Julie Hunt lives on an organic farm in southern Tasmania where she writes a variety of stories for children – from picture books to novels and graphic novels. She’s interested in folktales, travel and oral storytelling and is endlessly surprised by the way the supernatural and the everyday seem to exist side by side.
1. Your most recent novel, Song for a Scarlet Runner, is doing wonderfully well, being shortlisted for the CBCA Younger Readers category and the Children’s category of the Aurealis Awards, and winning the Readings Children’s Book Prize – could you tell us where the idea for the book came from and the road to publication?
The story began with the term ‘marsh auntie’. I don’t know where that came from but those two words were the seed of the idea. They arrived one morning and brought a character and a world with them. I decided the marsh auntie would be a storyteller and herbalist and she’d live in the swamp with a community of aunties and each would have a special skill. A trip to Ireland to attend a storytelling festival helped and other ideas came from reading folktales. I used the notion of the ‘external soul’, an idea that appears in quite a few traditional tales: a person takes their soul from their body and hides it away so they can never be killed, but eventually somebody – the hero or heroine – finds it and time catches up with them.
The road to publication? I was lucky enough to have an Australian Society of Authors mentorship with the illustrator, Ann James, and this led to an introduction to the publisher. Working with Erica, Sue, Sarah and others at Allen and Unwin has been a gift. Although I’m the one writing the stories, the process is collaborative and feels very much like a joint effort.
2. Several of your books have received Awards recognition, which must be exciting, but does it come with a weight of expectation too? How do you deal with that as you keep writing?
I don’t feel any weight. Recognition is encouraging and it gives me confidence. There does seem to be an expectation to speak though, and that’s something I find tricky. Still, speaking is not as hard as writing. If Song for a Scarlet Runner had been easy to create – if it had just slipped out ‘accidently’ – I would be worried that I couldn’t do it again, but it was hard won.
3. Tell us what can we look forward to from you in the next 12 months?
My graphic novel, KidGlovz, will be published in 2015. Dale Newman, who did the beautiful cover illustration for Song for a Scarlet Runner, is the artist. It’s a book for 10–14 year-olds about a child prodigy, a pianist. He wears a pair of white gloves and when he discovers the gloves have a sinister past he begins to realise that his talent is a curse and that his wierd musical ability actually lies in the gloves rather than in his fingers.
I read up on 19th century prodigies before I started the story and I wrote much of the book while visiting Romania. My story is full of mountains and music and ice caves. I was amazed at the painted monasteries in Bucovina – graphic novels, comic strips on the walls of the buildings! – that went straight into the book and although I didn’t visit Transylvania, it was on my mind.
I’m working on a sequel to KidGlovz. It will be a hybrid novel, part graphic novel and part prose and will follow the gloves into their next incarnation. They leave the pianist and return on the hands of a thief, a young pickpocket and they give him the ability to steal whatever he desires – hearts, minds and souls.
4. What Australian works have you loved recently?
The Dead I Know by Scot Gardner. What the Family Needed by Stephen Amsterdam. Sea Hearts by Margo Lanagan. I also enjoyed Andrew McGahan’s The Coming of the Whirlpool and The Four Seasons of Lucy McKenzie by Kirsty Murray. I loved Tantony by Ananda Braxton-Smith for the marvellously inventive language and Alison Croggon’s Black Spring for the landscape and the intrigues.
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?
I’ve only begun publishing in a consistent way recently so I can’t say the changes have effected me. Being able to download ebooks has helped my work, and being able to find lost books online has been wonderful. I worry about bookshops and I worry that the library is throwing out too many books. I’m both attracted and repelled by changes in technology. I don’t tweet but I can see the possibilities of augmented reality. A while ago I met an inspiring software developer and considered creating an app based on one of my picture books. I’m open to new ways of storytelling and was pleased when Bologna Book Fair introduced its digital award in children’s publishing.
Perhaps in five years time I’ll have extended my stories into other areas. As far as print goes, one book seems to lead to the next, so I expect whatever I’m writing then will be a continuation of my present work. At the moment I’m experimenting with a story cycle, collection of linked stories for a young adult audience set in a world full of criss-crossing roads, trails and pathways.
This 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:
The second of my interviews with Andre Norton Award nominees brings us Malinda Lo, whose book (with its gorgeous cover) is now on the shelves in my school library, and I wasn’t even the one to purchase it!
