22 July 2014

An Interview With William Cook

William Cook was born and raised in New Zealand and is the author of the novel Blood Related. He has written many short stories that have appeared in anthologies and has authored two short-story collections (Dreams of Thanatos and Death Quartet) and two collections of poetry (Journey: the search for something and Corpus Delicti).

His work has been praised by Joe McKinney, Billie Sue Mosiman, Anna Taborska, Rocky Wood and many other notable writers and editors. William is also the editor of the anthology Fresh Fear: Contemporary Horror, published by James Ward Kirk Fiction.

*** William has kindly made five copies of the Kindle edition of Fresh Fear available to give away! Leave a comment at the end of this article, or respond on Twitter or Facebook, to be in with a chance to win one ***

1) As you mention, you're the editor of the recently published anthology Fresh Fear: Contemporary Horror, in which I'm very pleased to have a story. I'm less familiar with the horror field than I used to be back in the 1980s and 1990s, but even I can see that you've got some major names in there, notably Ramsey Campbell and Jack Dann. How did you manage to secure their work for the anthology?

It took a lot of networking and detective work to track down contact details for some of the bigger names I wanted to include in the anthology. I have been a fan of Ramsey Campbell’s for a long time and consider him the premier U.K. writer of horror, so it was important for me to try and secure one of his stories for the publication. Thankfully he agreed to sell me the rights to one of his stories (Wonderland’) and it was one that I had read before and felt was a good fit for the anthology.

Most of the bigger names were approachable; some more generous than others but most willing to part with stories (mainly reprints) for pro-rates if they didn’t feel the contributor rates were applicable. Jack Dann allowed me the use of his wonderfully frightening story ‘Camps’ and is one of the nicest and most generous authors I’ve met. I feel very honoured to have communicated with some of my favourite authors (albeit via electronic/virtual means) with this anthology and for that reason alone I feel it was worth the cost overall; it also proved a real boost to some of the up-and-coming authors to appear in an anthology alongside the likes of Campbell, Dann, Mosiman, Dunbar et al.

2) Are there common themes that emerge from within a number of these stories, or does the anthology cover the full scope of horror fiction?

The only real criterion I had in mind when selecting the stories for Fresh Fear was that they had to contain the element of fear somehow. I leant slightly towards ‘quiet’ horror when and if it was of a high enough standard but the end result was a really diverse range of stories, ranging from quite hard-core horror to more subtle narratives.

One commonality that emerged from the huge pile of submissions was the amount of stories set in post-apocalyptic or dystopian worlds; so I did become aware that the influx of these kind of stories had to be whittled down to give the reader a more diverse reading experience, as was my original intention. But, in answer to your question, I would say that the only real commonality is that the stories are well-written and that they all contain an element of fear that should entertain the readers’ adrenal glands.

3) Is this the first anthology you've edited, and how did you get interested in editing anthologies?

Yes, it is the first one that I’ve edited. I have always wanted to create my own horror anthology as I’m a big fan of them having falling in love early on with the Pan (Herbert Van Thal ed.) and Fontana collections of the late 70s and early 80s. It is how I, and I suspect, most other readers of horror have discovered new talents and writers of the genre and continue to do so. My interest stems from my love and fascination with the genre and I hope that I get the chance to edit more over the following years. I have always wanted to put together a very eclectic classical horror anthology with the best illustrations to accompany the selection of my favourite stories. One day.

4) Of course, you're also known as a horror novelist, with your novel Blood Related [receiving good reviews. Without giving too much away, what can readers expect from Blood Related?

By way of an answer to your question, I sent a copy to a favourite psychological thriller author – Jonathan Nasaw (author of ‘Fear Itself,’ ‘The Girls He Adored,’ ‘When She Was Bad’ etc). Now this guy is the standard by which I measured BR – his novels are usually about depraved serial killers and are very dark, so his reply shocked me in such a way that I had to ask his permission to use it as a blurb. “Dark and deeply disturbing,” was his reply. Apparently, he had to put it down after reading the first section because it disturbed him too much! Another reviewer has summed up BR nicely – here’s how they described the novel:

“William Cook's presentation of a family of murderers, most notably the twin brothers Caleb and Charlie, is a chronicle that charts the evolution (or de-evolution) of a killer's psyche. There is a plot in this novel, or rather, a series of events that result in the book's conclusion (no spoilers here). A revolutionary plot on the manic scale of Charles Manson, a damaged family unit that has been depicted in classic horror films like Texas Chainsaw Massacre and House of 1000 Corpses, and the downward spiral of the novel's "good guy" all illustrate the environmental conditions which create such monstrosities. Cook did very thorough research; no stone was left unturned, no cause behind the madness unexplored.”

