February 16th, 2010

cuppa

2010 Australian Specfic Snapshot: Thoraiya Dyer

Thoraiya Dyer is a NSW-based writer. Some of her publications include short stories published in ASIM and Twelfth Planet Press's New Ceres Nights.

1. You're relatively new to the Aussie scene and have already been nominated for an Aurealis Award and are piquing the interest of critics. What got you started writing? Why speculative fiction? What interests you most about the Aussie scene?

Like everyone else who has been told they are new, I reply: You can write unpublished novels for decades and go completely unnoticed. Except by your long-suffering mother, who has been forced to read your exploding-goblin-on-the-train-tracks stories since you were six. And your slightly less-suffering husband who has only been forced to read your platypus-spirit-battles-pixie stories since you first started dating.

After finishing high school, I wrote a fantasy or science fiction novel every year. Until I got pregnant and my back suddenly couldn’t take sitting at the desk. That year, I wrote a short story, “Night Heron’s Curse.” It got published and I met many wonderful people, and I wrote more short stories because the attention went to my head. Before the baby, when I worked as a vet, people paid good money for my opinion. I felt that I was important, and I felt that I was helping people. I lost that when I became a stay-at-home-Mum. So this is a bit of a lifeline for me.

Why spec fic? My Mum had/has an excellent science fiction shelf. She would clap if anybody said they didn’t believe in fairies. It’s all her fault.

The Aussie scene interests me because it is full of generous, unselfish, welcoming people, and also because I am the kind of person who finds hope in the achievements of those who have gone before. I need role models. They are here. The quality of their work has changed my book shopping habits.

2. I might cheat a bit on this one and mention the novelette that Twelfth Planet Press has bought from you - Edward Teach - this is a YA story, with a very strong Australian voice, but not the kind of Australian voice that you often see in Australian specfic. What do you see as the role for fiction, as specfic in particular, in exploring the other?

Fiction is so important when it comes to exploring “the other”. In fiction you can let the essence of a story show without being strangled by the extraneous. You can try to see beyond facts and try to pin down truths.

In the past week, I have been an African child soldier forced to rape for his supper (A Song For Night), a young woman struggling to make her dreams come true in the dreary Australian bush (My Brilliant Career) and an ambitious British gay man trying to escape his working-class roots (The Stars’ Tennis Balls).

I don’t know about you, but I don’t run into strangers very often who will immediately pour out their most harrowing experiences for me to learn from. Maybe it’s just that I’m introverted? Maybe extroverted people have actual conversations to learn from, and so they don’t need to read books.

Speculative fiction goes the extra step. As regards “the other,” I think it helps you stop making excuses for yourself or your culture by taking away your points of reference. Disguising humans as elves or aliens might help you to hear a message you might not otherwise be able to hear. Does a Palestinian kid in a shelled-out house want to read about the Holocaust? Does an Israeli kid in a bunker want to read about a humanitarian crisis in the West Bank? We don’t want to feel sympathy for the other if it means doubting ourselves or belittling our own suffering.

But both those kids can read the Dark Crystal and instantly recognise the Skeksis shouldn’t be torturing and killing the Podlings.

In our minds, when we’re young, we are all Bagheera the panther, who easily recognised the worth in something new and different, and bought the life of a human child. We’re all Creb, the Neanderthal shaman who spared Ayla’s life.

Nobody is Shere Khan the tiger. Nobody is Broud, who wanted to leave the Cro-magnon baby out in the snow because it wasn’t Neanderthal enough.

When we’re older, we start to see a bit of ourselves in the Skeksis who want to live forever, Shere Khan who wants power he thinks he has earned, or Broud, who cannot comprehend the future and yet jealously refuses to pass the torch on to those who are better equipped.

Hey, it’s not the nice little story I thought it was! It’s a mirror in disguise!

Edward Teach is a bit different. There’s disguises – but then again, there isn’t. Australia is full of migrants. We all have baggage, including the two kids in the story. But the other power of spec fic is to make metaphors literal. These two kids are in a situation where putting on a costume can physically transform them. Walking a mile in someone else’s shoes takes on a whole new meaning.

3. What goals do you aspire towards as a writer? And what drives you to achieve them? What are you currently working on?

I aspire for my novel-length stories to be read and enjoyed. I want to put fantasy in Australian settings out there, and I want people who haven’t peeked at fantasy before to consider giving it a look-in. There’s one important step missing so far, which would be publication. But I’m working on it!

