Category Archives: Tips for Developing Artists

Dynamic Duo run National SF Con (Conflux 9)and have new books out…

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 Dynamic Duo, Donna Hanson and Nicole Murphy who are co-chairs of the Australian National SF Convention, Conflux 9 and who both happen to have a book coming out this year. They are proof that you can be creative and successful, and give back to your community.

 

Donna and Nicole

Donna and Nicole

Q: Both of you have work and families, you are part of a writing group (the Canberra SF Guild and part of Fantasy Writers on Retreat), you’re published and you both have books coming out this year (more later), on top of all this, you put your hands up to be co-chairs of Conflux 9. Tell me honestly, when you came home from that meeting and told your significant others that you’d volunteered to run the Nat Con, what did they say? (From the photo it looks like you might have had one glass to many).

Donna

Well that photo on the website was my birthday shot ( a High Tea)  so I’m not sure we’d dived into the champers at that time. We think we’re insane and I think our partners know it. Matthew (Farrer) my partner has this wide-eyed stare every time we talk Conflux 9. The worried frown sort of says-‘she’s going to rope me in?’ And just last weekend I did too, do a couple of panels. It’s the power of the inevitable. However, this is definitely my last con.

 

Nicole

I dreaded telling my husband, Tim, cause he really didn’t like the time it took from me when I chaired Conflux 4. But the fact that a) it was with Donna, so the workload wouldn’t be as bad and b) I love doing this meant he was fine with it. However, we’re both swearing that this will be the last time we organise a con and hoping our partners will keep us to that. Not that that means it’s the last thing we’ll do for the community. We have ideas. One that keeps popping up in particular (you know what I mean, Donna).

 

Donna

Nicole do not go there. Do not pass go and do not collect $200. Think of the work involved. You’re insane.

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Q: Not only are you doing all of the above, but Nicole, you’re teaching Year of the Novel with the QLD Writing Centre and the ACT Writers Centre, and Donna you are doing a Masters in Creative Writing, and a course in Millinery (hat making). Is there a point where you think, I can’t take on one more thing? Or is your philosophy, the more I take on the stimulating life is and it’s just as well I’m really good at juggling?

 

Donna

I have my limits. Like if I sold a trilogy I’d probably have massive brain melt. But that’s not going to happen in the next 3 months. I’d like it but you know gee a girl can only do so much. Ironically, I do find the more I have on the more productive I get. RSI stymies me a little. I guess it’s a matter of stacking. Conflux is over at the end of April. Things are hotting up now with Conflux so I ease off on the writing. The Masters starts soon, but I’m taking all of April off to get the Conflux thing done and uni if needs me. Millinery if the course goes ahead (they need a minimum number) will be my time out. I have arthritis in the neck and one day I’m not going to be a happy camper so I do have this philosophy of doing as much as I can now rather than waiting until I retire or something. And to ease the pressure in my writing gears and cogs, I wrote two novels in the last half of 2012 and I just have to polish them and send them out this year. The pressure to write has eased a bit.

 

Nicole

There is no doubt in my mind that I am quite, quite mad. However, there’s nothing that annoys me more than being bored, and this year there’s little chance of that happening! The two Year of the Novel courses were important to me because I love teaching and helping people – I get as much satisfaction from seeing friends and those I’m mentored and taught succeed as I do from my own success. More, even, cause I don’t have to deal with the worry and fretting and constant fear of bad sales figures J And as Donna said Conflux is over is just over three months (eep, eep, eep!) and I’m going easy on myself on the writing front in order to keep things under control. That said – I’ve got two books coming out between now and then, one of which I’m editing and publishing, so… Back to the comment about being mad.

Marc Gascoigne

Marc Gascoigne

Q: You’ve been involved in running other Confluxes and other events like the World SF Con 2010. How did you get involved in running events? Was it overwhelming the first time? I know Conflux 9 is running a pitching opportunity with Marc Gascoigne from Angry Robot. Nalo Hopkins is the International writer GOH, Karen Miller is the Australian GOH writer and Kaaron Warren is the Special Guest writer, (see here for details), so you get to meet cool writers and editors. Are there other benefits to running a Con and is it something you’d recommend to people wanting to become writers? (For information on the pitching opportunity see here).

 

Nalo Hopkins (Photo David Findlay, 2007)

Nalo Hopkins (Photo David Findlay, 2007)

Donna

Nicole will tell you I roped her in. I’ll blame Maxine McArthur because I’d never heard of SF cons (well I had been to a Star Trek convention and knew about those but not fan run lit cons). I ended up being the Chair of Conflux (number 1) but I was just helping out on the committee (cough because Maxine gave me strong hints that I should) and then I ended up being the chair. I did the next one and then scaled down my activities to focus on writing.

I did make a lot of contacts and made many friends as a result. In those early days I was very enthusiastic and networked a lot and I guess brought in other writers to the fan scene. The rest is history. For that first con though I had 10 months off work and I didn’t write much either. I think I did other things like edit anthologies.

I do recommend getting involved with organising these conventions and helping out. It’s a good experience and you make great contacts. However, I do recommend a little balancing between your activities. I got invited to help out with worldcon because I got noticed doing the Conflux convention running. It can be addictive. Worldcons are great fun (going to them and being involved).

 

Karen Miller (Photo Mary CT Webber)

Karen Miller (Photo Mary CT Webber)

Kaaron Warren

Kaaron Warren

 

 

 

Nicole

Yes, it’s all Donna’s fault. She asked me to run the short story competition at the first Conflux. I wasn’t totally happy with my work on that, so I decided to work on the next convention to prove I could do it. And then the next convention. And then I chaired one. And then. And then…

And now, thanks to Conflux, I work full-time as a professional conference organiser. So yeah, I love them.

I’m not sure I’d recommend it to other writers, because it is very time consuming. That said, if you’re not good at networking (like me, I’m atrocious at it, unlike Donna who is an absolute marvel at it), then getting involved in convention organising is a great idea because you have to meet and interact with these people. I’ve not doubt that my work with Conflux helped me get my foot in the door with Harper Collins. Didn’t get me published – it was the fact the company loved the books that did that, but it helped.

So balance it up – the time it takes versus the fact it can be very beneficial. And fun. And you get to meet the coolest people, and often they’ll stay friends for a long time after.

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Q: Donna your book Rayessa the Space Pirate is available from Escape Publishing. You edited the Australian Speculative Fiction: Genre Overview, which was published in 2005. You’ve had a lot of short stories published which range from fantasy, through erotic horror, to SF (is this right?), yet Rayessa the Space Pirate is a rollicking Space Opera, which doesn’t take itself too seriously. Was it a relief to let your hair down and write for the fun of it?

AustralianSpeculativeFiction

Donna

I had fun writing Rayessa and the Space Pirates. I wrote it a long time ago, when I was a fairly new writer. Even though it’s been revised, I stayed true to the character during those rewrites. She’s fun, the story is fun. But when you take in my other work, it is surely different and not what you’d expect from me. I’m very proud of it because of its lightness, its vibrancy and like you said rollicking space opera.

Many of my short stories are me flexing my writing muscles. I evolved from just writing a story to experimenting with styles and content. I do tend to go a bit dark at times. ‘Heat’ was a bit like that with the split narrative (it’s in my free fiction section on my blog-warning adult content) and in the last couple of years I’d been writing short paranormal too, just to see if I could. I’m a bit astounded that I really like writing happy ever afters just as much as the soul sucking endings. I write what is in my head, pursue ideas and go with it. Who knows what I’m going to do next.

3 books.axd

Q: Nicole you’ve had numerous short stories published, and an Urban Fantasy trilogy set in Australia called The Gadda (Harper Collins). The tag-line on your blog is: Where Fantasy and Romance Collide. So your next book’s genre is a step sideway, but not that far. Arranged to Love is written under your pseudonym, Elizabeth Dunk. (For a taste of Elizabeth Dunk’s writing style see here, Claudine’s New Adventure). What was the genesis of Nicole the fantasy writer evolving  to include Elizabeth the romance writer?

claudine-clrsml

Nicole

It all started way back when I was originally writing the first lot of Gadda books. I’d been thinking I was a straight fantasy/SF writer, but I had one of those blinding moments of inspiration where I realised I kept putting romance in as a sub-plot and I’d probably be better off pulling it to the forefront. That was the genesis of writing the Gadda books and when they were done, I kept having ideas for contemporary romances as well.

In 2011 I was at home, writing full-time, and I needed to do something apart from the Gadda books to challenge myself. So yes, I took a step sideways – a small one, but definitely still a step. My aim was to write a Mills and Boon category style romance. The only way Arranged to Love matches that is in length – otherwise it fails. But it’s a great story and it had a checkered road to publication but I’m so happy it’s there.

I’d always intended to use a pseudonym, but to be open about it because some people read only genre, some people read an author. So there will be people who will read anything I publish and there will be romance readers who won’t touch the Gadda books with a barge pole and vice versa. Here’s hoping it works.

 

donna-corset

Q: I understand there is a Steampunk High Tea is planned for Conflux 9 on the Thursday afternoon at 3pm.  (For the full program, see here). I’m guessing this mean we all get to dress up in really cool steampunk gear, sip tea and nibble cucumber sandwiches. Do you have any fashion advice for the event?

 

Donna

I think people should go with that they feel comfortable with. I’m dressing up because: hey I made a dress so I must wear it. But people can come with a bow tie, or goggles or a gun or just in day clothes. I bought Matthew a Nerf Gun. I expect him to paint it and make it look all steampunky. My son gave me a steampunk necklace for Christmas. I’m almost kitted up.

It’s a bit of fun. People can do traditional Victorian or make it up with whatever they like. I’ve seen men and women in corsets, kilts, junk, jodhpurs and google, top hats, parasols. Any and all. Just come for the fun and the high tea. I believe we get lovely sparkling wine too. Try googling steampunk clothing and you’ll be amazed at what is out there. Mind bogglingly awesome. There are some very talented and creative people out there. Just remember you have to book and pay for the high tea as it is an extra event.

 

Nicole

Can I just add – cucumber sandwiches are awesome! Honestly, you read about them and think, how old fashioned, how silly, making sandwiches with cucumber only, what a strange thing to do. But they’re great. I prefer them with a yoghurt dressing, rather than cream cheese. Take note, Rydges!

JAFA2013-small

Q: You are also staging a Regency Banquet. Does this involved getting dressed up like Elizabeth and Mr Darcy? What can people expect at a Regency banquet?

 

Donna

Yes, if you want. We ran a Regency Banquet a few years ago and we had a great turn out. A lot of people love the period and went all out. Some had period costumes, some people adapted modern wear to make it look period, some of those were very effective.

The menu for the banquet is taken from the Conflux cookbook, Five Historical Feasts, by Gillian Polack. We are re-running that. The menu was researched and put together by Gillian, who is our very own historian (she’s a Dr), with the help of a bunch of us who tested and tasted the recipes. The food was really good to eat. Not good for my waistline.

This year to spice things up we have entertainment from Earthly Delights. They are the group that run the Jane Austen Festival in Canberra the week before Conflux. (they always get TV coverage of the event). John Gardiner, his wife Aylwen Gardiner-Garden will be organising the impromptu dancing and also music. John has agreed to do a 3 hour workshop on Regency Dance and Manners on the Friday. I’m so going to that. ($45 for members) and Aylwen is bringing items of costume to do a hands on workshop on costume design ($10 for members), so we are getting into the Regency thing. I hope we get takers because the dance workshop needs 16 people to work.

 

Lewis Morely and Marilyn Pride Conflux 5 (Photo Cat Sparks)

Lewis Morely and Marilyn Pride Conflux 5 (Photo Cat Sparks)

Nicole

The original Regency banquet was run during my conference, Conflux 4 and I may be biased, but I think it was the best of the lot. Everyone really went all out with the costuming and the whole place looked wonderful. The food was overwhelming – there was very little desert eaten because it was so rich we were already full. A fabulous night.

Note that while we’ve cut a lot of allergens out of the menu (eg there’s no fish/shellfish, no nuts), there’s one thing we can’t avoid – dairy. The Regency folks were nuts for it. And butter, so forget your diet! But if you’re lactose intolerant, there’s so little food available for you that you’ve got to seriously consider if it’s worth your while.

 

Donna Hanson, Cat Sparks, Alisa Krasnostein  Conflux 4 (Photo by Cat Sparks)

Donna Hanson, Cat Sparks, Alisa Krasnostein, Conflux 5 (Photo by Cat Sparks)

 

Q: Do you have any tips for first time convention goers who are planning to come to Conflux 9? (For membership information see here)

Donna

Be prepared to meet people, have fun, be entertained, learn things, network (drink). Be prepared to be thoroughly knackered. Come to our Meet the newbie session in the bar after the steampunk high tea. You’ll get to meet seasoned con goers to find out how to make the best of your convention.

