Interview With L. L. Hannett

L. L. Hannett
L. L. Hannett

L.L. Hannett’s story “Gutter” appears in Shimmer Issue 13.  has sold stories to Clarkesworld Magazine, Fantasy Magazine, Weird Tales, ChiZine, Electric Velocipede, Midnight Echo, and Tesseracts 14. She is a graduate of the Clarion South Writers Workshop. Nine years ago, Lisa moved from Canada to Adelaide, South Australia — city of churches, bizarre murders, and pie floaters — where she is currently working on a PhD in medieval Icelandic literature. Bluegrass Symphony, her first collection, is being published by Ticonderoga Publications in August 2011. You can visit her online at http://lisahannett.com.

Where did the idea for “Gutted” come from? Talk to us a bit about the genesis of the story.
A couple of years ago, I was lucky enough to wrangle myself a research trip to Iceland. I had two weeks to drive around the country, visit museums, study at cultural houses and libraries, and traipse across some of the most stunning landscapes in the world. Perhaps to offset all of the culture and beauty we were absorbing, my friend and I got into the habit of visiting pretty much every souvenir shop from Hvolsvöllur to Sauðarkrókur — the tackier, the better. At one of these shops, I picked up an audio book of Icelandic Folktales (not so tacky when read by a man with such a lovely accent!) and proceeded to listen to them all as we travelled from site to site. One of the tales Mr Lovely Accent read was the traditional yarn about the woman with the seal skin, but with one difference: there was a throwaway line about the husband hiding his wife’s skin in order to keep her from temptation. Rain was lashing the car as we drove, the wind was chilly, the sky grey — and the husband wanted to keep his wife from temptation. I didn’t hear the rest of the stories that day. My mind was abuzz.

When did you realize you were a writer?
When I got my first rejection — and when I kept submitting stories, regardless.

What piece of writerly advice do you wish someone had given you?
About a year after I started submitting my work for publication, I got a piece of advice that revolutionised the way I think about writing short stories. Until then, I had been coming up with these epic plots, lengthy descriptions, uber-detailed settings, histories – elements that would have been better suited to novel-length pieces than short ones. I’d be forced to spend ages chopping them back (but even then sometimes wound up with stories tipping the scales at 10,000+ words!) Fortunately, Sean Williams (a fantastic Australian author of nearly every speculative genre you can name) shared one of his many insights with me, and it went a little something like this: writing a short story should be like exploring one facet of a diamond. It should be polished, shiny, smooth. And though you might catch glimpses of other facets, they should remain just that – glimpses in the background. You can’t explore every angle in a short piece; not if you want your writing to sparkle.

I suppose it’s a different way of looking at the ‘single effect’ concept, but for some reason, imagining that diamond really helped me to visualise what I was doing right, and what I was doing wrong.

Favorite book you’ve read in recent weeks?
When I last visited my family in Canada, on a bit of a whim I picked up Galore by Michael Crummey at the local Chapters. I liked the cover, really. And when I read the blurb I was intrigued. It isn’t enough to say I read this book: I inhaled it. It’s an impeccably written story about the magic of life in a troublesome social period. At its core, it’s a folktale-inspired history of a Newfoundland fishing village, but the flesh of the story is so very much more. It’s about a mysterious man who was born from the belly of a whale, and his quirky descendants. It’s about the pseudo-medieval/magical realist setting in which events transpire. Most of all, it’s a family saga spanning two centuries and involving more characters (fully rounded, loveable, hateable, wonderful characters) than you could shake out of most novels on a good day. Possibly one of my Top 5 favourite books…

If you could talk to any author from the past, who would it be and what would you ask them?
I would have a dinner party and invite the ghosts of Edmund Spenser, Oscar Wilde, Virginia Woolf, JRR Tolkien, Katherine M Briggs, and Joseph Campbell. I’d ask Spenser to finish writing the remaining books of The Faerie Queene so I could see what kind of spin modern politics would add to his poetry; and Wilde to read De Profundis aloud so I could hear if his voice still dripped with rancour (and love) for Bosie; and Woolf what she was thinking about as the water rose over her head, with those rocks heavy in her pockets; and Tolkien to regale me with tales in Elvish while he helped me with the Old Norse translations I need to do for my dissertation; and Briggs to show me where the fée live. And I’d beg and plead until my throat was raw that Campbell retract everything he ever wrote about heroes and journeys so that I would never again, never ever, encounter a book, film, television show, or play based on his theories. Ever.

