2012 Snapshot Archive: Martin Livings

First published at Kathryn Linge’s LiveJournal.

Perth-based writer Martin Livings has had over seventy short stories published in a variety of magazines and anthologies, and has been nominated for the Ditmar, Auralis and Australian Shadows awards.  His first novel, Carnies, was published by Hachette Livre in 2006, and his first short story collection, Living With the Dead, will be published late in 2012 by Dark Prints Press to celebrate twenty years since his first publication. Check out his blog at:http://www.martinlivings.com

1. Your first collection, ‘Living with the Dead’ will be published by Dark Prints Press in November – congratulations! With 20 years of short fiction under your belt, what does finally having a collection mean to you? How has working with Dark Prints Press compared to when your novel Carnies was published in 2006?

Thanks! Having a collection published means the absolute world to me. It was short fiction that got me into writing in the first place, and I still remember grabbing a copy of Terry Dowling’s Rynosseros at Swancon way back in 1990 and being blown away by it. Single author collections are my favourite kind of book, though certainly not as commercial as a novel! So having one of my very own is incredibly special, and especially a twenty year retrospective collection, which has allowed me to go back and look at what I was writing way back then. I’m really hoping it’ll be an interesting experience for the reader, to see my work and how it’s evolved over the decades… at the very least, they can point and laugh!

As for the comparison between working with Dark Prints on Living and working with Hachette Livre on Carnies, it’s really comparing apples and oranges. Working with Hachette was entirely a professional affair, with strict deadlines and stricter editing (done by the wonderful Sarah Endicott, which probably taught me more about novel writing than anything else in the last two decades!) and a cover design done completely without my input (which I loved, luckily!). It probably didn’t help that I was half a world away in London at the time as well. With Living, I know the publishers, Craig and Avril Bezant, very well, and from way before Dark Prints Press took its shadowy evil form. Craig approached me about doing a collection, which was really gratifying and humbling, and we pretty much got to work on it together straight away. It’s been an entirely collaborative effort, even down to the cover art which I kind of helped to design (though comparing my rough amateurish sketches with the stunning artwork Vincent Chong created isn’t like comparing apples and oranges, it’s like comparing a frickin’ boulder to Michelangelo’s David). And the editing itself has been relatively minor, since all but three of the stories have been previously published, and thus previously edited, though of course we’re going through them all again anyway.

So I can’t honestly say which has been the better experience, per se, but it’s pretty clear which one’s been more fun!

2. Recently you have garnered a Tin Duck and a Ditmar nomination for ‘The Last Gig of Jimmy Rucker’, a collaboration with Talie Helene. What led to you collaborate with Talie and how did you find the process, compared to writing alone?

I’ve never even once collaborated on a story before last year, when I did two collaborations in quick succession, both for Ticonderoga Publications and both based on ideas of mine. “The Tide”, which appears in Dead Red Heart, basically grew from the notion of newspaper clippings describing the social arc of immigration, from hatred and fear all the way to acceptance and banality, using vampires as a substitute for real ethnic groups. I decided with that one that getting as many different voices as possible would be the way to do it, for two reasons. Firstly, it would give the articles the feeling that they were written by a variety of journalists, and secondly, it would be less work for me! So I gathered together my writer friends on Facebook, ranging from those who’d never had anything published to those who’d been nominated for Stoker and Hugo awards, gave them all headlines to write stories for, and we wrote it together with me editing it into shape. It worked better than I could have expected, and “The Tide” ended up being one of my favourite stories of all time, an absolute joy to write for all of us, a ball to edit, and pretty damned effective in the end. I see it as the world’s shortest collaborative novel.

