Stephanie Gunn is a lapsed (mad) scientist and writer of fantasy that slides between the mythic, dark and urban. She has previously judged for the Australian Shadows Awards and the Aurealis Awards, and is currently the convener of the horror panel of this year’s Aurealis Awards. She has reviewed for the now-defunct Horrorscope and now reviews for Australian Speculative Fiction in Focus. Her publications include short stories in “Grants Pass”, “In Bad Dreams 2” and the forthcoming “Epilogue”. She lives in Perth, Western Australia, with her husband, who is very tolerant of her propensity to fill the house with books, and her son, who she is desperate to begin reading speculative fiction to when he is older. She can be found online atwww.stephaniegunn.com.
1) You were recently one of the judges of the horror category of the Aurealis Awards. While the short story ballot was very strong, there was no shortlist for horror novel. Do you feel that Australian horror writers are struggling to publish longer works that are shortlist-worthy? Or was this year just an anomaly?
I can’t talk about the specifics of judging the horror panel for last year, I just want to take a moment to direct anyone who’s been questioning the decision to the judge’s reports on the Aurealis Awards website. It was a hard decision to make and not one that any of us took lightly, and I’ve seen a lot of dissatisfaction about it on the internet, and I hope that reading the panel’s report helps people understand why the decision was made.
I’d like to say that the state of the horror novel in Australia is an anomaly, but honestly, I feel like the true horror novel has been on a decline. If you look back at the history of the awards, you can see some stellar books shortlisted and winning: Kaaron Warren’s “Slights” (which still haunts me), Kim Wilkins’ novels and Kirstyn McDermott’s “Madigan Mine” are all examples. Books like these just aren’t being published in Australia frequently now.
Maybe the success of so many Australian fantasy novelists is edging out the shelf real estate, maybe it’s just a general decline in traditional kinds of horror. It’s hard to be afraid of things that go bump in the night when the world is filled with other kinds of terrors, sometimes. I think the rise of other subgenres like paranormal romance are also impinging on traditional horror; while there is a lot of fun and well-written PR being published, not a lot of it is truly award-worthy, if I’m honest about it.
We are also seriously spoiled in Australia for horror short story writers – Lisa L. Hannett, Angela Slatter, Kaaron Warren, Peter M. Ball, Cat Sparks, Deborah Biancotti and Margo Lanagan are all producing such consistently amazing work that it makes the novels pale in comparison. If we could magic a horror novel from just that list alone, imagine the Aurealis short list we’d have!
2) You’ve written twelve short stories published in a variety of magazine and anthologies. Have you considered collecting these stories into a book? Or do you feel you need more work out there before you start collecting your shorter pieces?
I’d like to have more quality work out there before I’d consider collecting my short stories. Many of my first publications were flash fiction, which were a great way to practice the whole submission and publication process, but I don’t think they’re in any way memorable (even to me!). I am proud of the last few pieces I’ve had in print, especially my piece in “Grants Pass” and my upcoming piece in “Epilogue”. If I could produce at least another dozen or two pieces I was proud of, and which made enough of an impact, I’d consider a collection. I am not in any way a natural short story writer (though I think I am learning to be a better one) – they come to me rarely, and are almost inevitably in worlds linked to novels I have worked on or are planning, so I don’t know if that will ever happen! I definitely want to focus on the novels more.
3) I hear rumours, possibly from reading your blog, that you’ve been working on a novel. What can you tell us about it?
I currently have three novels in various stages of completion, and at least two others in planning stages. All are somewhere in the slippery place between dark fantasy/urban fantasy/mythic fantasy. You’d think I’d actually have some science fiction in there, given that my training is in science, but a decent SF story has yet to come to me. Maybe one day.
The novel I’m currently writing has the working title of “Never”, which, in a nutshell, is about a woman who discovers that her dreams become a real world that other people can dream their way to. I’m nearing the end of draft 1.5 (which translates as, I wrote a full draft, looked at the second half and proceeded to kill it with fire in the next draft). Another few drafts, and I might have something useful.
I also have a novel which is my own weird take on shapeshifters, “The White Raven”, which is in a very broken draft that I hope to be pulling apart and reassembling sometime soon. The last one is “Shaede”, which is a kind of urban/mythic fiction about a city that does not exist. I actually got within a hairsbreadth of getting an agent with that one a few years ago, and I put it aside before I had my son (and then descended into a year or so of hell, aka postnatal depression). I’m hoping to pull that out again, polish it and begin sending it out again soon.
4) What Australian works have you loved recently?
Here is where I get to look shamefully at some of the unread looks languishing on my shelf (especially Margo Lanagan’s “Sea Hearts” and Marianne de Pierre’s WA books).
There have been so many amazing anthologies and collections released recently. Everything from Twelfth Planet Press and Ticonderoga Press has been incredible, but especially Deborah Biancotti’s “Bad Power” and Ticonderoga’s “Dead Red Heart”. Lisa L. Hannet’s collection “Bluegrass Symphony” just blew me away – I still cannot believe that there wasn’t a single dud story in there. Jack Dann and Nick Gevers’ “Ghosts by Gaslight” competes with “Bluegrass Symphony” for my favourite collection of last year. And of course, I can’t leave out Paul Haines’ “Last Days of Kali Yuga”. I wish we could have had the chance to see more of his writing.
Jo Anderton’s “Debris” is one of the most original novels that I’ve read in several years, and I am eagerly awaiting the sequel. I also greatly enjoyed Tansy Rayner Robert’s “Creature Court” books. I also think that everyone should read Kim Westwood’s “The Courier’s New Bicycle”.
5) Two years on from Aussiecon 4, what do you think are some of the biggest changes to the Australian Spec Fic scene?
I feel like we’re seeing so much good Australian short fiction being published, and I think that we have the Australian small presses to thank for that. Twelfth Planet and Ticonderoga in particular are doing amazing work, publishing books and anthologies that are standing up in the international market.
We’re seeing some brilliant female writers emerging, and I feel like the scene itself has a much better grasp on gender issues now, mostly thanks to the work of the Galactic Suburbia team. We still have a long way to go, but we’re getting there.