SQ Mag: here be nagas

sq magazine issue 19A little while ago I mentioned nagas here and flashed a pair of cobra fangs for inspiration — well, the first story in this paranormal mythos has struck, over at SQ Mag.

Will this be the last ‘vampire’ story I write for a while? Probably. Kind of. The next I’m working on in this Make Believe Brisbane has a mermaid front and centre. I’ve got plans to develop these characters, and the world, through a series of shorts, culminating in a longer piece centred on Manasa’s quest to recover the SITI. Anyway, here’s to the first step!

And the good thing is, if this yarn has you recoiling (sorry, Michelle) in horror, there is a bunch of other yarns in the mag — and it’s free!

Recent reads: Gibson, Strahan, Kiernan, Abbott

I’ve been slack, sneaking in a bit of reading and not passing on the goods. So here’s a quick summary of yarns I’ve read lately (outside of last year’s Australian Women Writers Challenge) that have made me happy:

william gibson book the peripheralThe Peripheral, William Gibson (Penguin/Viking 2014): Gibson time travels, from the economically bereft American South to a socially bereft future London, where climate change has wrought its sneaky damage and only tech has saved humanity — at the price, perhaps, of its humanity. The book needs its own review — there are plenty out there, and this one by Keith Stevenson tags a bunch of my responses (yeah, the tracking device, way too convenient) — but suffice to say, I love Gibson’s writing. Here’s a protag who is perhaps slightly under-equipped to handle the situation in which, tired and lonely though not alone, he finds himself; here’s another who is coping very well with it, thanks, due to her smarts, and those family and friends in dangerous places. There was little tension, though, and the happy endings all round left me a bit meh, but the ride was comfortable (but not safe — Gibson does not err on the side of over-explanation, bless, though some of the sentence fragments actually jarred me from time to time) and the view deftly drawn and suitably gloomy in all the right places. Makes me want to read Neuromancer et al all over again.

fearful symmetries anthology editor ellen datlowFearful Symmetries, Ellen Datlow (ed) (ChiZine 2014): I helped Kickstart this tome and it was money well spent; a solid bunch of spooky yarns. One, though, blew my socks off; it dispensed with linear narrative in a way that made my head spin — that it was partly set in New Orleans probably helped, sure, but wow: ‘Ballad of An Echo Whisperer’ by Caitlín R Kiernan floated my boat like few other short stories I read last year.

 

fearsome magicsFearsome Magics, Jonathan Strahan (ed) (Solaris, 2014): One of the strongest anthologies I read last year, with not even a handful of yarns that made me go ‘meh’. While magic was the core theme, the variations to be found within are wide and wonderful: faery magic, science as magic, high fantasy, urban fantasy. Strahan has conjured a strong field for this table of contents and they cast quite a spell.

 

die a little by megan abbottAnd finally, I should be reading, oh, dozens of books right now, I guess, but sometimes you just gotta go for a safe, enjoyable read. A palate cleanser, for want of a more charitable description. One where you know the voice and the world will immerse you, the writing will thrill you, and the story will be worth your investment. And so it is I have picked up Megan Abbott’s Die A Little (Simon and Schuster, 2005). It’s another (early) of her period noirs, in which a school teacher and her policeman brother get caught up with a femme fatale with a shadowy past. I’d probably still pick Queenpin as my favourite so far — I note I am behind in Abbott’s catalogue *sigh* — but I love the voice and the use of a chapter-free progression of scenes told in the first person from a rather cool cucumber. I’m halfway through and the dressing’s just hit the salad and I can’t way to see who dishes up the just desserts …

WIP: Fangs for the inspiration

cobra fangsThese are cobra fangs. They were a Valentine’s gift from my beloved, specifically because I’m writing nagas. They’re slippery suckers.

I had the idea for these stories years ago, when Amanda Pillar was calling for submissions for her first ‘blood’-themed anthology for Ticonderoga. She’s done two of them now (Bloodlines is due in August), and it has taken me this long — and a lot of reading/research, a lot of note making and scene revising, some brainstorming — to come to grips with the story world. Maybe I’ll finally have something in time for No.3!

