Cthulhu Deep Down Under – Volume 2

Print

Buy now from Book Depository for $23.77 (with free shipping!)

Buy the ebook from Amazon for $6.99

Available at bookstores and online retailers

After much discussion, it has finally arrived!

Behold: Cthulhu Deep Down Under – Volume 2, featuring yours truly with my story Where the Madmen Meet.

This one has truly been a long time coming, and it is a story that I am extraordinarily proud of, and a book that I am truly pleased to be a part of, filled as it is with great stories by excellent authors. A big thank you to IFWG Publishing Australia for putting the book out.

If you’re a fan of existential dread and cosmic horror with an Aussie twist, I heartily recommend you pick this one up!

About Cthulhu Deep Down Under – Volume 2:

H. P. Lovecraft pioneered a fusion of terror and science fiction themes, and is widely credited as having invented the sub-genre of ‘cosmic horror’. While America’s New England was the focus and setting for many of Lovecraft’s tales, the Southern Hemisphere held a fascination for him. Australia, New Zealand and Antarctica were featured locations in his Mythosian novellas.

In tribute to this, presented here is an assortment of the finest Australian dark fiction, bringing you a second volume of Lovecraftian stories of wonder and dread. Featured are new tales by ROBERT HOOD, LEE MURRAY, KIRSTYN McDERMOTT and SILVIA BROWN.

Cthulhu Deep Down Under Volume 2 takes us back below the equator, into the bizarre and headlong towards horror. From mist-shrouded peaks and canyons of Melanesian islands, through rainforests and scorching deserts of the island continent of Terra Australis, and across the Tasman Sea to the inhospitable hinterlands of New Zealand.

Tales of terror by:
Kirstyn McDermott
Robert Hood
Lee Murray
Jason Nahrung
Bill Congreve
J Scherpenhuizen
Silvia Brown
T.S.P. Sweeney
Geoff Brown
David Kuraria

About my story, Where the Madmen Meet:

A special forces soldier returns home to his wife and kids, but what begins as a joyous reunion quickly turns to dread as Stephanie Lilyman realises that her husband Tom has come back from war a changed man, and not in the way she may have expected…

(warning: this story deals with themes of domestic violence)

From Scratch – Part 4: A Different Approach

Previously on From Scratch, I changed my mind a million times, indicated I’d soon be writing about this story, and had every intention of submitting it to that short story window I found….yeah, about that.

Everything went a little bit awry with my plans to submit my sci-fi story, but in the best way possible. You see, I set out to get my feet wet with writing short fiction again after taking a too-long hiatus thanks to focusing on a novel I wasn’t enjoying writing, and thus actually not accomplishing much of anything at all.

So the deadline? Missed it.  The word count? Blew out. The fantasy story I was also planning to write? Never got around to it.

None of this is bad though!

Instead of an 8000 word short story that was water-themed, I instead wound up with a 20,000 word sci-fi novella that I think is legitimately the best thing I’ve ever written – certainly I like it more than I’ve liked anything else I’ve done, and it hasn’t taken my usual ten edits to get it to the stage where I’m not embarrassed by it either. Hell, I wrote it from start to finish pretty much non-stop and knew exactly where I was going with it pretty much the whole time, which never happens with me.

What started out as a simple heist story is instead a good chunk of meaty story, a military space opera influenced by Star Wars and Firefly and all the other usual suspects, but with a focus on what I hope are interesting characters and a unique scenario that elevates it into something different while also walking the line between action, humour, tension, and cool space ships shooting at each other.

So yes, unfortunately I missed the short story submissions window I was aiming for.  Instead, I’ve now got my sights set on the TOR novella window opening in early May.  I think I’ve basically got zero chance of success, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t worth having a crack.

Wish me luck!

Finally, to show the difference a bit of time makes, here’s the intro to the story – now called Calayasii – from the latest edit. You’ll notice that it is fairly similar tonally, but there have been quite a few little changes here or there compared to the earlier draft:

The starfighters of Corsair squadron skimmed an ocean the colour of smoked glass, leaving chaos in their wake.

‘Incoming fighters: state your business.’ The query from Holy City Flight Control stabbed into Ayla’s mind. Most chip communications were not so intrusive, but the Cobies had a particularly blunt way of making themselves known.

