What a tasty selection of vampires! Pam, one of my favourite characters from True Blood played so brilliantly. Christopher Lee, legend. Thanks to Mark, I have a new series to investigate.
But it’s the double whammy from Shadow of the Vampire that gets the nod: Dafoe’s Orlock is wonderfully nuanced in his re-creation of Schreck’s character from Nosferatu.
And now I have a great desire to go watch Lugosi’s Dracula again. Thanks all, and Sean and mooyah, for taking the time to leave a comment!
So, Scott J Robinson,please email Jason. jnahrung(at)gmail(dot)net to organise the posting of your book.
Meanwhile… Jason says:
Bookings are now open for those able to attend my chat at Caloundra Library on Monday August 13 at 10-11am and at Noosa Library on Tuesday August 14 4-5.30pm. Expect to hear about the writing and publishing process, landscape as character and inspiration, and vampires, of course. Given that Salvage was primarily written on (and is kind of set on) Bribie Island and polished off at Noosa, it’s something of a homecoming.
You can also rsvp for the Brisbane launch at Avid Reader, 6 for 6.30pm, on Friday August 10 by emailing events @ avidreader.com.au or phoning 3846 3422, or drop me a line and I’ll pass it on. Kim Wilkins will be doing the honours.
You can also book in for the Darkness Down Under panel, with Kirstyn McDermott, Angela Slatter and myself, at Logan North Library on Saturday August 11 at 1.30-3pm. If you like reading or writing horror and dark fantasy, there should be something in this for you.
All events are free. Copies of Salvage will be available. There will be coffee and time for chinwagging. I’m looking forward to it!
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 hardworking and insightful Bruce Gillespie to drop by.
I first met Bruce in 1976, when I went to Melbourne with Paul Collins to start an Indie Press publishing house. Bruce was living in Carlton with his cat Flodnap (and his cat’s cat, Julius) and had been editing fanzines for 8 years. By 1976, Bruce had been nominated for a Hugo three times, so despite being only 29, he was already one of the Grand Old Men of Australian SF Fandom.
Q: Your work had received three Hugo Nominations before you were 30. You have received total of 45 Ditmar Nominations and 19 wins, and The A Bertram Chandler Award in 2007, plus you were fan guest of honour at AussieCon 3, the World SF Convention in 1999, is there anything left that you would like to achieve?
A: Like any other fanzine editor or writer, I would actually like to win the Hugo Award for either Best Fanzine or Best Fan Writer! But that seems impossible these days, since even in 1999 and 2010, when the world convention was held in Australia, I could not gain enough votes to reach the nominations list.
However, in 2009 I was awarded the Best Fan Writer in the annual FAAN Awards, given by my peers, the fanzine writers and editors who attend the Corflu convention in America. I count that as a great honour, along with having received Australia’s two awards for lifetime achievement, the A. Bertram Chandler Award (as you mention) and the Peter MacNamara Award. In practical
terms, the greatest honour I’ve received was the Bring Bruce Bayside fan fund, which enabled me to return to America (for the Corflu and Potlatch conventions) for a month in 2005.
Q: In your 2012 snapshot interview you say: A fanzine is a minor artform, based on putting together a wide range of material from my favourite writers, plus response from letter writers from all over the world. The use of a computer limits the artform in some ways, but also offers design, editing and font possibilities that were impossible to access in the Good Old Days (pre 1990s) of using stencils and duplicators.’ You have been producing zines now since 1968, that’s 44 years. In that time you must have worked out what makes a good fanzine. If you could go back now to Bruce circa 1968, what advice would you give him?
A: I could have warned him not to use the typewriter with which I produced the first SF Commentary in 1969. It was a little Olivetti with a beautiful typewriter face — but unfortunately it would not cut a stencil properly. For a fanzine that was almost illegible, SF Commentary No 1 gained an enormous response from people around the world, including a letter from Philip K. Dick, my favourite SF writer.
But apart from that, how can you give advice to a 22-year-old, especially someone with far more energy than I have now? ‘Follow your nose?’ ‘Never give up?’ I knew then that no matter how people responded to my fanzines, that was what I should be doing. Nothing’s changed.
Q: In the same interview you said: ‘Of course, I can publish electronically, using PDF files, on Bill Burns’ wonderful efanzines.com, but I know that many people download such magazines and don’t read them with the attention they would devote to a magazine they received through the mail.’ I do most of my reading on-line, following science blogs, political activists and researching. Personally, I don’t feel that I give less attention to my on-line reading. What leads you to believe that an on-line magazine is valued less than a print magazine?
A: For someone of my generation, a paper document has real existence, and online documents don’t. I don’t really believe that the current electronic publications will be available or readable in twenty years, let alone forty, but I still own almost all the paper fanzines I’ve received since 1969. If I value anything I find Out There, I copy it into a Word file and print it. More to the point, many of my correspondents say that they reply to paper fanzines, and don’t respond to fanzines posted on efanzines.com. That’s if they even take the trouble to download.
The current situation is that I can no longer afford to print and post my fanzines, so I will be asking almost all my readers to download them. This will sharply reduce the number of letters of comment I receive, but it gives me much more freedom to publish much more often.
Q: You once said about Fandom: ‘Before I joined fandom I had almost no friends or anybody with whom I could share my interests. In fandom I found people who were not just another part of the mundane world, which I find stifling. During a weekend I spent at Lee Harding’s place in late 1967, I met for the first time many of the people who have had the most influence on my life, such as John Bangsund, Lee Harding, George Turner, John Foyster and Rob Gerrand.’ (See Bruce’s post about science fiction and fandom here). I must admit that it wasn’t until I came to Melbourne with Paul in 1976 that I met people I could talk to. I’d come from Brisbane where all people talked about was football and getting drunk (obviously I was moving in the wrong circles). In Melbourne fandom I met fascinating people who could hold stimulating conversations on all manner of topics. I felt like I’d come ‘home’. Nowadays with the WWW people can make contact with other like-minded people, but forty years ago it was much harder. SF fans were considered extremely odd. Can you give readers a glimpse of what it was like to be a fan in those days?
