Great to back to full health and running on a full tank again... and as such I am stoked to be able to bring you the latest interview in our series on Australian speculative fiction authors. Today I am over the moon to be able to bring you my interview with Kaaron Warren, who is arguably one of the nicest and coolest writers going around! Kaaron took time out of her busy schedule to chat to Smash Dragons about various things, including her sources of inspiration and her take on the publishing industry in Australia.
Kaaron Warren, welcome to Smash Dragons!
First up, tell us a bit about yourself and your work.
I’ve been publishing stories for over 20 years now. I have three novels in print, and five short story collections. I’ve lived in Melbourne, Sydney, Fiji and Canberra and drawn inspiration from all of those places.
Why did you become a writer?
I’ve always loved reading. I love stories. I love listening and I’m fascinated by human behaviour. I became a writer very early in primary school, when the classwork bored me. We’d get lists of spelling words to put into sentences, so I’d write a story. Or we’d get a boring essay topic in high school, and that’d be turned into a story as well.
Where do you draw your inspiration from when writing?
So many different places. For example, I live a five minute walk from a bustling suburban shopping centre. Today I saw: a drunk woman with no teeth flirting with a charity collector, a very cute dog called Pebbles who adored her elderly owner, a plastic cup of…something, a left behind shoe, a young girl weeping because she missed the bus, and a large group of excited children at the library.
Who wouldn’t be inspired by that?
Tell me about your writing process. Are you an architect or gardener?
I always say I’m a body builder. I start with the bare bones, and put them together. Then I add the muscle, the sinew, the veins, the blood, the skin, the hair. Sometimes I add toenails and fingernails, depending what mood I’m in.
What is your favourite book? Why?
I often quote a friend of mine, who says I don’t have a favourite book, I have a FBOAT (Favourite Book of All Time) and that this changes every time he sees me.
Okay, for today? Poisonwood Bible, by Barbara Kingsolver. I just read this aloud for the Radio for the Print Handicapped, and was reminded of just how clever it is. The character voices distinct, the events, while inevitable, are not predictable. She describes the environment so well, you feel you are a part of it.
All of my favourites are unusual. They take chances. They don’t follow procedure. And they don’t bore me. I hate being bored..
How did you end up signing a three-book deal with Angry Robot?
They were looking to sign writers up as they were setting up the business, and I came along with three books they loved at the right time. It was an amazing kind of synchronicity. I had been recommended to Marc Gascoigne by Matthew Farrer, a hugely talented writer, who had worked with Marc before. Marc, I believe, googled me. Warning to people; be interesting on the internet!
I have recently started reading Slights, and I am enjoying the deeply layered and terrifying nature of it. What challenges did you face when writing this story? And how did you overcome them?
It is a really dark book and it was hard to stay in the dark place sometimes. At the same time, it was fascinating. I loved getting into Stevie’s head and imagining what she’d do or say next. I trawled the newspapers and my own memory of things I’d heard or seen. I listened when I was out and stole awful things people said to each other.
Then I had to remove myself from that world and return to this one. It helped that I received a grant from the ACT Government to take three months off to write. That meant I really could immerse myself.
How has the publishing industry changed since you first started writing in the 90s? Do you think it is better now, or worse?
No better, no worse, but definitely different. Obviously we have the internet; I’d only just taken on email when I sold my first story in 1993. There was no electronic publishing, although there were audio books. No social media. You approached people differently, you submitted fiction differently. It’s certainly easier now to connect with publishers and other writers, and so, so much easier to find out where the markets are. I still have somewhere a folder I made, where I photocopied a long list of markets and cut them all out and stuck them onto A4 pages and put them in the folder….
What attracts you to writing horror? What is your take on the horror genre here in Australia at the moment?
I’m fascinated by the dark side, what lies beneath, why people do what they do. I hate a happy ending because it feels fake and life isn’t like that. The world is a terrifying place.
You have written a lot of short stories and novellas alongside your three novels. Is there much difference when it comes to writing these as opposed to novels? Which medium do you prefer?
I like all three lengths very much. With a short story, I often say you can play with the short, sharp shock. One idea or one image that you build a story around. With a novella, you need to extend that, build more background, fill in some of the details. With a novel, you can explore many more alley ways, involve more characters and really get to know your world.
I have ideas all the time, and sometimes I know from the start which idea suits which length.
You have won so many awards for your various works. Do you like to place them strategically on the table when other writers come to visit just to rub it in?
Ha! I do have them up around my small study and casually dust them when people come to visit.
Craziest thing a fan has ever said to you?
No one’s ever said anything crazy! One of my most unusual messages was from an American soldier who said that reading Slights got him through the long, boring nights when he was on tour in Afghanistan.
If you had to pick a zombie apocalypse team from local speculative fiction writers who would pick, and why?
I’d probably leave most of them behind. I’d take my next door neighbour who’s a plumber. A computer person. A hunter. A mechanic. A gardener.
Sorry guys; I’m the chronicler of events. All the other writers can get eaten. I need useful people with me.
What is your take on the local speculative fiction scene at the moment? Are there any up and coming authors we should look out for in 2015?
It’s as strong as it’s ever been. Lots of talent, lots of opportunities, lots of fantastic publishers working hard, like Twelfth Planet Press, Fablecroft Press, Ticonderoga Books, Cohesion Press and Coeur de Lion.
I’ve worked with four writers I know are going to be huge: Michelle Goldsmith, A.J. Spedding, Matthew Morrison and Kimberley Gaal
Can we expect to see you at any conventions or events in 2015?
I’m busy this year!
Running a workshop for the ACT Writer’s Centre in February about turning your dreams into stories.
Being part of the Cranky Ladies in History Launch in Canberra.
Reading at the Folk Dancing and Story Telling evening organised by Folk Dance Australia.
Noted Festival, March 20. James Doig and I will read ghost stories and lead a Wild Words writing session.
June 19 is the Prime Ministers Research Centre Seminar. I’ll be presenting there as a Current Fellow.
NSW Spec Fic Festival in July.
Genrecon in October/November
What are you working on right now? What can fans expect from you over the next few years?
I’m finishing a really nasty SF novella, working on two more stories, finalising a novel and beginning work on the novel I’m writing inspired by Menzies, Sir William Ashton and the Granny Killer.
I have the print version of The Gate Theory coming out this month, and another book I can’t announce yet!
And finally, best advice for aspiring local writers?
Go for a walk and observe every little thing you see. Be observant. Be thoughtful, be quiet; listen. Read broadly, weirdly, widely. Ask lots of questions when you meet people. It’s all about finding your individual voice, your individual take, so that you stand out. Don’t be boring.
Kaaron Warren, thank you for talking to Smash Dragons!
You can find Kaaron's work at all good book retailers online and in store. Keep an eye out for her upcoming print release of The Gate Theory, which includes a novella and four short stories that you will absolutely love! We here at Smash Dragons are eagerly waiting for its release! And by all means drop Kaaron a line on social media. She is a wonderful person, and deserves all of our ongoing support for her work.
Stay tuned for more posts on Smash Dragons over the coming days. I have reviews coming, and interviews with Jay Kristoff, DK Mok, and a feature interview with Daniel Polansky!