Category Archives: Life and stuff

Writers, Retreats, and Insane Asylums

It’s been just over a week since I returned from a Writer’s Retreat held at Mayday Hills Lunatic Asylum at Beechworth. Yep, you read right – a writer’s retreat held at an old insane asylum. It was as awesome as it sounds. Five days sequestered with other writers in a hauntingly (and quite possibly haunted) beautiful asylum is the stuff of inspiration. And personing. I did a whole lot of personing.

What made this doubly excellent was the other writers in attendance, all but one of whom were very close friends, so it was a catch-up of epic proportions. This also meant that we were all comfortable throwing around ideas and points of view, and engaging in general shenanigans. But we were there to write, to have that uninterrupted time some of us seldom get when at home. And it was glorious.

Writing is often a solitary endeavour where you live in your created worlds among created people. But put a bunch of writers together, and it’s a whirlwind of book discussions, plot summaries, story ideas, and why synopsis writing is the tenth circle of Hell. There’s joy in this cacophony; the rise and fall of voices, the quirks and strange paths conversations take that would make no sense to non-writerly folk but which feeds the soul and the muse of those who bleed ink. They will tell you why your story necessitates the killing of a character (beloved or otherwise) then offer a plethora of options on how to do so that would land them on any federal watchlist.

Just being among fellow scribes is enough to invigorate, enough to drown out that writer-imposteritis but we were also fortunate enough to have the wonderful pocket-rocket Kylie Chan providing workshops all through Saturday, which were fantastic, but always there was time to write. There’s not a lot better than sitting in a nicely heated room listening to the clack of keys in the silence as worlds and people are created – individual galaxies within a shared universe. It’s kinda cool.

But when we weren’t writing, there were historical tours of the asylum, and one very late night there was also a paranormal investigation. As much as I would have liked to go on the paranormal investigation, when it’s -4˚ outside… well, I’m staying where the heat is. Those that took up the challenge had a great time despite the sub-zero temps.

We ate, slept and created together… wait, let me rephrase. Look, we bunked down in the same room, wore pretty much all the clothes we’d brought with us when it was time to venture outside – hell, I even wore my slippers out to dinner because damn it was cold. We took the piss out of each other, we laughed, and we revelled in our own and each other’s weirdness.

And the location was everything. The asylum has a melancholic beauty about it.  The history is both shocking and sad, with desolate and worn-down buildings that hold memories that are like scars. For my mind, pain and suffering has a tendency to linger, to echo long after people are gone, and I don’t doubt there is fear and horror etched into some of the walls, the cells of the asylum.

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Too soon the time was over, and I had to take a tiny plane home, but those five days were like manna from heaven. I came away with so much more than just a honed story premise and structural architecture (and glow-in-the-dark skeletal gloves), but a renewed vigour for writing. I can’t wait to go again next year. And I can’t thank all the people involved enough, but let me try.

To Geoff and Dawn for organising and running the reatreat – you two work immensely hard not only on Asylum Ghost Tours but Cohesion Press as well. You two rock. (Special shout out to Mandy and Leah for all they did over the five days as well.)

Now I’m going to list the writers at the retreat – they are an amazing bunch and you really should be reading their work. They’re incredible and diverse storytellers, and there should be something in here for everyone.

Kylie Chan

Devin Madson

Marty Young

Andrew McKiernan

David Schembri

Fiona Shearer.

And for all those writers out there, find a retreat, a place that evokes inspiration and puts you around others who not only share your passion to create, but will encourage and badger you to do so.

Shenanigans to resume shortly

Well we’re in March, and this is the first chance I’ve had to get back to the blogosphere. I’d aimed to do better with the blogging this year but life, in all its middle-finger goodness, decided it had other ideas. Not that 2017 has been worthy of the middle-finger for me, but rather best laid plans and all…

It’s been a hectic couple of months, with family staying with us (mine and my partner’s – his coming all the way from Uruguay), a marriage (not mine and my partner’s), kids heading reluctantly back to school, and getting back into the groove with work, which is always difficult after a month away. But back I am.

