It has been a while here hasn’t it! I’ve been neglecting my blog in the past 4-6 weeks, but I’m back for the time being. While I wait a bit on SPFBO interviews (the next one should be up this weekend, I bring you an overdue interview with Lee Murray!
First of all, tell me about yourself! What do you write?
Hi! Thanks so much for hosting me. My name is Lee Murray and I’m an award-winning Kiwi writer and editor of mostly speculative fiction (for both children and adults). My best-known work is the Taine McKenna series of speculative military thrillers which are published by Australian house Severed Press but set here at home, with local cultural underpinnings and making good use of our stunning New Zealand landscape. I also write the Path of Ra supernatural crime-noir series with my Kiwi colleague, Dan Rabarts, author of the hilarious Children of Bane steampunk high fantasy series.
Tell the world about your current project!
My latest work is a debut short story collection called Grotesque: Monster Stories, which comprises eleven stories (some favourite stories and some new fiction) exploring the monster genre. Of course, as well as offering great material for high action, blood pulsing action, monsters also serve as metaphors for social, personal, and global concerns, making them an excellent vehicle for exploring some of the very real issues facing us all. Since people read for different reasons—sometimes for a little escapism, and other times to reflect on their fears from a safe distance—I hope that with this collection, I have delivered opportunities for readers to do both of those things.
Grotesque: Monster Stories, the debut short story collection from three-time Bram Stoker Award® nominee, Lee Murray, is “fascinating, unexpected, and scary as hell!” (Jonathan Maberry, NYT bestselling author of Rage and V-Wars). Featuring eleven uncanny tales of automatons, zombies, golems, and dragons, and including the Taine McKenna adventure Into the Clouded Sky, Grotesque: Monster Stories breathes new life into the monster genre.
Have you been to any conventions? If so, tell me a little about them!
Yes! I love conventions. They’re a great opportunity to meet other people with similar interests, to refresh the well, and to find your tribe. For the past decade, I’ve attended the New Zealand national science fiction, fantasy, and horror convention annually, and, in fact, I have served as the programme director for a couple of those conventions. I highly recommend getting involved in your literary genre community. For writers, it’s a fantastic way to meet colleagues, learn new skills, come up to speed on industry and genre trends, and just find support while chewing the fat with friends about writing and books. For readers, you also get to meet authors you love and talk about writing and books. I’m frequently invited to local literary conventions, and over recent years, I’ve also attended various international conventions, such as StokerCon (USA), Kuaia Writers (USA), GenreCon (AU), Conflux (AU). However, with the pandemic, those opportunities have disappeared, or gone virtual. Something to look forward to when this crisis is behind us.
If you had the opportunity to live anywhere in the world for a year while writing a book that took place in that same setting, where would you choose?
I’ve been lucky enough to live in a number of countries, including the USA (Wisconsin), the UK (London) and France (Paris), as well as my own Aotearoa-New Zealand. I’d love the opportunity to head to France again, partly because I have so many friends there, but also to explore some places I didn’t get to during the seven years I lived there. Not only is it a stunning country (and the food is wonderful), but there is so much to inspire there. Gorgeous geographical sites such as forests and coves, and historical venues such as cathedrals and chateaux. In fact, the title story in Grotesque: Monster Stories is plucked directly from my visits to Amboise, in France’s Loire Valley, where Leonardo da Vinci once resided.
What advice would you give new writers?
- Read, write, (repeat)
- Join a writer group, find a buddy, or seek out a mentor, and share your work with them.
- Reciprocate (other writers are looking for help too and you’ll be surprised how much you learn critiquing other people’s work).
What is the hardest part of writing for you?
Other than social media? Well, I’m a slow writer, which is frustrating, but mostly I love writing. The hardest part is not in the creation of stories, but the business of writing. In New Zealand, as it is everywhere in the world, the literary arts struggle for a foothold, so much so that only a handful of writers make a good living. I understand that a lot of people are struggling right now, but getting your hands on a good book doesn’t have to be expensive. Joining a writer’s website keeps you up to date on their latest releases and any sales or specials they might have on their work. They sometimes have giveaways and review copies available, too. Or, ask for your favourite author’s work at your local library. A good library will often get the book in for you, since there is a good chance that others will enjoy it too. Plus, you’ll be doing the author a favour by spreading the word.
What is your routine when writing, if any? If you don’t follow a routine, why not?