The fact is, I’m still grappling, exploring the urban fantasy’s world and its characters through the stories. And attempting to air these explorations as I go, a little morale boost, with an end result: hopefully, a cohesive novella, perhaps fleshed our or simply complemented with revised, definitive versions of these formative, transformative yarns. I’m lumping them under a banner of BLOODRUNNER, both a nod to that inspiration from Amanda, and to my old mate Shayne Hall who introduced me to the term in a different context.

I just hope this project doesn’t end up biting me on the asp.

Oculus: quite a frightful sight (in a good way)!

oculus movie Putting my head above the parapet to share some quick reflections on Oculus, director and co-writer Mike Flanagan’s superb horror flick from last year worth looking into.

As the puns suggest, it is about a mirror. A haunted mirror. It is no laughing matter.

Dr Who‘s Karen Gillan and Aussie Brenton Thwaites play Kaylie and Tim, reunited after Tim’s got out of a psych clinic years after a horrific incident of apparent domestic abuse.

The movie cleverly merges that past trauma, with young actors Annalise Basso and Garrett Ryan giving wonderful performances, with the present as the nature of the mirror is revealed.

Illusion, obsession and confusion reign. Horror results.

Do not watch this movie if you’re feeling down.

Unlike this year’s similar and, indeed, similarly superb, Aussie effort Babadook, there’s precious little hope or light to be found here — it is perhaps my only quibble, from a thematic basis. But the narrative plays out truthfully and unapologetically.

I loved the quiet, building dread of this movie (enhanced by its subtle score), and the brilliant editing as timelines meet — no cheap, screaming string section; no gotcha! jump cuts.

The relationship between brother and sister is well drawn, their actions and reactions believable and intelligent. And by the end of the movie, boy, did Kirstyn and I hate that mirror.

Battlestar Galactica‘s Katee Sackhoff is also among the cast, but in this instance, it’s a case of no cigar for her character.

It’s great to see some clever, psychologically astute horror films around. Another recent viewing was this year’s Irish movie The Canal; alas, it didn’t hold together as tightly as the two mentioned above, and was soundly let down by its bob-each-way ending. Worth a look, though — there’s a public toilet that Candyman would be proud of.


Cthulhu: Deep Down Under — it’s coming

cthulhu deep down under

You might have seen some ripples on the interwebs, but now it’s official: Cthulhu: Deep Down Under is rising!

Editors Steve Proposch, Christopher Sequeira and Bryce Stevens have assembled 24 writers with accompanying artists to provide Lovecraftian tales with an Australian flavour.

They’ve also got UK horror doyen Ramsey Campbell to provide an introduction, and of musical note among the contributors is a prose poem from Steve Kilbey, of The Church fame.

My story ‘An Incident at Portsea, 1967′ is reprinted in the anthology, with artwork from Paul Mason.

The project is now assembled, with stories in, artwork provided. All that remains is the crowdfunding to pay for printing. The program launches at Armageddon in Melbourne on October 18-19 — a bunch or writers and artists will be on hand to talk all things Cthulhu and hand out signed promo material.

You can join the crowdfunding program here to help take this project out of the ether and into physical manifestation for your reading and viewing pleasure, and find out more about the details at Horror Australis.

Getting published … a blog series

the darkness withinNicole Murphy (also writing as Elizabeth Dunk) is running a series of posts at her blog about how writers were first published. It’s yet another reminder of how diverse the routes to getting that first book out are, and how varied are the reasons that people want to get published.

One of the bumps in the road my first novel, The Darkness Within, suffered was a switch of editors between the structural and the copy edit. I enjoyed working with Dmetri, found his advice and feedback highly useful, and would’ve liked to have seen the project through with him. I’m chuffed to be working with him again on my next novel, The Big Smoke, coming out mid next year. It’s also worth noting Dmetri is running a workshop on horror writing later this month for Writers Victoria, encompassing general techniques as well as the peculiarities of the genre.

You can read more about The Darkness Within‘s detours, as Nicole so nicely puts it, at her blog.

