Jason Nahrung: One foot on the bitumen…

jason_bw-web

Jason Nahrung grew up on a Queensland cattle property and now lives in Ballarat with his wife, writer Kirstyn McDermott. Jason works as an editor and journalist to support his travel addiction. His fiction is invariably darkly themed, perhaps reflecting his passion for classic B-grade horror films and ’80s goth rock. He has an MA in creative writing from QUT and is in his first year of a PhD in creative writing at The University of Queensland. His 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 due out later this year with Clan Destine Press. Read it first: Pre-release Taste Test Teaser for vampires in The Big Smoke here.


 Mouse: You’re country born and bred, from Queensland originally. Spent time in Melbourne, currently studying in Brisbane.

Jason: I am indeed in Brisbane at the moment, tackling the opening stages of a PhD at The University of Queensland – the creative work will use Brissie as a case study in a near future of climate change.

M: I could say something political here, but I’ll resist the temptation and go on to an obvious question instead. What took you to town in the first place?

J: One of my strongest childhood memories of Brisbane city is the stink of it: the raw, choking stench of the air as I walked up Wickham Terrace. It was a hard, grey place, crowded and loud. I never imagined living there. And yet I did, because life is like that. It took a while, but the air did not stink as it had (most days), and it was not as hard as I’d imagined. Adaptation in action. From a cattle property and a one-teacher school, to Maryborough and a high school of 600-odd kids, to university in Rockhampton (leafy, quiet, not crowded), then working in the ‘Borough, and back to Rocky, then finally to Brissie to answer the lure of culture and entertainment on a grand scale – and specifically subculture (not that you couldn’t be bashed for wearing black, mind you, but I never had any hassles). Then to Melbourne (for lurve, baby) and recently to Ballarat (for the property prices, but it has turned out to be much more than that). It is much easier to downscale: fewer roads; less traffic; easier, cheaper parking. Enough restaurants and theatres. The Big Smoke, spires in the murk on the horizon, is close enough we don’t have to go without.

M: Wait a minute. Culture took you to Brisbane. Love took you to Melbourne. Then Property prices… Maybe it’s my imagination, but does this have all the ingredients of a Once Upon a Time story – the goat herd who accepted a quest, saved a princess then built a country house/castle – in Ballarat.

Available now: .Salvage brilliantly fuses the sensitivities of mainstream fiction with the sense-of-wonder spinal chill of the genre : Jack Dann

Available now:
Salvage brilliantly fuses the sensitivities of mainstream fiction with the sense-of-wonder spinal chill of the genre
: Jack Dann

J: No Princesses were saved in the making of this fairy tale! When I look back at the shifts in my life, I suspect I’ve been the one rescued from the ‘Tower’ by strong, independent heroines. [Tweet this!] You know, there’s a saying that wherever you go, there you are, but it’s also true that where you are changes you: it either opens you up or closes you down, maybe both in different ways. I was running to, not from, I think; an explorer, not a refugee; one of my biggest regrets is not being able to be a farmer. To be honest, I’m still not sure what I am, but it has been shaped by all these places. The things I remember most about the places I’ve lived are the friends I made there, even the ones I left behind: the ties that unwound as well as the ones that stayed. I know what they’ve given me; I’ve got no idea what I’ve given them, other than bad puns.

M: I’d like to think our roots give us certain advantages. My bias is showing, I know, but do you see any advantage in having a background in the bush, any way a rural writer can value add.

J:Are country folk – outsiders – any better at cutting through the artifice and distraction of the urban environment, of balancing virtue against vice?

M: Maybe. More than one novel’s been built around that idea. There was a time when country meant vice and city meant virtue. But I think all writers need to find an edge to sharpen. A point of difference. Do your country roots give you any edge?

J: When I was a kid, the city was vice and the country virtue – it’s one of the Australian myths, isn’t it, that the ‘real’ Australia is in the outback (or on the beach). As it happens, I was back in the country last week, a get together of the rural community in which I grew up, one district removed. An old school mate said I hadn’t changed, for all my gallivanting. That axiom of not being able to take the country out of the boy, I suspect. I don’t know if he was right. Seems (has always seemed, since high school at the least) I’ve got one foot on the bitumen, the other in the dirt: Janus in the rural-urban divide? It’s probably not an accident that my vampire duology (Out Soon: Mouse) is called Blood and Dust and The Big Smoke. Maybe that’s where my value-adding is to be found.

M: You’re chatting about Horror at WriteFest, and I know you like shades of black. I could rather brusquely label you as Goth. Would that be fair? Or do you just have trouble with light.

J: LOL It’s true I’m not a big fan of sunlight, and the feeling’s mutual, and I certainly have a Gothic sensibility, although the days of black hair dye and eyeliner are probably over. The music collection and t-shirt drawer, and the gargoyles in the front yard, would lend the label some credence, too!

M: Your school mate said you hadn’t changed. So you’ve worn black for a long time. How did that play out for you?

J: Strangely enough, it is storytelling that has helped me fit in. In the bush, as a kid, being able to string a sentence together (without being a smartarse) was actually appreciated. My parents’ generation didn’t get much schooling, after all; my folks sacrificed to make sure I got the opportunity they hadn’t. Just the other day I got a Facebook message from a high school classmate reminding me of the (what we now call flash fiction) stories I wrote in typing class (learning touch typing: best thing ever) and passed around. The outsider from the bush found his place through academic achievement and participation (and dodging bullies – they know when you’re alone). I was certainly different to the city kids who’d come up through the same primary schools together and were talking (and not just talking) sex and music and exercising clique politics. Uni was similar: playing Dungeons & Dragons (communal storytelling) and discovering literature and developing a personal taste in music, exploring writing (but curiously not literature, I don’t know why I didn’t take lit classes).

 M. So dark doesn’t have to mean dastardly.

J: Certainly not. It was the music that led me to black – Sisters of Mercy, Siouxsie, The Cult, The Cure, et al. From there to the Gothic community, largely non-existent in Rockhampton where I was working at the time. Wearing all black was a good way to cop a shoulder in the local pub, even though I kept it toned down – it’s a blue jeans kind of town. I used to wipe off the nail polish before leaving Brisbane, where I’d trawl for music and lurk in the shadows at the Goth clubs on weekends away.

Where you are changes you: it either opens you up or closes you down, maybe both in different ways.

I really don’t understand why people find a threat in black, or punk, or whatever – some sense of the unknown or the Other, I guess; constrained minds struggling to deal with something not like them, insecurities manifesting in aggression or dismissal. Which is what we try to address in our literature, isn’t it? Break down barriers, fight the lowest common denominator, explore, empathise, challenge the majority in the name of the minority. The black I wear at work is different to the black I wear at home or when I go out; that’s my concession to a company preference for professional attire. I’ve not noticed any negative feedback – my workmates in Brisbane used to call me the Black Knight, which I quite enjoyed! – but then, I guess boy writers are almost expected to wear black, aren’t they? Stoopid stereotypes.

M: Languishing in Attics – in Paris, not Ballarat. Moody. Brooding.  Vulnerable. What’s not to love about boy writers.

J: I really need to polish up my absinthe-drinking skills, don’t I? It was when I embraced writing as a serious interest (in Brisbane, through the Vision writers group) that I found a community in which I felt comfortable. 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 under-appreciated 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. Read More

Advertisements

… the other in the dirt

jason 2010

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.

Back:

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.

watermarks

I’ll be dipping my toe back into this world considerably in the near future — sorry, Brisbane, but you’re in for a rough time.

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 .

Queensland Writers Centre

awm-logo-redUnknown

Edition 19: Night Blooming by Jason Nahrung

Like to step out on the edge. Nice little read from Jason Nahrung and SQ Mag

SQ Mag

A teenager in love with the darker side of life has disappeared. Detective Shane Hall, struggling with her personal demon, follows the trail to parts of Brisbane’s seedier side, The Valley. She must keep control to find the missing young woman, and for her own self-preservation. SY


Deborah Brown—Jazmine Nocturna to her friends—had it bad for the unliving. Shane stood in the teenager’s bedroom, taking in the nu-vamp celeb posters, the black lace, the incense.

The girl’s mother stood at the bedroom door. Ms Brown wore a pencil skirt and heels, a crisp white blouse, but stray hairs were pulling free from her tight bun, and the shadows under her eyes showed through her makeup. Early to mid-forties. Gym toned, suntanned, a gold cross above her modest cleavage. No wedding ring, but a pale line where one had been. She radiated anxiety.

Join the club, sister.

View original post 6,186 more words