Australian Speculative Fiction: writers, editors, publishers
Interview by Ben Peek
Geoffrey Maloney is the author of the Ditmar Award nominated collection Tales from the Crypto System. He also has fiction appearing in the latest Aurealis.
1) With a publishing record that begins in 1989, what is it that you would say unifies your body of work as a whole (or doesn't), what interests you, and what it takes, sixteen years later, for you to begin a piece?
I don't know if there is anything that unifies it as a whole. Like many writers in Australia, I don't tend to stick to any particular sub-genre and I'm quite happy to write the occasional space opera, albeit with a twist, as I am to write a dark fantasy or a future political history. If there is a unifying angle in there, it's probably that I prefer the offbeat to the adventurous, the weird to the well-known and characters who realise that they don't know all the answers. I'm always keen to put my characters into odd situations and see how they deal with it. Basically, they need to suffer or at least be terribly confused by what is happening to them. I'm also fond of happy endings although a lot of people wouldn't see them ending that way. I put lots of dark humour in my stories too, but it's rare that people see it.
Beginning a piece of work is probably easier than it ever was ... there are ideas all over the place that need exploration. Right now my work is focussing on relationships viewed through a dark fantasy lens. There's a lot more erotic and magic realism elements emerging. Which is exciting, but at the same time I'm probably narrowing down the markets to I can publish in. In fact, I think the story I've just finished writing "The Miracles of Sister Psychosis" has no virtually no market at all, despite the fact that I think it's one of the more polished stories and I have written. But, yes, it is somewhat ... should I use that word? ... avant-garde, possibly surrealistic, although it uses a standard narrative flow as all my stories do.
I find that the hardest part now is finishing the things I've started. The internal editor has grown sharper and more critical over the years ... particularly as a result of having taken on editorial projects at times ... and it often passes harsh judgement before I've even given a new piece a decent chance. I'd like to think the stories that do get finished are the better ones, but it could just be that the internal editor decided to take a holiday when I wrote them. But I also think that if I could get the internal editor to take a holiday more often, I might be able to produce shorter less complex stories that might have wider appeal.
2) You've recently been publicly associated with helping new authors find a publisher for their collections, and with the organisation of anthologies such as the Devil in Brisbane, with Serbian writer, Zoran Zivkovic. What is it that attracts you to do this?
Quite simply, I'm interested in seeing Australian speculative writing get more recognition outside of the country. And I'm keen to see writers who have clearly got the talent get some early recognition; they shouldn't have to wait fifteen years before somebody says, "Gee, I didn't know they'd written so many good stories." So having had my own collection (this is the plug) Tales of the Crypto-System published by Prime Books in late 2003, I was keen to use that connection to help others get a foot in the door. That said, I haven't actually done all that much. I read most of Lee Battersby's and Paul Haines's stories and helped them choose a selection of the best on which we could base a pitch to Prime. But both these guys are so good that their work sells itself. Which at the end of the day is why Prime picked them up.
Some people also thought that I helped Trent Jamieson's with his collection. But that's not the case. Trent already had strong connections with Prime through editing the magazine Redsine with Garry Nurrish and the editorial work he did on my own book and Kirsten Bishop's too. The only thing I did was send Trent badgering emails every so often encouraging him to put his own collection together, which I'm please to see he finally did. Trent's an exceptional writer whose work definitely deserves a wider audience. Like Battersby and Haines, he's a great example of a writer who is consistently good, and published stories in so many places that it's almost impossible for a reader to keep track of. His collection, Reserved for Travelling Shows should remedy that. And I did encourage Kirsten Bishop to send The Etched City to Prime after she couldn't find a publisher in Australia for it. It was a case of knowing that the book was simply too good to sit gathering dust and the Australian publishers had obviously got it wrong. Surprise, surprise, surprise!
My involvement with The Devil in Brisbane was largely because of my friendship with Zoran Zivkovic who I'd had some contact with before he visited Australia for the Brisbane Writers' Festival last year. Zoran had also been published by Prime Books in the US. It was a fun project to do and the opportunity to play assistant-editor to a writer of Zoran's standing was just too good to miss. It came about as a result of Zoran running a writers' masterclass while he was in Brisbane. He based the class around one of his own devil stories which had just been published in Argosy, and was surprised at how accomplished the writers were who attended. So The Devil in Brisbane was born from the stories commenced in the masterclass. There's also a bunch of other stories Zoran and I requested from a few others, all around the theme of the relationship between the devil and writers. Which to may not sound so interesting to some, but it's pretty amazing what people have been able to do with that theme.
3) Your opinion of the Australian scene, both pro and con?
There's a lot being published in the short fiction market, which is good thing, but you get the sense that it's all so fragile, and any minute everyone could just decide that it's all too hard and pack up and go home and find something better to do with their lives. This is largely because it takes lots of dedicated individuals, with next to no money, to make it work. It's a pity that there's not more interest shown by the big publishing houses in the good stuff that's being written. I mean you don't actually hear of anyone getting a book contract in Australia because they've got a proven track record in publishing short stories in any of the local magazines. Yet advice to young writers starting out is that they should always try to get some short stories published first. I don't think that advice applies in Australia, but I've heard that it helps in the US. Personally, I like short stories, but if I was a person who really wanted to write novels in Australia, I wouldn't go anywhere near the short story market. There's very little money in it and the time it takes to write several short stories would be much better spent on writing your next novel, or better still writing your next Young Adult novel because that seems to be the place where you can actually sell them. Which suggests in Australia, of course, that speculative fiction is somehow juvenile.
Certainly at the big end of town the market is very conservative in terms of what is supposed to sell, but I also think that we're pretty conservative in the small press short story market as well, largely publishing more traditional style stories than say the small press publishes in the US. A little bit more experimentation wouldn't go astray. Ticonderoga Online with its self-proclaimed gonzo image is probably worth watching on that front.
And it's also worth noting that CSFG publishing is about to put a collection out by Kaaron Warren who is certainly one of the more interesting and exciting writers around. People really need to read her story "The Glass Woman". It's exceptional. I think this is a great step for the CSFG and I'm happy that I was part of it when it first started.
4) You're dead. The milk really was off, and that was razor blades in the chunky parts. Still, can't complain, being dead. You go to Heaven (assuming you believe, and so forth) and you see God. You say?
"Sweet fucking Jesus! Is that really you? Looks like you could with some help in the Middle East and is true what they've been saying on Earth, that you really like George W.Bush?"
5) Favourite swear word?
I prefer Elizabethan insults. "Beetle-brained Jolthead" I think is a beauty. However, if I must have a swearword than "damn" it is, although I'm quite fond of "oh, poop!" which I think I got from my wife and "smelly old bumhead" which came from my kids. If anybody needs some good Elizabethan insults, I can provide them with an Elizabethan Insult Ready Reckoner which I found on the web one night. Hours of fun for everyone.
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