an interview by Dan Allan of Aurealis
Chris Large lives in Tasmania with his two wonderful kids. His recent work has appeared in Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine, Damnation and Dames (Ticonderoga Publications), and is upcoming in Stupefying Stories and A Killer Among Demons (Dark Prints Press). He’s currently completing an MSc while intermittently exploring for gold in Macedonia. His story, ‘The Red House’, appeared in issue #58 of Aurealis.
In ten words or less (haikus allowed), what is ‘The Red House’ about?
Wild promises, kept and broken. Exploitation, submission, following new paths.
Did you approach ‘The Red House’ with a particular aim? Was there an emotion you wanted to elicit from the reader?
I confess, I’m an extreme pantser. I sometimes sit down in front of my laptop, type out the opening line, and literally hope for the best. Recently I’ve been experimenting with voice, so I knew I wanted this to be a western. I knew I wanted to introduce Wendy as a somewhat jaded ‘public woman’. And I knew that although the story would contain sex, Wendy’s descriptions of it would be very matter of fact, because to her, sex is simply a job – and not one she’s chosen for herself. It’s something she does to survive. As the story progressed, and other ideas came to me, I knew this would be a tale of exploitation. By the second draft I knew I wanted Jake, the antagonist, to be one of the most disgusting, and hate-able characters I could possibly put on a page. If it was too much, then let it be too much. I needed him to be vile in every way. So in essence I wanted the reader to feel revulsion, and frustration and Wendy’s lack of fight, her ingrained submissiveness. When Wendy finally reaches her breakthrough moment, when Jake finally pushes her over the edge, I guess that’s when I cheered – literally. I cheered in my writing chair, because it was my breakthrough moment as well. I hope the readers feel something of that.
The Red House universe obviously runs deep. Do other stories exist in this world (whether in your head, or on paper/ processor)?
Yes, in a way. At the time I wrote ‘The Red House’ I had in mind a series of short stories, though not in any particular ‘universe’ as such. Some writers will spend a lot of time creating an amazingly vivid world, then populate it with strange and interesting characters, and away they go with ten or twelve stories in which characters come and go, but the backdrop stays pretty-much the same. I had in mind a series of shorts in which the characters took pride of place, in which their arcs played out across a multitude of unique worlds. Where universes come and go but the characters remained the same. The first of these appeared in Ticonderoga’s Damnation and Dames. ‘One Night at the Cherry’ introduced the character of Dorothy, a seemingly helpless pleasure bot, or ‘Doll’. It’s a futuristic noir tale of deceit, betrayal and revenge (see I summed that one up in four words. I’m getting better at this).
Dorothy’s character evolved rapidly over the course of that story. I took the resulting persona and transplanted her into the ‘The Red House’, only this time she’s not the helpless victim we see at the beginning of ‘One Night at the Cherry’, but a woman who’s learned to dominate, and wants to share her new-found freedom with others.
So plans for another story are in my head and in my laptop. So far I’ve used versions of Dorothy and Wendy from classic children’s tales. I have an idea to introduce another character, and end up with three strong female leads, across three different universes, with overlapping agendas of revenge.
What are you reading/ watching at the moment? Is it any good? Has it inspired any of your own creative endeavours?
To be totally honest, I have trouble finding time to read much these days. I try to keep up with the work of established writers on the SF/F scene, but I fear there are simply not enough hours in the day. It’s shocking I know, but there you have it, my darkest secret revealed. The last few novels I’ve read were ones I read with my kids. We take it in turns reading chapters in the evenings, and when I fall asleep, one of them will – not so gently – kick me awake. The last book was Sabriel by Garth Nix. Great ending, I only fell asleep a couple of times during that one. Before that was Wolf Brother by Michelle Paver, my son’s favourite book. Impressive, for other reasons. They were timely reads as I’m interested in the upcoming submission call from Dark Prints: Darklings, for novels aimed at children of 9-14 years. Whether I can find the time to write a novel between now and then is another issue however.
Other than that, I read Digital Domains (Ellen Datlow ed.) towards the end of last year, and was utterly blown away by a short story from Kelly Link called ‘The Girl Detective’. So very incredible. It’s amazing how brilliant sentences can sound when you eliminate the word ‘and’. That story, and ‘The New York Trilogy’ by Paul Auster are currently inspiring me to write a horror story set in the Tanami Desert, where I once spent seven years of my life. How those elements have all come together I still haven’t quite sorted out. Furthermore, I can’t quite work out whether it’s horror, or something not horrific at all. Do other horror writers have this problem? I really don’t know.
As to what I’m watching…okay, here we go, Fringe – season 4, Battlestar Galactica – season 4, Haven – season 2, Continuum, the Strange Calls (which I think could be the start of something great), Castle (tragic, I know), Elementary, Big Bang Theory, and Twin Peaks. Curiously, of all of the above, the only one I’d say has had much impact on my writing would be Twin Peaks. What that says about me I’m not altogether sure.
Do you find some authors/ books are particularly helpful to read when you’re writing?
I suppose with the general lack of reading going on, the answer should be ‘not really’, BUT… It depends. If I’m writing a story about some form of companionship, reading one of Fritz Leiber’s ‘Lankhmar’ stories is always food for thought. In fact, I find his writing to be cathartic in general.
Other authors I tend to go back to for comfort include Dumas, Rowling, and Gaiman. Strange combination I know, but what can I say? I’ve been to see Neil Gaiman perform a few times, most recently about a month ago at the Theatre Royal here in Hobart, and he is always brilliant. And when I say perform, I mean he’s all singing, all dancing. So great. See? I’m going all fanboy. The ambiguity of his Sandman series is something I will always treasure/go back to/envy. That, and the sheer volume of ideas he pours into his work.