A: At school, I had only two friends who read science fiction at all. Nobody else I knew read SF, although the SF magazines were much more widely available (in newsagents) than now. At university, no other students seemed interested. However, I did read in the Bulletin in 1966 that Melbourne had just held an SF convention. Charles Higham wrote what remains the fairest report any Australian journalist has ever offered of an SF convention. He made it sound very exciting. I also knew that the Melbourne SF Club held its meetings every Wednesday night in Somerset Place, which was behind McGill’s Newsagency in Elizabeth Street. McGill’s had the only good stock of science fiction in Melbourne, and I realised that this had something to do with the tall thin man who loomed behind the counter (who was, of course, Mervyn Binns, who has just been given the Infinity Award for his services to fandom). Every science fiction book sold in McGill’s included a little leaflet advertising the club. Also, McGill’s sold a magazine called Australian Science Fiction Review (ASFR). The quality of the reviews and articles in this magazine were staggeringly far ahead of those in the pro SF magazines, for both intellectual content and sparkling style. However, I knew I would never finish my degree if I became involved in fandom from 1965 to 1967. At the end of 1967 I wrote several articles on the works of Philip K. Dick and sent them to John Bangsund, the editor of ASFR. He rang me in December 1967 and suggested I visit his home in Ferntree Gully to meet the people who produced the magazine. This was the beginning of my career in fandom, for I met people who read what I read, talked about what interested me, and who were interested in what I had already written.
Q: You are a qualified school teacher and did teach for two years, but gave it up to produce fanzines and write about speculative fiction. You said: ‘My mundane career has never gone anywhere much, and I’ve often been nearly broke. But my career in fandom (as an editor), which has never made me any money, has led to most of the good things in my life.’ What do you think are essential traits an editor needs?
A: That’s not quite right. I gave up teaching because I was hopeless at it. I was very close to suicide at the end of 1970, but a friend prompted me to do what I would have thought unthinkable — resign. When I did this, the Department wanted to keep teachers, so I was offered a series of bribes to stay officially a teacher. The last of these was a position in the Publications Branch of the Department. In 1971 and 1972 I received a full on-the-job training in professional editing and journalism. I left in mid 1973 to go overseas, visiting fans all over America for four months and a month in Britain. When I returned I decided to try freelance book editing. I knew there was no editing work in SF in Australia, but my friend John Bangsund was making an intermittent living from freelancing, and there was plenty of work, especially in textbooks, in 1974.
The essential quality of an editor is to love correcting other people’s writing. You trawl through a book and can see how you can improve it. Many editors (especially my wife Elaine) are much better at it (are much more meticulous) than I am, but I’ve kept on working over the years, sometimes successfully (as during the twelve years I received guaranteed freelance work from Macmillan in Melbourne) and sometimes disastrously (such as at the end of 1976, when I was actually forced to take a part-time office job for a year or so). Elaine and I have learned to skate along from cheque to cheque, and sometimes those cheques are very thin on the ground.
Q: In 1979 along with Carey Handfield and Rob Gerrand, you were one of the founding editors of Norstrilia Press, which published Greg Egan’s first novel, among others. Was there are particular philosophy that the three of you developed when you started Nostrilia Press?
A: Like the other small presses of the time, including Cory & Collins and Hyland House, our aim was to publish material that no major publisher would touch. You might remember that during 1973, for instance, there were 17 novels of any genre published by all Australian publishers. Even after the Australia Council began its publishing program under the Whitlam Labor Government, most of the spate of new titles sprang from the small press enterprises, such as Outback Press.
Carey said that the aim of Norstrilia Press (named in honour of American writer Cordwainer Smith, who had a great love of Australia, and whose only novel was Norstrilia) was to return enough money to SF Commentary, my magazine, to keep it going. This never happened, of course, but our first book (1975) was a set of essays called Philip K. Dick: Electric Shepherd. All the material, which included essays by Stanislaw Lem and George Turner, came from SF Commentary.
Carey devised a complicated system by which individual fans invested in particular books that we published. Since eventually we had to provide a return on investment, we diversified quickly. (Our only other critical book was The Stellar Gauge, essays by the finest critics in the field, edited by Michael Tolley and Kirpal Singh in 1981).
We tracked down a novel by Keith Antill called Moon in the Ground. It had won a prize several years before, but had never found a publisher.
Greg Egan sent us his An Unusual Angle, a brilliant novel he had written when he was seventeen.
I had met Gerald Murnane at Publications Branch, and had typed several of his novels before he learned to type. In 1977 I suggested that one section of a giant novel would make a great book on its own. That became The Plains in 1982, which was our greatest success (gaining a nomination for The Age Book of the Year Award), and still Gerald’s best regarded book. Text Publishing has just produced yet another edition, and it has had several overseas editions.
We were also very pleased to publish George Turner’s literary memoir In the Heart or in the Head, as well as The View from the Edge, his book about the 1977 Writers Workshop held at Monash University.
However, all of Carey’s and Rob’s labours were unpaid, and I was paid only for the typesetting work that I did for Norstrilia Press, Cory & Collins and Hyland House. At the end of ten years, we had made very little money, and Carey wanted to get married and establish his own career. So Norstrilia Press finished in 1985.
Q: You are the executor for George Turner’s literary estate. What exactly does being a Literary Executor entail?
