2010 Snapshot Archive: Dirk Flinthart

First published at Alexandra Pierce’s LiveJournal.

Dirk Flinthart is somewhere on the wrong side of 40. He started out writing in Brisbane, doing crime fiction with Duffy & Snellgrove. That led to backpacker’s guides, and then to “How To Be A Man” with John Birmingham. But just about then, Mr Flinthart acquired a family, and since then he’s been mostly involved in short fiction. He’s been well represented in the agog! series of books, and has popped up in a range of recent Australian anthologies, as well as places like Andromeda Spaceways and Darwin’s Evolutions. He’s edited an issue of ASIM, and was responsible for the editing of the Canterbury 2100 collection, released through agog! press in 2008. In 2009, he shared the Short Story Ditmar with Margo Lanagan for his piece “This Is Not My Story” which appeared in Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine. He’s currently working on more short stories, a couple of novels, and is giving serious consideration to a Master’s Degree. Flinthart holds a first dan black belt in ju-jitsu, and is studying up on his iaido. He cooks, gardens, takes interesting photographs, raises dangerous children, and plays traditional Irish music on the whistle and the flute. If you meet him, he is best pacified with the following: 1 part gin, 1/2 part blue curacao, dash of lime juice, two parts tonic water — over ice. (If it’s summer. In winter, just use Irish whiskey.)

1. Having had numerous short stories published in various venues (including ASIM and New Ceres Nights, plus the novella Angel Rising), apparently you are working on a couple of novels at the moment. Care to share about those? Do you have a preference for short stories, or novels?

I grew up on short stories. Loved ’em. Still love ’em. But the form is very challenging, and the freedom and scope of longer forms is tempting. There is a richness and depth you can build in a novel which will never be encompassed by even the greatest short stories. You can play with longer short stories as a compromise. You can build novellae and novelettes. But sooner or later, I think one has to try the long form. Hopefully, I’ll get to print within a few years. But the publishing industry works slowly, and there’s no certainties. Wish me luck!

2. A little while ago you turned your hand to editing, and produced the anthology Canterbury 2100, which I loved. What was it like, being at the meddling end of editing rather than the receiving end? Was the end product all that you hoped for, and did it get a good reception?

That was the single most challenging work I’ve ever undertaken. I was initially more than a little nervous about editing people like Geoff Maloney, Angela Slatter, Kaaron Warren and the others, but I have to say that the community of Australian SF writers is not only professional as hell, but dedicated, passionate, and supportive. I had no grief from anybody at all in the editing process — and believe me, the structure of that book meant that some of the stories got very sincerely edited indeed.

But the farther I got into the project, the more I realised I’d bitten off something much bigger than I’d thought. My models were Boccaccio and of course Chaucer, both of whom created collections of short stories that purported to be tales from a range of storytellers. The thing is that both Boccaccio and Chaucer were showcasing only their own work, so the metanarrative — the story which supports the stories, the tale of the storytellers — is sketchy at best. Chaucer’s people are a bunch of pilgrims on their way to Canterbury. They have a bit of individual character, and a bit of byplay, and yes, their stories reveal much of their nature. But the actual tale of the pilgrimage is just a sketch designed to provide a framework for the rich Canterbury Tales.

Boccaccio is even less concerned about his metanarrative. A hundred youths and maidens flee a plague-stricken city and take refuge in an abandoned villa in the hills. They tell stories to pass the time. And that’s about all you ever learn about them. The stories are cool as hell, but the metanarrative is just fluff.

Anyway, when I was editing all those lovely stories, I suddenly realised I didn’t have the luxury that Chaucer and Boccaccio did. If I wrote a piss-weak piece of fluff to support those stories, not only would it fail to show off the stories well, but the contrast would be glaringly obvious and painful to the modern reader. So somehow, I had to come up with a metanarrative that not only wove the stories into place, but supported them, and provided a kind of satisfying story of its own — just so it didn’t look like a complete piece of crap next to the stories I was given. And of course, on top of that this metanarrative story absolutely could not be more important or compelling than the stories themselves, because they were the point of the whole collection… so the metanarrative had to be interesting and entertaining, but not so vital that you were more interested in it than the stories of the travellers.

In the end, I was quite pleased by the outcome. We didn’t do a big print run — couldn’t afford it, of course! — but in general, the critical responses were good. Of course, there was at least one reader who complained that it wasn’t a proper “future history”, but at the same time neither was it a “themed anthology”. I kind of shook my head at that — I mean, that was the point, right? I was trying to create a sense of a possible future by exploring the popular fiction of that future. And in that sense, yes: I think we succeeded. For me, the most interesting aspect of the critical response was its variety. Most anthologies, you’ll find the reviewers pick mostly the same set of stories to enthuse over. In Canterbury 2100, I recall that pretty much every review I read picked different favourite — and that was exactly what I’d hope for.

I could talk at length about that project, but there really isn’t the space. All I’ll say is this: I’d like to see the concept taken up by someone with the money to really do justice. What would a collection of the fiction of the ‘Firefly’ universe look like? What kind of stories do people in the ‘Star Trek’ future tell each other? What are the popular entertainments and fictions of the ‘Star Wars’ universe? We keep writing books about these imaginary futures, but nobody ever seems to consider how the people of these imagined times and places view themselves and their history. How better to discover that than through their fiction?

3. What sorts of ideas do you have for future publications? Are there topics or themes that you think are undeveloped or poorly done that need the Flinthart Treatment?

I’m a bit grumpy at the moment ‘cos I took what I thought was a Red Priest novel to the ROR group, and they promptly — and very correctly — pointed out that it was two novels. That irritated the hell out of me, because I really wanted to stay away from the Big Trilogy format. I like stand-alone books. Sure, I like persistent characters and universes, but I like character-driven tales, and the Grand Epic Trilogy Plotlines rarely seem to hinge on the kind of textured, fascinating character work of my favourite genre writers.

In any case, there’s one for you: not one, but two Red Priest novels. They’ll stand alone, but as a matter of course, the first will lead directly to the events of the second. After that? Ah, hell — ideas are cheap. Time is expensive. I’ll see what I can put together, eh?

4. With Aussiecon4 coming up, there‚s a lot of buzz about nominating Australians for Hugo awards. Which Australians have put out work over the last year that you‚d like to see get up?

Oh, I’m terrible about keeping up with the current stuff. I live in rural Tasmania. Most of what I get to read comes from the one or two Cons I can attend each year, and from my favourite secondhand bookstore in Launceston. But I gotta say that yeah, there are quite a few writers from Oz overdue for recognition on the broader stage. I don’t know if Hugodom is the likely way to go, but I want Cat Sparks and Angela Slatter up in lights, thanks. Also Alisa Krasnostein for her editing work. And have they given Sean Williams a Hugo yet? If not, why not? The rate he writes, you’d think they’d give him the award just out of a sense of self-preservation, ‘cos you just know he’s gonna keep throwing newer and more exciting stuff at ’em until they give up. Who else? Well, hell — Paul Haines’ “Slice of Life” gave me the creeps the way horror collections simply never do. And Deb Biancotti’s ‘Book of Endings’ isn’t “just” speculative fiction: it’s goddam literature, and it should be rec
ognised as such.

There’s plenty more. But I’ve had half a bottle of Tamar Ridge Pinot Noir tonight, and my memory wants to go to bed…

5. Finally, are you going to Aussiecon4? If so, what are you most looking forward to?

With three young kids and a wife working as a rural GP, taking time away is a big deal for me. Literally: I have to kind of set it all up months in advance, make sure the kids are covered, make sure the medical hours are covered, and so forth. I can’t just pack a bag and zip off. As a result, I get to maybe two Cons a year, and I really, really savour them.

I’m going to Aussicon4, yeah. What am I most looking forward to? Same as always: spending time in the company of other writers and editors who think about the same sort of wild shit that I think about. I adore SF dinner conversations. I like being able to ask about the lightspeed delay in communcations between here and Pluto, and get not a bunch of blank faces, but nods and answers. I like being able to say ‘what if zombies were really a kind of chrysalis stage of humankind? What kind of butterflies would they be?’ and have people actually think about it, instead of dismissing me with a pained expression. I love my family, and I like the local community… but I’m alone out here, dammit. I don’t care if I don’t see a single goddam panel at Aussiecon 4. I’m bringing a couple bottles of wine to share with Ellen Datlow. I’ve promised Angela Slatter a decent sample of my grandmother’s chocolate fudge. I’m looking forward to sharing drinks with Rowena and Marianne and the others from the Brisbane days… four whole days in which I get to uncoil the entirety of my mind, and use it without fear of scaring anybody. I don’t think I can convey what a relief and a privilege that is.

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