 

Adam Browne and Keith Stevenson (Photo Claire McKenna)

Adam Browne and Keith Stevenson (Photo Claire McKenna)

Nicole

Don’t be afraid to approach your favourite writer. One of the great things about our industry is that we’ve all been in the same boat – having to greet our hero for the first time. A lot of the time, we made complete and utter fools of ourselves but we’ve always survived. Australia’s SF industry is wonderfully supportive, encouraging and fabulous and generally we only bite if asked to.

If you’re coming as a writer, intending to network with editors, agents and publishers – be cool about it. For professionals, conventions are part work, part fun and hanging with friends. So be aware of the circumstances and if you are going to approach them for a chat about your work, be polite and understand if they ask you to come back another time.

And whatever you do – don’t do what some shmuck did to poor Stephen King at a convention and chase a writer/editor/agent/publisher into the toilet with your manuscript and fling it under the door to them!

That said, a lot of us are very bribable. I drink red wine :-)

 

 

Rowena thanks for the interview. You’ve done heaps of research. It is much appreciated.

 

Donna Hanson

Donna Hanson

Catch up with Donna on GoodReads

Donna’s blog

Follow Donna on Twitter  @DonnaMHanson

 

 

 

 

Nicole Murphy

Nicole Murphy

Catch up with Nicole on GoodReads

Nicole’s Blog

Catch up with Nicole on Facebook

Follow Nicole on Twitter  @nicole_r_murphy  

 

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Filed under Australian Artists, Australian Writers, Conferences and Conventions, Conventions, creativity, Dark Urban Fantasy, Fandom, Fantasy books, Fun Stuff, Indy Press, Pitching your book, Promoting your Book, Publishing Industry, SF Books, Specialist Bookshops, Steampunk, The Writing Fraternity, Tips for Developing Artists, Tips for Developing Writers, Workshop/s, Writing craft, Writing Groups

Meet Lee Battersby…

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 Lee Battersby to drop by.

Look out for the give-away at the end of the post.

Q: You’ve had over 70 short stories published, won the Aurealis Award, Australian Shadows Award (twice) and won an International Writers of the Future competition. Prime books published a collection of your short stories called Through Soft Air. Do you think the discipline of writing short fiction, helped hone your skill for novel writing?

I think my short story writing experience helped when it came to building scenes and establishing coherent lines of narrative, but I found the shift from writing the short to long form a bit dislocating in many ways. I’d probably become too entrenched in the short form way of thinking, and had to leave a lot of shorthand habits behind. It’s still a bit of a wrench to write long establishing scenes, for example, and I still absolutely hate writing long descriptions of landscape or setting—short story thinking demands I get to the bloody point now, dammit! One thing I do enjoy when writing novels is the opportunity to write increasingly complex streams of dialogue: I like the narrative cut and thrust of spoken wordplay, and the way you can reveal and hide information simultaneously. In short stories you use dialogue to reveal the narrative a little more quickly. In novels, you can be a bit richer.

I’ve written in a myriad of forms over the years: stage plays, TV scripts, stand-up comedy, poetry… each form comes with its own rules and ways to break them, and I think the more forms you work in, the better you’re able to adapt to new disciplines. The important thing is not to become hide-bound by one form. I’ve produced the best short stories of my career over the last couple of years, without a great deal of market impact, so I’m making the transition to novels at the right time. I could have done so a couple of years ago and been a bit further along in my career plans, perhaps, but the Angry Robot Open Door success came along at exactly the necessary moment.

Q: You wrote a post for the ROR blog where you described the rollercoaster of submitting to the Angry Robot Open Submission Month. (994 manuscripts). And now your book The Corpse Rat King has been published. (Mega congratulations!)  If you could go back and give yourself some advice when you submitted that manuscript, what would it be?

Not a single thing: the novel got through the process, it was picked up, I gots me an agent. I think it pretty much ticked all the boxes!

I was fortunate in that I submitted as a reasonably experienced author, so I knew not to hang about waiting for something to happen. I was already writing another novel—I had 52k of it under my belt before the contract was signed—and was working on a bunch of other stuff while I waited. So I was quite happy with the way the whole submission process panned out: I’d been a bit moribund beforehand but it revitalised me, and got me thinking of my career in different terms, which has been refreshing.

Q: The sequel to The Corpse Rat King, Marching Dead, is due out in 2013. Has it been a very different process writing a sequel, while editing the first book? And do you have an idea for a third book in the series?

It has been different, in that I’m working to a deadline, as well as not being in the position where I can make up characters and locations from scratch. In a sense I’m much less free than I was in writing the first volume. Characters are established, distances are established, locations and levels of technology are all established. I can’t just make stuff up as I go along, so if I’ve cocked something up in creating the first book then I have to work with it and make it acceptable. That said, of course, I’m able to allow my characters to grow to a much greater extent, so it’s a lot of fun answering questions that may have arisen in volume one. And there are a few revelations along the way, too: the advantage of not working to a plan is that I can be surprised by something that pops up unbidden in the first draft and then, by the time the final draft is finished, make it look like I intended that to happen all along .

I do have a story arc worked out for the 3rd book, just in case the first two do well and Angry Robot decide to commission a third. I know the beginning, and the end point, and the Great Big Decision ™ Marius will have to make in order to reach it. Any more than that will generally work itself out in the writing. But it would be fair to say that any shit my heroes managed to pour all over themselves in the first two books would be nothing when compared to volume three!

Q: You have tutored at Clarion South and you have an article on the Australian Horror Writers Association web site Industry Advice. The industry is changing so fast. Once it was the kiss of death to self-publish, now many authors are self-publishing their back lists. Do you find yourself scrambling to keep up?

I’m not a big fan of self-publishing new pieces: to my old-fashioned way of thinking it still carries the whiff of work not good enough to attract a more traditional publisher. However, I can understand why an author who has the time and energy to do so would want to release older pieces directly to the public without any intermediary: the work has already undergone a process of third-party quality control, the dialogue between author and reader can be made more immediate, and the cash flows more directly to the writer.

I readily acknowledge that I’m a little bit behind the times in my thinking: I still adhere to a traditional publishing model for my work, and I’m comfortable with that. I see a number of authors putting their own work out via electronic self-publishing, and it seems to me a very labour intensive way to go about your business. But when it comes to the marketplace, authors have to understand that they are small business owners, and as a small business owner, you have to decide the best way to market your product and how much time you’re willing to spend in developing the means of production. My instinct has always been that I’m too time-poor to be an effective electronic self-pubber, so I’ve steered away from it: I’m not passionate about that process, I’m not an adherent of the delivery system (I don’t own an e-reader, I don’t plan to own one, etc.), and for me, what time I do have is better utilised in other ways. That’s no comment on those who do choose to go down that track, just a fairly honest assessment of where my own strengths and weaknesses lie.

Ultimately, the best delivery medium, and the way you promote and market yourself as an author, is decided by the overall goals you have for your career. Self-publishing doesn’t attract me because it doesn’t fit in with my strengths and it doesn’t align with the direction I want my career to take. I keep in touch with the discussions, because I think every writer should be at least passingly familiar with the trends and evolutions of their business environment. But my limited experience shows me two levels of work being pushed—electronic reprints of paper books, which any sensible author should be pursuing as a negotiable clause in their contracts anyway, and original e-only works: the literary equivalent of a straight-to-video release, with the accompanying wild variations in quality. And I’m not sure I’ve discovered an efficient-enough means of separating the wheat from the chaff to make jumping into that second category a time-effective way to spend my writing career.

There may come a time when I look at self-publishing my story backlist, but truth be told I’d be just as comfortable with a small press publisher swooping in and offering to do all the hard business stuff for me in return for a cut of the proceeds, or paying me a flat fee as per the traditional business model. That might mean a cut in my potential in-hand profit, but I make a good living so money’s not that much of an issue, and at the end of the day I like real, hold-‘em-in-your-hand dead tree books, so it’s a compromise I’m happy to make.

Q: Your wife is talented writer, Lyn Battersby. With two creative people, who happen to be creative in the same medium in the same house, do you find this is a blessing or a curse? Do you read each other’s work and give feedback? Or do you find you can’t bear to do this? Have you considered collaborating? (eg. Written by L & L Battersby).

Lyn and Lee (courtesy Cat Sparks)

Lyn and I have collaborated on one story: a post-alien invasion tale called ‘C’ that, for a number of reasons, never really satisfied either of us so never saw the light of day. We’re both gearing up to work more as full-time novelists now, so the chances of collaboration on a fiction project aren’t high. Lyn writes much more elegant and subtle prose than I do, and her subject matter tends to be far more intimate, so I think there’s probably a clash in approach that doesn’t benefit our respective strengths. Once she gets the recognition her work deserves she’s going to become far too rich and famous to suffer having me riding her coat-tails, anyway…

But it’s definitely more a blessing than a curse to be married to someone with the same career goals and aspirations, simply because of the level of understanding. One of us can call ‘writing night’ at any time and there’s no argument, and when we talk it’s in the same language. We did read each other’s work a lot more when we were less experienced, mainly, I think, as a form of reinforcement that what we were doing made sense to someone else. Now we’re fairly confident in our own abilities we tend to read each other for pleasure, and Lyn doesn’t read my long work—she wants to wait for it to come out in proper novel format. But we’re always on hand to offer instant advice or an opinion, and as we generally can’t stop talking about current projects we usually have a pretty good idea what each other is working on, where we’re at with it, where it’s going, how rich it’s going to make us… just normal, everyday, married person conversations .

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?

It’s a gross generalization to split a literary genre along gender lines, but I think you could argue that there are differences in the way males and females perceive fantasy, inasmuch as we seem to fantasize for different reasons. We’re a fairly small outpost in Australia, and I think it’s probably a bit easier to do a head-count than in the larger markets, so we’ve got a pretty good idea of our gender mix, which is increasingly healthy if not yet equitable. It helps to have good, strong publishers who understand the need for variation in theme and approach: in particular, Twelfth Planet Press and Fablecroft Publishing are two houses that are helmed by smart, high-quality editor/publishers who strive to promote a more literate, intelligent type of fantasy, which is the sort of environment where subtler forms of writing can thrive.

I think the male/female style argument is a somewhat simplistic one, and I’d like to think that as an industry we might have become a little more sophisticated than that, at least here in Australia, because I can see the Australian SF small press working hard to provide opportunities based on idea and theme rather than gender alignment, but as I said, it’s easier to look at the demographic in its entirety here, and also easy to view things from the perspective of a white middle-class male with few barriers to his career. My wife, who writes beautifully subtle and elegant works that often don’t pass through the quick-read filter, might gently intimate that I’m talking shit.

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

Not a bit. I’m utterly disinterested in the gender of the author when I pick up a book. Gender is just a description of where your dangly bits dangle from. It’s not an expression of sexual orientation, political affiliation, socio-economic outlook, or any of the umpty million psychological, societal and environmental factors that an author brings to their work. It may inform some of those factors, but what’s more interesting, from a creative point of view, is your overall worldview: the set of experiences that you, as a writer, translate into fiction. Gender is by no means the deciding, or even major, element in the translation of that mindset.

As a reader, and as simplistic as it sounds, all I want is to read a good book. That’s it. I don’t care if the author is an ancient Sumerian rabbit god with a lisp, as long as the story they tell moves me, involves me, and just maybe, leaves me looking at the world through a different lens. I’m old enough to have grown up whilst it was still relatively easy to find Leigh Brackett, CL Moore, Julian May and the likes on a shelf. And whilst it was—and remains—a blight on the industry that a significant percentage of writers feel they have to conceal their gender in order to find an audience, from the perspective of my young reader-self it meant that, as I grew up, I paid attention to the name on the cover rather than the identity of the author behind them. I’ve no doubt that gender plays a part in the publishing business, which would lead me down a very different rant indeed, but once a book actually reaches the bookshelf, the gender of the author becomes a non-issue for me.

Ultimately, if the gender of the author is the sole reason you pick up a book—or worse, the reason you don’t—then you may be missing the fucking point a wee bit. Is my experience of, say, a George Eliot novel lessened because I might learn that Oor George was a woman? Could I be that simplistic a creature? And if I am, what the fuck do I do if someone hands me a Caitlin Kiernan book, or a Poppy Brite?

A book is a doorway to a shared experience, and if you’re lucky, an experience that you not only haven’t had before but could not conceive of having. If reading that book leads you to seek out information about the author, and if learning about their lives enriches your reading experience, then fantastic. But the book itself is the gift. The story within is the sole point of contact through which we, as readers, have the right to critique and analyse the author’s motive. Anything else, unless directly communicated by the author, is conjecture. To take the immortal Trillian entirely out of context: anything you still can’t cope with is, therefore, your own problem.

