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An interview with the Croatian writer Mihaela Marija Perković on European SF issues – Cristian Tamaș

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Mihaela Marija Perkovic 1

There are european SFs, fandoms, publishers, etc. that do not really think that the european market and other SFs and fandoms are worthing their interest, time and effort.” – Mihaela Marija Perković

Cristian Tamaș : What’s your opinion on the new ESFS Board ? Is it a feminine or feminist ESFS Board with a male minority ? Putting ladies in charge equates automatically with “problem is solved” ?

Mihaela Marija Perković : I do not think so. It seems that Non-English speaking European fandoms, especially those with a communist history, have a much larger proportion of female participation in fandom than those in the English speaking world. I spoke very briefly at Kontakt (2012 Eurocon in Zagreb), and later tentatively over e-mail, with several European female fandom members and they all told me the same story: women run the clubs and the cons, most of the time, and there are as many women in fandom as there are men. It is quite the opposite from what we can read exploding all over the internet regarding US and UK fandom where women seem to have to struggle to get included.
I have been thinking about this again recently, since Elise Mathesen reported being harrassed as Wiscon, of all places. Been considering the possibility of researching this since before Kontakt: I would love to get my hands on hard data from all over Europe.
In Croatia, the winners of the SFERA Award are 25% female and that is the percentage of female authors published. The most prestigious and the oldest short story collection, the one that comes free with the SFeraKon membership, has had a female co-editor for the past 15 years. At one point in time more than half the cons in the country were run by women, SFeraKon had a female security chief and the collection two female editors. The male editors of the first academically significant SF novella anthology went around telling everybody that “women were the silent strength of Croatian SF” so often it became an in-joke. (silent we are not) According to Aleksandar Žiljak and Tom Šakić, Croatian SF stories written by women aged much better than those written by men.
I do not think having more female board members means problem solved. I am sure that it means things will be different – simply because it is a different board.

Cristian Tamaș : There was and there is an horizon of expectations concerning the new ESFS Board. Cheryl Morgan was keen and swift to mentioned it, “there appears to have been something of a revolution… for as long as I can remember, the European Science Fiction Society has been run by the same small group of people. Now we have a new committee…That’s a much more diverse group than before, and one I expect to be a lot more open and proactive”. What is your opinion ?

Mihaela Marija Perković : I think change is good. And it should come more often, to shake things up.
I am very proud that Vanja Kranjčević, who worked very hard on both the Zagreb Eurocon bid and as vice chair of Kontakt, got elected as member of the board.
As for what I hope they will do… Well, honestly, I hope they will do everything I would personally like to see done. ;D But since I am not on the board – and won’t be putting in the hours – I cannot seriously expect that.
I would welcome a serious discussion on revisions of the ESFS Statute and of the Award rules since these are, in my opinion, very unclear and convoluted. I consider myself a newcomer on the European scene, and I found the Award rules appallingly difficult to understand and even more difficult to explain, especially during the European SF scene presentations on my GUFF trip to Australia and New Zealand. I understand some of the strangeness of these rules stems from trying to be fair to all, but the reasoning behind it seems to be very much lost. So it is time to either change it or at least to have someone in the know sit down and write out explanations for why things are as they are. That would actually be a great starting point for a discussion on possible changes.
I would love to see Eurocon have what Finncon has: an academic program two days before the con. On the other hand, I would be wary of a ESFS board trying to impose too many guidelines on the organizing committees of any given Eurocon as I feel that the charm of every Eurocon is the particular style a national committee brings to it. It is what makes is not only interesting, but somehow European-flavoured. I know there are many who would not agree with me there, but I do think that in this diversity lie the strength and uniqueness of European fandoms.
For me personally it was a lot more significant that the majority of the new ESFS board members were people whose mother tongue is not English rather than the fact that they were women. But then again, being Croatian, for me women in charge in fandom is not a point of strangeness.

Cristian Tamaș : EUROCON was founded in 1972 by European professional SF writers and became a fans organization. What do you think the results are after 40 years ?

Mihaela Marija Perković Perković : I am glad it has become a fan organization. The thing I love the most about volunteer-run conventions is the spirit and enthusiasm with which both fans and professionals approach it.
Most European countries do not have a large enough audience base, in genre or in mainstream, for publishing to be able to support fully professional writers, like the US market can. I was surprised to find the situation is similar in Australia where very few authors make a living writing fiction. Quite a few support themselves as journalists and professors, just like most European authors I know.
Unlike Australia, the UK, US and Canada, Europe as a market is divided by numerous languages. It requires a lot of consistent effort to promote something, be it national fandom, national genre literature or your own work, in English, on one’s own time and on one’s own dime. ESFS and Eurocon should aim to make this kind of effort easier. But I do not feel they should take it over completely.

