Hello and welcome to my blog, Author Interviews. My name is Fiona Mcvie.
Let’s get you introduced to everyone, shall we? Tell us your name. What is your age?
My name is Steven Paulsen and I am 62 years old.
Fiona: Where are you from?
I was born in Melbourne, Australia, and grew up in the suburb of Clayton. I now live in Ballarat, a regional city an hour and a half from Melbourne.
Fiona: A little about yourself (ie, your education, family life, etc.).
I spent much of my childhood buried in books and comics. In my youth my reading dropped off for a while to chase “sex and drugs and rock and roll”. I completed a four-year production Technician cadetship for an automotive components manufacturer before travelling by truck from Kathmandu to London in 1979. I lived for a year or soin London whereI worked as a bartender. While I was there I met my future wife and we returned to Australia, got married and had three wonderful children (and two beautiful grandchildren). Outside of writing, I have worked in a variety of jobs including: construction labourer, maintenance fitter, cleaner, and milk bar proprietor. I joined the IT industry as a project manager in the early 1990’s and ultimately became an executive at IBM before retiring from the corporate world in 2016 to write full time.
Fiona: Tell us your latest news.
My short story collection, Shadows on the Wall, has just been published by IFWG Publishing Australia. It is subtitled Weird Tales of Science Fiction, Fantasy, and the Supernatural and contains the best of my previously published work plus new stories written expressly for the book. I’m thrilled to have these stories in print.
Fiona: When and why did you begin writing?
I wrote and illustrated my own homemade “books” as a child, and gave them to friends and family. I wrote at secondary school, of course, but unlike most of the kids I went to school with I enjoyed doing it. I went to a Technical School designed to prepare boys to either take up a trade or go on to study practical things like mechanical or construction engineering. No one was more surprised than me when I topped the school in English.
I began writing seriously in 1979 while travelling from Kathmandu to London. There were long distances of open road, particularly crossing desert landscapes, so I passed the time by reading and writing. I kept a journal of the trip, but I also wrote my first short stories. They were derivative and clichéd, but it was a start.
Fiona: When did you first consider yourself a writer?
In my head I have always been a writer. But it was probably not until around 1980,in my mid-twenties,before I knew I was a writer. That was when I started writing with a view to publication.Those efforts were still quite amateurish, but I persevered and learned the craft little by little. I finally made my first short story sale for real dollars to a magazine in 1982.
Fiona: What inspired you to write your first book?
My first book was published in 1992. It was a short, spooky chapter book for readers aged 8-13 called The Stray Cat. I was inspired to write it after talking to Gary Crew, the multi-award-winning children’s and YA author. Gary was editing the After Dark series of books for Lothian Books (part of Hachette Australia). Gary was very supportive and encouraging and after discussing my work he invited me to submit a book for the series.
When my manuscript was accepted for publication, I asked for Shaun Tan to illustrate the book. Shaun was still a relatively new artist at the time and he submitted a portfolio and did some sample illustrations. Gary and Helen Chamberlin (then the Children’s Fiction Publisher at Lothian/Hachette) were knocked out by his stunning artwork and contracted him to do the illustrations. It was the first book Shaun illustrated before going on to become a much-lauded artist and writer himself. The Stray Cat was quite successful in Australia and went on to be published in a number of foreign language editions, including French, German, Korean and Bahasa Indonesian.
Fiona: How did you come up with the title?
Coming up with the title of The Stray Cat was straightforward.The book begins when a stray cat turns up at the main character’s house and makes itself at home. But when the cat wants him to follow it, he soon finds himself in a mysterious and frightening situation. Because The Stray Cat is a children’s book, I felt the title needed to be simple and unambiguous. It was supported by strong cover art that made it obvious this was not a friendly kitten.
Coming up with the title for my short story collection,Shadows on the Wall, was a little more protracted. I played around with half a dozen or so before it hit me. It came in a flashand seemed to fit just right. There are numerous shadows lurking in these stories. Some are overt, such as in “The Black Diamond of the Elephant God” where the protagonist is chased by a shadow, and in “In the Light of the Lamp” where an ancient brass oil burner casts shadows on the wall. But the title also relates in more subtle waysto the work as a whole,because many of the stories are intended to cast shadows over our hearts and minds.
Fiona: Do you have a specific writing style? Is there anything about your style or genre that you find particularly challenging?
One early reviewer of my short story collection observed that I have the ability to write horror from a number of different angles. I frequently write contemporary dark fantasy and ghost stories, psychological horror, and Lovecraftian cosmic horror. But I also write humorous stories, futuristic science fiction, and quieter stories that use subtlety and understatement.
Because Speculative Fiction (which includes science fiction, fantasy and horror) frequently deals with unreal and fantastic themes, the biggest challenge for me is to make these things believable, to reveal and present the “other” in a way that allows readers to suspend their disbelief. I try to do this by anchoring my work in the real world, and having my characters respond to the weird and wonderful things they encounter in realistic ways.
Fiona: How much of the book is realistic and are experiences based on someone you know, or events in your own life?
Although I mostly write Speculative Fiction, all my writing is informed by the real world. In my Science Fiction short story “Two Tomorrow”, I channelled the feelings and emotions I felt for my children when they were young. Many of the settings I use are based on places I have lived in or visited, such as the house in “Pest Control” and theIndian city of Varanasi in “The Black Diamond of the Elephant God”. I also base characters on people I know; not on specific people but an amalgamation of real people. I think the old adage “write what you know” means characters and settings should be authentic, based on a writer’s own experiences.
Fiona: To craft your works, do you have to travel? Before or during the process?
I love to travel and have frequently used these experiences as inspiration for my writing. I’m currently working on an historical fantasy novel, set in the 15th century Ottoman Empire, that was directly inspired my own travels across Turkey.
In this book a boy starts to experience what he thinks are prophetic dreams, but in fact his dreams arecreating the future. It’s tentatively titled The Dream Weaver, and although it is a fantasy novel, it is based in large part on my own experiences in Turkey. The sights and sounds of places I visited along the Aegean coast, the flavours and scents of the food I ate, and the imagery of the landscapes and ancient buildings I saw are all helping to bring this book to life.
Fiona: Who designed the covers?
Shaun Tan did the cover art and internal illustrations for bothThe Stray Cat and Shadows on the Wall. He is a hugely talented artist and I have been lucky to be able to work with him. He is also a very successful writer in his own right and his picture books are international bestsellers. He has won more awards than I could possibly list, for art, literature and film. His two most famous prizes are: the Swedish Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award (the richest children’s literature prize in the world), and the 2011 Academy Award for the Best Animated Short Film.The film is calledThe Lost Thingand is based on his fabulousbook of the same name. Anyone not familiar with Shaun’s work should check it out. You’ll be glad that you did.
Fiona: Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?
First and foremost, I write to entertain readers. Having said that, themes do emerge in some of my writings. My story, “Greater Garbo”, deals with the environmental issue of garbage, albeit in a humorous way. Parental love of family and children is another theme that crops up from time to time in my work. And the other theme in my fiction is that the world is often a stranger place than any of us realise.
Fiona: Are there any new authors that have grasped your interest? Who is your favorite writer, and what is it about their work that really strikes you?
I enjoy reading new authors, and I especially enjoy reading new Australian Speculative Fiction authors. I spent some years editing and publishing a newsletter called The Australian SF Writer’s News, which was designed to support local Aussie writers. So rather than single out just a few writers, I’ll highlight some Australian publications which regularly publish new talent. They are: Aurealis, Clan Destine Press, Cohesion Press, CSFG Publishing, Dimension6, Fablecroft Publishing, IFWG Publishing Australia, SQ Mag, Ticonderoga Publications, and Twelfth Planet Press.
As for a single favourite writer, that’s a tough one. I admire the work of J.G. Ballard, Philip K. Dick, Connie Willis, Brian Aldiss, Margaret Atwood, Ursula K. Le Guin, Joe R. Lansdale, Stephen King, Peter Temple, Isobelle Carmody, Garry Disher, William Gibson, Lois McMaster Bujold, Kim Stanley Robinson, Kij Johnson, and Gene Wolfe.Sorry.That’s a lot more than one but I had trouble even drawing the line there.
I read some of these writers in my adolescent and others as an adult, and they gave me a love of reading and inspired me to write myself.
Fiona: Outside of family members, name one entity that supported your commitment to become a published author.
It is the small press and independent publishers who supported me to become a published writer. These people publish, usually at their own expense, because they are passionate about books. They nurture new talent and are prepared to take risks publishing new writers in whom they see merit. I am grateful to the editors and publishers who supported me by publishing my early work.
Fiona: Do you see writing as a career?
Writing has been a lifelong pursuit for me. And although I have earned money from it, I never made money consistently enough to support my family. To do thatI sold my soul to the corporate IT world. In Australia most artists do not earn enough from their work to support themselves, whether they be painters, musicians, writers or whatever, so most have second jobs. There are, of course, some who not only make a livingbutearn a lot of money. It’s a hard road so I chose to write at nights and on weekends, in-between the demands of day to day life.
Fiona: If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in your latest book?
No and yes. I’m happy I have written the book to the best of my ability. However, I can’t help wanting to tinker whenever I re-read something I have written. For my short story collection, Shadows on the Wall, I revised all the previously published stories for the book. Not in any major way, but I never stop trying to be a better writer. If I can see a way to improve a story, even just by changing a word, I will do so given the opportunity.
Fiona: Did you learn anything during the writing of your recent book?
I learn things all the time when I am writing. When I research a story or book I learn about people, history, geography, culture, animals and science. I love that. I love learning.Because my recent book, Shadows on the Wall, is a short story collection with a variety of different settings, I learned fascinating things about Vietnam, India, diamonds, and wine, to name but a few topics.
With my current work in progress, an historical fantasy novel set in Ottoman Turkey, I am immersed in Turkish history and culture. I can smell the markets, taste the food and hear the merchants. It’s both fascinating and informative. But that doesn’t mean I use all the information I absorb when researching a book.That would be boring, so I try to use just enough to underpin the authenticity and believability of what I am writing.
Fiona: If your book was made into a film, who would you like to play the lead?
Because my latest book is a collection of short stories, it’s impossible to pick a lead. Suffice to say, I would be thrilled if any one of them was picked up to be made into a film.
Fiona: Any advice for other writers?
There is no single “correct” way to write. All writers work out what works best for them. For many years, I was what is called a “discovery” writer or “pantser”. That means rather than having a plan or outline, or even a plot, I would start writing based on a character or “what if” idea and see where it led me. Some stories worked, some failed.
Using this method, I probably abandoned more manuscripts than I finished. So, these days, I do a bit more planning. I like to have a general outline in mind before I start, and an idea of how the story will end. Then, when I have finished the first draft, I look at the structure to see how the story narrative holds up, to make sure it doesn’t sag anywhere. One technique I have found helpful is to lay a Three-Act structure model over my work. I don’t necessarily follow it, but on occasion it has helped me to see whether there is enough conflict and rising action.
Fiona: Anything specific you want to tell your readers?
Thanks for reading my work and I hope you enjoy it. If you do, please write a review (Goodreads, Amazon, etc.) or tell others.
Fiona: What book are you reading now?
I am reading the World Fantasy Award winning anthology Dreaming in the Dark, edited by Jack Dann. It is a showcase collection of short stories and novellas written by some of the best fantasists currently working in Australia. Highly recommended.
Fiona: Do you remember the first book you read?
Not with absolute clarity. There were lots of Little Golden books: The Country Mouse and the City Mouse, The Poky Little Puppy, The Kitten Who Thought He was a Mouse, Tom and Jerry’s Party… I could go on! Enid Blyton’s The Magic Faraway Tree series followed soon after.
Fiona: What makes you laugh/cry?
My grandchildren make me laugh, they are full of life and wonder, and do funny and crazy things. I also laugh at cute animal antics. I find comedy entertaining, but it usually makes me smile rather than laugh. But I’m afraid I have to admit to laughing at corny “dad” jokes.
Grief makes me cry. The death of a loved one or the breakdown of a relationship. But I have also been known to shed a tear over a sad movie, and occasionally even a particularly heart-warming film.
Fiona: Is there one person, past or present, you would love to meet? Why?
I would have liked to have hung out with The Beatles. Their music and cultural impact made a huge impression on me when I was growing up, but I wonder what they were really like behind the scenes as people.
Fiona: Do you have any hobbies?
Reading and travelling, if you can call those hobbies. I also enjoy making and tinkering in the workshop, but seem to have little time for such things now. If I have to break out the tools it’s usually to fix something. And I love watching good films and TV series.
Fiona: What TV shows/films do you enjoy watching?
There are some fabulous TV shows now being made. Some of my favourites include: Breaking Bad, Game of Thrones, The Sopranos, The X-files, Stranger Things, The West Wing,Shameless,Doctor Who. Where do I stop?
As for films I have enjoyed, there are hundreds. The Godfather, Blade Runner, The Shawshank Redemption, Die Hard, the first two Terminator movies, The Silence of the Lambs, the original Star Warstrilogy, the Back to the Future trilogy, The Good, The Bad & The Ugly, The Big Lebowski, Reservoir Dogs, Fargo, American History X, The Unforgiven… And these are just the ones off the top of my head. If I check I’m sure there are scores more movies that I love but have not mentioned.
Fiona: Favorite foods, colors, music?
I love food. Indian, Thai and Vietnamese cuisineswould be among my favourites.
My taste in music is both broad and eclectic. I love rock music in all its forms: hard, heartland, roots, folk, blues, pop, glam, soft and country. But I also enjoy classical music and heavy metal. I particularly like live music concerts.
As for colours, I like green. I find it peaceful.
Fiona: Imagine a future where you no longer write. What would you do?
I would like to sketch and paint. Perhaps sculpt. I enjoyed all these pursuits when I was younger and even now I still think about taking them up again.
Fiona: What do you want written on your head stone?
Fiona: Do you have a blog or website readers can visit for updates, events and special offers?
My website, https://www.stevenpaulsen.com, lists all of my published works with links and information about my books and short stories. It is the most up-to-date site for information about my writing.
Here is my Goodreads author page – https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/19867.Steven_Paulsen
Here is my Amazon author page – https://www.amazon.com/Steven-Paulsen/e/B005GSA362