There’s quite a lot happening on the work front with Cohesion Press, with some killer novels coming out this year – military horror kick-arsery (so a word) and creature-feature deliciousness. Have I told you how much I love my job?  Seriously, reading killer stories before unleashing them on the world is like crack – book crack.

But there are other big things happening on the Cohesion front, and while it’s too early to give away the details (well that, and an ‘on pain of death’ clause), it’s damn exciting. Like super, uber, surreal exciting. Details will be forthcoming. Later. Down the track. Sometime. Shhh.

Oh, and if you were unaware, the submission window for SNAFU: Judgement Day has about two months left in it. Check out the guidelines, follow the guidelines, and send your best work. The series is going epically strong, and really… apocalyptic fiction? How can you not write it?

On the writing front, things are moving a little slower than I’ve wanted this year, but I’ve also learned to be kinder to myself when it comes to the putting down ink. I’m reworking a story I’m extremely excited about, and I am going to submit that bitch until it finds a home. It deserves to find a home – the characters told me so, and they’ve got weapons and magic and an army of the dead, so I’m gonna listen to them.

Reading… oh, how I love thee. I’m ahead of my pretty low schedule of books to read this year – about a quarter of my way through my sixth novel. And despite my absolute reluctance, I will readily admit this is due to now owning a Kindle. Yes, Geoff, I have finally publicly admitted my love of the Kindle. Those screams you hear are my print books howling at the betrayal. But, but, but… it’s not complete and utter betrayal, as a print book was purchased the other day that is now nestled in my new bookcase, so ner!

So that above paragraph means book reviews will start hitting the blog (the first probably tomorrow), and I’ll have a Women in Horror Month article up soonish too. Then normal shenanigans will resume fairly regularly.

/stream-of-consciousness

Guest Post: Hollow House by Greg Chapman

Today, good friend and fellow scribe, Greg Chapman, is here to talk about his debut novel Hollow House, and the characters that call Willow Street home. I was lucky enough to get an advance read of the story, and Greg’s nailed the use of grey characters (my favourite kind). Add an abandoned house with a checkered history, nosy neighbours, and an up-and-coming serial killer… well, you’ve got quite the cauldron of chaos.

*hands over mic* You’re up, Greg!

There’s a saying that goes something like, “For evil to thrive, good men need do nothing.”

Which begs the question: if evil were to appear in the form of a creepy old house, in a normal everyday street in today’s era, how many of the people living there do you think would care? And how many would have the courage to take on that evil?

This, is in essence, the crux of my debut novel ­– Hollow House.

Hollow House

Morally ambiguous characters fascinate me, especially in the horror genre. I mean, honestly, no one is perfect, right? We all have flaws, and some of us even choose to do bad things. These types of realistic characters are perfect for horror novels, and perfect for evil entities looking to return to the real world.

There are thirteen main characters in my novel: there’s a dysfunctional family of four (the Campbells), the old Markham couple (Mr Markham being a veteran of World War II), the Cowley family (divorcee Alice, her son Dale, and her suicidal daughter Amy) journalist Ben and his lonely wife Megan, and of course, Darryl Novak, a rookie serial killer who follows in the abusive footsteps of his dear-departed mother.

Any of these characters could live on your street, and any street could have a creepy house on the corner. What do you think their chances would be of combating the evil within – and without – if they aren’t willing to face their own demons?

When I started writing Hollow House, I knew it wasn’t going to be your typical good versus evil tale. It’s going to be hard for readers to find any heroes in my tale. Sure, there will be some you will sympathise with, or even relate to, but like? I’m not so sure.

horror novel greg chapman hollow house

If there’s a novel that you could compare Hollow House to, it’s probably Stephen King’s Salem’s Lot, a modern retelling of the Dracula story, but set in a small town. The people who live in the town are the focus in King’s novel, as they are in mine. And I, too, choose to put my characters through hell – a relentless downward spiral they find more and more difficult to escape.

