Tracie McBride's Blog
November 17, 2014
(Disclosure: I received an electronic copy from the publisher for review purposes via Netgalley.)
In the year 2023 Saskia Brandt, detective with the European FIB, comes back from holiday newly single, tired and full of sadness. Heading straight back to the office she finds no peace, only her receptionist dead and no suspects. Given only 12 hours to clear her name she sets to work on unravelling the mystery, one that proves greater than the sum of its parts.
David Proctor is just an academic eating his breakfast until he gets a phone-call telling him the prototype computer – Ego – he has been loaned is now the only one left. Meanwhile someone has broken into his house, someone who wants him to go back to the lab where his wife died in a bomb attack 20 years before.
As the mysteries and intrigue envelop Saskia and David they are forced to unpick their own pasts. Because in Déjà Vu you find that things aren’t as they seem, truth is a matter of perspective and that the past can change just as quickly as the future.
* * * * *
The science fiction tropes come thick, fast and early on in this techno-thriller, (artificial intelligence, mind wiping and implanted memories, time travel, virtual reality, nanotech and underwater cars, to name a few), so much so that at first I was concerned that many of them might have been thrown in gratuitously. But I needn’t have worried – Hocking soon gathers all the threads together and weaves them into an intricate, meticulously plotted tale. FIB detective Saskia Brandt is a compelling character as she struggles to discover and define her true self, all the while staying one step ahead of those who have the will and the means to end her.
I’d hazard a guess that P.K. Dick is one of the author’s influences; Déjà Vu is in some ways reminiscent of Dick’s work with its themes of memory (both real and invented) and identity. This novel doesn’t break new ground in SF, but is no less intelligent or well-crafted for it.
October 30, 2014
(Disclosure: I received an electronic copy from the publisher for review purposes via Netgalley.)
“The Beauty” takes place in a post-apocalyptic world where disease has wiped out the entire human female population. It is narrated by Nate, a young man living a simple and settled existence in a small rural community of boys and men. He holds a special role in the community, that of storyteller. It is a role that he clearly deserves with the distinctive voice that author Aliya Whiteley gives him, a voice that is at once poetic and crystalline.
The community’s life is thrown into chaos with the arrival of The Beauty – mute and faceless fungoid creatures that have arisen from the graves of women and taken on strangely alluring feminine forms. Some literally and figuratively embrace The Beauty as embodiments of love; as Nate says, “The Beauty offer comfort, sex and softness. What else is there?” Others fear and distrust the Beauty – and when the extent of their power becomes fully apparent, the divide widens, with violent and catastrophic consequences.
“The Beauty” is an exemplary representation of New Weird, a subgenre variously described as “cutting edge speculative fiction with a literary slant”, a borderless combination of science fiction, fantasy and supernatural horror, and fiction that “subverts clichés of the fantastic in order to put them to discomfiting, rather than consoling ends.” It is exquisitely crafted, astonishingly creative, and discomfiting as hell.
October 20, 2014
Dan O’Brien and Steve Ferchaud have done it again! Mobsters, Monsters & Nazis will be a six-story illustrated series that will launch on Halloween and conclude right around Christmas. It is equal parts noir, pulp, Lovecraft, and detective fiction with enough intrigue and mystery to keep you hanging on.
It is available for pre-order starting today, so be sure to grab and let everyone know about it!
You can pre-order it for only $2.99 by clicking on the cover below or by following this link:
October 12, 2014
I’m beyond excited to announce that Disquiet is out now from Creativia Publishing. Disquiet is an anthology of poetry and fiction from Australian and New Zealand authors. As the title suggests, a common thread weaves its way through these stories and poems – a dark, discomforting, unsettling thread.
Disquiet contains two of my short stories, “Riding the Storm” and “The Truth About Dolphins”. The first, set in rural Australia, is a story about secrets and lust and elemental forces given human form. The setting for the second is based on my old hometown in New Zealand; it may appear at first to be a revenge tale, but there’s a lot more going on beneath the surface (literally and figuratively) if you are brave enough to look.
