Snapshot 2012: Scott Robinson

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QUEENSLAND writer Scott Robinson grew up reading and writing science fiction and fantasy — he was writing ‘novels’ when he was 10 years old. “It was never short stories, strangely enough,” he says, “but at 13 was sure I was going to make my living as a poet when I had poems published in Quadrant. Twenty-five years later, and I’ve barely made a couple of weeks’ worth of wages from any sort of writing at all.”

Last year, he made one of his books available for free as an e-book and has since self-published four on Amazon — the first three books of Tribes of the Hakahei (The Space Between, Singing Other World and When the Times Comes), as well as a stand alone crystal-punk fantasy call The Brightest Light. The final book in the Hakahei series, A Different Kind of Heaven, is pending.

Scott lives with his pregnant wife and two children. His website is www.scottjrobinson.com.


What have been the joys and sorrows of the self-publishing route?
Joys: my books is out there in the world for people to read. I’ve had some great feedback from readers and really can’t get enough. The sorrows: not as many people are reading them as I would like.

Marketing has always been a problem for self-published authors, but these days I have to be compete against the good stuff out there as well as fighting the negative image created by the ‘writers’ who decided to knock up a book over the weekend and make their fortune. At least in the old days, the wife or husband or other keeper of the funds was something of a gatekeeper. Now, it takes no time or money as all to publish a book. Apparently, for some, it doesn’t take any effort, either. So, I just keep hoping for some word of mouth to kick in (The Brightest Light got a great review on Amazon the other day) while I work on the next book.

Some varmint tried to purloin your free book through Amazon. How did you handle that and has it affected the way you look at e-publishing?
My first port of call in that instance was an email to Amazon. I received an auto reply saying someone would contact me in three working days. When that didn’t happen ,I sent another email. Eventually, after a week or two, I initiated a live chat with Amazon customer service (or someone like that) and spoke to them. The book was taken down a couple of days later.

I don’t think it changed my view on self-publishing. I actually brought forward my move to Kindle because of that. Piracy is something that could happen to everyone and it may have been a bit of a compliment that someone went to the effort (though not a lot — the conversion was terrible) to steal my work.

You like to mix ‘n’ match your genres: has this worked for you or against you when shopping around the stories?
Against me, of course. 🙂 The writing and the stories and everything else are great — it’s just that the editors can’t fit them into an easily marketable niche. It sounds nice and I’ll keep telling myself that.

What Australian works have you loved recently?
I actually haven’t read a lot of anything recently. I’ve been working on novels pretty solidly for about six months — getting ‘completed’ one’s ready for Amazon and finishing off No 4 in the Tribes of the Hakahei series. Unfortunately for me, I do my writing and reading in the same head space so they can interfere with each other quite dramatically.

The last one I read was probably Business of Death by Trent Jamieson. It’s not really my kind of story, but I flew through it anyway (by my standards) and could definitely see the quality.

Some of my favourite Aussie stuff from years ago would be Souls in the Great Machine and sequels by Sean McMullen. Or the Parish Plessis books by Marianne de Pierres. I also enjoy most of the stuff by Sean Williams.

I have also been trying to get around to The Sentients of Orion series and King Rolen’s Kin <by Rowena Cory Daniells> for a while. And recent releases Roil (by Jamieson) and Debris (by Joanne Anderton). Just not enough hours in the day

I can’t wait to make use of my Kindle and try to support some indie writers, hopefully some of who will be Australian. It’s always great to discover someone new and if nobody else knows them, it’s even better.

What have been some of the biggest changes in Australian speculative fiction in the past two years since Aussiecon 4?
Because of my slow reading (slow even when I’m not writing) and the fact that I don’t attend cons (or Vision Writers) any more (lack of money and two young kids to look after and feed), I probably don’t really follow Australian spec fic as something separate to spec fic in general. I just read what I read without thought to where it came from. But the changes here are probably the same as everywhere else and stem from the ease of self-publishing e-books. Or publishing them even if they aren’t yours. I think it’s a great thing but will be even better when the world comes up with a way to weed out the ‘first draft, I don’t need an editor’ type writers because they make it much harder for those of us who do care.

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THIS interview was conducted as part of the 2012 Snapshot of Australian Speculative Fiction. We’re blogging interviews from 1-8 June and archiving them at Australian Speculative Fiction in Focus. You can read interviews at:

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Snapshot 2012: Patrick O’Duffy

australian speculative fiction snapshot 2012 logoMELBOURNE-based writer Patrick O’Duffy has been writing since he was a little kid; he’s been writing stuff that’s good enough for others to read for, well, less time than that. He has been a freelance RPG writing for companies such as White Wolf and Green Ronin, where he got to work on the revival of Lynn Abbey’s Thieves’ World setting.

