2014 Snapshot Archive: Margo Lanagan

First published at Kathryn Linge’s LiveJournal.

Margo Lanagan lives in Sydney. She is working on a number of writing projects, including a horror novel about selkies, which also featured in her latest novel Sea Hearts (published in the US and the UK as The Brides of Rollrock Island). She tweets as@margolanagan

1. Your most recent collection to be published in Australia, ‘Cracklescape’, is a four story boutique collection from Twelfth Planet Press. Did you find the process of writing a shorter collection different to writing the longer collections you are known for?

Yes, I did. My other collections have each had ten stories in them, and White Time, Black Juice and Red Spikes were all original stories – my aim with those collections was to cram the greatest variety of stories into them as possible. I tried to include at least one identifiably YA story in each of those, one science fiction story, one animal-POV story, etc. etc. Yellowcake, the latest ten-story collection, is all reprints except for one original, but again, I was trying for maximum range.

With Cracklescape I wanted something to unify all four stories, and I decided that that thing would be Australian settings. For a while they were all going to be in different historical periods, too, but I ended up with one set in 1982 (‘Significant Dust’) and the others pretty much modern-day. All four stories were written in quick succession – that was the Year of the Short Story for me. I was a machine.

And there was no sitting on the fence – these were for an adult audience. Although, I guess the only one that some YAs might think was a bit much was ‘Bajazzle’. The others might just be a bit subtle and slow, and bore them.

Anyway, only four stories – efficient! But I don’t think they’re any more unified in theme than the other collections. Jane Yolen suggests in her lovely foreword that they’re all about ghosts of one kind or another, but I think she’s being kind. I think it’s a bit of a grab bag of Margo’s 2012 subconscious preoccupations: empty-nest syndrome, encroaching middle age, adolescent self-flagellation, escape, women’s problematic fertility, all those jolly things and more.

2. Your short story ‘Flower and Weed’ is an ‘out-take’ from your novel Seahearts’, and has been published in audio on the Terra Incognito podcast and in e-form by Fablecroft. I loved the extra insight that ‘Flower and Weed’ gives into Trudle’s life and the men of Rollrock Island. Why did you cut the excerpt (chapter?) from the novel, and how did it come to be published in its own right?

I cut it because my agent showed ‘Sea-Hearts’ the novella to my US publishers, and they said, with great relief, ‘This is going to be SO much easier to sell as YA than Tender Morsels was.’ I’d started writing these quite adult scenes with a view to making a novel out of the novella, and ‘Flower and Weed’ was one of them, but when I heard that, I thought I’d take pity on my poor publishers and write it a different way. And then Keith Stevenson asked me if I had a story that would suit the podcast at around the time Sea Hearts the novel was coming out, and it worked well as a tie-in, so I tweaked the scene a bit to make it more short-story-like, and out it went into the world.

3. I understand you’re currently finishing your next novel. Can you tell us about it, and do you have specific plans for it when it is finished?

Here’s what I said on Facebook, as part of a 5 Things About Your Work In Progress meme that was going around recently:

  • If it’s published, it’ll be my 20th published novel — my 10th under my own name.
  • It’s about selkies again. I know, groan. Just STAY in the SEA in your OWN SKINS, why can’t you?
  • It’s a horror novel. I’ve decided to stop pretending it’s any other kind of novel “with horror elements”.
  • I’m into my fourth total revisioning of this story. I started in the middle of last year. Only the sense that I may have found the right way to tell this is keeping me from torching the whole damn thing and going to work in a pie shop instead.
  • This was supposed to be a quick bookHAHAHAHAHAHAAAAAA!
  • Plans for it? If I can do more than thrust into my agent’s hands and fall in a heap I’ll be surprised. But after a little rest I imagine I’ll try to switch on the promotional side of my brain. Reanimate my blog, neglected since last December – that kind of thing.

4. What Australian works have you loved recently?

I had a lot of fun reading Alan Baxter’s Bound, the first volume of his Alex Caine trilogy, which I’m launching this week in Sydney. It’s a teeth-gnashing, shadow-chasing, magesign-riddled sexy beast of a thing! Another great new book coming out in September from Allen & Unwin is Danielle Wood’s Mothers Grimm, which is a novel about modern motherhood that also reinvents some fairytales – dark and funny and vivid and intelligent and very, very true.

5. 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?

Publishing industry changes haven’t really changed the way I work, no. The writing side of things and the industry side of things, they’re very separate in my mind. Writing is about excavating your psyche to different degrees; the industry is all about other people and market forces and various other considerations that are pretty inimical to getting a decent story down on paper or screen. It’s best not to consider the industry when you’re hard at work on a story.

Five years from now? God, I’m not used to thinking more than a year ahead. I would hope I’d be writing stories that made my scalp crawl and my heart speed up, they were so unsettling on their way out. I would hope I’d be publishing fiction that surprised, horrified and delighted people, and stuck with them. And my reading? I’ll probably be reading all over the place the way I am now. I can only get through about 50 books a year, in a constant scramble to get to know classics and read a few more leading-edge things. I can’t see that changing. Life is getting shorter at about the same rate as my To Be Read pile is growing.

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