You are a teacher of English and Literature, which usually precludes reading/discussing speculative fiction, though not always. What does speculative fiction as a genre give you as a writer that realist fiction doesn't?
Perhaps I’ve just been fortunate, but I’ve always worked in English faculties that have supported and actively encouraged speculative fiction as texts. During the past ten years I’ve taught a lot of speculative texts, such as The Hunger Games, Coraline, World Shaker, Never Let Me Go, and World’s Next Door among others. I’ve also taught visual media including The Truman Show (which is an unacknowledged adaptation of a Philip K. Dick novel), The Woman in Black, Gattaca, Futurama, and City of Ember. Both my schools have also taught writing units in science fiction and horror. I’ve found that most English teachers are quite open to speculative fiction. It’s only in the senior years, where text selection is made by external governing bodies, that classics and novels of contemporary issues tend to dominate.
Speculative fiction is the greatest ‘what if’? I’ve experienced one UFO sighting, and at least five ghostly encounters I cannot explain. I love the unknown. I love the idea there might still be mystery in this world. I get enough realism in my day to day life. I spent six years living in Japan, and I was fascinated by what I experienced, how other humans could have completely different cultures, different behaviours, different beliefs and different thought processes. The natural metaphor, the extreme extension of that ‘different culture’, is an alien culture. I love exploring how there are more similarities than differences between us, and those differences are often trivial and superficial.
I’ve always been fascinated by space. I’m an amateur astronomer. I’ve read widely on the NASA missions. I only have a few memories of my early years at school, but the most vivid of these is sitting in a large room with several other classes as I watched Neil Armstrong step onto the lunar surface. I loved it, and it fired my imagination.
We write what we know and what we love, and I know and love speculative fiction. Genre fiction is an escape. It carries a distance that permits us to safely explore our own world by mapping it onto an imagined world, whether that’s an alternate reality, a dark reflection of our own lives, or an alien planet. We can write about our desires, our fears, our questions, our unknowns through the filter of speculation.
I’ve recently re-read some of my stories and I can see patterns in their themes, things about which I’ve spent time wondering. I can find internal dialogues spilled on the page that perhaps only those who know me well would recognise as exploration of my own questions.
I haven’t intentionally chosen not to write realism, but there have been times I’ve started writing without knowing where I’m heading and it hasn’t been too long before something speculative creeps in.
You have had the good fortune and the talent to work with and be published alongside, a number of our best writers. Is there a story, a collection or moment that you look back on with fondness or pride or a turning point where you decided - yes this writing gig is for me?
I certainly feel honoured to have been published alongside some great writers. And I understand what you mean by ‘good fortune’, but I want to be clear that I don’t think luck has anything to do with it. I’ve worked hard on every story I’ve sold. I’ve had to actively target markets. I’ve had to write, rewrite and submit my stories. Ironically, I feel unlucky with some of the markets from which I’ve been rejected. But rejection is part of being a writer and we just have to accept it. I rant privately for about five minutes, re-submit the story to another market as soon as possible, and forget it.
Like many writers I can be insecure regarding my work. There are lean times where I receive rejection after rejection and I find myself questioning whether I can write. And then I make another sale and it sweeps all those self-doubts away. As a result, I have had a series of moments when I feel like this writing gig is truly for me, and a number of times I remember with fondness and pride. The first one was just after I’d written my first two stories. I wrote them a few days apart and didn’t really know what to do with them. I signed up for a weekend workshop with Sean Williams (I’d never even heard of him previously. For some reason I presumed he was American.), and returned home thrilled that Sean and Stuart Mayne (then editor of Aurealis) had been very encouraging about my story. Then there was my first sale, Ghost of the Heart, which Steve Clark at Tasmaniac published in Festive Fear 2. I was literally dancing around the house, calling my wife at work and texting friends. Later I had a mentorship with the incredible Paul Haines, and I will always cherish our e-mail exchange in which he said wonderful things about my writing. There are more: my first award nomination, my sale to Keith Stevenson’s fantastic anthology, Anywhere But Earth, my sale to Eric Guignard’s After Death (which went on to win the Bram Stoker award), and my first pro-level sale to Mike Resnick’s Galaxy’s Edge, which resulted in my name sitting on a table of contents between C.J. Cherryh and Robert Sheckley. There are more, but those are the highlights.
Just this morning I was listening to Galactic Suburbia where Tansy Rayner Roberts commented that every time she reached a goal in her writing, she realised she had simply arrived at the beginning of something new. She’s right. Writing is like climbing a mountain. Every goal I reach is the crest of a small rise. Once there I find a new rise ahead ,and realise there’s much further to go. Tansy also commented that the reward for success in writing is more work. That’s so true.
I now accept that I can do this writing thing. Anyway, there’s nothing I can do. It’s too late for me. I’m addicted to writing and being published.
You have been very consistent in your publication and you will be featured in Coeur de Lion's D6 publication in October. What market would you like to crack that you haven't?
It’s great to sell to Keith Stevenson again. Dimension6 is an exciting new venture, and the first two issues were fantastic. I feel honoured to be one of only nine names he’s chosen to publish this year, and I’m very well aware that I’m the least known of those nine authors. Even though I’ve been published alongside six of the other writers previously, I still can’t believe I’m among authors whose books I have on my shelves, authors I’d read but never thought I’d ever meet. I feel privileged to now consider some of these writers as friends.
