Category Archives: Genre

Meet Dirk Flinthart…

I first met Dirk around 15 years ago when he turned up at a Vision Writers’ meeting bare foot talking about ley lines. I soon discovered he was a wonderfully insightful critiquer and came to value his input to our writing craft discussions. When Marianne and I formed the ROR writing group to polish our novel length work we asked Dirk to join. He lives in northern Tasmania with his GP wife and three children, and he is a genius when it comes to food!

His new book Path of Night has just been released through Fablecroft.

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Q: First of all, why ‘Dirk Flinthart’? Your pseudonym reminds me of an episode of the Elizabethan Black Adder series when Lord Flashheart appeared. Were you a fan of Black Adder? What prompted you to use Dirk Flinthart as your writing name?

 

Long, complicated tale. It started – as many things have – at university. For the student newspaper, I wrote a column parodying the US ‘survivalist’ movement, with a friend. The putative writers were Dirk “Some Refuse To Die” Flinthart and Rambo Rockharde. We had a lot of fun, got paid, got drunk, and apparently developed a fanbase. A few years later, after John Birmingham’s He Died With A Felafel In His Hand made so much money that the publisher had to find a tax sink, I got invited to write gutter-level pulp crime fiction. (Brotherly Love, under Autopsy Press, later Duffy and Snellgrove.) All of us involved in that project used pseudonyms, and Birmo suggested I use Flinthart. Then of course that swine Birmingham actually caricatured me under the name of Dirk Flinthart in his sequel to Felafel (The Tasmanian Babes Fiasco). And I wrote a backpacker’s guide to the east coast of Oz in which I was quite rude to the city where my mother lived… so Flinthart took the blame there, too. And I’ve never quite shaken the bastard off.

 

I don’t mind, really. Flinthart has become more of an alternative identity. People who know me will know exactly what I mean, and people who know Flinthart… well, they know Mister Flinthart.

 

Oh! And yes, I’m a big Blackadder fan. Who isn’t?

PathofNightCoverSMQ: According to the back cover blurb for Path of Night: ‘Medical student Michael Devlin is in trouble. With his flatmates murdered and an international cabal of legendary man-monsters on his trail, Devlin’s got nowhere to hide. His only allies are a hot-tempered Sydney cop and a mysterious monster-hunter who may be setting Devlin up for the kill. If he’s going to survive, Devlin will have to embrace his new powers and confront his hunters. But can he hold onto his humanity when he walks the Path of Night?’ I get the feeling this could be a mix of the Jim Butcher novels and Simon R Green’s Nightside series. What did you draw your inspiration from and do you envision a series for Michael Devlin?

I can’t say where the exact ‘inspiration’ came from, but I can say this is intended as a series. Look, currently I’m most of the way through a Masters’ degree in creative writing, and I’ve been studying genre fiction. (Why not?) In doing the reading, I realised something very important.

All of us here in speculative fiction – we want an audience. We want to be published. And as writers, we are conditioned to think that the only effective tool we have is our prose, so we struggle and we strive and we polish and we edit and we critique… and then Dan Brown publishes something that is truly painful to read, and draws millions of readers. (Sorry, Dan. Your writing is awful, and your storytelling makes me cringe. But you’re entertaining a lot of people, so best of luck to you.)

The quality of our prose is important, but only to a certain degree. More important is having work out there, and entertaining an audience. Big publishers are constantly looking for the book that repeats yesterday’s bestseller. Writers want to be original. But audiences? They want to enjoy their reading, and there’s a lot of scope in that.

That was the real inspiration for Path of Night, right there. Realising that I’d reached a place where I could construct a novel and that it could be enjoyed by readers, I felt that I didn’t want to struggle and strive and  have the MS looked at for the next two years by big publishers who wouldn’t take it in the end because it didn’t look like a commercial prospect. I thought I’d write a book that was fun, and interesting, and a bit different, and that I’d approach a small, agile publisher and jump straight into the e-book realms.

Hey: we all started writing because it was fun, right? We tell stories because we enjoy it. But the more we have to compromise our ideas and chase after the here-today, gone-tomorrow will-o-wisp vision of the big publishers, the less storytelling and the less FUN we have.

You want to know something cool? Writing Path of Night was a hoot. I like the main character. I like the main support character so much that I didn’t wind up killing her, and she’s going to be at least as important in the next book, or two, or three. I got a kick out of the villains. I enjoyed adding a distinctly Australian humour to it. I enjoyed the plot and the ideas, and once the ball got rolling, I had the first draft done in less than six months and it didn’t feel like work at all.

Now it’s out there, and the folks who have read it are getting back to me and saying: hey, yeah! This thing is fun! It’s interesting and entertaining!

That right there – that is the alpha and the omega of why and how I became a writer.

No, I haven’t written off the big publishers. That would be silly. But rather than chase them with ever more elegant works, I’m simply going to spend some time enjoying my writing. The challenge of writing elegant, arresting prose remains, and I’ll keep working on projects of that nature, but after the sheer pleasure I got from creating Path of Night, there’s no way I’m making the elegant, poetic stuff my only approach.

 

Q: In a blog post on Ebon Shores you say: ‘I’ve been writing stories since I was a kid. I figure most writers would say the same thing. I started getting paid in University, writing articles for this and that. Being paid was cool, but the point was much more about having fun. I convinced magazines to let me go to Maleny-Woodford to interview feral babes. I got myself paid to attend the National Festival of Beer. I got paid to ride around in a 4WD-converted Rolls Royce. I made money, but more: I had a lot of fun.’ Sounds like your early twenties were a hoot but it is a long way from this kind of writing to speculative fiction. Where and when did the fantasy and SF element come in?

First and foremost, of course. What do you think I read when I was growing up? Smart, isolated kid with a funny accent in Far North Queensland – yeah, I read science fiction and fantasy. I got hold of the Ancient Greek and Norse myths when I was about six. I got the Myths And Legends of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table, and a huge volume of Robin Hood in faux-Elizabethan English when I was about eight. I stumbled onto the Robert Howard Conan books before I was ten, and vaulted from there to Moorcock in all his hallucinogenic glory. After that? I read anything I could find that had a speculative element. Horror. Fantasy. Lots and lots of SF, gleaned from school fetes and library sales and everywhere, anywhere at all. I read the Gormenghast books and The Master and Margharita when I was thirteen, at the same time (and from the same private library) as I found Tove Jansson’s marvellous Moomintroll stories.

Yes. I’ve written for magazines. And newspapers. I’ve written radio scripts and interviews and plays, and adapted stories for short films. I’ve published at least one peer-reviewed paper on the topic of online education in an international education journal, and I did that as Dirk Flinthart which I think is pretty funny. I’ve written a backpacker’s guide, and stuff on lifestyle and humour, and I expect I’ll write a lot more of all sorts of things before I drop dead…

…but I love telling stories. Imaginative, speculative stories. And that’s what I’m doing with Path of Night.

 

Q: Your Red Priest stories have been very successful with The Red Priest’s Homecoming appearing in The Year’s Best Australian Science Fiction and Fantasy Volume 2.  I know at one point you were working on a Red Priest book. Can we look forward to seeing a novel length story about the Red Priest?

Yep. Actually, I’d intended to break out with a Red Priest novel, but about halfway in I realised I was writing about more or less the end of the character’s career, and that seemed a damn’ fool way to introduce him in a big way. So I put that one on the back burner. My goal is to work through a few more quick, enjoyable books about Mick Devlin and the Night Beasts, and hopefully acquire enough of an audience that I can then turn around and introduce the Red Priest properly.

That’s the plan, anyhow. Who knows how it will go? I also have to finish that Queen of Bedlam novel pretty soon… and the Masters Degree with it. And more short stories. And… well, hell. Is there a writer that isn’t busy?

I love the Red Priest, though. I’m definitely not done with Tomaso Dellaforte. (Currently working on a story placing him in Iceland, as a matter of interest.)

 

9781875989935Q: Going way back you co-wrote How to be a Man with John Birmingham and I see you had a book called Brotherly Love published in 1995. What genre was this and why can’t I find an image of the cover? Is it out of print?

Brotherly Love is indeed out of print. As I mentioned before, Birmingham’s “Felafel” opus kind of scared the publisher, and he needed a new project to balance his books. Michael Duffy was a man ahead of his time. He figured there was a market for novella-length crime done quick and dirty… and of course, today he’s right. The novella is emerging as a real sweet-spot length for e-publishing. But back in ’95, the cost of printing a 30,000 word book was significant, and you couldn’t really deliver a throwaway price on the things. Meanwhile, the trend was towards doorstop sized airport novels, so after a half-dozen or so books in the collection (Birmo wrote another. So did Peter Robb. I can’t recall who else was involved.) they shelved the concept.

I really enjoyed writing it, though. Thirty thousand words in two weeks, followed by a revision. I can’t believe I made it work. We all did it, though. And yeah: it was fun. A lot of fun.

 

Canterbury-2100-coverQ: A few years ago you compiled and edited a shared world anthology called Canterbury Tales 2100. In an interview on the ROR site you say: ‘Canterbury was a major challenge. It was an homage to the Canterbury Tales: a collection of oral stories by travellers on a stranded train in the year 2109, on their way to Canterbury in an England trying to recover from a century of climate change, ecodisaster, economic catastrophe, plague – a collapse of the worldwide civilisation we have today.’ This sounds fascinating. Do you have any plans to do another shared world anthology?

I adored the Canterbury idea, and I loved working on this project. I picked up very early pieces from writers including Lisa Hannett, Laura Goodin and Thoraiya Dyer, all of whom have gone from strength to strength. Cat Sparks backed me to put it together to suit myself and I remain inexpressibly grateful to her for that.

This is a book that should have gone through a big publishing firm. The idea was not so much a shared world anthology as a collection of stories from the people of a shared fictional world. As a reader, you don’t get a straightforward depiction of “the future” from this book. You get the stories that the people of that future tell each other, and you have to piece together your own image of the future that created those stories. To me, that’s the essence of good storytelling: giving readers enough that they want to create more for themselves.

Canterbury 2100 is unique. Nobody’s done anything quite like it before, or since, and come what may, the writers and I own a little piece of science fiction history for that. I am extremely proud of this collection, and it was indeed a real challenge. However, storytelling is my first love. Editing is second-best, no matter how much fun you’re having with it. If I do another shared world anthology, it will be because I’m being paid for it!

 

Q: Your Young Adult stories have been shortlisted several times for Aurealis awards and This is not my Story appeared in the Year’s Best Australian Science fiction and Fantasy Volume 5. Are you particularly drawn to YA stories and if so, why?

YA? No special appeal. But think how much speculative fiction has been more or less YA. Look at Frank Herbert’s Dune: Paul Atreides is 14 years old at the outset. And Ged, in Ursula LeGuin’s wonderful Wizard of Earthsea – a boy who becomes a very young adult over the course of the tale. Think how much YA stuff Robert Heinlein did – and Diana Wynne Jones, and oh, how many others?

There’s a reason for that, you know.

This world we’ve created does a terrible thing to children as they grow up. When you’re small, the world is full of ghosts and fairies, witches and magic, Jedi masters and superheroes and all manner of marvels and wonders. But as you get older, they take these things away from you one at a time. They kill off the Tooth Fairy, and Santa. The fairy tales become… just stories. The witches become sad, misinterpreted and persecuted women from difficult historical times. The speed of light keeps the alien invasion fleets away from Earth forever, and keeps every space-ranger and free-trader planetbound.

All this they take, and they give back nothing but wreckage. Consumerism. Climate change. Mass extinctions. Trade wars. Terrorism. It’s not an equitable exchange at all: it’s vicious, and it’s cruel.