A: Not a lot, because George has not exactly been popular since his death in 1997. His main audience was overseas, and all those editions have gone out of print. Most of the work in keeping his name alive has been done by his agent, now my agent, Cherry Weiner, an Australian who has lived near New York for many years. At various times she has had great success with various Australian authors, such as Keith Taylor, Wynne Whiteford, David Lake, and now Paul Collins. She sold George’s posthumous novel Down There in Darkness, in 1998, but little since. I’ve signed contracts for Gollancz in Britain to republish The Sea and Summer (Drowning Towers in USA) as an SF Masterwork. I’m hoping that when it appears, it will re-establish George Turner as one of the major SF talents of the last fifty years.
I did publish 100,000 words of George Turner’s non-fiction as SF Commentary 76. Copies are still available, both as download and as a paper magazine.
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 and particularly SF is a bit of a boy’s club. Do you think there’s a difference in the way males and females write?
A: Are we talking about science fiction or fantasy? To me they are quite different fields, with fantasy dealing with impossible events; and SF, at its best, being realistic novels that happen to be set in the future, rather than in the present or the past.
And are we talking about the writers or the readers? The balance in the composition of the readership changed very rapidly. When I became involved in SF fandom, the only women who turned up at conventions and club meetings were girlfriends or wives or members. That’s in 1968 and 1969. This began to change rapidly after 1971, mainly because of the influx of younger female media fans, but also a lot of women who were just beginning their careers as academics, teachers and librarians. By the 1973 Easter convention held in Melbourne, nearly half of the attendees were women, and that balance has remained even ever since.
But Australian writers, who were mainly male (Damien Broderick, Lee Harding, David Boutland, Jack Wodhams and Wynne Whiteford) tended to huddle in corners in the early 1970s because there were very few of them. There had been a very famous Australian female writer, Norma Hemming, but she had died in 1960 when she was very young. Cherry Wilder lived in Sydney for awhile, but she was a New Zealander with a German husband, so she went to live in Germany in the late 1970s.
The balance changed after fantasy became the dominant publishing genre in Australia in the 1990s. When HarperVoyager began consciously to recruit Australian writers, they found a treasure trove of young, enthusiastic women writers who have become very popular. Science fiction almost disappeared here, except from a few (male) writers such as Sean William, Sean McMullen and Terry Dowling. Marianne de Pierres and Lucy Sussex seem to be our only female writers who publish mainly science fiction.
All you have to do is look around at any fannish or professional gathering in Australia to see that 80 per cent or more of our writers are now female. They include many of my own favourite dark fantasy writers, such as Kaaron Warren, Cat Sparks and Deb Biancotti. I don’t read three-parter blockbuster medieval fantasy novels myself, but I acknowledge that Australia’s female writers (as well as a few males, such as Garth Nix) have conquered the field.
Q: Following on from that, does the gender of the writer change your expectations when you pick up their book?
A: I’m only interested in finding good writing. I can’t help sympathising with Gerald Murnane’s rather provocative statement that no book should be published with the name of the author visible. In other words, the prose should speak for itself. Aesthetics über alles. However, like most readers I’m curious the find out about the authors whose works I enjoyed most, and I can’t help being flattered if my favourite writers remember something I might have written about their work. But I admit that most of my favourite SF writers have been male, for example, Philip Dick, Brian Aldiss, Thomas M. Disch, Cordwainer Smith, George Turner, Wilson Tucker, Stanislaw Lem and Christopher Priest. I always buy every new book by Ursula Le Guin. I love Joanna Russ’s work, but her novels were not as interesting as her short stories. I’ve enjoyed some of Gwyneth Jones’ books, but not all. In literary fantasy, nothing beats Le Guin’s Earthsea series and Diana Wynne Jones’s novels, but I also love fantasy by Peter Beagle, Italo Calvino, Steven Millhauser and a whole lot of others.
A: As the Strugatsky Brothers reminded us in their fun novel, Hard to Be a God, any of us would find any past era very smelly and very dangerous. Given the right inoculations (and nose filters), I would like to investigate the period that the Steampunkers have adopted as theirs, that very exciting era of huge change from 1880 to 1914. You would have to think that the First World War was staged to destroy that tremendous fizz of progressive thinking and scientific and artistic change that seemed likely to lead to a brave new world. How were they were to know in 1914 that millions would be killed, and that Stalin and Hitler would divide the world’s attention for the next thirty years?
For a list of Bruce’s publications and essays see here.
For Bruce’s listing on the e-fanzine site, with links to all his fanzines, see here.
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 and amazingly busy female fantasy author Karen Brooks to drop by.
Watch out for the give-away question at the end of the interview.
Q: Your first book published was It’s Time, Cassandra Klein, followed by The Gaze of the Gorgon, The Book of Night and Kurs of Atlantis . The first book came out in 2001 and the most recent in this series in 2004. You were dealing with quite adult themes and you aged your main character from 13 – 16 in the course of the books. Did you publishers have any reservations about the themes or the aging of your character?
My publishers, Lothian, were really very supportive about both the ageing of the characters (the other lead character, Simon, ages from almost 15-18) and the quite adult themes. Using Greek and Roman myths (and some from other cultures as well), it’s inevitable that you strike quite complex notions and characters (the gods themselves, many of whom feature in the books, as well as a variety of heroes, were feisty, flawed and while often narcissistic, also underwent their own trials and lessons which mirror those of my protagonists), never mind the fact that the series itself dealt with a range of issues such as loss, grief, the Holocaust, and mental illness, as well as the usual suspects such as sibling rivalry, loyalty, bravery, and self-discovery. Fortunately, the readership – which was both young adult and adult – didn’t have any reservations about the themes or ageing either!
Q: The main character of this series (Cassandra Klein) is thirteen when the first book opens. Did you choose to write at the upper end of primary/lower age end of YA for a specific reason? Also, these books are written under Karen R Brooks. Did you do this to differentiate your adult fiction (Do you write adult fiction?) and non-fiction books from children’s books and what does the R stand for? (Ruby, Rosemary, Regina?)
I did write for the upper end – not only did I age Caz Klein from 13 to almost 16 across the four books, but many of the themes and the Greek and Roman myths I retold (through her adventures) were quite adult and confronting. I also dealt with themes of loss, mental illness and grief among many others, so it was appropriate to have an older YA protagonist and target the same demographic. The books seemed to fit comfortably in that age range and many adults read them too – which was lovely.
The R in Karen R Brooks was to differentiate my adult writings from YA and also my academic work from fiction (though I now write adult fiction as Karen Brooks). It stands for Ruth and the name has a long history in my family. For as far back as we can trace ourselves (we are Mendelssohns from Germany), the eldest daughter was either called or given as her middle name, Ruth. My great-grandmother (who died in a Concentration camp) was Elsa Ruth Mendelssohn, my grandmother, Eva Ruth, mother Edna Ruth, then there’s me, and my daughter who is Caragh Louise Ruth. I used to not like Ruth – hence Caragh has two middle names, but now I love it – the history it evokes, the sense of a female line.
Q: I think we were at one of the Voices on the Coast festivals a few years ago when you were telling me about your plans for what became The Curse of the Bond Riders trilogy – a fantasy world that takes its inspiration from renaissance Venice full of magic, betrayal and mystery. Sounds fascinating. Now all three books are out, Tallow, Votive and Illumination. I understand you did a lot of research on Venice and lived in Europe for a while, travelling to Venice. (There are some lovely photos on Karen’s website which include photos from the European trip). Which comes first for you, the high concept then the research? Or does your general research on life prompt the high concept?
The high concept came first – it always does now I come to think of it! In this instance, I had the idea for a candle-maker who basically produces these marvellous scented candles. The power of our olfactory senses are such (they are our oldest memories – our sense of smell), that when the scents infused into Tallow’s (my protagonist) candles are inhaled, people can be made to do all sorts of things – good and bad – be generous, fall in love, sign a contract, murder…. The idea for an assassin who uses candles and later becomes a celebrated courtesan was born and from that, the place and time became evident. Candles were an essential item in the Renaissance – any time pre-electricity really J – but when I started to read about Venice (I have always been mad on Italy, but didn’t know much about Venice), the novels simply had to be set there – for me, it was a natural fit. I set about learning everything I could. I wrote Tallow without ever having been to Italy let alone Venice. But before Votive (the second book) was finished, I’d been to Venice twice (I had the privilege of living and teaching in The Netherlands for a few months, so was able to “duck” over! The beauty of Europe from the perspective of an Australian – the proximity of countries and thus different cultures and cuisines to each other!), I also studied the Italian language for two years.
Q: You have a doctorate in Humanities specialising in Social Media. You lecture at UNI in ‘… the areas of media, youth, sexuality and popular culture using a psychoanalytical model’, and travelled to Beijing (China) as the first Australian Writer in Residence at the Western Academy in 2005. In 2007 and again in 2009 you spent six weeks at Teiko University (Netherlands) where you taught. You are called on as an expert to comment on Channel 7’s Sunrise and Today/tonight. (For a list of some of Karen’s articles see here). You’ve appeared on 60 minutes and on The Einstein Factor as part of the ‘Brains Trust’. With all this study and commentary are you tempted to write near future SF? We are currently living in ‘interesting times’ as the Chinese curse goes. Where can you see Australian/first world society going in the next ten years?
I am tempted to write sci-fi! LOL! In fact, a novel I started many years ago now (but never finished – maybe one day…) was called The Cairn Experiment and was set about three-four hundred years in the future where society has reverted to very Victorian ideals about gender and sex roles especially. Women are again oppressed and while they can operate in public space and be employed, it is always in subservient roles, as assistants etc. Men too are imprisoned by the expectations of their sex. The story follows one female who’s the assistant of a rather prudish, brutish scientist and his team, sent to a place that they only recently discovered on an old map, which is called “Cairn Island” (the “Pitt” part has been erased through age). What they find on this unchartered island is set to tear society apart.
Maybe, one-day, I’ll return to it. But I think what I am describing in that novel summarises my fears… that somehow, while we’re advancing in so many wonderful ways – science, technology, medicine – in terms of sex, gender and even the arts, there is a sense of marking time or, worse, retreating, as if we’re afraid of what we’re capable of as men, women, children. The apparent rise of a very vocal and conservative right is indicative of this and the power they have to sway political decisions and policy is alarming – and not just in first world countries either. There is also a reversion to a preference for clichéd behaviour and thoughts over originality; stereotypes masquerading as individuality and the rise of the “it’s all about me” phenomena, whether it be the narcissist unable to hold down a relationship, girls insisting on being treated like princesses and boys silly enough to attempt to do that, worrying about what “I” can get out of something instead of working towards a mutual goal… the preparedness to pepper conversations with personal pronouns…. I also worry about the notion that “fame” in and of itself (without accompanying hard work or experience) has become a desirable destination for some people, regardless of the cost; the need to be noticed. I despair that feminism is the new “f” word, that young men and women are viewed by corporations and others as consumers more than they are people and… I better stop Jsounds so pessimistic! But, I also have great hope for the future as well. We are, despite reports to the contrary and even my above observations, kinder towards each other than in the past, crime has dropped, we are able to travel and thus broaden our minds, and we’re able to debate ideas and concepts freely – at least here in Australia…. We are also critical consumers of everything, really. I just wish we’d do more of all of that. I wish we’d tolerate or at least respect difference and not be so fearful of it (I am thinking very much of gay marriage and refugees, but there are so many other issues at stake with people at the heart – I think we forget that, our humanity sometimes). Also, young people are more engaged with the world, each other and socially conscious – aware of social justice – than any generation previously. I meet some utterly fabulous young people and older ones too and, though I can despair, these people collectively give me great hope for the future.
