April 14th, 2005


Robert Hood, co-editor of Daikaiju!

Robert Hood is the co-editor (with Robin Pen) of the anthology Daikaiju!.

1) Spend a small time around you and the people involved in Daikaiju!, and it becomes clear that it is a project motivated by love. When it comes to the realistic concerns of buying stories, designing the book, and selling it, how does that love come into play?

Loving the genre certainly helps when you're reading endless story submissions dealing with a common theme! But I reckon the passion plays against a realistic appraisal of such things as costings. Without going into too much detail, I think I have erred on the side of over-generosity when it comes to many of the financial decisions pertaining to the book and its production. For instance, it is arguably too long -- not aesthetically, as I think all the stories deserve to be in the book, and in fact there were at least a few left over that deserve to be in it too. But I really fought to include as many stories in the anthology as I could, even at the expense of financial sense, because passion dictated that they NEEDED to be included. As a result the book is a bit too heavy. The excess weight pushed it over one of the limits for postage, and so it is costing a lot more just to mail out, especially as so many copies have to go the the US.

But I loved reading and editing these stories, and the authors have been so generous with their time and enthusiasm that it is truly inspiring. In many cases, getting a story accepted in the anthology was to the respective authors more than simply another sale. It was personal, something they've longed for. Then there's Bob Eggleton's cover. No way could we have afforded to pay someone of Bob's prominence to provide a cover like that. But he volunteered, emailing me out of the blue to offer to paint us a cover just because he loves the genre. Likewise with Todd Tennant and his internal art. Same with the authors, of course (especially when I started demanding changes and major editorial re-workings). And I asked Brian Thomas out of the blue if he'd write a piece for us, simply because I admired his Videohound's Dragon: Asian Action and Cult Movies book and noticed that he was on a Godzilla discussion group I frequent. Again he did it for peanuts simply through love.

On the down side, it did mean that rejecting many of those who desperately wanted to get in the anthology was rather more wrenching than normal. It was, as I say, personal. Several people wrote to me saying that they'd waited for this anthology all their lives! Rejecting them was tough!

2) As a product, this is a book that has the potential of a niche audience outside Australia. How much of that audience do you think will find their way to you, and what are you plans to reach beyond them?

It's quite difficult selling overseas, thanks to excessive mail costs and the differences between, for example, what the book costs in Australia and what US readers are willing to pay. We end up almost selling at a loss! There are ways to deal with this and we're working on finding them.

So far there has been no problem making the book's presence known in the States. US authors in the book have offered abundant promotional help, J.D. Lees of G-Fan has offered a free full-page colour ad in his magazine, reviewers have offered to review it ... and orders started coming in from the US as soon as it was announced that the book was available. It's already more than we can handle -- and we're looking at the need to print some more copies. We were way too conservative about the initial print run and are going to run out quickly. Not good business sense. We would have saved money on unit cost by simply doing a bigger initial run -- but hey! Agog! just doesn't have that much capital.

3) You edited the book with Robin Pen. How did the selection process work between you both, and how has that left your opinion of editing through committee and having one editor per project?

I wanted Robin on board as co-editor for several reasons. First, he and I have shared a mutual love of the genre for years, so it seemed ... appropriate. Also I wanted someone to bounce ideas off, someone whose opinion I trusted and who thought similarly to myself on these matters. Mind you, part of me also wanted Robin there so that I could submit a story myself and have it objectively evaluated. In fact I did write a story, and initially sent it to Robin under a pseudonym. In the end, he wanted to put it in, but I decided I couldn't do that, not in the face of the great stories we were getting and the difficulty I was having deciding what to reject. It just didn't seem like a cool thing to do. So my story was, alas, discarded.

Robin will no doubt tell you that he didn't do much. True, I culled the incoming submissions, sending Robin only those I wanted a second opinion on and then conferring with him on the final selection based on the shortlist. But I found his input invaluable. Just being able to say to him "Is this one really as good as I think it is?" or "This one doesn't make sense, is it just me?" was terrific. He helped me retain my confidence that this task was doable. And believe me, it got
pretty hectic at times.

