Weird Fiction and Other Fun Labels: An Interview with Deborah Biancotti
I really loved Bad Power and I wanted more. I didn’t actually think that Deborah would agree to an interview, but to my pleasant surprise, she did. Not only has she supplied me with lengthy answers, many are also very thoughtful. Read on to find out more about Deborah’s work, influences, reading habits and writing tips. There might even be a teaser or two for upcoming stories…
1. You write across a lot of genres and markets. Have you always been so eclectic or when you started out did you have a ‘go to’ market and genre?
Wow, what WAS I thinking when I started out? Feels like it was a long time ago.
I think I mostly just suck at knowing what the genre boundaries actually are. My reading is pretty eclectic, hence my writing is, too. I was surprised when people started telling me I was writing horror. I never really set out to write horror, but it was a big influence on me in my teen years so it inevitably appeared in my writing. Maybe that’s the reality of writing: you become your influences.
I don’t recall having a ‘go to’ market or genre. Not on purpose. Starting out was all a bit random. 😉
Nowadays what I most love to read and write are stories with a contemporary setting and an element of the weird or supernatural. But even then, I don’t stick to that preference completely. I’m always going to need something different and new and maybe even apparently random in my reading and writing life.
2. You got your writing break by publishing short stories over a number of years. What are your top tips for writing a powerful short story?
Oh, man, there’s probably a different answer for every short story writer — or every short story. Short stories are a sprint, whereas novels are a marathon, so the needs are different. What I like in a powerful short story is the sense that the story has ended before it has finished. If you know what I mean? I like the feeling there’s *more* to the story, but the storyteller just didn’t have the time or space to share it. That, for me, provides a kind of urgency to the telling. You get to the end and start to wonder what in hell is about to happen next.
For example, powerhouse Karen Joy Fowler ends her story Younger Women with two possible ways forward. But you just know there are more options she’s not telling you about. And you leave the story wondering which way it went after Fowler ended it. Check it out here.
But that’s just one answer and I’m sure there are dozens more ways to think of powerful short story writing.
3. While we’re discussing short stories, which is your favorite short story that you’ve written and why?
My favourite short story is always whichever story I’ve just finished writing. Srsly. It really is. I spend quite some time thinking my most recent story — whatever it is — is the best work I’ve managed so far. And then I replace it in my affections with another, newer story. My newest short story is coming out in Fablecroft’s Cranky Ladies of History later this year and features the Countess Bathory. So you just know that’s gonna be a blast!
And apart from always loving my newest story, I admit to being particularly proud of No Mercy For The Executioner which appeared in the Review of Australian Fiction in late 2014. (So, it’s my second-most-recent short story.) That story began in a dream, which turned into the first line: ‘When the world ends, it’s the Jewish guy who brings the sake.’ I grew up on post-apocalyptic stories: when I was a teenager, we all thought nuclear war would decimate the world any second. Plus, as a kid raised quasi-Catholic, I can remember earnestly discussing the imminent second coming in first grade. But I’ve never been much attracted to actually writing post-apocalyptic stories until I wrote Mercy and then I just kinda let loose. Teenagers, holed up underground, drinking the last of Earth’s liquor and eating tinned peaches. And then the violence begins… Oh, yeah, that’s a fun story.
4. Bad Power mixes police procedural with speculative fiction. What are your top 3 crime reads? How about top 3 spec fic reads?
Ooooohhh!! Top reads! I love questions like this. Yeah, BAD POWER mixed two things I love. Well, maybe three. 1) crime stories 2) spec fic, and 3) contemporary settings.
Okay, top 3 crime reads would have to start with Kate Atkinson’s CASE HISTORIES, which I loved. I grew up on Agatha Christie books, and THE MURDER OF ROGER ACKROYD stands out. Then maybe Nicola Griffith’s THE BLUE PLACE counts as crime. But it was probably Walter Mosley who made me want to write crime, so I’m going to sneak in DEVIL IN A BLUE DRESS (plus, this is really five now, but a special mention to the first of Craig Johnson’s Longmire books, THE COLD DISH (which is a kind of western cosy, if you can believe that)).
Spec fic is harder because *cough* it seems so much broader (not that I want to play favourites). Also I never classify spec fic as spec fic in my goodreads reading list, so now I’m screwed trying to remember all my favourite spec fic reads. ;p
But I do have to mention Ben H. Winters’ THE LAST POLICEMAN, since it’s a mix of crime AND spec fic. And so is the excellent BAD THINGS by Michael Marshall Smith.
My all-time-favourite spec fic reads would have to include Tanith Lee, though, so let’s say THE BIRTHGRAVE. Oh! And Mary Gentle’s ASH! Aaaaaand, crap, so many others. I’m trying to think of something that’s really stayed with me, so I’ll go with Shirley Jackson’s THE HAUNTING OF HILL HOUSE. But, y’know, so many.
InkAshlings: I am so updating my Goodreads with some of these suggestions! Also, I love Christie!
5. Will there be more books or short stories set in the world of Bad Power and can you tell readers anything, even a cryptic clue?
