First published at Sean Wright’s blog.
You have been quietly working away, getting published in genre magazines and in anthologies, is there any current story or collection that you were/are excited about?
I have only really been writing and being published for a couple of years, so every sale is still very exciting to me. Actually, I still get a little thrill with every promising new story idea or whenever I finish the first draft of anything.
Selling my first published story ‘The Hound of Henry Hortinger’ was super exciting because it was so unexpected. I’d always written bits and pieces and intended to aim for publication one day but I had never really finished anything before and it was the first time I had submitted a piece. At the time I had taken leave from university due to a chronic illness and was bored and frustrated at home. I saw a call for subs that happened to match my story idea and decided to write and submit it. I assumed that it would be rejected, but that I might get some useful feedback. To my surprise my rejection email was actually an acceptance. Cue much rejoicing. However, it did ruin my plans of procrastinating for a few more years by telling myself I wasn’t ready to write anything publishable yet.
That said, when I look back at my previously published works I’m obviously proud of them, but I am also usually looking at them through the lens of a significant portion of my ‘career’. So I often see the areas where I could improve or where I’ve learned since and might have done something a bit differently if I was writing that story now. I’m not quite sure if that is an early career thing, a symptom of youth (I probably am a little bit younger than most published writers I’ve met), or if it is universal to most writers.
This often means that the most exciting stories at any given time are the ones I’m yet to write; the ones that have the potential to excel above anything I’ve written before. I’m pretty sure that my best work is still to come and that is exciting in itself.
‘The Hound of Henry Hortinger’ was also translated into Russian recently and is appearing in a special edition of SNOB magazine, along with five other stories from the original anthology it was published in. One of the other stories is by my mentor, Kaaron Warren. The whole thing was a really exciting and unexpected development that was arranged by the people at the magazine in association with the British Council of the Arts. I just got a surprise email from Jared (the original publisher), signed a contract and then he kindly worked out the details from there. I believe this involved complicated administrative procedures where the necessary rights went from me to him, then to the British Council, then to Russian translators, then to SNOB. Vice versa for the payment.
I can’t wait for my contributor copy to arrive even though I won’t be able to read it.
2. As well as a short fiction writer you do (or did) also review speculative fiction. How do you think being a reviewer contributes to your fiction writing?
I used to write a lot of reviews although I rarely do anymore. I started reviewing when I was working as a bookseller. My favourite part of the job was experiencing new books and sharing them with others. Online reviewing was a way to expand that beyond the scope of one smallish bookstore. It was also a way to do something productive, be involved in a community and to interact with people who shared my interests while I was too ill to go out much and was feeling a bit isolated while most of my friends were at uni or work.
Now that my last operation appears to have worked I finally feel a fair bit healthier and have to balance my own writing, a job and a Masters degree (all the while attempting not to neglect my partner, family, friends, pets and other general responsibilities of life). Unfortunately, this means I have less time to write reviews, especially not the detailed essay length type that I favour. I still write shorter ones occasionally to promote books I love and recommend books to people in other ways, but maintaining a regular reviewing schedule with people relying on me just isn’t a viable option at the moment.
I think reviewing was an invaluable step to improving my own writing and getting published. It forces you to think critically and identify exactly what within a story works and what doesn’t. It made me pay a lot more attention to technique. I also think that critically evaluating works and interacting with authors really helped me build confidence and reaffirmed that writing was not some strange magic achievable only by a select few and requiring a communion with unimaginable higher powers and possibly the sacrifice of your firstborn child. It’s a craft and a skill that you need to work at. I also met some great people through reviewing. Possibly most importantly, as a reviewer you read a lot of books and, in my opinion, the more you read the better for your own writing.
You write short fiction (and technical writing as the day job), is there a particular market that you would like to crack or do you have a longer work as an end goal?
I have so many goals! Any specific ones of course are secondary to the primary goal of continuing to write and to keep improving.
I really enjoy writing short fiction. I also enjoy reading it and have never thought of it just as a way of gaining publication credits to help me sell longer works in the future. You do hear people express that view of short fiction now and then and I don’t really understand it. I think a short story and a novel are very different art forms in many ways. I imagine I will always continue to write short stories because some stories and ideas are just suited to a shorter form while some require more space.
In regards to short fiction goals, I’d love to break into the pro markets and I want to have stories appear in my favourite journals and in anthologies from my favourite small presses (eg. Twelfth Planet Press, Ticonderoga, Clarkesword, Shimmer and many more). I’d love to have a story reprinted in a ‘Year’s Best’ anthology, whether Australian or international. I would also like to write a themed cross-genre short story collection focusing on human parallels to and interactions with other species and the wider natural world (that’s the zoologist/evolutionary biologist in me coming out). I’d also love to edit an anthology at some stage.
As you can probably tell, I do tend to dream big. I find that even if I don’t think I’m likely to achieve something anytime soon, sometimes it actually works out.
Keeping that in mind, I also have longer works planned. I have some novels that I’m working on, and the first one (a secondary world fantasy, possibly with some elements of weird fiction) is pretty much fully plotted out. I intend to start working on them seriously again soon, once I’ve cleared some of my short story backlog. I put the longer works on hold for a little while because as a writer, my skills and confidence are still developing. I know this is always the case, but when I first started working on the longer works (straight after selling my first short) I never got anywhere because by the time I finished a few chapters I would realize I’d learned a lot more and would want to rewrite the entire thing to go in a completely new direction. I think I have the whole thing more settled in my mind and have learned a bit more discipline now and am almost ready to give it another go. This time I intend to finish the entire first draft before I start hacking at it.
