Interview with Gerry Huntman
Gerry Huntman is a writer and publisher based in Melbourne, Australia, living with his wife and teenage daughter. He has sold over 50 short fiction pieces in the speculative fiction field, the majority of which tend toward dark themes.
What got you into writing, and what do you enjoy most about it?
I enjoyed writing from a very early age, probably from 10 years. When I was 12, I submitted a story to a publisher, and they kindly and sensitively responded that they enjoyed it and looked forward to me submitting again when I was older and had more practice. I had a hiatus for many years between my late teens until a dozen years or so ago, where I concentrated my creativity on roleplaying and roleplaying convention design—this was a powerful force in developing my skillsets, along with my qualifications and career in editing.
I simply love telling stories and getting the thrill that others who read them, enjoy them too. It is really as simple as that.
Which writer influenced you the most, and why?
This is a tough question because there are so many writers I admire, and I was a voracious reader from my teens. For Science Fiction, the light bulb moment where I realized what the genre could be for a writer, was after reading The Forever War by Joe Haldeman. Tolkien still inspires me for Fantasy, and for the darker side of speculative fiction, Clarke Ashton Smith.
What turns a good story into a great one?
A great story requires several boxes to be ticked—otherwise, at best, it can only be good. First and foremost, it has to be crafted well—stringing sentences together so that they dance before the reader is incredibly hard to master, and it doesn’t start off easy. A discerning reader (and editor) can easily pick up if this transformation has occurred or not. Stories also need to be pitched to the right audience—what’s the point of having a story published and the exposed readers aren’t interested? In terms of plot and characterization, the most celebrated stories have an element or combination of elements that provide a new take on a theme or subject—something that delights or raises the eyebrows of a reader. This last point isn’t easy, but it is critical to be a great story.
How do you balance your schedules and artistic goals with everyday life?
My life is busy and exhausting. My family comes first, and they need my time, and while my writing and publishing efforts contribute to my income, it isn’t enough, so I also have a ‘day job.’ Family, day job, writing, and publishing is a four-way tension, and it takes its toll—but I wouldn’t trade it for anything. Fortunately, I am lucky enough to be soon able to drop the day job—needless to say, that will help me a lot.
What do you aim to evoke in the readers of your books?
When I write, I want my readers to get the same buzz that I got in writing it. If my story stimulates me with respect to a given theme, I want the reader to ‘get it’ as well. If I get the exhilaration of an amazing piece of escapism, I want the reader to emerge from the reading in a similar state.
Please tell us about your latest work, what inspired you to write it, and the research involved.
I always have several ideas in project form running simultaneously, but each at a different stage of development, and prioritised accordingly. I have a massive fantasy piece that I’m revising (it is an old piece and really needs to be rewritten to reflect my improved skills). I am at the editing stage of a middle-grade fantasy novel that has been accepted by Meerkat Press (Guardian of the Sky Realms. This book was published years ago by another press but didn’t get the right marketing—Meerkat edited it better, has a fantastic cover, and has strong marketing and distribution). I am also contracted to write a sequel (Champion of the Sky Realms)—I’m drafting it now. Finally, I had an idea of a dark SciFi novel many years ago, and I’m getting the urge to write it—I’m slowly researching it, and I will probably start early next year, possibly with a collaborator. The research requires a deep understanding of plate tectonics and evolutionary microbiology.
Can you give us a story outline of your latest book?
Guardian of the Sky Realms by Gerry Huntman will be coming out later this year through Meerkat Press.
The blurb reads: Maree Webster is an ‘almost-emo’ from the western suburbs of Sydney. She hates school and only has a few friends. She has an obsession with angels and fallen angel stories. Life was boring until she one day decided to steal a famous painting from a small art gallery. Her life will never be boring again.
She meets a stranger at the gallery who claims to know her. She stumbles into a world where cities float in the sky, and daemons roam the barren, magma-spewing crags of the land far below.
But not all is well. Maree is turning into something she loves but at the same time, fears. Most fearful of all is the prospect of losing her identity, what makes her Maree, and, more importantly, human.
Guardian of the Sky Realms takes the reader on a journey through exotic fantasy lands, as well as across the globe, from Sydney to Paris, from the Himalayas to Manhattan.
It’s about transformation.
What was the most challenging part of writing this particular book?
Guardian was actually an easy book to write. I surprised myself in discovering I have a knack for writing middle-grade fiction, despite the vast majority of my work being aimed for the mature market. Like all books, however, it is a process of refinement, over and over again, to make it the best possible work, and to keenly find weaknesses, and get others to help find them. Guardian’s early weakness was ‘info-dumping’ at the beginning of the novel, as it contains a lot of world-building.
Can you tell us about how you had your book edited, published, and its cover-art created?
The Meerkat Press experience was a delight. I had it edited by one of their editing staff, which was quick and easy, and they provided me with a questionnaire to help inspire the best possible cover art—and it was nailed perfectly. The book will be published at the end of the year, and be distributed worldwide through various partner distributors to the press.
What made you ultimately decide between self-publishing and conventional publishing? And will you use the same procedure for your next publication?
I have always preferred traditional publishing, and I own a traditional publishing company. In the early self-publishing years, I admit to having a poor view, mainly because I witnessed a lot of poorly executed works, but my views changed by also seeing good work coming out of the sector. Now I am philosophical about it—fundamentally, self-publishers need to tick the same boxes that publishing businesses need to.
We all need to write good stories, have them polished through editing and proofreading, formatted properly for print and eBooks and have spectacular and appropriate covers. They need to be marketed effectively and made available to the readers through distribution. All the same. There are only two significant hurdles that self-publishers need to face:
1. It is tough to get the best possible skills to bear down on all elements of the publishing lifecycle; and
2. The best distribution channels (especially for print) generally shy away from self-publishers—they want to work with companies that sell books in thousands and tens of thousands of units per title, who have good track records.
Good traditional publishers need to have a robust financial model supporting them, and this attracts the best editors, block designers, proofreaders, artists, cover designers, marketing specialists, publicists, distributors, and able to make large print runs. To echo my earlier point, self-publishers can tick all the boxes to a level that enables quality of production—but it is a hard gig.