‘This is Aquafex Hydronatus Lurr of flight group Zero-Two-Delta here for refuel and resupply.’ Ayla pulsed back, every word untrue.

‘Acknowledged, Aquafex. Welcome to the Holy World,’ Control buzzed back, a giant mosquito somewhere in her frontal lobe. Illusory lights floated into existence before her eyes, pink orbs illuminating a path toward the Holy City. ‘Hangar alpha-four, landing pad eighteen in City West. Deviate from the designated flight path and be destroyed. All praise to the Cobalt Waters.’

‘We will comply, Control.’ Another lie.  ‘We have absolutely no intention of causing any trouble. Praise the Cobalt Waters of Holy Ter.’

Now that was some real crap, even down to the murky water they skimmed across most definitely not being any shade of blue Ayla had ever seen.  Lies within lies within lies.

Captain Ayla Neshitani, leader of Corsair Squadron – former soldier, pretend space pirate, and extra-pretend Aquafex of the fanatical Cobalt Imperium – sighed and kept her focus on ensuring her fighter didn’t plough into the water below.

It’d be far too apropos to drown in the murk of this bullshit mission.

Sherlock Holmes: The Australian Casebook Launch

Celebrate the launch of Sherlock Holmes: The Australian Casebook with editor Christopher Sequeira and contributor Meg Keneally!

It is the year 1890. Brilliant detective Sherlock Holmes, and his trusted colleague and biographer, Dr John H. Watson find themselves in Australia – half a world away from their customary English environs – after resolving a case of major international significance at the request of the highest authorities. Sherlock Holmes: The Australian Casebook is a treasure-trove of historical and literary delights,with 16 new cases written by a stellar line-up of great Australian mystery and suspense writers.

Contributors include yours truly, Kerry Greenwood, Meg Keneally, Lucy Sussex, Kaaron Warron, L.J.M. Owen, and many more.

DATE AND TIME

Thu. 2 November 2017

6:00 pm – 8:00 pm AEDT

LOCATION

Kinokuniya Bookstore

The Galeries Level 2

500 George Street

Sydney, NSW 2000

 

Book your free tickets now!

New update shortly

Just a quicky to apologise for the lack of updates recently – I’ve had that fun combination of battling illness and work that has made my writing time dry up a little.

However, coming down the pipe shortly is the next installment of From Scratch, an update on what I’ve been reading, and most excitingly of all, information on the release date AND book launch for Sherlock Holmes: The Australian Case Studies in November at Kinokuniya Books in Sydney.

Exciting times! Stay tuned.

From Scratch – Part 2: No Decisions Necessary

Previously on From Scratch, I pondered which of the two water-themed story ideas I would go with:

  1. A melancholy dark fantasy story about a healer betraying her friends to defend helpless civilians who hate her and are doomed anyway; OR
  2. A space pirate adventure revolving around an attempt to steal a tanker full of holy water from the home planet of a xenophobic empire of whackjobs.

Option 1 appeals to me as a writer – dark and brooding has mostly been my go-to, and it would be a story set in a world I’ve spent a fair bit of time fleshing out for myself.

Option 2, on the other hand, is a setting I’ve only really thought about. I’ve written the first chapter of a potential future novel in this same setting, and I’ve doodled a whole bunch of spaceship designs during meetings at work, but otherwise it’s a blank slate in a new setting in a style that I haven’t really ventured into (barring some Warhammer 40,000 fan fiction back in the day, which was tonally very different to what I’d be aiming for here).

After much pondering (it took minutes, I swear!), I made the decision to not make a decision. Instead, I’m just going to write both of them.

To be honest, there’s a couple of reasons for this – I could say that both interest me equally, although that wouldn’t be entirely true.  I could say that both are gateway stories into linked novels I’ve been planning to write, which would also be true. I could even say that I miss writing short stories (which is 100% true), so why limit myself?

The real reason is that I have missed writing like this. For the first time in literal years, I am feeling inspired – like I cannot wait to drop whatever else I am doing so I can sit down and get more words down. I’m craving the redrafting; the cutting of whole pages of beloved text simply because it doesn’t quite work. I want to ruthlessly edit and get criticism from my beta readers and all of that good stuff.