Q: In your book Consuming Innocence you cover ‘… the complex relationship parents, teachers and children have with popular culture – that is, advertising, sexiness, TV, computers, films, mobile phones and fashion.’ This was published in 2008 so I’m assuming it was written in 2006- 2007. Twitter didn’t exist then and not everyone was blogging, madly revealing their private fears and foibles to the world. Have you been approached to update the book for a new edition?
Simple answer – no. Everything in the book except the technology chapter (which was out of date the moment it was written for all the astute reasons you point out above) is still relevant today. Saying that, I could easily update it and include new research. I try to stay on top of things but there is so much out there. I worry it becomes like white noise. That’s why it is important to filter and distil it down to its significant essence, which is what my book tries to do.
Q: I found out Sara Douglass was ill about three weeks before she died, when I approached her for an interview for this blog. Unfortunately, the interview was more than she could manage and I was very sorry to have missed the opportunity. Sara and I had met several times over the last ten years. But you were a close friend and wrote a lovely piece, ‘Sara Douglass Remembered’ on the Voyager blog, and you gave Sara’s acceptance speech for the Norma K Hemming Award. Recently, my husband and I were trying to trace an old friend and finally ran him down via the web only to discover he’d died a couple of years ago of aids. Because of the web, people have a web-ghost who lives on after them in profiles, interviews etc, where friends and those who have just discovered their work (if they are creatives) can go and discuss their books and their lives. Have you written about the roll-on effects of web-ghosts in your field of Media Studies?
No. But I should. Before Sara died, I thought it a bit macabre to upload messages to a dead person’s site – especially from those who don’t know the person. It happens often when there’s a tragedy – a young person dying, a soldier in Afghanistan – so many people feel compelled to write something or give flowers or express their grief for someone who’s ostensibly a stranger. I understood their family and friends needing to reach out, express themselves, their pain, but not those who bore no relationship to them. I have subsequently, since Sara died, changed my mind. I have found her FaceBook page oddly reassuring, a comfort – it’s a “living” cyber-memorial even though she has died – not just for myself, but for all those whose lives she touched in some way. I have administrative control over Sara’s FaceBook page (something she granted me while still alive). When she died, I first wanted nothing to do with it (it was too painful). I posted news of her death and some updates, but had to walk away. But now, I find great comfort and delight, not only in reading posts from her fans and friends as they interact about her, her books and the joy her stories have brought and still bring, but relish her lingering presence as well. I wonder if others who have lost someone close feel the same way? But yes, by trawling through the old updates and interviews etc you do manage to get a strong sense of the person and they live on in digital form. Now I am grateful for that.
I love the idea of web-ghosts, Rowena! Thank you. And I will definitely write about it.
Q: Following on from that, I’m fascinated by creativity, where it comes from, the function it serves society. In an article on New Scientist I read that people who considered themselves creative, whether they were sewing, gardening or writing/composing/painting, the same areas of their brains light up when doing these activities. As someone who is both creative and an academic, what is your take on creativity?
I find that creativity can take all forms. For me, being academic – whether it’s researching an article or paper for a conference or for publication in a journal is creative as well. So often, “creative” is simply regarded as something that can only happen within the broad realm of the “arts” – with fiction writers, artists, musicians, gardeners etc. yet, creativity is much broader than that and makes an enormous contribution to society. Architects, scientists, historians, technologians, mathematicians, they’re all equally creative. If they weren’t, we wouldn’t have half the amazing inventions and ideas that we do – Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, just like Steven Spielberg, Dr Ian Fraser, or JK Rowling, are incredibly creative and innovative.
I do approach writing fiction and non-fiction differently in that I labour over the language more with fiction, with making sure the words are just right (the options are much greater). With academic jargon, academic writing, because you are contributing to knowledge culture and joining an ongoing dialogue with ideas that can be tested and often proven, you have to be precise, so it limits your choices, and it doesn’t do you any favours to be ambiguous whereas in fiction, you can be playful and work double and more meanings into your prose.
Q: In your 2012 Snapshot Interview you say ‘… I am working on two adult novels: one a contemporary and historical fantasy (it shifts time and place) that involves witchcraft, but not as we think we know it (and yes, it is thoroughly researched ☺) and, another historical fiction with not so much fantasy, but more magic realism and then only a little, that’s set in England and Flanders in the 1400s.’ These sound like fascinating projects. When can we hope to see them?
Ahhhh… I don’t know, Rowena. I have shelved the witchcraft one for the moment and am working on the other and loving it. I am only a short way into it and am not going to rush it, but I do hope to have it finished by the end of the year. Will it see the publishing light of day? I certainly hope so.
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?