Since moving to Melbourne from Brisbane several years ago, he’s given up game writing and focused more on shorter-form fiction, which he publishes independently as e-books. They include the dark fantasy novella Hotel Flamingo and the horror anthology Godheads, plus his new crime novella The Obituarist. Upcoming work includes another anthology (this time of flash fiction), a sequel to The Obituarist, a YA fantasy novella and a serious literary novel that he’ll be trying to get published through the usual channels.

All this and more can be found at his website, www.patrickoduffy.com, where he also blogs about writing and reading and similar things. Sometimes there are pictures.


Your previous e-books have been genre-blurring horror-tinged tales. What influenced you to head into crime territory with The Obituarist?
I think every story has a core that can be expressed in a number of ways, and that the best way to find the right expression is to start with the core and work outwards to the story, rather than work from the story and try to find its core. So while I’ve done a lot of horror and fantasy writing – and I’m going to do more – I’m always read to follow an idea down a different path.

The Obituarist is a story about the way technology changes the way we live and in doing so changes some of the ways we think about death. You can write a story like that as speculative fiction, certainly, and I think there are some great paths it could take – in fact, some of my earliest thinking on the ‘social media undertaker’ concept was along spec-fic lines. But to write a story about how technology affects us right now, rather than how it might affect us in the future, I had to keep things grounded in the real and the modern day. And if I’m going to do that, well, a crime story lets me have some fun with the concept and include some chase scenes and gruesome deaths. That’s a win in my book.

What’s the most challenging or annoying element to publishing an e-book, and the greatest joy?
The challenging part is the part that comes after publishing – trying to get people to hear about it and to consider reading it. There’s so much out there at the moment and more every day, especially independently published ebooks. Some are very good and a lot more are very bad, but good and bad get just as much attention and seem pretty much the same to buyers. To stand out you need to spend as much or more time promoting your work than writing something new; you have to use word-of-mouth, push books at reviewers, monitor social media for opportunities.

I find that challenging. It turns me from a writer into a publisher, a publicist, a marketer. None of which are roles I particularly want to fill, but the alternative is having my books vanish without trace as soon as they’re released. Which I don’t really want, oddly enough. So I do my best to be honest about what I’m doing, to stop short of spamming people with constant ads for my stuff and to genuinely share the passion I have for writing with others.

As for joy, well, I think a lot of indie authors get great joy from maintaining control over their work, and not having to concede to the demands of publishers or editors. For me, though, it’s the immediacy and the freedom to experiment with extent, form or structure. I like the way that I can take a finished, edited manuscript and have it up on sale 10 minutes later. And, yes, then have to tweak the file to get it right and upload it again, but the principle is sound. I like writing novellas and short fiction and having an avenue to publish them even though they’re difficult to make financially viable in print. There’s room to try things in e-publishing, because even if you won’t make money you also won’t lose very much, and sometimes it’s acceptable to spend a few hundred dollars to do something you believe in.

How has your experience writing role-playing games informed your fiction writing?
Primarily it’s taught me about the importance of positioning the things that matter in a story – whether those are plot elements or core themes – at the centre of the story and making sure that the rest of the material revolves around those points. RPG settings tend to be filled with tiny little bits, like plot hooks and non-player characters and Sudden Looming Dangers. It can be a lot of fun to think up things like that, but it’s easy to make them too self-contained – to come up with, say, some kind of political intrigue that is all about three NPCs, or a terrifying dragon that stays in a cave scheming and never comes out. Things like that are interesting in concept but dead boring in play because they don’t contain a space for the players’ characters to become pivotal parts of the story. World building for its own sake can be fun, but a big part of successful RPG setting design is making sure that everything in that world can matter to the players, even if it doesn’t right away.

To extend that concept over to fiction writing, I always try to identify the important things in a story – the main characters, obviously, but also themes and motifs and the like – and make sure that every event and turn and additional character in the story connects directly to those things. The Obituarist, for instance, is a story about death and identity as well as a crime story. That’s the core – two themes and a set of genre markers. So everything starts from that basis, every scene needs to be relevant to at least part of that core, and everything has to have a hook or angle that directly draws in the main character, social media undertaker Kendall Barber.

That’s not exactly an insight that’s unique to RPGs. But writing those – and running and playing them – is what really drove it home to me.

What Australian works have you loved recently?
Most of the Australian work I like tends to be either literary fiction or crime fiction. I don’t know why that is. Maybe it’s because the Australian voice lends itself well to both introspection on our place in the world and violence without proper thought of consequences. Or maybe it’s because I don’t spend enough time looking at Australian speculative fiction. That’s probably more likely.

In any event, the Australian books I’ve really loved of late include Tom Cho’s Look Who’s Morphing, Nicki Greenberg’s Hamlet, Peter Temple’s The Broken Shore and Truth and Benjamin Law’s The Family Law.


