Thursday, June 3, 2021

2021: The year of forced introspection.

Y’all it has been a doozie of a year here. Freezes, flooding, work from home. 2021 has been pretty much as eventful as 2020. 

I eventually found an interesting balance. It takes lots of work and fails half the time. Not sure we need to get into how many times I forgot to click send on the grocery order or how many times I had to re-wash a load of laundry, but food was provided, and everyone has clean clothes. 

There is nothing like having a group of women surrounding you, poking you with emails and tweets from across the world, to keep you taking those deeps breaths so you can get back to something that you love- stories. To remind you that while you have put some things on the back-burner, like my monthly blogs, they are still there, my writing is still valid, and patience with the process is a virtue.

With the forced introspection that the past two years has brought, it was fun to learn some things about my writing process. Even though I teach writing (or taught writing in the BEFORE). Even though I have been a working author for over ten years now. I’ve spent the past two months creating the Author’s Preferred Editions to The Diaries Series to bring Violet Jordan back into the world. YAY!! But in going through that process, I saw just how baby of a writer I was when it was first written. 

Prologues everywhere, Epilogues galore. You want dream sequences, I’ve got twenty!

Flip phones. Need I say more.

So here a little appreciation post for my moments of Writing Growth for 2021.

First up, I need an outline, but not too outlining of an outline. I need milestones, but not a road map. I’ll eventually get there. These mini-synopsis have been a blessing in the two books that I was able to write in the past year. Two books! It took me three years to get Diaries #1 out the door, and two years to get TRUTH #1 out into the world. Now, I’m not saying these books were good, and my editors have ripped them to shreds, but they were written, word by word, page by page, chapter by chapter at a pace that felt like scaling a mountain. But as all those people on the internets say, “you can’t edit a blank page.”

Secondly, I default to dialogue without emotional beats. Just the words and none of the feelings or the texture of the scene, especially during a super intense scenes or info dumps (think the scenes where everyone is around a table talking about the baddie). It looks like reading a script instead of a book. But I developed something called a “Dialogue Sequel” that I can pull from when I feel that its getting a bit too wordy without any introspection. I’ll post about that next month. 

Thirdly, I really can’t read or watch TV when I am trying to create. I end up mimicking the tones and even sometimes the dialogue of characters. It’s so weird. I’m like a warped sponge. So in between projects, I have to take time to refill the Muse. I’ve binged The Great (Hulu), Bridgerton (Netflix), All the Marvel movies (MCU), and let myself dive off the deep end into Criminal Minds for about 6 seasons before I start editing again. 

Fourth, I binge books too, but rarely finish. I’m going to confess this because I think someone out there will need to hear it. I start probably 10 books a month, using the KISS App or Kindle, and I rarely find a book that grabs me enough to read it all the way through. I think I’m too picky? Or perhaps I just like really weird stuff. I usually go back to read authors that I know I love, like Hoffman and Gaiman and of course my ladies on the blog! (also you can now find the Merci Lanard series on the KISS app).  

So there you have it, a few things I’ve finally come to terms with in the past year. 

Oh wait, you want more. How about the exclusive cover reveal for all three Diaries!  You saw a sneak peak of it in Helen's post on Monday.  

Yeah. I know. so pretty.

Until next month, Happy Reading!

Amanda Arista

Tuesday, June 1, 2021

An Interview With Amanda Arista – Talking Magic in The MERCI LANARD FILES and DIARIES OF AN URBAN PANTHER Series



One of the very special aspects of the Supernatural Underground is being part of a community of writers, and Amanda Arista is one of the authors who has been a friend and fellow community member here from close to the get-go.

Amanda’s brand of fiction is paranormal urban fantasy, and although I’m more of an epic kinda gal in writing terms, when it comes to reading I love a paranormal tale. As both a fellow writer and a reader, I’ve always loved the “voice” of Amanda’s heroines, Violet and Merci, and her ability to spin an intriguing mystery with plenty of gritty noir, as well as paranormal elements.

So I’m delighted to be talking with Amanda today about the magic in her Diaries Of An Urban Panther and Merci Lanard Files paranormal urban fantasy series.

Welcoming Amanda Arista: In Conversation On Magic In Her Diaries Of An Urban Panther & Merci Lanard Files Series

Helen:  Urban fantasy is all about the intersection of the paranormal and our everyday world. What do you believe is most important, and find most challenging, about writing magic in that context

 Hello there!!! I think the fun part of writing paranormal/urban fantasy versus a high fantasy is that there isn’t much to actually build – it’s just finding the magic in everyday things and telling a story behind it. For me, writing urban fantasy is just writing the real world with a magical icing over it. The language is the same, the air make up is the same, the society might even be the same, but to add that extra layer, you find the slightly strange in the real world and pour all of your world building into those bits. Explain them in your own way that fits your magical world.

And thanks to the baking I do on the side, I know there is a happy medium of icing that needs to be spread. Too much and it’s just too much, not enough real world to ground your readers. Too little and the story is a little thin and your readers have to do too much heavy lifting to experience your story.

For example, my coffee shop in Diaries of an Urban Panther has a parking lot that is covered in graffiti. Something that any urbanite might have seen before. But what if the graffiti was actually magical protection glyphs that no one else can read? We have now created a haven for magical creatures. Doesn’t take too much to imagine the truth in that.

The Merci Lanard Files, it was very similar. Find something normal looking from the outside, like a journalist with a drinking problem. But when you get to know Merci better, you know that she drinks because it calms her magical ability, not because she would ever think of forgetting the work she has to do.

Do you follow a “systematic” approach to the magic in your worldbuilding and storytelling, or do you prefer a more “wild magic” approach?

 Honestly, my world building would probably more cohesive if I did it systematically, but I guess I went with the more wild magic approach when I created the Wanderer world. I knew what the core of my magical world was going to be: that each wanderer had an ability and the power to fuel that ability. I knew that it was given by The Mother. And that was pretty much everything I had when I started. I wanted the sky to be the limit when it came to what I could do as a writer or my characters could do as participants. I guess I like the minimal approach when it comes to world building.

Once the stories and the characters started wandering around in that world, that’s when I figured out what I needed rules for, and what I didn’t need rules for. I started building spell craft, glossary of breeds, developing my own book grimoire, if you will, of what I had created, and referred back to it when I was writing to make sure I didn’t double back on anything. In both series, the characters refer to an “Idiot’s Guide” to being a Wanderer, and that’s pretty much what I’ve built for myself, too, like I was one of my own characters exploring the world.

What’s funny with Violet, what I discovered as I wrote, is that she breaks all the rules no matter what I create, and Merci was so stubbornly clever that she would find a loophole to get through the rules that others have to obey.

 How important are traditional folklore, fairytales, and myths to your own brand of urban magic? And is there any tradition you’re particularly drawn to?

 As I look back on what I have written and the stories that interest me the most, it is the universality of the traditions that interest me, where I find real magic and meaning in life. For example, every folklore has a Shifter story. Japan, German, Native American. There is a fundamental story about a person who slips their skin into another form. Some are the good guys and some are the bad guys. That informed the origins of my own story, that wanderers came first, before humans, and then humans spread out across the world telling the stories of these magical creatures. Again, it was all about finding something in the real world and building the magical explanation around it.

Not sure if it counts as a folklore, or perhaps pop culture has become our new storytelling tradition, but there is some Star Wars in there too. I’ve always maintained there must be a balance in the magics, good and bad. Just like there is a balance in the Force. Even when a good guy gets stronger through hard work and dedication, some bad guy gets the same boost in power. Yeah, it’s kinda evil, I know.

  Your novels convey a strong sense of place. Do you see a corresponding alignment between magic and place, or is the magic centered in the characters, particularly the leading characters

 I remember when I first wrote Diaries, I thought I was placing it in Dallas because I lived there, and it made the research easy. But what I truly found as I wrote and went on to researching Merci Lanard, was that not all cities have the personality needed to be magical. The cities need to have their own stories, their own brand of weird and wonder to work the magic around. The cities must have cracks, and dark places, and bright places to fill in with magic. Dallas and Philly both have history, especially Philly.

For the
Diaries series, I finally figured out that Dallas is big with a million different faces: rich, poor, academic, blue collar, pockets of rural areas, and a bustling downtown. It made it easy to not only set a story there, but also work the magic into those neighborhoods. Why couldn’t a real estate mogul be a werepanther and have lots of properties around town? Why couldn’t a beat cop be a shifter? What do you really know about the single girl at the end of the block? By the third Diaries, Nine Lives Of An Urban Panther, Dallas legitimately became a character, talking to Violet, sending her dreams and visions. It has a voice in its own destiny.

For the Lanard series, I carried on with the location as a character with its own motivation and history. I think I found it easy to write magic into Philly because it had ups and downs and even a few witch burnings. All the locations help and hinder the investigations with geography, crime, and especially weather. Now that Merci is traveling (wink wink Book Three coming out 2021) I get to explore the feeling of every city she visits, weave magic into its history and the dark alleyways.

 I am hanging out for The Truth About Shadows (Merci Lanard #3), Amanda. J From a broader perspective, how important do you think “the triangle” is to the magic of paranormal urban fantasy? And are there different kinds of triangles to the strictly romantic?

 Each series holds a tension between the real world, the magical icing layer, and an even more magical world filled with demons and monsters. It is always fun to place our heroes in that middle layer, the one that seems to be in the Venn diagram of worlds, the world of humans and the world of magic. Especially when different people have different relationships to those three realms – those who would want to rule it or are ruled by any of the three.

We have all read the love triangle, but I find that the power triangle is much more interesting. So for
Diaries, this panther triangle was Spencer who thought he deserved the power, Haverty who was the power, and Violet stuck right in between the two, who didn’t want the power.

We see that three-beat trifecta in the Merci Lanard files in the power struggle of Rafe, Levi, and Piper. The one with the power (Piper), the one who wants the power (Levi), and the one who probably should have the power (Rafe). It was interesting to play with Merci who is outside of that struggle and looking in.

What I find even more powerful about writing urban fantasy is the triangles that are created within the lives of the characters. Even within Violet and Merci as characters, there is a three-sided war that is being fought. One is the woman, one is the lover, and one is the warrior. They have to be balanced between being themselves, being open to love and relationships with others, as well as understand their place in the fight. It is a delicate struggle, and we see both characters try, fail, and try again until they get all three right before they can save the day.

In fact, the tag line of Merci says it all:

“If Merci is to have any hope of saving her city, she will have to face the truth about this war, the truth about this new magical world, and the truth about who she truly is.”

The three elements within Violet and Merci are a big part of what I love about their voices, Amanda. It’s been a real pleasure to get your in-depth take on their characters, as well as how the magic infuses your urban worlds, enhancing the books’ strong sense of place. As mentioned, I’m keen to read The Truth About Shadows (Merci Lanard #3) and am looking forward to the return of the Diaries series, so keep up the good work. J

To find out more about the MERCI LANARD FILES & THE DIARIES OF AN URBAN PANTHER series,

please visit Amanda on her website:

Amanda Arista

You can also find Amanda on Twitter: @pantherista


About Amanda Arista:

Amanda was born in Illinois, raised in Corpus Christi, lives in Dallas but her heart lies in London. Good thing she loves to travel. During the summer after second grade, she read every book in the young adult section of the library, much to the surprise of the local librarian. So she started making up her own stories and hasn’t stopped.

She has a husband who fights crime and a tiny human who is following in her mother’s footsteps of storytelling. You can usually find her curled up on her couch with a varied menagerie of dogs or lizards writing away.

Amanda is the author of the Diaries of an Urban Panther series and The Merci Lanard Files. She is represented by Kimberly Brower of Brower Literary Management.

Along with her BA in English & Psychology and her MA in Education, Amanda is a graduate of the SMU The Writer’s Path and taught other aspiring authors for six years in the program. She has delivered lectures at several writer conferences and loves discussing craft, character, and structure.

Random Facts:

When not writing, Amanda often dreams of opening an evil bakery and sell despicable desserts.

Amanda is adopted and loves to share that story with others to promote adoption.

Amanda has a collection of turtle figurines that she collects on her travels.

Amanda has a strange love of cheesy horror movies.

Amanda is a really good bowler and completely rocks at croquet.


Previous Posts: 

January 1: Happy New Year – Ushering In A Year of Friends, Fellow Authors, & Magic Systems

January 5: 
An Interview with AK Wilder – Talking Magic In Her New-Out Crown Of Bones (AMASSIA #1) 

February 1: An Interview with T Frohock 
– Talking Magic In A Song With Teeth & The LOS NEFILIM Series

March 1:  An Interview with Courtney Schafer – Talking Magic In The "Shattered Sigil" Series

April 1:  An Interview with Kristin Cashore –Talking Magic In Winterkeep & The "Graceling Realm" Series


May 1: An Interview With Lee Murray – Talking Magic, the Supernatural & Horror


About The Interviewer:

Helen Lowe's first  novel, Thornspell (Knopf), was published to critical praise in 2008. The second,The Heir of Night (The Wall Of Night Series, Book One) won the Gemmell Morningstar Award 2012, and the sequel, The Gathering Of The Lost, was shortlisted for the Gemmell Legend Award in 2013. Daughter Of Blood (Book Three), was published in 2016 and Helen is currently completing the final novel in the series. She posts regularly on her “…on Anything, Really” blog, monthly on the Supernatural Underground, and tweets @helenl0we

Wednesday, May 26, 2021

Supernatural Underground Guest, Lee Murray, Wins Two Bram Stoker Awards

Lee Murray
The team at Supernatural Underground HQ are delighted to congratulate this month's Magic in Fantasy guest author, Lee Murray, on winning two Bram Stoker Awards

The Bram Stoker Awards are given annually by the Horror Writers Association for Superior Achievement in the genre.

The 2020 Awards were announced on May 24 at this year's virtual Stokercon and the full list of nominees and winners can be viewed at Locus.

Lee Murray's awards were in the categories:

Superior Achievement In a Fiction Collection for Grotesque (Things In The Well)

Superior Achievement In An Anthology for Black Cranes: Tales Of Unquiet Women Geneve Flynn & Lee Murray, eds. (Omnium Gatherum)

Congratulations, Lee, on an outstanding achievement.


To read Helen Lowe's May 1 interview with Lee, click on:

"Fear Beyond Boundaries" – Magic & the Supernatural In Lee Murray's Writing

To find out more about Lee Murray and her work, check out the
 following sites:

Sunday, May 16, 2021

Preorders - Life or Death to a Book

Books you can preorder now. See links below.

Hi everyone!

I am so excited to share the cover reveal for Curse of Shadows with you! The release date is TBC but I'll have that to you as soon as I am told. 

Unearth the bones is the thrilling sequel to AK Wilder’s sweeping and romantic fantasy, sure to delight readers with epic magic and adventure. The weight of the world tips as the once-heir, a young sailor and the recorder who loves them both are forced to make choices that may sunder them forever… but maybe, just maybe, save the world...

There are preorder links up, (Book Depository best for Aus and NZ) but before you check those out, I want to share something about why pre-orders matter. 

Why Preorders Matter to the Reader

The preorder process involves signing up to buy a book before it is released. The advantages for readers are:

1) not missing out on a fav author's next title
2) getting a 'preorder deal' of a lower price
3) possibly receiving a signed bookplate, bookmark or other swag
4) supporting your favorite authors.

Why Pre-orders Matter to Authors

Character Reading by Inoue Phantomotive
Art by Inoue Phantomotive

For authors, preorders make the difference between being on bestsellers lists, (including Amazon and the NY Times) or not, and between landing their next book deal or being passed over by their publisher. 

Preorders affect the 'lay-down' of physical books requested from retailers (how many of the author's books are shipped to how many bookstores across the country) and the ranking on websites like amazon, apple and Goodreads, which determines whether a book is seen, or not.

They are that important.

So, today, perhaps you will do one or two of your favorite authors a solid. Go to Goodreads and see what they have next on offer, and preorder a copy in your favorite format, from your favorite book store.

