1. Who are the short fiction authors you admire (Australian or otherwise, alive or dead)?
*has a terrible urge to read thousands more stories to make an informed decision…comes back to earth reluctantly*
I know I should be saying Saki, Emily Perkins, Turgenev, Oliver Sacks, Paul Jennings, (because it’s true, I do admire them all) but you know what? I’m constantly amazed by the stuff put out by unpublished authors, like the Fictionpress community I’m a member of. People like Emily Lundgren (fictionpress.com/~lookingwest), Xenolith, Starving Hysterical, Narq… in their poetry, prose (and prose poetry) they are constantly exploring new means of expression and new topics. Their courage pushes me to poke at my own boundaries, whereas the already-published gods one can only quail before.
2. What is the most memorable short story you have read? And why does it stand out for you?
I’d make a terrible judge. I love too many stories for too many different reasons. Turgenev’s ‘Loner’ because it’s so simple yet so haunting. Mohammed Dib’s ‘Naema Disparue’, Diane Ackerman’s ‘The Moon by Whale Light’, Ray Bradbury’s ‘The Veldt’. Joseph Kessel’s ‘Makno et sa Juive’, Emily Perkins stylistically wonderful and refreshing ‘Not Her Real Name’, Richard Adam’s ‘The Iron Wolf’, Narq’s ‘Home’, Xenolith’s ‘Anoxic love’. Because I wished I’d written them, of course. If I had to pick one: ‘Makno et sa Juive’, I suppose, because it’s one of the first I read that really stuck with me, and because of how it treads a wonderfully murky line between good and evil. The characterisation was awesome.
3. What do you like about the short story form?
As a writer: Succinctness. How they are little windows onto other worlds. As a reader: their amazing variety of style and voice and structure.
4. How would you describe your own writing?
Oof. I’m a terrible judge of my own writing. Plus it’s still very much a young, evolving thing. A few years ago I basically only wrote bald dialogue, now I’m in a purple prose stage, lol. I write across any genre that grabs me at that moment too. Consistently though, I love plot, I love melodrama (too much), but I don’t want the writing to be too manipulative either.
5. Which of your stories are you most fond of right at this moment and why?
Fond is a strong word… haha, it’s a love-hate relationship with some. I definitely get fond of characters though, fall in love with them, create acres of stories for them. The trick is knowing when to stop and what will work on the page. Currently I’m enjoying my manuscript Bloodline, an alternative history/ tragedy/romance of Russia in the late 1930s. The 30s was such an interesting time, and I’m loving the freedom given by an alternate history.
6. Where do the ideas for your stories come from? (Take us through an example)
A line of text, a radio story, a photo… anything. But once it’s got its claws in I have to get it down or burst. After my first visit to Tuol Sleng in Phnom Penh I desperately wanted to not just be a passive visitor and move on, and writing was the only way I could make sense of the experience. But neither could I engage with the issue at the time, it was too raw. Strangely enough though, I found the experience allowed me to write about a related topic – Siberian gulags … does that sound seriously morbid? Anyway, I spent the overnight flight home scribbling away, half feeling really sorry for the poor guy trying to sleep in the seat next to me, but mostly just having to get the words out. I think he thought I was possessed. Or at least obsessive compulsive. He was probably right.
7. What is your writing process – from idea to publication? (Do you go it alone or are others involved?)
Usually I’ll start with either a particular sentence or a conversation, just go with the flow, get the idea out, and build up around that. With each rereading I look for what’s missing: characterisation, tension, description, setting, etc, and try not to overload the text either. I like to bang out a first or second draft before anyone else sees it (anyone reading it at this stage is going to diss it, because I haven’t communicated the idea properly yet, so I have to resist getting anyone else’s opinion til it’s in some kind of shape – hard lesson to learn). Then it’ll go to my trusty beta-reader/editor Narq (aka Yin Lin) to let me know if I’m way off or if there’s potential. A few more drafts to cut down chaff or fill in the gaps…and if I’m still keen I’ll run it past my online (FictionPress) or local writing group (Darwin Authors Group). By that stage I’m usually pretty sick of it and it’s fantastic to get a fresh perspective. Recently I’ve taken to drawing story arcs for longer pieces: a great way to get your head around multiple plotlines and see the bigger picture. But the first draft has to come first: if I try and plan it out ‘Snowflake’-wise I lose the motivation to write it.
8. Do you feel the short story form is valued in Australia? What makes you say this?
I see people reading on public transport all the time, so to me it fits that niche really well. As life gets busier I certainly appreciate short fiction more and more, whilst at the same time adoring being absorbed into a novel. Is it a need that’s acknowledged or realised by readers? I’ll guess we’ll find out. To me, digitisation certainly helps make the format more accessible. I think there’s a thought out there that short stories have to be kinda high-brow and demanding, but short fiction that really absorbs you the way a novel does, gets me every time. I do think short stories aren’t publicised the way novels are, though – people don’t get the chance to know about them.
9. How do you feel about your work being published in non-print forms such as digital and audio?
Love it. Communication is an ever-broadening field, and I love that other modalities are being explored. I love being able to access writing whether the bookshop is open or not, whether I’m in Darwin, Sydney, Phnom Penh or Maningrida, and I’m excited by the possibilities being explored in terms of multimedia fiction: combining text image and sound.
10. What advice would you like to offer Spineless Wonders?
Congratulations on tackling digital publishing and short fiction publishing head on rather than complain about it like everyone else does 🙂