Tuesday, March 16, 2010

[Interview] Lauren Beukes on Angry Robot Books

Angry Robot Marathon continues with an interview, featuring the sunny and charming Lauren Beukes, who has been overly generous with her time [considering the ULTIMATE and final battle with her manuscript; we all know how bloody those battles can be]. Since the focus is on the imprint rather than the author [be assured I will invite Lauren again, when Zoo City hits the shelves] I will be asking Lauren all sorts of questions, concerning her professional relationship with the magnificent and ever devious [in the good way] Angry Robot Books.


Since we are spreading the love about Angry Robot, tell us. What's the best aspect about Angry Robot?

That Marco and Lee are quite demented. Just look at their list. Clockwork vampires, undead PIs, giant trees so immense it takes years to circumnavigate it, transporting world houses, murder in the Aztec empire, angels of death, reptilian overlords, lit-riffing steampunk. Angry Robot is publishing some of the most inventive twisty fiction out there – the kind I want to read. It’s a fanastic privilege to be part of that stable.

Can you tell our readers how you became an Angry Robot author? Submission process and everything.

Moxyland was originally published by Jacana in South Africa in 2008. The publisher, Maggie Davey read the manuscript on the plane on her way to the Frankfurt Book Fair and by the time she landed, I had a book deal. We spent six months shopping the book around to more literary imprints like Faber and Serpent’s Tail, but when we got word of a new imprint starting up, I had my agent send it to them immediately. The book was sitting with a huge SF house at the time, but Angry Robot came back fast and hard with a two book deal and a real passion for the novel.

What is the experience to work with Lee Harris?

Lee is a man of great wit and style. Seriously, have you seen his hats? He and Jeremy Lassen of Nightshade spent a good 15 minutes in the bar at WorldCon talking shoes while Kaaron Warren and I rolled our eyes a lot. He’s easygoing, great fun and incredibly supportive as an editor, although he’s not going to cut you any slack either. Those plot holes have to be plugged.

What’s it like working with your South African editor

Both Moxyland and Zoo City were edited by Helen Moffett, my South African editor, also known as “queen of the dialback” for her ability to curtail my urge to use three descriptions when one will do. Helen’s great, with a fine nose for detail and not just plot holes but small irritating continuity leaks. It helps a lot that she’s not specifically a genre editor and frankly, a bit of a luddite. When we were working on Moxyland and she was struggling with a concept, I knew I had to tweak it slightly to make it accessible to a mainstream audience as well as tech-savvy SF readers.

Since this blitz interview is more or less oriented towards the imprint, do you mind sharing a bit of inside information about how the marketing campaign for your novels progressed? Did you work closely with the imprint and what was the strategy?

I’d already done some interesting things on my own, including launching a Moxyland album with African Dope Records and a collectible toy made by a women’s empowerment collective we set up especially in a small rural town in South Africa.

The Moxyland short story competition was all Angry Robot’s business manager, Chris Michaels’s idea. (more on that in a second)

From what I’ve seen, Angry Robot’s marketing strategy seems to be mainly based around social media, being active on Twitter, connecting to the SF community, making friends and letting the books do the talking from there. The Robot Army is brilliant, providing free ARC downloads and rewards for coverage (positive or negative).

But they’re also open to other interesting things as long as it’s cost-effective. Cool side projects are great, but the ultimate goal has to be to sell more books.

For Zoo City, some of the things we’re exploring some awesome ideas for the London launch at Forbidden Planet, from one-of-a-kind vinyl toys, hand-painted by South African designers and illustrators inspired by the book through to the possibility of a cell phone game and even evocative and bizarre animal puppets ala the Handspring Puppet Company.

The one thing I can confirm is that African Dope are doing an official soundtrack again and if you buy the book you get 50% off the downloadable album.

You are a journalist, columnist, non-fiction writer and a TV scriptwriter. You seem quite grounded in reality. Where did the dystopian fiction streak come from?

From reality. The state of the world is pretty fucked. From surveillance more sneaky than anything Orwell might have come up with (we give away all the intel the Stasi and South Africa’s Special Branch would have had to spend years collecting in one Facebook update) to the oppressive dictatorship happening in every airport check-in procedure

The social rifts are worse than ever. Maybe it’s more obvious in South Africa, the gaping crevasse between the haves and have-nots, how we’re reliant on technology, controlled by it and even more so by consumerism. The cool factor leads to corruption, bling beats ethics hands down.

Although, I have to say Zoo City is more of an urban fantasy muti noir than a dystopia. It’s inspired by everything from the xenophobic attacks on refugees in South Africa in 2008 through to the music industry, inner city decay and how people have to live there, African myth and the nature of sin.

In August, Angry Robot hosted a fan fiction short story contest, where the winners will be published in your upcoming novel Zoo City. I am excited to see the result, but can you talk about this ingenious idea.

I wish I could claim the credit. It was all Chris Michaels. We launched it on Authonomy, a writing community run by HarperCollins where the top-rated stories get pushed through to an editor’s desk.

The entries were fantastic, sharp, smart stories popping with ideas. Some of them didn’t quite hold together, but I was blown away. It was horrendous having to pick just three winners (the stories will be published at the back of Zoo City), so much so that we decided to publish the top 10 stories together as a free e-book, which should be out in the next few months.


Hagelrat said...

loving the angry robot love fest going on. :)

Harry Markov said...

Tis good, indeed. :)

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