You have four stories in the integrated short story collection, Possessing Freedom. Without giving plot spoilers, what can readers look forward to in your four stories?
A little bit of everything, I hope. The finicky thing about the collection as it stands is that each story contributed to (and is tethered to) an overarching plot and story development, but needs to operate of its own accord as a story and as a self-sustaining piece of entertainment. That’s what I wanted: for each story to entertain, based on its own merit as much as on what it contributes to the whole story.
So I’d like to think that there are funny moments and emotionally heavy moments that work in synch with each other. I’d like to think that the story is engrossing, and that I’ve done my best in contributing to the world these characters occupy. I’d like to think that my stories work well side-by-side with the stories from the other contributors. I think I’ve got some interesting characters that people will care about, and root for when they’re in danger.
And there’s danger aplenty. I love the premise that all these stories operate under. The sheer breadth of opportunity there is here is amazing. We could have gone twice the length on the whole project and still had more ideas to explore, more ways to expand the supernatural element and develop the rules under which it operates.
Of your four stories in Possessing Freedom, you have two each for two point of view characters. How would you describe your approach to making your two point of view characters distinct from each other?
Looking back on them, they both feel like different representations of an archetypal reluctant hero. One’s happy-go-lucky and acting purely out of moral sense, and the other is acting out of a sense of justice, despite his constant fear. But they’re both reactionary, and they’re both just trying to survive as things get worse around them.
Mark was an easy character to develop, as I already had him lying around waiting for a story to host – he was a natural fit for Possessing Freedom, and I like to think he brings a lot of energy and exuberance to the story.
Jared took a little bit more work, as he was developed strictly for this collection. He’s a cooler head and exactly what the story needs when the stakes are higher and Mark’s more scatterbrained approach would risk doing more harm than good. I wrote a lot of material for Jared that couldn’t make the cut, and ended up feeling very attached to him – he’s a natural observer and easy to create scenes for.
You mentioned in a previous author interview, from early in the writing process, that a supernatural premise provided freedom for the contributing authors to create their own mythology around the supernatural elements. However, you also noted that this freedom may pose issues for building common ground and maintaining consistency across the stories. How would you describe the collaborative process which emerged from numerous authors working together with a shared premise?
I think my biggest concern was that, in getting so excited over the opportunities that came with the mythology, I might have hijacked the creative process for a little while!
It was a great experience. Yes, different authors tackling different sections of the story always raises the concern of continuity problems – that one person is going to take the common ideas and do something with them that directly contradicts what another member of the group does later. But continuity can be a severe problem for a single writer working on a single story as well.
I think for a collection like this, it’s important that the writers retain their individual styles while being mindful of the collective story and not playing too fast and loose with what’s supposed to be set in stone. It’s a hard ask sometimes. I’m not even totally sure if I achieved that – maybe I took too many liberties myself despite everything.
Everyone had their own ideas and sometimes they clashed. Sometimes compromises were made, and sometimes they weren’t and a different approach was needed. That’s natural for any group environment. It was fun and something I’d definitely want to try again.
In your previous interview you wrote, “Read too much ‘literary’ fiction and you forget good, simple stories. Read too much ‘popular’ fiction and you forget the sheer breadth that ideas/concepts/musings can encompass.” How would you describe the balance of your Possessing Freedom stories in this respect?
In everything I write (or attempt to write), I try for something that is entertaining but mindful. But if either is more important, it’s the entertainment factor. The greatest stories are engaging in their own right, and have a sense of greater weight without being overtly agenda-driven or obsessed with being ‘literary’ for the sake of it. They clutch at big ideas because it’s exciting and engaging to do so. That’s what I believe, at least, and that’s what I’ve always aimed for.
The Mark stories are entertaining because of the fun characters, and mindful because of what they do with the mythology present in Possessing Freedom. The Jared stories are entertaining because they are more conventionally hero-and-villain oriented and have an action-based energy, but are mindful because the characters themselves act as launch-pads to explore some points about life and death. Or, at least, that’s what I wanted to achieve.
Possessing Freedom is set in Melbourne in 2026. What challenges or joys did you experience writing stories in this near-future Melbourne setting?
Honestly, I wasn’t that interested in the future setting. Melbourne isn’t going to change that much in the next fifteen years; there’ll be a new building, and a new fashion trend, and a new law or two. It sets the stage for what’s being developed, but for me it’s more about the people involved rather than the setting they inhabit. I’ve always been far more interested in characters than settings.
Possessing Freedom has a fan fiction competition running until August 31st, 2013, with a $2000 1st prize. What comments or tips do you have for writers who may be considering writing a short story related to one your point of view characters, Mark or Jared?
First up is to pay attention to everything that’s happening in Possessing Freedom, as there’s a mythology in place that is very diverse and occasionally complex. I don’t say that to be daunting – there’s a huge scope of opportunity in that mythology, in the scenarios that can come from the natural laws in place and the characters operating within those laws. Take those laws and those ideas and have some fun with them!
Also, really think about your characters. Whether you’re adapting an existing character from Possessing Freedom or adding your own to the cast, good interesting characters are what make these stories work. Spend some time with them. Play with them, like in a schoolyard, and see how they react to an argument, or a victory in a footy contest, or the boy/girl they have a crush on seeing them make an utter fool of themselves. That all before you even write the first line of the real story.
What is one of your favourite fiction books that you have read in the past year, and why does it stand out for you?
Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleepis probably a big one, just for the writing style and the way you go along for the ride with the narrator. It’s a book notorious for having an unclean, meandering plot, but that just didn’t matter, and maybe it just felt refreshing after the modern model of clean, no-loose-ends crime.
Another one I have to mention is Clive Barker’s Weaveworld. That is probably a good example of something that’s both entertaining and mindful – although leaning towards overly mindful as it really loves to exhibit its exploration of ideas. But that’s one of the beautiful things about this book – it’s genuinely passionate, every last word, and these ideas are explored because it’s part of the adventure and part of the experience of the journey.
What is next for your fiction?
At the moment I’m cobbling together a children’s/YA fantasy novel– nothing fancy, but a bit of action, a bit of psychology and a liberal dose of beastie-in-the-dark horror. I’m trying to touch in with a whole variety of horror elements – books, movies, games – to help me get a feel for mood and suspense, and how a plot could wrap around those elements.
The Australian Literature Review