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Guest writers series: an interview with Heather MacLee

It’s not Summer any more in my hemisphere, but I understand it is in other one? At any rate, I’ve enjoyed hosting authors here enough that I’m just going to keep doing it. I hope you like being introduced to new writers and their works 🙂 Please welcome Heather…

The name’s Heather MacLee, I was born and raised in Glasgow, and I’ve been living in Cyprus for almost a year now! I write LGTBQIA* sexy romance, and my debut novella Too Good To Be True? just came out.

If you had to describe yourself in terms of a soft drink, which would you be and why?

Soda water and lime, because I’m bubbly with a wee bit of a tang.

Harry Potter world: what house are you? And what animal would be your patronus?

Ravenclaw! And an otter.

Are you a Think Everything Through Before Acting person or a Great Idea Let’s Try It! Person?

The moving to Cyprus was definitely the latter! It very much depends on the situation, but I do tend towards ‘Fuck it, let’s do this!’

What got you into writing?

I must have been about seven or eight years old when my parents were called in by my teacher because I kept interrupting story time by suggesting alternative scenarios. They got me a notebook and made me promise to write down any thoughts that came up instead of suggesting them out loud. I guess the rest is history?

Why do you write now?

It’s a compulsion. I tried to not write for a long time because my ‘wild imagination’ wasn’t appreciated by my secondary school teachers, but it drained me. At university, I finally caved and took a creative writing course. I’ve been writing again ever since. It keeps me sane.

What’s the earliest story you can remember reading and loving?

The Animals of Farthing Wood by Colin Dann

What’s a book you remember reading as a teenager and absolutely loving?

Our local library was in the same street as my parental home, so there have been more books than I can possibly remember. It has to be Harry Potter, though. None of the books grabbed me like that series did.

What are you reading right now?

I’m about to start reading The Sky is Everywhere, by Jandy Nelson. Her I’ll Give You the Sun is one of the best books I’ve ever read.

What’s a book that you have on your shelf that you think might surprise people?

The Glasgow Coma Scale by Neil D. A. Stewart. It’s not a genre I usually read, but I read it just after moving to Cyprus, when I felt homesick.

What book would you like everyone to read?

I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson.

Are you a stop reading at the end of the chapter, mid chapter, or just whenever reader?

If the book is good enough, I’ll stop when I collapse. That could be anywhere in the book.

Can you name some formative books for your own writing?

Books not so much, but the idea for the world I’m building right now comes from The L-Word. In my world, it’s a local bookshop that connects all the characters, whose love lives are central in the different trilogies I’m planning to write, instead of a bar, but that whole ‘everyone is connected’ thing, I definitely got that from the TV series.

How do you organise your personal library?

I gave most of my books away when I moved (I know!) and I’m still organising my living space, so ‘pure chaos’ would be the best description of my current system. I usually go by genre though 😉

Writing: What do you do/where do you go for inspiration?

Anywhere on this island works for me, although I love living close to the beach (I can see the sea from my window). Nature always works for me, and coffee shops, where I can shamelessly people watch.

Is there anything you’ve seen passed around as writing advice that you really disagree with?

Too Good to be True cover

Write what you know. Ha, no, it’s called ‘imagination’ for a reason. Sure, I believe stories do reflect the author at least a little bit, but most authors have too boring a life to just write what they know. We spend vast amounts of our time behind our computers!

Do you believe in a divine muse, and if so, what’s yours like?

Of course, I do! Mine is a playful imp who makes sure I don’t take myself too seriously when writing.

What does your physical writing space look like?

One of the first things I did when I found my current abode was organise a writing space on my balcony. It’s partially covered, so no direct sunlight hits me or my screen when I stay in that corner, and there tends to be a lovely breeze.

Open up your skeleton closet: can you tell me about an abandoned project of yours which seemed awesome when you started but you’ll likely never return to?

When I first visited Cyprus, I started a YA novel that had a complicated triangle relationship in it involving a pair of twins, a boy and a girl. I wanted to write something that wouldn’t condemn the bisexual main character, who falls in love with both siblings, but at one point the characters wanted to head in a different direction and I became afraid to perpetuate harmful clichés. I was on the soapbox Stephen King warns against, and the only way down was to give up on the project.

Any advice for anyone looking to start writing?

Just do it, but don’t tell anyone you don’t fully trust. It’s a vulnerable process, the becoming-writer one.

Favourites: Ideal holiday, price and time no concern, where would you go?

Anywhere that has unapologetic nature.  

If you could plan perfect meals for a day, what would each be, and would you snack?

I would have apple pie porridge in the morning, a lunch with freshly made hummus, grilled veggies, and Greek pitta, and cauliflower sabzi for dinner. I would snack fruit and healthy veggies throughout the day. Needless to say, this isn’t even close to what my daily diet is like…

Imagine you won one of those ‘grab a cart and spend five mins in a store’ competitions. Which store would you want to win it for, and what goods would you be shoving in the cart first?

A stationery shop, obviously, and I’d be stuffing my cart with notebooks, fountain pens, different ink colours. If I have time left, I’d go for the funny bookmarks and whatever pens and pencils I can get my hands on. You can never have enough writing material.

Imagine you’ve had your best ever year, what photos would you have from that year?

While they do registered partnerships here in Cyprus for same-sex couples, getting married is still a no-go, so my best year would include not just pictures of my own beach wedding, but also those of our friends’ weddings.

Favourite song to sing at Karaoke?

What’s Up by 4 Non Blondes.

Favourite song to sing in the shower when no one else is home?

From Eden by Hozier

What’s your favourite quote?

‘For what it’s worth… it’s never too late, or in my case too early, to be whoever you want to be. There’s no time limit. Start whenever you want. You can change or stay the same. There are no rules to this thing. We can make the best or the worst of it. I hope you make the best of it. I hope you see things that startle you. I hope you feel things you’ve never felt before. I hope you meet people who have a different point of view. I hope you live a life you’re proud of, and if you’re not, I hope you have the courage to start over again.’ F. Scott Fitzgerald
__

Heather MacLee was born and raised in Glasgow, although she has strong ties to the Highlands. After falling in love with the gorgeous island of Cyprus years ago, she finally took the plunge and moved there in the summer of 2018.

Heather writes LGBTQIA* sexy romance and her debut novella, Too Good to Be True?, is out now. Set in Cyprus, it’s the first novella in her Wild Violet series, a world Heather created around the fictional book shop Wild Violet, or Άγρια Βιολέτα in Greek.

Find Heather online:

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Get a copy of Too Good to Be True? here

Writers, writing

Summer writers series: an interview with Jay Hogan

This is the latest and last in my series of Guest Posts where I’ve posed some deeply serious questions to some awesome writers. My questions are in bold. I am aware that it’s not actually Summer any more, but whatever, you’re not the boss of me.

Who are you and what have you done with the Real Jay Hogan?

Jay Hogan is my pen name just to keep trolls at bay and also to keep privacy for myself and my family. In my life I’ve been a registered nurse working in Intensive Care, a nursing lecturer, a counsellor and supervisor and now a writer.

If you had to describe yourself in terms of a soft drink, which would you be and why?

I hate all soft drinks, anything with fizz actually, except champagne lol. So maybe a Pinot Gris, fruity with a dry sense of humour ☺

Are you a Think Everything Through Before Acting person or a Great Idea Let’s Try It! Person?

Both probably. I’m quite spontaneous but then I also won’t go into anything new that’s important, without checking it out pretty thoroughly.

What got you into writing?

I have always written. I wrote plays in school, had some poetry published in my twenties and thirties, wrote theses and articles at University, and then tried fiction but I couldn’t seem to find my stride in the right genre. I tried to write what I liked to read, but at the time that was mostly thriller and detective fiction, and I found I liked reading it but disliked writing it. It wasn’t till I took my snobbish view off the romance genre that I found a home, particularly mm romance. And yet I’ve always known I am a relationship person. I taught it, counselled it, I was even a family planning educator, so duh, right?

What do you like Reading?

Across the board. I still like thrillers and detective novels and mm romance, but I particularly like quirky characters regardless of genre.

What’s the earliest story you can remember reading and loving?

The Nancy Drew Mysteries. Lord of The Rings in terms of a book having a real impact on me.

What are you reading right now?

John Sandford’s Virgil Flowers books. And I love anything of T.J. Klune and Amy Lane

Are you a stop reading at the end of the chapter, mid chapter, or just whenever reader?

Just whenever if I can stop!!

How do you organise your personal library? (alphabetical, Dewey decimal, what’s your system?)

It’s a mess lol. You really don’t want to know.

Writing: What do you do/where do you go for inspiration?

Just lots of reading in and out of the genre I write in. Plus a lot of stuff I’ve gleaned from things I’ve experienced as a nurse in particular.

Do you believe in a divine muse, and if so, what’s yours like?

Not really. I believe in just getting into that study and writing every day. Just discipline. Even if you throw it out, keep writing.

What does your physical writing space look like?

I set up an office with a desk space and I keep it kind of routine. I need a defined space. I’m not a coffee shop writer. I need time and space and quiet and routine. I find when I sit at my desk, my mind knows now what is required of it. Too much change and I can’t concentrate.

Are you more a ‘write drunk, edit sober’ Ernest Hemingway, or a ‘shut the door, eliminate all distractions and write for a set amount of hours’ Stephen King?

I try and write three to four hours a day, door open, dog at my side and usually the cat too. I keep it as much to the morning as I can because I’m pretty useless after three pm. Editing I can do all day anytime, but writing is the morning for me.

Open up your skeleton closet: can you tell me about an abandoned project of yours which seemed awesome when you started but you’ll likely never return to?

My first book ever about a serial killer abducting girls with eating disorders. I know, I know. But everyone needs a little bit of weird in their head right? Needless to say it never got picked up, thank goodness, lol.

Any advice for anyone looking to start writing?

Write. Just start and do it and keep reading. Don’t wait for right time, write place, just discipline and do it. I think of the first couple of books you write as equivalent to going to university. You are learning if you can do it, if you can actually finish a book, and even if you like it.

Favourites: Star Wars or Star Trek?

Both

Hogwarts or Narnia?

Hogwarts

Ideal holiday, price and time no concern, where would you go?

South Africa Safari. I love watching wild game doing their thing

If you could plan perfect meals for a day, what would each be, and would you snack?

Kettle fry potato crisps and pork crackling in answer to all.

Imagine you won one of those ‘grab a cart and spend five mins in a store’ competitions. Which store would you want to win it for, and what goods would you be shoving in the cart first?

Gourmet food store or kitchen equipment store

Favourite song to sing at Karaoke?

You do not want to hear me sing.

Favourite song to sing in the shower when no one else is home?

Anything by Queen

What’s your favourite quote?

Just do it.

Pokemon: if you were a trainer, what pokemon would be in your team? (you get 6)

What’s pokemon?? Lol  No, seriously I have NEVER even looked at one.

—-

Jay Hogan is a New Zealand author writing in m/m romance, romantic suspense and fantasy. She has travelled extensively, living in a number of countries. She’s a cat aficionado especially Maine Coons, and an avid dog lover (but don’t tell the cat). She loves to cook- pretty damn good, loves to sing – pretty damn average, and as for loving full-time writing -absolutely… depending on the word count, the deadline, her characters’ moods, the ambient temperature in the Western Sahara, whether Jupiter is rising, the size of the ozone hole over New Zealand and how much coffee she’s had.

You can find Jay at:
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Check out Jay’s book, Crossing the Touchline: A New Zealand MM Romance-Contemporary, out now!

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Writers, writing

Summer Writers Series: an interview with Trace Yulie

This is the latest in my series of Guest Posts where I’ve posed some deeply serious questions to some awesome writers. My questions are in bold.

Who are you and what have you done with the Real Trace?

I work in higher ed by day and write by night! It’s like a secret identity. Maybe too secret.

Harry Potter world: what house are you? And what animal would be your patronus?

I’m solidly GryffinClaw, and I’m pretty sure my patronus would be a tiny but fierce owl.

Are you a Thing Everything Through Before Acting person or a Great Idea Let’s Try It! Person?

Absolutely a leap-before-you-look person.

What got you into writing?

I can’t remember not writing, except for one distinct kindergarten memory of being angry about alphabet flash cards.

Why do you write now?

I write now because I believe I have stories inside me that only I can tell, and the act of creating those stories is exhilarating. And I feel like something essential about me is silent and sad if I go without writing for an extended length of time.

What’s the earliest story you can remember reading and loving?

I remember sitting in the back of my fifth grade classroom (the lonely, nerdy kid who switched schools midyear), and picking up a collection of Arthurian stories. Those stories completely enthralled me.

What’s a book you remember reading as a teenager and absolutely loving?

One sweaty Florida summer, I discovered Frank Herbert’s Dune and devoured the first three books. Something about the hot desert planet resonated with my sensibilities and my situation.

What are you reading right now?

Right now, I’m reading Naomi Novik’s Spinning Silver. Novik has such a command of prose and marvelous worldbuilding. I was hooked on the first page, and I adore her compelling heroines.

Are you a stop reading at the end of the chapter, mid chapter, or just whenever reader?

I prefer to end with a chapter, but sometimes I wake up midchapter with the book on my face when reading in bed!

Can you name some formative books for your own writing?

It’s impossible for me to overstate the influence that Le Guin’s work has had on me. Her thoughtful prose style. There’s a starkness, and a lush quality and a tenderness the stories exhibit. I’m drawn to work by writers who have similar sensibilities, like Maureen McHugh, Molly Gloss and Sofia Samatar.

How do you organise your personal library?

My books are organized by some mysterious brain pattern, I think. They’re not alphabetical but intentionally thematic, and I somehow know where everything is. I have a bookcase for each: favorite fiction/nonfiction books by women writers, books about writing plus current research for a stories I’m working on, books for more spiritual pursuits, stuff I should probably read eventually and works I’ve liked by dudes plus graphic novels and anthologies.

Creative writing in primary school, can you remember any stories you wrote?

My first story memory is of the Robotech fan fiction I passed around to classmates in elementary school.

What do you do/where do you go for inspiration?

I get a lot of inspiration from prompts or other activities that encourage randomness and combination, like scrambling words on book spines. I also like looking at visual art.

Is there anything you’ve seen passed around as writing advice that you really disagree with?

I think “writers write every day” is a tough standard and not right for everyone. Many writers have more than enough anxiety about creating and can do without advice like that.

I also dislike when writers talk about getting drunk as a metaphor for writing or a literal strategy, and when they talk about writing as though they hate it.

Let’s write clear-eyed and heady, joyfully and thoughtfully, even ecstatically, but not like we’re forcing or punishing ourselves.

What does your physical writing space look like?

My desk faces a wall where I’ve posted inspirational images and quotes plus a giant outline of my WIP. My bookcase of research and writing advice is next to the desk, and the desk itself is covered with notebooks, post-its and pens.

Open up your skeleton closet: can you tell me about an abandoned project of yours which seemed awesome when you started but you’ll likely never return to?

I started a magical adventure story set in a rabbit warren, and I’m not sure if I’ll ever come back to that one.

Any advice for anyone looking to start writing?

Find your community. Let go of your shame/ego about sharing your words. Don’t read Writers Digest, read Locus. Don’t pay publications to look at your work.

—–

Trace is a science fiction writer, a graduate of the Clarion West Writers Workshop class of 2010, and a contributor to The Future Fire . Trace served as an editorial assistant for Lightspeed Magazine’s special issue, Queers Destroy Fantasy.


photo by Amanda Petersen

She’s also a learning specialist for the University of California, LGBT mentor for the UCI Counseling Center and a former professor of developmental writing & Women’s Studies.

Trace is a big fan of teaching and learning as tools of empowerment. She might be obsessed with owls, drumming, utopias and dystopias and stories about time travel.

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Summer Writers Series: an interview with Lee Murray Pt 2

Part two of the interview with Lee Murray Part one is here

Creative writing in primary school, what did you write about? Can you remember any stories?

This image from my autobiographical title All About Me, written, illustrated, and published by me in 1970 (aged 5). Already, it was clear I wasn’t going to be an artist.

I wrote my first dark ghostly murder mystery story when I was eleven. It was based on a clock with a secret compartment that I’d seen during a school trip to the Clapham National Clock Museum in Whangarei. Also that year, 1978, I wrote a courtroom parody entitled The Big Bad Wolf, where various witnesses were called to testify against the alleged repeat offender. Rip Van Winkle was unable to give his testimony because he kept falling asleep. I can’t remember exactly how it ended ‒ a political smear campaign by the PIG consortium, I think. So even as early as eleven, my writing was tending towards dark fiction and fabulism.

What do you do/where do you go for inspiration?

In school workshops, I tell the kids I get my ideas by stealing (character traits and story ideas from real life), eavesdropping, exaggerating, and lying.

Is there anything you’ve seen passed around as writing advice that you really disagree with?

I’m sure I’ll think of something the minute I’ve sent this blogpost off.

Do you believe in a divine muse, and if so, what’s yours like?

No, but if you want to keep writing stories it’s especially helpful to have a sponsor. In my case, that role is played by my husband, whose support allows me to keep at this writing gig. I also have Bella, who is sitting behind me on my computer chair, warming the small of my back. It’s wonderful encouragement not to move, to keep my bottom in the chair and carry on writing.

What does your physical writing space look like?

A picture paints a thousand words: Bella and me, at my desk.

Are you more a ‘write drunk, edit sober’ Ernest Hemingway, or a ‘shut the door, eliminate all distractions and write for a set amount of hours’ Stephen King? (or another famous writer’s approach, add in your own).

Writing is my job, so I sit down in my home office and work all day. Sometimes I yell at the family to turn the TV down in the next room. In terms of process, I’m an extremely slow writer. I can’t just spew the first draft onto the page the way many other writers do. The problem is my inner editor, who never turns off. She, more than anyone, tends to interrupt while I’m writing, making suggestions, demanding that I check this or that fact, or find a better word, or vary the sentence structure. Because of her, it takes me all day to write just 1000 words. On the other hand, because of her, I don’t tend to do a lot of rewrites either. I send the piece to my trusty betas, implement their suggestions, and then fire the work out.

Open up your skeleton closet: can you tell me about an abandoned project of yours which seemed awesome when you started but you’ll likely never return to?

There’s a button necklace, a knitted penguin (I’m a competent knitter, but believe me the instructions are impossible), and some failed short stories. I’m not even going to mention some of the disastrous meals I’ve cooked that we’ve decided not to eat.

Any advice for anyone looking to start writing?

Win the Lotto.

Favourites: Star Wars or Star Trek?

Hmm. Star Wars, original.

Hogwarts or Narnia?

Even harder. Hogwarts, just.

Ideal holiday, price and time no concern, where would you go?

My parents’ bach at Pukehina Beach, back when they still owned it, maybe circa 1975, and preferably for the entire summer.

If you could plan perfect meals for a day, what would each be, and would you snack?

Yellow porridge made by dad, Mum’s noodles, my brother’s vegetable kebabs, and my sister-in-law’s chocolate brownies.

Imagine you won one of those ‘grab a cart and spend five mins in a store’ competitions. Which store would you want to win it for, and what goods would you be shoving in the cart first?

Is there a store for lost friends, misplaced photographs, and a cure for Alzheimer’s? I’d like to stop by the returns counter too, to make the most of the opportunity to take back some mistakes, and possibly a couple of things I shouldn’t have said.

Imagine you’ve had your best ever year, what photos would you have from that year?

My family, my dog, holiday snaps, convention memories with friends, half a dozen from the top of the Mount.

Favourite song to sing at Karaoke? Favourite song to sing in the shower when no one else is home?

Umm. Even I don’t want to hear myself singing.

Desert island castaway time: you get an album, a book and a luxury item, what do you choose?

An album. Eros by Eros Ramazzotti
A book: To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
Luxury item: Cheese

What’s your favourite quote?

“I meant what I said, and I said what I meant, and an elephant’s faithful, 100%”—Horton the Elephant

Pokemon: if you were a trainer, what pokemon would be in your team? (you get 6)

There’s a little yellow one, right?

Weirdest hobby you have, other than writing?

