Interview: Milena Benini

Photo by Mirko Bulaja
Photo by Mirko Bulaja

Milena Benini is an award-winning  Croatian speculative fiction author who writes short stories, serialized novels and very interesting theoretical essays on SF genre, feminism and vampires. (Wow, that was easy, once I got it out of my system!) She lives in Zagreb with a husband, two daughters and lots of pets. This summer she was one of the people who have hosted Gillian Polack, the 2015 Australian GUFF delegate on the Croatian leg of her grand European GUFF trip.

How do you manage balancing work, 2 kids, 3? pets, a husband, academic research, fiction writing and reading for pleasure?
I start from the assumption that sleep is overrated. 🙂 Well, on one hand, having two kids is an advantage, because they can keep each other company, and the same goes for three pets, although the older cat doesn’t much like company anyway. But the younger cat and the dog are great friends.

As for the rest, well, honestly, I don’t know. I’ve been writing and doing other things all my life — I started writing when I was 12, I started earning at least part of my living at 16 — so I guess I just don’t know any other way to live. And my husband is also a writer and translator, so he understands the meaning of the word ‘deadline’, and that helps, too.

Your first story, published by the ESFS Award winning magazine Sirius when you were 14, was pure SF. You write stories in all genres, and your latest novel, which sold in Croatia only after it sold in Canada, is fantasy. Which do you prefer – SF, fantasty or horror?
In Croatian fandom, everybody knows that I’m a great proponent of the expression “speculative fiction” instead of specific sub-genres, and sometimes people laugh at me because of that, but there’s a reason why I’m so stubborn when it comes to the expression. I think that, particularly today, the borders between speculative genres are blurred, and the best the genre has to offer has always at least played with them. I love writers such as Michael Moorcock, China Mieville, Roger Zelazny, Ursula Le Guin. Are they SF, fantasy or horror?

In my own work, I have a bunch of stories taking place in a parallel history universe where technology is advancing rapidly, but magic exists, too, and a lot of the stories spring from the tension between the two. So is it fantasy, because the industrial spy is descended from a fairy, or is it SF, because the whole plot hinges on stealing the technology for wireless telegraphy? I don’t know, and, frankly, I don’t care. I think, among other things, that it’s more fun to write things that are not strictly limited.

What are you working on now?
Fiction-wise, I’m currently rewriting one novel, a sort of urban fantasy with witches and warlocks and cats and a dragon (and some other things, too), and I’m trying to finally complete the synopsis for part two of my epic fantasy novel, since part two is already out in two languages and, with a little luck, people will want to find out what happens later. And even if they don’t, I want to find out for myself. This project has been on the backburner for a long time, so it’s taking me a while to get back into the world and the characters properly, but I really like that world — it was inspired by Roman and Greek cultures — and I’m actually having a lot of fun returning to it. And later this year, I’ll have to finish the edits for another novel, currently with the editor, which is more science-fiction than anything else, but it still includes people who sell dreams for a living, and an alien race whose technology, as far as humans can figure out, consists mostly of half-rotten pieces of wood on a string. But they use it to travel through space, so humans are a little confused about it. To return to your previous question, some might think that it’s more fantasy than ‘true’ SF — but then, FTL travel in general is fantasy and not SF, as far as our current science can tell, so why not achieve it in a more interesting way, without unobtanium cores and reversed polarities?

What do you do for a living?
All kinds of things, although, at the moment, I’m mostly working as editor and community manager for Lumen izdavaštvo, one of Croatia’s most prominent publishing houses, specialising in translated literature. But I also translate, teach, do web-design, and even dabble in graphics. I’ve been a freelancer most of my life, so I like to have a lot of different skills to offer. Oh, and did I mention that I’m editor in chief of Croatian Weekly Economic Bulletin, which is an electronic publication bringing economy-related news from Croatia in English? I’ve been doing that for… a very, very long time.

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You can find Milena’s short fiction online at the Daily Science Fiction and on the now sadly no longer active World SF blog  or you could buy a copy of Kontakt, the Croatian SF Anthology in English. If you like novels, then go for her Priestess of the Moon.

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About Mihaela Marija Perkovic

Mihaela Marija Perkovic was GUFF laureate 2013 and is now the European GUFF Adminstrator. She is also a writer. And Mum. PR wizard. Journalist. Translator. Clutz. Copywriter. SF fan. Writing workshops aficionado. SFera member. Conrunner. Lousy photographer.
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