“The Last Gig of Jimmy Rucker” was a very different kettle of fish. I’d already written the story in its entirety at least three or four years earlier, originally for the In Bad Dreams 2 collection from Eneit Press. But once I’d written it, I realised that it wasn’t actually horror, so I wrote another story for that book and put “Rucker” on the back burner. I went back and played with it many times over the years, but could never quite get it to work. The thing that bothered me the most about it were the song lyrics in it; I write very basic songs from time to time, play guitar badly along with it, but I just couldn’t capture what I was after in the lyrics. But when More Scary Kisses asked for stories, I thought that “Rucker” could be a contender for it, though to me the romance in it wasn’t a traditional love story, but more a tribute to the love of rock and roll. But I didn’t feel comfortable submitting it as it was. I’ve known Talie online for years and years, though we only met in person for the first time at Worldcon in Melbourne in 2010. I knew she was a talented writer, though, and even more importantly, a talented songwriter and musician. So I approached her, initially just about writing some lyrics for the story, with the notion that the byline would be something like “By Martin Livings. songs by Talie Helene”. I quickly realised that there was more potential than that, though. Talie also worked on the story, correcting a lot of technical details about the music industry and gigging that I simply guessed at when writing it. And, with input from the editor, Liz Grzyb, we also changed the heart of the story a little, turning the viewpoint character into a young woman for a start to add a little more romantic edge to it. By the time we finished, I couldn’t really justify claiming authorship of the story, so Talie and I agreed to share credit on it. And the rest is rock and roll history; Publisher’s Weekly called the story “a brilliantly hypnotizing and heartwarming tale”, it won a Tin Duck and is up for a Ditmar, and an excerpt from it is due to be printed in a local mass-market magazine in Perth sometime later this year.

So I guess the moral of the story is, maybe I should collaborate more often!

3. Looking back to your answers for the 2007 and 2010 Snapshots, you have previously expressed interest in writing both short and long fiction at different times. What are your future goals, here in 2012?

My goals, like my waistline, have spread quite a bit as I’ve gotten older. Frankly, I like writing short stories, and I like writing novels, and I don’t intend to give up one to concentrate on the other, cutting off my nose to spite my, er, other nose. I’m fortunate enough to be taking six months of long service leave this year (maybe “fortunate” isn’t the word… “stubborn” is probably closer, or perhaps “masochistic”!), which will co-incide nicely with the release of Living With the Dead, so I intend to do plenty of shameless spruiking during that period. Speaking of which, did I mention the book isalready available for pre-order? Check the web page, and buy now! I’m also working on a series of books which are basically zombie action spy thrillers, in the style of James Bond. I have no idea how they’ll turn out or if they’re commercial enough to sell, but so far it’s been a ball to write, so I fully intend to finish them and then start shopping them around.

I think my main future goal is to continue to not to take it TOO seriously. I tried being a serious writer while living in London, and it quickly drained all the pleasure out of the process. As long as I tell myself I’m just doing this for fun, rather than profit, I think I’ll write better and, perversely, probably make more money from it. Go figure!

4. What Australian works have you loved recently?

Paul Haines’ The Last Days of Kali Yuga, from Brimstone Press, is simply phenomenal, a powerful coda to a powerful writer. I’ve read all of Paul’s collections, Doorways For the Dispossessed, Slice of Life and Kali, and together, they form an incredible collage of Paul’s work, and Paul himself. I think he’s kind of the John Lennon of horror fiction, to me; Kali shows that he was really just starting to reach the height of his skills and passion, and to have lost him now is an enormous blow to the industry in my opinion. I don’t know if we’ll ever see his like again, and frankly, I don’t know if I’d even want to. But we have his stories, and our memories. And we’ll keep him alive that way with the same stubborn and furious determination that he kept himself alive with for so long.

5. Two years on from Aussiecon 4, what do you think have been the biggest changes to the Australian SpecFic scene?

I’m not sure there have been any huge changes, but we’ve seen such a healthy growth again in the independant publishing field, especially when it comes to women being published in spec fic, something which can only be a good thing. In this year’s Ditmar nominations, the large majority of them are for women writers, including all five of the novel nominations, four out of the five collection nominations (and all five of them are edited by women!), and in the short story category, I’m the only man, and I co-wrote with a woman! Do I feel that my gender is threatened? Of course not! Writing isn’t a zero sum game, the success of one group doesn’t translate into the failure of another. I just think it shows the breadth and depth of talent in this country, and makes me incredibly proud to be a small part of it. I love what both Twelfth Planet Press and Ticonderoga Publications are publishing, so many brilliant works by so many brilliant writers, both male and female, and of course we have Dark Prints Press just rising on the horizon, I’d be horribly remiss to my publishers if I didn’t mention them as well. I’d say it’s an exciting time to be in the industry, but to be honest, I’d have a hard time thinking of a time in my twenty years of doing this when it wasn’t an exciting time!

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