But you know, it didn't feel like "editing through committee". I do think the best editing comes through the sensibilities of a single editor, and a good anthology reflects that focus. I haven't changed my mind on that. But Robin and I shared a common passion here -- and as I say, I had final say anyway... Not that we argued. He gave in to me on stories I was passionate about, or subtly influenced me to think otherwise if he thought I was wildly wrong. It all worked really well.

4) You're dead. It was, of course, one of those huge mechanical monsters that you've build. After stepping on a tiny port-a-loo, fluid seeped into the circuits and everything went boom. Anyhow, you go to heaven (assuming there is, blah blah) and God is there, waiting. What do you say?

"Lead me to the Celestial film and book library, Jehovah my man! You know, the one with all the films and novels that almost got written and made but were lost somewhere in the process. And the "perfected" versions of films and books that got fucked up by studio interference or lousy editors. Presumably the US Godzilla film directed by Terry Gilliam is there. And that ghost movie Hitchcock was going to make. And Kubrick's version of AI."

5) Favourite swear word?

Shit, what a fucking stupid question! Stone the crows, man, does every interview have to be reduced to cussin'?
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Brendan Duffy, author of short fiction.

Brendan Duffy has won two Aurealis Award for best short Science Fiction in the last two years. His most recent win, 'Come to Daddy' is in Agog! Smashing Stories.

1) You're a new writer on the scene, having emerged from 2002's Agog! Fantastic Fiction anthology. Four years down the track, you find your work regularly appearing in Australia, you've won 2 Aurealis Awards, and been picked up for the Hartwell Year's Best. How's that sit with your now, and has it changed the kind of fiction you writer, or are you still motivated by the same desires?

yeah, I'm still Jenny from the block, keepin it real and staying true to my hood, tho the recognition I've received has left me a little giddy, but it has kept me writing, which is good, because that's my therapy. Oh sure I'm still motivated by the same desires to write, using the same themes, those little buggers will never let me be, tho of late I have felt less inclined to release the grungier work that I started out with, so I countered that by immediately sending some out. One change is that I'm now planning longer works.

2) You've picked yourself up a writing grant from the Australia Council for the Arts, which is excellent. What made you try for one and what are your plans with the money and time?

I knew grants were achievable because a friend received one 2 years back, so I tried because of the Hartwell sale, and because the worst that could occur was that I not receive a grant, so I had nothing to lose but my full time job. Ive used the grant to take time off work to draft a novel.

3) Your honest opinion of the quality of the local scene, it's positives and negatives.

I totally dig the local scene. My partner gave me an Orb, so I read it and thought I'd have a go at writing spec fic short stories. I stopped reading novels and just read local short stories, anything I could get my hands on, then branched out from there, joined a writing group, started going to cons. Sure, I haven't liked all I've seen, but the scene caters for different tastes, and there are sub genres I don't like. We certainly don't have a shortage of great writers, and Im glad things are picking up.

positives. I really liked meeting everyone, writers, editors, fans, it was great to be able to read the work, then meet the folks and buy the t shirt. I found the spec fic community really open and welcoming, which allowed me to easily shift from scientist to writer. And I really liked the fact that it was us, not US or UK or whatever. if it was crap, it was our crap, if it was good, it was our good. That is important to me, not for contrived nationalistic reasons defined by coorporations or political parties, but because we are a group of individuals in the act of anarchically defining ourselves and our place. Footballs, meat pies, kangaroos, and holden cars, sugar spice all things nice, frogs snails etc. All grist.

negatives. We are a small group, subjected to the things that effect small groups.

4) You're dead. Despite your wishes, there was no statue. Best not to think about it. You go to Heaven (assuming there is, blah blah) and God is there, waiting. What do you say?

Prove that you're conscious.

5) Favourite swear word?

My dad used to say 'jesus-bloody-fucken-christ'. He'd start slow, build speed and volume, and peak on the U in fucken, and the 'christ' just fell into sorry little pieces. It had real feeling, a yearning and despair. He'd only get it out on really special occasions, and i totally dug it. it meant everything was as bad as it could ever get, but somehow still made me privately snicker. However, nothing beats spitting out that single syllable 'fuck'.
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Colin Sharpe, publisher of Xuan Xuan.

Colin Sharpe is the publisher of the tri-annual manga anthology Xuan Xuan (pronounced swan swan). It's 80 to 120 pages per issue, and five bucks (US). Kicks the shit outta eating the crap you could buy for that fiver and a bit.

1) There are times that I think that the freshest speculative fiction work is being done in comics, and especially in manga. There's a real energy and sense of youth too it, regardless of who creates it, and while that simply might be a response to our cultural time, I think it's one of the most valuable aspects to it. How do you see those things in Xuan Xuan, in terms of content and readership?

In terms of the content, one of the things that really surprised us was the age of the people contributing the content. Our youngest contributor was 15 when she first started to contribute to Xuan Xuan. Her work was certainly to a standard worth printing, and we were enormously excited to see what sort of work she would be creating as she got older. That has been one of the main aims of Xuan Xuan, to promote up and coming artists until they're popular enough that we ultimately lose them to other projects. Our other contributors are not that much older. The energy was something we noticed from the beginning, and is definitely there in the work, and their attitude to it.

From a readership standpoint, we knew the market to a certain extent, and knew that we would be aiming it at a youth audience. We specifically adopted a policy of no hentai, no x-rated violence and so forth, because we knew that our readership was likely to be young. It was something that was quite apparent from the number of young people who were starting to be involved in the anime fan community, which I have been involved with for some time now. I was beginning to feel old at 28, but some of that enthusiasm does rub off, and that can only be good!

2) You state on your website that Xuan Xuan isn't really manga, but rather doujinshi, which is manga produced by fan or amatuers. In the speculative fiction side of things, those terms come with their own genre weight—fan work often leading to fan-fiction, or fan writing (which is about established works) and amatuers (or semi-professionals) are dismissed as not being competent enough to hold a readers attention. How's that different with doujinshi? Or is there no difference at all, and you find that people enter with a similar set of ideas?

The doujinshi scene is vastly different than the fan-fiction and fan writing scene. Professional manga artists, or manga ka, are often found publishing little side and underground projects within the doujinshi scene. There are vast conventions and swap meets dedicated to doujinshi in Japan, and a lot of the professional manga creators cut their teeth there. Doujinshi can be based on established works, and a lot of it is, but it can also be original works by creators who have not yet signed a publishing contract. It is one of those terms that can be a little nebulous in its meaning, but the perception of doujinshi works is higher, I would say, than that of fan-fiction. Due to anime and manga being more widely available, and understood culturally, nowadays, most of our readers already have an understanding of what doujinshi is. We felt that the distinction was important, and have thus included it, as our contributors are not yet professional, but we hope that through anthologies like Xuan Xuan, they will get the chance to move on and take that next step.

3) Through this series of interviews, I've spoken to small press publishers who state that there's only financial risk promised in publishing, that there's no money, and so on and so forth... I imagine you find the same thing with Xuan Xuan, but if you could give a bit of an insight into the realities of producing a manga like this, it'd be most insightful.

There are different risks and challenges involved with manga that are not present in other forms of small press. One of the risks we run in doing ongoing serials is that we may lose artists, and indeed we have done. Hopefully new ones will have come along, and usually they have, but that has meant that there are stories that will never finish within Xuan Xuan, which is a little sad.

The actual production of a book like Xuan Xuan is also quite different to other small press, there are a lot more resolution, and image reproduction issues involved, as every page is a drawing. Thankfully, I've been a full time graphic artist working within the printing industry for many years, and so I had a very good working knowledge of what to expect, but there were still surprises. Your computer tends to run out of RAM very quickly when you're working with 100+ pages that are all graphics. So you have to adopt ways of managing those pages better, or spend a lot of money on buying faster processors, and more RAM.

