I do think that short stories are a very different form. The story The Wolf Prince in Metro Winds is long enough to have been a book i its own right, and certainly it is longer than some books. Yet to me it is a long short story – or a novella. It is not a book. The same with The Girl who could see the Wind. For all its length and complexity it is a story, not a book. I have never tried to articulate exactly why that is and I don’t want to do that now, because I like the amorphous certainty that tells me this is a story and not a book. I don’t actually want to unravel a process that has always worked very intuitively, by trying to intellectualise it. But I will say that the feeling a piece will be one form or the other comes partly from the originating idea and partly from how I write. The process of writing a story is not linear at all. It is a circling inward and it is detail orientated where a book is more linear – an unwinding of a story into a road that can be followed. It is no surprise, then, that the reader reacts very differently to story or book. The form demands a different approach and engagement. In general, I would say books are easier to read and so one is inclined to lose oneself in the unwinding of the tale. The impetus catches the reader, who is entranced and borne along by the tale. But a story requires a deeper engagement and a willingness to accept that there may not be any sense of impetus or forward movement. The reader must trust more and accept that they will not lose the world as one tends to do in a book. Somehow the short story form does not allow that setting aside of reality. It requires the reader to straddle the two words rather dangerously and precariously. Reading short stories is seldom as comforting as reading a book. One never knows what one is supposed to do with ones hands and feet. They are there, and yet they are not required. There is a self consciousness that a reader cannot escape, unlike in a book. Of course there are books that fullfil all of this prescription, too, but they are not my books. Often I read a book such as A Visit From the Goon Squad, which is utterly brilliant, and works for me like a series of stories rather than as a book works.
This is again a hard question for me to answer, living overseas as I do at the moment. But it does seem to me that a lot of people in the speculative fiction arena are looking at going the e-book and self publishing route, in a time when only the big seller or potential big sellers, are being taken on and kept on by the big publishers. Because a run that is too small to be worthwhile for a publisher can still have an audience big enough to support the writer, if he or she e-publishes. I think this is a very positive move in a time of flux, when there is an opportunity for writers to take more control of their own careers than ever before. Despite all the doom and gloom being touted about e-books killing the book industry, it is possible that whole depressed mentality is something of a cover story. If publishers are intending to put more and more of their books up as e-books, they will actually make quite a lot of money for far less outlay and effort than it took to produce and distribute traditional print books. In short, they may sell less books, but given less of an outlay, they will make more money. The writers, getting the same percentages, will suffer.
As a mid-list writer of commercial fiction I’m expected to turn in an adult novel a year – less than that and there’s a danger of becoming invisible in the crowded US market. I know many writers who are far more productive than that, with several series on the go at once. I’ve found that a book a year is as fast as I can write while still producing work I can be proud of (and staying reasonably sane.) It can be extremely difficult to balance the need to earn a living from writing with the wish to exercise creative choice and to pursue the projects one feels passionate about. This is a dilemma I’ve been considering a great deal recently as I draw near to the end of my current contracts. I’ve been juggling adult and young adult projects for two different publishers in the US, and of course they don’t synchronise their dates to suit me, so the last couple of years have been stupidly busy. Part of it’s down to my reluctance to say no when writing opportunities come up!
Where short fiction is concerned, my choice to write very little of it is not related to the payment; I find short stories far more difficult to write than novels, so I am very slow at them. But when I do write a short story or novella that I’m proud of, it gives me immense satisfaction.
I believe specialist small press is playing a bigger role now in publishing quality short fiction within the genre. It certainly seems far more visible. Aurealis Magazine has gone fully digital, and I imagine other publications have done the same or are headed in that direction.
Our writers continue to achieve international recognition – it seems to me Australians are represented more all the time in the big genre awards. At the pinnacle of this is Shaun Tan with both an Academy Award and the Astrid Lindgren Award in the same year. But our writers are making it onto World Fantasy Award ballots and being shortlisted for awards like the David Gemmell Legend Award (congratulations to Helen Lowe … oops, she’s another Kiwi.)
