Category Archives: Writers Working Across Mediums

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.


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 


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 Rob Kaay…

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 Rob Kaay to drop by.

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

Q: You’ve worked as a professional musician. (Rob was signed with Columbia records in his twenties and was based in New York and Melbourne. He had an epiphany when he turned thirty, returned to Perth and started working on Silverbirch his dark urban fantasy novel). Rather than approach a traditional publisher, you went straight to self publishing. I know many traditionally published writers are re-releasing their backlists by self publishing. What was your reasoning behind taking the self publishing route?

A: As soon as I finished my first draft of Silverbirch, I sent out twenty query letters, with the first three chapters attached, to some of the biggest publishing companies and agents in the world.  I aimed high.  One of the bigger firms got back to me with an interest to see more of the novel once I had completed the second draft.  It gave me great motivation to work on the book some more.  The only problem was, once I completed the second draft, I could see the possibility of the company liking the book and maybe picking it up.  A scenario flashed before my eyes that resembled what had happened to my band in the music industry, our music being picked up by a major label.  A system controlling how, when and why my work was released.  That whole situation; where a massive corporation was in total control of my artistic expression, left a sour taste in my mouth and caused me to want to work solo from that point forward.  I was reluctant to hop on that merry-go-round again, so I didn’t bother sending the second draft.  I released Silverbirch; A Tear in the Fabric of the Night Sky myself and plan on doing that with all my music and books in the future.

With the upcoming sequel, Silverbirch; Fall of the Epicenter, I am currently editing the third draft and have no plans on showing publishers or agents.  I don’t care how many copies I sell, I have written the sequel exclusively for those people who have found and enjoyed the first book.

Q: While you were on the road touring your wrote two journals about this experience. (See here). About one of them you say ‘this is what it’s really like being in a band’. Are these journals the sort of thing you don’t want your mother to read?

Actually, they’re both about what it’s really like being in a band.  I didn’t write the journals about one specific band though.  I created characters based on a number of different people in a number of bands I’ve been in and/or supported.  The character of Robkaay however is heavily based around myself.

I deliberately wrote the books in a journal type format to give kids who are thinking of dedicating their life to being in a touring rock band an up close and personal spectrum of exactly what is involved.  From what it’s really like to take drugs, sleep with groupies and be drunk for weeks on end.  In reality, it’s a lot different than how cool it sounds.  There are dark moments when my character talks from inside a depression and can’t believe he has sacrificed a beautiful relationship for the sake of a small piece of delusional unattainable fame.

As for the second part of your question . . . normally, if you’re in a rock band and you write about what it’s really like, you don’t want your mother to read it.  However, in my case, my mum was the editor!  Every few chapters she would ring me and ask, “Is this a character you are writing or did this really happen?!”

Q: From doing these author interviews I know that about 75% of writers are aural – they play music while they write, some even go so far as to make up lay lists of certain types of music to get them into the zone for a particular book. (The other 25% are visual and make up folders of photos). As a musician you have a soundtrack that goes with Silverbirch (available here). Is this because the music and the story are so intertwined that you can’t imagine producing one without producing the other?

While writing Silverbirch, sometimes I listen to my own instrumental music, but mostly I listen to other bands.  I listen to lots of Trent Reznor’s instrumental stuff like Ghosts I-IV, the Fight Club soundtrack, Moby’s free instrumental music, instrumental Crosses . . . anything really, as long as it’s cool and dark . . . just as long as there are no vocals.  Vocals distract me. (Rob is giving away a free EP to accompany Silverbirch).

Q: Regarding your premise for Silverbirch you said: ‘I’ve always been interested in what causes people to do crazy things when they’re not in control of themselves, like when they’re drunk, on drugs, angry or sleep deprived. Obviously in a touring rock band, I saw a lot of people doing crazy things they couldn’t remember, so I decided to create a race of people called Silvers who were influencing our decisions. That’s pretty much how Silverbirch; A Tear in the Fabric of the Night Sky was born.’ Did you research psychology to help you with the building of the Silvers’ society?

Nope.  I’m just writing fantastical ideas as I see them in my mind.

Q: You are working on a sequel to Silverbirch. ‘I specifically went travelling last year to the Lake District and London in England and Jordan in the Middle-East and Egypt and visited the Mayan Ruins in Mexico to write the sequel. I learned as much as I could about what the Egyptians and Mayans believed and wrote most of the next Silverbirch on the road.’ What do you look for when you travel like this? Are you going to specific places to set story elements, or are you looking for the feel of the place?

