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The Kitschies - An Interview

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Friday, January 13, 2012

The Kitschies - An Interview

This is an interview with Jared Shurin and Anne Perry of Pornokitsch on the subject of their award ‘The Kitschy’.  Sponsored by The Kraken Rum, The Kitschies are an annual awards for those books which best elevate the tone of genre literature.  They celebrate progressive, intelligent and entertaining works -- the books that do the science fiction and fantasy community proud.  Head over to their site to see the recently announced shortlists for the Red Tentacle (Best Novel), Golden Tentacle (Best Debut), and Inky Tentacle (Best Cover).

Shurin and Perry agreed to join me for an interview to give some insight into the award, their processes, and what they see for it in the future.  It's an interesting look inside what is becoming one of the more relevant awards in the genre discussion.



Justin: I’m going to do this in pink. You don’t mind right? (I've elected to publish the interview sans color coding, you're welcome)

Anne: Only if I can answer in mustard.

Jared: I actually feel ill reading the two of you.

Anne: By the way, Jared’s answering in phthalo blue. It’s a real color, I swear.

Justin: I wonder if there’s squid black. If not, maybe something to explore in future Kitschie marketing.  On that note, what the hell were you thinking when you decided to do an award that requires a boatload of reading in a few months and only four people to weed through it all?

Shurin: I don’t think - even optimistically - we expected to get 150 (152!) books. That’s over twice the submissions from last year. Fortunately, we were up to speed with many of the books already, and had been doing our reading throughout the year.

We thought that a 31 December cut-off date for submissions would serve as a de facto deadline of early December, especially with the holidays. But to get us a little more breathing room (and minimise the last-minute submissions), we’ll be bringing that forward next year. 1 December. For real. No extensions.

You know, I’ve never really figured out if our singular is Kitschy or Kitschie. Anne?

Justin: I’ll ask the questions around here Shurin. Anne?

Perry: I like Kitschy. Also, and more to the point of the original question, Jared and I are lucky to be fast readers. Well, I’m fast. Jared is, like, woooosh. Y’know. The Flash. He is super quick.

Justin: Ok, so 152 books. I read around 90 last year, and my peak would be around 120. And you’re talking about a 152 in a few months (even accounting for your yearly reading, there’s no way you weren’t at least 50 books behind). How did you divide up the workload?

Shurin: If you think about it, all four of us had been reading very different books throughout the year, so there weren’t that many books that came completely out of the blue. Generally speaking, the process was to divvy them out and report back, but, in practice, it wasn’t so tidy. Our master document of notes and chatter got swamped by everyone’s daily updates. Nearly every book was reviewed by at least two judges. And once the whittling down began, we all started reading everything.

I’m not going to lie. It was a lot of reading. Anne and I have been pretty antisocial since mid-November. But there are certainly worse problems than having to read a lot of great fiction.

Perry: What he said. Though there are a few I’m looking forward to rereading more at a more leisurely pace.

Justin: So what was the gamut of things that were submitted?  Any problem areas?

Shurin: The criteria (“contains an element of the speculative or fantastic”) opens a pretty broad umbrella. As well as science fiction and fantasy, we were also prodding publishers to send horror, YA, magical realism and paranormal romance. Any sub-genre or sub-sub-genre will do - unless a book was completely devoid of the unreal, it qualified.

That said, we had a half-dozen submissions as “debuts” that, well, weren’t. And, on our side, our rambling description of what was and wasn’t eligible for the Inky Tentacle (cover art) didn’t do anyone any favors. Next year we’ll be much more clear on the requirements for both categories.

Perry: A few books were submitted as genre without any real claim to the classification beyond “written by an author who usually writes genre novels.”

Justin: How has it been meshing the different tastes of your judges?

Shurin: Theoretically, the use of criteria (“intelligent, progressive, entertaining”) means that it isn’t a matter of personal taste, etc. etc. But that’s why we have a judging panel - so we get different perspectives. For both the art and the “text” panels, we’re staffed up with very outgoing people with wildly different artistic and literary backgrounds. And no one who’s afraid to stand up for his or her beliefs.

Perry: Everyone had a particular favorite that didn’t make the final cut - in every category. What a wonderful thing to be disappointed about: there are simply too many good books out there to whittle down to a list of five! (Without a little bloodshed, that is.)

Shurin: The final 48 hours of Red Tentacle shortlisting was certainly tense - we were supposed to send embargoed shortlists to media on Wednesday morning, and Thursday afternoon we were still yelling at one another. We eventually settled the matter with rigorous intellectual debate. That’s a nice way of saying that it got really shouty. It was a huge amount of fun.

Justin: Shouty. Great. We’re relying on literary discretion from someone who uses the word... shouty. So let’s get into the nitty gritty. Most of us blogger types do awards, or best of lists. I do the Juice Boxes, Speculative Scotsman does the Scotties, Mad Hatter does the Hatties... you get the drift. What made you and Anne want to take things to the next step and make a REAL award?

Shurin: Shouty is good languaging. You’ve mentioned three of the lists that I really rate as well. The blog awards have a lot of influence already. They’re out first, they’re well-written and well-thought and they reflect the viewpoint of the most involved segment of genre readers.

