Spotlight on Lee Murray

I don’t remember exactly how I found out about Lee Murray’s Into the Mist, but I do remember immediately grabbing it and being absolutely delighted by what I was reading. She did an excellent job on the follow up, Into the Sounds, as well. In the time since reading Into the Mist, Murray has proven herself to be a warm, supported, and always willing to engage. I think you will see that in the interview below.

Thank you, Lee, for joining us!

Headshot of Lee Murray

Bio

Lee Murray is a multi award-winning writer and editor of fantasy, science fiction, and horror (Australian Shadows, Sir Julius Vogel). Her titles for adults include the acclaimed Taine McKenna series of military thrillers (Severed Press) and supernatural crime-noir series The Path of Ra co-authored with Dan Rabarts (Raw Dog Screaming Press). Among her titles for children are YA novel Misplaced, and best-loved middle grade adventure Battle of the Birds, listed in the Best Books of the Year 2011 by New Zealand’s Dominion Post. Dawn of the Zombie Apocalypse, the first book in a series of speculative middle grade antics, is forthcoming from IFWG Australia. An acquiring editor for US boutique press Omnium Gatherum, Lee is a regular speaker at workshops, conferences and schools. She lives with her family in New Zealand where she conjures up stories for readers of all ages from her office overlooking a cow paddock.

Interview

LOHF: How old were you when you wrote your first story? What was it about?

I wrote my first dark ghostly murder mystery story when I was eleven. It was based on a clock with a secret compartment that I’d seen during a school trip to the Clapham National Clock Museum in Whangarei. Also that year, 1978, I wrote a courtroom parody entitled The Big Bad Wolf, where various witnesses were called to testify against the alleged repeat offender. Rip Van Winkle was unable to give his testimony because he kept falling asleep. I can’t remember exactly how it ended ‒ a political smear campaign by the PIG consortium, I think. So even as early as eleven, my writing was tending towards dark fiction and fabulism.

Family portrait (1).jpg
This image from my autobiographical title All About Me, written, illustrated, and published by me in 1970 (aged 5). Courtesy Lee Murray

LOHF: What got you hooked on horror?

People say you should “write what you know” so I started my writing career with a chick lit novel about running, having run 25 marathons and a couple of ultras myself. The result was A Dash of Reality a light-hearted look at running, romance, and reality TV. But good stories require conflict and while wardrobe malfunctions and cupcake deprivation can be great fun, they didn’t offer the deeper character development I wanted to explore. I was already a huge reader of dark fiction and horror, so as soon as I understood that conflict and fear were integral to those stories, writing in the genre became a natural progression.

LOHF: You just recently published Into the Sounds, a sequel to the creature feature novel Into the Mist. What is it about giant creatures, fictional or otherwise, that appeals to you?

For storytellers, the minute you introduce anything ‘giant’ to your narrative, especially something giant and sinister, you throw your characters into a situation which requires them to act: how they act becomes the basis of the story. And of course, in kaiju stories, we often discover that the ‘monster’ is the lesser threat when compared to certain individuals.

LOHF: When can we expect Into the Ashes, the next book of the Taine McKenna series, to be released? Can you give us a hint of what he’ll be up against this time?

INTO THE ASHES, the third book in the Taine McKenna series, will appear in late 2018 or early 2019. This time, Taine and his friends won’t be facing down a primordial monster. I can see people throwing up their hands, insisting that I’m breaking my contract with readers of INTO THE MIST and INTO THE SOUNDS by not including that a toothy apex predator, but my beta readers and earlier reviewers assure me that this instalment is just as ‘monstrous’ with a villain that is equally kaiju-esque ‒ lifting the series to a new level. Steeped in New Zealand legend, landscape, and culture, INTO THE ASHES takes place on the Central Plateau. Here is the blurb:

No longer content to rumble in anger, the great mountain warriors of New Zealand’s central plateau, the Kāhui Tupua, are preparing again for battle. At least, that’s how the Māori elders tell it. The nation’s leaders scoff at the danger. That is; until the ground opens and all hell breaks loose. The armed forces are hastily deployed; NZDF Sergeant Taine McKenna and his section tasked with evacuating civilians and tourists from Tongariro National Park. It is too little, too late. With earthquakes coming thick and fast and the mountains spewing rock and ash, McKenna and his men are cut off. Their only hope of rescuing the stranded civilians is to find another route out, but a busload of prison evacuees has other ideas. And, deep beneath the earth’s crust, other forces are stirring.