With Egypt, Jordan and Mexico, I wanted to learn more about ancient civilizations and marvel at what they accomplished and wonder at how.  Some of the things these ancient civilizations knew and could build between 3000 and 6000 years ago blows your mind.  Especially when you’re there, seeing how they made everything happen without mechanical engineering or steel.  How the hell did they pile 4-tonne slabs of stone on top of each other to form the Pyramids of Giza, fifty stories high, without steel cranes?  It’s still a mystery.  Also, what happened to the ancient Egyptians as a race of people and what is the true meaning behind their hieroglyphics?

When I travel to places with as much history as this, I like to immerse myself in the environment and allow my imagination to ask me all sorts of questions that most people would deem as weird.  It helps to unlock story ideas and pathways in my wild imagination.

With other places, like London and Grasmere in England . . . I talked my girlfriend into specifically visiting London because I wanted to write about Nudge storming the BBC Studios.  With Grasmere, I heard they had an abundance of silver birch trees.  The BBC Studios and the town of Grasmere have become key locations in the next book.  I find that I can’t write about a place properly and make it believable unless I’ve physically been there.

Q: The art for Silverbirch is particularly nice. Are you also an artist, or did you hire a freelancer to produce this artwork?

I know, I like to do everything I on my own!  But no, I am super crap at drawing.  If you asked me to draw you a stick figure of a man with shoes on, I’m sure it would come off looking more like a twisted tree with roots sunk in two ugly pots.

Ken Taylor from Melbourne illustrated the ‘young Nudge holding the mushroom‘ graphic for A Tear in the Fabric of the Night Sky.  Dan Mumford from London illustrated the ‘female reptilian from Venus‘ graphic for the upcoming novel, Fall of the Epicenter.

Q: With your background in music, do you plan to do more cross-platform releases or ‘enhanced’ e-books in future?

As a musician and author, I am seriously looking to explore greater ways to tell a story in the future.  For now, other than releasing my stories in written form, I am also creating podcasts, writing most of the music myself.

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?

 I don’t think there is a difference just because a male or female writer has written something.  I think the difference comes from how different we all are as general Humans in the way we see the world.  How different we are all individually brought up in various environments with vast belief systems.  Everyone has something to say, regardless of gender.  If it’s interesting enough, lots of people will want to read the writing.

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

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?

First up I would dial in the year 3000 B.C. to Egypt.  I want to see how they built the pyramids!  Second, I would dial in 3000.  I want to see how technology advances in the future.  I want to know what will become of the people of Earth and whether Humans are still the dominant species!

Giveaway Question: If you could go back stage and mingle with any band in the last 60 years, which band would it be and why?

(Rob is offering a paperback edition of Silverbirch; A Tear in the Fabric of the Night Sky and two signed limited edition bookmarks and stickers to a randomly selected winner!)

Catch up with Rob on Shelfari

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Follow Rob on Twitter @robkaay


Filed under Australian Artists, Australian Writers, Book Giveaway, Comics/Graphic Novels, creativity, Fantasy books, Indy Press, Music and Writers, Promoting your Book, Publishing Industry, Writers Working Across Mediums

Meet Tom Taylor …

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 Tom Taylor to drop by.

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

I usually put a photo right here, but I couldn’t resist this:

Artist Harrison Chua draws comicbook writer Tom Taylor


Q: Not only do you write for comics, but you’re also an ‘award-winning playwright who has written for radio, musicals, film, magazines, satirical news and sketch comedy. (For a full list of Tom’s works see here). Tell me, did you sit there doodling in your school books while daydreaming about what you’d do one day? Did your teachers encourage you, or tell you no-one ever makes any money from writing? Did you ever dream you’d see your work performed in the Sydney Opera House?

Yes, I absolutely spent all of high school doodling in books, especially in Geography, where I just drew and drew… in-between sleeping. My geography teacher wasn’t very engaging. He’d probably have far less-kind things to say about me.
Outside of the arts, the education system was never really my friend. I did have a few teachers who encouraged me, and one in particular who used to let me leave class and do creative writing up a tree.

No, I can’t say I ever thought my work would be on at the Sydney Opera House or at the Edinburgh Festival. However, being involved in theatre from the age of 12, and in a singing group before that, I probably thought I’d have a better chance of having something on at the Opera House than to be writing in a galaxy far, far away.