Interviewed by Tehani Wessely on April 02 2010 – first published at the Nebula Awards website.
Malinda Lo is nominated for the Andrew Norton Award for her novel Ash.
Ash, a lesbian retelling of Cinderella, has been shortlisted for a whole BUNCH of awards and recommended reading lists and it’s only your first (published) novel! Have you been surprised by the reception for the book? What can you tell us about where the story came from and how it has been received by the general public?
Have I been surprised? Absolutely, totally surprised—and overjoyed, obviously!
Before Ash was published, I worked in the LGBT media, reporting on the representations of lesbians and bisexual women in TV, film, music, and books. Books in general are loads more progressive than Hollywood, so I hoped that Ash might be well-received, but at the same time, I am very well aware of mainstream beliefs about LGBT people. Young adult fiction has seen an increasing number of books about LGBTQ teens in recent years, but not so many in fantasy.
So, you know, it was within this context—which I was aware of—that Ash was published. I think that many readers have responded incredibly positively to the fact that being gay is totally normal in Ash’sworld. Many queer teens I’ve spoken to have especially liked this. I’m also happy that Ash has found so many straight (heterosexual) fans. That was something I was worried about; I did want Ash to be accessible to everyone, straight or queer.
Where do you go after such success? Huntress is the forthcoming companion novel to Ash. Can you tell us a bit about the new book?
Well, luckily I wrote the first two drafts of Huntress before Ash was published. Otherwise, I think I would have been totally blocked by fear of failure. In fact, writing the third draft of Huntress was extremely difficult at first, because I was doing that while I was promoting Ash. That experience, though, really forced me to separate my identity as a writer from the accolades that Ash has gotten. Obviously, I’m so happy that Ash has been so well-received. But it’s only my first published novel. I do hope that Huntress is better. I hope that I continue to write better books. The only way to do that is to put my nose to the grindstone and work.
Huntress is a book I love so much. In Ash, hunting is a major sport; each hunt is led by a Huntress. The novel Huntress, which is set several centuries before Ash in the same world, is about the firstHuntress in that Kingdom. It’s a heroine’s quest about the power of love and loss. And there are weapons and monsters and magic and lesbians!
We’ll definitely be looking out for Huntress! Have you any other projects in the works you can tell us about?
I’m superstitious, so, um, no.
You posted on your blog that while you personally identify your characters Ash and Kaisa as Asian, you don’t feel that Ash is necessarily identifiable as a book with characters of colour. Obviously though, sexuality, another aspect of mainstream literature that is often defaulted to a certain type of “normal”, is a big part of the book. What are your feelings about the importance of how these two issues are being represented in mainstream literature, and particularly in Young Adult literature?
I’d like to clarify that I see Ash and Kaisa as looking Asian in appearance, not as Asian in descent, because there is no Asia in Ash‘s world.
I think that the recent discussion in the YA blogosphere about the representation of people of color in YA fiction has been incredibly stimulating and useful. I think there are books being published with people of color as main characters, but often they fall through the cracks. The advantage of having this ongoing discussion is that it highlights some of these books and gets readers thinking about their own reading habits.
As for the queer stuff … YA has increasingly included LGBTQ characters over the past few years. There are still more books about gay boys than gay girls, and I’d like to see that balanced out. There is a giant need for more books about transgender teens. In general, though, I think things are moving in the right direction, and I’m very excited to be part of that movement.
There’s a growing understanding among publishers, libraries, schools and the reading world in general that it is absolutely essential for there to be realistic portrayals of race other than white, and sexuality other than straight, in young adult fiction. What are your thoughts on this?
I think that including diversity in all forms of media (adult as well as young adult fiction, TV, film, etc.) is very important, and it’s great that more gatekeepers are aware of this these days.
Have you come across any fallout among parents or librarians because of the sexuality portrayed in this YA novel?
I’d say 98% of the reactions I’ve heard about have been positive. (I don’t google myself, though.) I have read a couple of reviews in which the reader was obviously uncomfortable with the lesbian story line, but that’s to be expected.
However, two things have happened that remind me that some people are still not OK with gay folks.
