2007 Snapshot Archive: Sue Isle

Interviewed by Alisa Krasnostein

First published at ASiF!

Sue lives in Perth, Western Australia, a nice, peaceful little metropolis which she has ambitions to totally destroy in future writings. She’s written two books for kids, Scale of Dragon, Tooth of Wolf and Wolf Children but most of her output seems to be shorter fiction, just over 30 stories to date. Other interests include history, sf conventions, pet rats, roleplay gaming and gardening.

Q1. I consider you to be a very quiet achiever. You’ve written some really strong stories recently. Which are you most proud of? Which was the biggest struggle to get to publication?

That’s really hard to answer as I’m proud when any of them make it to publication but probably “Daughter of the Red Cranes” has been the most difficult as well as being one I am most proud of as I was rather depressed/blocked when I wrote that one and I had to push myself like mad to get the story out of my head. Cat Sparks, Agog’s editor, was really helpful with editing it and we tossed it back and forth a couple of times. She even came up with the final title. “Mary Bennet Gets a Life” also took awhile to get right. I had the original idea – the geek Bennet daughter finally comes into her own, becoming embroiled in a Professor Moriarty timetravelling revenge plot – but then I actually had to make it happen. I have this thing about waffling on when I begin a story. I can do it for quite awhile and more than one editor has suggested/told me to just lose the first two pages. I was too into the whole Jane Austen fanclub thing and a lot of what I wrote would have been good for such a club but not for a story which had to make sense to people not familiar with her writings beyond perhaps movie versions of Pride and Prejudice.

Q2. You write some very strong female characters (such as in “Daughters of the Red Crane”) as well as choosing the wallflower characters as protagonists (such as “Mary Bennett Gets a Life”) and in your upcomingShiny story your character is very nontraditional. Do you see yourself as a champion for the underdog? What interests you most about these sorts of characters?

I don’t know about being a champion but I’m probably most familiar with ‘underdog’ characters or characters out on their own against some society or some cause because I feel like that myself. I’m a born geek. I’ve never felt like I really belonged anywhere until I found sf fandom and discovered that a whole lot of people feel like that! Cai Mei in “Red Cranes” isn’t an outsider but she’s begun to think differently from her people. She lives in a future, deserted China where fertility is very rare so when it’s discovered that Mei isn’t sterile, she’s immediately pushed into a role she hasn’t even had time to think about, let alone decide whether she wants it or not. I’m not sure if I agree that Mary B is a wallflower. She’s definitely an 1800s geek, poor girl, she’s got a brain and she likes to use it but she’s awkward at the expected feminine activities of that time and class; can’t sing, can’t dance, not attractive, doesn’t simper… In some ways she’s very untraditional for her culture but she has no escape. Austen can’t do anything for her except leave her at home with her parents. I wanted to help her escape, strange as that sounds.

I like characters to suffer, at least some, it makes a better story. One of my friends bemoans the way stories have so much conflict in them but I’m not sure they’d be at all interesting if they didn’t. They’d be arty but they wouldn’t be fun to read, in my opinion. You say Ash in the upcoming Shiny story, “The Sun People”, is very non-traditional, being transgender. I guess he is but he fits in the culture he lives in, that of a city abandoned by the movers and shakers, without infrastructure or government. Ash’s main problem at the moment is getting hold of the medications and the surgical help he needs to be himself, the way he really sees himself. I’ve got more to write about Ash, I know, he’s going to be important in the society he’s helping to create. None of these characters “behave” as their societies would see it. Behaving, following the rules is boring. I’m not talking about the rules which say you shouldn’t kill people etc, I can see the point there but about the ones which say you shouldn’t be yourself because it’s not “done”. You shouldn’t make people uncomfortable, you should smile and dance and go along with the crowd. Yeah, right.

Q3. You tend to write at the longer length of short story. What about the novella/novelette length do you like?

I think I partly answered that above when I mentioned my waffling habit. I like the space to spread out, to show my people and their story in as much detail as I think I need. I don’t like the upper extreme so much, I find it difficult to write in doorstop style, for example, where authors spend pages describing what a character is wearing or perhaps backstory about some supporting character or how they built their castle. Editors always jump on me when I do that so why does Stephen King get away with it? Aspiring best sellers want to know! I think everyone has their natural length and perhaps it doesn’t exactly equate with the rules. While a novella-length gives room, it also requires the writer to stay focused, which I also enjoy doing. I look forward to the greater impact of online publishing, which I think is going to free us from some of the more rigid distinctions of story lengths.

Q4 Do you read much of the Aus spec fic scene? What’s the best thing you’ve read this year?

I read a fair bit, I feel I need to keep up as well as I can and I’ve been an Aurealis judge so that meant a thorough examination of everything in that year which I could find! This actually prompted me to read one of my best picks, Glenda Larke’s Song of the Shiver Barrens because books two and three of her Isles of Glory were up for an AA in their publication year and I just kept reading the rest. I also discovered John Scalzi, a relatively new author who does excellent space opera. The first one was Old Man’s War and the one this year was its sequel, The Ghost Brigades. There is so so much fantasy around. Don’t get me wrong, I like fantasy especially when it is done as freshly and excellently as Glenda Larke’s books, but I also appreciate good science fiction of which there doesn’t seem to be anything like as much. Then there’s Scott Westerfeld and don’t ask me to pick a favourite there. I’m only annoyed that I seem to have read everything he’s written now. So Yesterday and the Midnighters and Peeps were wonderful.

Q5 And finally, if you had the chance to get it on with the fictional character you fancy most, who would it be?

I have to pick one?

Hm, when I was 14/15 it would have been a toss up between Dracula as portrayed by Christopher Lee and Mr Spock – told you I was a geek.

I’m sure I’ve moved on since then. There’s Aragorn as portrayed by Viggo Mortensen, who is certainly a keeper – but I’ve always liked the guy who plays Kyle in The Terminator, whose name currently eludes me…


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