But there’s that one last joyful period in the life of a growing, thinking person: that time when you’re old enough to comprehend and enjoy complex storytelling, yet not so beaten and defeated that all the magic has gone from the world. That, right there: that’s why so much YA fiction is also speculative fiction. The audience is still young enough and strong enough to suspend disbelief, but they’re also old enough and smart enough to handle a good, strong, twisty story with teeth.

What’s that quote from Ursula leGuin? Oh, I remember: “The creative adult is the child who has survived.” Well, that’s what good YA fiction is for – helping keep alive the child that so very much of this appalling world seems intent on killing. And speculative fiction of all sorts is for people who can suspend disbelief and play along, so of course it frequently reaches out to a younger audience.

And who knows? If we do a good enough job as writers, maybe we’ll convince some of that audience to devise truths of our myths, and the world can become a better place.

 

dirks-cover1Q: Angel Rising was published by Twelfth Planet Press. You say: ‘Gordon gets to fall in love, fight lots of bad guys, discuss Zen and ethics, and maybe save his world. Oh – and he also gets to take sides in a pitched battle between ninjas and Zen Buddhist nuns. What else could you ask for?’ Sounds like fun. Proctor General Gordon has appeared in several stories tied into the New Ceres shared world. Will you be revisiting New Ceres and Gordon?

I’d quite like to, but… it’s complicated. I’m not really sure where all the rights are, or how it all works. There were a lot of people involved with New Ceres. Still, I’ve got several thousand words in which a typically sardonic and cunning George Gordon more or less single-handedly attacks an invasion fleet… It might see the light of day at some point!

 

Q: Not long ago you were writing a libretto as part of your Masters. It was turned into an operetta called Bedlam where Mab, the Queen of the Fey, and Lord Byron collided. ‘Bedlam is a legendary place of madness, and of course, there’s a long history of association between madness and the Faery folk. To be ‘elf-shot’, for example, is an old term for being mad. And then there’s the term ‘fey’, which is often used interchangeably with faery or fairy or elf – but also means eccentric, mad, ‘doomed’, ‘fated’, and so forth. I want to say it was an easy leap from there to trap an elf-queen in Bedlam, and to put the famous Lord Byron into the role of rescuer. And why not? Club-footed Byron (obviously marked by the faery at birth!) is as fine a role-model for the elf-shot, mad, romantic hero as ever you could want.’

(See a clip here)

This takes collaboration to a whole new height, working with a songwriter, director, dancers and actors. Is it an experience you would revisit?

As it stands, the piece is designed to be an opera. The company in Brisbane – Outcast Opera – are still intent on bringing it to life, but they have to grind their way through the funding process. I really, really hope they manage it: the trailer they put together for presentation to Queensland Arts was absolutely jaw-dropping, as you can see from that clip.

Now, my part in all that visual and auditory glory was small. I just wrote some words! But oh – to see and hear those words as they come back with all that music, those voices, those phenomenal dancers! How much more could a writer ever ask for?

I’ve done this kind of thing a couple of times. There’s a short movie from Dragonwood Studios based on a story of mine, and then there’s this opera. And I honestly cannot convey just how much I have enjoyed this. Writing and storytelling – that’s one process, one dimension, one interpretation of ideas and characters. As soon as you bring in other creative people to add imagery, movement, light and colour and sound… yes, you give away ownership of the words. But you get so much back! Seeing your own dreams come back at you, reshaped and re-coloured by the imagination and creativity of others – that’s a special kind of magic.

I’d do this again in a heartbeat. Any time at all. You know what would be a real dream? Writing for animation. That would be just too damned cool.

Still. I’ll be happy if the opera gets to the stage. I’ve promised I’ll attend the premiere in a proper tuxedo… although I think I’ll have to Steampunk it up in honour of the story itself.

 

Q: Your writing background is very eclectic. Was this a deliberate choice or did the stories drive you in their own directions?

There wasn’t a choice. I’m afraid that’s just me. I have an odd kind of mind. I have an unusually retentive memory (far from photographic; I just keep oddments and facts and trivia) and an odd propensity for forming connections and patterns. I have no idea how other people create stories, and even less on how they can keep creating in a single niche. Stories are everywhere! Just… join the dots, right?

I’m not explaining this very well, am I? Probably because I cannot. I think most of us are blind to the strange wellsprings of our own creativity, and I think that’s probably a necessary thing. If we understood where it all came from, it seems likely it would vanish.

 

Q: I understand you teach Ju Jitsu, are learning Iaido, and have been known to take your bow out and shoot a wallaby to cook for dinner, as well as write. How did your degree in Entomology prepare you for this? Seriously, what advice would you give aspiring writers?

Okay, this is getting silly. Ummm… yes, to all the above. (Except bow-hunting wallabies. That’s illegal. But I own a duly licensed firearm, and occasionally I use it to reduce the plague-proportion numbers of wallabies here, and yes – they’re delicious. But I only ever shoot targets with the bow.) I also take photographs, and play the Irish whistle and flute. Doesn’t everyone?

Advice for aspiring writers is simple, though: write.

Don’t expect to publish. Just write. Write because you need to, because it’s your joy, because it gets you through the day. Write what you like writing, and enjoy the writing that you do.

Yes, your prose has to work. But there are enough highly popular, thoroughly execrable books out there to prove beyond all doubt that deathless prose isn’t the secret.

What is? Well, if I knew that I’d be parked next to Dan Brown’s yacht, wouldn’t I? But I know this: if you’re not having fun, you’re wasting your life. So write, and take pleasure in the stories you tell, and once you’ve placed a few stories and maybe won a competition or two, just take the plunge.

Let the readers decide. They’re the ones you want to reach, after all.

 

Catch up with Dirk:

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Filed under Australian Writers, Characterisation, creativity, Fantasy books, Fun Stuff, Genre, Movies & TV Shows, Readers, Script Writing, Thrillers and Crime, Tips for Developing Writers, Writing craft, Young Adult Books

Meet Kirstyn McDermott…

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 Kirstyn McDermott to drop by because her new book, Perfections, has just come out. Congratulations!

 

Q: Okay, first the really important question, your twitter handle is @fearofemeralds. Why?

That question has a simple answer, but I’m afraid that I’m going to skirt around it anyway. Essentially, the phrase is part of a larger sentence that I took with me from a dream a long, long time ago. I seldom remember my dreams upon waking, but this one was vivid and had a lot of impact on me at a time when I was agonising about whether or not I had any talent as a writer at all, and whether or not I should even bother attempting a career in that field. The whole sentence now has such talismanic properties for me that I had it tattooed in mirror writing across my ribs a couple of years ago, as a permanent reminder to keep going no matter what. My earlier use of “fearofemeralds” first as an LJ name and then as a twitter handle had a similar motive, making sure it was front and centre on a regular basis. I probably don’t need that anymore, now I have the tattoo, but it’s a little late to go changing things. And no, sorry, I’m not going to reveal any more particulars of the dream or even tell you the whole sentence – which I know is a dreadful tease, but the superstitious part of me believes that the talisman will be robbed of any power if shown to the world. :-)

Q: In an interview with Lisa Hannet when talking about the horror genre you say: ‘I find myself fascinated by the monstrous– which really boils down to being anything we’re told “normal” people shouldn’t look at or think about or discuss in polite company. Taboo topics. Fringe dwellers. The black in black-and-white. I don’t believe in Evil as a manifest force. I do believe that humans are capable of doing evil things, and that a great number of humans acting in concert are capable of great evil indeed, but what interests me are the underlying reasons, motivations and causes. What makes a human being – someone similar to myself, perhaps – able to commit certain acts that I would find abhorrent, or allow others to commit them? I deeply, deeply want to understand this.’  Do you see horror as a way of making sense of the world? Do you think people who write and read horror are more troubled by the darkness both around and inside us?

I think one of the driving forces behind humans creating and partaking in art generally is an attempt to make sense of the world, and to connect with others in this endeavour, and horror fiction is certainly no different. That’s not to say that it’s the only motivator, but it is an important one, at least to me. It influences what I write and it certainly influences the types of books I like to read. I want books that make me think, that invite me to view the world differently and reconsider my preconceptions – and that are very well crafted to boot. I’ve become a highly critical reader over the past decade or so and find myself having less and less patience for fiction – horror or otherwise – that feels like it’s playing by the numbers, or is taking too many shortcuts with well-worn tropes or lazy writing.

As to the second part of your question, I don’t that “more troubled by the darkness” is necessarily true. I think we’re genuinely more fascinated by it and more inclined to dig down into the guts of it to see what makes it work, and we might even become a touch inured to some of the horrible stuff we see on the page and the screen – though not, I strongly believe, to real life horrors. But this doesn’t mean that people who don’t read/write horror are any less troubled by the bad stuff; they simply don’t wish to dwell on it when it comes to their culture or entertainment. Which is a fair enough call. Hell, I don’t partake in the romance genre to any sort of measurable extent; it simply fails to ring my bell and always has. But I don’t think that means I am in less capable of experiencing and enjoying love and romance in real life than a hardcore romance reader (or writer). Or that readers/writers of romance are somehow “lesser” than those who like horror. It pays to remember that dark doesn’t automatically translate to deep.

In my more belligerent early twenties, I did share what was relatively common attitude within the horror community, that people who refused to read horror were little more than ostriches with their heads in the sand when it came to The Truth About Life. But isn’t that kind of extremist philosophy what your early twenties are all about? Really, life and people are a lot more complicated than that. My tolerance for those who look down their nose at the genre per sae, or decide that horror readers/writers must be somehow sick or dangerous, however, remains at a critically low threshold. Because dark doesn’t automatically translate to damaged, either.

 

 Q: Since 2010, you and Ian Mond have been hosting a monthly podcast ‘devoted mostly to speculative fiction books, reviews and the odd bit of idle gossip’. The Writer and Critic won the Ditmar and Chronos Award this year. Did you have a ‘mission statement’ when you were first putting together the podcasts? What did you want to achieve with them?

Ian’s initial mission statement was something like, “Hey, podcasts are cool. Let’s do a podcast.” He came up with the idea and beat me over the head with it for a few months until I relented and we nutted out the format. We still don’t have a real mission statement, and have tweaked the structure a number of times with varying results. What we have decided is that we will only feature two books per episode from now on, as having a third title every so often when we had a guest on was really stretching our collective stamina – not to mention the recording time!

Our initial idea was to create a podcast where we could review books at length. We both really enjoy discussing interesting books that we’ve read, and sometimes pulling apart more problematic works, but finding the time to put thoughts down on the page is difficult. There’s no way I would ever be able to write the sort of in-depth critiques of books that I can have in conversation with Ian over the course of a couple of hours. Because we were coming at it from a book review standpoint, we avoided spoilers in the first couple of episodes. But this constrained discussion to a significant extent and, at the urging of a couple of our listeners, we abandoned that strategy and switched to more of a “book group” type discussion, assuming that people had already read the books, or did not care to have major plot points and even endings spoiled. It makes for a more natural conversation, I have to say, when you’re not busy worrying about whether or not the point you’d like to make will result in a spoiler.

I don’t know that we set out to achieve any more than that, to be honest. Two friends, both avid readers, recommending books to each other and then putting aside one evening a month sit around and chat about them. So I’m genuinely flattered, and quite honoured, to think that people enjoy listening in on these discussions enough to consider the podcast award-worthy!

Q: Do you and Ian get together and brain-storm goals for The Writer and Critic? If so, where would you like to take this podcast in future?

We don’t really brainstorm as such. More like, one of us will get an idea for something and email the other one, and they might say, “cool” or “meh” or “don’t be an idiot”, as the suggestion warrants. We’re still proceeding in more of a fluid/organic manner, rather than having any grand plans for the future. (Apart from reaching 100 episodes – I know Ian is very keen to get that far!)