I didn’t actually set out to write BAD POWER, you know. It started as two stories that shared some eerily similar traits: Shades of Grey and Palming the Lady. I realised I had this strong woman cop in both stories, so I decided to make her the same character. I was probably just being efficient. I think I was also influenced by the fact a couple of early readers both said they loved Detective Palmer. Which kinda surprised me, because I didn’t have a lot planned out for her at that stage. But she’s become a bit of a hero of mine.
She’s also pretty similar to the strong woman cop I invented for my ISHTAR novella, even though I wrote those stories at completely different times. See? Random. It’s like I never plan out anything in my ‘career.’
And then, of course, the stories were saved from the obscurity of individual publishing by the Twelfth Planet Press project: Twelve Planets. TPP collected those two stories and three more that I’d only kinda started working on in one volume. We called the BAD POWER collection a ‘pocketbook police procedural.’
I did start plotting a BAD POWER novel out in my head, but certain other projects have gotten in the way. But Bad Power: The Novel might become a labor of love one day when I get some time. I mean, I had this whole structure and back story for it. Hopefully I’ve written that down someplace. Actually, y’know, even if I haven’t I still remember it pretty clearly. I’ve really got to get faster at finishing stories. I have a WHOLE BUNCH MORE I want to write.
And BTW: Fablecroft published a 6th Bad Power story in their anthology One Small Step in 2013. The story was called Indigo Gold and featured a new character, some new powers, and a hat pin. So, yeah, I’m sure I’ll end up writing more of those stories in one way or another. I love my BAD POWER world and I love all those crazy, creepy characters. BAD POWER is one project I’m inordinately proud of.
6. You are currently collaborating on a couple of projects, including a novel and a graphic novel. What does the collaboration process look like for you?
It looks like a whole lot less stress & a heck of a lot more fun than coming up with all the answers yourself! And suddenly the planning becomes really fun. The writing is pretty much just as hard (or not hard, depending), but the planning is really where collaborating shows its strength. I recommend it heartily!
7. What’s your advice for those writers that want to try collaborating on a project?
Pick someone to lead the project. You might not know who that person is at the very beginning, but sooner or later you all have to agree which member of the team owns the vision & voice. Without that, the project runs the risk of becoming a ‘writing by committee’ project. And the thing about committees is, all the best, more unique and risky stuff often gets dissolved in favour of relentless compromise. In a good collaboration, one person knows whether or not what you’re pitching is going to fit the project.
My other advice would be: if you’re NOT the leader or the owner of the vision, never stop pitching. Sometimes you might want to give up on sharing your ideas because you think they’re stupid or you think people will laugh. And people will often laugh. But the team will miss out on some good stuff if you give up on yourself too soon. Believe that!
8. You’ve also written a novella for the Ishtar collection and have an upcoming novella called Waking in Winter coming soon. What is it that appeals to you about the novella and what are the ingredients for a great novella?
I’m so excited about WAKING IN WINTER. PS Publishing bought that novella in 2013 & scheduled it for around mid-2015, so I can’t wait to see it on the page. We’ve just finished copy edits. And I’m still really proud of my ISHTAR novella with the comically long name, And the Dead Shall Outnumber the Living (for real, I started out with that title as a kind of joke, but I just love the enormity of it, so it stayed.)
I’ve only tried novellas those two times, but I’ve fallen madly in love with the format as a reader and writer. I think it lets you play with all the best aspects of novels — character, adventure, stakes, narrative — without the dross that people often have to use to make a novel more novel-length. So many novels feel like they sag in the middle, just IMHO. Or maybe I’m easily bored. Actually, yeah, I am easily bored.
I think the other thing I like about novellas is that they’re short enough to sustain the kind of mood a short story can deliver. A very mannered or stylized novel can feel very long indeed. But a stylized novella can still pack a punch without losing any momentum.
So that’d be my pick for novella ingredients: character AND style AND narrative AND mood AND momentum. Love novellas. Wish they were easier to find. PS Publishing has put out some doozies, so it’s worth checking their pages first.
9. What’s one question you’ve never been asked before but wish you had been asked?
I racked my brain for an answer to this question. Then I eventually realised that no one has ever quite asked me this: What’s the one piece of advice you wish you’d been given when you were starting out?
10. Now answer it!
Sabotage and salvation will come from unexpected sources. Srsly. Very unexpected sources. The entire idea of a writing ‘career’ is unpredictable in the extreme. The only thing you can do is keep writing. That way, you’re practised and ready for the salvation when it happens. And you can move past the sabotage when it’s delivered. So that’s it, the best advice you’ll get as a starting-out writer: Just. Keep. Writing.
Deborah Biancotti is the author of two short story collections from Twelfth Planet Press: Bad Power and A Book of Endings. She is co-author of the Zeroes trilogy with Scott Westerfeld and Margo Lanagan. Deborah’s novella Waking in Winter will be out with PS Publishing in mid-2015. The first Zeroes book is published in September. You can find Deborah online, but she spends more time on Twitter than anywhere else.
You can read my review of Bad Power here. Thanks again for a great interview, Deb!