Tag Archives: horror writing

The stories that keep on giving

Writers will tell you nothing much beats publication – be it a short, novella or novel. Signing that contract, getting paid (yes, you should be paid for your work), and having your story out in the world is like crack.

But what happens to those babies once they’ve flown the nest and found new homes? After a given time, well those babies come back. Most will stay filed away, but never underestimate their chance to fly off again and find new homes, new readers.

Reprint markets. Oh, they are wonderful things. One of my babies has found a new home with Digital Fiction Publishing League. Unlike children (real, human-like ones) there are a few stories of mine that are favourites, and The Whims of my Enemy is one of them. It’s a brutal story, unforgiving to all the characters within, but more so with the main protagonist. Hers is a torturous ride, filled with violence and weighed against the desperate need to survive, and what that survival may cost.

Killing it Softly 2

It seemed a good fit for Killing It Softly 2: a fiction anthology of short stories (the best of women in horror). It’s quite the title, and the editors at DFPL were not only kind enough to accept ‘Whims’ but made it the lead story in the antho, which I was extremely chuffed with. There are some fantastic authors I’m sharing the pages with, and it’s one hell of a tome. Thirty-eight stories that run the gamut of all things horror.

Here’s the blurb:

The first ‘Killing It Softly’ was just the tip of the iceberg…

Beneath the icy depths of this next installment, you’ll be plunged into a world where 38 female horror writers give you a glimpse of their inner-demons, unleashing the hell-fire they suppress in the ‘real’ world. It will disturb you to discover what really lurks inside their minds, because many of these stories delve into pain that can only be experienced by women—leaving you unhinged as you curl up with them during their darkest hour.

Post-partum depression, hording, anorexia, and mental health will be brought to light when viewed through the shadowy perspective of cognitive deception.

Sci-fi, romance, steam-punk, and fantasy intertwine with horror to deliver unsettling, chilling stories; traditional tales of witches, zombies, werewolves, and vampires will be told in twisted new ways that will shock, unnerve, and even repulse you…and within these pages, sometimes new monsters will arise from the ashes.

You may even discover that women can not only write good horror…but in some cases, can do it better.
So if you’re of a mind, and looking for some killer short stories to while away the hours, then check out Killing It Softly 2 ­‒ there’s a little horror out there for everyone.

And for you writers out there, remember there is more than one life to the stories you’ve sent out into the world. Let those babies fly again!

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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Awards and Such Things

I meant to write this post before I left for my holiday but having two kids who’d rather video game than pack meant all my days blurred. But now it’s time to have a little chat about awards and such things most writers say they care little about but secretly (and sometimes not-so secretly) want. Sure, we write because we love it, because we’re driven to create words and worlds, because we’d go crazy if we didn’t, but recognition, be it via a sale, a kick-arse review, an award or recommended read is something every writer craves – that external validation that tells us we’re better than that little voice inside telling us we’re shit.

The first six months of the year are filled with awards (too many to list here), and the Australian Shadows Awards are the latest to hit my shores. Run through the Australian Horror Writers Association, it’s the premier awards for Australian and New Zealand horror that always presents really cool trophies – a different one each year, so you never know what you’re going to get.

AHWA

I had a pony in this race under the ‘edited works’ banner as co-editor (with Geoff Brown) for SNAFU: An Anthology of Military Horror. It was a strong field, up against Simon Dewar’s Suspended in Dusk anthology, and SQ Mag (issue 14) edited by Sophie Yorkston, and with just a week to wait from finalist announcements to the reveal of the winner, it was Sophie Yorkston and SQ Mag who took out the win.

Was I bummed? Sure – who doesn’t want to win an award for the work they’ve put in? Did I edit the anthology with the hopes of winning an award? No. I edited the antho because I got to work with some amazing authors with equally amazing stories. Of that I’m proud. An award win would have been a nice shiny cherry atop a kick-arse cake.

SNAFU cover art

There were four other categories: short fiction, long fiction, novel, and collected works – all with diverse and strong entries, and I was crossing my fingers and toes that two of my buddies (and fellow Sydney SHADOWS boozers) would take out a win.

Huzzahs happened when Andrew J McKeirnan won for his amazing collection Last Year When We Were Young. This is a fantastic collection of shorts that I reviewed here. If you haven’t read it, get off your bum and seek it out – you won’t be disappointed. Andrew’s been a Shadows Award finalist… well, heaps, so it was about time he took out the win. I’m sure he felt the same.

True to form, Alan Baxter took out the win for the short story category with Shadows of the Lonely Dead. He had two nominated works in this category, so that just shows you how much of a damn fine writer he is. Head over to his website and check out his work then buy it. Go on. What are you waiting for?