As an author, though, as an author: that’s a different bucket of cows. The truth is, at least within our beloved little genre, that SF remains the province of a largely masculine way of thinking, and what’s worse; it’s a masculine way of thinking that even Tony Abbott might occasionally find old-fashioned and bigoted. It is undeniably a struggle to pass a truly feminine, or transgendered, worldview through the gatekeepers of most magazines and publishers. From an editing point of view—particularly in the magazine field—we’re set up for the quick fix. It’s easier to filter for a muscular, action-driven narrative that responds well to a first reading than it is to reward a subtle, emotionally-shaded, character-driven narrative that needs two or three readings to fully unfold. To split such stories directly down that divide as typically male or female is, of course, a gross simplification in itself, but as Westerners we create a societal culture that demands women define themselves as emotional beings, and then create a genre infrastructure that makes it difficult to sell emotionally subtle stories. Is it any wonder that female authors who have the greatest success writing Spec-style novels have a tendency to either do it outside the genre or loudly disassociate themselves from it?

Of course, all comments can be filtered through my happy life as a fat, middle-class white man, and disregarded as necessary.

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 having a hard time not hearing Kryten right now: “If I could go anywhere, absolutely anywhere at all in time, I think I’d probably choose to go back to a week last Tuesday… I did all the laundry, and then we watched TV. Wow, we won’t see the like of THOSE sorts of days again.”  :)

Dinosaurs. It’s got to be dinosaurs. Because, well… dinosaurs!

 

Giveaway Question:  “If you could go anywhere after you die, where would it be?”

 

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Filed under Australian Writers, Book Giveaway, creativity, Dark Urban Fantasy, Fantasy books, Gender Issues, Publishing Industry, Tips for Developing Artists

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

Gold Coast Literati Event

If you live in South East Queensland and you love books and writing, the Gold Coast Literati Event will be held the weekend of the 24, 25th of May, 2012.

For more information see here.

Who is is for? Readers of all genres (spec Fic and mystery among them).

Who will be there? Myself, Marianne de Pierres, Trent Jamieson, Louise Cusack, Kylie Chan, Queenie Chan and many more.

What will be happening? Workshops, panels, talks and general celebration of books and writing!

So rock up, have some fun and say Hi!

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Meet Douglas Holgate…

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 Douglas Holgate to drop by.

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

Q: We met at Supanova and hung out at the cocktail party. Do you get to many of the Supanovas? Is it fun to mix with other illustrators and talk shop?

Doug with Skye, one of the Amazing Supanova Team

I’ve been to Supanova on the east coast fairly consistently over the last 3 or 4 years. I’ve yet to make the trek to Perth but I’m keen (and not just because I’ve never been to Perth).

Absolutely one of the best parts of the shows is mixing with peers, it’s always great to catch up, especially with people out of state and while the internet keeps us all up to date on what we’re up to it’s not a substitute for a drink and chat. I’ve found of late though I actually really like meeting and talking shop with people NOT doing what I’m doing…but working in similar creative fields. I had a ball talking to all the writers just recently at the Brisbane show (where we met), and came away with different perspectives, work ethics and ideas around publishing and the like.

Q: Back in the 80s when I was working as an illustrator in Melbourne we used to have to make appointments with the art directors of publishing houses, lug our folios in and be interviewed in hope that they’d send us work. Now artists have pages on all sorts of sites, as well as their own blog sites, to promote their artwork. (eg. The Loop. Illustrators Australia). Do you still have to do the ‘meet and greet’ with art directors or is it all done over the internet now?

I was saying to someone the other week that I have no idea how I’d work if I didn’t have a scanner, a computer and email. I can’t even imagine what it must have been like to navigate the creative process via the postal system. I do a lot of work for the US market so predominantly I work exclusively with them via the likes of email and sometimes skype. Local clients I do like to try and get a face to face with at some point. It’s nice to put a face and a voice to a name.

As for approaching clients for potential work, when I first started freelancing about 10 years ago it was still a phone call to the AD and physical hard copies of my folio sent to them if they were keen to see it. Now though…it’s pretty much all email and the internet. Which I think is good for ease of breaching that inner sanctum (It makes it less intimidating), and promotion wise you can have global reach instantly. But there is still something about even just talking to someone on the phone and a physical copy of your work in that person’s hands which can’t be replaced (Though I am a bit of a sucker for beautiful printed objects).

Q: You illustrated the Zack Proton (genuine intergalactic hero) books. Was this a chance to let your ‘inner kid’ loose? And how did you hook up with the writer, Brian Anderson, (I see he lives in Austen, Texas)?

I have such a soft spot for Zack proton. Not just a ridiculous, over the top, irreverent and just plain FUN series but also my first big time published work in the US.

All set up through my agent. The way it works is a publisher has a project, they approach my agent and ask if I’m free to work on the series and if I’d like to…and then I (always) say yes.

I then will back and forth with the publishers art director, receive a manuscript, any art direction they’re keen on, cover concepts, internal illustrations etc.

It’s very very rare that I’ll actually talk to the writer at all, especially during the process of putting the books together. This seems to be standard in the industry, which is a bit of a shame…but I can understand it from the publisher’s perspective, they want control of the books and don’t want creative decisions made without being in the loop.

I did however end up after the series was published getting in touch with Brian and we’ve stayed in touch every since, which is great!

Q: You worked on The Amazing Joy Buzzards from Image Comics, which is about an adventure rock-and-roll band. Look like lots of fun. When you work on a project like this how closely do you collaborate with the writer? Are there really tight deadlines?

I sort of already answered this one, but there are always exceptions to the rule. For original material I’m generating with writers to pitch, or self publish then absolutely it’s a complete collaboration.

Of course every writer is different and in some cases they’re happy to let me go away and work on the visual design of these things with minimal guidance. Others I’ve worked with have a strong vision and want to see it realised, from character design and aesthetic through to direction of what is happening specifically in a given scene. Writers like Alan Moore (whom I’ve not worked with) are notoriously specific about their art direction that in some cases almost becomes a novel in itself.

I do like a middle ground though. And there is nothing quite like brainstorming, back and forthing with someone and creating worlds and plots and characters from scratch.

For things like Joy Buzzards there was already an established universe that I was coming in to play around in. So the main characters and the like had pretty much already been fully realised. Which isn’t to say I didn’t have any creative input, it’s just a different challenge to say something original with someone else’s characters.

Q: And you worked on Super Chicken Nugget boy. When you were doing your Post Graduate Degree in Illustration at the University of Newcastle did you think you’d end up drawing animated chicken nuggets? LOL Do you have a personal project that you are madly working on in your spare time?

Haha! YES! Well…sort of. Maybe not chicken nuggets, but certainly I was aiming my sights on comics and material for kids and younger readers. There was a small group of us who were constantly getting in strife with the lecturers for pushing our project work in the comic book, cartooning direction. We were repeatedly told there was no future in it. Ironically I’m pretty sure we’re the only ones from our graduating class now working fulltime as artists and designers.

