An Interview With Tracie McBride


Tracie McBride lives in Melbourne, Australia with her husband and three children. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in over 50 print and electronic publications, including Horror Library Vol 4, Dead Red Heart, Abyss and Apex, JAAM 26, and Electric Velocipede. She won the Sir Julius Vogel Award for Best New Talent for 2007. She is an associate editor for horror magazine Dark Moon Digest and vice president of the writer’s co-operative Dark Continents Publishing. Her first short story and poetry collection Ghosts Can Bleed was released in April 2011.

Tracie’s poem “Contact” was my Tuesday Poem this week.

Tracie, I was about to say you’re the first Australian writer I’ve interviewed for this blog, but I wonder whether that’s accurate. As a New Zealander who now lives in Melbourne, do you now consider yourself to be an Australian writer now?

I moved to Melbourne in 2008, so I don’t know if I’ve been here long enough to claim to be Australian. I like to think of myself as a hybrid, an Aussie-Kiwi, or as my son calls it, a Kozzie. Being an Australian resident certainly opens up market opportunities that would have been unavailable to me in New Zealand.

It’s clear from looking at your blog that you are well connected to the Australian speculative fiction writing community. Other than their size, do you notice major differences between the Australian and the New Zealand writing communities?

I think that the two communities approach the business of writing in much the same way. Both congregate online, in writing crit groups and at conventions, and both are aware of being small players on a large international stage. Any differences can be traced directly back to the differences in size. Australia has several small press publishers and magazines dedicated to speculative fiction. Consequently, Australian writers can better afford to specialize in their chosen genre or subgenre, and are confident to give their stories distinctly Australian settings. You’re more likely to find New Zealand speculative fiction writers submitting to US publications, or tailoring their work for the School Journal or for literary publications.

Let’s turn to your first collection, Ghosts Can Bleed, published by Dark Continents Publishing. It’s an unusual collection, in my experience, in that it contains a mixture of fiction and poetry. Has it been your plan all along to integrate the two in this way?

Short answer – no.

Long answer – I never even thought of publishing a collection of my work before I joined Dark Continents Publishing. My plan has always to establish something of a track record with my short fiction and poetry, then write a novel. Problem is, I’m not a novelist. When the president of Dark Continents, David Younquist, said, “OK, guys, part of the deal of being a member of the group is that you have to contribute a novel for us to publish in the first year,” I had a small panic attack, and then replied, “Ummm…will a short story collection do?”

I love the short form, and I view a lot of my poems as being short stories in disguise, so it never occurred to me to separate out the poems. They are as much representative of my work as my short stories.

I was very pleased to see that your story “Last Chance To See”, which was one of the highlights for me in the issue of JAAM I edited, is included in the collection. I recall that story as having a very effective mixture of horror and pathos. Would you describe that story as typical of your style?

I’m still trying to figure out what my style is…

“Last Chance To See” is the first story in the collection, because it is the one of which I am most proud. It was also reprinted in a recent Australian horror anthology, Devil Dolls and Duplicates. The story was inspired by true life events, so it has emotional resonances for me that I hope I will carry through to the reader.

I rarely write “straight” horror. My stories are usually tempered with something else – they’re often a blend of genres, or are laced with black humour, or else they feature a level of emotional detachment. So in that respect, “Last Chance To See” is both typical and atypical of my style.

As well as being a writer, you’re also a vice-president of Dark Continents Publishing, a new publisher which was launched at the World Horror Convention in Austin, Texas a few weeks ago. I see that your first submission period opens on 1 June 2011. For the writers who read this interview, what sort of work is Dark Continents looking for?

We call ourselves publishers of dark speculative fiction, but that definition is broad, which is evident in the titles we launched in Austin. Will we consider the traditional horror staples such as zombies, werewolves, vampires and ghosts? You bet. Horror poetry? We’ll take a look. Short story collections? We can be persuaded. Paranormal romance? Maybe. YA and children’s stories? Probably not just yet, but we hope to spread our net even wider for subsequent submission periods. Something well written that a major publishing house would turn down due to excessive quirkiness? Ooh, I’d LOVE to see something like that land in the slush pile. Just give us a chance to turn it into the Next Big Thing…

Your poetry has already appeared in one collection from Dark Continents Publishing, The Spectrum Collection, which was designed to showcase your authors. How has that collection done so far?

So far it has been well-received. The idea behind the Spectrum Collection was to give prospective readers a sampler of our different writing styles. Because our styles are so diverse, we haven’t been able to please all of the people all of the time. The feedback from reviewers so far has been interesting, with most of the reviewers choosing different pieces as stand-outs. But they all agree on one thing – we have some very talented writers in our stable.

Every publisher I know of, large or small, is grappling with the issues of production, distribution and marketing that have arisen from the growth of the Internet in general and e-publishing in particular. What is Dark Continents’ approach?

With the exception of a couple of titles that have a lot of illustrations, most of our books are available as e-books in multiple formats, and those illustrated volumes will probably also be e-published as soon as e-book reader technology catches up. Our e-books are priced to reflect customer expectations. The bulk of our marketing is online, as are our ordering systems. Our printer is Lightning Source, which has printing plants in the US, UK, and as of June 2011, Australia, thus making it feasible to sell and ship our books to anywhere in the world.

Lightning Source uses Print On Demand technology, so there is no need for us to carry stock; we only print what we sell. Current technology, the Internet and e-publishing is our friend – we don’t grapple, we embrace.

What if any writers do you regard as your main influences?

To be honest, the writers who have the most direct influence on my work are the members of my crit groups. They don’t just influence the finished product, they give me an incentive to knuckle down and write something in the first place.

But if you want to know whose work I admire and aspire to, which is a different question, that list is long and varied. For short stories, my current literary crush is Joe Hill. I’m reading his collection 20th Century Ghosts. He takes cheesy B grade premises and turns them into something resonant and meaningful. And I am quite taken with the work of one of the Dark Continents crew, British writer Simon Kurt Unsworth. His 2010-published stories earned a pile of Honourable Mentions from Ellen Datlow, and after proofreading his forthcoming collection “Uneasy Tales”, I can see why.

What are your writing ambitions, and what projects are you planning, or currently working on?

Still haven’t entirely given up the notion of writing a novel, just waiting for the right Big Idea to enter my head. I always have some little project on the go, be it a short story anthology I’m aiming for here or a new poetry magazine there. I’m working on a collaborative poetry project with New Zealander and fellow Dark Continents member John Irvine.

One of my passions is fostering a love of writing and storytelling from an early age; I work as a teacher aide at a local primary school, and my three children are aspiring writers. So David Youngquist and I hope to carve out some time in the near future to work on an anthology of stories written for children, by children. And come June 1, I expect to be neck deep in the Dark Continents slush pile.

How to buy “Ghosts Can Bleed”

For Kindle –

For Nook –

Paperback –

How to buy books from Dark Continents Publishing

The paperbacks for all the Dark Continents Publishing books can be ordered directly from the Dark Continents website. With the exception of Anomalous Appetites and Blood Curry, they are all available as e-books from Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

Book Review: The Spectrum Collection, edited by John Prescott – and some thoughts on how horror fiction works


Dark Continents Publishing
is a new publisher of Dark Speculative Fiction, which they define as “Dark Fantasy, Horror (supernatural, Urban, and whatever other twist you can think to put on the genre) Science Fiction with a dark side. Basically, if it makes people squirm, it may well be for us.”

They are not open to unsolicited submissions until 1 May 2011, but they already have several books available, and one of them is a sampler of their current authors’ work, The Spectrum Collection.