It’s encouraging to see the new talent coming up – writers like Thoraiya Dyer and Lezli Robyn. I predict a stunningly successful debut (as a novelist) for WA writer Lee Battersby, whose dark fantasy The Corpse-Rat King comes out from Angry Robot in the UK later this year.
We’ve had some notable losses within our ranks – the one-of-a-kind Sara Douglass, who raised the profile of Australian fantasy so much on the international scene,, and the incredibly brave Paul Haines. I salute them both.
Many things prompted me to start my own publishing house, but the first was the realisation that, with over 25 years experience in the publishing industry, I actually had all the skills necessary to attempt something so crazy-brave.
The other reason was a growing disillusion with the big-time publishers and they way they have always, or were beginning to treat their authors. This was particularly true of some of the large publishers here in Australia, who’d not only stopped taking many chances on new writer, but were also dropping their mid-list authors in favour of publishing imports from, mostly, the US. They were playing it safe and blaming it on the world financial crisis.
In terms of hurdles, the problem with researching a particular place or time is that it’s very tempting to stuff all that juicy information into your work. Of course this makes for a dense, slow read, so some brutal editing was required. How brutal? Think hordes of Mongols. My first draft for the second novel weighed in at 240,000 words and is now 169,000. That’s a lot of extraneous words lying about the battlefield that is writing, but it’s all part of the learning experience.
Dealing with actual historical figures – rather than those you have invented that know said historical figures – requires a fair degree of research. It wouldn’t do, for example, to have a character besieging the walls of Jerusalem with Godefroi de Bouillon when the same person is recorded as having died in Antioch. Of course, the first- and second-hand accounts from those times don’t always agree, so you can write between the margins if you’re careful.
I’ve always loved a good love story, so no matter what genre I write in I’ll always want to incorporate attraction, rejection, desire and love/hate in the stories. I’m also drawn to the theme of ‘stranger in a strange land’ which lends itself to fantasy and lost world stories, but that theme was also revealing itself early in my fledgling romance writing when I had an city animal rights activist turning up at a country rodeo for example. I like the clash of cultures, of landscapes, of characters feeling like they don’t belong, and then realising that they do. I think I had all these ideas before I even started writing romance, but what romance writing did teach me was to hold the thread. Once the hero and heroine met you were never allowed to sever the thread of their attraction to each other, and while that’s less important in novels where there’s a whole lot more going on than just the love story, it taught me to hold each thread and not break it: the thread of romance, the thread of political intrigue, the thread of physical/emotional/supernatural attack for instance. Every plot has its own threads that need to be maintained, and romance writing taught me not to break them — fabulous lessons in structure for a beginning writer.
I found this a massive help when I sat down to write (although, of course, there’s a lot of overlap between the researching and the writing – sometimes you don’t know what you don’t know until you sit down to write about it). It’s funny — you think you know a lot of stuff, but when it comes down to the nitty gritty… What sort of weapon would an SAS sniper use? How do organised criminals launder money? What’s it like when an rickety fishing boat carrying hundreds of asylum seekers goes down off the coast?
I realised that this was a weakness in previous writing projects and I think working on Skin Deep last year confirmed that, yes, it was a weakness and, yes, if I put the time in I can address that weakness.
I think the outpouring of emotion when Paul Haines passed away, and also the way the community has rallied to help out Rocky Wood, shows that it’s really about the people. I’m proud to be a part of that community.
It is a great achievement to have 3 books published. It also is the culmination of my first contract which now leaves me able to explore different things. Sometimes I still have to pinch myself that I have actually done this. I still keep expecting them to turn up and tell me it was all a big mistake and they didn’t really mean to pick up the books. I know that sounds dumb, but it just seems so unreal at times.
And two years ago self publishing was a dirty word. I still don’t know how I feel about it, though the mentoring project that I am working on is looking at self-publishing the resulting anthology to help raise some money for a retreat we are going to hold later this year. So I would have to say the biggest change is in the publishing industry itself.