We’ve just bought a caravan and it’s taking some time to get used to it, so maybe putting the awning up and down counts as a hobby. I am also addicted to renovation shows on the telly.

Any upcoming work?

Yes! I’m thrilled to announce my newest release Into the Ashes a stand-alone sequel to award-winning military thriller Into the Mist and the latest title in my Taine McKenna adventure series.  Here’s the cover:

And here is the blurb:

No longer content to rumble in anger, the great mountain warriors of New Zealand’s central plateau, the Kāhui Tupua, are preparing again for battle. At least, that’s how the Māori elders tell it. The nation’s leaders scoff at the danger. That is; until the ground opens and all hell breaks loose. The armed forces are hastily deployed; NZDF Sergeant Taine McKenna and his section are tasked with evacuating civilians and tourists from Tongariro National Park. It is too little, too late. With earthquakes coming thick and fast and the mountains spewing rock and ash, McKenna and his men are cut off. Their only hope of rescuing the stranded civilians is to find another route out, but a busload of prison evacuees has other ideas. And, deep beneath the earth’s crust, other forces are stirring.

Praise for Into the Ashes:

“INTO THE ASHES is a kick-ass thriller with twists you will never see coming! Lee Murray serves up a nail-biter of a weird-science action adventure. Brava!” — Jonathan Maberry, New York Times best-selling author of DEEP SILENCE and V-WARS

Part disaster novel, part supernatural adventure – a suspenseful, action-packed thriller that’s entertaining as hell! —Tim Waggoner, author of TEETH OF THE SEA and BLOOD ISLAND  

“INTO THE ASHES hits the ground running and does not let up. A unique background, interesting characters, a dollop of horror, and a relentless, thriller pace.” — Charles R Rutledge, co-author of the Griffin and Price series.

“Murray’s INTO THE ASHES reads like a gauntlet – an action-packed adventure where death strikes from every side. A thrilling read!” — Ashley Knight, co-author of HERALD

____

Lee Murray is a multi-award-winning writer and editor of science fiction, fantasy and horror (Sir Julius Vogel, Australian Shadows). Her works include the Taine McKenna adventure series, and supernatural crime-noir series The Path of Ra (co-written with Dan Rabarts). She is also the editor of ten dark fiction anthologies, the latest being Hellhole: An Anthology of Subterranean Terror (Adrenalin Press). Lee lives with her family in New Zealand where she conjures up stories from her office overlooking a cow paddock.

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Summer Writers Series: an interview with Lee Murray Pt 1

This is the latest in a series of Guest Posts where I’ve posed some deeply serious questions to some awesome writers who probably deserve better. My questions are in bold. 

[This is in two parts because Lee answered everything in the long damn quiz, and she did it beautifully. ]

Who are you and what have you done with the Real Lee Murray?

The real Lee Murray is currently serving a 25-year prison term for masterminding a £53-million armed raid. I’m the other Lee Murray, the writer. I’m also a short, half-Chinese, 3rd generation New Zealander, a mother, wife, dog owner, scientist, tea drinker, anxiety-sufferer and former marathon runner. I believe in reading, vaccination, family holidays, cheesecake, tolerance, and kindness. Especially kindness. And right now, looking at this 30-question interview, I should probably add terrified to that list.

If you had to describe yourself in terms of a soft drink, which would you be and why?

A Diet Coke. Because my writing is dark and sugarless.

Harry Potter world: what house are you? And what animal would be your patronus?

Ravenclaw all the way! Apparently, like Cho Chang, my patronus is a swan—I took a test. The Results: You may be quiet, but that doesn’t mean you’re antisocial. Constantly surrounded by a group of friends, you can always count on them to act as a support system in times of emotional distress. Keep your head up and enjoy the simple pleasures in life. Do your best not to dwell on the past: the future is bright. [Fingers crossed]

Are you a Think Everything Through Before Acting person or a Great Idea Let’s Try It! Person?

The latter mostly, although not when it comes to moving house. On moving day, I have all the boxes packed and ready to go before the movers arrive.

What got you into writing?

I don’t really know. I’ve always been a scribbler, a prehistoric blogger before they were a thing. Encouraged firstly by my dad, and later by various teachers and mentors, it was always on my mind to write, but it wasn’t until my children were small, and I was at home during their naptimes, that I made a conscious effort to ‘become’ a writer. Completing some masters papers in creative writing at Northtec along with a couple of unfinished novels which had been sitting in boxes. Then, a decade ago, on the advice of a colleague, I started to call myself a writer, and even wrote ‘writer’ against my occupation on my passport, which made it more real somehow.

Why do you write now?

Right now because I have two book contracts to fulfil!

The real reason is because I’m a full-time writer and editor. It’s my job, albeit a poorly paid one. I don’t write simply because I love it. Yes, I do love it, but it annoys me when people say, ‘writers write because they love it’, or ‘we write because we have to’. While those statements are true, they also imply that loving our work should be sufficient recompense, that it makes up for earning pin money. If your lawyer enjoys his work, is it okay not to pay him? What if your plumber whistles while he fixes your sink? Does anyone ask lawyers and plumbers why they do the work they do? [Whoops! She tumbles from the soapbox.]

Reading: What’s the earliest story you can remember reading and loving?