5) You're also a poet, and of course, there's a long tradition of horror poetry, stretching back at least to Edgar Allen Poe. What makes for good horror poetry?

There are so many variables and subjective considerations when one makes a value judgement about what constitutes ‘good’ poetry that it is hard to nail down. ‘Horror poetry’ is a fairly loose term and is not as widely accepted as say ‘Gothic’ poems, but recent years have seen the rise of a number of poets who do write poetry that engages tropes most commonly found in horror novels/fiction. An element of dread must always be present – a sense of foreboding; this can be achieved with the cadence and meter of the poem and is also emphasized by the use of onomatopoeia and description.

I’m personally not a great fan of rhyming poetry and prefer subtle use of alliteration and simile – the poems that really speak to me as works of horror are usually succinct and pack a punch. The poem should make the reader draw breath as they read and to twist their thoughts and emotion in a way that will leave a marked impression. Too much horror poetry relies on mediocre rhyme schemes and fails to deliver impact because of it. You can have a fantastic idea and a scary premise that can be delivered effectively with free verse, but as soon as a rhyme scheme is used it comes across as a cheesy Pam Ayers-type limerick. The poetry that does it right is usually well edited and tightly wrought with selective use of words and phrasing.

Some contemporary poets who I feel do ‘horror poetry’ well are Charlee Jacob, Vincenzo Bilof, Lori Lopez, and Jaye Thomas, and Bruce Boston, to name a few of my favourites.

6) Now that you've finished work on Fresh Fear, what projects do you currently have on the go?

I am currently editing a collection of my 101-year-old Grandfather’s poetry, which is proving to be a challenge. He is a very prolific writer but has seldom been published due to the fact that he has not really shared his work. So there are many hours of reading and editing to get his work to a publishable stage. I am hoping to have his collection published by the end of August, so that he can actually hold a copy in his hands of his own work before he shuffles off this mortal coil. I am also working on a new collection of verse and essays titled ‘Beyond the Black Gate’ – essentially an exploration of depression and its effects and origins. Half of the book will deal with the darker side of depression and the latter half will deal with coping mechanisms and hope. I have a few collaborations I’m working on also including a collection of YA horror stories. For more on all my upcoming and ongoing projects, please come and visit me at my website: http://williamcookwriter.com

7) I know that you've put a lot of effort into building up your social media presence to create a sales platform for your work. What advice do you have for writers who think social media is not for them, or who are just starting to make use of it?

Unfortunately it is a necessary evil but if you can, don’t view it as such. Without the various social medias I would not have achieved the publishing goals I have set for myself so far. I would not have met the publishers, editors, fellow writers, and most importantly – readers. Network, network, network, is the rule of thumb with social media. Use the various platforms for the promotion of your books but use common sense. Don’t over-post things or you will lose the contacts that you have quite quickly – no-one likes a ‘spammer.’

Despite Facebook being the largest social network available it is pretty useless for sharing posts that you make – i.e. you do not have share options that link your FB posts with the likes of Twitter, Pinterest, Google+, MySpace, LinkedIn etc. I believe it is best to have a platform such as a website if you are serious about promoting your work online. Wordpress, Blogger, Wix, Tumblr etc are all viable options and best of all they are free.

Once you have your website/blog set up, then you can use it to share your posts via the social media sites. Most blogs/websites have options for automated sharing of your posts which can save lots of (writing) time and is the most effective way of cross-market promotion. There are countless tutorials via each of these platforms in the help sections or on YouTube.com etc.

Essentially, you need an online presence if you are to succeed as an author in this day and age – especially if you are going down the independent or self-publishing route. The one piece of advice I think is important is to not let it (social media) consume you – I have wasted far too much time over the years on it when I should’ve been writing but in saying that, I have learnt many valuable lessons too. One other point is to remember who it is you are trying to market your work to - the reader.

