Shane Jiraiya Cummings is a writer and editor, and co-founder (with Angela Challis) of Brimstone Press, Shadowed Realms, and Black: Australian Dark Culture magazine. He has edited several anthologies including Australian Dark Fantasy & Horror 2006 edition, Shadow Box, and Black Box. His most recent publications as a writer are ‘Phoenix and the Darkness of Wolves’, an e-book published by Damnation Books, and ‘Shards’, a collection of flash fiction published by Brimstone Press. His website is http://www.jiraiya.com.au/, and he keeps a blog athttp://jiraiyanews.blogspot.com/
1. Last October, you quit your day job to leap into the world of full-time writing. Has the experience been as you’d expected? How do you see it developing from here on in?
The experience began as I’d expected, and in the first few weeks, I wrote a significant chunk of my novel-in-progress. However, life became more tangled, family dramas and tragedies ensued, and my writing routine was knocked for a six. I’m only just recovering my routine and the enthusiasm to write again as the intervening period has mostly been about recharging the emotional batteries. Fortunately, I have a ton of interesting projects on my plate and enough savings in the bank to last me several more months, so I expect to make significant in-roads as a writer this year. I have also been buddying with fellow author and Clarion South mate Nathan Burrage. We’ve been swapping word counts and offering advice and competition where appropriate, so that arrangement has definitely helped spur me along. The plan now is to write at least 5000 words a week, plus complete the last editing projects on my plate. Then, who knows? If all goes well, I have a couple of trilogies and several solo novels on the drawing board, so I’m keen to complete these and make a real go of having a full time writing career.
2. In 2008, Brimstone Press boldly attempted to breaking into the mass magazine market, with ‘Black: Australian Dark Culture’. Ultimately, however, the print edition of the magazine was discontinued after three issues. How do you feel now, and what did you learn, both personally and professionally, from the Black experiment?”
Black magazine was the big hope for Brimstone Press to make it as a professional publishing company and not just a hobby business. During its run, I was still working full time (as a magazine editor, no less) and coming home to spend every spare moment on Black. Angela and I were quite literally spending every waking moment on the magazine, and in the weeks prior to the printing deadline, we spent days in a row without sleep working around the clock to get everything finished. Although it was professionally satisfying to have those magazines published, that period of our lives took a terrible toll on our health, our family, and most significantly, our bank account. Had the business loan we applied for been successful, we would have put ourselves further into debt and continued beyond issue 3, but the financial gods saw things differently. In hindsight, I think ending Black at issue 3 was for the best. It has allowed me to concentrate on being a writer again, which is a refreshing change.
If I had the opportunity, would I do it all again? Yes. Angela and I received tremendous support and we learned some very valuable lessons. Even though I already knew the magazine trade pretty well, we learned that we needed to take a bigger gamble than we did by employing extra people (particularly an advertising manager). Had we the finances to hire people and not attempted to tackle everything ourselves, Black magazine could well have been a force on newstands today. Instead, our enthusiasm for publishing has waned, so it’s likely I’ll concentrate on my writing career and Brimstone Press will probably continue on as a hobby business only.
3. You’re a committee member of the Australian Horror Writers Association (AHWA) and current Director of the Australian Shadows Awards. Why are you passionate about horror? Do you see it as a genre separate to speculative fiction? Why do you think it’s important to have specific horror awards, separate from more general awards, such as the Aurealis Awards or Ditmars?
Horror is the literature of fear, and a good horror story will evoke emotional responses from the reader like no other genre can. I’ve lost interest in debating whether horror is a genre. Some will agree, some won’t. To me, most ‘genres’ are about the emotions they elicit: horror (or dark fiction, as I prefer to call it) is about fear, dread, shock, or despair; romance is about love; erotica about arousal; SF/fantasy about wonder. I don’t see the logic in lumping a genre about fear or despair (horror) in with a genre about wonder (SF/F). When it comes down to it, all fiction is imaginative, a form of fantasy (in the broader sense), so genre arguments are usually more about marketing than anything else. When a genre like horror goes out of fashion (as in the 90s), it is easier to lump it in with something like SF than continue to have a dedicated horror section in bookstores. Now that paranormal fiction is huge, horror has made a comeback in bookstores under the paranormal banner.
As for horror awards, I’m a big believer in having people who truly understand the genre be the judges of the genre. There is a significant dichotomy between the perspective of many horror writers, critics, and fans working in and appreciating the genre versus people outside the genre. Those working in the genre understand the nuances, the subtleties of the emotional impact of a story. Those outside the genre often perceive horror as blood and guts, serial killers, and monsters. These are the tropes of the genre (and shallow, overused ones at that), the window dressing, not the core of the genre. Because of their horror fiction experience, I trust the judgement of the Australian Shadows Award judges (or for that matter, the panel of the international Shirley Jackson Awards or the HWA-voted Bram Stoker Awards). In contrast, the Aurealis Awards have in recent years been appointing horror panel judges that appear (for the most part) to have little to do with horror. Consequently, I think their award shortlists have favoured more cross-genre or fantasy works. With the AHWA expanding by the year, I would like to ensure the Australian Shadows continues to grow and continues to use judges with significant experience in horror.
4. Speaking of awards, which Australian writers or work would you like to see on the Hugo shortlists this year? What have you enjoyed reading?
I’ve never much been concerned about the Hugos as they’re a science fiction award, but if horror is eligible, some of the best works/people from last year were:
* Slights by Kaaron Warren – novel
* The Dead Path by Stephen M. Irwin – novel
* “Wives” by Paul Haines (X6) – novella
* “The Message” by Andrew J. McKiernan (Midnight Echo #2) – novelette
* “Shadow of Drought” by Joanne Anderton (Midnight Echo #2) – short story
* “Losing Tahlia” by Jason Crowe (Midnight Echo #2) – short story
* Angela Challis (Midnight Echo #2, Australian Dark Fantasy & Horror series, Black Magazine, Shadowed Realms etc.) – Editor, Short Form
* Russell B Farr (Ticonderoga) – Editor, Short Form
* Andrew J. McKiernan (Shards, Aurealis) – Professional Artist
* Midnight Echo – Semipro zine
* Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine – Semipro zine
* A Writer Goes on a Journey – Fanzine
* HorrorScope – Fanzine
* Studies in Australian Weird Fiction – Fanzine
* Robert Hood – Fan Writer
* James Doig – Fan Writer
* Chuck McKenzie – Fan Writer
* Talie Helene – Fan Writer
* Ian McHugh – Campbell Award
5. Will you be at Aussiecon 4 in September? If so, what are you most looking forward to about it?
Sorry to be a piker, but I doubt I’ll be at Aussiecon 4. I think I’ll be too busy catching up on my novel writing! However, I hear that Kyla Ward has been planning an outstanding masked ball (and horror panel program), both of which sound cool.