This anthology also has me listed on the front cover as co-editor alongside fellow Kiwi writer John Irvine, although I don’t think the title of “editor” entirely encapsulates the way this book came into being; it started off as a joint project of just John’s and my work, a collection of stories and poems set in the Antipodes, then we included a third author, then he suggested a fourth, then somehow it metamorphosed into an anthology involving 17 authors. So what would that make John and I – compilers? Overseers? Conspirators?
The paperback of Disquiet is available from online book retailers (or feel free to jot down the ISBN and go pester your local bookstore to order a copy), with the ebook due out from Amazon any day now.
October 2, 2014
Over dinner one night, my husband casually remarked, “Have you heard of Kryal Castle? It’s like a theme park type place, just out of Ballarat.”
No, I had not heard of Kryal Castle, and neither had my three offspring, and as his description of it unfolded, I had to wonder how such a place could escape our notice for so long (six years living in Melbourne and counting). As a family, we’re quite geeky about things historical, medieval and fantastical; the kids have read all the Horrible History books and are avid watchers of the TV show, and I couldn’t even begin to count the number of medieval high fantasy books the grown ups have read.
Him: It’s an actual castle – with a moat.
(I’ve always said that if I ever become ridiculously wealthy, I’m building a home with a moat. Or buying an island. Or building a house with a moat on my own island, although Number One Son says that’s redundant, because if you build a house on your own island, then the sea IS the moat. Shut up, son, and stop crushing my dreams…)
Him: It has sword fighting displays. And jousting.
Him: They closed it down recently for a $3 million refurbishment so they could install…[pause for dramatic effect]…animatronic dragons.
By this stage I was halfway out of my seat and looking for the car keys, with the kids not far behind. But Kryal Castle is only open to the public on weekends and school and public holidays, so a promise was extracted from The Husband to take us all to this magical place in the holidays, at the time only a few weeks away.
* * * * *
Here we have a real archer firing rubber-tipped arrows in defense of a pretend princess from atop fake battlements, while in the background a pretend friar walks a real whippet past a real 21st century tractor.
Kryal Castle turned out to be a delightful melange of the authentic, the theatrical, the anachronistic and the outright cheesy. Its charm is intensified when you learn about its history; the castle is literally one man’s folly, the boyhood dream of one Keith Ryall (Keith Ryall…Kryal…I see what he did there). To enter the castle proper, one must first navigate the Dragon’s Labyrinth, which featured princes and princesses, dragons and enchanted woods, fake skeletons and suits of armour rigged to deliver jump scares, and a hologram-like message from the “queen” that looked suspiciously derivative and had me mouthing in the dark, “Help me, Obi-wan Ben Kenobi, you’re my only hope!” We’re certainly not averse to mashing up our histories, fashions and fiction genres – Number Two Daughter dressed for the occasion in her best Gothic finery and Number One Son thought that working at Kryal Castle would be pretty cool, as long as he could grow a beard and braid it Viking-style – so we fit right in.
Emily the Strange takes on the Sword in the Stone.
Highlight of the day was unquestionably the jousting. The show was compered by a comedy duo, the two buxom wenches French and Saunders…I mean, Polly and Molly. Competitors take to the field accompanied by The Prodigy’s “Firestarter” belting out of industrial-strength speakers, said music giving way to something Number One Son informed me was folk metal. Then two horses with a combined weight of over a tonne carry riders in full metal armour rush each other, while the riders try to knock each other off with giant 12 foot sticks. What’s not to like?
But Kryal Castle also held other, quieter charms. While the menfolk went off on the Torture Chamber Tour, I minded the girls (it wasn’t their gender that excluded them from the tour, but their age, 12 being the recommended threshold). We perused the tiny “barnyard” and made friends with a miniature highland steer who seemed to think he was a dog, extending his neck for chin scratches, licking us affectionately and barking…I mean, mooing mournfully when we walked away. Adjacent to the animals was the picturesque chapel, and an extensive and lovingly tended herb garden (no doubt kept well fertilized by our new mate Fido) containing all the usual suspects as well as several lesser-known medicinal plants such as mugwort, borage and chaste tree.
Another personal favourite was the Wizard’s Workroom, a display that Number Three Daughter thought looked like Professor Trelawney’s chambers. Evidently it hasn’t always been a static display – a faded laminated sign announces “Psychic Readings Here”, with a second notice beneath, handwritten in an elegant faux Olde English script and doctored to look “ancient”, helpfully adding “Visa and Mastercard Accepted”.
Now that we’ve seen most of what Kryal Castle has to offer, will we be back again? Well, I’ve liked them on Facebook, followed them on Twitter and signed up to the emailed newsletter, so it’s safe to say my answer to that is a resounding “Huzzah!”
September 24, 2014
What – it’s been a week already since my last post? Well, I’m all out of fresh ideas for a new one. Instead, here’s something I prepared earlier – an excerpt from my story “With Paper Armour and Wooden Sword”, which was published in Bleed anthology in 2013. What I really want you to do, once you’ve read the excerpt, is to buy the whole anthology to read the rest. Don’t like second person viewpoints? That’s OK – there are 46 other pieces in the anthology, and the proceeds from the sale of this book go to the American National Children’s Cancer Society.
* * * * *
Early next morning, the wailing begins. In households scattered across the city, mothers and fathers arise from their beds to find their doors still firmly bolted, their windows still shut fast, the embers in their hearth fires still glowing, and their beloved children cold and still. A baker’s daughter, not yet ten years old, her skin mysteriously covered in a mass of pustules where none existed the day before. A wealthy merchant’s son, who had celebrated his fifth birthday the week before, his limbs twisted into impossible and agonising shapes. A farmer’s daughter on the cusp of adulthood, come to visit her city cousin, her corpse oddly deflated, as if she had been drained of her blood. A pauper’s son, still in swaddling, seemingly asleep in his mother’s arms, until the swaddling is unwrapped to reveal his belly sliced open and his innards rearranged. Your own child is unscathed, and for this you feel both profoundly grateful and obscurely guilty.
Some of the bereaved parents take to the streets, weeping and wailing in their sackcloth and ashes. You view these mourners out of the corner of your eye with a kind of superstitious dread, as if confronting them fully with your gaze were to invite the same fate upon you.
When the Foe returns to the gate, none dare cast another stone.
“Send me your children,” he repeats. “The war has begun, and will be waged whether you choose to or not.”
“We will not, sir,” pronounces the mayor. Her voice shakes, yet she stands resolute, her hands clenched in fists at her side. Her own child, a pretty little thing with coppery skin and hair like midnight, clings to her skirts and gazes up at the Foe with wide, innocent eyes. “If you want war, then you shall have it, but it will be with us,”—she gestures at the adults gathered behind her—“not with our children.”
The Foe laughs. It is a sound redolent of agony and death, of festering battleground wounds and vicious back-alley diseases.
“Perhaps I will have you, one day,” he says with a nod, “after I have consumed your children.”
The crowd stirs and parts to reveal a small child in its midst. He steps forward fearlessly and looks up at the Foe, his little brow creased with confusion. “Why must we fight you?”
The Foe crouches down to bring himself eye to eye with the child. He traces a forefinger down the boy’s cheek in a parody of affection, leaving a livid scar in its wake.
“Just because, little one,” he says, “just because.”
* * * * *
Purchase link for Bleed: http://www.amazon.com/Bleed-Lori-Michelle/dp/0988748886/
September 18, 2014
Followers of my blog (and my life in general) will know that Dark Continents Publishing shut up shop last month. With the company’s closure, my first (and so far only) single author collection Ghosts Can Bleed was withdrawn from sale.
But I have exciting news in Tracieland – Ghosts Can Bleed will live again, thanks to Miika Hannila and his team at Creativia.
