What was your highlight from AussieCon 4 and why?
My favorite moments include meeting Australians I would probably never otherwise have met, including the delightful Shaun Tan and a few fans who have been following my blog. I was also honored to appear on many panels with some of my favorite writers, including Robert Silverberg, Cory Doctorow, Greg Benford, and especially Guest of Honor Kim Stanley Robinson.
For those unfamiliar with your sci fi writing, how would you describe it?
It’s got an old-fashioned sensibility, with strong plots and characters who struggle against problems but win out in the end, though not always in the expected way. I grew up reading my father’s collection of Golden Age SF, and I think this has influenced my own writing tremendously. I like to think that my writing is like the new VW Beetle or Mini Cooper: an updated implementation of a classic concept.
You spent two weeks at a simulated ‘surface of Mars’ facility living much like an astronaut might on a Mars mission. What benefits do practical experiences like this provide for your sci fi writing?
What I expected to get out of this exercise was practical details, like what the inside of a space helmet smells like and how dehydrated food tastes. I did get that, but more important was the emotional lessons I learned. Even though we were only in Utah, not actually on Mars, we were very far from civilization and the experience of being so isolated, so far from everything I knew, and so dependent on myself and my crewmates, was real and intense. That’s not something I could have gotten from a simulation that lasted for less time or was closer to home.
Could you give us an overview of the process you went through writing one of your short stories?
My Hugo-winning story “Tk’Tk’Tk” (http://www.asimovs.com/_issue_0604_5/tk.shtml) was written in an attempt to give a great sense of depth of space — a feeling of being very far from home. (“The Tale of the Golden Eagle,” a previous Hugo nominee, took on the challenge of portraying a great depth of time.) I wanted to give the same sense of distance I’d gotten from some of George R. R. Martin’s SF short stories. In writing “Tk’Tk’Tk,” I drew on my own experiences in international travel — the difficulties of finding food while hungry, the problems resulting from cultural and linguistic differences, etc. — to write a story about a man who is forced so far out of his comfort zone that he essentially dies of culture shock. I’d studied Arthur Miller’s play Death of a Salesman in college, and I knew that Miller had said “I knew that if I could make Willy Loman remember enough he would have no choice but to kill himself.” I pushed my own salesman Walker hard to find out what he would do in extremis. In the end, thanks to feedback from critiquers and editors, I found that Walker too was driven by his memories.
Who is one of your favourite fictional characters and why?
Speaker-to-Animals, the Kzin translator from Larry Niven’s Ringworld, has always appealed to me because he’s so far out of his natural element. By nature a hunter and fighter, he has been forced to become a diplomat, a position that also lowers his status within his own society. His struggles with his own nature and culture make him a fascinating character.
What is the most important piece of advice you would like to give for new writers?
Two things: seek feedback from more experienced writers, and keep submitting until you sell. Persistence counts more than talent in this business, but persistence without feedback is just stubbornness.
What is next for your fiction writing?
I’m currently working on a Young Adult SF novel, which is very new territory for me. It’s being difficult at the moment, but I hope that when I return home from Australia I’ll be able to concentrate on it and push past the problems that are currently slowing me down.
The Australian Literature Review