they’d lost a friend. Are there people who met through Emerald City almost 20 years ago that you are still in contact with?

Oh Goddess yes! The thing I value most about having run Emerald City is all of the friends I have made. I knew Neil Gaiman and Kim Newman from way back before any of us was famous, but since Emerald City I have met wonderful writers and editors such as – no, I won’t start making a list, as it would go on forever – just dozens and dozens of really talented people. And many, many wonderful fans as well.

Q: You have your own video channel on You Tube, Video Mewsings. There are readings by China Mieville and Cory Doctorow among others. This is a great way for people to catch up with events that they wouldn’t otherwise get a chance to see. Have you found that the writers you are videoing are happy to be involved?

Mostly, yes. And of course I always ask. I’m not very good at video though. It requires skills that I don’t have, and ideally equipment that I can’t afford. I should probably stick to podcasting.

Q: You have been involved in the SF and F Translation Awards. (See an interview with Cheryl here). I’ve been involved with the setting up one national award and the running of another. It’s a big commitment. I see the awards are just finding their feet and working out what process is most efficient. In the interview you say:  ‘I think that the Internet is doing a wonderful job in promoting connections between SF&F communities around the world. You can see from the increasingly international nature of the Hugo and World Fantasy Award ballots that something very exciting is happening. Lavie Tidhar and Charles Tan, with the World SF blog, are doing a superb job in making our world smaller and more connected.’  Truly the web has brought the world together. I’ve been following the Occupy Wall Street movement on twitter. But there is still the language barrier. What do you hope to see the SF&F Translation Awards achieve in the future?

I’d like to see some of the writers that the awards spotlight getting recognition from major publishers. Writing talent isn’t by any means restricted to the English-speaking world. There must be some amazing authors out there, and if the awards can help them get translated, and then bring them to attention of major publishers, then I will be very pleased.

Q: There have been a series of posts by female bloggers on the topic of MenCallMeThings, about males who use the anonymity of the internet to abuse female writers to shut them up. John Scalzi discusses it here in a post titled the Sort of Crap I don’t Get. On September 1st you wrote a post called Bowing Out. You sound like you are feeling burned out. This is a great pity as you have done so much for the genre over the years. What will you be doing to recharge your batteries and restore your inner self?

No, I’m not burned out, just frustrated. Winning Hugos is a wonderful experience, and I’m very honoured to have one, let alone four. However, the more prestigious an award, the more people will snipe at you for winning. You always expect a bit of nonsense from fandom, but of late I’ve been seeing a number of professionals in the industry suggesting that the Hugos are fixed. I think that’s really disgraceful behaviour, and there’s absolutely no evidence for it. Sadly the recent debacle with the British Fantasy Awards will only make people more willing to believe such accusations.

I think awards are a very valuable way of generating interest in good books, and I’d love to continue to be involved in promoting things like the Hugos and the translation awards. But because I have won Hugos that will lead people to say that I have only done so because I’m part of the in-group that fixes the results. So I have to step aside and let other people do the public stuff. I’m working just as hard on others things, I can assure you, and indeed working behind the scenes where I can.

Q: On November 20th it was the thirteenth annual Transgender Remembrance Day, you wrote a post called Transgender Day of Remembrance.  This was how I found you (again) and what led me in a round-about way to ask for an interview. You say: ‘globally the average lifespan of a trans person is just 23 years.’ I had no idea. (For a long post on the topic see here). As someone who has lived on both sides of the fence and could ‘pass’ you say: ‘All that changed when I won my first Hugo. Suddenly I had a public profile, and got talked about. The first person to out me publicly was not a trans-hater, or even someone who disliked me, but a left-wing activist I had thought of as a friend who presumably thought I had a moral duty to be out.’ It sounds like you have been through a great deal. Have you considered writing the story of your life, or a fictionalised story amalgamating your experiences with friends’ experiences?

Good grief no! There are far too many trans women’s biographies in the world already. There is nothing I have done that is in any way unusual, and my life has been nowhere near as successful or interesting as, say, Jan Morris, April Ashley, Caroline Cossey or Calpernia Addams.

It is also the case that the public focuses far too much on the negative aspects of trans people lives. It is about time we stopped being known for being “tragic” and started being known for being talented and doing good things. There are plenty of amazing people who can fulfil that requirement better than I can.

Q: I was prompted to start this series of interviews because there seems to be a perception in the US and the UK that fantasy is a bit of a boy’s club. Do you think there’s a difference in the way males and females write fantasy? (Looking at your post on YA writers, perhaps I should rephrase the question to include them as well!).

Well it all depends on who you ask and what they mean by “fantasy”. If you ask many male fantasy fans to name a few women fantasy writers they won’t be able to because they never read, or even notice, books by women. Yet if you look along the shelves in the SF&F section of a bookstore in the US or UK almost every book you see by a woman will be classifiable as “fantasy” in some way or another.

Fantasy is a category that women writers are being forced into because the major publishers assume that no one will buy SF by a woman. Obviously people like George Martin and Joe Abercrombie do very well in fantasy too, especially that small subset of fantasy that features rough-hewn, Conan-like heroes who slaughter their enemies with great enthusiasm. But in the US and UK fantasy is seen as very much women’s writing.

On average, males and females do write about different subjects because society forces them into very different roles. That doesn’t mean that all men write one way and all women write another way, nor does it mean that men can’t write books that appeal to women, or vice versa. All of this “one or the other” stuff is nonsense. No one knows that better than trans people.

The problem is that major publishers these days have no interest in books that will only sell well, they only care about books that will be huge best sellers. To get that they try to cut out anything that they think might mark a book out as unusual, everything has to be aimed at the central peak of the distribution curve. And that leads of obsessive concentration on gender “norms”.

Q: Following on from that, does the gender of the writer change your expectations when you pick up their book?

Given the way that major publishers behave, there is a natural expectation that a book by a woman will be focussed on “women’s issues” (for which read “romance”) and a book by men will be focussed on “men’s issues” (for which read “killing people”). Thankfully very many writers manage to confound expectations.

Also, of course, independent presses don’t have the same idiotic obsessions, which is one of many reasons why I love them.

Q: And here’s the fun question. If you could book a trip on a time machine, where and when would you go, and why?

I’ve always fancied visiting the ancient Romans. They seem so similar to us in many ways, and yet fascinatingly different.

But the thing I’d really like to do is learn more about the ancient civilizations of Africa. We know so much about the history of Europe, of China, India and Japan, even of the Aztecs and Incas. But we know almost nothing about the great empires of Africa: Meroë, Songhai, Zimbabwe and so on. When England was embroiled in the Wars of the Roses, Timbuktu was the biggest, wealthiest city in the world. So much of that has been lost, apparently forever. A time machine could help bring it back.

 

Follow Cheryl on Twitter. @CherylMorgan

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