Cristian Tamaș : Do you think that a strategy concerning ESFS will appear ? Or everything is just perfect as it is, once a year some SF tourism and some Eurovision type awards ? Do you think we’ll see an assumed ESFS Board’s agenda, with clear objectives, with terms and priorities ?

Mihaela Marija Perković : I have no idea. This question would be best answered by the board.
As I was not present at the Eurocon in Kiev where they were elected, I cannot speculate about what the board will do – I did not hear what they said to get elected.
Personally, I believe SF tourism is essential to the development of European fandom and we should have more of it, and not just for Eurocon. This is a lesson I learned on my GUFF trip: fostering relationships between fandoms in different countries by visiting conventions, taking part in panels, holding lectures, talking to people and exchanging ideas and experiences is something we do not think of highly enough in European fandom. Nor do we practice it enough. And we should.

Cristian Tamaș : What could be the responsibility of the ESFS Board ?

Mihaela Marija Perković : To continue to provide the opportunity for the European fans to get in touch with each other in an organized manner. I think this is what they were founded for and I do think this is what the ESFS and Eurocon have been doing over the years.
I do not believe it should be the responsibility of the ESFS and Eurocon to pull at sleeves of publishers and authors to get them to participate in events that can professionally benefit those very same authors and publishers. As I said in my comment on EUROPA SF, European authors and publishers do not seem to regard the European market as worthwhile, as it lacks numbers. To believe that this fact might change through any (ESFS or EU) agenda is like believing that the entire Europe will be waking up tomorrow to magically speak, read and write exclusively in Esperanto. The language barrier is not a problem of nor for the ESFS. Nor should it be theirs to solve. This is a problem for publishers and, consequently, authors and, at the end of the day, readers of SF. American authors can be very annoyingly aggressive in their self promotion, but I think Europeans should follow suit (up to a point). How many non-English speaking European SF authors have a consistent online presence in English? Few and far between. Alliette de Bodard, Hannu Rajaniemi and Harry Markov are exceptions that confirm the rule.
Promotion, in English language, is not only the way to getting published in America. It is the way to get known all over Europe. I think better visibility for the ESFS Awards would bring that, too. Awards get you translated: pitching an award-wining author for translation to a publisher is a lot easier than pitching one some editor simply swears is a good one.

Cristian Tamaș : Is such a thing as European SF&F ? If, yes, what is and what should be the input of the ESFS Board ?

Mihaela Marija Perković : I think there is such a thing as European SF&F, written by authors such as Zoran Živković, Aliette de Bodard, Thomas Olde Heuvelt, Milena Benini, Alastair Reynolds, Darko Macan, Debora Montanari, Dmitry Gluhovsky, Dalibor Perković, Sergey Lukyanenko, Karin Tidbeck, Iva Šakić Ristić, Hannu Rajaniemi, Ekaterina Sedia, Otto Oltvanji, Darko Tuševljaković, Harry Markov, Ivana Delač, Michael Iwoleit, Goran Škrobonja, Nina Horvath, Zoran Krušvar and many, many others. (I am sure I will have offended somebody by not mentioning it and I apologize.)
The input of the ESFS board should be what it is right now – the administration of the European SF Awards. Slightly reformed, as discussed previously, regarding clarification and transparency of rules and possibly making an effort in providing more visibility for the award (But this just may be my inner PR person speaking. She intrudes everywhere.).

Cristian Tamaș : EUROCON is not a service mark as “Worldcon” and “World Science Fiction Convention” (“World Science Fiction Convention”, “Worldcon”, “World Science Fiction Society”, “WSFS”, “NASFiC”, “Hugo Award”, and the distinctive design of the Hugo Award Rocket are service marks of the World Science Fiction Society. These names are owned by the World Science Fiction Society (WSFS), an unincorporated literary society whose purpose is to promote interest in science fiction. The most important standing committee is the Mark Protection Committee (MPC), which is responsible for maintaining the society’s trademarks and domain names.“ – http://www.wsfs.org/). The result is that the EUROCON acronym became generic and it’s used by anyone who wants to use it, religious organizations, technical organizations, etc. What do you think about it ?