Where can you Preorder Books?

Most likely you can preorder any book through your B&N, Dymocks, Target, Booktopia, Fish Pond, and of course these big three:
Book Depository International

Or, your fav independent bookshop like the amazingly wonderful Mysterious Galaxy

Authors often have a link on their website where you can preorder their next book and doing so will really make a difference to the life of their book, and their career.

* * *

Art on Zero Chan by Ajkk

With that in mind, if you have a chance, please put Curse of Shadows on your Goodreads TBR and, if so inclined, preorder now.

If you have any fav authors with books coming up, let me know. Here are some I've preordered already!

Under the Milky Way by Vanessa Barneveld

Steelstriker by Marie Lu

Blood Like Magic by Liselle Sambury

Charm by Tracy Wolff

Grace and Glory by Jeniffer L. Armentrout

Me (Moth) by Amber McBride

Million Dollar Demon by Kim Harrison

Chat any time in the comments!


* * * 

Kim Falconer, currently writing as A K Wilder, has just released Crown of Bones, a YA Epic Fantasy.

Kim can be found on  AKWilder TwitterFacebook and Instagram

Throw the bones, read your horoscopes or Raise Your Phantom on the site or have a listen to the audio version on the right.

Saturday, May 1, 2021

An Interview With Lee Murray – Talking Magic & the Supernatural In Her Short Fiction & "Taine McKenna" Series



Today I’m delighted to welcome fellow New Zealand author, Lee Murray, to the Supernatural Underground today, to share her insight into the magical and supernatural elements of her writing.

Lee has carved out a significant name for herself in the Horror genre, both with her Taine McKenna novel series and the recent short fiction collection, Grotesque: Monster Stories, as well as a considerable number of journal and ’zine publications.

On first reading Into The Mist (Taine McKenna #1) I enjoyed how Lee wove the New Zealand landscape and Māori myth into a fast-paced, military action-based, “creature horror” tale – a tradition continued in the subsequent (also standalone) novels. I am also impressed by the way Lee’s short fiction blends the traditions of her Chinese-New Zealand heritage with Maori mythology and mainstream NZ settings, all in a compelling and (as is only fitting when writing horror) unsettling way.

So I am delighted to welcome Lee to the Supernatural Underground today, to talk the magical elements and supernatural influences in her work.

Lee: Thank you for having me, Helen. Delighted to chat with you.

Welcoming Lee Murray: In Conversation on "Fear Beyond Boundaries" – Magic & the Supernatural In Her Writing

Helen: So what is the place of magic in the Horror genre, in your view, Lee? And what makes the magic of horror unique?

Lee: What’s interesting about horror, unlike fantasy and certain other speculative subgenres, is that it doesn’t have to incorporate magical elements at all. Horror, by definition, describes work that instills feelings of fear, the intensity of which appears on a spectrum that extends from vague unease all the way to bone-rattling, white-knuckle terror. But the elements that make up our horror stories, the things that contribute to those feelings of fear, can either be anchored in reality or imbued with supernatural elements according to the needs of the story and the preferences of the author. For me, magic and the supernatural are a natural way to approach horror, partly because in New Zealand myth and monsters hover just beyond us in the shadows.

The Māori term “tipua”, for example, relates to ‘uncanny’ and inexplicable things, like a log which refuses to sink, or the mists of Te Urewera National Park which obscure the mischievous patu-paiarehe (fairies)—these aspects of our landscape are imbued with their own unique power. The fauna isn’t exempt; I’ll admit to getting goose bumps when a little morepork owl, a harbinger of death, hoots from the shadows, or to feeling a connection with the pīwakawaka-fantail as it flits back and forth on a forest trail, carrying its messages from the gods. And, of course, we have our legendary monsters. There are the ferocious taniwha-serpents, which reside in our rivers and inlets, and the maero-ogres which dwell in a caves in the Waikato region, for example.

For New Zealanders, these magical places, objects, and creatures are afforded a place in our everyday. NZ’s Māori people, when they introduce themselves, do so by invoking their ancestors, which are the very mountains and rivers which surround us. And it isn’t just the Māori who feel this way. Consider this passage from The Woman at the Store (1912), a short story by iconic New Zealand writer, Katherine Mansfield:

“There is no twilight in our New Zealand, but a curious half hour when everything appears grotesque—it frightens—as though the savage spirit of the country walked abroad and sneered at what it saw. Sitting alone in the hideous room I grew afraid.”

The other reason I turn to magic and the supernatural in my horror is because fantastical elements offer a way of addressing some of the hardest themes through metaphor and allegory. For example, the theme of sexual abuse of a teen in my Bram Stoker Award®-nominated story, Dead End Town.

In another example, The Good Wife, a Chinese-New Zealand fairy tale which appears in Weird Tales 364, a neglected Chinese woman must save her miner husband who has been captured by a fierce taniwha-serpent. Set in New Zealand’s Arrowtown in the 1800s goldrush, as well as revealing the quiet power of Asian women in the face of systemic oppression and abuse, the story juxtaposes New Zealand and Asian notions of the dragon to highlight the character’s feelings of otherness and isolation.

Helen: How do you see the magic elements of the Horror genre evolving currently?

Lee:  Putting the supernatural aside for just a moment, 2020-2021 has been an apocalypse bingo card of real-life possibilities for horror writers. In the past 14 months, we’ve dealt with forest fires, a global pandemic, floods, storms, economic collapse, even Asian murder hornets. And the themes on offer have covered issues like racism, isolation, poverty, and loss—complex subjects that lend themselves to magical approaches if only to create some distance from the enormity of the challenges we’re facing.

My debut horror collection, Grotesque: Monster Stories, for example, features a monster theme—the perfect metaphor for our fears, as Literary Hub contributor Erica Swyla writes in an article released last year: “Monsters are stand-ins…for all the things we cannot control. I’ll never outgrow them the way one can never outgrow the outside world.”

I agree with her entirely: “…comfort arises from the power of capturing those monsters on the page,” I told the Gingernuts of Horror in a piece titled
In Defence of Monster Stories. “When we set our fears down on paper, we introduce an element of distance, of safety. And it’s from that place of safety that we can reflect, analyse, evaluate, perhaps even devise some viable solutions to the things that haunt us. In an increasingly dark and ominous world, monster stories gird us with hope.”

In fact, given recent world events, there is so much scope for fresh horror that the genre has experienced a renaissance of sorts, with writers taking advantage of the isolation to knock off that dusty writing project. The demand by consumers has also exploded as noted in the opening comments of a Library Journal article by my colleague Becky Spratford:

“Horror surrounds us this year, both on the page and, in so many gut-wrenching ways, in the real world. While life amid a pandemic has wreaked havoc, it has also been a boon for the genre. … As David Pomerico, editorial director for Harper Voyager U.S., notes, ‘The biggest trend in horror is that horror is trending. … What we’re seeing is that there’s desire for more stories, and room on the shelves for them, too.’”

That said, the literary horror community has been affected by the pandemic downturn much like everyone else, with several small presses folding, and others being forced to push back projects until there is more economic certainty.

As for my own horror writing, it is also evolving, with my work on Black Cranes: Tales of Unquiet Women (currently Bram Stoker Award®- and Aurealis Award-nominated and listed on the Locus Recommended List) resulting in a deep desire to investigate the monsters of my Asian heritage further, particularly on the themes of otherness, tradition, and expectation. 

The Black Cranes anthology includes two of my stories, both of which tease at the magical traditions of my mixed heritage. In the first, Phoenix Claws, I draw on the name and the mythology underpinning the famous dish, which is made from steamed chicken’s feet. In the story, the perpetual resurrection of chicken feet is a metaphor for the ever-present prejudices which arise on both sides of mixed-race partnerships, and how, if left unaddressed, those same small things that might have seemed charming can become overwhelming.

In the second, Frangipani Wishes, a story plucked from my own family diaspora, I examine the hungry ghost mythology, the voracious monsters typically portrayed as greedy women with extended necks and bloated distended bellies.

Later this year, I’ll be taking up residency in Auckland as the Grimshaw Sargeson Fellow for 2021, where I’ll be working on a prose-poetry collection with the working title Fox Spirit on a Distant Cloud. The work will explore the Asian diaspora in New Zealand as it applies to women through the various interactions of a shape-shifting fox spirit. I’m also working on a non-fiction title called Unquiet Spirits with my fellow Black Crane, Space and Time publisher Angela Yuriko Smith. We expect this work, an exploration of Asian monsters through a series of essays and responses, will be released in late 2022.

Helen: Your work draws on Māori myth and legend, the magical themes of your Chinese heritage, and also the Western European tradition. Do you find it easy weaving all three magic traditions together? Or have there been challenges, unexpected or otherwise?

Lee:  Do I find weaving magical traditions from various cultures easy? Sometimes. Like all authors, occasionally I am blessed with a story that spools onto the page, lazily, like the curls of steam from a teacup. But that’s rare. Mostly, I smack my head repeatedly against my desk and over several days the story might seep through the cracks in my skull.

As I noted earlier though, given the blending and confrontation of ideas that occurs at the intersection of culture, myth, and magic, there is so much to explore here in New Zealand that I don’t want for homegrown ideas. Perhaps that’s why I tend to think of myself as a New Zealand storyteller ahead of a horror writer, speculative writer, poet, or any other classification.

Of course, it’s always important to remember that one person’s mythology is another person’s faith, so as writers we need to ensure that, when it comes to the supernatural, our work is as authentic as possible. This means reading widely, consulting actively, researching deeply, and approaching the writing with sensitivity and compassion. It means being prepared to revise our work when our privilege and our biases are exposed. In some ways, poking at the intersection of supernatural beliefs held by people of different cultures contributes to the essential growth that authors experience even as their characters evolve. All creativity is discovery after all. Just as there is no story without conflict.

In terms of craft, I think selecting the right perspective can be a helpful tool in overcoming the challenge of blending magical systems from different cultures. First person and second person narratives, while they have their limitations in terms of breadth of view, offer readers an intimate exploration of a character’s core belief structures, magical or otherwise. Third person limited perspectives, coupled with skillful use of close internal thought, can offer similar insights to various characters’ beliefs.

With the Taine McKenna series, where the novels typically include a cast of thousands, I’ve found the mosaic, or ensemble, method of telling a story via various perspectives to be especially helpful, since any prejudices, superstitions, and beliefs can be revealed for what they are, from the characters’ perspectives, and, ultimately, it’s up to the reader to make up their own minds. Of course, whether we employ dual or multiple perspectives, or any other technique for that matter, authors have a certain responsibility to guide their readers towards inclusivity, understanding and tolerance, but we can only go so far. The reader will bring their own experience, their own prejudices, and we can only hope that, through reading, they’ll be moved to greater understanding and respect.

I’ve also been fortunate to co-write the Path of Ra supernatural crime-noir series with Wellington writer Dan Rabarts (Ngāti Porou), in a he-said she-said brother-sister narrative. In that series, we each brought the magical underpinnings of our personal heritage to the narrative: my Chinese upbringing and Dan’s Māori background. The skies are bright with the fires of ancient Polynesian explorers who made it to the southern ice, and the ground rumbles the discontent of Rūamoko, the god of volcanoes. We layered in Egyptian notions of the supernatural too, drawing on the parallels with the Māori sun god Rā and his famous Egyptian equivalent.

The series of is a smorgasbord of supernatural, the collaborative nature of the series giving us confidence to explore and blend the myth and magic in ways which, I believe, hadn’t been seen before in New Zealand fiction.

Helen: Given the diverse traditions that inform your work, Lee, and your international engagement in the genre, do you feel there is a unique, Antipodean flavor to Horror writing – or is it a case of books and writing not having or requiring passports?

Lee:  What an excellent question. I do feel my work represents a very Antipodean response to horror. For example, down here in the Shaky Isles there’s an underlying anxiety that at any moment the country will be torn apart by a pending earthquake. Just look at
the tragedy that took place on New Zealand’s Whakaari (White Island) only two years ago, as well—proof that the danger is simmering ominously beneath our feet.