I write every day from my office at home overlooking a cow paddock. Nine to five (and mostly longer) as I’m a full-time writer. Like everyone else who works from home (pretty much everyone in this pandemic), it’s hard to create geographical and temporal boundaries when you work from home, so evenings and weekends routinely get sucked into my working week.
Did you learn anything from writing your latest book? If so, what was it?
In one of the stories in the collection, Edward’s Journal, the eponymous character, a soldier from the famous ‘Die Hard’ regiment, believes he spies a sea monster on his trip to New Zealand on the Castilian. The actual report in Britain’s The Times newspaper was made by the ship’s captain, Harrington, who observed the creature on a voyage from Bombay to Liverpool in 1857. I love it when you can slip a fact like this into a story and lend authenticity to the narrative.
If you had to give up either snacks and drinks during writing sessions, or music, which would you find more difficult to say goodbye to?
I don’t snack between meals and I share an office with my husband who often has conference calls which means music is out, so I’d have to say hot drinks.
Coffee or Tea?
Coffee before lunch, and tea any time after noon.
What are your future project(s)?
Thanks so much for asking. Apart from Grotesque: Monster Stories, I have two further books coming out this year. The first, releasing at the end of September, is Black Cranes, a book of fourteen dark speculative fiction stories exploring Asian women’s experiences of ‘otherness’, which I am co-editing with my Australian colleague, Geneve Flynn. And in November, Raw Dog Screaming Press will release Blood of the Sun, the last book in our Path of Ra Kiwi supernatural thriller series, featuring brother and sister duo, Penny and Matiu Yee. This little project was meant to be a novella, but it was so much fun to write, it became a trilogy. While I won’t say never again, I’ll be sorry to see the characters go even while I look forward to new projects. For example, on my desk at the moment are the bones of a short story and a plan for a narrative poem.
What makes a good villain?
A good villain needs to be fallible, and also authentic. They need to be as complex and rounded and engaging as your protagonist.
What do you like to do in your spare time?
Walk, read, soak in the spa pool, cuddle my dog, and watch movies with my kids.
If you couldn’t be an author, what ideal job would you like to do?
I’d love to be a spy, although I have none of the necessary skills (I can barely manage my own phone contacts), but it sounds like a cool job.
Do you have any writing blogs you recommend?
For writers, I absolutely recommend Tim Waggoner’s Writing in the Dark. Tim’s a fantastic award-winning author of more than fifty novels, and a tie-in writer for some super franchises, and his blog always includes a supercharged essay on writing. He’s a tenured creative writing professor too, so his articles come with practical examples based on his vast experience. This year, my publisher, Raw Dog Screaming Press, is releasing a book, also called Writing in the Dark, which updates and collates all of Tim’s writing experience into a must-have writing handbook.
What superpower would you most like?
Not flying because I’m afraid of heights. Echolocation would be cool. Being able to make the dog hop off the couch would be another good one. One of the superpowers I’d love to have is the ability to speak more languages. I only have English and French, and I regret not being able to speak the dialects of Chinese that my mother speaks. I’d love to speak New Zealand Māori too, because the few words and phrases I know are truly beautiful.
It’s a very difficult time right now for the world. When quarantine and pandemic comes to an end, what is the first thing you would like to do?
As I write this, down here in New Zealand, we’ve been at Level 1 for a month, which means we have eliminated the virus and no longer require social distancing. In fact, I have my first local writing group meeting tonight. However, we’re still washing our hands until our skin is raw and keeping a list of everywhere we have been and people we’ve met in the event that there is an incidence of community transmission and the health authorities need to contact trace. Eliminating the virus, doesn’t mean we have eradicated it, and since New Zealanders are still allowed through the border to come home, we have to maintain our vigilance. Anyway, the question is what would most people do when quarantine comes to an end, and here in New Zealand we already know the answer to that: people queued for coffee, ordered take-out food (all take out and restaurants were closed here during lockdown), and went to get a haircut. For myself, my dad died during the lockdown, so the first thing I did was visit my brother and his family—whom I hadn’t been able to see due to COVID-19 restrictions—for a hug.
Finally, what is your preferred method to have readers get in touch with or follow you (i.e., website, personal blog, Facebook page, here on Goodreads, etc.) and link(s)?
I’d love it if readers would subscribe to my website using the contact page. Otherwise, you can contact me in all the usual places: Amazon, facebook, twitter, Goodreads, and Bookbub. I’d love to hear from you.