Getting published … a blog series

the darkness withinNicole Murphy (also writing as Elizabeth Dunk) is running a series of posts at her blog about how writers were first published. It’s yet another reminder of how diverse the routes to getting that first book out are, and how varied are the reasons that people want to get published.

One of the bumps in the road my first novel, The Darkness Within, suffered was a switch of editors between the structural and the copy edit. I enjoyed working with Dmetri, found his advice and feedback highly useful, and would’ve liked to have seen the project through with him. I’m chuffed to be working with him again on my next novel, The Big Smoke, coming out mid next year. It’s also worth noting Dmetri is running a workshop on horror writing later this month for Writers Victoria, encompassing general techniques as well as the peculiarities of the genre.

You can read more about The Darkness Within‘s detours, as Nicole so nicely puts it, at her blog.

But wait, there’s more Snapshot 2014: Kyla Lee Ward

Kyla Lee WardKYLA LEE WARD is a Sydney-based creative who works in many modes. Her latest release is The Land of Bad Dreams, a collection of dark and fantastic poetry. Her novel Prismatic (co-authored as Edwina Grey) won an Aurealis Award for Best Horror. Her short fiction has appeared in Ticonderoga Online, Shadowed Realms, Gothic.net and in The New Hero and Schemers anthologies, amongst others. Her work on RPGs including Buffy the Vampire Slayer saw her appear as a guest at the inaugural Gencon Australia. Her short film, ‘Bad Reception’, screened at the Third International Vampire Film Festival and she was a member of the Theatre of Blood repertory company, which also produced her work. In addition, she programmed the horror stream for the 2010 Worldcon. A practising occultist, she likes raptors, swordplay and the Hellfire Club. To see some very strange things, try www.tabula-rasa.info

 
1. You’ve recently had a poem published in a new journal, Spectral Realms (amongst others), and have been reading at live events. How is the market for poetry from the dark side?

Market? No one is actually buying poetry, from any side. It’s been squeezed out by the current attitude that paying for any kind of creative work is an imposition, especially online. Stephen King comments specifically on this loss to poetry in Doctor Sleep. I even heard that Les Murray, whom I studied at school (and incidentally, such works as ‘A Victorian Hangman Tells His Love’ are very dark indeed) was having trouble finding a publisher for his most recent collection, and he’s a Living National Treasure. Which reveals that poetry is still being written. I have always found poetry to be something you have to write, if you had any choice in the matter, you would obviously do something else. Poetry is being written, and if you swing by the websites of the Pedestal Magazine or Abyss & Apex, you may read some excellent freestyle verse. Jenny Blackford‘s superb ‘Their Cold Eyes Pierced My Skin’ first appeared in Pedestal #74. If your taste is more formal, I can only recommend that you snare a copy of that excellent new journal from Hippocampus Press. Issue #1 features Leigh Blackmore, Margi Curtis, Danny Lovecraft and David Schembri, as well as myself.

One of the few potential advantages of poetry in the current climate is that poetry can be a performance art. I have performed at conventions, and at the Masked Bard’s Ball thrown by the North Sydney Live Poets Society. I’ve been investigating other potential venues, such as libraries and the more outré cabarets around town, so we shall see.
land of broken dreams by kyla ward
 
2. Your work in progress (The Castle), which I believe has just had ‘the end’ written on the first draft, fancies a castle in Australia – something that a few people have actually built over the years. How are you using your fictional castle in the Australian setting?

Ruthlessly. People have been seeing castles in Australia for a long time – First Fleeter Daniel Southwall diarised his impression of ‘… superb buildings, the grand ruins of stately edifices …’ in the cliffs of Port Jackson. But castles, as natural historical products, don’t belong here and by implication, neither do all the things that go with them, like chivalry and feudalism, and a certain attitude towards your neighbours. To really bring a castle into an Australian setting, a lot of other things have to change and some of these changes are wonderful, others dreadful. I See The Castle is about this effort of imagination and its consequences. But being contemporary urban fantasy, it also about discovering that people you know are actually hideous monsters or possessed of inhuman powers, setting swords and spells against guns and cars, and a soupçon of ill-advised romance.

