Dead Red Heart and More Scary Kisses: books with bite!

more scary kisses cover

Here is the cover of More Scary Kisses, Ticonderoga’s anthology of paranormal romance stories due out in April. The table of contents is here.

And Ticonderoga’s Australian-themed vampire anthology, Dead Red Heart, has had its table of contents announced, and it’s a monster: 32 yarns, more than 130,000 words, due out towards the end of April.

I hope this means both will hit the shelf in time for Swancon, Perth’s annual spec fic convention which this year is also the national science fiction convention.

It’s particularly exciting to have a couple of stories coming out this year after such a long hiatus.

after the rain ebook edition

There’s also a story of mine, a cyberpunk one just in contrast to the New Orleans hot-and-sweaty of MSK and cane-and-dust vampire action of DRH, in Fablecroft’s forthcoming After the Rain anthology, also due out in time for Swancon. A special e-edition of ATR is available with proceeds going to the Queensland flood appeal. More than $1200 has been raised so far. Awesome!

For me, after the rain should probably be after the drought, it’s been so long since I’ve written a short story. But last year, after much kicking around and failing to succeed with novel-length manuscripts, my subconscious apparently found a window for some short stuff. Dark Prints Press’s Surviving the End anthology started the ball rolling — that book’s due out in 2012, and I quite like the story of mine in it: a dirty, post-apocalyptic Australian Gulf-country yarn.

I’m back in drought mode, now, but it sure feels affirming to have been able to dredge out some yarns!

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Treme: the power of music to heal

On August 29, 2005, Hurricane Katrina ripped across the Gulf coast of the USA, taking a terrible toll on the city of New Orleans.

I’ve been taking a great deal of heart, particularly in light of the devastating floods hitting Australia at this time, from a HBO program called Treme (trem-ay), set in a neighbourhood of New Orleans where it’s all about the music, man.

There are a couple of things that make this show exceptional.

For starters, it’s so understated. There is no melodrama, no great conspiracies or car chases. It follows the lives of various residents trying to cope in post-Katrina New Orleans. A bar owner trying to get repairs made on her club. A restaurateur trying to keep her head above the financial waters. A uni professor struggling to deal with the reality of the destruction and the general poorness of the nation’s response. Musicians, trying to make a living in the empty city. And so on. It rings true. Victory is not guaranteed.

I love the way the lives of these people intersect, by circumstance and by happenstance. I love the way the story can move me to tears in one beat and have me laughing out loud in the next. I love the compassion. I love the way it deals, from a street level, with government inaction, corruption and ineptitude, and yet, it’s pretty even-handed, showing the good and the bad of the NOPD, for instance.

The acting from the main players is superb, so natural and measured, so dignified in the face of nightmare and frustration. When they blow, you feel it.

And there’s the music, of course; unifying and restoring pride, an anchor when all else is swirling. It’s not by chance the series opens and ends with second lines (funeral processions led by bands). Jazz, jazz and jazz, a touch of Cajun, but it’s the brass and the bass that’s driving this beat, with plenty of identities (Dr John, Elvis Costello, Kermit Ruffins and more) sprinkled in the mix.

It’s simply some of the best television I’ve seen: no vampires, no explosions, just … real.

New Orleans is one of my favourite cities, one I’ve visited most often: one that does indeed live in the heart and mind. It’s so refreshing to see such a portrait on the TV. I hope all of America is watching.

Dr John in Australia

dr john, new orleans blues musician

Renowned New Orleans piano man Dr John brought some hoodoo to Melbourne last night.

Playing a packed house at the Corner Hotel, the 69-year-old, backed by the superb Lower 911 on bass (David Barard), drums (Herman “Roscoe” Earnest III) and guitar (Reynard Poche), cast a spell in this sideshow gig ahead of Byron Bay’s East Coast Blues and Roots Festival at the weekend.

John looked resplendent in purple suit and hat. There were skulls on his piano and organ, a little bit of bone-shaking during a voodoo tune, a necklace of what looked like alligator teeth. (Barard, who played a solo support slot, had a Mardi Gras throw hanging from his mic stand.) But the magic was in the music, a parade of swampy R&B/blues/funk/gospel that had many in the crowd moving in time in defiance of a couple of sound glitches.

