Ripley Patton – Finding the Kiwis
Interview by Grant Stone
Ripley Patton is an award-winning American writer who currently calls New Zealand’s South Island home. She’s an award-nominated writer of speculative fiction. In this interview, Grant speaks to her about the origin, and future, of SpecFicNZ, that launched in Wellington on August 28th at Au Contraire, New Zealand’s 31st National Convention.
Q: So what’s SpecFicNZ?
SpecFicNZ is the new (and only) association for writers, editors and publishers of speculative fiction in and from New Zealand. That’s the official answer. On a less official level, SpecFicNZ was something I wanted, and no one else was making it happen, so I figured, “Why not?”. The answers to that question are obvious now, but sometimes NOT having foresight is a good thing. Besides, if I knew back then all the work it would take, I’d still do it. I’d still scrape together a wonderful crew of eleven other writers and slog through the organizational mud for 18 months with them to create a writers association.
Q: How did SpecFicNz come about?
When I moved to New Zealand from the States in 2006, the first thing I did was look for a local or national science fiction/fantasy writer’s association. I had been a member of the Willamette Writer’s Association back in Oregon, and I had found it invaluable for networking, support, and building my career. However, what I found in New Zealand was- nothing. Well, not absolutely nothing. There was the New Zealand Society of Authors, but a quick peruse around their website revealed they were mostly concerned with non-fiction, poetry and literary fiction. I’ll admit, I was somewhat surprised by this. At the time, I sort of thought of New Zealand as a Mecca of fantasy (Yes, thank you Peter Jackson). It was only later, after two years of living and writing from New Zealand that I realized how wrong I had been. Not only is New Zealand not a fantasy Mecca, it actually exports most of its fantasy talent. Kiwis who want to succeed at writing speculative fiction move away from New Zealand or, at the very least, get an agent and publisher overseas. New Zealand doesn’t publish its own spec fic.
Q: What can we expect from the organisation?
About half-way through the process of creating SpecFicNZ, I knew that great things were going to come out of it because they already were. First, through the Core group of twelve (who were located all over the two islands) connections were being formed. Writers who had felt isolated for years were being empowered to network. One in our group, Marie Hodgkinson, is the editor of the only paying magazine currently publishing spec fic in New Zealand. Marie started Sempahore Magazine in 2007 when she was nineteen and still runs it with a volunteer staff while attending university full-time. SpecFicNZ didn’t do that; Marie did. But now we are able to collectively support and promote her amazing work. Others in our group work for, or have started, small press publishing companies such as Random Static and Triskaideka Books, specializing in New Zealand speculative fiction.
Only a few months into development, SpecFicNZ began publishing a free e-newsletter just for New Zealand spec fic events, calls to submission, resources and publication news. Subscription requests kept coming in, and the newsletter even made it across the desk of several major publishing companies who now subscribe.
In September 2009 we also sponsored the first annual New Zealand Spec Fic Blogging Week, featuring 52 posts by 24 authors (some from Australia and the US). This year we’re doing it again the week of September 13-19th and more details can be found on our website here.
So, all that is just what we’ve done BEFORE our official launch. As for the future, we have numerous dreams. I’d love to see us have a cooperative publication similar to Australia’s Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine. I have a passion to see a mentorship program in place between experienced writers and emerging writers, and emerging writers and student writers. I’d like to see face-to-face branches of SpecFicNZ meeting in various cities throughout New Zealand. I’d love to see SpecFicNZ sponsoring writing events like retreats at Jennifer Fallon’s new Reynox House, local workshops, and Cons specific to writing. And the big dream is to have Spec Fic become more than a genre blip on the NZ Publishing Industry’s radar. If I saw New Zealand speculative fiction talent being published in New Zealand, rather than being exported overseas, I would consider SpecFicNZ a job well done.
Q: Are there any unique characteristics to New Zealand speculative fiction?
First, I think all fiction is informed by the history, culture, geography and location of its writer. That means that anything written by a New Zealander is going to be uniquely Kiwi. But, yes, there are some special characteristics of spec fic from New Zealand. Having only lived here for four years, I don’t pretend to be an expert on what those are. However, having come from outside of New Zealand there are characteristics I’ve noticed that differ from my writing experiences in the US.
