2007 Snapshot Archive: Deborah Biancotti

Interviewed by Ben Payne

First published at ASiF!

Deb Biancotti found success with her first story, The First and Final Game, and has since won Best New Talent at the Ditmars, and picked up a swag of other awards and nominations for stories such as King of All and the Metal Sentinals, Number Three Raw Place, Summa Seltza Missive, Rope Artist and The Dying Light.

1. You met with early success in your writing career, with both Aurealis and Ditmar awards for stories such as The First and Final Game, and King of All and the Metal Sentinel. You’ve managed to keep the award nominations coming steadily thereafter. Looking back, do you think the early success was a positive or negative thing for your career and do you feel a great deal of pressure to live up to expectations?

Yeah, I used to feel a terrible pressure to live up to (what I perceived) were the expectations after that beginning. It was a real double-edged sword, because on the one hand it was extremely validating & exciting, but on the other, I was very new to writing & didn’t feel like I knew what I was doing. So I was being rewarded (& awarded) & I didn’t know what I was being rewarded for! Very confusing time. I spent the next few years feeling like I was trying to get away from all that, back into some kind of safe obscurity again. But hell, that’s a good problem to have, right? I can’t say it was a negative. And maybe having something to live up to made me work harder than having something to prove.

2. Your writing often functions on a metaphorical level rather than a literal one. What is it that attracts you to metaphor? Are there things you can say with metaphor that you can’t tell life to its face?

What a great way to describe it. I think I have a deep love for metaphor, for symbolism and for analysis. At uni I studied literature and psychology, and though I think Freud was a crack addict & madman, I’m sympathetic to the way he affixed (or manufactured) narrative through symbolic connections. He was a storyteller, see. There’s this dream he describes having where the numbers above a doorway, apparently random, turn out to be somehow related to something that happened to him at some particular age — but only if you add them up & divide them in a special way. ‘How smart and sophisticated is the unconscious!’ said Freud. What a nutcase, eh? Stop me if I ever get that crazy. Still, I gotta say, it’s a lot of fun to listen to.

I read recently that when people’s emotional abilities are compromised (eg. they suffer brain damage that leads to their inability to experience emotion), their decision-making abilities also decline. That is, without emotion to guide them, they start making bad decisions, decisions that are harmful or inefficient. To make a good decision you need to be emotionally functional. I think that’s where metaphor fits in. It works on the emotional level first – & there are some powerful motivators and messages in our emotions. Even when we don’t know what to do with them or how to interpret or explain them. Psychology is like deep-sea diving, I think most of the time. Who knows what critters you’ll find, or what critters you can create there.

3. Your career so far has been one of quality over quantity. Do you have plans to move into novel territory, and if so, how will that effect your writing style?

Why, thank you for that quality comment! Matter of fact I’m testing out novel territory right now. I noticed my short stories were getting denser & I was beginning to stress about ‘fitting everything in’, so it seemed logical to try a novel. I wrote a first draft which was pure and unabashed drivel. Really. Bad beyond reckoning. There are sections even I refuse to read. But once I had the overall arc or structure in my head, it allowed me to start again. And what I’m finding on the second draft is that I’m approaching it piecemeal, writing in small sections and then pasting them into the arc. So in a way, I’m working the novel into my style, rather than altering my style to accommodate the novel. I wonder how the hell it’ll turn out.

4. Stop making this all about you! What other authors are you digging at the moment?

Ok already! 😉 I am deeply in love with David Mitchell after having read Ghostwritten, & I have Cloud Atlas already on order. I love the energy of Michael Robotham’s crime novels, I definitely recommend him. Joe Hill’s writing is wonderful: so much clarity and humanity. I’ve just finished up his short story collection & it was charming. I’ve replaced that with a book of short stories by Patricia Anthony, which I’m liking: kinda lingering & unsettling narratives, quite understated. And I’m just starting in on Justina Robson: I’m finding her stuff really exciting.

Also I’m getting into graphic novels about 25 years after I first stupidly gave up comics as a kid (I blame having no pocketmoney to fund my own reading as a child): especially Warren Ellis & Alan Moore (‘Obviously,’ say all the graphic novel fans). And I’m getting a real kick out of non-fiction this year, reading about the history of submarines and real life dramas & disasters. Plus I’m reading more psychology this year. But the list of things I ‘have to’ read is much, much longer than the list of things I’ve recently read, dammitt. I have a stack of Mary Gentle novels all lined up, waiting for me to give them the attention they deserve, for example.

5. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, you’re given the opportunity to get it on with the fictional character you fancy most. Who’s it gonna be?

Ooooohhhhhh! Let’s see. I’d get it on with Clint Eastwood’s ‘man with no name’ from the spaghetti westerns of the 70s, but only if I didn’t have to spend too long hanging out in some desert with a bunch of bloodthirsty reprobates. I remember having a crush on the main male character of Janet Morris’ DREAM DANCER when I read it, he seemed pretty together & smart. But if we were talking about the character I’d most like to hang out drinking with, I’d have to go with Ash from Mary Gentle’s ASH: A SECRET HISTORY. She’s so darn feisty and quick-witted. Pretty sure there’d be some high adventures with a bar-hopping buddy like that one.

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