LOHF: What kind of writer are you? The type the plots everything out ahead of time, the type that lets the story go as it goes, or something else?

What kind of writer am I? Slooooow. Yes, that is the word that best describes my process. I struggle to write 1000 words daily, and even then, that takes me all day. My inner editor is always switched on, which means I don’t generate the first draft ‘word spew’ followed by a deep ‘editing phase’ that other people ascribe to, because, for me, those processes are one and the same. Nor am I one of these writers who can’t not write or have a story that has to be told. I am none of those things. Not a natural writer, I am the quintessential non-writer writer.

I rarely plot: more often I work from a general idea and a vague end point, and off I go. The characters tear away and it’s my job to keep up. This process usually leads to lots of gnashing of teeth and hair pulling during that saggy middle phase of the novel while I try to ensure the plot points and character motivations connect. About this time, I go into my ‘cycle of doom’ where I run like a hamster until my brain works it all out. My critique group hate me during this period. I become the writer equivalent of a bridezilla. And then suddenly, I’ll have a eureka moment which allows me to weave the threads together, I’ll write the ending, and the angst will be over. The writers’ high, rather like finishing a marathon, and this euphoria lasts for about three days, during which time a lot of chocolate will be consumed. Then the tide of self-doubt will hit me all over again…

LOHF: You have written several books now. Do you feel like your writing style is still changing, or do you feel like you have found your groove?

It’s only now that I’m learning where I’m meant to be. The target is still fuzzy, but it’s coming into focus. I’m working on making my prose sharper and tighter. Faster than a speeding bullet. When I stop looking for ways to move forward, I suspect it will be time to retire.

LOHF: Recently there was a bit of stupid fussing in the horror community regarding what types of horror we should all like. But there are no prizes given for reading the most disgusting works, and not everyone likes the same type of horror. So, what are your favorite types of horror as a reader?

I attended a panel at the first StokerCon, where panelist Stephen Jones (editor) described horror as being a spectrum which could be anything from slight unease all the way to ‘eyeballs on a plate.’ My preferences fall at all places on that spectrum and in all genres and formats, but especially when the imagery is startling, the structure provocative, and the theme is relevant.

LOHF: You are the Programme Director for New Zealand’s national science fiction, fantasy, and horror conference, Geysercon. Can you tell us a bit about Geysercon? What’s the turn-out like? What does being a programme director entail for you?

New Zealand only has one national convention annually and in 2019 it will be held in Rotorua from 13 May through to 3 June. The convention is small ‒ we usually see attendances of around two hundred guests ‒ but less can be more, offering participants a more intimate experience with an opportunity to chat with their writing and fandom heroes. At GeyserCon our Guests of Honour are international superstars Jonathan Maberry and Kaaron Warren, with a third guest still to be confirmed. My role as Programme Director is a little like being the traffic officer in the middle of a busy intersection: I’m just directing the vehicles, where each vehicle has its own licensed driver. We’ll have all the normal activities: panels, workshops, cosplay, gaming, filking, the Sir Julius Vogel Award gala evening and presentations, and our traditional Paul Mannering radio-play based on a popular fandom and performed by conference attendees ‒ always a highlight. It’s my second time as Programme Director ‒ the first time was at Au Contraire III 2016 with my colleague Dan Rabarts ‒ and there’s a great committee behind me so I’m not expecting it to be too arduous. In recent years, in conjunction with youngnzwriters the convention has run a Youth Day Out for New Zealand emerging writers (10 – 17 years) and we plan to reprise that workshop day at GeyserCon, where we expect up to 200 students and their teachers to attend three streams of sessions, with the day culminating in book launches and presentation of Young NZ Writers Youth Laureate Award. Of course, GeyserCon could be considered a precursor to WorldCon – ConNZealand ‒ which will be held in Wellington in 2020.