Here is what the introduction has to say about The Spectrum Collection:

Welcome to the Spectrum Collection. People have asked us what “Dark Speculative Fiction” is. With this collection of stories from the authors of Dark Continents Publishing, we offer our definitions of that little phrase. Basically, we all write horror. Over the years however, we’ve all developed our own take on horror. You’ll find all our contributions here. From Sylvia Shults’ post-apocalyptic vampire story, to Simon Kurt Unsworth’s story of a cursed home, to the zombie stories contributed by myself and Adrian Chamberlin, you’ll find all the nooks and crannies of the horror world that make up our brand of literature. Our Dark Speculative Fiction. You’ll even find some bloody good poetry by Tracie McBride, Maureen (Mo) Irvine, and John Irvine. Carson Buckingham, Serenity J. Banks, and John Prescott round out the chills with their stories guaranteed to pump up your adrenaline.

So how does The Spectrum Collection live up to these claims? I found that my adrenalin was pumped up quite often, and there were definitely chills, but also that quite a few of the stories didn’t offer that adrenalin and outlet or those chills anywhere to go. In more prosaic language, while almost all the stories were well written, created a nicely scary/spooky atmosphere, and set up a premise that promised excitement and/or fear, a number of them didn’t resolve in a satisfying way.

I’m not a big reader of horror, but I’ve read enough to know that there are two kinds of horror story that work for me: the Stephen King kind, in which the author creates one or a small group of characters the reader cares about, and then puts them in grave jeopardy; and the H. P. Lovecraft kind, in which the characters are much less important and the horror comes from the revelation that vast and inimical cosmic forces wish us all the deepest harm.

(Of course, there are crossovers: Stephen King wrote several Lovecraft pastiches, including “Rats in the Walls”, and “Crouch End”, which memorably melds Lovecraftian horror with the unease of an American adrift in London. For that matter, the great Jorge Luis Borges, whose work often has an element of cosmic horror, acknowledged the influence of Lovecraft on his work and wrote a story dedicated to Lovecraft, “There Are More Things”, published in The Book Of Sand (1975).)

The Lovecraft style is well suited to short stories, because it’s hard to keep up an air of cosmic menace for a whole novel without it tipping over into bathos or silliness. The Stephen King signature style, on the other hand, is better suited to long narratives – of at least novella length – to give time to build up the characters before putting them, and the reader, through the wringer.

Another significant difference between the two styles is that the Stephen King approach usually ends with the survival of one or a few of the characters we care about, while the characteristic Lovecraftian ending has the narrator frantically scribbling the final words of the story as the three-lobed burning eye/giant space octopus/shambling gelatinous horror oozes across the threshold to end story and narrator alike.

Most of the stories in The Spectrum Collection are closer to the Stephen King approach than the H.P. Lovecraft approach, and as none of them are very long, that means that each author has taken on a very challenging task. I felt that a number of the stories did a good job of setting up the characters and the situation, and then fizzled out, either not advancing the story to a satisfying conclusion or coming up with an ending that I’d seen too many times before.

The two stories that made the most satisfying whole for me were “The End” by Serenity J. Banks, and “The Bodymen” by Adrian Chamberlin. “The End” is what Cormac McCarthy’s The Road might be like if retold from the cannibals’ point of view – but it’s not as obvious as that little synopsis makes it sound, and within a general atmosphere of doom and dread, the story still goes to places I didn’t expect.

“The Bodymen” has a tremendous setting for a horror story, a crematorium for dead animals. I once worked for a few weeks at a freezing works coolstore, and I can tell you that they are not great place to be alone at night if you have a vivid imagination. (I still haven’t written my own story based on that experience…). Adrian Chamberlin does a great job of taking his already spooky setting and piling up the horror on top of it. I found the plot a bit confusing in a couple of places, but I was still creeped out by the overall effect.

Other stories I enjoyed included “Wild Goat Curry” by John Irvine, which is short but nasty, and “The Elms, Morecambe,” by Simon Kurt Unsworth; while I think the author could have done more with the premise of this ghost story, the atmosphere of pain and regret is well described.

In the poetry, Tracie McBride’s “Tooth Fairy” isn’t one you want anywhere near your child’s pillow, and “My Sister Doesn’t Live There Anymore,” by John Irvine, is a strong narrative poem.

So, in summary: there are some very strong pieces here, plus some that are underdeveloped, but nevertheless plenty to suggest that the authors represented here, and Dark Continents Publishing, are worth watching out for.