And it's true, you won't make it rich doing this. Never do it for money, do it for the love of it.

4) You're dead. In true hentai fashion... well, it had tentacles. Still, you go to Heaven (assuming you believe, naturally) and you see God. You say?

Please tell me we're not related. I've seen what you did to your son.

5) Favourite swear word?

I have a few that I use, depending on context. I like 'Gordon Bennet' for mild annoyance, 'Shit' for more startled annoyance, but nothing beats 'Fuck' at the top of your voice for when you've just dropped an anvil on your foot or you've heard they've brought Doctor Who back to tv.
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Chuck McKenzie, author of short fiction.

Chuck McKenzie is currently in the anthology Daikaiju!, edited by Robert Hood and Robin Pen. He also wrote the sci-fi comedy novel Worlds Apart.

1) You're been on the scene for a while now, having emerged with the small press novel WORLDS APART in 1999, and you entered with a reputation for humour work. How has that changed, if at all, and how has your outlook on writing altered since then?

Personally, I think the humour in my work has become blacker - and sometimes virtually non-existent - over time, which may largely be due to a recent bout of clinical depression. Or maybe the world is just a nastier place than it was when I started getting published.

My outlook on writing in general goes through the same continuous cycle. I begin by feeling horribly guilty that I don't write more, so I churn out stories, send them off, get them published, yada yada. Then I begin to feel guilty that my writing is eating into my precious family time, so I stop. Most recently, I've been in the latter part of the cycle, with the demands of family and work preventing me from writing anything much. Tomorrow, I'll probably be telling myself that this is just an 'excuse' to avoid writing, and to pull my finger out. I'm off to Conflux in a couple of weeks, and hanging around with a bunch of successful writers and editors will finally get the creative juices flowing again. Etcetera...

2) What's your plan nowadays? Do you even have one?

A very flimsy one, and the same one I started with. a) To write stuff that I'd enjoy reading (which is why my stuff often tends towards the frivolous), and b) to write for the buzz of seeing my name in print. Both plans obviously contribute to my continual failure to make any money from writing. But what the fuck.

3) Your honest opinion of the quality of the local scene, it's positives and negatives.

I like the coziness and the sense of camaraderie; ironically, this is also what makes me uncomfortable, as it tends to foster complacency (in me, at least) about selling my next story. So why would I push myself to compete on the international market? I think the local market is like any other market, really: you have gems and you have dross. The question is, are the gems regarded as such outside of the local scene? I think yes, currently, but maybe I'm being complacent again.

4) You're dead. The disco ball was much too large and you should have listened to your wife. Still, dead is dead. You go to Heaven (assuming there is, blah blah, you know the drill) and God is there, waiting. What do you say?

'Do you have any idea of the crap some people are doing in your name? Well why don't you fucking *do* something about it?' I hope She wasn't expecting me to say something funny...

5) Favourite swear word?

Fuck: concise, punchy, just the thing for screaming out loud or muttering under your breath. I use it far too much, really: in my writing, particularly. My publisher removed something like 65 'fucks' from Worlds Apart. And Robert Hood, bless him, had concerns about my story 'Like A Bug Underfoot', which made it into the Daikaiju! anthology. I was happy to tone it down (he asked very nicely, after all), and I don't think it affects the story negatively. But if you want to know exactly how much toning down was done, read the story and keep in mind that every single mild obscenity in that piece was originally a 'fuck'.
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Robert Hoge, co-editor of Aurealis.

Robert Hoge is one of the two new editors at Aurealis. A first issue will appear sometime this year.

1)Having recently taken over the editor chores (with Ben Payne) for Aurealis, how have you approached forming a vision for a magazine that, ten years ago, was a strong force in the genre, but has in recent years lost some of its power and market presence?

Aurealis is still a strong force in the genre in Australia. But in the past 10 years we've moved from a market with (essentially) only two outlets to one with seven or more magazines publishing multiple issues each year. Plus there are between three to five anthologies being published most years, so there's an obvious diluting of the 'power' and 'prestige' that comes with being only one of two kids on the block.