John looked a little slow on his feet, but the voice was as strong and distinctive as ever, joined in places by the throaty growl of Barard. He has a particularly fetching way of saying “all right”, that Southern accent carrying the charm of New Orleans in two simple words. He didn’t have a lot to say, but when he did, he revealed a dry sense of humour that appealed to the audience, if the shouts, claps and chuckles were an indication.


He played for 90 minutes, with Right Place, Right Time in the mix, and a couple of covers I didn’t recognise but apparently one has been around since “eleventeen years after dog shit”.

The encore saw John return for a version of Let the Good Times Roll, taking up the guitar — he started his career as a guitarist before an injury to his hand saw him turn to the piano — to rock out his farewell.

I still haven’t worked out what the object hanging from his right ear is, or how he manages to keep his glasses attached to the top of his ears. But there’s no doubting the good doctor still has his mojo.

As an aside, I’m not sure the Corner was the ideal venue for this gig. The general admission sweat pen might suit the young’uns who don’t mind pushing up the front once the gig has started, but I felt sorry for the older people in the crowd — and there were plenty of them as you’d expect for a performer of this style and vintage — forced to stand for at least two hours in the hot crush. Being shouldered and having line-of-sight disrupted by latecomers and drink-bearers is, unfortunately, par for the course when you’re surrounded by rock pigs, but you have to wonder how the grandparents enjoyed their not-cheap concert from the floor as the humidity and body odour rose.

Addendum to books of 2009: The Infernal and Poppy Z Brite

The little bird twittering about a new release of Kim Wilkins’ debut novel The Infernal has come home to roost — at this online bookseller, to be precise, where you can order a limited edition, rather cool-sounding copy for the princely sum of $100.

At time of writing, the website is giving a percentage of sales to a Western Australia bushfire appeal.

lost souls by poppy z brite

To end the new year, I’m revisiting Lost Souls by Poppy Z Brite. She’s one of my favourite authors. I love her ability to inhabit her characters, to draw that shadowy, downcast world, and her depictions of beloved New Orleans. I’ve uploaded an interview conducted with Brite in 2005, just months before Hurricane Katrina devastated her home town.

I’ve been back to New Orleans twice since Katrina, and found the city tooled up for tourists, but Katrina’s bite is still deep and tenacious for residents, and Fema remains a dirty word.

Keep up to speed with Brite, and her engagement with her home town post-K, as she puts it, at her blog.

Meanwhile, Wilkins, another of my favourite authors, has just returned from a month’s research in England in pursuit of a tasty historical fantasy tale. Something to look forward to on the cusp of a new year.

Have a good one.

Home again, home again, where is home again?

It has been a hell of a month, this October. So huge it spilled into November! Here’s why it’s been ages, well, more than a month, since I wrote on this blog:
We kicked off October on Bribie Island at our annual Edge Writers writing retreat, this year with Sean Williams and Alison Goodman as tutors. We were able to celebrate the news that our Paul Garrety has scored a two-book deal with HarperCollins, first one due out in 2011!

And brickbats to the Queensland Government for its plan to close the State-run complex, although there is hope whoever picks up the tender for the centre will continue to make it available to groups such as us. For the third year running, I had a manuscript staked out in the sun to burn after it failed the worldbuilding test. On the bright side, I did finish a very rough novella set — surprise — on an island. This is my backup story, the one I write only on the island after all else has failed.

court of two sisters

dinner at court of two sisters, new orleans

After Bribie, my beloved Kirstyn McDermott and I flew to New Orleans, where we had an awesome week. Highlights:

  • My old friend from Canada joining us for a long weekend of merriment
  • Lunch at the Green Goddess, where I’m very happy to report the ‘mezze of destruction‘ is still on the menu.
  • Dinner at Irene’s, where we were shouted a drink because of the length of our wait — the place is popular, and no wonder, given the excellent service and food.
  • A memorable dinner at my favourite restaurant, The Court of Two Sisters.
  • Hanging out over superb bloody marys at the Pirates Alley Cafe, where absinthe is a specialty.
  • Gospel brunch at the House of Blues.
  • Catching some sets with Big Al Carson at the Funky Pirate (and getting a shark attack from the Tropical Isle next door).
  • From New Orleans (more pictures here), we caught a Carnival cruise ship, the Fantasy, for a quick voyage to Progreso and Cozumel in Mexico. Out of Progreso we took a bus tour to Uxmal, a superb set of ruins I’d visited on a previous visit to Mexico. In Cozumel, where, very disappointingly a tour to Tulum wasn’t on offer (wonderful beachside ruins), we went snorkelling on three dive spots and saw lots of fish. Some pictures are here.

    I don’t mind cruising as a stress-free way of covering some miles and relaxing. It’s nice to be waited on once in a while, eh? Even though the focus on the casino and the bingo is a tad sad, and the buffets can be case studies of gluttony. I was impressed with the efficiency of embarkation — US domestic airlines could learn something there — and was happy to fork out for a behind-the-scenes tour of how the ship works, including tours of the galleys, bridge, engine control room and soforth.

    Back in New Orleans, we had time for a Lucky Dog and a bloody mary before heading to the airport and San Francisco.

    kirstyn and jason at golden gate bridge, san francisco

    at the golden gate bridge

    SF is a grand city, and while it doesn’t have the atmosphere of the French Quarter (where does?), it is a relaxed and pleasant city for visitors. We bought a week-long passport for the public transport system and hopped buses, cable cars and street cars all week, visiting Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz, a Tutankhamun exhibit at deYoung and hitting the wharves. We also got out of town, hitching a bus to Muir Woods and arty Sausilito, and the Winchester Mystery House. The latter is well worth the effort, with its amazing staircases to nowhere, chimneys that don’t reach the roof, doors that open on to walls, and so on…

    We also saw a local musical about a zombie attack that used Ozzy Osbourne as a deus ex machina of sorts — brilliant — and saw the movie Zombieland (light, fun, flawed) and caught an awesomely fun gig by Emilie Autumn. Sadly, a trip to a bayside music venue resulted in an annoyingly smug performance by a semi-rockabilly dude (who did do a very fun, very fast version of Sweet Home Alabama that foxed those dancing to the Yankee classic) and a debilitating case of suspected food poisoning for Kirstyn.

    From San Francisco we caught the Caltrain, and what a sweet deal that is with its double-decker cabs, to San Jose, to attend the World Fantasy Convention. Aussie superstar Garth Nix, as far removed from acting like a superstar as you can get, was a guest of honour. I was chuffed to get to spread the good cheer that is Australian red wine amongst the guests at an Aussie party thrown by Garth and Sean Williams, with t-shirts designed by Cat Sparks. It was a fun bash, and I got to meet new faces and also renew some contacts made at last year’s WFC in Calgary.

    Other highlights of the con were seeing Jeff VanderMeer throw stuffed toys at his launch party, hear Garth and others read Poe’s The Raven, enjoy the wit of Tim Powers (whose Anubis Gates is right up there on the awesome reads list, and has landed some Pirates of the Caribbean action), and see Aussies Shaun Tan and Margo Lanagan score World Fantasy awards at the banquet where we enjoyed the company of our fellow Aussies. (Check out Deborah Biancotti’s take on it here, and see Cat’s pix here)

    flowers at bega cemetery

    flowers at bega cemetery

    Back in Australia, we picked up my car in Brisbane and drove highway 1 down the coast to Melbourne, taking five days including layovers with family. Driving highlights: Kiama’s foreshore, fish and chips at Bateman’s Bay, Lake’s Entrance, and the cemetery at Bega.

    And now we’re back in Melbourne — home becoming, for this recent arrival from interstate — where the weather is warm and the coffee very fine. There’s a pile of mail on the table, more holiday pictures hitting Flickr as the mood takes me, and a plan to get some words down, sometime soon.

    A quick w00t though: I got home to the news that the Federal Government has decided to retain the current copyright and import laws for books. Hurray!

