Deborah Biancotti is the author of the Twelfth Planet collections Bad Power and A Book of Endings. Her short stories have brought her numerous award nominations. She dances a mean Highland Twostep, and cooks bacon for no reason.
1. Last year when you were interviewed for Locus you said you were working on a couple of novels of “corporate paranoia”. Tell us a little about where you’re up to with that, or whatever it may have morphed into since.
I can’t wait to get back into those. I had to put them aside for one of those annoyingly secret projects that I can’t talk about. The corporate paranoia books are 2 books in a 3-book series (I think). I plan to draft up all 3 before trying to send them anyplace. Just so I can be sure I know what I’m doing. And just so I can be sure they’re really 3 books. They’re my ‘for the love’ books. Trouble is I need to finish them because my list of story ideas that I’m mad keen to write is doing nothing but getting longer while I tool around with those books. I hope I’ll get to share them one day, but there’s no rush. There are other projects afoot that require my attention (she said, trying to avoid that irritating ‘sekret project’ allusive stuff that we all despise when it shows up on social media).
2. Your last collection was the popular Twelfth Planet Press book, Bad Power. I’m curious, a few years on from that book, how you view it, both as a book and in terms of your interests as a writer.
Thinking about it now, I guess it’s pretty spot on about my interests. Ordinary people who are trying to lead ordinary lives but who keep coming up against some obstacle that comes from inside them. Something they can’t control and can barely understand. For the guys in Bad Power, that obstacle is often a strange power that they alone possess. So the biggest battles these guys face is the battle to control and sustain themselves *in spite of themselves*. Interesting, eh?
Also there’s something about the very term ‘power’ and what people think ‘power’ is, what the absence-of-power is. Someone asked me what Detective Palmer’s power is (from Bad Power), for example, and for me what was most important about Palmer was that she didn’t have a power that was a *superpower*. But she did have a wealth of humanity which made her strong. She was still a powerful force in a lot of lives without being anything other than human.
I also think I began to wonder—with that book—about redemption. Up until then, I don’t think I believed much in redemption. But as I get older, I’m coming to believe it more. Oddly enough. That’s probably something that’s going to keep coming back. I have this half-formed idea that redemption relies on nothing more than living long enough to realise it. That you almost don’t have to do anything to receive it, except to simply acknowledge its existence. Or simply to *allow* it to exist, maybe.
I think I investigate the idea of redemption a lot more in some of my writing since then. I had a short story in Review of Australian Fiction in January that took a side-swipe at redemption (it was called The Executioner Goes Home). And I have a novella that’s coming out from PS Publishing next year which is definitely about redemption. Though I’m not sure, in that instance, that anyone gets any. Redemption, that is. It’s called Waking in Winter, if anyone wants to meet some almost completely UNredemptive characters.
In terms of Bad Power, I’m still proud of it. That’s not something I say about everything I do (though, gladly, I say it more often now, with more writing experience behind me). But I feel like I achieved what I set out to achieve on that project. And that’s a big deal for a writer. There’s probably a lot more to it that I’ll keep coming back to: the contemporary setting, the people who are heroic screw-ups, the cost of getting through a regular life, the way we wear our scars and our victories and our failures.
And most of all, I think that book was beginning of me moving on from the themes of childhood, which are about ‘who am I’ and ‘what do I bring to the world’, ‘what does the world hold for me’.
Instead, I started to ask myself ‘who am I *now*’ and ‘what am I prepared to do’ and ‘how do I live with myself, knowing what I’ve done’. The questions we all ask ourselves as we get older, probably.
Yeah. I can see those kinds of ideas keeping me company for a while yet. ; )
3. You’ve always been fascinated by urban life; the grime and the dark side of life in a big city. What is it about dirty underbellies that interests you so much anyway?
I do have a fair amount of glee for underbellies.
I seem to recall—even as a kid—being keenly aware of hypocrisy. You know the kind, the woman who owns the corner store who’s desperately rude when you turn up on your pushbike, age nine, with a handful of change your mother’s given you for sweets. And then how maddeningly lovely that same woman is to your mother when you refuse to go back there to buy your own sweets again, and instead insist your mother do the deed for you. So then you’re forced to listen to your mother saying, ‘I don’t know what the problem is, she’s quite nice, really.’ Hmm, I seem to be really scarred by that event. But yes, my point is: hypocrisy. I’ve always been interested in how people make peace with their worst qualities. Their underbellies, if you will.
It’s the same for cities. Some terrible crimes have happened in my home town of Sydney, as well as some beautiful salvations. The ways that one place—any one place—can marry those two states is fascinating.
And I like cities. I like them as an expression of human nature and human failure and human attempt. I like the way an old city can feel like life is trying to squeeze up through the cracks in the pavement. I like old buildings that have been converted to new purposes. I stayed in Rome once at a tiny hostel where the only window in the room opened onto a tiny rooftop filled with other people’s laundry. Cities are at once desperately unsuited to human inhabitation and undeniably necessary. I like how close you have to live to people and how relentlessly you can avoid getting to know them. Because really, people can be *awful*.
Also there are streets in this city, now, that I’ve been walking down since I was 18. So I have a lot of history with the place. It’s comforting to me to see how much the city has changed and how much it’s stayed the same. I pretty much feel that way about myself, too, that I’ve changed and stayed the same.
4. I think last time we spoke you had been reading a lot of crime fiction. What have you been reading lately that has caught your interest? What sort of fiction inspires you these days?
OMG, I just read Ben H Winters’ THE LAST POLICEMAN. You guys HAVE to read that book! It’s about a detective who’s trying to do his job when the world is headed for an asteroid collision that will wipe out humanity. Everyone is trying to convince him his current case is just another suicide (there’s a lot of those at the end of the world), but he’s convinced it’s a murder. I love that book.
I’m also glad that some friends introduced me to Sarah Waters. Her nineteenth century gothic stories are the bomb. Also I read Jennifer Egan’s THE KEEP, which I adored (though it got a little tricksy at the end, as Egan is won’t to do). And I loved Kameron Hurley’s GOD’S WAR, finally, after having it on my shelf for too many years. I’m also now reading Warren Ellis’ GUN MACHINE, which is also excellent and shows a lot of Ellis’ visceral, graphic-novel approach to storytelling.
I’m having a fantastic reading year. I’m avoiding all the books I suppose I ‘should’ be reading, and reading all the books I want to read. It’s a blast.
5. The publishing world has changed a lot over the last few years. How do you think the industry is shaping up amid the challenges provided by economic hardship and the ebook revolution?
Well, now, I remember when these snapshots used to ask us to swear! LOL. I have no idea how the industry is shaping up, largely because the industry itself is so diverse. One thing is for sure: people will always need stories. How we go about producing and consuming stories, well, that’s all up in the air. But what a ride, eh?