It seemed fitting to start with Ben Peek for my series of interviews. Ben Peek is a Sydney-based writer. He’s had two novels published. The first was an autobiography called Twenty-Six Lies/One Truth, and was published by Wheatland Press, and illustrated by Anna Brown. His second novel was a dystopian novel called Black Sheep. His short stories have appeared in collections like Polyphony, Agog!, Forever Shores, and magazines such as Aurealis, Fantasy Magazine, Phantom, and Lone Star Stories. In 2007 and 2008, he ran an online comic with Anna Brown titled Nowhere in Savanna.
Peek also conducted the first Aussie Snapshot, in 2005, which was so much fun that ASif! repeated it in 2007 and again, now, in 2010.
1. You did the first Snapshot back in 2005. How do you think the scene has changed over nearly 5 years? Do you view the local scene differently to how you did when you conducted those first set of interviews?
It doesn’t seem like five years, to be honest. I wonder if that’s a sign of age kicking in or something similar.
As for the scene changing, I’m not sure it has, hugely. There’s new writers and new presses, of course, but it seems to me that it speaks largely to the same audience, a problem that exists in small presses around the world. Of course, I’m probably not the best person to give an opinion of the scene, since I have very little to do with it. The parties, cons, whatnot–they’re really not my scene. The few people I chat with I do so over email, so I’m a bit out of touch. I guess you could say I don’t really have a huge interest in the scene anymore. I just write. I just publish. After that, it isn’t really my concern.
2. What are you working on at the moment and what can we expect from Peek in the near future?
At the moment I’m writing a novella called BELOW, which is the second half of a small book I’m doing with Steph Campisi called ABOVE & BELOW. She’s writing ABOVE. It’s a pretty neat idea, actually, in that we’re writing two novellas that will be printed as one book, and which, no matter the side you begin on, fold into each other and compliment the other story, yet remained independent. That’s going to be published by 12th Planet Planet Press. There’s a story of mine called White Crocodile Jazz coming out in SPRAWL, an anthology edited by Alisa Krasnostein, and I recently recorded my novella, ‘Under the Red Sun’ for Keith Stevenson’s podcast.
There’s some other stuff in the works, but if there’s anything I’ve learnt about this gig in the last fifteen years, it’s that it isn’t worth bothering to talk about until there’s things signed. Hopefully there’ll be things to say soon enough.
What hopefully will happen is that this year there will simply be more of me around. Last year wasn’t a particularly good one, from a business stand point, and even a personal one, really, and it took its toll. So, push through, clap hands, and so on and so forth.
3. You’ve been writing short stories, and a novella, in a series you call > Dead Americans. What fascinates you about iconic Americans and what are you exploring when you write them with alternate history?
I guess when I’m writing about dead Americans, what I’m writing about is my culture. I’m a white Australian, a mongrel background kid who grew up on Japanese cartoons translated for Americans, American movies, and make believe fantasies primarily from the States. Soaked into that is the music, the lives, the general thrust of the capitalist society we live in, and dead Americans–at least the ones that fascinate me–all form a part of that little tapestry. Sometimes, when I write about them, it’s the big, obvious people like John Wayne, who embodied that noble, yet humble, big, tough masculine figure–and who also had the duality of the racism and the freedom that is part of the country. Others, like Octavia Butler, aren’t so much as about the author, but about the themes she engaged with, the things that motivated her work, and a desire for me to get people to read more of it. It’s different each time out, and part of that is myself, too–because I hate repeating myself in my work, since it doesn’t feel like growth, and it isn’t interesting or challenging to do.
Americans, pop culture Americans especially, are bigger than they have a right to be. David Carradine is a good example of it–why should anyone remember the guy who played Kane, a Z-grade martial arts wandering bum in a Z-grade series that demanded no loyalty? Truth is, there’s no reason, but they do, and likely they will forever now, because of the simply amazing way in which he accidently killed himself, tied up in a body stocking, with woman’s clothes next to him, and a rope tied around his genitals.
4. Which Australian writers or work would you like to see on the Hugo shortlists this year? What have you enjoyed reading?
You know, I laughed, just a little, when I read this. I can’t remember who won a Hugo last year, much less be particularly moved to figure out who deserves one this year. A statue and accolades from people you don’t know? I know there’s a line for people who want it, but it’s not my thing.
But you know, me and awards. It’s why I’m so charming.
Book wise, I’m currently enjoying Thomas Lynch’s APPARITION AND LATE FICTION. I’m a big, big fan of Lynch, ever since I read THE UNDERTAKING years ago, and this is the first book that has felt similar, thematically, to that. I totally recommend it. I read James Morrow’s SHAMBLING TOWARDS HIROSHIMA, which I thought was okay, but seemed to be aimed at people who are more into monster flicks than me–Morrow’s THE PHILOSOPHER’S APPRENTICE is sitting close at hand, and I’ll read that soon, I think, because it looks like Morrow in full swing, which is an excellent thing. Lydia Millet’s collection LOVE IN INFANT MONKEYS isn’t so bad so far, and like everything Millet writes, is written with such a fine command of language. I should see about getting a poster of Millet and making her into a rockstar for the disenfranchised. I kinda stumbled and fell off on Margart Atwood’s ORYX AND CRAKE, though it was beautifully written, and–
And, you know, there’s a lot of nice books out there. Fine writers. Ngugi Wa Thiong’o’s WIZARD OF THE CROW–that and a couple of David Gemmell books I hadn’t read before his death, STORMRIDER AND RAVENHEART. Both writers are hugely different, but they hit what I wanted at the time.
5. Will you be at Aussiecon 4 in September? If so, what are you most looking forward to about it?
That’s a little far away, don’t you think? I’ve barely figured out February.