 
3. Your story ‘Who Looks Back?’ opens the Shotguns vs Cthulhu anthology from Stone Skin Press (2013). Why is it, do you think, that Lovecraft’s world continues to have its tentacles in writers’ minds?

Because ‘The sciences, each straining in its own direction, have hitherto harmed us little; but some day the piecing together of dissociated knowledge will open up such terrifying vistas of reality, and of our frightful position therein, that we shall either go mad from the revelation or flee from the deadly light into the peace and safety of a new dark age.’ When we shall be required to build castles once again.

Seriously, have you seen Luc Besson’s Lucy? Even with the nostalgia and racism – actually, especially with them – the Old Providence Gent isn’t getting any less relevant. The symbols he provided us are only growing more potent. This is worrisome.

 
4. What Australian works have you loved recently?

I adored Anna Tambour’s otherwise indescribable novel Crandolin. Fantasy? Travelogue? Recipe Book? If the latter, is it a recipe for Crammed Amphisbaena, cabbage soup, or LIFE? Only you can decide! I also enjoyed Walking Shadows, the sequel to Narrelle M Harris’s The Opposite of Life. Her unique take on vampirism and the incredible characters she draws from it go up to 11 here. And while we’re on the subject, Kim Wilkins‘s ‘Popular genres and the Australian literary community: The case of fantasy fiction’ (Journal of Australian Studies, Vol 32 #2, 2008) is very fine indeed.

 
5. Have recent changes in the publishing industry influenced the way you work? What do you think you will be publishing/writing/reading in five years from now?

The changes have not affected the way I work, just my daydreams about where that work will end up. Having a novel downloadable for $3 from a website just doesn’t have the same gloss as copies on a shelf in a flagship book shop. But perhaps that’s just me, sitting in my castle and preparing fresh vellum by the light of tallow candles. It has been interesting of late, having all this work come out in beautifully produced anthologies that are only available overseas. A Twenty-First Century Bestiary will be out soon, and I’m told they’re doing a hardback run. But to the best of my knowledge, no one in Australia stocks Stone Skin Press and this is doubtless part and parcel of the way our book shops are vanishing. Which is part and parcel of the whole payment thing. In short, I don’t know what I’ll be publishing/writing/reading five years from now: I just have sad, sad doubts I will have bought it from a book shop.

Having said this, I do sincerely hope that other people will be reading the novels I’ve just completed, in whatever form becomes the new standard of professional publication.

 
2014 aussie spec fiction snapshot

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THIS interview was conducted as part of the 2014 Snapshot of Australian speculative fiction. We’re blogging interviews from 28 July to 10 August and archiving them at SF Signal. You can read interviews at:

Snapshot 2014: Mark Webb

mark webbMARK WEBB’s midlife crisis came in the form of attempting to write speculative fiction at a very slow pace. His wife maintains this is a good outcome considering the more expensive and clichéd alternatives. He has had short fiction published at Antipodean SF, Robot and Raygun, and Electric Spec magazines. Evidence of Mark’s attempt to procrastinate in his writing, including general musings and reviews of books he has been reading, can be found at www.markwebb.name and you can connect with him on Twitter at @webb_ma

 
1. You’re part of the Ditmar-winning Galactic Chat team. What are some of the joys and challenges to running a literary podcast?

Working on Galactic Chat has been a fantastic experience. I was very lucky that Sean (Wright) thought of me when he was putting his new team together. I shudder to think of how many people must have turned him down for him to get to me on a list of potential interviewers. Well, boo sucks to them. They missed out on a Ditmar.