Mihaela Marija Perković : I think it is unfortunate that the Eurocon name was not protected by the SF community in Europe but there is no use crying over spilt milk. Possibly an elegant solution would be the purchase of a single domain name to be used by all future Eurocons. Although I am sure there is much room for a debate on this issue. I would not mind being part of one at Shamrockon.

Cristian Tamaș : There are 24 official languages of the European Union, 25 with the Croatian from the 1st of July 2013 (“The European Commission employs English, French and German in general as procedural languages”) and in total 38 official languages in Europe. A real linguistic Babylon ! The European Union supports the inter-EU literary translations via specialized programmes. What about any ESFS translation projects to EU for the inter-european languages SF&F texts ? What about the non-EU languages such as Russian, Ukrainian, etc. ? ESFS is a pan-european organization with an EU majority, isn’it ?

Mihaela Marija Perković : Yes, it is. But, EU projects, such as literary translations, are not suited for an organization such as the ESFS as it is currently constituted. The ESFS is volunteer based, modeled after Worldcon, which is also volunteer based. Its business is con running, not publishing. And EU projects are, in fact, business. Writing a EU project and following it through requires professional engagement. Professional in the sense that this very time consuming task is in effect a job that needs to be paid work and cannot be done by volunteers (as the rules of EU project often do explicitly stipulate).
Worldcon, however big it may be, is not SFWA, and with good reason. To me it seems perfectly logical that the ESFS is not a writers’ association either. Yes, things are done differently in Europe, and we have done them quite differently in small European countries, where small press publishers and the biggest publishers both get government endorsements. I do not believe this is what ESFS should strive for.
Focusing only on the literary part is not what a Society whose first priority is con running should do. Why set fans aside? Although some fans are also writers, this is not a universal condition. Some fans are just fans, interested in fannish culture. Also, I feel that focusing on the literary excludes artists, filmmakers and musicians.
However, I think that there is absolutely nothing to stop European authors and publishers with a vested interest in EU projects as regards literary translation from getting together and hammering out a project or seven. I think the ESFS activity of organizing Eurocons provides them with a wonderful opportunity not only to have a venue to meet and discuss it in person while having some fun but also an opportunity to engage and research the opinions the potential consumers of such publications who are also gatekeepers for their own countries’ fandoms.

Cristian Tamaș : You mentioned in one commentary of yours : “There are European SFs, fandoms, publishers, etc. that do not really think that the European market and other European SFs and fandoms are worthing their interest, time and effort.” But isn’t it that the cultural attitude of any big european countries versus the other “smaller” european countries and cultures ? The only foreign model/point of reference being the US one ?

Mihaela Marija Perković : Charlie Stross has this line he uses at conventions, about how the audience can surely tell he is an American author by his wonderful Scottish accent. What I brought away from the story on how Charlie Stross finally got his big break on the American market is the shocking realization that the UK market is in reality not very big. British culture, in my opinion, is in no way “smaller” than American. Yet, there the UK is, right there, in the corner, hanging out with all the other kids smaller than the Americans.
It is true that authors from non-English speaking countries, be they small, like Croatia or big like Russia, have more difficulty breaking into the international market simply because of the language barrier. Stross, to use him as an example again, did not have to put in money or time into translating his work into another language in order to be able to have a go of it on the biggest market. Non-English speaking authors have to. But, they would have to even if the biggest market wasn’t the American one but the European one, since the 38 official European languages would still be there and would still require translation into some universally understandable language.
I believe European authors should work around it. I trust that the SF people will be smart enough to figure it out. Even as I write this, some authors translate themselves, some pay for translation while some simply choose to write in English, like Aliette de Bodard and Hannu Rajaniemi. And do not forget, even the writing in English coin has flip side: somebody has to put up the money for Charlie Stross to be translated into Croatian. Or Romanian. Or pick any other of the 38 languages.

Cristian Tamaș : What about a possible individual ESFS membership open to anyone who adheres to the ESFS rules ?

Mihaela Marija Perković : No, in my opinion this would make sense only it the ESFS was a writers’ association, which it is not and I believe it should not be.
But again, I have no idea what the opinion of the current board of the ESFS is on this matter or whether it would make sense to have a paying membership financially (does the ESFS need the funds and what for) or fiscally (in which country would the bank account be? who would administer it?)
I have no idea if any of these issues are already dealt with, and if so, how. The ignorance is all my own, because I never did bother to check.

Cristian Tamaș : Should ESFS be reformed ?

