Two new stories in the wings

Finding a publisher that appreciates your fiction is a godsend for a writer, because it really ups your chances of acceptance. In the coming month I have short stories appearing via two publishers with whom I’ve worked in the past: Scare Street and Dragon Soul Press.

On April 26, I’m making my third contribution to Scare Street’s bestselling Night Terrors series, with ‘The Bowels of Hell’ to appear in Night Terrors #13. A horror-comedy in the vein of 1980s flicks such as House II and Evil Dead 2, it was one of those stories that almost got published a number of times, but editors always wanted it to either be scarier or funnier and I just didn’t see it as a straight comedy or straight horror piece. (Fellow 1980s VHS nerds will know what I mean – horror-comedy is a delicate balance.)

The other story, ‘Bigger’, is a coming-of-age sci-fi piece that draws on elements of erotica and horror (“interesting and crazy” as one editor described it in a personal rejection). It’s going into the Dragon Soul Press anthology Space Bound, due out in May. The publisher previously ran another long story of mine, ‘Blood and Light’, in the apocalypse-themed Lethal Impact anthology.

I’m also on the hunt for an agent to represent my new horror novel, Demon Drink. So agents, if either of the above-mentioned stories suitably impresses, please get in touch!

New story on The Dread Machine

Nostalgia meets creepy goings-on in my latest short story, ‘The Old Fisherman’s Track’, which is now live on The Dread Machine.

There’s a fair bit of autobiography in this story, although it’s mixed in with a great deal of blue-sky imagination. It was a harder sell than I’d envisioned, perhaps because it’s too fun and misty-eyed to be an outright horror tale and yet doesn’t have much in the way of literary pretensions.

I hope you like it. Don’t forget to check out the ‘story behind the story’ once you’ve read it – and do get in touch and let me know what you thought of it.

Coming soon…

It’s a flying start to 2021 for yours truly.

On February 23, The Dread Machine will feature my haunting tale ‘The Old Fisherman’s Track’ on its website. The idea came to me after seeing a click-bait story about a ‘haunted treehouse’ that proved to be no such thing, but I liked the notion so much I thought I’d take a crack at writing one myself.

Warning: contains semi-autobiographical elements.

Closer to home, Aurealis #137 (due in March I think?) will publish an essay of mine, ‘The Curious Reclassification of Peter Benchley’s Jaws‘. What started out as an analysis of Benchley’s most famed novel transmogrified into a discussion of genre. Why on earth is this grisly book now referred to as a thriller?

Jaws prepares to give this unsuspecting swimmer a ‘thrill’.

An unwelcome sabbatical

About this time last year I made a flying start on a new horror novel and never looked back. It proved to be among the most rewarding creative projects of my life; for the most part it was a daily joy rather than a daily grind. It ran to 104,000 words in its first draft and I finished it in three and a half months, sometimes spooling out 3000 or 4000 words a day – a personal best. Once I’d completed it, I moved on to a new short story that had been pestering me and used my momentum to bash that out in pretty close to record time as well.

Then, all at once, everything ground to a stop. It was as though someone had thrown a handful of sand in my creative gears. New ideas were few. When one did come, I would make a faltering start and then give up. I just didn’t have the necessary drive or desire, a first for me in 30 years of writing fiction. I’m not a neurotic or self-doubting person, so this was as close as I’d ever come to an existential crisis. If I wasn’t writing… who was I?

Rather than put pressure on myself to perform, I chose to let it go. I still had a creative outlet in my day job as a travel writer and motoring journalist. Less time spent at a keyboard meant more time to spend with my kids. I could also channel any residual energy into planning house renovations with my wife. These were all worthwhile substitutes. And yet…

And yet, I didn’t want to give up being a writer. Fearing the creative centre in my brain had short circuited and burnt out forever brought deep sorrow. So I did the only thing I could think of: I began rewriting and editing existing stories instead.

Many I hadn’t revisited in months or even years and, with all new composition purged from my head, I could see how much work they required. It helped, as well, that Scare Street evinced real interest in my stories – editorial validation is an excellent motivator. I went from one of my leanest publishing years in 2019 (one paid essay and one short story sold to a non-paying market) to one of my most prolific in 2020 (three paid short stories, one paid novella, one paid essay, two self-published books).

I’m pleased to report that after six months offline, my brain’s creative centre appears to be up and running again. I’ve made headway on a new short story that shows a lot of promise. I’m shopping around a number of stories that I revised and improved during my sabbatical from fresh copy. And, as traumatic as the past six months have been at times, the experience proved salutary – a reminder that the authorial life isn’t only about moving the words across the screen, but a dozen other equally important components that make up the writing/editing/publishing process.

Night Terrors #7 on sale now

The latest terrifying compilation of short stories from Scare Street, Night Terrors #7, is available to buy now. It features my story ‘Testing Times’, about a young constable who tries to conduct a routine random breath test only to be drawn into an underworld of unimaginable terror.

I’ll post the ‘story behind the story’ once everyone’s had a chance to read it.

Meanwhile, don’t forget my latest novel, Christmas in the Doghouse, is also on sale. It’s the perfect gift for your Kindle-reading friend, or if you want to treat yourself to an old-fashioned Christmas story with an Aussie twist.

Nearly time for a Christmas caper

Mowing the lawn is a ‘Zen chore’ for me; while my Victa and I are rolling back and forth across the front yard I tend to daydream and philosophise. One warm spring Saturday while giving the grass a haircut I got to wondering if I could devote an entire novel to a single Christmas Day set in the place I know best, Sydney’s suburbs. If memory serves I had recently finished David Copperfield by Charles Dickens and come away both astonished and inspired that Dickens could chronicle every minutia of someone’s life across several hundred pages and yet sustain reader interest throughout.

The book that emerged from my reverie, Christmas in the Doghouse, was the result, and it goes on sale this December. Within its pages you’ll find a fictionalised account of one hot-as-hades Christmas in Australia from the perspective of the twenty-something hero, Danny Lawson, as and his wife Angela try to navigate a fraught period in their marriage while hosting a family lunch. It’s funny, honest, dramatic and not very PC – in other words, it’s Australia as I remember it in the late 1990s, which is the book’s setting.

My fiction doesn’t often include autobiographical elements, unless they’re vague or oblique, but Christmas in the Doghouse is something of an exception. While the plot is entirely fictitious, the characters and attitudes are composites of many people I’ve known or met in the course of my adult life. I’ve therefore dedicated the book to the late author John O’Grady, one of the first post-war writers to try to capture everyday Australians as he saw them.

Christmas in the Doghouse is also the first thing I’ve self-published, mainly because it’s an almost impossible sell in the modern publishing world. It doesn’t fit into a neat genre pigeonhole, it isn’t ‘literary’ in the accepted sense of that word in 2020, and it isn’t overtly political or didactic. It’s just an old-fashioned Christmas story with an Australian twist.

It’s available to pre-order here for just three bucks. I hope you enjoy it.

Stop apologising for horror fiction

In 2019 I finally bought a car with Bluetooth connection and it transformed my daily commute. Rather than putting up with radio, I listened to podcasts and interviews. In those early days I hunted for interviews with (and speeches) by Stephen King. A common theme among them – and an old one, too – was the purpose of the horror novel. For the best part of 40 years, King has been asked to explain why he writes them, why people like them, and what, if anything, they contribute to our understanding of humanity.

An awful lot of high-flown ideas are attributed to the horror story and if you’re interested in availing yourself of them, I highly recommend King’s book on the subject, Danse Macabre. The most commonly repeated one seems to be this: the small, controlled horrors in fiction or movies help us cope with and understand the real-life ones.

I find this assertion absurd.

Between 2010 and 2019, my wife and I went endured a surfeit of true-life horrors. Most were health-related – her mother died from leukaemia, her father and brother were diagnosed with bowel cancer (but survived), she developed multiple sclerosis – while some were awful situations caused by other people. Having spent nearly a decade going through the wringer with one thing or another, it became clear to me that imagined horrors and true-life ones have almost nothing in common.

Good horror fiction, like any other fiction, can take a reader away and make him forget his woes for a while. It can also serve as an allegory for something else, make us ponder the nature of life and death, wonder what (if anything) comes next, push the boundaries of imagination. But even though I’ve read dozens and dozens of horror novels over the years, not one helped me cope with my mother-in-law’s slow demise from blood cancer or made it easier to put my dead dog in the back of my car while ants crawled up my arms. Conflating the two (as so many journalists and armchair psychologists have over the years) and claiming that it is an unhealthy interest is, at best, ill-informed.

Writing about horror and experiencing it for real are as disparate as writing about sex and actually having sex. I suspect horror writers have tried to attribute a higher purpose to their fiction because reporters and critics so often back them into a corner and demand to know why they write such things. In their eyes, “because it’s entertaining” is as an inadequate answer. Even someone like Bret Easton Ellis, whose novel American Psycho was primarily about style and subtext and largely tedious, found himself having to defend his use of horror.

I find it curious indeed that interviewers want to know why authors fashion make-believe and often fanciful horrors, yet have no qualms about the much more realistic atrocities depicted in so-called ‘literature’. No one queries the fictitious cruelty in The Grapes of Wrath or the wanton murder in The Godfather or the realistic depictions of racism in everything from Uncle Tom’s Cabin to Crazy in Alabama. Horror fiction shouldn’t need special dispensation or a practical reason to exist, and horror writers need to stop apologising, stop rationalising, stop justifying what they do. It is as valid a form of literature as any other.

Story to appear in Night Terrors #2

My supernatural terror tale ‘The Old Coach Inn’ is set to appear in Night Terrors #2 from publisher Scare Street.

One of 13 short stories in this 150-page anthology, it’s about a young family that blunders into an old feud between owners of an out-of-the-way motel.

The paperback is available right now and the e-book version will go live on September 14.

Once you’ve read it, be sure to check out the ‘story behind the story’ and learn the unusual inspiration that led to ‘The Old Coach Inn’.

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.