    And editor extraordinaire Ellen Datlow included my short story, “Smoking, Waiting for the Dawn”, from Dreaming Again, in her highly commended list that includes a bunch of Aussie talent. Happy dance!

    the top 150 songs of all time … or not

    Music’s an amazing force, isn’t it? I can’t think of another artform that has such power to unite, polarise and divide. Dissemination is comparatively easy, sharing to a mass audience ridiculously so (if you can get them to listen, and there’s the rub).

    So when a media outlet, as is their wont, publishes a list of, well, anything really, but music in particular, you can bet they’re really just spoiling for an argument. My mate, Noel Mengel, the chief music writer at The Courier-Mail, has set himself up as a clay target by listing his best 150 songs of all time, even as he acknowledges it’s such a subjective topic as to be almost meaningless. He says he’s a product of his time, as are, I will hazard, we all. Alas, there isn’t a lot of synthesiser in Noel’s list, nor down-tuned guitars. And he hasn’t tried to reach out to cover all genres, all movements, not even those amazing songs that have defined eras and forged new musical directions. It’s upapologetically heart on sleeve stuff, which got me thinking: what does it for me? And why? And just how bloody hard would it be to try to make such a list?!

    So I’m giving it a go. Herewith, 30 old friends, the tunes that’ve stuck with me through thick and thin, or serve as milestones on the journey:

    Love Will Tear Us Apart, Joy Division: The song came out after Ian Curtis killed himself, highlighting the sheer bloody waste. I often wonder what words he could’ve delivered to us had he hung on in there. The song is an obvious choice, a regular favourite on Triple J radio’s ‘best of’ lists. I once maintained it was my favourite love song, but of late, I’m less sure. I still wear the t-shirt, though!

    Hurt, Nine Inch Nails: As with Joy Division, or any of one’s favourite bands, trying to pick the definitive song is a mission impossible – especially given the strength of NIN’s debut album, Pretty Hate Machine. Favourites change, from mood to mood, moment to moment. But this is an unforgettable song (from The Downward Spiral), Trent Reznor in his maudlin, angst-ridden glory. See also the reflective version by Johnny Cash.

    Scarred, Johnette Napolitano: The lead singer of Concrete Blonde, Napolitano possesses one of the most distinctive, emotive voices in rock, and a gift for deft lyricism. Scarred, from the album of the same name, is a coming of middle-age song, acceptance of the path that’s been trodden, the journey ahead and the ultimate end of the road.

    Bloodletting (The Vampire Song), Concrete Blonde: Horror writer, remember? So given the uniform strength of the CB songlist, why not go with the one with bite — New Orleans by night, creatures of the night, and a swaggering bass beat. Yummy.

    Personal Jesus, Depeche Mode: Time for a dance? This one never fails to get the foot tapping. Johnny Cash also covered this, sublimely.

    More, Sisters of Mercy: Predictable for an ’80s Goth tragic such as moi, but it’s a crowd-pleaser from the pretentious tosser who largely introduced me to the genre of Goth rock — even if Andrew Eldritch is too up himself to acknowledge his fan base.

    Edie (Ciao Baby), The Cult: Ian Astbury has a set of lungs with few rivals, a Jim Morrison aura, and as this tune reveals, a strong interest in Andrew Warhol and his coterie of muses. Another band with such a massive catalogue of hits and dancefloor favourites, I went for something less obvious than She Sells Sanctuary.


    Sister Awake, The Tea Party: Speaking of Jim, The Tea Party frontman Jeff Martin is another with a leonine presence and a gift for poetic lyrics, sometimes obtuse. Haven’t been to a Tea Party/Martin gig yet without being skewered through my emotional centre by one song or another.

    Bela Lugosi’s Dead, Bauhaus: It’s long, it’s atmospheric, it name-checks one of my favourite actors from one of the best vampire movies ever made (that’s another list!), and I can’t hear it without thinking of those nights on the dance floor, wreathed in smoke from the fog machine, barely moving to this hypnotic beat. And of course, it was used in unforgettable fashion in the movie The Hunger.

