Tiah: You have two self-published novels, Charm and House of Sands and Secrets, the sequel to When the Sea is Rising Red. Later, you serialised Charm on your blog and are now in the process of doing the same with House of Sands and Secrets. What have you taken away from both self-publishing and serialising your work?
CAT: Mostly that if you think it's hard for your book to be noticed in a book store, imagine how much worse it is outside the book store, huddled in the cold with all the other self-published books, and where everyone assumes your work is self-published because you're illiterate and stupid.
Having said that, I believe there are genres where self-pub work does very well—especially erotica and romance, but for SFF, I think the general view of readers is "Well, it must be a load of rubbish if a real publisher didn't want it." Which rather sadly doesn't take into account how narrow mainstream SFF publishing is, and how hard it is to find a place for more niche work.
Serialising is weird. I do it because I can. The books are already finished and edited, and I don't have to deal with the horror of writing and posting without knowing how the story works or ends. I do it as a gift to those readers who have supported me. If you go into it thinking, "Ooh I bet this is how I get noticed by a Big NY editor and get a 12 book deal!" then you're heading down Disappointment Alley into Pointless Rage cul-de-sac.
Tiah: Last year, you challenged yourself to write one story a month. How did that experiment go? What have you taken away from the challenge?
CAT: Oh, well, yes. Hmm.
On one hand, I most definitely failed as I think I ran out of steam somewhere in August last year. On the other, I wrote short fiction, and some of it was even good, and a smaller percentage of that got published by really great magazines or anthologies. I used WATER as one of my monthly prompts and that got me two short stories in one month, both of which sold to excellent venues. So overall we're going with Massive Win on that challenge.
Tiah: You illustrated SSDA's anthology of children's writing, Rapunzel is Dead. Since then, you have dedicated more time to your art – from taking part in InkTober to painting. Have you toyed with the idea of combining your talents? A graphic novel, perhaps?
CAT: I have actually sat down before to start scripting a graphic novel before I realised how much work that would be and how far from ready my artistic talents are. A few doodles here and there are not going to cut it when it comes to an entire graphic novel.
I have one particular novel that I would love to produce as a mixed media art piece—a novel with illustrations, paintings, links to songs, chapters done as sequential art. That would be glorious. But I also have no idea where to begin on a project like that. And of course, the usual fear of being utterly awful.
Rachel: Tell us what’s happening on the ground in your writing community, i.e. Cape Town’s SpecFic scene.
CAT: "Your community" makes it sound like I run it.... I do. I have a throne made out of the skulls of fallen literary writers. Roving packs of SpecFic writers under my command go out to book launches at The Book Lounge, and when our prey is drunk (The Kimberley is a great hunting ground) and vulnerable we lure them into our unmarked van with promises of good reviews, then we eat them alive.
Wait, none of that is true. I promise.
There are loads of writers in Cape Town and Joburg writing speculative fiction of all stripes. The SpecFic community tends to be quite close because we often end up feeling a bit "us against the world" in the South African writing scene, where many publishers close doors to genre and YA fiction. Which is why it's wonderful that anthologies like Short Story Day Africa have embraced us and invited us in. When so often it can feel as though the Welcome Mat is yanked up the moment SA publishing hears the words "fantasy" or "science fiction", making it clear to us that we are welcome is actually a far bigger thing to our community than you may realise.
SA genre writers often go to overseas markets to find their publishing niche, so we work together to beta-read rough work, give editorial feedback, and let others know of new markets or open anthologies. Because of the tendency to head overseas, quite often their names don't get bandied about on the local scene, unfortunately: writers like Nerine Dorman, who has been a stalwart of the Cape Town genre scene, even creating a speculative fiction writer's group that meets once a month (Adamastor Writer's Guild) is one. There are a host of writers slowly making names for themselves: Dave de Burgh, Angela Meadon, and Abigail Godsell spring to mind, but the SpecFic community is vast and writers like Diane Awerbuck, Alex Latimer, and yourself [Rachel Zadok] are also part of it, as far as I see it.
SpecFic is a very wide parasol and we're happy to share our shade with those happy to play on our beach.
We make the best sandcastles though, sorry.
On Cat's Bedside Table
I've been reading a lot of Sherlock fanfic. Especially really filthy ones with Moriarty and Sherlock. Having said that, I've just started Iain S. Thomas's Intentional Dissonance and it's pretty nifty. Sadly lacking in Sherlock but one can't have everything.