1. You’ve recently finished one novel, and have another almost complete. How have you managed to complete two manuscripts in such quick succession, and what are your plans for them now when they are (almost!) finished?
The first novel (809 Jacob Street) is on its 5th draft, actually! It's been around for some years now. It's been through a number of professional edits, too. I sent it to an agent in London a year or so ago, and he loved the writing but said the story was too slow. My HWA mentor, Sarah Langan, said the same thing, so I've remodeled it following their advice, and am now making the final suggested--minor--edits (thanks Geoff Brown) before it's ready to go. Again. I'm nothing if not anal...
Novel number two (Finding Safe Ground) is about to be sent to my professional editor friend in California for a touch up (I always have my novels worked over by Paula first), and then once I incorporate those edits, that too will be ready to go.
But go where, that's the next question. The writing industry is changing day by day. There are far more options open to writers, but this just makes things more complicated. I'm tempted to try self-publishing but the more traditional side of me demands I go for an agent or submit to a big publisher. I honestly don't know what to do right now. The London agent has asked to read Finding Safe Ground once it's done, so I will probably do that at least.
I made a conscious decision recently to stop writing short stories and focus only on novels. I enjoy the art of writing novels more than shorts, which I find immensely difficult. I only ever write about 2 short stories a year and these often take me months to complete, meaning the novel I'd been working on languishes, and when I return to it, I have to start at the beginning again as I can't remember where I was up to! I may write a short story between novels, but I'm going to be focusing on novels predominantly.
2. I understand you’ve recently completed an on-line writing ‘bootcamp’ – how did you find it? Why do you think it is important for writers to undertake professional development and/or study?
The bootcamp was interesting and I learned some good things from it, plus made some good contacts, but it suffered from not having more direct contact with our teacher. We had weekly lessons and exercises, plus had to write a short story in a week (which was a huge struggle!), but the teacher wasn't online with us. The lessons and exercises were posted for us to read at our own leisure. Of course, I can understand why it was done this way as we had people from across the world taking part and it would've been a nightmare trying to find a time that suited everyone, but it did all feel a little absent.
I did another workshop with Tom Monteleone two years ago, which was done via Skype phone calls late on a Saturday night. That was fun, and Tom's full on involvement was fantastic (I got my first pro sale thanks to that workshop).
I also recently completed an online course run by Gillian Polack, which used an online chatroom as our virtual classroom. This course was on how to incorporate our five senses in our writing. It was a brilliant course, and I learned a hell of a lot. That's one I'd recommend.
I think it's important for writers to learn their craft. It's like any profession. I'm a geologist in my day job. I have a PhD, but I still attend courses to learn more about various aspects of my profession. You can, of course, go overboard and become a course junkie, but there's nothing wrong with letting yourself be taught once in a while. Just putting my editor's hat on for a moment, I can tell you that there are a lot of writers out there who need to take a course on how to write. Thinking you can write and learning how to do so are two very different things. I think I could pilot a spaceship, but I don't think anyone should let me try.
3. In the 2010 Snapshot you commented that, due to diminishing markets, Australian horror writers were having more difficulty getting published at home. Is this still an issue? How do you think Australian horror stands in 2012?
For short stories, things have deteriorated, but in a way that doesn't matter so much because of how the writing industry has changed. There are not many active Australian magazines that take horror (you could count them on one hand and still be able to hold your scotch in that hand). In the early 2000's, there were 8 or more Aussie mags taking horror, one of them a pro market paying 5c/word. Midnight Echo now pays 3c/word, so is semi-pro, and has plans to become a pro market, but it's sad to see no full pro markets in this country.
However, the internet has turned the world into one big digital family, so many Aussie writers are being published in overseas-based magazines that are easily available to us here at home through the click of a button. So in that way, the digital age of eBook magazines means the lack of Aussie horror magazines doesn't matter so much. Besides that, there are more options available to writers these days - again though, this is both good and bad.
Novels are also being published by many different publishers--even if those books aren't being labelled horror. But my view is that horror isn't quite as healthy as it was a few years ago. The Aurealis Awards didn't have a shortlist or winner in the horror novel category in 2012, which was a real disappointment--but I know they weren't the only awards to find themselves in that position. There are some golden gems of short stories being published, but there are a hell of a lot of bad stories out there, too (I say that with my editor's hat on). Could self-publishing be swamping the market, like what happened in the 1980s and 1990s, when anything remotely horror was being published and the genre burnt out? I doubt the genre will burn out again as it's too entrenched in other genres and the mainstream now, but unless writers start having their books professionally edited before they self-publish, they're not going to be helping anyone.
4. What Australian works have you loved recently?
Being biased, I'll say Midnight Echo Issue 6 - there were some excellent horror-science fiction stories in that issue. I also enjoyed Paul Haines' 'The Past is a Bridge Best Left Burnt' novelette, which was a disturbing read, full of emotional impact. Actually, there have been some good novellas put out by Australians recently. Also, Lisa L Hannett's short story collection 'Bluegrass Symphony' is a brilliant collection. If you don't have a copy, get one. And Kim Westwood's 'The Courier's New Bicycle' is a stunning novel, too.
5. Two years on from Aussiecon 4, what do you think have been the biggest changes to the Australian SpecFic scene?
The biggest changes... for me, everyone seems busy. Busier than they've ever been. Flat out with their own projects. It's great to see so many people developing successful careers. Maybe that's why it feels like that spark isn't there anymore; maybe it is there, but folks are nurturing it their own way and being more selective in who they talk to because they just don't have enough time anymore.
It also feels like the genre itself has been infected with advertising. Like giant billboards have been plated right through the genre. Perhaps we can call this period in the horror genre the Buy My Latest Book period, because it feels like everywhere you turn or every group you join, a horde of salivating writers are telling you to buy their book, but their book, BUY THEIR BOOK! I guess I'll be joining them, soon...
This post is part of the 2012 Snapshot of Australian Speculative Fiction. We’ll be blogging interviews from 1 June to 7 June and archiving them at ASif!: Australian SpecFic in Focus. Snapshot 2012 is being conducted by Alisa Krasnostein, Kathryn Linge, David McDonald, Helen Merrick, Ian Mond, Jason Nahrung, Alex Pierce, Tansy Rayner Roberts, Tehani Wessely and Sean Wright. To read the interviews hot off the press, check our blogs daily from June 1 to June 7, 2012.