Snapshot 2014: Greg Mellor

Greg Mellor is a Canberra-­based author with over 50 published short stories.

His debut SF collection Wild Chrome was published in 2012, and he has several SF novellas coming out, starting with Steel Angels in 2014 and Weapons of Choice in 2015. He is a regular contributor to Clarkesworld Magazine and Cosmos Magazine, plus his work has appeared in Aurealis and AntipodeanSF and a range of Australian and US anthologies. He reached the finals of the Aurealis Awards a few times and is a member of the SFWA.

Visit www.gregmellor.com to see his latest publications.

He likes cats, cars and consciousness theories.

1. You have a new novella coming out this year – who is publishing it, and can you tell us a bit about it?

01 steel angels sneak peekSteel Angels is set in a post-apocalyptic future where the Earth has dried out and the fragmented societies left behind are dominated by cartels that control the limited resources and supply chains. A community of people – the angels – have chosen a different path and salvaged some of the old defence and space technology. They now live in helium eyries in the stratosphere. Their bodies are part genetic art, part technological augmentation and they are seeking transcendence of a kind and a way off the planet.

The story follows Micah, the reluctant protagonist sent by one of the cartels to capture an angel and bring back the technology and the secret to immortality. Micah gets more than she bargained for and ends up confronting the beautiful, powerful angel called Gale. What follows is a cat and mouse game of lust and betrayal as Micah discovers how far the cartel is willing to go to unlock the angels’ minds. And as she gets closer to Gale she uncovers the brutal truth behind the angels’ experiment to evolve human consciousness.

The story is definitely hard SF, but laced with some philosophy about the evolution of consciousness and a few shocking moments and a fast pace that is characteristic of my short stories. I was deeply moved by Nicholas Humphrey’s book Soul Dust, which outlines a theory of how human consciousness is possible. I’ve read a lot on the subject and found his book very inspiring. So much so that I contacted Nick and he kindly gave me permission to quote some of his stuff in Steel Angels.

Initially it was tricky to break out of the short story mode, but I’ve been really pleased with the progress. I‘m still in negotiations with the US publisher and the book is due out at Christmas. The cover art is sorted now. I wanted to keep the imagery consistent with my brand, so I went back to Jamie and Leanne Tufrey. The sneak peak I’ve attached here has just been released on my website and Facebook page. I’m stoked with the final result as it’s a full panoramic that wraps round to the back cover.

2. In 2012 your collection Wild Chrome came out from Ticonderoga, and two stories from the book were shortlisted for the Aurealis Awards (not your first appearance on those lists, either) – you’ve also had stories published in several professional markets. However, I’m interested in the time between 1994 (your first story sale to Aurealis magazine) and the late 2000s, when you came back to publishing your work – can you tell us about that long break between published works?

02 greg 1989Good question! I suppose it goes back a little further than 1994. Writing became a hobby after I left university. I used to write articles on astrophysics for local newspapers and began experimenting with short stories across SF, fantasy and horror genres. I reached the quarter finals of the Writers of the Future contest in 1989, which was really the first time I realised I had some potential in SF. It was a big deal back then and I had a lot of newspaper and radio interviews as the contest had only been running for a few years and provided a starting point for authors like Robert Reed and others.

03 cover aurealis 14The publishing of “Rogue” in Issue #13 of Aurealis in 1994 was also very cool and was another sign that my writing had promise. However I was also at that stage in my life where I needed to find a job that actually paid, and writing wasn’t it. I ended up studying for an MBA and started a career in business consulting and that consumed me for a long time. Plus I did the “get married, take out a mortgage and have a child” routine, not necessarily in that order. I now have a beautiful, sometimes patience-testing, soccer-mad teenage boy.

Even though I stepped away from fiction (a decision that used to nag at my subconscious an awful lot) I found that being a consultant did provide some creative outlet as I was writing reports on a whole range of topics such as business strategy, process reengineering, activity based costing, organisational change and online services. Business writing can be very dry, but I find the subject matter is interesting, plus your writing has to be compelling to the audience otherwise your clients don’t pay their bills!

But that kind of writing was never ever going to be enough – who was I kidding? I started experimenting again with SF in 2004/05 and produced a bunch of disjointed stuff that got some more quarter final places and left me feeling cynical and hollow. However what I did gain was the realisation that I had a whole lot of ideas that just needed a better narrative structure.

After a few more years of child raising and working stupid hours and mortgage repayments I said to myself “stuff this, I can and I will write at a professional level”. One of the triggers for this thought process occurred one day in 2008 when I was reading the submission guidelines to Cosmos magazine.

