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Lee Battersby's first collection The Divergence Tree will be released within the next couple of months. He'll also be appearing in upcoming issues of Borderlands and Aurealis shortly. Remember, you want to talk to folk, use the comments. Direct contact. Make noise.



1) You're one of the new writers to emerge in the last five years, beginning in 2001 and a massing an impressive amount of sales within Australia. Now with your first collection, the Divergence Tree, has there emerged a set of concerns or themes that you have been focused with? And is one of the hopes with the collection to push to find an International audience, given that much of your work has not had the chance to find them so far?

I made a very deliberate decision, early on, to write something substantially different to my last effort each time I sat down at the keyboard. My career, such as it is, seems to have been a succession of 90 degree turns. It'll help me out in the long run, I hope, when I have to release a range of novels to survive. What comes out, when reading 25 or so of the tales in quick succession, is just how much of my work involves loss, and how few happy endings I tend to write. It probably reflects something deep within my own psyche: I am, by nature, cynical and pessimistic. Also, much of my work falls into a category I have trouble defining. It's certainly not science fiction, and it's not traditional fantasy. I think where I'm headed, generally is to a career of weird tales that, even if they bear the trappings of genre, can't escape the writer's need to subvert and twist. Even when I write a traditional fantasy, such as "Through the Window Merrilee Dances", the Princess is mentally retarded, the gardener who loves her is a cripple, the royal marriage is a cynical political manoeuvre... it just doesn't come out of the pen straight.

I do want to find an international audience. I want to make a career from writing, not be just one of those guys who published some stories and what happened to him anyway? To do that, it's important to walk upon a world stage. The collection might help, but over the long haul it'll be getting my mug in magazines, getting a US agent, getting novels on bookshelves, all the usual guff, that will be do the job. Certainly, having a collection out helps: I've got 3 agents in the States asking to see bits of my first novel, so who knows?

I look back at some of the sales I've made and feel like I've undersold certain stories, but that's the risk you take when you put something in an envelope. It took me a while to back myself to the point of hitting big markets first. Now that I'm doing it, I expect my appearances in Oz mags to slow a little, because it's going to take longer for stories to come back from overseas, and there's a bigger pool out there in which to submit. But Australia is where I live, where my love lies. I can't envisage a year without having a story in a local magazine. I like the way Sean Williams does things. No matter how big he gets, he is still just Sean, the guy who'll bid $120 for a piece of fan art at a con auction, and who'll give a story to Mitch?. He's still in it for the love of it.

2) With such a prolific output (37 stories in 5 years) do you hold concerns that, given the size of the Australian scene, you could create an over saturation?

Well, there's about a gazillion magazines in Australia right now, not counting the well-paying, well-distributed ones (ie: the non-genre ones :) ) Quality is always going to get picked up, sooner or later. If I'm selling, I take it to mean that I'm writing good stories. If I'm writing goods stories, then the hope is that readers are enjoying them. It depends. I'm hardly Stephen Dedman when it comes to being prolific, but I'm no Ted Chiang either. At the moment I'm averaging something like 10 sales a year. There's, what, 6 issues of ASIM, 3 of Borderlands, 3 of Fables, 1 Orb, 1 Agog, 2 of Aurealis (allegedly)... there's an awful lot of pages I'm not filling.

Without wanting to sound bigheaded, if people are sick of seeing my stories, they could always try to writer better ones... Terry Dowling does, and Rob Hood, and Stephen Dedman, and Sean Williams... I'm hardly top shelf yet. The difference is that people above me in the food chain had their time saturating the Oz magazines and have moved upwards to selling predominantly overseas. I know one big name writer, for example, who turned down an invitation to be in Lyn's issue of ASIM because it simply wasn't worth his while appearing in an Australian magazine: it didn't pay enough, didn't get seen by enough of the right people, didn't have a big enough circulation. That's not a criticism of the writer. Far from it. It's a recognition on their part of where their career path lies.

Besides, I've always been fairly open in telling people that the reason I engage in the writing business (as opposed to just writing, which is a different thing) is fame. I love being recognised. I love receiving fan mail. I love to see people reading magazines with my stories in. That happens with Oz magazines. The buzz factor is fun. I bet there's not a dozen people in Australia who've read my story in All-Star Zeppelin Adventure stories, which paid 5 cents a word and came out form a US 'small' publisher, but I know that every story I have in ASIM gets seen by 500 or 600 people. Fame, baby :)

3) What is your critical opinion of the work currently being published?

I think a lot of it is crud. So many stale fantasies and crappy, semi-humorous fuzzy bunny stories. If I see one more story where a teenage girl discovers she is the source of wild magical powers and the true inheritor of a kingdom, with a badly-executed Freudian dragon ride dumped in the middle, I'm going to start climbing water towers.

There are very few writers in this country who push the envelope on a consistent basis. People seem afraid to chance their arm in case they get rejected, which is getting the chicken before the china shop, in my opinion. Writers should be daring editors NOT to publish the amazing piece of utter bugfuckery they've placed before them. We should be emulating the Waldrops and Besters, not the Jordans and bloody Weiss'. But hey, the path of least effort and all that.