LOHF: You are also an editor, and I know you are working on an upcoming anthology. Would you mind telling us a little bit about it?

Yes, I’m very excited about that. I expect to be able to make a formal announcement soon. Right now, all I can tell you is that I’m thrilled to be curating an anthology of high action horror fiction comprising 120,000 words of heart-pumping terror, including five fabulous stories from some of the scariest women in horror ‒ Rena Mason, SD Perry, JH Moncrieff, Jessica McHugh, and Kirsten Cross ‒ who lead us into some very dark places where unspeakable horrors lurk…

LOHF: Tell us a bit about your “Lee Murray’s NZ Speculative Fiction Show” please!

Thank you for asking! Despite our long history of gothic horror, dark fiction based on small town rural isolation, and blockbusters like What We do in the Shadows, speculative and dark fiction struggles for audiences and readership in New Zealand. Funders tend not to notice us, publishers prefer the safety of mainstream titles, and most of our readers are oceans away, which makes it harder for us to interact with readers. For Kiwi speculative writers, it can feel like shouting into the void. But there is no one else telling our stories, no one else with that unique Kiwi perspective on the world. Unless we make some serious noise, our voices will be lost from the literary landscape. I started Lee Murray’s NZ Speculative Fiction Show earlier this year in order to showcase some of New Zealand’s amazingly talented writers and creatives, and to let people know what they’re writing and what inspires them. It’s a place to discover us. The blog has a tiny readership so far, but I’m hoping little by little people will hear about it and stop by to visit, and perhaps one day the blog will garner enough critical mass to launch some of my colleagues into superstardom. That’s a speculative future I’d like to see!

LOHF: I know you’ve got several things in the works right now. What’s got your primary focus, though?

With INTO THE ASHES and the Taine McKenna military fiction series behind me, I’m diving into writing the third and final book of my supernatural crime noir series The Path of Ra, a collaboration with my long-time writing and editing partner, Dan Rabarts. Several years ago, Dan and I set out to write a novella and, like a monster, it morphed into something that is bigger, with the first book HOUNDS OF THE UNDERWORLD awarded New Zealand’s Sir Julius Vogel Award for Best Novel earlier this year. We’ve been amazed with the response to Hounds: the book made the Bram Stoker longlist and we even had a nibble from Hollywood ‒ although there’s nothing concrete on that front yet. The second title in the series, TEETH OF THE WOLF, releases in October and we can’t wait. Raw Dog Screaming Press commissioned another gorgeous atmospheric cover from award-winning Italian artist Daniele Serra, whose work graces several Stephen King titles, and we’re excited that they’re as invested in the series as we are. For the latest book, not yet titled, we’re sticking to the he-said, she-said format of the first two books, which involves alternating narratives from dual sibling protagonists where Dan writes the smoldering bad-boy Matiu who has one foot beyond the veil, and I write his uptight scientific consultant sister. Most of the fun in writing this series has been the juxtaposition of these two characters: their beliefs and goals overlaid with ordinary sibling head-to-heads about whether or not to take the stairs and who should do the dishes. In real life, Dan and I have this big-sister little-brother thing going on, so the squabbling, and the affection, comes easily. The plan is for Book 3 to open with a blood bath on Auckland’s Freyberg wharf and things get worse from there. All of the familiar characters are back and of course, there will be a few surprises to reveal. I can’t wait to get into it. Penny and Matiu are in for one hell of ride.

LOHF: Who are some up-and-coming ladies of horror fiction that we should be on the lookout for?

