Furthest Right

Interview with Melanie Rees

  1. Tell us a little about your background, where are you from, what was life like growing up?

I live in Southern Australia and spent most of my life living in the country. I work as an environmental scientist and currently manage a marine monitoring project. My background and work have certainly influenced my writing with natural Australian landscapes featuring pretty prominently in many of my stories.

  1. Were you into books and reading as a kid and young person? What did you like to read? Did you always want to write or is that a more recent development?

I loved books as a child and have throughout adulthood. I’ve always been drawn to stories with subtle social or environmental commentary, or stories that explore philosophical ideas such as the nature of humanity, predeterminism, and what defines sentience. I find speculative fiction a great genre to read and write about these themes, but I dabble in literary stories, humorous pieces and poetry as well.

I actually have a copy of the first story I remember writing. I’m not sure what age I wrote it, but it was penned in crayon and called ‘The katerpillers jorney’, which I think translates to ‘The caterpillar’s journey’.

  1. What inspired your story Boarding? It really made a good impression on our editorial board, especially the characters.

Boarding actually originated from a prompt at a workshop. The task was to write a story including planes, trains or automobiles, and write from the point of view of characters of a different background from ourselves. I am glad the characters left a good impression as I am always try to be careful and sensitive when writing from a culture or background that isn’t my own.

  1. Which leads me to ask, what do you think makes a good character? Are there differences between the way you would write male and female characters?

I believe there a few necessities to creating an engaging and realistic character, including motivation and goals at the story and character’s life level, and personality traits that guide their decisions at each point of conflict. I also believe characters are easier to create if they are different from one another and their reaction to events are different. If they all have the same feelings about the conflicts facing them they tend to sound very similar and less distinct.

I think character is revealed through their actions and reactions to events, conflict and other characters. I’m certainly not a fan of extensive character dossiers. In the past I’ve actually found creating these makes my characters feel a bit stereotypes. In most of my short stories I couldn’t tell you what their hair of eye colour is, what their occupation is or even their specific age.

Just like in real life, I feel it’s the inner traits that reveal a person’s character, not the exterior.

  1. I also really like the way you write women. Do you think you’re happy with the way women are generally written in the books you read or can the writers do better? And if so, how?

I think if you focus on the character’s personality, motivations and goals, rather than focusing on the fact they are a woman (or other genders) you’ll write more genuine characters. There are several well-known authors who I won’t read anymore because they repeatedly depict women in the same stereotypical ways. Women vary significantly from one another. There is no defining factor representing all women.

  1. How do you see competition among the various media? Is TV/film/gaming a rival to writers and our ability to make a living? Or are they complementary maybe?

Well video didn’t kill the radio star, and I don’t think visual mediums are going to kill books anytime soon. Printed book sales are still on the rise here in Australia. I turn to books for different reasons than I watch film or television or play games. They all require different skill sets from the writers and provide different experiences for the reader or viewer. Books provide the opportunity for readers to visualise the story and use their imagination. I believe they are more immersive, intimate and provide a longer and deeper connection. I think people will always seek this experience.

  1. You’re a very experienced short story writer. Do you think it’s possible or advisable to try and make a living from short stories, or is the market not paying enough? Do you think there is enough interest from readers in short fiction to justify doing it over a novel?

I actually believe short story, and especially flash fiction, are growing in popularity.

However, I’m not convinced it’s possible to make a living writing any kind of fiction if you are relying on that as your sole source of income. Of course there are exceptions, but even the traditionally published authors I know still do other work such as running workshops, writing articles, editing, or teaching to provide their main source of income.

I personally don’t use pay as a determining factor of what to write. I write what has meaning to me and because I have to. If I didn’t all these ideas and characters would clog up too much of my limited grey matter. What determines the length of story for me is the idea behind it. Some ideas just suit novels better, some serials, some poetry and some shorter stories.

  1. Have you written novels, or is that something you plan on doing? What do you think is the difference between short fiction and long?

I have one standalone novel currently with an agent, but it is a story that is difficult to market. So despite generally positive feedback from publishers we are having difficulty placing it. I am currently drafting my second novel, which will be part of a trilogy.

Besides the obvious differences in lengths, I feel novels allow for more complex and a greater number of characters, conflict and plot points. They have room for subplots and can easily cover greater time periods. Most of the short stories I write are centered around a single character dealing with a single event. I find the pacing often needs to be quicker in a short story. Although I often writer short stories using the 3 act structure or hero’s journey, often the structure of my short stories, especially flash fiction, is condensed and a lot simpler.

  1. What is the writing community in Australia like? We tend to forget Australians have produced some great fiction as the publishing industry is very much NYC/London based. Do you have any writers you’d like us to know about?

The writing community is quite small which is great for forming networks, but at the same time the publishing outlets are very limited. When querying agents I found fewer than 10 agents in Australia accepting unsolicited manuscripts in my genre. With short fiction, I sell most of my work to American markets as there are far greater opportunities. Although sometimes I find I have to dial down the Ozziness as many of the cultural references and slang are lost in translation.

Our schools were great at promoting local authors so I grew up on predominately Australian fiction. My childhood literary idols were Paul Jennings, Colin Theile, John Marsden, and Victor Kelleher. These days I’m reading books from all over the world, but I’ll religiously pick up new titles from Tim Winton, Sonya Hartnett, Fiona McIntosh, Sean Williams, Christos Tsiolkas, and Matt Reilly.

  1. What inspires you?

I find inspiration comes from everywhere and anywhere. Those creative sparks tend to strike unexpectedly and at the most inconvenient times: in the wee hours of the morning, while driving, in the shower, during work meetings.

I’ve had ideas arise from snippets of conversations I overhear, things I see, feelings I have, something I see on the news, dreams, and all facets of life.

You can find Melanie on her blog Flexi’s Fables. Also check out her story published on the Uprising Review called Boarding.

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