Q: I’ve interviewed authors who write books for Star Wars, Star Gate, Doctor Who etc. And many of them start out as fans, so it is no trouble for them to immerse themselves in the world. You’re currently writing for Star WarsBlood Ties with Chris Scalf, Invasion with Colin Wilson published by Dark Horse Comics, with more on the way. Looks like you are thoroughly immersed! Is there a huge ‘bible’ of information you have to refer to? Do you get to add to this ‘bible’ as you develop your stories?

Absolutely. Star Wars canon is immense. On top of the movies, you have the cartoons, computer games, short stories, role playing games, novels, and more, and almost everything that is created becomes canon. So yes, all creators need a bible and I think everybody becomes fast email friends with a man known as Leland Chee, Lucasfilm’s keeper of continuity.  He’ll be called on a lot in the next year as I work on the next instalment of Star Wars: Blood Ties ‘Boba Fett is Dead’ and some other Star Wars work.

Q: You also write your own original material. The Deep: Here be Dragons has just come out from Gestalt Publishing, art work by James Brouwer. In a review on Broken Frontier Kris Bather says: ‘Comedy in this artform can always be tricky, but the pair know what they’re doing and elicit the most laughs out of each comedic moment, thanks to great pacing, expressions, and dialogue’. Comedy can be challenging. Did you have to work at developing your relationship with artist James Brouwer, or did the two of you just click?

I’ve written a lot of comedy over the years – musicals, sketch comedy, and plays, including for the Comedy Festival, and generally I don’t really have to think about, or analyze, if something is funny. With James, I found a guy who also just gets it, and just as importantly, is a fantastic storyteller. I used to direct theatre back in the day, and for me the characters on the page need to react appropriately to situations, and need to react to whatever people are saying, just like actors. There are some fantastic artists in professional comics who think that 22 pages of some dark superhero, switching between the same two expressions tells a story. James isn’t one of those guys. James puts so much character and life into the Nekton family (The main characters of The Deep). No character stands around blank-faced while someone else is talking. Every page he sends me has me smiling. So yes, James and I did just click. And, thanks to that click, The Deep is the most joyous comic I’ve been a part of. Seriously, get this book for Christmas, for yourself and for your children. It will fill your heart with rainbows. It will fill your heart with exactly six rainbows. Any more than that and your arteries would begin to clog with rainbows and that would end messily… but probably very colourfully.

Q: Rombies (written by Tom Taylor, illustrated by Skye Ogden, Colours by Mikiko Ponczeck) is a historical paranormal tale set in ancient Rome. What inspired you to set a story in ancient Rome? Have you always been fascinated by its history?

Skye Ogden inspired me. Honestly, this was originally his idea. I just ran with it, and I’m very glad I did. Gestalt actually asked me to write this very early on in our working relationship and I said no.  I’m not a massive horror fan and I wasn’t sure this was the project for me. The night after I said no, I had a dream about Gladiators fighting zombie lions beneath the Coliseum. I called them the very next morning to say yes. I wanted to see Zombie Lions come to un-life. We made that happen. Where we plan to go next is epic.


Q: Example (written by Tom Taylor, Illustrated by Colin Wilson) is being made into a short film. Newsarama said: ‘This book should be used in writing classes everywhere, and should be the primary example (no pun intended) for aspiring comic writers to reference when trying to learn how to write dramatic and compelling dialogue.’   This is quite an accolade for any work, let alone a graphic novel. (I see it is an adaption of your award-winning play Example. I always tell my kids a play needs to be really well written because it has to hold the audience with the power of the premise, characterisation and dialogue – no special effects).  Do you do a lot of train travel? Do you listen in to people’s conversations or does it all spring from some deep dark part of your psyche?

The Example was written in the wake of the London Bombing. And it was these events, along with a typically appalling, fear-mongering ad for A Current Affair, which inspired the play. The government in Australia at the time was pushing the ‘Be alert, not alarmed’ slogan and that was also driving me insane. A lot of my writing is a vehicle for vent – an outlet for outrage. Almost all of my short plays stem from this.

On the surface, The Example is a story about a man, a woman and their reactions to an abandoned briefcase on a railway platform. Below the surface, it’s an exploration of terror and racism. It’s essentially a prejudice versus preservation story. And it’s just been optioned and filmed.  Yay!


Q: Flinch is a collection of stories including Shaun Tan, Justin Randall, James Barclay, Terry Dowling and yourself among others. The stories all revolve around each person’s interpretation of the word ‘flinch’. One of your stories White Dove 111 is about a colonist ship leaving a dying earth. This looks like an SF mystery from the description. Did you grow up reading Science Fiction?