It was a lot of fun to write, but unless you love horror fiction, you might not find much light within its pages. My only hope is that you recognise these characters enough – and care about them enough – to see if they survive.

Check out the trailer for Hollow House here.

Hollow House is published by Omnium Gatherum Books, and made its debut July 25, 2016.

Get yourself a copy!

Pay the Creative

There are two things I have no qualms about spending money on: books and art. As a pen-monkey, I believe books are art in and of themselves – from the cover to the artistry of words within. I smile every time I walk past one of my over-flowing bookcases, or the pile of books on my bedside table.  All of which complement the art on my walls. And the nine pieces I’ve yet to frame and hang… oh, they call out to me to find their place.

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Yes, I’m running out of wall space, but that’s okay, we’re in the process of finding another place to call home, and while a new house has to hit the right marks with bedroom numbers, office space, backyard, for me it’s wall-space and bookshelf positioning I see. But I digress.

Of late, I’ve been seeing a lot of posts regarding consumers not willing to pay for books for all manner of ridiculous reasons. Here’s one such post that goes into detail about one author rallying against some readers who feel they shouldn’t have to pay for a writer’s work, that the art of storytelling and providing a reader with a product should be given away for free. (I rolled my eyes so hard they fell out of my head, and I had to retrieve them from my cats.)

Pisces

But it’s not just authors who are expected to work for ‘exposure’. Artists, too, are often targeted to provide their work for free (or exposure). You can’t pay bills with exposure; you can’t eat a reader’s ‘good will’, and ‘word of mouth’ doesn’t pay your kids’ school fees.  The fact there are those out there who expect you to work for free, to help them achieve a product that will make them money but not you… damn, that’s hard to get my head around.

Like the books I read, I buy my art. Never would I consider asking an artist to forgo the hours of work and their inspiration just because I like something and want it to adorn my wall. I don’t ask my tattooist to ink my skin for free either. But there are others out there – parasites I call them – who believe artists should just give their work away. The Brave Little Illustrator captures it perfectly here. There have been times when I’ve found a piece of artwork I just have to have, and to own it meant putting my pennies away until I could afford it. That’s just what you do.

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I don’t set out to find art, it finds me. I’ll see a post on social media, someone will share an artist’s work they’ve come across. I’ve found artists at conventions, expos, bookstores… so many different places, and these pieces, I know, belong with me. So I have no compunction for paying for the art, because this allows the artist to live to create more.

And that’s what it’s all about. Here in Australia, our current government has cut arts funding and scholarships, and they’re looking at allowing parallel importation that will grossly undermine the earning ability of writers in this country, and dropping copyright to fifteen years from publication before it becomes public domain. There’s this growing belief that the cultural contribution artists and writers provide isn’t worth the time or paper it’s created on. Art and books create escapism, they take you to places that ignite your imagination, give you respite from the ugliness that intrudes upon our lives, and if that isn’t worth something, what is?

Raniermos

So if there’s a book you want to read, or artwork you want for your home, or perhaps some external or internal art for a book you’ve written… pay the artist!

A big shout-out to those artists whose work adorns (or soon will) my walls: Monty Borror, Jeannie Lynn Paske (Obsolete World), Damon Hellandbrand (owe you an email, dude), Greg Chapman, and Mel Schwarz. Check out their work, and that of Dean Samed and Caroline O’Neal. As for saving for art, it’s a Chris Mars piece I’m looking at next adding to my collection.

Oh, and a big-up to Andrew J McKiernan, who gave me the illustration he did for my story, ‘Nightmare’s Cradle’, which sits proudly above my desk.

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* All pieces shown within this post I have bought from the artists (apart from Andrew’s piece, which was paid for by Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine).

