THE DARK MATTER OF NATASHA: Genesis, Requiem, etm.

The Winter Solstice is upon us (in the southern hemisphere, anyway), and The Dark Matter of Natasha has been unleashed!

Check out the Bibliography page for a bunch of purchase links. Now that you’ve done that (nudge, nudge), let’s talk a little about the life of the book so far.

My new novella is dedicated to J.R. Hayes of Pig Destroyer and Jeff Hanneman of Slayer, for good reason. The first germ of this story appeared way back in 2012, when I was listening to PD’s grindcore album Phantom Limb (2007). There’s a song on it called “Girl in the Slayer Jacket”, and something about Hayes’ lyrics spoke to me: “She had thick skin/but if you cut her/the wound/the wound would bleed forever… But the truth is her eyes/had been dead since she was five/she just hadn’t disposed of the body.” I immediately sensed a tale in the offing, and soon set about plotting it; in another nod to Pig Destroyer, I decided to call my character Natasha, after their experimental half-hour-plus narrative song of the same name. (Please don’t sue, guys. I love you!) I had a false start or two, but I recall working doggedly at the writing in October during the recording of the icecocoon album Deepest Crystal Black — every day for a week I’d get up early, catch a tram to the studio, record all day with Owen and Tom, then return home late at night and power away at Natasha for a few hours. Since my titular character wore a denim jacket with a big Slayer patch sewn on the back, and since I love to expound upon my own interests (for better or worse), I gave my narrator a subplot in which he discovers the visceral pleasures of thrash metal in general and Slayer in particular.

My own introduction to Slayer came in high school. A recent convert to heavy metal, I bought the tape of Seasons in the Abyss (1990) from my mate Nathan, and it remains my personal favourite (which explains why it’s the narrator’s pick, too). One of the legendary Big Four of thrash metal who arose in the early Eighties and brought the genre to prominence (along with Metallica, Megadeth, and Anthrax), Slayer shied away from the eventual sonic experimentation of their peers in favour of honing their signature sound: flat-out, punk-inspired drumming by Dave Lombardo (and later, Paul Bostaph), speed-picked buzzsaw riffs and demon-scream guitar solos from Kerry King and Jeff Hanneman, and Tom Araya’s distinctive wail (dis)articulating lyrics about murder, obsession, war, and/or Hell. They were the hardest of the hard (unless you asked the stoners who cranked Deicide and Cannibal Corpse in the high school art room), and Slayer fandom was something you wore like a badge of honour. I didn’t follow them as closely as Metallica, with whose albums I taught myself to play bass, but I always came back to them when I needed a fix of the strong stuff; people rave about Hell Awaits (1985)and Reign in Blood (1986), but albums like Divine Intervention (1994), God Hates Us All (2001), and World Painted Blood (2009) are equally delightful to me. I finally got to see them live in 2007 as a surprise birthday present from my partner at the time, and then again in 2011 at the Soundwave festival. On that later tour, Gary Holt stepped in to replace Hanneman, who was recovering from — how metal is this? — necrotising fasciitis that he’d apparently picked up from a spider bite whilst in a hot tub.

I finished the first draft of my novella in April 2013, at which point I decided upon a mildly idiosyncratic title: NATASHA ♥’s SLAYER, all caps and emoji included. A week or two later, I hopped in my car after work and heard Triple J playing “Dead Skin Mask”, Slayer’s eerie paean to Ed Gein. What was going on here? The youth radio network never played stuff like this outside the metal show — how curious! I was stunned when the DJs back-announced the song by reporting that Jeff Hanneman had passed away from what was later revealed to be alcohol-related cirrhosis and liver failure. I remember sending a text to my mate Charger, a rabid Slayer fan, that just said FUCK… and he knew exactly what I meant. On the spot, I decided that, should NATASHA ever be published, I would dedicate it to Jeff’s memory.

Years passed, and every now and again, I would return to the manuscript and give it another solid draft. The story grew stronger and stronger, but I had no idea where I would find a home for it — despite its bleak darkness and looming sense of hopelessness, it’s not exactly a horror tale, and the crime elements were too minor to edge it into that genre. Also, it was a fairly grimy and explicit missive from the underbelly of small-town life, and I suspected the seamy sex, drug use, and strong themes would work against it. I briefly considered including it in my first short story collection as a weighty closer, but it unbalanced the sequence and took up too much space. I sent it off to an open call on the off chance, but nothing eventuated from that, and I wondered if this story was doomed to linger forever on my hard drive, another work of mine that fell between genres and hence between the cracks of the world. As if to confirm its lack of relevance, the mighty Slayer finally called time in 2019 after a final post-Hanneman record, 2015’s Repentless, and a comprehensive farewell tour.

And then, in 2021, I submitted my bastard child to Grey Matter Press. Anthony Rivera, GMP editor and honcho, reached out to tell me how much he’d enjoyed the manuscript. He thought it would be a perfect fit for their then-unnamed Emergent Expressions line. At long last, NATASHA had found a home!

I went through a few rounds of publisher edits, a process I usually find somewhat arduous — especially before I even open the file, as if I expect to find reams of strikeouts and contemptuous invalidating notes from the editor, though of course it’s never as bad as all that — and found myself buoyed by occasional comments from Tony that had nothing to do with potential changes and everything to do with praising the writing. “It’s beautiful sentences/passages like this that make your work so highly enjoyable for me,” said one. “This literally sent chills down my spine,” read another. He related hard to the themes and settings of the work, had lived through some of the same experiences as me that coloured the story, and understood what I was trying to do so well that I barely had to explain anything. The only minor sticking point was my insistence on using “come” instead of “cum”, a spelling that makes my eyes hurt in a literary context, and that was simply an issue of… well, taste. Ahem.