I did read a lot of sci-fi, but I was far more into Fantasy. White Dove III was another great excuse to work with the man, Colin Wilson.  I also wrote another short story in Flinch called 96,000m, illustrated by Tom Bonin, which was my first published underwater story. It was the first time I’d publicly shown my fascination for all things underwater and squid-like.  Although, that story was a far cry from the joyous all-ages adventure of The Deep: Here Be Dragons. 96000m is pretty disturbing. If you like disturbed, or are disturbed, you’ll probably like 96000m.


Q: You are working for DC comics (Green Lantern and Sinestro). Is this one of your childhood dreams to write in the DC universe?

Yes. So many times, yes.

I grew up with DC comics. I loved all of these characters as a kid and never stopped loving them (except outwardly when I was a teenager). Superman is my absolute hero and writing him is one of my ultimate goals. I’m really proud of The Brainiac/Sinestro Corp War which is the story I’ve just written in DCUO Legends #16 and #17 and I was very lucky to get to work with a great artist like Bruno Redondo (another guy who, like James, just gets it). I’ve written something else unannounced, and I’m also still staggered I got to write The Authority for a year. The Authority was the super team that made me realise that superhero comics could also serve as an outlet for outrage.

Q: Looking at your published works you have been amazingly productive. In an interview on HYPERLINK SciFiBlock you say: ‘Like any work, there are times when it’s a hard slog and things get very hard, but then you just have to pick up the nearest blunt object, smash yourself in the face, and remind yourself that you’re writing Jedi and superheroes for a living.’ Do you have a work routine that helps you meet these deadlines?

I’d like to say I have a routine but, really, I have kids, including a baby who doesn’t sleep very well, and that throws all routines out. My only real routine is that I stay up very late to write. The rest of the world needs to be asleep before I can do my best work. The Example was written one night between 1am and 5am. I started writing this very interview at 2am, it’s now 4.27am… and the baby’s already been up twice.

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 have heard this, and I do know this was an issue for DC in the announcement of the New 52, one they’re trying very hard to rectify. I think mainstream superhero comics have the perception of being a boys club, but the comics medium absolutely isn’t.

This year alone, I’ve worked with four female artists on eight different projects, which is possibly more female creators than some of the majors are working with.

I’m not sure superheroes have the same appeal for women. And I’d argue that they are often narrowly written and illustrated with men in mind. For every brilliantly written and lovingly illustrated superhero book like Secret Six by Gail Simone and (Australia’s own) Nicola Scott, there is a book with a scantily clad superheroine tearing her clothing while scratching the face of… probably another scantily clad woman who is tearing her clothing.

But outside of the Superhero genre, there are a lot of women telling brilliant stories.

Keep an eye out for Believe, which is set to be published soon, to see the incredible work of Emily Smith (and two other huge unannounced things we’re doing together). On top of Rombies, Mikiko Ponczek has just handed in the last pages of a 22 page story she has illustrated and coloured. I can’t wait for that one to be announced. It’s a script I’m very happy with and Miki has just smashed it.
Kate Moon has already finished the story Poppins which will be included in Brief Cases (whenever that comes out) and I have a small, but very cool story coming out with someone else who must remain nameless for now. She knows who she is. Hi, you!

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

Nope. I never really think about it. And, when I do, I actually tend to get genders wrong.

Sorry, Robin Hobb.

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 think it’s ridiculous that a time-machine company needs to take bookings. You can be anywhere and anywhen! Why do you need me at the time-machine depot at 9.30am?? It’s a disgrace!

Having gotten over my rant, and glared at the Time Machine operator who apparently couldn’t come to my house at 12, I would take a trip a very long way back.

I hypothesized earlier tonight that a pterodactyl may have eaten a missing link which would have caused humans to have one extra thumb. I would go back in time and ride that Pterodactyl into a live volcano before it ate our three-thumbed ancestor, thereby making all of us fifty percent more opposable.

You’re welcome.

Give-away Question:

For your chance to win a copy of The Deep: Here Be Dragons, and the six rainbows in your heart that come with it, answer this question.

If you had three thumbs, what would you do differently?



