2005 Snapshot Archive: Ben Payne

Interview by Ben Peek

Aurealis #31Ben Payne is the new co-editor (with Robert Hoge) of Aurealis. The site appears to be down, and Ben and Robert’s first issue hasn’t arrived yet, but Ben has a livejournal and I’ll provide a link for that. (Cover is taken from a previous issue.)

1) Having recently taken over the editor chores (with Robert Hoge) for Aurealis, how have you approached forming a vision for a magazine that, ten years ago, was a strong force in the genre, but has in recent years lost some of its power and market presence?

I think one of our main tasks is keeping the magazine consistent, in both the quality of its stories and the regularity of its issues. Also, we’re keen to expose the magazine to overseas readers, and to increase our local presence outside the fan scene. But I’m sure these are ambitions common to most magazines in the country.

But as far as forming a vision, I’m wary of over-thinking stuff like that. Ultimately, we’re going to buy the stories that we like best from the stories that people write and send to us. It’s as simple as that. Of course we’ll be bringing our own tastes and knowledges and hopefully that will be a good thing, but ultimately the magazine is as good or as bad as the writers who submit to it. Luckily for us there are a lot of authors writing good stuff right now.

2) What kind of fiction do you think has a home in the Australian scene, and what kind of fiction do you think has a harder time?

This is such a tough question.

I think the increasing number of small press publications has really helped in this regard. There are a lot more styles and types of stories being published now than there were five years ago, imho. I think there could be more really good hard sf published, but I think the reason there’s less of that is that it’s so hard to write, rather than a bias on the part of magazines. And, from my experience in various slushpiles, there seems to be less of it being written.

So it’s hard to say what type of fiction has a hard time finding a home, and what’s simply not being written that much. My personal hunches would be that maybe local mags prefer clearly structured stories to more experimental stuff, that maybe they’re predominantly plot-based. I’d like to see a bit more grit, and conversely, a bit more playfulness, and a few more emotions laid bare. But like I said, maybe that’s not so much about editors’ tastes as it is about what’s being written.

And like any categorisation of this sort, it’s all in the eye of the beholder.

3) You edit your own magazine Potato Monkey, you work with Robert Hoge on Aurealis, and you have worked with an Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Group. Each of those is a different form of editing, and I’m curious about what attracts you to each, and how a Ben Payne style of editing can be maintained in the last two.

ASIM is kind of interesting. I guess I was attracted to it at the start because it just seemed like a nice kind of quixotic adventure. I’ve always been attracted to gestures of insane optimism, and starting a bimonthly paying semi-pro publication certainly seemed to fit that bill. I guess I also shared the sense among many that spec fic was in danger of taking itself too seriously. Looking back, I’m not sure my own sense of fun and playfulness was all that similar to most of the collective, which is probably a good thing because I doubt my particular sense of humour would have been as popular 🙂

As far as tone goes, I’ve never thought about it too much. Apart from making sure my issue wasn’t entirely made up of dark depressing stories, I just tried to pick the best stories I could. That’s not to say that the magazine had no effect on the process. On the contrary, the stories that I had to pick from were those that writers had thought were ASIM stories and stories that had made it through two rounds of slush. But I didn’t feel that kind of “How do I make sure this is an issue of ASIM” weighing heavily on my mind…

Aurealis I was attracted to because, well, it was Aurealis. It was one of the big two when I first entered the scene, and I guess I thought it was important that it continued. I didn’t in a million years expect to get the gig, but I’m glad we did, and I hope that the commitment and passion I have for the genre in this country enables me to do a good job at it.

Aurealis will be my first co-editing experience, in that while ASIM is a collective, editors pretty much work alone. So it’ll be interesting to see how that works. Robert and I have been arguing about stories at Vision meetings for a number of years now, so I’m sure we’re used to it by now…

I guess I’m avoiding the last part of your question, because I’m not sure yet if there’s a Ben Payne style. I guess maybe that’s something I’ll be able to see more clearly in five years, looking back. Or maybe it’s something only other people can see…

4) You’re dead. It was in the papers, everywhere, and all those bodies… Lets just not talk about it. You go to Heaven (assuming there is, blah blah) and you see God. What do you say?

I always liked Peter Cook and Dudley Moore’s question of whether it would really have been too much trouble to poke a hand out from a cloud once every few years and say “hello… still here…”

And Kurt Vonnegut’s motto, which was something like “live so that you can say to God on judgement day, ‘I was a very good person, even though I didn’t believe in you'”.

Or maybe just quote Avril Lavigne… “Why’d you have to go and make things so complicated?”

Erm…

Actually I’d probably just invite him for a beer and ask him what he really thinks of Christians 🙂

5) Favourite swear word?

Cunt. The best swear words are usually the most offensive because they remind us how absurd we are…

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