In fact, the only problem we ran into during the preparation of the manuscript was its title. I had never considered it might be a concern, but publishers have to be aware of all things, and GMP noted that we’d be using a registered trademark. A query was sent off to Slayer’s legal people, with the understanding that if they wanted to charge for use of the name, we’d have to demur and choose a different title. Time went by and we heard nothing back, which ate at me somewhat because I’d grown quite attached to NATASHA ♥’s SLAYER and couldn’t imagine the novella being called anything else. Eventually, though, the lack of response meant I had to do just that. I ran through some alternatives like Natasha’s Curse and Nymphetamine (after the Cradle of Filth album, which I was using as a working title for another tale) and even found myself rifling through Slayer albums for a song title I could nick instead, like “Expendable Youth” or “Stain of Mind” — but that didn’t feel right, felt like trying to make a blunt point about my own stubbornness in the face of compromise. Finally, I settled on either The Dark Matter of Natasha or Natasha’s Dark Matter, prompted by the galactic similes I sprinkled throughout the text, and we agreed the former worked better. It’s got a nice old-fashioned ring to it that belies its contents, and I didn’t even notice that I’d incorporated a word from the publisher’s name! It’s grown on me considerably, to the point where I almost never slip up and use the old name anymore. Yeah, you’re not always right, sunshine…

When it came to discussing cover art, I had a lot to say. (Cue knowing eyerolls from everyone who’s ever worked with me.) Since the story had grown from a song on Phantom Limb, I’d always imagined the published version utilising art by the same guy who’d done its cover: one John Dyer Baizley, best known as the vocalist/guitarist/mainstay of the excellent Baroness. I’d even vaguely considered self-publishing at one point and commissioning a new piece of art or licensing an old one from JDB, an idea immediately scuttled by my perpetual poverty. I knew it was a long shot, so I sent Tony some of his work and hoped for something in the same ballpark. Understandably, GMP plumped for cover art a little more approachable to the casual reader, though they did end up working in a pentagram to hint at the metal angle. As with the new title, it’s something I quickly got used to and ended up quite liking.

Pig Destroyer, Phantom Limb (2007). Artwork by John Dyer Baizley.

Then we came to the subject of blurbs. I’d garnered a handful for If Only Tonight We Could Sleep but hadn’t bothered to do so with Midnight in the Chapel of Love, kind of liking the idea that the novel would drop with no associations or preconceptions and would stand on its own merits. (Oh, sweet summer child, etc.) This time I suggested fellow Aussie Alan Baxter, who had a few books out through GMP and with whom I’d had a little contact on social media and through the Australasian Horror Writers Association… only to learn that he’d already put himself forward for the task! He supplied the first glowing appraisal, and more came from J. Ashley-Smith (who’d asked me to blurb his forthcoming collection, The Measure of Sorrow, and upon reading my MS, was very happy to return the favour) and John C. Foster. Splendid chaps, all of them — I had the pleasure of meeting Alan in person recently at the Aurealis Awards, where I also got to hang with J. for the second time, and I hope for a chance to catch up with John one day.

And that brings us pretty much up to date. GMP have garnered a bunch of pre-release reviews for the book, mostly very positive ones with a few slightly reserved takes thrown in for good measure, and I’m gratified to see how much Natasha is resonating with readers. We may well work together again in the near future — Tony has a new novella and a second short story collection of mine lurking in his inbox for consideration — so stay tuned…

I’d like to take this opportunity to once again thank everyone involved: Anthony and GMP for having faith in my work and doing it dark justice, Alan, J., and John for their kind appraisals, Joe Joe and Dad for reading the MS in earlier stages (Dad’s assessment: “bleakly compelling”), J.R. for the words that led to my own much more detailed examination of a dead-end girl, Slayer for being fucking Slayer, and Meg for the author pic and general all-round support and loving awesomeness. Also, everyone who’s read, reviewed, promoted, and/or supported this book along the way. You’re all well wizard… and believe me, here in the dark, you matter.

MRD

PS. etm. is a contraction of et merda, quite literally “and shit”. I’m going to use this all the time now.

Some Great Award (A Black Celebration)

Welcome back to another edition of my sporadic blog!

Okay, first of all: “The Waiting Room” did not win a Shadows Award — that one went to the very deserving Ariadne, I Love You, by J. Ashley-Smith. (Read the full list of winners here.) However, I was then shortlisted for two Aurealis Awards: Best Horror Novella for “Hell’s Teeth”, and Best Horror Novel for Midnight in the Chapel of Love. Read on to find out how that panned out. But first…

Screaming in the Night: Sinister Supernatural Stories Vol. 1 by Sinister Smile Press, which includes my story “I Do Thee Woe”, is now available here.

My third story to be published by SSP, “Thee Most Exalted Potentate of Love”, appears in If I Die Before I Wake Vol. 7 — Tales of Savagery and Slaughter, which drops on June 7. Check it out and preorder here.

Tales of the Lost Vol. 3 has now been renamed You’re Not Alone in the Dark and looks to be released soon by Plaid Dragon; it features my novelette “Vigil at Singer’s Cross” alongside works by Peter Straub, Gwendolyn Kiste, Paul Tremblay, Chris Mason, etc. More news as it comes in.

A Vindication of Monsters, a book of essays about Mary Shelley, her monster, and her mother edited by Claire Fitzpatrick and featuring a piece by me, has now been picked up by IFWG Publishing and its release pushed back to 2023.

