1. Since the last Snapshot you have had a number of releases under the name Elizabeth Dunk through Escape Publishing, including ‘Arranged to Love’ and your new short story collection ‘Release’. Plus! Escape will also be publishing your new science fiction trilogy (as Nicole Murphy) over the next 12 months. Congratulations! Can you tell us about your new releases, and how you came to connect with Escape? Has working under a pseudonym benefited you?
Thank you! 2014 has turned out to be one hell of a year – lotsa deadlines, which is a teensy weensy bit stressful but then, I wouldn’t do everything that I do if I weren’t at least slightly addicted to stress!
As Elizabeth Dunk, I’ve had three books released – two contemporary romances (‘Arranged to Love’ and ‘The Lies We Tell’) and the most recent, a collection of paranormal erotica ‘Release’. I started writing both the contemporary romance and the erotica as a way to challenge myself and grow as a writer. They each require a very different way of looking at story and character than the trilogy I published with HarperCollins did. Plus, there was the fear that with the trilogy not doing so well, I’d never sell a book under the Nicole Murphy name again and I’d need a new plan! Thankfully, that turned out not to be the case.
I connected with Escape at the Romance Writer’s of Australia conference on the Gold Coast in 2012. I’d got close to having ‘Arranged to Love’ published with another publisher, but it was knocked back at acquisitions. So I was trying to work out what to do next. Escape (which is an imprint of Harlequin, better known to the general public in Australia as the publishers of Mills & Boon) was launched at that conference. Apart from the fact it had the backing of the largest romance publisher in the world, it was run by Kate Cuthbert, who was a very well regarded romance blogger and had an international reputation for sniffing out a good yarn. So I thought ‘what the hay, I’ll give it a go’ and I sent the story to Kate. Thankfully she loved it, and she’s enjoyed everything I’ve sent her ever since (although she makes me work hard for it – I’ve had to do some major re-writes before she’ll say yes).
The new Nicole Murphy trilogy that’s coming out is really exciting and important to me. I first conceived the idea and the world for these books 30 years ago. I’ve never been able to shake it, and then when Kate suggested that I write some science fiction romance (it’s selling like hot cakes at the moment), it just so happened I’d started working the first book again and was thinking I’d finally nailed the story. So it was meant to be, it seems, that this was the time for that book to be published. Now it’s only the knee-quaking wait to see if people like it!
Using a psuedonym was a decision not for me as a writer but for the readers. Some people read very strictly according to genres and if they were urban fantasy readers and having liked the first trilogy, picked up ‘Arranged to Love’ thinking it would be the same, they’d be really pissed off. Having said that, there are some people who will read an author no matter what genre they publish it, so I’ve never hidden the fact I’m both Nicole and Elizabeth.
It can get a bit challenging sometimes – I did for example try to have both Nicole and Elizabeth as separate twitter accounts, but I gave that up as just too hard. I barely have enough interesting things to say on one twitter account! And when I go to the RWA conference this year, I may well have to remember to answer to ‘Elizabeth’ as well as ‘Nicole’.
2. You are the convenor of the Aurealis Awards, which relocated from Sydney to Canberra last year. It has been announced that, from 2014, certain categories will attract an entry fee and there has been some controversy surrounding this. Can you give us an understanding of how the Awards Management team came to the decision to introduce fees? What do you think will be the positives (and negatives) of the fee introduction on the Awards?
Sure, happy to talk about it. For the past few years, it’s become increasingly difficult to run the awards from a financial viewpoint. While they’re not overly expensive to run, they’re not cheap either and the only reason organisers haven’t been paying out of their pocket for them has been sponsorship or grants.
These, however, are getting increasingly hard to get. For example, the number of publishers prepared to support the awards has dived as their budgets get tightened. Even basic advertising is becoming nigh on impossible to get. We’re not giving up on gaining sponsorships and grants, because the fees introduced won’t cover the costs of running the awards, but a new revenue stream that would be consistent was required. We could have jacked up the cost of attending the ceremony to help cover the other costs but that would probably result in less people attending, so less money coming in.
We discussed a few ideas. Some people online have mentioned crowdsourcing. We thought that could be an answer, but wouldn’t necessarily contribute to an ongoing revenue stream, which is what we think the awards needs. Also we wondered what rewards we could offer that would engage the community and so far, no one has suggested anything to help with that problem. In the end, we decided the fees were the way to go. We were under no illusions the decision to impose entry fees would be popular, and we know that they’ve been considered in the past but people decided not to go ahead for fear of the backlash.
We decided to just keep it to the book categories for two reasons. Firstly, we were aware that this is going to be an impost on small publishers, and extending it to the short fiction categories would make that impost greater, since it is mostly small publishers that publish short fiction. Secondly, the number of entries in the short fiction categories is many times larger than that in the book categories. Potentially it would make us more money to charge fees there too, but then the work involved in organising that, and auditing it, would make it not worth while.
