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.

Relics, Wrecks, and Ruins – A Literary Legacy

When Australian writer Aiki Flinthart was diagnosed with terminal cancer, she wanted to work on a final book as a literary legacy. Her shout out to writers who were willing to participate in a project was answered from around the globe. So, we have Garth Nix, Neil Gaiman, Lee Murray, Ken Liu, Ian Irvine, and several other authors from the fields of science fiction, fantasy, horror, experimental fiction, and speculative fiction coming together to support a fellow writer. And what a stunning display of literature has been brought forth for the reader!

Aiki’s theme was relics, wrecks, and ruins – very narrow in itself, heightening the reader’s curiosity into what the contributors could possibly have come up with. And they surprise you with one story after another! A magical carpet woven with stories that come alive, an underwater village of corpses, a submarine under attack by the real world and saved by a mythical one, a life composed of 16-minute loops, a dog stealing enchanted artifacts, musicians conducting exorcisms through rock music. A world of witches and fairies, alien interactions and underwater adventures, past and future, the highest points in space and the depths of the oceans – Relics, Wrecks, & Ruins lives up to its task of creating a legacy.

Aiki Flinthart passed away earlier this month. Her final creation is an astonishing work of art, considering the extraordinary circumstances of how it came into being. A must-read for all readers, irrespective of the genres mentioned above. It’s just so well written! When it comes to anthologies, sourcing multiple writers with equal credibility is a task in itself. Add to that their numerous genres, the narrow scope of the theme, and the fact that they’re scattered around the world and still working as a team. Flinthart could not have been prouder of the legacy she left behind.

Folk Songs for Trauma Surgeons – An Interview with Keith Rosson

With Folk Songs for Trauma Surgeons, award-winning author Keith Rosson delves into notions of family, grief, identity, indebtedness, loss, and hope, with the surefooted merging of literary fiction and magical realism he’s explored in previous novels. In “Dunsmuir,” a newly sober husband buys a hearse to help his wife spread her sister’s ashes, while “The Lesser Horsemen” illustrates what happens when God instructs the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse to go on a team-building cruise as a way of boosting their frayed morale. In “Brad Benske and the Hand of Light,” an estranged husband seeks his wife’s whereabouts through a fortuneteller after she absconds with a cult, and in “High Tide,” a grieving man ruminates on his brother’s life as a monster terrorizes their coastal town. With grace, imagination, and a brazen gallows humor, Folk Songs for Trauma Surgeons merges the fantastic and the everyday, and includes a number of Rosson’s unpublished stories, as well as award-winning favorites.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

As a guest writer for Meerkat Press’ latest offering, Tomes and Tales has collaborated with the publishing house to feature this remarkable literary endeavor of a fantastic writer on its worldwide blog tour.

AN EXCERPT FROM ‘THE LESSER HORSEMEN’

“We stepped outside as knives of sunlight winked off every glassed thing on the street. The stink of exhaust enveloped us. Sewage warming in the gutters brought out the scents of the human soufflé: piss, heated blacktop, burnt plastic.

Famine hiked his jeans up—we had our trappings, each of us, our strange cosmic shortcomings that kept us tethered here, not nearly human but certainly more than ideas, and Famine’s was, obviously, his constant hunger. Not so obvious was that he could never find a fucking belt that fit him. He took off down the avenue muttering something about an all-you-can-eat bouillabaisse shop on Mississippi, the cuffs of his pants scraping the ground, arms wrinkled and red at the elbows, striding along with one hand bunching the acid-washed fabric at his waist.

War folded his cruise handout and sighed, squinting at the empty street. “We leave in three hours? Man, He’s not dicking around.”

“He’s not known for that, is He?”

“True. Guess I better go grab my gear,” he said, and then paused. He seemed poised for some comradely dig, but we were long past it. Centuries, at least. “See you on the boat,” he managed.

The Good Lord certainly had a point. I could admit that. We’d long since become fractious, four different arrows arcing toward four different targets at four different times. No harmony, no shared intention. There had been a time when that was not the case, but now? Only Death was constant.

The Good Lord was staring at me through the window, his hands cinched over his little stovepot of a belly. He raised a hand and shooed me along, the look in his eyes absolutely flat, dead as deep space.

I went home to pack.”

INTERVIEW WITH KEITH ROSSON

I interviewed author Keith Rosson as part of the release and promotional tour of his latest book. Here’s a peek into our conversation:

1) After reading The Mercy of the Tide last year, I was looking forward to your latest book. How do you strike a balance between literary fiction and experimental fiction?

I wish I knew the answer to that. As it stands now, my work is considered “genre-blurring,” i.e. “we don’t know where to file this guy’s stuff, so while we recognize he’s a decent writer, this stuff is a bit harder to sell.” I think that balance just comes from writing for so long. I greatly admire genre writers, as well as those who write literary fiction, and balancing that tightrope between the two really just comes from diligence and writing a lot.

2) Your writing spans across magical realism, fantasy, contemporary horror, and mystery. Is there a specific reader audience you target?

Oh man, if there was, I’d probably sell more books. But I’m that weird amalgam of a writer – one who’d like to be considered a “serious literary author” but also simply cannot stop writing about reincarnated medieval executioners or monsters or guys getting beaten up by, like, sentient, malevolent forests. I have no idea who my audience is, but I know some people like my books, and I’m profoundly grateful for them.

3) When your genres and themes are so vast, what are the challenges in writing a short story collection in comparison to a novel?

I’m not a prolific short story writer. For every story that I finish, there’s probably a half dozen of them where I’ve lost the thread or the idea peters out and they languish half-finished. So honestly, the challenges here were just picking the best stories and arranging them in a way that made the most sense. I have no idea if other writers experience this problem, but with a novel I can get a general idea of the thing as a whole. It starts here, ends here, and in the middle, all of this shit happens. I get that process. With a story collection, it’s like holding a bunch of different puzzle pieces and trying to fit them into something manageable and just hoping it works. It feels way more fractured, way less linear, and you’re not sure if the pieces fit or not until the thing comes out in a book.

4) Folk Songs for Trauma Surgeons – What’s the story behind the title, and the book cover as well?

I grew up on punk rock and I love it. I consider punk songs to essentially be folk songs. Protest songs or homage songs, electrified. Three chords, simple structure, a clear intent. So a folk song is like this simple homage to something, right? And a trauma surgeon is someone who fixes our injuries, staunches our blood, sets our bones straight, closes our wounds so that we don’t die. A folk song for a trauma surgeon is a simple, shouted thank you to those that fix our ailments, that stitch our wounds for us. As far as the cover goes, there’s a wolf and there’s a rabbit. Their relationship seems pretty clear. There’s a lot of that kind of relationship in the book, whether its internalized or not.

5) Your narratives merge the everyday with fantastical elements. What drives you as a writer? How much of your observations and experiences make it into your stories, and where does imagination take over?

That’s an awesome question, and I wish I knew how to answer it. It’s all organic. Knowing when to insert some feeling or observation or humanity into a scene that’s otherwise fantastical or fabulist is just one of those things that I’ve gotten more comfortable with due to endless practice. But the goal – one of the goals – is to make people care about these folks. You want readers to care about these people, become invested in them. And as far as what drives me, I actually love the publishing, submitting, and editing process. The whole thing is a blast. Even the endless (and I do mean endless) rejection has had much of its sting taken out after all these years. I love books, I love libraries, I love reading. None of it has lost its allure over the years.

6) Stories like “The Lesser Horsemen” and “Homecoming” are thought-provoking and seeped in reality through fantasy. Any thoughts on writing satire, considering the very relevant topics you cover?

Honestly, I don’t really know what satire is as a genre, or how to write it. Gotta plead ignorance on this question, as I don’t know enough about the genre to offer much of a take on it.

7) Which story in the collection would you say you had the best time writing?

You know, I wrote “The Lesser Horsemen” in a notebook over a period of maybe three days, and when I sat down to type it out, it was almost a word-for-word transcription of what you’re reading in the book, with very few changes. It was maybe the purest version of “automatic writing” I’ve ever experienced as an author. Compare that with “Their Souls Climb the Room” – I worked on multiple versions of that story for six or seven years, and writing the version that you see in the collection was like pulling teeth. Speaking of pulling teeth, I also think “Baby Jill,” the story about the tooth fairy who’s beginning to question her own existence, as well as humanity’s frailty of spirit, is one of the coolest, creepiest things I’ve written. One of my favorite stories.

8) Any upcoming books for readers to look forward to?

We haven’t even officially announced it yet, but my novel All the Wound-Down World will be released by Meerkat Press in 2023. It’s set in present day and features the same setting/world and some of the same characters as The Mercy of the Tide, forty years after the events in that book took place. It’s, uh, pretty wild.

9) Any literary influences, favorite books or authors you would recommend?

Here are a bunch of books that I’veread over the past few years that have stuck with me. They’re all great:

Mad Boy by Nick Arvin

Wounds: Six Stories from the Borders of Hell by Nathan Ballingrud (stories)

Dodgers by Bill Beverly

Meddling Kids by Edgar Cantero

A Lush and Seething Hell by John Hornor Jacobs (stories)

Broken River by J. Robert Lennon

Music for Wartime by Rebecca Makkai (stories)

Black Light by Kimberly King Parsons (stories)

And I Do Not Forgive You by Amber Sparks (stories)

Not So Much, Said the Cat by Michael Swanwick (stories)

Growing Things by Paul Tremblay (stories)

We Eat Our Own by Kea Wilson

Red Clocks by Leni Zumas

FOLK SONGS FOR TRAUMA SURGEONS by Keith Rosson

RELEASE DATE: FEB 23, 2021

GENRE: Collection / Speculative Fiction / Magical Realism / Literary

BOOK PAGE: https://meerkatpress.com/books/folksongs/

BUY LINKS: Meerkat Press |Amazon Barnes & Noble

AUTHOR LINKS: Website Twitter

GIVEAWAY LINK: http://www.rafflecopter.com/rafl/display/7f291bd826/?

Women Writing Horror

Horror is my favorite genre in fiction and I read across all of its sub-genres including true crime, psychological horror, comedy horror, from novels to short story collections, dark poetry and anthologies. A random search for horror books throws up the usual fare from Stephen King, Joe Hill, Josh Malerman, Kealan Patrick Burke. While I have loved books by all these writers, women authors in the genre don’t show up as easily, with the exception of Shirley Jackson and Mary Shelley for their classic works. I thought back to all the books I’ve read and the ones in my to-read list and came up with this listicle of horror stories from women writers. These include translated books as well as original language ones, novellas, novels, collections, prose and poetry, fiction and non-fiction by writers, translators, editors, and publishers who create terror through words. From historical fiction, science fiction, young adult, satire, to mythology, folklore, speculative fiction, re-telling of true events, and dark verses – take your pick. Since February is coming up, I compiled a list of twenty-eight women in horror – one book recommendation for each day of the month.

1) Agustina Maria Bazterrica – Tender is the Flesh

A virus has eradicated animals, and humanity turns to cannibalism for its source of meat as humans are domesticated, mass produced, and slaughtered. Translated from the Spanish, a nauseating and provocative satire that blends science fiction with horror.

2) Ally Blue – Down

An underwater, paranormal suspense fest surrounding the discovery of a rock-like sphere that causes humans to mutate and turn into horror versions of themselves.

3) Alma Katsu – The Deep

Historical fiction horror set around the events of the Titanic and its sister ship the Britannic. The maritime disaster and World War I are caught in sinister happenings in this supernatural thriller.

4) Cassandra Khaw – Rupert Wong, Cannibal Chef

A novella about the dual life of a sorcerer and soldier, combining horror and comedy with Malaysian and Chinese mythology.

5) Christina Henry – The Ghost Tree

YA horror about missing people and terrifying visions of monsters dragging remains. Ghostly trees, creepy children, witches, and curses – almost like watching a horror movie.

6) Christina Sng – Dreamscapes

Horror, fantasy, and science fiction come together in this poetry collection that addresses the darkness within. Verses that serve to unsettle and terrify, proving how poetry can be more impactful than prose.

7) Elizabeth Kostova – The Historian

A historical fiction Dracula story moving across time and place with shifting narrator perspectives. A debut vampire novel that interweaves history with folklore and makes for a riveting read.

8) Fernanda Melchor – Hurricane Season

Mythology and terror from Spanish literature, with the English translation maintaining the grim, intense and graphic prose of its original source in this portrait of a Mexican village and its witch.

9) Francine Toon – Pine

A haunting tale in the Scottish highlands, filled with intrigue and eeriness, alternating between terrifying and heart wrenching, spooky and suspenseful in equal measures.

10) Gemma Amor – Dear Laura

A novella of lifelong obsession, this dark, twisted tale about penpals stands out for its brilliantly atmospheric writing.

11) Jennifer Hillier – Wonderland

Psychological thriller, amusement park, serial killer – gruesome and wicked as you set out to solve crimes.

12) Jennifer McMahon – Winter People

Historical fiction meets fantasy in this chilling story of missing people and secrets galore.

13) Joyce Carol Oates – The Doll Master

A collection of short stories that borrows its title from an obsession over dolls, and leads into an unsettling world of abominations and mystery.

14) Kaaron Warren – Into Bones Like Oil

A haunted house novella with an unconventional narrative and storyline, and an interesting take on the ghost story.

15) Kathe Koja – The Cipher

Winner of the Bram Stoker award for Best Debut Novel, the Funhole does not live up to its name. A black hole that calls out and launches a journey of obsession, darkness, and blinding terror of classic horror in spectacular prose.

16) Laura Purcell – The Silent Companions

There’s nothing like historical fiction for a dose of gothic horror. An asylum, a haunted mansion, intriguing journals, hidden secrets – a creepy ghost story that grabs the attention from beginning to end.

17) Laurel Hightower – Crossroads

An exceptional novella dealing with the horrors of heartbreak and grief, and things coming back from the dead. An emotional and devastating read that shows you just how diverse the horror genre can be.

18) Lee Murray – Grotesque

A collection of monster stories that range from mythology to legend and science fiction, offering a dip into Maori folklore and French history, zombie attacks and adventures. Packed with action and gore, the stories are a delight for monster fans.

19) Lisa Kröger – Monster, She Wrote

Why read one horror story when you can read about them all? A non-fiction horror book about women who pioneered the genres of horror and speculative fiction; writers who defied convention and crafted some stellar spooky tales. From ghost stories to psychological horror, intriguing trivia and reading recommendations, a book about books not to be missed.

20) Lucy A. Snyder – Sparks and Shadows

A dark fantasy collection of short stories, poems, and essays. Twisted tales in myriad settings, witty and diverse, horrifying, amusing and thought provoking.

21) Mariana Enriquez – Things We Lost in the Fire

A short story collection of the macabre, mixing magical realism with gothic fiction in this astonishing treat from Spanish literature, brought to us in English by translator Megan McDowell.

22) Mariko Koike – The Graveyard Apartment

Detective fiction and horror writing come together in this translation from Japanese literature of psychological horror set around a graveyard. Deborah Boehm brings this to us in English.

23) Michelle Paver – Thin Air

A historical fiction ghost story set in the Himalayas. Nature can be brutal enough, but what if it isn’t the only thing you’re battling? Subtle supernatural elements, more psychological rather than physical, can be more horrific at times.

24) Nalo Hopkinson – Skin Folk

A short story collection of magical realism, science fiction, fantasy, and speculative fiction interweaved with horror. Storytelling at its best.

25) Samanta Schweblin – Fever Dream

Some more magical realism from Spanish literature in this surreal nightmare of an otherworldly story. Menacing, unsettling, and thoroughly absorbing in its usage of horror to explore current world issues.

26) Taeko Kono – Toddler Hunting

An exceptional collection of Japanese short stories that explore the dark side of human nature and antisocial behavior. Lucy North translates to English to bring us a startling and disquieting world.

27) Yoko Ogawa – Revenge

Another dark treat from Japanese literature in an experimental format of seemingly unrelated short stories coming together to form a larger novel. Bland settings and ordinary people up the ante of terrors lurking in everyday life.

28) Yrsa Sigurðardóttir – I Remember You

Scandinavian Nordic noir of isolation and remoteness; horror based on true events. Translated from the Icelandic, a ghost story that proffers the chills.

Three bonus books for the women who lead the way as editors and publishers:

29) Lee Murray and Geneve Flynn – Black Cranes

A collection of short stories by Asian writers, highlighting the dual themes of women in horror and Asian women writers. A smorgasbord of mythology, legend, folklore, science fiction, comedy horror, satire, dark fantasy.

30) Aiki Flinthart – Relics, Wrecks, and Ruins

A collection of science fiction and fantasy with horror to showcase the remnants of humanity and celebrate a legacy.

31) Tricia Reeks – Meerkat Press

The publishing house comes out with some very different but very good books, in equal parts weird, unique, and dark.

PS: This article also features in Horror Addicts – a publication devoted to the horror genre in all its forms, including literature and cinema. “Women Writing Horror” was published in keeping with their February theme of Women in Horror Month.

Speculate – An Interview with Dominique Hecq

From what began as a dialog between two adventurous writers curious about the shape-shifter called a prose poem comes a stunning collection that is a disruption of language—a provocation. Speculate is a hybrid of speculative poetry and flash fiction, thrumming in a pulse of jouissance and intensity that chases the impossible.

ABOUT THE AUTHORS:

As a guest writer for Meerkat Press’ latest offering, Tomes and Tales has collaborated with the publishing house to feature this remarkable literary endeavor of two writers on its worldwide blog tour. My review of the book can be found here.

EXCERPTS:

1) Evridiki

Friends are not important—like plagues, they come and go, even blood is not thicker. But fate is another matter. Some fool in autumn had a drink in the dark, sought a taste of heaven in a street named Bagh Nakh. Found it in the hands of a runaway who raised a hand and plunged a dagger that clung to the idiot’s heart.

***

You were born in autumn and so, naturally, hate spring. The scent of blackwood showering pollen. The air licked with gold where the buzzing of the bees deepens. The sudden opacity of it all. You run. Run away. Away from the visible and from the invisible. With the pollen clinging to your skin, the sun striking and the darkness beneath your feet settling, you are a living phobia. A fear of no consequence. Yet as eons pass in one beat of the heart, you hear the rustle under the trees. Taste the bite of death.

2) Neither a kitchen nor a sky

Her heart is a room full of photographs and pillows wafting around rehearsing melancholy and reinstating torment. But there is still no word, just somber silence in the floating photographs and neglected pillows cartwheeling like burnt toast past the IKEA blender and microwave in a fairy tale of space that does not involve breathing.

***

His heart smells of burnt toast. If you look closely, you will see a paisley design—the sort found as all-over design for an IKEA bedspread. The main motif and the background of ferns are done with pure (that is unmixed) colors: just red (turkey) and black (jet) to conjure up the marriage of blood and vegemite, the staples of his diet, as well as his sign in the Chinese horoscope. Yes: he is a tiger. Enter the chambers of his heart at your peril. Don’t say you were not warned. He grinds his teeth.

INTERVIEW WITH DOMINIQUE HECQ

I interviewed author Dominique Hecq as part of the release and promotional tour of her latest book, co-authored with Eugen Bacon. Here’s a peek into our conversation:

1) While co-authored books are not uncommon, how did the idea for a conversational narrative come about?

Eugen and I are part of a prose poetry group and at one point we noticed that we were constantly responding to each other’s posts through fiction and feedback. So, it seemed natural to pursue the conversation outside that forum.

Eugen has also co-authored short fiction with other writers, recently with Andrew Hook (slipstream fiction) and Seb Doubinsky (an afro-francophone collaboration), which may be testament to her ability to work with others, and understand synergy.  

On the other hand, I have collaborated with performers, sound-artists, musicians and dancers. I’ve also written a bilingual work with Chantal Danjou, a French novelist, and worked closely with authors whose work I’ve translated (most recently Claudia La Rocca, from San Francisco).

2) Dominique, you and Eugen are so similar, in the sense of being completely different in your respective writing styles. What goes into selecting a co-writer? How did you get together for this project?

It started in master/apprentice relationship—I supervised Eugen’s PhD in creative writing. I was working as an associate professor at the time. The relation evolved to one of mutual respect. We’ve known each other for over ten years and have learned from each other’s stylistic differences. You could say it is precisely these differences that cement our relationship. It also energises our writing. In this project, we bounce off each other’s words and take the narratives to extremes.

3) Speculate is presented as a dialogue through essays. How did the two of you decide on your parts? Did a verbal conversation flow into writing, or as writers did you read each other and then take the conversation ahead?

The latter: As writers we read each other and took the conversation ahead. This is why Speculate has two parts—one in which I respond to triggers in Eugen’s text, and one in which Eugen reacts to mine.

4) Prose poetry as a genre has a very specific following from readers who enjoy both forms. Any literary influences, books or writers you would recommend for further reading?

The Penguin Book of the Prose Poem: from Baudelaire to Anne Carson (2018), edited by Jeremy Noel Tod, is a good place to start as it looks at the form’s rich heritage in the literary mainstream. Without wanting to be parochial, I would also recommend The Anthology of Australian Prose Poetry (2020), edited by Cassandra Atherton and Paul Hetherington. More focused towards critical commentary are Jane Monson’s British Prose Poetry: The Poems Without Lines and Peter Johnson’s A Cast-Iron Aeroplane That Can Actually Fly: Commentaries from 80 Contemporary American Poets on Their Prose Poetry (2019).

I couldn’t close this question without mentioning Russell Edson, the “grandfather of the American prose poem,” who has published thirteen collections of prose poems, and Mexican writer Gaspar Orozco’s whose book-length prose poem Book of the Peony (2017) is just stunning in Mark Weiss’s translation.

As for the question of influence, it’s hard to tell, but I’m likely to have absorbed the lessons of Charles Baudelaire during my youth and, later, those of Anne Carson. Truth be told, both Eugen and I greatly admire Margaret Atwood’s work and Oz Hardwick’s skills at defamiliarizing the reader—his prose poetry sequence Wolf Planet(2020) certainly deserves a look. And I know Eugen is madly in love with Toni Morrison, celebrated for her beauty in language in personal text that shouts its meaning.

5) Speculative fiction, flash fiction, essays, stories – Was the hybrid genre a conscious decision, or did you follow the conversation to wherever the writing took you?

That was a conscious decision. Currently short forms are flourishing and, perhaps as a consequence, the boundaries of the prose poem are increasingly porous.And yet, a century and a half after the publication of Baudelaire’s Paris Spleen, the question remains: What is a prose poem?

While many different kinds of prose poems have been identified over recent decades, a range of innovations and hybridisations challenge and subvert the boundaries of the prose poem form. In fact, what excites us about prose poetry is that it uses poetic techniques to set up and subvert readers’ expectations. And since we delight in crossing boundaries, it’s a perfect form.

6) Dividing the book into two sections was again a very innovative and interesting part of the narrative. The idea of one leading and the other following. How did that come about?

Apart from our concern to be fair to each other, we wanted to give the book a kind of speculative mirror image in terms of style of writing. It was also a natural evolution of our responding to each other’s lead.

7) Did you expect differences in interpretation of the book, considering two writers with a strong hold on readers with their respective styles?

Yes, and it will be interesting to see how reviewers address this conundrum. Literary theorist Gérard Genette in his book Paratexts: Thresholds of Interpretation (1997) explores the liminal devices and conventions, within and without a book, that form part of the complex mediation between the book, its author, its publisher and reader. Eugen and I were pleasantly astonished by our publisher’s reception of Speculate. Let’s see what readers think.

8) What’s the story behind that gorgeous cover?

The cover is the genius of our publisher Tricia Reek of Meerkat Press. It’s her creative response to the work (paratext of interpretation?). I think sheperceived the nexus between the speculative and lyrical modes of the manuscript and worked with that. She then presented us with stunning variants of her design, and we chose the one that appealed most to us. We love the vibrant colours and blurring of tangoing shadows.

SPECULATE: A COLLECTION OF MICROLIT

by Eugen Bacon & Dominique Hecq

RELEASE DATE: JAN 19, 2021

GENRE: Collection / Prose-Poetry / Speculative Fiction

BOOK PAGE:  https://meerkatpress.com/books/speculate/

BUY LINKS: Amazon Book Depository | Barnes & Noble

AUTHOR LINKS: Website Twitter

GIVEAWAY LINK: http://www.rafflecopter.com/rafl/display/7f291bd825/

The Road to Woop Woop Blog Tour

Eugen Bacon’s work is cheeky with a fierce intelligence, in prose that’s resplendent, delicious, dark and evocative. NPR called her novel Claiming T-Mo ‘a confounding mysterious tour de force’. The Road to Woop Woop and Other Stories imbues the same lushness in a writerly language that is Bacon’s own. This peculiar hybrid of the untraditional, the extraordinary within, without and along the borders of normalcy will hypnotise and absorb the reader with tales that refuse to be labelled. The stories in this collection are dirges that cross genres in astounding ways. Over 20 provocative tales, with seven original to this collection, by an award-winning African Australian author.

Author bio

As a guest writer for Meerkat Press‘ latest offering, Tomes and Tales has collaborated with the publishing house to feature the award-winning writer and her brilliant book on its worldwide blog tour. Here’s my interview with author Eugen Bacon as part of the release and promotional tour of her latest book.

1) With a range of themes and genres, the book does not fit into a specific category of writing style. Was this a deliberate decision of being genre defying or genre defining?

My writing is experimental, a curiosity. My cross genre stories are a natural birth of my multiplicities as an artist, a scholar, a short story writer, a novelist, a poet. I have always been enchanted with theorist and critic Roland Barthes who found pleasure in the text, for whom text is a multi-dimensional space where things are made or unmade. I am drawn to deconstruction, margins of philosophy, meaning of text. My defying the boundaries of genre is a natural occurrence, a child of wonder and play.

2) The writing features a lot of Australian slang (including the title itself). What was your target reader audience while writing this book?

Streuth, Aussie drawl is not vernacular! Crikey. I write for a global audience, and the writing is accessible in textual context, placement, narrative and flow—as any good writer will see to. Not all stories have an Aussie drawl, just the ones featuring distinct characters, like Bluey in “Dying” (golly gum), the toad in “Beatitudes” (I’m just a bloody toad) and Calder in “He Refused To Name It” (who could have said, “I haven’t seen M in yonks,” but didn’t).

Woop Woop was once a real place for harvesting jarrah timber northwest of Wilga in New South Wales, Australia. It faded from history and today refers to a place remote or without facilities in ordinary speak (“I live out Woop Woop—my internet is down again.”) The slang I use is both a natural aspect of my self and other—I am true blue, as one would say, even as a blend of cultures (African Australian)—and a deliberate playfulness, where writing is an extension of art and play.

3) African stories in Australian fiction – Was this cultural blend something you set out for, or the stories just happened to perfectly sync together?

I am African and Australian—the one is not exclusive from the other. I am a sum of parts. I am many, betwixt, a fusion of cultures. My stories and their characters chart what happens. Perhaps they steal from my everyday in a perfect sync of that self and other. There is no tension when I write, but rather a release.

4) The writing style can be an acquired taste of sorts. Any tips/suggestions for upcoming or newbie writers on honing their skills beyond set narratives?

Find your voice. I talk about voice as integral to a writer’s identity in my book Writing Speculative Fiction (2019) by Macmillan. Voice is your unique way of telling. In a review of my collection by award-winning author Keith Rosson, he wrote: “The Road to Woop Woop pushes boundaries, blurs genres and folklores, and reminds us once again of her dazzling, unique voice. No one writes like her.” When you tell it in your own way of looking at things, this is your voice.

5) Any literary influences or personal favorite authors/books you would recommend that readers pick up?

Fiction by Toni Morrison,celebrated for her beauty in language in personal text that shouts its meaning. Anything by Anthony Doerr (his text is like: “fields enwombed with hedges”)—clove pink carnations, ivory white lilies and crimson rich roses sprout in each sentence. Peter Temple is an Australian crime fiction writer—I wrote a tribute to his writing in the Literary Hub, it will tell you how this author is a favorite: “The New Seduction of an Old Literary Crime Classic”. The novel Truth is his most memorable work.

I am currently reading Nalo Hopkinson’s Skin Folk (2001), was besotted with NamwaliSerpell’sThe Old Drift (2019) and adore Sheree Renée Thomas’s Nine Bar Blues (2019). Andrew Hook is a British author of the literary strange who has really captivated me. I nearly fell when he agreed to collaborate with me in a short story. 

6) The stories are often lyrical. Any upcoming poetry collections?

Yes, thanks for asking! I find a certain attraction in text that makes colour in my mind, that patterns a rainbow in the ideas I find voice to. In 2020 I wrote two prose poetry collections, Her Bitch Dress and It’sFolking Political through Ginninderra Press. They are a response to politics, to the pandemic and much more. What’s more, Speculate, my collaborative collection (with Dominique Hecq) of illustrated prose poetry is out in January 2021 by Meerkat Press. Trust me—this illustrated collection is a provocation. You’ll want to read it.

Speculate – a collection of illustrated prose poetry

7) What’s the story behind the cover?

Meerkat Press would be thrilled to give you an answer. I just said, I want something African and Aussie, and it’s kinda dark. The publisher sent me draft art with a croc and galahs, eyes and skulls, and I said, too right.

(Did you know she also did the inner illustrations? My word.) 

THE ROAD TO WOOP WOOP by Eugen Bacon

RELEASE DATE: DEC 1, 2020

GENRE: Collection / Speculative Fiction / Dark Fantasy

BOOK PAGE: https://www.meerkatpress.com/books/the-road/

BUY LINKS: Meerkat Press |Amazon Barnes & Noble

AUTHOR LINKS: Website Twitter

GIVEAWAY LINK: http://www.rafflecopter.com/rafl/display/7f291bd824/?

A dazzling piece of literature.

An excerpt from the titular story:

THE ROAD TO WOOP WOOP

Tumbling down the stretch, a confident glide, the 4WD is a beaut, over nineteen years old.

The argument is brand-new. Maps are convolutions, complicated like relationships. You scrunch the sheet, push it in the glovebox. You feel River’s displeasure, but you hate navigating, and right now you don’t care.

The wiper swishes to and fro, braves unseasonal rain. You and River maintain your silence.

Rain. More rain.

“When’s the next stop?” River tries. Sidewise glance, cautious smile. He is muscled, dark. Dreadlocks fall down high cheekbones to square shoulders. Eyes like black gold give him the rugged look of a mechanic.

“Does it matter?” you say.

“Should it?”

You don’t respond. Turn your head, stare at a thin scratch on your window. The crack runs level with rolling landscape racing away with rain. Up in the sky, a billow of cloud like a white ghoul, dark-eyed and yawning into a scream.

A shoot of spray through River’s window brushes your cheek.

A glide of eye. “Hell’s the matter?” you say.

“You ask me-e. Something bothering you?”

“The window.”

He gives you a look.

Classic,you think. But you know that if you listen long enough, every argument is an empty road that attracts unfinished business. It’s an iceberg full of whimsy about fumaroles and geysers. It’s a corpse that spends eternity reliving apparitions of itself in the throes of death. Your fights are puffed-up trivia, championed to crusades. You fill up teabags with animus that pours into kettles of disarray, scalding as missiles. They leave you ashy and scattered—that’s what’s left of your lovemaking, or the paranoia of it, you wonder about that.

More silence, the cloud of your argument hangs above it. He shrugs. Rolls up his window. Still air swells in the car.

“Air con working?” you say.

He flexes long corduroyed legs that end in moccasins. Flicks on the air button—and the radio. The bars of a soulful number, a remix by some new artist, give way to an even darker track titled ‘Nameless.’ It’s about a high priest who wears skinny black jeans and thrums heavy metal to bring space demons into a church that’s dressed as a concert. And the torments join in evensong, chanting psalms and canticles until daybreak when the demons wisp back into thin air, fading with them thirteen souls of the faithful, an annual pact with the priest.

Rain pelts the roof and windows like a drum.

He hums. Your face is distant. You might well be strangers, tossed into a tight drive from Broome to Kununurra.

The lilt of his voice merges with the somber melody.

You turn your face upward. A drift of darkness, even with full day, is approaching from the skies. Now it’s half-light. You flip the sun visor down. Not for compulsion or vanity, nothing like an urge to peer at yourself in the mirror. Perhaps it’s to busy your hands, to distract yourself, keep from bedevilment—the kind that pulls out a quarrel. You steal a glimpse of yourself in the mirror. Deep, deep eyes. They gleam like a cat’s. The soft curtain of your fringe is softening, despite thickset brows like a man’s. You feel disconnected with yourself, with the trip, with River. You flip the sun visor up.

Now the world is all grim. River turns on the headlights, but visibility is still bad. A bolt of lightning. You both see the arms of a reaching tree that has appeared on the road, right there in your path. You squeal, throw your arms out. River swerves. A slam of brakes. A screech of tires. Boom!

The world stops in a swallowing blackness. Inside the hollow, your ears are ringing. The car, fully intact, is shooting out of the dark cloud in slow motion, picking up speed. It’s soaring along the road washed in a new aurora of lavender, turquoise and silver, then it’s all clear. A gentle sun breaks through fluffs of cloud no more engulfed in blackness. You level yourself with a hand on the dashboard, uncertain what exactly happened.

You look at River. His hands . . . wrist up . . . he has no hands. Nothing bloody as you’d expect from a man with severed wrists. Just empty space where the arms end.

But River’s unperturbed, his arms positioned as if he’s driving, even while nothing is touching the steering that’s moving itself, turning and leveling.

“Brought my shades?” he asks.

“Your hands,” you say.

“What about them?”

“Can’t you see?”

His glance is full of impatience.

You sink back to your seat, unable to understand it, unclear to tell him, as the driverless car races along in silence down the lone road.