Tuesday, 19 July 2011

Writers talk about writing - Anna Tambour

(Once you've finished reading what Anna's got to say, check out the whole series of interviews here.)

Anna Tambour is the Supreme Compassionata of The Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Bulwer-Lytton, and the Founding human, Sigesbeckia/Siegesbeckia Anti-defamation League. A bestselling author on Asteroid *, her earthly following includes a large number of fruit lovers who have been cruelly jilted by spelling and pronunciation, and wander confused, seeking juicy leeches. You can find out more about Anna and her work at her website and Medlar Comfits, her blog.

We're in a lift, I'm someone important (come on, pretend), you've got thirty seconds (tall building, slow lift) to tell me about your latest book.

Crandolin is the only tome whose divine spark's gas is composed of 29458.039 ppm postmodern physics, 867 measures of Ottoman confectionerists, 1 whole extreme-food taster, unskinned; 10CB/cq Quests; >9 train lovers > = 9 haters of borscht, the Muse, the Omniscient, the Great-Moustache maker, 1 temperamental bladder-pipe with musician attached, 1 girl in tower, 0% dreadful lift musi//

Uh-oh. Not sure lifts are meant to stop suddenly between floors like this. Guess we've got a bit more time. Ignore the flickering lights and creaking sounds above us. Would you like to tell me about other books or stories that you have available?

Well, the new edition of Monterra's Deliciosa & Other Tales (Amazon US | UK) & has a "Big Fat Bonus &" which includes more stories, including one story of what happened in the hours *after* a story; poetry, and excerpts from the Onuspedia. As for Spotted Lily (Amazon US | UK), it is the only Australian novel that examines wowserism, censorship, art and religion, and the tension between urban and bush life, in invisible ways (it has never been published there, so this is the first time that Australians can buy this {and Monterra's...] for a reasonable amount of $s). One point about it that I find fascinating: reviews that I saw never mentioned these aspects of the novel, because, I theorise, the reviews were written by writers; the book's first-person protag wants to write a novel (not actually *write* it but be the bylined author of a novel that would establish her as a famous *loved* author as opposed to a famous studied one) , so the reviews centred on that fact. "The Seagull" is still a favourite at playhouses. The trade and would-be's for it love it, though many don't know it was meant to be a satire. If "The Seagull" were about, say, a plumber or a crab cannery, it would be as played as a broken piano. But looking forward, I would like for people around the world (especially in the UK, Russia, India, and Turkey) to have the choice to read the extraordinarity, Crandolin. It might play better in those places than in Peoria, but even in Peoria, I don't know it it'll get a chance if the world of publishers is looking only for the likes of . . .

Scattered amongst a number of anthologies and some magazines are the contents of a new collection called Eat Me. This publication is in the medium that could be called "wild-grazing" since the individual stories haven't been baled up together. A bit of rude hooting and loutishness is in order, especially for those would-be-diners hankering for stories such as "Cardoons!", a horror tale of veg and WARNINGs; or, say, "The Oyster and Alice O."--a story so fresh, it's still dripping; and like Cardoons!, so fresh, it might never see the land of Publication.
(Here's a couple of Anna's wild-grazing short stories: The Emperor's Backscratcher; Wanted - The Baker's Dozen Gang)

Please stop repeatedly pressing the emergency button. The comment about building a ladder of bones to reach the ceiling hatch and get out of here was just blue-skies thinking. So, what are you working on now?

"The Importance of 'Insignificant' or For the Sake of an Anecdote: A thrilling exposé of collateral damage done to a plant's reputation, and of the truth to be discovered"
& fiction such as "The Paper Murderer"

You've told us about what stories you've written, and I know from my own reading how wide-ranging they are. How would you describe yourself as a writer?

A square, I guess. Crandolin has been described by an Industry Expert as "a square peg in a very, very conservative market at the moment." Be there or be square? I'd choose square every time, though that has proved to be Choosing Unwisely.

How does the environment in which you live shape your writing?

