Paul Haines is a Melbourne based writer. At the most recent Aurealis Awards, he tied with himself to win for Best Horror Short Story and his second short story collection A Slice of Life was shortlisted for Best Collection. He attended the inaugural Clarion South writers workshop in 2004. And he is notorious for his graphic, horrific writing.
1. You have had such an amazing success with your novella, “Wives”, in the anthology X6. What were you hoping to do with the story and what has seen you move to the longer length story? Are you surprised by the response to the work?
It was originally supposed to be a 2,500 word horror short story about a man who buys himself a wife, much in the same ‘comic’ vein as my “Lifelike & Josephine” story. It was inspired by a footnote in the Lonely Plant Guide for China that I was travelling with at the time and was therefore supposed to be a commentary on the continued abuse of human rights that happens over there. What came out was somewhat different and the story took over, demanding it tell itself at that length.
I knew when I was writing it that something special was happening, and I was scared that it might really hammer home the Misogynist nail into the coffin that could be perceived to be my work, although that wasn’t what I was intending at all. I was scared to put this story out there, and yet the response I’ve received for it has been marvellous, especially from female readers. I also feel immensely gratified by the critical response it has garnered, because my heart and soul went into this piece, and it hurt in several places to write the necessary scenes. To know that people are reading it is really the biggest thrill.
That we *still* live in a world where women are perceived as something less than men staggers me. How the fuck can this be?
As for story length, Wives took over from me, I couldn’t stop it. I probably could have put on another 20k for that piece too, and have probably blown what could have been my first novel. I also find my short story writing really lending itself into the 10,000 word plus mark too — I’m finding that I need this length to seed what appears to be throw-away, irrelevant, crazy facts and ideas that relate to the protagonist and their world, and then really enjoying tying them all into together as the stories move from what could be reality into that other, off-kilter world known as Haines.
2. Your third short story collection Slice of Life was released last year and short listed for an Aurealis Award. Has collecting your works in these volumes differed across the projects? What would you have done differently and what advice do you have for other writers looking to collect their work?
Slice of Life is actually my second collection, but it was supposed to be my third. Hopefully Brimstone Press will manage to get Last Days Of Kali Yuga out this year, finally.
Doorways For The Dispossessed (Prime Books, 2006) started off great, working closely with Geoff Maloney at a time when I had Aurealis and Ditmar awards coming in, regularly finding myself on shortlists and in TOCs. It was exciting, Prime were going to do huge things, and then the wheels fell off and it was the worst experience in my writing career to date. Everything bad that people quote, well, that was my experience with Prime. My contract arrived over a year after my book had been in print and so I renegotiated the Australian side of that contract, and Prime, quite happy to be rid of me, said go for it. I have two unbankable cheques in US dollars from Prime for $12 each.
At that point I contacted Brimstone Press and asked them if they were interested in producing the Australian edition of Doorways and they were. And things went quiet. This is of course several years ago now and the landscape has changed somewhat. I got cancer. The Aussie SF community rallied behind me to keep me alive and as part of that Geoff Maloney and Stuart Mayne decided to put out a collection of mine to help raise funds for the cause. I informed Brimstone of this and they said they were about to move on my collection but wanted to make it more their own (ie Kali Yuga rather than Doorways) and that was fine with me. We then went through a fairly easy process of selecting stories for each collection without any real shit-fighting for the desired stories. Brimstone wanted the dark scary stuff and Geoff wanted the crazy unhinged stuff. I thought this perfect, as thematically they were quite different and yet very complementary. Due to my illness and other unforeseen circumstances Slice Of Life was somewhat delayed. However, the process was great, working with both Stuart and Geoff. These guys were doing it for love, and it shows in the final output. I got to proof the copy! Twice! (Prime published without proofing and the book is full of typecast errors – I’ve pointed them all out, but they have never been corrected). Slice of Life was a labour of love and I cannot express my thanks enough to the guys who worked on it.
I’m hoping to get down to details with Brimstone Press very very soon for the Kali Yuga collection.
What would I have done differently? I would not have gone with Prime.
Advice for writers looking to collect their work? Man, that’s a hard one. I really wanted a collection, and I thought I had hit it good with Prime. At that point they were still considered Indie darlings. The research and the story and the company all looked good. What would I look for now? People I think I can work with, who have open and honest communication channels. Someone who can actually distribute the book into not only specialist shops (which I still haven’t had happen), but also into a chain book store. Where the publishers produces good looking work, manages to get it noticed and reviewed and promoted and in the right places at least some of the time, and a publisher who cares about your work. As for money, well, that’s a bonus, but don’t expect to be making anything off your collection unless you’re Stephen King or Jeffrey Archer.
3. After a while of not being able to write you seem to be in a period of creativity – what are you working on and what can we expect from you in the near future?
This year I have decided, health pending, to try to write as full-time as somebody can fighting a terminal illness and trying to raise a young daughter who thinks Daddy is always at home just to play with her. I have a couple of short stories that need to be rolled out of my mind as they’ve been stagnating in their far too long. I have a couple of colloborations on these too, that are long overdue, one of which I’ve finally started with Adam Browne. I have a couple of other Interferer novellas I’d like to write, and this is the year that I need to commit to the novel. My hand is slowly being convinced it should turn the episodic Haines/Vogon tales into a proper thing. I want to have a novel finished before I die. Ideally, I’d like to have a whole fucking lot of them published before I die too.
4. Which Australian writers or work would you like to see on the Hugo shortlists this year? What have you enjoyed reading?
Me! I’d love WIVES to get a nod. (Forgive my monstrous ego, people…)
I’d also like to see Peter Ball and Lezli Robyn up there for the John W Campbell. Peter’s Horn would be great to see too, as well as Margo Lanagan’s “Sea-Hearts” (but, shit, they’d be competing!). Jonathan Strahan (can Keith Stevenson and Alisa Krasnostein compete against the Strahan juggernauat at this stage?), Kaaron Warren (have I been espousing lately how much I have fallen in love with this woman’s work?), Tansy Ranyer Robert’s “Siren” (hell, I’d be happy to see a bunch of Twelfth Planet Press stuff up there). And why don’t the Hugo’s do Collections? If they did, I’d be barracking behind that wise-cracking Biancotti woman whose “The Book Of Endings” has been ending up on lists everywhere.
5. Will you be at Aussiecon 4 in September? If so, what are you most looking forward to about it?
Health pending, I will be there. Entertaining the thought of performing my ten-dollar blowjob joke in front of a Hugo crowd. Catching up with all the people who have provided so much support for me and my family over these couple of extremely difficult years.