Here’s to Women

I’ve been noticeably absent from my blog – not through choice but rather time constraints – I thought it fitting to return to it today. Just past Women in Horror Month, and it being International Women’s Day, what better time?

I am a woman working in horror, I am a woman writing horror, I am a woman raising a young woman… I am woman.  There are some, though, who don’t approve of that fantastic mix of women and horror (I’m not linking to any of that shite), and refuse to read any horror stories penned by women.  Hell, there are those who won’t read anything written by a woman, and while this might surprise some, it doesn’t surprise me – not in this world we find ourselves in.

Elitism exists in the publishing world, and has long-since been an issue for women who love the horror genre – those who write, read, act, direct, edit, et al ­– have faced criticism, ridicule, anger, disdain for daring to venture into horror. We’ve been mocked, derided, ignored, threatened, doxed, we’ve been made to feel unwelcome, our passion for the genre belittled because we don’t swing that Y chromosome. Get out of our man-cave!

Fury Road

I’m here to tell you that Y chromosome means squat when it comes to writing horror; the X chromosome means squat, too. You see, writing horror isn’t about chromosomes, it isn’t about being a man or a woman or neither of the aforementioned. It’s about writing a good story, a great story. It’s about making good art.

Unfortunately, there are those who believe horror/dark fiction is the bastion of men, and that’s why Women in Horror Month was born; to break down those walls, those prejudices, the ignorance. Women can’t write horror because they don’t know it? We don’t understand fear? Terror? Subjugation? Do my ovaries automatically signal my inability to dissect, disembowel, decapitate, dismember a character? Can I not create a world only to destroy it with impunity? Look away, uterus, there’s gonna be blood…

I’m not the only one who sees the ridiculousness of this. I’m not the only one who sees the disparity of the perceived belief of a woman’s “place” within the horror genre; within any publishing medium. If you think women are fairly represented, then take a look at this video and tell me this is right.

There are women writing amazing horror, women are editing, acting in and directing kick-arse horror movies and programs. Don’t limit your reading and viewing; horror and dark fiction is the greatest genre you can indulge in – a wide variety of voices and styles only enriches us all. Find storytelling from women, people of colour, from diverse backgrounds, from those who identify as LGBTI, from those with disabilities, from all walks of life, culture, religion and the non-religious. Open your scope and take in the wonder of diversity.

So as I sit here writing and drinking coffee from my Wonder Woman mug, here’s a small list of women writers and editors you should be reading:

Lee Murray, Silvia Moreno-GarciaKaaron Warren, Rivqa RafaelChristine Morgan, Nalo HopkinsonKirsten Cross, Sophie Yorkston, Angela Slatter, Octavia E Butler, Joanne Anderton, Catriona Sparks,  Rose Blackthorn, Zena Shapter, Paula R Stiles, Maria Lewis.

The above list only scratches the surface of women writers making their mark, and I encourage you to source more – diversity of voice will open worlds that ignite your imagination and take you to places of wonder.

And really, we’re all welcome in this place of storytelling.

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Festivus Book Pimping – Carole Nomarhas

It’s the 19th? Better get my Festivus Pimping moving along if I’m going to squeeze as many pimpalicious books in before I head away in three days (woo hoo! Three days!). Ahem. Sorry. As you were…

This time we’re back on home soil, with Australian author, Carole Nomarhas, and her wonderfully creepy short story collection, The Fading.  The stories in this collection run the gamut of horror, dips it toes into some fantasy, and gives you a little bit of urban as well – but the running theme through the diversity of stories is that not everything is as it seems. Like ever.

Now before I move on, a little background here. There are moments editors dream of – finding those stories (be they shorts, novellas or novels) where you know you’ve encountered a true storyteller. I’ve been lucky enough to have had a few instances of, what I like to call my ‘holy shit’ moments. And I got that with the first story of Nomarhas’ I read – Black Glass. That was when I knew this collection was going to be something special, and it was the first two lines of that story that dragged me in: The dead came back. All of them.

