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We are thrilled to share our October Member Spotlight features Steve MinOn! Steve was recently announced as the winner of the Glendower Award for an Emerging Queensland Writer at the 2023 Queensland Literary Awards for his novel First Name Second Name.
Steve MinOn is an author who lives in Meanjin Brisbane. At different times he has been the creative director of an advertising agency, a copywriter, and a restaurateur. In 2021, a literary fiction manuscript he wrote won him a prized mentorship with Dr Michael Mohammed Ahmad through the Queensland Writers Centre’s Publishable program. His next manuscript won The Glendower Award for an emerging Queensland writer at the 2023 Queensland Literary Awards. Described by the judges as “an ambitious and inventive novel”, his debut, First Name Second Name will be published by UPQ. Steve has written short stories and articles for SBS Voices, Mamamia, Nightmare Fuel, WQ Magazine and QWC’s Right Left Write short story annual as well as on his blog.
What inspired you to begin a writing career?
Growing up feeling like an outsider in a small North Queensland country town (racially abused and gay) I was wired to play the what-if game from an early age. Every day I imagined a different life to the one that I had, and I suppose that equipped me naturally for a job as a writer. I began my writing career in advertising. But you speak in many voices when you’re an advertising copywriter, none of which are your own. You’re taught to adopt the perspective of the target market. The voice you develop is the voice of a chameleon. But you can’t dissociate like that forever and I left that career, inevitably, to get real. Writing my debut novel felt like stripping off in the street.
What does it mean to you to win the Glendower Award for an Emerging Queensland writer?
When I heard the news, I felt a break from that perennial feeling of author insecurity. But also, it’s a rare privilege to have that kind of luck. The Glendower Award is more than a prize, it’s something to leverage. When my book is eventually published, there’ll be a little gold sticker on the cover that says, “Queensland Literary Award Winner” and I’ll be so grateful that my novel gets to debut that way. When I see that sticker on other books, I usually buy them, even if I haven’t heard of the writer.
What do you know now that you wish you’d known at the start of your career?
I feel as if I’m still at the start of my author career. So, I don’t yet know what I don’t know. But I’ll tell you what has paid off for me: entering awards. Rather than let your manuscript languish on a slush pile, test it on the awards circuit. Find the right one for you. They have deadlines that drive you to finish your work and the entry questions help you sharpen your submissions game. If you don’t get through, at least you’ll know someone has read your work. Find out who the judges are so you know who you’re being read by. There’s a quiet satisfaction in picturing your manuscript in their hands. You don’t usually get feedback from them, but they announce who made it through and you can gather what they were looking for. If you’re the writer who wins, you can count your selection as a kind of endorsement by those people, which is a huge confidence boost when you admire them.
Which Australian authors/illustrators have been influential for you?
I try not to think of them. There are surely influences in my work but if I focus on them, I worry that I might mimic them. Old advertising habits die hard. When I was writing First Name Second Name, which addresses the Chinese diaspora’s integration into Australia, I tried not to read anything by anyone else working in that space. I didn’t want to be influenced by them or to let their experiences seep into mine. But of course, I do read Australian authors and no doubt they’ve imprinted on me. Peter Carey began as an advertising escapee, so I read all his books hoping I’d find a map to the tunnel under the wall. Christos Tsiolkas and Michael Mohammed Ahmad are both voices that have turned my ear like a sharp shout in the street. There is one direct influence on my work, my distant relative William Yang, the photographer. He always says he “came out as Chinese”. That phrase set my imagination alight and ultimately led to First Name Second Name.
Why do you think it’s important to be a member of the ASA?
There’s a lot of casual sharing of scar tissue amongst writers and a lot of well-meant liking and lifting going on out there. But every so often someone will ask a technical question like, “Does anyone know if this clause is typical in a contract?” or “What’s the going word rate for an international digital zine?” When your head is off with the fiction fairies, keeping up with good industry practice is hard. That’s when the ASA provides its expertise. Also, only an organised society of writers can defeat the rise of the author-bots, which sounds like a spec fiction log line, but it’s not. It’s real. Join the ASA. Join the resistance!
Find out more about Steve at www.steveminon.com.