Do your characters talk to you?  Do you see the stories as images?  Do you ever argue with characters you hadn’t planned?
My characters usually speak to me when I’m supposed to be working on something else. When it’s time to put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) they tend to get a bit of stage fright until I lure them out with promises of coffee and chocolate. Sometimes they make me sad, but we don’t usually argue — unless they insist on saying things that make me cringe. Then it’s all about the power of She Who Wields the Delete Button. More often than not, though, my stories do come as images. The process of writing becomes like looking at a series of paintings, and trying to imagine what the figures in the tableaux are feeling, what they smell and taste, what they can see from their restricted positions, how the light falls on them, how they got there, and how they’re going to get between frames.

You’re trapped on a desert island and discover a satchel on the beach. What do you discover inside the bag?
The bag is actually a ruse, carefully placed between two palm trees well away from the waterline. Its tattered canvas shell cleverly camouflages a trapdoor nestled beneath it in the sand. Reach into the bag’s mouth and you’ll find a polished wooden handle; two twists and a quick pull will reveal a hatch, then a spiral staircase descending into an air-conditioned cavern constructed by the island’s previous tenant: a mage with a knack for construction, who may or may not have played a part in fortifying London’s Underground. The cavern is the first in a series of sumptuous subterranean chambers, each decorated with wallpaper designed by Florence Broadhurst, eighteenth-century fainting couches, parquet floors, and never-empty mahogany bookshelves boasting original Shakespeare folios, reams of faery poetry, and tomes covered in bleached calfskin. A lifetime’s supply of sunscreen is encased in antique cabinets near the bathing-grotto; standing at the ready should I ever grow tired of the kitchen’s ever-changing buffet and feel the urge to visit the surface to forage for fruit, or to catch fresh squid for my dinner.

You mention on your website that Adelaide is a city of “pie floaters.” Is this something uniquely Australian? Enlighten us!
This infamous culinary concoction is uniquely South Australian. It involves a small meat pie (about as wide across as a saucer) which is filled with ground beef and gravy of some sort. This little pie is placed in a bowl and served covered with — wait for it — pea soup. Generously topped with ketchup, this dish is most often devoured at two in the morning after a boozy night on the town. I’ve lived in Adelaide for ten years and have yet to be convinced to eat one. If it came down to losing my Australian citizenship over it, I might gag one down. Otherwise… blecch!

Speaking of things Australian, what other Australian authors should readers be on the look out for? Who are some of your favorites?
I can’t recommend Angela Slatter, Peter M. Ball, Kirstyn McDermott, and Trent Jamieson’s works highly enough. Regular readers of Shimmer will recognise Angela and Peter from the stories they’ve shared here, but they may not know that Angela has published two incredible short story collections in the past year. Sourdough and Other Stories is a perfectly gorgeous collection of original fantasy stories, published by Tartarus Press (in a fabulous hardcover edition, no less!) and The Girl With No Hands and Other Tales, published by Ticonderoga Publications, is a mix of new and reprinted stories that breathe exciting new life into the fairy tale genre. Peter M. Ball has had two novellas published by Twelfth Planet Press in Australia; works of speculative-noir, Horn and Bleed will make you re-evaluate everything you know about unicorns, gumshoes, and talking cats. Kirstyn McDermott’s novel, Madigan Mine, is a beautifully-written piece of Australian gothic literature. Filled with ghosts and magic in Melbourne, this is an intelligent, perfectly paced suspense/fantasy story. And anyone who likes clever urban fantasy should also look out for Trent Jamieson’s Death Most Definite (the first book in a trilogy published by Orbit), which is set in Brisbane and takes readers on a fast-paced journey from life to death (and back again!) in a highly entertaining story that manages to incorporate pseudo-zombies, end-of-world drama, and one psychopomp’s love for a dead girl. As for another of my favourite Australian authors, I will always recommend David Malouf – his Complete Short Stories collection boasts twenty-five years of some of the finest literature ever published anywhere.

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