The earliest story? Seven Little Postmen. Sam the Fireman. Angelo the Naughty One. Ferdinand the Bull. Grimm’s Fairy tales. The story from my childhood which resonates for me the most is Horton Hatches the Egg. So many fond memories of bedtimes when Dad would read this to my brother and me. He was so great at doing the voices—I can still hear them in my head, and it’s important because he suffers from Alzheimer’s and is non-verbal now. We used to chime in when he read the mantra: “I meant what I said and I said what I meant, and an elephant’s faithful, 100%”. It’s a saying that sticks with you. And quite apart from the fact that it can be handy to know something about percentages when your royalty cheque comes in, it’s a mantra I’ve tried to live by.

What’s a book you remember reading as a teenager and absolutely loving?

Hmm. My middle grade and early teen years were a bit of a bonanza for classic texts. Here is a selected, and highly-abbreviated, bibliography: The complete CS Lewis series, Peter Pan, Call of the Wild, The Wind in the Willows, Watership Down, The Hobbit, The Owl Service, Children of the Poor by John A Lee, A Christmas Carol, Oliver Twist, Lord of the Rings (12) The Day of the Triffids, The Chrysalids, To Kill a Mockingbird, The Mother by Pearl Buck (13), The Diary of Anne Frank….The Illiad. Our family used to go to the library every Friday evening and each of us kids (there were four of us) were allowed to bring home twenty books. Twenty! I read everything I could get my hands on, loved everything.

What are you reading right now?

[opens kindle and checks the titles still in progress]. A non-fiction title on poetry, The Witchhunt by Lori R Lopez (an author preview copy), The Strangers by Michaelbrent Collings, Dracula’s Revenge by Charles R, Rutledge, Fountain Dead by Theresa Braun. On audiobook: Alter by Jeremy Robinson. I also have some awards reading still to do.

What’s a book that you have on your shelf that you think might surprise people?

Extremely Embarrassing Dad Jokes: Because Dads don’t know when to stop, by Ian Allen. Surprise! It was my husband’s Christmas present and somehow it has ended up in the office bookshelf.

What book would you like everyone to read?

Preferably one of mine. 😊 Or, failing that, a book by one of our fabulously talented New Zealand speculative fiction writers. Suburban Book of the Dead by Jamie Sands is an excellent read, for example. Read New Zealand works, books written by women, by LGBTQ writers… read widely, read often, read any book that you like, just please, please, if you can, leave a review because it makes a huge difference to the author.

Are you a stop reading at the end of the chapter, mid chapter, or just whenever reader?

Stop reading? What is this thing?

Can you name some formative books for your own writing?

I’m always striving to learn new things. Right now, I’m dipping into non-fiction ebooks on screenwriting, on poetry, and on creating suspense. I’m particularly enjoying It’s Alive: Bringing Your Nightmares to Life (Joe Mynhardt and Eugene Johnson eds), a collection of essays and articles on writing from working writers, many of them my colleagues from the horror community.

How do you organise your personal library? (alphabetical, dewey decimal, what’s your system?)

I squeeze them into the bookcase wherever I can find a space big enough. To be honest, I was forced to cull a few books when we moved a couple of years ago. It was such a painful experience that I am trying to be more discerning about purchasing print books. Now, my rule is to only purchase books with an author’s signature. Oh look over there…. a bookshop!

Tune in soon for the second half of the interview…

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Lee Murray is a multi-award-winning writer and editor of science fiction, fantasy and horror (Sir Julius Vogel, Australian Shadows). Her works include the Taine McKenna adventure series, and supernatural crime-noir series The Path of Ra (co-written with Dan Rabarts). She is also the editor of ten dark fiction anthologies, the latest being Hellhole: An Anthology of Subterranean Terror (Adrenalin Press). Lee lives with her family in New Zealand where she conjures up stories from her office overlooking a cow paddock.

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Summer writers series: Death of a Writer by Naomi Aoki

This guest post is by Naomi Aoki, and part of my Summer writers guest series.

I logged into Draft2Digital (D2D) today to check on the publishing progress of a book with Amazon, surprise, surprise, it had not yet gone live. But was even more interesting; annoying as hell was the need to add another layer of kowtowing to Amazon and say that I give D2D permission to publish my books, on my behalf to Amazon. I know, you’d think the fact that uploaded my books to the D2D site and then checked a box would be all the proof that Amazon needed, it’s not for them to stand guard of me and protect me from unscrupulous publishers…. Oh wait, it has nothing to do with protecting me at all. It has everything to do with Amazon trying to further extend the monopoly that they have over the publishing industry, especially where it concerns Indie/Self-publishers.

Amazon is a monopoly, a horrific bullying one who doesn’t care about the publishing world beyond the money it can scrap from authors and readers alike. And its biggest con, Kindle Unlimited. Subscription based services by in large are a good thing; enable a wider reach of a product/service to consumers who might not take the time to try, or in this case, read a new author. But Kindle Unlimited isn’t run like other subscription services, demanding exclusivity without fair compensation. I mean seriously do you really think half a cent per page is a good deal? No, it’s not. Well, it might have been if, as an author you could continue to list your books on other platforms and not become solely dependent upon Kindle Unlimited for income. And yes, yes, I know you can take your books out after ninety-days, but the bulk of an author’s meagre income comes in that short period. Reliant page reads, the addiction to Kindle Unlimited, no matter how they despise it, is hard to break.