8) You've recently been involved in setting up the NZ Horror Writers' Association. Who should get involved, and why?

Well it was more of an experiment than anything else really. I was curious as to how many New Zealand authors write horror and whether there was a need for such a group. So far the response has been positive but I think a more apt title for the group would be: New Zealand Dark Fiction Authors. If you write dark fiction/horror and want a forum for your ideas and to network with other like minds them it would probably be a good place to start.

Many of the members are also active members in groups like the AHWA (Australian Horror Writers Association), SpecFicNZ and the HWA and use the group to share open submission calls and industry news. The criteria for membership is pretty simple – if you are a New Zealander and you write within the genres mentioned, come join up.

9) In addition to those with stories included in Fresh Fear, who are up and coming horror writers that readers should be looking out for?

There are so many good writers out there with little or no recognition. Some of the more promising authors that I have had the pleasure of dealing with are as follows: Vincenzo Bilof, Carole Gill, Scathe meic Beorh, Lindsey Beth Goddard, William Malmborg, Anna Taborska, Dane Hatchell, Thomas A. Erb.

There are so many and I’m sure to have missed out others. For a full list of recommended authors, please come and visit my website where I have a full page devoted to writers who are good at what they do.

*** William has kindly made five copies of the Kindle edition of Fresh Fear available to give away! Leave a comment at the end of this article, or respond on Twitter or Facebook, to be in with a chance to win one ***

17 July 2014

Lost in the Museum Photoshoot Outside Te Papa: Fierce, Fabulous and Freezing

The stars came out in Wellington (OK, the wind came out in Wellington) for a couple of press photoshoots to promote the new anthology Lost in the Museum, edited by A.J. Ponder on behalf of Phoenix Writers, which includes my story "The Big Baby". The full story of the photoshoot, plus the pics themselves, are over on Eileen Mueller's site (note: a pop-up window will appear when you access the site - once you've responded to this, you can see the articles & photos). Apparently the "squinty, windblown" look is de rigeur for high-end fashion photography in 2014 - at least, the Dominion Post photographer insisted we stand in the wind and look into the sun!

Lost in the Museum is a fun collection of linked stories set in New Zealand's national museum, Te Papa.

You can buy a copy of Lost in the Museum:

  • As a Kindle ebook from Amazon
  • From bookstores including The Children’s Bookstore in Kilbirnie, Unity Books, and Marsden Books in Karori (Wellington) and Retrospace (Auckland). The ISBN is 978-0-473-28320-9, which will help you to order it from other bookshops.

15 July 2014

Tuesday Poem: Anna's life, as directed by Michael Winterbottom - by Helen Rickerby

I keep accidentally walking up the wrong stairs
and finding myself in a Palestinian story
about a child, and a mother
and, oh, there is a father, but he is never there
and so I keep forgetting

Up the right stairs it is even stranger:
my life as it was when I had a life –
before I had this life, I mean, when it was
all drinking and parties and passionate fighting
I watch for a while with nostalgia, but
just because it makes a good story, doesn’t mean
you want to live it

Behind the next door, in a post-modern
meta-post-meta comedy, I am the Ice Cream Girl
and each morning I reattach my platinum-blonde beehive
with a twist at the crown
I apply thick black eyelashes
wear my highest heels
and totter my way through the day
By the end, I’ve melted
but the Ice Cream Man scoops me up
safe in a reflective curve

And this is myself, playing myself playing myself
and this, I think, is a farmyard
There are dirt paths and chickens running everywhere
Someone is being born, and someone is dying
inevitably, there’s blood everywhere
and I decide I will never eat pork again, or drink
red wine, but oh, no, I take it back about the wine

Credit note
: This poem is reproduced by permission of the author, Helen Rickerby. It is from her latest collection, Cinema, which I have briefly reviewed for the NZ Herald and on this blog.

Audio version: You can also listen to Helen read this poem.

Tim says: Helen is one of my favourite poets, and (as I say in my review) I think this is her best collection yet. "Anna's life" manages to be (I hope I can say) Anna-ish and Winterbottomish (Winterbottomly?) while retaining its essential Rickerbyism (OK, I'll give up on the neologisms now) - and what a splendid last line!

The Tuesday Poem: Is by Riemke Ensing and has been chosen by Kathleen Jones, who always writes substantial and fascinating notes about the poems she chooses: both poem and notes are well worth reading.