What I am interested in doing is working out a way to bounce more ideas off listeners, and incorporate their suggestions – whether these are actual book recommendations, or structural ideas. It’s been great having Ian, and our guests, influence my reading in such a direct way over the past couple of years. I’ve read and enjoyed books I probably would never have thought to even pick up on my own. On the flipside, I’ve occasionally had to finish a book I might otherwise have flung against the wall, but this is a valuable experience in itself. Not only having to finish it, but to analyse precisely what it was I didn’t like in order to be able to talk about it for half an hour – this hones the critical skills immeasurably.

I’d also like to hit the road with a travelling podcast at some point, if Ian and I can work out the logistics. We always like to record in person, rather than resort to Skype or similar remote technology, so that does limit the guests we can have on to those in close geographical proximity. I’m pushing for a Grand Tasmanian W&C Tour, but still need to convince Ian. Mind you, I’m sure his wonderful wife would love a Tassie holiday …

 

SouthernBlood

Q: Your first short story was published in 1993. In 2003 your short story The Truth About Pug Roberts was nominated for a Ditmar and your story, Painless, won an Aurealis Award in 2008. (For a full list of Kirstyn’s fiction see here). This helped to establish your reputation as a writer. Did you find the publications and award wins helped you sell your first book? And do you recommend aspiring writers polish their writing craft with short fiction before jumping into novels?
I’m not sure how much the awards mattered – although they mattered a hell of a lot to me! – but having short fiction published definitely helped sell my first novel. My soon-to-be publisher actually tracked me down and sent an email asking to see my manuscript after having read a couple of my stories in literary journals. The novel, of course, then had to sell itself but the short fiction is how I was noticed in the first place. I’m not sure how common this type of story is anymore, but in my case it wasn’t apocryphal and, being a short story writer at heart, it pleases me immensely to think there is still a valuable place for this form.

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That said, I don’t think that all aspiring writers should necessarily start with short fiction, or use it as a testing ground. Writing an accomplished short story is quite different to writing an accomplished novel and, although there is obviously some overlap, the skill sets required are significantly different. Just because you get good at one form, it doesn’t mean you will be able to transfer your skills to the other. I know a number of authors who have only written novels (or only series/trilogies even), or else did not try their hand at short fiction until well into their career. So it’s not an automatic stepping stone, and short does not always mean easier, or easier to publish.

If you like the short form, enjoy writing within the confines of modest word counts, and have story ideas that suit, then go for it. But for some writers, the ideas are always going to be big and sprawling, and will never be able to pared down to 5,000 words, or even 20,000 words. And that’s fine as well.  Marathonrunners aren’t likely to need to hone their sprinting skills, after all! Just write the stories that are inside you, in whatever form and length that they need to take, and write them as well as you can. Then rinse and repeat. Over and over again. That’s really the best advice I have for any aspiring writer.

Q: Your first novel, Madigan Mine, was published by Picador in 2010. (Gorgeous cover, by the way). Without giving too much away, the story is told from a male perspective about the love of his life who is also his nemesis. Was there ever any question in your mind that the narrative Point of View had to be male? And did you find it easy to slip into his view point?

Even though Madigan was the character I found first, I always knew that her story needed to be told from the point of view of her lover. And, in this particular story, certain plot points required that lover to be male, so the gender choice was very easy and not one I ever veered away from. The hardest about writing Alex wasn’t the fact that he was male; it was that he was so damn passive. Trying to maintain pacing, suspense and interest in a character who, for greater part of the story, remained almost completely reactive proved to be the most challenging aspect of writing Madigan Mine.

To be honest, I don’t find writing from the male point of view all that arduous. I have been an avid reader my entire life, often in traditionally male-heavy genres such as Horror and Science Fiction, as well as Literary Fiction (a genre unto itself). Which means that I have spent the majority of my intellectual life immersed in the male voice and point of the view, the intricacies of the male subconscious, the particularities of male physicality, and so on, all presented with an innate assumption of male authorial authority. Which of course extends to the perception and representation of the female and the feminine.

So, personally, I find it easier to write from a male point of view because I have encountered so many diverse and nuanced cultural representations of men – or, at least, white western men. Such exposure gives me a better “feel” for a male character, where he might fit in the vast (male) cultural spectrum, where he falls short. Sadly, by contrast, I am often daunted and doubtful when writing the female point of view, because I feel I have less of a cultural sample set, to speak. The feminine is not as well charted, the ground less sure. Which is probably why I am far more interested in writing, and writing about, women these days. I like the challenge, and I like helping to build a more complex, richer and multi-faceted social construct of what “woman” and “girl” and “female” actually mean and how those concepts map to reality.

 

Q: In your 2012 Snapshot interview you said: ‘I did finally manage to finish what I have come to think of as My Difficult Second Novel, and am right about to start the edits on that. Its real name is Perfections and I don’t think I have ever hated writing anything so much as I hated writing that book for the longest, longest time.’ Having won an Aurealis Award and critical acclaim for your first book, Madigan Mine, you must have felt the pressure to top this success with your second novel. How did you come to terms with this and what can we expect from Perfections? (Is that title a Freudian slip, are you a perfectionist?)

perfections_coverWhy, yes, I am somewhat of a perfectionist, although the title refers to a different type of perfection that that. But you’ll have to read the novel to find out exactly what :-)

It wasn’t so much pressure to top Madigan Mine – for a long time, I just thought of that as my little first novel, which I’d gotten nicely out of the way before moving onto other things; it took a while for the fact that other people liked it, really liked it, to properly sink in. Also, like many perfectionist writers, I excel at dismissing the merit of my own work. Especially once it’s published.

The problem with Perfections was that it consistently refused to be the book I thought I was writing, and kept insisting on being this other book that I kept fighting against. That’s never going to end well, is it? Still, it took me a long, stubborn time to come to terms with the story as it needed to be told, as it deserved to be told, and trust that I was the writer to tell it. Perhaps, as it’s a narrative about two sisters, told equally from their points of view, my inherent doubts about successfully writing diverse female points of view became part of the problem. As was the notion, which I only unpacked and banished towards the very end of the writing, that the story was “too girlie” and “unimportant”. But it’s neither. It’s complex and layered and it happens to feature two women as the co-protagonists, with love and relationships as the central theme. All of which says something disturbing about the types of narratives that we choose to privilege and deem significant in our culture, and how these choices seep into our psyches no matter what.

That said, Perfections did turn out to be a lot darker and nastier than I originally thought it might, so it seems I was worried for no reason on that score. I still don’t know where the novel fits, genre wise, but I’m keen to see what people think of it. To me, it’s absolutely a Modern Urban Gothic, a descriptor with which a friend tagged my work some years ago, and one I’m happy to wear. I love the high stakes, high emotion, haunted and fraught narratives of Gothic fiction, as well as its capacity for subtext and symbolism. It’s a palette I don’t think I’ll ever tire of playing with.

 

Q: I understand you have a collection of short stories coming our through Twelfth Planet Press soon. Are these reprints or new stories? Have you written to the theme?

My collection is part of the Twelves Planets series, so the four stories will be all new and original works. They’re not explicitly interconnected as some of the collections, like Sue Isle’s, Tansy Rayner Roberts’ and Deb Biancotti’s, have been, but I consider them to be linked – or perhaps “harmonised” is a better word – by tone. I started out with the idea that I would write a collection of ghost stories, because I was on a bit of ghost story kick when I pitched the book to Alisa, but that didn’t quite come to pass. They’re all stories of haunted people, though, even it’s not a traditional “ghost” doing the haunting. It’s my Gothic side coming out again, I guess, but the symbolism inherent in haunted stories is something to which I find myself being constantly drawn, as both a writer and a reader.

 

Q: I read your commentary on Joss Whedon’s Cabin in the Woods and really enjoyed it. (I’ve seen all of Firefly, Serenity, Buffy and Dollhouse. Firefly, several times). Firefly was the most sophisticated of Joss’s series and the most ambitious, but the least commercially successful (yet it has a very strong following amongst the fans). While there is a growing sophistication in the audience, the mainstream TV and Movie makes seem to be going for Blander and Dumber. Do you find it hard to discover TV series and movies that are compelling and challenging? Have you seen The Fades, the UK version of Being Human? Can you recommend some interesting and challenging movie/TV series?

I started to watch The Fades after a couple of people recommended it to me, but I really couldn’t get into it at all. It seemed simplistic and overly reliant on convenient (but nonsensical) plotting and conventional character types. I much preferred the original UK version of Being Human (haven’t seen the US remake) and the UK series Misfits to The Fades – although I’m yet to watch the final seasons of either. I have slightly more patience for television shows than I do for books, mostly because I am usually multi-tasking something else while watching them. Movies, on the other hand, especially ones I’ve gone to the theatre to see, have a tremendous capacity to irritate me – Prometheus, Dark Knight Rises, I’m looking at you – again because of the time I’ve devoted to them. Time is my most precious commodity. I don’t have enough of it, and can never get any more of it, so if I feel it’s been wasted … grrrrr. If you’re wanting recommendations, two exceptional films I’ve seen this year have been Tinker Tailer Soldier Spy and the Fincher remake of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.

Unfortunately, a lot of the TV shows I begin watching, often with great enthusiasm, tend to go off the boil. Or else I just get tired of them. Long seasons and open-ended narrative arcs that go on forever require tremendous stamina on the part of both the producers and the audience, and rarely does that seem to pay off for me. I really liked Dexter to begin with, for example, as well as True Blood, Battlestar Galactica and Fringe (once I got through the problematic first season), but pretty much abandoned them all. I get bored easily I guess, and simply amping up the (often artificial) mystery and melodrama isn’t going to keep my attention. Personal taste plays a strong part in this, of course, as I don’t tend to read a lot of series or trilogies either. Whether they’re on the page or on the screen, I tend to prefer my stories discrete and self-contained; stories I can read/watch fairly quickly and then continue on to something new and often different. Hence my favourite TV shows are usually those with fewer episodes and/or seasons, or self-contained episodic or seasonal stories. Some I would recommend would be Black Mirror, Dead Set, Afterlife, Luther, American Horror Story, The Wire, and Treme. Oh, and Black Books for comic relief, of course. I manage to re-watch that at least once a year.

 

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? The same could probably be said for horror. What is your take on this?

I do think there’s a difference in the way men and women write all sorts of things, fantasy and horror definitely included. This most likely comes down to gender socialisation and cultural issues, rather than biology, although it’s all interwoven to some extent. That’s not to say that it’s always, or even often, possible to pick the gender of an author from the works they have written, but generally speaking there are distinct differences. Of course, this is a self-fulfilling prophecy in many ways: in the types of writing publishers and readers expect from different genders; in the allowances and authority that will be granted to one gender over another depending on genre, theme, character, subject matter, etc; and in the ways that writers of different genders shape their own work, consciously or otherwise, to suit (or counter) such expectations.

It’s complicated, and problematic, and not an issue that’s likely to be resolved any time soon. And the fact that it needs to be resolved is salient in itself. If we were dealing with a simple observation or acknowledgement that men and women (let alone more fluid gender identities) write differently, then okay, fine, whatever. The greater problem is with the values and judgements that then become associated with the perception (valid or otherwise) of this difference. And the number of surveys, and studies, and statistical analyses that have been published recently do appear to support the argument that women writers, and genres in which women writers comprise the majority voice, are still considered lesser than their male counterparts. (And it’s much worse when it comes to matters of race and culture, let’s not forget that.)

The Horror genre undoubtedly has an image problem. Part of that is the large amount of bad – and badly written/produced – books and movies that focus on, shall we say, the more gratuitous and misanthropic, if not downright misogynistic, end of the genre. That’s not for everyone, granted, although there is some very fine work being done in these areas that tends to be overlooked among the chaff. But perhaps the real problem is a definitional one, and the narrowing effect that the genre is suffering right now. After all, if you decide that all the interesting, challenging, intelligent and well-written books are “too good” to be called Horror, and that Horror is merely a genre made of stories where women are raped, tortured or killed, then of course Horror is going to be maligned, derided and snubbed. And a lot of female writers are probably going to decide that such a genre is not for them, or at least that what they write isn’t Horror. QED.

