Australian Speculative Fiction: writers, editors, publishers
Interview by Ben Peek
Stuart Barrow is the editor of the Gastronomicon which will be released at the end of April. It'll be sold for eleven bucks, postage and handling. How could you say no?
1) The Canberra Science Fiction Guild serves an important function in providing a place for new authors to emerge, but at the same time, the anthologies have not been greeted with acclaim by the rest of Australia. How does that sit with you when you approach a new project, or when a new anthology is decided upon within the group?
This'll be a hard question to answer without appearing defensive, you know.
I'd say the anthos have been received ok -- we've had good reviews, and indifferent ones. It goes without saying that we'd love everyone to worship our work; we'd love to be the must-submit venue; we'd love to sell a million copies and live high on the hog for a few years. But I think we do ok, really. Encounters, for example, got five listings in Ellen Datlow's Recommended Reading list, which isn't to be sniffed at. We do the best we can, like anybody, and have to accept that it won't be good enough for everybody. Doesn't stop us trying, I guess.
I think the bar is a lot higher than it was when Nor of Human came out, and I think that can cause a bit of frustration for an editor. That's part of why I chose to sidestep the regular anthology process with the Gastronomicon -- this was only my second fiction editing project, the first I've had full responsibility for, so I wanted to do it as much on my own terms as possible. One thing I absolutely love about the CSFG, though, is that they are so fantastically supportive. It wasn't a case of, "A cookbook? Sure, Stu, do what you want," it was "A cookbook? Fantastic! How can I help?"
The other thing is, of course, as a CSFG insider I don't necessarily hear what's being said by other groups, in other circles. Certainly, there are times when knowing what we're doing wrong from an outsider's point of view -- or, knowing what an outsider thinks we're doing wrong, which isn't the same thing -- would be terribly useful. In my darker moments I sometimes wonder if the reception for any given project has more to do with the personalities involved as the quality of the work. But I'm not really a man of dark moments; such thoughts are defensive and don't help anyone very much.
As for approaching a new project, I'm not actually sure how we decide anything. Ideas seem to percolate until either they find someone willing to drive them, or they reach critical mass and become something we're already doing and have been for some time. This generally means that things don't happen until they're ripe, which is nice. I initiated the Gastronomicon as something I've wanted to for a while -- it would have gone ahead regardless, but I'm happy it's gone ahead as a CSFG project.
(Oh, and: Psst -- "Speculative"!)
2) The Gastronomicon, I think it's fair to say, is a quirky project that will not appeal to all (it contains 20 short stories and 22 recipes). It's immediate audience appears to be the Canberra scene, and I imagine it will be a difficult sell outside that. How do you plan to bring to book to the attention of the rest of Australia?
Actually, I'm kind of relying on the quirk factor to move it. For everyone who says, "Quirky? I'm not sure..." there's someone who says, "Quirky? Bring it on!" I'm expecting a market beyond those people who'd normally buy the various anthologies that come out; it's a neat gift product, it's got the recipe angle, it's got a silly cover... it's quirky. It's not just quirky -- I've approached this professionally, and it's the best damn quirky anthology/cookbook I can produce.
And it's cheap, too.
I'll be pushing it as much as I can through the usual venues -- reviews, advertising, spamming the various writing lists. I'm going to pull in favours to get it visible at all the various cons. I'm not exactly a marketing genius -- I'm relying on the rest of the group for cues and ideas.
3) What place do you think projects like yours occupy in the Australian scene?
Buggered if I know.
I mean, there is clearly a place for off-beat, personality-driven projects. I think it's important to have fun with what you're doing -- a regular anthology would have broken me, I think, because I'm just not all that interested in doing fiction for fiction's sake. I must admit that I'm more excited about a clever and witty themed anthology like Daikaiju than I am about just another fiction anthology -- even one of ours.
The Gastronomicon has stories -- and types of stories -- that would never get written, let along published, in the regular magazine-and-anthology circuit. Good stories, mind, just stories that only belong in an anthology/cookbook. I like that. It pushes people to produce something a little different.
4) You're dead. Sadly, that chicken recipe I gave you... no good. Sorry. Anyhow, you go to Heaven (assuming you believe--man, do I even need to be writing this anymore) and see God. You say?
I like to think I'd say something terribly witty ("Was it Peek what done me in?"; "You're taller than I expected!"; "No time for you, where's the second-hand bookshop?") but, in reality, I'd probably show the embarrassed deference I reserve for authority figures I've had disagreements with, when it turns out that they're right and I'm wrong (I am an atheist, you see).
And it'd be a Christian second-hand bookshop, wouldn't it? Eek.
5) Favourite swear word?
I use "fuck" and particularly "fucking pain in the fucking arse!" a lot, but that's your basic, everyday swearing. My favourites would be more elaborate concoctions: I saw the phrase "cock juggling thunder cunts!" on an lj icon and immediately adopted it. When I've got the presence of mind I like more old-fashioned curses -- favourites being "Curses!" or "Blast!" or "Damn it!"
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