An Interview with Bram Stoker Award Winner, Geneve Flynn

Geneve Flynn is an award-winning speculative fiction editor and author. She has two psychology degrees and only uses them for nefarious purposes. She co-edited Black Cranes: Tales of Unquiet Women with Lee Murray, which was a 2020 Bram Stoker Award® winner in the anthology category, and has been shortlisted for the 2020 Aurealis Award, Australian Shadows Award, and Shirley Jackson Award. Black Cranes has been listed on Tor Nightfire’s Works of Feminist Horror and Locus magazine’s 2020 Recommended Reading List.

2020 was a stellar year for Geneve, who was also assistant editor for Relics, Wrecks, and Ruins, a speculative fiction anthology that features authors such as Neil Gaiman, Ken Liu, Robert Silverberg, James (SA) Corey, Lee Murray, Mark Lawrence, Mary Robinette Kowal, and Angela Slatter. The anthology is the legacy of Australian fantasy author, Aiki Flinthart, and is in support of the Flinthart Writing Residency with the Queensland Writers Centre.

Geneve’s short stories have been published in various markets, including Flame Tree Publishing, Things in the Well, and PseudoPod. Her latest short story, “They Call Me Mother,” will appear in Classic Monsters Unleashed with some of the biggest names in horror, including Joe Lansdale, Jonathan Maberry, and Ramsey Campbell. Geneve loves tales that unsettle, all things writerly, and B-grade action movies. She can be contacted through her website at www.geneveflynn.com.au.

As part of an interview series by Tomes and Tales, Bram Stoker winner Geneve Flynn was kind enough to engage in conversation about all things reading, writing and editing.

1) Hi Geneve, congratulations on winning the Bram Stoker award for Black Cranes. How does it feel to be acknowledged as an award-winning editor in the horror genre?

Hi, Renata, thank you so much! It was such an unexpected thrill, and still doesn’t feel real. Lee and I were so proud just to have Black Cranes on the shortlist with such strong works; actually winning was the icing on top. If you’re looking for more wonderful horror, I highly recommend the other shortlisted anthologies. Here are the links:

Miscreations: Gods, Monstrosities & Other Horrors, edited by Doug Murano and Michael Bailey

Worst Laid Plans: An Anthology of Vacation Horror, edited by Samantha Kolesnik

Not All Monsters: A Strangehouse Anthology by Women of Horror, edited by Sara Tantlinger

Arterial Bloom, edited by Mercedes M. Yardley

2) You co-edited Black Cranes – this year’s winner for superior achievement in an anthology – with Lee Murray. How was the experience coordinating between Australia and New Zealand, and several other places where your writers were based?

Lee is an absolute delight to work with; we complemented each other, and both being conscientious Asians meant that we kept on top of things.

Putting together the anthology was actually fine, despite all of us being from different countries. Lee and I made a conscious decision to keep the spelling in line with whichever region the authors came from, rather than trying to homogenize everything. I think that helped to maintain the authorial voice for each story.

Everyone’s getting quite used to communicating online nowadays, particularly since the pandemic, so things went pretty smoothly. The biggest juggle was probably doing some of the promotion, since we had to coordinate different time zones for online events. Sometimes our poor authors had to be awake in the wee hours of the morning!

3) Addressing Southeast Asian women and women writing horror, Black Cranes had very specific themes. How did you zero in on your team of writers?  

First was deciding what we wanted for the anthology. Lee and I focused on the region: Southeast Asia—as we both felt we had familiarity with some of the myths and stories from the area, as well as some of the cultural aspects. We also decided we wanted to focus on the experience of being a woman, so we narrowed things even further. Once we had that in place, we went looking for authors who fit our parameters.

I came up with a list of women horror writers who had published in English, including Gabriela Lee and Rin Chupeco. We also both knew writers who we thought would be a good fit. Lee suggested Rena Mason, Christina Sng, Nadia Bulkin, and Angela Yuriko Smith. I’d met Grace Chan at a writing conference. An Australian writer friend, Kat Clay, suggested that Elaine Cuyegkeng would be a great fit.

We started contacting folks to see if there was any interest, and we got replies that were overwhelmingly positive. Some of the writers we approached loved the premise of the anthology, but were unable to contribute due to conflicting schedules and deadlines. Happily, we were able to sign on our eight wonderful Black Cranes.

Of course, we were also over the moon when Alma Katsu agreed to write our foreword.

4) While you wrote A Pet is for Life and Little Worm along with co-editing Black Cranes, for Relics, Wrecks and Ruins you did just the editing. As a writer and editor, what sorts of genres do you work with? How do you balance your dual roles?

My writing sits very much in the horror space. There’s something about looking into the darkness with an unflinching and curious eye that appeals to me. I’ve tried writing other genres, but I keep being drawn back to horror.

As an editor, I work across the speculative fiction spectrum: science fiction, fantasy, and horror. I also edit mystery and thriller, and I work with texts for adult, YA, and middle-grade readers.

I used to find writing quite difficult when I first began working as an editor. After spending hours pulling apart other people’s stories, it was hard to turn off the critical side of my brain. But as I’ve done more and more professional development, I find that everything I learn for editing, I use in my writing. One process informs the other. Also, you have to learn to allow yourself to write a bad first draft and trust in the revision process.

I do try to schedule editing time and writing time, but sometimes, when a story idea pops into my head, it can be challenging to focus on my client’s manuscript when the creative fireworks are going off in my brain!

5) You have two psychology degrees. How did the switch to writing come about? Does your educational expertise ever influence your writing?

I’ve wanted to be a writer since I was little. But as happens for a lot of writers, I decided to study something that seemed more practical, so I went into psychology. While I loved studying how the human mind works, I realized that I don’t have the personality to be a good therapist. I would have burnt out fairly early in my career.

For the next few years, I floated between jobs that I didn’t particularly like. Then when my kids were young, I began writing again. I joined a couple of writing groups and I took lots of courses, got mentorships, joined associations, and read all the craft and editing books I could get my hands on. I began submitting my short stories and was lucky enough to be able to place them.

My background in psychology absolutely influences my writing and my editing. Shawn Coyne, the editor who wrote The Story Grid says that every successful writer he knows has some sort of background in psychology—whether they’ve studied or worked in the field. I think to be a good writer and editor, you need to have a fascination and understanding for how humans tick. After all, we’re social creatures, and we read stories to understand other people.

6) You have edited and critiqued stories ranging from short lengths to novels. How do you approach a manuscript as a reader, writer and editor?

As a reader, I do try to turn off my editor’s brain and just enjoy the book. Sometimes, when an author has used a literary device cleverly (or poorly!), I’ll take notice. Most of the time, though, I just read because I like the story.

As a writer, I often start with an image from a dream. I tend to dream vividly, and my brain will often throw out strange things that make good fodder for stories. I like to write to submission callouts too. I find that the more restrictions you have on a story, the more creative you’re forced to be, and that can result in some really fun narratives. I used to write by the seat of my pants, but I find that I’m much more of a plotter nowadays. It’s much more efficient.

As an editor, I usually do a first read, then I’ll pull apart the manuscript scene by scene, recording what’s in the actual text, and seeing how it fits with dramatic structure and reader expectations. It’s like solving a giant jigsaw puzzle: I’m trying to help the author bring the image they have in their head onto the page. I’ll look at the big-picture elements first, and once those are in place, then I dive into the sentence-level editing. It’s much easier with short fiction, but the process is pretty much the same.

7) From fantasy to crime, historical fiction, YA and children’s books, your editing expertise is far and wide. What are your favorite genres to read and write?

Luckily, the genres I like to edit and read are the same. Science fiction, fantasy, horror, mystery, thriller, YA—these are my favourite places to inhabit. When it comes to writing, though, I play in the dark.

8) Black Cranes was chosen by a book club in India for their book-of-the-month last October. You and Lee interacted with the members in a virtual book discussion. How was the experience in meeting readers from different parts of the world to talk about your book?

Lee and I were so excited to know that our book was being read and enjoyed in India. It was delightful to hear how the stories resonated with readers, and that we had so many shared experiences of family expectations, duty, and “otherness.” Once you’ve written a story and published it, you have no control over how it’s received, so it’s always lovely to have a chance to chat with readers and get their take on it. What’s been really wonderful is that for every review for Black Cranes, different stories have been listed as favourites. There’s been something that rings true in each story for individual readers everywhere.

9) Relics, Wrecks and Ruins and Black Cranes released within a span of a few months. While your collaboration with Lee Murray won you a Bram Stoker award, your other co-editor Aiki Flinthart passed away earlier this year. How did these experiences impact you as a writer and editor working with several authors?

For both, it was a privilege to work with authors of such high caliber. Being trusted to edit someone’s story is a big deal, and having the chance to work with some of the biggest names in science fiction, fantasy, and horror was fantastic. Working with Lee and co-editing Black Cranes has opened so many doors. I’ve gotten to know lots of great folks in the horror community, and I can tell you, while their stories are scary, they’re the nicest bunch of people you could ever meet.

Working with Aiki on Relics was a real honour. She was prolific and such a positive force in the speculative fiction community. I’m so happy that I got to be a part of her project, and to see her singular focus and drive firsthand. She was a close friend as well as a fellow author and editor, and I think her passing reminded me to not waste a single opportunity. Aiki was a great proponent of taking that leap, even if you’re afraid.

10)  Thank you, Geneve, for taking the time for this interview. A final question for readers – What books are you currently reading? And any new projects you’re working on?

Thanks for chatting with me, Renata. Currently, I’m reading The Six-Gun Tarot by R.S. Belcher. It’s a twisted weird west book that has a terrific voice. I’m also reading The Shadow Book of Ji Yun, edited and translated by Yi Izzy Yu and John Yu Branscum. It’s a collection of Chinese weird tales and horror stories.

I’m writing several short stories for anthology call outs and I just signed a contract for a collection of horror poetry. I’m keen to stretch my creative muscles!

Interview with Lee Murray – Part 2

In the previous blog post, we spoke with New Zealand writer Lee Murray about her dual win at the Bram Stoker awards this year, and her journey with Black Cranes. (Click here for the first interview in this series.) Here we cover her second award-winning book, Grotesque: Monster Stories.

  1. Grotesque: Monster Stories was your first collection, and it won a Bram Stoker for best collection. After all the books you’re famed for, why the move to short stories? What challenges did you face in comparison to publishing novels and novellas?

Not exactly a ‘move’ to short stories; I’d been writing short fiction for anthologies and magazines, and less frequently for competitions, in order to improve my writing, and gain some early credits. Short fiction is a demanding form, with every word vital for creating ambiance, character, and plot. There is the tricky balance of adhering to the theme of the submission call, while also delivering something fresh and engaging. And there is the discipline of sticking to a deadline, word count, and other constraints imposed by the market. So, while creating my novels, I was simultaneously writing short stories to dip my toe into the mechanics of the publishing industry. I didn’t occur to me to gather those works into a collection. Grotesque: Monster Stories might not have happened at all if Steve Dillon at Things in the Well hadn’t approached me for a volume not long after the release of Into the Ashes, the third book in the Taine McKenna series, when I was at a bit of a loose end regarding my own writing. Between jobs, if you like. So we selected some likely stories in my back list, identified a unifying theme and scope (monsters, horror, breadth of style and form), and highlighted some potential gaps which I set about filling with fresh material, including a Taine McKenna novella. I approached it as if I were the editor of an anthology, only in this case I was the sole contributor.

2. Your own stories in Black Cranes, as well as the ones in Grotesque, cover a lot of cultural horror – from New Zealand to China and even other places. Is this a deliberate attempt to educate through literature? What kind of research goes into building a story around traditions, rituals, and cultural events?

No. While I hope that ultimately my writing educates and informs, I think it can be dangerous to make education the focus of our writing. We have to remember that readers are discerning; they know when we’re trying to clobber them over the head with our ideals, and it’s the kind of thing that makes them put a book down. Far better to write a narrative that engages and entertains and inject your theme into the book in more subtle ways, such as through symbolism, metaphor, and character responses. Recently, I’ve been writing more at the intersection of culture and myth, exploring my Asian heritage and Māori culture of my country. “I’ve always felt a yearning for Māori stories,” I wrote in a Medium interview by my Cranes sister, Christina Sng. “There are a lot of shared values and beliefs between the Māori culture of my homeland and the Chinese culture of my heritage: a certain synergy. Both cultures are founded on the deeds of supernatural ancestors, live by a mandate to protect the natural world, are imbued with a sense of community over individual, and tell simple compelling tales which teach respect and honor.” I do a lot of secondary thorough research—online, library resources—but occasionally I’ll use interviews and other primary sources to inform my work. I also send my work out for review and sensitivity assessment before I submit it, because we can’t see our own biases. When it comes to traditional culture and beliefs, authenticity and intent are key factors, as well as ensuring the dynamic aspects of character, since none of us are homogenous; we’re all the sum of myriad influences and identities.

3. You have co-written the Path of Ra series with Dan Rabarts. Could you tell us about the experience in co-writing a book? How does each author’s writing and storytelling style sync with the other to form the final product?

Here’s what I had to say on this topic when interviewed by Claire Fitzpatrick for The Horror Tree back in 2018: “The more I learn about collaborative writing projects, the more I realise that there are a million ways to go about it. It’s always different, depending on the medium, the subject matter, and the writers in question. With Dan and me, we have a kind of Lucy and Linus van Pelt thing going on: where I am the bossy big sister, and Dan is the highly independent little brother, who likes to charge off and do his own thing. Of course, that makes me even crabbier! So, we’ll have a basic plan, and we’ll start out writing chapter about, and by Chapter Four, Dan will have Matiu racing down a dark alley, dodging explosions. Then I’ll have to come up with an explanation for the ‘diversion’, since I’m responsible for the science, writing the uptight stickler-for-rules science consult. Aargh! It’s actually a lot of fun, our real-life process mimicking the relationship you see on the page between our protagonists, Matiu and Penny. I haven’t heard of any other teams writing in quite the same way, but it seems to work for us.”

For our Path of Ra work, we chose a ‘he-said, she-said’ approach to retain very distinct voices for the dual protagonists, so we kept our editing light for that reason. When I wrote Mika (a Kiwi-NZ version of the Wizard of Oz for youth), a collaboration with Piper Mejia, author of The Better Sister and Other Stories, and Dispossessed, we also wrote the book from a basic plan using a turn-about chapter-by-chapter approach, but when the novella draft was completed, I went back and ‘smoothed’ the narrative, sanding off any identifying edges so the story appears to have been written by a single author. There are so many ways to approach collaboration, a no one way is best, but possibly the most important factor is your choice of collaborator because it really is like raising a child with someone; you have to want what’s best for the work.

Path of Ra series, co-written by Lee Murray and Dan Rabarts

4. As an editor, you work with writers across science fiction, fantasy, horror, speculative fiction, thrillers; a mix of poets and prose writers. How do you balance your roles as writer and editor?

I love a fruit salad of genres and forms, and the privilege that comes with working with other writers (and having a small part in shaping their work), so editing projects are a passion on mine. Plus, I’ve forged some incredible friendships as an anthologist; the Black Cranes sisterhood is a good example. I do have to hold myself back from becoming too much of a chipmunk, though. I’m tempted to drop the nut I’m carrying, for another enticing nut I’ve encountered on the way. I’ll get enthusiastic and jump in, taking on new projects at the expense of my own writing. It doesn’t help that I’m a slow writer, with Hemingwayesque wordcounts of just 500 words a day. I don’t typically do the ‘word vomit’ drafts that other writers speak of. I blame my inner editor, a perfectionist, who always has her lips to my ear, saying things like, “Make it lean. You don’t need that. Delete that clutter. What is that: a cliché? No, no, no.” She slows me down a lot; very annoying. So, while I set out to be a writer, and that is still my intent, I find editing easier. If I’m procrastinating, I’ll often edit instead. So, yes, getting that balance is essential and I’m not sure I’ve cracked it yet.

5. Thank you, Lee, for taking the time for this interview. A final question for readers – What and who are your own favorite books and writers for reading? Any authors who inspire your writing, or books you would recommend picking up?

Oh dear. I always find this question very hard to answer, Renata, because there are so many great books, and I don’t want to offend any of my wonderful colleagues. However, I’d be grateful if people who haven’t yet discovered them would pick up a copy of my Bram Stoker Award®-winning works Grotesque: Monster Stories and Black Cranes: Tales of Unquiet Women. Supporting my work means I can continue to write, so I’m grateful for any reader support. And if you do pick up a copy of Black Cranes and enjoy it, please look for other work by our wonderful contributors, including Geneve Flynn, Elaine Cuyegkeng, Nadia Bulkin, Grace Chan, Rena Mason, Gabriela Lee, Angela Yuriko Smith, and Christina Sng.  Please also show some love to Alma Katsu, who wrote our foreword and who has appeared on the Bram Stoker Award® finals twice in two successive years with The Deep and The Hunger. Katsu’s latest work, Red Widow, is a spy thriller, so sure to be an intriguing fast-paced read. Tori Eldridge, who lent the book so much support, has her wonderful Lily Wong series, Asian American thriller fiction with a kick-ass protagonist, and E Lily Yu, who also endorsed the collection, has her newly released fairy tale-inspired On Fragile Waves—wonderful works to discover. For more horror fiction, there is no better place to start than the Bram Stoker Award® finals list which is crammed with incredible stories from novel through to short fiction.

Happy reading! Thank you so much for having me.

Reading resources shared by Lee Murray:

~For Lee’s interview with Christina Sng: Sng, Christina (2021). How Heritage Affects the Stories We Live and the Stories We Tell: An interview with Lee Murray. 23 Feb 2021 https://magazine.interstellarflightpress.com/how-heritage-affects-the-stories-we-live-and-the-stories-we-tell-bdd381f7a620

~Interview with Claire Fitzpatrick: Fitzpatrick, Claire (2018). The Horror Tree Presents…An Interview with Lee Murray. 20 October 2018 https://horrortree.com/the-horror-tree-presentsan-interview-with-lee-murray/

~Bram Stoker awards list for horror fiction: http://www.thebramstokerawards.com/uncategorized/winners-nominees/

Interview with Lee Murray – Part 1

Lee Murray is a multi-award-winning author-editor from Aotearoa-New Zealand (Sir Julius Vogel, Australian Shadows, Bram Stoker Awards). Her work includes military thrillers, the Taine McKenna Adventures, supernatural crime-noir series The Path of Ra (with Dan Rabarts), and debut collection Grotesque: Monster Stories. She is proud to have edited seventeen volumes of speculative fiction, including international Bram Stoker Award®-winning title Black Cranes: Tales of Unquiet Women co-edited with Geneve Flynn. Her latest work, released May 2021, is non-fiction title, Mark My Words: Read the Submission Guidelines and Other Self-editing Tips co-authored with Angela Yuriko Smith. She is co-founder of Young NZ Writers and of the Wright-Murray Residency for Speculative Fiction Writers, HWA Mentor of the Year for 2019, NZSA Honorary Literary Fellow, and Grimshaw Sargeson Fellow for 2021 for her poetry collection Fox Spirit on a Distant Cloud.

In the first of a two-part series, in honor of her double win at the Bram Stoker awards this year, we talk to Lee about the award-winning anthology Black Cranes.

  1. Hi Lee, first up, congratulations on your dual win at the Bram Stoker awards this year. You’ve been a five-time nominee overall and now won two awards in the same year. How does it feel to be acknowledged as one of the best in the horror writing genre around the world?

Thank you, Renata. To be honest, it feels like I’ve brought home a gold in two events in the same discipline at the Olympics. In literary circles, the Bram Stoker Awards® are the ultimate accolade for a dark fiction writer, so to win two is simply overwhelming. I can hardly believe it. Such a kind acknowledgement from my horror colleagues. Although, rather than being the ‘best’, the awards are given for ‘superior achievement’, recognition that the books selected have resonated for readers at the moment. When the pandemic was escalating, we were half-way through writing Black Cranes: Tales of Unquiet Women, a collection of tales by horror writers of Southeast Asian descent on the themes of otherness and expectation. We considered postponing the release date, but with anti-Asian sentiment on the rise, it seemed even more important to push on. In retrospect, it was a good call. People needed to read these stories in this moment. With Grotesque: Monster Stories, the pandemic might also have been a factor, although there has always been an interest in New Zealand dark fiction in overseas markets. The fact that Grotesque is a book of monster stories, might be significant, since monsters allow us to explore our fears from a safe distance. But do awards make a difference? In my case, I’m always convinced there was some kind of mistake, that people are going to find out I’m not who they think I am, and it makes me want to work harder, to write better fiction.

2. You co-edited Black Cranes – this year’s Bram Stoker winner for best anthology – with Geneve Flynn. With one editor in New Zealand, another in Australia, the publisher in the US, and the contributing writers scattered in different countries, how challenging was it to bring the book to fruition?

Being stuck at the bottom of the globe in New Zealand, I’d already had some experience as an anthologist, bringing together writers from all over the world using simple techniques like email and messaging. Then, when the pandemic erupted, it forced everyone to embrace platforms like zoom, teams, and discord, for our work and social connection, so in a way that’s been the silver lining of the pandemic; the barriers have come down when it comes to bringing together communities of creatives using technology. We’re a little less hung up on professionalism in favour of connection. By now, we’ve met everyone’s cat, seen myriad children run by half naked in the background, and have an intimate knowledge of the speaker’s weekend wardrobe. We’ve become familiar with online book launches, zoom readings and panel discussions, vlogs and pods, virtual conventions, as well as more innovative ways of promoting literary works. Zoom events with our Black Cranes contributors, for example, have served to celebrate the anthology and cement our connection. That said, it was an in- person meeting with my eventual co-editor, Geneve Flynn, and a recognition of our shared experience that prompted the book Black Cranes: Tales of Unquiet Women. We were attending a conference in Brisbane and, being conscientious Asian girls, we both turned up too early for a panel. We’d chatted online before, and were connected through various venues on social media, but we had never had a face-to-face conversation. Without even having to say it aloud, there was an instant understanding between us of why we were the only ones waiting in a lobby twenty minutes before the convention opened. We got to talking, asking ourselves where were the other horror writers of Southeast Asian descent? Other people with our experience of the Asian diaspora. People who also had grandmothers who played mah jong late into the night. Other writers like us who everyone assumed would be a bad driver. Where was the anthology comprising those writers? After the conference, we continued the dialogue, including who we might want to see in our project, looking for connections. We played with some names. We realised we’d need a venue. The only publisher that I approached with the concept was Kate Jonez at Omnium Gatherum Media USA, who jumped at the idea, even though anthologies aren’t part of Omnium’s brief. However, their focus has always been on diverse and unusual texts on dark themes, so the fit was good from that perspective. Perhaps too, Kate was influenced by the whisperings of a pandemic coming out of China and early responses to that. In any case, we’re very grateful to her for her enthusiasm and professionalism. In terms of challenges, she had the biggest task, getting books to people all over the world in the midst of a pandemic.

3. Black Cranes addresses a niche market – Southeast Asian women, and women writing horror. Did you envision the book soaring to the heights it has reached? What was your aim in creating this anthology?

It’s interesting that you should describe it as ‘addressing a niche market’. It is certainly true that growing up as a third-generation Chinese New Zealander, I never saw a book that reflected my experience, no characters who looked like me. But despite attempts to keep us out, Asian people have lived and worked here for two centuries now, with more than 15% of New Zealand’s population identifying as Asian currently. And that’s just New Zealand. The Asian diaspora affects millions of people and extends across the globe, with Asian women making up at least half of those people, so surely there should already be bookcases full of works addressing our Asian experience? Just last week, the week Black Cranes: Tales of Unquiet Women won a Bram Stoker Award, a pair of New Zealand editors released the first anthology of Asian fiction in New Zealand, comprising works from around 70 new voices, the majority of whom are women. While I’m not included in the mix, and the work is not horror, I find it shocking that we have had to wait so long for texts of this nature. As for Black Cranes being horror, it seemed natural to me that Black Cranes would tend towards darkness, because, as Geneve Flynn said in her acceptance speech, horror is a genre that doesn’t flinch from uncomfortable themes. Horror writers don’t look away. Again, the timing with the current pandemic, and the spike in anti-Asian sentiment, may have had a lot to do with the response, which has been simply overwhelming. So, to answer your question, we wanted to give voice to our shared experience, to create a community, and open a discussion about our feelings of otherness, of being the perpetual outsider, and it seemed other people have embraced that vision. I guess Black Cranes is the literary prescription for what ails us all right now.

Lee Murray at the 2019 Bram Stoker Award banquet – Photo by Ellen Datlow

4. Black Cranes was picked up by a book club in India last year for their October 2020 book-of-the-month. You and Geneve even met the members at the book discussion, albeit virtually. How does it feel to interact personally with readers from different parts of the globe?

A writer needs readers, so any interaction with readers who have engaged with your text is wonderful. Just knowing that you have fired up the imagination of others, and perhaps incited a broader dialogue feels like a secret superpower. It explains why even those big-name authors who aren’t always accessible to the public, will offer to join book club meetings to discuss their work with readers. And readers who go the extra mile to reach out, like the book club in India, or the little girl who sent me a drawing of my first literary award, are invaluable. People who seek you out to have their book signed. Even those seemingly small interactions can make up for the sucky parts of writing, things like low pay and high barriers. Interactions from across the globe offer extra insight. How do people in other cultures and groups perceive our work? How hard was it to obtain a copy? Do similar texts exist in those countries? Is there a gap that readers are looking for that has yet to be exploited? Questions we were asked, and which surprised us, when we were invited to the Indian group included: Where is the Indian-Asian version of Black Cranes? and There are no cranes in the book; why did you call it Black Cranes?

5. Speaking of virtual discussions, you released two books at the height of the pandemic last year. And both won Bram Stoker awards. With an absence of book launches, bookstore visits, book signings, literature festivals, libraries shutting down, how did the pandemic impact you as a writer? And what does the Bram Stoker mean for you in light of the current situation versus pre-pandemic times?

My dad died in the early months of the pandemic, and the grief and added isolation affected my writing, so all I managed were a few haiku which I shared with a friend. You can read more about that in a guest post called Writing from my Bubble on poet Stephanie Wytovich’s blog, Writing from the Madhouse. I only wish Dad could have been here to see me receive these awards, because he was my first mentor, his own storytelling key to my understanding of story structure and my love of literature. From a writing standpoint, although my workplace didn’t change, I was busier than ever. Looking back, I wonder if that was an attempt to keep myself busy and avoid spiralling into depression, rather than a direct impact of the pandemic. For horror writers, whose work is typically published by small independent presses operating out of a passion for the genre, the pandemic has been especially precarious, since many smaller presses have folded and others have pushed release dates back, meaning incomes have dropped considerably, even among those of us who are doing reasonably well. Here in New Zealand, “despite the wider arts sector accounting for up to 7% of the total workforce, it receives a disproportionately small proportion of overall government spending,” writes arts lecturer Mark Harvey in a New Zealand Herald article in May. “Last year, arts, culture and heritage were given just 0.33% of the total 2020 Budget and COVID-19 Recovery package (NZ$374 million out of $112.1 billion). This was an increase on previous years, but still miniscule compared with other sectors.” The literary arts account for an even smaller slice of that pie, and horror not at all. Most of us did not qualify for emergency aid. Add to that, we have no literary agents and no publishers of horror or even of science fiction and fantasy (other than some micro-presses) here in New Zealand, proving that the barriers for writers were already high even without COVID. Given this context, for me, a horror writer from New Zealand, to receive two Bram Stoker Awards® feels like a turning point. I hope it means a new interest in New Zealand’s horror fiction community. There is still the stigma associated with horror, literature’s ugly stepsister, to overcome. One colleague on the committee of a prestigious national writers’ festival noted that now I have two Bram Stoker Awards® I might have ‘enough respectability now’ with the festival selectors to be invited to a panel. I’m delighted, of course, because any invitation to the table is a step in the right direction, but I’m also saddened because that is an especially high bar to set for genre fiction writers.

Reading resources shared by Lee Murray:

~Lee’s guest post for Writing from the Madhouse: Murray, Lee (2020). Writing from my Bubble, in Writing from the Madhouse by Stephanie Wytovich.18 May 2020. http://stephaniewytovich.blogspot.com/2020/05/writing-from-my-bubble-guest-post-from.html

~Mark Harvey’s article on arts and artists: Harvey, Mark (2021). New Zealand Herald: The Conversation. NZ Budget 2021: we need the arts to live, but artists need to earn a living. 13 May 2021. https://theconversation.com/nz-budget-2021-we-need-the-arts-to-live-but-artists-need-to-earn-a-living-160761

We continue our conversation with Lee Murray in the next blog post. Click here to join the discussion on her second Bram Stoker winner, Grotesque: Monster Stories.