I think the thing I love about the podcast the most is how much I’ve learnt from both talking with interviewees and researching to put together questions. We try to talk with people from different parts of the story trade – authors, publishers, editors, agents – anyone who we think could add something to the conversation. And to a person, the people we’ve interviewed have been thoughtful and insightful. Not just trying to sell their latest production, but genuinely interested in the industry we all love to work in and willing to talk about it candidly and intelligently. And there is a great opportunity for someone like me in that. I’m relatively new to the writing game, and I’m constantly amazed at how much thought has been given to issues I’m only just beginning to wrestle with.

galactic chat podcast logoAnother joy associated with the podcast is my fellow Galactic Chat team members. We did a special, group discussion podcast recently and I was just blown away by what a fantastic group of people I’m working with. They are all very inspiring. I’ve learnt a huge amount just watching how they all operate.

And of course, another large part of the joy is that our fearless leader, Sean Wright, does all the heavy lifting of editing and publishing the podcast.

For me, one of the challenges of the podcast is that I’d love the conversations to go on for much longer. I could listen to an interviewee talk for hours, but we do need to keep the podcast to a manageable length. I’ve also been somewhat horrified to listen to myself. Not just the whole ‘I hate the way my voice sounds’ thing – that is just part of the human condition. No, I was deeply disturbed to realised just how often I mutter the word ‘fantastic’ when someone I’m interviewing pauses for breath. I mean seriously. Every single time. I had to edit it out of the last podcast I recorded – couldn’t bear the thought that someone might make a drinking game out of my interview technique. ‘I know, every time he says “fantastic” take a shot.’ That realisation was bloody awful.

I’ve also been grappling with the best way to record. My first interview was with Keith Stevenson. We’re both based in Sydney. I know, I thought, we’ll meet face to face. Record into two microphones. The sound will be much better. Well, that was just patently not true. Background noise was a killer. I’m not sure what I was thinking really. Every time I see Keith I feel like apologising on general principle. As it turns out, Skype is a much cleaner mechanism for recording interviews for someone with my level of investment in recording technology. I envy people who have had the means to acquire things like mixing decks, and seem to have the capability to use them.

(Fantastic)

 
2. I believe you like to draft stories longhand. What’s the advantage in doing that?

Now there is one thing I need to make clear from the start of this answer. I love computers. I studied engineering and science at university. I spent the first half of my career working exclusively in the IT industry. I’ve been fascinated by electronic calculating devices ever since the day my Dad surprised us all by getting us a Commodore 64 as a family Christmas present (we’d been pushing for the older Vic 20 because we didn’t think the budget would stretch to a C64 – ah, the practical mercantile instincts of youth). So when I started writing I just assumed I would draft everything on the computer.

And I tried. Oh, how I tried. But no matter how much I persevered, I struggled to get any momentum in my writing. I would pick over paragraphs trying to get them exactly right, edit and re-edit the same sentence until it fell apart from overuse. And my stories crept forward, making slow progress, never quite finishing.

I tried writing in different locations. I tried getting a new, ultra portable laptop so I could carry it around with me. I made elaborate plans to free up chunks of time to really knuckle down and use my electronic typewriter. It never quite came together.

And then, one day, I was off on a holiday with the family and was cut off from the electronic conveniences of modern life, so I grabbed a notepad and started to write. Before I knew – bam! I’d written more over the course of a few days than I had in months beforehand. And it all came down to one thing. With longhand writing, I seem to be more capable of turning off my inner editor and just going with the flow of writing. Something about the messiness of scribbling erased my neuroses about trying to capture perfection. Analog approximations were less troubling than the pursuit of digital purity. Used the same word too many times in the last paragraph? Who cares. Can’t remember how to spell something? Just flick your pen to create a wobbly line and come back to it. Can’t remember what you called that minor character nine chapters back? Call her Jane, underline it and pick it up in editing. Know the kind of mood your aiming for but can’t think of the perfect, original phrase to capture it? Jot down a cliché as a placeholder.

