Dracula down under

Vampires! Lots of them! And they are in Australia. In our past, our present and our future. Thirty-three blood-sucking stories in one huge book — Dead Red Heart.

Lately, I’ve been hearing talk that the vampire has had his day in popular fiction, at least for the time being… That the sparkliness of some recent vampires has dulled the appeal of the blood-sucking genre. And yet they keep showing up. From the recent YA novel Department 19 (reviewed here) and its upcoming sequel, to a new picture book by Margaret Wild and Andrew Yeo, called Vampyre. Despite what some people may say, I don’t think there’s any danger of the fictional vampire fading into obscurity.

I’m particularly enamoured with vampire stories set in Australia. Apart from a simple interest in my homeland, the concept of vampires in ‘a sunburnt country’ is rather fascinating. One of my favourite vampire novels is Narrelle M Harris’s Melbourne-based tale, The Opposite of Life. I’m told that a sequel is on the way, and I’m very much looking forward to it. Then there’s the Sydney-based Solace and Grief by Foz Meadows. The sequel, The Key to Starveldt, comes out in October.

But while I’m waiting for these two sequels, I’m satisfying my bloodlust with Dead Red Heart. Edited by Russell B Farr and published by Australian small press publisher Ticonderoga Publications, it contains stories from writers both established and new. Even I feature in its pages with a little story called “Vitality”, about a vampire and a hill hoist.

Dead Red Heart is large book, and I’ve got a stack of review books to get through, so I’ve been dipping into this anthology rather than working my way from cover to cover in one go. I’ve been picking out a couple of stories between each of the novels I’m reading. I’m not even half the way through but I am enjoying it immensely. Despite the common subject matter, there are such a variety of stories. My favourites so far are Felicity Dowker’s wonderful tale of vampires, tattoos and revenge, “Red Delicious”, and Jeremy Sadler’s take on the Ned Kelly story, “Such is Life”.

“Such is Life” deserves a bit of a special mention in that it is the author’s first professionally published story. So I asked Jeremy to tell us a little about his publishing experience…

It did not feel real until the book was in my hands. I had sent my story, “Such Is Life”, off into the wild with the expectation that I would never hear about it again. Though secretly, deep inside, metaphorical fingers were crossed.

Everything I’ve written up to this point that appeared in the public domain has been self-published. From various fanzines to a partnership in producing Frontier: The Australian Science Fiction Media Magazine, to articles and reviews on the Internet, it has always been my hand that has delivered my words to the world.

This makes it a momentous occasion for me when someone else deems something I have written as worthy of publication. I never anticipated my first “professional” published work would be Australian vampire fiction — but then it seems so appropriate.

The book in my hands finally gave substance to the excitement, and there was a certain joy in re-reading what I had written, as if it was new. It sat among fabulous company from notable authors. How could I not be pleased?

Now it’s a matter of using that excitement to feed more writing and having more items published, and to enjoy even more “now it feels real” moments.

My thanks to Jeremy for sharing his “now it feels real” moment with us. If any other first-time authors would like to share their experiences, leave a comment. And if you’ve got a favourite vampire book you’d like to tell everyone about… yes, you guessed it… leave a comment!

Catch ya later,  George

PS. Follow me on Twitter… or I’ll bite ya!

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Short stories

I love short stories! I love reading them and I love writing them. So I’m going to take a couple of posts to blather on about them.

I adore the way a short story can force a writer to cut through the waffle and get straight to the core of the plot. With a novel you have umpteen thousand words to create your world, set the scene, introduce your characters and slowly unravel your plot. But not so with the short story, because… well… it’s short.  🙂

I’ve read a lot of short stories over the years and there are a few writers who really stand out for me as masters of the form. Neil Gaiman, for instance. Yes, I know, he’s best known for his novels and comics, but it is as a short story writer that I believe he truly excels. “Murder Mysteries”, a story about the angel Raguel, who was “the Vengeance of the Lord”, is one that comes to mind. But my absolute favourite is “Nicholas Was…” — a Christmas story with a difference, that is exactly 100 words long.

“Nicholas Was…
older than sin, and his beard could grow no whiter. He wanted to die.”

If you’re able to locate a copy, I’d highly recommend checking out Gaiman’s collection, Smoke and Mirrors.

The late, great Sir Peter Ustinov is probably best remembered as an actor, but he was also a masterful writer of short stories. Loaded with wit, compassion, interesting characters and an incredible depth of knowledge, his stories are a joy to read. “Add a Dash of Pity” (the title story from his collection Add a Dash of Pity) is my favourite of his stories, and here’s my favourite sentence from it:

“He looked at her as though seeing her for the first time, and kissed her as if they were not yet married.”

Short and ScaryAs a writer, one of the things that I love about short stories is that I’m able to dip in to many subjects and many genres. Just look at my three most recently published short stories.

“Trees”, published in Short and Scary, edited by Karen Tayleur, is a YA horror about two teens in a forest of vengeful trees.

“Feather-light”, published in Belong, edited by Russell B Farr, is a fantasy about a straight guy who falls for a gay angel who has been exiled from exile.

“Future Dreaming”, published in Under the Weather: Stories about climate change, edited by Tony Bradman, is a kids’ story about climate change and how the actions of individuals can influence the future.

A number of years ago, my wife and I went on a holiday to Egypt. While there, we climbed Mt Sinai and visited St Katherine’s monastery, situated at the foot of the mountain. This visit inspired me to write a science fiction story, called “The Last Monk”, which was published in 2002 in issue 30 of Aurealis – Australian Fantasy & Science Fiction. I’m very happy to say that this magazine, now at issue 42, is still going strong. I invited Stuart Mayne, the current editor, to tell us a little about the mag.

Aurealis is Australia’s most successful science fiction and fantasy (SF) magazine. When the first issue appeared in September 1990 something began that had never been produced before in Australia: a professional mass market SF magazine. Before Aurealis there were hundreds of thousands of avid SF readers in Australia, but the amount of Australian SF they were reading was miniscule. Aurealis has changed that, and launched dozens of new writers, who have become established writers. Now, most of the major publishers in Australia have a local SF list. In addition, the Aurealis Awards for Excellence in Australian Speculative Fiction were established in 1995 and have become the premier SF awards, highly prized by producers and publishers alike.

Aurealis began when Stephen Higgins and Dirk Strasser met in a short story writing class. Stephen and Dirk shared an interest in science fiction and fantasy in the face of a teacher and fellow students who, at best, viewed them with a total lack of comprehension. Then, one evening, sitting, around one said, ‘I’ve always wanted to start a science fiction and fantasy magazine’ to which the other replied, ‘Me too.’ That was the moment when Aurealis was born. This year Aurealis celebrates a record breaking twenty years of continuous publication: a remarkable contribution to the Australian literary landscape.

Aurealis focuses on publishing Australian SF. It provides Australian SF writers with a steady, reliable market and continues to play a defining and pivotal role in the promotion and acceptance of Australian science fiction, fantasy and horror. We have kicked off the careers of many bestselling speculative fiction authors, including Michael Pryor, Shaun Tan and our beloved former Art Director, Trudi Canavan.

Thanks for stopping by, Stuart. To find out more about Aurealis, and to see their submission guidelines, check out their website.

And tune in next time for some more short stories.

Catch ya later,  George