April 17th, 2005


Robbie Matthews, Editor in Chief/Publisher of Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine

Robbie Matthews is the Editor in Chief and publisher of Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine. He has files on us all.

1) You're the Editor in Chief/Publisher of Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine. In these interviews, Andromeda has copped a bit of flak, I guess, in that the editorial committee structure that you have there has been described as something that supports bland fiction. Seems only fair to let you have your say on the subject.

Yeah... I'm not quite sure why we're accused of producing bland fiction, because I don't think we do. Still, you can't please everybody, so tough. You don't like the way we do stuff: Publish your own mag! (and since a lot of people taking part in this exercise have, then fair enough... :D )

A bit of history: When ASIM was being bandied about, the local Spec Fic scene was looking pretty sick: Eidolon dead, Altair dead, Aurealis up for sale. We came up with a mission statement:

a) Regular publishing
b) Cheap
c) A lighter tone than most of the other players in the field.

With our 18th issue at the printers... that's three years worth of publishing... I think we're doing OK for part a. We've worked very hard to keep the prices down, and largely succeeded. We're not a perfect bound annual, we're a pulpy periodical coming out 6 times a year, so I think that's b covered.

Light: At the time... and still... a lot of published short fiction tended to be dark, angst-ridden, black, and much of it pretentious. And I thought: That's all very well, but what about the science fiction I remember from my youth? Where are the likes for Eric Frank Russel, or Arthur C Clarke, or Spider Robinson? Few and far between, I thought. So when I became involved in an SF mag, that's the sort of stuff I wanted to see.

Now we seem to be copping a bit of flack for that attitude... why aren't we turning out ground breaking literature to sear the soul and shake the heavens? Well, see points a, b and c... Back to Editing by committee producing bland fiction... all I can say is that our reviews have been getting steadily better and appearing in more and more prestigious places, and our subscription base is getting steadily larger. We must be doing something right.

2) One of the things that does interest me in Andromeda is that members of the committee take turns editing each issue. What then is the role of the Editor in Chief in this situation?

At the moment, doing as little as possible! In the early days, I arbitrated disputes, organized a lot of stuff, set up the slush-reading procedure, edited, assistant edited, pimped like crazy, and made sure that everything that needed doing actually got done. Since then, a number of highly talented and organized people have gradually taken over my various tasks, and our procedures have streamlined to the point where I actually don't do much at all any more. Just as well, as around about issue #6 I fell off the roof, shattered my arm, and was out of action for quite some time. Everything pretty much rolled on without me, so it was all cool. I have just taken over the Slush-Wrangling again for a while, though. Speaking of which, my claim to fame: I'm fairly sure I invented the term 'Slush-Wrangler'... :D

3) What's your opinion of the current quality of fiction being produced by the local scene?

Pretty good, actually. Standing up well to the stuff being produced overseas... since about 2000 we've been going through a mini-renaissance. It's not uniform, of course, but the bar has been steadily rising.

4) You're dead. You remember that scene in Pulp Fiction with the ear cutting and the petrol? Well, only half of that was needed to kill you. Later, when you got to Heaven, you saw God. You say?


5) Favourite swear word?

'Bugger' for most normal uses. 'Fuck' when I'm annoyed. 'Poot' when I'm trying not to offend anyone.
  • Current Music
    Beck - Tropicalia

Sarah Endacott, editor and publisher of Orb Speculative Fiction.

Sarah Endacott is the editor and publisher of Orb Speculative Fiction. New issue in a couple of months.

1) Since 1999, you have produced seven issues of Orb, though it’s only with issue six that you’ve moved Orb onto a yearly publication schedule. It rests, now, still as a magazine, but with a size that could play it as an anthology equal to Cat Sparks Agog! series of the Polyphony volumes produced by Deborah Layne and Jay Lake in the States. What is, then, your goal when producing Orb?

People are so strict around here.

I really enjoy the countless well-intentioned admonishments to have each issue look, sound and taste exactly the same. And that’s just the format: I must keep every issue: the same length, with the same number of stories, with the same-length editorial, the same order of contents, same price, same frequency, same font, same layout and the SAME EVERYTHING. Okay, specs: it’s true, I like to range between 96 pages with six stories, and 216 pages with 15, having a variance of p < 0.171. People want to change the order, too, interspersing articles with stories, and some have said that the very same issue was too SF, too F and too H (but no one has yet complained that the last editorial wasn’t even about SF). I’m still… experimenting with Orb. They seem to be getting larger, yes.