And page reads… well to keep up the high number of page-reads each month or to increase them further, isn’t just about promotion. It’s about pushing out more books or increasing the page count of those books – page stuffing scandals have already erupted, and I have no doubt that another scandal will occur around authors manipulating the page count of their books to earn a few more cents. I’ve seen authors put down as their goals for 2019, This year I’m going to put out two books a month. They promise they are going to be quality and while I know every author works at a different rate… but two books? Even those written at the shorter novella length… something has to give. An author’s health; the quality of their books, the growth of their writing. But I suppose when a reader isn’t paying for a book, the way in which they judge it is different; they expect less. And then there is the expectation for authors to put their work on Kindle Unlimited, as though the owe to the readers to provide to them for essentially free. And yes, I have seen comments like: I won’t buy an author’s book if they don’t list them in Kindle Unlimited.

But I am not a hamster running furiously on a wheel. I am not a chimp thumping away on the keyboard hoping to spit out Shakespeare. My writing deserves more than that and while I might make more by abandoning all my morals to shove my work up on Kindle Unlimited, you won’t see my work there.

My latest novel Crossing the Line is now available… and if you’re lucky it might even have gone live on Amazon.

Or if a Dirty Kiwi Cop and their Yakuza Lover isn’t your thing, I’ve also published a late Qing Dynasty/Victorian Historical, Rebellion.

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Summer writers series: Five Stories About Stories by M. Raoulee

M. Raoulee on Inspiration

I’ve had a long day at work.  I come home to find that my roommate has trashed the living room.  I am no longer surprised by her antics, so I have a drink and from the safety of the kitchen attempt to explain that ideally, we should be able to see most of the floor, most of the time.  

We go from discussing inhospitable situations (say, this one) in the real world to inhospitable situations in fictional worlds.  I admit, I’ve always been fascinated by people who make homes in strange places. I actually think that’s one of the reasons I like science fiction.  Hell yes, I want a house on Mars.

Anyway, we hit upon building homes in corpses and, recognizing the futility reaching the couch anytime soon, I excuse myself, claiming that I am going to write a story about someone living in a dragon skull, because reasons.  I am actually kidding. However, what ensues is several hours of watching people on YouTube attempt to make cobb floors, then scribbling something resembling an outline.

Also new roommates, though that’s another story.  

#

Inspiration comes when it comes.  It’s not the biggest part of writing— that would be getting the words down —but nobody would write if we as humans didn’t have moments of inspiration and a drive to share them.  Besides, telling others about the people we imagine has helped us shape the world, spread joy, make strangers cringe.

Our inspirations don’t have to be about big things.  If a big thing that’s happening over much of the world inspires you, then by all means, write your story about it.  Enjoy it. Put your heart into it. But! You don’t have to be inspired by big things. You can be inspired by ants if that’s what works for you.  “The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson was supposed to have been sparked by the author pushing a baby carriage up a hill in summer.

When you are cooking, when you are driving, when you are raking leaves— your mind can spark at any time. Images, conversations, profound concepts which deserve whole novels: there’s always something there. It might be the seeds of one of the most commented upon stories your favorite venue has ever published.

Please keep your eyes on that road if you’re driving, though. The rest of us writers would very much like you to make more stories!

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I have been up much too late reading creepypasta, as one does.  Once I pull myself away from the screen to stretch, I am startled by streak of white at the bottom of my window.  It’s snowed and of course I didn’t even realize.

I am a bit afraid of snow, especially large amounts of snow that obscure the landscape.  Featureless, white fields are some spooky stuff. Like an adult, I climb into bed and pull the covers over my head so I don’t have to see or think about this particular snow.

Drifting off to sleep, I imagine an alien wolf stalking down the side of a mountain.  I can hear her belief that this place is hers. I hear her hunger.

I reach out from under the covers to grab my notebook, followed by a flashlight.

#

Not everyone can write things that they’re afraid of, but maybe you are that person who can and who grows from doing it, or at least trying.  Then again, maybe you write horror, you do this every day and you’re having a chuckle at my expense right now.

If you can face your fears with words, that’s a great source of story ideas, not just of plots you formulate deliberately, but of things which may or may not literally creep up on you at night.

You should never worry about telling your readers what you’re afraid of. They’re afraid of things too, just maybe different things than you.  For instance, most of your readers will never have dreaded their inbox pinging upon the arrival of a response from your dream market. This does not, however, mean that you can’t share your terror with them.

#

It’s raining.  I am sitting at my desk listening to a cassette tape of darkwave music a friend gave me.  It’s a lot different than the kind of music I prefer, but I live in a small town with a DJ who plays unusual 80’s music after midnight and I think I could get to enjoy this.  I have only been writing for a few years, but I know that I could turn out an amazing story to the one song. Now, if only I could find the words.

They aren’t there, so I wait.

Twenty years pass.

I sell my first short story.

I  find out that one of my favorite semipro venues is taking submissions for the next month.  

