Welcome to Lee Murray’s New Zealand Speculative Fiction Show, an interview series featuring star acts from NZ’s science fiction, fantasy and horror community, including news, insights, and sneak-peeks of their latest performances.
Today’s guest is Jamie Sands, writer, critic, gamer, and quilter, they/them. Welcome Jamie!
Favourite books as a child. Did you make the noises? Give the character’s voices? Any books that were favourites, that horrify you now?
My earliest book true love was Hairy Maclairy (the first one), which I had insisted on being read so many times that I memorised it. We gave a copy of it to my kindie when I ‘graduated’ to school and I sat there and recited it and flipped the pages and other parents told my mum how impressed they were with my reading. I loved to make the ‘EEEEeeeeeeooooowwwwfitz!’ noise that Scarface Claw says.
My absolute favourite childhood books were The Witches and The BFG by Roald Dahl. I re-read the Witches a couple of years ago and was surprised I could remember whole paragraphs verbatim. I mentioned this to my older brother who was not at all surprised, he says I carried that book with me constantly for a few years. I just loved the rules and the things to look out for. The delicious horror of the children who had been caught my witches, and the transforming. Reading it recently it’s a very dark book, but I can see why I loved it, and how it informed my own writing.
A few years ago, you were a recipient of a New Zealand Society of Authors mentorship, and with iconic kiwi YA author Fleur Beale. Can you tell us about that experience?
I couldn’t really believe my luck when that happened. Fleur Beale wrote some of my favourite NZ young adult books and she’s such a huge name. In reality she was just another person, which was a comfort really. Her feedback on my novel was valuable, and led to a much needed tidy up of the manuscript. Highly recommend this programme to anyone!
Recently, your novel pitch was singled out for attention by a publisher at a major conference. In your opinion, what are the elements of a good pitch, and what was it that gave your presentation the edge?
I had some genius coaching the night before from Joanne Dannon (a bunch of us were sharing a house for the convention). Thanks to her I knew to focus on who the characters were, what they wanted and what was getting in the way of that. The agent specifically loved the high concept of my novel pitch, it grabbed her imagination.
As a writer, name your mascot/avatar/patronus.
Ideally it’d be like, a husky dog - working hard for long hours every day, but I have some trouble with actually sticking to a habit. So I’d be some kind of dog which likes to work some of the time and laze about doing nothing other days. Maybe a greyhound?
I don’t know why I chose dogs. Maybe because I like to reward myself with food.
Tell us about the beauty of zines. Should we be promoting these ‘dim sum’ writing samples as a legitimate and important literary form?
Zines are amazing, they’re this tiny little pocket universe. Mine are very basic, just black and white and photocopied with little line drawings but you can fit such a punch into them.
I love reading other peoples’ ones as well, the different dimensions people can bring to the format.
They are absolutely an important literary form, and they have been for decades, allowing silenced voices a chance to get something out there without worrying about whether a publisher will accept it.
You’re taking a third trip to Japan later this year. Can we expect to see work with a Japanese influence from you in the future? What are your key influences?
I already made a zine about riding the Shinkansen (bullet train), but yes, I imagine since it’ll be my longest trip to date I’ll be able to take some time to breathe and let things soak in. I’m ashamed that the only Japanese author I’ve read is Haruko Murakami, I should really read wider.
I love so much of the ordinary day to day stuff about Japan, I’m sure it’s influenced how I’ve written how people interact with each other. I feel a little leery of writing too much about Japanese culture though, since I have only experienced it as a tourist.
Top five books that your partner loves, which made you realise she was the one.
To be honest, we mostly bonded over Dr Who and Pacific Rim so I don’t think I can do a top five. Let’s see, Harry Potter of course. The Cardcaptor Sakura and Fruits Basket manga series’s were important shared moments when we were getting to know each other. More recently we’ve both become devoted to the book Carry On by Rainbow Rowell. It’s like if Harry Potter smashed into Twilight but in a really good, really gay way. We’ve both enjoyed Tom Cox’s books about his cats too.
