Interview with Peter M. Ball

Peter M. BallPeter’s story “The Clockwork Goat and the Smokestack Magi” appears in The Clockwork Jungle Book (Issue #11).  His website is at www.petermball.com.

Did you ever want to write “just like” someone else?  Who?  Or was there any book that made you say “I can do better than this!”?

When I was thirteen I was determined to write just like RA Salvatore – I still have the horrible pastiche of The Crystal Shard I handed in as an English assignment that year floating around in my files. I was and am a huge Dungeons and Dragons geek and it rocked my world to read the first wave of novels written specifically for D&D after years of trying to jury-rig the rules to handle the worlds of Conan and Lord of the Rings.

Years later, The Crystal Shard was also the book that made me think “I can do better” in a fit of hubris. I re-read it when I was twenty-two and it remained a fun read, but books change as you get older and start figuring out how writing works. It wasn’t something I wanted to imitate anymore, but paying attention to what I still liked and what I found jarring taught me a few things about how I wanted stories to work.

Do you have favorite characters?  Any characters, yours or others, are applicable.

Hazel McNamara from Neil Gaiman’s Sandman and Death comics – there’s all these little changes to her life that go in her life while she’s a secondary character here and there that really allows her to bloom into an complex and interesting character by the time she takes centre-stage in the Time of Your Life miniseries. It takes a lot of work to be the most likable character in a comic containing Gaiman’s version of Death, but Hazel manages in the end.

Have you ever been disillusioned by a character or a book?

Constantly, although it happens far more in movies than it does in fiction.

How do you explain what writing is like?  Is it something that you think about?  Do you ever find yourself debating it with strangers?

Writing is like any other job. It’s easy to describe and summarize based on the principle activity of putting words on paper, with minutia and job-elements that are difficult to convey unless you’ve got the time to establish a proper frame of reference. I don’t think it’s a trait that’s unique to writing as a job either – I have friends who work in banks or computer programming jobs whose day-to-day activities remain mysterious to me once they move beyond my basic awareness that they work in the insurance department or write computer code.

If you could choose any five literary people — real or imagined, living or not, friends or otherwise — for a tea party… who would they be?  A night on the town, karaoke, whatever suits.

Even with the whole of literary history open to me, I’m going to go with a bunch of young writers who are just starting to get their stuff out there: Ben Francisco, Chris Green, Dan Braum, JJ Irwin, and Jason Fischer. I’ve been trading e-mail and story critiques with all of them since we did Clarion South together a few years back, but with everyone spread out across Australia and America it’s hard to catch up in person and virtually impossible to get all of them in the same room at the same time. As cool as it’d be to meet writers like Dorothy Parker and Oscar Wilde or characters like Hamlet, I’d happily trade in the experience for the opportunity to catch up with some of the smart, intelligent friends I don’t get to see anywhere near often enough.

How did writing a theme story work out?   Is it more complicated than not having to adhere to a theme — or less?

I find theme stories are either really easy to write or really hard to get started. This time around I got lucky – both the clockwork goat and the smokestack magi showed up pretty early in the brainstorming process and the combinations were just odd enough to get me writing.

What was the absolute worst piece of advice someone gave you about writing?

“It’s okay to send your first draft – editors will fix things for you.” It sounded wrong when I first heard it and I learned better after my first submission.

Is there something you do that no one ever asks you about?  This can be anything — something unusual you eat, playing poker as a day job, a hobby, whatever you like.

I’ve been working on a PhD thesis on genre and the gothic for the last few years, but I suspect the reason no-one asks me about that is the wild-eyed look of panic that crosses my face anytime they start asking.

Particular favorites for books, movies, series, comics, blogs, etc.?

One of each: Kim Newman’s Diogenes Club collections; Before Sunrise; How I Met Your Mother; Keith Giffen’s run on the Justice League titles back in the 90s; I read far to many to have a real favorite, but the most visited blog on my feed is Angela Slatter’s The Bones Remember Everything (www.angelaslatter.com) – a source of consistently smart advice about writing and links to interesting discussions.

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