Tracie McBride's Blog
May 16, 2015
QuarterReads is an online initiative created by Oregon writer and web developer Ian Rose. As the name suggests, QuarterReads is a site where fans of short fiction can read short stories for a quarter of a dollar each (25 cents to us non-Americans). As you would expect from a web developer, the site is clean, clear, and easy to navigate. The site is still in its infancy, but already it features stories from 250 writers, including prominent writers in the field of short fiction such as Ken Liu and Cat Rambo . It’s a win-win for authors and readers; readers get access to top quality short fiction for small change, and authors get fairly compensated each time their story is read.
I’m always a fan of simple ways to get my work out there, so I have a few short stories listed with QuarterReads (with more to come as non-exclusive rights revert to me). I’m especially honoured to have one of those stories featured as the Free Story of the Week (admittedly, I’ve been a bit slack about blogging about it, as there are now only three days left of that week…).
The story is With “Paper Armour and Wooden Sword”, originally published in the charity anthology Bleed. In this story I confront what is for me the greatest fear of all – the death of one’s child.
Once you’re done at QuarterReads reading some free fiction, take a little time to browse around and see what else might take your fancy.
May 14, 2015
The Private Sector: The Dystopian Everyman
About The Private Sector:
The world of corporate greed runs rampant after the government collapses, leaving police, fire, and social services in the hands of the wealthy. Debtor prisons for the lower and middle classes overflow and quarantine camps have filled to capacity, turning the streets into a personal battleground for terrorists fighting against a world headed toward ruin as resources run dry and civilization becomes ruled by The Private Sector.
* * * * *
In a dystopian world, finding a happy medium between hero and hapless victim can be a delicate balancing act. The protagonists typically are not heroes, and their battles are often internal struggles rather than physical journeys. Their stories aren’t about finding themselves or overcoming great evils; they’re about survival in a future that very easily could be, one we can only hope or pray remains in the realm of fiction.
Most of the characters in The Private Sector are inherently flawed: Dianne is an artist refusing to admit that, in times of limited resources, her profession has become obsolete; John is honest to a fault in his job as a building inspector but selfish and deceitful in his home life; Jenny, Dianne’s sister, is a drug addict who’s willing to lie, cheat, and steal to get her next fix; Dianne’s parents are apathetic, stingy members of the 1% who blame everyone but themselves for their discontent; and even Dianne and John’s son, “Junior,” who is smart, good natured, and innocent, succumbs to a terrible force beyond the family’s control.
Why strive so hard for imperfection? The answer lies in the necessary nature of dystopian literature, where realism must often delve into extremes. When we speculate these corrupt futures, we must see them through to their dirty ends. Their characters must reflect such realities. People are, at least in part, products of the societies they live in. In The Private Sector, they are conditioned into desperation. Every man is out for himself simply because no one else—not even the police—is going to cover his back.
This book was inspired by American rhetoric, extremist views that taxes are an evil that does little more than enable the “lazy poor.” As an American, I can only imagine what we look like from an outside point of view, especially those who fall either to the far right or the far left. As a dystopian writer, it’s my job to look at these extremes and predict the potential realities that could result from those views taking hold. From where I stand, the future of my country is a scary and unforgiving place. I can only hope to offer readers a slice of life from this place, one that is as down to earth as possible. By using characters who aren’t heroes, characters who reflect the common person, I can at least hope that the reality I present comes through as genuine.
As a real possibility.
You see, if I can paint reality as a type of horror, then maybe those who read it will think about the part they might be playing in bringing that reality to light.
* * * * *
About the author:
Leigh M. Lane has been writing for over twenty years. She has ten published novels and dozens of published short stories divided between different genre-specific pseudonyms. She is married to editor Thomas B. Lane, Jr. and currently resides in the outskirts of Sin City. Her traditional Gothic horror novel, Finding Poe, was a 2013 EPIC Awards finalist in horror. Her other novels include World-Mart (currently unavailable due to an upcoming second-edition re-release), a tribute to Orwell, Serling, and Vonnegut, and the dark allegorical tale, Myths of Gods.
You can read more at http://www.cerebralwriter.com.
May 1, 2015
Cutting Block Press has a new anthology fresh off the press, and I’m proud to say I have a spot in it with my story “Ghosts Under Glass.” The story had its genesis in a nonsensical dream – three teenagers, a deserted street, and some odd activity on the other side of a fast food outlet’s storefront window. The publisher has this to say about the anthology:
Cutting Block Books proudly presents the best of the Horror Library, Volumes 1-5. This collection honors a full ten years of excellence in short horror fiction. Selected and curated by the original team behind the three-time Bram Stoker Award�� nominated Horror Library series, these thirty-three short stories should delight horror fans of all stripes.
Nearly 150 superb short stories have appeared in the Horror Library���and the ones in this book are truly among the best and most distinctive. So come on in, browse around. The Library will be open all night…
March 31, 2015
A sculpture in the Dyslexia Discovery Exhibit in Christchurch, New ZealandLast week I was multi-tasking at work (as you do), supporting a student to complete a writing task whilst cutting out some freshly laminated literacy resources, and I had an odd experience that turned into an epiphany.
I looked at the word card I was about to cut out, and for a split second I had no idea what it said. I recognised that it was a word, and that it was made out of letters, but the letters looked not-quite-right, and the sequence in which they were arranged made no sense.
Then I realized that the card was upside down.
I laughed quietly at myself, then turned to the child I was helping and said, ���Can you help me out here? What does this word say?���
He knew instantly. ���Silly ��� it���s upside down!��� He laughed too, and took the sheet from me to turn it right side up, delighted to see the tables turned and the helper rendered momentarily helpless.
And for that fleeting moment I understood what it must be like for some of the kids I work with, the students with dyslexia (undiagnosed or otherwise) or other difficulties, ALL THE TIME.
It made me both profoundly grateful for my and my children���s ability to read and write with comparative ease and fearful and aching for those who cannot.
March 17, 2015
Imagine it’s one of Vox’s Hearts pumping
Light across the city and within me,
Bringing with it a rushing ecstasy.
I forget that my name is Virgil Yorke.
I forget that I am not a city,
That I am not Vox. I become the streets,
The sky and everything else in between.���
Aquila. Corvus. Cancer. Three Hearts substitute for a sun that burns black, bringing power to the eternally light-deprived citizens of the city of Vox. Ghosts haunt the street, clawing at headlights. Prometheus, liquid light, is the drug of choice. The body of young Vivian North, shining brightly with unnatural light, has no place on the streets. And when Cancer is stolen, it falls to ���hero��� cop Virgil Yorke to investigate.
But Virgil has had a long cycle and he doesn���t feel like a hero. With his last case burned into his mind���s eye, he senses a connection between the glowing girl and the stolen Heart. Aided by his partner, Dante, Virgil begins to shed light on the dark city���s even darker secrets.
Haunted by ghosts and chased by his addictions, which will crack first, Virgil or the case?
Dark Star is hardboiled science fantasy of the finest kind, immediately compelling. It is an epic poem about a flawed cop fighting against the darkness. Rich and atmospheric, it is a story you���ll never forget.
About the author:
Oliver Langmead was born in Edinburgh and now lives in Dundee. He has an LLB in Law, and an MLitt in Writing Practice and Study, with a distinction. He is also part of industrial electronica outfit, Surgyn, recently back from their US tour. In his own words, he is ‘occasionally seen behind a midi keyboard or shouting into a microphone, but mostly behind a regular household keyboard, agonising over word order.’
* * * * *
(Disclosure: I received an electronic ARC from the publisher for review purposes.)
Let’s talk first about Langmead’s audacious decision to write his debut novel in the form of an epic poem. I have to confess to being unfamiliar with the form, and my potential appreciation was further hampered by the fact that I read the novel on my Kindle using an over-large font (all the better to not have to get out my reading glasses, my dear), which messed with the way the verses are intended to appear on the page. Still, it didn’t slow me down in the slightest. One might argue that the use of an epic poem form was unneccessary, as the story would flow just as easily in verses or in conventional prose form; but then, one could also argue that Langmead’s achievement both satisfies starved poetry fans and demonstrates an astonishing facility with words and storytelling.
Either way, it’s a kick-ass story.Think Bladerunner (I wonder if the character of Rachel is a nod to the aforementioned movie), only much, much bleaker.��In this world,��light is currency, light is a drug, light is treasured and elusive. The darkness is both metaphorical and real (this story is noir in all senses of the word), all-pervasive and claustrophobic. The thought and detail that goes into realizing this perpetually black world – print books are an extravagance when most “writing” is in braille, there are no days but only ‘cycles’, and even the cattle have evolved into strange, blind, albino creatures – is razor sharp. Langmead makes no secret of his influences in naming two main characters Virgil and Dante, and indeed the hellish atmosphere is almost palpable, leaving me breathing deeply and turning on all the lights by the time I got to the end.
This is the��third title I have reviewed from Unsung Stories, the first two being the outstanding The Beauty by Aliya Whiteley��and��D��j���� Vu by Ian Hocking. With the addition of Dark Star, Unsung Stories is cementing its burgeoning reputation as a publisher of intelligent and provocative speculative fiction.
If you like poetry (especially epic poetry) – you need to read this. If you like classic noir detective stories – you need to read this. If you like imaginative science fiction/fantasy – you need to read this.
February 28, 2015
A woman and her young son flee to a convent on a remote island off the Breton coast of France. Generations of seafarers have named the place Ile de la Brume, or Fog Island. In a chapel high on a cliff, a tragic death occurs and a terrified child vanishes into the mist.
The child���s godmother, Maggie O���Shea, haunted by the violent deaths of her husband and best friend, has withdrawn from her life as a classical pianist. But then a recording of unforgettable music and a grainy photograph surface, connecting her missing godson to a long-lost first love.
The photograph will draw Maggie inexorably into a collision course with criminal forces, decades-long secrets, stolen art and musical artifacts, and deadly terrorists. Her search will take her to the Festival de Musique, Aix-en-Provence, France, where she discovers answers to the mystery surrounding her husband���s death, an unexpected love���and a musical masterpiece lost for centuries.
A compelling blend of suspense, mystery, political intrigue, and romance, The Lost Concerto explores universal themes of loss, vengeance, courage, and love.
* * * * *
Author Helaine Mario excels at evocative portrayals of settings, with many a lavish description of the French landscape and cityscape. Equally compelling are the descriptions of the music, with classical performances comprising an integral part of the atmosphere and plot. Mario is a mistress of the slow reveal, with each layer of intrigue being uncovered at a carefully measured, tantalizing pace.
For this reviewer, the nit picks are minor. The disability motif is laid on a little thick ��� there���s a one-eyed cat, a one-armed man, a three-legged dog ��� and the author is overly fond of knocking people out, with four chapters or sections ending in unconsciousness for the viewpoint character. Still, these need bother only the pedantic. Readers who enjoy mystery and thrillers will not be disappointed, classical music aficionados and Francophiles will be delighted, and there���s a fair bit to keep romance readers happy as well.
The Lost Concerto is due for release by Oceanview Publishing on July 1, 2015. An advance review copy was provided via Netgalley.
February 18, 2015
In October 2013, we made a decision as a family to give dog fostering a go. I���ll admit that I was somewhat selfish in my reasons for wanting to foster dogs; we had been thinking about getting a companion for our Staffordshire bull terrier, Hermes, but the cost of keeping another dog plus the potential negative consequences if he failed to bond well with a friend of our choosing were holding us back. The rescue group we work with covers most of the costs (food, equipment and vet bills), and if our dog and the foster clash badly (it hasn���t happened yet, touch wood), we can always move the foster dog to another, more suitable carer. So as well as making a positive community contribution, fostering seemed like a good way to dip our toe in the waters of being a two dog household.
Sixteen months and seventeen puppies and dogs later, and we���re hooked. Every time one of our fosters gets adopted and we wave goodbye to them, it is both a wrench to our hearts and an intensely rewarding experience knowing that we���ve helped save doggy lives.
Of course, there are downsides. It can be frustrating being kept awake all night by a fretting puppy, cleaning up inside ���accidents��� or disposing of a pair of shoes that were perfectly good 15 minutes ago until a teething canine got hold of one. But the biggest downsides come from the humans. If you���re considering adopting a rescue dog and you don���t want to get the carer���s hackles up (dog metaphor deliberate), here are a few tips on what not to say.
I sent an email half an hour ago and nobody���s got back to me. Why are you so slack? Don���t you care about finding a home for these dogs?
We���re not paid 24/7 to stand by for your email. In fact, we���re not paid at all. Rescue volunteers have jobs and families and other commitments, and in between all of that we���re feeding the dogs, walking the dogs, transporting dogs to and from vets, driving on 12 hour round trips to collect death row dogs from country pounds, attending to the screeds of paperwork required by local, state and federal governments��� Besides, you might just be the twelfth applicant for this dog, and we have to respond to the other eleven before it���s your turn.
Two reasons ��� one is that animal rescue is expensive. The money rescue groups collect in adoption fees doesn���t begin to cover the costs. Even although nobody is getting paid, and even although we get donations, and reduced rates from sympathetic vets, there are still food bills, vet bills, and transport costs. Collars, leads, food bowls and bedding need to be provided to foster carers. One dog alone coming down with parvovirus can cost thousands of dollars to save. When you adopt a dog from a registered rescue organization, then by law it will be desexed, vaccinated and microchipped, which is more than you will get for the same price (or higher) from a pet shop or breeder.
The other reason is psychology. We want each adoption to be successful, and don���t want to see dogs bouncing back to us because owners can���t afford to keep them, or only adopted them on a whim. This is much less likely to happen if adopters are willing and able to hand over $400 – $500.
We���ve changed our minds ��� we���re not coming to meet the dog after all (usually said an hour after the agreed meeting time).
See ���we���re not paid to do this��� and ���we have lives too, you know.���
We love the look of Fifi and think she would be perfect for us, but we won���t be ready to have a dog for another couple of months. Can you hold her for us?
Short answer ��� no. Long answer ��� the longer we keep dogs in our care, the more expensive it gets, and the more dogs are put down by pounds because they don���t have the space and we don���t have the available carers. Snarky answer ��� don���t start looking for a dog until you���re ready to own a dog. It will only end in heartbreak for you if you fall in love with a dog you can���t have, and wasted time for us (also see ���we���re not paid to do this���.)
I love dogs, but I had to give my last one away because it got too big/I had to move/my girlfriend didn���t like it.
We understand that sometimes life throws curve balls that you didn���t see coming; we fostered a beautiful dog formerly owned by a family who had fallen upon hard times and could no longer afford to keep her. They did the responsible thing and gave her over into foster care, and I was honoured to be able to have a hand in finding a loving new home for her. But some of the reasons people give for getting rid of their pets are clearly foreseeable or downright frivolous; puppies are going to get bigger, landlords are quite likely to say ���no pets���, and who did you commit to first, the girlfriend or the dog? At this point you have to ask yourself ��� do I really love dogs, or do I just love the idea of dogs?
What breed is she crossed with?
A legitimate question on the surface of it. However, whatever breed the dog is listed as is usually the pound���s or the vet���s best guess. The only way to guarantee a dog���s parentage is through pedigree papers from a registered breeder, or a DNA test. As most of our dogs are unclaimed strays rescued from pounds, we���re extremely unlikely to have either of these pieces of paper.
Oh yes…this is surely the face of a killer.
���because I don���t want a dog with any staffy/rotty/heeler/chihuahua/[insert your breed prejudice here].