Horror is a broad and slippery genre that gets its, ahem, tentacles into everything. It isn’t just tortureporn or splatterpunk, and never was; these are just two or many subgenres that Horror has the capacity to contain if it is allowed to. It’s written by men and it’s written by women, and it’s a stronger, more nuanced genre for it. After all, a significant portion of what human beings find horrific, terrifying or dread-inspiring, is gender specific. We need all these stories, and we need to acknowledge them as Horror – no matter which subgenre they inhabit along the way. A little more racial/cultural diversity wouldn’t hurt either, not-so-quietly speaking.

 

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

It almost certainly does, and probably in ways of which I’m not entirely conscious, especially when it’s an author I’m unfamiliar with. Specifically, I know I generally feel like I’ll have a better time with female characters in a book if it’s been written by a woman. Of course, this isn’t always the case and women are more than capable of writing awful, stereotypical, angry-making representations of their own gender. But the expectation is there, to be fulfilled or otherwise depending on the quality of the book.

I’m sure there are many more unacknowledged expectations I have in regards to the author’s gender, but other preconceptions are often more prominent in my mind. What genre it falls into, what I’ve been told about it in advance – it’s very rare for me to pick up a book completely on spec these days – and even why I’ve decided to read it in the first place, which might actually include the author’s gender as a motivating factor.

Actually, there’s one more very specific thing of which I’ve become keenly aware – with a first person narrative, especially if it’s a short story in an anthology, these days I will tend to automatically gender the narrator in line with the author. It’s an improvement of sorts from when I was in my teens and twenties and would find myself automatically defaulting male in any first person narrative – a by product of my heavily male-oriented literary diet back then, no doubt. But it’s interesting, if a little depressing, to find that assigning gender to a character straight out of the gate is still something that my mind obviously demands. Then again, English is a highly gendered language, as is our culture, and gender often is the first marker we  seek in our interactions with each other. We really, really need a good quality set of gender neutral pronouns, don’t we?

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’m going to sound a little boring here, but I honestly wouldn’t book any kind of trip in a time machine. It’s far too dangerous to go into the past and accidentally mess things up, and I don’t think I really want to know exactly what the future holds. It’s more fun to find out the old fashioned way, by living through it.

Unless, wait … how about I keep my free ticket on hand for those awful times when you say or do something you immediately wish you could undo. Like having a “restore saved game” function for real life. That’d be neat. But, again, I’d have to use it as soon as I wanted to reset something or else, you know, that whole messing with the past thing. I’ve read the books, and seen the movies. That never ends well!

Look out for Kirstyn’s new book Perfections .

perfections_cover

 

 

Catch up with Kirstyn and Ian’s Podcasts here

Catch up with Kirstyn on GoodReads

Catch up at Kirstyn’s blog

Catch up with Kirstyn on Twitter @fearofemeralds

 

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Filed under Australian Artists, Awards, Book Giveaway, creativity, Dark Urban Fantasy, Female Fantasy Authors, Gender Issues, Genre, Horror, Podcasts, The Writing Fraternity, Writing craft

Off to the Gold Coast Writers Festival Tomorrow…

The Gold Coast is a beautiful place, beaches, sunshine and the hinterland of subtropical rain forest. Tomorrow I’ll be doing what I love almost as much as writing, I’ll be talking about writing at the Gold Coast Writers Festival. Saturday’s events are being held at the Robina Community Centre.

Here’s the program. They ran workshops today.

I get to hang out with a bunch of fellow writers and talk shop. I’ll be looking out for Anita Bell, Sandy Curtis and Louise Cusack, all old friends. And I’ll get to meet Jill Smith and Tony Cavanaugh who will be on panels with me. And I’ll see Meg Vann who is now CEO of the QLD Writers Centre.

Of course I’ve been doing my homework. I’ve read Tony’s very intense thriller, Promise.

And this is after several weeks of teaching, painting bedrooms for my in-laws who are coming to visit and a week of marking.  A day on the coast with a bunch or writers and readers sound like just what I need!

That’s me… Have to mark one more assessment…

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Filed under Australian Writers, Conferences and Conventions, creativity, Fantasy books, Female Fantasy Authors, Genre, Readers, Thrillers and Crime, Thrillers and Mysteries, Tips for Developing Writers

Busy writer has been busy…

Just one more blog post…

Here’s a round up of recent posts.

Fantasy Book Critic: The Power of Story

Louise Cusack’s Workshop Wednesday: Worldbuilding – you need a flypaper mind.

Over on Book Chick City: Writing, Parting Inspiration, Part Perspiration

On the Galaxy blog I ask: Is Fantasy Evolving?

On Narrelle Harris (The Daggy Vamp) I’m interviewed about The Price of Fame, Punk Rock, Street Kids and Music.

Mervi’s Book Reviews: Are we Hardwired for Violence?

Guest post Falcata Times: Setting Stories Free of Genre

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Filed under Australian Writers, Book Giveaway, creativity, Fantasy books, Genre, Nourish the Writer, Resonance

Meet Queenie Chan…

I’m expanding my series featuring fantastic authors to include fantastically creative people across the different mediums, which is why I’ve invited the talented Queenie Chan to drop by.

There are links to give-aways sprinkled throughout the interview.  

Q: In the Eighties I lived in Melbourne and knew a bunch of comic artists. One of the things I noticed was that they would be obsessed with art work, the look, the over-all layout of the page, but story would fall by the wayside. On your website you say: ‘After all, the essence of manga is not so much the art, but the story-telling, themes and pacing. These three are what you should concentrate on when trying to tell a story — any story, not just manga.’ Have you always been fascinated by story? Did your parents read to you? When you saw a movie, did you imagine what happened to the characters afterwards?

Oh, that sounds real interesting! You sound like you met a lot of interesting people when you lived in Melbourne (I must say, I did too when I lived there for a year). Anyway, you’re right about the many different camps of people who read graphic novels – some are all about the art, others are all about the story, while yet more believe in a combination of both. Personally, I’ve always felt that story is more important than art – a story can’t be expressed properly if the art is inadequate, but I also have seen a lot of well-drawn manga/comics that are dull and boring despite beautiful, realistic renderings. I still feel that to work in any storytelling medium (which comics is), your first duty is to engage the reader’s attention in whatever the purpose of the medium is for, so if it’s comics, it should be story.

So yes, I’ve always been more fascinated by story, and as you said, I like to imagine the continuation of stories after they’ve “officially” finished. My parents encouraged me to read as a child, but they never read to me much (neither read fiction, to be honest), and so I got my fix from a variety of different sources – books, movies, TV series, cartoons, manga and video games. Even as a child, I was always writing fan-fiction in my head based on my favourite TV shows.

Q: You say you plot the story, concentrating on the beginning and end and often let the middle take care of itself. And that: ‘In longer stories … there is time to set the characters free in the world you’ve created, and watching them interact with each other and with the environment. If your characters are well-constructed, then they would behave accordingly, and sometimes in ways completely unexpected to you.’ At this stage are you still brainstorming the story flow in a sentence or two, or do you actually start to draw and find the characters doing unexpected things?

Since I’m a comic book writer/artist, the way I work is quite different to prose authors. I’m not saying I’m representative of comic book writers or artists in general, but most people who work in the comic medium are often constrained by the number of pages available. So in my case, the first thing I do when brainstorming is to figure out how many pages a story can be, because if a story becomes too long, it may be impossible to draw (since it will be impossible to finish).

With prose, you can always add paragraphs or sentences and rewrite things if you want, but unfortunately with comics, once you’ve set something down on paper, it can be very hard to change. You can’t add an extra two panels to page 26 of your page 170 book (so far) if you want to – it will mess up the panel flows for the rest of the book. Because of this, my brainstorming usually involves writing down what happens on page 1, then what happens on page 2, and continuing by making a page-by-page summary of what happens on each page.

This part isn’t hard, but sticking to it isn’t always easy. Things always change when you go from prose to images, so you have to accommodate having to insert extra pages in when you start drawing the comic. Other times you’ll have to shorten scenes or extend them, so these days, I always make sure I have a good “feel” of the story in my head before I draw anything. As I said, the longer your story, the more freedom you have in letting your characters have their character moments. You may find a scene play out different as you draw it than you originally imagined, but the overall arc of the story shouldn’t deviate from the plan too much.

Q: You say you consider yourself:  ‘… a Citizen of The World.’ You were born in Hong Kong and came to Australia when you were six. Did you live in a multicultural suburb where you mixed with people from a lot of different backgrounds or was this interest in other societies just something that you uncovered as you came across books and movies from other cultures?

I grew up in a very multi-cultural suburb alright – I went to school with all sorts of interesting people and it was always lovely to learn about other cultures! I was always very interested in travelling, and not necessarily to other Anglophone cultures. As a child, I wanted to go to Africa, to the Middle East and to India, because I thought of these places as exotic, and with a long history.

I think being a history buff helps a lot too. I read a fair amount about Ancient History, and it’s always been a kind of dream for me to visit those historic places that I’ve read so much about.

Q: You say: ‘The reason why I’m so interested in interlocking story threads has a lot to do with my interest in human nature, sociology and anthropology. One of the things I find infinitely fascinating about genre-based story-telling in general is the environment the story is set in, and how that influences the character’s morals, values and actions.’ This is where I come from when writing my own books. I like to put my characters in situations that make them confront what they believe. You’ve made me want to run out and buy some of your books now. Was there a particular writer/movie director/artist whose mastery of character and setting made you think, Wow, that is what I’d like to do, but in my own way?

Ah, nice to know we share that point-of-view in common! I think fantasy can get a bad rep amongst some circles, because people tend to think they know what fantasy is without having read any of it (D&D, girls in metal bikinis swinging swords at orcs). The truth is, fantasy is just anything that isn’t set in this world, but set in a different world; a world which has social conventions similar to our own. What better way is there to explore human nature, without all the political, racial, cultural and historical baggage that each one of us accumulates in this world, just by virtue of living in it? As you said, putting your characters in situations that make them confront their beliefs is what people in this world do every day, just as they do in the worlds you create in your novels.

As for people who have inspired me… there’s been far too many to list. I can point out one man in particular who set me on my path – Tezuka Osamu, the creator of Astro Boy. He was a thoroughly-entertaining manga artist, but also a great humanist, and I encountered his series Black Jack at a particular time in my life (I was 15) which left a deep impression on me. Black Jack is about a rogue doctor who charges exorbitant fees for his services, but he’s also a very good doctor who understands that some people have illnesses that have nothing to do with the physical. The ethical questions that crop up in that manga is quite interesting.

Q: From reading the blurb about The Dreaming it seems to have the feel of the movie Picnic at Hanging Rock, which had a lyrical dreamlike quality about it, and to also be a modern take on the Gothic Romance Literature. Are these two sources which might have influenced you subconsciously as you were creating this story?

Picnic at Hanging Rock was definitely the biggest inspiration for The Dreaming, and you’re right about the gothic literature influences. Rebecca by Daphne DuMaurier was the other big influence, as were movies like Rosemary’s Baby. The visual aspect was quite important for me (namely the way the school looked), but I think I wanted to create a more modern, “haunted-school” take on the whole Picnic at Hanging Rock mythos, so the story ended up bearing hardly any resemblance to any of these three books/movies. Which is a good thing. Even if you can name all your influences, it’s a pleasure to know that what you created is unique in its own way.

By the way, I have the first 2 volumes (of 3) of The Dreaming online as a free webcomic.

