Steve Cameron began writing fiction in 2009. Born in Scotland, he was raised in Australia before residing in Japan for six years. He has worked as a police officer, an English Language instructor, a software developer, a charity store manager and currently teaches English and Drama in a Secondary College. Steve is also an amateur astronomer and musician, and resides in the eastern suburbs of Melbourne with his wife, Lindsey. He has most recently been published in FableCroft’s Epilogue and coeur de lion’s Anywhere But Earth. His blog can be found at http://www.stevecameron.com.au
It was only a few years ago I even became aware there was a spec-fic scene, although I’ve been a reader and fan since I was a young child. I read the Narnia series when I was young, Lord of the Rings as a teen, and loved any stories with robots and spaceships. I just didn’t realise it was a genre. When I was sixteen, I saw a friend reading Asimov, and asked him whether it was readable. I think the term ‘Science Fiction’ had deterred me. And the name Asimov – it seemed so exotic , so alien and weird to a kid growing up in an Anglo-Saxon enclave. I just didn’t realise I’d been reading SF anyway.
It was only a couple of years ago my wife and my best friend convinced me that I should try and write. I sat down and wrote two stories in a week, but then I didn’t know what to do with them. I read about the Victorian Writers Centre online and signed up for a Sean Williams workshop. I didn’t even know who he was. I was terrified when the class critiqued my story but came away enthused and inspired by the positive feedback I had received. It was during this workshop I learned about Continuum and other writers and events. I hadn’t realised there was a whole community on my doorstep. I’d always just figured it was me and a friend or two who read this stuff. I gradually became involved in events, kept writing, kept submitting and slowly started selling my stories.
The one thing that always surprises me is that people are generally unaware of just how broad speculative fiction is. We all know people who claim to detest Sci-Fi, but will rave about Avatar, or The Road. Most fiction is, by its nature, speculative. But if we accept the Science Fiction / Fantasy / Horror definition of Speculative Fiction, it’s the science fiction aspects of spec-fic that I’m mostly drawn to. I love a bit of science. I’m an amateur astronomer, and I’m continually amazed by what’s out there. As I sit under the stars with my friends and our telescopes and chat, the conversation regularly becomes philosophical. Speculative Fiction does that also. Questions about the future, about reality and about what it means to be human intrigue me. And as a genre it’s developing and adapting. Fiction in other genres doesn’t seem to progress and change in the same way – even though I enjoy reading it. Science Fiction, on the other hand, is an ongoing dialogue between writers, scientists and researchers. It considers, it predicts and it warns. And it has ideas. Incredible ideas that speak to me and feed my mind.
2. I’ve read a couple of blog posts you’ve written on the subject of self-publishing and the possible pitfalls inherent in the process – can you tell us a little about your views on the topic and why you hold them?
I’m not completely against self-publishing, I just don’t believe it’s necessarily the best approach for an emerging writer. And I know it’s not the best approach for me. It doesn’t fit into my plan.
Self-publishing doesn’t seem to have the same stigma it had even a couple of years ago, but for a beginning writer it doesn’t have the quality control, the checks and balances that come with selling a story and having it published by a brand name, whether on paper or digitally. An editor, a publisher, a gatekeeper, if you like, filters the stories and assures a standard. A good editor is an objective reader. They will tease out your narrative voice, but pick up anything that gets in the way of the story. And I’ve learned from every single editor I’ve worked with.
I’ve generally been disappointed with the self-published work I’ve read from writers I’d never heard of. Why would I shell out $1.99 for a short story from someone I don’t know when I can buy an e-anthology with fourteen or fifteen name authors for around $9.00? And you know these stories have been through a selection and editing process. You may not like every story you get, but you can generally be assured of quality.
I believe new writers need to determine their goals. Why are you writing? Who are you writing for? What do you hope to achieve? It’s also very helpful if you can become realistically aware of your own abilities and try to establish your level as a writer. Most people believe they can write, and most beginning writers tend to believe they are more able than they truly are. I find it fascinating that so many people don’t regard writing in the same way as other skills. If I decide, for example, to become a football player, I don’t turn up at an AFL club and expect to get a game. I develop my skills and abilities and work my way up through the leagues until I reach the highest level of which I’m capable. Which may only be district or local football. In my case I wouldn’t get a game at all.
But I know of beginning writers who submit all their work to pro mags, then semi-pro mags, tally up the rejections and self publish their work because they see anything less than semi pro as a failure. Personally, I rarely submit to the pro mags. If I’m not regularly selling at semi-pro level, what makes me think I’ll sell at the top? And if I do happen to score a sale at the top level, what have I got to back it up? Hopefully I’m continually developing as a writer. If my story doesn’t sell I take another look at it, hopefully improve it and send it out again. And again. If your work has been rejected everywhere then perhaps there is something fundamentally wrong with the story itself and self publishing won’t solve that.
If your intention is simply to see your name in print, or have a story “published”, there are any number of ‘for-the-love’ or online mags where almost any story will get accepted. Just about anyone can create a website and call it a publication. If your goal is simply to make a few dollars, then self-publishing on Smashwords or Amazon (with an attractive cover) for a few bucks might make you a few hundred dollars. I have friends who have made more money from a story in those markets than I have selling to small press. They’ve also told me that even if a story isn’t that good, it doesn’t matter. You’ll make a few dollars, and no one will remember that work in a few years anyway. I beg to differ. You have to treat anything out ‘there’ as permanent, and you have to give readers some credit for memory an intelligence.
My goal is to develop as a writer, to build a reputation and a body of work that can be respected. I currently aim my work squarely at the recognised small press and semi-pro markets, with the intention of progressing from there. And my work is starting to sell. I don’t have the long bibliographies that some emerging writers exhibit, but I’m proud of the standards of my publication history. Readers see imprints as brands, and recognise the quality of different publishers as they would with any other product. I aim for quality publication, as quality is a word I want my work to be associated with.
3. All the work we’ve seen from you so far has been short fiction – is there a novel in the works, or do you particularly want to work in the short form? What’s next for you?
I’d love to write a novel in the future, but I don’t think I’m ready yet. I still want to develop my craft. I had the incredible experience of having the late Paul Haines as a mentor through the AHWA mentorship program, I’m currently part of a workshop with Jack Dann through Writers Victoria, and I have plans to undertake further study in writing. And all this is paying off. My writing is improving all the time.
I enjoy the challenge a short story provides. Within a few thousand words I have to be able to create a believable world, credible characters and a story arc that satisfies the reader without any loose ends. I personally find short stories a fantastic training ground for writing, and it’s a form where I can get a response from others, whether beta readers, crit buddies or editors, in a reasonably short timeframe. A novel might take a year to write, which is a long commitment. I can make all my errors in a short time frame, develop and move on.
I’d love to publish more work. I have target markets. So far I’ve been able to cross Tasmaniac, coeur de lion and FableCroft off that list. There are a few Australian publishers that continue to elude me but I’m more determined than ever to sell to them. I plan to improve my writing to a point where I can confidently start submitting to pro markets. Not that it will be easy, but generally rejections don’t hurt me as much as they used to.
4. What Australian works have you loved recently?
I read as much small press as I can. Recently I’ve loved virtually everything from Twelfth Planet Press. The Twelve Planets, a series of anthologies from female writers has been fantastic. FableCroft’s After The Rain was another collection I really enjoyed, and I look forward to Epilogue. (And yes, I have a story in that anthology.) Coeur de Lion’s Anywhere But Earth was a tremendous collection of SF stories, which, for some strange reason, has been largely ignored by many. Even discounting the inherent bias of the inclusion of my story, it’s a wonderful collection. I’d be surprised if it isn’t seen as an Australian spec-fic classic in the future. The Last Days of Kali Yuga by Paul Haines was fantastic, in a dark and disturbing way. I plan to re-read that shortly. Lisa Hannett’s collection, Bluegrass Symphony and Angela Slatter’s The Girl With No Hands were both excellent as well.
Kim Westwood’s The Courier’s New Bicycle was superb. Kim is a powerful writer whose prose just lifts off the page. Jo Anderton’s Debris was also very good. I picked that up in Malaysia. I also loved Richard Harland’s World Shaker and Liberator.
As for short stories, I’ve really enjoyed individual pieces by Kaaron Warren, Cat Sparks, Terry Dowling, Rob Hood, Lucy Sussex, Thoraiya Dyer, and Sean McMullen. Generally I enjoy the majority of anthologies published by Australian small press.
Of course this is only a selection that stands out from all my reading. I still have a stack of hundreds more to get through.
5. Two years on from Aussiecon 4, what do you think are some of the major changes to the Aussie spec fic scene?
As you pointed out, I’m fairly new on the scene, so to have seen any real changes over the past few years is a bit difficult. My impressions of the scene have changed, however, due to a greater involvement and familiarity of what’s happening.
I think there’s a new vanguard of emerging writers developing. I see myself developing as part of a cohort of new authors. Many of them are further along than me – maybe I’m in the middle of the pack. Some of us network, encouraging and supporting one another. It’s great when I open my facebook page or email and find a message from a peer. And I must say it’s even more exciting when I receive a few words of support from one of the ‘name’ writers. Just a comment about how they enjoyed my work.
Small press magazines seem to be declining slightly. I don’t know whether they just reached the end of their natural run or had financial issues or found it difficult to compete with online mags. Borderlands, Orb and a few others have gone, while Aurealis has shifted to a different format and release schedule. Andromeda Spaceways and Midnight Echo, however, seem to be going from strength to strength.
Independent publishers are on the rise and appear to be publishing more frequently. There is an increase in the number of themed anthologies. I’m aware of more publication opportunities in Australia than before.
The increase in social media and the spread of the internet has allowed an easy interaction within the community. Online publishers, podcasts, e-zines and webpages featuring commentary and criticism are not only more prevalent but are being nominated for awards on the world stage. Facebook and twitter afford support, information and opportunities. And I can only see these aspects of spec-fic developing.
Sometimes I think I recognise the beginning of a slight resurgence in older works. I hear younger fans talking about some of the older writers and works I fell in love with when I was a teenager. And I think that’s important. Spec fic needs to keep developing, to progress and look to the future, but should be aware of its heritage and history.
This interview was conducted as part of the 2012 Snapshot of Australian Speculative Fiction. We’ll be blogging interviews from 1 June to 7 June and archiving them at ASif!: Australian SpecFic in Focus. You can read interviews at: