2016 Snapshot: Michelle Goldsmith

Interview by Helen Stubbs.

MichelleGoldsmith_headshotMichelle Goldsmith is a Melbourne-based author whose writing often inhabits the shady borderlands between genres.

She has a BSc (majoring in Zoology/Evolutionary Biology) and a Masters degree in Publishing and Communications, with a thesis exploring the author-reader relationship within the contemporary speculative fiction field.

Her life science background and particular fondness for the stranger aspects of the natural world often inform her fiction.

Her short fiction has appeared in various publications both within Australia and overseas, and been short-listed for both the Aurealis Award and the Ditmar Award. She has also had work published in translation.

What are you working on at the moment?

Currently, I’m working on my first novel. It’s a little hard to categorise but it’s probably SF with a dash of Weird.

Some aspects of the story (a non-human POV, unreliable POVs and more) mean that it will be challenging to pull off, but in the past when I’ve tried to write more straightforward types of novels they haven’t been able to sustain my interest. I prefer to feel like I’m working hard and developing as a writer. I actually feel engaged and excited about this story and care about my characters and what happens to them, rather than just feeling like I’m writing a novel because everyone says to write a novel or conventional wisdom says that that’s what it takes to be considered a serious writer.

Other than that, because the last few years have been super busy for me – trying to juggle my Masters and work with my chronic health problems and some other issues – I’ve only recently got around to polishing my backlog of short stories. I had a fair few that I had written and got feedback on but hadn’t got around to revising for submission. I finally have some on sub now and I have a couple more left to revise.

I have plenty of other story ideas at various stages of pre-draft development. I’m always adding to my ideas folders and gradually fleshing out the bones of new short stories. It’s not so much straightforward plotting as teasing out different threads, adding particular phrases and images that seem to belong, piecing them together and ordering them. Once the basic skeleton looks like it could support flesh (even if that’s years after the first seed of idea), that’s when I write the first full draft. Though, very occasionally I have a story that skips that process and just kind of flows out.

When you look back on yourself starting out as a proto-writer, are there any tips you would give past-you?

Hmmm. I worry that if I somehow travel back to give tips to past me she either won’t listen or it won’t have the same impact as making mistakes and learning that way would.

But, intricacies of timeline interference aside, it took me a fair while to work out that when it comes to my writing, long-term planning is more useful to me than rigid short term goals.

I have to manage my health and my energy so trying to write fiction every day or have a weekly word goal isn’t necessarily realistic for me. There are some things – like severe migraines with vision loss or acute pain episodes – that you just can’t write with. Trying to push through and write fiction when I’m too physically sick usually just exhausts me and means I’m out of the game for longer.

But having something like a monthly goal is more flexible and helps me make the most of my uptimes. (Longer term planning also means I can factor in the strict deadlines for my day job).

I might also tell myself to be a bit bolder and more experimental, and not to be afraid of trying something ambitious or weird for fear that it won’t work. Write it and don’t worry about what other people might think until revising. I think I spent too much time worrying that letting anyone see one dumpster fire of a story would mean nobody ever took me seriously again.

Probably I should also tell past me to stop checking on my story subs. Refreshing Submittable a hundred times won’t make them more likely to sell!

Can you tell me about a piece of work coming up for publication?

I recently sold a short story called Love Story; An Exorcism to Gamut. It’s a (potentially rather harrowing) tale about an abusive friendship between two children. One of my crit partners described it as ‘beautiful but painful to read’. It’s the type of story that probably won’t be for everyone (due to the style and subject matter) but seems to really resonate with some readers. It’s also my first pro-paying story sale!

Additionally, PodCastle is making an audio version of my Aurealis-shortlisted story, The Jellyfish Collector, which is scheduled for November.

I’m excited about the story reaching a larger audience. The Jellyfish Collector was one of the stories I completed during my mentorship with Kaaron Warren and it means a lot to me as the early scenes involving Eva and her father were inspired by my own relationship with my late father. I wanted to mix speculative elements with real world biology and an exploration of how the loss of a loved one early in life can shape someone.

What Australian work have you loved recently?

Recently, I beta read Marlee Jane Ward’s sequel to Welcome to Orphancorp and really loved it. I’d encourage everyone to read that when it’s out, and the first one if they haven’t already.

I thought Lisa Hannett’s Lament to the Afterlife was haunting and really well done. I really enjoyed Vigil by Angela Slatter, even though I’m usually a hard sell on urban fantasy. Kirstyn McDermott’s Madigan Mine was deliciously disturbing.

Arms Race by Nic Low and Heat and Light by Ellen Van Neervan were both great short story collections. Cherry Crow Children by Deb Kalin was one of my favourite books last year.

I read a lot of Australian short fiction in journals, collections and anthologies. But I’m a judge for the anthology and collection categories of this year’s Aurealis Awards so I probably shouldn’t give too much away about some of the recent books that I enjoyed.

Which author (living or dead) would you most like to sit next to on a long plane trip and why?

There are lots of authors I’d like to meet but I’m not sure how they feel/felt about plane trips. I might unknowingly choose someone who would be grouchy or asleep the whole time.

My classic picks are Octavia Butler, James Tiptree Jr./Alice B. Sheldon or Ursula K. Le Guin, because I love their fiction and they seem like they are/were interesting people.

Then there’s Nnedi Okorafor because she’s brilliant and we could talk about interesting insects and environmentalist swordfish and things. Jeff Vandermeer for similar reasons except the conversation would possibly involve more fungi.



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