And I’ve got a list as long as eternity of personal projects. It’s one of the things that frustrates me some about what I do. IT TAKES SO LONG! If only I could snap my fingers, get that thing that’s gnawing at the back of my head DONE and then move onto the next thing. OH…and be paid a gazillion dollars for it…that would seriously not only make me happy but the world!

But yes. Right now I’ve got a couple of things in the works that I’m really excited about. The main one taking up all my time (When I get it) is an all ages graphic novel with a fantastic local Melbourne (though she’s been swanning about the streets of New York for the last 12 months) kids comic writer, Jen Breach.

Q: On Twitter we were talking about fantasy movies we loved like Mystery Men. “We struck down evil with the mighty sword of teamwork and the hammer of not bickering.” What were your biggest influences when you were growing up?

Oh, you mean the list of things that never seems to end? It’s funny, it’s only in the last couple of years since I’ve had a little boy that I’m rediscovering things that I used to love and adore as a kid…and I realise are a direct influence on what I’m doing right now. They’re obviously always in the back of your head, consciously or unconsciously, but tracking down vintage copies of Richard Scarry’s busy town series to introduce to him, looking at them and having this epiphany that he is a major influence is pretty wild. I spent some formative years in the UK and was obsessed with weekly kids comics magazines like Beano and Dennis The Menace. A lot of annuals like Eagle. Was a big fan of Roald Dahl and CS Lewis. And long form comics wise I was reading things like Asterix, Tintin and Lucky Luke a long time before I discovered American comics. Herge and Uderzo definitely are the two seminal influences though. Relatively strict realism of form with a cartoon sensibility inhabiting that world.

Q: If you could go back and give that starry-eyed kid advice, what would it be?

Get serious sooner. YOU’RE WASTING TIME!

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?

Not really no. I’d argue that illustration is actually a pretty even spread, in my experience anyway. There are as many female illustrators (if not more) whom I know and love working fulltime and being consistently published by major publishers. Also the majority of art directors I’ve worked with at the major US and Australian publishers have been women.

I’m a little torn on the issue of women in comics. On one hand I think that It’s pretty well established that there is indeed a boys club at the upper echelons of the likes of the major publishers, and obviously being a man I have no idea what that boys club mentality would be like to breach being a female creator. Not to mention the weird curtain wall of fandom thing you have to scale before even making your way to the keep.

But I also think that now is probably the best time in the history of comics for women. I can name you dozens who might not be published by the likes of DC or Marvel but they’re making original comics that are above and beyond in creativity, aesthetic, storytelling and vision than any run of the mill churned out monthly.

The push by established book publishers such as Random House and Scholastic into graphic novels, Independent comics publishers like IDW, First Second and Adhouse, the rise and rise of webcomics, artist sites like Deviant Art, Concept Art and the growing tendency for a lot of animators dipping their toes into comics making are all being driven by some incredible amazingly talented female cartoonists. I don’t see that stopping anytime soon.

This can’t help but change attitudes eventually at the dinosaurs. You know…if working on spiderman is something that you really want to do.

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

No not at all. If it’s well written, drawn, crafted and published I’m all over it. You know…I read my first babysitters club a few years ago and LOVED it, all because it was adapted by one of my favourite cartoonists (Raina Telgemeier) into a brilliant graphic novel.

There are as many male creators I like and don’t like as female. And none of that is based on gender it’s just about the work they create.

I don’t go into a movie or a novel thinking “oh it’s directed or written by a woman therefore it’s going to be formula X.”

Certainly there are directors and writers and creators who work in specific genres so you’re going to consume that material based on that. But that has little to do with gender and more to do with the genre’s I appreciate.

I think if a creator is specifically broaching topics of gender or social acceptance or struggle and it’s a key part of their approach or the material they’re producing then absolutely you view that work with that in mind. And that’s probably why you’re reading or watching it in the first place.

At the end of the day it should be about creating the best material you can, and letting your story speak for itself regardless of gender.

The best work always will.

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?

Rowena, this isn’t the fun question, this is the HARD question! I’m a pretty mad history buff…can I go EVERYWHERE?!

God…just one?

I love pre history…but I’m not sure I’d want to get eaten by a giant mosquito (It’s not the dino’s you’ve got to watch out for).

Adore American history…from Revolution, The Westward push to Civil war to Cold War and modern politics.

I’m doing a lot of reading and playing around with  Gallo/Romano Britain at the moment for a project. So I’m a little obsessed with that. And Roman history in particular…so maybe Ancient Rome?

Do I really want to gad about in tartan and blue body paint screaming murder at Roman legionaries in their incredibly well drilled formations? Yes…probably. So I think I’ll go there. But only if I can use the time machine again to scoot to medieval England for lunch, then shoot to Aztec south America for a couple of days and then over to Ancient China for tea and then take a break on a circumnavigation of the globe with Magellan, back in time for dinner with Caravaggio.

(And then wake up in WWII occupied France.)

To win a copy of Zinc Alloy and Super Chicken Nugget Boy here’s the give-away Question:

 What was your favourite comic book character when you were growing up?

 

Follow Doug on Twitter: @douglasbot

See Doug’s Blog

My folio is here – http://www.flickr.com/photos/douglasbot/sets/72157627375431276/with/3265305994/

But some of my favourite (read, newer) images are at these links -

http://www.flickr.com/photos/douglasbot/5830416545/in/set-72157627375431276

http://www.flickr.com/photos/douglasbot/6304341159/in/photostream

http://www.flickr.com/photos/douglasbot/5239949004/in/set-72157627375431276

http://www.flickr.com/photos/douglasbot/5308333564/in/set-72157627375431276

http://www.flickr.com/photos/douglasbot/4673721219/in/set-72157627375431276

http://www.flickr.com/photos/douglasbot/4884587173/in/set-72157627375431276

http://www.flickr.com/photos/douglasbot/2208125088/in/set-72157627375431276

http://www.flickr.com/photos/douglasbot/3265305994/in/set-72157627375431276

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Meet Les Petersen …

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 Les Petersen to drop by.

Look out for the give-away at the end of the post.

Q: Your web page doesn’t have a bio. I tried to find a bio for you on Wikipedia. The closest I came was your numerous  listings as cover artist of various books. Next I looked up your listing on Linked in. This is about as brief as a bio gets ‘self employed illustrator and scriptwriter’. I know you live in Canberra, are married and have a son. Are you being deliberately mysterious or is a bio just something you haven’t gotten around to doing?