Also, I aspire to having the conversation. The thing about a great book is that you close it afterwards, maybe close your eyes, hold it tight and think, “this is a box full of awesome!” But it’s a one-way broadcast. It’s not a conversation. You can’t then turn around to Ursula or Sherri or Neal and say, “that was awesome, you are a genius, what do you think of MY idea?!”

So writing books is a feeble attempt to have the conversation. Because some ideas are book-long ideas that you really can’t articulate in your elevator pitch.

Oh, and I like to make things up.

I think everyone should. Michael Ende got it right in the Neverending Story. If we stop using our imaginations, the world will get gobbled up by the Nothing. One thing we should try hardest to imagine is the future, because the first step towards making a better world is conceiving of how to do it.

A few years ago I met Bob Carr at the launch of his book, “My Reading Life,” which was an impressive catalogue of classics and historical texts. When I asked about speculative fiction, he said he didn’t read it, point-blank. I thought: Does that mean you don’t imagine the future? Are we in for more of the same, then? History repeating itself? How depressing!

I’m still plotting to send him “The Dispossessed”, “The Diamond Age” and “Raising the Stones”.

What I’m working on right now, besides short stories, is my last-year’s novel which has turned into this-year’s novel: Waltzing Mathilda, the story of two Scottish families whose historic magical feud continues in the fledgling colony of New South Wales.

The first draft wasn’t finished by the end of last year because, in a mystical and horrific process, my baby has turned into a banshee toddler who enjoys “sit up” on “Mum’s chair” and “typey typey” when my back is turned - or while I am, in fact, sitting in said chair, pushing her away with both hands and shrieking, “NO TYPEY TYPEY, DON’T TOUCH MUMMY’S PUTER!”

4. Which Australian writers or work would you like to see on the Hugo shortlists this year? What have you enjoyed reading?

I’d love to see Roberts’ gorgeous “Siren Beat”, Lanagan’s haunting “Sea Hearts” and Haines’ despicable “Wives” in their eligible categories, along with KJ Bishop’s poem “When the Lamps are Lit” and Kathleen Jennings’ short story “The Splendour Falls.”

I haven’t yet read Pamela Freeman’s “Victor’s Challenge” because I’ve been too busy with her genius Castings Trilogy, but I got a kick out of “Worldshaker” by Richard Harland. The other top novels I’ve read this year aren’t eligible because I’ve been playing catch-up with past Aurealis and Hugo/Nebula winners and also reading loads of non-fiction about convict ships, the Battle for Vinegar Hill and the Rum Rebellion (see Waltzing Mathilda, above).

Juliet Marillier’s “Heart’s Blood,” was that 2009? “Lavinia”? “Blonde Roots”? “The Mystery of Grace”? “The Gathering Storm?” I enjoyed reading those. That last one came with a car sticker, care of a Californian friend, that said, “I killed Asmodean.” If only there was an Awesome Bumper Sticker Hugo category.

5. Will you be at Aussiecon 4 in September? If so, what are you most looking forward to about it?

Yes. Provided no crippling injury befalls my husband which would prevent him from wrangling the Small One. Remember what I said about some ideas not fitting into an elevator pitch? Well many of them do. And I’m hoping to meet up with hordes of other writers and editors and talk, if not in an elevator, then at the very least in a coffee shop, behind a curtain, or over the TPP dealer’s table. So make sure you order a big one, muahahaha. With lots of comfy chairs. I have a bad back.

Also, I want to eat at MoMo restaurant. A Lebanese-Australian celebrity chef doesn’t spring up every day. Maybe I can convince him to set up shop in the Hunter Valley. It’s nicer than Melbourne, haha.

To read all the 2010 Snapshot Interviews hot off the press, check these blogs daily:

http://random-alex.livejournal.com/
http://girliejones.livejournal.com/
http://kathrynlinge.livejournal.com/
http://www.mechanicalcat.net/rachel
http://tansyrr.com/
http://editormum.livejournal.com/

Will we beat 83 this time? If you know of someone involved in the Scene with something to plug, then send us an email at 2010snapshot@gmail.com

coffee

2010 Australian Specfic Snapshot: Keith Stevenson

Keith Stevenson is a speculative fiction writer, editor, publisher, podcaster and reviewer. I 2006, he cofounded coeur de lion with Andrew Macrae and they went on to publish c0ck, a collection of original stories interrogating masculinity within a speculative fiction framework and Rynemonn, the long awaited conclusion to the Tom Rynosseros stories from Terry Dowling. Last year Stevenson edited X6 an anthology of six novellas by Australian authors. Stevenson has been editor for Aurealis magazine, organising convenor of the Aurealis Awards and now hosts the monthly Terra Incognita Australian Speculative Fiction Podcast which features the best Australian speculative fiction read by the authors who created it.