07 July 2014

My Most Recent "Book Watch" Column for the New Zealand Herald

I occasionally contribute to the "Book Watch" column in the New Zealand Herald.Here is my most recent column.

Shaman, by Kim Stanley Robinson – print and ebook - http://www.amazon.com/Shaman-Kim-Stanley-Robinson/dp/0316098078/

Loon is a teenager who is being trained as a shaman, mostly against his wishes, for his Ice Age tribe. The key events in the story are two journeys Loon undertakes - the first provides a strong opening to the story, and the second triggers off an exciting conclusion. Kim Stanley Robinson's great strength as a writer can also be his chief weakness: he knows and loves his material so well that he sometimes clogs up the story with it. But the in-depth imagining of Loon’s world, and the strong conclusion to the book, make this a recommended read.

Cinema, by Helen Rickerby – print - http://www.makaropress.co.nz/the-hoopla-series/

Wellington poet Helen Rickerby just keeps getting better. Her best work is moving, funny, and thought-provoking without being “difficult” – and Cinema is full of her best work. This collection is all directly or indirectly about the silver screen.

It includes poems about the art-form itself, poems about the effect cinema has had on the poet’s life, and a series of poems about the lives of Helen’s friends as if directed by various famous directors. (I’m still hoping for one about my life as directed by a tag-team of Sofia Coppola and David Lean.) Great stuff!

My Life, by Li Na – print and ebook - http://www.amazon.com/Li-Na-My-Life/dp/0143800051/

Li Na, winner of the 2011 French Open and the 2014 Australian Open, is my favourite tennis player. Her stubborn individualism has frequently led to conflict with the all-encompassing Chinese state sports system in which she grew up - conflicts unblinkingly documented here. But the core of the book is her relationship with her husband Jiang Shan, a former top Chinese player who gave that up to be the tennis equivalent of Li Na's caddy - and also, for a time, her coach, something that wasn't great for her marriage and which they wisely brought to an end. Fascinating even if you’re not a tennis fan.

Interstellar Overdrive: The Shindig! Guide to Spacerock, ed Austin Matthews - print - http://www.amazon.com/Interstellar-Overdrive-Shindig-Guide-Spacerock/dp/0992643422/

Spacerock is hard to define: think Pink Floyd before they settled down and got respectable, or Hawkwind’s mix of hard-rock riffing and spacey synthesisers. It’s progressive rock without the sonata structures; it’s heavy metal on helium. As a Seventies teenager, I have a taste for this sort of thing, and this book thoroughly covers beginnings (Telstar; the Dr Who theme), main practitioners and byways. It’s especially good on European bands: any book that can have me searching Slow Boat Records for old Amon Düül II albums has done its job.

02 July 2014

Fast Times In The Poetry Biz: Two Cities, Two Events, One Date (23 July)

As I'm sure you all know, the modern poetry business is a fast-paced affair, full of people in sharp suits and pencil skirts clustered around laptops discussing third-quarter profit projections (OK, maybe that's just business meeting stock photography for websites).

And sometimes, that poet life requires you to be in two places at once, a feat not even T.S. Eliot could accomplish without a lot of CGI. Such is the case on Wednesday 23 July, the date of both the Sydney launch of The Stars Like Sand: Australian Speculative Poetry, and a poetry reading at Circadian Rhythm in Dunedin, MC'd by Shae McMillan, at which Rhian Gallagher and I are the readers.

Since I can't be in two places at once, and have made a prior commitment to read in Dunedin, I am unable to make the Sydney launch, but my co-editor P.S. Cottier will be in attendance, as will publisher Dr David Reiter, and a number of poets represented in the anthology will also read.

Meanwhile, I'm very much looking forward to reading and hearing other poets read in Dunedin - my home town from 1976-1993, and a place I still have lots of friends.