I sit down at my computer.  It’s raining again. I play the song.  I remember thinking I could never be published.  

But, a few weeks later I cross off my first dream venue. I’m not sure many people know I was trying to write a story that felt like listening to wailing synths.  Or that I like darkwave.

#

A lot more stories are inspired by music than people let on.  Saying you got an idea from a song is really not that unusual, though it has an ignominy to it which frankly, given our music-infused culture, seems a bit odd.

So what if we wrote bad song fic in high school? If we crank Phil Collins tracks on repeat when we think no one else is listening? Our shame when it comes to the connections between songs, between other forms of art, and our writing, is getting a bit silly at this point. The first InCryptid book by Seanan McGuire has a suggested list of dance tracks in the back, so said shame seems to be fading at least.

However, there’s no need to rush into any story.  Sparks can and do die, but sometimes they linger on for hours, weeks, months, years, decades.  It’s very OK to let an idea marinate. In fact, some ideas are much better after they mature.

If you’re concerned about forgetting your sparks, the best thing you can do is carry around some form of paper and pen.  It’s low tech, cheap, and highly effective. Have an idea, write it down. I bet it will look lonesome on the page sooner or later, and soon you’ll have a good, old-fashioned writer notebook.

Then again, if you think you’d find a playlist more inspiring sometime next week, absolutely make a playlist.

#

I am sitting at the coffee table beading.  I have come to a series of monotonous stitches.  I’m not exactly bored, but I’m not exactly engaged.  I can literally do what I’m doing right now and make eye-contact with another person.  I just happen to be alone.

I am filled with the image of a woman in a 50’s day dress holding a bloody hand scythe.  I know how she came to be in her situation, but I also have a need, intense and dreamy, to explain this to other people.  That way, we can appreciate her together.

I am also pretty sure this is not what most people think of when they’re beading.

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There’s a reason a lot of classical authors had dull jobs.  There’s just something about zoning out doing one thing that makes the plotbunnies thrive.  What if part of the reason we have so much amazing science fiction right now is because, once again, so many people get bored at work? Hmm, actually that’s a depressing thought…

However, it’s possible to get the inspiration benefits of a mindless job and create something amazing at the same time.  Moreso than even carrying a notebook, I believe it’s important for writers to engage with the world in a way that isn’t words.  Knitting, painting, singing, dirt biking— whatever sounds like a party to you, strive to make wondrous things with something besides fiction.  By doing so, you’ll keep your brain limber, you may well stumble across a source of endless of birthday presents for your friends and the zen of monotony can be yours whenever you wish.

Besides, even the act of trying new things can be inspiring, so do that thing you’ve been thinking of doing instead of worrying about being stuck on your dream story.

#

It’s the start of another long, hot Arizona summer.  I am annoyed with having to live in a timeline where literary torture porn is considered art and Hulu is getting awards for theirs.  My sibling is on the phone, complaining about the initiative at her hospital to guilt women for declining to breastfeed.

My first thought its I’ll show you (some nebulous, hypothetical you) literary.  Well, what’s literary? Found manuscripts with lacunae are literary! Again, apparently.

I write what was originally the first line.  “You didn’t tell me she was pregnant.” I sit back and I think— that is a proper Naomi Mitchison pipe bomb opening.  This is what actual pro-woman fiction looks like. I then bang on about beading and ships for five-thousand words.

#

Personally, I find anger very inspiring.  But again, you don’t have to be angry about big things, or even the same things other people are angry about.  You don’t even have to be angry at all if that isn’t what inspires you. Every author is different. But if you are angry, even over something trivial, it’s very OK to put the energy of your anger towards your writing.  

My bookmarks are frankly embarrassing in this regard.  I imagine that another person looking at them and not knowing what they were for being utterly appalled by some of them! I know one thing about them though: whatever they are, and however they do it, they inspire me.  They are good for something, even if that’s the only thing in the whole, wide world.

You know, I don’t think that’s a big inspiration thing at the end of the day.  I know what makes my author motors run. I am only myself. I can make suggestions all day every day, but I cannot know what will or won’t tickle the fancy of someone reading this essay and hoping to sell to Uncanny someday.  

Only you can know yourself as a writer when it comes to inspiration.  So, if you’re reading this, here’s a fun exercise— why don’t you imagine sitting me down and telling me the top three things that give you story ideas.  No worries if you need to think about it some. This can be a challenging question. It is one, however, that I absolutely know you have the answer to.

You’ve probably figured out what my three main sources of inspiration are.

-Spite

-Music

-The desire to share surreal scenes with other people

But, that’s me.  Your inspiration, however you get it, is wonderful, precious and probably sometimes kind of a jerk.  It is also, first and foremost, absolutely yours.

Though incidentally, if any of you know what other people think about when they’re beading, please tell me.  I never did get an answer for that.

M. Raoulee is a queer author and artist howling with the grasshopper mice somewhere in Arizona.  She has previously appeared in Broken MetropolisLackington’s and other fine venues which accept spite.  In fact, you can go read three of the five stories above right now if that’s your jam.  Catch her on TwitterInstagram and www.mraoulee.net.  Look out for the one-eyed tortie.