Q: Your chapter dividers in The Dreaming remind me a little of the black & white work of Arthur Rackham and perhaps Art Nouveau (Mucha). Do you have heaps of books on art?

Actually, I don’t have many artbooks, especially compared to other comic book artists. I’m not really big on art at all. As I mentioned before, I’m more interested in story-telling than I am in art, so people are often aghast when it turns out that I haven’t heard of [insert name of famous illustrator here]. It’s assumed that all people who draw must be big fans of the art world, but unfortunately… I’m not.

I really do like Mucha’s art style, though it wasn’t something I’ve discovered until recently. And while I love what I’ve seen of Arthur Rackham’s artwork (google images, yay!), I actually think that the chapter divider art for “The Dreaming” looks more like some of Gustav Klimt’s line artwork (that I randomly saw in a book somewhere). I must say that I wasn’t influenced by any particular artist when I drew those chapter dividers – Klimt’s work was something I encountered afterwards.

Q: With the Odd Thomas Series (stories originally by Dean Koontz), did Koontz see your work and ask you to illustrate his stories, or were the pair of you matched up by his/your publisher? (Reading your blog post about it, I see it was a little bit of both). So I’ll come up with another question. How is the movie project going?

I believe we were matched up by our publisher Del Rey, though ofcourse, Dean has to like my work to begin with. I’m not sure what work he has seen of mine before we started working together, but we’ve had a good working relationship thus far, and it would be an honour if we did more books together. As of now, there’s three Odd Thomas books (In Odd We Trust, Odd Is On Our Side, and House of Odd), and I’m happy with how things are.

I believe the movie for Odd Thomas has been completed, and is looking for distribution. I don’t really know much about it, I’m afraid, since this is a project that is driven mostly by Dean. When it comes out, I’m sure all the Odd Thomas fans will run out to see it!

Q: A while ago at Supanova Kylie Chan pulled out some of your artwork and showed me. She’s so proud of the work you’re doing on Small Shen. Were you already one of Kylie’s readers? How did the two of you connect?

(Update Small Shen isi finished!)

Kylie approached me at GenCon a few years ago, and introduced herself and her novels. I didn’t really know of her or her work beforehand, but it was rare to see Chinese Fantasy be so successful, so I took an interest in her work. When I contacted Kylie, it turns out that she had a prequel to her series called Small Shen, and wanted to do something “graphic-novelly” with it. Since I relish the chance to draw some Chinese-style fantasy artwork, I decided to take on the project. That was how it all got off the ground!

It’s been fun working on this project, and I’m nearing the end. This has been a special book, because this is a book that mixes prose with comics, and is not a straight-forward graphic novel. It’s experimental, but so far it’s working out quite well, so I look forward to it coming out in Xmas 2012 from Harper Collins.

Here’s an interview Oz Comic Con did with Queenie about her Small Shen project with fantasy author, Kylie Chan (no relation), among other things.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=x7qNQ2ryrds]

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 (in books) is a bit of a boy’s club. I’ve come across quite a bit of talk on the blogs recently about female comic artists and writers, and their lack of representation in large companies like DC. Have you come across this in your professional life?

I think this perception exists throughout a lot of pop culture. Even when talking about books, there’s a perception that sci-fi, horror, crime, thriller, literary, etc are all male-dominated. The only thing that is seen as exclusively female is probably chic-lit or romance – but even then, these books are packaged in such a female-oriented way that any chance of them appealing to a male audience is pretty much dead due to the deluge of pink covers. Meanwhile, there are a large number of successful female authors working across the genres, and there always has been.

Things are pretty much the same in the comics industry. While it’s true that companies like DC and Marvel dominate (and they are largely male-oriented), there are many female comic book artists out there who don’t work in superheroes, and are just doing their own thing. I’m one of them.

It’s true that there are a lot of assumptions being made by people outside the industry, though, and even inside the industry. Many comics industry blogs tend to cover only superheroes, and hardly any other kind of comic. If you’re going to focus on one small part of the comics industry, then yes, you’re going to get a skewed perception of gender.

Q: Following on from that, does the gender of the writer/artist change your expectations when you approach their work?

No, it doesn’t. I think a good writer is a good writer, and I don’t think the gender of the writer has any effect on the final work. Male and female writers may be interested in different things, or approach things from other angles, but a good story told well is exactly that, and all that’s left is accounting for differing tastes.

I think things are a little different for artists though. If you’re talking about artists who are paired up with writers, then it rests on the skill of the artist to tell the writer’s story effectively, and sometimes they don’t do that. However, that’s got nothing to do with gender though – it’s more to do with what genre that artist is used to working in. If an artist is flexible, they ought to know how to adapt themselves to different genres. If they don’t, and they believe that one-art-style-fits-all… then it can get a little awkward.

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?

Ah, that’s a hard question. My answer can change each time someone asks me that question, depending on what I’m into at that particular point in time. Previously I said just after the meteor that destroyed the dinosaurs hit, so I can see the terrible global destruction that it must have caused (but I would probably die very quickly from it). But as of now, I may just take the easy route and travel to Ancient Egypt to watch them build the Pyramids and raise the Obelisk. I have a theory as to how they raised the Obelisk, and am wondering whether it checks out with history.


Queenie’s Blog.

Catch up with Queenie on Facebook 

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Filed under Australian Artists, Australian Writers, Book Giveaway, Comics/Graphic Novels, Conferences and Conventions, Conventions, creativity, Gender Issues, Genre, Publishing Industry, Story Arc, Tips for Developing Artists, Writers Working Across Mediums

Meet Karen Brooks…

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 and amazingly busy female fantasy author Karen Brooks to drop by.

Watch out for the give-away question at the end of the interview.

Q: Your first book published was It’s Time, Cassandra Klein, followed by The Gaze of the Gorgon, The Book of Night  and Kurs of Atlantis . The first book came out in 2001 and the most recent in this series in 2004. You were dealing with quite adult themes and you aged your main character from 13 – 16 in the course of the books. Did you publishers have any reservations about the themes or the aging of your character?
My publishers, Lothian, were really very supportive about both the ageing of the characters (the other lead character, Simon, ages from almost 15-18) and the quite adult themes. Using Greek and Roman myths (and some from other cultures as well), it’s inevitable that you strike quite complex notions and characters (the gods themselves, many of whom feature in the books, as well as a variety of heroes, were feisty, flawed and while often narcissistic, also underwent their own trials and lessons which mirror those of my protagonists), never mind the fact that the series itself dealt with a range of issues such as loss, grief, the Holocaust, and mental illness, as well as the usual suspects such as sibling rivalry, loyalty, bravery, and self-discovery. Fortunately, the readership – which was both young adult and adult – didn’t have any reservations about the themes or ageing either!

Q: The main character of this series (Cassandra Klein) is thirteen when the first book opens. Did you choose to write at the upper end of primary/lower age end of YA for a specific reason? Also, these books are written under Karen R Brooks. Did you do this to differentiate your adult fiction (Do you write adult fiction?) and non-fiction books from children’s books and what does the R stand for?  (Ruby, Rosemary, Regina?)

I did write for the upper end – not only did I age Caz Klein from 13 to almost 16 across the four books, but many of the themes and the Greek and Roman myths I retold (through her adventures) were quite adult and confronting. I also dealt with themes of loss, mental illness and grief among many others, so it was appropriate to have an older YA protagonist and target the same demographic. The books seemed to fit comfortably in that age range and many adults read them too – which was lovely.

The R in Karen R Brooks was to differentiate my adult writings from YA and also my academic work from fiction (though I now write adult fiction as Karen Brooks). It stands for Ruth and the name has a long history in my family. For as far back as we can trace ourselves (we are Mendelssohns from Germany), the eldest daughter was either called or given as her middle name, Ruth. My great-grandmother (who died in a Concentration camp) was Elsa Ruth Mendelssohn, my grandmother, Eva Ruth, mother Edna Ruth, then there’s me, and my daughter who is Caragh Louise Ruth. I used to not like Ruth – hence Caragh has two middle names, but now I love it – the history it evokes, the sense of a female line.

Q: I think we were at one of the Voices on the Coast festivals a few years ago when you were telling me about your plans for what became The Curse of the Bond Riders trilogy – a fantasy world that takes its inspiration from renaissance Venice full of magic, betrayal and mystery. Sounds fascinating. Now all three books are out, Tallow, Votive and Illumination. I understand you did a lot of research on Venice and lived in Europe for a while, travelling to Venice. (There are some lovely photos on Karen’s website which include photos from the European trip). Which comes first for you, the high concept then the research? Or does your general research on life prompt the high concept?

Wow – great question! And I do remember telling you about the trilogy and you were so encouraging! Thank you!

The high concept came first – it always does now I come to think of it! In this instance, I had the idea for a candle-maker who basically produces these marvellous scented candles. The power of our olfactory senses are such (they are our oldest memories – our sense of smell), that when the scents infused into Tallow’s (my protagonist) candles are inhaled, people can be made to do all sorts of things – good and bad – be generous, fall in love, sign a contract, murder…. The idea for an assassin who uses candles and later becomes a celebrated courtesan was born and from that, the place and time became evident. Candles were an essential item in the Renaissance – any time pre-electricity really J – but when I started to read about Venice (I have always been mad on Italy, but didn’t know much about Venice), the novels simply had to be set there – for me, it was a natural fit. I set about learning everything I could. I wrote Tallow without ever having been to Italy let alone Venice. But  before Votive (the second book) was finished, I’d been to Venice twice (I had the privilege of living and teaching in The Netherlands for a few months, so was able to “duck” over! The beauty of Europe from the perspective of an Australian – the proximity of countries and thus different cultures and cuisines to each other!), I also studied the Italian language for two years.

Q: You have a doctorate in Humanities specialising in Social Media.  You lecture at UNI in ‘… the areas of media, youth, sexuality and popular culture using a psychoanalytical model’, and travelled to Beijing (China) as the first Australian Writer in Residence at the Western Academy in 2005. In 2007 and again in 2009 you spent six weeks at Teiko University (Netherlands) where you taught. You are called on as an expert to comment on Channel 7’s Sunrise and Today/tonight. (For a list of some of  Karen’s articles see here). You’ve appeared on 60 minutes and on The Einstein Factor as part of the ‘Brains Trust’. With all this study and commentary are you tempted to write near future SF? We are currently living in ‘interesting times’ as the Chinese curse goes. Where can you see Australian/first world society going in the next ten years?

I am tempted to write sci-fi! LOL! In fact, a novel I started many years ago now (but never finished – maybe one day…) was called The Cairn Experiment and was set about three-four hundred years in the future where society has reverted to very Victorian ideals about gender and sex roles especially. Women are again oppressed and while they can operate in public space and be employed, it is always in subservient roles, as assistants etc. Men too are imprisoned by the expectations of their sex. The story follows one female who’s the assistant of a rather prudish, brutish scientist and his team, sent to a place that they only recently discovered on an old map, which is called “Cairn Island” (the “Pitt” part has been erased through age). What they find on this unchartered island is set to tear society apart.