The Dark Matter of Natasha, my forthcoming novella from Grey Matter Press, drops on June 21. I woke this morning to a lovely review by Paul Preston, which is a great way to start the day! You can read a little about the book and preorder it at 30% off here. Check it out!

I spent the month of May working as many shifts as I could in order to take myself and my partner over to Canberra for the Aurealis Awards ceremony. Gratifyingly, I was also asked to be part of a weird fiction panel in the afternoon alongside Alan Baxter, Aaron Dries, J. Ashley-Smith, Joanne Anderton, and J.S. Breukelaar! Despite my best-laid plans, however, the trip quickly turned into an exercise in frustration: our 6am flight was delayed, as was our connecting flight to Canberra, meaning we arrived in town at 12:30pm when the panel started at 12! Not only that, but it turns out there are two venues in Canberra called the Hellenic Club, so we booked a hotel across the road from the wrong one! Meg and I did manage to make it to the awards ceremony on time, so there was that, at least! After all that, I figured winning anything was too much to hope for, and sure enough, I didn’t bring home any gongs this year. (Check out the list of worthy winners here.)

But there was a brilliant silver lining to all this, which was that I got to meet and hang out with a whole bunch of Australian spec-fic peeps. I’d met a few before and now met many more for the first time, and I’m pleased to report they’re diamond geezers and birds every one: Alan Baxter, J. Ashley-Smith, Zachary Ashford, Kaaron Warren, Tehani Croft, J.S. Breukelaar, Joanne Anderton, Alannah Pearson, Sean Williams, Kathryn Parker, Aaron Dries, Nathan J. Phillips, Cat Sparks, Pamela Jeffs, and many more. I had a great time drinking and hobnobbing with my writing community and can’t wait to do it again! I only wish I’d had the chance to talk more with everyone and chat to some people I missed this time around. The night really drove home how far I’ve come; ten years ago, I was reading Kaaron Warren’s books with only a few published shorts to my name, pondering the gap between our worlds — now we’re peers, for crying out loud, amiably competing for the same awards, signing books for each other, and she’s throwing unprompted and hugely validating praise in my direction! Quite a trip, I assure you.

Me and Alan Baxter – Grey Matter Boys represent! (pic by Albax)

The next day, Meg and I went a-roaming and explored a colourful little slice of Canberra before flying home.

Speaking of Meg, her fantastic film clip for the ambient electronica banger “Womb” by Minds Untethered is now available to watch here and I highly recommend you do so forthwith. I served as assistant on the shoot, which features our friends Sean Donleavy from Wings of Thanatos and Mitch Brackman from Dyssidia, and my pale mitts make a cameo appearance in certain spots — when it comes to film, I guess you could say I’m keeping my hand in…

I’ve been asked to write some blurbs for fellow authors recently, which is a huge boost! I’ve provided glowing testimonials for J. Ashley-Smith’s collection The Measure of Sorrow, due in 2023 from Meerkat Press, and Fay Lee’s Empathy from Hawkeye Books, which is out this month. In fact, I’m appearing at Fay’s book launch on June 9, where the pair of us will be pontificating about writing and such with The Adelaide Show‘s Stephen Davis. Let’s hope this panel is one I manage to reach in time — not helped by the fact that I have a trial shift for a new job that ends at the same time the event is scheduled to begin…! The discussion is also being recorded for a podcast, so I’ll drop a link for that when it’s out.

A few more talented people have dropped off the twig lately, always sad news, but I’d like to take a moment to mourn the premature passing of Depeche Mode’s Andy Fletcher. I’ve been a DM fan for decades and this turn of events is as tragic as it is surprising. Farewell, Fletch, and thanks for everything.

Listening:

Immutable, Meshuggah — Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers, Kendrick Lamar — Heavy Pendulum, Cave In — Zeit, Rammstein — FutureNever, Daniel Johns

Reading:

Sundial, Catriona Ward — These Things Between Us, Gus Moreno — The Apparition Phase, Will Maclean — Ten Steps to Nanette, Hannah Gadsby — Our Wives Under the Sea, Julia Armfield

Watching:

Stranger Things Season 4 — Sex Education Russian Doll The Golden Girls The Beast Must Die

Thanks all, and may you be well!

M

All the Dark Matters that matter

Hello, and welcome to another horribly belated edition of… my blog!

Let’s start with the biggest news: I can finally announce that Grey Matter Press will be releasing my novella The Dark Matter of Natasha later this year as part of their Emerging Expressions line. I’ve got a sweet blurb from Alan Baxter, who’s had a few knockout books published by GMP, plus one from Shirley Jackson Award winner J. Ashley-Smith, and editor Anthony Rivera has been effusive in his praise of the story — I can’t wait for everyone to read it! Labelled a psychological thriller because we didn’t know what else to call it, it’s a bit of a bummer and not exactly a beach read, but you won’t forget it in a hurry! More on this sliver of darkness anon. For now, here’s an image from the photoshoot I did with my wonderful partner Meg for the book’s author pic.

Photo by Red Wallflower Photography, 22.2.22

As previously noted, I’ve signed contracts for two more books to come out this year, with another one lurking in the wings. It’s looking like a banner year! I’ll dish the delicious deets when appropriate. I’ve also put together a prospective second collection, which has already garnered some publisher interest — my fingers are crossed so much that my hands look like pretzels at the moment…

My novelette “The Waiting Room”, from It Calls from the Doors, was recently shortlisted for the Paul Haines Award for Long Fiction in the 2021 Australian Shadows Awards! You can read the full list of worthy nominees here.