As far as negatives are concerned – well, there was going to be two. First was the backlash (and we’ve survived that). The second is that potential impact on the number of entries we receive. That’s going to be difficult to judge, because who’s to say a drop in entries isn’t because there were less novels published in that year? But we’re certainly going to be reviewing it at the end of the period, looking at the impact and investigating what happened and why and seeing if perhaps it’s not the best way to ensure the financial viability of the awards and considering other options.
3. Since the 2010 Snapshot it feels (and correct me if I’m wrong!) that you have moved from writing speculative fiction with a hint of romance, to romance with a hint of speculative fiction. How do you think the romance and speculative fiction industries compare, and how important is it that writers straddle genres these days?
Wow – that’s a question and a half :) It’s true that I’m more willing to embrace the romance loving part of me and put that into my stories, but I’m also still doing work that’s mostly if not purely speculative (generally in the short story area). I plan to one day have another go at writing an epic fantasy or full on space opera – it’s where I started, and still a great love of my life.
The two industries have a lot in common – they both know what it’s like to be dissed on by other genres; they both have rabid and voracious readers (and there’s actually quite a lot of crossover – I know a lot of romance readers that love fantasy, and vice versa); they’re both willing to embrace new technology (although it must be said spec ficers – the romance readers and publishers are LEAPS ahead with electronic and online publishing which considering we’re the geeks is a little shame-making). The big difference for me is the way the up and coming writers are supported and encouraged. The Romance Writers of Australia is an amazing group, with activities and opportunities for a whole range of writers. Competitions with in-depth feedback (I know because I judge a few), workshops (both online and at the annual convention, which is all about writing romance), critique schemes, writing groups across the country. It’s no wonder romance is a growing genre – RWA (and counterparts around the world) provide a hothouse atmosphere for writers to grow and flourish in a much faster fashion than speculative fiction manages. There’s been talk of establishing similar in Australia time and again, but the problem is it requires a team (at least half a dozen) of enthusiastic people prepared to sacrifice and make it happen and those who are interested just don’t have the time to do that. So maybe it will never happen for us.
I’m not sure it’s right for all authors to straddle genres. Some can – I’m not convinced yet that I’m one of them, but I’m working on it. For those who can straddle genres, the payoff is that you’ve got two opportunities to gain readers and earn money and if you want a career, those are the two things you want to have happen. But some authors don’t have the knowledge or the skills or the desire to write more than the genre they are specialising in, and that’s fine. If you can’t do something well, you shouldn’t do it at all.i
4. What Australian works have you loved recently?
I hope everyone’s been out and bought ‘The Lascar’s Dagger’ by Glenda Larke because it is an absolutely awesome book. Adventure and intrigue and politics and love and all the great things that make a read worthwhile, all done by a fabulously talented writer. The opening scene of that book is one of my favourite scenes of all time and the closest I’ve ever come to seeing an action movie written down.
If any of you are interested in having a go at romance-heavy speculative fiction, I can recommend ‘The Sorceror’s Spell’ by Dani Kristoff (aka Donna Maree Hanson) which is out August 1 from HarperImpulse. Okay so I’m biased, because Donna is one of my best friends, but still this is an interesting read, with lots of great sex and for the most part is set in and around Canberra, so win!
But if you can’t bear that, luckily Donna’s got two new books out in September/October that are fabulously gritty epic fantasy (under her real name, Donna Maree Hanson). She’s been working on this story for years, and it’s a really unique situation with fabulous characters. It’s dark – not horror dark, but holy shit people do awful fucking things to each other dark – and beautifully written.
There’s been some other books I’ve enjoyed – Beckoning Blood by Daniel Lorne, Bound by Alan Baxter – but I’m afraid my reading is dreadfully behind at the moment. Sometimes you have to choose – will I read, or will I write – and I always choose writing.
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’ve been really focussed on shorter works, and simpler works, to get them written quickly and out the door. Electronic publishing has a much shorter turnaround than traditional publishing (sometimes it can be just weeks from submission to publication) so almost as soon as one book gets accepted, you need to have the next one ready to submit. I’m also working on a bit of a theory – the more books you have out there, the easier it is for your name to be found and thus the chances of being discovered and growing your readership greater.
But I’m really aware that that sort of schedule doesn’t really allow for a story to sit and develop and manifest itself, which is kinda more what I need for the epic fantasies to take shape and I really want to writer a good – no, a great – epic fantasy.
In five years, I hope my career is established (dare I say, I’m even making my living from writing?) – established enough that I can take more time with my stories. Be more inventive, challenge myself, develop more intricated and even interweaving plot lines. But still, I’ll still be doing the fast paced, fun, light and entertaining romances as well, because the world could do with more fun and light.
This post is part of the 2014 Snapshot of Australian Speculative Fiction. We’ll be blogging interviews from 28 July to 10 August and archiving them at SF Signal. Snapshot 2012 is being conducted by Tsana Dolichva, Nick Evans, Stephanie Gunn, Kathryn Linge, Elanor Matton-Johnson, David McDonald, Helen Merrick, Jason Nahrung, Ben Payne, Alex Pierce, Tansy Rayner Roberts, Helen Stubbs, Katharine Stubbs, Tehani Wessely, and Sean Wright. To read the interviews hot off the press, check our blogs daily from 28 July to 10 August, 2014.