Sunday, 20 November 2022

Review: This Attraction Now Open Till Late

This Attraction Now Open Till Late is Kyla Lee Ward's début collection of fiction and what a way to make a splash. This is a must-read for fans of esoteric, weird, and gothic tales.

As discussed in my interview with Kyla last month, the senses play an important role in many of these offerings. In "And in Her Eyes the City Drowned", one of the highlights of the collection (and picking favourites is hard with a such a consistent display of talent), takes place in Venice. Music and voice accompany the reader through this unique cityscape as Kyla guides us into the dark waters beneath the city's ancient buildings and we attend an unearthly musical performance.

"Who Looks Back?" and "Should Fire Remember the Fuel?" will be particularly relevant to Kiwis and Aussies as we explore a volcanic landscape in the former and face devastating bushfires in the latter. Along with the closing tale, "The Boneyard", these two demonstrate the author's interest in the interplay between nature and humankind, and she makes us ask ourselves some important questions.

"The Beautiful House" is another of my favourites and one of the most memorable haunted house stories I've read in a long time. Kyla builds the tension at just the right pace and ends the narrative at exactly the right spot, allowing the reader to speculate as to what will happen next. 

Kyla's writing is deep, elegant, and rich in detail, and her imagination is boundless. This collection is voyage around the world and through time, as well as beyond the veil of reality as we know it. Kyla takes us from Venice to Japan and New Zealand to Prague, and we visit the past, present, and unless this reader is mistaken, one tale is set in a terrifying future world.

Lastly, credit to Independent Legions Publishing and the proofreader, Karen Runge, for the topnotch work on producing a polished final product.

Find this review on Goodreads.

Sunday, 23 October 2022

An Interview with Kyla Lee Ward, Australia's Queen of Weird

Kyla Lee Ward is Australia's queen of the weird and macabre, and her début collection of fiction has just been published by Independent Legions Press. To celebrate the release of This Attraction Now Open Till Late, we've asked her to answer a few (hopefully) original and meaningful questions. Are you ready for her answers? Relax...and try to ignore that shadowy form looking over your shoulder.


Hi Kyla, Congratulations on the publication of your first fiction collection, This Attraction Now Open Till Late, and thanks for answering these interview questions, giving my readers insight into your inspiration and creative process.

What immediately strikes the reader is the importance of setting in this collection and the way you shape the physical world into a character in many instances. Within the first four tales, we travel from Venice to New Zealand and from Kazakhstan to Japan. The reader sinks down into still waters or is lost in the bowels of the earth. The fabric between the physical and metaphysical is rent in places. Where does this fascination with the setting and environment come from?

Thank you, Cameron, for asking them! You have certainly made me think.

It’s as you say—the environment or setting is a character, more obviously in “And In Her Eyes The City Drowned” and “The Beautiful House”, but always a presence. The interaction of the protagonist with this presence forms the story, especially in this collection. The protagonist is always intruding upon, challenging, or sometimes courting, the genius loci and its defenders.

I have visited Venice and Prague, which are both like being drenched with a bucket of ice-cold history mingled with a strong euphoric. Likewise, New Zealand’s Waimangu Valley is like nowhere else on earth. I suspect that the stories I derived from each location could take place nowhere else. This is, of course, a highly privileged perspective, but I think that in certain circumstances, you can get away without physically being somewhere. When an image or report of some historical event strikes a chord, when you respond that deeply to a piece of music or an artwork, then that is where the story comes from. And it is always possible to experience your own city with this kind of depth and sense of surprise—in many ways, facilitating this is a writer’s job!

I keep mentioning history because I find that is the key. To write a place, you have to know what happened in a particular spot, how the stones were raised (volcanically, in the case of Waimangu). But there’s a perceptual exercise I’m fond of, in Christopher Penczak’s City Magick (Weiser Books, 2001). He calls it “sidewalking”, a procedure to slide your perceptions sideways and view your surroundings with fresh eyes. 

Your fiction brings all the senses into play, including the world of sound. One of my favourite songs, “Other Voices” by The Cure, came to mind as I read “And In Her Eyes The City Drowned”. How does music play a role in your writing, and what significance do you place on voice? 

You are kind to say so. And Faith is an underrated album.