Maybe, one-day, I’ll return to it. But I think what I am describing in that novel summarises my fears… that somehow, while we’re advancing in so many wonderful ways – science, technology, medicine – in terms of sex, gender and even the arts, there is a sense of marking time or, worse, retreating, as if we’re afraid of what we’re capable of as men, women, children. The apparent rise of a very vocal and conservative right is indicative of this and the power they have to sway political decisions and policy is alarming – and not just in first world countries either. There is also a reversion to a preference for clichéd behaviour and thoughts over originality; stereotypes masquerading as individuality and the rise of the “it’s all about me” phenomena, whether it be the narcissist unable to hold down a relationship, girls insisting on being treated like princesses and boys silly enough to attempt to do that, worrying about what “I” can get out of something instead of working towards a mutual goal… the preparedness to pepper conversations with personal pronouns…. I also worry about the notion that “fame” in and of itself (without accompanying hard work or experience) has become a desirable destination for some people, regardless of the cost; the need to be noticed. I despair that feminism is the new “f” word, that young men and women are viewed by corporations and others as consumers more than they are people and… I better stop Jsounds so pessimistic! But, I also have great hope for the future as well. We are, despite reports to the contrary and even my above observations, kinder towards each other than in the past, crime has dropped, we are able to travel and thus broaden our minds, and we’re able to debate ideas and concepts freely – at least here in Australia…. We are also critical consumers of everything, really. I just wish we’d do more of all of that. I wish we’d tolerate or at least respect difference and not be so fearful of it (I am thinking very much of gay marriage and refugees, but there are so many other issues at stake with people at the heart – I think we forget that, our humanity sometimes). Also, young people are more engaged with the world, each other and socially conscious – aware of social justice – than any generation previously. I meet some utterly fabulous young people and older ones too and, though I can despair, these people collectively give me great hope for the future.

Q: In your book Consuming Innocence you cover ‘…  the complex relationship parents, teachers and children have with popular culture – that is, advertising, sexiness, TV, computers, films, mobile phones and fashion.’ This was published in 2008 so I’m assuming it was written in 2006- 2007. Twitter didn’t exist then and not everyone was blogging, madly revealing their private fears and foibles to the world. Have you been approached to update the book for a new edition?

Simple answer – no. Everything in the book except the technology chapter (which was out of date the moment it was written for all the astute reasons you point out above) is still relevant today. Saying that, I could easily update it and include new research. I try to stay on top of things but there is so much out there. I worry it becomes like white noise. That’s why it is important to filter and distil it down to its significant essence, which is what my book tries to do.

Q: I found out Sara Douglass was ill about three weeks before she died, when I approached her for an interview for this blog. Unfortunately, the interview was more than she could manage and I was very sorry to have missed the opportunity. Sara and I had met several times over the last ten years. But you were a close friend and wrote a lovely piece, ‘Sara Douglass Remembered’ on the Voyager blog, and you gave Sara’s acceptance speech for the Norma K Hemming Award. Recently, my husband and I were trying to trace an old friend and finally ran him down via the web only to discover he’d died a couple of years ago of aids. Because of the web, people have a web-ghost who lives on after them in profiles, interviews etc, where friends and those who have just discovered their work (if they are creatives) can go and discuss their books and their lives. Have you written about the roll-on effects of web-ghosts in your field of Media Studies?

No. But I should. Before Sara died, I thought it a bit macabre to upload messages to a dead person’s site – especially from those who don’t know the person. It happens often when there’s a tragedy – a young person dying, a soldier in Afghanistan – so many people feel compelled to write something or give flowers or express their grief for someone who’s ostensibly a stranger. I understood their family and friends needing to reach out, express themselves, their pain, but not those who bore no relationship to them. I have subsequently, since Sara died, changed my mind. I have found her FaceBook page oddly reassuring, a comfort – it’s a “living” cyber-memorial even though she has died – not just for myself, but for all those whose lives she touched in some way. I have administrative control over Sara’s FaceBook page (something she granted me while still alive). When she died, I first wanted nothing to do with it (it was too painful). I posted news of her death and some updates, but had to walk away. But now, I find great comfort and delight, not only in reading posts from her fans and friends as they interact about her, her books and the joy her stories have brought and still bring, but relish her lingering presence as well. I wonder if others who have lost someone close feel the same way? But yes, by trawling through the old updates and interviews etc you do manage to get a strong sense of the person and they live on in digital form. Now I am grateful for that.

I love the idea of web-ghosts, Rowena! Thank you. And I will definitely write about it.

Q: Following on from that, I’m fascinated by creativity, where it comes from, the function it serves society. In an article on New Scientist I read that people who considered themselves creative, whether they were sewing, gardening or writing/composing/painting, the same areas of their brains light up when doing these activities. As someone who is both creative and an academic, what is your take on creativity? 

I find that creativity can take all forms. For me, being academic – whether it’s researching an article or paper for a conference or for publication in a journal is creative as well. So often, “creative” is simply regarded as something that can only happen within the broad realm of the “arts” – with fiction writers, artists, musicians, gardeners etc. yet, creativity is much broader than that and makes an enormous contribution to society. Architects, scientists, historians, technologians, mathematicians, they’re all equally creative. If they weren’t, we wouldn’t have half the amazing inventions and ideas that we do – Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, just like Steven Spielberg, Dr Ian Fraser, or JK Rowling, are incredibly creative and innovative.

I do approach writing fiction and non-fiction differently in that I labour over the language more with fiction, with making sure the words are just right (the options are much greater). With academic jargon, academic writing, because you are contributing to knowledge culture and joining an ongoing dialogue with ideas that can be tested and often proven, you have to be precise, so it limits your choices, and it doesn’t do you any favours to be ambiguous whereas in fiction, you can be playful and work double and more meanings into your prose.

Q: In your 2012 Snapshot Interview you say ‘… I am working on two adult novels: one a contemporary and historical fantasy (it shifts time and place) that involves witchcraft, but not as we think we know it (and yes, it is thoroughly researched ☺) and, another historical fiction with not so much fantasy, but more magic realism and then only a little, that’s set in England and Flanders in the 1400s.’ These sound like fascinating projects. When can we hope to see them?

Ahhhh… I don’t know, Rowena. I have shelved the witchcraft one for the moment and am working on the other and loving it. I am only a short way into it and am not going to rush it, but I do hope to have it finished by the end of the year. Will it see the publishing light of day? I certainly hope so.

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?

Wow – what a powerful and potentially divisive question – this could get me into trouble! I was discussing this with another writer the other day in regards to George R R Martin. She felt that he was very masculine in his style and that it was distinctive from, say, yours, mine or hers or someone like Anne McCaffrey’s. Certainly, Martin is attracting a great deal of attention with the magnificent HBO TV series based on his series, and I do love his written work – a big fan – but is his style different because he’s a man? Maybe? Does it make it better? Worse? Neither – that’s nothing to do with sex, but about the quality of the writing and story. If there is a difference between the way men and women write (and I would suggest there has to be at least a small one – eg. a woman writer can get in a woman’s head better and vice-a-versa – not that we can’t get inside the mind of the opposite sex, it’s just the same sex can do it more accurately more often. This might lead to male writers featuring main characters that are men and women writers, females more often, but, of course, the opposite happens and very well too), then it might be to do with point of view – the predominant one. But I don’t think the differences are as big as some might like to find. I am re-reading Sara Douglass at the moment and I feel she writes in a very direct, assertive way that drags you straight into the action and shocks you but also has such emotional depth. Like Martin, she doesn’t hesitate to sacrifice character for the sake of the story but he also manages to manipulate your emotions and make you care deeply. I have read other female and male fantasy writers who, from my perspective, do the same thing. They do the most wonderful job of crafting character and place – their work simply oozes personality and verisimilitude and you long to lose yourself in that space over and over. Juliet Marilliier, Jacqueline Carey, Kim Wilkins, Cory Daniells, JK Rowling, and many more, have this uncanny knack of creating simply wonderful worlds that leave you breathless and pluck at your emotions but they can also do epic or dark, or brutal too. But then, I have found the same with some male writers – examples off the top of my head are Hugh Howey, CS Lewis, Terry Brooks, Ian Irvine, Richard Harland, Antony Eaton,  (no relation) and so many more.

I do think male fantasy writers get more of a particular kind of attention (despite the incredible success of Rowling and Stephanie Meyer and others), so that folk tend to sit up and take more notice of them and that gives the impression of and contributes to the “boy’s club” notion. But, stylistically, I think if you took names off covers and gave a reader a few different authors’ works to read, it would be hard to tell the sex. Again, there are exceptions – some authors have a distinctive style, which is little do with their sex as writers – Stephen King for example, you can pick his work, likewise, Robin Hobb.

So, I guess my simple answer NOT, is yes and no!!!

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

No. Not at all.

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?

OK… I always thought I wanted to go back – you know, to ancient Greece, or Rome or Elizabethan England… but no. I want to travel into the future – at least two hundred years from now. Australia will do. I want to see if we learn the lessons of today tomorrow – I want to see what state the environment’s in, what’s our attitude to people from other cultures, is gay marriage just taken for granted in that time? Has the word “gay” disappeared from our vocabulary and we are all just humans with a sexuality? I would love to talk to people and see if their hopes and dreams are like ours now. I want to know what they think of us – how they reflect on the history we’re creating today. Do they think we’re an embarrassing blip on the history radar with our love of celebrities, Reality TV, our need to consume, or are they proud of our legacy in other ways? That we instigated changes to the way we respect the environment, that we were concerned about tolerance and acceptance, about health and ageing? How are children treated in the future? Old people? Refugees? Do they even exist? I also want to see who and what they worship (secular?) and if they’re still showing reruns of The Simpsons on what passes for TV.

Give-away Question:

If you could travel anywhere in time or space, where would you want to go, who would you most want to meet and why?

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Filed under Australian Writers, Book Giveaway, creativity, Fantasy books, Female Fantasy Authors, Gender Issues, Genre, Historical Books, The Writing Fraternity, Young Adult Books

Just had to share this…

My son sent me this and I just had to share it:

I don’t know who produced it- looks like a college for creative students, the writing is too small – but I’d like to thank them.

The same could be said of writing…

It starts with a love of books,

soon they’re spending time at the library and bookstores searching for favourite authors to get their fix.

Before you know it, a simple love of books turns into…

scribbling poetry when no one’s looking and…

then their first short story. Some skip this stage and go straight to…

books. The worst genre is Fantasy. Writers have been known to create whole series of books set in secondary worlds.

Completely divorced from reality, these poor writers say their characters take over and refuse to do what they’re told!

Very sad. You have been warned.

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Filed under Australian Artists, Australian Writers, creativity, Fun Stuff, Genre, Nourish the Writer, Obscure and Interesting, Writing craft

Meet the team at Galactic Suburbia…

Today I’m interviewing the Intrepid Team who brings you Galactic Suburbia. Fresh from the Aurealis Award win for contributing to Speculative Fiction, and hot on the heels of a Hugo nomination, we’re going to range wide and far, from motherhood, deadlines, to goals and gender.

Q: First of all Congratulations on the Aurealis Award Win! The Peter McNamara Convenor’s Award for Excellence (named after Peter McNamara who was the original Aurealis Awards convenor as well as an Indie Press editor and publisher). This award celebrates work in any medium that brings credit to the field of Speculative Fiction. This must have been a buzz to win. Did some of you go to the awards night?

TANSY: it was very exciting to win it, and to hear such lovely things said about Galactic Suburbia and its effect on the community over the last few years.  We all went along except Finchy who was on parenting duty back home – but it was lovely for Alex, Alisa and I to be able to celebrate together on the night.

ALEX: it was my first Aurealis Awards night and very exciting to attend. The ceremony itself was really well constructed and it was a lot of fun being there to watch people get well-deserved awards… and a lot of fun to hang out with them after as well. Getting the award was a bit surreal, since it’s a fairly big deal and to think that the conveners thought us talking to each other was worth it is amazing.

ALISA: I was really excited to attend a Sydney Aurealis Awards night and it was a lot of fun. I’m constantly blown away by the way Galactic Suburbia has been received.

Q: I now hearGalactic Suburbia has been nominated for a Hugo! (Best FanCast) Do you have any idea of the number of people who are listening to what you have to say? And does it make you feel nervous?

FINCHY: We appear to be averaging just over fourteen hundred downloads per month from our episode list with around three hundred subscribers based mainly in Australia, US, UK and Canada as well as a handful in other countries such as Sweden, Belgium and the Philippines.