Wow – what a powerful and potentially divisive question – this could get me into trouble! I was discussing this with another writer the other day in regards to George R R Martin. She felt that he was very masculine in his style and that it was distinctive from, say, yours, mine or hers or someone like Anne McCaffrey’s. Certainly, Martin is attracting a great deal of attention with the magnificent HBO TV series based on his series, and I do love his written work – a big fan – but is his style different because he’s a man? Maybe? Does it make it better? Worse? Neither – that’s nothing to do with sex, but about the quality of the writing and story. If there is a difference between the way men and women write (and I would suggest there has to be at least a small one – eg. a woman writer can get in a woman’s head better and vice-a-versa – not that we can’t get inside the mind of the opposite sex, it’s just the same sex can do it more accurately more often. This might lead to male writers featuring main characters that are men and women writers, females more often, but, of course, the opposite happens and very well too), then it might be to do with point of view – the predominant one. But I don’t think the differences are as big as some might like to find. I am re-reading Sara Douglass at the moment and I feel she writes in a very direct, assertive way that drags you straight into the action and shocks you but also has such emotional depth. Like Martin, she doesn’t hesitate to sacrifice character for the sake of the story but he also manages to manipulate your emotions and make you care deeply. I have read other female and male fantasy writers who, from my perspective, do the same thing. They do the most wonderful job of crafting character and place – their work simply oozes personality and verisimilitude and you long to lose yourself in that space over and over. Juliet Marilliier, Jacqueline Carey, Kim Wilkins, Cory Daniells, JK Rowling, and many more, have this uncanny knack of creating simply wonderful worlds that leave you breathless and pluck at your emotions but they can also do epic or dark, or brutal too. But then, I have found the same with some male writers – examples off the top of my head are Hugh Howey, CS Lewis, Terry Brooks, Ian Irvine, Richard Harland, Antony Eaton, (no relation) and so many more.
I do think male fantasy writers get more of a particular kind of attention (despite the incredible success of Rowling and Stephanie Meyer and others), so that folk tend to sit up and take more notice of them and that gives the impression of and contributes to the “boy’s club” notion. But, stylistically, I think if you took names off covers and gave a reader a few different authors’ works to read, it would be hard to tell the sex. Again, there are exceptions – some authors have a distinctive style, which is little do with their sex as writers – Stephen King for example, you can pick his work, likewise, Robin Hobb.
So, I guess my simple answer NOT, is yes and no!!!
No. 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?
OK… I always thought I wanted to go back – you know, to ancient Greece, or Rome or Elizabethan England… but no. I want to travel into the future – at least two hundred years from now. Australia will do. I want to see if we learn the lessons of today tomorrow – I want to see what state the environment’s in, what’s our attitude to people from other cultures, is gay marriage just taken for granted in that time? Has the word “gay” disappeared from our vocabulary and we are all just humans with a sexuality? I would love to talk to people and see if their hopes and dreams are like ours now. I want to know what they think of us – how they reflect on the history we’re creating today. Do they think we’re an embarrassing blip on the history radar with our love of celebrities, Reality TV, our need to consume, or are they proud of our legacy in other ways? That we instigated changes to the way we respect the environment, that we were concerned about tolerance and acceptance, about health and ageing? How are children treated in the future? Old people? Refugees? Do they even exist? I also want to see who and what they worship (secular?) and if they’re still showing reruns of The Simpsons on what passes for TV.
If you could travel anywhere in time or space, where would you want to go, who would you most want to meet and why?
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Today I’m interviewing the Intrepid Team who brings you Galactic Suburbia. Fresh from the Aurealis Award win for contributing to Speculative Fiction, and hot on the heels of a Hugo nomination, we’re going to range wide and far, from motherhood, deadlines, to goals and gender.
Q: First of all Congratulations on the Aurealis Award Win! The Peter McNamara Convenor’s Award for Excellence (named after Peter McNamara who was the original Aurealis Awards convenor as well as an Indie Press editor and publisher). This award celebrates work in any medium that brings credit to the field of Speculative Fiction. This must have been a buzz to win. Did some of you go to the awards night?
TANSY: it was very exciting to win it, and to hear such lovely things said about Galactic Suburbia and its effect on the community over the last few years. We all went along except Finchy who was on parenting duty back home – but it was lovely for Alex, Alisa and I to be able to celebrate together on the night.
ALEX: it was my first Aurealis Awards night and very exciting to attend. The ceremony itself was really well constructed and it was a lot of fun being there to watch people get well-deserved awards… and a lot of fun to hang out with them after as well. Getting the award was a bit surreal, since it’s a fairly big deal and to think that the conveners thought us talking to each other was worth it is amazing.
ALISA: I was really excited to attend a Sydney Aurealis Awards night and it was a lot of fun. I’m constantly blown away by the way Galactic Suburbia has been received.
Q: I now hearGalactic Suburbia has been nominated for a Hugo! (Best FanCast) Do you have any idea of the number of people who are listening to what you have to say? And does it make you feel nervous?
FINCHY: We appear to be averaging just over fourteen hundred downloads per month from our episode list with around three hundred subscribers based mainly in Australia, US, UK and Canada as well as a handful in other countries such as Sweden, Belgium and the Philippines.
ALISA: I have to admit that I try not to think too much about how many people are listening. I think that the podcast works because of the synergy between three good friends just having a conversation and so I try not to get too self conscious about it. Course, there’s no avoiding that when we record live episodes in front of an audience! Which is actually a lot of fun.
ALEX: live episodes are heaps of fun! … except when they’re too early in the morning. I admit that I like looking at the number of hits our website gets, but it doesn’t translate in my head into ‘these people actually LISTEN.’ Being nominated for the Hugo is a totally mind-blowing thing – an award that non-community people have heard of!
TANSY: What is lovely is that so many of the people who do listen to our podcast either tweet or email us, sharing their experiences and joining the conversation. I can never quite wrap my head around ‘400 people listened to that episode’ but once you get it down to about ‘5-10 people talked to us about that episode’ it feels more manageable! We can sometimes see the influence we’ve had as books/ideas we recommend or suggest get picked up by other people with their own blogs or podcasts or communities around them, which is very exciting.
Q: On the Galactic Suburbia About page you have a description of yourselves, Alex the Reviewer and Teacher, Tansy the Fantasy Writer and Mum, Alisa the Indie Publisher and Engineer. (And we should include Finchy in there as the Silent Producer). But you don’t tell us what prompted you to start Galactic Suburbia. I’m guessing you all knew each other before this. Did you have Mission Statement? To Boldly Go Where No Other Podcast Had Gone?