I think the proliferation of magazines is partially to blame. It's relatively easy to get published right now, certainly much easier than it was in the early 90s, for example. I remember reading Aurealis and Eidolon when that was all there was. Now we have enough magazines that we started Ticonderoga Online to publish only one type of story, as does Shadowed Realms, Antipodean, Dark Animus... We're specialising. You can only support that level of specialisation when there are enough markets that writers can take a chance on writing a specialised story, because there are alternative markets if one magazine rejects it. The downside is that most writers try to hedge their bets, and write strictly down the middle of the road.

I do think there are a large number of writers doing the rounds who have developed enough skill to get published by the usual suspects, and have progressed no further. Why try to develop your craft when you can write a half-arsed quest fantasy with a dragon, teenage girl, and comic-relief hobbit, and pick up 25, 30 bucks? These are not writers who are in it for the craft, or the art, or the career. They're people who want to sit around the bar at their local freecon and jaw about what a tosser editor X was because they rejected "Floppy The Bunny God", but they sold it to editor Y so ha ha ha. The next "Bug Jack Barron" or "Repent Harlequin, Said The Ticktockman" isn't being written by these people. They're too busy writing the next "Lord Of The Rings" without realising it's already been fucking done.

If the markets suddenly halved, I think a lot of writers would be out on their arse. But the good writers will sell no matter how many markets are out there. Halve the number of magazines and Deb Biancotti will still place. So will Rob Hood, Stephen Dedman, Geoff Maloney, Trent Jamieson. Quality will out.

4) You're dead. You got one of those nice groupies that likes to follow you and murder your bunnies, and you indulged, and it went real bad. Still, dead is dead. You go to Heaven (assuming you believe, blah blah) and you see God. You say?

Heh. Boy, I've seen a lot of funny answers to this one. I'm going to pontificate instead.

I'm an atheist. God does not exist. Religion, as far as I'm concerned, is no more than a crutch, same as alcohol or cocaine. It's a way for people to absolve themselves of responsibility. Organised religion is downright evil. My wife Lyn is a believer, and she has her reasons, and I support her, but it's not enough to make me believe that religion is anything more than comforting fairy tales to keep the badness from the door.

I'll grant that some people need those fairy stories. If I'd suffered the lifetime of abuse that Lyn has, well, I might want something to believe in too. Sometimes the load is too great to bear. But I have respect for those that carry their religion close to themselves and take it out when they need something warm to wrap around them. Turn up at my doorstep on a Sunday morning with a briefcase full of pamphlets and I'll feed you to the squirrels, whether you bow down to the big Charlton Heston impersonator in the sky or Binky The Sun Gopher.

5) Favourite swear word?

I've been swearing a rather long time. I tend to use it like punctuation. As Billy Connolly says, it doesn't matter how large my vocabulary gets, I still prefer to use 'fuck'. These days I often run
them together. Hurting myself generally gets a 'jesusshitfuckcuntshitcuntfuckSHIT'. My long term fave, however, is "JesusssssufferingFUCK". To get the effect right you have to hiss it through clenched teeth and make the words as short as possible.

Polysyllabic cursing, Ask for it by name :)

Comments

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(Anonymous)
Apr. 13th, 2005 12:06 am (UTC)
The Divergence Tree
Hi Lee,
I don't know if the new collection has any horror or really really dark stories in it, but if so, I'd love to see it for YBFH#19.
Best,
Ellen Datlow
llbatt
Apr. 13th, 2005 12:38 am (UTC)
Re: The Divergence Tree
Heya Ellen,

Oh, I think there are a couple in there that'll float your boat, dark-wise :) I'll make sure to get you a copy (rummages through scraps of paper looking for address he jotted down in Brisbane...)

Cheers,

Lee
benpeek
Apr. 13th, 2005 12:41 am (UTC)
Re: The Divergence Tree
it's in kaaron warren's piece.
(Anonymous)
Apr. 13th, 2005 01:16 am (UTC)
my mailing address
Hi Lee,

It's PMB 391
511 Avenue of the Americas
NY NY 10011-8436

thanks. Looking forward to it!
Ellen
llbatt
Apr. 13th, 2005 03:16 am (UTC)
Re: my mailing address
No worries: there are 7 new pieces tucked in amongst the reprints, so hopefully there'll be one or two in there that you'll like. I'm also madly trying to scrape together the time and research to send you a proper SF piece for Sci-Fi.com like I promised in, ooooh, January? :)
ex_benpayne119
Apr. 13th, 2005 05:30 am (UTC)
I think I got lost somewhere in the "specialisation" argument so i apologise if i'm replying not to your point but to some obscure tangent...

I agree that the best writers will continue to find homes...but...

