2012 Snapshot Archive: Greg Mellor

First published at David McDonald’s blog. 

Greg Mellor is a Canberra-based writer of science fiction, and occasional writer of horror, paranormal, romance, erotica, fantasy and any combination thereof.  He is also a totally awesome husband and dad – well, at least that’s what he tells everyone. Ask his wife if you want to find out the “home truth”.

Greg has worked and studied in and around Canberra all his life, with a ten year residency in the UK somewhere in the middle. For some reason he felt compelled to do an Honours Degree in Astrophysics, and as if that wasn’t enough punishment, he also completed an MBA in Technology Management. He has worked in professional service firms for the last 15 years and will continue to do so for a while yet to ensure he leaves enough inter-generational debt for his son and future grandchildren. There’s a long, puzzling journey from astrophysics to consulting, involving shelf-packing, builder’s labourer and general dog’s body, technical drawing, business reporting, IT systems trainer, electrical power-line maintenance, four wheel driving, writing science articles and . . . you get the gist. Don’t ask him “how” or “why”, suffice to say there were many “sliding doors”.

He is a regular contributor to Cosmos Magazine with “Defence of the Realm”, “Autumn Leaves Falling” and “Day Break”. His work has also appeared in Clarkesworld Magazine, Aurealis, AntipodeanSF and Daily Science Fiction, plus several Aus and US small press anthologies including “Winds of Change”, “Flesh & Bone”, “Hit Men”, “Novus Creatura” and others. Greg reached the finals of the 2009 Aurealis Awards, Best Short SF category. His stories regularly receive mentions (honourable and otherwise) and tend to crop up on recommended reading lists around the internet.

In his spare time (is there such a thing?) he reads about consciousness, philosophy, psychology, physics, astronomy, history and evolution. This is usually followed by a self-help book so that he can still feel good about the world. Occasionally he’ll flick through the books of Paul Davies, one of his professors at uni  . . . spot the name drop. Then he’ll follow this up with the odd fiction book or two, referencing Keats for soulful quotes and Wilde for the brutal truth about human nature. Then, when he can’t cram any more in, he will occasionally get back to his writing in the hope that the collage of ideas makes more sense on paper than it does in his head.

Greg was delighted when Ticonderoga Publications accepted his debut collection, “Wild Chrome”. Now he faces the daunting prospect of the SF novel.

He is a member of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA), the Canberra Speculative Fiction Guild (CSFG), and the ACT Writers’ Centre.

Visit www.gregmellor.com to see pictures of his cat.

At the moment you are working on your upcoming short story collection, “Wild Chrome”, which is due out later this year from “Ticonderoga Publications”. How did this collection come about? What challenges, if any, have you encountered in putting together a collection and deciding which stories to include?

The publication of “Defence of the Realm” in Cosmos in 2009 kind of changed everything. Up until then, writing was an on-again off-again hobby, with a couple of sales and a few contest results scattered in between a hectic married and working life. The last couple of years have been snowballing along and I’ll have about 50 spec fic stories published by the end of 2012. I must be a late bloomer!

I pushed the concept of the collection along relatively quickly as I didn’t want to wait forever until I had amassed a bunch of stories from which to choose from. So in October 2010, with about half the stories ready, I sent a query to several publishers. Russell Farr expressed his interest and I sent him a proposal with a few sample stories. The contract was signed in May 2011 with publication due in October 2012.

This left me the challenge of finishing the other half of the collection. It’s been hard work keeping up the volume of writing without compromising quality. I also tried to include variety in the collection, and experimented with different narrative structures, characters and worlds. Amongst the traditional story-telling, there is a story read from exhibits in a far-future library, a lecture on xenopsychology, an interview for a terraforming magazine and, my favourite, an alien post mortem!

The actual theme for the collection came about during 2011 … I won’t give too much away, as I’d like readers to see for themselves, and I don’t want Russell to tear up the contract before the book is published! What I can say is that there are stories about discovering who we are in the face of life-threatening technology and aliens; or working out how we fit into a society increasingly driven by collective thinking; or saving the people we care about in post-singularity settings. I think the theme is particularly important for us men. We seem to have a habit of tumbling along life’s avenues, stuffing things up, and expecting our loved ones – parents, siblings, children, friends and work mates alike – to put up with our BS along the way!

The decisions on what to include in the manuscript haven’t really been that difficult. I wanted a balance of published and new stories. I wanted quality. It’s not easy to let some stories go, but I defer to the wisdom of Russell, as well as authors like Damien Broderick. If these guys say a story is not right, then I listen.

Word length has also been a consideration. After some debate I ended up stripping out all the flash fiction from the manuscript. There’s a lot to be said for traditional, thought provoking sf yarns in the 2k-6k range.

You have a background in science, with an honours degree in astrophysics. How has this influenced your speculative fiction? Do you find yourself leaning towards “harder” sci fi?

Yes, my degree has been an influence, along with many other factors. I chose astrophysics because of a life-long love of the planets and stars. I can vividly recollect the Viking missions to Mars and Voyager 1 and 2 to the outer planets. I suppose my rebellious streak in high school made the choice easier – every other kid in my class wanted to do engineering!

Professor Paul Davies lectured at Newcastle-upon-Tyne, so a lot of the undergrads bought his books. I’ve broadened my horizons since, and have shelves full of books on consciousness theories, psychology, genetics, history and philosophy. Not to mention novels by Dan Simmons, William Gibson, Michael Moorcock, Greg Bear, Eric Lustbader, Robert Reed, Alastair Reynolds and others.

Am I leaning to harder sf? Maybe … it’s certainly easier to sell – I don’t have any trunk stories. I try to write the scientific bits with reserve and let the reader fill in some of the detail. I think the trick is to be consistent, even if you want to break the laws of physics. For example, there’s nothing wrong with faster-than-light travel if you make it plausible. In “Heaven and Earth” I included things like a Casimir booster network (connected wormholes) and a probability shunt (an exotic matter ship that tunnels through space-time). I didn’t give much detail, as they’re accepted technologies in the future, and I wanted to leave room for the reader’s imagination. I’m not sure I’ve answered the question … hardish.

With a number of professional sales, you seem very at home in the short story format. Do you have any plans to move into different forms in the near future, or are you concentrating on short fiction for now?

The short story format suits me for a number of reasons. I don’t think I am a prolific fiction writer, but I am a prolific business writer (my day job … there are bills to pay), so I am used to finishing a “deliverable” so to speak. My short stories are a bit like client reports, but with a lot less fiction. (Oops, did I just say that? I take it back.) So I feel I can actually see the end point when I write the shorter stuff, and that’s important with life being so busy.

Having said that, I would like to give more room to some of my ideas. I have plans for three novellas. One has a genetic engineering theme, the other is pure space opera with a dose of Buddhist philosophy, and the other is a sf treasure hunt.

Beyond that, the novel is on the horizon. A couple of the worlds in my short stories are begging to be expanded. Plus I’m receiving a lot of feedback from readers and friends telling me to push ahead to the novel stage.

What Australian works have you loved recently?

Hmm, where to start with this one? There’s so much good stuff out there. Maybe I’ll stick with the three short stories that have grabbed me . . . “Evolution Baby” by Lesley Boland, “Breaking the Ice” by Thoraiya Dyer and “Under the Moons of Venus” by Damien Broderick. If I read the story again (or parts of it) then that’s a good indicator.

Two years on from Aussiecon 4, what do you think are some of the biggest changes to the Australian Spec Fic scene?

Change is a constant for Australian spec fic: there are more spec fic writers than ever before; self-publishing is more prevalent, but fraught with danger; e-publishing; self-promotion through social networks; flash fiction; genre mish-mash stories. Also, I think Aussie spec fic writers are getting more exposure in the US pro mags like Asimov’s, Clarkesworld, Redstone, Apex and others. Plus I think there are some really cool anthos being produced.

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