ALISA: We started Galactic Suburbia for a bunch of reasons. Something that the three of us are really passionate about is offering diversity of opinions and voice in the genre and we were very conscious that most of the podcasts at the time featured mostly male voices. When our favourite podcast – Starship Sofanauts – finished, we were so sad to be losing the show that we genuinely thought about picking up the gauntlet. We realised though, much as we loved the format of the show, three women on a podcast would really be a different, and our own show. So we decided to launch Galactic Suburbia – vaguely based on the Sofanauts (an emphasis on news and views on current sf publishing) but with our own, feminist, twist.
ALEX: I wanted the excuse to chat with friends that I’m lucky to see once a year. Email is nice and all, but all talking at the same time is on an entirely different level of interaction. Other than that, what Alisa said.
TANSY: We also wanted to give the Australian perspective on publishing, science fiction, etc. So often it’s the US (and to a lesser extent UK) voices which dominate the discussion, no matter what the medium. We ended up with a great deal of happy accidents that weren’t originally planned – such as how much easier it is to have a discussion about crunchy feminist issues when people aren’t leaping into your comments thread to derail you!
Also I have to say the reviewing aspect pleases me a great deal – since my second daughter came along I have so little time for reading and even less for reviewing, which saddens me because I’m well aware of how important it is to have non-US female reviewers adding their voices to the discussion. With Galactic Suburbia I have incentive to finish a book or two each fortnight, and to say something about it without having to write anything down!
Q: Can you give us a rundown on how you come up with the premise for an episode and then the mechanics of how you record it? Has this changed over time?
ALEX: When we started out, we had a three-part strategy: news first, then ‘Culture consumed’, then a ‘Pet subject.’ We quickly realised that we needed to include feedback, too, because we were actually getting some and it was nice to discuss it! While we enjoyed doing the pet subject, there were times when we couldn’t easily think of something crunchy enough to talk about… and then we discovered that we were in serious danger of going over two hours. Eventually we experimented with dropping the pet subject and giving ourselves a bit more time on the news etc; given that we do occasionally still threaten the two-hour mark, it’s probably been a good move!
TANSY: Recording wise, we all hop on to Skype. Finchy presses the buttons (I’ll let him give more specifics) and we talk straight through, barring accidents of the internet, from beginning to end. We have show notes up ahead of time in a shared Google Doc, which gives us the links to talk about in our news segment (we’ve all added to this doc in the weeks leading up to the episode), and a loose order of points of discussion, plus the works listed we’re going to review in our ‘Culture Consumed’ section. We take turns to moderate episodes, so we share the burden of trying to keep it all on track and saying things like ‘and what have you been reading, Alex.’ Then the other two hop off Skype and go have dinner/go to bed while I tidy up the Show Notes, Finchy does the editing, and ‘casts’ the episode into the internet.
FINCHY: We use Audio Hijack Pro to capture the audio from Skype for all three presenters simultaneously, after spending a little bit of time checking their relative levels. I edit in Garageband (mostly to eliminate technical glitches such as Skype dropping out) and export the compressed MP3 which is uploaded to Podbean using Cyberduck. Content editing is rare as the presenters are amazingly fluent and we like to have the feel of a natural conversation.
ALISA: The recording through unless internet accidents has added a very real “suburban” feel to our show. Listeners have positively commented on the sound of babies and barking puppies in the background. I like the idea of it sounding like the three of us sitting round a kitchen table, having a cup of tea, and life going on around us.
Q: You all have work, some have families, Alisa is running Twelfth Planet Press (and getting married this year – TR) . Like you I have work, family and deadlines. I feel like I’m running top speed just to stop from going backwards. Women can have it all, but is it worth it?
ALISA: I think women can have it all, just maybe not all at once. Is it worth it? Hell yes.
Sometimes I dream about just coming home from my day job and doing … actually, I have no idea what people without commitments do? But not often. I enjoy running my press and working with outstanding, creative people, and the intellectual challenge of it all. I enjoy the process just as much as I appreciate the rewards of my labours. I do worry about how I will fit a family in with it all and am starting to lay the preparation ground work for that now.
ALEX: I think it’s ‘all’ available, and I hope that we’re at the point where, if I don’t want to, I don’t HAVE to want it all. But I can help those of my friends who have bigger ambitions (Alisa…).
TANSY: People ask how I get it all done – how I write and balance my family responsibilities, kids, etc. “How do you do so much” It sometimes feels a bit like a veiled attack – “how do YOU do it when *I* don’t, what makes you so special?” But it comes down to priorities. You make time for writing, or fanzine editing, or convention running, or reviewing, or small press publishing, or whatever, if it’s important to you. If you love it enough. And yes, I have ambitions, mostly revolving around trying to earn a living in my field, but I don’t feel the need to have it all. Where would I put it?
I think it’s a worry how easily the idea that ‘women can have it all’ has shifted to ‘women should have it all, and if they’re not achieving perfection across every aspect of life, they should feel bad about themselves.’ I’m not a perfect mother, partner, writer, feminist or podcaster, but I’m pretty happy with my life. Galactic Suburbia gives us so much personal satisfaction right now, but I hope that if it ever becomes a chore or something to trudge through, my fellow podcasters would ditch it in a hot second and run off to find whatever else they need to make them happy. If it’s not fun, what’s the point?
ALISA: I agree – I think it’s not, how DO you fit it all in but rather how much do you want it? And which bits do you really want? Because I most definitely cut corners in my life, mostly with the boring chores, to do the things I really want.
