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

Behind the Chapel, Part 3: The First Draft

This week, I’m talking about the genesis of my debut novel Midnight in the Chapel of Love, which is released on Friday, January 29. This is Part 3 of 5 — stay tuned for the whole story!

May 2015. So there I was, all my work lost, freaking out at having to start over. But I started over regardless… and it turned out to be the best thing that could have happened.

Because the writing was so fresh in my mind, I found I was able to reproduce the lost work with uncanny accuracy – sometimes on a line-to-line, word-for-word basis. Everything that was good about the writing was still there, and my fresh start improved the bits that weren’t gelling. White, blonde Stephanie Tannenbaum – a tip of the hat to the bassist of Something for Kate, who started this ball rolling in my mind – felt more like a conscious reference than a person, so I rethought the character and she became Sloane Nowak, a Chinese-Australian who acquired manuscripts for a local press. (Her familiarity with fiction and its tropes allowed for some subtle meta-commentary.) I added a few more chapters, including the opening scene in 1964 with teen spree-killers Billy and Poppy on the run, delved deeper into the Polish aspects of the story, and thought up some audacious thriller twists that I promptly discarded for being a bit too loopy.

I know a manuscript is working when minor elements start knitting together beneath the surface, adding layers of unintended connection. I’d already mentioned Diamanda Galás in the first draft, and when my research revealed that she covered “Gloomy Sunday”, the infamous Hungarian “suicide song”, I decided to put that in Jessica Grzelak’s CD player; Diamanda appears on the soundtrack of Natural Born Killers, which is mentioned in passing by Jessica and Sloane; at one point, some of the characters go to see The Blair Witch Project, which had an accompanying album that features Lydia Lunch’s version of “Gloomy Sunday”… I love this sense of things coming together, lending a story a sense of substance and casual verisimilitude.

I put the manuscript on hold in June, frustrated that I still hadn’t solved some of its deeper issues. At this point I’d written most of the past chapters but had held off on the present ones. The next writing I did was in October, in a Collingwood hotel room while I was on the road with Priority Orange, and that comprised the opening paragraphs of the new first chapter. I chipped away for a while before taking another short break, and when I returned, it was again in an unfamiliar writing environment: I bashed out the entirety of the first Jonny chapter, “From the Edge of the Deep Green Sea”, in the Pirie Autopro office on my lunchbreak while I was back there to pick up some extra work.

A note here about the chapter titles: they’re all named after songs. I’ve included them along with their associated artists in the back of the book as a playlist, and it’s a fairly diverse one: The Cure (naturally), Joy Division, Metallica, Chelsea Wolfe, Godflesh, Nirvana, Nine Inch Nails, and so on. I also made sure to include some Australian bands such as Something for Kate (obviously), Silverchair, Effigy, and Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds (who kind of count as a couple of members still live here). Each of these acts is mentioned within the manuscript itself, as well as a number of others who didn’t score a chapter-title guernsey. (This may be the only novel in existence to namedrop Frenzal Rhomb, Regurgitator, and Testeagles alongside Eminem, Johnny Cash, and The Baha Men!)

With the remaining plot issues resolved, I determined to get the manuscript finished by the end of the year. At the beginning of December I still had thirteen chapters to go, but I knuckled down and got stuck into it. This included writing on Christmas night, at my parents’ house while the rest of my family watched Terminator Genisys (I still haven’t seen it or any of the franchise’s subsequent films, but I don’t think I’m missing much). It came right down to the wire, but my dedication paid off: I finally finished the first draft at around dinnertime on New Year’s Eve, knocked down a few celebratory beers, then went into town and caught up with some mates for a few more.

The first draft was done! My eighth novel manuscript was complete. But so far, I hadn’t managed to get any of them published. Would this one be any different?

Obviously, that’s a rhetorical question for dramatic effect – by now you know that yes, it would. But the path to publication, like the course of true love, never did run smooth…

Read all about it tomorrow in Part 4!