Our goal was always to come up with a prize that helps the winner as much as possible. Expanding our judging panel increases its respectability for other critics. Getting publishers and media shouting about it helps the commercial impact. Having an awards ceremony at SFX3 makes consumers more interested. And having a cash prize means that the authors take it more seriously as well. Basically, anything we could do to make The Kitschies as credible as possible with all potential audiences.

Justin: What's the goal in the long term?

Shurin: For the future... We’re keen to follow the Arthur C. Clarke Award model and be year-round advocates for genre literature, and not just an annual event. Our mission is to “elevate the tone”, after all. The Kraken are keen on this as well, as physical events are their speciality (and allow people to interact with their tasty, tasty rum). We’ve tried a few different formats this year but the most successful was the evening at Blackwell’s. We’re already planning the next one.

Oh, and we’d like to get a Wikipedia page at some point, but we can’t build our own, because that’s against wikiethics or something. Hint hint hint.

Justin: Speaking of the Clarke Award, does Lauren Beukes do all Kitschy meetings with her award sitting on the table to point to when someone disagrees with her?

Shurin: She prefers to do her gesturing with her Red Tentacle, from last year’s win. Which should soon to be joined by her Hugo, if the WorldCon voters get it right. And, of course, the collection of pretty letters you get from being on a half dozen short & long-lists (both literary and SF). Plus her collection of smoked thumbs, gleaned from everyone that’s ever dared disagree with her in the past.

Joking, of course. Lauren’s amazing, and threw herself into the project with terrifying enthusiasm. Working with her has been one of the highlights of 2011, 2012 and, pretty much ever. (Please don’t take my other thumb!)

Justin: How did you get The Kraken involved? Did you pitch to them?

Shurin: The Kraken was such an obvious fit with us - the quirkiness, the charm, the tentacles, and the upstarty-newness of it all - that we didn’t even think about anyone else. We got in touch and they responded immediately, so clearly they saw it too. They’ve been amazing throughout the process. Both the people and the rum. 

Justin: Have you adopted an octopus?

Shurin: Three of them. We’ve named them “Entertaining”, “Intelligent” and “Progressive”. People don’t realise that our “criteria” involves smearing the books in fish oil and seeing which ones are eaten first.

Perry: This works with cats, too. Late in the Red Tentacle shortlist process we started joking that we’d leave the candidates on the floor, at equal distances from each other, and see which ones the cats fell asleep on. It never quite came to that.

Justin: Any surprises in all this?

Shurin: One thing we found disappointing - shocking, even - was that only about 20% of the total submissions were from female authors (or co-authors). We’re an award that’s open to all genres of science fiction and fantasy (including horror, young adult and paranormal romance - three areas better represented by female authors), we’re looking for non-traditional work and, for that matter, most of our judges (3 of 4 text, 3 of 5 art) are female. I’d hate to think we don’t seem welcoming. Worse yet, 20% may be an accurate reflection of the make-up of genre literature as a whole.

Perry: We made a point of making the award as small-press-friendly as possible, hoping to encourage submissions from those authors and publishers who aren’t usually represented on the awards circuit. We were a little disappointed not to get more small press submissions, though we did get a few, and some self-published authors. We’d definitely like to see more from both categories in the coming years.

Shurin: It is also worth mentioning that, at the 11th hour, we had to recuse ourselves from judging two books. That was probably the hardest decision of all. Anne and I are very close to Sophia McDougall and Savage City. Lauren Beukes with Sarah and Louis (S.L. Grey) of The Mall. We all really loved both these books, but as a new award, we didn’t want anything soured by accusations of favoritism. It sucks, as we can’t recommend these two books highly enough. Everyone should go read them and nominate them for the Hugo, BSFA, BFS, Tiptree and Stoker.

Justin: Did you accept novels only, or did single author collections qualify? I’m thinking of my favorite book of the year, After the Apocalypse by Maureen McHugh. If not, is that something you’d consider in the future? Do you have any plans to add a short fiction category?

Shurin: I’m glad to see that After the Apocalypse has already been announced as a Philip K. Dick Award finalist. See? Bloggers - faster than awards and setting the trends.

We just added cover art this year, but that’s (fortunately) not something that requires any extra reading time. It would be great to extend to short fiction (or entire anthologies), but we’d need to add a new category. And a new panel of judges.

Justin: I notice all the books shortlisted were either stand alone novels, or first books in a series. Were any second installments submitted? How would you have handled that?

Shurin: They were (and third and fourth and fifth and even a few sixths and one seventh, I believe) - we like a long series in genre. We appraised each book on its own, individual, merit. In many cases, we had to make sure that the judges reading a series book came from a variety of exposures - some had read the previous book(s), some hadn’t.

It was tough as there were some incredibly strong sequels this year - including three, Lev Grossman’s The Magician King, Joe Abercrombie’s The Heroes and Maurice Broaddus’ King’s Justice that followed on directly from previous finalists or winners.

Justin: Thanks for joining me. I don’t agree with all your short listed titles, but I’m thrilled to see more progressive genre works featured.

Shurin: Thank you! And we look forward to the inevitable debate - that’s the best part of the whole thing. (That and the rum.)



At January 13, 2012 at 8:17 AM , Blogger Jared said...

I think my answers are far more articulate when they're in Pthalo blue.

At January 15, 2012 at 1:29 AM , Blogger Mieneke van der Salm said...

Great sounds as if you had loads of fun putting this together :-)


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