Jason’s most recent long fiction title is the Gothic tale Salvage (Twelfth Planet Press), with his outback vampire duology Blood and Dust and The Big Smoke to be launched in May with Clan Destine Press.
Read it first: Pre-release Taste Test Teaser in The Big Smoke here.
J: I certainly feel different to the mainstream, if we can pinpoint that, because of my role in the creative industries – it’s not nine to five, bank managers hate me, it feels underappreciated in our culture whose values and priorities increasingly puzzle, frustrate and disappoint me (I am not the ultra-conservative country kid I once was). There is an uncomfortable friction between art and business and the expectations of reward from both. Many of my most valued friends are creative types now; it’s a wonderfully supporting and welcoming community.
M: I agree. The business of Art isn’t quite like the ‘business of everything else’. More people taking chances. Proactive individuality?
Of course, many writers are niched into genre of one sort or another. Which may seem to deny a writer his (or her) individuality.
People like to slip you into Horror (I don’t necessarily see that.). And your workshop is focussed on Horror tropes. But how do you categorise what you write?
J: I grew up reading all manner of genres, but it was speculative fiction that reeled me in – those big ‘what if’ questions, the powerful imaginations, the derring do. Lovely stuff! So that’s what I write, in my way, but I’d agree with you: not a hell of a lot of my stuff is ‘horror’, in that I’m not writing it to try to scare the reader, and certainly not gross out the reader (that gross-out stuff, in whatever media, doesn’t interest me – I want my thrills to linger, and ‘ew’ doesn’t cut it).
Some of my short stories are horrific, some are not, and some might be unsettling – I love the Gothic mode, in terms of atmosphere – but probably dark fantasy or urban fantasy (or rural fantasy) is more accurate than horror.
My novels have moments of horror, perhaps, but I don’t really think of them as horror novels. The Vampires in the Sunburnt Country duology, for example, have vampires as protagonists, but they’re not creeping down convent hallways looking for naked necks; they’re charging around in fast cars staking out (heh) turf (so still concerned with necks, but violently and virulently). They books are adventures, thrillers, crime-tinged. The vampires are not there to scare but to comment on issues of social structure, on politics, on humanity.
And indeed, the main project I’m working on now (for uni, as mentioned above) is science fiction – climate change fiction set in near-future Brisbane (following on from the ‘Watermarks’ short story that was published last year in Cosmos (yay!)).
M: Yay indeed. What about the future horror (and its various subs)? Do you find it a flourishing genre? Would you care to speculate?
J: Most of the horror/dark fantasy I read these days is in short fiction – it tends to be Gothic and psychological, evolutionary stuff rather than mired in the tired tropes of the ’80s that did so much damage to the genre’s reputation (lazy writing, lazy stories, gore, misogyny).
M: Oh! Harsh. Have to agree though.
J: I suspect those publishers who say they don’t want Horror are referring to that tripe. Publishers want stuff that has something to say, expands the tropes and uses them in different ways; that bring a higher level of craft to the table than we might have seen in those less enlightened efforts.
I’m a bit out of the loop in long fiction, but check out any horror anthology by American editor Ellen Datlow for a taste (Fearful Symmetries is a recent one, very solid); Australian anthology Suspended in Dusk has got good notices (I’ve not read it yet); the Australian Horror Writers Association publishes ‘Midnight Echo’ magazine.
The Australian movie The Babadook (2014) was a brilliant use of horror tropes as metaphor while still being quite chilling. It’s a peek at one thing we these days are afraid of: loss of self through mental illness.
M. I think we all owe it to ourselves to check out Babadook. Aus reviewers were unkind. Rest of the world saw something else. May be a Mad Max thing happening.
But back to you. You have a Duology out soon – Blood and Dust & The Big Smoke. Very soon in fact. One doesn’t often see books come in twos. Are you bucking the trends! What makes this story perfect for two parts, instead of the ever-ready three.
J: Oh my, this story of Kevin the mechanic (Vampires in the Sunburnt Country) has been around for so long now; it’s such a relief to have him heading out into the world! The story always had a country/city duality to it, but it was the addition of a second point of view character (a city slicker) that really grounded the yarn, and helped split it into two volumes – Blood and Dust is primarily a road story set in western Queensland, and The Big Smoke is primarily set in Brisbane. The split reflects Kevin’s journey from outback mechanic to vampire vigilante.
Blood and Dust came out in digital-only in 2012 and I wrote it as a self-contained story, with plenty of business left unfinished, but its arc was complete. I’ve worked hard to ensure The Big Smoke can also be read comfortably as a standalone, but readers who’ve read Blood and Dust should be rewarded.
M: Announcements are made daily that Vampires are dead and dusty boring. You just can’t get rid of them, though. The Secret of Longevity seems to be to reinvent the creature. Have you reinvented the vampire? And can vampires still be considered horror?
J: Yes, vampires are still hanging around. They’re adaptable, such wonderful metaphors for so many of society’s ills, and as sexy as hell.
I wouldn’t say I’ve reinvented them here, but I have developed them: the need for blood is given new importance, some tropes remain, others have been dispensed with. There are some cool powers in the mix, too, carefully restrained.
How does Kevin’s career journey from outback mechanic to vampire vigilante?
Vampires can be horror if that’s the way they’re deployed, though you might not see it much these days. I consider these books to be vampire thrillers, not horror stories per se. The horrors here are societal, not psychological. More Near Dark than Christopher Lee’s Dracula (segue!) – I’ve got a lot of vampire movies, and Hammer movies are among my favourites (highly recommended: the recent Jim Jarmusch flick Only Lovers Left Alive – gorgeous!).
M. Thanks for the tip. I’m wary about trying something new without a tip off from my own little creative community.
Speaking of which, you have a crit group…
J: I love my critique group. They can be a sounding board from a troublesome idea, moral support when things are shite (or good!), sources of information on markets and good reads. But yes, it’s the critting that’s at the heart of it: respectful, considerate advice and feedback, often covering many facets, each reviewer with their own strengths and insights (that you may or may not agree with). They also do a great job of picking up inconsistencies and weaknesses. I try not to send any short story out that hasn’t been vetted through the Supernova group, though I’m fortunate in having a brilliant and reliable critter in my house.
As I mentioned above, it was the Vision writers group that provided a welcoming introduction to the speculative fiction community when I moved to Brisbane (they are still active, though the roster is vastly different). I highly recommend finding like-minded and constructive writers to work with – I met my other Brisbane critique groups through attending workshops (QWC’s Year of the Novel and Year of the Edit were two such, and probably two of the most valuable I’ve done – that was before I worked for them!).
M: Yes. You work with QWC. In fact, you’re editor of the print QWC mag – now quarterly (bit of a shock to some). Tell us what’s planned for the future. Any insider info about the new online presence?
J: Here is where I can’t say much because I’m not greatly involved in the online magazine, although it and the print quarterly that I edit will be sharing some copy, and I really don’t know what is going to happen when. The online magazine should be exciting because of the immediacy of the digital environment and the opportunities for value adding (things like hyperlinks and video or audio, comments and reader involvement). I’m hoping it will help QWC spread its services yet further. It’s a pretty huge undertaking; I reckon it’ll be worth the wait.
Can’t wait for the new site to land. But for now, of course, QWC will once again be involved in WriteFest, in the shape of the Peter Ball, manager of Australian Writers Market place and one of the organisers of GenreCon2015 .