Not so much ‘haven’t got around to it’, rather I don’t really see the need for it. I know I’m not good at self promotion, but again there’s no need for me to promote myself at present. I have a steady income and so throwing myself to the lions (both fans and clients) wouldn’t necessarily be healthy. Maybe I’m a little bit private, as well, rather than being mysterious. But just for your info, I come from a large family of talented musicians and film makers, but I’m the one who wants to draw the pictures. My wife and son are my own world of wonder.

Michael Whelan's Cover

Q: Where did you go to study art (if you did study formally)? What artists inspired you to dedicate yourself to this calling, to the speculative fiction genre specifically?

Blame Michael Whelan. Short answer but it packs a punch. I saw a cover of his (Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Princess of Mars) way back in the 70’s, and loved it. Tried to paint like that, but I don’t have Michael Whelan’s sense of colour. That drove me to follow up on art as a course of study and I did 6 years at a couple of art schools. BUT I didn’t end up painting, rather I ended up print making for other artists because that paid a few bills. I learnt then that you can get trapped into professions you don’t enjoy by not sticking to your guns. Eventually I was lucky enough to get work as an illustrator and things turned around. But I would have wasted about 10 years doing something I didn’t really enjoy as much as I had hoped to. And artists can be suck picky, fernickety people with egos as big as houses.

Q: You have done at least 40 covers for speculative fiction books, magazines and anthologies (see ISFDB list here). This data base only goes up to 2009. In the book cover section of your web page there are 13 recent covers and it looked like only two of these were from the end of the ISFDB list, so you must have done more covers recently.  Do you have a couple of favourites and if so, why?

Shadow Queen by Deborah Kalin

Yes, the database is a little out – I am pushing 100 covers now. Many of the missing ones are for ebooks or self-publishing clients. That area of publishing is growing all the time and is now the mainstay of my illustration work.

As to favourites, I think Shadow Queen for Deborah Kalin  and Myrren’s Gift for Fiona McIntosh.

Myren's Gift by Fiona McIntosh

Both these really pushed me for design and the colour work started to get where I was trying to go, and the task of painting them was extremely enjoyable. Both began as scribbles on a piece of paper and expanded out to a full spread. Myrren’s Gift book design was also shortlisted for the 2005 APA Book Design Awards, which made everyone happy. It was my first cover to break the US market.

Q: I see you did the cover for Isobelle Carmody’s The Stone Key. I love this cover.  Did you do the whole series? They have a wonderful feel. Could you describe for us the consultation process that went into the design of these covers and then the actual physical process involved in constructing the covers?

In truth, I can’t take credit for these covers. Cathy Larsen, the lead designer from Penguin is responsible for the design of this series; I added some of the backgrounds and a bit of jewellery etc, but Cathy’s ‘touch’ is what makes it so successful.

As to the process: Cathy sent through a design brief, which lays out what is needed for the cover. I then worked my magic on the backgrounds and she incorporated that component into the design, changing things to suit the finished product. Interestingly, the most difficult part of the process is to get sign-off from the marketing team at Penguin (it’s the same at any publishers – they are trying to get a perfect product, after all). The design team can ask for change after change, to the point it kills a product’s freshness and drives designers and illustrators batty. Note how I call the book a ‘product’. That’s exactly what we have to keep in mind when working on a cover – we are selling the author and the story and the packaging must evoke the power of the writing. It can be tricky, but that’s what makes in an interesting profession.

Q: Back in 2001 you did the cover for Trudi Canavan’s best selling book The Magician’s Guild. The new covers for Trudi’s books are very different. (They were produced in the UK). Cover styles are constantly evolving what do you think of the current ‘look’ for fantasy covers?

The short answer is ‘fashions change’. I think a cover has a life of about three years before it’s considered in need of a renovation. And there are regional differences – something marketable in Aus or the US is definitely not ok in the UK, and vice versa – so each area produces their own covers. What is frustrating about the process is every now and then you see your cover design ‘utilised’ by another illustrator working outside Australia, probably because they have been asked to adapt what you have provided. But you live with it because the contracts are fairly flexible and the remuneration is ok.

The other side of the coin is that illustrator’s change. Many new skills are need and we’re ‘updated’ as new illustrators come through. That’s life. We move on to other projects, other genres, other lives, really. I’ve been fortunate to have work trickle in, though the nature of it is different. I spent some time doing computer games, and that’s a whole new board game – a production line kind of work ethic is needed, with its own challenges and deadlines.

UK cover of Trudi's book

One influence worth noting on illustration is the influence of computer games, and special effects from movies. They’ve really shaken up our skill sets and many publishers expect you to have that kind of vision for their covers. Interestingly, the response to it has been a reliance on photo-manipulation and 3D modelling, which sometimes works and sometimes doesn’t.

And finally, there’s a wealth of talent out there. Now we can get illustrators from around the world working in our ‘patch of dirt’. I’m amazed at some of the Asian illustrators that are around – that’s skill to die for. Sometimes when I see their artworks, I feel like a fake, or a hack. Young, talented, and their currency isn’t as strong as ours – they’ve got everything going for them.

 

Q: You were one of the Exhibiting Guest Artists are Conflux in 2006. Did you come to fandom as a fan, or did you come to it after you became a professional artist?

I came along as a professional artist. Though I love the genre, and especially Terry Pratchett’s humorous take on it (my Fav author of all time), I wouldn’t put myself down as a genre ‘fan’, because I read so widely and have a few other interests. I go along to see the authors and some of the people I know, but that’s about the extent of my participation. Sorry. Mind you, if I had a fan base…nah, I’d probably die of embarrassment.

And 2006!  You realise that’s five years ago already. Sigh. What good have I done since then? No, that’s a rhetorical statement.

Q: In 1998 you were shortlisted for the George Turner $10,000 Fiction Prize for your novel Supplejack. Are you still writing? I see you’ve had several short story sales. What have you done with this book?

Supplejack sits in the archives of my computer, still unpublished. I’ve written five novels since then, all of which exist in the archives, probably because I don’t self manage well. I’m glad to say that I still write, but have moved onto scriptwriting, and have produced six full length screenplays and about twenty shorts – and you guessed it, all in the archives of my computer, though I have produced and filmed one of the shorts myself, and two of the full length and one of the shorts have been optioned by productions companies. Those of course have been shelved though because of the global financial meltdown (or whatever the current term is being bandied about).I still hold out hope.

Q: On your web page you have the stills from some animations. Are you animations up on You Tube? (I looked but couldn’t find them). Do you have a secret project which you are going to unveil to the world? If so, what is it?

Yes, I’m working on a secret project, but if I tell you what it is, it won’t be a secret.

OH OK, SINCE YOU INSIST.

