So thrilled, proud and excited to share this news with you! :-)
But first, let me introduce you to Ivor Hartmann, the brains, guiding light, my editor and publisher behind this exciting project; Ivor helped me with awesome edits to get ‘Angel Song’ even better than it was!
Ivor W. Hartmann, Zimbabwean writer, editor, publisher, visual artist, and author of Mr. Goop (Vivlia, 2010). Nominated for the UMA Award (‘Earth Rise’, 2009), awarded The Golden Baobab Prize (‘Mr. Goop’, 2009), and finalist for The Yvonne Vera Award (‘A Mouse amongst Men’, 2011). His writing has appeared in African Writing Magazine, Wordsetc, Munyori Literary Journal, Something Wicked, The Apex Book of World SF V2, and other publications. He runs the StoryTime micro-press, publisher of the African Roar annual anthologies and AfroSF, and is on the advisory board of Writers International Network Zimbabwe.
Please tell us a bit about yourself, your background, your reading tastes?
I’m a Zimbabwean writer, editor, publisher, and visual artist, primarily at the moment. I’ve also been a Fine Art painter — oil on canvas, abstract surrealism mainly — for seven years just out of high-school, went into organic farming/permaculture for six years, then Visual SFX and music video directing until 2007. After co-writing a SciFi movie script for fun, I decided it was time to return to the writing field, which led me to what I’m doing now.
I’m currently reading Who Fears Death by Nnedi Okorafor, and here’s my last ten books or so read, which should give a good idea of my reading tastes: The Apex Book of World SF 2 – Ed. Lavie Tidhar, Open City – Teju Cole, 2312 – Kim Stanley Robinson, The four Space Odyssey books – Arthur C. Clarke, Mona Lisa Overdrive – William Gibson, Never Let Me Go – Kazuo Ishiguro, Operation Shylock: A Confession – Phillip Roth, Underworld – Don DeLillo, The Crying Of Lot 49 – Thomas Pynchon, and Cosmopolis – Don DeLillo.
Have you been writing since you can remember or was it something that grew with time?
I first started writing when I was fourteen — a blood-soaked werewolf tale that scared the hell out of my demure English teacher got me started — and continued to do so until I was nineteen. At which point I had two choices that appealed to me, one was writing, the other was fine art. Fine art won out, but mainly because I felt the need to experience the freedom and richness of life beyond school as much as possible before I could start to write about it seriously. A good idea, who knows, but when I did get back to writing sixteen years later armed with serious intent, I had certainly accumulated a vast hoard of personal life experience to draw from.
Please tell us a bit about your writing, do you have a favourite genre to work in, and what about that genre makes it your favourite?
Characters, concepts, and underlying themes, are the kings when I write, so usually I don’t think about what genre it might be by the time I’m done. However, they do end up a fair bit in Speculative and Contemporary Fiction, and of Spec Fic, SciFi more than Fantasy/Horror/etc. I’ve always had a soft spot for SciFi in both reading and writing. There is a freedom of imagination SciFi gives you from what has, is, happening, to what could happen, and yet is still grounded in the realities of our universe, in as much as we currently understand them, which advances daily.
You’ve had stories been published in various anthologies and journals – is there any experience that stands out, hopefully in a positive way? And what do you consider to be the most important lesson you learned?
My first short story ‘Earth Rise’ was accepted by Something Wicked and then edited with Vianne Venter. This was my first editing experience and Vianne’s professionalism, patience, and skill, set the tone for the editor and writer I wanted to become.
Perhaps, the early understanding (the earlier the better), when first getting into writing, that while writing is a solitary pursuit, publishing is a team effort.
You’ve also become a respected editor – what have you learned about the craft of writing through editing?
I’ve learnt more from editing and writing over the past five years than all my 34 years of reading. But to be fair not by that much. Between reading, writing, and near daily edits, I have seen my understanding of the craft grow and mature more than I thought possible. But no matter how much one learns, there’s always more to learn, it’s a never ending process — even a genius takes ten years to just master a field, never mind what comes beyond that. In general, I’m a great believer in learning by doing, and this autodidactic approach in areas that interest me has served me well all my life.
AfroSF is the first anthology of its kind – can you talk about the process of how you got it going?
The AfroSF: Science Fiction by African Writers anthology has been a dream of mine for five years. In 2007, when I returned to writing the first story I wrote (or I should say completed rather) was ‘Earth Rise’, a Science Fiction short story. As soon as I looked for somewhere to publish it, preferably an African publication, the harsh realities of African publishing, and publishing for African writers in general, in 2007, became quite apparent. Including the fact, a pan-African anthology of Science Fiction by African writers only had never been published, and thus the dream of AfroSF was conceived.
Long story short, I created the micro-press StoryTime that first published StoryTime, a weekly African literature online magazine, from June 2007 to June 2012. In 2010, StoryTime launched African Roar, an annual multi-genre anthology of African writers, co-edited by Emmanuel Sigauke and I, that’s now in its third year. So, by late 2011, I felt the time had come to pursue the AfroSF dream.
If one looks at the last 50 years of publishing in terms of SciFi and African writers, some real gems have never been collected into one volume. Thus, the temptation to have a mix of reprints and original works was very strong (and a lot easier in terms of editing), but the vision I had for AfroSF needed to include the forward-thinking spirit embodied so well in SciFi as a genre. Therefore, in December 2011, I put out the call for submissions for original (unpublished) works only.
The first story I received for the anthology was from great and wonderful Nnedi Okorafor, which for me kind of set standard for all submissions that followed — fifty two in total, so not a lot, but more than I had hoped for and a great start for a first anthology. In this, Lauren Beukes was also of great help when she put the word out on the subs call, and suggested a few South African writers who might be interested.
A word on the selections and editing process I employ. As with the StoryTime magazine and the African Roar’s, when I read the AfroSF submissions I was looking for great themes and new ideas well expressed, in this case in the SciFi genre. This is to say, ideas and themes trumped imperfect prose, which I knew from experience could be dealt with in edits — depending on how much time the editor and writer can devote to the editing process. Now, this approach doesn’t always work, but what it does do is give writers whose work I selected the chance to work on at least one edit of their story with an editor, and I could see how it went from there.
Although I had StoryTime on hand to publish it, in terms of this anthology being a first and such I did seek bigger publishers who could get it out there in a much bigger way than I can. So, as soon as I had a rough unedited first draft I sent it out and about and did get some interest from a few publishers — which was a good sign for anthology as a whole. However, in the end no one came to the party in any realistic way, so I returned to the original plan of publishing it though StoryTime — first as an eBook that will then fund a POD print edition with its sales, this being a realistic, micro-press publishing model I have used with the African Roar anthologies and I know works. However, specific country rights for the anthology will remain open for negotiation and translations, etc., if it does garner any serious interest after the first edition eBook release.
Why Science Fiction?
SciFi, like most fiction genres that aren’t Contemporary except perhaps Romance and Crime to an extent, is highly underdeveloped in African literature as a whole. Now I could go into all the reasons why, but let’s look to the future instead.
SciFi is the only genre that enables African writers to envision a future from our African perspective. Moreover, it does this in a way that is not purely academic and so provides a vision that is readily understandable through a fictional context. The value of this envisioning for any third-world country, or in our case continent, cannot be overstated, nor negated. Science Fiction helps drive social and technological change. If you can’t see and relay an understandable vision of the future, your future will be co-opted by someone else’s vision, one that will not necessarily have your best interests at heart, at all. Thus, Science Fiction by African writers is of paramount importance to the development and future of our continent.
Why, in your opinion, does the publishing industry in South Africa and, indeed, the rest of the continent, seem to not want to get behind SFF the way, say, Crime Fiction has been supported and encouraged?
Mainstream African publishers go for the lowest risk with highest return to their investment, this being Textbooks, Nonfiction, and a far third Contemporary Fiction. Historically, in general, it is writers and independent publishers who create and develop new (or underdeveloped) genres. Mainstream publishers will only climb aboard when the market has already been created or at least well seeded. Crime Fiction over the last twenty years and especially the last ten in South Africa is a classic example of this in action.
AfroSF has a very good chance of helping to lead Africa’s SF writers into a long-term attention-grabbing position in the field of short form and, with time, novel-length SF – what are your wishes, your dreams, for this anthology?