Meanwhile, the book will be available next week at Dymocks Adelaide and other SA stores that are selling my first book – I’m also working on getting it into a bunch of shops nationwide. Meanwhile, here are some links (valid worldwide) for online purchase.

Booktopia (AUS): Midnight in the Chapel of Love by Matthew R Davis | 9781950305582 | Booktopia

The Book Depository (UK): Midnight in the Chapel of Love : Matthew R Davis : 9781950305582 (bookdepository.com)

JournalStone store (US): Midnight in the Chapel of Love – JournalStone

Cheers,

MRD

Behind the Chapel, Part 2: In Loving Memory

This week, I’m unveiling the creation of my debut novel Midnight in the Chapel of Love, which is released on Friday, January 29. This is Part 2 of 5 — stay tuned for the whole story!

April 2015. I knew my manuscript was going to feature a funeral, but I wasn’t prepared to write it. Life had been kind to those around me – I’d been to maybe three funeral services in my life. I didn’t have the experience to write this scene.

Then my mother rang with some awful news. Her older sister, my Aunty Margaret, had passed away. Her funeral was to be held at the end of the week.

Ask and ye shall receive, huh? This may have been bitterly ironic, but it was certainly upsetting. I have a great many fond memories of Margaret, mostly of her chain-smoking at her kitchen table as she talked to Mum while my brother Ethan and I watched VHS movies with our cousin Daniel. (Blade Runner, Aliens, anything with Arnold Schwarzenegger, the Jaws series — I loved it all, but a dread of deep water and great white sharks has haunted me ever since.) One cherished memory that I shared in the afterword of If Only Tonight We Could Sleep was Margaret laughing raucously when presented with a story of mine that Mum had found, a Masters of the Universe fanfic that included some saucy business in a bathtub between He-Man, Man-At-Arms, and Teela – I was eight at the time. The last occasion I’d seen Margaret had been at Christmas a few years before, when she wound me up like a toy soldier about the issue of gay marriage; only later did Dad tell me she’d tipped him a sly wink as I ranted on about the injustice of homosexuals being forbidden to wed. (This is a failing to which I’ve always been prone and that friends and family have often used for their own amusement – toss Matthew an issue he feels strongly about, then sit back and enjoy the show.)

So I drove back to Port Pirie for the service that Friday morning… and maybe it was the influence of the manuscript I’d been working on, but I was kind of dreading the reunion with my extended family. I’ve never had any issues with them, but it had been many years since I’d seen most of them, and since Jonny Trotter was coming back to face some resentment in his hometown of Waterwich, I had somehow convinced myself that the same was waiting for me – a feeling that didn’t abate when I arrived half an hour late and missed most of the service. It wasn’t a great scene – funerals rarely are, oddly enough, and seeing your mother in tears is something that hits hard and deep – but I was incredibly relieved to attend the wake and realise I’d been worrying about nothing for no tangible reason. I reconnected with cousins, second cousins, aunts and uncles, and though I felt somewhat out of place – the weird long-haired one all in black with no kids, no house, and ideas about being a career musician and horror writer – it was a lovely reunion. Talking to my family, I announced that if I ever finished the novel I was working on and got it published, I would dedicate it to Aunty Margaret… not knowing that nearly five years would pass before I could tell my cousin Karen that this spur-of-the-moment resolution was finally coming to fruition.

I returned to the writing, and as May rolled on, I’d put down nearly 19,000 words. But it wasn’t really clicking for me – I was having more fun writing the past chapters than the present ones, but both were lacking that certain spark. I gave the work in progress a quick tweak and started to see a way forward… and then something monumental happened.

(I met Meg Wright that month at a photoshoot for a band I was playing in at the time, not knowing how important this meeting would be in hindsight… but big as that was, that’s not what I mean.)

My laptop slipped off my lap and hit the floor, breaking the USB stick plugged into it. And for some bloody unfathomable reason, I’d been saving my work solely to that drive. I took the splintered stick to data recovery experts, desperate to fix this… to no avail. 18,904 words were gone forever – the entirety of my first draft to that point.

What the hell was I going to do now?

Pop back tomorrow to find out in Part 3!

Mx

Behind the Chapel, Part 1: The Song at the Start of Everything

This week, I’ll be revealing the not-so-sordid history of my debut novel Midnight in the Chapel of Love, which is released on Friday, January 29. This is Part 1 of 5 — stay tuned for the whole story!

The genesis of Midnight in the Chapel of Love dates back to August 2014. My hours in Adelaide had been cut down for the time being, so I was working a couple days a week at my parents’ shop in Port Pirie to make ends meet. One Saturday afternoon I was driving home along the Port Broughton road (the Back Way, as opposed to the highway) and listening to Something for Kate’s Leave Your Soul to Science when the lyrics from the song “The Fireball at the End of Everything” put an image in my head. (To avoid copyright issues, I’ll just send you to read the words here, and to hear the song here.)

I pictured a couple making a drive much like mine – a blonde woman with her feet up on the dashboard, reading something as her partner drove, the summer sun hot and bright in the sky. Who were they, and where were they going? I quickly decided they were heading back to the town where the man had grown up, a place he had conflicted feelings about due to a tragic past. I’d been listening to Ultraviolence as well and so I saw the woman as a little like Lana Del Rey, fashionable and intelligent and beautiful.

It didn’t take long for more ideas to accumulate. The idea of our lead having once had a teenage relationship that ended badly, a mysterious cave outside the small town, a reunion with old friends whom he’d lost along with his first girlfriend, some kind of test… it all fell into place pretty quickly. At the time, I thought I might write this story as a novella – Samhain Publishing had an open call for works between 25-30k that dealt with childhood fears, and I figured this might be suitable. But the deadline was looming, and I soon realised that this story was going to need more than 30,000 words to do it justice, so I put the idea aside for a time.

Early in 2015, with the novel I’d been planning to write not coming together (six years later, it’s still under construction!), I returned to this plot and did some more work on it. I’d been thinking of titling my cave the Cathedral, but it turns out there’s already a huge underwater cave system by that name, so I figured the Chapel would do. This gave me a couple of possible titles. I liked the incongruity of calling a horror novel The Chapel of Love, but it wasn’t quite clicking with me. Beneath the Chapel, perhaps – or Beneath the Chapel of Love. Hmmm, close… how about… Midnight in the Chapel of Love?

And there it was. Armed with a cracker of a title, I forged forward. I was just about to move out of the flat I’d occupied for the past four years and into a townhouse with a SFX-making, horror-loving loon called Zaen Ghast, so this was a poor time to be starting a project of this magnitude. Naturally, I left off packing one day and sat down to write the first chapter. We initially picked up with Jonny Trotter and his girlfriend, the blonde, white Stephanie Tannenbaum, in the very scene I’d first envisioned. At this stage, he was a restorer of classic cars – I’d ditched my first idea of him working at Centrelink, and don’t ask me where either idea came from! – and was driving a red 1971 Ford Galaxie back to the town of Blackgate for his father’s funeral, trying not to think about his old dreams of a wet, dripping figure and cracking bad Christmas tree jokes to his partner. I wrote a couple pages and put it away, vaguely unsatisfied. This attempt was premature – the tale wasn’t ready for writing.

Unfortunately, some painful inspiration was about to come my way…

Come back tomorrow for Part 2! Meanwhile, here’s some more news:

As the wheels of the promo push begin to turn, a new interview with me has gone up on Maureen Flynn’s website. You can read it here. I’ve been very busy emailing and writing, so expect a swathe of further interviews, guest posts, and reviews over the coming weeks and months!

MRDx

BEST OF A BAD YEAR: 2020

This post got pushed back by the release date and cover reveal of Midnight in the Chapel of Love. A little old news, then, before we wade through my favourite stuff of 2020.

“Vigil at Singer’s Cross” has been confirmed to appear in Tales of the Lost Vol. 3 along with an absolutely stellar list of authors that I can’t mention just yet, so I’m suitably stoked about that…

…and, well, that’s pretty much that for publishing news at the end of 2020. Let’s celebrate the worst year in recent memory with lists of things that absolutely did not suck! I’ll reel these things off in an order that roughly approximates how much I enjoyed them, though quantifying enjoyment is of course impossible and the feeling changes from day to day. Here goes!

MY TOP 13 NOVELS OF 2020

Harrow the Ninth, Tamsyn Muir — The Wise Friend, Ramsey Campbell — Worse Angels, Laird Barron — The Once and Future Witches, Alix E. Harrow — Tender is the Flesh, Agustina Bazterrica — A Cosmology of Monsters, Shaun Hamill — Hope Island, Tim Major — Mexican Gothic, Silvia Moreno-Garcia — Survivor Song, Paul Tremblay — The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires, Grady Hendrix — Dead to Her, Sarah Pinborough — Nothing Can Hurt You, Nicola Maye Goldberg — A User’s Guide to Make-Believe, Jane Alexander

MY TOP 4 NOVELLAS OF 2020

The Tindalos Asset, Caitlín R. Kiernan — The Attic Tragedy, J. Ashley-Smith — Upright Women Wanted, Sarah Gailey — The Roo, Alan Baxter

MY TOP 3 COLLECTIONS OF 2020

If It Bleeds, Stephen King — Bleedthrough and Other Small Horrors, Scarlett R. Algee — Grotesque: Monster Stories, Lee Murray

All the new anthologies I read last year featured my work, so I’ll refrain from writing up a list of those!

MY TOP 5 NON-FICTION BOOKS OF 2020

Who is the Doctor 2, Graeme Berk & Robert Smith? — Sing Backwards and Weep, Mark Lanegan — Confess: The Autobiography, Rob Halford & Ian Gittins — Too Much and Never Enough: How My Family Created America’s Most Dangerous Man, Mary L. Trump — A Convenient Death: The Mysterious Demise of Jeffrey Epstein, Alana Goodman & Daniel Halper

MY TOP 20 ALBUMS OF 2020

The Raging Wrath of the Easter Bunny Demo, Mr. Bungle — Cyr, The Smashing Pumpkins — Ohms (+ White Pony x Black Stallion), Deftones — The Modern Medieval, Something for Kate — Vamp/Bad Omens, Lux Lyall — Andro, Tommy Lee — Idiot Prayer, Nick Cave — Terminus, Jesu — Medium Rarities, Mastodon — Music to Be Murdered By, Eminem — Punisher, Phoebe Bridgers — Reluctant Hero, Killer Be Killed — Obsidian, Paradise Lost — S&M2, Metallica — On Behalf of TISM I Would Like to Concede We Have Lost the Election, TISM — We Will Always Love You, The Avalanches — Ghosts V-VI: Ghosts/Locusts — Nine Inch Nails — Self-Surgery, Mrs. Piss — Necroscape, Tētēma — Violet Bent Backwards Over the Grass, Lana Del Rey

MY TOP 7 TV SHOWS OF 2020

Rick and Morty Season 4 — Doctor Who Series 12 — What We Do in the Shadows Season 2 — The Haunting of Bly Manor — Truth SeekersThe OutsiderRed Dwarf: The Promised Land

MY TOP 13 MOVIES OF 2020

The Vast of Night — We Summon the Darkness — Sea Fever— Color Out of Space — Miss Fisher and the Crypt of Tears — The Lodge — Guns Akimbo — Tenet — Shirley — Come to Daddy — After Midnight — Scoob! — Host

And that’s the wayyyyyy the news goes.

Right, back to madly emailing everybody in the throes of promotion for my upcoming novel. Only a week and half away now! Madness! But this madness has been a long time coming, and I’m so stoked that it’s finally here. Speaking of madness, the world is still topsy-turvy, but at least some positive change is on the way. May you all be safe and well.

Mx