StokerCon 2018 Report by Dan Rabarts

AHWA Member Dan Rabarts of New Zealand gives us a rundown on his trip to Providence, Rhode Island, USA for StokerCon 2018.

I know it’s a bit late, because life, but at last here it is, my report on StokerCon 2018, in Providence, Rhode Island, USA.

Sometime in the middle of 2017, I was nudged and prodded and cajoled by my ever-supportive and ever-hardworking collaborator, Lee Murray, to seriously consider investing in the trek to StokerCon, the annual convention of the Horror Writers Association, to meet and greet with those whom she described as “our tribe”. Specifically other writers of horror, dark fiction and gritty action, predominantly living and working in the USA, for whom the trip might be a question of whether to drive or take a domestic flight. For us, coming from New Zealand, the prospect involves multiple flights, including the 12-hour Pacific leg, time off work to transit, time away from the family, and a raft of other excuses that make it easy to justify deciding against committing to such extravagance. StokerCon had been held in LA in 2017, and Las Vegas the year before that, both a lot closer than this year, when it was held about as far back east as you can get before falling off America altogether: Providence, Rhode Island. Stomping ground of Cthulhu mythos creator H.P. Lovecraft.

I couldn’t afford all these things, I told Lee. The flights, the accommodation, the time off, the airport food. But Dan, she says, you can’t afford not to. There are people who need to meet you. So I did what I often do in these situations, when it seems the problems I face are too big to overcome: I changed my mindset. I decided I was going, and I would make the challenges go away in order to achieve the desired goal. Each challenge simply a part of the project to manage in order to hit the deliverable. Which reminded me that the day job fills far too much of my headspace, which is part of the reason I need to make it to things like StokerCon.

I applied for a travel grant, from a fund administered by the Publishers Association of New Zealand together with New Zealand’s arts funding body, Creative New Zealand, expecting that as a fringe author writing at the dark end of the speculative spectrum it wouldn’t be likely to cut the mustard. But, in a surprise twist, CNZ/PANZ approved the application and provided some funds towards my travel costs, which made life that much easier. Absolutely brilliant to see our professional and creative bodies taking an interest and supporting dark fiction in this country. Huge thanks to both for helping make this trip happen.

Anyway, long story short, planning done, the day arrives when I board a plane for the first of four flights to Providence, RI. After what was a thankfully uneventful 34-hour trip I arrived in Providence, only to find out that the AirBNB accommodation I had arranged for the duration of my stay had cancelled but not bothered to tell me. Panic stations set to Mild. Within an hour I had found an alternative, which turned out to be closer to town and a much better option in the end. So that worked out for the best. Panic stations set back to Standby, I bussed from the airport into the city and arrived at the iconic Biltmore Hotel.

Meeting up with Lee and husband Dave, who had also arrived the previous day, we set out to familiarise ourselves with the surrounds, take some tourist snaps, eat the local food and drink the local beer, buy presents for the kids, and strategise how between us we would try to cover the whole convention. A heady task, given the oodles of panels, workshops, readings, presentations and discussions that would take place over the course of the four days of the convention. We were never going to do it, but we’d give it a damn good shot.

That evening was the first in what would be a series of highlights, namely meeting up with Jennifer Barnes and John Edward Lawson, our publishers at Raw Dog Screaming Press who picked up Hounds of the Underworld and the forthcoming second book in the Path of Ra series, Teeth of the Wolf. Lovely people and great conversations had over dinner. Also met the lovely Linda Addison, poet extraordinaire and recipient of this year’s Lifetime Achievement Award from the HWA.

Later on, we walked through the frosty winter night to the train station to meet Alan Baxter, fellow author of dark fiction who had made his way to join us from Sydney, Australia, bumping the Antipodean numbers up from two to three. Together, we had now tripled the number of Kiwis and Aussies to have attended any StokerCon in the past.

The next day, the con was underway. We slipped in a little more sightseeing while the weather held, including a tour of the Capitol Building and a pilgrimage to the family plot where H.P. Lovecraft is buried, and there we left a penny for Cthulhu on Howard’s grave. Turns out we timed it well because the weather was closing in, a brutal storm was on its way and by the following day the cemetery would be closed due to fallen trees. Back at the Biltmore, people were flooding in, introductions were being made, hands were being shaken and smiles were lighting up in recognition.

Putting so many faces to names, and names to faces, and connecting in the flesh with people who mostly, for me, had been Facebook profiles or whose writing I’d enjoyed. It would be the start of what would largely define StokerCon for me, that clicking together of pieces. “Oh, that’s you!”

Lee and I had a reading that evening, in which we worked through a couple of chapters of Hounds of the Underworld to a small but rapt audience, those who had not packed out the Jack Ketchum Memorial. Tough act to be up against but let me tell you, we did one hell of a top-notch reading.

Grabbed a taxi back to my AirBNB somewhere well after midnight, jetlag working in my favour for the late nights. Driver recognises my accent, wants to know if I’m from Auckland. No, Wellington, and we chat about New Zealand and horror writing on the cold drive home.

Friday, and it was all about panels and presentations, the first of which was a live session of the Call of Cthulhu RPG, in which mysteriously a massive storm assails the Biltmore Hotel in 1936, while outside a massive storm really was assailing the Biltmore Hotel, and in fact all of the north-east United States. We didn’t plan it that way, honestly.

That afternoon, I hosted a panel titled Beyond the Borders – Writing Outside the USA, on which I had the pleasure of moderating none other than British horror legend Ramsey Campbell, down under compatriots Alan Baxter and Lee Murray, and Chris Marrs from Canada. Great to hear the different perspectives on how we as outsiders to the US market break into it. Do we imitate and try to sneak in? Or do we write our own worlds, and write them truthfully and with conviction, and stand out from the crowd? How do we tread that thin line between the familiar and the inaccessible?

I was also a panelist on a discussion about growing one’s readership, and in that I managed to get in mentions of other NZ writers and many of my favourite authors from the podcasting scene, as well as dropping a little promo for Te Kōrero Ahi Kā, the recently-released anthology of NZ speculative fiction which happens to include quite a bit of dark fiction too. Meanwhile, outside the storm was raging, water was spilling in the front door and through the ceiling of the hotel bar, as it cranked itself up to a howl. The restaurant was swamped with guests as no-one wanted to dare venturing out for a meal. There was lots of talk deep into the night as the wind and snow snarled about the rain-slick streets, the beer cold and the conversations fascinating.

After schmoozing about in the post-film festival festivities, it’s once again after midnight and I’m hopping in a taxi for the five-minute drive up the hill. Driver recognises my accent. Says, “Hey, my brother drove you home last night!” Loves the All Blacks, he tells me. Loves that thing they do before a game, what’s it called? So here I find myself, in a taxi in Providence, Rhode Island in the middle of the night, doing a haka for the driver as best I can while sitting in the back seat. Things I never thought I’d be doing, but there you have it.

The next day was Saturday, and it started early with a meeting with Jennifer from Raw Dog, at which we pitched and got the go-ahead on the third book in the Path of Ra series. Other opportunities were also discussed over coffee and breakfast, but of those I shall speak nothing further. Very secret squirrel. And we’re into more panels, more networking, more soaking up all the positive energy and good information. Another highlight was meeting Angel Leigh McCoy, who was the first editor to ever accept a story of mine for publication, and to be able to thank her for being a critical gear in the machine that set me down this path. I sat on another panel, about Crossing Genres, and managed to sneak in more mentions of NZ and Aussie authors I really like, and before I even knew it the day had turned to night and dinner was being eaten at the bar and the time had come for the Bram Stoker Awards.

Jeff Strand was the star of the hour, em-ceeing his tenth and final Bram Stoker Awards ceremony, and it was great to see the community turning out to celebrate and support the achievements of others. This was followed by the photos (I managed to get myself in a few helping carry Greg Chapman’s award for services out of the banquet hall, on account of coming from vaguely that part of the world), and then the drinking and the milling and the talking and the… Well, you know how that bit goes. Late in the night, yet again, stories being told, quiet deals being made. This is the part of the con when the real work gets done, after hours and over the rims of beer bottles and whiskey glasses. Another night when my taxi ride up the hill was somewhere well after midnight.

Sunday, things moved a bit slower, as the con starts to wind up. The goodbyes, the final handshakes, the acquisition of books as people try to lighten their homeward luggage, the late leavers who hang out and cruise the local bookstores and have a last dinner together. The rush to scribble down notes and remember everything that’s happened, plan all the things that must be done going forward.

And then the homeward leg. Airports. Eating a Johnny Rocket burger while chatting with UK writer Danny Rhodes in Providence Airport. Philadelphia, LA, and the black glass of the Pacific cast in shadow beneath the wings. Home.

Then, somehow, I lost about four months, between writing these notes and getting around to putting them up here for everyone to read. To be honest, I’ve had a lot to get done, mostly off the back of StokerCon. Two book deals signed, and consequently deadlines to hit. Things to plan, things to complete, things to deliver. Life and work and family filling all the spaces in between the writing. Decisions to be made, including: StokerCon, Grand Rapids, Michigan, May 2019. Will I make it? Will I be there? Will you?

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Aaron Dries – House of Sighs

Aaron Dries may well be Australia’s most dapper man of horror. An artist and writer, his oh-so Australian novels, A Place For Sinners, The Fallen Boys, and House of Sighs, made his name in the US indie horror scene. Now he’s bringing the love back home. We caught up with Aaron to get the skinny on his latest release and why it’s his most personal yet…

Your novel HOUSE OF SIGHS has just been re-released by Crystal Lake Publishing. Can you tell us a bit about the story (without spoilers, of course)?

House of Sighs kicks off when a local Hunter Valley bus driver named Liz Frost, pulls a gun from her mouth and decides to live with her loneliness for one more day. She dresses, combs her hair, and goes to work on mind-numb autopilot. Nine souls board her route, nine souls that Liz then drags back to her home against their will. She wants to build a new family for herself from these passengers, men and women who are willing to kill to avoid becoming her kin. The bus leaves a trail of carnage in its wake as it rockets towards a house that has held its secrets for far too long, a place where crows now gather, ready to feed on whatever’s left behind.

The book was originally published in 2012, and returns in a brand new edition that also includes a never before published sequel, a novella titled The Sound of His Bones Breaking.

The sequel tells the story of Aiden and Danny. They’re downing beers in an open bar overlooking a busy Lismore road, their legs brushing together, which is about as far as they let their public displays of affection go in that part of Australia. The warm breeze and pounding music—they don’t know it then, but it’s their last truly happy memory. Everything changes when a taxi pulls up and its drunken driver stumbles out, starting a street brawl that leaves Danny broken and bleeding on the ground. In an attempt to give his lover the space he needs to heal, Aiden accepts an employment opportunity in Thailand, and the two men set off overseas, their fates sealed air-tight within the confines of the airplane. But in the claustrophobic hush of their tiny Bangkok apartment, and while Aiden goes off to work, instead of mending, Danny’s old scars begin to sing. The lonely walks… The woman cooking bones in a vat of broth, whispering at him to eat the parts that hurt… The flies nobody but Danny can hear… And his maddening desire to trace his heritage of hurt back to ground zero, and there find someone to blame.

Is there some interesting backstory to the idea for Sighs?

While going to university in Newcastle, I worked as a pizza boy in the Hunter Valley, which is where House of Sighs is set. I had this one family on my route that I used to deliver to on a weekly basis – a mother and her two, cute-as-a-button kids. They always ordered the same thing: vegetarian pizzas. Like, this was a treat, but mum was keeping things health conscious(ish), you know? Or at least, that’s what I always thought. I used to see them all the time. They knew me by name. But the orders stopped coming out of the blue, and I saw on the news that they all were dead. Mum murdered the kids and then suicided. This shocked me deeply. My interactions with them were purely superficial, but it illustrated to me how little we know about what goes on behind closed doors. The questions in my head (what made her do it? etc) led to a short film called Placebo that I wrote and directed as my major work in my final year of uni. That film won a number of awards and opened a lot of doors for me. But still, the insidious questions wouldn’t let me be. That search evolved into the novel, House of Sighs, which I entered into the International Fresh Blood Contest run by Leisure Books/ChiZine Publications/and Rue Morgue Magazine – a Survivor-type elimination competition in which the winner was awarded a publishing contract. Of the many, many people who subbed manuscripts, Don D’Auria at Leisure picked me out of the slush and dropped me in the top ten. Seven months later, after public voting and some pretty damn amazing critique from my peers, I actually won. The book was published in limited hardcover by ChiZine and the paperback rights eventually landed in Don’s new line at Samhain Horror. The book was out of print for a while, but it’s back now thanks to the great folks at Crystal Lake Publishing.

Incidentally, I went home recently in the Hunter to visit my family and to swing by the graves of my grandparents. Remember the woman who murdered her kids and then killed herself? Well, it turns out she’s buried right next to my grandfather. I didn’t know what to make of this. I still don’t. But it weirdly chills me to the bone.

What are you working on at the moment?

I’ve always got something on the cooker. I’ve been working on a big supernatural book for a few years now called Lady Guillotine. I’ve got some short stories in various stages of completion, some of which already have homes and others I’ll shop around. Mark Allan Gunnells and I have long-term ambitions to collaborate again (our first work was called Where the Dead Go to Die, and the reception was pretty damn amazing, so we’re keen to give things another go), and who knows, that might happen later this year. And finally, I’ve started work on a story set right here in Canberra, the city I now call home; it’s a thriller that’s exponentially growing into a novella. So, we’ll see. It ain’t done ’til it’s done.

Outside of that, I’ve been working on a couple of screenplays with a few great writers – but I can’t say any more than that right now. And as a commissioned artist, I’m forever busy washing paint from my hair. That keeps me out of mischief when I’m not writing in my lunchbreak at the day-job.

What sparked the idea for a continuation of House of Sighs?

As for how Bones and Sighs are tied – aha! I cannot say, for fear of spoilers. Let’s see what people make of the connection (also, keep an eye out keen reader, as Bones ties together all of my Australian set novels and novellas thus far in subtle little ways). I’ve been sitting on an idea for a sequel for years, really since Sighs was published, but I just couldn’t connect the dots. That was until about two Christmases ago. I was having catch-up beers with a mate in Ballina up the coast. We watched this drunk taxi driver pull up at the curb and almost start a street-brawl. As soon as it happened, these disparate notions that had been floating around in my head came together. It was an almost audible click – it felt bloody great.

This story means a lot to me because I guess I’m laying down my armour a bit. Sure, there’s a lot of me in everything I write, but there’s a bit more in this one – my first fully LGBTIQ themed piece. And I’m not talking a subsidiary theme this time, as was the case in Sighs, or an exploration of that theme via metaphor, which Mark and I did in Where the Dead Go to Die. This is a love story about two gay men. There’s been a big push of late to bring the diversity that enriches our lives into our fiction, and thus elevate the genre in the process. I guess I’ve been inspired to be brave enough to do so by others. The people in the book aren’t me – I want to make that clear. But it cuts close to the bone, even if those bones are slowly breaking.

You’ve spent much of your career writing Australian stories for American markets. Can you tell us a bit about that?

That’s true. Nearly all of my stuff has been published abroad, yet I’ve written almost exclusively about Australian places and characters. Initially, I thought this would hold me back, that the regionality would hold me back from getting published. Wrong. From my very first review for Sighs way back when, people commented on how fascinating and sometimes frightening a place Australia is for international readers. A ‘sense of place’ is vital to successful horror fiction – so why not keep it ‘exotic’, even if that exoticism, to us, looks a bit like our own backyards – with or without the kangaroos, snakes, and spiders.

The horror genre has always embraced location and regional settings, when it’s done well. For me, setting and sense of time is just as important as the world-building you’ll find in fantasy or sci-fi. Us horror fans have always lapped that stuff up. It’s the TEXAS Chain Saw Massacre, after all. And What We Do in the Shadows works so well because of how candidly it opens its Kiwi veins for us to drink. Under the Shadow, one of the finest horror films of the last ten years, works so damn well because of its utterly genuine setting in 1980s Tehran. Picnic at Hanging Rock, both the film and the novel, linger in your mind because of the eerie, hungry worlds in which they exist. Hell, Stephen King made a name for himself (among other reasons) for keeping the majority of his work in Maine, a place he both knows and loves. They say ‘write what you know’. I ascribe to that philosophy, too. If you write real, all worlds—no matter how small or big they may be—will feel real.

Whenever I meet readers, many of whom are from overseas, the first thing they say to me is how much they want to go to Australia after reading my books. Even though they’re scared to. I guess this is me doing my part for the tourism industry, right? Only, I’m doing it my way.

Apologies to Baz Luhrmann.

And finally, tell us something about you that no one else knows…

Hmm. I’m terribly prone to what my mother calls ‘The Boy Look’. Something could be right in front of me, be it a stapler, my phone charger, the block of butter in the refrigerator … and still, damn it, I just won’t see it. It’s as though for me to actually find something, it’s got to lurk in the corner of my peripheral vision. Like I’ve got invisible gremlins doing a number on me, or something.

But in all seriousness, how about I tell you a real secret? Something juicy. The worst thing..

(Inner monologue: Are you sure you want to do that, Aaron?).

Okay. Maybe I won’t. Because if you knew about that, I’d probably have to kill you.

If you want to learn more about Aaron and his shady past, check out www.aarondries.com. And while you’re at it, grab yourself a copy of House of Sighs/The Sound of His Bones Breaking and The Fallen Boys.

Australian Shadows Awards 2017 – President’s speech

It’s become a bit of a bad habit for me to not attend awards ceremonies, so again I can only apologise for not being here at the Shadows Awards tonight.

To the nominees who couldn’t attend either, I know how you feel in that respect, but you should all feel proud to be finalists in the Australian Shadows Awards for 2017.

To those who have come along to our first-ever Shadows Awards ceremony, I say thank you. We’ve put this event together not only to recognise the best of Australasia’s horror talent, but also highlight just how amazing the horror community is.

These awards were judged by fellow members who volunteered their time to read dozens and dozens of stories in a fairly short space of time. This is only one of the examples of just how dedicated our members are to the success of the genre. Thank you to the judges.

I’d also like to thank the organisers of the Continuum Convention for allowing us to host our little event on their turf. We truly appreciate the gesture.

To the AHWA Committee, particularly Secretary and Shadows Co-ordinator Joseph Ashley-Smith (the chap reading this) and General Member Silvia Brown thank you for all your hard work behind the scenes to make this ceremony happen.

Best of luck to all the finalists!

Greg Chapman
President, AHWA

Kaaron Warren, Best Novel 2016

It’s hard to keep count of all the awards and Year’s Best spots Kaaron Warren has raked in for her unique and haunting brand of dark fiction. Writer, mentor, collector of unusual objects, if Kaaron’s not putting words on the page she’s sifting through the gewgaws in a second-hand bric-a-brac shop, inspired by the ghosts that lurk in old things. Last year, in gratitude for her years of support for Australasian horror and horror writers, she was awarded lifetime membership to the AHWA. This year, she’s off to Baltimore, as Guest of Honour at World Fantasy Con 2018! 

We checked in with Kaaron to learn a bit about her 2016 Shadows win…

Your book, The Grief Hole, won Best Novel in last year’s Shadows Awards (along with a whole bunch of other national awards). Congratulations!

Can you tell us a bit about the story (without spoilers, of course)?

Thanks!

The Grief Hole is about Theresa, who sees ghosts. She knows how you’re going to die by the ghosts who haunt you. So if you’ll die by drowning, you’ll have drowned ghosts surrounding you. The closer you are to death, the closer the ghosts are. She works as a social worker, helping to place women in safe homes. Sometimes this isn’t enough, though. When the ghosts fly so thick she can barely see, she has to intervene, take a further step.

After being beaten close to death by a client’s husband, she takes a break, goes to work in her uncle’s stamp business. There, though, she discovers that her young cousin Amber committed suicide, and Theresa realises she is the only one who can figure out why, and stop others from doing the same.

Is there some interesting backstory to the idea?

I gathered a lot of the imagery while on a trip to Montreal some years ago. The idea itself, that you are haunted by ghosts who died in the same way you’ll die, came to me as I started writing and thinking about what a grief hole might be.

An element of it all was the so-called ‘My Way Killings’, where people are shot while singing My Way. I was fascinated by the idea that a song can inspire this level of violence. And of course there’s ‘Gloomy Sunday’, which apparently has caused many suicides.

At the time I started writing, I had in my notes ‘suicide forest’, but by the time I got around to putting words onto paper, everyone was writing stories set there. In a way this was good; it meant I had to dig harder for my bad place. I thought I invented the idea of a luxury apartment block nobody wants to move in to but realised there are many, many of these places. Grand ideas in the wrong place that just don’t work

You’ve already collected enough Shadows Awards to fill a shallow grave. Can you tell us about the first you won?

The first one was for Slights, my novel about a woman who becomes addicted to knowing what’s in the afterlife. She sees everyone she’s ever slighted there, waiting to take a piece of her. She also starts figuring out what other people see, which requires a certain amount of ….death, to quote Blackadder.

I LOVE my nekkid lady statue. She is utterly fabulous and I’m so proud of her.

What are you working on at the moment?

I’m finishing a novel with the working title The Understorey. This is the one inspired by my research at Old Parliament House about art, government and serial killers. A group of violent men break out of jail together (based on a true story) and invade the home of a remarkable old woman. A lot of it is about building her as a character, so that the reader knows her strength but the men don’t.

She lives in a massive house in the country with so many rooms she loses track, each of them with amusing names like The Mint, The Strangers Room, The Understorey. She runs ghost tours there but doesn’t believe in ghosts herself. Until….

You’ve run some unusual writing workshops in the last year or so, getting people out of their habitual mindset using found objects, old photographs, even other people’s clothes. Can you tell us a bit about this? How does this align with your own process?

That’s a really good description. I like to do workshops where I help people to tap into the subconscious, because one of things that’s really important is an individual voice. There’s something really satisfying about figuring out what your story is at a deeper level, and some of these props can help with that. This works really well with the clothing one on particular. You make it sound very disturbing. “Other people’s clothes”! We’re not taking the clothes off people’s backs or stealing them off the clothesline. We go to a huge second hand clothing shop where I get people to find clothing that their character might wear and dress up in them. It’s amazing what comes out of this. Wearing shoes you can’t walk in, or a top that’s too tight, or a dress you can’t zip up without help; all of those gives us an insight into the character we’re writing about.

This aligns with my process well. I try to look between the lines in the creation of story and character, to create a more solid, believable world.

What do you see as the value of the AHWA?

Community is number one. Gathering together online or in person, at times, to talk writing, horror, stories, plans, the future, is one of the most important things that keep you at it. We share opportunities and support each other, we make friendships, we make connections. We get ideas off each other.

Do yourself a favour and check out kaaronwarren.wordpress.com or get involved with a copy of The Grief Hole, or Kaaron’s latest, Tide of Stone.

Australian Shadows Awards 2017 shortlists

It is with great pleasure – and with thanks to the judges in all categories – that we announce the shortlists for the Australian Shadows Awards 2017.

Selected from 183 works submitted across 7 categories, these shortlists represent the very best in the field of horror and dark fiction (and non-fiction) by an Australasian author in 2017. Winners will be announced on Saturday 9 June, at the first live Australian Shadows Awards ceremony, kindly hosted by Continuum XIV: Conjugation.

And the shortlistees are…

The Rocky Wood Award for Non-Fiction and Criticism

  • 101 Weird Writers #46 – Ryūnosuke Akutagawa, Kat Clay. (Weird Fiction Review)
  • Literary Serial Killer Fiction: The Evolution of a Genre, William Cook. (Victoria University, Wellington NZ)
  • The Body Horror Book, Claire Fitzpatrick. (Oscillate Wildly Press)
  • It Follows is the Millennial STD Parable of Our Time, Maria Lewis. (SBS)
  • A Shared Ambition: Horror Writers in Horror Fiction, Kyla Lee Ward. (AHWA, Midnight Echo #12)

Best Written Work in a Comic/Graphic Novel

No Award.

Best Edited Work

  • Midnight Echo #12, Shane Jiraiya Cummings & Anthony P Ferguson. (AHWA)
  • Below the Stairs – Tales from the Cellar, Steven Dillon. (Things in the Well)
  • Cthulhu Deep Down Under Volume 1, Steve Proposch, Christopher Sequeira & Bryce Stevens. (IFWG Publishing)

Best Collected Work

  • Singing My Sister Down and Other Stories, Margo Lanagan. (Allen & Unwin)
  • Perfect Little Stitches and Other Stories, Deborah Sheldon. (IFWG Publishing)

Short Fiction

  • Outside a Drifter, Lisa L. Hannett. (Looming Low Vol.1, Dim Shores Press)
  • The Hand Walker, Rue Karney. (Pacific Monsters, Fox Spirit Press)
  • The Circle Line, Martin Livings. (Between the Tracks, Things in the Well)
  • The Banksia Boys, Matthew J Morrison. (Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine #66)
  • The Little Mermaid, in Passing, Angela Slatter. (The Review of Australian Fiction, April 2017)
  • The Big Reveal, David Stevens. (Kaleidotrope)

The Paul Haines Award for Long Fiction

  • Ismail’s Expulsion, Brian Craddock. (Between the Tracks, Things in the Well)
  • Hope and Walker, Andrew Cull. (Vermillion2One)
  • This Impossible Gift, Matthew R Davis. (Midnight Echo #12, AHWA)
  • No Good Deed, Angela Slatter. (New Fears, Titan Books)
  • Furtherest, Kaaron Warren. (Dark Screams Vol.7, Cemetery Dance)
  • Eden in the End, Ashlee Scheuerman. (Perpetual Motion Machine Publishing)

Best Novel

  • Aletheia, J.S. Breukelaar. (Crystal Lake Publishing)
  • Slithers, W.W. Mortensen. (Self Published)
  • Soon, Lois Murphy. (Transit Lounge)
  • Corpselight (Verity Fassbinder Book 2), Angela Slatter. (Jo Fletcher Books)
  • Providence Place, Matthew Tait. (Dark Crib Publications)

Alan Baxter, Best Collected Work 2016

Alan Baxter is a multi award-winning author of supernatural thrillers and urban horror, and an international master of kung fu. He runs the Illawarra Kung Fu Academy and writes stories full of magic, monsters and, quite often, martial arts. He rides a motorcycle and loves his dogs. We caught up with Alan to get the lowdown on his 2016 Australian Shadows Awards win and to learn what makes a great short story collection

Your collection, Crow Shine, won Best Collected Work in last year’s Shadows Awards. Congratulations!

Can you tell us a bit about how the collection came together?

It’s a long and convoluted process to get a collection, but it all starts with writing enough quality work. Eventually I made it known I was keen to have a collection, and thought I was ready, so started courting publishers. Then Ticonderoga, through my agent, made an offer and Crow Shine was born!

You’ve been publishing short stories for thirteen years now and have an enviably vast back catalogue to choose from. What made you hold off until now to pull a collection together? And what was it about these particular stories?

I think a lot of people go for a collection too early in their career. It takes a long time to develop a voice and have enough quality and variety in your work to make a collection that’s both cohesive and interesting all the way through. Too many people jump too soon, I think, instead of being patient. Writing is a long game, not a short con, as the saying goes. When I had more than 60 published stories, I felt I was ready.

Why those stories? It was a process decided with the publisher. First of all, the majority of my stuff is contemporary horror and dark fantasy, so that was the theme to stick with. That meant any science-fiction and ‘high’ fantasy yarns were immediately out. Then I looked at what I thought was the best of the horror and dark fantasy – the stuff that had won or been nominated for awards, that had been reprinted in a Year’s Best, or that I had a particular soft spot for. Then I needed some original stories, as I think a collection should always offer something new to readers. Then the publisher and I whittled it away to the strongest collection we could make, with 16 previously published stories, and three new ones.

This isn’t your first Australian Shadows Award. Can you tell us about your 2015 win of the Paul Haines Award for Long Fiction?

This is actually my third, which is hard to believe! In 2014 I won the award for Best Short Story for Shadows of the Lonely Dead, then in 2015 I won The Paul Haines Award for In Vaulted Halls Entombed. It was a particular thrill to win the Long Fiction Award, as Paul was a good friend of mine and I miss him so much. An incredible guy and a fantastic talent, dead well before his time. To win an award named after him for my own fiction is bittersweet, but so precious to me. I’m glad he’s being honoured this way by the Shadows Awards.

What are you working on at the moment?

I’ve got a few irons in the fire at the moment. There are three short stories on the boil, as I’ve been commissioned by a few places to write something for them, which is always an honour. So those are in various stages of completion. I’ve got a novella called Manifest Recall and a novel called Devouring Dark coming out this year from Grey Matter Press, so I’m working on edits for those, seeing the publisher’s cover designs and so on, which is very exciting! And in the meantime, I’m working with David Wood on our second Sam Aston book, the sequel to last year’s Primordial. So I’m keeping pretty busy! Oh, and another standalone horror novel is out with beta readers right now, so that’ll come back soon and need polishing up before it goes to my agent.

Many writers fantasise about the day they can pack in their day job and write full time, but very few have the alternate job title, ‘international master of kung fu’. How do you balance your writing life with running a successful kung fu academy? And how much do your work and your art influence each other?

The two are inextricably intertwined. The academy has classes at fixed times, so those hours can’t be changed. The rest of the time my wife and I take care of our son and work on our art – she’s a painter, I’m a writer, and those things fit around the other commitments. My wife is my assistant instructor and a master in her own right, so it’s a family affair! We’re very lucky to be in the position we are, doing these things we love, but we’ve worked our arses off to be here. And of course, we’d both like to see a little more success – sell more books and paintings – to take the pressure off a bit, but we wouldn’t change a thing.

What do you see as the value of the AHWA?

The AHWA is a hub for dark fiction in ANZ. It reminds you that you’re not alone at your desk, making up dark weird shit. It’s a place to learn, to be part of a community, to seek feedback and to offer help. Wherever you are in your career, there’s value in it.

You can find out more about Alan at www.alanbaxteronline.com, or pick up a copy of Crow Shine and other recent publications, Hidden City and The Book Club.

The Case for Conventions – StokerCon 2018

For the past three years, I’ve attended the HWA’s annual horror convention in the United States: in Las Vegas, in Long Beach, California, and more recently, at Lovecraft’s Providence, Rhode Island. A meeting place for all manner of horror creatives, from writers, artists, filmmakers, gamers, and podcasters, the StokerCon convention is also home to the prestigious Bram Stoker Awards™ for achievement in horror. But it isn’t cheap to attend, several thousand dollars for a trip stateside, for a long weekend conference which passes in the blink of an eye. So, why would you even bother? What could induce a newbie or mid-lister to take the plunge? I’ve put together a little list…

Programming

First off, the programming is simply mind-blowing. At a convention like StokerCon, all your annual professional development can be achieved in a one-stop action-packed weekend. At this year’s StokerCon there were four attendance streams: Librarians’ Day, Horror University, the Ann Radcliff academic conference, as well as the general stream of panel sessions and speakers.

  • The Librarians’ Day is exactly as it sounds, offering a day of sessions for teachers and librarians about the value of horror, new voices to tempt library readerships, and how to include authors in library programming.
  • The Horror University is a series of paid masterclasses by acknowledged experts in the field. This year classes included a mixture of industry and craft sessions including topics like Unleashing Your Female Characters’ Dark Sides, Goal setting for Your Writing Career, and Making the Reader Squirm. There was even a daily walking historical tour of Lovecraft’s Providence on offer. This year I attended a master class on How to Write Killer Poetry by Bram Stoker Award winner, Stephanie Wytovich, which was less scary than the title sounds. And because the class sizes are small, the instructor can cover a lot of material, allowing time for personal writing as well as an opportunity to ask more specific questions.
  • The Ann Radcliff academic conference is a newer development. Run by the tireless Michele Brittany and Nicholas Diak, it comprises thirty-two fifteen-minute academic presentations on topics such as Myths and Monsters, Gothic Folklore, and 20th Century Horror Literature among others. Attendance is free to members of the convention.
  • Panel programming. The Rhode Island convention offered over eighty hours of panel sessions on every subject imaginable from crowdfunding, legal issues, social media, book design, fight scenes, representation and diversity, the importance of setting, old time radio, horror films of the 70s and 80s, crossing genres, poetry, voice, tense, and narration, writing for the stage, new generation vampires, and ‘pantsing’ versus plotting. There were sessions focussing on the works of Shirley Jackson, Jack Ketchum, HP Lovecraft, Mary Shelley, Bram Stoker, and Ray Bradbury. The problem was not finding a panel of interest to attend, it’s reconciling the fact that you can’t attend them all. And as a special bonus on Friday evening there was the Final Frame Film Competition, essentially a short horror film festival held within the framework of the convention.

By the end of the weekend, my brain was chock-a-block with inspiration, industry trends, and writing techniques. It’s not humanly possible to come away from the convention without renewed enthusiasm.

Pitching

Conferences like these typically offer opportunities to pitch your projects to publishers, editors, and producers all with a keen interest in your weird, dark fiction project. Yes, that’s right, you can speak to a real human about your baby. At the 2016 event, I pitched a collaborative project, a supernatural crime-noir title called Hounds of the Underworld to Jennifer Barnes of Raw Dog Screaming Press. And she said yes! Released in 2017, the work appeared 2018 Bram Stoker Award longlist. This year, I sat on the other side of the pitching table, hearing pitches for six excellent manuscripts as an acquiring editor for Omnium Gatherum.

Publications

There is always a dealers’ room at StokerCon, or, when the convention was held on the Queen Mary, an entire promenade deck which means it’s possible to pick up books written and signed by your favourite authors, maybe even get them signed. Classic titles or new voices: it’s a bibliophile’s nirvana and dangerously seductive. I recommend assigning a strict book budget before leaving home. And even better, there is an entire reading stream, where at any hour of the day you can stop by and hear authors performing their work. That’s 24 hours of readings and nothing to stop you sitting there all weekend. It’s a fantastic opportunity to discover a new writer, or to hear one of your heroes read in person.

People

Mostly, attending a conference is about the people. As my New Zealand colleague, Jan Goldie once said of convention goers at our own national conference, “Who are these people?” At StokerCon, everyone there is our people. Our tribe. Over the past three years, I’ve been able to meet some literary heroes: people like William F Nolan, Nancy Holder, Jonathan Maberry, RL Stine, and the late Jack Ketchum. Last year’s guest of honour, was a fellow named George RR Martin, who commanded a signing queue which extended the length of the Queen Mary’s promenade deck and out onto the gangplank. At a small writers’ conference, you might even get to have breakfast with someone whose writing you’ve admired for years. Turns out, these giants of the industry are some of the nicest people on the planet. They haven’t forgotten what it’s like to be a beginner still crawling out of the primordial soup. Some of them might even extend a hand and help you up. Of course, even if you never meet anyone who’s graced a bestseller list, networking with other emerging writers who are struggling to make a dent in the industry is just as valuable, because these are folk who get us. They’re the people who understand our self-doubt and disillusionment, who know about poor sales and one-star reviews. They’re the people who applaud even the smallest achievements and encourage us to keep going.

The 2019 StokerCon event, chaired by my colleague Brian Matthews, will be held in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

“Okay, okay,” I hear you say, “but that StokerCon thing is an ocean away. There’s no way I can afford that.” You might! Several funding opportunities exist for Horror Writer Association members (and there are several levels of membership, some of which do not require an extensive professional sales record). The HWA horror scholarships offer funds for professional development (including the cost of one convention) and there are awards which cater specifically to poets, non-fiction writers, and women, including one granted solely for attending StokerCon and the Horror University master classes. Definitely worth investigating. New Zealand writers should consider the Creative NZ/PANZ publishing grants. In 2017, New Zealander Dan Rabarts won a grant to attend the Rhode Island StokerCon event, so the funding body is already aware of the calibre of the convention and the industry opportunities it opens. Fan funds are also worth considering. Information about some of these funds can be found here.

I see you shaking your head. Even if you had the funds, attending a convention in the United States will suck up too much [holiday, work, travel] time. Surely, there’s something closer to home? Something I can attend over a weekend? Yes, there are plenty of local options providing all or some of the opportunities listed above. While few down under conventions are wholly focussed on horror fiction, there are numerous science fiction and fantasy conventions where like-minded dark souls hover in the fringes ‒ although if you are looking simply to improve your writing, then any literary festival can provide you with good writing and publishing content. For a comprehensive up-to-date list of Australian literary festivals and conventions take a look at the calendar on Jason Nahrung’s personal website. For New Zealand conventions, there is typically only one, announced two years in advance at the close of the current convention. The 40th national science fiction and fantasy convention, GeyserCon, will be held on from 1-4 June, 2019, at the Holiday Inn in Rotorua. In 2020, the New Zealand national convention will be held in conjunction with the 78th WorldCon, which looks set to be held in Wellington from 12-16 August, 2020.

So, why not make a plan to attend a convention? Make yourself known to the organising committee, propose a panel idea, get yourself on a reading slot, and spend some time getting to know your tribe.

Lee Murray is a nine-time winner of New Zealand’s prestigious Sir Julius Vogel Award for science fiction, fantasy and horror. Her titles include the bestselling military thriller Into the Mist and supernatural crime-noir Hounds of the Underworld (co-authored with Dan Rabarts). She is proud to have co-edited eight anthologies, one of which, Baby Teeth, won her an Australasian Shadows Award in 2014. She lives with her family in the Land of the Long White Cloud. Read more at leemurray.info

Lee’s Providence StokerCon report is available here.