Kirstyn McDermott’s work has won Aurealis Awards, Ditmars, been anthologised in Best Of collections and garnered Honorable Mentions from the likes of Ellen Datlow. Her first book, Madigan Mine, is out very, very soon. It should be purchased and read as soon as possible. She recently wed the very talented writer, Mr Jason Nahrung, which makes her precisely one half of a writing powerhouse. And she had an AWESOME wedding cake, make up of many cupcakes with spidery webby icing … like Miéville’s Construct Council, it was the Cupcake Council. Sure, it was a bit scary when it took to the dance floor ….
Here, she answers my random questions. No coercion was exercised at all. Really.
1. What makes a character irresistible?
Foremost, they have to feel *real*. I need to believe they could step off the page, that they have a life beyond the page and aren’t there simply to carry a plot along, or serve an author’s whim for self-indulgence or social commentary. I like to be surprised by characters – to have them say or do something I didn’t expect, but which is still something I can believe they would say or do. Because this is what happens in real life, after all. No matter how well you might think you know a person, the best people always surprise you.
As for the specifics of irresistibility, for me, I’m attracted to characters with flaws and ambiguities and complications. I’m certainly more interested in darker characters, but not those who are purely evil or villainous – because anything 100% pure ends up being 100% boring and predictable. Again, that comes down to a character feeling real. No one is completely bad or completely good, and a storyteller who relies on such narrative clichés to flesh out characters is a lazy storyteller.
The character ensemble that never fails to blow me away is that in the short-lived Firefly televisions series (along with the later Serenity movie). Joss Whedon gives us characters who are beautifully-formed, tragically-flawed *people*. They have dark secrets and pasts they would rather leave behind. They make mistakes, they are capable of behaving badly as well as with honour and grace. They’re the sort of characters you would happily call your friends – even if it might get you killed one day. And all of that makes them completely irresistible!
2. How do you react to rejections?
Rejections used to bother me terribly when I first started submitting my fiction around the place, though I never would have let anyone know it. Each one made me feel as though this idea I had of being a writer was a waste of time, that my writing would never be good enough, that I might as well give up. The feeling would last about a day, maybe two if it was a particularly bad rejection. Then I’d start writing again, and resolve to one day be able to rub the rejecting editor’s nose in my inevitable, glittering success. Obviously, I was a little high-strung.
I’m more sanguine now. I know that rejections are simply part of the business of writing, and that there are many, many reasons why an editor will reject a submitted piece. I also have a lot more confidence in my abilities as a writer. Rejections are still disappointing – especially if they’re from a market where I particularly wanted to be accepted – but they’re a lot easier to shrug off. I guess that difference is that I no longer take rejections so personally. It also helps that I’m a much better judge of my own work and where it could be best placed, so my acceptance-to-rejection ratio has become more satisfying in recent years.
Of course, I’ve been too busy to submit anything new anywhere for well over a year now, so it remains to be seen how sanguine I remain when it’s time to jump on the treadmill again.
3. The big advantage of being married to another talented writer is …
… being able to talk about writing. It sounds obvious, but it really is so invaluable to be able to mull over writerly stuff with someone who understand what you’re trying to say, whose eyes don’t glaze over within five minutes, and who is able to give targeted feedback and advice when needed. Plus, we get to incorporate all sorts of writer-nerd stuff into the general relationship shorthand. Jason made line-editing references part of his wedding vows – how can you not love that?
4. I first knew I was a writer when …
… I finished a story that felt completely my own. A story that didn’t seem as though I was trying to write *like* someone else, the way one of my favourite writers would have done it. In retrospect, it isn’t a very good story but it was mine, and it was the first time that I really felt that I was a *writer*, that it was possible for me one day to have a *writing career* of some sort. Of course, the doubt-certainty rollercoaster is not something you ever get to step off. There have been many, many times over the years when I’ve been convinced that I know nothing at all about writing, that everything I do is derivative and pointless, and I’m sure I’ll feel this way from time to time for the rest of my life. But then something happens – I’ll write a story that just feels *right* or something I have written will get accepted for publication or nicely reviewed – and, bang, I *know* I’m writer again. Always have been, always will be. I just have to try and remember that.
5. Donuts (or doughnuts) or danishes?
Donuts. Either the plain old cinnamon and sugar variety, or else jam-filled. Noms!
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