That said, the approach Ben and I took when pitching for the role was that we want to make Aurealis the pre-eminent Australian market - the first choice for the best writers to send their best stories. To do that we'll have to deliver a quality product with a strong voice, that gets widely read, widely reviewed and widely noticed. I'm looking forward to taking a (healthy and productive) challenge up to the other prominent local markets in that regard.

2) There's been a lot of talk on this blog about committee editing producing a certain blandness when compared to a single editors vision. With two editors, I think, you're caught somewhere between the two. What's your opinion on both, and how you think this will impact the content you buy for Aurealis? (Also, and I might not be correct in this, so feel free to say so, but I've been under the impression that the magazine is still under ownership of Dirk Strasser--has he placed any guidelines on the work you can take if this is true?)

The potential danger in editing by committee is that stories get chosen because everyone involved regards them as 'okay' rather than having people make bold and risky choices. As a reader I'd much rather pick up a magazine that had two stories I absolutely adored and four I didn't think much of rather than six stories I thought were just 'okay.' But I don't think either approach - committee or single editor - is inherently better. And both systems are producing some good results here.

Ben and I have critiqued a lot of work together in the Vision Writers Group, so we've got a good sense of our matching likes and dislikes. And we've also got a good respect for where our tastes differ. That's important because it allows us to have a
good discussion regarding the mix of stories in each issue.

I imagine there'll be some stories in each issue that one of us believes in more than the other. And that's the way it should be.

Dirk still runs Chimaera Publications, which owns and publishes Aurealis, and is moving into small press publishing with their first title being Richard Harland's Black Crusade. We pitched a strong vision to him when we applied for the editorship and he hasn't placed any constraints on the type of work we publish.

3) The blog talk from these interviews is about the quality of the fiction being produced in the Australian scene. What's your take on it?

There's a huge amount of superb speculative fiction being produced in Australia at the moment. The amount of quality material coming out from established and from newer authors who arrived on the scene after Aussiecon 3 and others who have come up through Clarion South is astounding.

I don't have much time for people who bemoan the fact that the explosion in authors and in markets has meant there's some stories getting published that they don't think worthy. A fair opinions, but why dwell?

I'm much more inclined to judge the quality of a country's output not by the lowest common denominator but by the highest. Let's talk about the profound rather than the mundane. Let's talk about the great works - the ones that are deservedly getting published in professional markets overseas and the ones that are getting included in various 'best-ofs' and most importantly the ones that are getting talked about as being something special. Any country that can over three years produce works like 'Louder Echo', The Etched City and 'Singing My Sister Down' is doing pretty well in my book.

For every story or author that someone doesn't believe worthy of publication, I'll counter them with an alphabetical list of stories by everyone from Battersby to Westwood and back again. We have plenty of people producing great stuff.

I believe in Australian speculative fiction and I believe in the people writing it.

4) You're dead. You remember that TV series you really liked in the 70s, and how they later made a movie with a whale in it? Well, whales aren't that friendly. Later, when you got to Heaven (belief being not that important here) you saw God. You said?

So, what do you think about the quality of fiction being published in Australia at the moment? *g*

5) Favourite swear word?

Bollocks. I have a wide taste in swear words but I've got a particular fondness for polysyllabic swear words.
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Bill Congreve, co-editor of The Year's Best Australian Fantasy and Science Fiction

Bill Congreve is the co-editor (with Michelle Marquardt) of the Year's Best Australian Fantasy and Science Fiction 2004. It'll be released shortly by Prime Books.

1) Approaching a Year's Best would be, I think, quite different to creating an original anthology of short fiction. What are some of the concerns and interests, however, that go into creating a Year's Best Australian volume?