Voice is essential! I frequently write in the first person, which is perhaps unfashionable but probably inevitable with my theatrical background—I’m used to monologues! In pieces like “A Whisper from the Death Pit” and “A Nightmare in Burgundy”, it is obvious how much the narrator’s voice shapes the story they tell you. But even in third person, so much of the characters and how they relate to their situation is established by a subtle voice. I think now of Mark in “Should Fire Remember the Fuel?”—how he distinguishes himself from his companions by observing them and reflecting on his choice of words.

I think good prose retains a musicality—most people understand what you mean if you say that poetry needs to be musical, but it is desirable in prose as well. Rhythm, harmony, the repetition of theme—there are definite parallels between writing and music! But as you say, all the senses are powerful tools. Just the right detail, appealing to sight, taste, scent or touch—can bring the whole piece alive for the reader. 

Folklore, arcana, archaeology, religion, and alchemy feature heavily in this collection. How did your love of all things forgotten or unknown blossom? Is forbidden knowledge and lost ritual to be feared or is it an integral part of humanity? Does it have a place in today's world?

(hums) “These are a few of my favourite things”

That I’ve already mentioned Penczak may serve as a warning - here we get a little weird. Without trying to set myself up as any kind of authority or claim anything particular in the way of ability, yes, I do seek knowledge and I do have a magical practice based in energy work—I utilise ritual. To me it is integral, but many people do fear it, even when or perhaps because they have no experience or interest in that area themselves. I sometimes think the only “forbidden” knowledge you can possess is something, anything, that your interlocutor does not. My experience with such people is probably why, in my fictional work, seekers after knowledge don’t tend to meet the dreadful fates they do in more conservative horror. So long as they are respectful and honest about their intent, their fates may be dreadful but also fulfilling, liberating, or perversely enjoyable.

It's always seemed obvious to me that the world is much, much larger and stranger than it’s supposed to be. I suspect all writers feel this to an extent, otherwise why try and set your observations down? Folklore, arcana, religion and etc. are all attempts to tackle this vast strangeness one way or another and I have made study of all of them, in varying degrees. A quiet child with a reading age far beyond that of her peers can explore many things—just don’t ask your mother what a concubine is.

Your work will remind readers of weird and strange fiction classics like Robert Aickman, Algernon Blackwood, and Joan Aiken. Which writers do you feel a spiritual bond with, and who are some of your favourite contemporaries? 

Blackwood and Aiken! Now you’re just flattering me! And I love Aickman’s "Pages from a Young Girl's Journal"—I read it young and it lodged in my mind thereafter.

As for my own favourites, there are two Lees involved—Vernon and Tanith. And this is more than a little weird, because although our shared name may have caught my attention initially, that doesn’t explain why the work of these two ladies resonates so deeply with me. 

Vernon Lee was the pen name of Violet Paget, under which she published in the Decadent journal The Yellow Book. Works such as “Amore Dure” and “A Wicked Voice” are breathtakingly atmospheric, conveying a palpable sense of operations beyond the mundane—even though the author herself contended that “to write is to exorcise” and any attempt to convey the weird sacrifices something of its power. I actually came to Vernon Lee after writing my Venice story, but I feel that she would have understood it.

Tanith Lee is one of the great moderns. In my opinion, she stands beside Leiber, lifting sword and sorcery out of its bloody swathe and giving us true dark fantasy, in works such as Kill the Dead and Night’s Master, and of course the Secret Books of Paradys. I rate her Dark Dance trilogy as high or higher than The Witching Hour in its depiction of semi-immortals and their descendants grappling with the modern world. Her prose is exquisitely beautiful, even when describing the grotesque and the brutal, which paradox I respond to. 

There are so many wonderful wordsmiths among my contemporaries, it is hard to single anyone out. Kaaron Warren’s work, such as The Grief Hole and Tide of Stone, is just jaw-dropping in its scope but also its clarity. Lee Murray, Carol Gyzander—all my Sisters of Foreboding! Sarah Read, Zen Cho, Alma Katsu, and I can’t let the opportunity to praise Tamsyn Muir’s The Locked Tomb sequence go by—there’s no way to describe those books, you can only read them. Then read them again.

How do you develop your plot and characters? 

