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?
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?
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
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.
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