First published at Alexandra Pierce’s blog.
Queensland Writers Fellow Angela Slatter is the author of the Aurealis Award-winning The Girl with No Hands and Other Tales, World Fantasy finalist Sourdough and Other Stories, British Fantasy Award-winning “The Coffin-Maker’s Daughter”, Aurealis finalist Midnight and Moonshine (with Lisa Hannett), and the forthcoming The Bitterwood Bible and Other Recountings, Black-Winged Angels, and The Female Factory (also with Lisa L. Hannett). She has an MA and a PhD in Creative Writing, and is a graduate of Clarion South 2009 and the Tin House Summer Writers Workshop 2006. She blogs at www.angelaslatter.com about shiny things that catch her eye.
1. You’ve recently finished a novel, Vigil, based on a short story you wrote for the anthology Sprawl. As someone who loved that story I’m very excited, and I’m curious about the process of transforming a story from one length to another. Was this something you always had in mind, or did it grow on you over time?
Haha! At first I thought it was just a single one-off story, but I enjoyed writing it so much and I got so much great feedback on it that I thought I should take it a little further. Originally I thought I’d write three novellas with the same characters and pitch them to small presses in Australia. But I got to the point (after writing the original short story and two of the novellas) of thinking “You’re an idiot, just write the damned novel.” So I did and it’s taken three and a half years, and that’s as much because I’ve had to pick story threads apart and re-work them to fit into a more traditional novel structure as because I was also working on other projects and doing part-time work (and finishing a PhD). In short, it was a nightmare I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy. But I got there in the end, with a huge amount of beta reading from Lisa Hannett, Peter M Ball and Alan Baxter — thanks, guys! Now it’s a matter of seeing how it goes out in the real world on the hamster wheel of agents and publishers — which has started.
2. You’re well known for collaborating with Lisa L Hannett in writing fiction, for instance on Midnight and Moonshine and your up-coming collection The Female Factory. Can you tell me how that partnership came about, and what helps it to be so successful?
Lisa and I met at Clarion South in 2009 and became fast friends there — two halves of one very big, very messy, slightly evil Brain — and the opportunity came about after Clarion to co-write a story. That became “The February Dragon”, which Liz Grzyb ended up buying for the Scary Kisses
anthology. The story then went on to win the Aurealis Award for Best Fantasy Short Story, so we figured we were doing something right! Basically the process succeeds because we absolutely trust each other as writers (or, as Lisa’s said before “We trust each other not to make our work shit!”), and neither of us is precious* about having someone else change our words because we can see how those changes improve the overall quality.
We spend a lot of time working out the overarching structure of what we’re going to do, which is basically sitting around telling each other stories (and when is that ever not fun??) and just developing and mining these characters we make up. At its core? It’s just so much fun to do. We’re currently plotting how we can fit writing the Sepphoris Mosaic, which is a mosaic novel/collection that will include “The February Dragon”, into our schedules. Write it, find a publisher, etc.
*Caveat: it only works with each other. Should someone else try to change our writing we would put on our tiaras and turn into Drama Empresses.
3. Your work has ranged over a number of genres within the speculative fiction field, and you seem as comfortable at the shorter end as at the longer end. Are there stories or ideas that are desperate to get out of your head and onto the page?
I’ve been really lucky that Stephen Jones has invited me to submit for a number of anthologies that gave me a real challenge to write something different (Zombie Apocalypse, Weirder Shadows Over Innsmouth, and some other things that are genuinely more seated in the horror field than I’d done before). And The Female Factory is a mix of horror and science fiction because Alisa said “Hey, how about something science-fictiony?” I must admit Lisa and I gave each other sidelong glances and muttered “Science-fictiony? Have you met us?” But again, a really great challenge and chance to break away from whatever the usual is perceived to be.
I started out with short stories and honed my skills on that form. The word length has been growing the longer I spend writing — I’ve done two novellas this year — and some of the stories in The Bitterwood Bible and Other Recountings are novelette or novella length. It feels a bit like stretching the wings — I’m still a bit terrified of the idea of a full-length novel, but the novellas and Vigil have shown me that I can actually do it, I just need to become more of a plotter and planner than I am as a short story writer.
As for stories that want to spew forth … there are some for sure. I’ve found it difficult the last couple of years … no, actually not difficult, but different to how I started out because I’ve not had to cold submit a story in that time. All the shorts I’ve done have been commissioned and that’s a really nice place to be as a writer — so most of the ideas I’ve had have been channelled into an anthology that I am already fairly certain of having a place in. The other stories, those that made up collections like Sourdough and Other Stories, and The Bitterwood Bible and Other Recountings, and The Tallow-Wife and Other Tales (which I’m finishing now), have been written for mosaics collections, so the tales need to fit together as part of a greater whole.
That being said, I had a story pop up the other week and demand to be written. Not sure where “Mr Underhill” will live when he’s done, but I’m pretty happy with it so far.4. What Australian works have you loved recently?
Ah, Kirstyn McDermott’s Caution: May Contain Small Parts, Alan Baxter’s Bound, Jason Nahrung’s Blood and Dust, and a lot of the material that’s been appearing in The Australian Review of Fiction.5. Have recent changes in the publishing industry influenced the way you work? Do you think you will be writing differently in five years from now?
I’m still writing the same thing, but I keep my eye on what’s happening in the publishing industry. I think the ructions in the big trade publishers have been to the benefit of the small presses and writers because the small presses can pick up books that the biggies wouldn’t take a chance on, and writers can get a book published that might not otherwise have been taken up. Of course, you’ve got to watch that you’re still getting your advances and royalties — a small press might be someone’s beloved hobby but for a writer it’s their bread and butter, and getting paid is sometimes the difference between paying the phone bill and being reduced to smoke signals.
I keep an eye on the big publishers to see who’s being bought by whom, and whether it will affect the markets the books are being sold into. Who is doing ebooks? Who is doing them well? What kinds of advances are being offered and which agents are negotiating good deals? Which agents and which publishers are taking on new writers? I try to be a well-informed writer who takes charge of my career rather than one who spends a lot of time whinging about ‘things no one told me’.One of the things that I really like is that novellas are on the rise again: small presses like Earthling, TTA, Twelfth Planet, and Gray Friar Press are producing some terrific works.
I don’t think I’ll be writing any differently, but the means of getting the work out there may well change. The message stays the same though the medium might change. And I think it’s important for writers to network and maintain relationships with individuals in the industry, rather than think their future is entirely invested in a single publishing house — very few writers nowadays are ever published by a single house. But editors and publishers and agents and booksellers all move around the industry: keep your ties with them and new opportunities may well come from that.