Mihaela Marija Perković : Yes, it should.

Cristian Tamaș : Do you think that it will be possible to bring back the european SF&F professional writers within ESFS ?

Mihaela Marija Perković : Yes, but I do not believe the ESFS should become the European version of the SFWA or the European version of SFERA. There is a reason it never did evolve into a writers’ association and I believe it was due to the specific way things work in the European area. Or rather European areas.
There is however no reason why the ESFS at any future Eurocon should not help interested professionals – authors, editors and publishers – who are willing to invest their time to form such an association. Nina Horvath from Austria springs to mind as an author who might be interested in such a project. I know I am and I am sure there are many, many more out there. Maybe a panel at Shamrockon would be in order?

Cristian Tamaș : EUROPA SF and International Speculative Fiction had launched a digital European SF Anthology in english, collecting stories from eight european countries. Why isn’t ESFS launching its own brand of yearly European SF anthologies ?

Mihaela Marija Perković : I cannot speak for the ESFS, but I can write what I can guess at from the sidelines: they do not because the ESFS is a volunteer-run organization focused on con running and European SF awards administration. It is not a writers’ association nor a publishing house.
How are the EUROPA SF and the International Speculative Fiction financing their European SF Anthology? Are they paying the authors, the translators, the editors? Are they running an annual con and administering an award simultaneously? I am speaking from experience here. SFera organizes SFeraKon and has done so for 36 years. For 19 of those 36 years we have also published a short story collection and used the con as a distribution channel. Both have been funded by the Croatian state, some years generously, some years less so. The work on both projects has been done by volunteers. But having the same volunteers do both was very short lived, because each project – the con and the collection – is big and time consuming, especially for people who have jobs to go to and families to raise. For instance, there are three editors of the short story collection, the third a new person each year and a fourth and a fifth person doing the paperwork and administration.

Cristian Tamaș : EUROPA SF, the European SF Portal, had been awarded by ESFS with the occasion of the 2013 Eurocon in Kiev, The Best European Website Award. How could EUROPA SF help ESFS and the European SF&F fandom ?

Mihaela Marija Perković : By continuing to exist and writing about European fandom, European SF&F literature, art and film. About the ESFS and about Eurocons. Doing journalistic work which will introduce fans, authors, artists, editors and publishers to each other online and make them interested in meeting IRL.

Cristian Tamaș : Kindly address some words to our European and worldwide readers. Thank you !

Mihaela Marija Perković : I would like to see more non-English speaking European authors blog online in English, and more of them and their publishers attending future Eurocons.
I also would love it if every national con in Europe had a stream of programming in English every year and a website in English several months in advance so fans from other countries could more easily decide to visit cons outside their immediate neighbourhood. A tradition of European Fan Guest of Honour at national conventions would greatly facilitate this, I believe.
Western Australian Swancon taught me that it does not matter how large a con is, just how well organized. I did not even know I thought size mattered so much, and I see from Nina Horvath’s report on the Slovakian con published on Europa SF that I am not the only one to have this notion of “we do not have/do this or that since we are just a small con”.
Also, having seen and experienced how fan funds function during my GUFF trip to Australia and New Zealand, I will make it may mission to not only spread the word about GUFF in non-English speaking Europe whose fans are eligible for it but will also advocate establishing fan funds auctions at all European convention where there are none. If I can get that off the ground, we could possibly even establish an interior European fan fund to help fans from different parts of Europe visit each other’s conventions. All of this I would love to discuss with all who are interested at the next Eurocon, Eastercon, Worldcon or SFerakon. Or online.

Copyright © Cristian Tamaș & Mihaela Marija Perković. All rights reserved.

