Supernatural horror tale coming soon

Yesterday I signed a contract with Scare Street to publish my short story ‘The Old Coach Inn’. It will appear in one of the publisher’s upcoming anthologies, possibly before the end of 2020.

It’s an unusual story inasmuch as the core concept came to me in a nightmare. The only other tale I can think of that came from a dream was my sci-fi/horror story ‘The Larval Stage’, which appeared in Andromeda Spaceways.

I’ll post more detailed information once I have it.

Story to appear in Lethal Impact anthology

As alluded to last week, my apocalypse story ‘Blood and Light’ is scheduled to appear in the upcoming Lethal Impact anthology from Dragon Soul Press. The official launch date is September 30 and pre-orders should be available from August 30.

Cover art really sets Dragon Soul Press apart from the pack.

To promote the anthology, Dragon Soul Press will hold a special launch-day Facebook event, where readers and fans can interact with the authors and ask questions.

‘Blood and Light’ is a coming-of-age tale set in an apocalyptical milieu. If Tim Winton wrote The Stand instead of Stephen King, it might have come out a bit like ‘Blood and Light’.

I’ll add more when I can, but in the meantime – how gorgeous is the cover art for DSP’s anthologies? It’s only a fledgling small press, but I’m predicting big things to come. Watch this space.

Complacence is the enemy of success

A hint of what’s to come in ‘Blood and Light’…

This morning I received an acceptance email for a story of mine, ‘Blood and Light’. When it appears in an anthology later this year, it will represent my first paid publication in nearly two years. (I had a short piece appear in the venerable AntipodeanSF, but that’s a non-paying market.)

The period prior to this publication drought, ironically, was easily my most successful since I sold my first story back in 2005. During 2017-2018, I cracked Aurealis for the first time after a decade of trying (and that story, ‘Howling Mad’, was selected for Tangent Online’s Recommended Reading List), I appeared in Andromeda Spaceways for the second time with ‘The Larval Stage’, The Fiction Desk awarded me third prize in its annual ghost story competition for ‘Highway Memorials’, and I even found a new publisher for my novel, Invasion at Bald Eagle.

Then, almost overnight, the wheels seemed to fall off. Between mid-2018 (when Digital Fiction Corp agreed to reprint Invasion at Bald Eagle) and early 2020, I managed a handful of shortlist rejections on stories and a couple of full manuscript requests on a novel I had finished in 2017. I didn’t understand how I could go from nailing three hard-to-crack markets in comparatively short order to becoming unpublishable almost overnight.

The truth was, I had become complacent and… I was going to write lazy, but that’s not quite accurate. My second child was born in 2016 and between that, my wife’s chronic health problems and a number of other family issues, my head wasn’t in the game anymore. Although I didn’t realise it, I was coasting – expecting to achieve the same level of success without putting in the hours. And if there is an immutable law of writing fiction, it’s that you get out what you put in.

With my son a little older and some of life’s pressures easing, I knuckled down in early 2019 and began to write harder. This often required anti-social behaviour, another unfortunate reality of the authorial existence. Back in the day I used to do a lot of writing and editing on my train commute, but with those uninterrupted periods no longer available to me, I simply had to find time elsewhere. While ostensibly on holiday with friends in Queensland, for example, I wrote a long sci-fi story, ‘Bigger’. Just before the coronavirus lockdown I began a novel and, thanks to a hermit-like existence, completed it in just three and a half months – record time for me.

Little by little, I started to see the fruits of these labours. In 2019-2020, stories were shortlisted at a couple of pro-paying markets and I had a number of very positive rejections of the “this is a great story, it just doesn’t suit our editorial requirements right now” type. Sportsmen talk about ‘having the yips’, where something easy suddenly becomes difficult. For nearly two years I was the basketballer who couldn’t nail a free throw or the cricketer who kept edging the ball to the slips. I can’t tell you how happy I was to finally hit one right on the button.

‘Blood and Light’ has a zany and complicated origin story, which I’ll share once it is published. In the meantime, though, it’s just nice to be back on the field.

Shortlisted for Australian Shadows Awards

Last year I published an essay in Aurealis #119 titled ‘Suffer the Little Children: An analysis of parental horror in Stephen King’s early fiction’. Grandiose title or not, it has been shortlisted in the non-fiction category for the 2019 Australian Shadows Awards. All winners will be announced on the Australasian Horror Writers Association Facebook page on June 6, at 7pm.

I’m up against some stiff competition in the category, not least the formidable Eugen Bacon, who has taken the Australian speculative fiction world by storm over the past three years.

To see the full list of finalists, click here.

The power of good character

“Luke… can you give me a h– Er, never mind.”

I was part of the generation that grew up with the original Star Wars trilogy and one of the first movies I ever saw at the cinema was The Empire Strikes Back. For many years it was my favourite film and I must have watched it more than 30 times.

Forty years after its original release – to the day, as it turned out, although that was pure coincidence – I sat down to watch it with my six-year-old daughter, the latest ploy to fill in time during the corona virus lockdown. We had watched A New Hope earlier in the week and she was eager to see the second movie.

She sat glued to the screen for the first 100 minutes and all was going well until Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader faced off in their light sabre battle. When poor old Luke got the chop, my daughter turned to me in horrified disbelief and wailed, “He cut his hand off!” Then she burst into tears and refused to watch anymore. She still doesn’t know Vader is Luke’s father.

“Huh,” I said to myself as she stormed off, “I guess Empire is a bit too scary for a six-year-old.”

But on the flipside of that parental guilt trip I thought, “Hang on, she didn’t bat an eyelid when Obi-Wan Kenobi wielded his light sabre to dismembering effect in the Mos Cantina and she made only a passing remark when Luke slashed his way out of the ice cave on Hoth. Both of those scenes also showed blood, whereas when Luke lost his hand it was a clean cut. So why such a different response?”

The answer was obvious: my daughter had spent the best part of three hours getting to know Luke Skywalker. She had discovered R2-D2’s secret message, lost Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru, joined the Rebellion, and destroyed the Death Star right along with him. She had joined him in his Jedi training on Dagobah, watched him grow and become more confident with the Force, and set out to rescue his friends. So when Vader hurt Luke, he also hurt her.

That’s the power of good characterisation and, as so many critics and fans have pointed out, it’s also why there is such a vast gulf in popularity between the original trilogy and the prequels and sequels. Plot, dialogue, special effects, music – each one alone is dispensable if the others are strong enough, but good characterisation is non-negotiable. It’s what connects a movie (or novel) to the audience and if that connection is strong enough, a viewer will tolerate any number of deficiencies in other areas.

The original Star Wars trilogy is the perfect example of this. No one cares about the cornball dialogue and occasionally dubious plot developments, and when George Lucas ‘improved’ the original trilogy with digital effects, everyone just sort of shrugged their shoulders. But when he decided to make Greedo shoot first in the classic scene from A New Hope, fans were outraged. Why? Because it betrayed the roguish anti-hero quality of Han Solo’s character. That’s not how he would behave!