1. Your most recent book design work includes the covers for the ‘Twelve Planets’ series, by Twelfth Planet Press. How did you decided which elements should remain consistent, and which could vary, to ensure that the 12 books could be presented as a cohesive whole? Most importantly, how did you get inside my head to know which exact blue described the tone of Deb Biancotti’s ‘Bad Power’ to me? (Bonus question: Have you seen the associated Twelve Planet cocktail project - http://pinterest.com/tansyrr/tpp-cocktails/?)
When we started the Twelve Planets series, we had two goals: to come up with a style that would link all the books together, and to come up with something that could be done quickly when we had the occasional rushed deadline (not that we've had any of those, right Alisa?). Rather than come up with a colour scheme that had to be used for each book, which could be unnecessarily limiting, we decided to go for one colour per book, each one based on the colour of a gemstone. A colour could then be chosen to suit the theme of each book, along with one object and one texture or pattern. 'Read Kathryn's mind' was the final thing added to the list, so I'm glad that's working out.
I love the cocktail project, it'll be so much fun when we have all of them finished. Alisa is planning a big party at the end of the series to celebrate brilliant women, brilliant stories, and now, brilliant cocktails to finish it all off.
2. Swancon is Australia’s longest running state convention, with 37 years under its belt. You were involved in recent changes, which mean the Convention Committee for any given year now liases with a longer-serving Convention Steering Committee (CSC), and this has caused some friction in the Western Australian SF community. Why do you think it was important to change how Swancon is managed, and, in the perfect world, how do you envisage the CSC and ConComm working together? What happens if the experiment doesn’t work?
Swancon's membership numbers have remained pretty steady for quite a while now. That number was up at the higher range of what would fit comfortably in one of Perth's smaller hotels, but it was not enough to fill the next size up. Previously, a new organising committee would take over each year, and we'd start from scratch, new approach, new brand, new website. That's a huge amount of work, which of course limits the number of people willing to do it. The new structure was designed to provide a larger pool of people to do the work required, and more importantly, allow that work to continue over a number of years. To create a consistent brand, and build lasting relationships with hotels, local businesses, and publishers over a number of years, and slowly build a brains trust that can actually share some of the workload, rather than simply trying to teach it to new people every year. Most importantly, we want to ensure that our efforts to get new members don't conflict with the work of keeping old ones; that every year we build on previous years' efforts, instead of discarding all that hard work.
Of course, it's always a lot easier said than done. Everyone shares the same goals of building a larger and more diverse membership, but when it comes to giving up some of that control, it's a lot harder to follow through. We end up trying to change the result, without changing the way we work. If Swancon wants to reach its goals, it's going to require a commitment by ConComs to share control of organising Swancon. They would give up some of their control to the CSC, who would work on branding, marketing, long-term budgeting and maintaining relationships with our partners. But in return, it means they'll have a smaller workload, so they can spend more time getting great guests and creating a great program. The ConComs provide a great event, while the CSC works on building the financial reserves and attracting the membership who make it all worthwhile.
What happens if the experiment doesn't work? For starters, we'll find it hard to attract hard-working and talented people to the CSC if they aren't supported in taking ownership of their work, or if that work it can be ignored or trashed by the ConCom on a whim. We will continue to rely a small pool of people who are willing to take on the massive job of being on a ConCom that has to do everything, and they'll have less time to work on big things like the program, which always involves a last minute race to get finished. We'll remain in a smaller hotel, with any new growth limited to whoever each new ConCom chooses to target, and whether or not they have the skills to retain and grow the membership. It would be sad to lose what we've started, and I hope that the CSC can attract more people who will actively support the necessary changes.
3. E-books are being touted as the Next Big Thing. Are the skill sets required for print and e-pubs very different? Do you see the role of a graphic designer changing for electronic-only publications?
Yes, they're quite different. With print, you need to focus on getting the page right, whereas with ebooks you need to focus on flexibility, on making sure it works well on each ereader, and with their individual settings. And covers are different too. Print covers have to look good on a shelf next to other, similar books. With online sales of print and ebooks, covers need to look appealing at thumbnail size, and it's more difficult to predict what covers will be viewed alongside it.
But there's also more flexibility with online. Covers don't have to appeal to generic booksellers, they can be more adventurous and aim at smaller niche audiences. And the wide availability of technology means that more people can create their own books and covers. That can mean some ugly results, but it will also lead to more creativity and experimentation.
It's all completely up in the air at the moment. We're trying to predict the future, we're trying to predict what we will do. But we're the ones who are making the new rules. I think the best thing I can do as a designer is to pay attention to what's happening and make the decisions I think are best. Rather than trying to predict what others will do its great to have this opportunity to be part of creating something new. That's what I love about Twelfth Planet and FableCroft. They're trying new ideas, and expanding the range of writers and stories in the world. It's an honour to be part of that.
4. What Australian works have you loved recently?
I loved Tansy Rayner Roberts' Creature Court series, even though she went and ended it. I'm not convinced we should allow writers to do that. Frocks, politics, naked men falling from the sky... whats not to love?
I think it's great that Laid has gotten a second season. I'm not sure exactly what genre you'd call it, but who cares? It's hilarious. Outland was great too.
And I am really looking forward to Helen Merrick and Margret Grebowicz's book on Donna Haraway. I love the way Haraway blends technology, science fiction and politics in an exciting view of what the future can be. I can't wait to see their take on her ideas.
5. Two years on from Aussiecon 4, what do you think have been the biggest changes to the Australian SpecFic scene?
Well, the women took over! It's incredibly exciting to see so many women doing well, at both the national and international levels.
On a more local level, I'm really excited about the launch of Stefen's Books. He's a brilliant bookseller, who has introduced me to most of my favourite books, including The Creature Court trilogy. I think his store is part of a new trend in genre, where the old categories are blurring and blending. He's selling spec fic, SF, fantasy, horror and also crime, and just basically cool stuff. The chain bookstores may be struggling, but specialty booksellers find cool stuff for you that you may not have found yourself, and take the time to learn your personal tastes and tailor a reading list for you. I think they'll do well as a counter-balance to online shopping.
Australian SF is going through some changes at the moment, lots of playing around with categories, and moving more towards the mainstream. SF authors like Marianne de Pierres, is also writing crime as Marianne Delacourt, and another award-winning Australian fantasy novelist will be releasing a crime novel later this year (ssssh sekrit project). I love that Australian writers are being creative and playful with genre, it's lots of fun.
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.