[Interviewer’s Note: This is a series of interviews featuring the contributors of The Apex Book of World SF edited by Lavie Tidhar. It’ll run every Monday to Friday until I run out of interviews. Two of these interviews will be reprinted in Apex Magazine but the rest are exclusive to SF Signal.]
Born in 1976 in Dunkirk (France), Mélanie Fazi mostly writes short stories and has published two collections and two novels in French so far. Some of her short fiction has been translated in English and published in The Magazine of Fantasy & SF, The Third Alternative, Black Static and The Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror. She lives in Paris where she also works as a translator.
Q: Hi! Thanks for agreeing to do the interview. First off, how did you first get acquainted with speculative fiction? What’s the appeal of the genre for you?
I started reading speculative fiction when I was quite young. First through Tolkien around the age of 11, then I moved on to science fiction a couple of years later – Philip K. Dick, Asimov – and then to horror, mostly through Stephen King. Back then I used to enjoy that kind of fiction because it seemed so exotic and removed from my everyday life. But later, I began to enjoy it because it allows us to look at the world around us, or think about various issues, through a slightly different perspective. I’m mostly interested in horror and urban fantasy now, I just find it easier to relate to stories that take place ” here and now “, or in a slightly altered version of our world. One thing that appeals to me is the way these stories can express strange or complex emotions through strong images and concepts – something not unlike the language of dreams.
Q: Can I add that question as well? How do the French define speculative fiction?
It’s a tricky question because no one seems to agree on definitions (which I guess is the case everywhere). Some people use the term ” imaginaire “, as an equivalent of ” speculative fiction “, that includes science fiction, fantasy and horror, because it seems that an increasing number of books don’t fall neatly into any of those categories. We don’t actually use ” horror ” and ” fantasy ” as defined in English. We have ” fantasy ” on the one side (mostly heroic fantasy, or books dealing with mythologies, other worlds, etc) and ” fantastique ” on the other side (supernatural events in the ordinary world). Francis Berthelot, who is an impressive writer himself, coined the term ” transfictions ” which is not far removed from ” interstitial fiction ” as I understand it, to describe the books that go beyond the classical boundaries of genres, or that fall somewhere between mainstream and speculative fiction.
Q: How would you describe your own fiction?
I’m mostly a short story writer. I suppose what I write would be qualified as horror – a mild or quiet kind of horror maybe. I’m mostly interested in characters and atmospheres, and introducing a small element of weirdness in a setting that’s basically the world as we know it. I’m not necessarily someone who will invent new, original concepts – I tend to write about classical themes (ghosts, etc) but I’ve been told that my own personal touch lies in the writing and the depiction of emotions and characters rather than in the concepts or ideas.
Q: Who are some of your writing influences?
I guess Stephen King must have been one, as I discovered the horror genre through his books – I’m fascinated by his ability to create strong characters and I find his books much more emotional than scary. But the only writer I recognize as a direct influence is Lisa Tuttle, as I started writing short stories on a regular basis around the time I started reading her fiction, and I was particularly impressed with her approach of horror. I think I might also name Graham Joyce – he’s one of my favorite writers and I’ve been lucky enough to translate some of his books into French. I was already a published writer when I started reading his works, but he’s one of the writers whose books make me think “This is what I’d love to write.”
Q: What were the hurdles you ran into before you become a professional/published author?
I was lucky, I guess – it didn’t take too long before I got my first story published. Becoming a professional translator took me longer at the time. It did take me a few years before I got to publish books of my own instead of just stories in anthologies, but I suppose these things always take a bit longer. On the other hand, I never relied on my writing to make a living, so that probably helps a lot – I also work as a professional translator (which allows me to work in the same field and sometimes with the same people). Being recognized mostly as a short story writer also took a few years, as people expect you to publish novels first and maybe occasional stories on the side, not to focus mostly on short fiction. But my most successful book so far happened to be my first collection, Serpentine, rather than my novels, so I guess people came to accept me as a short story writer after that.
Q: What’s the speculative fiction scene in France like?
It’s been mostly dominated by heroic fantasy for the past few years, even though horror is making a slow comeback (but not selling nearly as well). SF has a steady readership but remains harder to sell. And the market is mostly dominated by books translated from English. So it’s hard for French writers to make a living out of their writing – some manage to do it, but they’re a minority. Also, it seems that the mainstream literature is increasingly using elements of science fiction, horror or fantasy with a non-genre approach, which leads some people to say that the future of speculative fiction is there.
Q: Do you think there’s an element of French speculative fiction that sets it apart from the rest of the world?
I’ve been asked this question before but I’ve never been able to find a satisfying answer. Actually, when I think about it, I see more differences than common points between the writers. What struck me with the writers of my generation was that each of them seemed to arrive with a universe and a style of their own, instead of trying to conform to standards and stay within the boundaries of genres. Very often, they have been influenced by writers outside the field of speculative fiction and they have a personal way of bringing those influences within the genre to create something different. But I don’t think that’s specifically French, it’s probably a widespread tendency.