Mihaela Marija Perković is a Croatian writer and and SF fan who makes her living as a PR wizard, translator, freelance journalist, copywriter and business consultant. She writes very, very slowly and has published both genre and non-genre short fiction some of which has been translated into English and Romanian. She is a contributor to the Croatian SF portal NOSF.net and its free magazine, and is part of the editorial staff of the ESFS award winning literary SF magazine Ubiq. Mihaela was co-editor of the first Croatian fantasy short story collection Dragon’s Golden Scroll (2008). When she is not writing, she swims, spends time with her son, reads, runs writing workshops for children and for adults and takes an active role in both Croatian and international fandom.Currently she is the European GUFF administrator and Crotian agent for Loncon 3.
As member of SFera, the oldest Croatian science fiction society, she has been active in Croatian fandom since 2005, as president of the SFERA Award jury, PR manager of SFeraKon and SFera, programming coordinator and vicepresident at SFera as well as programming aide, panelist, gopher, lecturer, hospitality chief and sponsor liason for SFeraKon, the biggest and oldest Croatian convention which attracts an average of 1000 members each spring. Mihaela also took an active part in other Croatian conventions, such as helping organize literary workshop for Essekon or acting as host and interpreter for Istrakon guests of honour Juliet McKenna and Brian Aldiss. Interested in fandom activities outside of Croatia, in 2008 she visited her first Worldcon in Denver. Since then she has attended as many conventions all over the world as she could afford to.
At Kontakt, the very successful 2012 Eurocon held in her hometown Zagreb, Mihaela served as PR manager – a job Cheryl Morgan praised her for – and as coordinator of Kontakt Special Track, a programming stream aimed at bringing different non-English speaking European SF fandoms and literatures together. Kontakt Special Track was quite successful in presenting more than 10 countries. Unfortunately, not all presenters sent in their work after the convention for the ebook Mihaela is editing so the publication has been delayed. However, the 2013 Kiev Eurocon continued the tradition in its programming without calling it “special track”.
Taking part in Chicon and helping out at Loncon and Shamrockon parties, among other things, Mihaela connected with international fandom and being downright crazy about Australia (she earned her English degree with a paper on “SF tropes in Peter Carey’s short fiction”), ran for GUFF, the fund that sends fans from Europe to Australasia and vice versa, and to her great surprise – won! This is how she got to spend an amazing six weeks representing European fandom and literature Down Under and getting to know Australian and New Zealand fandom. During her GUFF trip she took part in two conventions – Swancon, in Perth, Western Australia and Conflux, in Canberra. In an effort to keep everyone in the loop regarding her Australian adventures and to fundraise as well as introduce European authors to Australiasian fandom and vice versa she started a blog at www.rantalica.com. Occasionally, Mihaela offers free SF fiction in English through the blog: the stories are donated to her by various European, Australian and New Zealand authors to help with fundraising for GUFF. You can find her on Facebook and Linked under Mihaela Marija Perković, she tweets as @rantalica and will (eventually) answer emails if you write to her at rantalica at gmail dot com.

Cristian Tamaș is a romanian essayist, translator and SF fan active within the speculative fiction domain since the 80s. He is a founding member of the Romanian Science Fiction&Fantasy Society (SRSFF = Societatea Română de Science Fiction&Fantasy, www.srsff.ro/) sine January 2009, he coordinates ProspectArt, the SRSFF’s SF club relaunched in April 2009 in Bucharest (Romania), and the yearly Ion Hobana Colloquium. He is a member of the Ion Hobana and SRSFF’s Jury Awards and of the editorial teams of the SRSFF Magazine , EUROPA SF  and of the International Speculative Fiction.
He is co-editor with Roberto Mendes of ”The Anthology of the European SF”, co-editor of „Bella Proxima”, a trilingual croatian SF anthology (english-croatian-romanian), together with Antuza Genescu and Aleksandar Žiljak (Eagle Publishing House, Bucharest, 2012).
He had interviewed the SF writers David Brin, Cat Rambo, Jason Sanford, Gérard Klein, Ugo Bellagamba (french SF author awarded with Grand Prix de l’Imaginaire & Prix Rosny ), the scholars Prof.Dr.George Slusser (University of California in Riverside), Prof. Rachel Haywood Ferreira (University of Iowa), Prof. M.Elizabeth Ginway (University of Florida), Prof. Arielle Saiber (Bowdoin College, USA; research focus : italian science fiction), Mariano Martín Rodríguez (SF scholar, Spain), the austrian writer Nina Horvath, the italian writer Debora Montanari, the croatian writer Mihaela Marija Perković, the hungarian writer Judit Lörinczy, The 2013 ESFS Board, Alexandre Babeanu (Prix Solaris awarded canadian SF author), J.S. Bangs (american writer), Heather Anastasiu (american fantasy writer); the romanian SF&F writers Cristian Mihail Teodorescu, Dănuț Ungureanu, Liviu Radu, Sebastian A.Corn, Silviu Genescu, George Lazăr, Dan Doboș, Antuza Genescu, Cosmin Perța, Feri Balin, Diana Alzner, Aurel Cărășel, the editor Mugur Cornilă, the translators Mihai Dan Pavelescu, Laura Bocancios, Adina Barvinschi, the film critic Andrei Crețulescu.

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