Although I have lived in many places and countries, it's great to get out of the forest of humans, not just to be able to track individuals better (never trust a story not to insert something inside you that never needs battery replacement) but to get away from all the senseless chatter. I prefer waking to parrots and being kept awake by possums, though I don't properly appreciate the patter of tiny mating dunnarts in the roof. A life lived close to other species has taught me so much, including the stubbornness of mushrooms, the secret sookiness of bulls, and the sense of humour (admittedly medieval, in donkeys) of so many species.

Can there ever be too many plum-like fruits in fiction?

You noticed! And they thought they were so subtle. They make fruitful to redress the balance of fruits that taste like chicken.

Pascal said: "Please forgive this very long and drawn out letter, I did not have time to write you a short one." Do you find writing short fiction harder than your novels?

A short story is like a horse-warrior's bow. Small, taut, musical, and beautifully deadly in the right hands. A novel can be anything from a longbow to a lumbering hulk of underdeveloped trebuchet. Besides, writing is easy compared to getting published (by a quality publisher).

In your own writing, what do you think you do well, and what do you wish you could do better?

Well? Let the story do the talking. Wish I could do better? Know how much of the story it wants revealed to the reader, and how much the reader would want to know and has a right to know--or damn the story, how much enjoyment readers would have if I ratted on that secretive story. I'd never tell all, but a little subterfugious leaking couldn't hurt, could it?

Can you remember what made you sit down to write your first book or story?

I wasn't sitting when I wrote my first book (a stream-of-consciousness work of futurist speculation that proved to be quite fictional) on the walls around me, in amniotic fluid. But I assume you're asking about my post-womb works. A boil of a story that got so big, I couldn't sit. I lanced it with a parable. Being naive, I thought "What the hell" and sent the parable/story to my favourite publication, Elsevier's (now RIP) HMS Beagle: The BioMedNet Magazine. The next day I got an acceptance with one editing request that today I would not, all-powerful and experienced author that I am, grant without a cough. But I did then, so in their version, "toilet" is changed to that execrable euphemism "bathroom". If only all writing and getting published (and getting paid!) were as much of a joy as the Beagle and its wonderful editors and board.

Do you have a book or short story that you're very fond of, but you think should get more attention from the world than it has.

Only the ones that have been published, and the ones still un-. Seriously, though I do have a small following in Turkey, the only country where my some of my stories have been translated, I'm at the village dung-beetle-society level in readership (on Earth *).

Print publishing is a doomed but still predatory dinosaur rotting from the feet up. Ebook publishing is the vomiting out of the world's slushpiles onto the market. In the ongoing war of words and hyperbole, where's the happy medium to be found? Where do you think the publishing business is heading over the next few years, and what are you doing to be ready for it?

As varied as people are, they want a variety of relationships with the written word. Some people like to actually read a book, and actually turn back to a favourite page or paragraph to reread it, turning down the edge of a page, a page with a smell and feel--while others like to, say, just skim a story or a novel pre-reviewing it, never going to the trouble of actual reading except of their own writing. This works brilliantly if one reads on screen only, especially if one only savours one's own writing.

Publishing has always been in crisis. Everyone today should read George Gissing's New Grub Street with its irony of "independence" and its recognition of the stringent demands, which shift arbitrarily and without warning (even to the fashion for trilogies). Today, when the degrees you have and the workshops you've attended are actually shoes in the door of consideration, these words from 1891 could be sold as new: "Art must be practised as a trade, at all events in our time. This is the age of trade . . . You could do fairly good work, and work which would only sell, if only you would bring yourself to look at things in a more practical way."

But say you ARE published. There's published and published. If your books are only 'published' as print-on-demand or for other reasons, have poor or no distribution, they are not in bookstores, libraries, and other places that people can physically handle them and buy them at prices that make readers comfortable taking chances on an author, so "published" is a joke. In my experience, the infinity plus editions of my books have eaten the stats of sales of the print editions, which have only been produced as PODs.

Still, few authors find publishers of any sort. Some authors are also impatient, not wanting to wait with the patience of a stone gargoyle. The success of a few self-published authors selling their books as e-editions has deluded many people who have written something. Now they think they can bash out a book, slap it into e-format, put a page up on the web, and bug everyone they know to write about it, and then count their money. They'll be lucky to sell two ebooks, including the one to a family member. No one can sell volume without a following; and charisma of some sort, not to mention work and talent, is necessary to get people networking an author to popularity. Once popular through ebook sales, some successful self-published authors and their books are then fought over by the rotting dinosaurs to create those anachronistic artifacts, dead-tree books.

