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Coffee Chat with award winning author Cat Sparks (Part 1)

It's my absolute pleasure to invite Cat Sparks to my virtual café. She is a well known and well respected figure in the Australian publishing scene, having edited for magazines, written many award winning short stories, and now she has finally ventured into writing her first novel.

Cat provided me with so much information around climate fiction that I decided to make this coffee chat in two parts, because climate fiction is very interesting. A topic dear to my heart, and I hope it's dear to all your hearts, too.

DL: Firstly, since this is a coffee chat, how do you have your coffee? And what is your favourite time of the day to partake?

CAT: Like so many writers, I take my coffee very seriously. I only have one cup per day, so it needs to be a good one and it needs to happen in the morning not long after I haul myself out of bed. It takes three beverages to get me going, the first being a cup of green tea and the third a mug of Yorkshire extra strong tea with milk. The coffee goes in the middle, a cappuccino with two or three shots.

DL: You've been immersed in the publishing industry for many years, from editing magazines to publishing anthologies. You've also received many awards for editing and for your short stories. In fact you've had over 60 short stories published. Yet it's taken from your first short story in 2001 to 2017 for your debut novel, "Lotus Blue"
to be published. Was a novel always on the to do list? And is there any particular reason why it's taken this long?

CAT: I wish I could offer you some really interesting explanation as to why it took me so long to produce a novel good enough to sell. Like perhaps I’d been off exploring Antarctic wastelands or embedded deep on secret spy missions. Sadly, the truth is really boring. I'm a slow writer and life keeps getting in the way. And I guess I’m a bit of a perfectionist – I binned at least 300,000 words in the process of creating "Lotus Blue."

In 2012, I was awarded an Australia Council grant to write the novel that eventually became "Lotus Blue", a manuscript I'd already been working on for several years. So I quit my graphic design job and got stuck into writing. Thinking I’d be finished by the end of that year, I signed up to do a PhD directly following on. What I didn’t know then was that my mother had cancer. She passed away in October, 2012. My father was unable to care for himself, so my life became adjusted accordingly. Dad passed away in 2016 and I'm still struggling to get that degree over the line. I won't be starting another novel till February 2018 at least. Fingers crossed I can complete a half-decent draft across 12 months this time.

DL: You're currently gaining a PhD in climate fiction. Is there any difference between climate fiction and science fiction, apocalyptic, or dystopian fiction? If so, what is the notable difference?

CAT: Lack of global response to the imminent threat of climate change is sometimes blamed on a failure of societal imagination, but science fiction has been imagining various forms of environmental catastrophe since its Pre-Golden Age.

There’s a lot of scholarly argument about when science fiction can truly be said to have originated. I tend to agree with those who consider it a by-product of the Industrial Revolution, a time of great changes to the physical, economic and political landscape as science and technology began to impact greatly on society. Climate change itself is also a by-product of the Industrial Revolution, so the two really do go hand in hand.

To date, most climate fiction can also be classed as science fiction – but certainly not all of it. For this reason, I believe Cli Fi to be evolving into a separate and distinct genre, rather than existing as a subset of SF.
The ecocatastrophic alarmism of the 50s, 60s and 70s focused on the fear of overpopulation and pollution. Anxiety about pollution and global warming spiked when nuclear fears subsided after the Cold War. Both science fiction and climate fiction take on the task of envisioning physical and cultural landscapes facing uncertainty through processes of transformation and adaptation.

Post-apocalypse fiction requires a great cataclysmic event – either named or unnamed – to have taken place. Climate fiction does not. For example, the initiating incident in Barbara Kingsolver’s "Flight Behaviour" is a group of butterflies settling in a non-traditional location.

The term ‘dystopian’ is often used as an umbrella term encompassing apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic narratives, but I think of it as relating more specifically to oppressive social and political regimes. Think 1984 or The Hunger Games.

 DL: How was SupaNova 2017 for you? Was it a surprise? Everything you thought it would be? Completely different to what you're used to? Tell us everything!
CAT: SupaNova 2017 was a strange and fascinating experience, very different from the kinds of speculative fiction events I'm used to: conventions, conferences and festivals of a few hundred people -- although I have been to World Fantasy and Worldcons overseas, which are pretty big. SupaNova was a huge commercial extravaganza and I had to learn how to get into the groove. I’m not generally comfortable with pimping my own authorial self. I’m more the ‘sitting around in the bar talking to people’ kind of writer, but I soon realised that I needed to be as proactive as possible. Luckily, a well-seasoned friend, urban fantasy author Alan Baxter, was on hand to show me the ropes and by the close of SupaNova, Perth I had managed to sell every copy of Lotus Blue. Oh, and I got to meet Christopher Lloyd (total fangirl moment).

Photos from Supanova 2017 can be viewed here

DL: Please thank Cat Sparks for dropping by for a coffee chat.   

Remember to drop by next week for Part Two  where I ask Cat what she thinks is the biggest threat for the world right now, and she provides insight for authors who wish to write climate fiction.

More about Cat Sparks
Cat Sparks is a multi-award-winning Australian author, editor, and artist, whose former employment includes media monitor, political and archaeological photographer, graphic designer, Fiction Editor for Cosmos Magazine, and Manager of Agog! Press. A 2012 Australian Council grant sent her to Florida to participate in Margaret Attwood's The time Machine Doorway workshop. she's currently finishing a PhD in climate change fiction. Her short story collection "The Bride Price" was published in 2013. her debut novel "Lotus Blue" was published by Talos Press, an imprint of Skyhorse Publishing, in 2017.

Follow Cat Sparks 

More about Lotus Blue 

Seventeen-year-old Star and her sister Nene are orphans, part of a thirteen-wagon caravan of nomadic traders living hard lives travelling the Sand Road. Their route cuts through a particularly dangerous and unforgiving section of the Dead Red Heart, a war-ravaged desert landscape plagued by rogue semi-sentient machinery and other monsters from a bygone age.

But when the caravan witnesses a relic-Angel satellite unexpectedly crash to Earth, a chain of events begins that sends Star on a journey far away from the life she once knew. Shanghaied upon the sandship Dogwatch, she is forced to cross the Obsidian Sea by Quarrel, an ancient Templar supersoldier. Eventually shipwrecked, Star will have no choice but to place her trust in both thieves and priestesses while coming to terms with the grim reality of her past—and the horror of her unfolding destiny—as the terrible secret her sister had been desperate to protect her from begins to unravel.

Meanwhile, something old and powerful has woken in the desert. A Lotus Blue, deadliest of all the ancient war machines. A warrior with plans of its own, far more significant than a fallen Angel. Plans that do not include the survival of humanity.

 Buy Lotus Blue on Amazon


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