In general, I take inspiration from almost everywhere, music, art, snippets of conversation. A year or so ago I was going through some old stuff from back in the day, and happened across a set of the Encyclopaedia Magica. I opened the first volume, and on page 26 found inspiration for a story that will appear in CSFG’s Next Anthology, which will be launched at Conflux in April. That story had a long evolution, including a lot of help from a Canadian friend (thanks Roisin), and many editors comments regarding the crappiness of the ending, but I think I got it right in the end.
As I said before though, reading a story like ‘The Girl Detective’ at just the right moment, can inspire me a lot more than ploughing over old ground.
When you’re not doing Author-y things, what are you doing with yourself?
I write when I can, but primarily I’m a geologist. It’s rock doctoring wot pays the bills. When I said I’d spent seven years of my life in the Tanami Desert, I wasn’t joking, in fact I think it might have been eight, with time off for good behaviour. I’ve also spent three years in Kalgoorlie, and four years in the Kalahari, in Botswana. I loved living in Africa. The kids thought it was great too, I think it’s given them a different outlook to most Aussie children. They miss it now and then.
Last year I lead a sponsored tour through the mines of Botswana for PhD candidates and industry professionals, and it was a fantastic trip. It took a lot of organisation and planning though, which of course, cut into my writing time. So if you ever do see a story from me set in the desert, you’ll know the setting is authentic at least.
I’m also completing a Masters degree at the University of Tasmania. They are being very patient with me. But how long does patience last? Who can say?
Do you find writing relaxing?
Ahhh-hahahahaha. Do I find writing relaxing…that’s a good one. Ahh, *wipes tear from eye*. Next question…No really, like I said, I’m an actual pantser. When stuff happens in my stories, I feel the emotions I’m trying to convey, because I haven’t planned the course of events ahead of time. Sometimes I don’t actually know what’s going to happen next at all. I really don’t, and when it happens I’m surprised, and shocked, and sometimes disappointed (at which point something usually needs to be re-written). I generally start a story with little more than a character, an opening paragraph, and a vague direction. Everything else is ‘l’impulsion du moment’ (I just googled that by the way, but it’s so true). So that would be a no. For me, writing is anything but relaxing.
What do you consider a fiction writer’s main responsibility to be?
Here’s the thing: I know it’s nice to write stories that convey some kind of meaning, and I’ve written those stories. I’m a beginner, sure, but I’ve written a few. And often I feel like I need to insert a moral core into a work in order for a publisher to take it seriously. But you know what? Most of the time I don’t care about being politically correct, or even morally correct. If my characters feel vengeance is justified, people will die. Sometimes lots. If they want to have sex with the wrong people, at the wrong times, for the wrong reasons, sex will ensue. Sometimes lots. I think it was Simon Raven who phrased a writer’s station best when he had one of his characters state, “I arrange words in pleasing patterns in order to make money.”
Anyone can have morals. Anyone can be politically correct. But only writers can place one word after another in just the right order to please enough people to make the doing of it worthwhile.
If you could write for/ in any other genre/ medium what would it be?
Without a doubt, if I was going to write in another medium it would be on stone tablets. So cool, and indelible. As to the genre, I guess action romance, as in Romancing the Stone. Yes, an action-romance novel on stone tablets.
And video games. I loved the storylines in Mass Effect 2 and Bioshock. I’m also enjoying everything about the latest Tomb Raider game. Some of the dialogue is hilarious, almost as hilarious as the accents. But it’s all good fun.
If you could work with anyone, living or otherwise, who would it be? And how would the collaboration work?
This presupposes my potential collaborator would want to have anything to do with me. Wow. Anyone, ever? Let me just think about that…Okay, I’ve got it. My family first arrived in Tasmania from England in 1850 and the story of their arrival is quite tragic. Thomas and Mary Large lost their six children when their boat sank offshore from Swansea. It’s a well-known story in southern Tassie, and the boat’s anchor is a monument in a park by the water. Anyway, Thomas Large was a brewer who worked around many of the seedier hotels in Hobart back in the time when hotels often brewed their own beer – using opium to give it that little bit of extra oomph! I actually think the practice of adding opium to beer had been banned prior to 1850, but I’m sure some brewers continued the practice undetected. So, as I also brew my own beer, I think the collaboration is obvious. We’d set up a nice little micro-brewery just outside of Hobart, maybe up Swansea way, and brew up some pretty spicy ales, and perhaps even a few lagers, to keep us cosy and warm through some of Tassie’s long winter months.
What are you working on? What do you have coming out? Where can we find it? What’s next for Mr Chris Large?
Right now I’m working on a short story called ‘Quiet City’, about a version of Earth after the exodus. I’m following the story of an agent, a man who stays behind after those he loves have moved away to greener pastures on far-flung worlds. It’s a story about loneliness, and being an exile in one’s own home. I’m posing the question: “When we move out and settle other worlds, will we change? Or will we continue doing what we’ve always done? Should we let go of a broken Earth? Or should we cling to it, try to fix it?
As to what’s coming up, well, apart from Aurealis #58, there’s a YA story called ‘Girl Finds Key’ in CSFG Publishing’s Next anthology, based on my time in Kalgoorlie. ‘New York, New York’ will appear in A Killer among Demons, from Dark Prints Press (in May I think), and then look out for ‘Captain Thunder at the End of All Things’ in Stupefying Stories. Not sure when that’s coming out, but mid-year hopefully. I think Thoraiya Dyer has successfully talked me into attending Conflux 9, so if you see a dude in glasses and a dark coat loitering around the dealer’s room with no friends, that’ll probably be me.
Check out Chris’s blog over at http://www.largies-evil-lair.blogspot.com.au!