Snapshot 2014: Maria Lewis

maria lewisMARIA LEWIS is an authority on film and pop culture. Currently a showbusiness reporter at The Daily Mail Australia, she has also written her debut novel Who’s Afraid? which is represented by the Alex Adsett Literary Agency. She currently hosts Gaggle Of Geeks and TV Talk on 2SER 107.3FM. You can visit her website at marialewis.com.au
 
1. What led you to get involved in pop culture podcasting, and what have you enjoyed most about doing them?

The great thing about podcasting is no matter how specific or weird your niche, there’s always an audience for it. For my co-host Blake Howard and I, we would have these hour-long rambling conversations about new releases that would lead into vintage film comparisons and weird trivia inserts, and it occurred to us one day that we should record it. Pod Save Our Screen is less a movie review show – although we do review weekly releases – and more a pop culture lifestyle podcast, where we talk comics, movies news, share anecdotes about celebrity encounters and relevant interviews. The strange, specific places we go to is what I love about it and it’s the same thing that has seen me fall for Kevin Smith’s Fatman On Batman (a weekly podcast about The Dark Knight) and The Ladyist (where females discuss female centric pop culture). I also love the opportunities we’ve had to do it in a live setting, like when we got to pick the brain of Star Wars and Alien concept artist Ron Cobb – who conveniently lived just around the corner – in front of a packed cinema, which was a dream come true.

 
2. How has your journalism experience affected or influenced your creative work?

It’s influenced every aspect, undoubtedly. Mostly I think being a professional journalist for almost a decade has trained me to be an aggressive researcher (HULK GOOGLE!). An internet search is never sufficient enough and knowing that there are other routes to take – randomly calling professors, hunting down people on social media, face-to-face interviews, going through public records – helps inform my writing in a way that it wouldn’t necessarily if I didn’t come from a press background. Also, I’ve mentioned this before, but it really does make you grow ladyballs and teach you to be fearless in terms of hunting down the story – which is endlessly helpful when trying to construct a world of your own.

 
3. You have an agent shopping around your debut novel, Who’s Afraid?, about werewolves. What is the attraction or theme or shapechangers that attracted you to write this story?

I’ve always been fascinated by werewolves as I grew up in a small town in New Zealand where you were able to see snow-capped mountains from the windows, and my grandfather used to tell me werewolf tales at night when he put me to be. So really it’s his fault I’ve developed this weird obsession. But much as the idea of two identities existing within the same person has fascinated me in the superhero universe with secret identities and pseudonyms, etc.; the darker side of that coin always seemed much more interesting. The idea that someone could exist with a monster inside of them (metaphorical or otherwise) and how they can either learn to embrace or control that is infinitely fascinating to me. It’s Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde syndrome.

 
4. What Australian works have you loved recently?

I have loved Michael Adams‘ young adult series (The Last Girl) even though I’m technically too old to be in the target market (don’t judge me). It’s one of the rare high-concept stories that I’ve read which is actually set in Australia, the last probably being the Tomorrow, When The War Began series (by John Marsden). He’s a brilliant writer and has a great female voice. I loved his first book Showgirls, Teen Wolves And Astro Zombies: One Man’s Quest To Find The Worst Film Ever Made and it’s interesting to see the transition from his non-fiction work to something like The Last Girl and The Last Shot.

 
5. Have recent changes in the publishing industry influenced the way you work? What do you think you will be publishing/writing/reading in five years from now?

Not for me personally. There seems to be a strong need from publishers to constantly tell you that ‘it’s all about E and not about P’ which although I think there has been a significant growth in e-publishing, print will ever be defunct. I also don’t understand this obsession with one or the other. Like the girl in the Old El Paso add says, why not both? I still buy books, I still love the feel of a book in my hand and building a personal library, but there’s a beauty to the convenience of an e-reader that can’t be beat. It doesn’t bother me whether people are turning the page or an ‘on’ switch, as long as people are still reading stories, still engaging in make-believe, I don’t care how they do it.

In five years… what will I be reading? I’m a genre loyalist, and I have always grown up on and read horror, fantasy and urban fantasy titles. I don’t see my love of that changing anytime soon. In the same way Game of Thrones and The Hunger Games have brought a lot of first-time genre readers into the equation, I’ve been reading a lot more crime purely thanks to novels like Gone Girl and Jeffrey Deaver’s return with The Skin Collector drawing me in. I’m not a genre snob, I just trot over to wherever there’s a tale that intrigues me: whether that’s Pride and Prejudice or Pride, Prejudice and Zombies.

 
2014 aussie spec fiction snapshot

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THIS interview was conducted as part of the 2014 Snapshot of Australian speculative fiction. We’re blogging interviews from 28 July to 10 August and archiving them at SF Signal. You can read interviews at: