Chilling Chat Episode #196 Part I – Lee Murray

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Lee Murray is a multi-award-winning author-editor from Aotearoa-New Zealand (Sir Julius Vogel, Australian Shadows), and a two-time Bram Stoker Award®-winner. Her work includes military thrillers, the Taine McKenna Adventures,Lee Murray supernatural crime-noir series The Path of Ra (with Dan Rabarts), and debut collection Grotesque: Monster Stories. She is proud to have edited seventeen volumes of speculative fiction, including international Bram Stoker Award®-winning title Black Cranes: Tales of Unquiet Women co-edited with Geneve Flynn. Her latest work, released May 2021, is non-fiction title, Mark My Words: Read the Submission Guidelines and Other Self-editing Tips co-authored with Angela Yuriko Smith. She is co-founder of Young NZ Writers and of the Wright-Murray Residency for Speculative Fiction Writers, HWA Mentor of the Year for 2019, NZSA Honorary Literary Fellow, and Grimshaw Sargeson Fellow for 2021 for her poetry collection Fox Spirit on a Distant Cloud. 

NTK: How did you become involved with horror and how old were you?

LM:  If horror is what scares us, then I guess I was involved as soon as I could breathe. Although only diagnosed in the past five years, I’ve lived with anxiety (and depression) for most of my life. As a tiny child, I believed that the crunch of the pulse in my ear against my pillow was a wolf prowling under my bed. Yes, I had a rich imagination even back then—and there aren’t even any wolves in New Zealand! Also, anxiety isn’t really acknowledged in Asian cultures, at least it wasn’t back then, so I spent a lot of time worrying about things that made me uneasy. In an anxious mind, scary things escalate. But I guess you’re asking about my involvement with horror writing, which has only really been over the last decade. Taken in by the notion ‘write what you know’, I started my writing career with a light-hearted chick-lit novel, and while I had a lot of fun, and learned a lot about writing, I realised that the plot complications faced by my ambitious but misguided heroine weren’t resonating for me; I wanted to explore deeper issues, topics like otherness, expectation, and oppression, and those themes naturally led me to the dark side. So, not long afterwards, that wolf-under-the-bed experience became “Peter and the Wolf”, a story which appeared in the award-winning anthology Baby Teeth: Bite-sized Tales of Terror. The story went on to inspire a panel discussion, an essay, and is currently being developed as an animated film. It was also where Dan and I started our collaboration.

NTK: What is your favorite horror movie?

LM: Okay, this is where I admit that I don’t watch ‘horror’ movies because I am a wimp. They give me nightmares. Keep me awake. I stayed up late and watched The Trilogy of Terror nearly half a century ago, and it still gives me nightmares. Then there was Friday 13th Part Something, which I saw at the movie theatre with friends at around thirteen, and for weeks afterwards I smashed the wall and screamed in my sleep, so my father put his foot down and said, “No more horror movies for you.” Of course, I still watch some horror because it’s a genre that exists on a spectrum, ranging from unease through to entrails and gore; some movies allow me that horror fix without setting off my rather pathetic threshold for nightmares. The same doesn’t apply to books; I can read extreme horror and it doesn’t seem to have quite the same effect. That doesn’t mean horror literature fails to elicit fear in me—quite the opposite—but my brain seems to compartmentalise those responses, allowing me to distance myself from the imagery as soon as I put the book aside. (I have some horror researcher colleagues, and now I’m thinking I must ask them if this is a known phenomenon…)

NTK: What is your favorite horror television show?

LM: See above. However, I can do the next best thing, and read responses by my learned colleagues to those shows, which gives me great insight into the interpretation, even though I might not have seen the work. For example, I loved reading The Streaming of Hill House: Essays on the Haunting Netflix Adaption edited by Kevin J. Wetmore, perhaps because the essays allowed me to enjoy the programme vicariously, with a measure of distance—book to film to book. Also, those essays were so accessible and scarily entertaining. Recommended.

NTK: What is your favorite horror novel?

LM: Aargh! Such a difficult question because I read so widely in the genre, and there is so much great horror to enjoy. I can see Dan shaking his head, too. How are we supposed to answer this question? We love dark works. You’re asking us to single out just one? How about one for each day of the week? One for different periods of your life? One to reflect a current mood? For summer? For Halloween? For a rainy Sunday afternoon? To encourage a love of dark literature in a new reader? [wails!] How about I tell you about some upcoming works that I have had the privilege to read prior to release, and that everyone should be looking out for over the next few months? For example, there’s Garrett Boatman’s Floaters, coming in September from Crystal Lake Publishing, a historical horror novella which pitches a horde of undead, risen from the Thames River, against the city’s gangs. Pulse-pounding stuff. There’s James Chambers’ science fiction, fantasy, and frankly bizarro short story collection, On the Hierophant Road, coming later this year from Raw Dog Screaming Press. If you like your fiction dark and weird, and superbly crafted definitely grab a copy of Chambers’ incredible collection. Poet Jamal Hodge has The Dark Between the Twilight coming, an exciting collection of speculative poetry exploring abuse and depression; dark themes, but Hodge makes space for hope and restoration. And finally, I’m currently enjoying David Rose’s gritty military horror, Lovecraft’s Iraq. That title, right? I’m about fifty pages in and it’s pretty damn good so far.

NTK: Awesome! Thank you for those recommendations. What inspires your writing?

LM:  Everything. Oh, you need me to narrow it down a bit? In the last year or so, I’ve been focused on short fiction rather than longer works, and I’ve been lucky enough to have had a number of stories commissioned by some fabulous horror editors. In those cases, the editor-publisher typically suggests a theme to write to, and it’s always exciting to come up with something fresh that the other invited authors haven’t considered. I especially like writing at the intersections of culture and have been exploring aspects of my Asian-Kiwi heritage in my work—in poetry, prose, and also non-fiction.

NTK: Speaking as a person of color, how has your experience been in the horror community? What improvements could be made?

LM: In my view, the horror writing community is extremely inclusive, perhaps because horror is already a subversive genre, addressing the things that provoke fear—and, sadly, one of the things people fear most is the ‘other’. Anyone different or out of step. Horror writers get that; after all, we’re the people who write the books that everyone hides under the bed. We’re all weird here, so we’re going to recognise you as one of our own, embrace those differences, and celebrate them. We’re going to hold space for your stories, and not just during WiHM or Pride Month or Mental Health Awareness month. Of course, dialogue is just the first step, but the success of Black Cranes: Tales of Unquiet Women has shown me that the community is not afraid to explore issues like Asian otherness and persecution, even at a time when anti-Asian sentiment is high.

NTK: What inspired Blood of the Sun?

LM: Well, it’s the third book in collaborative supernatural crime-noir series written by Dan and myself, so I guess we can say we were intrigued to see what might happen to our intrepid brother-sister sleuths, Penny and Matiu Yee. The only way to do that was to knuckle down and write it! The book ties together a lot of the story threads introduced in the previous two books, including story arcs for some much-loved characters, and culminates in an epic finale on Auckland’s Mount Maungawhau (also known as Mount Eden). We had great fun writing it once we got underway, but the book had a slow start because not long after we’d penned the first chapters, New Zealand suffered the Christchurch mosque shootings. We’d included a massacre early in the narrative, and it shook us to see something so horrific and so unexpected, at least in a New Zealand context, playing out in real life. It affected us so much that we had to put the book aside. We seriously considered starting over with a completely different narrative, but eventually we decided to push on, and I believe it was the right decision, since the book is arguably our best collaborative work to date.

NTK: What’s it like working as a collaborative team? What is your writing process like?

LM: Writing with Dan has been one of the most frustrating and fulfilling experiences of my life. He’s like my baby brother, vastly annoying yet I can’t help but love him to bits. I think the depth of our friendship is the basis of our success. (Also, because as the Lucy-van-Pelt big sister, I am very bossy and like to get my way!). The Path of Ra series is a dual protagonist narrative with Dan writing smouldering bad boy, Matiu Yee, who walks with one foot beyond the veil, while I write his uptight big sister Penny, who is a science consult to the police. We write chapter-about in a he-said, she-said approach, each of us drawing on our personal backgrounds to inform the characters and the plots, with the bickering yet affectionate tone readers see on the page perfectly summing up our collaborative relationship. (Actually, Dan writes that bad-ass character so well, I have to wonder what he got up to when he was younger…)

NTK: Do your characters have free will? Or do you decide their every move?

LM: It’s a negotiation. Sometimes, I’m in control, guiding them through the prescribed plot events, but occasionally they surprise me. Which is as you would expect, because fully authentic characters have all the foibles and whimsy of real people.

NTK: What is your best piece of advice for the prospective mentor?

LM: You’re not making a mini-me; instead, your job as a mentor is to give your mentee the tools they need to be the best version of a writer they can be, in terms of craft and also professionalism, and offered at the mentee’s own pace. (But mentors know all this. Mostly, I want to say thank you to all the hardworking selfless heroes who step up to give their time, expertise, and encouragement to support our emerging writers. You rock!)

NTK: Congratulations on your Bram Stoker Award wins!! How do you feel about the projects which won the awards? What made you choose to do these projects?

LM: Thank you! I’m still reeling from this kind acknowledgement from my horror colleagues. It hasn’t really sunk in. I’m so proud of both these projects. Grotesque: Monster Stories was the response to an invitation by Steve Dillon of Things in the Well, Australia, who encouraged me to put together a collection. His confidence in my work was the impetus, because I wasn’t convinced I was sufficiently established to have a ‘best of’ album. But I looked at my back catalogue, determined that monsters loomed large, selected a few stories to include, wrote some fresh ones, and we released my debut collection smack in the middle of the pandemic. I think that timing had a lot to do with its success. New Zealand’s response to the pandemic has been held up globally as an example of good practice, so perhaps there was an interest in escaping here through story. I’m certain that was the reason, in part, for the success of Black Cranes: Tales of Unquiet Women. Attacks on Asians were on the rise, and I think readers were looking for stories that explored that otherness, either out of solidarity, or just as a means of informing themselves. And of course, Geneve Flynn and I were absolutely thrilled to be able to assemble such a fantastic lineup of contributors. Our authors simply wrote themselves out of their skins, overwhelming us with the beauty and horror of their work. The Bram Stoker Award has my name on it, but it is their work which resonated with readers. I’m extremely grateful.

NTK: As an editor, what are you looking for in a story? What kind of stories interests you most?

LM: Editors are all looking for the next big thing: something innovative, evocative, ground-breaking. Relevant. Something that lifts the hair on the back of our necks, while at the same time making us shiver at the beauty of it. (But editors are simple creatures too, and at 2 am when we’re reading the 876th submission for an anthology call, any well-crafted story which fits the submission guidelines and isn’t written in Comic Sans is going to make us happy.)

NTK: What does the future hold for you? What works do Horror Addicts have to look forward to?

LM: My most recent book, released just over a week ago, is Mark My Words: Read the Submission Guidelines and Other Self-editing Tips, which I have written with Angela Yuriko Smith, the publisher at Space and Time magazine and this year’s HWA Mentor of the Year. The book was intended to be a hand-out for a Horror University course we presented for the HWA (which is still available online), but being conscientious Asian girls, we got a bit carried away and our ‘little handout’ turned into a book of close to 50,000 words packed with tips and suggestions from our horror editor and publisher colleagues (including Horror Addicts editors). We hope the book will help writers get their work off the slush pile and into the hands of editors. We also hope it will save our hardworking mentors the trouble of repeating things like ‘use a serif font’ or ‘remove all the TABS!’ ad infinitum. And prompted by our work in Black Cranes: Tales of Unquiet Women, Angela Yuriko Smith and I are also working on Unquiet Spirits, a collection of essays exploring Asian monsters, with personal responses from horror writers of the Asian diaspora. Coming up in August, I’ll be taking up my Grimshaw Sargeson Fellowship in Auckland, where I’ll be working on my poetry collection, Fox Spirit on a Distant Cloud, an exploration of the New Zealand Asian women’s diaspora through the lens of the shape-shifting fox spirit. I can’t wait!

Chilling Chat: Episode #193 – Angela Yuriko Smith

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Angela Yuriko Smith is an American poet, publisher and author with over 20 years of experience in newspaper journalism. Her first collection of poetry, In Favor of Pain, was nominated for a 2017 Elgin Award. Her novella, Bitter Suites, is a 2018AYSmith 2019 - Angela Yuriko Smith Bram Stoker Awards® Finalist. In 2019 she won the SFPA’s poetry contest in the dwarf form category and has been nominated for a 2020 Pushcart Prize for poetry. She co-publishes Space and Time magazine, a 54-year-old publication dedicated to fantasy, horror and science fiction.

Angela is a kind and intelligent person. We spoke of poetry, prose, and publishing.

NTK: Welcome to Chilling Chat, Angela! Thank you for joining me today!

AYS: Thank you for having me, Naching! It’s a pleasure to be here.

NTK: How old were you when you first discovered horror?

AYS: Far too young, probably. My first experience with horror was watching the first Friday the 13th at a dive-in theater with my parents. I was sitting in the back seat of an old International Scout and I was positive a knife was going to drive up through the seat and kill me. The end of that, the moment when Jason comes out of the water… probably ended any enjoyment I would ever have for lakes and oceans.

So, I was probably…5?

NTK: Is Friday the 13th your favorite horror movie? If not, what is?

AYS: No, and I’m terrible for watching movies. In horror especially I’m usually disappointed. The two I’ve loved recently though were Midsommar and Parasite…. though Parasite wasn’t too horrible…but I loved it.

NTK: Do you watch horror TV shows? If so, do you have a favorite?

AYS:  I do have a list of horror TV shows I want to watch if I can ever find the time. The Haunting of Hill House is one. I should say, if it counts, my favorite horror is black comedy. Does that count? In that case, I could say Rocky Horror Picture Show (LOVE) What We Do in the Shadows… anything like that I adore.

NTK: (Laughs.) It does count. Do these sorts of shows inspire your writing? What inspires you?

AYS: I always have such a tough time with questions like this. It’s never one thing. It’s more like a story exists already and I get to find it. Somethings in the news will be clues, a word someone says… something I witness. But the story already sits there waiting for me to find it. Then the news item, etc. is the key that unlocks it. Terrible way to try to describe it, I know. I often think of it as being a medium working a Ouija board to communicate with something outside. The keyboard is the Ouija board, the mouse is the planchette and I’m just sitting at the computer listening for the voices to tell me what to say.

… and that’s when someone considers if I need to be committed. I’m harmless, I swear!

NTK: (Laughs.) That is a terrific way to describe it! Reminds me of how Michelangelo described his process of creating art! Who is your favorite horror author?

AYS: Oh, so many. Neil Gaiman is my all-time favorite everything author. Peter Straub, Edgar Allan Poe of course! Ray Bradbury—I just finally read Something Wicked This Way Comes. My favorite horror books though, were those Alfred Hitchcock anthologies of short stories. My favorite story of all of those is by Theodore Sturgeon called “Shadow, Shadow on the Wall” in Alfred Hitchcock’s Monster Museum. These books had such a huge influence on me that when I happened across Hitchcock’s star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame I burst into unexpected tears. I didn’t cry for anyone else, but those stories he shared meant everything to me growing up. That’s probably why I still gravitate toward the short story as a form, and enjoy publishing other people’s short stories. Somewhere, a dark, twisted little child needs these… or just that dark, twisted little child in each of us.

NTK: You, yourself, are a publisher now. How did you become the publisher of Space and Time Magazine?

AYS: By accident. I’ve been self-publishing since I started fiction in 2011 and that has gone well for me, but a few years ago I noticed I was creating a stagnant vacuum for myself. I decided to start submitting to magazines and I started looking for where my friends were publishing. I saw Christina Sng had just published in a magazine called Space and Time, so I went to the website. There, instead of submission guidelines, I found a letter from current publisher Hildy Silverman about how the magazine needed to close after over 50 years of consecutive publishing. It began in 1966 with Gordon Linzner. I probably would have just paged on to look for a different market, but at the end of her letter, she mentioned it would be great if someone else could keep publishing Space and Time. I couldn’t get that out of my head. I had published a local arts news ezine a few years before and had learned layout from my last newspaper job. There was no reason I couldn’t do it. I wasn’t sure I wanted to put in all the work and time a magazine requires so I gave it a lot of thought. I had finally made the move to quit the day job and be a full-time fiction writer and poet. I really just wanted to focus on my own writing. But here was this piece of history needing a home… all these authors, like myself, needing a place to publish. Poets, artists… I felt like if I just walked away it would be a really selfish act on my part. My husband and I had a big discussion about it and agreed to take it on, if only to keep it going until someone better came along. So, I emailed Hildy. About two issues into it I absolutely fell in love and went from “keeping it alive until someone else came along” to “this is my baby and I love it.” Adopted baby, but the love is real. Interesting side note, Hildy and I made it official on my 50th birthday completely by coincidence. We also bought our house on the same day. I’m not sure what gifts could top a house and a magazine after that.

NTK: That’s terrific. Thank you for keeping Space and Time going. What do you look for in stories you publish? What makes a story a Space and Time story?

AYS: Well, not to cop-out, but I do the same thing to find fiction I love as I do to write it. I’m really going to sound addled, but I feel like the current issue already knows what it wants to be, so I get all the stories Gerard (Hourner) has from our first readers. I print them all and as I pick them up. They will just feel right, before reading them. I probably shouldn’t reveal too much of my eccentricities, but I do feel like there is a click before I even read it. Those go into one pile. Then I read everything. Inevitably, the ones that clicked will all work together perfectly. Then my co-publisher and husband (Ryan Aussie Smith) reads them all without me telling him which ones I liked, and he almost always makes exactly the same selections. Then comes the painful part… fitting what we want into the budget. There’s always at least two stories that break my heart because we just don’t have the budget and room for them. As far as what we look for, aside from the mysterious click, anything that breaks the rules will always be my favorite. Experimental, new combinations, unexpected new uses for old tropes, calls to break down the status quo and begin something new… theoretically, I like the idea of anarchy, and while I don’t see it working in reality (unless we evolve) I do love it in literature.

It is almost supernatural though how the perfect stories, art and poetry will all come together with a theme, but completely unrelated to each other until they are in print.

NTK: That is a cool process. So organic! You’ve mentioned your background in journalism. Do you think it has influenced the way you write short stories?

AYS: Yes, absolutely. The very first publisher and editor I ever worked for (Jason Pippin, Community News, Browns Mills, NJ) gave me some of the best writing advice I’ve ever gotten. He asked me what reading level should I be writing for. I think I answered a college reading level. He told me no, I should always write for an 8th-grade reading level. He said the idea isn’t to dumb down, but to be concise and clear. The purpose of publishing anything is to communicate something to the widest possible audience as clearly as possible. I believe Hemingway also said something similar. One of my personal achievements is writing for the same newspaper Hemingway did (Kansas City Star). Other things newspaper writing taught me is to write fast and accurately, grab a reader fast and let the nut graph set up the rest… oh, and never wait on the muse. She is selfish and will let a writer starve to death before she speaks. Honestly, fiction and nonfiction are two sides of the same coin. You have to make nonfiction glow with a creative interpretation, or you get a dry as dust account. But if your fiction doesn’t have some kind of reliable root in what the reader can understand, the story has nothing to grab on to. But ultimately, fiction or nonfiction, the point of it is to communicate. That’s the same.

NTK: Such great advice! Let’s talk about characters. Do your characters have free will? Or do you direct their every move?

AYS: No, all my characters absolutely have free will. They never listen to me. I often argue with them and try to control them, but they will do continue to do what they want. After I learned to accept that things have gone much better. I’m a lazy writer. I sit down, let my mind wander and they do whatever they want. Often, I’m amazed at how they wrap things up. They are much better at creating stories than I am.

NTK:  You write both poetry and prose. Do you feel you have to switch your brain up when writing the two? Or do both come from the same place?

AYS: They both come from the same place, but the difference is like speaking two different dialects. I speak differently when I’m talking to a group, when I’m talking to teenagers, other writers and the cashier in the grocery store. I might say the same thing but in completely different ways for each of them. That’s also how I think of poetry and prose… and I think it even holds true between genres. Because of this, I recycle ideas a lot. One of these is the idea of being dead as being “post-consumer.” It turned up as a line in a poem I wrote, was put in a story later, showed up again as a line in a poem, had an appearance in a non-fiction piece I did and is the theme of the collection of poetry I’m working on now. Expanded of course, but the idea of things we use up (animals, people, friends, products) and the waste that creates (homelessness, abandonment, betrayal, global warming). Same idea, different ways to communicate.

NTK: As a person of Okinawan descent, how has the horror community treated you?

AYS: I would say the horror community has treated me very well. As you have also probably experienced, horror writers are some of the most loving, nonbiased people I know. Of course, we all have bias naturally, but as a whole, I think the horror community keeps an open mind, and heart, more than any other group I could associate with. As far as my place as a writer of mixed Asian heritage, the support was overwhelming. It was Bryan Thao Worra, my first HWA mentor, that asked why none of my work reflected my Asian experience. My answer was that I didn’t feel Asian enough. I don’t belong to either world. He suggested I let that experience of “otherness” show up in my work instead of suppressing it. That first story was “Vanilla Rice” and it was my break-out piece. That was sold to Where the Stars Shine which won Alberta Best Speculative Book of the Year (I think for 2019). It’s been reprinted in Black Cranes, a Bram Stoker finalist this year (crossing fingers!) along with an original story of mine. That story really began Bitter Suites, also a Bram Stoker finalist. I think that just speaks to the credit of the horror community for the amazing inclusiveness they share.

NTK: What does the future hold for you? What work do Horror Addicts have to look forward to?

AYS: I’ve got a few stories and poems coming out in different anthologies. One of which is Shadow Atlas: Dark Landscapes of the Americas. I’m about to release my poetry collection (Krakan Fever) for this year, written with my daughter Kyra Starr. It will be her first poetry book. I have released a paranormal romance called Soft Deadlines to the brand new Kindle Vella program, I’m wrapping up the third and final novella to the Bitter Suites series to be released by the end of the year, writing a book on manuscript submission (Mark My Words) with Lee Murray to be released next month in conjunction with a Horror University class (“Manuscript Magic”) we will be teaching on the same topic, a sequel to The Christmas Spiders (children’s book), working on my next poetry book (Post Consumer) which I am so, so, so excited about and of course, we have three more issues of the magazine for this year. Oh, and we’ve done a collaboration with DreamForge Magazine and Uproar Books for Worlds of Light and Darkness, an anthology of some of our favorites that we’ve published. Then there’s always the fun stuff we get to do with the magazine: Iron Writers Competition, Flash Battles, the Exquisite Corpse, a brand new open mic event on third Fridays and in June we will be announcing all the details for our own awards called The Linzners (for Space and Time founder Gordon Linzner).

NTK: Thank you for chatting with me today, Angela! It’s been a pleasure!

AYS: Absolutely! It’s an honor being here. HorrorAddicts is one of those wonderful, loving and all-inclusive things that are part of what makes our community so great.

Addicts, you can find more information about Angela on her website.

Asian Horror Month: Meet Black Crane – Lee Murray

Meet Black Crane Lee Murray

Posted on November 6, 2020 by Angela Yuriko Smith

Lee Murray is a three-time Bram Stoker Award®-nominee, HWA Mentor of the Year, an Honorary Literary Fellow of the New Zealand Society of Authors, and New Zealand’s most awarded writer of science fiction, fantasy, and horror. Find her website here at LeeMurray.info.

Lee, your stories are populated by such well developed characters I think they must be fragments of real people you know, reassembled. Which of your stories/characters best represents you?

My character Lucy in my Black Cranes story “Phoenix Claws” is actually me, once upon a time, and my husband is Finn, the partner who loves yum cha brunch but not chicken feet, although he isn’t a plumber and I never took accounting. Also, unlike Finn and Lucy, a new couple who are learning to navigate a relationship with the conflicting demands of blended cultures, my ‘white ghost’ husband and I have been married for more than thirty years.

But the family tradition highlighted in the story exists: I was subjected to it and, to my horror, I have unwittingly perpetuated it. My other story in Black Cranes, “Frangipani Wishes,” is based on true events, never explicitly revealed to me, but somehow understood, in a strange form of familial osmosis. It is one of my saddest memories, and I’m still remorseful that I was the wrong generation, a girl with no power and no real understanding, that I did nothing to intervene. Would I, could I, if it were happening now? I don’t know, and I guess that makes me complicit.

I also wrote myself, or parts of me into my Path of Ra series (Raw Dog Screaming Press) which I write collaboratively with my New Zealand colleague Dan Rabarts. In those stories, Hounds of the Underworld, Teeth of the Wolf, and Blood of the Sun, my character (Penny / Pandora Yee) is a Chinese-Māori woman who I believe shares many of my traits: she’s a stickler for rigour, doesn’t like to break the rules, and tends to overthink things. Like me she is still finding her way as an Asian New Zealander. She’s a scientist (as I was), who struggles to be acknowledged in her field. And Penny loves her family fiercely and would do anything for them, despite them occasionally being as annoying as hell.

I love how you have woven parts of yourself into your work. Two adjectives I would use to describe your writing is ‘powerful’ and ‘dark.’ What are some of your favorite themes to explore in your work?

Early on in my writing career, I learned that I wanted my work to address the things that frighten me, and as an anxious piglet sort who tends to overthink things, there is a lot that keeps me awake at night. If I’m lying in the darkness for hours ruminating on them, then why not write about them too? In my stories, for adults and for children, I’ve addressed global issues like the impact of technology, climate change, the importance of conserving our environment and especially our endangered species, and the very real fear that New Zealanders have of a catastrophic volcanic event. More recently though, my work has tended towards personal themes like loss, loneliness, isolation, persecution, erasure, and otherness, and horror, and in particular monsters and monstrosities, have become the lens through which

I explore those themes; they’re a staple of my work.

Tell us a bit about your heritage and your experience of ‘otherness’. Has this influenced what you write?

Recently a colleague asked me this question in an interview, so I’ll tell you what I told him: I was one of the first Chinese-Pakeha (European) children to be born to a bi-racial couple New Zealand. Not the first, but one of the first. In school, the only other Chinese children were my brother and two cousins. We ate weird food and had slanty eyes, so we got called all the usual things. “Ching-Chong Chinaman!” “Chink!” Yellow Peril!” “Wog!” “Hey, do you know Bruce Lee? Come here and I’ll show you.” Hey, you wing the wong number?”

But our cousins were full Chinese. My brother and I were only half. Which was somehow worse. Apparently, the titer of our blood was important and being only half Chinese meant we were lesser: we weren’t proper New Zealanders and nor were we properly Chinese. Our own family rejected us. My brother and I were five and six-years-old and we were other. I remember my Chinese aunt demanding that I choose whose side I was on. If there was a war with China, what side would I pick? Who did I love most: my mother or my father? How could I answer? Even then, I knew it was an unfair question.

As for whether my heritage and my otherness has influenced my writing, let’s just say that it’s beginning to. More and more those Asian ideals that I’ve grappled with all my life are creeping into my work. Perhaps it’s because I’m suddenly aware I’m fifty-five and long past the age most people ‘find themselves’. Surely by now I should have come to terms with my identity. So what if I’m all grown up and still there is no literature that reflects my Chinese-New Zealand experience? If I want to see that happen, then maybe it’s up to me to roll up my sleeves and make it happen. And perhaps that feeling is what prompted Black Cranes. And the fact that Geneve and I both arrived too early to a conference session, like the good conscientious Asian girls we’ve been raised to be.

The two of us got to talking in the lobby while we were waiting. Where were all the Asian horror writers? Where were Asian women’s experiences being highlighted? We could see a gaping hole in existing horror literature, but would our colleagues feel the same way? Was the timing was right, and would anyone would want to read an anthology of Asian horror? We had no idea. The response from our Black Cranes contributors confirmed they had been waiting for the opportunity, or perhaps they’d been waiting for something and couldn’t quite put their finger on it. And nor could Geneve and I have predicted the positive response to these wonderful stories, even though it’s only been a month or so since the book’s release. We couldn’t be prouder of these writers and their stories.

What has your experience been as an Asian writer? As a writer of dark fiction? How has this changed over time, or not?

I’ve been a full-time writer for fourteen years now, and for most of that time I’ve seen myself as a writer first, and then a New Zealand writer of mainly dark speculative fiction, so perhaps that is also the way I’ve been perceived. It’s only very recently that I’ve been brave enough to envisage myself as an Asian writer, perhaps because for so long my I’ve felt I had to hide that part of myself, make myself smaller, as if being born Chinese in New Zealand was something I should be ashamed of. Now I feel like I need to change that, to push back at that erasure, both from external sources, and also due to my own complicity.

What do you think of common depictions of Asian women in dark fiction? What, if anything, would you like to see done differently?

Geneve summed up those depictions when she wrote the back cover blurb to Black Cranes. We’re a slew of tired tropes: the tiger mums, the sly fatales, the submissive, the studious, and the conscientious. But I think you said best, Angela, in our Black Cranes online launch panel, when you said we need to see authentic diverse nuanced representations of Asian women in fiction. That is exactly what we need: characterizations which reveal us as the complex, richly layered shapeshifters we can be. Portrayals which speculate on futures for Asian women which go beyond the tropes and the traditions. Beyond the petals and the perfidy.

Oh, I love your phrase “petals and the perfidy.” Perhaps that will be another anthology—hint hint? How about other readings? Do you have any recommendations for works that have resonated for you as an Asian horror writer?

Everyone who appears in this book, including Alma Katsu and Tori Eldridge. Please check out the work of our Black Cranes contributors. There is a reason they appear in this anthology. As for other writers whose works have resonated for me, at a certain level, I’ve been intrigued and inspired by the works of writers like American Pearl S Buck (The Good Earth, 1931), Xinran (The Good Women of China, 2002), Amy Tan (The Joy Luck Club, 1989), and Jung Chang (Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China, 1991), literary works likely not intended as horror but which read that way for me.

Yet my interest in those texts was tempered; I saw them as pertaining to me, but only in a detached and distant way. I recognized certain notions that had filtered through the generations and settled on me here, but also that the New Zealand context had subverted and changed them in various ways. It would have been wonderful to have explored these ideas in my reading, but when I was growing up, the Asian-New Zealand diaspora was largely ignored in literature—and still is.

Even now, I know of no stories which reflect my experience as a half-caste Chinese-New Zealander other than my own work. Perhaps, it is significant that I first saw myself in John Wyndham’s science fiction novel, The Chrysalids, as someone grossly flawed and banished to the fringes, only in New Zealand, where the only other Asian children I knew were my siblings or my cousins, there were no telepathic allies with whom to share my otherness. Finding this shared experience now with my Black Cranes colleagues has been extremely uplifting, and also a little sad.

Can you tell us briefly about your last project and what you’re working on next?

Thank you for asking. As well as Black Cranes: Tales of Unquiet Women, this year’s projects included my debut short story collection, Grotesque: Monster Stories, which released in July from Things in the Well, Australia, and Blood of the Sun, the final book in the Path of Ra, a supernatural crime-noir trilogy co-authored with Dan Rabarts, which released from Raw Dog Screaming Press on 4 November 2020.

As far as my plans go, I’d like to carve out some time to work on a poetry project, some scripts, and another Taine McKenna novel. I also have ten short story commissions on the go, and since I’m a slow writer, barely able to complete 500 words a day, I think that’s enough to keep me going for a while.

Thank you so much for taking the time to share this with us, Lee. I have a lot of respect for you both as an individual and as an artists. I’m very happy to share you here today, and look forward to chatting again next Tuesday on the next Skeleton Hour! Remember, you can register for the online event on Facebook here.

March Madness: Angela Yuriko Smith

March Madness: Angela Yuriko Smith

Embracing Madness for Creativity’s Sake

Madness is the harangued sister to Creativity.

Creativity is the sweet one. She makes socially palatable works of art where the colors compliment, the words make sense and the tune harmonizes.

Not so with Madness. She doesn’t show up on time to engagements, and when she does appear, often at an awkward moment, she is disheveled. Polite company shies away from her wild eye and disjointed conversation.

Madness is the under appreciated genius. She sees what Creativity can’t—the ghost peering from the beams, the dragon in the clouds. She hears the Tell-Tale Heart.

Creativity steals from her sister. She watches her on the sly and borrows her vision like a dress. She wears it well and receives accolades for her use of accessories, texture and color, but it’s the piece that Madness lent that draws the conversation.

Madness should be the one in the spotlight, but she is too unwound and agitated for polite company. Her colors run together, the words jumble into nonsense and her tune jars the ear with discordance.

Each of us host both sisters within us. We learn quickly in our early years to color inside the lines and let demure Creativity take the lead.  We are praised when we create gently and with care.

Madness makes tantrums. She spills the ink pot and ignores it to write runes on the wall. She rages without knowing why. She is the evil twin of Creativity—unleashed and uncontrollable.

If we want to be solid, successful artists, we must learn to live with both sisters. Sweet Creativity gets us through the performances and exhibitions peacefully. We appropriately nod and smile at the praise we are given… but the spark the audience praises, oblivious to truth, will be the work of Madness.


A Murder

 

The murder settles around me

judging me with rude calls—

a cacophony of dark portent

drapes like a pall

signalling my doom.

 

And I love the murder

with all it’s ominous gesturing

full of dark rustle and scraping caw.

From deep within the sharp and grasping maw

I hear my name called out sharp, rasping and raw

with strong hints toward apocalyptic prophecies

that surround, but somehow, cannot touch me

and I laugh, in the gloom, at all they foresee

because there is no guilt in being guilty.

I was made to love the murder.

 

Sadly, it becomes bored and takes wing

taking the chorus of discontent away.

I’m sad to lose their violent affection.

For all their rude ways, they see me

and call my madness

for what it is.


Angela Yuriko Smith’s work has been published in several print and online publications, including the “Horror Writers Association’s Poetry Showcase” vols. 2-4, “Christmas Lites” vols. 1-6 and the “Where the Stars Rise: Asian Science Fiction and Fantasy” anthology.

She has nearly 20 books of speculative fiction and poetry for adults, YAs and children. Her first collection of poetry, “In Favor of Pain,” was nominated for an 2017 Elgin Award.

Find her online at AngelaYSmith.com.