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Today we’re traveling to Melbourne, Australia, by way of Wollongong, to chat with Laura Goodin about how Fafnir, juggling, being a bellringer, getting whupped with birch twigs, fencing, and the Pocono mountains come together as part of Laura’s life.
Tell us a bit about yourself.
I’m a born and raised American who has been living in Australia for the past 24 years (the first 19 in a small, gritty city called Wollongong; more recently in Melbourne, a large, eccentric, and very artistic city). While I’ve been writing since I was seven years old, and have always worked in jobs where writing was a key element, I only stared into the abyss and started writing creatively on any serious basis (meaning, I finished what I started and I submitted my work to publishers and agents) in my mid-40s. Since then I’ve published several dozen stories and two novels, and had my plays, libretti, and poetry performed internationally. I also attended the Clarion South Workshop in 2007 and received a PhD in creative writing from the University of Western Australia in 2015. I’m currently working on some academic papers (and serving as co-editor-in-chief of Fafnir – Nordic Journal of Science Fiction and Fantasy Research), a novel, a radio play, a stage play, and too many stories.
In which genre do you write?
I mainly, but not exclusively, write fantasy and science fiction.
How many published books do you have?
Two: After the Bloodwood Staff, which is a humorous, genre-disrupting look at Victorian adventure fiction, and Mud and Glass, which is at once a fond satire of academic life and a manifesto of resistance against a nascent totalitarian regime, and is also funny (I’m told).
What is an interesting writing quirk you have, that we wouldn’t know by reading your biography?
When I get stuck, I can sometimes get unstuck by juggling (albeit badly).
What are you currently reading?
The geekiest book in the world. It’s not a book about Shakespeare – no, no, no! It’s a 600-page book ABOUT books ABOUT Shakespeare.
List 3 interesting facts about yourself.
I’m a bellringer (tower bells, the big ones). I have a pilot’s license (airplane, single-engine, land) and a second-degree black belt (tae kwon do). I once got whupped with birch twigs in a steamy Siberian sauna.
What do you do when not writing or marketing your books?
The list is endless. I earn money with a mix of editing (I run an editing business that specializes in academic editing), coaching fencing, and grading assessments for one of the universities here in Australia. Non-money activities include looking after my geriatric racehorse, ringing bells, running a fencing club for immigrant kids, camping and hiking at highly irregular intervals, and generally trying to be as much like Xena, Warrior Princess as possible. I also occasionally produce plays and other performance events and sing in choirs.
Do you journal write or keep a personal diary? Has this helped with your published writings? If so, how?
I do write in a journal. I seldom go back and reread it; the object of the game is to integrate the physical act of writing with the mental act of reflective practice. Putting words to what I’m thinking and feeling creates a still pool of understanding and perspective in my otherwise chaotic brain.
You are about to speak publicly to a group and read from your latest book. What do you do to prepare yourself?
Oddly, I don’t do much. Unlike most writers, I adore public speaking, and the most I’ll do is take a few deep breaths and make sure one last time that all the technology is in order. It’s the same when I teach: I really enjoy going just a bit over the top to make everything energetic and engaging. Moreover, I feel much more authentic when I speak candidly to groups. At one point I had a job that required me to give literally thousands of live-to-air radio and television interviews, and I got quite comfortable with public speaking. Then I started lecturing, and found that the more authentic I was, the more the students were willing to work with me. So I got to really enjoy talking to groups, because they seemed to enjoy listening to me. That’s quite satisfying, and I willingly seek out opportunities to teach, do readings, perform poetry, and just plain talk about things that are important to me.
What do you miss about being a kid?
Absolutely nothing whatsoever. Except maybe the perfect eyesight I enjoyed until I was about seven years old. I sometimes have dreams where my vision is spectacularly clear, and I can only assume it’s based on memories from my early childhood.
Do you believe things happen for a reason? Do you have an example from your own life to share why you believe this?
I do not believe things happen for a reason, and I feel that saying so cheapens the grief and horror that people legitimately feel at the tragedies and crises in their lives. Sometimes life is just plain bad, and to try to “make it better”, especially by saying that somehow it’s “for the best”, is incredibly disrespectful toward the people who are suffering. I need to state outright here that I’m an ardent Christian, and I still don’t believe “things happen for a reason” in any way that humans can possibly make sense of. It’s almost insulting (particularly to God) to pretend we can understand what such a purpose might be. Honor people’s pain and grief. Don’t try to wish or explain it away.
Which of your personality traits has been most useful and why?
My karate teacher, who is a very wise woman, says, “Our greatest strengths are our greatest weaknesses.” My anxiety has been both for me: sometimes it drives me to accomplish superhuman feats; sometimes it traps me in trembling immobility. I’m still figuring out why one or the other manifests at any given time.
What’s your favorite place to visit in your country and why?
In the US, there’s a small town on the Pennsylvania side of the northern Delaware River called Milford. It’s not only incredibly beautiful, set within the Pocono mountains and hard on the banks of the river, it’s also incredibly peaceful, and it has an impressive history as a retreat for creative people from all disciplines. In fact, it was one of the hotbeds of American science-fiction and fantasy writing in the 1960s and 1970s. Maybe it’s ley lines or feng shui or something. I can’t explain it. But it’s where I’m happiest.
In Australia, it’s the Blue Mountains in New South Wales, especially if you include the Wollemi National Park. Amazing, deep, uncanny scenery for as far as you care to hike.
Describe the perfect solo date you’d take yourself on … where, time of day, weather, place, etc.
This is the perfect solo date I used to take myself on when I lived in Washington, DC: I’d ride my bike down to the Mall in the morning and spend all day hanging out in museums. The best weather for this was either spring or fall, because in the summer, DC gets disgustingly hot, and I’d get all sweaty riding to the museums, and then I’d get chilled to the bone once I went into the air conditioning. Then I’d ride my bike back home, and get a pizza at the neighborhood pizza place (Vace’s Italian Deli, in case you’re wondering), and spend the night alternatively eating pizza, reading, looking for interesting stations to listen to on my shortwave radio, and dancing to Springsteen records as night fell. Solitude holds no terrors for me.
What are you currently working on?
The sequel to Mud and Glass – more highjinks in academe!
Tell us about your most recent book.
I wrote Mud and Glass as a love letter to university life – the kind of university life that is rapidly being destroyed by a focus on profitability and the idea that students are, at once, customers of the university (or what’s left of it) and products to be marketed to corporations. I wrote the book as a humorous – in fact, satirical – adventure fantasy set in a second world because I wanted the freedom to exaggerate in unexpected ways (including lots of literal cliffhangers and other acts of derring-do), and thus draw attention to what we’re losing in this world with the commodification of education. I’m pretty sure I was successful: one colleage, an academic whom I asked to give a blurb for the book, read the book and promptly refused to be associated with it because it cut too close to the bone. However, another academic colleague said, “I’ve not read comedy this clever since Jasper Fforde,” a compliment that I have clutched to myself ever since. (I LOVE Jasper Fforde’s writing.)
It was wonderful incredibly interesting learning about you and your books, Laura! Thanks for being a part of MTA! Here’s to all the fun it sounds like you’ll have writing the sequel! And, I like the trailers you created! –Camilla
Where to find the book.
Anyone who loves learning and loves universities, and also loves to laugh, can find Mud and Glass on all the big online retailers.