Sparking In Your Face: Cat Sparks

Cat Sparks is a multi-award-winning author, editor and artist whose former employment has included: media monitor, political and archaeological photographer, graphic designer and manager of Agog! Press amongst other (much less interesting) things. She’s currently fiction editor of Cosmos Magazine while simultaneously grappling with a PhD on YA climate change fiction.  Her debut novel, Lotus Blue, is forthcoming from Talos Press in February 2017.

A friend of mine, an English teacher once remarked upon a curiosity amongst her class of 17-year-old boys. When asked for the worst thing they could think of in regards to their own futures, all apparently cited the same thing. That the absolutely worst thing ever would be to get blind drunk and wake up in bed next to a fat girl.

My friend was gobsmacked. Surely the boys were more worried about employment, or climate change, terrorism, HECS debt, rising house prices or maybe speeding and getting mangled in a car wreck? Nope. Unanimously fat chicks were the epitome of social and personal apocalypse.

Which got me thinking…

I reckon every Aussie woman larger than a size 14 has likely experienced a man criticising her appearance. I’m not talking about garment choices, I’m talking about overweight, and the invisible accompanying license to express contempt.

My In Your Face story, “No Fat Chicks”, is set in the near future where a mystery virus has rendered all women obese. The story focuses on a group of male friends not coping well at all with the situation.

I’d had the idea for this one for some time, but hadn’t known where or how to start. I recognised the story would be tricky – but all my stories are difficult these days. Perhaps I should have realised a sci-fi semi-satire piece might prove particularly troublesome to place.

An Australian literary publication invited me to sub a story. They sat on “No Fat Chicks” for months before finally giving it the flick. My rejection came with a half page email mansplaining the intricate mechanics of human attraction. As far as that particular editor was concerned, I simply didn’t know how such things worked.

I sent the story out again a dozen times. A few submissions scored a polite ‘no thanks’ but other rejections read more along the lines of “ew – get this thing out of my face!” Even a sci-fi feminist magazine wouldn’t touch it. They weren’t sure why they didn’t want it, but they didn’t. A prominent editor friend had a look and advised me that the story was too misogynist.

It wasn’t the fact of the rejections that bothered me so much as the wording of them. As a writer of 25+ years in the saddle, I’m no stranger to editorial rejection, no kind of delicate little flower who expects her words to be regarded as precious gifts. I’m an editor myself – and a bit of a hardarse – well aware that no can mean no for many reasons.

“No Fat Chicks” is not about #allmen, but the men it describes are absolutely real. For research, I waded through a swamp of unpleasant websites. The kind that advocate dating girls with eating disorders as they’re hot in the sack and easy to control. And then there was the miserable hatefest known as @fatshamingweek. Don’t go there – I really wish I hadn’t.

To be fair on the editors who rejected my submissions, I tweaked the story every time it bounced. Perhaps my earlier drafts didn’t do my ideas proper justice. Perhaps my writing needed a bit more polish. But the overwhelming feeling I experienced with each no was that I wasn’t supposed to be telling this tale at all.

Western women are raised with the belief that it’s more important to be beautiful than anything. We can all name five supermodels or screen sirens, but how do we score naming five top female CEOs or scientists?

There are many men out there who consider ‘fat chicks’ a blight upon the landscape. They believe the world was made for them alone. That women and girls are servants and accessories, and all are supposed to be petite and small. Anything else is unnecessary and offensive. This story is about those men. It is not about all men everywhere, any more than any other story could be expected to reflect all men everywhere.

Thank you Tehani for giving “No Fat Chicks” a go.

Editor’s Note: Cat’s story is the true spark that brought the In Your Face anthology into being. I wasn’t going to do an anthology this year. “No Fat Chicks” is the reason the book came to life. 

If Cat has sparked your interest in the In Your Face anthology and the powerful stories it contains, you might like to support the crowdfunding campaign by pre-ordering the book (and lots of other goodies) at Pozible. And please feel free to share with your networks!

You can find more posts by our authors linked here.



New release – FOCUS 2013: highlights of Australian short fiction

Focus2013-CoverFocus 2013: highlights of Australian short fiction hits the virtual shelves on October 1, 2014. The second of an annual series, Focus 2013 collects an elite selection of work which has received acclaim via national and international Awards shortlisting.

Focus 2013: highlights of Australian short fiction features work by…

D.K. Mok – “Morning Star”

Juliet Marillier – “By Bone-Light”

Joanne Anderton – “Mah Song”

Thoraiya Dyer – “Seven Days in Paris”

Tansy Rayner Roberts – “Cold White Daughter”

C.S. McMullen – “The Nest”

Cat Sparks – “Scarp”

Kaaron Warren – “Air, Water and the Grove”

Kirstyn McDermott – “The Home for Broken Dolls”

Kathleen Jennings – Illustrations and cover art

The book is officially on sale on October 1, and is currently available for pre-order at Amazon, Kobo and Smashwords for US$4.99.

On indie press: Cat Sparks

I’ve invited a number of people who have published in indie press and gone on to become professionals in the field to write about their experiences. Today’s post comes to us from Cat Sparks, who not only knows small press publishing as an author, but as an editor and publisher too. 

In 2005 I had the great privilege of attending a prestigious writing workshop in the US. One of the tutors was a writer I hold in great esteem but I had cause to argue with one piece of advice he offered the class. Never go with small press, he told us. Small press is below the professional writer, or words to that effect.

I argued. I pointed out that in Australia, if small presses didn’t publish SF short stories, no one would. Back then the internet was not the golden gateway it is now and cracking US markets via snail mail was a lengthy and troublesome process for my countrymen & women.

Years later the esteemed tutor approached me at a World Fantasy Convention room party with the express purpose of reminding me of that moment when I challenged him in class. You were right, he said. I’ve just signed to do a collection with a small press and I’m very happy with the arrangement. This author’s star was – and still is – on the rise, so he wasn’t settling for less than he was worth. Rather, the playing field had changed.

The term ‘small press’ can be misleading. The US’s Nightshade Books is considered a small press, yet it has produced titles with print runs of 80,000+. Most people would be shocked to learn how few books an Australian print run for a new author actually contains.

Small press fills a niche and as the publishing landscape continues to morph and evolve, those niches are getting bigger, wider and more varied. Major publishers are not the only major players any more. Readers are increasingly taking power for themselves and the industry is being forced to adjust itself accordingly.

I’m employed three days a week by a small press which is still in the process of adjusting itself to the e-book revolution. A couple of years ago it became starkly evident that we would have to tailor our products to suit a readership that wasn’t yet certain what it wanted. E-books? What formats? What distribution systems? How do these factors affect copyright permissions? We’re surviving OK, probably because we’re a small press rather than in spite of it. We were able to act quickly, reskill, adapt, think on our feet because we did not have committees to explain things to, boards to appease, shareholders to convince, etc. We just learnt what we needed to know, applied the knowledge and got on with it.

The age of the stately publishing gatekeepers is coming to a close. New auxiliary industries will spring up as navigating the oceans of unfettered self-published crap become the primary challenge for eager readers. How do I find the stuff I like to read? Power bases will shift, empires will fall, new ones will rise from the ashes. One thing amongst so many others seems a sure bet: small presses with identified readerships, myriad delivery systems and quality merchandise are certain to survive the flames.

Cat Sparks is fiction editor of Cosmos Magazine. She managed Agog! Press, an Australian independent press that produced ten anthologies of new speculative fiction from 2002-2008. She’s known for her award-winning editing, writing, graphic design and photography.