First published at David McDonald’s blog.
Nick Tchan (writing as Nick T. Chan) is an Australian writer. He’s sold stories to Lightspeed, Aliterate, 2nd and Starlight, Writers of the Future, Orson Scott Card’s Intergalactic Medicine Show, and Galaxy’s Edge. In addition to random and malicious acts of authoring, Nick works as an instructional designer. Because he does not own a cat, he has long doubted his legitimacy as a speculative fiction writer.
It has been an exciting year for you, placing in the Writers of the Future contest and heading over to their workshop in the US. Could you tell us a little bit about that experience, and what you have gotten out of it?
The whole experience of writers of the future is somewhat surreal. A lot of people have blogged about the value of the workshop (my favourite is here: Brad’s been one of my on-line mentors and he was nominated for a Nebula, Hugo and Campbell award this year), but I received the most satisfaction out of the sense of validation that I received for approach I’ve taken to learning the craft.
I’ve been concentrating on speculative short fiction for about five years now (see below) and I determined pretty early not to submit anywhere that wasn’t Pro-level pay rates with certain exceptions (i.e. non-pro venues that still attract awards/reputable reviews or non-pro venues where I know the editor and know they’ll take good care of the story).
Everyone has a different approach and reasons where and how they submit (or even if they submit at all, with the emergence of e-publishing as a viable alternative). For me, the decision to largely submit to pro-markets required a great deal of mental fortitude. There are more pro-markets out there than in the recent past, but you’re still not going to see anything but rejection slips for a very long time. It took me five years and no matter how prepared you think you are for five years of rejections, it does take its toll.
On one level writers of the future was vindication. It’s only one step; I might never sell anything at the pro-level again. But it still feels good and that vindication is a tremendous confidence boost.
The workshop week reinforces that confidence. The staff at the workshop treat you like a superstar and the established big names treat you as a neophyte professional. Brad really captures how much winning is worth when it’s been broken down in economic terms.
At the same time, you do have to recognise that it’s only the first step in the ladder. For the hoopla and glitz, you’re not guaranteed to become a full-time professional.
How long have you been writing in the speculative fiction field? Do you have a background in fandom that inspired you to start writing?
I started reading speculative fiction when I was pretty young. My mother read me Lord of the Rings as a kid and my parents had copies of The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant and The Mote in God’s Eye (though I can’t actually imagine either of them reading anything speculative fiction wise). That was enough to get me hooked.
I’ve also wanted to be a writer for as long as I remember (maybe I’ve always been needy for attention).
Strangely enough I wasn’t bright enough to put two and two together and try to write speculative fiction. I struggled along trying to write literary fiction for a number of years, but did so without much of a clue. I didn’t have any idea about story structure, plot, etc. just the desire to throw a whole bunch of words together and hopefully attract kudos along the way. And, at eighteen or so, I also hoped it would attract girls (I was very naïve). I didn’t even know how to submit short stories, I just kinda figured that someone would randomly recognise my genius one day.
Somewhere about 2007, I realised that if I ever wanted to become a writer, I actually had to have a plan and I had to write what I loved to read, rather than what I thought I should be writing.
That’s when I joined a course by Terry Dowling and I slowly became more acquainted with the Australian fan scene, what other people were doing and what I needed to learn.
After your Writers of the Future success, what comes next? Do you have any plans to move into other formats, or will you continue to focus on short fiction?
Right now the focus is on short stories, though I have a novel in the back of my mind. There’s so much I want to learn about storytelling that short stories seem to be the most efficient way to learn important elements of craft and structure at the moment. While I’m aware that there are significant differences between novels and short stories, I still think short stories are a great way of developing important skills. Mind you, once I actually start writing novels, I’m going to have to start from scratch to a certain degree.
The potential novel is set in the same world as my WOTF winning story, but it’s still in the very early planning stages. Mostly I’m using it as a chance to practice outlining (which is a skill I need to learn). I mostly write by the seat of my pants, making it up as I go along, but I don’t think that’s practical for me if I move onto novels. As such, I’m having fun learning outlining skills. Whether it results in a good novel is another question entirely.
What Australian works have you loved recently?
My Australian reading has mostly been restricted to people I know directly or who are friends of my friends, so it’s probably not as broad as it should be.
As such, Terry Dowling’s Tales of Appropriate Fear, Anywhere but Earth (with special focus uponDesert Madonna by Robert Hood and Dead Low by Cat Sparks), Angie Rega’s Slow Cooking, the late Paul Haines’ disturbing Wives, Margo Lanagan’s Seahearts and Kylie Bullivant’s Afterspin.
Two years on from Aussiecon 4, what do you think are some of the biggest changes to the Australian Spec Fic scene?
I didn’t actually attend AussieCon as it hit just after my wife had our first child. Having said that, the publishing world as a whole is changing very, very quickly. The obvious thing that has changed and will continue to change is the way traditional publishing and self-publishing interact with the ease of Kindle, Smashwords, etc. The publishing world has changed, but I’m yet to be convinced that it’s changed in the way that the evangelists want. My personal take is that the same people who would have succeeded five years ago will still be the same people who succeed today, regardless of the model. At best, a few overlooked people might get an opportunity that they wouldn’t have otherwise received and that’s a good thing, is it not?
On the local scene one thing I’ve noticed is that Australian market is incredibly dynamic. There are a lot of unexpected and undiscovered gems out there; we compare to anyone with both our known and unknown writers.