I have a long list of markets I want to crack, but there are a few I’d see as personal victories at this stage of my writing career. Obviously I’d love to sell to the so-called ‘big three’: Asimov’s, Analog and Fantasy & Science Fiction. I’ve been close a couple of times, receiving personal rejections, but no sales so far. I’ll get there soon, I hope. In Australia, I’d love to sell to Twelfth Planet and Ticonderoga Publications. And, of course, I’d love to sell more to Coeur de Lion, FableCroft, and Andromeda Spaceways.
What Australian works have you loved recently?
The standouts for me have been Trucksong by Andrew Macrae, Bread & Circuses by Felicity Dowker, Asymmetry by Thoraiya Dyer, and The Bride Price by Cat Sparks. Having said that, I’m way behind on my reading. I have a huge TBR stack which I’m steadily working through, but I feel a little guilty at how much local work I have yet to catch up on. About two years ago I was right up to date with all my Australian reading, but there has been so much great work released in the meantime. There are a few books I’ve pushed up the stack, and I look forward to shortly reading N.A. Sulway’s Rupetta, Rob Hood’s Fragments of a Broken Land, Jo Anderton’s The Bone Chime Song, Kirstyn McDermott’s Perfections, Rjurik Davidson’s Unwrapped Sky, Janeen Webb’s Death at the Blue Elephant, and the most recent releases of the Twelve Planets series.
I’d pretty much recommend anything from Coeur de Lion, Twelfth Planet, FableCroft and Ticonderoga. I can’t think of any of their releases that have disappointed me, and I believe Australian small press is leading the way in regards to diversity and quality.
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?
I don’t think the changes have influenced the way I’ve worked too much. I’m old fashioned in regards to reading. I much prefer a paper book to e-books, although I’ve reluctantly started reading e-magazines on Kindle. I can tolerate it, and it’s certainly convenient when traveling, but if I can have the paperback I’m much happier.
I probably still harbour some prejudices towards purchasing ebooks, especially self-published ones. I’m not against self-publishing. It certainly has its place, but I’m seeing far too many people self e-publish their stories that in previous years would have been trunked. There’s still far too much whitenoise out there. The number of e-publishers has rapidly increased, because so many people think they can do it. It’s reasonably easy to set up a webpage and solicit stories. I like the validation that comes with a respected brand name. I’ll happily buy the e-book version of a release from a publisher I know, whether they are major or small press, but social media is full of people touting e-books by writers and publishers I’ve never heard of. My suspicions are many of these are little more than vanity publishing.
Dimension6 altered my perspective somewhat. I know Keith, he has a solid reputation and I’d worked with him before. I’d sold So Sad, the Lighthouse Keeper to Keith’s Anywhere But Earth (a vastly under-rated and sadly under-read anthology) so I knew whatever Keith was doing would be fantastic. For me personally, he brought a level of credibility to e-publishing, that validation I required. Even as late as November last year I told someone I had no interest in submitting work to electronic only publishers. When Keith Stevenson announced Dimension6 I changed my mind. I’m now much more open to investigating other e-markets. I must say I still love the idea of having a physical copy of my work.
I think the way I write has mostly developed due to my efforts to learn, to be educated. I pay attention to whatever feedback I get from editors and slushreaders, whether I agree with what they’ve said or not. I’ve taken courses with Dean Wesley Smith, Tracey Hickman, Jack Dann, Sean Williams and Kate Forsyth. I had a mentorship with Paul Haines. And mostly I’ve read lots of short fiction and spent time deconstructing them.
I have my dreams for the future. I also have very specific goals I’d like to achieve. Currently I’m an associate member of the SFWA, but I’d like to become a full member in the next year. Obviously, I’d like to be in a position where my acceptances outnumber my rejections. I feel as though I’m about ready to start working on a novel, so I’d like to see that written and published. I’ve recently had a number of people push me to self-publish, but I don’t want to self-publish and I’m not ready for my own collection. You only get one chance to make a great first impression, so I’d like to be a better writer first and to have a larger body of work from which to select.
I don’t think I’m particularly good at networking and self-promoting, and that’s probably an area in which I need to improve. Ultimately, though, I believe it’s the work that has to stand on its own. Being connected isn’t enough, and I’d like to think the bibliography I’m building speaks for itself. Perhaps in the next few years a publisher will approach me and love my work to the extent they want to publish my collected works.
As for who or what I’ll be reading, who knows? I know I’ll always read diversely. I read non-fiction and fiction, different genres, long, short. Whenever I travel I buy collections and anthologies by local authors, so I read across many cultures and nationalities.
I’m always thrilled to see fellow writers achieve success. Perhaps in five years’ time some of my friends will be the writers I’ll be reading regularly, and I’ll be able to tell people ‘I knew them when…’
Steve Cameron is a Scottish/Australian writer. Publications include Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine, After Death, Anywhere but Earth and Galaxy's Edge. Steve is a member of the HWA, the SFWA, and SuperNOVA writers' group. He has been shortlisted for the Ditmar and Chronos awards five times. Steve maintains a website and blog at www.stevecameron.com.au
This interview was conducted as part of the 2014 Snapshot of Australian Speculative Fiction. We’ll be blogging interviews from 28 July to 10 August and collating the links at SF Signal. You can find other interviews in this series at the links below:
- Tsana Dolichva
- Stephanie Gunn
- Kathryn Linge
- Elanor Matton-Johnson
- David McDonald
- Helen Merrick
- Ben Payne
- Alex Pierce
- Tansy Rayner Roberts
- Helen Stubbs
- Katharine Stubbs
- Tehani Wessely
- Sean Wright
- Nick Evans