I’m working on a 17 minute short ‘The Weatherman’s Gift’, which is part puppetry, part 2D animation, part 3D animation. It’s based on a short script I wrote, which was in turn based on a really crappy animatic/animation I did the Parallel Lines Film Competition in 2010. I really entered that competition to test a few animation techniques and I quite liked the story concept and the feel of the work, in the end. So decided I’ll have a try building it into something magical.

The plan is I will be making a music video first, based on the theme song my brother wrote so I can learn a few puppetry techniques, and then (using the skills I learn) produce the final 17 minute version.

At this stage I’m building the background mattes and puppets, and finishing the storyboards. I’ve been warned by Jonathan Nix not to do the final product until the animatic for the final version is exactly as I want it to be, and I’m taking that advice seriously.

Q: Also on your web page you have some character designs. Are these from your animations or for something else entirely?  

Something else entirely.

 

Q: And then you have your Gallery Pieces, which you say you do to keep your skills ticking over.  What programs have you been playing with to develop your skills?

Over the last five years, I work almost entirely from pencil sketches, utilising Poser for figure maquettes and Photoshop for production final work, but recently I’ve moved to using Vue for landscapes and I’ve been looking at a lot of film editing software, as well as 2D animation packages. I’m ok with some 3D packages, and have gotten familiar with particle system generating software to round out animation effects, but there’s still so much that interests me. I’ll probably be fiddling with all these packages till I go blind. But I always, always, always have the base work of a concept drawing to go from. It’s the cornerstone of the craft, I believe.

Q: There are also the matt paintings. This makes me think they are back grounds for animations. What have you been doing with these matt paintings?

Three of these are backgrounds for the short film I produced (Treasure) the others are for a Star Wars fan film by a New Zealand company (which incidentally did very well in a competition judged by George Lucas) as well as a background for The Weatherman music video animation. More will be added as I complete them.

Q: What advice would you give an aspiring artist just starting out?

  • Take a deep breath.
  • Work your butt off.
  • Keep a drawing pad handy and use it frequently.
  • Get thicker skin on your ego because you’ll get battered and bruised.
  • Don’t concentrate on just one genre.
  • Marketing people are GODS and can destroy in an instant what you’ve slaved for weeks over so give them what they ask for as well as something you’d be proud to put in a portfolio if they knock it back.
  • Continue building your skill sets.
  • Stay current.
  • Watch what your competitors are doing, not so you rival them but so you get a sense where the market is going (very important).
  • You won’t get rich doing this job.
  • Small jobs and charity jobs can bring paying clients your way, and give you a chance to flex your creativity.
  • Read every word of the brief and watch your image dimensions/ratios.
  • Leave yourself time to do the fiddly bits ‘cause the details make the work sing.
  •  If you’re using photo manipulation, watch the colour matches, the resolution of the originals and the moiré pattern.
  • Black is a colour too (that will cause a stir!). But printers have problems with it so check with your publisher.
  • Contracts get signed but the details are quite often ignored. If you REALLY need to bark about something in the contract, do so and stick to your guns and ask for the contract to be changed before you start the work. BUT be warned, you’ll probably find work hard to get from that publisher if you’re asking too much.
  • Good faith is worth more than a contract, and most publishers work well with good faith. But a contract trumps good faith in a court of law.
  • Be EXTREMELY flexible and forgiving.
  • Work your butt off.

Oh, and one last thing – many people – and that includes authors and designers – “see” images in their mind’s eye in three dimensions so you’ll find they expect to see front and back of objects, as well as all the minute detail, all at the same time – so when you get to the nitty gritty don’t stress. Do your best and learn to smile and mutter under your breath at the same time.

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. You have illustrated for magazines and done covers. As an artist do you think there is a difference in the way males and females are portrayed on speculative fiction book covers?

Isn’t that two questions? Such as ‘why aren’t there more female illustrators represented by…?’, or ‘why is there a lot more male illustrators?’ or something like that, and then ‘do I think there’s a difference etc?’

If you want an answer that covers both sides of the coin, blame the publishers and their marketing teams. We illustrators do as we are briefed to and it’s up to the publishers to hire the illustrators to do the work. The old ‘scantily clad woman in a battle bikini’ was something that appealed to the masses way back in the 60s etc, so the marketing teams wanted that, but tastes have changed. Now they want strong female role models and men without shirts, or sparkling teenage vampires and werewolves that look like Adonis. Tastes change. There’s no systemic movement to produce work that denigrates any one particular gender or limits them to the backyard studios. Everyone has to find their way through the morass, and skill and a great deal of luck gets you through.

I don’t know if there’s a majority of males in the illustration profession. Both sexes are capable of the skill sets required and most of the students going through art school with me were female, but few of them did anything with that skill. They turned to other professions – usually within management, actually.

All my ‘bosses’ in publishing, with one exception, have been women. I don’t see a gender bias against women in Australia. Also, I like to believe I was fortunate enough to get a job as an illustrator not because I was a male but rather because I’d put a bit of effort into learning the skill, then had a stroke of luck when I put an image on a webpage that Trudi Canavan saw and followed up on. In other words, the skill ‘spoke’ and I was willing enough to sell my soul to get the work that came from that.

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

No. Out of all the covers I’ve done, with about five exceptions, the authors I have created covers for have all been female. There are very subtle differences in writer’s voice that you pick up on (please don’t ask for examples) and overall women can write family situations a bit better, and men write action better, but that’s probably some reflection on past expectations that boys will play with soldiers and girls with dolls or some such rubbish– and we know that is not necessarily the truth.  However, having said that, in the wash authors are fairly similar and they are usually supportive of your efforts. Some even surprise you and change their work to suit your illustration.

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 thought long and hard about this and decided ( as all of you would have no doubt done instantaneously) that this question shouldn’t be answered seriously. If it was, and I said I wanted to go back into the past, it’d be too much about past regrets. If I went into the future, I’d be dialing up the expectation and a type of voyeuristic adventuring. So instead, I’ll strap on frivolity and elect to go sideways, into another dimension, to see if I was ever answered this question with a decent answer instead of all this waffle. Then I’d head over to Dixie’s house and she can explain all that stuff about birds and bees again. Lots of miming. Very interesting conversation. Especially as I don’t know anyone named Dixie. And never will, probably.

Giveaway Question:

A free custom ebook cover illustration. Quest ion: Who was Dixie and what did she tell me about the birds and bees, and how did that affect me for the rest of my life?

 

Les says he’s happy to talk illustration with others if they want to email him through his web page. (If you google him, don’t get Les mixed up with Leslie Petersen a ‘fine artist’).

Contact Les on Linkedin.

 

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