Technical writing and editing pays the bills, comes with its own sense of achievement and I believe it has taught me greater self-discipline (I’m paid by the hour so I can’t sit there procrastinating, I have to jump straight in and write). It’s a different type of writing but it still relies on stringing words together to achieve a specific purpose.
Also, there is nothing like writing thousands of words about valves or fibre optic cables to put you in the mood to switch your brain to a slightly more imaginative frequency and write 6000 words on, for instance, a girl who has a crow’s head or can only relate to jellyfish.
Overall, I have no ultimate goal because that would require an ‘end’ in sight. I don’t intend to stop writing anytime soon. I tried not to write and to forget the stories once and it didn’t work out for me.
4. What Australian works have you loved recently?
Ha! So many great works are coming out of Australia at the moment, many of them thanks to the work of smaller presses. No doubt I will forget heaps and then feel a bit guilty later.
Anyway, here are a few of my recent favourites:
- Trucksong by Andrew MacRae
- Bitter Greens by Kate Forsyth
- Salvage by Jason Nahrung
- The Etched City by K. J. Bishop
- The Bone Chime Song and Other Stories by Joanne Anderton
- Caution: contains small parts by Kirstyn McDermott
- Dead Sea Fruit by Kaaron Warren
- Bluegrass Symphony by Lisa L. Hannett
- The Year’s Best Australian Fantasy and Horror by Liz Grzyb and Talie Helene (eds.)
Have recent changes in the publishing industry influenced the way you work? What do you think you will be publishing/writing/reading in five years from now?
Well I haven’t been around long enough to really change the way I work in response to any changes. However, trends in the current publishing environment (or even the perceptions thereof) no doubt influence most writers in some way.
There seems to be an increasing focus on promotion and the author as a persona, which (without launching into one of my recent uni research projects) can be both a good and a bad thing for authors and writing. On a personal level, realising this made it clear to me that most people can’t write, submit and then sit around waiting for readers to find their work anymore.
Hopefully in five years time the future will seem a little less murky for authors, editors and publishers. Personally, I hope to be writing more than ever and hopefully helping to edit and publish worthy works and bring them to an audience. In addition to writing my own fiction, I get great satisfaction from helping others improve their own work and helping it reach its potential. I hope that we will see greater diversity in the field and exciting new writers will come through while established names continue to put out good work.
On a wider scale and over a longer timeframe, the future of writing and publishing is exciting, intimidating and probably mostly unknowable. Many different factors will undoubtedly come into play and many of them will probably come from left of field.
Nevertheless, more work is being published than ever before and I believe that as long as the human race exists there will always be people telling stories. Therefore I think publishers and editors will exist long into the foreseeable future. Their roles may change a bit, and the traditional ‘gatekeepers’ may act more as content filters to help readers choose in a market overwhelmed by choice, but publishers will still exist in some form or another and still fulfill their primary role of adding value to works.
Some developments in the publishing world can be a bit worrying for writers and the wider book industry and often there is reason to worry. I’m not sure it will become easier for writers to make a living in the foreseeable future, so I won’t give up the day job. There will almost certainly be ups and downs but while I used to be more fatalistic the more I learn the more I believe that eventually, barring complete disaster, we will emerge to a industry with a greater number of options available.
While we may worry about certain things (like too much power invested in single companies) the industry will most likely adapt and in the end developments making publishing easier (as evident in the rise of self-publishing and the small presses) may be good for authors as the larger publishers are forced to innovate and offer them more.
We have seen ebooks become more widespread but they are not following the traditional pattern of a disrupting technology that would suggest they will completely replace physical books. I believe that paper books will still exist to some extent (different formats will probably end up holding different market shares for different types of books) for a long time to come. This seems even more likely when various innovations continue to make producing paper books easier and due to the fact that when you look at the production costs of a book, the physical binding and distribution don’t actually make up that large a percentage of the costs for most decent sized print runs.
I don’t think that reading ebooks on a single purpose device mostly restricted to one retailer will be the way most people read books in decades to come. That model seems like a ripe target for disruption. The device we read ebooks on will probably become one that fulfills multiple functions in the near future.
Of course, this is all just educated speculation and I could be wrong on any or all counts. Perhaps the human race will be overrun by amphibious, caffeine-fueled lake creatures any day now. On that note, I might finish up. I hear the song of my people calling me. Thanks for having me!
Michelle E. Goldsmith is a science graduate (majoring in Zoology/Ecology) and author whose writing often inhabits the shady borderlands between genres.
Her life science background and particular fondness for the stranger aspects of the natural world often inform her fiction. Therefore, as she tries to write in a wide range of styles and genres, steps must sometimes be taken to prevent her from working mandibles, cilia and/or tentacles into unlikely places (on the page).
Among other things, she has worked as a bookseller, a book reviewer and an English and Biology tutor.
She currently lurks in Melbourne, Victoria where she works writing and editing articles for a number of technical magazines, is undertaking a Masters in Publishing and Communications and is a member of the SuperNOVA writers group.
She has fiction published in such places as Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine, Use Only as Directed (Peggy Bright Books, Australia) and the Dickensian weird anthology Pandemonium: Stories of the Smoke (Jurassic, London).
Her work has also appeared on the recommended reading list of The Year’s Best Australian Fantasy and Horror (Ticonderoga) and she was shortlisted for a Ditmar award for Best New Talent in 2014.