What have been some of the biggest changes in Australian speculative fiction in the past two years since Aussiecon 4?
This is another point where I have to confess ignorance.

Actually, no, wait, there is something I’ve noticed – the degree to which Australian spec-fic is moving online. There are obvious changes like Aurealis becoming an e-book periodical, but I’m also seeing a lot more independent and small e-books coming, such as Alan Baxter’s Darkest Shade of Grey, which The Penny Red Papers published as both a free website and a cheap e-book.

The difficult part sometimes is knowing that these are Australian works, because the internet puts them right alongside American and British works and presents them as equals. Well, in theory. In practice, e-book readers still gravitate to writers they know, and Australian writers have to work hard to gain some visibility from international readers who might then recommend their books to their peers. It’s still not automatic, but it’s easier than it used to be.

And that’s something, right?

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THIS interview was conducted as part of the 2012 Snapshot of Australian Speculative Fiction. We’re blogging interviews from 1-8 June and archiving them at Australian Speculative Fiction in Focus. You can read interviews at:

 

Snapshot 2012: Ian Irvine

australian speculative fiction snapshot 2012 logoIAN Irvine, a marine scientist who has developed some of Australia’s national guidelines for protection of the marine environment and continues to work in this field, has written 28 novels. These include the internationally 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 thrillers set in a world undergoing catastrophic climate change, Human Rites, and 12 books for younger readers, the most recent being the humorous fantasy quartet, Grim and Grimmer.

Ian’s latest fantasy novel is Vengeance, Book 1 of The Tainted Realm trilogy. He’s currently doing the final edits of the second book, Rebellion, which will be published in Australia in October 2012, and the US and UK in early 2013.

Keep up with Ian at his website www.ian-irvine.com and on Facebook.

Your eco-thrillers have been recently re-released: how has the market for such stories changed since they were first published?
I don’t know that it has, actually. As far as I can tell, the market for eco-thrillers has never been a huge one. Even at times when the public had a high level of concern about environmental issues, and has been flocking to eco-disaster movies such as The Day After Tomorrow, I’m told that sales of eco-thriller books have generally been modest. I’m not sure why – perhaps it’s a bit close to home.


Your latest novel is called Vengeance. What topics have you found that fantasy can talk about more easily or more effectively than other genres, if any?
I’ve long been fascinated by the ways that seizing or maintaining political power can undermine the legitimacy of a realm – it happens all the time in history. For instance in Australia, the current Gillard government is constantly being white-anted because of the way its previous prime minister was overthrown. Malcolm Fraser’s government 30 years ago also suffered from the way the previous Whitlam government was deposed.

This issue formed the germ of the idea behind The Tainted Realm – a nation, scarred by a deep sense of national guilt about its own origins, that now faces a resurgent enemy it has no idea how to fight.


Your recent releases include a series for younger readers and now this new, epic fantasy. What are the different joys and challenges you’ve experienced in writing for these two audiences?
One of the best things about being a writer is the ‘next-book dream’ – that the story I’m about to write will be original or provocative or funny or life-changing, or non-stop, edge-of-the-seat suspenseful. Sometimes, in moments of authorial madness, I imagine that it can be all of the above. And everything in my life: every snippet of research, every odd idea jotted down or moment of inspiration can go into the pot, get a good stir, simmer for weeks or years, then miraculously and effortlessly flow into the story. Ha!

One of the worst aspects is grinding out the first draft. It usually starts well, and sometimes runs well for as much as eight or 10 chapters. Vengeance did. And I was lulled, poor fool that I am. Yes, I thought, this book is going to be a snap.
Then suddenly I was in the writer’s ‘death zone’ where every word came with an effort, every sentence sounded banal, every character was done to death, every situation boring and repetitive. Nothing worked; nothing felt inspired. What had gone wrong? Had I used all my ideas up and burned myself out as a writer? I started to think that I’ll never write anything worth reading again.

Nearly every novel has this stage, which generally occurs about a quarter of the way in, and sometimes lasts until half-way. Of all my books, the only ones I’ve not been stuck on were the last two books of my humorous adventure stories for younger readers, Grim and Grimmer. They were written to such short deadlines and with such wild and wacky enthusiasm that there wasn’t time to get into the death zone. It was the first time I’d ever completely let go as a writer, and they were the most fun I’ve had writing.

Vengeance, on the other hand, was one of the worst because I had so many interruptions from other deadlines – pre-existing commitments for the last Runcible Jones YA novel plus the four Grim and Grimmers. Writing is hard work at the best of times, but doubly hard when I’m forced to jump back and forth between different kinds of books.

Also, because really big books present a writing challenge that doesn’t occur with small ones – it’s difficult to keep the whole vast canvas in mind at once. The only way to write such books (for me, anyway) is in long, uninterrupted slabs of time, otherwise every interruption hurls me out of the characters’ heads and I have to laboriously write my way back in again. And no matter how well yesterday’s writing went, each new day presents the same challenge.