Perhaps, that’s why my Taine McKenna novel Into the Ashes appealed to local readers in the same way Jane Harper’s The Dry, with its ever-present threat of drought and forest fire, resonated for our Australian neighbours. However, whereas Harper’s work is based firmly in the real world, the Taine McKenna series draws heavily on local supernatural lore. My hero, Taine McKenna, a New Zealand Defence Force sergeant who is also a Māori matakite or seer, speaks to the spirit of his mentor, Temera, through various means, but most often through the resonance of a pūrerehua-bullroarer. The main conflict of the story involves the eruption of Lake Taupo’s super-crater prompted by the legendary love triangle between ancestor mountains of the central plateau, with McKenna and his section caught in the crossfire.

That’s not to say traditional gothic horror—the stuff of graveyards and haunted houses—doesn’t feature in antipodean horror texts, but our unique geography offers different terrors. For anyone interested in reading Lovecraft works from Antipodean authors, I recommend IFWG’s Cthulhu Deep Down Under series (Volumes 1-3), and, in particular, Cthulhu: Land of the Long White Cloud.

Interestingly US colleagues Carina Bissett and Hillary Dodge are currently curating an exciting anthology called Shadow Atlas: Dark Landscapes of the Americas, based on the geography and folklore of the Americas. I’m expecting the work to reflect a different set of fears derived and inspired from that unique landscape. (I lived for four years in the American midwest, so I’m hoping to draw on my experiences during that time). Nevertheless, your comment about writing not requiring passports is insightful. There are some things which engender terror no matter the place or the people. Universal fears, like dark places, uncertainty, otherness. Persecution. Suffering. Death. Those kinds of fears don’t respect boundaries.

Helen: Thank you so much, Lee, for sharing your fascinating insight into the Horror genre and the unique “Kiwi” (New Zealand) perspective your writing brings to it, including that of your Chinese-New Zealand family heritage – all of which I’m sure readers appreciate greatly. The best of luck, too, for the outcome of the Bram Stoker Award® nomination, your forthcoming Grimshaw Sargeson Fellowship, and Fox Spirit on a Distant Cloud.


About Lee Murray
Lee Murray

Lee Murray is a multi-award-winning author-editor from Aotearoa-New Zealand (Sir Julius Vogel, Australian Shadows), and a five-time Bram Stoker Award®-nominee. A third generation Chinese New Zealander, her work includes military thrillers, the Taine McKenna Adventures, supernatural crime-noir series The Path of Ra (with Dan Rabarts), and debut collection Grotesque: Monster Stories

Lee is proud to have edited sixteen volumes of speculative fiction, including several international award-winning titles. She is co-founder of Young NZ Writers and of the Wright-Murray Residency for Speculative Fiction Writers, HWA Mentor of the Year for 2019, NZSA Honorary Literary Fellow, and Grimshaw Sargeson Fellow for 2021 for her poetry collection Fox Spirit on a Distant Cloud

To find out more, please visit Lee at or on the following sites:


Previous Posts: 

January 1: Happy New Year – Ushering In A Year of Friends, Fellow Authors, & Magic Systems

January 5: 
An Interview with AK Wilder – Talking Magic In Her New-Out Crown Of Bones (AMASSIA #1) 

February 1: An Interview with T Frohock 
– Talking Magic In A Song With Teeth & The LOS NEFILIM Series

March 1:  An Interview with Courtney Schafer – Talking Magic In The "Shattered Sigil" Series

April 1:  An Interview with Kristin Cashore –Talking Magic In Winterkeep & The "Graceling Realm" Series


About The Interviewer:

Helen Lowe's first  novel, Thornspell (Knopf), was published to critical praise in 2008. The second,The Heir of Night (The Wall Of Night Series, Book One) won the Gemmell Morningstar Award 2012, and the sequel, The Gathering Of The Lost, was shortlisted for the Gemmell Legend Award in 2013. Daughter Of Blood (Book Three), was published in 2016 and Helen is currently completing the final novel in the series. She posts regularly on her “…on Anything, Really” blog, monthly on the Supernatural Underground, and tweets @helenl0we