Deborah Biancotti writes & reads in Sydney. Her first collection, A BOOK OF ENDINGS, was shortlisted for the William L. Crawford Award for Best First Fantasy Book. Her first novella, “And the Dead Shall Outnumber the Living”, has been nominated for a Shirley Jackson Award. Her newest collection, BAD POWER, is available from Twelfth Planet Press. You can find Deborah online mostly just by Googling her.
1. Your major recent release is the collection Bad Power, which contains four linked stories about the sinister side of superpowers, and has been getting quite a bit of critical attention. So the question is – why do you hate superheroes?
I **love** superheroes. I fell in love with Spiderman as soon as I could read, & I think he set my benchmark for what a superhero is: someone who’s fundamentally good, but otherwise a bit of a screw-up. Batman was my second favourite (since, as kids, we’re more likely to rate these things as first & second, favourite & almost-favourite), & back in the day he didn’t have superpowers. He was just one helluva angry man who was learning to channel that for good. So, graphic novels have been questioning the ‘super’ aspects of superheroes – and, heck also the ‘heroic’ aspects – since I was a kid. More recently, though, we’ve seen WATCHMEN, X-MEN and IDENTITY CRISIS take up the theme more directly. Then television latched onto the idea in the noughties with HEROES, ALPHAS, and so on. And then came your oddly-powerful but-in-no-particular-way-that-can-be-quantified (no radioactive spiders, for example) heroes like we find in HAVEN, based on a Stephen King book like so many good things are.
So I had that bank of history to play with. And I guess when I started asking myself ‘what makes a superhero’, I couldn’t escape the cynical side of my brain that believes power corrupts. And if absolute power corrupts *absolutely*, what would a superpower do? Particularly if you’re the first. Particularly if there’s not a society set up to believe – or even deny – that there’s such a thing as ‘heroes’ or ‘powers’. In a world where you can be famous just for being famous, where individualism is treasured over clan, where ‘society’ is a word that compensates for a multiplicity of worlds and cultures and beliefs, where ‘hero’ is a label that’s usually used by the media and usually used to describe someone who’s died – what WOULD you do if you found yourself in possession of something strange and potentially divine?
What would YOU do, gentle reader?
2. You have also had a novella published in Ishtar, along with Kaaron Warren and Cat Sparks. “And the Dead Shall Outnumber the Living” features a vengeful goddess leading an army of the dead against a mostly-contemporary Sydney. How much collaboration took place between the three of you, and why was this the Ishtar story that you in particular felt you had to tell?
We brainstormed Ishtar mythology for a while, & Kaaron awesomely shared her research (her research was way better than mine!) & then we agreed on starting/ending points. But after that we wrote largely individually. Ishtar had become the source of a personal relationship after the brainstorming & I think we all wanted to hold onto the ‘her’ we had fleshed out in our minds. I was pleased as punch to have the contemporary novella in the middle, because I had this experiment in mind which would be my love letter to my hometown of Sydney. Also it gave me an excuse to write in present tense, which I **love**, love, LOVE!
So I kinda went hell-for-leather in this evocation of Sydney that I wanted to build, & because I knew where the story had to end for the next novella, I knew I could put my protagonist through sheer hell to get there. I was smugly delighted when my protagonist, Detective Adrienne Garner, stared following in Ishtar’s footsteps, descending deeper & deeper into something dark & monstrous, losing her markers along the way – just as Ishtar lost clothing as she passed through the gates of hell. Ishtar ended up strung up on hooks in Hell for years until her uncle interceded. At which point she had to ascend again through the gates to find someone to take her place on the hooks. So she sent down her ex-lover down. Which is nice.
I wonder if we left Adrienne Garner on hooks for long enough, whether she’d come up with someone she’d like to send down in her place? I suspect she’s the kind of woman who might actually have a list ready for that sort of thing…
3. I’ve noticed of late that your work feels heavily influenced by crime and police procedural type stories. Is there more of this coming? What are you working on right now?
Yeah, I did something radical a few years back (she said, with irony) where I stopped reading all the books I ‘should’ be reading & started reading for pure pleasure. And I found myself returning to crime reading. I think I got bored with crime reading back in the nineties when it became trendy (which shows how desperately perverse I can be about this sort of thing) & kinda gave it up for a while. All the crime I was reading felt like more of the same. And then, years and years later, all the genre I was reading began to feel like it was ‘different’, but different in ways that were oddly predictable and annoyingly self-conscious. I thought, ‘hell, is anyone even telling a good STORY anymore?’
Right now I’m writing an SF thriller with a crime element. I figure maybe I am destined to move into the whole supernatural or SF crime / police procedural world, since I love them both the same. It’s like putting peanut butter in your icecream. At first it just seems like some kinda weird, decadent pairing. But then you realise something important about it. … It’s freaking delicious!
4. What Australian works have you loved recently?
As part of the Australian Women Writers Challenge of 2012, I’m reading outside my genres! So I’ve **LOVED* Shirley Hazzard with a fierce, familial passion. Um, but she’s probably not recent. I’ve loved Katharine Howell’s thrillers – set in Sydney, & featuring paramedics and cops. I just bought Honey Brown’s AFTER THE DARKNESS which I’m desperately looking forward to. I’ve also picked up some more Janet Frame books, which I’m frightened of reading (her AN ITEM FROM THE LATE NEWS was one of the most shocking & depressing & accurate portrayals of small town life I read in a decade – no, wait, several decades). I’m also stocking up on the Twelve Planets, of course, & looking forward to the Australian Years Best from Ticonderoga. And I just finished Anita Heiss’s AM I BLACK ENOUGH FOR YOU?, which is a warm, touching, surprising memoir – though from the title you’d think you’re in for an arse-kicking. ;p
5. Two years on from Aussiecon 4, (and the last Snapshot) what do you think are some of the biggest changes to the Australian Spec Fic scene?
It could be just me, but I’m seeing a lot more diversity in the scene, a lot more individual voices, a lot more projects happening. It feels like a groundswell, like something expanding in all directions at once. Which is kinda brilliant, actually!
This interview was conducted as part of the 2012 Aussie Spec Fic Snapshot. In the lead up to Continuum 8 in Melbourne, we will be blogging interviews for Snapshot 2012 conducted by Alisa Krasnostein, Kathryn Linge, David McDonald, Helen Merrick, Ian Mond, Jason Nahrung, Alex Pierce, Tansy Rayner Roberts, Tehani Wessely and Sean Wright. To read the interviews hot off the press, check these blogs daily from June 1 to June 7, 2012.