What Australian works have you loved recently?
I’m a big fan of Richard Harland’s steampunk world, as exemplified in his terrific World Shaker and Liberator. I’ve also enjoyed Stephen Irwin’s dark thriller The Dead Path, and Trent Jamieson’s excellent trilogy The Business of Death. Apart from that, I’ve bought lots of Aussie speculative fiction recently but it’s still on the ever-growing unread pile.

What have been some of the biggest changes in Australian speculative fiction in the past two years since Aussiecon 4?
Sorry, I don’t have the faintest idea. I’m only now emerging from the busiest time of my writing life, and I rarely read short stories, so any emerging trends in Aussie speculative fiction have passed me by.

However, looking at the publishing and bookselling side of things, we face challenges we haven’t seen in the past decade and a half, since Aussie SF publishing, sales and international success exploded in the mid-to-late ’90s. From now on, due to the high dollar, the demise of book chains and the explosion in e-books and self-publication, it’s going to be a lot harder to get published by a traditional print publisher than it has been at any time since 1995, and sales, for the most part, are liable to be smaller because we’re also competing with a million self-published e-book titles. They might only sell a handful of copies individually, but because there’s so many of them, they add up to a significant chunk of the market. So, tough times ahead, but fantastic opportunities as well.

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THIS interview was conducted as part of the 2012 Snapshot of Australian Speculative Fiction. We’re blogging interviews from 1-8 June and archiving them at Australian Speculative Fiction in Focus. You can read interviews at:

An e-book precis at the New Yorker

This article at The New Yorker online deals with the Kindle, the iPad and Google Books, as well as looking at the economic impact of the rise of e-books — yes, yet another one. There is much to appreciate, and muse about, in this piece. And while it can be dangerous to muse in public, here’s my two bob’s worth:

  • I found, for instance, that a single company has 90,000 author-clients — self-publishing — a little scary, because there was no mention of them having an editor (and there wouldn’t be in this article, but still, it makes me wonder). One presumes market forces will sort the chaff, eh? (Please, people, just because you can, doesn’t mean you should — get an editor!)
  • There’s mention of the different viewpoints of established publishers, discovering and nurturing new and not necessarily instant hit writers, while Apple and Amazon might be more interested in the maths. I’m wondering how much that’s actually still true, especially in a GFC-shadowed climate. I should think if anyone’s doing the nurturing these days, it’s the agents. Not much mention of agents in this article, by the way, but then the focus is on product delivery, not sourcing. Agents must surely be a tad nervous about delivery companies such as Amazon dealing direct with the author? Question: who organises the dramatic rights? And what does this mean for territorial rights? Things, they are a changing, but I still think having someone there to check the fine print is a damn fine idea.
  • I’m also a little nervous about the value-adding offered by the e-environment, because I thought I was writing stories, not computer games or other multi-media platforms, which surely are a different kind of story all in their own right. Maybe I can do both. Do I have a say over what apps are ‘enhancing’ my story? Can I pick the soundtrack? Can I still curl up on the couch in the quiet and not be cajoled into clicking the hyperlinks for explanatory notes, film clips and similar products that I might enjoy — at least until after I’ve finished this one? You know, actually use my imagination and be immersed in the story I’m reading. I wonder if books will be like DVDs — should I wait for the two-disc enhanced version? Will this be the new paperback/hardback divide? Yeah, I know, I gotta learn to embrace the new tech. But geeze, man, I’m still trying to get my head around story arc!
  • Spooky: 40 per cent of Americans read one book or less last year. Is that an illiteracy problem or just an ignorance problem? Or is it a sign that books just don’t rate as a consumer item in the land of instant gratification? Someone tell me Australia is ahead on this game. Or are we all at the footy?
  • Something for writers: the author is the brand. Good luck getting branded amongst the 90,000 self-publishers and their ilk all hitting the upload button…
  • The capacity of digital to deliver back-catalogue titles has got to be a boon, hasn’t it? Stories that just don’t go out of print any more.
  • And my appreciation of Google has gone up a notch thanks to their view that there is still a role to be played by bricks-and-mortar bookstores. Because I think the article is right about readers still wanting their online access and bookstore, too. Maybe that’s a generational thing. Wouldn’t it be great if e-books can help lift that hideous statistic about the 40 per cent who don’t read? And wouldn’t it be even better if that one book they did read wasn’t Twilight/Da Vinci Code/, or at least, used that as a springboard to, you know, read a second book?
  • The one thing I have taken from the article is that, while the delivery method is bound to change, at least there will still be a demand for one, which means the wordsmiths and the hacks — and yes, the really oughtn’ts — will have new avenues to reach, and engage with, their readers, at several levels. What do we do in the time of flux? Write on, my friend, and get to the end!