Thinking about this process has made me realise just how much of a misstep focusing on writing my novel to the exclusion of all else has been. I’ve always been the kind of guy who functions best with multiple projects going at once – I’ve been one for laser focus. Focusing on rewriting and redrafting Freeburn, as useful as that has been for nutting out solutions to problems I was having, has also led to me basically not writing anything new except the odd sentence here or there for a very long time.  Obsession with getting it right has led to me resenting it a bit, and my writing process has suffered as a result.

No more!

Freeburn is on the back burner for now, and I think it will be the better for it.  In the meantime, I have begun writing the as-yet-untitled tale of Captain Ayla Neshitani and her band of roguish space pirates, and I’m about 2/3rds of the way through the first draft.  I’ve even managed to fit in a pretty decent cloaca joke that I’m hoping will make it through to the final version.

I’m very excited to discuss this first story in more detail…next time, on From Scratch.

From Scratch – Part 1: Go Pitch Myself

Due to getting bogged down for the longest time in working on my first novel, I’ve decided to cleanse my palette a little bit by getting back to the thing that brought me to the writing dance in the first place: short stories. 

From Scratch is going to be an ongoing documentation of my journey from searching for an idea through to (hopeful) completion and submission of a story.

Burning out on writing sucks.

I didn’t realise that was what was happening to me at first – surely, I was just struggling with working on a novel, right? Anyone transitioning from writing a tightly edited 6000 words is going to feel overwhelmed trying to make an 80,000 word story come together properly, never mind then having to redraft multiple times.

I kept telling myself that, even as I found myself doing less and less work on it.  Worse, despite knowing that I do my best from a productivity standpoint when I have multiple projects underway simultaneously, I kept trying to laser focus in on this one project that I was growing to hate-hate (instead of my usual love-hate that I have with all my work).

No longer! A random run-in on Facebook led to me finding the following call for submissions for water-themed speculative fiction. This is perfect – a short story window I can aim for that, even if I am not successful, will challenge me to come up with a concept taking into account a theme I may have otherwise never arrived at.  Even better, it’s open to all spec fic sub genres, which tickles my recent urges to get back into the fantasy and sci-fi spaces.

In the end I arrived at a fork in the road, one way leading back to my dark fantasy world I have previously explored in Heart Eater and an upcoming as-yet-unnamed novella. The other leading me to a space opera vision of pirates and revolutionaries I’ve had in the back of my mind since I first read the Rogue and Wraith Squadron books of Michael Stackpole and Aaron Allston.

I decided to write quick summary pitches of both stories, to give me an idea of a broad plot outline I might decide to follow:

Fantasy:

PLACEHOLDER, follower of the Ocean Path and medic for a band of mercenaries, has a crisis of conscience when her leaders accept a job to slaughter a village of orcish civilians.  Abandoning her post, she goes to the orcs and uses her healing powers to keep the civilians alive in the face of overwhelming odds, even as she struggles with their distrust of her, the betrayal of her former friends,  the demands of her pacifistic religion, and the knowledge that every person she heals brings the deaths of them all inevitably closer.

Sci-Fi:

Captain Ayla Neshitani – space pirate, insurgent, and reluctant revolutionary – is tasked with a mission to steal the Calayasii, a derelict fuel tanker-turned-shrine from Ter, the spiritual home of the Cobalt Imperium.  Ayla’s squad is to infiltrate the ocean world, fill the Calayasii to the brim with holy water, and retrieve it for sale to the highest bidder. Of course, things don’t quite go according to plan, and Ayla finds herself faced with an unexpected ethical question regarding exploiting the spirituality of her enemies.

Which will I choose?

Tune in for Part 2.

What I’ve Been…Doing?

Hello, hello!

It’s been a while, but for once I actually have some pretty good, real life reasons for it being all quiet on the blogging front:

We bought an apartment, had to move into said apartment, discovered we could not get internet connected at said apartment, and have to wait until the NBN is available in said apartment at some point between July 1 and September 30 (and I’ll believe that timetable when I see it).

This, combined with being pretty busy with the whole moving into a whole new place thing and actually turning it into a home (with furniture and everything!, has meant that my capacity to sit at a PC and type up a blog post has been…limited, shall we say?

All of that is going to change now, however, as I am filled with resolve to use the limited data on my mobile phone for something other than downloading Giant Bomb videos and streaming iZombie and American Gods.

Coming up, I’ll be talking about the following (in no particular order):

  • More details on my two upcoming short story publications;
  • Some details on my renewed focus on the novel I’m currently working on (by working on, I mean thinking about without actually writing anything down);
  • What I’ve been reading, playing, and watching; and
  • Something a bit more experimental, in which I detail the process of writing and submitting a short story from scratch through to the submission and acceptance stage.  This will be my first new story submission in a number of years, which should make it even more interesting/frustrating/infuriating to work on, yay!

I don’t know what the exact schedule of all of this will be, but it will at least be kinda regular by my standards.

Thanks for reading.

 

Work In Progress Excerpt: Freeburn (working title)

Here’s an excerpt from my current draft of my action-spy-post-apocalyptic thriller, tentatively titled Freeburn.  This is a (very) rough early version of a new scene from about a third of the way through the novel and is presented without context – I hope it can be parsed well enough, both in terms of the people in the scene, but also in terms of the tone of the story.  In case you’re wondering, I’m primarily posting this to try to fire myself up to write some more, so please let me know what you think!

I sat on a stump at the edge of the woods and watched the sunset.
It had taken a while to extricate myself from the hospital after the attack – calming the terrified civvies, accepting back slaps from Gerstmann and co, seeing to Ayoub’s wounds. I’d taken a few myself, including a bullet graze on my right shoulder that I hadn’t even felt in the heat of the moment.
The sun had started to dip by the time I was ready to steal Lin’s bike and hit the road. No one tried to stop me – I had made vague noises about checking for surviving bandits lurking in the trees, and they’d been accepting enough. I admit there was a bit of an itch between my shoulder blades as I took off – I’d seen Lin sniping from the roof earlier, and she was easily good enough to peg a moving target, especially one she didn’t like that also happened to have just stolen her ride.
Thankfully, the twitchy Lieutenant mustn’t have been paying attention, and I made it without incident. I parked the bike well away from my actual destination, leaving it on its side amongst the surprisingly lush undergrowth, and moved away from the road, making sure I wasn’t followed.
The stump was perfect – in deep enough to obscure me, but not so deep that I couldn’t look down the road and over the houses dotting the distant hills, glittering prettily in the setting sun, off-white buildings stained orange and purple.
I could see clearly down the road, so naturally I wasn’t at all surprised when I heard someone clear their throat behind me.
‘How long did you know I was there?’ a deep voice, clipped and precise.
‘A while,’ I said, not turning around. My pistol was clutched in my left hand, dangling loosely against the inside of my thigh. I looked relaxed, and the gun should have been completely invisible to him, but somehow I knew he could feel the tension in both me and my trigger finger. ‘But only because I expected you.’
‘Liar,’ twigs crunched beneath his feet – an affectation, he’d never have accidentally done anything that could reveal himself. ‘If I was that predictable, I’d be dead.’
‘And yet, here I am, waiting for you.’ I smiled, finally turning to face him.
‘And yet here you are.’ He was tall, thin and muscular, looking twenty years younger than his middle age. He wore uniform fatigues, devoid of any insignia except for one: A bat-winged dagger. ‘It’s good to see you, Marcus.’
‘It’s good to see you too, Colonel.’
Llewellyn smiled at me. ‘Didn’t you hear? They made me a simulated Brigadier before they retired me. A general without an official unit, unattached to any branch of the Her Majesty’s military, and having never commanded more than two-dozen men at a time.’
I grinned at him. ‘We did more work than most battalions, simulated Brigadier General sir.’
‘That we did, Freeburn.’ His voice turned serious. ‘And how about now?’
Well, that brought us to the crux of things.
‘You killed my men. You’ve denied me what is rightfully mine.’
I shrugged. ‘The people in that hospital would probably disagree.’
‘Those people exist to allow men like us to do the hard work, you know that. I bear them no particular ill will, but they have supplies that my men need, and if we don’t have them, we will all die.’ Llewellyn had begun to pace, hands clasped behind his back – it was a pose I’d seen often, and one that usually ended with me being ordered to go kill someone. ‘You’re interfering in plans I’ve been working toward executing for more than a year now.’
‘And what plans are those?’
He ignored me, pacing silently. My hand tensed on the gun.
He stopped, instantly, eyes snapping to me. ‘Are you going to shoot me, Freeburn?’ His teeth glistened in the encroaching dark, more snarl than smile. ‘Is that what we’ve come to?’
I loosened my grip. Slightly.
‘Why did you miss our meeting?’
‘Honestly?’ I winced, actually embarrassed. ‘I was pissed about the job and drank too much on the flight, decided to grab a couple of hours of bunk time before heading up. It wasn’t personal.’
He barked something like a laugh. He stood – not at ease, never that – but suddenly more comfortable, as though the pieces had finally clicked into place and he knew what he was dealing with.
That pissed me off.
‘I didn’t realise at the time that armageddon was starting, of course.’
‘Of course,’ he replied. He stood just outside of my reach, not quite facing me, ready to move in any particular direction in an instant. He’d thickened in the middle, now that I could see him up close, although his fatigues were old and battered enough that they may have been adding to the effect. He still wore his usual beret – tan, devoid of insignia. He carried no visible weapon, but I knew that he had at least two knives on him. Not that Daffyd Llewellyn needed knives – he was deadly enough all on his lonesome, even well on his way past middle age.
‘What did you have for me?’ I asked him after the silence had stretched long enough to get uncomfortable. The sun had dropped lower in the sky, the shadows stretching between the trees. I could smell rain in the air, the first hint I’d seen since I’d woken from my long sleep.
‘I’d been ordered to kill you, of course,’ he shrugged, as though it were of no great import. A chunk of ice settled in my gut. ‘You must have worked that out by now.’
‘I had guessed.’ And I had, the more I had considered it. The night I’d been shot, the pink-haired assassin had implied I was responsible for what was happening. Budrickson and Lin had said it outright. I’d never found out why they’d believed it, but if enough people start accusing you of something and you actually didn’t do it, it probably means you’ve been set up. ‘What I want to know is why.’
‘That’s the million dollar question, son. Someone at MI6 disliked you enough to send you all the way around the world twice just so your old CO could put one in the back of you skull. What did you do?’
I shrugged, hoping I seemed mysterious rather than the utterly bewildered dickhead I felt like. I’d never seen eye to eye with the service, but I’d never done anything near bad enough to get myself implicated in the worst act of terrorism the world had ever seen. And, as Llewellyn had just said, it seemed like a particularly personal ‘fuck you’ from someone to send me on a trip just to be murdered by him.
We stared at each other as the last vestiges of light drifted away. The moon gleamed between the clouds and was absorbed a moment later as the rain began to fall.
‘I killed a lot of your men, General. I’m not sorry, they were scum.’
‘They were, but they were mine.’ He stepped close suddenly, so suddenly my hand tensed on my gun. ‘You’re mine too, Freeburn. I need you. This whole place has gone to shit, but I’ve got a plan and you increase the odds of my success dramatically.’
‘I usually do,’ I grimaced as he squeezed my shoulder, hoping he’d take it as a smile.
He reached into a pocket and handed me a piece of paper – it was too dark to see what it was, but I could guess. ‘Come to me, bring me something worthwhile, and I’ll leave these people you seem to care so much about-’
‘I don’t give a fuck about these people, Llewellyn, you know that.’
‘-in peace. Don’t interrupt me again.’ There was the Colonel I knew, voice suddenly as sharp as the combat knife tucked into the small of his back. ‘Come to me, and we’ll work this out together. I want answers as much as you do, and we’ll make whoever did this to us pay.’
He squeezed my shoulder one last time and stepped back, not turning away from me.
‘You’ve got three days.’ He said, withdrawing into the shadows, back the way he came. ‘After that, my plans will have progressed far enough that you’ll be left behind.’
I nodded. Not much else to say to that.
‘I’ll be seeing you, Freeburn. Make sure you don’t shoot me in the back.’ I saw his teeth glint in the sparse moonlight. He turned around and walked away, raising his left fist in what I initially assumed was a salute.
Then I noticed the two red dots dancing around on my chest.
‘If I was that predictable,’ I muttered, holstering my pistol with very slow, deliberate movements. ‘I’d be dead.’