The main aim of this anthology was to encourage African writers to break out of the comfort zone of Contemporary fiction and develop all the other genres that are underdeveloped in African literature. The simple fact is we can’t all be the next Dambudzo Marechera, Wole Soyinka, Ngugi wa Thiong’o, Zakes Mda, etc. There are over one billion people on the African continent, if only 0.001% are or become a writer, that’s ten thousand writers. In other words, more than enough writers to explore every possible genre and perhaps make some new ones too.
Looking at the list of contributors for AfroSF, it’s obvious, and wonderful to see, how diverse it is – how, if at all, does African SF differ from SF written by non-Africans? What do you think we bring to the genre?
African writers bring our unique perspectives, and importantly, our unique African mythologies to bear when we write. These perspectives and mythologies are a refreshing change and voice sorely needed in the wider world of fiction dominated by Western perspectives and mythologies.
What’s your advice to African Speculative Fiction writers considering, for example, that the Agent doesn’t seem to have a role or place in our continent’s industry?
The pleasure of African publishers is that for the most part any African writer can approach them, with no agent required. This means that until you break into the international writing scene one doesn’t actually need an agent to start with. I don’t have an agent, I don’t look for agents, and agents tend to come calling when they can see there’s a profit to be made from taking you on. So until then keep writing, and keep approaching African publishers with your work. In the end, your work is what will speak for you in the loudest voice.
What can readers expect from AfroSF, what kind of reading experience? Multi-sub-genre, for example?
The AfroSF stories have a bit of everything in the realm of SciFi, from Comic, Military, Hard, Soft, to Apocalyptic, Space Opera, Cyberpunk, Biopunk, Aliens, and even Time Travel, and more, and fairly liberal mixings thereof. The stories represent a diversity of voices and themes specifically rooted in the SciFi genre, from some stellar established and upcoming African writers. If you love SciFi, you’re going to love this anthology.
Finally, we know that AfroSF will be released in December: early, middle, just in time for X-Mass?
AfroSF will hit all the Amazon sites in an eBook edition first in early December 2012. Then, depending, we will release a POD print edition later to Amazon, Barnes & Noble, etc. It will also be signed up to Paperight, a fantastic new company that can turn any copy shop worldwide (and especially in Africa) into a budget books printer and seller.
I read through these answers just before I set them in this post and I’m extremely excited about this anthology! Definitely something that I’ll start reading as soon as I’ve got an eARC, and of course, review. :-)
AfroSF is the first ever anthology of Science Fiction by African writers only that was open to submissions from African writers all across Africa and abroad. It will be released in December 2012 in an ebook edition first and later a print edition.
Here’s a list of the authors and stories that will be appearing in AfroSF:
‘Moom!’ Nnedi Okorafor
‘Home Affairs’ Sarah Lotz
‘Five Sets of Hands’ Cristy Zinn
‘New Mzansi’ Ashley Jacobs
‘Azania’ Nick Wood
‘Notes from Gethsemane’ Tade Thompson
‘Planet X’ S.A. Partridge
‘The Gift of Touch’ Chinelo Onwualu
‘The Foreigner’ Uko Bendi Udo
‘Angel Song’ Dave de Burgh
‘The Rare Earth’ Biram Mboob
‘Terms & Conditions Apply’ Sally-Ann Murray
‘Heresy’ Mandisi Nkomo
‘Closing Time’ Liam Kruger
‘Masquerade Stories’ Chiagozie Fred Nwonwu
‘The Trial’ Joan De La Haye
‘Brandy City’ Mia Arderne
‘Ofe!’ Rafeeat Aliyu
‘Claws and Savages’ Martin Stokes
‘To Gaze at the Sun’ Clifton Gachagua
‘Proposition 23’ (Novelette) Efe Okogu
Starting Monday (8 October) I’ll be doing a series of posts spotlighting some of the authors – a bit of background on them and their stories to get you all excited. :-) Many names you’ll already know (Nnedi Okorafor, Sarah Lotz, Tade Thompson, Sally Partridge, Nick Wood, Joan De Lay Haye), and most you will get to know and hear plenty about. :-)
By the way, if you’re also a reviewer and would like to review this anthology before or around its release date in December, let me know or contact Ivor directly. :-) And if you’re an SF author who would like to read AfroSF and perhaps offer a blurb, again myself or Ivor can help you out. :-)
So, until Monday,