And I understand your concerns. Not all breeds are going to be suitable for your needs ��� otherwise we wouldn���t have so many different dog breeds. And we can���t guarantee that the dog you���re thinking of adopting won���t show any of the undesirable traits you���re seeking to avoid (they���re living creatures, not second hand cars). Can���t guarantee���but can give a pretty good indication. During their time in foster care, we���ve exposed them to a lot of situations they���re likely to encounter as companion dogs, so we can tell you most, if not all, of the things you need to know about their tendencies and temperament. But if that doesn���t convince you, and purity of breed is still a deal breaker, then I recommend you purchase a dog from a reputable registered breeder, or adopt a dog from a breed-specific rescue group.
���because staffies/rotties/heelers/chihuahuas are aggressive dogs.
OK, now I am no longer humouring you. That���s just illogical. Dogs have been bred for thousands of years to be companions to humans. Yes, some breeds might have been selectively bred to encourage a prey drive, or to be wary of strangers, thus making them good guard dogs. However, having an entire breed that is indiscriminately aggressive towards humans would be wildly counter-productive.
I want a dog, but not one that barks or digs or chews. And not one that sheds, or that isn���t house trained, or that is likely to knock stuff over ��� I���m very house proud, and don���t want to be cleaning up messes all the time. I work 50 hours a week, so I won���t be able to come meet any dogs until the weekend. What have you got for me?
February 13, 2015
When you’ve been married for nearly 18 years, have three kids, and work one and a half day jobs between you, and one of you is a horror writer, and when you come across the unusual situation (at least, I’m assuming it’s unusual – mathematicians, feel free to provide accurate stats) where a Friday the 13th and Valentine’s Day occupy consecutive spots on the calendar, and you lack the energy and inclination to celebrate both…well, something’s got to give. For us, it was a no-brainer – why go out on February 14 and jostle for table space alongside every other loved-up couple in Melbourne when you can coerce your teenage son to babysit on February 13 and go see a new zombie movie on its release day – and get bonus points for supporting Australian made?
Wyrmwood: Road of the Dead could not be more Australian if it had drop bears and zombie kangaroos in it. Depending on your point of view, the dialogue is either rudimentary or true-to-life; most of it consists of just two words – “Mate!” and “FAAAARRKK!” The action is relentless – maybe five minutes are devoted to gentle domestic scenes with protagonist Barry and his wife and child before the zompocalypse erupts, and next thing you know mum and kid are dead (again) zombies with nails in their skulls. It remains faithful to zombie movie tropes, including copious amounts of blood and gore, while at the same time introducing a couple of new ideas that I hadn’t seen before. (Never mind that said ideas range from scientifically highly unlikely to downright impossible – it’s a zombie movie. Just go with it). Even without the novelty, it contains some visually striking, memorable scenes that elevate it above the stock-standard zombie fare. As my husband says, it has “cult classic” written all over it, and was the most fun I’ve had on date night since we watched Zombieland to celebrate our thirteenth wedding anniversary.
* * * * *
And in other Friday the 13th news – today was the official launch of the horror anthology The Grimorium Verum, the third in Western Legends Publishing’s Tres Librorum Prohibitorum series. The Grimorium Verum contains my story Q is for Quackery. It is a tale of wrath, greed and revenge, and how giving full rein to any of these impulses is unlikely to end well. It was also my third contribution to a Dean M. Drinkel anthology, the other two being Phobophobia and The Demonologia Biblica.
By the time many of you read this, it will be Valentine’s Day – a gift of to your loved one of The Grimorium Verum will be nothing if not memorable.
January 25, 2015
Came across this little game in a group on Facebook today – write your first name and “.com” in the comments, hit “return”, and see what comes up.���� I was, of course, curious, so I did as instructed, only wrote “tracie.com” in the address bar in a new tab in my browser instead (I made the mistake of commenting on a similar post in the same group and forgetting to turn off notifications. 1,000 emails later…).
I was expecting to get one of those invitations to register a domain name. What I got was this: www.tracie.com –�� a single page, black text on blue background, the text consisting of a six-sentence quotation from “A Christmas Carol”.
A quotation about ghosts.
And that is all. No images, no links, no other pages, no clues as to who created the page or why. The quotation is ridiculously, eerily apt given the common themes and content of my fiction. It’s almost as if a mysterious someone made it just for me to stumble across one day…
#185098665 / gettyimages.com
January 21, 2015
During a pre-Christmas shopping trip with my parents who were visiting from New Zealand, we visited Bernard���s Magic Shop in Melbourne���s CBD.�� Having been established in 1937, Bernard���s is a Melbourne institution; there���s plenty to keep the average, non-conjuring shopper inspired for gift ideas, but I���m told that there���s even more concealed behind the shop counter for the professional magician (evidently, there is a for-real secret handshake or password or something to ensure that only those privileged to be entrusted with magicians��� secrets may gain access).
While at Bernard���s, we purchased some high quality playing cards to better facilitate our summer holiday games of gin rummy (no magic involved) ��� and I filled out an entry form for two free tickets to the opening night of The Illusionists 2.0. My middle child, Alia, has been a die-hard Cosentino fan since she was five, so my intention was to take her as my plus-one in the unlikely event that I won tickets.
A few weeks later, that unlikely event became a certain event, when a lovely woman from Bernard���s rang to inform me that there were two tickets and a programme awaiting my collection at the State Theatre. Pre-show refreshments were a tub of Lord of the Fries chips French Canadian style, consumed while sitting on the grass outside the Arts Centre and listening to a free live band (even without the free show, there���s not much that can beat the sights and atmosphere of Melbourne City on a mild summer���s night).
The Ilusionists 2.0 is a two-hour extravaganza performed by seven gentlemen, each with a different specialty. I���d seen versions of most of the performances before, but not with such flair; the costumes (who knew you could inject so much personality into basic black?), lighting (or not-lighting, as the case may be ��� the expression ���smoke and mirrors��� originated from stage illusion), choreography and music (the composer, Evan Jolly, boasts amongst many other things the arrangement of the scores for the final four Harry Potter movies) and the varied nature of the different acts made for a riveting and highly entertaining show. Highlights included:
– Raymond Crowe, a.k.a. The Unusualist, a.k.a. ���That guy who could be one of The Doctors��� and his talent for turning the usually naff art of ventriloquism into something hilarious and very clever.
– James More, a.k.a. The Deceptionist. James More could have stepped out of an alternate universe – an alternate universe where David Beckham became a world-class illusionist instead of a soccer player.
– Luis De Matos a.k.a. The Master Magician. You know how illusionists sometimes like to get members of the audience up on stage to assist, and there are always sceptics who think that the assistant must be a plant? Upon entering the theatre before the show, everyone was handed a sealed envelope to be opened later in the show, which allowed every single person in the audience to participate. (Oh, wait ��� unless we���d all been hypnotized beforehand by Michael C Anthony, and didn���t even know it���)
– Ben Blaque a.k.a. The Weapons Master. Alia could barely stand to watch this act, and I confess to letting slip a few
The Weapons Master
little squeaks of terror during his finale, which involved a carefully calibrated chain reaction, several powerful crossbows, and a dark hood completely covering Ben���s head, and an apple (I assume the hood served two purposes ��� to significantly raise the stunt���s level of difficulty, and to spare the audience most of the gore if he missed).
– Hyun Joon Kim a.k.a. The Manipulator. Hyun Joon Kim appeared on stage early on in the show, and for a comparatively brief time, during which he conjured up more packs of cards than could possibly fit up his sleeves. I wondered, given the brevity of his act, why he got equal billing with the others ��� until he came back on for the ���encore��� for what was arguably the most impressive performance of them all. Watching the close-up on the massive screen above his head, I was struck by how extraordinarily long and slender his fingers were; literally, he was born to do magic.
(My apologies to anyone reading this review who now has a hankering to attend; my tardiness in posting means you only have a few days left to see it, as the show closes in Melbourne on 25 January.)