    Vienna, Ultravox: If you’re not going to send the kids home from the club with Bela Lugosi’s Dead, then this synth pop classic is another apt choice for bringing down the curtain.

    Reckless (Don’t Be So), Australian Crawl: Classic Aussie rock from a classic Aussie band, poking their tongues at middle class pretension and generally having a hell of a good time. The Crawl were huge during my high school years, still love ’em. Along with Icehouse, INXS, The Church, Divinyls … ah, those were the days…

    Do You Love Me, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds: It’s raw, it’s dark … duh, I hear you say.

    Back in Black, AC/DC: Headbangers of the world unite. Shared some good red-eye drives down the coast with my uni mates with Acca Dacca keeping our eyes open.

    The Night, Heart: The Canadian sisters were at their height in the 80s with some rather saccharine power rock, but their depth goes further, melding folk, rock and a touch of world music a la their heroes Led Zeppelin. The Night, from the Brigade album, is about a vampire. At least, that’s my interpretation.

    Kashmir, Led Zeppelin: Love the funereal beat, though Stairway to Heaven would be a more logical choice.

    Paranoid, Black Sabbath: Where would we be without Ozzy and co? Somewhere nicer, but definitely nowhere as interesting!


    Black Night, Deep Purple: Completing the triumvirate of classic ‘heavy metal’ founders, this track should be mandatory on all driving compilations.

    Nothing Else Matters, Metallica: My sister introduced me to Metallica’s Black album, for which I’ll always be thankful. She had far less success with her Mariah Carey fetish.

    Epic, Faith No More: Not my favourite FNM song, but memorable for being the one I *didn’t* like until my Carey-lovin’ sister and I went to their gig and were knocked out by their performance. Mike Patton is a genius. I think.

    The Thrill is Gone, BB King: Tellin’ it like it is. The beauty of the blues is, it can make you tap your foot and nod your head at the same time as it tears out your heart.


    New Orleans, Louisiana Gator Boys and the Blues Brothers: From the Blues Brothers 2000 soundtrack, an album played repeatedly by a good friend in Canada while we were driving to the Rockies and back, ahead of a trip to New Orleans. Good times… file with Baby, Please Don’t Go (Lightnin’ Hopkins, for starters), House of the Rising Sun (Animals) and Summer Breeze (Type O Negative version) for other N’Awlins-evoking tunes.

    Creep, Radiohead: Oh the angst! Still the only Radiohead song I’ve bought. That whiney Thom Yorke voice kind of works on this one. Check out the Amanda Palmer ukelele version!

    Angel, Massive Attack: Came late to these too-cool dudes, but this track offers lovely sentiment and reminds me of the gang I used to hang with when I first moved to Brisbane.

    Wild is the Wind, David Bowie: I bought a best of with this song on it after hearing an interview with Bowie in which he said this song probably offered his most authentic voice. It’s a beautiful cover from one of the modern era’s true musical geniuses.

    Proud Mary, Tina Turner: Blew me away live, this rollicking ode to paddle steamers on the Mississippi. Creedence do an awesome version, too.


    Born on the Bayou, Creedence Clearwater Revival: Another southern homage that gets the foot tapping, conjuring memories of my favourite city. If you get a chance to see John Fogerty in concert, take it!

    Walk This World, Heather Nova: A song that strikes straight at my wanderlust, best shared with someone special. The lovelorn might like to check out her London Rain, too.

    Rio, Duran Duran: Another ’80s holdover, from one of the few albums I distinctly remember buying. On cassette, in Darwin!

    Cities Lie in Dust, Siouxsie and the Banshees: Appropriate or otherwise, I’ll always remember this tune playing through my mind pretty much all day on September 12, 2001. From one of Goth rock’s truest characters and longest survivors.

    Principles of Lust, Enigma: The MCMXC AD album was already a favourite, but it’s indelibly imprinted on my mind as the soundtrack to driving past fields at dawn in a Romanian taxi, heading to the Hungarian border after a paperwork issue resulted in my being removed from a train.

    Thirty songs. Thirty moments in time, some fixed, some still unwinding. With new milestones ahead, either yet to be written or simply yet to be discovered. Viva la music!