Now that I’ve gone on and on about beautiful prose and subtle voice, I can tell you none of that’s going to matter if you can’t contrive an ingenious yet water-tight plot! Plotting is where you fling yourself bodily against the story until you stop falling through the holes. It’s where you argue with your characters until they act sensibly, taking into account their back stories and all established knowledge. Your most beautiful scene, the keystone image that inspired you in the first place may be ground to gravel by the process. And don’t get me started on internal consistency. If you want to have that explosion at the climax then the outlanders must be able to create a chemical explosive and yet still be primitive enough for the city dwellers to look down on them—why yes, that is oddly specific. The answer to your question is that I howl and throw tantrums.

What is your kryptonite as a writer? 

I know what my addiction is—unusual and evocative words! After my mother’s reaction I started just reading dictionaries. My favourite are the older ones, like my faithful cloth-bound Chambers Twentieth Century or my tattered Rogets Thesaurus. That is where you find words like mortiferous, corbeau and abscissional. That is where you can get lost in the question of whether paper kites are named after the bird of prey or if byss is indeed the proper opposite of abyss…perhaps this is my kryptonite.

Do you play music while you write—and if so, what’s your favourite? 

Not so much while writing, but definitely to clear my head and get back into the right mood for a particular story. At the moment, that means a lot of classical music, especially Respighi’s "Church Windows" and "Brazilian Impressions". “Butantan”, the second Impression, is a favourite. Butantan is the facility where the Brazilian government raised snakes for the production of antivenom—the composer visited in 1927 and the result was this incredible piece of snaky music incorporating the "Dies Irae". I mix things up with Bohren and der Club of Gore, usually "Black Earth". So it’s all instrumental right now. With the next project, this will change.

Have pets ever got in the way of your writing? 

I would answer this except Nikita has decided she needs me to walk out to the kitchen with her and stand guard while she eats the food that’s already there. Oh, and now we’re in the new house, she has started bringing me half-dead lizards to play with. Which is very generous of her, I must say.

 

What book (or books) are you currently reading?

The Complete Poems of Dorothy Parker (Penguin Classics edition) and Deadly Doses—a writer’s guide to poisons (Serita Deborah Stevens with Anne Klarner, Writers Digest Books, 1990).

What do the words “literary success” mean to you? How do you picture it?

I think it means people actually reading my books! You know, people I personally don’t know! Hopefully, they bought them first.

It’s always a thrill to see your name on the cover of a magazine, and to be sought out by an editor who wants you to contribute to an upcoming anthology. But I think that, now the collection is out, literary success means getting those novels published. Just one small hurdle—I have to finish them. Which means a plausible chemical explosive. Argh!

Where can we find you online? 

My website is http://www.kylaward.com/ 

The truly curious are welcome to join me on Goodreads (Kyla Lee Ward) or view the offerings on my Youtube channel: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCG-Mq0RsSRG4pIWyJghKoAQ These include readings and performances of my work (both by myself and tenebraries such as The Surgical Sideshow), and entertaining moments from past book launches.

Thank you, Kyla. Looking forward to chatting again soon. 


Monday, 11 July 2022

A Homage to Hitchcock

It's summer, school's out, the sky is blue, the flowers are in bloom, and I'm working as a tour guide in the salt marshes again. But if you think that means I've put mystery and suspense on the back burner, think again! I'm busy putting "A Hint of Hitchcock" together. The next anthology from Black Beacon Books will be our most suspenseful yet and a release date...well, release week, in fact, has been set for later this year. Can you guess when? Of course, you can. Our chilling tales will be out in the lead-up to Halloween. It's coming together one step and a time, and tonight's task is to write a foreword paying homage to Alfred Hitchcock, the master of suspense. 







Wednesday, 16 March 2022

An Interview with Rayne Hall

I'd like to thank Rayne Hall for agreeing to share insight into her writing process with us. 

To celebrate the launch of the new edition of Storm Dancer, the ebook will be on special offer (99c for the Kindle ebook) until 30 April 2022. After that date, the price will go up.

How do you develop your plot and characters?

I often start with a location – an intriguing, scary, creepy or puzzling place. In the case of Storm Dancer, it was a desert landscape with a violent storm approaching on the horizon. I ask myself, who would come here, and why?” This gives me a character to start with. With Storm Dancer, I chose a character who was fleeing into the desert to escape her pursuers, not realising the threat of the approaching storm. Then I ask, “What do they want here? What are they going to do about it? What challenges do they face?” This gives me the beginnings of a plot. I add more characters whose goals conflict with what the main character wants. In Storm Dancer, the second character is hunting down the fugitive. Those two goals conflicted right away. I continue asking more questions, especially questions starting with “What if…?” What if one of the two enemies knows local conditions and realises that the storm will kill them both, unless they cooperate and find shelter together? 

I freewrite in longhand in a notebook, jotting down ideas and letting my creativity flow. When I feel that I have a good grip on the main plot and the core conflicts, I develop a basic plot structure and sit down at my laptop to start writing in earnest. Having a structured plot keeps me focused and helps me complete the book faster than if I just meander along. However, I allow myself to deviate from the plot if I get better ideas along the way, or if my characters take the story in a different direction. Sometimes, the finished story is very different from the one I set out to write. This happened with Storm Dancer which I intended as a straightforward epic fantasy filled with swashbuckling adventures and romance. It wasn’t until I had nearly finished the first draft that the main character, warrior Dahoud, revealed that he was possessed by a demon. This changed the whole story, made it much darker, and forced me to rewrite everything. Towards the end of the second draft, Dahoud shocked me yet again: he confessed that he was the Black Besieger, the monster everyone feared and hated. He was hiding his identity from everyone - including his author. I had to start the book over again, this time with a Jekyll/Hyde character, a noble hero who fights against his dark side. The resulting book is much better, darker, with more depth and meaning. The swashbuckling fantasy I had planned would have been a forgettable piece of fluff. But the dark novel about the conflicted hero stays in readers’ minds.

How many books have you written and which is your favourite?

I write fiction in several genres, as well as non-fiction books. If I include my unpublished early works and the books I have co-authored with other writers, the number is over 100. Of my Gothic Horror story collections, the favourite is The Bride’s Curse: Bulgarian Gothic Ghost and Horror Stories. In the Writer’s Craft series, I think Writing Vivid Settings: Professional Techniques for Fiction Authors is great. Among my novels, the Dark Epic Fantasy Storm Dancer is definitely my favourite.

What was your hardest scene to write, and why?

Several scenes in Storm Dancer were hard to write, in the sense that they didn’t work and I had to rewrite them complete many times until they finally clicked. The scene were the citadel collapses into the sinkhole, and Dahoud and his arch rival need to work together to rescue people trapped in the abyss felt shallow - until I realised that it’s about trust and wrote it that way. In one of tensest scenes of the novel, the two main characters want each other dead, but can only survive by sheltering together from the storm. This scene became even tenser when I added Dahoud’s demon stirring up their evil desires. When magician Merida dances on a roof in a burning town, desperately trying to call rain, the scene came to life when I brought Dahoud into the scene to drum for her dance. The scene where Dahoud delivers himself into the enemy’s hands as a human sacrifice became more meaningful and scary when I made the torturer female. The final versions of these scenes don’t even resemble their first drafts.

Have you ever travelled as research for your book?

I like to visit locations similar to those where the story plays out, and I also immerse myself in the characters’ activities. While I was working on Storm Dancer, I used my holidays to travel in North Africa, Turkey and the Middle East, because those regions resemble the fantasy world I’ve built for the novel. I absorbed visual details of the wild landscapes, the deserts, the mountains, I listened to sounds and inhaled the smells, and I talked with people about their lives and the problems they face. Since the main male character has a secret fantasy about wrestling females, I joined a mixed-gender wrestling club to learn the basic skills and understand what makes those guys tick. (The men were all perfect gentlemen, very considerate)

Have you ever tried to write a novel for a genre you rarely or never read?

When I was fifteen, I tried to write an erotic novel. I hadn’t really read much in that genre. This was in the days before the internet, so there were no discreet downloads, you had to furtively buy erotic books in a railway station bookshop where no one knew you. The only erotic literature I had read were certain stories from the unabridged Arabian Nights, and a porn novel a classmate had smuggled into school and shared under the desk. Not only did I lack knowledge of the erotic fiction genre; as a fifteen-year-old virgin I also lacked insight into what it was all about, so my tales about a courtesan’s erotic adventures in historical Venice were not very plausible.

Would you share something about yourself that your readers don’t know (yet)?

I used to perform professionally as a bellydancer - of the very respectable kind, I hasten to add - entertaining audiences in Persian restaurants, at church fetes and in Women’s Institutes. I loved feeling the rhythm of the drums pulsing through my body and converting this energy into movements, with hip drops, shimmies, figures of eight, and transmitting my joy of the dance to the audience. While I wasn’t a stunning beauty, I had the ability to enchant people, stirring them, arousing in them an energy that filled the room like an aura of happiness. The owner of a restaurant once told me, “When other dancers come on, people clap politely. When you enter, they go wild.” I drew on my experience for my novel Storm Dancer. During her months of captivity in the harem, Merida learns bellydancing basics. When she escapes, she evades her pursuers by pretending to be tavern dancer, and has to use her skills to entertain an real audience. I thoroughly enjoyed writing this scene.

What authors did you dislike at first but then develop an appreciation for?

I tried several times to read Emily Brontë’s novel Wuthering Heights, but couldn’t get into it. I found the characters’ names confusing – two women named Catherine are both crucial to the plot – and I got muddled over who was who. On the fourth attempt, I suddenly got it – and the book took my breath away. Once I grasped what a piece of sheer evil Heathcliff is, I understood the story’s scope, meaning and message. Emily Brontë created a person of such evil, so realistic and believable, that I consider him the most evil villain of classic literature. The movie versions all show Heathcliff as a romantic, dark and brooding anti-hero, completely missing the point. Now that I understand the plot – and the scope of Heathcliff’s machinations – I consider Wuthering Heights a masterpiece. No other work of literature delivers such a meaningful message about the power of forgiveness transcending evil.

You can find Rayne Hall on Amazon and her website:

Books on Amazon: viewAuthor.at/RayneHall

Website: raynehall.com



Thursday, 3 March 2022

An Interview with Deborah Sheldon

Deborah Sheldons new collection, Liminal Spaces, is now available, and Ive interviewed her to the mark the occasion. You can also read my five-star review on Goodreads.

Thanks for agreeing to be interviewed, Deborah. The most important question first of all - what’s your favourite writing snack or drink?

While writing, I favour sparkling chardonnay pinot noir. While editing, black unsweetened tea. Oh yes, I’m a fan of Hemingway, all right – in more ways than one.

 

How do you celebrate when you finish your book?

My husband and son took me out to dinner when I finished my collection Liminal Spaces: Horror Stories. Every time I finish a book, my celebrations centre around food. If not at a restaurant, then at home with a special meal such as lobster bisque, or a treat like a layered cake with fancy piped icing. Actually, I celebrate every event with food. Christmas, Easter, birthdays, anniversaries, graduations, career successes, whatever – you’ll find me in the kitchen trying to whip up something tasty to mark the occasion.

What is your kryptonite as a writer?

Boredom. Over the 36 years of my professional career, I’ve found that feeling “safe” is the fastest way to kill my enthusiasm. I need the anxiety of the unfamiliar. How thrilling to face down a new writing medium and have no idea if I’m capable of doing it! Uncertainty and challenge seem to jump-start my creative brain.

What risks have you taken with your writing that have paid off?

All of them. Back in 1986, while at university, I began my career as a feature writer for magazines. Then I moved to TV script-writing. After that, to medical writing and non-fiction books. Followed by fiction and horror writing. And now I’m dipping my toe into the untested waters of poetry. It’s like refreshing myself as a writer every time I experiment with a new medium. Whether or not the risk pays off professionally doesn’t negate the personal benefit.

When was the last time you Googled yourself and what did you find?

The last time I Googled myself I found a book review, and promptly shared it on social media, my website, and newsletter. Actually, I Google myself every month or so. I cultivated this habit when I stumbled across a book review some two years after it had been published! Which, yeah, felt way too late.

Are you active on social media? How do you use it?

I’m on social media, yes, but not in a participatory sense. For example, someone else runs my Facebook author page, and while I’m a member of Goodreads I don’t belong to any groups or interact in any significant way. I’m in poor health, so fatigue and chronic pain force me to be miserly with how I spend my time. While I’d love to muck in with horror writers on Facebook, Goodreads and other sites, and network and attend conferences and so on, the reality is I don’t have the physical capacity. My concern is that people in the industry might dismiss me as snobby or standoffish, but the truth is, I’m unwell.

What’s the trickiest thing about writing characters of the opposite gender?

My whole life long, I’ve believed that humans are essentially the same regardless of sex, race, religion or era. A person from 3000 years ago would understand my fears, joys and concerns as if I were their contemporary. I must admit, however, that I’ve never been a “girly” girl. I don’t wear earrings, eyeshadow or perfume, have no interest in fashion, own three pairs of shoes and one handbag, and I’m typing this interview wearing an old t-shirt and my husband’s tracksuit pants. Perhaps my lack of interest in stereotypical “feminine” pursuits helps me write male characters that feel authentic.

Have pets ever gotten in the way of your writing?

On the contrary! For the past decade, I’ve had a budgerigar in my study to keep me company while I write. Our first budgie was Atlas and now we have Zeus, who is gutsing seeds and watermelon even as I type. I’ve got into the habit of discussing my writing issues with our birds. Often, I read out my drafts. Zeus is an attentive listener. His feedback includes wise nods, whistles, chattering, and occasional flurries of cursing that he’s picked up from me. (Fun fact: Zeus inspired one of my best-loved characters, the police dog in Thylacines.)

Animals – particularly birds – play an important and generally terrifying role in your fiction. Why?

I wrote the stories in Liminal Spaces over the years 2017 to 2021, sprinkled between longer-form projects including my bio-horror novella Thylacines, zombie novel Body Farm Z, bigfoot novella Man-Beast, and the anthologies Midnight Echo 14 and Spawn: Weird Horror Tales About Pregnancy, Birth and Babies. It wasn’t until I was compiling the collection and laying out my TOC that I noticed – with surprise – how many of my stories involved birds! No, this wasn’t a deliberate symbolic device. I honestly did not realise. Some people call themselves dog- or cat-people, and I guess I’m a bird-person. Birds have a fascinating duality about them. Beautiful, friendly and playful Australian varieties like budgerigars and lorikeets can remind you of their dinosaur genes every time you look at their claws and the scaly rings about their eyes.

Your fiction is rich in Australian lingo and traits, and that’s bloody awesome! Is this a conscious decision or just natural for you?

Yes, it’s very much a conscious decision. What I’ve always admired about storytellers from the United States – across prose fiction to films to TV – is their love of writing US-centric stories filled with US locations, characters and language. So, I’m a flag-waver for Australian locations, characters and language. Not for me the generic “set anywhere” type of story. I don’t like that as a reader, and I won’t do it as a writer. That’s why my first anthology with IFWG was open to submissions only from Australian citizens, residents and ex-pats – and why my second anthology (with the same press) will do the same. One’s culture deserves to be celebrated: I’m not a fan of “cultural cringe”. 

Thanks, Deborah. 

You can buy a copy of Liminal Spaces on Amazon or through IFWG Australia

 


***

Deborah Sheldon is an award-winning author from Melbourne, Australia. She writes short stories, novellas and novels across the darker spectrum of horror, crime and noir. Her award-nominated titles include the novels Body Farm Z, Contrition and Devil Dragon; the novella Thylacines; and the collection Figments and Fragments: Dark Stories.

Her collection Perfect Little Stitches and Other Stories won the Australian Shadows ‘Best Collected Work’ Award, was shortlisted for an Aurealis Award and longlisted for a Bram Stoker. Deb’s short fiction has appeared in many well-respected magazines such as Aurealis, Midnight Echo, Andromeda Spaceways, and Dimension6. Her fiction has also been shortlisted for numerous Australian Shadows Awards and Aurealis Awards, and included in various ‘best of’ anthologies such as Year's Best Hardcore Horror.

As editor of the 2019 edition of Midnight Echo, Deb won the Australian Shadows ‘Best Edited Work’ Award. Her anthology Spawn: Weird Horror Tales About Pregnancy, Birth and Babies was a flagship 2021 title for IFWG Publishing Australia.

Deb’s other credits include TV scripts such as NEIGHBOURS, feature articles for magazines, non-fiction books (Reed Books, Random House), stage plays, and award-winning medical writing. Visit her at http://deborahsheldon.wordpress.com

DEB’S AMAZON AUTHOR PAGE https://www.amazon.com/~/e/B0035MWQ98