04 defence of the realm“Our standards are high, so we’re only interested in seeing the best. Unless you’re convinced your work is top-shelf, it’s probably best not to bother.”

Well, that was like a red flag to a bull to me! It was as good as telling me “you can’t do it”, and I don’t receive that kind of commentary very well at all. So it was with a good pool of ideas and, yes, a good dose of rage that I submitted “Defence of the Realm” to Damien Broderick, the editor at the time.

05 TP wild-chrome-webThe story was published in 2009 and afterwards the floodgates well and truly opened up and I published a lot of stories in a very short timeframe. I don’t know that I’ll ever make up for all those years where I wasn’t writing fiction, but then again I think maybe it had to happen this way. I know now, after all the doubt and denial, that writing is an essential part of me.

The support I received and the feedback from readers of Wild Chrome was astonishing. It was the most profound affirmation, I can’t even begin to describe how important it was and still is.

3. In the 2012 Snapshot, you told us that you felt very comfortable in the short story form and were starting to move into novellas – is there now a novel on the horizon?  

I’ve got so much baseline material to work with that I need to give the novellas the space they deserve. Steel Angels this year will be followed by Weapons of Choice in 2015. This story appeared in a very condensed version in my collection, but there are ideas in there that just can’t be left in the shorter format. I have other stories from the collection that could also be expanded into a novella, such as Stranded Light, but I’m also very excited about some of the new stuff including Voodoo Protocol.

06 cover clarkesworld upgradedI’ll keep my hand in with short stories, so expect to see more through Clarkesworld Magazine. “Mar Pacifico” was published last year and “Fusion” is about to come out in Neil Clarke’s Upgraded anthology. Other stories in the pipeline include “Spring Solace”, “Falling from Distant Clouds” and “By Decree of a Forgetful God”.

I am also expanding my product range to include some speculative fiction under a pseudonym. I’ve been working in collaboration with the fantasy and pinup artist Dave Nestler on an illustrated collection of short stories. I’m delighted with how the artwork has come together and I’m about two-thirds of the way through the story writing, so expect to see the book published later in 2015.

I just realised that I neatly dodged the question! The move to novel writing will happen, but it will need to coincide with a reduction in my work hours. Craig Cormick told me he writes a chapter every morning before going to work. I wish I could write that fast! I have a tendency to think a lot about the ideas and the storyline when I should just be pushing the words out on the screen. I guess that will come with time and I am finding that I’m comfortable now writing longer chapters and including more depth and detail in the novella format, so the novel is very definitely the next step.

4. What Australian works have you loved recently?

I’ve read three of Tim Winton’s books this year: Breath, Dirt Music and The Turning. I adore the power and simplicity of his style. And I’m just a little insanely jealous! I like the way he connects the characters with the land in Dirt Music – it’s one of the essential features of good fiction writing but Tim is a master at it. What I liked most about the book was the character arc and the extremes to which people will go to be found or be discovered as human beings who just want to be loved.

I also like the touching and brutal humanity of his characters in The Turning. I think everyone can relate to them in some way. I wasn’t a fan of the movie though. I think it’s really hard to portray the feelings in short stories onto the screen.

Cormac McCarthy also uses that powerful, uncluttered narrative in No Country for Old Men and The Border Trilogy. Not Australian, I know, but it’s that style that has captivated me this year.

5. Have recent changes in the publishing industry influenced the way you work? What do you think you will be publishing in five years from now?

Up until recently I would never have contemplated self-publishing. I’m generally my own worst critic, so I have always had the residual fear that if I self-publish stories that aren’t ready then it’s going to do more harm than good to my reputation. You don’t have to dig too deep into the internet to see some of the epic failures in self-publishing.

But you also don’t have to look too far to see some of the epic successes. I’m more comfortable with the idea of self-publishing now and I can use what I’ve learnt over the last few years to approach it with more confidence. I’m fortunate in that I sell every story I write, so the content must be okay. But I would never go into self-publishing with just content alone, I think you have to be willing to back your work with a good editor and a cover and interior design and some thought to marketing and advertising. That’s all doable in self-publishing I reckon if you’ve got the time.

In five years from now I’d like to be publishing (or self-publishing) a novel or two or three novellas a year. I think the only way for me to build my profile in the SF genre is to publish more in overseas markets. However I am expanding my horizons into other genres, so who knows what I might be writing in years to come.

SnaphotLogo2014This interview was conducted as part of the 2014 Snapshot of Australian Speculative Fiction. We’ll be blogging interviews from 28 July to 10 August and archiving them at SF Signal. You can read interviews at: 

http://benpayne.wordpress.com/tag/snapshot2014/

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