Interview by David McDonald.
T. R. Napper’s short fiction has appeared in Asimov’s, Interzone (several issues), Grimdark Magazine, Ticonderoga’s Hear Me Roar, and numerous others. His work has been translated into Hebrew, German, and French. He is a Writers of the Future winner, Ditmar Awards nominee, and full member of SFWA.
By profession he is an aid worker, recently returned to Canberra after three years in Vietnam. This year he embarked on a creative writing PhD (speculative fiction in Southeast Asia).
He does not own a cat.
Your blog continues to feature some wonderful—and occasionally controversial articles. How have you found the reception to your blogging?
Overall the site gets very positive feedback, and is reasonably well-attended, which is as about as much as you can ask for. It’s part geek site and part discussion of being a writer, with the occasional more philosophical discussion of a novel or film thrown in.
I’ve really only copped abuse for one of my recent articles (‘Americans Destroy Science Fiction‘), where I pointed out some of the hypocrisies of the diversity debate, in particular when it comes to representing non-US writers.
I just delete the offending comment in moderation and don’t engage. I learned this lesson the hard way. Before I started writing fiction about four years back, I wrote the odd article for ABC’s The Drum, and more often for a variety of sports and poker publications. The latter, in particular, has a pretty conservative and angry audience, who are happy to let you know just how conservative and angry they are. Biting back – as I used to do – only makes things worse.
In response to ‘Americans Destroy Science Fiction’, some old blokes from the US got irate, but for the most part the reception was positive (especially from non-US writers).
It’s best to put the negativity in perspective. In my previous career as an aid worker, my phone and house was bugged, I was followed by the police, threatened with expulsion from the country for refusing to give bribes; suffered from spectacularly exotic parasites, had a dose of frostbite, you name it. And as a westerner I had it good: through my work I saw ethnic minority kids in remote communities starving, never been to school, completely marginalised, all variety of horrors visited on them.
So, you know. In comparison, being a writer is a breeze, and the brand of Neville that writes abuse in the comments section of a blog is the kind of trivial human not worth worrying about.
You talked about the way that spec fic is often centred on the United States. However, you are an example of an Australian writer who has been able to sell regularly in the big overseas markets. Why do you think you’ve been able to break through that barrier?
No idea. I made a decision early on to never pander to a US audience, and to only write characters and contexts I cared about. I think that makes it more difficult for me to get sales, but, you know, fuck ’em. I don’t know if I have a ‘voice’ as a writer yet, but if you’re writing about things you’re passionate about, in contexts you know intimately, and never moderate that for a particular market or fad, well, I assume that’s a good start.
If nothing else, at least I’m submitting stories to US markets they don’t see so often.
But I do think there’s more leeway in short fiction markets. I’ve had three pro sales now to the US (Asimov’s, Galaxy’s Edge, and Writers of the Future), and you see Aussies popping up all the time there. Though for all that, I’ve had a lot more sales to the UK and elsewhere, and find those easier to make.
In novels, from everything I’ve observed and everything I’ve been told by professional non-US writers, it is extremely difficult to find success with a novel that does not either a US setting or an identifiable (or relatable as a) US protagonist. When I was looking for an agent, I suspected – if I was lucky enough to snaffle one – he/she would be far more likely to be British than US. And, as I mention below, that is exactly what happened.
You recently announced that you’ve signed with an agent—congratulations! Are there any particular projects on the horizon that you can talk about?
Cheers. It’s Piers Blofeld of Sheil Land Associates in the UK. He’s taken on my novel ‘The Escher Man’ (I pitched it as ‘Blade Runner meets Goodfellas, set in Macau’ – which is vaguely true).
This all just happened recently, as you say, so the whole process is new to me. Right now I’m trying to get the edits Piers has given me finalised, so he can shop it around at the Frankfurt Book Fair later this year. That’s exciting. I’m also writing the second book in the series, though that will only be relevant if the first book actually sells.
Other than that I’m doing a PhD in Southeast and East Asian speculative fiction. Just the first year, but I’m enjoying the career change from aid worker to writer / student. A short story collection should come out of the PhD.
What Australian work have you loved recently?
Not enough. As my PhD is in Southeast and East Asian literature, I’ve barely have time to read anything else (though I’ve been putting aside a month towards the end of the year, each year, to read exclusively Aussie short stories and books in preparation for awards season nominations, and I’ll do that again this year).
Having said that, just recently I started Walking the Tree by Kaaron Warren. It’s very good, as you’d expect from Kaaron. I also bought The Rook by Dan O’Malley, for my wife a week or so back. So not just two Australian authors, two Canberra authors, at that.
Which author (living or dead) would you most like to sit next to on a long plane trip and why?
Living would be Kasuo Ishiguro. He’s my literary hero. I’d probably just mumble into my scotch rocks, too embarrassed to ask him all the burning questions I wanted to ask. He’s a lovely fellow, from all accounts, so I’m sure he’d politely ignore me.
Dead would be a younger Philip K Dick (before he started having hallucinations and thinking he was a man called Thomas living in the first century AD). We’d end up on some drug-fuelled binge that started in the economy section and ended in Vegas (the caveat here is that I’d have to be a younger me as well – I don’t handle hangovers so well these days, especially with a baby and a toddler in the house).
Wrecked, penniless, begging for change on a scorching Vegas pavement with Philip K Dick. Perfect.