At one library event a teacher told me that she was unable to bring several of her students because their parents objected to my biography. I think she meant the copy on the book flap that says I was awarded the Sarah Pettit Memorial Prize for Excellence in LGBT Journalism—that’s the only thing I can think of that might have raised a flag, because it has the term “LGBT” in it. The cover copy of Ash itself does not trumpet the fact that Ash falls in love with a woman.
I was really shocked, actually, to hear this—probably because the teacher was so blunt about it. I am happy that she came and brought other students (oddly, younger ones) whose parents did not object to my bio.
I also had an amusing experience last fall. The Pacific Sun, a local newspaper, did a cover story aboutAsh and illustrated it with an image of two Disney princesses dancing together. (You can see it here:http://www.malindalo.com/2009/11/we-have-news/) Many parents wrote into the newspaper to object to that image, saying it was inappropriate for their children to see two girls dancing together. So, it wasn’t about Ash at all, but about a perception of sexuality where frankly there was none. In response to these parents’ letters, many other people wrote in and defended the image.
In 2010, there seems to be an expectation on authors that they play a big role in the online marketing of their books through blogs and other social media. What are your thoughts on this? You have a background in blogging; do you think this gives you an advantage in this area?
I think that every author should do what she can handle and what she’s comfortable with, while knowing that there is a limit to how much you can do on your own. Also, it’s much more important to write your next book than spend all your time promoting your last one.
I do think my background in working online helped me figure out what I wanted to do, but actually, the fact that my background was in online journalism helped even more. I came to this knowing enough about how the media works that I think I had realistic expectations of the kind of coverage I could get for Ash. And, honestly, I had some contacts in the media who helped me out. The fact that I worked in gay media was even better, because Ash has gay content. So, in a way I was perfectly prepared to promote Ash online.
On the other hand, I had never been a “young adult author” before, so I had no idea what that truly entailed. Figuring out what that means has also affected the way I view blogging and promotion. Basically, I’ve learned that writing has to come first, before any promoting, because I plan to be in this for the long haul.
Malinda Lo is the author of Ash (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers), which is a nominee for the Andre Norton Award, was a finalist for the 2010 William C. Morris Award, and was a Kirkus Best Young Adult Novel of 2009. Formerly, she was an entertainment reporter, and was awarded the 2006 Sarah Pettit Memorial Award for Excellence in LGBT Journalism by the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association. She is a graduate of Wellesley College and has master’s degrees from Harvard and Stanford universities. She has lived in Colorado, Boston, New York, London, Beijing, Los Angeles, and San Francisco, but now lives in a small town in Northern California with her partner and their dog.
Earlier this year I was lucky enough to interview some of the 2010 Nebula Award nominees, specifically those who were shortlisted in the Andre Norton (Young Adult) category. It was a big thrill for me to do this, and I had a lot of fun researching the authors, reading their books, and asking them questions. I’ve been given the okay to reproduce those interviews here (thanks Charles Tan!), and will post them over the next few weeks. First up, multi-award nominee John Scalzi. I read John’s “Old Man’s War” books a couple of years ago, and have since foisted them onto a number of friends because they are so brilliant.
Interviewed by Tehani Wessely on March 18 2010 – originally published at the Nebula Awards website.
John Scalzi was nominee for the novella The God Engines and the Andre Norton Award for Zoe’s Tale.
Zoe’s Tale, a Young Adult novel which retells the events of The Last Colony (the third book in the Old Man’s War series) from the perspective of Zoe, was shortlisted for the Hugos last year and now it’s up for the Andre Norton Award, with your novella “The God Engines” also on the Nebula ballot. Would you please tell us how Zoe’s Tale came to be? And is it always exciting for your work to be recognised this way?
I wrote Zoe’s Tale partly because Tor, my publisher, was interested in me trying to write something that they could put into school libraries. This had coincided with my own interest in trying to write a story from Zoe’s point of view, which was convenient, so I went ahead and tried my hand at writing from the point of view of a teenage girl, which, if you are a late 30-something dude trying that stunt for the first time, as I was, is really a lot harder than it looks.
Getting award nominations for your work, whether from your writing peers (as in the case of the Nebulas) or from fans (in the case of the Hugos) is always a kick; to quote Sally Field, it means they like you! They really like you! And in the case of Zoe, it’s especially nice for me because it means I did a creditable job of bringing the character of Zoe to life, which as a writer was a challenge for me.
