Accomplishment: Australian writer with seventy short stories, three short story collections, and three novels under her belt.
"Kaaron Warren," she said.
Has a book every made you angry. If so, which one?
There have been a lot of crap books that made me angry they were even published. My husband describes it as a growing sense of outrage. First, I start flicking the pages more quickly. Then I start humphing. Then I’m flicking whole wads of pages at a time, until the book ends up being thrown down in disgust.
I get angry every time I read One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest, because the kind of institutionalisation depicted in that book is one of my obsessions and my furies. It’s still happening; people incarcerated in hospitals, jails, old people’s homes, becoming a number, no longer individual. This terrifies me, and is informing a number of the stories I’m working on at the moment. One lifelong vegetarian I know was fed chicken soup in his dotage; this is a vegetarian who never ate meat because he really believed it was a moral and spiritual issue. Then there’s the three teenagers they’ve just ‘found’ in adult maximum security prisons. The whole thing terrifies me and makes me furious, so the opening line of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, “They’re out there”, always makes me angry. Sad, too.
Which four literary characters would you like to invite to dinner, and why?
Lanark, from the novel Lanark by Alisdair Gray, because he is bizarre and fascinating.
John Hastur, the ‘mysterious bluesman’ from John Hornor Jacobs’ Southern Gods, because I want to hear him play the music that they say will send you mad.
Two from Robert Freeman Wexler’s The Painting and the City. The 19th Century artist Philip Schuyler and his subject, Madame Burgundy. And, perhaps, one extra; her stalker. Freeman writes “In a doorway behind the woman, a man stood, so indistinct he might have been a shadow….The woman – her serenity implied she carried no sense of the presence behind her.”
I want to invite this drama for dinner, to see how it plays out. And I’d like Schuyler to paint a portrait of me, with or without stalker.
What is your greatest weakness in writing, one that you consciously strive to overcome?
Getting too excited about the ‘input’ material. Taking in too much, having too much I want to include, and shoving it all into a story where it might not fit. One story, I had my character be a chicken sexer because I’d read an article about one. Seriously. A chicken sexer. Luckily I realised that it was all too much.
So it’s trying to separate what needs to be in there from what I’m excited about, and saving all the other stuff for the next story, or the next. I’m open to input all the time, because often, you’ll hear something or read something which is the key to cracking your story in just the right way. Or should that be hammer?
Do you have a trick or tip for raising suspense or a chill?
Tapping into the subconscious. Do this by appealing to the senses, and by lulling reader into a false sense of safety. Everything is normal until it’s not.
What was the first story that ever made you afraid?
“Man-Size in Marble”, by E. Nesbit. I read this for this for the first time when I was about 8, I think, and it still chills me to the bone. Up until then, all the stories I’d read had a happy ending, but this one showed me that stories didn’t have to end that way.
Elmore Leonard listed ten rules, one of which is: 'Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip. Think of what you skip reading a novel.' What rule or piece of advice would you add to the list, and if you know his ten rules, which one would you break?
I’d add: don’t be too terrified of clichés. Avoid them if you can do so easily, but forcing it makes for bad writing. If the rain is pounding down, then let it pound. Don’t try to think of clever new ways to describe heavy rain if it is going to interrupt the flow of the story.
Is there a well trodden meme you’re tired of reading?
There seem to be a lot of twins in spec fic. I’m tired of those. I think people use it for a couple of reasons. One, it’s a shortcut for ‘siblings who are close’. It means they don’t have to build and write a relationship for siblings; they just have to say ‘they are twins’. I hate that. I want to know why siblings are close, what their background is, their jealousies, their history together and apart.
I also think it’s a way of showing ‘the other side’ of a character. They think that if a character has a twin, that twin will demonstrate balancing characteristics, and therefore the main character becomes whole. Again, it’s lazy.
Are there any other genres you enjoy other than speculative fiction?
Plenty. I love crime, such as White Heat, by M. J. McGrath . And bizarre non fiction, such as An Incomplete History of the Art of Funerary Violin, by Rohan Kriwaczek. Also the undefinable, such as Lost Memory of Skin, by Russell Banks.
Edited to add: I just started reading "An Incomplete History of the Art of the Funerary Violin". Three lines in, I read this: "On completing my advanced diploma at the Royal Academy of Music with considerable honours". I didn't honestly believe anyone would say they graduated with 'considerable honours', so googled, and discovered this, at the Fortean Times.
The thing I don't understand is, how did anybody read this and take it seriously? It's clearly a work of humour! I'm very disappointed. I was looking forward to this book, when I thought it was true!
I wanted to find out more but the dark streets called, those and two bottles of bourbon, Sheri's cruel lips. It was time to call it a day, kind of hard to do in a cellar lit by a 40 watt bulb. "Thank you, Kaaron."
Sheri shot me a venomous stare, like I'd forgotten something important.
"The books, Clay, the books!"
I grinned. "You mean these?"
Walking the Tree
The Glass Woman
Dead Sea Fruit
Thanks again, Kaaron - and by the way you're right. The name kind of sticks in the mind.