ALISA: I have to admit that I try not to think too much about how many people are listening. I think that the podcast works because of the synergy between three good friends just having a conversation and so I try not to get too self conscious about it. Course, there’s no avoiding that when we record live episodes in front of an audience! Which is actually a lot of fun.

ALEX: live episodes are heaps of fun! … except when they’re too early in the morning. I admit that I like looking at the number of hits our website gets, but it doesn’t translate in my head into ‘these people actually LISTEN.’ Being nominated for the Hugo is a totally mind-blowing thing – an award that non-community people have heard of!

TANSY: What is lovely is that so many of the people who do listen to our podcast either tweet or email us, sharing their experiences and joining the conversation.  I can never quite wrap my head around ‘400 people listened to that episode’ but once you get it down to about ‘5-10 people talked to us about that episode’ it feels more manageable!  We can sometimes see the influence we’ve had as books/ideas we recommend or suggest get picked up by other people with their own blogs or podcasts or communities around them, which is very exciting.

Q: On the Galactic Suburbia About page you have a description of yourselves, Alex the Reviewer and Teacher, Tansy the Fantasy Writer and Mum, Alisa the Indie Publisher and Engineer. (And we should include Finchy in there as the Silent Producer). But you don’t tell us what prompted you to start Galactic Suburbia. I’m guessing you all knew each other before this. Did you have Mission Statement? To Boldly Go Where No Other Podcast Had Gone?

ALISA: We started Galactic Suburbia for a bunch of reasons. Something that the three of us are really passionate about is offering diversity of opinions and voice in the genre and we were very conscious that most of the podcasts at the time featured mostly male voices. When our favourite podcast – Starship Sofanauts – finished, we were so sad to be losing the show that we genuinely thought about picking up the gauntlet. We realised though, much as we loved the format of the show, three women on a podcast would really be a different, and our own show. So we decided to launch Galactic Suburbia – vaguely based on the Sofanauts (an emphasis on news and views on current sf publishing) but with our own, feminist, twist.

ALEX: I wanted the excuse to chat with friends that I’m lucky to see once a year. Email is nice and all, but all talking at the same time is on an entirely different level of interaction. Other than that, what Alisa said.

TANSY: We also wanted to give the Australian perspective on publishing, science fiction, etc.  So often it’s the US (and to a lesser extent UK) voices which dominate the discussion, no matter what the medium.  We ended up with a great deal of happy accidents that weren’t originally planned – such as how much easier it is to have a discussion about crunchy feminist issues when people aren’t leaping into your comments thread to derail you!

Also I have to say the reviewing aspect pleases me a great deal – since my second daughter came along I have so little time for reading and even less for reviewing, which saddens me because I’m well aware of how important it is to have non-US female reviewers adding their voices to the discussion.  With Galactic Suburbia I have incentive to finish a book or two each fortnight, and to say something about it without having to write anything down!

Q: Can you give us a rundown on how you come up with the premise for an episode and then the mechanics of how you record it? Has this changed over time?

ALEX: When we started out, we had a three-part strategy: news first, then ‘Culture consumed’, then a ‘Pet subject.’ We quickly realised that we needed to include feedback, too, because we were actually getting some and it was nice to discuss it! While we enjoyed doing the pet subject, there were times when we couldn’t easily think of something crunchy enough to talk about… and then we discovered that we were in serious danger of going over two hours. Eventually we experimented with dropping the pet subject and giving ourselves a bit more time on the news etc; given that we do occasionally still threaten the two-hour mark, it’s probably been a good move!

TANSY: Recording wise, we all hop on to Skype.  Finchy presses the buttons (I’ll let him give more specifics) and we talk straight through, barring accidents of the internet, from beginning to end.  We have show notes up ahead of time in a shared Google Doc, which gives us the links to talk about in our news segment (we’ve all added to this doc in the weeks leading up to the episode), and a loose order of points of discussion, plus the works listed we’re going to review in our ‘Culture Consumed’ section.  We take turns to moderate episodes, so we share the burden of trying to keep it all on track and saying things like ‘and what have you been reading, Alex.’  Then the other two hop off Skype and go have dinner/go to bed while I tidy up the Show Notes, Finchy does the editing, and ‘casts’ the episode into the internet.

FINCHY: We use Audio Hijack Pro to capture the audio from Skype for all three presenters simultaneously, after spending a little bit of time checking their relative levels.  I edit in Garageband (mostly to eliminate technical glitches such as Skype dropping out) and export the compressed MP3 which is uploaded to Podbean using Cyberduck.  Content editing is rare as the presenters are amazingly fluent and we like to have the feel of a natural conversation.

ALISA: The recording through unless internet accidents has added a very real “suburban” feel to our show. Listeners have positively commented on the sound of babies and barking puppies in the background. I like the idea of it sounding like the three of us sitting round a kitchen table, having a cup of tea, and life going on around us.

Q: You all have work, some have families, Alisa is running Twelfth Planet Press (and getting married this year – TR) .  Like you I have work, family and deadlines. I feel like I’m running top speed just to stop from going backwards. Women can have it all, but is it worth it?

ALISA: I think women can have it all, just maybe not all at once. Is it worth it? Hell yes.
Sometimes I dream about just coming home from my day job and doing … actually, I have no idea what people without commitments do? But not often. I enjoy running my press and working with outstanding, creative people, and the intellectual challenge of it all. I enjoy the process just as much as I appreciate the rewards of my labours. I do worry about how I will fit a family in with it all and am starting to lay the preparation ground work for that now.

ALEX: I think it’s ‘all’ available, and I hope that we’re at the point where, if I don’t want to, I don’t HAVE to want it all. But I can help those of my friends who have bigger ambitions (Alisa…).

TANSY: People ask how I get it all done – how I write and balance my family responsibilities, kids, etc.  “How do you do so much”  It sometimes feels a bit like a veiled attack – “how do YOU do it when *I* don’t, what makes you so special?”  But it comes down to priorities.  You make time for writing, or fanzine editing, or convention running, or reviewing, or small press publishing, or whatever, if it’s important to you.  If you love it enough.  And yes, I have ambitions, mostly revolving around trying to earn a living in my field, but I don’t feel the need to have it all.  Where would I put it?

I think it’s a worry how easily the idea that ‘women can have it all’ has shifted to ‘women should have it all, and if they’re not achieving perfection across every aspect of life, they should feel bad about themselves.’  I’m not a perfect mother, partner, writer, feminist or podcaster, but I’m pretty happy with my life.  Galactic Suburbia gives us so much personal satisfaction right now, but I hope that if it ever becomes a chore or something to trudge through, my fellow podcasters would ditch it in a hot second and run off to find whatever else they need to make them happy.  If it’s not fun, what’s the point?

ALISA: I agree – I think it’s not, how DO you fit it all in but rather how much do you want it? And which bits do you really want? Because I most definitely cut corners in my life, mostly with the boring chores, to do the things I really want.

Q: You are all in your thirties and you’re all well educated, Engineer (Alisa), Classics Phd (Tansy), History Masters and Teaching (Alex). You’ve talked about gender from the Tiptree Awards, how comics portray females and Celebrating Joanna Russ. As someone who works with young women in their twenties I’ve come across the feeling that the feminist movement is old hat and a bit of an embarrassment.  How far have we come? How much farther do we need to go?

TANSY: I think that anyone who thinks feminism isn’t necessary isn’t looking at the world right now.  It’s never been more relevant to the lives of young women.  There are so many battles still to fight – in politics, in bodily autonomy, in law reform, in workplace equality.  And yes, in publishing and science fiction too.  Then there’s the challenge of intersectionality, of making sure that feminists are not trampling on the rights of others to get what they need, and that we remember that racism, homophobia and ableism are rife in our communities.

Like knitting and crochet, I like to think that feminism is coming back into vogue among the young.  And books matter, just like the representation of gender in all cultural products matters – it’s how we shape ourselves as a society.  Women are constantly in danger of the backlash, of being told it’s time to sit down and shut up because the men are talking.  And while sexism is often (but not always) more subtle and insidious than in previous decades, it’s still with us.

Nothing makes us happier than hearing from our male listeners about how they have become readers of and advocates for women’s work because of Galactic Suburbia.  Though it’s also pretty fabulous when we hear from women who have also changed their way of thinking towards feminism, the work of other women, and gender issues in general, because of us.  We’re not gurus or experts in gender theory and we’re certainly not perfect feminists – we’re just showing our work as we make our own imperfect journeys forward in figuring things out for ourselves, and it’s lovely how many people want to come along for the ride.

ALISA: It makes me sad when I talk over feminism with my mum and realise that we haven’t really come anywhere near as far as maybe we should have for the time frame. On the other hand, I know so many men who have their head around the issues and are not only walking the talk, they’re active advocates. Is feminism old hat? I don’t think so. Does it need to constantly be reviewed and updated, I think yes. I think one problem is that the really overt aspects of sexism have been addressed, and hopefully mostly improved. Like you can’t not hire or promote me just because I’m getting married later this year and probably will want to start a family soon. But the battle now is to bring to light the subtle, subconscious and culturally condititioned aspects of sexism. This battle in some ways is a much harder one but at the same time, I think it’s deeply fascinating. Certainly the most positive interactions I’ve had with Galactic Suburbia is when someone has thought about something we’ve discussed and then gone away to look at their own actions, found them wanting AND then done something about that – like actively reading and talking about female writers and their work.

Alex: … all of that.

Q: Where do you see Galactic Suburbia going in the future?

ALEX: Wiscon…  :D

TANSY: WISCON OR BUST!

ALISA: I’m with them!

Q: Individually, what would you like to achieve in the next year and in the next 5 years?

ALEX: I just want to read a lot of really good books. And talk about them.

TANSY: I want to *write* a lot of really good books.  Selling some wouldn’t hurt either.  I want to earn a living at this writing thing and that means getting my ambition into gear.  So glad I have good friends to keep me sane along the way.

ALISA: I want to *publish* a lot of really good books.  I’m looking forward to completing the Twelve Planets series, launching our new crime imprint Deadlines, and releasing our first novel. In the next 5 years? I probably want it all :)

See an overview of 2011 podcasts.
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Catch up with them individually on Twitter
Tansy @tansyrr
Alisa @Krasnostein
Alex @randomisalex

Blogs
Tansy Rayner Roberts
Alisa Krasnostein
Alexandra Pierce

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Kate Forsyth tells us about Rapunzel…

Today we have the lovely Kate Forsyth visting us to coincide with the release of her new book Bitter Greens. There is a copy of Bitter Greens for one lucky reader. See the give-away question at the end.

 

 

 

 

 

Rapunzel is one of the most mysterious and enduring of all fairytales, telling the story of a young girl sold to a witch by her parents for a handful of bitter green herbs.

Most people think that the ‘Rapunzel’ story was first told by the Grimm Brothers in the early 19th century, but in fact it is a much older tale than that. There are so many ‘Maiden in the Tower’ stories in cultures all around the world that it has its own classification in the Aarne-Thompson fairytale motif index (Type 310).

The first known version is from Christian iconography with the story of Saint Barbara. She was a virtuous young girl locked in a tower by her father in the 3rd century. She was tortured for her Christian beliefs but her wounds miraculously healed overnight and when she was beheaded by her father, he was struck by lightning and killed. Most images of her show her with long, flowing, blonde hair, and in one version of the story her hair miraculously burst into flame when her father seized hold of it.

The first appearance of the motif of the ‘hair ladder’ was in a 10th century Persian tale told by Ferdowsi (932-1025 AD), in which a woman in a harem offers to lower her hair to her lover so he can climb up to her. He is afraid he might hurt her and so throws up a rope instead.