The first I’ve already mentioned and that is the lack of publishing opportunities within New Zealand for spec fic. This does have an impact on what Kiwis write, how they write it, and how they market it once it is written. At a recent writer’s event here in Christchurch an award-winning, New Zealand author of speculative fiction spent a large part of the evening defending herself as a genre writer. Later, when asked for the best piece of advice she could give an aspiring NZ speculative fiction writer, she answered, “Don’t publish in New Zealand.” So, there is this sense of not being able to “belong” to your country and do what you love. In order to succeed, you have to take your talent elsewhere. The Internet has helped vastly in making publication possible without actually moving elsewhere, but the climate of disinheritance is still there.
Then there is the quality of separation that comes from living in a nation consisting of two islands. Not only is New Zealand separated from the rest of the world by vast bodies of water, it is also separated from itself. This sense of isolation is a common theme in New Zealand speculative fiction. It isn’t hard to imagine living on another world far from mainstream civilization, or in a different time with different seasons, or in a world where one must make a dangerous, arduous “crossing” just to get somewhere else. Nor is it hard to imagine living in a world with breath-taking fantasy scenery around every corner. We New Zealanders don’t have to imagine this: it’s our reality. But then speculative fiction has always been informed by the writer’s sense of “otherness”. In New Zealand, I think we are just that much more other.
Finally, I think New Zealand writers tend to underestimate themselves and their work. For a long time, Kiwi writers were told not to set their stories in New Zealand, or write about New Zealand because the world didn’t even know where it was. New Zealand is small and distant, and Kiwis seem doubtful that what they do, especially in the entertainment industries, can actually make a global impact. I think creativity is young and undervalued in a country that for so long has prided itself on survival and self-sufficiency. Yes, there is Peter Jackson and his career to point to, but I think it is time to stop riding on his creative fumes and put New Zealand on the map for its current speculative fiction successes.
Update: Ripley and her family live in Christchurch, which has suffered a 7.1 magnitude quake and serious aftershocks. Please consider donating to one of the earthquake appeals. A list can be found here: http://www.nzherald.co.nz/promotions/news/article.cfm?c_id=500848&objectid=10671104
Ripley’s website can be found at http://www.ripleypatton.com/ .
Award Season in New Zealand
By Ripley Patton
For writers the world-over, what comes after the holiday season? Award season, of course. Early in the calendar year, every year, nominations are accepted for the Nebula, the Hugo, and the Sir Julius Vogel. Haven’t heard of that last one? I’m not surprised. While international awards are well-publicized and renowned, their younger siblings, nationally specific awards, tend to be overlooked.
Did you know there is a science fiction and fantasy award specific to Australian work? And Canadian. There is a Polish award for science fiction, and a Dutch award, a Japanese award, a Croatian award, an Italian award, and an award for work originating in Finland. And last, but not least, there is an award for New Zealand science fiction, fantasy, and horror called the Sir Julius Vogel Award.
Where have all these awards come from? More often than not, they have originated from the heart of fandom and a sense of national pride. Every country in the world has its own culture of creativity, its favorite writers, its beloved stories, and a deep, genuine desire to honor them. But often that honoring has humble beginnings, and goes on quietly and unnoticed by the wider world. At least, at first.
And so it was with the Sir Julius Vogel Award, which started out in 1989 as the New Zealand Fan Awards and was given for such categories as Best Fan Writing and Best Fan Zine. The Award kept its fandom emphasis and its fannish name until OdysseyCon (New Zealand’s 22nd annual science fiction convention) in 2001, at which it was decided by the New Zealand fan organization, SFFANZ, to expand the award categories to include professional efforts. This also resulted in the need for a new name, and Sir Julius Vogel was chosen by a near unanimous vote.
But who is this Sir Julius Vogel? Well, he was the eighth Prime Minister of New Zealand in the mid 1870’s, but he was also a writer of science fiction. In 1889, he published his science fiction novel, Anno Domini 2000 – a Woman’s Destiny. The book was strongly centered on New Zealand and depicted a utopian society where women were allowed to hold positions of authority. (It can be found in its entirety on-line at http://18.104.22.168/tm/scholarly/tei-AnnVoge.html). Four years later, in 1893, New Zealand became the first country to give women full voting rights, and later went on to boast a period (2005-2006) when all five of its highest government offices were held by women. The New Zealand award had a formidable name. Now all it needed was a trophy and some professional nominees.
In 2009, at ConScription in Auckland, while nervously awaiting my first award nominee banquet, I stepped into a back room at the Grand Chancellor Hotel into a world of wonder. There, I found a group of dedicated fans, patiently and painstakingly painting the ornately designed Sir Julius Vogel Award trophies, one of which I dreamed would soon be mine. It was like stumbling upon Santa’s workshop. But Santa’s workshop is a little farther north. Here in New Zealand we have a different workshop known as Weta. You may have heard of it. Weta Workshop http://www.wetanz.com/weta-workshop-services/ is internationally famous for its creative work on such projects as the Lord of the Rings movie trilogy, King Kong, and, most recently, Avatar. Weta also spends a little time every year making a few, stunning award trophies, one of which it was awarded in 2003 for Services to Science Fiction and Fantasy.
The original design of the trophy was created by fans Norman Cates and Peter Friend, with help from Creative New Zealand, Brownstone Design, Te Papa and Te Maori. As seen below, the trophy has three sides, one depicting a dragon (or taniwha), one a spaceship, and one a robot (sort of).
What is an award without nominees? A new award can sometimes have difficulty acquiring them in quantity and quality. It takes time for an award to prove itself as prestigious, legit and viable. It takes money, organization and concentrated effort to publicize it. Thankfully, in 2001, Peter Jackson had released Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring. He was a New Zealander who had put New Zealand on the world fantasy map, and he was awarded a SJV for Best Dramatic Presentation – Long Form and an SJV for Services to Science Fiction and Fantasy in the first year of the awards.
In 2002 the SJV had only 5 professional categories and only 12 total nominees in those categories. Over the years, as the award has became better known, the amount of categories and nominees has risen. In 2009, the SJV had 9 professional categories and 37 professional nominees on the final ballot.
In order to qualify for a Sir Julius Vogel Award, nominees must be New Zealand citizens or residents. Professional categories for nomination include Best Novel, Best Novella/Novelette, Best Short Story, Best Collected Work, Best Artwork, Best Dramatic Presentation (both long and short forms), Best Production/Publication, and Best New Talent.
1. During January-March (though this may vary depending on the timing of the annual Con) anyone in the world can nominate any number of works published or produced in the previous calendar year in any category. Information on how to submit nominations can be found at http://sffanz.sf.org.nz/sjv/sjvAwards.shtml
2. In early April, a short-list is announced of up to five finalists (or up to seven in the case of ties) in each category. The short list is determined by the number of nominations in the first round.
3. The final ballot is made available to members of SFFANZ and members of that years Con, and is a preferential ballot, allowing members to rank all the nominees.
4. At that years Con (or by mail, previously), the ballots are submitted, tallied, and the trophies awarded at a ceremony and banquet honoring the nominees. In 2010, the SJV awards will be presented at Au Contraire http://www.aucontraire.org.nz/ in Wellington, New Zealand.
The Sir Julius Vogel Awards have come a long way in the last decade, thanks to the perseverance and commitment of the SFFANZ community. They expanded it from a fan only award, to include the professional realm. They acquired an inspiring and historically relevant name. They honored outstanding men and women from New Zealand in the field of speculative fiction, fandom, and other media. They increased their public profile, their prestige, and were flooded with an onslaught of nominations last year that is only likely to increase this year.
In preparation for writing this article, I interviewed Norman Cates, a founder of SFFANZ and, for all intents and purposes, the father of the SJV awards. I asked him what he hoped to see for the awards in the future.
He said, “I would love to see the awards gain national recognition, even TV coverage.
Science fiction and fantasy are genres where we can discuss ideas that cannot be done any where else. There is a vast history of SF literature behind us, and it’s getting more and more main-stream all the time. We are no longer a minority genre, if we ever were. I would like to see these awards recognize that more publically. There are hurdles to that, of course. But who knows 5 or 10 years in the future…”
For those of us who write science fiction and fantasy, the future isn’t all that hard to imagine. I, for one, like to imagine it with a shelf in my office sporting an ornate, green and copper trophy. I like to imagine it as a place where creative minds are beautifully rewarded, even in one of the smallest, hemispherically-challenged, island nations of the world.
And I like to imagine that the whole world knows about it.
Ripley Patton is an American writer of speculative fiction happily living on the South Island of New Zealand. She was short-listed for the Sir Julius Vogel Award for Best Short Story in 2009, and currently has multiple short stories and one novelette that qualify for the awards for 2010. More about her writing, plus links to her work, can be found on her website at http://www.ripleypatton.com or at her Livejournal http://rippatton.livejournal.com.