So many. Apart from the writers already listed above, I’ll suggest another four:

For a novelist, please look out for my Kiwi friend and colleague Emma Pullar, author of Skeletal a world-building series which is The Handmaid’s Tale with hints of Wall-E. The second book in the series, Avian, will be released next month.

For non-fiction, I recommend checking out independent pop culture scholar Michele Brittany for her Bram Stoker-nominated essay collection Horror in Space. Michele is currently working on a collection of essays based on Mummies, which will be a fascinating read.

For short fiction, I recommend Angela Yuriko Smith’s The Bitter Suites, a series of shared world tales of recreational suicide. Highly original and gripping reading.

For a poet, please consider checking out work by my young colleague Emma Shi, who I met through the youngnzwriters programme, and who has since become one of our most promising poets. Her debut collection, Elsewhere, has received critical acclaim here in New Zealand.

Synopses

Book cover for Into the Sounds

Into the Sounds: A Taine McKenna Adventure Sequel to award-winning Into the Mist

On leave, and out of his head with boredom, NZDF Sergeant Taine McKenna joins biologist Jules Asher on a Conservation Department deer culling expedition to New Zealand’s southernmost national park, where soaring peaks give way to valleys gouged from clay and rock, and icy rivers bleed into watery canyons too deep to fathom. Despite covering an area the size of the Serengeti, only eighteen people live in the isolated region, so it’s a surprise when the hunters stumble on the nation’s Tūrehu tribe, becoming some of only a handful to ever encounter the elusive ghost people. But a band of mercenaries saw them first, and, hell-bent on exploiting the tribes’ survivors, they’re prepared to kill anyone who gets in their way. A soldier, McKenna is duty-bound to protect all New Zealanders, but after centuries of persecution will the Tūrehu allow him to help them? Besides, there is something else lurking in the sounds, and it has its own agenda. When the waters clear, will anyone be allowed to leave?

Into the Mist book cover

Into the Mist:

Winner Sir Julius Vogel Award, 2017

Finalist Australasian Shadows Award, 2017

Long listed Bram Stoker Award, 2017

When NZDF Sergeant Taine McKenna and his squad are tasked with escorting a bunch of civilian contractors into Te Urewera National Park, it seems a strange job for the army.
Militant Tūhoe separatists are active in the area, and with its cloying mist and steep ravines, the forest is a treacherous place in winter.
Yet nothing has prepared Taine for the true danger that awaits them. Death incarnate.
They backtrack toward civilisation, stalked by a prehistoric creature intent on picking them off one by one. With their weapons ineffective, the babysitting job has become a race for survival.
Desperate to bring his charges out alive, Taine draws on ancient tribal wisdom. Will it be enough to stop the nightmare? And when the mist clears, will anyone be left?

Hounds of the Underworld

Path of Ra: Book One

Hounds of the Underworld blends mystery, near-future noir and horror. Set in New Zealand it’s the product of a collaboration by two Kiwi authors, one with Chinese heritage and the other Māori. This debut book in The Path of Ra series offers compelling new voices and an exotic perspective on the detective drama.

On the verge of losing her laboratory, her savings, and all respect for herself, Pandora (Penny) Yee lands her first contract as scientific consult to the police department. And with seventeen murder cases on the go, the surly inspector is happy to leave her to it. Only she’s going to need to get around, and that means her slightly unhinged adopted brother, Matiu, will be doing the driving. But something about the case spooks Matiu, something other than the lack of a body in the congealing pool of blood in the locked room or that odd little bowl.

Lee has published ten books. We have listed three above. If you want to have a peek at her full bibliography click here. If You would like to purchase the books listed above click on the photos to be taken to either Better World Books or the publishers site.

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One Comment Add yours

  1. fuonlyknew says:

    Thanks for the fascinating interview. I sure did enjoy Into The Mist and can’t wait to get my hands on Into The Sounds to see what comes next. I think I discovered this series from you, Lilyn.

    Like

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