Bloodstones is a project that I have really enjoyed working on with editor Amanda Pillar. I’m one of the contributing authors, and my story is titled “The Foam Born.” When I saw the submission guidelines, I absolutely loved the idea behind the anthology. So, of course, I had to send in my new short story about a Marblehead, MA lobsterman with some peculiar family issues. Luckily, my story got picked up and I was able to work with Amanda on this very cool project. I thought it would be nice to continue the fun with a round robin interview that features several of the contributing authors as well as a few questions for Amanda herself.
Bloodstones, edited by Amanda Pillar, is the first book in a series of anthologies from Ticonderoga Publications and focuses on non-traditional horror. Bloodstones features stories that are horrific with a non-traditional urban fantasy twist.
Bloodstones will be published in late October 2012, and will be available in trade paperback and in ebook formats. Pre-orders are available from IndieBooksOnline.com (note: Ticonderoga Publications is an Australian press, and I believe prices on IndieBooksOnline are listed in Australian dollars). The anthology will also be available from internet bookstores such as Barnes and Noble, The Book Depository, Amazon.com, and anywhere good books are found. And now, on with the interviews!
Interview with Bloodstones editor Amanda Pillar:
What inspired the concept behind Bloodstones? What was it about this project that inspired you?
Amanda Pillar, editor: In a way, this collection had two beginnings. I’ve wanted to work on an anthology with an urban fantasy theme for years, so when Russell from Ticonderoga Publications approached me and asked if I could do a horror collection, I said yes. But I had a stipulation–I wanted the collection to be urban fantasy, with a flavour of horror. When it came time to write the guidelines I had to ask myself; what did I want in urban fantasy? I love a good vampire story, but I didn’t want to read 200-300 submissions of just vamps or werewolves or witches. And so I got to thinking about my other love; mythology. From my work as an archaeologist, I knew that authors would never be short of inspiration if they turned to the mythology of our past. And I was right.
As an editor, how do you balance the stories you found with the vision that you had for constructing the Bloodstones anthology?
Amanda Pillar, editor: This is one of the harder parts of the job. There were quite a few stories I had to reject in the final stages, as they just didn’t fit well with the others in the collection. I also wanted to have a range of creatures/monsters (for example, I didn’t want two gorgon stories), and a mix that blended well and created a sense of flow, from one tale to another. Sometimes it isn’t an obvious link, but every story blends into the next in some way.
What has been the most rewarding aspect of your work on Bloodstones? When you look back, what part of the process will your remember most fondly…or not?
Amanda Pillar, editor: I think the best part of working on this anthology was selecting the final TOC and seeing the caliber of the stories assembled–and the variety. Then there was also that sense of happiness that these authors understood what I was looking for–a new twist on an old idea. I guess the worst part was the patch I had during the submission phase, where I seemed to get a lot of off-theme stories. But the final line-up more than makes up for that!
Group interview with the Bloodstones authors:
When you were a child, what scared you most? Did that fear inform your writing as an adult? If so, how?
Alan Baxter: I honestly don’t remember having one over-riding fear as a child. But all the old favourites like the dark, monsters in the closet, getting lost or left alone and so on, certainly featured as I grew up. I’m sure all those things find their way into my other ideas these days.
Kat Otis: A lot of things scared me as a child, but I think my worst fears were always of a supernatural variety–ranging from the usual monsters under the bed and boogeymen in the closet to the slightly quirkier evil witch that was summoned by the sound of flushing toilets. At one point, I even developed a fear of my dolls coming to life in the middle of the night and murdering me. Luckily, my younger brother stepped up to the plate and let my dolls sleep in his room. After a few nights of him not dying, I decided my dolls weren’t the murderous kind and it was safe to move them back in.
