My first published story was to an American market, Jackhammer, an ezine back in 2000. Not long before that, I hadn’t known that Australian small press markets existed. Growing up in pre-internet days, I had previously relied on poorly stocked libraries and mainstream bookshops. Then I discovered Eidolon and from there, Australian science fiction. I couldn’t believe that so many home-grown works had been out there all along. I started reading Australian speculative fiction from the fabulous Murdoch University Speculative Fiction collection – old Eidolons and Aurealis and discovered novelists such as Sara Douglas, Juliet Marillier, Damien Broderick, Greg Egan, George Turner, Terry Dowling, Tess Williams. Then, as new small press magazines and anthologies started up, I wanted to be part of them.
But to answer your question: have I considered expanding to international markets?
Yes. Like most writers, I’ve tested their waters (and still do) and have received encouraging feedback and requests for more work. Only time will tell where my next story will end up, but truthfully, most of my published stories have been written specifically for the Australian markets they appeared in.
What’s impressed me is the sheer quantity of good work being produced, and the wonderful small presses we have. Twelfth Planet, Ticonderoga, ASIM, Aurealis, and that’s just scratching the surface. There’s a real range and character to our small press scene. And they are publishing books of real merit.
I honestly believe that the small press is the heart of our scene, if it’s healthy then writers can grow and develop, and write the brave wonderful things that make good stories. It’s an awesome time to be a writer because you know if you sell a story you’re going to get some serious editorial input – and that’s important. Beyond that it’s an awesome time to be a reader of Australian Spec Fic – all tastes are catered for, and catered for so well.
I don’t know if there have been big changes to the scene so much. The market has in some ways contracted – there’s less bookstores selling Spec Fic – and expanded, there’s so many more avenues for publication. I really feel that the e-book exploded last year and we’re still dealing with the shrapnel. There’s definitely been a couple of years of consolidation in the scene, I don’t feel that there was a flagging of energy with publishers after Aussiecon, that instead they’ve built and continue to build. There’s also a sense that we seem to be much more part of the international scene, a lot of writers are making their careers selling internationally rather than locally.
Oh, gosh, how to choose. Last year’s Aurealis Awards were a definite highlight. Meeting editor Stephen Jones and publisher Jo Fletcher in London recently was also wonderful and fun. I think, though, I’d have to say that the big one has been writing this latest collection with Lisa Hannett, Midnight and Moonshine. It’s a really fun, scary, clever, engaging mosaic of stories and it’s certainly constantly challenging for both of us. I think it’s a good sign when we both stop every so often and say “I love this collection, Brain!” Being able to share stories and meld our various stores of knowledge and useless information, being able to work together on a project that’s close to both our hearts is just such a gift.
Well, I hope people are thinking bigger and thinking more about placing work out in the wider world – actively trying to publish internationally rather than just at home. Also, I’d really like to think that the writing community is more supportive and hopefully less combative/competitive. If we build a stronger community, it’s going to be better for all writers and all fans.
Perhaps more pertinently, my own experiences as a teenager make me somewhat less than neutural on the subject of both school and the ever-present love triangle. I find it incredibly difficult, if not outright impossible, to write about high school as a background event rather than politically, as an institution to be challenged or subverted, because of the amount of effort I expended as a student arguing against curricula, grading, subject structure, the allocation of resources, conformity and scare tactics. Similarly, and while I have no objection to other people enjoying them, I have a pathological skepticism of romanticised love triangles, because as a teenager, I was in a love triangle – and believe me, the experience was anything but romantic. The combination of unrequited love angst and profound frustration at the institutional mechanics of education left me severely depressed, routinely insomniac (my last year of school, I survived on an average of four to six hours sleep a night, six days a week), flirting with self harm and regularly contemplating suicide. Somehow, I managed to get through it, but it’s not an experience I’d wish on anyone – and as a consequence, I don’t think I’m capable of writing about school, or love triangles, or especially the two in combination, in any sort of neutural or romantic way.
Creating believable characters is even more important in fantasy and paranormal, because you’re asking the audience to suspend so much disbelief already that it’s imperative that, in the areas where characters, locations or plotlines should be real and relatable, they really, really are. Also, in all my books, I always fall back on the old chestnut of “write what you know”. My writing is chock full of me, my friends, the places I know and love. I love it when my friends and family read my books and recognise themselves, experiences we’ve had together, or little in jokes we share. I think it makes the writing more real to have these little details. So I write what I know in both my paranormal and straight YA. The only difference in the paranormal is I write what I know … and then add shapeshifters!
Really, I can’t make that kind of distinction. My interests in all these things are entangled and they date back to primary school. Also, I think there’s something more fundamental going on, which is my sense of the mutability of human cultures, something I’ve felt in my bones for as long as I can recall. I’ve always had a just-slightly-alienated, semi-anthropological attitude to my own society and its mores, folkways and default outlook. Perhaps my socialisation didn’t ‘take; in the way it was supposed to (actually, I suspect that this is true of many people who are involved in science fiction). In my essay, ‘Unbelievable!’, in 50 Voices of Disbelief, I talk a bit about this in relation to religion: at a very early age, I rejected the religious beliefs around me, largely on the basis that I saw Christianity as just the mythology of our time and place, something that would not seem plausible in, say, a couple of thousand years … any more than classical mythology seems plausible to us. As I describe in ‘Unbelievable!’, I did return to Christianity for a period in my teens, but once again it didn’t take. And just as well.
My love of ancient cultures, and their mythologies, and my love of speculation about the future are of a piece with this, and so is my scepticism about a lot of moralising and traditional moral rules. I have certain core values that drive me -– political freedom, compassion for suffering, the life of reason -– but I also have this very strong resistance to what seem to me culture-bound and largely arbitrary restrictions on what humanity might become (hence the ‘more than human’ part of your question), and on how, in the here and now, individuals might flourish.
Despite the fact that both Nicole and I are possibly insane for taking on a convention, we both really love them. We like attending them and we like organising them too. Both of us had moved away from convention running to concentrate on writing-related activities. However, last year there seemed to be a need to have a Natcon in Canberra and I liked the idea of inviting interesting people to be guests. The best part are choosing guests, choosing panels and activities, like the steampunk-themed high tea. You don’t know how much people’s excitement for that one has buoyed me. I’m so excited I want to have a steampunk-themed high tea every week. I also love the Regency period, being a very big Austen fan, so the Regency banquet is another thing we are both excited about. So we both like going to conventions and we like running them but they are hard work. A lot of people like going to conventions. I wish more of them were interested in organising or helping to organise them. However, I’m very grateful for the great team we have so far. Deciding what panels to put together and also working with the fantastic panellists we have here in Australia is a real highlight for me. As we are starting to gear up for programming our excitement is increasing. In Australia, we have a great lot of talented and generous people, writers, academics and fans who are willing to share their experiences and insights with others. SF cons are the place to do that. They also get a chance to promote their work, ideas or just meet new people. Conventions are a great place to meet like-minded people, meet your favourite author or hang in the bar.
And that about brings us up to date, for now! Summaries may slow over the next day or two, as I prepare and travel to Continuum!