The novel category was taken out by Aaron Sterns and Greg McLean for Wolf Creek Origins (yes, of the Wolf Creek cinematic fame). Nightmare-inducing fun this! Fun? Okay, so maybe my idea of fun is a little different from yours…

Shane Jiraiya Cummings won the recently renamed Paul Haines Award for Long Fiction with Dreams of Destruction. While I haven’t read this story, I’ve read Shane’s work and I’m not at all surprised he took out this category.

So I didn’t win an award this year – that’s okay. I’ve been a finalist for the Australian Shadows Award, had SNAFU listed as a recommended read on the Bram Stokers’ ballot list, and the reviews for SNAFU have been incredible. I call that a win. I’d be lying if I said it was the ‘win’ I was looking for; you see, I’ve won a Shadows Award for my short fiction, and that’s an addictive high. I want to win another. Hell, I want a win a slew of awards. When I get hit with that writer-imposteritis, the trophy that sits atop my desk tells me I can do this writing thing; that I’m good enough to win an award, no matter what that inner voice says.

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The big winner here, though, is Aussie horror fiction, which is going from strength to strength, with recognition and appreciation for the power of Australian storytelling making those around the world sit up and take notice. And well they should.

 

Why You Can’t Argue With Crazy (and should you?)

No, I didn’t forget Women in Horror Month. Yes, this isn’t technically posted in February, but I wanted to see the month out before I wrote my opus. I’m a woman who writes horror, and on my good days (when the writerimposteritis isn’t gnawing on my ankles) I think I write horror well. So when I hear of those who think women can’t or shouldn’t write in the genre I love, I get my back up. But what good does that do? Those who spout such nonsense want exactly that angry reaction. Most of the time they’re trolls, but every now and then you’ll find that misogynistic belief really is their truth and nothing and no one can dissuade them. You can’t argue with crazy.

Last year I wrote a piece on the best way I’ve found to handle any vitriol thrown my way regarding my choice and ability to write horror: Fuck the Naysayers and Make Good Art. I’ve heard all the arguments against female horror writers: we’re too soft, we’re nurturers, we don’t understand horror, we dilute it, we’re… (wait for it)… always putting romance in horror.

Like I said, you can’t argue with crazy.

can't argue with crazy

February 2014 was particularly nasty when it came to WiHM. Truly terrible and disgusting things were said. The first two weeks of this February, however, were fantastic. There were blissfully positive posts and interviews, the sharing of fellow authors’ work – a real sense of community and support. Then someone had to ruin it for everyone.

I’m not going to name names here but it spawned #horrorhags, and that should give you a pretty good idea of what was said about one female horror writer in particular before all were tarred with that same brush. It united horror writers and had, I’m guessing, the opposite effect the person intended. Or did it?  One has to wonder if the stupidity of comments such as these is nothing more than to raise someone’s profile, garner interest in their books, get the horror community talking about them et al. But really, who’d be that stupid? You’re insulting potential readers, you’re embarrassing your publisher, and the chances of you getting another publisher are now pretty damn slim. Authors remember. Editors remember. Publishers remember. The horror community remembers.

Thing is, you can’t control what people think, what people say, and how people act (especially on the Internet). You can only control what you think, what you say, and how you act. I’m not saying don’t take on the controversial issues, self-censorship isn’t the way to go either, but remember that trolls and those who forgot to activate their ‘don’t-be-a-douchewaffle’ button, are always going to be around, and they’re going to say and do things that will make you want to rage-quit humanity, but is that what they want from you? An escalated reaction? Notoriety? Do you want to feed that?

horror hag

WiHM seems to attract those who want to start a brouhaha (not a discussion) about exclusivity when it’s all about inclusivity. Why give the douchewaffles what they want? I’d never heard of the writer whose rant started the #horrorhag – now I do know their name. So was this ‘mission accomplished’ on the writer’s part? Tough call that. Yes, I know their name (some would say that’s marketing gone right), but it also went very, very wrong as a lot of publishers now have this person on a ‘blacklist’. They won’t publish them. Ever. I’d say that’s marketing gone wrong.

Writers are a passionate bunch, and as a whole a damn supportive one – woe betide anyone who messes with our community. And community it is. Writing is a mostly solitary profession, so when we find and meet like-minded folk, we celebrate the wonder and weirdness that is who we are and what we do. No one understands a writer like another writer. So when a scribe takes aim and fires those misogynistic bullets, they don’t just hit the female horror writers, they hit us all. I mean, dude, that shrapnel goes everywhere. And no one likes to be shot at; no one likes their friends and peers shot at, regardless of gender. But to do so during WiHM? That shit be crazy, and I do have to wonder at their motives.