The Fading

In that moment, I knew I was working with something special. Each story built on the last; each one delivering their own sense of bleak storytelling that only reinforced my belief that Nomarhas is an author to watch.

Of course, I have my favourites, but the standard of this collection is so damn high, these were difficult picks indeed. Especially when you add in the almost poetic prose Nomarhas employs to visually transport you to her worlds: Moth-flutters of dark, tattered mist came to his call…

The Fading consists to eleven stories, each one a world, a horror unto itself, and each told with the same desire to take you places you will never forget, places that will haunt long after you’ve stopped reading. Nomarhas’ words tell you so: The wind sang thinly, ghost notes through hollow bones.

I can’t recommend this collection enough. Anyone who loves horror, dark fantasy, and the magic of words will love it.

Currently only available in ebook format, which makes it the perfect gift with just the click of a mouse.

Go. Now. Buy it.

Festivus Book Pimping – James A Moore

Yes, yes, I’m a bit late with the next instalment of Festivus Book Pimping, but I’m going to try and get as many authors/books pimped before I head away next week for my Christmas break.  So, next up on the Festivus altar is another overseas author, all round nice guy, and hell of a writer, James A Moore. Round of applause!

Now Jim has quite a backlist of novels and short stories, all of which you should read. But today I’m going to focus on the fantasy series I’m currently reading: The Blasted Lands, published through Angry Robot. I’d been meaning to get these books for a while, but my laziness worked in my favour, with the latest book (third in the series), just released.

The series begins with Seven Forges, and the introduction to two races of people – those from the Empire of Fellein, and the fantastical, half-forgotten, and oh-so mysterious Sa’ba Taalor. And it’s those of the Blasted Lands that really held my attention – Drask Silver Hand, Swech, Tusk and their gods (and their magic), are vastly different from anything I’d read, and I was so very taken with them. Hell, I couldn’t get enough.

Seven Forges

Told from the viewpoints of the major characters of Captain Merros Dulver, the Emperor, Desh – the emperor’s sorcerer, and those of the Sabar Taalor, you get to experience the lives and fears, the cultures and impending war of the two races. Moore handles it masterfully, and I couldn’t wait to get into the second book.

The Blasted Lands follows up with action, betrayal, amazing magic, gods and rituals, and a final understanding of why the Sa’ba Taalor hide their faces from those outside the Blasted Lands (and damn impressive this is). War is coming. Not if, but when, and the people of Fellein… well, it ain’t looking good. As a second book, they can sometime fall flat, but Moore just amps it up, and I flew through this reading as well.

The Blasted Lands

City of Wonders is next, and while I’d love to tell you more about this one, I’m only three chapters in, but I’m hooked and wondering how I can steal time so I can read more. There’s a fourth in the series that Moore is currently writing, and I’ll be first in line to buy that baby.

Oh, and a shout-out to the cover-artist of these books – they capture the characters perfectly, and are just gorgeous.

City of Wonders

Now I can’t have you leave without telling you about one of my favourite of Moore’s characters, Jonathan Crowley. There is many a story with the dark Mr Crowley, and I’ve had the pleasure of being the editor of a couple of Crowley stories in the SNAFU series put out through Cohesion Press. Crowley is a monster hunter, and quite possibly a monster in his own right, but damn if he ain’t fun to read. Moore’s Crowley stories are more supernatural horror, and one of my favourites is the short story, Cherry Hill. Addictive, this character is, and I’m always happy with a new Crowley story.

Oh, and I’ve just finished editing a new Crowley story for SNAFU: Hunters, and it’s a cracker!

Recommendation:

For the Blasted Lands series, anyone who loves epic fantasy, dark fantasy, magic and monsters and mayhem, oh my!

For the Crowley books, anyone who loves supernatural horror, horror, dark fiction, and monsters straight from your nightmares!

Festivus out!