I guess my argument would be that the best writers weren't always the best writers, and that at one point they were possibly writing crap that if there were less venues wouldn't find a home...

and that some, though certainly not all, may have at that point given up...

or that some, even when they became very good, may not have written in a style enjoyed by the two or three editors running those publications...some of these would have gone on and done well overseas... one or two may not have...

so i guess the question then would be whether it's better to have lots of markets and wade through those stories you think are crap or whether it's better to have fewer markets and risk there being really good writers who fell by the wayside...

which i guess is a matter of personal taste...

anyway... sorry, i'm pontificating, but this discussion of quality and quantity seems to keep coming up... and i think it's quite complicated...

but maybe i'll crap on about that in my own blog instead of crowding your comments:)
llbatt
Apr. 13th, 2005 06:48 am (UTC)
For me, I'm of the opinion that good writers will learn from their rejections, show dedication to the cause, and still end up rising to the top. I have a reputation for being prolific, but along with that number of sales comes an equal weight of rejections. Not letting the rejections stop you is part of the game. Respectfully, I don't agree with your statement "that at one point they were possibly writing crap that if there were less venues wouldn't find a home...": crap shouldn't be allowed to find a home, not even if it's written by someone who might be great some day, and not even if it's written by someone who is great now.

The hardest thing for me to do as an editor, and I'm sure you feel the same, is to reject a story by a writer I admire and respect. But saying to them "This isn't work that's at its best" is accepted by pros. And the best way to become is a pro is to behave like one, which includes stretching yourself every time you sit down to write.

I just don't think that great swathes of inferior work should lull writers into believing they are writing publishable work, in the hope that continued exposure will turn up a couple of unheard of gems.
ex_benpayne119
Apr. 14th, 2005 03:46 am (UTC)
crap was probably the wrong word for me to use... i'm not arguing we should start publishing every piece of crayon on butcher's paper that we're sent... just that most of the writers considered good writers today published some duds at one point or another... stuff that they and their editors may have liked at the time but that doesn't stand up so well now... so be it... it's how people develop i think...

(Anonymous)
Apr. 13th, 2005 10:25 am (UTC)
I think it all comes down to taste. After you can string two sentences together and think of something to write, then it simply comes down to the taste of the editors involved. Some people don't like original writing, and some who say that they do won't like the particular original writing that you send them because it's not to their taste. Some editors will argue (stoopidly) that your story is no good because it's written in first person present tense and surely you should have learnt to write better by now. What they are saying is that "first person present tense is not to be my taste", but they don't want to admit that and instead will argue that the story wasn't any good to reinforce the fact that their taste is not subjective but somehow objective, which of course it isn't. Because not everybody agrees thta first person present tense is bad writing.

The fact that a lot of stuff being published in Australia isn't terribly original has nothing IMO to do with the writing being bad in an absolute sense, but everything to do with the fact that that is what the editors wish to publish. I think Lyn established that clearly with her edition of ASIM; she fought against the dominant ASIM view so that as editor she could publish stories that were to her taste. It's a good issue but it's still quite conservative in the overall scheme of things, eg it's not like an issue of Redsine.

Limiting the number of magazines in the country would have no impact whatsoever on whether the stories published met my taste, Lee's taste, or Bens' taste (both of them because I'm pretty sure that their taste is very different). It would depend only on who the editor(s)were. I don't even think it would depend on who the readers were, because I don't think they know much about what the readers want. But I don't either.

One more example -- Read "Ayuh, Claudius" in the March issue of F&SF. It's a fifty page novella that largely revolves around dumb americans speaking in funny regional dialects. Now Gordon at F&SF obviously loves stories that make fun of the way dumb people speak. Peronally, I'm appalled that F&SF would publish such crud. But that's just my taste. The story is written quite well, and is very clever in the way it makes fun of unintelligent people, so you couldn't fault it on writing technique.

Geoff Maloney

ex_benpayne119
Apr. 14th, 2005 12:26 am (UTC)
well said, Geoff...


llbatt
Apr. 14th, 2005 06:40 am (UTC)
It's all relative, and in the end it comes down to how many people are going to be prepared to pay $7.95 for an issue they read only half of (or in the case of something like Agog or Orb, $20+)

In the case of my own writing, it comes down to never wanting to turn in something Robbie Matthews could do, or Edwina Harvey, or Terry Dowling, or Sean Williams... because whatever they can do, they will be doing it. How stupid would a man be to try and out-werewolf-detective Robbie? Either they're brilliant at it, like Dowling, or Williams, or Maloney, or Dedman, which means I can't compete, not yet anyhow; or they're producing utter rubbish (no names, no packdrill) and I don't want to be mentioned in the same breath. In the same way, I'm damned if I'll ever let anybody out-Battersby me.

I agree that, in the end, those writers who are serious about having a career take it upon themselves to consistently put out the best stuff they possibly can. My personal taste stipluates that I wish less of them would do it in a traditional fantasy setting. That's a matter of taste. My editorial sense, and here's where I think standards can apply (and I recommend Rusty Farr's interview, he says it much better than I'm going to here) stipulates that there be some factor X, some surpising element of beauty that leaps out of the page and demands notice. It's what Forry Ackerman used to call "Gosh, wow, Sense of Wonder" (Sensawunda for short :) )

Without sensawunda, all you're doing is taking up space. Little things like dialogue tabs (and the groans of editors fill the room: we all know how crap at them I am) can be fixed up by a reasobaly competent editor. But if it doesn't sing, no matter the genre, then I don't know, someone involved in the process isn't trying hard enough.
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