You say you struggled with Zoe’s point of view – what were some of the biggest hurdles in that journey? And have you had any feedback from young adults on the book and the character? Anything particularly special?
The biggest hurdle was simply that I had never been a teenage girl at any point in my life, so I had to work on making sure that when I wrote one, she didn’t sound like me in teenage girl drag (and I apologize for putting that image into your head). I ended up running early chapters past my wife and some female friends, including Mary Robinette Kowal, who gave me some excellent criticism when I needed it most. The end result has been pretty good; I do get a lot of “I can’t believe this book was written by a man” comments about it, which I take as a compliment.
You started out as a non-fiction writer, and your blog, Whatever, has a very high profile out there in Internet-land. I know you make use of a variety of social media, such as Twitter and Facebook, as well. How much do you think your online presence has influenced your success as a writer? What do you think about social networking as a whole, as a tool for other authors out there?
I think in my case it’s pretty clear that online presence has helped my fiction career—after all, I sold my first novel because I posted it on my site! And I think social networks can help keep authors connected to fans, especially during those period where the author is between major works, and keeping in touch with your readers is always a good thing.
That said, at the end of the day, if you’re not writing fiction worth reading, it won’t matter how many Facebook friends or Twitter followers or blog readers you have. The work has to be there, and it has to be good, in order for any of this social networking stuff to be useful in one’s career. None of the online stuff means anything for one’s career otherwise.
You’ve had two books compiled from your blog writings, with the most recent, Your Hate Mail Will Be Graded: A Decade of Whatever 1998 – 2008, winning the Hugo for Best Related Book in 2009. Are there plans for any more books from the blog? Or other non-fiction?
No current plan for more books from the blog, but remember that Hate Mail covered a whole decade. So perhaps in 2018 it’ll be time again. I do definitely have plans for more non-fiction, however—I like writing non-fiction because it uses other parts of my brain than the fiction writing, and that helps keep me from burnout.
You are running for President of SFWA. Why did you decide to take this challenge, and what changes do you hope to achieve for the organisation if you are elected?
I’m running in no small part because the current administration has a number of things in process—including reincorporation, new bylaws and other things fundamental to the well-being of the organization—that may not be entirely finished by the end of June, and thus may have to be seen to their conclusion. In a general sense I’ve supported these initiatives, so by running and by running with a slate of candidates who are also interested in seeing these processes to their conclusion, I’m helping to make sure these things get done. So in one sense this particular election isn’t about “changing” SFWA in a new way as it is about finishing the changes that are already underway.
Beyond this, however, I think one of the things I would very much like to do is help to bring in new members. I think the previous administration has done a good job in revitalizing SFWA’s reputation and appearance with non-members, and in particular with writers who could be members but are not. I’d like to help bring some of those writers into the fold in the next year—not only to give the organization a jolt of new blood but (and very importantly) to let these newer writers benefit from the experience and knowledge base that our current members have and can share. It’s an “everyone wins” scenario, in my opinion.
Is the novel The High Castle (set in the same world as The Android’s Dream) still in your sights? Fans of Harry need to know! Can you tell us a little about the journey you’ve taken with this novel?
I do still plan to write The High Castle although at the moment there’s no set schedule for it. The reason for its delay (it was originally meant to be out in 2009) is pretty simple: I was writing it, and it wasn’t as good as I wanted it to be, and I have strong quality standards. So I put it aside and worked on some other things instead. I have a good story for High Castle in my head, but if it’s not coming out in the writing I’ll wait until it does.
You recently became the creative consultant for Stargate Universe. What does your role on the show involve and what made you make this leap into the world of television? Would your career to continue in this direction, or is this somewhat of a sidestep?
My role is to read the scripts of the show and offer notes on what’s been written—often on science-related things, but also on characters and the overall arc of the show. I should note that my role is not to get the science 100% right—there’s always an element of speculation—but to make sure that we get right what we already know, and that what we speculate on doesn’t throw people out of the episode. I took the gig because the producers asked me, and it seemed like a fun and interesting way to explore the world of television. And it is. Will it lead to other things? I don’t know, and I’m not too worried about that. At the moment I’m having fun.
John Scalzi is the author of seven science fiction novels; he lives in Ohio with his family and pets. This is the first time he’s been nominated for the Nebula or the Norton. He’s very excited.