In Black Sheep, Australian author Ben Peek envisions a grim world segregated along racial lines, where cultural mixing and questioning authority are both swiftly punished by the complete loss of one’s identity.

When you wrote Black Sheep, were you addressing issues in Australian politics specifically?

Black Sheep was born out of Australian society, but only because this is where I live. I’ve always been the kind of writer who reacts to what is in front of him. The book was a response to racist politicians who said anyone not white was bad. It was a response to the vibe that seemed to say that people ought to resent and be afraid of people that didn’t look and speak the same as they. Unfortunately, that’s not exclusive to Australia. Every country has those lines drawn.

Is that why Black Sheep was published by an American press rather than an Australian publisher?

Most publishers in Australia—the publishers I could get to—gave me the form “no thanks.” One had published a short story of mine in a collection earlier, so they knew who I was and gave me a bit more of their time. But they read the book and told me that it was too intense for them and could do with some humor. Then the rejection closed with the comment, “Not that 1984 or Darkness at Noon were very funny books, I suppose.”

What’s the market like for speculative fiction in Australia?

It’s dominated by kids’ lit and commercial fantasy and science fiction thrillers. Most of it is trash. A large part of the problem is that Australia is still part of the Commonwealth, so what comes out in the U.K. is generally what comes out here as well. That leaves you with the independent scene here, and that sells to about 300 people. If you’re a little bit cross-genre, a little bit hard to define, you’re a risk—especially for a market that doesn’t have much cash to begin with. That’s why I love American publishers—they know that America’s big enough for an author who doesn’t easily fit sales definitions, and that the audience for those authors is growing every day, and that both of us are going to be around for a while yet.

Have you given up on Australian markets?

No, not at all. For most Australian authors, getting into the States is a big deal. Getting into Australia, into distribution here, and being able to be read here, is an important thing for me. Maybe I just like lost causes.