One of Rosetti’s paintings because I love the Preraphaelites

The ‘hair ladder’ reappears in Petrosinella, a literary fairy tale told by a Florentine writer, Giambattista Basile and published in 1634. Basile was living in Venice at the time and so may have heard many tales brought by sailors and merchants from faraway lands. Petrosinella (Little Parsley) is given up to an ogress after her mother steals parsley from the ogress’s garden. The ogress locks Petrosinella up in a tower in the forest, using her hair as a ladder to access the building. Petrosinella escapes with the help of a prince who heard her singing, overcoming the ogress by casting three magical acorns behind her that turn into obstacles that impede the witch and ultimately devour her.

Sixty years later, the story appears again, this time in France. It is told in 1698 by Charlotte-Rose de Caumont de la Force , who has been banished to a convent after displeasing the Sun King, Louis XIV, at his opulent court in Versailles. Locked away in a cloister, much like Rapunzel is in her tower, Charlotte-Rose was among the first writers to pen a collection of literary fairy tales and also one of the world’s first historical novelists. Published under a pseudonym, Mademoiselle X, Charlotte-Rose’s tales became bestsellers and she was eventually able to buy her release.

In Persinette, Mademoiselle de la Force’s version of the tale, the mother conceives an insatiable longing for parsley which her husband steals for her from a sorceress’s garden. When he is caught by the sorceress, the husband promises the sorceress his unborn daughter. The sorceress comes and collects the little girl at the age of seven, names her Persinette, and raises her until she is twelve. Persinette is then locked away in a tower without a door or stair, deep in a forest.

The Bridesmaid by Millais

In time she becomes a woman; the prince hears her singing and chants the rhyme so he can climb up the ladder of hair to her room, where he seduces her. “He became bolder and proposed to marry her right then and there, and she consented without hardly knowing what she was doing. Even so, she was able to complete the ceremony” is how Charlotte-Rose rather coyly describes his seduction.

Persinette becomes pregnant as a result, and in her naivety betrays herself to the sorceress when she complains about her dress growing tighter. The sorceress is furious. She cuts off Persinette’s hair and banishes her to a far-distant wilderness, then tricks the prince into climbing up the braids to the tower. She then causes him to fall from the tower to the ground, and he is blinded by the thorns that grow about the base of the tower. Persinette bears twins in the wilderness, then finds the prince and heals his eyes with her tears. The sorceress continues to torment them, until the young couple’s courage and tender love for each other move her to mercy and she magically returns them to the prince’s loving family.

The story was then retold by the German author Friedrich Schulz (1790). His version is almost identical to Mademoiselle de la Force’s, except that he changed the girl’s name to Rapunzel. It was then retold by the Grimm Brothers (1812), becoming less powerful, mysterious and sexually charged with each subsequent edition. For example, Rapunzel betrays the prince by remarking that the witch is much heavier to pull up, rather than by the witch’s realization that Rapunzel is pregnant.

I love Charlotte-Rose de la Force’s version of the story because of the ardent love affair and the miraculous healing of the prince’s eyes, and also because the heroine takes a more active role than in later versions of the tale. Persinette is imprisoned as a child, but she survives her ordeal, plots her escape, falls in love, and then raises two children on her own. She heals her lover’s wounds with her tears, and she persuades the sorceress to set them free. She becomes a magical agent of healing and salvation, not only for herself and her family, but also for the sorceress.

I am also fascinated by Charlotte-Rose herself. Strong-willed, intelligent and fiercely independent, she once rescued her lover from imprisonment by disguising herself as a dancing bear and entering his father’s castle with a travelling troupe of performers. Her stories were among the first literary fairy tales to be published, and her historical novels are known to have been read and enjoyed by Sir Walter Scott, who many attribute with beginning the historical fiction genre. Her most famous novel, The Secret History of Margeurite de Valois (1697), was also a strong influence on Alexander Dumas’s novel The Queen Margot (1854). She was an early feminist who believed passionately in free love and fought to live her own life liberated from the rigid hierarchy and etiquette of the court of Louis XIV. I find it interesting that her own story echoes the themes of Persinette – she is locked away from society by the king, but she wins her freedom by telling stories.

In my novel, Bitter Greens, I have entwined a retelling of the Rapunzel fairy tale with Charlotte-Rose’s dramatic life story to create a novel of desire, obsession, black magic, and the redemptive power of love. Oh, and Giambattista Basile makes a brief appearance too …

Dornr Schenschloss, Sababurg

Don’t you love it, when someone really knows their stuff? Kate’s currently overseas staying in the Sleeping Beauty castle at Sababurg. She’ll be back mid week.

Here’s the give-away question: What is your favourite fairy tale and why?

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Meet Lian Tanner…

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 Lian Tanner to drop by.

Watch out for the give-away question at the end of the interview.

Q: Museum of Thieves won the Aurealis Children’s Fiction Award in 2010. (Among many other notables and awards). This must have been a real buzz for your first book.  It was going to be a stand-alone but it is now a trilogy. Did this mean a radical rethink, or did it all just flow?

A: Yes, I was so enormously pleased about the Aurealis Award. Museum had been shortlisted for a couple of things before that, and hadn’t won, and I was beginning to get that ‘always a bridesmaid’ feeling. <ahem> Not that I care about awards, you understand … <laughs>

As for the trilogy thing, I had originally intended Museum of Thieves to be a stand-alone novel, and so in my early drafts I killed off the villains at the end. When I realised that I wanted to make it the first book in a trilogy, the main thing I had to do was add a postscript, making it clear that the villains hadn’t died after all, but were still out there somewhere and would presumably be back at some stage.

Apart from that, I really didn’t change it a lot – I wanted the book to still be able to stand alone as much as possible. When I’m reading, I really hate major cliff-hangers at the end of a book. I don’t mind teasers that make me want to read the next book in a series, but I get very irritated if there’s not at least a temporary resolution of the action.

Q: There are two types of covers that I’ve been able to find the illustrated covers which are very nice and these deliberately aged books that look like they were printed in the 1960s. Have readers told you which they prefer?

A: You often hear about authors hating their covers, but I’ve been very lucky with mine so far – I’ve loved them all. The deliberately aged covers are the Australian ones (Allen & Unwin) and the illustrated ones are American (Random House). There are also some rather nice German covers (Arena Verlag) that are completely different again.

When I’m talking to groups of kids I always ask them which ones they prefer. And it seems the marketing and design departments in both Australia and the US have pretty much got it right – the Australian kids overwhelmingly prefer the Australian covers and the American overwhelmingly prefer the American covers.

Q: On your Inspiration Page you have a number of photos, quotes and a very convoluted plot map. (I keep an inspiration file for my books). Many of the writers I interview make up play lists for specific music while they write a certain book. Are you a visual person as opposed to an aural person?

A: Definitely visual rather than aural. In the past I’ve tried to write to music – mainly because I’ve seen some of those playlists and I was curious to see if it would work for me. But I found it almost impossible. Bird calls are fine, when my office window is open, and I tend to have classical music on very quietly in the background, but anything else is much too distracting.

Visually though I always spend a lot of time collecting photos and drawings of people, places and miscellaneous objects before I start writing. That’s pretty much a necessity for me. I like to have character pictures dotted around my office and on my desk. I also really like to find some wallpaper for my desktop and some screensaver images that relate strongly to whatever I’m working on, so I’m immersed in it while I work. Currently I’m surrounded by icebergs.

Q: In a Q& A on Readings you talk about your love of words, specifically old words like  Slubberdegullion (a dirty nasty person) and Forswunk (worn out by hard labour). Did you read a lot of Dickens when you were a kid? And do you collect words?

A: I was actually put off Dickens as a child by having to read Great Expectations at school. My teacher loved it, but I thought Pip was an irritating and ungrateful wimp, and I loathed his relationship with Estella. (I loathed Estella too.) As an adult I’ve read quite a few of Dickens’ books and discovered the value in them, but have never gotten over my dislike of Pip.

And yes, I do collect words and phrases, particularly ones that have fallen from favour. My current favourite is ‘idle-worms’, which supposedly once bred in the fingertips of lazy girls. If they existed, my fingertips would be riddled with them.

Q: You were born in Tassie and have lived there most of your life, but you did live in Papua New Guinea for three years. I see you were a teacher there. It must have been a very different world.  Have you been able to incorporate any of the things you experienced in Papua New Guinea in your books?

A: Papua New Guinea was a bit of an eye-opener for me. I was twenty-three when I went there, and had never lived outside Tasmania, so it was hugely different and very challenging. My first year I taught in a school just outside Port Moresby, run by Catholic nuns. My second and third years I was at a little bush school thirty km from Rabaul on the Gazelle Peninsula. That school had about 150 kids and three teachers when I arrived – one of those teachers had a full-time job in Rabaul and used to come down in his morning break. The principal trained the kids for interschool sports by chasing them around the oval with a whip, and quite a few of them carried serious scars from not running fast enough.

 In a lot of ways I think PNG woke my imagination from its slumbering state. I’ve incorporated some of the people I knew there in my writing – in fictional form – but have never yet used any of the events to a great degree. I will one day – there are a number of things (apart from the sports training) that have stayed in the back of my mind and are just waiting for the right vehicle to emerge.

Q: You studied drama when you were 38 and travelled around Tasmania schools playing all sorts of characters. You say you were shy as a child. What made you turn to drama?

: It was partly accidental, I think, though I always liked drama at school – it was a way of stepping past my shyness. But when I was in my late twenties and early thirties I hung around with a bunch of people who were very involved in music and political street theatre. Eventually we went from street theatre to amateur stage dramatics, and one of my friends decided to enrol in drama school to consolidate her various skills.

At that time in my life I had never really settled to anything as far as work/career was concerned, but the theatre work struck a real chord for me, and I joined my friend at drama school. It’s one of the best things I ever did. I used to write a lot as a child, but pretty much stopped in my teenage years. Drama school was the thing that got me started again, that showed me how to be creative under pressure, as well as teaching me about dialogue and character motivation and all those other useful things that translate so wonderfully from the theatre to prose.

Q: A lot of women who write for children feel that they have to have a boy as the main protagonist, otherwise boys won’t read their books. They’ll then bring a girl in as a secondary protagonist. But the main character in Museum of Thieves and City of Lies is clearly Goldie Roth, and the boy Toadspit is secondary. Was this deliberate? Were you concerned about whether boys would read your books?

A: It has always seemed to me a total cheat that, because authors assume girls will read books with boy protagonists but boys won’t read books with girl protagonists, they nearly always make their main character a boy to capture the broadest market. Where does this leave girls? Always in second place, and with no exciting role models!

Basically I write for myself when I was 11, and at that age I adored books with bold girls in them, so I was very clear right from the start that I wanted my main character to be a girl. Knowing the sort of story I was intending to write, I thought that boys would probably also enjoy the book, and I did want to have an important boy character. But my main intention was to tell Goldie’s story.

Interestingly, the boy/girl thing hasn’t really been an issue since the books came out. Girls love them and so do boys – mainly I suspect because they’re a good strong adventure series, and that appeals to both genders. Or maybe this is one of those borders that has blurred a little over the last few years – I notice that Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games trilogy seems to have almost as many male fans as it does female, and I’m sure it’s not the only example.

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?

A: For a long time I have really wanted to go back to early Hobart and walk down those dusty, smelly, noisy streets. It’s a city I love, and I would dearly love to see its beginnings. I think a lot of my writing – even though it’s fantasy – has been influenced by early Hobart, and it’s a major source of inspiration for me, so to be able to wander around and poke into the shops and talk to people in that little colonial outpost would be my idea of heaven. I’d probably stalk two of my great grandmothers while I was there too – especially the one who was a diarist and a poet.

 

Lian has a paperback copy of the US edition of Book 1, a hard back of the US edition of Book 2 or an audio book of Book 1, as read by Claudia Black. The winner can choose.

Give-away Question:.

What sort of museum would you like to invent?

 

Catch up with Lian on GoodRreads

Lian’s advice for young writers

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