The (over)active imagination that spawned all those childhood fears definitely informs my writing, but as an adult I tend to see the supernatural in more neutral terms. There might be horrors in the supernatural world, but there are also wonders. More often than not, it’s all-too-human thoughts and desires that are ultimately responsible for both the evil and the good in the worlds that I write. Or, to put it another way, maybe those dolls really would have gone on a killing rampage if a little boy hadn’t taught them about self-sacrifice and love.
Karen Maric: What scared me the most? Vampires. Werewolves. Gory ’80’s horror movies and novels. The setting sun. The utter silence of my parents’ farm at night. Knowing that as I slept, our farmhouse was far from the nearest town, separated from it by great stretches of ancient rainforest in which anything could be hiding…
I guess those childhood fears have informed my writing as an adult. The intrusion of the supernatural into contemporary reality is a recurring theme in my stories. I also aim to create a very strong and dark sense of place in which the atmosphere and setting are a crucial part of the tale.
Dan Rabarts: I would have to say that two fears stand out for me from my childhood. The first was a massive, ancient pine tree that stood across the driveway from my grandparents’ house, and when the wind went through its boughs it sounded, to a little boy, like there were all manner of ghosts caught up inside it, and when its branches swayed back and forth they looked awfully like arms reaching out to grab me. One Guy Fawkes night we had a bonfire on the drive, and the impression on my young eyes of something vast and demonic against the night sky has never really gone away. This particular fear may not have influenced my writing to date, but it sounds a lot like it could. The other fear that springs to mind is water. Also at my grandparents’ house there is a fish pond, up the back of the section, all overgrown with bushes and covered in lily pads, nothing between it and a toddler’s curiosity but a rusty gate.
Long story short, as they say, my mother pulled me half-drowned from the pond and I was frightened of water for most of my life. However, in my twenties I went and fell in love with a girl from a family of sailors, and so I had no choice but to overcome that fear or risk finding myself excluded. I now consider myself a competent sailor if below-average swimmer, having clocked up at least a half-dozen crossings of the Cook Strait by sail, and I have a series of fantasy novel manuscripts written with a heavily nautical theme. Not sure if that answers your question, but it makes for a good yarn. The question you may ask, then, is why am I not afraid of my grandparents’ old house? Well maybe, just maybe, I am, because every time I go back there, the house is a little older, a little more tired, a little more lonesome, a little more hungry. I’m sure there’s a story in that.
Vivian Caethe: When I was a child what scared me the most was the vast sense of being a tiny creature in a vast universe I didn’t understand. I suspect a lot of this came from starting to read adult speculative fiction in elementary school and not necessarily understanding the vast frameworks of society and culture that inform a lot of fantasy, horror and science fiction. That and monsters that were meant to frighten adults scared the beejezus out of me.
However, the same things that frightened me were also the things that inspired me. As a child, I was always one to to look inside the closet to see if the monster was really there. As an adult, that desire to know has carried through into my writing. I write because I want to know what would happen if the nightmares were real.
Stephanie Gunn: I was always petrified of the things that I couldn’t see–the monster that could be hiding in the space behind the wardrobe, the creature that could be lurking outside when the curtains were drawn. If I couldn’t see it, it could be there. That fear has absolutely informed my writing as an adult–I am still fascinated by the unseen world, and like to think of far too many worlds that could be co-existing with, or beneath or behind, our own.
Pete Kempshall: Spiders. And this was even before I moved to Australia, where the bloody things are all over the place. At one point I tried to work out what it is about them that makes them frightening to me (it’s the way they move…) and I suppose I do that now when I write – take apart the unsettling and try to work out why it’s scary.
Jenny Blackford: It would be easier to list what didn’t scare me: spiders, or snakes, or grubs of various kinds, or mummies, or schoolwork. What scared me? Aliens, ghosts, the dark (but not the night sky from the dark garden), the monsters under the bed, the monsters in the walls, whatever might be out in the corridor in the dark, all the mean girls at school, things that might be in the mirror but not in the room, and vice versa, and my own special fear: inanimate objects which might move while I wasn’t watching, or, worse, when I was watching.
Richard Harland: I was terrified of wolves as a kid, and suffered many very scary wolf nightmares. I’ve been told the nightmares started after having Little Red Riding Hood read to me; also, there was a wood not far from where I grew up (in England) called Wolves Wood. Maybe it’s a deeply buried European fear, because the illustrator for my quartet of children’s fantasies, the ‘Wolf Kingdom’ books, drew the wolves exactly as they were in my nightmares – and she grew up in Hungary, in Eastern Europe. (The wonderful Laura Peterson!)
So wolves have a lot to do with the ‘Wolf Kingdom’ books–but nothing at all to do with my story in Bloodstones! “A Mother’s Love” draws on more adult fears. I seem to have written a series of horror/dark short stories involving tourists in foreign parts–“A Guided Tour in the Kingdom of the Dead”, “Shakti”, “The Bath”, “The Seventh Jar”, “Touching Inside” and “The God at Ixtlan del Rio”. I love travelling, and at the same time I think strange things can happen in unfamiliar places–all the more scary when you’re out of your depth with no one to turn to.
The main setting for “A Mother’s Love” is very normal Sydney suburbia, but Cuba comes into the story. What happened to my characters there, as tourists and travellers, is the original source of the horror.
Nicole Murphy: Gosh, so many things. Like most writers, the imagination is pretty active and we’re very good at immediately considering the worst possible outcomes of a situation. I remember one night waking up, finding Mum and Dad weren’t home and panicking. Turned out that with all of us in bed they’d popped next door for a quick drink (this was the 70s–people did that stuff then) but man, the fear I felt at that moment still worms deep into my soul. As a teenager, one of my great fears was something happening to my younger brothers and sisters. I was the eldest child, and I took the responsibility of looking after my little brothers and sisters VERY seriously. The day my second brother, who was highly allergic to bees, got stung and I was the only one at home to look after him was incredibly scary. I think that fear in particularly affects my writing to this day, in that I have to force myself to be awful to my characters. I want to protect them, just as I still feel the protective drive over my siblings.
Thoraiya Dyer: When I was a child, I was terrified that I would die by getting trapped under ice in a frozen lake. This may seem unreasonable considering there were no frozen lakes within five hundred kilometres of Sydney, but one night when I was five years old I sneaked out of bed, commando crawled behind the couch without alerting my parents, and watched the scary, grown-up movie that they were watching (which I now know to be Houdini (1953)).
Tony Curtis got trapped under the ice in the Detroit River when a trick went wrong. In the end, he drowned in the Chinese Water Torture Tank he was supposed to escape from. I had recurring nightmares about being trapped under ice, but I couldn’t seek reassurance from my parents because then I’d get in trouble for sneaking out to watch the movie. I don’t think I ever had a fear of drowning in non-icy water because I was a good swimmer, and I can’t think of anyone I’ve ever drowned in fiction, so I’m not sure that fear has informed my writing. But there’s still plenty of time. And I do keep a sharp eye out for little intruders when I’m watching TV after the Small One’s bed time.
Without giving spoilers, what aspect of the writing process, story, or character(s) did you enjoy most when creating your piece for Bloodstones?
Vivian Caethe: With “Skin” I enjoyed writing the character’s journey to reclaim herself from the world that humans had forced her into. It made me examine what a stranger in our world would have to do, and even what they would have to be willing to do, in order to reclaim what was rightfully theirs.
Nicole Murphy: That story took a while. Originally it was a vampire story, about an ancient female vampire trying to escape the trials and tribulations of being one of her kind and live her life in peace. But it just wasn’t singing – I’ve never written a good vampire story because doing something new yet keeping true to the essence of vampire is really hard. So I started thinking about this character – about her ancientness, about her vulnerability, about her absolute power – and the answer came to be in a blinding flash – a gorgon. I love ancient history, so had a fab time doing research to ensure I had enough understanding of the subtleties of the gorgon mythology in order to write something new and convincing. I hope I succeeded 🙂
Stephanie Gunn: My story, The Skin of the World, is actually a prequel for a novel that I’m working on. I’ve been working on that novel for a while in various incarnations and I was stuck – I had a lot of the story elements in place, but something was still missing. It was working on this story that I revealed one of the missing pieces, and I’m now just about to plunge into the next draft of the novel.
Pete Kempshall: I needed my creature to have an agenda, but none of the research I’d done could give me any clues about why this entity does what it does. Then, while I was thinking about it, I remembered a news story from a few years back that struck a chord. I was able to tie the two together and build the story around that. The most enjoyable part for me was turning these two elements into something that (I hope) will wrong-foot most readers.
Alan Baxter: I really enjoyed writing characters who were idiot blueblood aristocrats. It was fun to get into their world (at least as I imagine it!) for a little while.
Richard Harland: I loved the way the story came together. It started with something I saw in Cuba five years ago–a santerìa shrine in the town of Trinidad. In the middle of a supposedly secular, rational-minded, communist state was this survival of the original voodoo religion brought to the Caribbean by slaves from West Africa! I don’t know why I thought of that in relation to Amanda’s idea for an anthology of horror in a suburban context–nothing could be more remote. Yet that play of normality versus the exotic is the thing I’m most pleased about in “A Mother’s Love”. Once I started working it into the main character’s mental state, the story just wrote itself.
Dan Rabarts: I actually quite enjoyed working off the inspiration provided by the theme and the suggestions for the antho. I had a rather mediocre story sitting around about two highly disturbed individuals which didn’t really go anywhere, and then I read the Bloodstones guidelines. Characters that spill from mythology and into modern suburbia? Can I do something with this? So I took my story and dismembered it (no pun intended) then screwed it back together in a shape significantly more horrific than it had been when I started, and what a difference! Most of all, though, I always enjoy the challenge of writing the anti-hero, and The Bone Plate was no exception. There’s a real challenge in writing characters who do absolutely repulsive things, yet having them come across as sympathetic and even, quite possibly, heroic. The horror genre offers up the perfect palette to take on that task, and if I can get my readers to root for my characters in spite of the awful things they do, then I’m happy.
Kat Otis: Definitely the research I did on the setting. I spent an entire afternoon wandering through Highgate East Cemetery, absorbing the ambience of the place and writing the first draft of my story. Actually, technically, I just went there to play tourist and take pictures but the story idea ambushed me in a dark corner beside an open sarcophagus. If you’re ever in London–and if you like touring historical cemeteries, which I know isn’t everyone’s cup of tea!–then I highly recommend visiting both Highgate East and the more famous Highgate West Cemeteries.
Jenny Blackford: My story in Bloodstones is an hommage to H.G. Wells’ wonderful story “The Green Door,” which I reread about a million times from when I was about ten years old. I really enjoyed layering aspects of the older story into mine. I’m particularly fond of the two leopards playing with their golden ball.
Karen Maric: The worldbuilding. I’ve lived in China for two years but this is my first story set in China. I had lots of fun sampling baijiu (the local firewater) while talking to Chinese friends about student mistresses and the poet Li Bai. I hope the finished story feels ‘authentic’ in its setting.
Thoraiya Dyer: I enjoyed learning about the real Louis Le Prince, “Father of Cinematography”, his inventions, his mysterious disappearance and the implication of Thomas Edison. Highly recommended is non-fiction book “The Missing Reel” by Christopher Rawlence.
Amanda Pillar is an awarding winning editor and speculative fiction author who lives in Victoria, Australia, with her partner and two children, Saxon and Lilith (Burmese cats).
Amanda has had numerous short stories published and is the Editor-in-Chief for Morrigan Books. She has co-edited the fiction anthologies Voices (2008),Grants Pass (2009), The Phantom Queen Awakes(2010), Scenes from the Second Storey (2010), Ishtar (2011) and Damnation and Dames (2012).