Friday, August 17, 2007
2007 Snapshot Interview: Shane Jiraiya Cummings
Q1. When you first established Horrorscope, did you imagine it taking off as successfully as it has? How do you see it developing in the future?
HorrorScope has exceeded my wildest expectations. I had high hopes of a Boing Boing style horror publishing web log doing well but had no idea that the zine would attract such a diverse and high quality group of editors/reviewers, each with their own strengths. With HorrorScope's merger with the Australian Horror Writers Association news service and the addition of news editor Talie Helene - and now roving reviewer Rob Hood - to the team, I couldn't ask for more. The number of readers has really picked up this year, and I think HorrorScope is cementing its international reputation going by the surge in links from US and UK writers and publishers.
For me, the success has stemmed from each reviewer's distinctive 'voice' and the communal ownership of the site. Not all the posts are perfect but the uncertainty of content and review style adds to the charm, for me. It's also simplicity itself. Other projects I've worked on needed constant care and planning. Yet HorrorScope, once it was set up, practically runs itself. The ease of keeping the content ticking over, even if a few of the editors take time off, is just brilliant.
I'd love to see HorrorScope develop in a more commercial direction, with reviewers being paid for their contributions. This could have the effect of increasing the frequency of more substantial book reviews, which is probably one area that could be improved. This move could be on the cards down the track but depends on a couple of big question marks at this stage.
Q2. You're bringing the Shadowed Realms online publishing project to a close. What do you feel proudest of having achieved with it, and what lessons will you take from the experience? Brimstone Press are following on from the success of Shadow Box with a new anthology, Black Box - how is that coming along? (And how do you find the time?)
Shadowed Realms did many things - achieved SFWA pro market status, enabled a flash story to win an Aurealis Award (Lee Battersby's creepy "Pater Familias"), was the first online zine to be nominated for a 'Collected work' Ditmar, and published a bucketload of excellent fiction from the best in the business. Most importantly, Shadowed Realms was probably one of the primary catalysts for an Aussie horror surge. I'd like it to be remembered as a vehicle that helped kickstart a genre.
The zine also pushed the boundaries and hopefully raised the standards of online fiction. What people don't seem to understand is that the electronic medium is very different to print and offers many new and exciting alternatives to the presentation of text. Working on Shadowed Realms allowed me to enhance my graphic design skills - experience I'll be applying to future book covers and the Black Box e-anthology.
The table of contents has been finalised for Black Box, and I'm proud to say it is a stellar lineup (website to be updated soon!), proving Shadow Box struck a chord with a lot of writers. You'll see bite-sized stories by Will Elliott, Robert Hood, Stephen Dedman, Kaaron Warren, Paul Haines, Kirstyn McDermot, Martin Livings, Lee Battersby, David Conyers... the list goes on! Plus a hell of a lot more art and funky add-ons. I expect Black Box to be published in early 2008, once I get my awards judging and some important writing commitments out of the way. I hope it will be well-received. I expect it to be my last hurrah for flash fiction (once my collection Shards is published) and all profits will go to the Australian Horror Writers Association, so good sales will directly benefit Aussie writers and editors.
As for finding the time, something always gives. For too long, that was time with my family. This year, events forced me to realise this had to change and so I've pulled right back. Not all the way out but enough to regain some sanity and put most of the SF small press bickering behind me.
Q3. You're a graduate of the Clarion South writing program, you've published many short stories over the years, but I understand you've recently completed a novella. How would you say your writing style has evolved? Does the short story form come most naturally to you, or do your future plans involve novel writing as well?
Yeah, my latest story is a Cthulhu Mythos novella entitled "Requiem for the Burning God", my first true attempt at Mythos horror fiction. It was a hard slog but worth every word.
My writing has improved by leaps and bounds since I first started out a few years ago. At first, the grand plan was to quit the day job and finish a work-in-progress novel. I almost did it (about 80k words of it) but was distracted by short stories, which came very naturally to me. I can see myself as a novelist but I really need to recondition myself to writing at longer lengths. My recent publications have been novelettes ("Yamabushi Kaidan and the Smoke Dragon" in Fantastic Wonder Stories and "Beneath Southern Waves" in Daikaiju 2), so I think I'm on the right path.
My first twenty or so short stories needed a lot of work (in hindsight) but each was an improvement on the last. Attending Clarion South in early 2005, the editing work I took up around the same time, and Angela's advice gave me the insight to really understand the flaws in my work. Since then, I've been much more self-aware and I feel the work has improved. My output has slowed dramatically, but having edited all of my old stories up to a level at least close to my current standard, I'm still publishing work at a steady rate.
I think my writing has become less "purple" (less reliant on adjectives and adverbs) and I'm absolutely confident on the technical aspects of grammar, syntax etc. I haven't had a lot of reviews lately, so I can't really gauge whether readers are responsive to my current, more refined style. However, the greatest change has been psychological. I'm no longer hungry for approval of my stories from others. It's desirable, sure, but no longer something I feel when it isn't there. It's a liberating feeling.
Q4. As well as writing, editing and publishing, you're also an Aurealis Awards judge. You must have read a huge amount this year: what have been your highlights?
An Aurealis Award AND an Australian Shadows Award judge! I took on both this year because I'm reading the same material for both awards, so there is little to no extra workload. I believe in an efficient Australian awards system that rewards excellence, which is why I put my hand up in the first place. In some ways, it is more important that the Australian Shadows Award becomes a success because the AHWA has been doing excellent work in promoting Australian dark fiction and they are probably the best way forward for horror writers in this country. My involvement in the Aurealis Awards this year arose because the award has an established reputation with major publishers - one that should be improved upon to help small press writers take that next step with the majors - and despite the good intentions and hard work by volunteers, I disagreed with the half-arsed way the awards were handled at the end of last year and the disrespectful thoughtlessness that followed. I believed (and still believe) I could make a positive difference.
I've been enjoying reading Aussie horror in a more considered, critical manner this year. In fact, I've been reading all Oz horror short stories (and most of the F/SF stories) for the last three years, but for some odd reason, I'm enjoying it more this year.
I've just finished reading David Conyers' and John Sunseri's The Spiraling Worm collection, which greatly appealed to me - possibly because there is so few Lovecraftian style cosmic horror written by Aussies. What I've read of Jason Nahrung and Mil Clayton's novel The Darkness Within has been interesting, as has been Troy Barnes' self published novel Deadlight, but I'll go into detail about these in my upcoming HorrorScope reviews. I suspect my tastes may vary from most others.
To date, Russell B Farr's Fantastic Wonder Stories has been the Aussie anthology of the year. I won't name specific stories but the anthology has tremendous variety and more than a few surprises. Not a lot of Aussie short horror fiction has resonated with me. It looks to be a lull year, although a couple of anthologies may appear in coming months, and Shadowed Realms has two more issues to be published, so my hopes are high.
Q5. Finally, and most inappropriately, if you had the chance to get it on with any fictional character, who would it be and why?
I'm attracted to the dark side, which is probably not a surprise. Give me a vampy vixen like Selene from Underworld or Abby from NCIS... and a vial of blood, just to be sure.
This interview was conducted as part of the 2007 Snapshot of Australian Speculative Fiction. We'll be blogging interviews from Monday 13 August to Sunday 19 August and archiving them at ASif!: Australian SpecFic in Focus.
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