Q: You’ve translated novels into French, such as James Lovegrove’s Gig. What made you decide to translate the book? What was the biggest challenge you ran into?
It was actually the publisher’s choice, they approached me because they knew the books would interest me as a music fan – I wrote on the subject a couple of times and music (mostly indie rock) is one of my biggest influences. I knew it was going to be a challenge translating this book because of the way it relies on palindromes and wordplay. I know I lost a few in the process, but it was an interesting exercise to find equivalents for palindromes and such things than cannot, obviously, be translated literally. Also, the book really struck a chord, it deals with things I could definitely relate to, both as a writer and as a music fan, to the point of making me occasionally uneasy (in a very interesting way).
Q: What made you decide to work on the magazine Electric Light? What was the most insightful lesson you learned from the experience?
Electric Light was just a small e-zine I created with an online friend from Sweden I’ve actually never met. We were both music fans and loved the idea to create our own web page to review albums and gigs (and later films and books as well). It gradually evolved into something a bit more interesting and challenging when we decided to get in touch with artists and ask for interviews, which was something we’d never done before. I supposed what I learned from the experience was mostly regarding people I admired as ordinary beings – it may sound a bit naive, but I was in my early twenties and hadn’t realized that yet. My online friend, Joakim, even made a trip to London to interview Martin Millar, one of his favorite writers. I stayed in touch with a few of these artists, like Lisa Tuttle and also Maria Mochnacz, a photographer and director who’s mostly known for her work with PJ Harvey. I think what I enjoyed the most while working on this webzine was the opportunity to get in touch with some artists, let them know just how much their works had moved me, and try to give them something in return, with my own limited means, through those reviews and interviews.
Q: How did selling your fiction internationally come about? How did Christopher Priest end up translating “Elegy”?
I met Brian Stableford at a convention in Belgium a few years ago and he offered to help me translate and submit a few stories in English. I’m not sure how the whole thing happened – I guess someone must have told him about my stories. He translated three stories and acted as my agent for the first ones. But I never really expected to sell them, and I certainly didn’t think it would happen so quickly! As for Christopher Priest, I’ve know him for a few years now – he used to attend a festival called “Les Utopiales” that takes place every year in Nantes. He knew I intended to have more stories translated, as I didn’t feel I could do it myself, and he very kindly offered to help me. I wasn’t sure how ” Elegy ” would come across as the original story relies more on sounds, rhythm and atmosphere that on the plot itself, but I was impressed with the result.
Q: Have you considered writing a story in English?
I tried once but wasn’t satisfied with the result. I love the English language and have been learning it for more than twenty years now, but I still don’t feel comfortable enough to write directly in English. It would just feel awkward. I think you need to have a very intimate relationship with the language you write in. In spite of all my efforts to improve my knowledge of English, it remains a foreign language to me. I don’t think I would be able to express things as accurately as I do in French. Especially as I increasingly rely on sounds and rhythm in my writing.
Q: Why do you think other countries aren’t more aware of French fiction?
I don’t have enough elements to judge how French fiction is received abroad – some writers do get translated in various countries, but I don’t know just how successful they are. So I don’t really feel like I can answer that question.
Q: How is the Internet enabling readers to be more aware of international fiction?
For one thing, it’s getting much easier to order a book from foreign publishers. And also to keep yourself informed of everything’s that’s going on, to find instantly reviews and information about any book or writer you want to find out more about.
Q: There’s a lot of talented French writers. For those ignorant of the field there, who are some authors you might recommend?
It’s hard to pick a few names, so I’ll start by pointing a few writers from my own generation : Fabrice Colin, who’s probably one of the most prolific writers of this generation and writes both for adults and young adults, Jérôme Noirez who has quite a twisted imagination and a very personal approach of fantasy, Catherine Dufour who writes both dark, humorous fantasy and very dark science fiction… I’ve heard many good things about newcomers Stéphane Beauverger and Jean-Philippe Jaworski but haven’t read their books yet. To name a few other writers I like: Michel Pagel (a very eclectic writer, I particularly like his approach of horror and his historical fantasy novel Le Roi d’août), Anne Duguël (also known as Gudule), Francis Berthelot (for his very poetic writing, often tinged with melancholy), Joëlle Wintrebert (who used to be one of the very few female SF writers in the ’80s and has a particularly sensual approach of the genre)… And I would also recommend a few writers whose stories have been translated in English: Jean-Claude Dunyach, Léa Silhol, and also Lionel Davoust who is about to publish a remarkable story in the Interfictions 2 anthology.
Q: Lastly, for international readers, could you tell us more about your own fiction and where we can find/obtain them?
As I said, I’m mostly a short story writer. I have published two collections in French so far : Serpentine and Notre-Dame-aux-Ecailles. Both were published in France by Bragelonne. Some of the stories from those collections were published in English – in The Magazine of Fantasy & SF, The Third Alternative, Black Static and The Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror. I also have two novels out, Arlis des forains (also published by Bragelonne) and Trois pépins du fruit des morts (published by Nestiveqnen and a bit harder to find now).