Creativia is a European independent press that has a similar ethos to Dark Continents. They’re small (but growing fast) and agile, they love speculative fiction, and they like their authors to retain control of their work and their careers. Although the ink is barely dry on the (simple and transparent) contract, I have a feeling I’m going to fit right in.
I owe a huge debt of gratitude to fellow Kiwi author and close-friend-I’ve-never-met, John Irvine (I’ve promised him duty free rum on my next visit to New Zealand). Creativia is publishing Disquiet, an anthology of fiction and poetry by New Zealand and Australian authors co-edited by John and me (but more on that in a later post). They also publish two of John’s works, Blood Curry and Anomalous Appetites, the latter being a dark speculative fiction poetry anthology that has achieved great things on Amazon’s bestseller list under Creativia’s assured promotional hand. John introduced Miika and me and put in a good word for me…and now, here we are!
September 4, 2014
Earlier this week, the most excellent Hack programme on Triple J featured an article on the posthumous use of social media and its effect on the grieving process. It’s not something I have had much experience with – of the handful of my loved ones who have died since I started using social media, only one had a Facebook account, and that was under-utilized – but as a speculative fiction author who likes to think about technological advancements, the near future, and things of generally morbid nature, the topic held great fascination for me. Coincidentally, I happened to witness this week what happens when someone dies and Facebook Goes Horribly Wrong, when the aforementioned social media site alerted the Facebookverse that it was one of my distant virtual acquaintance’s birthday. Trouble was, said acquaintance passed away some weeks ago. His timeline was filled with happy birthday wishes from a host of (presumably) even more distant acquaintances who didn’t get the memo. “Awkward” doesn’t begin to cover it.
But back to Hack. Among other things, the programme discussed such start-up companies as Eterni.me and LIVESON. Via sophisticated artificial intelligence programming that doesn’t exist yet, Eterni.me will take all of one’s social media interactions and analyze them to create a digital avatar that will continue to communicate with your loved ones on your behalf after you die. LIVESON is a similar service that will posthumously tweet for you. Their tagline is “When your heart stops beating, you’ll keep tweeting.”
So many questions, so little time…
Here’s what I’m thinking – and for a change, it has little to do with death. Writers are constantly being exhorted to spend up to half of our productive time attending to our social media profile in order to engage with our audience (or somehow magically attract an audience in the first place). Why wait until death to create an avatar? Why not get one of these puppies going and put it to work doing our online promotion for us? Surely it’s got to be cheaper than employing a publicist, and our fans need never know the difference between the real you and the virtual AI you. It’d be like David Brin’s Kil’n People or that Bruce Willis movie Surrogates, only without the somewhat creepy physical facsimiles.
I also wonder what it would be like interacting with a virtual avatar of myself. Would I like me, or would I be an insufferable bore? Perhaps, if this technology ever makes it to fruition, it should be mandatory to spend some time with your avatar before death so you can make a more informed decision on whether or not to inflict yourself on your loved ones for eternity. On the other hand, if you really dig yourself but you’re a bit on the lonely side, a ready-made digital friend who shares your hopes, dreams, interests and opinions is only a mouse click away.
August 24, 2014
There’s no scarcity of online resources advising authors on horror tropes to avoid, so it is perhaps ironic that I’m about to add to the subject with a post that might not contribute anything original. But hey – it’s my soapbox, and I’ll say what I wanna.
Back in 2012 I posted a list of character clichés that I see too often in the slush pile. This list adds to the ever-expanding list of things I see in horror fiction that are likely to make me pull a Simon Cowell. (My apologies to any author who pioneered these tropes. Imitation is the sincerest form or flattery, or so they say.)
The protagonist regains consciousness after a car crash.
The general advice in all types of fiction is to avoid starting a story with someone coming to or waking up. Not sure that I’d go so far as to issue a blanket warning against all such story starters (especially since I’ve had published more than one story starting this way). It’s just that, with such a common beginning, the author might want to consider if the rest of the story concept is equally derivative.
Watch out! There’s a zombie in the bathroom!
The protagonist walks into a strangely deserted convenience store.
I don’t understand why or how this has become novice writer shorthand for “some seriously scary shit is about to go down”. If someone can explain it to me, please come forward.
The protagonist is dead, but doesn’t know it.
Again – I have done this. Quite recently, in fact. But in my defense, my story has the protagonist – and the audience – become aware of this fact halfway through the story. It’s not a “gotcha!” ending, and the story has a different reason for being other than to reveal the protagonist’s demise. If this is the only point of your story, it’s not likely to be a strong contender for publishing.
The protagonist goes to some version of Hell for his misdeeds.
A variation on the revenge story which is very rarely executed originally or well.
Something bad happens to a lawyer.
A Satanic ritual goes wrong.
Uh duh. Those things are designed to go wrong.
What could possibly go wrong?
A reclusive author/grieving person retreats to a cabin in the woods/by a lake/in the woods AND by a lake.
Bonus cliché points if the lake contains something eeeevil.
Zombies in a supermarket.
See “strangely deserted convenience store”.
Protagonist kills him/herself rather than become zombie fodder.
Zombie stories in general, much like vampire and werewolf stories, are hard to write with originality because they’re so popular in horror fiction. This is just one zombie cliché best avoided.
A devil (or The Devil) delivers a monologue that is meant to be funny (but usually isn’t).
Usually these stories have the devil complaining about his working conditions. Because overworked demons are hilarious. And terrifying. Or something like that.
I’d love to hear your own undergarment-shredding pet peeves when it comes to horror fiction.
August 18, 2014
A few weeks ago I attended the school productions of all of my children. The primary school production was a mammoth effort involving the entire school split into three casts, each numbering almost 300 students ranging in age from 5 to 12. The high school production was the school’s nineteenth, and boasted a cast of about 70 and a live band. The teenagers were talented and entertaining beyond their years, and the primary school kids were adorable beyond belief.
My son has participated in the school production every year since starting high school, and every year I marvel at the level of polish. In the past four years they’ve performed Fame, Bye Bye Birdie, Jesus Christ Superstar, and The Wedding Singer. With the exception of Jesus Christ Superstar for which they chose a non-specific, modern day setting, all the productions have been set in another time and another place. Not 21st century, not in Australia.
Now, I understand that the choosing of a musical appropriate for a high school cast, one that suits the particular talents of the available students, one that school can afford to obtain rights to use and one that isn’t going to require sets, effects and costumes beyond the school’s resources is arguably the hardest part of the entire enterprise. I’m guessing that such an animal set in modern day Australia does not exist.
Wouldn’t it be interesting if it did, though?
Not that I’m volunteering to write it. Stage plays are far outside my knowledge and skill set. But if someone else were to do so – someone who knew what they were doing – what might it look like?
Nothing says “modern day” like smartphones and the Internet. The cast would probably come on stage all staring intently at little rectangular boxes in their hands, until some catastrophe renders their devices inoperable and they’re all forced to look up and interact with each other.
A difficult one to nail down, because pop culture now changes at the speed of…well, the Internet. Just going off what the young folk in my house seem to be interested in, I’d throw in references to Buzzfeed, League of Legends, World of Warcraft, cosplaying, dubstep, Regular Show and Adventure Time, and movies such as Maleficent and Frozen in which “the girl saves the girl”.
Zombie koalas, perhaps?
If Aussie kids can perform American musicals with creditable American accents, then why not send our musicals over there? In that case, you’ll be wanting some recognizable Australian icons – kangaroos and koalas, boomerangs and didgeridoos, and at least one character who dresses in khaki and who reads like a cross between Steve Irwin and Crocodile Dundee. One of my online friends recently described Australia as “Deathland”, so you could throw in some of our world-famous dangers – spiders and snakes, sharks and crocodiles, and bushland that spontaneously combusts in summer.
That’s just a personal preference – but if you’re going to use my ideas, the least you could do is humour me. Doesn’t have to be a full-blown zombie apocalypse, although that would be fun…