At Breaking the Glass Slipper, we love to see women breaking the mold. As such, we wanted to introduce you to Australian science fiction writer Cat Sparks. Her debut novel, Lotus Blue, has been receiving great buzz for its originality and complexity. So what makes a writer of such genre defying fiction tick? We’re here to find out!
What drew you to speculative fiction?
I’ve loved speculative fiction ever since I was a kid. A really little kid. My parents read science fiction books and watched TV shows like Dr Who. Science fiction was never considered a lesser form of storytelling in our house. Outer space seemed so inviting; other worlds and the realm of ancient alien civilisations – more so than fairy tales perhaps, many of which featured dark undercurrents and moral ambiguity – even the sanitized children’s versions. The big question for me was always why doesn’t everybody love this stuff? The lure of the unknown, promises of incredible futures and the fact that we could make things better… or much worse. From space pulp illustration through to realistic imaginings of Saturn’s rings up close and NASA’s lavishly illustrated space colonies. Alien landscapes; cosmic adventures; civilization in ruins. Ordinary life just seemed so… ordinary by comparison.
Being a fan led me straight to being a creator – what truer expression of appreciation of a form could there be than manufacturing it yourself?
How did you come to work in the SFF publishing industry? Was it difficult to make the transition to being a writer?
Being a writer isn’t the problem – getting paid for it is the hard part!
I’ve been embedded in the Australian spec fic community for years, volunteering my graphic design skills for a number of small presses and photography for events. My partner Robert Hood and I ran a small press called Agog! From 2002 – 2008, back in the days when it was extremely difficult for Australian spec fic authors to get published overseas, mostly due to the tyranny of distance. We had to submit with international reply coupons, which were as much of a pain for editors as they were for writers. The internet changed everything – once magazines permitted electronic submissions. As writers today, Aussie authors compete comfortably on the international stage.
After Agog, I was appointed Fiction editor of Cosmos Magazine, taking over from Damien Broderick in 2010. A part-time job I did from home, which gave me the fantastic opportunity of being able to purchase and publish science fiction from both Australian and overseas authors. The magazine paid pro rates and their stories were professionally illustrated and published both in print and online.
I was lucky enough to score an Australia Council emerging writer’s grant in 2011 which enabled me to quit my graphic design day job and work on Lotus Blue full time. The grant also funded a trip to Florida to participate in Margaret Atwood’s The Time Machine Doorway workshop. The novel had a different name back then and as things turned out, that book took a lot longer to complete than I ever would have expected.
In 2012 I started a PhD examining the intersection between ecocatastrophe fiction and climate fiction. I’m at the final stages of that degree now – my research well and truly spilled over into Lotus Blue. The novel is both a post apocalypse and a climate fiction text. The PhD has utterly transformed both my reading and my writing processes, making me a more cautious, thoughtful and well-researched practitioner right across the board.
Do you find that there are particular styles of SFF coming from Australia?
Australian spec fic authors have traditionally tended towards genre blending. We don’t like to stay within the box. I suspect this might have something to do with the fact that we have long been the recipients of a mishmash of outside, influencing media cultures: British, Southeast Asian, American. Colonial themes, desert imagery, island sensibilities … so many of us hail from immigrant backgrounds with ancestral influences bleeding through generational rifts.
Your novel has a young female protagonist. As a result, have you found it difficult to appeal to a ‘traditional’ science fiction audience?
Not at all. I’m not sure the ‘traditional science fiction audience’ actually exists anymore. There’s a bunch of cranky old white men out there, sure, but contemporary Science Fiction readership has evolved to become quite broad and lively – and diverse. The new wave movement of the 1960s expanded science fiction’s horizons and it never looked back. Both science and science fiction permeate our technologically saturated everyday lives, our cinema, our television screens, our homes – many people enjoy science fiction – shows such as The Handmaid’s Tale and Westworld without necessarily considering them in those terms. Science fiction is the literature of here and now. It illuminates what we fear might happen next and projects us forward into myriad futures, from dystopia to post-scarcity.
What makes Blue Lotus different? Why should we be reading it?
Lotus Blue was not intended as a young adult novel, yet it features a teenage protagonist. It’s a complex book in some ways, featuring multiple characters and points of view, and yet it is also a fast-paced action adventure story complete with killer robots, centuries-old warriors and other popular genre tropes. A few bloggers have found it too complex for their tastes. I’m not going to apologize for that – our real world is complex and chaotic, our fast-encroaching future even more so. Lotus Blue is no consolatory fantasy. Its players are flawed and it presents no easy answers. I’m bored of the chosen one, the lone hero who saves the day. I wanted to write something different.
Cat Sparks is a multi-award-winning Australian author, editor and artist whose former employment has included: media monitor, political and archaeological photographer, graphic designer, manager of Agog! Press, fiction editor of Cosmos Magazine and speculative fiction festival director. She’s currently finishing a PhD examining the intersection between ecocatastrophe science fiction and climate fiction. Her short story collection The Bride Price was published in 2013 and her debut novel, Lotus Blue, was published by Skyhorse this year.