Haunted: An Anthology, featuring my novelette “Hell’s Teeth”, is out now from Specul8 Publishing, and you can get it here. Apocalyptic Monsters, featuring “George Romero Doomed Us All”, is also out now through Wicked Taxidermy Press, and you can find that here.

In another first, I’ll have a substantial piece of non-fiction out between covers soon. A Vindication of Monsters is Claire Fitzpatrick’s anthology of essays about Mary Shelley, her mother, and her monster, and it will feature my piece “The Maker Remade: Mary Shelley in Fiction”.

I had a short essay featured as part of Kendall Reviews’s Books of Blood Advent Calendar in December, where each story from Clive Barker’s classic series was discussed by an author — you can read “In Praise of Paradox: ‘The Madonna'” here.

I did an interview with Eerie River Publishing in support of their anthology It Calls from the Doors, featuring my novelette “The Waiting Room”, and you can read that here.

In non-writing news, I’m working on art ideas for my brother Ethan’s third album, and I recently recorded some bass for a new icecocoon single. Here’s a pic of me laying down the law.

Pic by Owen Gillett. Yes, I’ve been losing weight.

Since I’ve left it so long between posts, I guess there’s no point in me doing my semi-regular Best of the Year lists. Let me just say that my favourite albums of 2021 were by such luminaries as Mastodon, th1rt3en x Pharoahe Monche, Halsey, Carcass, Ministry, Garbage, Mr. Bungle, Jerry Cantrell, Steven Wilson, Weezer, Tomahawk, Rob Zombie, Cradle of Filth, Fear Factory, Converge, Lorde, John Carpenter, Lingua Ignota, CHVRCHES, Lana Del Rey, Godflesh, Shihad, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, and The Veronicas. I greatly enjoyed books by Sarah Bailey, Stephen Graham Jones, Carole Johnstone, Grady Hendrix, Angela Slatter, Stephen King, Ramsey Campbell, Catriona Ward, Megan Abbott, Nina Allan, Steven Hall, Mike Thorn, Ronald Malfi, J.S. Breukelaar, Philip Fracassi, Silvia Moreno-Garcia, Christos Tsiolkas, Catherine Jinks, Riley Sager, Virginia Feito, J. Ashley-Smith, Gordon B. White, Alan Baxter, Rebecca Fraser, Junji Ito, Silvia Canton Rondoni & Silvia Nieta, Jess Zimmerman, Steven Hyden, Dave Grohl, Nikki Sixx, and Seth Rogen. I don’t have a handy list of my favourite films and TV shows, but they include Doctor Who: Flux, Candyman, Brand New Cherry Flavor, Mare of Easttown, Last Night in Soho, Gunpowder Milkshake, In the Earth, Censor, and The Night House.

I hope you’re all well and remain so. Keep kicking, my friends.

MRDx

Remission: Waiting for Blogot

Okay, once again I have been remiss in updating my blog, so there’s a bit to get through! (And yes, that’s a Beckett gag in the title.) I was waiting on confirmation of a few things before I blurted about them — read on to find out what…

First of all, I recently learned that my collection If Only Tonight We Could Sleep was namedropped by the one and only Ellen Datlow in Best Horror of the Year: Volume 13. Holy wow! Ellen is the editor on the global horror scene, so to make it onto her radar, even in such a small way, is a bit of a coup. Sadly, she misspelled my name, but at least it wasn’t yet another Davies…

It Calls from the Doors, featuring my novelette “The Waiting Room”, is out now, and you can find it here among other places. I’ve also had a couple more book reviews posted on Horror Oasis – you can read my thoughts on Gordon B. White’s new novella Rookfield here, and Philip Fracassi’s limited edition novel Boys in the Valley here.

Haunted, an anthology from Specul8 Publishing featuring my novelette “Hell’s Teeth”, will be available from December 24. Tales of the Lost Vol. 3, another charitable anthology from Plaid Dragon Press that features my novelette “Vigil at Singer’s Cross” alongside reprints by some amazing authors like Peter Straub, is currently being crowdfunded here and they hope to have it out in December. Look out for another guest post on Kendall Reviews shortly — they’re doing an advent calendar in December based around each story in Clive Barker’s Books of Blood, for which I’ve written an essay.

“Dawn Dressed in Rain”, an emotive paranormal story that is basically a fiction adaptation of The Cure’s “From the Edge of the Deep Green Sea”, has been accepted for Propertius Press‘s Draw Down the Moon, which should be out any day now. “Jaws of Glass” has been accepted by Scare Street for their Night Terrors anthology series, and that’s where things get really interesting — because I wrote that story with one Roger Davis, otherwise known as my dad! Explanation: my father, who has been a published cartoonist amongst many other things but never a published writer (though he’s occasionally bashed out a quick shocker), sat down early last year and knocked out a quick piece inspired by a surprise sliding door he encountered in North Adelaide, which he then offered to me in case I wanted to do anything with it. Intrigued by the idea of a collaboration, I rewrote the story from top to tail, retaining the plot and characters and adding in a few little details of my own. Soon my father can truthfully claim to be a published author — and if you don’t like the plot or the twist it takes at the end, blame him, because they’re his!