But how could you even compare a magazine to a collection? A magazine is always more daring. Only a magazine takes the “big, sexy risk” of promising to keep steadily producing, trying to satisfy the people, the people (all the people!) living with an addiction to SF in our blessed country. Collections aren’t stuck with the same (SAME!) name on each cover, and the obligation to do another one next time, still smarting from the whipping they got for the previous attempt. No, your average collection never suffers from these blights - unless they actually choose to bear this burden, say, by branding each anthology under the publisher’s title.

Magazines have heaps of cool features. There’s a whole drawer of other gossip, innuendo and cruelty in the back pages – reviews, articles and features - that you don’t get in an anthology or a collection. And pictures. So few anthologies have illustrations for every story. And ads. You know you look at them. They pay to come on board. It’s frightfully expensive otherwise.

And the best thing about magazines? You get that sweet sitting-on-the-porch steps, scuffing the ochre dust with yer Dunlop Volleys, a still autumn dusk, the neighbours’ TV aerials just starting to silhouette, you see a dry leaf fall from a tree, and you’re there scuffing, with yer fingers itching to be a-turning those pages, sitting, wondering when you’ll get - but still longing for that next issue of Orb.

I think that just about covers “my goal when producing Orb”: to give someone that feeling.

2) In the nineties you were connected to the promotion of female writing, and were involved in the anthology She’s Fantastical, and the special women’s issue of Eidolon in its prime. Is there the same need, you think, for these projects now, and how active are you in this area these days?

No way would I do a women’s issue again, unless it had something else tied to it, like, “women astronauts forge stories from the weird experiences they had while pregnant in space”. I’d prefer to do a men’s issue. But then again, I’ve got a completely different plan for #8 next year (that’s the “scuffing the dust” cue).

3) What’s your critical opinion of the quality of writing being published in Australia?

All writing is shit. All movies are shit. After every movie, 40% of the audience say, “That was shit”. You never agree with your favourite, most respected SF buddy about how good stories are. You take something they reject and it gets an honourable mention in a year’s best. You wear the t-shirt that says “I publish the stuff they (with arrow) reject”. It’s all subjective.

Sure, I have tastes, but I buried them in the enchanted, Velvet Wood, one moonless night, when I was quite sure the Elders had not seen me scale the Stone Monastery walls in my modest blue shift, and the yellow robe and cowl of the Novitiate, as I had already donned my Glamour (betwixt thou and I, it really only makes the guards’ eyes swoon at mine visage, and is especially effective if their last night’s revelry included stout tankards of warm mead at the village tavern that was bequeathed my brother when he was but nine year, on the very same day our dear mother succumbed to the Lurgy that, some say, is breathed on t’ wind by three Terrible Lizards, sent by the Hordemaster from the North, from his dark, sickly lair to our fair, bright forests, which is where I didst take mine Amulet given me and seek a Cool Moss my mother described, and there sanctify and bury those Tastes).

4) You’re dead. You died in that classic Melbourne way... in a dirty alley in Chinatown, trying to show your friends a bar that was disgustingly overpriced. Oddly, none of your friends died, and your body had no cash on it. Anyhow, you go to Heaven and (assuming you believe, blah blah) you see God. What do you say?

This is a really poor piece of writing, Mr Peek, and not up to your usual standards. It’s also not the kind of material Orb magazine takes. I wish you every success in your writing career, however, and hope that you find a home for this piece.

5) Favourite swear word?

  • Current Music
    System Of A Down - Fuck The System

Margo Lanagan, author of Black Juice.

Margo Lanagan is the author of the award winning collection Black Juice. The collection itself has won the Victorian Premier's Literary Award, and 'Singing My Sister Down', the opening story of the collection, recently picked up the Golden Aurealis for best short fiction in 2004, and has been nominated for a Ditmar. Stories from the collection will also be appearing in various Year's Best anthologies.

1) Your collection Black Juice has done quite excellently, which is really following in the trend of your previous collection, White Time. But what I find interesting about you is that before the collections are published, individual stories don't appear in magazines or anthologies. I can only think it's an intentional desire on your part, and I'm curious about what lead you to this decision?

Nah, it was a time factor thing. I only found out, when I went to Clarion West in 1999, that sending short-stories to magazines was how you were supposed to start out with spec-fiction writing, and I already had the contract for White Time organised when I went (it paid for my Clarion trip). I'd done a lot of poetry writing and sending in my teens and twenties, and it just seemed kind of tedious to go back to sending things out individually. And my life's been very full - probably no fuller than any other writer's who has day-job work and family as well, but I just prioritised posting to magazines a lot lower, obviously!

So it came down to laziness, Ben, rather than a conscious decision to be different! And actually, it's only since Black Juice that it seems to have been a good decision to publish collections - White Time did so terribly (critically OK but sales hopeless), I'm amazed that Allen & Unwin agreed to take Black Juice on.

2) Black Juice is, like the majority of your fiction, billed as a young adult fiction, but like White Time, it has reached that crossover audience. Given that your previous novels were young adult fiction as well, I wonder what the attraction is for you to write to that age range, and if we'll ever see a grungier, adult Lanagan fiction world (if such a distinction is even valid for you)?

I don't know, I've been pretty grungy in my YA fiction at times. The distinction between YA and A fiction is one of those things that disappears every time I look at it too closely; the distinction between junior fiction and YA is a lot easier to draw. I think the attraction of writing fiction for younger people is the escape into characters' lives who haven't yet made decisions that will set them up for a predictable path through life. But I also like the fact that characters are encountering things for the first time, or just starting to make sense of the world, or just starting to question the world that they've found themselves in. Middle-aged crises interest me much less - I see enough of those in my daily life. Writing about them is not an escape.

That said, I've just had an idea for a story that I guess is adult horror. It's the first time I've thought, No, this one could never be classified young adult, no matter how hard you tried. So maybe I'm getting more thoroughly crossover than I have been so far.

3) There's been a lot of talk going on here about the quality of fiction existing in the Australian scene, and I'm wondering what your take on it is?

I'm sure there is plenty of good writing around, but I'm really not qualified to comment on the Australian scene. I'm pretty shaky on the genre scene as a whole, having lots of good intentions and only limited reading time. I know that the quality of social life is *excellent*; ask me again in a year or two about the fiction.

4) You're dead. Downloading music is illegal, after all, and you were punished by the music industry who had you and thirty four teenagers placed against the wall and shot. They said you were destroying the music industry single handedly, each one of you. The tragedy of it is that you hadn't been downloading music at all on your peer to peer server at all... still, Heaven is a cool place, no rules to get in, and God is a downloader. You walk in and you see him and you say?

"What - nothing but HARP music?" Then I see his very clean white beard, and his manicured fingernails and pedicured toenails, and his gorgeous embroidered robes, and I say to myself, Yeah, I THOUGHT some vain old bloke was running the universe.

5) Favourite swear word?

A nice, nasal "bloody". As in "Jesus Blah-dy Christ" or "Blah-dy Hell." And for an explosion of mock-outrage or -pain, fuck-fuckedy-fuck-fuck-fuckface. Favourite insult (also courtesy of my sons): Poo-nugget.
  • Current Music
    The Jesus & Mary Chain - Almost Gold

Sean Wallace and Prime Australia.

Sean Wallace is the figure behind Prime Books. Recently, Matt Cheney described him as the Grand Poobah, which he likes. Anyone who has been paying close attention to the publishers of collections and novels here, will have noticed a large Prime influence, and shortly, Prime Australia will begin. Due to all of that, I figured it was only fair enough to include him to round out the 2005 Snapshot.

1) Given the number of Australian authors that you've picked up for Prime Books, it's not surprising to hear that there will, by all accounts, a Prime Australia. Can you give us an insight into how that is going to work, and what brought around the decision to set it up?

The honest truth to your first question: I don't really know! (I'm sure that you didn't need to hear that from me.) But I do have a pretty good idea of how I'm approaching the market: our print-on-demand printing-and-distributing company has facilities in the area, which means that any book that I make available here in the States is automatically available in Aussie-land, should I make it so. This means that I could conceivably unleash the Second Coming on all your sorry asses (. . . And what rough beast, its hour come round at last, Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?) . . . but for right now I'm going to go slow and steady, in coordination with Geoff Maloney, with perhaps up a dozen releases this year, a mix of titles from my current backlist and from forthcoming releases. I'm more than confident that I can make it really work. (True, it might be mean the messy elimination of all pretenders to the throne (as there can only be one), but hey, if that's the price they have to pay . . . *sniff* I'm more than willing to shoulder such a heavy burden, for their sakes. Because . . . well, someone has to do it. It might as well be me).

I've always actually been interested in the local Australian publishing scene, ever since I started collecting and researching materials from the early forties up to the late sixties. This grew into a general interest into anything Australian, really, and even though I haven't had much to do with publishing Australian authors until recently, I have dabbled occasionally in that field, especially in the last ten years. However, the ball really started rolling and building steam, with KJ's The Etched City, and then Anna Tambour's Monterra's Deliciosa, and then I realised, omigodomigodomigod be still my beating heart, that there was a large untapped market of unpublished authors here. This simply was inconceivable! Such a thing could not be allowed to continue. Would not be allowed. And by god . . .

(If you're a new author and you've met me, you know how true this really is . . . "hey, you, you're unpublished, right? You write short stories? You write novels? You write poems? *slavering and panting heavily* hey, why are you inching away . . . I just want to sniff you . . . *pawing at the author* foooooooooooooooooood *howling* . . . ")

And so here we are . . . in the immortal words of the Brain, we're just here to "try to take over the world," one author at a time, one market at a time, one country at a time. So prepare to give obedience to your new publishing overlords, because your sorry asses belong to me, now.

2) POD publishing is not a big thing in the Australian scene. Of the small press publishers here, only Robert Stephenson's Altair Publishing has embraced it. Still, what are the realities of POD publishing, both pro and con?

The only issue that I can think of are the high unit costs, really, which then impact price points, which then impacts sales, of course. But everything else can be overcome or dealt with, within reason, with attention to marketing and packaging going a long way in helping things along. (I covered much of this in my Locus article. ) The bottom line is this: it's just another printing technology and anyone telling you otherwise is way out of touch (and increasingly so) with the field. The times a'changing. And that's god's honest truth, there.

3) It seems like asking you your impression of the content of the local scene here is kind of pointless, so rather than focus on that, I'm curious as to what your impression is of the work that you have seen. Is there anything that gives it a foreign flavour that is not found in the States?

I'd like to say that I've been quite pleased and surprised from what I've seen of Australian material, as most seems to be quite literary and professional in approach and structure. I'm not entirely certain that I could say, with a doubt, that there's a foreign flavour inherent in the stories, as much as the standards seem much higher. These people can write, dammit! However, I really haven't seen much of this, in the local publishing anthologies or magazines, for whatever reason, with much of it showing up in British and US markets, which is a damn shame. I'd love to see more markets open up, as there is certainly an overseas demand. I just can't imagine why there wouldn't be much a local pull, but maybe that can turned around in the foreseeable future. We'll see.

4) You're dead. Like many Americans, you were a victim of your health service, and by this, I mean that someone richer than you required a kidney, so you were harvested. After that, someone noticed your eyes, your liver, and so on and so forth, until they buried your remains in a lunch box. Still, dead is dead, and you get to Heaven, and you see God. You say?

". . . what, you couldn't have given me just a few more decades? *wheedling* come on, Lord, there's still a few countries that haven't seen the glory of the Prime!"

5) Favourite swear word?

I don't actually use it much, as I'm usually alone with my cats, but I'd say that "fuck" certainly fits—it's so damn versatile, though it usually only crops up when I've found out that another publishing company got to a project before me, and then I'm, like, so jealous, and then wow step back, out it comes . . . by the time I've calmed down, I'm shelved anything to do with . . . ummm . . . breaking kneecaps, hiring hitmen, and car bombs . . . but I mean, yeah, I could probably control everything from behind prison bars, but why chance it?

Just remember this: pro gloria primi. . . and now back to our regular-scheduled activity . . . *slouching slowly towards . . .*
  • Current Music
    Sparta - Assemble The Empire