Q: You are all in your thirties and you’re all well educated, Engineer (Alisa), Classics Phd (Tansy), History Masters and Teaching (Alex). You’ve talked about gender from the Tiptree Awards, how comics portray females and Celebrating Joanna Russ. As someone who works with young women in their twenties I’ve come across the feeling that the feminist movement is old hat and a bit of an embarrassment. How far have we come? How much farther do we need to go?
TANSY: I think that anyone who thinks feminism isn’t necessary isn’t looking at the world right now. It’s never been more relevant to the lives of young women. There are so many battles still to fight – in politics, in bodily autonomy, in law reform, in workplace equality. And yes, in publishing and science fiction too. Then there’s the challenge of intersectionality, of making sure that feminists are not trampling on the rights of others to get what they need, and that we remember that racism, homophobia and ableism are rife in our communities.
Like knitting and crochet, I like to think that feminism is coming back into vogue among the young. And books matter, just like the representation of gender in all cultural products matters – it’s how we shape ourselves as a society. Women are constantly in danger of the backlash, of being told it’s time to sit down and shut up because the men are talking. And while sexism is often (but not always) more subtle and insidious than in previous decades, it’s still with us.
Nothing makes us happier than hearing from our male listeners about how they have become readers of and advocates for women’s work because of Galactic Suburbia. Though it’s also pretty fabulous when we hear from women who have also changed their way of thinking towards feminism, the work of other women, and gender issues in general, because of us. We’re not gurus or experts in gender theory and we’re certainly not perfect feminists – we’re just showing our work as we make our own imperfect journeys forward in figuring things out for ourselves, and it’s lovely how many people want to come along for the ride.
ALISA: It makes me sad when I talk over feminism with my mum and realise that we haven’t really come anywhere near as far as maybe we should have for the time frame. On the other hand, I know so many men who have their head around the issues and are not only walking the talk, they’re active advocates. Is feminism old hat? I don’t think so. Does it need to constantly be reviewed and updated, I think yes. I think one problem is that the really overt aspects of sexism have been addressed, and hopefully mostly improved. Like you can’t not hire or promote me just because I’m getting married later this year and probably will want to start a family soon. But the battle now is to bring to light the subtle, subconscious and culturally condititioned aspects of sexism. This battle in some ways is a much harder one but at the same time, I think it’s deeply fascinating. Certainly the most positive interactions I’ve had with Galactic Suburbia is when someone has thought about something we’ve discussed and then gone away to look at their own actions, found them wanting AND then done something about that – like actively reading and talking about female writers and their work.
Alex: … all of that.
Q: Where do you see Galactic Suburbia going in the future?
ALEX: Wiscon… 😀
TANSY: WISCON OR BUST!
ALISA: I’m with them!
Q: Individually, what would you like to achieve in the next year and in the next 5 years?
ALEX: I just want to read a lot of really good books. And talk about them.
TANSY: I want to *write* a lot of really good books. Selling some wouldn’t hurt either. I want to earn a living at this writing thing and that means getting my ambition into gear. So glad I have good friends to keep me sane along the way.
ALISA: I want to *publish* a lot of really good books. I’m looking forward to completing the Twelve Planets series, launching our new crime imprint Deadlines, and releasing our first novel. In the next 5 years? I probably want it all 🙂
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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!
This was an intense week. We read 5 manuscripts beforehand and wrote reports then spent a morning, or an afternoon, on each ms. It reminded me why I love writing – sitting around, getting excited with my fellow writers about plotting, foreshadowing, characterisation, blending back story and of course … talking about the industry.
I had a bit of a problem with the room. The ceiling was at an angle, the chimney fireplace ran at two different angles and then there were the horizontals and the verticals… the angle of one of the chimney sides was at war with all the other angles in the room. It got so I couldn’t look in that direction. The others thought this was hilarious, but it really bothered me. Confession … writers can be a little neurotic. (I can’t find a photo of the wall in question that shows the ceiling and the chimney. You will have to take my word for it).
The guys did a brilliant job of critiquing all the manuscripts. I’m not allowed to say much about the books because we don’t want to jinx them.
Maxine attended virtually by skype and this worked surprisingly well. Her book is on its second draft and it was really interesting to see how she had incorporated the feedback from the last ROR. (Come on Maxine – get that book finished. I’m dying to read the ending!). Richard put in his usual quirky polished manuscript.
Dirk provided us with amazing cooking while giving excellent insights into our books. Somehow he managed to pull enough of a manuscript together despite life getting in the way, for us to get swept away by his project. Tansy has a follow up to her highly successful novella bubbling in the writing pot. Margo brought a new project along that was in a raw state deliberately to sound us out. This was really interesting and we had a terrific time brain storming. The guys were great with my book. They helped me realise the difference between book one of a new trilogy and book four of a series. Obvious once you say it, but really hard to see when you are neck deep in manuscript.
On the Thursday evening we drove into Hobart for the launch of Tansy’s Reign of Beasts and Margo’s Sea Hearts. (More on the launch). This was held at the Hobart Bookshop in Salamanca Square. Waves to Chris and Janet! (Here’s Margo being interviewed about Sea Hearts. The original novella won a World Best Fantasy Award). Book one of Tansy’s Creature Court trilogy won the Aurealis Award for fantasy.
There was a terrific turn out for the launch. I want to thank some of the ROR blog followers and the Twitter Team for turning up to wave the flag.
And while all this was going on I spent every spare moment chained to my lap top madly working on the rewrites for Solaris. Serious Brain Overload!!!
So, to help me and everyone else calm down, here are some photos from Steeles Island.
'fast paced, full of action and intrigue'
‘Royal intrigue, court politics and outlawed magic make for an exciting adventure.’
GAIL Z MARTIN, author of The Chronicles of the Necromancer series.
'A fabulous, rollicking, High Fantasy adventure that will keep you up at night, desperate to find out what happens next.'