It’s no secret that getting your work and your name out there and recognised isn’t getting easier – it’s simple mathematics (I can do it and I suck at math). The advent of self-publishing has increased the amount of books available to readers, which, as a reader myself, isn’t a bad thing; as a writer, you need to stand out in the crowd. (Hint: decrying female horror writers probably isn’t your best bet). So part of me wonders if this wholly uncalled for #horrorhag rant wasn’t a publicity stunt gone wrong. If so… bad call, dude. If not… well, you can’ t argue with crazy.

All I know is that I will continue to write the best horror I can, and I will continue to support WiHM until there’s no need for it, and I will continue to support my fellow horror writers regardless of what does or doesn’t swing between their legs.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go disembowel a despot…

WiHM 2015

 

 

Horror and Writers and Interviews, oh my!

This February marks the 6th annual ‘Women in Horror Month’. Started by Hannah Neurotica, WiHM aims to: [assist] female genre artists in gaining opportunities, exposure, and education through altruistic events, printed material, articles, interviews, and online support. The vision is a world wherein all individuals are equally given the opportunity to create, share, and exploit their concept of life, pain, and freedom of expression.

I have mixed feelings about WiHM, but I understand the need for its existence (this will be the subject of a post later in the month). I will always support authors – especially in my genre – and particularly female horror writers. Hell, I am one. Pay it forward and pay it back; karma will always be good to you.

I’ve received a lot of support from horror writers and readers, and I’ll be forever thankful for it. One of those who helped me enormously at the beginning of my writing career was the extraordinarily talented and supremely wonderful Kaaron Warren – one of the best horror writers about, no doubt.

I was lucky enough to be mentored by Kaaron, and what she taught me I will never be able to repay – her knowledge of storytelling and the industry was priceless. She was always there to look over my work (no matter how nervous I was) and answer any questions I had (no matter how ridiculous they may have been). I hope to one day help others as she did me.

WiHM 2015

Support comes in all forms, and I was the beneficiary of said support from the very talented Greg Chapman when he asked to interview me for WiHM. His questions were insightful and ones that deserved to be delved into. Not only that, I was interviewed along with Kaaron, which was like the icing on the cake for me.

The interview is here, and you’ll see that I’m far more ‘chatty’ than Kaaron – she really does know how to get to the heart of things succinctly! Our interview is part two of a series Greg’s doing. You’ll find part one here, where he interviews Marge Simon and Stephanie M. Wytovich – two very talented author/poets from the United States.

Greg asks us all which female horror authors we believe should be read, and if for nothing else, take a look at the lists the four of us offer – they’re wide-reaching and wide-reading.

So if you’ve never read horror written by a woman, or would like to read more horror written by women, check out Greg’s interviews.

Right then, time for me to get back to destroying a world of my own making. Horror writing really does rock!

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Writers and the ‘Real’ World

Writers, by and large, are a solitary folk. We live in our heads as much (if not more) as we do the ‘real’ world. Even when venturing into the gathering places of other humans, a part of our mind is ticking over with story plots, envisioning (and having conversations with) characters, trekking through worlds of our own creation. We function as other non-writerly folk do, but part of us is always lost in our words and our worlds.

imagination

The advent of social media has brought us solitary creatures together, given us a sense of community and understanding. Still, we continued to sit before our screens and ‘interact’ with other like-minded beings, and the sometime sense of isolation drew back a little. However, the thought of interacting face-to-face can often be an altogether different beast. A terrifying thing wrought with insecurity and panic. Our created worlds are safe havens, places we know and love that offer security and acceptance.

So it was with much trepidation (and a little fear, truth be told) that a couple of years ago a small bunch of Sydney horror writers who’d interacted online finally decided a meet was something we should try. You know, in person, face-to-face with conversation and all that jazz. And beer, let’s not forget the beer.

Jo and Cat Me, Tracy and Jase

And so the Sydney SHADOWS was born. That first get-together was a little daunting I have to say, but it soon grew into a core group of about ten who now can’t wait to meet up and talk shop and shenanigans. You see, no one understands a writer like another writer – they get that excitement of a new story/idea, the joy of publication and the suckiness of rejections. They know you live in alternate universes that are as real as the one our bodies inhabit. Among us there’s a wealth of experience and information we readily share with one another, but more than that we’re letting our hair down (well, those of us with hair), swearing up a storm, and acting silly as only writers can. Sure, we get strange looks from those at other tables, but we’re writers – even out in the world we bring our own worlds with us… while creating fantastical places in a hubbub of shouted ideas. (Cake drones! Ahem…)

Rob and Alan Me and Tracy  Jo and Rob Alan and Rob

Three or four years ago if this opportunity had come up, I’m not sure I’d have taken the leap, but now I can’t imagine not meeting up with this lot. We drink, we talk shit, bond over hats, and boy do we laugh. It’s a letting off of steam, of the build-up of all that we carry around in our heads, which can sometimes be very dark stuff.

There are times when my husband will ask: “When are you getting together with your people?” That’s his not-so-subtle way of telling me he can’t help me with the writing stuff that’s driving me crazy, and/or I need to get out of the house (and stop wearing my pyjamas all day).

Alan and Tracy Tracy and Me

Being (physically) around other authors brings a normalcy to what most of us experience when we tell other humans we’re writers (especially a horror writer) – a frown of distaste, a look of incredulity, a gasp followed by ‘but why?’. And meeting up with like-minded specimens is damn inspiring, no doubt about it.

So yes, writers are, by and large, a solitary folk, but when we get together it’s a celebration of what we do and who we are – warts and all. And for writers, there’s not a lot better than that.

Me, Alan, Jason  cat

(If you’re looking for fantastic writers and great reads, check out some of the work from Sydney SHADOWS members: Joanne Anderton, Catriona Sparks, Alan Baxter, Robert Hood, Andrew J McKeirnan, Marty Young, and Jason Crowe – you can’t go wrong!)

(All pics courtesy of the wonderful Cat Sparks, who can take a photo like no other!)

Story Art, and the Art of the Story

Yes, yes, even I can’t believe it’s taken me this long to get back to my blog, but work has taken precedence (what with me wanting to eat and pay bills), but as the saying goes: too much work makes AJ something-something bitchy bitch, so I’ve taken a small break from editing, and will now fill this post with art.

I mentioned in an earlier post that apart from my family and my cats, I have two loves: books and art. I can’t get enough of either. And sometimes, the two cross over in an awesomely good and awesomely personal way.

So I’d like to talk to you about that art – story art – and in particular, the art of Andrew J McKiernan.

My first introduction to Andrew was via his short stories, which are bloody brilliant (check out his collection here), but it was my short story Nightmare’s Cradle published in Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine (ASIM) #46, which was my introduction to Andrew the Illustrator, who also produced the cover of ASIM#46.

ASIM461

I’ve written previously about writing being a visual process, and this was never more true than with Nightmare’s Cradle. The story is set at my father’s farm – 300 acres of rolling hills with nary a neighbour in sight. It’s isolated, hard country with no internet or cell-service, and runs on solar power. It’s writer heaven. Visually, it was the perfect setting for the story, and clear as all get-out in my mind – I could see Hannah moving through the rooms of the cabin, could see Eli roaming the hills and skirting the dams of the property.

So when the publisher told me my story would be illustrated, I was both excited and a little wary, truth be told. Would Andrew’s artistic vision hold true to my vision? I shouldn’t have worried. Andrew perfectly captured the heart of the story, and I have been in love with the illustration ever since. Andrew has a shit-tonne of talent, and I’d even go as far as to say he’s hogging the talent pool a wee bit.

http://www.andrewmckiernan.com/mediagallery/mediaobjects/disp/7/7_nightmare_s_cradle.jpg
Nightmare’s Cradle by Andrew J McKiernan
Excerpt from Nightmare’s Cradle:

The windowpane is cold beneath my forehead, my breath warm against the glass. Thunderheads stalk the sky as lightning sears. Winds howl and rain pours from the heavens. God’s fury is unyielding and absolute.
A bird snared in a fence wire hangs, leg twisted, feathers mangled. I wonder how long it struggled before finally accepting its fate.
How long will I?
The bird sways in the wind, one wing raised in accusation. The rain unleashes its next barrage, dropping a thick, grey curtain around the cabin. My childhood home, sequestered amid rugged hills and hostile terrain has become the prison my father intended. Escape isn’t an option. It never has been.

Andrew saw what I did, and brought it to life in forlornly beautiful fashion, and I will always be thankful and grateful for that.

If that wasn’t enough, when I first met Andrew in person (at another horror writer’s birthday weekend), he had a copy of the illustration with him. For me. FOR ME. And which now sits proudly on the wall above my desk.

Andrew is one of those special individuals who can both write and draw, and if he wasn’t such a hell of a nice guy, I’d kinda hate him a little. But as we meet for drinks on a regular basis with a bunch of other horror writers (big shout out to the Sydney SHADOWS), that would be a little awkward.

At the beginning of this post, I mentioned Andrew’s short story collection – he also illustrated the book, so if you’re looking for great stories and some kick-arse art, you really can’t go past it.

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As for me, when I’m sitting at my desk writing a story and hit a road-block, I can look up, see my Nightmare’s Cradle illustration, and know that my words and my worlds really are alive in more than just my imagination.