Suddenly my writing had momentum. To paraphrase one of my daughter’s favourite movies at the moment, I was a vector. I had both direction and velocity. And a few weeks after writing something, I could come back and type it into the computer, giving it a first-pass polish as I went. Replacing those clichés. Finding the right name. Letting red wriggly lines tell me where my spelling had failed me. Using the joy of an online thesaurus to eliminate word repetition.

I’ve read a lot of advice about writing. The main thing I’ve taken away from it all is that the process is intensely personal, and that there may be a difference between the kind of process that logic says should work for you and the kind of process that actually does work for you. I was at GenreCon last year, and listened to a couple of writers talk about how to write when you have a day job and family commitments (both of which I also have). The consensus was that getting up an hour early every day was the way to go. Yes, I thought. You’re freshest first thing in the morning. The family is still asleep so you can write uninterrupted. You can carve out an island of free time that otherwise wouldn’t exist. It made perfect sense. It was logical. It would suit my situation perfectly.

The only problem was that, for me, it was complete bollocks. I couldn’t do it. I press snooze. Five-thirty in the morning is something that happens to other people, not me. So instead of following a process that logic tells me should be perfect for me and my situation, I have set up a system whereby I can’t go to bed until I’ve written something. And that means I do most of my writing after 10.30 at night. When I’m tired. When the day job has drained my creative energy. When I’m often absolutely aching to just go to sleep.

What the hell. Logic is overrated anyway.

 
3. You’ve been getting a few short stories out – one that comes to mind involving ‘backpacking’ kobolds! Is fantasy where it’s at for you and is it something you’d like to write in longer form?

I’ve been a bit all over the place with my genre selection since I started writing. My flash fiction pieces have ranged across science fiction, fantasy and horror. My latest published short story, Showdown (here be kobolds! JN), was a rural-fringe fantasy piece, but the short story before that, Wefting the Warp, was pure science fiction. The novel-length piece I’ve been working on is urban fantasy, and I’ve just starting writing something which is falling fairly directly into the space opera classification. I love reading across the speculative fiction spectrum, and my writing seems to be following the same path.

I recently typed the words ‘THE END’ against my first novel-length work, with great relief. For too long I’d been saying to people that I was two thirds of the way through a bloody awful first draft of a novel. It has been of great comfort to me that I can now say that I am all the way through a bloody awful first draft of a novel. The sense of completion is sublime.

For some reason, writing fantasy, horror and science fiction seem to exercise different parts of the creative bit of my brain. Writing fantasy for a while allows the science fiction ideas to bubble away in the background. And vice versa. I’m not great at horror, but I find writing some (unpublishable) pieces in the background acts as a kind of palate cleanser. So for the time being I will classify myself as a literary dilettante, and flirt my way across the genres with a breathtaking disregard for propriety.

 
4. What Australian works have you loved recently?

At the risk of making my interviewer blush, I loved Blood and Dust by Jason Nahrung and am absolutely hanging out for The Big Smoke to see how the story plays out. I’ve been a fan of Jason’s work since hearing one of his short stories, ‘Smoking, Waiting for the Dawn’ on Keith Stevenson’s Terra Incognita Speculative Fiction podcast a couple of years back. Blood and Dust was a rip snorter of a yarn. Vampires in the Australian outback. Fantastic stuff.

I also really enjoyed Perfections by Kirstyn McDermott last year, and was very pleased to get a copy of the inadvertently limited edition first print run of the book at Continuum this year. Wonderfully unsettling work set in a modern context.

Speaking of Kirstyn, her podcast with Ian Mond, The Writer and the Critic, is one of my favourites and remains on my ‘must listen’ podcast playlist.

I’ve been fascinated by Tansy Rayner Roberts’ online experiment in serial writing, Musketeer Space. Not just for the story, which has been very enjoyable in and of itself, but also for the experience of watching someone push the boundaries of what modern publishing can do.

The Twelve Planets series (now 13) of books from Twelfth Planet Press have been highly entertaining. Choosing a favourite there would be difficult, but I must admit to an inordinate fondness for Bad Power by Deborah Biancotti.

Bloody Waters by Jason Franks had a wonderfully different style to it, which I loved. I would like to see it get more attention, it was a fantastic read.

And look, I know it’s New Zealand in origin, but given Australia hasn’t had any home grown SF TV for a while, I think I’ll sneak in a cheeky plug for The Almighty Johnsons as my pick for recent televisual delight. Norse Gods emigrated to New Zealand. What’s not to love?

 
5. Have recent changes in the publishing industry influenced the way you work? What do you think you will be publishing/writing/reading in five years from now?

I don’t think we’ve seen the end of the step change publishing seems to be going through at the moment. As e-publishing and print on demand technology becomes more sophisticated, more options are going to be available for authors, especially those that already have an audience. I mentioned Tansy Rayner Roberts and her experiment in serialised fiction in one of my other answers. I’ll be interested to see whether this kind of “patronage” model becomes more prevalent for mid list authors with enough of a following to try more experimental pieces of work.

Of course, for a newer writer such as myself, the sheer volume of fiction now available over the internet makes building an audience a challenge. And I think that because of the volume issues inherent in the use of new publishing technology, the role of the gatekeeper is going to become even more important in directing people towards new talent.

Of course, it is still an open question as to whether traditional big publishers will be able to position themselves in that way. I look at the strategies being employed by places like Tor, Angry Robot and Subterranean overseas, and even small press like Twelfth Planet, Ticonderoga and Fablecroft here in Australia, and I can see a trend towards establishing brands which focus on ‘taste setting’. People talk about liking Angry Robot authors. The Twelve Planets series from Twelfth Planet Press reinvigorates a conversation about female authors in the genre. These are the actions of organisations trying not just to publish books, but to create brand loyalty to the publisher themselves, much more so than I remember in the past. I see some of the big publishers starting to reinvigorate their speculative fiction imprints and I wonder if they are trying to create the same branding edge. I’ll be fascinated to see how that plays out.

I’m not sure I can pick any trends in what may be hot in terms of sub-genres or story types. I suspect I’ll just be writing whatever takes my fancy and hoping that I can find people that enjoy the work. I did dabble in a form of self publishing recently, when I wanted to collect my flash fiction pieces together into one place for ease of sending people. And as a result, A Flash in the Pan? was born. But again, without an existing audience an effort like that sinks without a trace.

So, in summary, I’ll probably still be writing via longhand and lurching from project to project without much of a coherent plan, while finding it increasingly difficult to find an audience.

Fantastic.
 
2014 aussie spec fiction snapshot

* * *

THIS is my final interview conducted as part of the 2014 Snapshot of Australian speculative fiction, which concludes today. We’ve been blogging interviews since 28 July and archiving them at SF Signal. You can read the rest of the team’s interviews at:

Snapshot 2014: KJ Bishop

etched city by kj bishopKJ BISHOP writes, sculpts, gardens, and really hates writing bios. Her website is at www.kjbishop.net

 
1. You’ve been living in Thailand for how many years now? Is it having an influence on your artistic practice?

Getting on for nine years. I learnt sculpture here, so a new door has definitely opened. So far I’ve drawn ideas mainly from my own background, though I can see a Thai influence coming in here and there. I have a few ideas for pieces inspired by Thailand, but haven’t got going on them yet!

 
2. Do you find the themes of your fiction showing through in your sculpture? What is that sculpture does for you, that the words do not?