Your friends know you as someone who has fantastic dreams, which you’ve taught yourself to recall through instant journaling on waking. I’m not ashamed to admit, I’m envious of some of the amazing worldbuilding evident in those dreamspaces. Have you been tempted to incorporate aspects of your dreams into your writing?
Tempted? Most of my short stories are taken directly from my dreams. I’ve also used dreams to write LARPs which have gone down really well, with the disclaimer “I dreamed this so if it doesn’t make sense that’s why.” One of the LARPs was about a group of highly trained professionals who couldn’t remember what they did before they lived in the compound and one is about a day at the community library when no one comes in to borrow books.
In terms of my novels I’m more likely to use dreams as a plot point, rather than use things I’ve dreamed specifically.
I was bitterly disappointed once to wake up from a fully realised fantasy dream with a plot and characters and everything… only to realise it was stolen wholesale from the Alanna books by Tamora Pierce. My subconscious just reskinned it and changed the names. Not useful. Then another time I dreamed a gorgeously realised world and society and woke up with no ideas for a story to tell in that place. So it’s good and bad.
You’ve written some games. Tell us about that. How does that writing differ from, say, writing a novel?
Games are very different to novels because you’re creating a framework for other people to create stories in, rather than your own story. In a novel I’ll spend time crafting characters, writing their dialogue, working on their decisions and consequences. In a tabletop game you’re giving that all over to the players, you just write the tools and the framework for them.
Parlour LARPs are a bit different because you do write characters for those, but only the background, skills and relationships. You give the events in the past that may have shaped that person, a few things they’re particularly good or bad at, and connections to the other characters, but then you set them free and you have no control. Players can pick or choose which parts of the character they make important, which parts to ignore or discard, and they bring their own ideas into it as well.
Facilitating a game and seeing what people do with your characters is sometimes frustrating but usually very rewarding. If I’ve written the characters right then the player has a springboard to do something amazing, and they make decisions or come to solutions I could never have imagined. I think that’s why I love to write LARPs (although I haven’t done so in a couple years.)
What literary character is most like you? If there isn’t one, name a writer you’d like to see immortalise your character traits in a story.
Aaaaaahhh the eternal question. Do comics count as literary? I want to say Dick Grayson aka. Robin aka Nightwing but that might be more wish fulfillment than actually being anything like me.
According to the myers-briggs personality test I’m Peeta Mellark from The Hunger Games. I’m not sure I’m happy with that comparison.. https://www.16personalities.com/enfp-personality
I’d like to appear in one of Nalo Hopkinson’s novels. I think she’d tear me apart in the best possible way and have me looking okay by the end of it.
What’s coming up for you in 2018?
Well, my day job - testing for Trade Me’s advertising team. The normal stuff like cuddling my cat and my fiance and feeding them both.
A lot of editing! I’m currently finishing up the first draft of the second in a new paranormal cosy mystery series, but once that’s done I have a lot of manuscripts that need editing. I’m also going to self-publish my YA novel The Suburban Book of the Dead, and hopefully some more titles as well. I’m appearing on a queer panel at the New Zealand Romance Writers conference.
Outside of writing? I’m getting married to Anna and going to Japan for the honeymoon.
Serenity, Millenium Falcon, or the Enterprise?
Serenity, although the Falcon is a close second. I feel like I’ll have a longer life span on the Serenity and better food.
Thanks for stopping by Jamie. Great chatting with you.
Jamie is a non-binary writer, gamer, social justice warrior and general troublemaker living in Auckland, New Zealand. They live with a wonderful girl called Anna and a cat, Mochi.
games for sale: http://www.drivethrurpg.com/browse/pub/3546/Scary-Monster-Games
If you're a New Zealand creator of speculative fiction and would like to appear on this blog, please contact Lee. Next up, look for news from one of our newest stars, Kindle Worlds writer, Adrian Smith.