On October 30, Ribspreader lead actor Tommy Darwin was involved in a reading event called Halloween Tales of Terror, held by Orchard Bookshop at the Adelaide Central Market. Other orators delivered classic genre fare like Dracula, Frankenstein, The Monk, The Raven, and so on… but Tommy wanted something different, so he asked if he could read out my work! It was certainly a different experience to sit in a crowd and listen to someone else tell my tales. He read three mordant flash fiction pieces: “Catching Flies”, “What I Did on the Weekend by Taylor Cassidy, Class 2A”, and “You’ve Seen the Butcher”. They were well-received, which was gratifying considering the other fiction presented that night, and it was a pleasant evening for all — I even sold a couple of books on the strength of those three flashes! Notably, the story that Tommy originally chose to read was “Debutante”… but that was nixed by the organisers due to the fact it involves a missing daughter and the Cleo Smith disappearance was still unresolved at the time. I think that was a fair call — much as I’d like to leave an audience stunned into silence through the power of my words, these people were coming out for an evening of spooky enjoyment, not to be potentially triggered and upset by a story that hits so close to home. Effectively, my work was too scary for a horror reading. Matthew R. Davis: MORE TERRIFYING THAN TERROR ITSELF!

Ha ha, okay. I’m over myself now. Right, enough short stories… how many books do you think I’ll have out next year?

The answer, believe it or not, is four.

So far.

I’ve signed a contract with Grey Matter Press for a novella;

I’ve signed a contract to write a non-fiction book about one of my absolute favourite subjects, over which I have been duly obsessing for the last two weeks — it’s already over halfway done, and shall remain a secret for now;

I’m waiting on a contract for an accepted chapbook collection of horror flash fiction;

And I have a verbal contract to write the novelisation of a feature film script. That’s right — tonight, Matthew, I’m going to be Alan Dean Foster.

2022 is shaping up to be a busy and exciting year! Who knows what else it will hold? I hope yours is looking promising, too.

Best of luck and love,

MRD

Listening: Hushed and Grim, Mastodon — Brighten, Jerry Cantrell — Moral Hygiene, Ministry — Old Gods, Shihad — Wild Mood Swings, The Cure

Reading: The Housemate, Sarah Bailey — My Heart is a Chainsaw, Stephen Graham Jones — Underworld Dreams, Daniel Braum — Women and Other Monsters: Building a New Mythology, Jess Zimmerman — Ariadne, I Love You, J. Ashley-Smith

Watching: Doctor Who: FluxBrand New Cherry Flavor Let’s Scare Jessica to Death Mare of Easttown The Haunting (1963)

Honouring My Heritage and Other Essential Voices

Well, I didn’t win that Shirley Jackson Award. Congrats, however, to fellow Aussie J. Ashley-Smith for taking it out with his cracking The Attic Tragedy — see the full winners list here. And it turns out that “Heritage Hill” has been shortlisted for another honour: the Washington Science Fiction Small Press Award! Check out the shortlist here. I was hoping that story would push some buttons, and it appears it has.

It’s been an oddly quiet year for short story acceptances thus far, but I’m pleased to note my novelette “Hell’s Teeth” has been accepted for Haunted: An Anthology from Specul8 Publishing.

Here is a new review for Midnight in the Chapel of Love from Hellnotes. It’s rather nice to be thought of as an “essential voice”!

I’ve been spouting more mouth-words lately. You can check out my substantial and entertaining podcast interview with R.F. Blackstone for Behind the Keyboard here, which features possibly the world’s best Polly Waffle pun. I also had a chat with SA radio legend Peter Goers for his Evenings with show on August 3; the audio is no longer accessible as far as I can tell, but he made some thoughtful points about Midnight in the Chapel of Love and praised it quite highly, which was gratifying. He thinks I write sex well, which was a startling if welcome comment! It looks like I’ll be making another appearance on the show sometime, so keep those ears peeled. (Who came up with that saying, anyway? Since when was peeling your sensory organs a desirable thing? I guess it originally meant “keep your eyelids peeled open”, but… huh.)

It’s been very quiet on the music front these past few years, but I’ll be making a rare appearance during the Adelaide Guitar Festival to take part in Guitarchestra, playing a specially commissioned piece along with 99 other bassists and guitarists. Should be interesting!

My partner Meg (aka Red Wallflower Photography) has put a few deliciously dark prints up for purchase, hopefully the first of many. You can check them out here. Quick signal boost/shameless plug: she added extensive photographs to If Only Tonight We Could Sleep, took author photos that featured in my other books, had her work used as the cover of Paroxysm Press’s Spitting Teeth poetry anthology and their forthcoming collection of Kerryn Tredrea’s hard-hitting poetry, shot the sleeve art for two albums by my brother Ethan and one by Splintering Heart, and is generally amazing. Shut up, you’re biased.

Stay well, my friends.

MRDx

Listening: If I Can’t Have Love, I Want Power, Halsey — Liebe ist für alle da, Rammstein — Entangled in Chaos, Morbid Angel — Birth of Violence, Chelsea Wolfe — Carnage, Nick Cave & Warren Ellis

Reading: Billy Summers, Stephen King — The Turnout, Megan Abbott — The Final Girls Support Group, Grady Hendrix — Petra’s Ghost, C.S. O’Ceinnide — The Gulp, Alan Baxter

Watching: The Good Place Candyman (2021) — Candyman (1992) — Black Widow Upstart Crow

Shirley You Can’t Be Serious…

Okay, first things first — some gobsmacking news! “Heritage Hill”, from Things in the Well’s Outback Horrors Down Under, has been shortlisted in the Best Novelette Category for the 2020 Shirley Jackson Awards!

This is a huge boost. The shortlist is stuffed with severely talented people (see the full list here) and it’s a real thrill to be nominated amongst them. I don’t hold out much hope of winning, but this’ll do nicely for now. To be a serious contender in the awards named for the author of The Haunting of Hill House, which boasts possibly the finest opening paragraph in English literature — the fine mind behind We Have Always Lived in the Castle and a plethora of sterling short fiction — is very satisfying and validating.

I’ve also had a short story acceptance, my first in a while — I was starting to get a little worried! “The Waiting Room” will appear in Eerie River Publishing’s It Calls Through the Doors, which will drop later in the year. I’ve had some exciting expressions of interest from good publishers about a couple of other projects, and I’ve gotten the green light for a cool and unusual undertaking that I’ll share with you once I’m able…

If you’d like some MRD-centric reading or listening to get you through these cold/hot middle months (depending on your hemisphere), you can find a podcast interview for Australian Book Lovers here and a brief accompanying Q&A here; a 10 Questions With interview conducted by Nikky Lee here; a new review of Midnight in the Chapel of Love from UK site Ginger Nuts of Horror here; and, breaking new ground, my review of Philip Fracassi’s Beneath A Pale Sky for Horror Oasis here.

Cool beans, huh? Stay warm/cool, and we’ll speak again soon.

Mx

Listening: No Gods No Masters, Garbage — Superunknown, Soundgarden — Aggression Continuum, Fear Factory — 26 Mixes for Cash, Aphex Twin — Pick A Bigger Weapon, The Coup

Reading: Forests of the Night, Tanith Lee — Somebody’s Voice, Ramsey Campbell — Coralesque and Other Tales to Disturb and Distract, Rebecca Fraser — Plain Bad Heroines, Emily M. Danforth — Underland: A Deep Time Journey, Robert McFarlane

Watching: Mystery Road Rick and Morty Season Five — Loki Cam The Neon Demon

The Little Black Dog Who Could

Well, guess who’s fallen back out of the habit of regular blogging, hmmm? There are a couple of new interviews up, one with Cats Luv Coffee (read it here) and one with Nina Soden (read it here). Also, I learned that my presence in the South Australian library system has increased; previously they held two copies of IOTWCS and nothing else, but now they have four copies of that and TEN copies of MITCOL. Wow. Humbled, #blessed, blah blah blah, but that’s actually really cool!

You know what else is really cool that I keep forgetting about because I’m such a Negative Nancy lately? I’ve been shortlisted for an Australian Shadows Award! That’s right — “Vision Thing”, from Black Dogs, Black Tales, is up for Best Short Story! And how do I keep forgetting that? Why, it’s because I submitted work for three categories and was only shortlisted for one! Typical writer mentality. I’ve been so focused on the disappointment of If Only Tonight We Could Sleep not making the Best Collection shortlist for the Shadows (and the Aurealis Awards) that I spare little to no time to feel good about the positives to come out of all this. (Here’s the full list of nominated works, and well done to everyone on it.) I’m not bitter toward anyone else, it’s just a reminder that nothing is promised, every victory is hard-won, and you need a thick skin to make it anywhere in the creative arts — a field distinguished by its preponderance of sensitive souls. Man, it’s a slaughterhouse out there. Believe it.

Anyhoo, I’ve accrued a couple of new reviews for Midnight in the Chapel of Love, and they’ve been instructive when it comes to understanding how other people view one’s work. For example, I was informed of Aurealis Magazine‘s review on my birthday, and it was quite a middling thing, written by someone who wasn’t drawn into the story and didn’t understand or invest in its depth; this was disappointing, as one hopes this opinion will not be held by the majority of one’s readers! On the other hand, a couple of weeks later The Sci-Fi and Fantasy Reviewer published a review that went far deeper and was much, much more appreciative of the novel’s themes, approach, language, and, well, everything — exactly the kind of review a writer wishes to see, one that engages with the work and understands what it is trying to say, or at least evoke. (And I only had to pay him a tenner to say all that, ha ha.) As a horror writer who’s about so much more than hack n’ slash, it’s really important to receive this kind of attention and praise. More, please!

No new announcements to make at the moment. I’m waiting on many responses and if I pull some of these off, I’ll be very happy indeed — but nothing to declare right now. I’ve been struggling to bring new ideas to fruition, in that I have great hooks and concepts and character beats but sometimes I just can’t see the whole plot, or I’m stymied by logic holes that open up elsewhere as soon as they’re closed. It’s a very frustrating feeling, especially as time runs out and you’re thinking to yourself, “Yeah, two weeks to write and edit a whole novella for a big open call is totally doable as long as you sort your shit out… oh, look at that, your shit is resolutely unsorted. And now it’s thirteen days and yet you’re rewatching Brooklyn Nine-Nine for some reason.” And while I can feel my next novel manuscript and know that it’s going to be well wicked once written, I’m not managing to nut out background issues, plot logic, character arcs and so on to my satisfaction. Ah, it doesn’t matter. I’m only going to start writing it next month, that’s plenty of time to stress out over not doing the work I feel I should be doing. Ha.

Yeah, so job uncertainty and craft issues are kind of getting me down. But I will persevere and excel, so worry ye not. More good news soon.

Be well. x

Listening: Alphaville, Imperial Triumphant — Check Your Head, Beastie Boys — We Live, Electric Wizard — Lost Themes III: Alive After Death, John Carpenter — Tonic Immobility, Tomahawk

Reading: Goblin, Josh Malerman — Beneath A Pale Sky, Philip Fracassi — All the Murmuring Bones, Angela Slatter — Shelter for the Damned, Mike Thorn — The Last House on Needless Street, Catriona Ward

Watching: Brooklyn Nine-NineVampyresDoctor Who Series Four — Pink Floyd: The Story of Wish You Were Here — Wonder Woman 1984

Time: March’s On

Time for a quick round-up of what’s been going on since Midnight in the Chapel of Love dropped at the end of January!

Only a couple of published reviews so far, though there are a lot more in the pipeline. Here is one from Julia at Curiosity Bought the Book, and here is one from Steve Stred at Kendall Reviews. Both are very positive, and the response I’ve had from friends, colleagues, and non-reviewers has been glowing. More, please!

I’ve published a couple of non-fiction pieces lately, guest posting as part of the promotional cycle for the book. “Advance Australian Scares” went up on Kendall Reviews on release day, touting the Australian genre fiction scene; “Honesty, Representation, and Lederhosen” is a treatise on the aforementioned subjects at new site Horror Oasis.

I’ve got more interviews, reviews, and such trickling into the public’s unconscious soon. I recently did a podcast interview with Darren from Australian Booklovers, and Nina Soden will be posting an interview in early April. There’s just so much content in the scene (and the world) now that it’s hard to get through, hard for reviewers to make enough time for everything whilst still living some semblance of a life. I imagine reviews and such will continue to drip out over the remainder of the year, which may even be better than one EXPLOSION! of content early on and then nothing.

A few new short fiction releases I’ve previously mentioned: Flashes of Hope, a flash fiction horror anthology dedicated to essential workers with profits donated to charity, dropped on January 31 and you can grab a copy here; If I Die Before I Wake Vol. 4 — Tales of Nightmare Creatures became available on February 8, and it can be found here — every reader review I’ve seen for this so far mentions my story as a favourite, which is somewhat validating since it was rejected thirteen times before finally finding a home!

I’ve already got three other short stories slated for release this year, plus a couple of other unconfirmed projects in the pipeline. I’m also hoping to finally get started on my next novel manuscript soon — though I keep telling myself, “Just a few more short stories first…”

Stay well, folks.

MRD

Listening: The Lunar Injection Kool Aid Eclipse Conspiracy, Rob Zombie — The Future Bites, Steven Wilson — Saurian Meditations, Karl Sanders — Islands, Ash — OK Human, Weezer

Reading: Dearly, Margaret Atwood — Broken Mirrors/Broken Minds: The Dark Dreams of Dario Argento, Maitland McDonough — Later, Stephen King — We Will All Go Down Together, Gemma Files — Burning Down, Venero Armanno

Watching: The Boys The Haunted World of El Superbeasto Suspiria (1977) — Clue Underwater

Behind the Chapel, Part 5: Midnight is Here

Previously on Behind the Chapel:

[montage of text from the first four segments – you get the idea – we’re up to the bit where a publisher has finally expressed interest in signing the manuscript]

I couldn’t quite believe what I was reading. I was being offered publication by JournalStone, who had put out books by people like Laird Barron, Gemma Files, Philip Fracassi, Gwendolyn Kiste, Adam Nevill, S.P. Miskowski, Betty Rocksteady – some of my favourite contemporary dark fiction authors!

As the Bride might have said to the Monster in some alternative universe: fuck me dead.

Talk about a wonderful Christmas present! I signed the contract, then carried on with the preparation of If Only Tonight We Could Sleep, which was set to be published by Things in the Well the following month. Come January 31, 2020, my first collection was out there in the world at last. I organised a small launch event and a pick-up band so I could play a few songs there, and things were looking up —

And then COVID-19 fell on us all. Almost everything was cancelled. My launch fell on the cusp and went ahead, but it was a small turnout. Like everyone else, I struggled through – I was unemployed and not in the best of mental places to start with, and though the pandemic didn’t affect my life all that much, I still felt the weight of it on my shoulders. This is my world, after all, and watching it go through this trial, combined with the nightmarish political situation up in the northern hemisphere and the proliferation of mean, selfish idiots everywhere, was hard on me.

But again, things started looking up. I won two Australian Shadows Awards in June, around the time that my personal and emotional situation began to improve. I didn’t think about Midnight in the Chapel of Love much – I hadn’t heard anything for a while, and given global events and the effect they’d had on the arts, I assumed the book would be pushed back deeper into 2021, if not further. It wasn’t until November that I was sent the suggested edits done by Sean Leonard, and that was when I learned my book was still scheduled for an end of January release. Exciting, but daunting!

I went back to my submitted MS first, read it through and made notes, then decided to kick it old school and printed out the whole thing to go over with a red pen. After that, I read through Sean’s thoughtful edits and took them, plus my own new ones, into account. Then I let it sit for a week or two before giving it another painstaking draft, determined to present the best possible version of my novel to the world.

In December, I was sent the rough draft of the cover art by Don Noble at Rooster Republic Press. With If Only Tonight We Could Sleep, I conceived the external and internal images and discussed them with Meg to get her vision, and then we staged them and she shot and edited them before I put the cover together; this time, my role was restricted to offering some notes on the cover’s direction. For example, the book felt to me like it needed a cooler colour scheme, blues and purples and greens rather than reds and oranges and yellows, and I listed some images and locations from the manuscript that could be of use. It’s hard to let go of these things when you’re a bit of a control freak, but I had no cause for concern: Don’s cover art looks great, and it’s an accurate translation of the book’s feel – subtle, evocative, intriguing.

Around that time, I finally held a long-planned author event at Meg’s Bookshop in Port Pirie, where I’d once worked as a callow youth (as opposed to a callow adult, ha ha). I’d originally set it for late March and went so far as to poster the town in preparation before it was cancelled like pretty much everything else at the time. I figured we could knock over a couple of photoshoots while we were there, one to get some promo shots for icecocoon (down to the core duo of Owen Gillett and myself by this stage) and one for the book’s author photograph. I scoped out Telowie Gorge in the Flinders Ranges for potential sites, and on the way back, I discovered an abandoned church that was too promising to resist. I snuck in and took some reference shots for Meg, who I knew would love it. Much to my surprise, when we arrived in town and met up with Owen after the author event, he also suggested it as a possible location! So we headed out there, got some great duo and solo shots, then drove to Weeroona Island to continue the shoot.

I ended up selecting one of the pictures from the ruined church for the book — rather neatly, this ensured that my novel about a city boy returning to his country home and visiting a chapel of sorts featured a visual representation of just that. And it’s pretty damn metal, too!

Photo by Red Wallflower Photography, 2020

And now we’re up to date.

Today is January 29, the day Midnight in the Chapel of Love is finally released. I’m very proud of the little battler, and I think it’s going to sit well with its audience, especially those who give it a close reading or come back for a second go – Scarlett, obviously already familiar with the book and enough of an admirer to publish it, says she’s gained a deeper appreciation and understanding of its craft after proofreading the final draft. When people say things like that, I feel my work is already a success on its own creative terms.

Thanks for taking the time to read this. Best of luck to you with your own artistic endeavours, personal lives, families, and everything else. May you be safe, happy, and successful by your own definition.

Oh, and hey, the Amazon purchase links are up! Click here to go to Amazon US and Amazon AU.

MRDx

Behind the Chapel, Part 4: Deep in the Cave, Far from the Light

This week, I’m offering up the backstory of my debut novel Midnight in the Chapel of Love, which is released on Friday, January 29. This is Part 4 of 5 — stay tuned for the whole story!

As 2016 began, I had a newly finished manuscript. I knew it was going to need another couple of drafts before it was ready for submission to publishers, so I didn’t worry about it for the time being – I was already shopping a manuscript called A Banquet of Broken Hearts all around the place. As Metallica says, time marches on, and things happened. I expanded my circle of writer friends and acquaintances, increased my writing profile somewhat, started seeing a certain redheaded photographer. Along the way I took another pass at Midnight, but I didn’t really see it as a first novel – maybe a second?

In 2017, the SA Writers Centre tapped me to take part in a reading for their Quick & Dirty series. The theme of this one was Death, and it was to take place in the scenic locale of the West Terrace Cemetery. I was going to read “Debutante”, but time restrictions meant I needed something a bit shorter. In the end, I plumped for a chapter from Midnight – the first Jonny chapter, “From the Edge of the Deep Green Sea”, named after a classic song by The Cure. Hindsight leads me to believe that I rushed it a bit, and the wireless mic sometimes cut out if I started wandering around in a gentle attempt at stage presence, but it was well-received.

Shortly after that, I decided I needed to do some hands-on research, so I proposed that Meg and I do a road trip to Naracoorte to check out the caves there. I thought the atmosphere might come across better in ensuing drafts with that experience in mind, and I knew she’d love photographing those chthonic environs. I don’t know how much the trip influenced my descriptions of the Chapel, but we had fun – even if the three-and-a-half-hour return drive was a drag after a long day.

A third and fourth draft ensued before I decided it was time to send my little manuscript out into the world. By now it was 2018, my stock had risen ever so slightly after a couple of my novelettes were shortlisted for the Australian Shadows Awards, and I’d moved out of Ghastly Manor to share a house with Meg. I focused on Australian publishers, figuring that since Midnight was a very Australian story, it would be better received and more likely to be picked up by local presses. With that in mind – plus the mainstream industry’s lack of interest in overt horror – I pitched the novel as vaguely similar to Picnic at Hanging Rock and The Dry. (I hadn’t actually read Jane Harper’s debut at that point, but I thought the “former local bloke returns to town to solve a mystery” angle might be congruent.) When asked for comparative works, I figured I should mention something to evoke my horror roots and chose Pet Sematary. That stone-cold classic has pretty much nothing in common with my book, but it just kind of felt right; looking back, maybe I was getting at the books’ shared mood of lingering doom and inevitability.

To my surprise, I caught some interest quickly – Allen & Unwin asked me to send along the full manuscript. A major publisher! I was excited, but not for long. I received a long email from Kelly at A&U, wherein she admitted she’d read it twice, really enjoyed it, and listed a lot of things she loved. She also noted the bits she didn’t like as much, including some of the sex stuff and the ending, and ultimately passed on accepting the manuscript – but not without saying she believed I was an excellent writer and would be happy to see more work from me.

Well, then – a qualified failure, but so close! I had another such experience in 2019 with Adelaide press MidnightSun Publishing. Anna Solding liked the manuscript but not quite enough to publish, plus she felt the genre elements weren’t right for their aesthetic. Another near miss.

When the end of that year rolled around, I was once more living on my own – in a house my brother and Blood Red Renaissance/sometime icecocoon drummer Tom had previously occupied for over a decade, and where I’d once spent a year living as his housemate while I went to film school – and sorting through a lot of personal issues. In a case of bitter irony, I’d spent all that time writing a book about a man whose insecurity and resultant dishonesty damaged his relationships with tragic consequences… and then utterly failed to notice when I started doing basically the same thing. The book had been rejected by five other local publishers and failed to win two manuscript competitions. I’d fired the most recent draft off to an open call from JournalStone in America almost as an afterthought, fully expecting another rejection – but hey, you miss one hundred percent of the shots you don’t take, right?

And then, as Christmas approached, I received an email from Scarlett R. Algee, an editor at JournalStone. She loved the book.

And she wanted to publish!

[cliffhanger sting]

We’re almost up to date now! Come back tomorrow, The Big Day, for the final part of this series.

MxRxDx