Interview: with Lee Murray
Lee Murray is a ten-time winner of New Zealand’s Sir Julius Vogel Award for science fiction, fantasy and horror, including Best Novel 2016 for Into the Mist, and 2017 for Hounds of the Underworld (with Dan Rabarts). She has co-edited nine anthologies, one of which, Baby Teeth, won her an Australian Shadows Award in 2014. She lives with her family in the sunny Bay of Plenty. Read her story COG1 in Breach #07 and find her online at www.leemurray.info
Hi Lee, first of all congratulations on your recent win at the Sir Julius Vogel Awards. You must be over the moon.
Thank you. I’m over Saturn’s 53 moons ‒ not counting the rings ‒ and especially pleased to share the pointy trophy with my long-time partner in darkness, Dan Rabarts. Hounds of the Underworld was going to be a novella, but we got a little carried away and it turned into a quirky supernatural crime-noir series. Set in a near future New Zealand we’ve used a he-said she-said approach to the narrative, where Dan writes one character, the brooding and dangerous Matiu, and I write his uptight logic-driven sister. The collaboration has been a lot of fun, with Dan and I both bringing something different to the table. The second book in the series, Teeth of the Wolf is slated for release by Raw Dog Screaming Press in September 2018, and we’re currently writing the third. We’ve just seen the cover art for Teeth of the Wolf, another gorgeous design by award-winning cover designer Daniele Serra, and we can’t wait for everyone to see it.
Can you tell us a little bit about yourself? What got you into writing fiction?
I’m too short to be a pole vaulter, my cooking skills are abysmal, and I can’t sing, so writing seemed the natural choice. I’m kidding. I’ve always been a scribbler, but in school becoming a writer felt as impossible as growing up to be a princess, so I opted for the stability of test tubes and autoclaves. Sometimes I wish I’d side-stepped the science degrees, but then I remember that everything we do informs our writing, so heading off on that tangent hasn’t been a waste. In fact, since then I’ve sprinkled science throughout my writing. For example, in Hounds of the Underworld, my character, Penny, is scientific consult to the police. Obsessed with rigour and evidence, she doesn’t believe in the supernatural, whereas her half-brother lives with one foot in the underworld. Half-Chinese and hung up on duty and rules, it’s fair to say that I might have drawn on my own life when writing her.
Do you have any particular writing rituals you are comfortable sharing?
None really. I’m rather boring. The only thing I always do is send out my fiction for critique before submitting it.
You’ve been to a few conventions over the years – are they something you’d recommend to authors trying to network or are they more for fans?
Let me just say this here: writers are fans. We write genre fiction because we are fans of genre fiction. And we don’t just write the stuff: we also read, watch, listen, research and record it. We immerse ourselves in fantasy worlds through gaming, filking, larping and cosplay. Our love of genre is such that we’re willing to huddle over a desk, sometimes for years, immersed in a single story. The writer-fan dichotomy makes conferences a tough gig for us because when we get a chance to meet a creator we admire, part of us wants to maintain an air of dignified writerly professionalism, but, too late, the other part has already dissolved into breathless fangirl squealing. But if we’re putting on our writer-only hats here, then yes, conferences are fantastic opportunities for writers: a chance to network with other industry professionals, discover new trends and techniques, meet your heroes, pitch your work, listen to readings, attend book launches, be inspired, buy books, drink wine, celebrate achievements, and create friendships.
Are there any horror/fantasy/sci-fi tropes or sub genres which you feel are played out? And vice versa, what tropes would you like to see more of?
This is funny coming right after a question about conferences because earlier this year, at the HWA’s StokerCon Conference, I sat on a panel moderated by Canadian author JH Moncrieff (City of Ghosts) with panellists Theresa Braun, John Palisano, and academic Mathias Clasen, where we discussed exactly this. Horror fiction is laden with clichés. All those lonely haunted houses inherited by hapless protagonists in impossible gowns. Vampires vanquished with a stake through the heart. Psychic children linked to the supernatural. To a certain extent, because these tropes are so beloved, readers demand that they continue. There’s a contract between us, in the same way romance readers expect the hero and heroine to kiss in the last scene, and mystery readers know that the curmudgeonly detective will eventually reveal the identity of the murderer. The trick, of course, is to explore these tropes from a fresh perspective. Looking for the twist. Asking what if? MR Carey turns the zombie survivalist trope on its head in The Girl with all the Gifts by challenging the preconception that humans should prevail. Mash ups are another way of achieving this: Debbie Cowens’ Sherlock-Austen mash-up Murder and Matchmaking is a great example. Even my monster thriller Into the Mist is an old creature-feature trope along the lines of Jurassic Park, but setting the story in New Zealand and interweaving the taniwha mythology made it new. And for something I’d like to see more of? Kiwi gothic horror.
What books are beside your bed right now?
An apocalypse of books.
On the kindle, I’m currently reading Glimpse by Jonathan Maberry (one of my faves), Dark Waters by Lucas Pederson (because I always like a good monster story), Night of 1000 Beasts by John Palisano (more monsters,) and Four Weeks to Finished by my Severed colleague Jake Bible, because I really have to do something to improve my measly 500 a day wordcount. And just landed and awaiting my attention: Hearing Evil by Jason Parent, The Boogeyman by Matt Betts, and Nightly Owl, Fatal Raven by Jessica McHugh.
In print, I have been dipping into Stephanie Wytovich’s Bram Stoker-nominated poetry collection, Sheet Music to my Acoustic Nightmare (I’ve read it twice already, but it’s that good) and speculative graphic novel Helen and the Go-go Ninjas by NZ comic artist-screenwriter duo Ant Sant and Michael Bennett. Rounding out the pile is Alessandro Manzetti’s body horror monstrosity Naraka, which I read last week and I’m still so shocked by it, I haven’t moved it to the bookshelf yet.