Yeah, I think they do show through. Or they’re just things I’m obsessed with that turn up whether I’m writing or making art. Loneliness, insanity, cheerful stuff like that. Masks. I’ve made a couple of minotaurs and a creepy baby that might look familiar to people who’ve read The Etched City. But I also find that sculpture gives me a visa to a few places I can’t manage to go to with writing. I happily get quite traditional with sculpture. I made a figure of a dancing Pan, playing his pipes – nothing weird or surreal about him. I don’t know how to write about a purely magical otherworld, but it’s been calling to me lately when I sit down with wax.

 
that book your mad ancestor wrote by kj bishop3. Your Aurealis Award-winning collection, That Book Your Mad Ancestor Wrote, shows a breadth of the fantastic, from an Ashamoil scene of Gwynn dealing with the paparazzi, to a take on Beauty and the Beast, to conspiring curtains. Where is your fiction heading? What can we expect to see from you next? Will you have a new sculpture in your pocket at Loncon?

I’ve learned not to jinx writing by talking about it. At the moment I’m not writing much, which isn’t to say I’m not writing at all. Maybe I should just say expect the unexpected? I’ll have some work in the art show at Loncon. My pockets are more likely to contain yucky bits of melted chocolate.

 
4. What Australian works have you loved recently?

Anna Tambour’s Crandolin was one of the most amazingly original books I’ve ever read, and I loved Christian Read’s Black City. (The sequel, Devil City, is out now. Just bought it!)

 
5. Have recent changes in the publishing industry influenced the way you work? What do you think you will be publishing/writing/reading in five years from now?

I chose to self-publish Mad Ancestor through Createspace, and did all the work myself. Would I do it again? I’d certainly consider it, though it was hard yakka, especially doing my own copyediting. I read a lot of dead authors, and expect I’ll still be reading them in five years.
 

2014 aussie spec fiction snapshot

* * *

THIS interview was conducted as part of the 2014 Snapshot of Australian speculative fiction. We’re blogging interviews from 28 July to 10 August and archiving them at SF Signal. You can read interviews at:

Snapshot 2014: Maria Lewis

maria lewisMARIA LEWIS is an authority on film and pop culture. Currently a showbusiness reporter at The Daily Mail Australia, she has also written her debut novel Who’s Afraid? which is represented by the Alex Adsett Literary Agency. She currently hosts Gaggle Of Geeks and TV Talk on 2SER 107.3FM. You can visit her website at marialewis.com.au
 
1. What led you to get involved in pop culture podcasting, and what have you enjoyed most about doing them?

The great thing about podcasting is no matter how specific or weird your niche, there’s always an audience for it. For my co-host Blake Howard and I, we would have these hour-long rambling conversations about new releases that would lead into vintage film comparisons and weird trivia inserts, and it occurred to us one day that we should record it. Pod Save Our Screen is less a movie review show – although we do review weekly releases – and more a pop culture lifestyle podcast, where we talk comics, movies news, share anecdotes about celebrity encounters and relevant interviews. The strange, specific places we go to is what I love about it and it’s the same thing that has seen me fall for Kevin Smith’s Fatman On Batman (a weekly podcast about The Dark Knight) and The Ladyist (where females discuss female centric pop culture). I also love the opportunities we’ve had to do it in a live setting, like when we got to pick the brain of Star Wars and Alien concept artist Ron Cobb – who conveniently lived just around the corner – in front of a packed cinema, which was a dream come true.

 
2. How has your journalism experience affected or influenced your creative work?

It’s influenced every aspect, undoubtedly. Mostly I think being a professional journalist for almost a decade has trained me to be an aggressive researcher (HULK GOOGLE!). An internet search is never sufficient enough and knowing that there are other routes to take – randomly calling professors, hunting down people on social media, face-to-face interviews, going through public records – helps inform my writing in a way that it wouldn’t necessarily if I didn’t come from a press background. Also, I’ve mentioned this before, but it really does make you grow ladyballs and teach you to be fearless in terms of hunting down the story – which is endlessly helpful when trying to construct a world of your own.

 
3. You have an agent shopping around your debut novel, Who’s Afraid?, about werewolves. What is the attraction or theme or shapechangers that attracted you to write this story?