What book do you most wish that you had written?

Judging from my extensive notations on and around the text (the character of which no e-book will ever be able to shine a lightsource to), The Little Red Hen.

You're publishing ebooks now - have you learned anything in that process?

All ebooks look like shit, but some are better set than others. To do this, real effort must be put into the production of the book. Keith Brooke at infinity plus has put the effort in. I think it matters, though I don't know if it matters to others.

Do you do much promotion for your books? What do you think is the most effective thing you've done?

Overt promotion revolts me. Some authors are models of good promotion, so I'll talk about them. Jeffrey Ford has a swag of novels as well as many anthologies and magazines with his wonderfully varied stories in them. Ford's online presence and appearances at readings are insouciant. He never overtly pushes, and doesn't need to, as the quality of his fiction drives demand. He is a great author who doesn't use his biography to become a celebrity, and doesn't use any gimmicks. He is also gracious to everyone, even when he's been signing suitcase-fulls of books. Gail Carriger launched her first book with an accompanying blog that is at once, a support for the series, and tremendous fun. It's also informative. She never begs anyone to buy or pushes overtly (something too many authors do, and get the idea from heavy promoters that this is necessary, not pestiferous). Carriger's bestselling status is firmly founded on the enjoyment that her books themselves give to readers, though her appearances are events. Jennifer L. Rohn is another author who probably had a hard time getting her first novel published, though she shouldn't have. The Honest Look should be a international bestseller. It is published by the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Press. She started the site LabLit, and named the genre. I recognised it instantly, because I've been writing in this field for years ("Sincerely, Petrified", for instance, in Lovecraft Unbound edited by Ellen Datlow) without knowing what to call these stories (I've called them 'scientist fiction'). The LabLit site obliquely pushes Rohn's novel but in the most modest way. LabLit is quite an excellent magazine featuring fiction and essays, poetry and more that are all so lively, intelligent and well written, that it reminds me of the HMS Beagle. I think these authors are excellent examples of how good promotion can be achieved--but in each case, the main factor in promotion that means anything at all, is the worth of what these writers write.

If you could give an aspiring writer one piece of advice, what would it be?

Dead writers are always more popular with quality readers, so be dead if you can be, and remembered if at all possible. Since there are more dead writers who have never been published in their time than not, it helps if you have been published, especially on obelisks, scrolls, or other media that can be considered a find (which excludes most bestsellers of their day. See, for example: the US bestsellers for the years 1923 - 1953). Even if you are merely a dead scribe whose works are barleycorn statistics or a tab of some ruler's exploits, if Time and the Mystery of Taste favour you, your works might be pored over, concorded, and argued over till the end of Time or Funding.

If you could tell an aspiring piece of writer to ignore one commonly given piece of advice, what would it be?

Aspiring authors should take their pick about what piece. All great authors have ignored their own selection, if they heard advice at all.

Are you 'out' as a writer of fiction with work colleagues/family, and if so, what reaction did you get?

Globally, work colleagues/family/friends would be willing to pay well to learn the secret of getting writers to be innies about their writing lives and aspirations.

Gibbons or tigers? (NB this question is to help me in compiling my List of People Who Are Wrong).

Although I have tail envy, Gibbons, please! We need more of them. He had a fierce passion for history, no patience with myth as establishment-enforced reality. And most important in communication, he used humour as a lubricant. He is my kinda guy. If you think I'm wrong, may his 7 volumes fall on your head. I'll pay for the pleasure without any pain. They can be bought for less than the price of landfill half-brick.

Meticulous research is both enjoyable and important / what's the point in writing fiction if you can't just make stuff up - discuss.

Research is the ultimate indulgence, and so nourishing. Besides, reality is more surreal than anything sprung from the imagination. For instance, who but Reality would make up the used-food trade? Who but this joker would dream up scientists pushing mythic curses?

Besides, as you have recently written, the imagination needs to be extra limber, not to mention fluider than slime itself, to plumb some sewers.

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