Interview by Ben Peek
Margo Lanagan is the author of the award winning collection Black Juice. The collection itself has won the Victorian Premier’s Literary Award, and ‘Singing My Sister Down’, the opening story of the collection, recently picked up the Golden Aurealis for best short fiction in 2004, and has been nominated for a Ditmar. Stories from the collection will also be appearing in various Year’s Best anthologies.
1) Your collection Black Juice has done quite excellently, which is really following in the trend of your previous collection, White Time. But what I find interesting about you is that before the collections are published, individual stories don’t appear in magazines or anthologies. I can only think it’s an intentional desire on your part, and I’m curious about what lead you to this decision?
Nah, it was a time factor thing. I only found out, when I went to Clarion West in 1999, that sending short-stories to magazines was how you were supposed to start out with spec-fiction writing, and I already had the contract for White Time organised when I went (it paid for my Clarion trip). I’d done a lot of poetry writing and sending in my teens and twenties, and it just seemed kind of tedious to go back to sending things out individually. And my life’s been very full — probably no fuller than any other writer’s who has day-job work and family as well, but I just prioritised posting to magazines a lot lower, obviously!
So it came down to laziness, Ben, rather than a conscious decision to be different! And actually, it’s only since Black Juice that it seems to have been a good decision to publish collections — White Time did so terribly (critically OK but sales hopeless), I’m amazed that Allen & Unwin agreed to takeBlack Juice on.
2) Black Juice is, like the majority of your fiction, billed as a young adult fiction, but like White Time, it has reached that crossover audience. Given that your previous novels were young adult fiction as well, I wonder what the attraction is for you to write to that age range, and if we’ll ever see a grungier, adult Lanagan fiction world (if such a distinction is even valid for you)?
I don’t know, I’ve been pretty grungy in my YA fiction at times. The distinction between YA and A fiction is one of those things that disappears every time I look at it too closely; the distinction between junior fiction and YA is a lot easier to draw. I think the attraction of writing fiction for younger people is the escape into characters’ lives who haven’t yet made decisions that will set them up for a predictable path through life. But I also like the fact that characters are encountering things for the first time, or just starting to make sense of the world, or just starting to question the world that they’ve found themselves in. Middle-aged crises interest me much less — I see enough of those in my daily life. Writing about them is not an escape.
That said, I’ve just had an idea for a story that I guess is adult horror. It’s the first time I’ve thought, No, this one could never be classified young adult, no matter how hard you tried. So maybe I’m getting more thoroughly crossover than I have been so far.
3) There’s been a lot of talk going on here about the quality of fiction existing in the Australian scene, and I’m wondering what your take on it is?
I’m sure there is plenty of good writing around, but I’m really not qualified to comment on the Australian scene. I’m pretty shaky on the genre scene as a whole, having lots of good intentions and only limited reading time. I know that the quality of social life is *excellent*; ask me again in a year or two about the fiction.
4) You’re dead. Downloading music is illegal, after all, and you were punished by the music industry who had you and thirty four teenagers placed against the wall and shot. They said you were destroying the music industry single handedly, each one of you. The tragedy of it is that you hadn’t been downloading music at all on your peer to peer server at all… still, Heaven is a cool place, no rules to get in, and God is a downloader. You walk in and you see him and you say?
“What — nothing but harp music?” Then I see his very clean white beard, and his manicured fingernails and pedicured toenails, and his gorgeous embroidered robes, and I say to myself, Yeah, I thought some vain old bloke was running the universe.
5) Favourite swear word?
A nice, nasal “bloody”. As in “Jesus Blah-dy Christ” or “Blah-dy Hell.” And for an explosion of mock-outrage or -pain, fuck-fuckedy-fuck-fuck-fuckface. Favourite insult (also courtesy of my sons): Poo-nugget.