1. Congratulations on the success of X6 and particular of the novella "Wives" by Paul Haines. How did the anthology of novellas come about? What do you think is the appeal of novellas?

Thanks. I really believe we created something special with X6 and it’s starting to create a bit of a buzz, including being listed on the Locus Magazine Recommended Reads, so it’s good to know other people feel the same way.

As to the origin of X6, well that’s shrouded in the mists of time. Louise Katz will tell you she suggested the idea to me but I have a different, albeit hazy recollection. I think it was a bit of a zeitgeist thing, and it’s been done before, most notably by Jonathan Strahan. But the catalyst was twofold. Firstly as a writer and talking to other writers, I’d heard lots of stories about novellas and novella ideas people were working on without much hope of getting them published because the markets for longer fiction were few and far between. Paul Haines, for example, had been working on ‘Wives’ for years, although it was still unfinished. And part of the problem in finishing it was that there wasn’t a ready market for such a long piece of work (the final story weighs in at over 36,000 — almost a novel by SFWA standards).

I also knew (and this goes to the second part of your question) just what the novella length affords to a speculative fiction story. I’m not a fan of flash fiction – and I don’t say this lightly given the thrashing at least one other editor I know took after expressing that opinion. To me the magic of speculative fiction stories are that they can transport you to a fully realised world where everything is invented — a truly immersive experience. But stories also need to have a narrative drive, or the reader will quickly lose interest. They have to be about something, they have to pose a question in the reader’s mind, a question the reader wants to go on the narrative journey to find the answer to. The novella length gives writers the scope to achieve both those aims without sacrificing story to worldbuilding and vice versa. And looking at it from the other side of the scale, the novella, as opposed to the novel length, allows the author to concentrate their themes and ideas without ‘padding’, and potentially diffusing the story impact, in order to fit a longer world count. As Sean Williams said in his back cover blurb for X6, ‘the novella is the ideal length for speculative fiction.’ And Twelfth Planet Press’s novella series bears out that assertion.

2. I've been really enjoying your monthly TISF Podcast. What got you interested in podcasting and how do you see the role of the podcast in the scene? Can you give us a sneak peek at the future schedule for TISF?

Well, I’m a lazy person really, and I thought podcasting would let me do a kind of monthly magazine without all the text based editing work. Hah!

Terra Incognita Australian Speculative Fiction podcast (www.tisf.com.au) came out of a recognition that, thanks to the ubiquitous iPod, podcasting was becoming very popular and I felt it would be a good idea for us to use the medium to get Australian speculative fiction out there and in the mix. So the program concept was very simple, get authors to read their own work that has been published elsewhere. One obvious benefit was that once stories are published in a magazine or an anthology, that’s it. Unless you have a copy of that mag or book, the ‘life’ of the story has pretty much ended. I wanted to give those stories a second chance by digitizing them and making them available to anyone who has a web browser and a media player. So in a way we give stories a second life after publication. The other thing I thought was pretty cool was to build an auditory archive of the voices of contemporary Australian speculative fiction authors. Think of it, you can stream or download a show and hear what Sean Williams actually sounds like. Imagine if we could hear what HG Wells sounded like or Jules Verne? There’s not much chance of that now, but we can at least do it for living authors. And TISF is mirrored on the National Library’s Pandora site so those recordings are going to be around for a very long time. The final thing I thought would really be of interest to spec fic fans was that through the podcast you’re hearing the story as the author heard it inside their heads when they were writing it. They’re telling it how they think it ought to be told. To me that’s a really exciting thing.

Everyone I’ve approached so far has jumped at the chance to do this and their generosity has been fantastic. And I think the authors have really enjoyed the experience too, so it’s a win win. The next few months will see stories from Ben Peek, Jason Fischer and Margo Lanagan. After that I have a few more ideas. There’s no shortage of talent here so we’ll keep going as long as people want to keep listening.

3. What's next for coeur de lion and Keith Stevenson?

Aha, well your question is very timely. I can deliver an exclusive to Snapshot 2009. In the next month we’ll be announcing a new anthology, which we've scheduled for publication in 2011, is open for submissions. Don’t email me yet, people, but I will be making announcements on all the lists and things.

Anywhere But Earth will bring you stories that challenge your ideas about the future; tales of the adventures, discoveries, mistakes, revelations, and testing times that individuals or humanity as a whole will face and how we will be changed by, or adapt to, those experiences.

Stories will be set in deep space, on human or alien vessels, orbital platforms, rocks, planetoids, terraformed worlds and alien environments. In short, anywhere but Earth.

Detailed submission guidelines aren’t available yet, but for the breadth of our canvas, think James Blish, Frederick Pohl, Larry Niven, Greg Egan, Poul Anderson, Elizabeth Moon, Charles Stross, Cordwainer Smith, Ray Bradbury, Ursula LeGuin, Kim Stanley Robinson, Sean Williams, Robert Heinlein, Isaac Asimov and Phillip K Dick.

The settings will be near, far or alternative future and all points in between, written as hard/ technological SF, cyberpunk, steampunk, slipstream, new weird, sociological or philosophical SF, space opera, military SF, or a blend. Just no horror or fantasy, although the SF story may have horrific or fantastic elements.

We want authors to imagine the future as it could be anywhere but Earth and share their vision with us.

I’m pretty excited about the concept and we want to build on our success with X6. coeur de lion is in for the long haul. We’ve worked to develop a reputation as a publisher of high quality speculative fiction and we want to continue that with Anywhere But Earth.

As to little old me, I’m 80,000 words into my space opera novel The Way of the Kresh and it feels like I’ve hit the halfway mark in terms of story (at least for the first bit) so I’m keeping on with that.

4. Which Australian writers or work would you like to see on the Hugo ballot this year?

Paul Haines for ‘Wives’! Seriously, and I’m not just saying this because I’m the publisher, ‘Wives’ is one of the most chilling, gritty and unputdownable novellas you will read this year. And if you’re considering Hugo Nominations, you can read ‘Wives’ online here http://www.keithstevenson.com/wives.html. I’d like to see Sean Williams and Marianne De Pierres up there too. They’re carrying the science fiction torch for all of us. Yes I am a hardcore science fiction fan, I admit it. Trudi Canavan for fantasy. Horror-wise Stephen M Irwin’s The Dead Path was impressive, and Kaaron Warren ‘cos she’s brilliant even though I wasn’t totally knocked over by Slights but I know a lot of people liked it.

5. Will you be at Aussiecon 4 in September? If so, what are you most looking forward to about it?

I’ll be there and I’m most looking forward to selling all my stock! Actually seeing Kim Stanley Robinson will be pretty cool. It’ll just be nice to hang out with the usual suspects. Come see me in the dealer’s room.

To read all the 2010 Snapshot Interviews hot off the press, check these blogs daily:

http://random-alex.livejournal.com/
http://girliejones.livejournal.com/
http://kathrynlinge.livejournal.com/
http://www.mechanicalcat.net/rachel
http://tansyrr.com/
http://editormum.livejournal.com/

Will we beat 83 this time? If you know of someone involved in the Scene with something to plug, then send us an email at 2010snapshot@gmail.com

Willow

On safe spaces

I've been personally grappling with bringing an issue to WASFF relating to the values statement that is currently in preparation (http://community.livejournal.com/swancon/152957.html). However, I feel that I need to get a sense of the scale of it - is this just me? Is it just some of the people I've been speaking to? Do others feel this way?

Have you ever felt that Swancon was an unsafe space for you?

I would appreciate being able to discuss this topic - I have been greatly upset by a discussion that has occurred, due to the complexity of the issue, and am still trying to get my head around where I am and what I think about it. I will say here that I have felt unsafe more than a few times at Swancon. And I am concerned that dealing ad hoc with specific incidents is ignoring a broader issue.

If you feel comfortable commenting here, I would appreciate it. If you would be willing and prefer to discuss it with me privately, I can be contacted via girlie.jones @ gmail . com and promise to keep your confidance.

ETA: A point of clarification that whilst I do mean and include physical/property safety, I don't only mean physical/property safety.


ETA2: Thank you to those who have commented here and those who have emailed me. Please email me if you have something to share and want to do so in private - all feedback is really useful.