I’ve always been fascinated by werewolves as I grew up in a small town in New Zealand where you were able to see snow-capped mountains from the windows, and my grandfather used to tell me werewolf tales at night when he put me to be. So really it’s his fault I’ve developed this weird obsession. But much as the idea of two identities existing within the same person has fascinated me in the superhero universe with secret identities and pseudonyms, etc.; the darker side of that coin always seemed much more interesting. The idea that someone could exist with a monster inside of them (metaphorical or otherwise) and how they can either learn to embrace or control that is infinitely fascinating to me. It’s Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde syndrome.

 
4. What Australian works have you loved recently?

I have loved Michael Adams‘ young adult series (The Last Girl) even though I’m technically too old to be in the target market (don’t judge me). It’s one of the rare high-concept stories that I’ve read which is actually set in Australia, the last probably being the Tomorrow, When The War Began series (by John Marsden). He’s a brilliant writer and has a great female voice. I loved his first book Showgirls, Teen Wolves And Astro Zombies: One Man’s Quest To Find The Worst Film Ever Made and it’s interesting to see the transition from his non-fiction work to something like The Last Girl and The Last Shot.

 
5. Have recent changes in the publishing industry influenced the way you work? What do you think you will be publishing/writing/reading in five years from now?

Not for me personally. There seems to be a strong need from publishers to constantly tell you that ‘it’s all about E and not about P’ which although I think there has been a significant growth in e-publishing, print will ever be defunct. I also don’t understand this obsession with one or the other. Like the girl in the Old El Paso add says, why not both? I still buy books, I still love the feel of a book in my hand and building a personal library, but there’s a beauty to the convenience of an e-reader that can’t be beat. It doesn’t bother me whether people are turning the page or an ‘on’ switch, as long as people are still reading stories, still engaging in make-believe, I don’t care how they do it.

In five years… what will I be reading? I’m a genre loyalist, and I have always grown up on and read horror, fantasy and urban fantasy titles. I don’t see my love of that changing anytime soon. In the same way Game of Thrones and The Hunger Games have brought a lot of first-time genre readers into the equation, I’ve been reading a lot more crime purely thanks to novels like Gone Girl and Jeffrey Deaver’s return with The Skin Collector drawing me in. I’m not a genre snob, I just trot over to wherever there’s a tale that intrigues me: whether that’s Pride and Prejudice or Pride, Prejudice and Zombies.

 
2014 aussie spec fiction snapshot

* * *

THIS interview was conducted as part of the 2014 Snapshot of Australian speculative fiction. We’re blogging interviews from 28 July to 10 August and archiving them at SF Signal. You can read interviews at:

Snapshot 2014: Ian Irvine

ian irvineIAN IRVINE, a marine scientist who has developed some of Australia’s national guidelines for protection of the marine environment, has also written 30 novels. These include the bestselling Three Worlds fantasy sequence (The View from the Mirror, The Well of Echoes and Song of the Tears), which has sold over a million copies, a trilogy of eco-thrillers set in a world undergoing catastrophic climate change, and 12 novels for younger readers. Ian’s latest fantasy novel is Justice, Book 3 of The Tainted Realm trilogy. He is currently writing the long-awaited sequel to The View from the Mirror. Find out more at www.ian-irvine.com and on Facebook.

 

1. You’ve been self-publishing some of your back catalogue. What have been the challenges and rewards of that?

The challenges:

It’s relatively easy to publish an e-book, but it takes a fair bit of work to make it look good on the full range of reading devices – various kinds of computers, Kindles, iPads, other tablets, other e-readers, and smart phones. To self-publish successfully requires a considerable investment in time to learn how the system works, including book formatting, graphics, cover design, tax issues, uploading issues, marketing and promotion. I’d put it at a couple of hundred hours, all up.

For instance, I took the final Microsoft Word files for my backlist, stripped the formatting out in a text editor then reformatted each book from scratch. This took several hours for each book (and I did 15 books). You don’t have to do this, but it’s strongly recommended, otherwise hidden formatting codes in your book may cause it to look terrible on some e-readers.

