Garth Nix is one of Australia's most dynamic and best-selling SF/F authors, generally in a young adult and teen mode. He's an author on the short list of my "to-read" pile (and I'll finally find the time on the flight over to Down Under, with any luck). The official bio note on his site reads:
Garth Nix was born in 1963 in Melbourne, Australia, to the sound of the Salvation Army band outside playing 'Hail the Conquering Hero Comes' or possibly 'Roll Out the Barrel'. Garth left Melbourne at an early age for Canberra (the federal capital) and stayed there till he was nineteen, when he left to drive around the UK in a beat-up Austin with a boot full of books and a Silver-Reed typewriter.
Despite a wheel literally falling off the Austin, Garth survived to return to Australia and study at the University of Canberra. After finishing his degree in 1986 he worked in a bookshop, then as a book publicist, a publisher's sales representative, and editor. Along the way he was also a part-time soldier in the Australian Army Reserve, serving in an Assault Pioneer platoon for four years. Garth left publishing to work as a public relations and marketing consultant from 1994-1997, till he became a full-time writer in 1998. He did that for a year before joining Curtis Brown Australia as a part-time literary agent in 1999. In January 2002 Garth went back to dedicated writer again, despite his belief that full-time writing explains the strange behaviour of many authors.
Garth currently lives in a beach suburb of Sydney, with his wife Anna, a publisher, and two sons, ages three and 11 months.
I asked Nix a few questions via email, which he was kind enough to reply to in depth. Some great answers here, the one about the business end not least among them.
AN INTERVIEW WITH GARTH NIX
What do you find hardest about writing fiction?
There is a point about 60% of the way through a novel where I always slow down, doubt what I have written and doubt my ability to continue. I walk around muttering “this is crap, I’ve forgotten how to write” and generally wailing and gnashing my teeth. This usually lasts for several weeks or perhaps a few months, but during it I force myself to continue, on the basis that even if it is crap it’s better to have some crap to fix up than nothing. But I don’t enjoy it, it’s just a hard, forced journey through the quagmire. A little later, perhaps around the 80% mark I start to write faster and begin to enjoy writing again, and while I may still not think highly of the book I know that I will be able to finish it and then work on it to make it at least acceptable.
Interestingly, I have had this reaction with every single book, regardless of length, intended readership, style or anything else. As it doesn’t seem to be related to any aspect of a particular manuscript, I think I would have it writing non-fiction as well as fiction.
What gives you the most joy?
Like most writers I love it when a whole lot of apparently unrelated ideas/ thoughts/ concepts/ perceptions/ observations that have been floating around in my mind suddenly coalesce together into the beginning of a story and it is all fresh and new and exciting, unsullied by my inability to transfer this pure mind object into words.
I am also surprised by joy (gratuitous C.S. Lewis reference) toward the end of a book when all the narrative threads are racing together and I find that I have previously planted most of the story elements I need to finish the book, even when I didn’t know that I would need them. I often write the last 10-15% of a book in a single week or even in a few very intensive days and this is a great time, being carried along by the power of the story.
What aspect of the writing life or writing community is most in your thoughts right now, and why?
Something that is very often in my thoughts is the lack of knowledge among many writers about how the publishing business actually works, both in Australia and elsewhere (it’s pretty much the same around the world). There is remarkable ignorance and there is also a huge body of false information which is accepted as the gospel truth, particularly among beginning writers but even among those who should know better. When I was a literary agent with Curtis Brown a lot of my job was just explaining the business and though I am no longer an active agent, not a week goes by where I don’t have a phone conversation or an e-mail exchange with ‘a friend of a friend who’s written a book’ or someone else I feel I have to respond to, covering everything from how to submit a book, explaining royalty statements (an arcane specialization), the nature of certain subsidiary rights and how to deal with them and so on.
SF/F writers on the whole are much more knowledgeable about the business than other writers, perhaps because they want to understand it and seek out the information. This is one of the things that surprises me, because it is possible to get accurate information, on the web (Australian author Ian Irvine has an excellent primer at www.ian-irvine.com), in books and elsewhere. But then you will suddenly get an idiotic comment like ‘you have to know people in publishing to get published’ from someone who had their own manuscript picked out of the slushpile – as is the case with probably the majority of first novels, like my own, way back when I didn’t know anyone in trade publishing. Or ‘agents don’t take on first-time novelists’ which is both just plain wrong and goes against common sense, since a significant part of an agent’s job is finding new clients by all means possible. (Half my clients when I was an agent were first-timers found from unsolicited submissions, a fairly usual mix.)
The part of my brain that is business-oriented (and sometimes seems quite separate from the writing side of my mind) loves publishing and all the minutiae and oddities that make it like no other business. I even like explaining the book business to people, and learning new things about it. But it does bug me when beginning authors do no research and just take on board all the myths, and even more when established authors who have chosen not to learn about the business they are in give credence to bullshit about how things work.
Is there such a thing as a distinctively "Australian" SF/F?
I don’t believe so, no more than there is a distinctive American or British SF/F – if you look at the whole field rather than say a five- or ten-year period where there might be, for example, a whole bunch of space operas with some similar characteristics. It would be easier to correlate Australian authors against American or British authors than with other Australians. If there was no blurb information on the nationality of authors I don’t think any reader could easily pick an Australian author’s work out of the genre, unless it was someone like George Turner where the story is explicitly set in a future Australia so you would assume the writer was Australian.
Though I don’t believe there is a distinctively Australian SF/F I do think that the one element that might give Australian authors away in their work is a sense of humour. A kind of larrikin streak and ironic self-deprecation appears to be part of our national psyche and it does get into the books, even if often only in a very minor way.
Are there any Australian genre writers you like that U.S. readers might not have encountered yet? Who?
I’m not very current with short fiction writers but on the novel front, all the Australians that immediately come to mind are published in the USA. American publishers have become more and more receptive to Australian authors over the last decade or so. My favourite Australian genre novelists include Simon Brown, Maxine McArthur, Kate Forsyth (these three all former clients), K. J. Bishop, Sean Williams, Juliet Marillier, Dave Luckett,
Do you think Australian readers differ in any substantial way from U.S. or U.K. readers?
There are only minor differences and these are probably more regional within countries. In fact, when on tour in Australia, the UK or the USA, standing up in a Borders bookstore (the only chain that is in all three nations) I could easily forget where I was. Only the accents would give it away, because everything else would be the same: the same questions, the same enthusiasms, the same announcements in the background drowning out the key part of my talk . . .
What are you currently working on?
I’m in the beginning stages of LADY FRIDAY, the fifth book of my THE KEYS TO THE KINGDOM children’s fantasy series. I’m also working very slowly on a YA/crossover space opera novel tentatively entitled A CONFUSION OF PRINCES, and toying with some short fiction.