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Filed under Australian Artists, Book Giveaway, Book trailers, Characterisation, Collaboration, Comics/Graphic Novels, Covers, creativity, Dark Urban Fantasy, Fantasy books, Gender Issues, Genre, Indy Press, Inspiring Art, Movies & TV Shows, Nourish the Writer, Writers Working Across Mediums

Meet Anita Bell …

As the next of my series featuring fantastic female fantasy authors (see disclaimer) I’ve invited the talented powerhouse Anita Bell  to drop by.

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

Q: First of all, major congratulations on Diamond Eyes winning the 2011 Hemming Award for Excellence in Science Fiction and Fantasy Themes. Since this is award is not necessarily awarded every year, winning must have come as a wonderful and welcome surprise. Did you consciously set out to explore the themes of race, gender, sexuality, class and disability in the book?

Actually, Diamond Eyes is a story about freedom and independence. But since my main character is a young woman who is blind, sexually inexperienced, and misdiagnosed by nursing staff who all treat her as crazy as well as handicapped, all those other themes grew organically in a way that also resonated strongly and unanimously with the judging panel.

Sad but true; while working for ten years in a mental health facility, I saw young men and women routinely castrated or medicated to suppress their sexual development, often without their knowledge or consent (due to the fact they’d been declared unfit to make such decisions on their own). So this part of Mira’s story is inspired by a young handicapped couple I met, who’d both been disabled through a contagious disease, but eventually regained their independence through modern medications and therapies – and when it came time that they’d recovered enough to have healthy children, it was too late. They’d both been “cared for” in their best interests.


Q: Following on from that, we were part of the QUT Cohort doing a Masters while writing a book. You produced Diamond Eyes. What was the research question you were exploring with this book?

Funny story: It started out as;

How can I crack the big markets overseas and for movies?

But since that was too big a question for a masters and required too many non-existent definitions about degrees of cracking, and how big is big etc, my lecturer dis-engorged the “choke” from my throat and encouraged me to narrow my focus to the more definitive;

How can a novel manuscript be ‘re-visioned’ to create a more satisfying draft.

(Where satisfying is defined by a self-assessed improvement that results in a commercial reward that had previously been unattainable.)

So the dissertation I wrote is called: Revisioning a “Novel Concept”: Beyond vision and revision to advanced editing strategies.

But since a lot of the research is drawn from the film industry, and from mega-best-selling works from overseas, and since a lot of the advanced editing strategies are topics that are never normally discussed in most writing workshops, it might as well be called;

Tips on how to crack the big markets overseas and for movies.

Sound familiar? Hehe.

David Meshow the theme for Diamond Eyes.


Q: You have a wonderful book trailer (LOL, my husband did it). The music is by David Meshow. Recently, we were on a panel together where you walked us through the process of finding the musician, approaching him and what has happened since. I’m sure people would find this fascinating, as it’s an example of cross-pollination between creative people.

Wow, yes! We’ve chalked up more views than a lot of big budget Hollywood movies and over 300 Youtube Awards in 17 countries, including;

#1 Most Discussed, worldwide in Feb & March

#2 Top Favourited, worldwide in Feb & March

#2 Top Rated, worldwide in Feb and March

Normally, I thrive in silence while I’m writing and editing, but at all moments in between I refill my creative energies by filling my home, my car – even my saddlebags with music.

Three of my characters love music, and play instruments, so I spent a lot of time on youtube looking for talented amateurs with the same kind of interests. People who could not only play, but play so well, they make it look easy by playing with a relaxed sense of humour. I also looked for people who could play with their eyes closed and invent their own tunes on a wide range of instruments, and that’s how I came across David Meshow – who can do all of that, and resembles Mira’s bodyguard in looks and personality. Best of all, he taught me out how to play electrical instruments outside, around a campfire – so I could make a scene work properly in the sequel Hindsight.

Then after being inspired for so long by David’s music, and his advice during my research stages, I wrote to ask permission to use one of his original instrumental pieces for the book trailer during the launch, because that piece has brilliant moments of violin and xylophone along with all the other instruments that gave it a unique offbeat quality which also dramatically suits the chase scenes at the end of Diamond Eyes, the novel.

But when I mentioned the novel and what it was about, he was so inspired by the unique concept behind Mira’s eyes that he offered to write a piece to suit her specifically.

And that’s what the Original Theme to Diamond Eyes is. Close your eyes, and you can image yourself blind. Open them again and imagine the world around you isn’t today. It looks how things did a century ago, even though you can still feel all the invisible *real* things around you – so if the three story building you’re in wasn’t there back then, well, now you’re standing in mid-air, looking down on the world. Living in two worlds at once. That’s the core idea, and David’s really nailed it with the official theme song. He’s got millions of fans now, but they all seem to agree. Diamond Eyes is the best yet, and I have to agree. But then, I’m biased! Hehe.

Q: I understand there are two more books in the Diamond Eyes series, Leopard Dreaming and Hindsight.  When is the last book of the trilogy due out? And what will you do after this?

Interesting question, because it’s not a traditional trilogy. Diamond Eyes is a stand-alone story set in an asylum, Serenity, which is on a sub-tropical island in Queensland.

Then the duet of sequels; Hindsight (just launched) and Leopard Dreaming (June 2012), are both set on the mainland, during a brand new stage of her life. They’re also much faster paced than Diamond Eyes.

If you liken them to movies in the film industry, then Diamond Eyes would be the pilot, and the next two would be the mini series. So you don’t necessarily need to read Diamond Eyes to enjoy Hindsight, but you’ll definitely need to read Hindsight before taking on Leopard Dreaming in the new year.


Q: In a post on the ROR site you say … ‘SF is not dead – from my perspective it’s morphing/maturing beyond the “pure” genre of science fiction into speculative fiction (the new meaning for SF[1][1]), in a way which offers room for a natural blend of genres which must also complement each other uniquely for each story. Effectively, this permits a wider scope for wider technologies and invites more possibilities and opportunities to cross-dress our genres.’ You go on to say …’ In our own fast-changing world, which is already rife with “fantastic” opportunities and “tomorrow technologies” is it any wonder that such elements are so readily accepted in the environment of a wider story – often even expected – by a market that can still shy away from health food if we label it health food? To many people, it seems that science fiction sounds more like “homework” while fantasy sounds like a “holiday”, and yet how many wouldn’t go anywhere on holiday without their mobile phone, ipod or laptop?’  I love this quote. How near future is the Diamond Eyes series? Would people feel at home in this world?

It’s tomorrow fiction, akin to James Bond, but nowadays, most genres need to be tomorrow fiction to some degree during the writing stages anyway, or else the technology can date the story too quickly and make it seem old fashioned too soon.


So I’m constantly inventing new technologies based on my best guesses from existing products and research, and very often those “fantastic” new gizmos are hitting the market by the time the book is.

Off the top of my head, technologies that I invented for my stories in the last ten years, only to have them invented for real by the time the books launched, include;

  • Electronic pens, which convert any sketches into a text file or digital image.
  • Night Owls, a form of high tech night vision goggles which can also see through buildings using sound waves akin to mobile phone transmissions. Now also used in airports for full body scans.
  • NOR:STAN, the National Orbital Reconnaissance: See Through Anything Network. Same principle as nights owls, but also incorporating technology from the mining industry as a larger scale satellite system to help find lost bushwalkers, people trapped in burning buildings, and even terrorists in underground bunkers.

Even Mira’s Hue-dunnits – her electronic sunglasses which can change colour – are now in development as a fashion accessory to suit any wardrobe.


Q: You write in many genres under a number of pen-names, including a set of best-selling non-fiction titles, award winning adventures for children and even wickedly funny romance for women. You’ve always been a writer of exciting stories. What was the first thing you wrote seriously to submit?

A cosy crime story, called Budgie Soup, which was published in 5 countries, including the USA’s prestigious Murderous Intent Mystery Magazine, and won the Penguin Award, as part of the Scarlet Stiletto Awards, way back last millennium, in 1999.

Q: You say if you hadn’t been a writer you’d be …’ A cartoonist, vet or research scientist. And as it turns out, writing allows me to do bits of each!’ I can relate to research scientist. I think writers have to have enquiring minds. But cartoonist and vet? Why these two? Are you good at drawing and can you ‘talk to animals’?

Hehe… something like that.

To be a vet, we need to be astute at understanding body language – which works for characters as much as for animals. Pets can’t tell us where they’re hurting, and often characters can’t either. How we treat animals also helps to define us, not only as individuals, but also as a society.

Same goes with cartooning. It’s a social science that’s heavily dependent on observation of the human condition, as individuals, and in society, and how we perceive ourselves through the lens of humour also helps to define us.

To be a vet, we need great compassion, but humour is more often a dark art that can throw masks over fury, injustice and tragedy.

Q: You seem very comfortable writing a fast paced action thriller and moving across genres. A good book is a good book, no matter what the genre. Do you have any advice for writers to help them improve the pacing of their books?

Short sentences. Listen to men speaking, and compare to women on the same subject. Guys rarely use more than 8 words in a sentence at a time unless they’re explaining something, while women rarely use more than 12.

In action scenes, guys tend to get serious with only 2 to 6 words at a time, while women often clip down to 8 or less.

If you think that’s an exaggeration, watch all your favourite movies with the sound muted and subtitles on – and take notice how clipped conversations can get as the images speed up. Or take a ride on a train or bus with your ipod switched off so you’re listening to other people around you.

Q: You had a friend who attempted suicide when you were younger. You said …  ‘From the time we were both 10, we both had to ‘be mum,’ looking after our other brothers and sisters before and after school, and I had to manage my parents’ farm as well when they went away on business. On top of this we went to a high school where extreme pressure existed to be the best we could be. Students came from all over the world because of their high standards and we had to compete against them, too. My friend passed the breaking point.’ Are you tempted to write something that would reach out to teens who feel overwhelmed?

Yes, but not for a while. I can’t write really dark material unless I’m detached from tragedy myself and that’s definitely not this year. Otherwise, writing dark material only tends to take me down further, and once those chemicals in the brain start triggering the downward spiral, it’s a hard cycle to break free from again. And I’d never write that sort of thing without an uplifting ending, because it was soul-destroying misery-lit with downers for endings that drove my friend over the edge all those years ago. Don’t get me wrong, I love a good book that leaves me weepy, but if they’re not tears of hope, love or joy – if they leave me feeling empty and emotionally wretched – I’d never go anywhere near it. If I want to be depressed, I’ll read a newspaper.

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?

Historically yes. Absolutely. But I’d like to think the last 10 years has become a bit more like this:


There’s been plenty of times when I’ve been told by readers that I must have had some of my stories written by my husband. Apparently, I’m not supposed to know how to field strip a Styr or Glock and put it back together again without it blowing up in my face. Or how to turn a gum tree into a signal tower, use scorpions and black light to navigate an underground tunnel, or the horns of the moon to tell north from south in either hemisphere.

At the other end of the scale, I know a subset of male writers who can really get inside a woman’s head well enough to write convincing female characters – but a lot more who can’t.

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

Depends on the name they choose to put on the front cover, especially if it’s very feminine or hyper-masculine.

e.g.  Stephan King was always going to rule the page once he nailed his genre, and Karen Slaughter was never going to write little kiddies faerie tales.

Then there’s androgynous names, like AA Bell, Sonny Whitelaw, JR Ward etc, where the writing style is far more likely to appeal to both genres. Or at least try to, more often than not.

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, but if I told you, I’d create a paradox and a full set of alternative futures in another dimension. Just thinking about it is enough to split the future in two; one in which I do, and one in which I don’t.

Cool timing; there’s a new scientific theory (evolved from string theory, which in turn evolved from studies of nuclear explosions) that our present and past have already been shaped by our future in all its permutations in all dimensions. And that many things about Fate seem inevitable, because they’ve already been tampered with by those who’ve already travelled.

So assuming I’m one of them, and have already made the trip – or “will have going to have made it” at some time in the future (or alternate time line) – you can rest assured that all my friends will have nice things happen to them, while all those who’ve been nasty should be grateful I don’t hold grudges… much.

<insert evil laughter>

Give-away Question:

It’s said that everyone has something they’re naturally or uncannily good at – so good, you might call it a super power. Mira’s gift is seeing the past, her stalker can hear the future, while my own superpowers are merely green lights in heavy traffic and finding the perfect parking space when I most need it. (touch wood!)

So what’s your super power?


Catch up with Anita on Facebook

on GoodReads:


Filed under Australian Writers, Awards, Book Giveaway, Book trailers, Children's Books, Collaboration, creativity, Dark Urban Fantasy, Fantasy books, Female Fantasy Authors, Gender Issues, Genre, Inspiring Art, Music and Writers, Nourish the Writer, Paranormal_Crime, Promoting Friend's Books, Script Writing, Thrillers and Crime, Thrillers and Mysteries, Tips for Developing Writers, Writers Working Across Mediums, Writing craft, Young Adult Books

Meet Kim Westwood …

As the next of my series featuring fantastic female fantasy authors (see disclaimer) I’ve invited the talented Kim Westwood to drop by.

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


Q: I notice that you were ‘a weedy, asthmatic kid who devoured books like dinner.’ Kate Forsyth had a speech impediment and lost herself in books. I was a fat kid who no one would play with, so I lost myself in books. Do you think this ability to be totally immersed in an invented world, then go on to create invented worlds of our own arises from loneliness in childhood?

I’d lay bets on it.

Q: You’ve lived rough, close to the land: ‘For a while I lived on a farm by a river where I learnt to crutch sheep with hand shears, raise poddy calves and hypnotize chooks.’ Does this inspire your writing?

Yes. It’s the things that live at the bottom of the garden of my psyche that I inevitably plunder in my fiction.

Q: I see you did a Bachelor of Music. My daughter did a BA at the Con in Jazz voice. By the time she finished she’d lost her love of music (fortunately, it came back). Have you gone back to music? Are you one of these writers who create a play-list for your current work-in-progress and use it to get into the right frame of mind?

I won’t ever go back to playing classical music. It’s not that I don’t love it; it’s that I’ve loved it too much. The pressure of performance and desire for perfection nearly killed me. I don’t tend to write with music, but I am one of those people who play music REALLY loud in their car. Bach, Gesualdo, Pärt, Snow Patrol, Lamb, Adele: all loud.

Q: You wrote a theatre pieces for ‘dancer, light and shadow’. My uncle danced with QLD Ballet Theatre. Did you have a background in dance? Was that what drew you to write this piece? Do you have a recording of it or has it been lost in time?

My background was in gymnastics and physical theatre, so you could say I was used to choreographing movement. The aesthetic of dance fitted the vision I had for The City of Midnight: a numinous space where sound and solo performer folded in and out of light and dark. And yes, it’s recorded for posterity…just not on YouTube.

Q: Your short stories have been well received, with an Aurealis win and several final listings, as well as Stella’s Transformation appearing in Year’s Best Fantasy 2005 and several stories appearing in Australia’s Year’s Best SF and Fantasy. Just as some stories have a natural length do you think some writers have a length that suits them best?

Before The Daughters of Moab, I didn’t know whether I could write to novel length—I thought I was more suited to haiku. But the story led the way. Now, whenever I return to writing short fiction, I’m reminded of how much I enjoy the challenge of a compact story arc. I like creating a world that fits perfectly in a teacup.

Q: Your first book The Daughters of Moab was forged in the fires of Varuna Writers Retreat. But seriously, you did work on it at the writers retreat. Can you tell us a little about this experience? I’ve always thought it was be heaven.

The Varuna Retreat Fellowship struck the perfect balance for me: the solitude and calm of writing all day (and yes, I did!) followed by the companionship and sociability of other writers in the evening. This suited me better than the routine of ClarionSouth, which I went to in 2004. The Clarionettes, as I like to call them, would be the first to tell you that I was uncomfortable group critiquing early-stage and unfinished stories. For me, letting a story out into the world before it’s ready tends to oxidise and spoil it like a piece of fruit.

Q: There seems to be a playing with gender in The Daughters of Moab, is this something you like to explore?

Yes, there is. And yes, I do.

Q: Your next book The Courier’s New Bicycle is due out in 2011. Is it also a ‘poetic apocalyptic’ book?

Upfront, I should say that The Courier’s New Bicycle is neither fantasy nor apocalyptic—even the poetic has been swapped for pacy. This is a very fast ride compared to The Daughters of Moab. Salisbury Forth is a courier of contraband in an atmospheric but ailing Melbourne at a time of major socio-political change. The first review (Australian Bookseller & Publisher, July) described it as “a disturbingly credible and darkly noir post-cyberpunk tale.” That makes me happy!

Q: I read your description of how the short story Nightship came to be, and found it riveting. When will we see the book?

It’s in gestation. Think an elephant’s gestation.

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 UK/US perception is news to me, but being in a club is not what makes a writer special. An individual’s prose style is moulded by such a complex array of things, one of which may or may not be their experience of maleness and/or femaleness. In other words, I don’t want to help reify that rather spurious divide.

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

No. The gender of the writer is an irrelevancy to me. Their imagination—and what they do with it—is all that matters.

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’d go back to Britain at the time of the Picts, who painted themselves with woad. Love that blue.

Give-away Question:

Imagine a parcel that you are posting today to receive in ten years’ time. What would you put in it?


For a podcast of Nightship see here (skim down).




Filed under Australian Writers, Book Giveaway, creativity, Dark Urban Fantasy, Fantasy books, Female Fantasy Authors, Writers Working Across Mediums, Writing craft