Dave Freer lives on Flinders in Bass strait, being about as far into the Woop woop as he could put himself or be put (let’s not ask which). He thrives on a sort of chaotic experiment in self-sufficiency, involving a lot time at sea in small boats, doing remarkably silly things with spears and nets in water cold enough to freeze an impure though solid. His real talent is the fine art of making one vegetable grow, sort-of, where fifty plants flourished before. He’s the author of a slew of books (19?), a few of which blundered onto bestseller lists, until thrown out by respectable literature. He’s a disgrace, really. You can read of his misadventures at http://flindersfreer.blogspot.com.au/.
You recently published Stardogs independently and it’s already received some great reviews. Tell us about the novel and your reasons for seeking a more direct distribution channel than via traditional publishing houses.
Stardogs: It’s a novel set at the end of the clash of two diametrically opposed cultures – one entirely mechanical, the other entirely biological. Humans are betwixt and between. In a nutshell, humans are discovered by an alien relic – a semi-intelligent bioengineered interstellar starship – a stardog. That gives humans an abandoned empire of many worlds, but no understanding of what happened or how it worked. It’s a fragile empire, entirely reliant on the existing stock of Stardogs, which do something humans have failed at finding an alternative to. That secret is locked away on Denaar – the alien Motherworld, forever out of reach to humans. The stardogs will not go there. It takes an attempt at hijacking and assassination, in theta-space, to send the dying starship back to where it was bred, the Denaari motherworld. The castaways must survive a world which was nurturing silicia based mineral feeders, but is just pure hell for humans. They also have to survive each other – no sinecure either. The prize – besides their lives – is the source of the Stardogs… all that links so many human-populated worlds, and much, much more. Of course, there is still an old war being fought, and that too must play out.
Why did I do it myself?: Principally pragmatism, really. I’ve no particular desire to do this, but the advantages far outweigh the downsides. I still have a couple of books under contract, but in terms of turnover (from a traditional publishing proposal to the book being available is at best a couple of years. I’m fairly fast, prolific, and severely constrained by this. Doing it myself I can do far more books. That makes my readers happy and makes me more money, even after paying for all the services that my publishers semi-provided, reluctantly and slowly and sometimes with indifferent quality. It’s a win : win – at least for readers and writers). It also means more money per sale – although I sell the books for less. It means rapid payment and transparent accounting – and better qualified gate-keepers (my readers are my gatekeepers this way. Them laying down money to buy the book is actually a lot more accurate and honest an assessment than any acquiring editor deploys. So far they seem pleased with it. I’m on track for 1500 copies in the first month, just e-books. Look, it’s not for everyone, but if you have a fan-base or following via blogs/twitter/ facebook etc., and you write fairly fast, I seriously suggest you go and look at the top 100 sf and fantasy Kindle sales. At what they are and what they’re priced at. That’s what the market actually wants. They really are far more into Christopher Nuttall or Larry Correia or Bella Forrest (the ranking is based on an arcane formula of price and sales – which means a low price book is outselling at the same rank than high priced one), than most of what publishing is buying. I do see that traditional publishing can bring value in some respects. – but seriously, they need to up their game by several orders of magnitude and compete to keep the readers and the writers. So far they seem to be trying whining and more restrictive contracts.
Which of your novels are you most proud of, and how has your style evolved over your career as a writer?
Proud of? I’m intrinsically never satisfied, always aware I’m falling desperately short of what I want, need, to write. Driven to try again, and again, that little bit harder. Some books come out better than others, I suppose. Humans are inevitably — given the size of their brains and the fact that we find picking fleas off each other socially unacceptable these days — fairly complex creatures, which means firstly that I write some vastly different books, and secondly that some books appeal to individuals more than others. I’m lucky in that I’ve managed to avoid being pigeon-holed (although every now and again some drongo will tell you I write gun-porn AKA Military SF. This will tell you said drongo has never read anything I’ve written but still knows it all. At last look I’ve written two Military sf/satire/humour books (Rats Bats and Vats, and The Rats, the Bats and the Ugly, in a scenario in which firearms as weapons of war were futile. I’ve written Steampunk, Alternate history, Hard sf/satire, Urban Fantasy/satire, High Fantasy, Space opera, even a short or two which would pass as paranormal romance in bad light. I’d guess. I’d guess I probably enjoy the social satire aspect – it tends to be in most books, just more in some. It’s the lovely scent of sacred cow on the barbie…
What are you working on at the moment and when can readers look forward to seeing it available?
Books. When I’m finished. Ok, to be less of a pain in the butt, that’s a very hard question. I have several books in process – two finished, being edited and fact/offence checked (I really don’t mind being offensive, on purpose. It’s when I do it by accident that I hate it) one of which is high fantasy and destined to be self-pubbed, one of which is YA – contemporary fantasy (I’d say urban fantasy except it is rural Australian) one more with my co-author (another Heirs of Alexandria Goat-gagger.) another in “I could finish this in three weeks” phase – that’s not even Sf/Fantasy but a who-dunnit. Then there’s two other part written books to be finished… There will be at least two out by year end. I’m also working on raising pigs, but only a few of my mates have a chance at seeing the bacon.
What Australian works have you loved recently?
Hmm. Against expectations (I don’t really do horror-ish tales) I really enjoyed Claire McKenna’s ‘Yard’ in ‘Use only as Directed’ (edited by Simon Petrie and Edwina Harvey). I can recommend Glenda Larke’s The Lascar’s dagger too.
Have recent changes in the publishing industry influenced the way you work? What do you think you will be publishing/writing/reading in five years from now?
Heh. I don’t have a spare 100 000 words worth of time to expand on a theme I think a lot about (and am probably as wrong as anyone else about). A few thoughts: The publishing industry changing so fast and so dramatically, I don’t think anyone really knows. I expect in the battle between the conservative forces of traditional publishing (that’s been bleeding per literate capita fiction readers for half a century) they will put up far more restrictive contracts for authors, and almost certainly attempt legislative or more big corporate collusion (as in the Apple-big 5 agency DoJ case) to try to maintain the status quo. It’s going to get nasty, and they will use authors as cannon-fodder. They always have, and we’re expendable and easily replaced in their eyes. Secondly, success – for authors – will undoubtedly go to those who find out what readers want and give it to them (both in terms of price and content) – which is why I am putting my money where my mouth is and going directly to self-publishing. This could actually have a substantial effect on the number of fiction readers out there. Yes, there would be very little literary establishment control over what the people (“Eoh, the lower classes (phew, the stink of the great unwashed)! They never know what’s good for them, eh.”) wanted to read, but in the medium and longer term more reading, any reading, is good for literature and society. Thirdly there will be a substantial drop off in self-publishing – it’s harder to be successful than people realize, and at the moment it is still the honeymoon. Things that I hope won’t happen: The big 5 will successfully close down e-books outside their control. This is what they want to do, and it would be a disaster for readers and reading (the per capita fiction trend would continue) and even more so for writers. It’s a real possibility, and needs to be opposed at all costs. Secondly, that the Aussie sf/fantasy establishment will follow the American sf/fantasy establishment – effectively the marketing arm of the big 5. That has become painfully politically correct, very literary and very political. That’s not been good news for the number readers they have, and runs counter to the way I see Australians. Sf and fantasy need to be of the people, rooted in Australia, and a broad church. There’s a space for all sub-genres and if one starts going tall poppy… something is wrong.
This interview was conducted as part of the 2014 Snapshot of Australian Speculative Fiction. We’ll be blogging interviews from 28 July to 10 August and collating the links at SF Signal. You can read interviews at: