Writers, writing

Guest writers series: an interview with Christopher Ruz

Who are you and what have you done with the Real Christopher Ruz?

I’m Ruz, an Aussie author, teacher, and one-time stuntman. The original, more handsome Ruz is buried in the potato patch. Don’t cry for him. He died like a punk.

Harry Potter world: what house are you? And what animal would be your patronus?
Harry Potter houses are an artificial mechanism used to divide students ideologically and turn them against one another so they won’t band together and overthrow their oppressive wizard and witch overlords!

Also, Ravenclaw.

Are you a Think Everything Through Before Acting person or a Great Idea Let’s Try It! Person?
I always dive in without thinking. Who has time to think? Huh. Maybe I’m not a Ravenclaw at all.

What got you into writing?

The Lord of the Rings BBC radioplay adaptation. My Dad used to play it for me on long car rides, and I fell in love with those mysterious worlds and grand battles of good versus evil. Some of my first stories were LOTR fanfiction when I was about six. They weren’t real good.

Why do you write now?
I’ve got too many worlds in my head! There’s something special about being able to share them with the folk around me, a feeling of sharing the greatest adventure of your life. I can’t get that feeling anywhere else. So, I put these worlds and characters and conflicts on paper, and hope everyone else enjoys them as much as me.

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

IT. I borrowed it from the school library when I was absolutely not supposed to, and read it late at night when my parents wouldn’t catch me. It was dark and dangerous like no other book I’d read before, and it sunk its hooks in deep. I reread it every few years, and it’s still special to me.

What are you reading right now?

Erikson’s Malazan Book of the Fallen, Monstress by Marjorie Liu, and The Trespassers by Meg Mundell.

Can you name some formative books for your own writing?
Gene Wolfe’s Book of the New Sun changed the way I saw storytelling. Elements of it seep into literally everything I create.

Stephen King’s IT, of course, seeded everything I write with malevolence. Finally, Piers Anthony’s Xanth series. Looking back on Xanth now, it’s weirdly misogynist and creepy and not something I’d recommend for young teens (or anyone). But for teen-me, Xanth showed me how a world could be ridiculous and compelling at the same time. It taught me to take risks.

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

SO MANY STORIES! They were mostly inspired by the videogames I played at the time, so I wrote a lot of Wolfenstein fanfic. My mother was horrified (and fair enough, too). But I was also already dipping my toes into horror, with a lot of Goosebumps inspired stories of children my age being stalked by werewolves and bog-beasts.

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

Current events plus personal drama plus horrifying imagery generally takes me somewhere fun. For example, my current WIP is about a North Korea-esque hermit state, the gigantic floating corpse of a dead god, and destroying incels. I have more ideas in the bank than I can deal with right now.

Do you believe in a divine muse?
I don’t. My muse is sitting down in front of Scrivener and doing the work. I believe the ideas and the energy comes when you put yourself in a professional mindset.

What does your physical writing space look like?

My office is quiet and cold. My monitor is haloed with post-it notes covered in new ideas, potential plot twists, and character sketches. My desk is a travesty of old teacups and unfiled paperwork.

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?

This could apply to any of my first four novels. I have a particular attachment to Alpha Slip, which was a near future cyberpunk psychological thriller about a psychiatrist diving through (and being trapped in) layers of a POW’s memories in order to extract key information on military crimes. I finished the final draft two days before the trailer for Inception dropped, and I was so disheartened that I never opened the doc again.

Favourites:

Star Wars or Star Trek?

It used to be Trek. Then it became Wars. Now I’m firmly on the fence. Fingers crossed for Picard!

Hogwarts or Narnia?

They’re both nightmares of child endangerment! Can I choose Destin instead?

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

Japan. A nice town somewhere in the south, where the wind is sweet and the evenings are quiet, and I could eat well and write all day and pat random cats.

Favourite song to sing at Karaoke?

Shatner’s cover of Common People.

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

Rammstein’s Auslander. The tiles amplify my naturally weak baritone.

The weirdest hobby you have, other than writing?

I’m an artist in my spare time, mostly focusing on life studies and portraits. I don’t know if that counts as weird, though. I also paint miniatures, even though I don’t play any tabletop games that actually use them. I just like the zen calm that comes with all those tiny details.


My bio:  Teacher, designer, and one-time stuntman (don’t ask), Christopher Ruz is a rabid fan of fantasy, science fiction, body horror and crime thrillers. Born in Hong Kong to well-travelled parents, Ruz was fortunate enough to live in South Africa and Vienna before returning to live and work in Australia. His love of dark fiction began when a worn copy of Pet Semetary caught his eye at a local flea market. He bought it with his pocket money and hid it under his bed so his parents wouldn’t see. He was eight years old, and has been a little odd ever since.

Ruz

Ruz can also do twelve chinups. Neat!

His best known works are The Ragged Blade (Parvus Press, 2019) and his ongoing horror series Rust. Meanwhile, he publishes the Olesia Anderson series of pulpy spy novellas under the pseudonym D.D. Marks. He has sold stories to Andromeda Spaceways and Apollo’s Daughters, has beaten the grueling Immerse or Die challenge twice, and was a finalist in the 2017 Aurealis Awards. When not writing, Ruz teaches art and design at a west-Melbourne high school and works at boardgame conventions across Australia.

Ruz’s website

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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:

Website

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E-mail

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Get a copy of Too Good to Be True? here

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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

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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.

Amazon US  
Amazon UK  
Goodreads
Lee’s website
Lee’s Twitter

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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…

___

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.

Goodreads

Lee’s Website
Twitter


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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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Readers Group: Kiwi Authors Rainbow Reads

Writers, writing

Summer writers series: interview with TJ Berry

This is the first in a 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 TJ?

I had to laugh, because I have actually gotten rid of the real TJ… or at least tucked her away out of sight. I used to work in national politics, so I crafted a pen name to keep my fiction separate from my work. (You never want your coffee shop AUs to besmirch your candidate’s good name. Granted, this was back when appropriate behavior in politics was an actual concern. ahem)

Over time, my political work waned and writing became my day job, so TJ eclipsed my original identity. Even my family has started calling me TJ. Even though… and this is a secret… there is no “J” in my real name. Every once in a while, someone from my old life finds me and is like, “You do what now?!”

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

I am a Pepsi 1893. No one knows I exist, but when they discover me, they’re
delightfully surprised by my nuanced complexity and smoky sweetness.

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

I am so Ravenclaw that even non-Harry Potter fans have rolled their eyes at me and said, “Ugh, you’re so Ravenclaw.” My favorite phrase is, “Let me google that.” I’m currently taking five different classes and learning seven languages. I’m utterly ridiculous, but I will get that A+ if it kills me. I think, in 2019, I’m working on developing my gentler Hufflepuff side a little bit.
My patronus would be a hedgehog. Prickly at first, but cuddly and friendly if you know how to approach the right way.

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

Oh, I’m totally a think everything through before taking action person. I can never stop my brain from going a thousand miles an hour in a dozen different directions.

My only hope is to corral that energy into productive and not destructive channels. I’m also working on saying “yes” to more things. I tried it last year, and ended up in some wonderful situations that I would have declined in the past. Everyone ask me to coffee–I will show up!

What got you into writing?

I started writing when I was about ten. I read Five Go Off in a Caravan by Enid Blyton and was completely in love with the descriptions of four kids camping together alone. They would just randomly approach farmhouses and buy slabs of meat and baskets of eggs. The farmer’s wife made them cakes. It was darling. I immediately wrote Famous Five fanfiction, though back in the eighties, we didn’t call it fanfiction. I think we just called it plagarism. Anyway, I haven’t stopped writing since.

Why do you write now?

Ideas just keep showing up and I’m compelled to write them down. Whether I’m reading a nonfiction book, watching mindless televison, or grocery shopping, I keep discovering stories that tug on the edges of my consciousness. I love writing about people and the complex relationships they have. I also love writing about bizarre occurrances. In science fiction and horror, I get to do both.

What’s the earliest story you can remember reading and loving?
Socks for Supper! It’s a children’s book about an old man and his wife who have only turnips to eat. The wife begins knitting socks and trading them to a neighbor for milk and cheese. She runs out of yarn and begins unraveling her husband’s sweater to get them more cheese. Eventually, she makes a new sweater for the neighbor. It’s too big for him, but he gives her the cheese anyway and hands her back the sweater, which perfectly fits her now-chilly husband. It’s so cute and warm-hearted that I bought it for my own kids to read. And as a big fan of cheese, this book spoke to me
on a visceral level.

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

I inexplicably fell in love with Jane Eyre as a teenager when it was assigned in class. I wanted nothing more than to marry a wealthy man with a mentally ill wife hidden in his attic. Now that I’m an adult, there’s just a heater in my attic and if anyone knows how to change an HVAC filter, please DM me.

What are you reading right now?

I just finished Today Will Be Different, by Maria Semple. I’m taking a class with Maria and not only is she an excellent teacher, her writing is fantastic. Something about that book just resonated with me–despite the fact that the protagonist is intentionally unlikeable. I just sailed through the story and even teared up at the end, which is unusual for me.

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

I just finished the A-Z Guide to Black Oppression by Elexus Jionde. The cover is both shocking and beatiful–a nude black woman lying in a pool of blood and covered with hundred dollar bills. The book goes through aspects of racism and systemic oppression with both historical notes and anecdotal illustrations. It’s a rough and important read. Pay black women for their labor and buy this book.

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

I have a goal of reading 25% of my current book each night. Now it doesn’t always happen, but when I reach that mark, I stop unless the chapter is really intriguing. If I finish a book in less than four sittings, I know it hooked me.

What book would you like everyone to read?

The Sun and Her Flowers by Rupi Kaur was a surprising read for me. I’m not usually into poetry (sorry, poet friends!) but this book just grabbed me. Her poems are visceral and affecting. As a collection, they tell a story about womanhood that many of us understand.

Can you name some formative books for your own writing?

I read a lot of Stephen King as a teenager and I think that’s where my love of clean, stark prose comes from. The elegance of his stories is in the images he evokes, not the elaborateness of the word choices. I also loved Asimov and Hubbard as a kid. Oh and Piers Anthony. In some ways, what I write is in direct conversation with what those guys were doing. I see their flaws and low points and aim to riff off their work in a way that doesn’t have the same pitfalls. I can’t wait until thirty years from now when some kid is saying the same thing about me.

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

I moved cross-country a few years ago, so I had to get rid of most of my books. (I know, but movers charge by the pound!) I mostly read on my Kindle, but I buy physical copies of friends’ books so I can have them signed. I put them on my shelves in the order in which I buy them. Looking back through the spines, it’s a timeline of the signings I’ve been to and the friendships I’ve made.

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

I was such a secondary-world fantasy writer back then! Which is funny, because I don’t go near that genre now. I think because I associate it with my own childish writing. I still have some of those manuscripts tucked away around here. I had whole series’ written. I was quite prolific as a kid, but rarely showed anyone.

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

Inspiration filters through everything I do as I go about my day. I’ll hear a phrase that sticks in my head or see a name that would make an intriguing city name. I have a huge file in which I capture these ideas. Some get made into stories and others wait for the future. I will say that having my file was incredibly helpful when I attended the six-week Clarion West writing workshop. About week five, when inspiration had deserted me and exhaustion had set in, I was able to open my ideas file and find a couple of things to cobble together into a story.

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

I’m at odds with the hardline “write every day” crowd. I tend to write on weekdays, because this is my full time job, but I’m at my best when I’m binge-writing. The longer I write for, the more I get into a state of flow and the work is better. Thirty minutes a day wouldn’t have the same effect. I aim to write 3-4 days a week for at least six hours at a time. You really have to experiment and find the process that helps you produce your best work.

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

I do belive the muse arrives, but only after you’ve put in the work. I tend to be hit with divine inspiration around two hours into a hard writing slog. Some tidbit zings me, the clouds open, and the words pour out as fast as I can get them down. But I have to be doing the work first in order to get that lightning bolt.

What does your physical writing space look like?

I’m lucky enough to have my own office at home. One wall is covered with a huge 10′ x 10′ felt pinboard where I put up story ideas, enamel pins, and memorabilia like convention badges. I have a window that looks out on a very active hummingbird feeder and the entire neighborhood. But that means when a car pulls in, I have to duck so no one sees me. I do not answer my door during work hours.

When I need a change of scenery, I head to a building in Seattle that has a hidden- but-public lobby with tables, private offices, a café, and couches. I grab breakfast, work at a table or office for a while, people-watch out the windows, then settle into the couches to read. It’s like having a free co-working space. No, I’m not telling you where it is.

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 definitely take more of the Stephen King approach. I sit down at a set time and pound out words until quitting time. Sometimes it’s like pulling teeth, sometimes it sails along. This is akin to the Ditch Diggers philosophy of writing (if you haven’t listened to that podcast, you should). Writing is a job like digging ditches. Ditch diggers don’t wait around for inspiration. They do the work.

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 wrote an allegorical story meant to talk about the state of US politics and how it affects the most vulnerable people in society. It wasn’t until I got feedback from a few sensitivity readers that I realized some of the scenes evoked the pain of marginalized people to further the story. I debated whether this was my story to tell and decided to trunk it.

Any advice for anyone looking to start writing?

You only get better by practicing, so just start writing. It’ll be terrible at first, but you’ll eventually understand how to arrange words in the way that sounds right to you. Get in the chair!

Star Wars or Star Trek?
Star Trek!

Hogwarts or Narnia?
Hogwarts. The Turkish Delight is a lie.

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

I’d live on a ship for a year. There’s a cruise liner called The World which never stops sailing. You just get on and off wherever you want. It’s my dream to live there.

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

Okay, if perfect means how I shoud be eating, here’s what I would do: Meal planning is a task I enjoy. It’s the Ravenclaw in me. We have a diabetic in our household, so we tend to avoid sugar, starches, and grains. Most days, I eat an avocado, bell peppers and vegetable dip for breakfast. I’m not hungry for lunch, so I tend to grab nuts or pepperoni as a snack. Dinner is usually some kind of protein with roasted veggies and a salad.
If the question refers to how I would like to eat, it would be hot, fresh Jersey Shore pizza sices as big as your head and cupcakes all day.

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?

There is a local jewelry maker who has a shop called Angelwear Creations and I absolutely love all of her items. In five minutes, I could have one of everything.

Planet necklaces, beehive earrings, spiral galaxy jewelry… I’m flushed just thinking about it.

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

Lots of travel with family, photos of us having fun in new places. Trying new foods, meeting old and new friends. And castles.

Desert island castaway time: you get three albums, three books and a luxury item, what do you choose?

For albums I’ll pick the Pacific Rim Soundtrack, Def Leppard’s Hysteria, Levi Patel’s Affinity. Books I’ll take Jane Eyre, Madame Bovary, and Great Expectations. For a luxury item I’ll take tweezers because nothing will be more annoying than getting a splinter on a desert island without tweezers.

What’s your favourite quote?

It’s just one of those random insiprational memes, but it speaks to me: “Sometimes the fear won’t go away, so you’ll just have to do it afraid.”

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

Iron Man, Magneto, Frozone, Deadpool, Storm, and The Ancient One

Weirdest hobby you have, other than writing?

I take random glassblowing classes all the time. I don’t even want the glass thing you get at the end, I just want to play with the honey-like melted glass. I really want to touch it. But I won’t. Probably.

—-

TJ Berry grew up between Repulse Bay, Hong Kong and the Jersey shore. She has been a political blogger, bakery owner, and spent a disastrous two weeks working in a razor blade factory. She now writes science fiction from Seattle with considerably fewer on-the-job injuries.

She’s the author of Space Unicorn Blues. Her second novel Five Unicorn Flush arrives in May from Angry Robot Books. Find her on Twitter @TJaneBerry.
Space Unicorn Blues
Five Unicorn Flush