Some of the rewards:

• I’ve made available a number of my children’s books that were hard to find in some markets, or out of print.

• I’ve enjoyed the process and learned a lot.

• I’ve had the opportunity to correct and update some of my books.

• I can give away e-books whenever I want for promotional purposes or in competitions.

• I can price my books in any way I want, and change the price at need to encourage sales.

• Even though I’ve done virtually no promotion of my e-books so far, I’m earning five times as much from them as when they were published by my previous publisher.

 
2. What have been the challenges in going back to write a sequel (indeed, a new trilogy) to The View From the Mirror quartet, some 15 years later?

shadow of the glass by ian irvineThe View from the Mirror quartet, which I began in 1987 and was first published in 1998-1999, is my biggest selling series and begins my 11-volume Three Worlds epic fantasy sequence. The quartet is a greatly loved work – at conventions people constantly come up to me with battered old copies they’ve read many times, and tell me how they grew up reading the sequence.

I wrote the quartet in an elevated, high fantasy style, but with each succeeding series my style has changed, especially when writing kids’ books, or thrillers. These days I write in a much simpler style, so should I go back to my old style, or not? I’m not sure I can write in that style any more, or want to.

The greatest challenge, though, is that very few sequels are as good as the original. I’m putting everything into this one, trying to make it as good as The View from the Mirror, if not better. But even if it is better, it may not seem so to people who were profoundly influenced by the original when they were young.

 
3. You get to travel to some interesting places as part of your marine science work – most recently the seemingly unlikely marine destination of Mongolia. How has that travel informed your work?

My scientific work is mainly in the marine environment (I’m an expert on contaminated sediments) but I’ve also done a lot of work on contaminated industrial sites, and on river sediments. The Mongolia job has to do with river sediments.

Over the past 30-odd years I’ve worked in more than a dozen countries, and it’s fantastic for recharging the batteries, and for the exposure to new landscapes, cultures, histories, political systems, and ordinary and extraordinary people. I rarely use any of this directly in a book, but it all goes into the melting pot and helps when I’m creating new characters, settings and conflicts.

At the moment I’m reading a book on Mongolian shamanism, which is still important there. It may well influence a character I create sometime in the future.

 
4. What Australian works have you loved recently?

I haven’t read much spec fic lately, to be honest – I find it difficult to read it when I’m writing it. However I picked up a copy of Scott Baker’s The Rule of Knowledge at Supanova in Sydney recently, and boy, if you like furious-paced, bloodthirsty, all-action time-travelling thrillers, this book is for you. It’s like Matthew Reilly on steroids.

 
5. Have recent changes in the publishing industry influenced the way you work? What do you think you will be publishing/writing/reading in five years from now?

A couple of years back I decided to simplify my life – I’d been writing one huge epic fantasy novel plus one or more kids’ books or other novels every year for a decade, and I was fed up with being totally overcommitted. I’m now focusing on fantasy and I’m just writing one book a year, plus one or two related novellas or shorter stories.

In five years time, I hope I’ll still be writing epic fantasy and publishing it with Orbit Books, my publisher since 1999. I expect I’ll be self-publishing those books whose rights have reverted, and possibly one or two anthologies of novellas or short stories, since big publishers aren’t much interested in them. But the industry is changing very rapidly and I don’t think anyone can predict what publishing will be like in the future.

However one thing is certain – since e-books never go out of print, the number of titles available for sale will keep increasing at a rapid rate, and hence the competition for sales and attention. And the law of supply and demand says that the price of books can only decrease. Challenging times.

Reading? Hopefully, some of the thousand or so books I’ve bought in the past few years that I haven’t managed to read yet.

 

2014 aussie spec fiction snapshot

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THIS interview was conducted as part of the 2014 Snapshot of Australian speculative fiction. We’re blogging interviews from 28 July to 10 August and archiving them at SF Signal. You can read interviews at: