Sunday, January 29, 2012

A few words with Tracie McBride

Today, fellow author and dweller of the southern hemisphere, Tracie McBride, joins me on my blog. Like me, she wears many hats, and not only writes but edits. Welcome, Tracie!

You've been writing for quite a while now, and have short stories available in a number of anthologies. Can you tell us a little about the general theme of your tales? Which of your shorts are your three favourites of all time, and also, would you ever plan on a novel-length work?

One of the advantages of being a short story writer is that I have the luxury of exploring a multitude of themes. Having said that, there are some I keep returning to because they’re lodged deep down in my psyche. Often I’ll intertwine the banality and familiarity of modern-day suburban life with surreal or horrific elements. Parenthood and other familial relationships also come under the microscope often.

I’m glad you asked for my three favourites instead of just one, because it’s a bit like having to choose which one of my children is my favourite. In no particular order, I choose –
Baptism, in which a young friar attempts to convert a pod of predatory mermaids to Christianity.

Ghosts Can Bleed, the title story of my collection, which deals with themes of grief and the despair of a life lived without meaning.

Last Chance To See, the story of a woman who is killed in a car accident and is given a ‘loaner’ prosthetic body to extend her life by another 24 hours. This story was inspired by my aunt Noeline who died of cancer in 2008.

Writing a novel remains an elusive goal; the official line is that I’m waiting for a novel-worthy idea to come to me, but the truth is that the thought of writing a novel scares me. I enjoy the immediacy of the short story, the more readily attainable goal of completion and publication, the liberty to experiment with voice and structure that is harder to get away with in longer works, and the challenge of expressing my ideas in as few words as possible.

The short story is quite a different beast from novella and novel-length works. What, in your opinion, are the hallmarks of a great short story? What are some of the issues you see in short story submissions for anthologies?

I have particular tastes in short stories. I like a story that makes me sit back at the end and say, “Damn, I wish I’d thought of that.” Stories that leave a little mystery and room for the reader to interpret it in their own way.Stories that are elegantly constructed with subtle and well-crafted (but never over-laboured) imagery.

I read slush Dark Moon Digest, a US-based horror magazine. The number one issue is a poorly crafted story. If a writer mixes up his or her tenses, doesn’t know how to punctuate dialogue correctly or hands out adverbs like lollies, then I find it difficult to see past the craft to the story within. Number two is a lack of originality. I come across a lot of clich├ęd concepts and overused tropes.

Electronic publishing has created fantastic opportunities for writers, but it's also resulted in a slew of published works that needed a bit of extra spit and polish before release. What's your advice to writers who're embarking on self-publishing?

Oh boy – you’re trying to get me into trouble, aren’t you? I’m full of advice for indie writers, especially for those at the beginning of their career, but I find that many of them aren’t very receptive to constructive (or any) criticism. I’ll try to limit it to three key pieces of advice.

1) In the absence of a competent editor (and let’s face it, how many indie writers can afford one?) join a critique group. In particular, join a group that has members who are further along in their writing career than you are.

2) Learn to accept criticism with good grace. Even better, learn to heed it.

3) Read widely. Read outside your favourite genres. Read intensively within your favourite genres. Buy books on the craft of writing. Keep those books by your bedside and re-read them until you’ve memorised them.

Small presses. There are hundreds, if not thousands more of them around compared to just a few years ago, and it seems like every Tom, Dick and Harry considers himself a publisher. How does one discern whether a publisher is legit, and what are the benefits of entrusting one's writing to a small press as opposed to going it alone?

I don’t know if I’m the right person to ask this question. Because I write short stories and poetry, I have less invested in finding the ‘right’ publisher, so I have a cavalier attitude to choosing a publisher; if they promise to pay me for my contribution and send me a contributor copy, then they’re OK by me. But for fledgling novelists, my advice is to become involved in the writing community (although the act of writing is a solitary exercise, the business of being a writer is not). Join writers’ groups, Facebook groups and professional organizations such as the HWA. Listen out for news, watch where other writers are submitting and observe who wins awards. Dodgy or under-performing publishers will be outed soon enough.

For me, the biggest advantage of signing with a small press is that it provides me external validation and an honest appraisal of the value of my work; they’re not my mother, they’re not my best friend, they don’t have to say they like my work if they don’t want to, and yet here they are saying that they like it well enough to pay me for the privilege of publishing it. Another advantage is that, although small presses don’t have the resources of a major publishing house, they can still expose your book to a wider audience than you can reach on your own. And unless you’re a particularly multi-talented or resourceful writer, the editing, layout and cover design work will be superior to what you’ll be able to afford or achieve on your own.

Please tell us a bit more about your title that's just seen release with Dark Continents' Tales of Darkness and Dismay collection. What were your intentions when you and John Irvine started discussing initial concepts?

The collection is called April Fool and other Antipodean horror stories. It contains three short stories by John Irvine and two by me. John and I share a country of origin (New Zealand), a love of speculative poetry and brevity in storytelling, and a certain dark and dry sense of humour. We’re also both board members of Dark Continents Publishing. And that’s about the extent of our commonalities. So rather than work with a cohesive theme, we’ve gone in the opposite direction by compiling a collection that showcases the diversity of style and theme to be found in Antipodean horror.

Tell us more about Dark Continents Publishing (DCP). I've had the pleasure of reviewing a number of the full-length horror/dark fantasy titles, all of which blew me away as a fresh approach to non-mainstream writing with a serious literary edge to the genre. DCP allows its authors to retain a very authentic voice and a high quality of writing in general, which has been refreshing. What makes DCP special, especially as a "gatekeeper" in current times when it's sometimes difficult to find good-quality fiction among the slew of releases?

First of all – thank you very much! Like most small press, we’re not as driven by financial imperatives as the major publishing houses, so we can afford to take risks and choose novels on the basis of quality rather than looking solely at their likelihood of mainstream commercial success. We have global distribution through our printer Lightning Source and their distribution chain, so we’re not restricted to tailoring our publications to a limited geographical appeal. We’re small, we’re quick, we’re flexible and we’re adaptable. But the main reason DCP is special is that we’re all writers ourselves. We understand the creative process.And we know the difference between sanding down a novel to generic blandness and polishing it until it gleams.

Buy Ghosts Can Bleed here and April Fool here.
Follow Tracie's blog here.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Friday Flash: The Fool

As a rule, I don’t generally do tarot readings for myself but I’m always willing to make an exception after a glass or three of wine. It’s a Friday night. The wind outside shakes the trees and rattles the windows in their frames. I should be out. I’ve gone as far as opening my cupboard to stare at my black threads, but not one garment has caught my fancy.

Why go out and get pissed in the company of people who annoy the living shit out of me when I can get blind drunk at home without all the predictable aggravation? Of course this sudden reticence on my part is out of character, but for fuck’s sake, I’m allowed to indulge in the occasional fit of pique.

The others will still be there next week. They’re always there at The Event Horizon, their fat-rolls stuffed into too-tight corsets or PVC pants as they blink drunkenly into the narcotic strobe light when the DJ spins Marilyn Manson, VNV Nation or Rob Zombie.

Tonight is different. This sense of the sacred aches in my bones like nicotine withdrawal. Or perhaps not the sense of the sacred, but rather the realization of the futility of routine, of breathing, of waking each day and going through the motions, a mechanical animal that sweats, eats, shits and pisses its way through its miserable existence.

My chest is tight and my breath wheezes past my lips. I reach for my packet of smokes but my fingers twitch away. The ember of the last cigarette still smolders in the heavy glass ashtray to my left. Instead my fingers tap a complex rhythm on the dark wood of the table top. They have a life of their own tonight, the most animated parts of my body, which is frozen, hunched over the deck of cards resting on a square of midnight velvet.

The red wine has gone bitter on my tongue, my throat thick from smoking too much. Nevertheless, I gulp more Pinot Noir and grimace at the taste. I’m almost ready for that second bottle and the wine hasn’t touched sides. The world is still in too-sharp focus while the liquid churns in my belly.

The cards are cool to the touch and I shuffle them thoroughly while I concentrate on my breathing, on clearing my mind of all the dross that’s been nagging me this past week and, especially expunging the clutching nightmares that have shaken me from sleep almost every night.

Slap, slap, slap.

Three cards in a row lie face down on the fabric. I clear my throat, the sound resonant in the echoing domain of my lounge. I flip the one in the center over to reveal The Fool, resplendent in his green jacket with a tiger gnawing at his leg. It’s too early to tell exactly how he’s dignified. I hate the way he grins at me, like he beholds some secret of the universe; knowing I’m still going to discover it.

The next card, on the left, reveals the Nine of Swords. Cruelty. Blood drips from the blades. I’ve never liked this card. I try figure out how The Fool relates to Cruelty and growing unease stabs at me. Perhaps I’m rushing off into a direction I don’t want to take. I might face the cruelty of those around me. I’m taking a definite plunge. It could be inspired. It could be folly. But there are people sharpening their knives, slanderous tongues and wicked thoughts twisted against me.

Yet I don’t know. It’s always easier to read the cards for someone else, where I can cut loose and babble incoherently, and take cues from my client. Then I can play with words in such a way that makes it appear that the cards impart wisdom, advice for the future, when all I’m doing is giving them the meaning someone else wants to hear.

My fingers tremble when I turn over the last card. The Tower. Destruction of all illusions, of the entire world burned up by the wrath of Shiva’s eye, of the earth opening to belch forth flame to devour saint and sinner alike.

With a growl I sweep the cards together then shuffle them. They hiss against each other for what feels like forever but this time, once I clasp a neat deck, I fan the cards out across the velvet.

Eyes closed, I trail a finger across them, from left to right and back again until one seems like a better option than the others.

I flip the card over and my pulse stutters. The Tower’s dirty orange-and-black tones scream at me. A hiss escapes my lips as I repeat the process. Shuffle, cut the deck this time, shuffle some more. Make three piles of cards which I randomly stack together. Shuffle. Pick another card. Look at it.

The Tower. A strangled sound wrenches itself from me. This would be funny if it weren’t for the fact that The Tower’s showed up in five of the readings I’ve done for paying clients this past week.

The shatter of breaking glass from the kitchen has me lurch to my feet accompanied by a tortured rasp from my chair’s legs. The black-painted walls close in on me and I catch a glimpse of my pallid features in the gilt-framed mirror hanging over the fireplace. My mouth opens and shuts without sound for a heartbeat or two before my legs obey my need to investigate the nature of the disaster that awaits.

Wine pools among shards on the slate of my kitchen floor. Pyewacket washes her white mittens on the counter, her eyes cold emeralds as she briefly pauses in her ablutions so she can cast a glance in my direction.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

What Sweet Music They Make release day!

With the glut of vampires, angels, wolf shifters, demons and ghosts doing the rounds in paranormal and urban fantasy offerings at present, as an author I’ve often asked myself, “What can I do to make sure my writing is different and fresh?” Love triangles, sparkly vampires and soul mates... Why do I even consider looking into supernatural beings?

My overwhelming answer is “Because I want to.” Most of the stories I enjoy reading feature these creatures, and when I write, I put out the kinds of stories I would like to read, with my own spin on the usual themes.

And at the end of the day, it’s all about that: personal preference. Certain authors have unique styles/voices that appeal to readers. This doesn’t necessarily mean that one author is better than another. You’ll always have those who prefer JR Ward to Anne Rice, or Stephanie Meyer to Charlaine Harris.

What Sweet Music They Make was written as an indulgence. I enjoy the vampire mythos very much, but like to explore the lives of characters who might not necessarily be the power mongers or Alphas in supernatural terms. In many cases they are ordinary folks, sometimes with special talents, who are at the mercy of those who are in leadership positions. I ask myself this: How do they come into their own? What are the problems they face and how do they overcome them?

Central to What Sweet Music They Make is also my love of music. Both protagonists are musicians who have very different approaches to their skills. Severin was a young adult at the height of early 1980s pop. Think David Bowie, Peter Murphy and Siouxsie Sioux, and you won’t be far off when you consider Severin, my vampire. He takes to the stage armed only with his 12-string acoustic guitar and a powerful, mesmerising voice. Mortal Tersia is his counterpoint, a gifted violinist who plays fiddle in an Irish band. I’ve always marvelled at how even a small Irish group can create magic in a gathering.

Another element of the tale is the fact that the two main characters are pawns in the political schemes of older, powerful vampires. Both face difficult decisions, as well as sacrifices they have to make. Also, of interest to my readers, is the story’s setting, which is in Cape Town, South Africa. It might sound like an exotic destination to many, but in truth there’s a first-world city to explore.

Without further ado, I invite you to give What Sweet Music They Make a try. It’s available in a variety of non-DRM electronic formats directly from Lyrical Press. It offers readers a little bit of romance, a healthy dose of mystery and magic. Go check it out here, and read an excerpt while you're at it.

And if you're not following me on Twitter @nerinedorman yet, shame on you.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Link round-up, January 20

This has officially been my last week of playing full-time author and editor. As of next week I return to my day job and I hope I do so without becoming completely homicidal. They're renovating our building, and it's going to be... Interesting.

News from my side is that I finally got off my arse and submitted Camdeboo Nights to a small press with a call for YA subs. The MS has been gathering dust on my HD for almost two years now. The only reason why I didn't sub it to a small press before that was because it's only a recent development that certain small electronic-first presses are taking on the genre. The opening chapter of Camdeboo Nights was initially a short story--one of my very first sales before I sold my first novel.

Other news is that I was invited to write a Titanic-themed horror short story for an anthology that's releasing soon. Initially I was like, "Erm, I don't really write short fiction," but then I slept on it, and my short story, And the Band Played On, came into being. Once I had my hook, the piece was immensely fun to write, and I hope to bring some good news soon.

A while ago, a by-invite-only publisher of quality m/m fiction invited me to submit to them. I was flattered, but also didn't have a story, and I'm a firm believer in only writing when a story grabs me by the short and curlies. Well, I got my idea just before I went on leave last year. This week I finished writing and revising The Jackal's Shadow, a dystopian novella of about 20 000 words. And I've submitted it, hoping for the best.

All in all, it's been a productive week, and I feel I can return to the salt mines with a clear conscience. Without further ado, here are some of my online appearances for the past seven days:

Last Friday I made my debut at April Steenburgh's blog. Many thanks to April for having me over. She does a sterling job promoting authors and it was an honour to have this opportunity.

Then author Suzanne Robb had me over at her blog for a little Q&A. Some delightful questions there. Thank you, Suzanne.

Then, for those of you who are curious about my upcoming Dark Continents Publishing release, Inkarna, I stopped over at Tracie McBride's blog to discuss some of the influences. This was quite a difficult post to write, and I've laid my soul bare there.

Lastly, Blood and Fire continues to hit the mark with readers. Carrie and me had this stunning review for the novel, that left me grinning from ear to ear. Well, yeah... I write gothic like Mervyn Peake. I ain't complainin'.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

A few moments with Suzanne Robb

Today I have the pleasure of having author Suzanne Robb on my blog. Welcome, Suzanne, and tell us a little about your current Dark Continents release. Where did it originate? Are there any underlying themes you explore that are personal to you? What was its writing process like for you?

The collection for Dark Continents is really varied. It is a collection of three stories, one is about a werewolf, another a dysfunctional family fending off the impending apocalypse, and the third about genetic mutation. The stories all came from pretty random places, the spots of my brain with cobwebs that like to change things up a bit.

There was no real personal theme for me other than humor in two of them, even though they are horror stories, they are also funny and my goal as a writer is to make people laugh at times.

The writing process for me is ever changing. I used to write like a mad woman, but there was no way to keep up that pace. Now I wait until an idea has fully formed and then I run at it full speed. I might go a few days with no writing and then write 5 stories in a week.

What are some of the writing resources you've found most useful in your time as author? What is the one truly good piece of advice you'd give to a newbie writer?

Editors, the best thing a writer can do is make friends with an editor and learn. That is also the same advice I would give to any writer, new ones especially. An editor's advice is invaluable, do not mouth off to them, or say you like your way better, or any other variation of that. An editor has a job that kicks in AFTER the writer has finished.

What are some of your interests, outside of the written word? Care to tell us why they blow your hair back?

I like LEGO's, puzzles, crosswords, some video games, and playing with my dog. I would not say they blow my hair back, as an adventurer I am not, but they relax me and at the same time let my mind wander. Playing fetch with the dog is when I come up with some of the best ideas.

Do you think the written word has the power to change people's perceptions of the world? What is the single-most influential work of fiction you've read, and why?

The written word has the power to do almost anything, changing perceptions of the world one of them. They can make people sad, angry, and a whole gamut of emotions if strung together in the right order.

The work I read that had the most impact on me was The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe. The first story to take me somewhere else and teach me about nobility and sacrifice, and had an emotional impact on me, most likely why it stuck with me for so long.

How do you feel about electronic publishing? Do you read ebooks? Do you prefer printed books?

I have mixed feelings about electronic publishing. Seems like anyone can put a book out, which is their right. But what is happening is the lack of editing and proper formatting is giving e-books a bad name, and thus many readers think e-books are all cut from the same cloth so to speak.

I do read e-books, but it is more of a money-saving matter. I have so many friends who write that if I were to buy all their books I would need another job and about seven more bookcases.
I prefer printed in the end, something about them, not sure if it is the feel or smell.

Twitter - @srobb76

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Link round-up, January 13

I've decided to try get my rear into gear and pick up my Friday linkages, just to consolidate some of the stuff that's been happening, because things have been... busy. I must admit I had a bit of a dubious start to 2012, and am still recovering from a stint in hospital. It would appear that all the meds I was on during the last quarter of 2011 had an adverse effect on my liver, and I was hospitalised with a rather nasty case of hepatitis (not the infectious kind, mind you, thank Dog). Needless to say, I've been booked off and have been spending most of my time at home and concentrating on getting better. The best part is that I've been indulge in my favourite occupations of writing, reading and editing.

So, without further ado, I'd like to share some of my good news from this past week:

Blood and Fire, the paranormal thriller co-written with Carrie Clevenger, had a stunning review at Eva's Sanctuary. Do stop by and leave a comment.

Then, for those of you who live in Cape Town, I'll be having a small celebration at Roxy's Cafe on Dunkley Square on January 23, to celebrate release day for What Sweet Music They Make, my latest Lyrical Press title. I promise I won't do anything embarrassing, like read an excerpt, but I'll probably just make a short speech to thank everyone who helped me during the process.

For those of you who're interested in the process that goes into creating cover art, I guest-posted over at Carrie's blog about the how-tos that go into putting together your front cover artwork. For me this is just common sense due to my background in the media industry, but I tried to sum up the most important bits. You'll also get to see some of the preliminary sketches that went into the artwork for Blood and Fire.

And, lastly, I had my debut appearance on the Dark Continents Publishing blog, telling about the process of collaborating with another author.

Sjoe! I've been a busy bee! Thank to everyone who's RTed and shared links. It's much appreciated.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Along the Splintered Path with AJ Brown

Today I welcome my fellow Tales of Darkness and Dismay author, AJ Brown, to my world. To put you in the picture, Tales of Darkness and Dismay is a collection of titles recently brought out by Dark Continents Publishing, an offering of novellas and short story anthologies, available in electronic format from Amazon. Brown is the author of Along the Splintered Path, a collection of short stories.

Tell us a little about your fiction, and especially this latest release through Dark Continents.

I tend to lean a little to the darker side of fiction—not always horror, but rarely ever those feel good, coming of age stories. I find it a bit more challenging to write about people who are put into situations that you don’t see every day. Along with that, the world we live in today is becoming more and more brutal with acts of violence stepping into the realms of unfathomable acts. With that in mind, I try to do the same with my fiction, but without going into the gory details.

Along the Splintered Path falls in that category of the world as it is today. The three stories center on different subjects and one of them even gets a little supernatural, but they all keep their grip on reality. A young man deals with his childhood demons and tries to save his brother from those same memories that haunt him; another man splits with his wife and ends up in a valley in the mountains during a snowstorm. His only refuge? A small hut in the middle of nowhere made of trees and plant life from the forest. And a homeless man who comes into money after it falls from the sky and lands beside him. Their lives are ‘splintered’ so to speak, in one way or another.

Are there any underlying themes in the tale you think are particularly pertinent? How closely does life imitate art in your creative work?

Two of the three stories came as a result of events or things told to me. The Woodshed is based on a story my dad told me years ago about a man who beat his kids with a studded strap. I don’t know if he even remembers the conversation, but it stuck with me. Round These Bones is a result of being in the mountains with my wife and having a truck come zooming by us while we stood on the edge of the road looking out over the mountains.

When I put the stories together I didn’t realize there was a theme—the splintered souls, the torment and discovery of the characters—until my friend, Paula, pointed it out to me. Thus, the title, again thanks to Paula, who came up with it.

Tell us a little more about yourself and your writing methods. Do you outline or do you let the story wander as it will?

I’m a little bit of both. I probably do what most writers do: I get an idea, jot down a couple notes and then come back to it later. That’s usually the extent of my outlining. Once I have an idea, I think about it some—I don’t dwell on it. Doing that makes the story run and hide. Then I start writing.

Most of my stories have either the opening or the closing cemented when I start. I let the story fill in the rest as I go along. Here’s the real thing for me: if I limit a story, it sucks. That simple. If I plan a story out, it sucks. However, if I go into a story with the mindset of, ‘hey, story, are you ready?’ the story gives a nod and we write it together, with the story telling me what to write. It often goes off on its own and—most of the time—I let it. I find this to be the most satisfying and exhilarating way for me to write.

Have you had any truly frightening real-life experiences you wish to share?

Oh man… oh yeah. I’ve had a knife pulled on me. I’ve had a gun pointed at me by a guy with suicidal tendencies. There was an accident as a child that left me partially deaf and resulted in a life long run of headaches.

Possibly the most disturbing thing that has ever happened to me is when I was in my late teens I went next door to see a neighbor. I don’t recall why. When I knocked on the door, her youngest daughter who was maybe four at the time opened it. Her blond hair fell around her shoulders and I asked to see her mom. She looked up at me with those blue eyes and said, ‘My mommy’s dead.’

And she wasn’t kidding. Her mother had died that morning, choking to death on toast. It was just her and her mother that morning and I’ve often wondered if she watched her mother die. I’ve also wanted to use this in a story, but I never have. I will one day—the image is strong and the way it made me feel… I don’t get unnerved very easily, but this bothered me for a long time afterward.

Which three books should be on the great dark fantasy library shelf of all time? And why do you think so?

I’m not a real fantasy person, but I’ll say the Dark Tower series, for both horror and fantasy should be up there regardless of what genre it is viewed as. The storyline is magnificent, the characters realistic and how many series’ are out there that just have readers craving more and more?


Buy Along the Splintered Path here.
AJ Brown's blog.
AJ Brown on Facebook.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Blood and Fire unleashed

With the festive madness and NYE behind us, and I hope not too many of you are nursing the after-effects of too much indulgence. Things have been a bit disjointed at the Treehaus. I've been a tad under the weather with problems related to liver toxicity thanks to the meds I've been on. This, unfortunately, necessitated a short stay in hospital, but I'm back home and booked off while I recover. I've also cut back a bit on my working so I can rest up but it's going to have to take a severe case of death to keep me away from the one thing that I love more than anything else: words.

But there is some good news amid the "fun" over my festive season. The Top Sekret Projekt Carrie and me were working on, Blood and Fire, has been released in its Kindle edition on Amazon. It's available in a lot of countries, so if you're itching with something decent to read that involves tall, dark and looming males, some of them with extra byte, then do take a look here.

The cover art is rather lovely, and I'll be blogging over at Dark Continents Publishing in a few days to give a more indepth look into our creative process for the story.