If you can be in two places at once, or even one place at once, here are the details of those two events:

The Stars Like Sand Sydney Launch, 23 July 2014: Part of Live Poets @ Don Bank, 6 Napier St, North Sydney, 7.30pm. Here's the Facebook event and the Facebook event description:

IT'S THE NIGHT OF THE MASKED BARDS' BALL! (Bring one to wear if you want). KYLA LEE WARD will perform her book 'Land of Bad Dreams'. DAVID REITER will present 'MY PLANETS' .There is the Sydney launch of 'STARS LIKE SAND" Anthology of Australian Speculative Poetry, featuring many of Australia's best - from Interactive Press. Plus: Open Section - recite, sing, tell a story or play an instrument.There will be dancing in the courtyard. It's the Warm Winter Words Festival! Doors open at 7.30 pm. $7 admission includes hot supper and drinks. Readers from the anthology come in free. Further info/bookings: Convenor Danny Gardner (02) 9896 6956 Mobile 0422 263 373 or via dannylivepoets (at) yahoo.com.au

Come and commune with our guests in the cosy confines of historic Don Bank. Why not bring a friend?

Circadian Rhythm Reading, 23 July 2014: 8-10pm, Circadian Rhythm Cafe, 72 St Andrew St, Dunedin, with MC Shae McMillan, open mike, and guest poets Rhian Gallagher and Tim Jones. Here's the Facebook event.

24 June 2014

Tuesday Poem: Chrome Yellow Hypothesis, by Iain Britton

the house isn’t what it was

the voice of a radio predicts a storm /

it mimics a politician
commentates on cricket

the radio possesses the eye
of an orchestra
anthems on walls / flags and
coronation stuff / a platoon

route marches to Hill 44 /      

the family has taken furniture
its god particles and disguised itself in bundles

the house isn’t what it seems ...

a square brick object at the mercy of orthodoxies
dousing gentiles in holy water / they
chant / play / sing / love thine enemies
Te Hahi o te Whakapono

the church (sermon-bloated)

hunches its white skull

beside the lake

passers-by are pulled in to drool

on historical grounds

where prisoners in wood

hug others in wood

where the lake laps music against stained-

glass windows / a flute’s voice

breathes on naked skin

a woman smiles

undoes her soul

for the cost of a camera’s sharp bite

life i observe is a sulphuric cloud
raw and exposed
a matter of confessions

this woman this mother

the miracle makers
who each year split atoms
by walking on air

she’s fascinated by silica

its crystals / this geothermal fragility

which  domes the town

she opens herself to parkland
any stuntman would exploit

beside the lake

birds scrap

over chrome-plated godsends
plucked from moonstones

this mother this woman

goes into the house of

 one room
 one kitchen
 one radio

a solitary figure clothing
legends in bright garments
 what if

i place my lips on her lips / would forests
buckle up / would ghosts
return to their shelves to rest

she speaks to each gnome in her garden / paints

their hats gold

handles them carefully

each night they rough and tumble

squabble like her children

where invisibility is an asset

where in her house

love battles

love charges up a hill / e hoa
she calls

and the radio responds

with the news / the weather

a boy scoops up a ball

and runs with it
through a yellow cloud

Credit note: "Chrome Yellow Hypothesis" is from Iain Britton's collection photosynthesis, now available from Kilmog Press. This version is published, and reformatted to work better on a blog, with the permission of the author.

Tim says: After my hiatus, I'm back in the world of the Tuesday Poem, where I will try to get back in the routine of posting a Tuesday Poem every fortnight. It's a pleasure to (re)start with this fine poem by Iain Britton.

15 June 2014

The Stars Like Sand - Canberra Launch: Orbital Separation Achieved

Well, I'm back - back in Wellington from my trip to Melbourne and Canberra, where my co-editor P.S. Cottier and myself launched the anthology we've been working on for almost two years, The Stars Like Sand: Australian Speculative Poetry.

Each of us (Penelope | Tim) has already blogged about the Melbourne launch. The Canberra launch last Thursday, held at historic Manning Clark House, was also a success, with 40-50 people in attendance. The photos below show poets Lizz Murphy and John Jenkins reading their poems from the book, although most of the crowd is out of shot in these photos.

UPDATE: Penelope has now posted another eloquent post about the launches and how she feels at the end of them.

I enjoyed my trip to Australia a lot, thanks in very large part to the hospitality of my co-editor and her lovely family. Now I have a couple of solid weeks ahead of me as the judge of the Open Section of the 2014 New Zealand Poetry Society International Poetry Competition, and then I have some writing to do!

Finally, watch out for some more publicity for Lost in the Museum this coming week - that's the new fantasy anthology with a touch of horror, set in Te Papa, that includes my story "The Big Baby".