There's a number of issues that need to be considered with a Year's Best. The first is that, if we're going to be in any way honest, we've got to read everything. It is either the best of, or not. We did our best with that. There has been some mention in the media recently of a SMH reviewer referring the Frank Moorhouse's edited 'Year's Best Australian' to the ACCC, because there was no attempt at all to read widely. We read nearly 400 stories, for a total of more than 1.2 million words. We advertised for stories, we trolled for stories... We've included stories from overseas sources, and from small local websites. I think there were about a dozen stories we heard about for which we couldn't obtain manuscripts. The things just weren't submitted.

With original stories, there is room for an editor to direct traffic, to work to get the best story out of a writer. My priority is the story, more than it is the writer. Communication is a two-way process and editors not only must draw the best out of writers, they must also represent the readers. Dealing with writers then becomes a matter of diplomacy. This can, of course, be taken too far. We're all in this for our own reasons, whatever they may be, and editors must also respect the motives of the writer. With a Year's Best? It's a reprint anthology. We've got to assume that first level of editing has been done. Outside of minor changes, the stories shouldn't be rewritten.

2) Having taken it as a task to read the entire Australian scene, what are your opinions of its content, pro and con?

There's a lot of fantasy, not much SF. With one or two notable exceptions, SF exists mainly in the small press. It's great that the genre is being preserved there, but it also has problems that come with small press publication.

There's an awful lot of political stuff out there. We've chosen a couple of stories along those lines, but we've tried to avoid the didactic stories, and the ones which just drag out the same old 'ain't it awful' themes and structure. When half the published fiction fits the same mould, you recognise it very quickly. The best stories are ones which carry their ideas in character and plot, not in preaching.

There's also a vast number of flash fiction pieces which re-invent the ideas and plots of North American magazine SF of the 1950s and 1960s. I'm not sure how to take this. While it's nice to see some of these ideas again, it's distressing if these folk think they're being original. Perhaps it's a tribute. Or perhaps it's a sign that John Howard's Australia is biting into the grass roots.

I think it was Spider Robinson who picked up a Hugo for story in which popular culture was allowed to copy itself for a new audience every few years. That's very wise.

3) What kind of speculative genre fiction does it appear that the scene is encouraging, and what kind of fiction do you think is struggling to find a voice?

Horror always struggles when presented as a genre. Outside of the genre, when incorporated into other genres including the literary and dramatic, it does spectacularly well. But this is one of those little hypocrisies that horror writers hate, so they try a little harder -- and get patronised, pushed out of sight, and copied that little bit more. Horror probably does it's best work in the ghetto (and thanks Rob for that insight), but it also struggles in the ghetto, and is at its most immature there.

Similarly, hard SF is struggling. Only one or two writers are seriously attempting this. One of the tenets of hard SF is a philosophical attitude appropriate to the subject matter. A way of observing the universe which allows the universe, rather than our own desires, to be a dominant force in the fiction. Perhaps Greg Egan will begin writing again soon. Greg Guerin is developing as a writer. Chris Lawson doesn't have time to write enough stories. There aren't many others.

But we're also noticing that the flavour of the best work changes from year to year. If we had done a Year's Best last year (for 2003), with Southern Blood, Gathering the Bones, and several excellent stories in other publications, a Year's Best would have been dominated by horror. This year we have a range of stories with, if anything, literate urban gothic dominating. And YA is well represented. And we can already tell that the adventure story is on the agenda for the Best of 2005 volume.

4) You're dead. Like most Sydney residents, you died decadently, which is good. Still, you're dead. You go to Heaven (assuming there is one, blah blah) and you see God. You say?

Pint of your best, please.

I hope you can play that guitar you're holding.

5) Favourite swear word?

Karla kippeneucker (and I apologise to any Dutch folk out there for the spelling). I was taught that by one of nature's gentlemen, Harry Schenk, who's probably dead now. He was a registered nurse who spoke six languages, was a chief steward for KLM, a medic in the Korean war (his best friend died in his arms), and he emigrated to Australia in a yacht he built himself. His final career move was as a manager of retirement villages. I'm sure Harry wouldn't mind my spelling, but he did insist on the right pronunciation.
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