“RIPPER AUTHORS FROM DOWN UNDER: TA FOR THE MEMORIES”
Written by Aiden Merchant
Assuming my novice usage of Australian slang in the title of this piece didn’t scare you right off, let me start by saying 2019 has been a year of author discovery for me. The more names I jotted down for future reading, the more I realized I was accumulating an attractive handful of Australian-listed writers. The idea to do a post on my favorites came about when Gavin (here at Kendall Reviews) asked the team for some feature ideas, just about the same time I’d been thinking, “Shit, this great book was from yet another Aussie writer!”
For this piece, I have chosen to spotlight Aaron Dries, Jane Harper, Andrew Cull, and Alan Baxter. Of those four, I have included two interviews as intermissions in this piece. You’ll want to read them, trust me; both authors were great contributors to this piece!
Of my four new favorites, I am most familiar with Jane Harper, having read The Dry and Force of Nature last year, and The Lost Man this year. While The Lost Man read more like a dramatic piece for me than her previous novels, Harper’s writing launched itself forward in its descriptors and dialogue. The imagery of heat and nothingness was powerful and striking, making you feel barren yourself reading it all. Force of Nature had that thriller podium, I felt, and stuck its characters in the Australian wilderness for the majority of its duration (a nice change of pace for me, seeing as most of the Australian stories I’ve read so far have been set in long stretches of dirt). Finally, The Dry (my first Harper read) had me gripped in its horrific murder, leaving me unsettled and riveted in its character interactions.
Unfortunately, I was unable to speak with Harper for this piece, so I do not have any upcoming news or gossip to share with you. However, I will say Aaron Falk (of The Dry and Force of Nature) needs to return for his third outing; if Harper chooses to leave him out for another couple books, I may become a bit heartbroken.
You can find out more about Jane by visiting her official website HERE
My second most familiar in the group would be Aaron Dries, seeing as I have read a few of his books this year after diligent recommendation from Lee Anderson (a wonderful bookstagrammer under the handle @drunkonbookz). My first experience with Dries was House of Sighs, the story of a suicidal bus driver that snaps one day and takes her passengers on a trip to hell. It was disturbing, violent, and thoroughly unnerving. I followed it with the short sequel, The Sound of His Bones Breaking, in which we find out what happened with Michael of House of Sighs. Though mostly dramatic, it ends horrifically and unexpectedly.
At this point, I felt secure in admitting Aaron’s writing was scarier and more gruesome than what I was used to and drawn to. Nevertheless, his writing and imagery has kept me coming back for more.
I most recently read A Place for Sinners right before its reissue release, and it was honestly the most wonderfully fucked up book I have ever read. The crazy shit that goes on in this story left me on edge; I was seriously trembling throughout it, something a book has never done to me. I was grossed out, scared, concerned, and twitchy, increasingly so as the story progressed. The main villain, Susan Sycamore, is one twisted bitch; she starts off scary, but then becomes outrageously demented and sick. I have never been so terrified of a character before. The shark sequence left a real imprint on me.
Though my TBR stack has kept me from reading any more of Aaron just yet, I do have his other releases waiting on my Kindle. I honestly don’t know if I’d ever read his stories more than once (because they leave me so shaken), but his writing and imagination is devilishly good. He is obviously one of my most recommended author discoveries of the year, up with Gemma Amor and Matthew V. Brockmeyer.
You can find out more about Aaron by visiting his official website HERE
INTERMISSION #1: AN INTERVIEW WITH AARON DRIES
KR: Warning, there are a few spoilers for some of Aaron’s work in this fascinating interview.
The following interview took place via Twitter messaging over two days in which Aaron was traveling to the states for some exciting deals and events. As such, the conversation has been edited to cut out the fat of our on-again/off-again conversation (as well as some of the more glaring errors in our texting).
So what put you at the airport today? Book touring?
I’m going to x2 book events in the States. One in Rhode Island and the other in Virginia. I’m squeezing in a stint in LA in between. Yeah, it’s business but above all else catching up with great friends.
What are you promoting most right now for the events? The reissue of A Place for Sinners?
Yeah. I’ll be pushing that. Plus hopefully locking down some future work. Fingers crossed!
Locking down, as in you’ll be talking with some States publishers?
It’s a bit hard to say at the moment. I don’t want to jinx anything (lol).
Of course! I would love to see your work pop up around here in my neck of the woods.
I’ve definitely got another couple of books written. And I’m very keen to find homes for them. Let’s say that (haha).
I can’t imagine any of your stories being (faithfully) adapted for movies, though – so dark! They would want to censor too much. Has that ever been something you’ve thought about?
Two of my works have been optioned for film. So we shall see!
I wonder how you would do the shark…
That character was so twisted! Of course, I speak a little about her in my review of APFS. Who is your favorite character of your books?
Oh gosh. Sinners actually was something I wanted to write so it would push me. It’s un-filmable, essentially.
Of all my books? Hmmm. There’s a hard question. I kind of love a character from The Fallen Boys named Marshall Deakins. A dad trying to do good, and failing.
But Susan Sycamore was great to write. I loved Amity too. Poor Amity…
KR: You can read the Kendall Review for A Place For Sinners HERE
Sinners would definitely be difficult to film! It would have to go NC-17 and be straight to video as a result.
I definitely enjoyed Amity, too. I am always interested in damaged characters that rise above. Even though her story doesn’t have a happy ending.
Your survivor of HOS that reappeared in the novelette sequel – I found him very interesting as well.
I had no idea her demise would be that way.
I really love Michael from Sighs and Bones. There’s a lot of me in him.
I know how that goes. You write a character/story maybe with an inclination of where it will go, only to surprise yourself with it going elsewhere. Do you think her ending worked better this way?
I got the impression Michael was a very personal character to you. It bled through the writing.
With Sinners, I really wanted to write hell on earth. But hell would only be scary if you cared about who was tumbling into its pit. I worked hard to make Amity real, and it’s her flaws that aid that. As for her demise, it’s utterly messed up and heartbreaking. It’s the most upsetting thing I’ve written. I almost regret going that dark. But hell is cruel. Being lost is an awful thing.
Yeah, Michael is me. Bones was written after a pretty significant breakup.
Sinners made me think, “Hell, maybe I won’t be visiting any islands ever.”
And with Bones, I definitely see that.
I backpacked for three years. I saw a lot. The monkey stuff was mostly real. The bedbugs happened to my ex-partner. The small town Amity is from is where my parents live. The tied-up elephant, real. The boat ride, real.
Oh my God, those bedbugs!
Is there anything about your newer pieces you can reveal? Or a hopeful time frame for details to leak?
Hopefully two upcoming projects I can lock down soon-ish. It’s super hard to say. But I’ll know very soon.
I know something that I really want to ask. Where do these uber twisted ideas come from? Do you have a method of pulling forth such nightmares?
As Jack Ketchum always said, write from the wound. I write from the wound. All my books started off as a reaction to something that happened to me, or I saw, or which angered me deeply. House of Sighs was inspired by a murder near my town. The Fallen Boys was inspired by anger. Sinners came from a kind of sick dread I got while traveling as I watched tourism warp beautiful cultures into self-destructive time-bombs. And that’s what the book is about. Even good people can trigger awful things. Just by being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Nobody is innocent of it. We all make hells for ourselves. And those hells are mysterious. Sinners, like all my books, was inspired by a question I asked myself. And that question led me down an unpredictable path in which the answers didn’t really matter. Nothing kills horror like answers.
I love that answer.
I’m going to prod one more time on your future projects on this note: what spurred their horror? Very generally speaking, without giving anything specific away.
That project I was cagey about revealing the details for… announcement soon.
[Removed responses here – hush hush stuff for now]
… I’ve got a couple of projects that are nearing completion that mayyyyy pop out beforehand. News on that as contracts are signed.
So how did all this start for you? Were you always a writer? Were you born into? Did something happen that dropped you into its world?
I was a reader first, evolving from Goosebumps as a kid straight to King and Barker. They made me want to tell stories. Then I read Ketchum and he inspired me to be a writer. But I’ve always loved telling tales. I’m an artist too, and drawing was something I was obsessively doing when I was younger. I evolved from random sketches to hand-drawn X-File knockoff comic books that I’d hand around to friends. Then I studied film and pursued that. But it was in prose that I found my footing, and felt most satisfied.
For months, I was seeing people post about Bones on Instagram. Finally, I went onto Amazon to look it up, and discovered it was a collection of several stories Andrew Cull had previously released on their own. I decided to download the book during one of my spur-of-the-“I’m going to add yet another title to my stack”-moments, and read it over the course of two days. Cull’s writing reminded me of the scary stories I read growing up, only more mature. That nostalgic feeling left me wanting to read more, and it just so happened he had a new book on the way. I had read Bones at just the right time!
To prepare for this article, I requested an ARC of Remains to read before writing Cull’s spot. It was promptly sent over and devoured within twenty-four hours. The emotional fuel behind the story sealed it for me – Remains was gripping, heart-wrenching, and exciting. It provided the thrill of scares without the gore (though that car accident scene was perfection!), something I really appreciated at the time (having just read the bloody, aforementioned A Place for Sinners).
Cull has a way of writing that is imaginative, but traditional; horrific, but tamed. He’s like my answer to reading R. L. Stine as a kid. There’s an ease to his writing that is attractive and unforgiving, in the sense that it latches on and drags you down that dark road you were hoping to find.
You can find out more about Andrew by visiting his website HERE
INTERMISSION #2: AN INTERVIEW WITH ANDREW CULL
The following interview was done via e-mail. With the release of Remains, Cull was understandably a busy man when I contacted him for a chat. Luckily, he was gracious enough to still answer my questions as soon as he had a chance. There’s a lot to love in what follows!
(I edited this very little, seeing as this wasn’t done through instant messaging. Some flow between questions may seem robotic, but that’s because all the questions were sent out at once for Cull to answer during his free time.)
At what age did you start writing? What drove you to try it?
That’s a good question. In one form or another, I’ve been writing since I was a young teenager. I think I wrote my first novella during the school holidays when I was 12. I’m not sure I can pinpoint exactly what made me want to pick up a pen and get writing. It feels natural for me to tell stories. I can’t imagine not doing it.
At what point did you decide this is something you wanted to do professionally? Did it ever scare or intimidate you?
I knew from early on that, if I could, I wanted to tell stories professionally. Originally that was in the theatre. I founded and ran a theatre company when I was at Uni. From there I moved to film. Now, twenty years later, I’m writing fiction. The decision to pursue writing as a career was an easy one; some of the sacrifices I’ve had to make along the way have been harder.
When you released your first novella, how did you think it would go? What were your goals for it?
After moving from film, my first novella was The Trade. I’d had that idea in my head for a long time, and just wanted to get it out and down on paper. I had no real plan or expectations past that. I was over the moon when people began to enjoy and review the story.
Your debut novel, Remains, is releasing very soon here. What was it about the factual case (that influenced this story) that made you decide this was the one you wanted to be your debut?
I talk a little about this in the introduction to Remains. While they’re quite different, Remains takes some inspiration from a case that took place in San Francisco in the early ‘70s. The story of that haunting was relayed to me by a family friend who investigated the case in the winter of ’74. That investigation involved a series of séances conducted using a Ouija board. The messages that were received during those sessions were so disturbing that they stayed with our family friend long after that winter.
After I shot The Possession of David O’Reilly, I was able to visit the real 1428 Montgomery. I knew from that visit that this was a story I wanted to tell. Initially, I wrote the story as a screenplay. When my focus shifted to fiction, I adapted that screenplay to become the novel, Remains.
You visited the actual house in California. What was it like? Did you feel anything there?
I’m a skeptic who’d love to be convinced. Did the house in San Francisco have an atmosphere to it? Yes. Was that supernatural, or did I just want to feel something? That’s open for discussion.
Sort of a follow-up: Do you believe in ghosts and hauntings?
When I was a kid, I considered the supernatural to be fact. I read every book on the paranormal that I could get my hands on. Nowadays, I’m a bit more skeptical. That said, given the chance, I’d still drop everything to become a paranormal investigator.
Of the novellas released prior – collected as Bones – which would be your favorite? Why?
That’s a tough question. At a push, I’d say it’s Knock and You Will See Me because I really enjoyed writing about Ellie Ray and her boys. I felt connected to that story when I was writing it. It was a really natural writing experience, like having a good conversation.
Of those novellas, which was the hardest to write and why?
The easiest was definitely Hope and Walker. I wrote that in two weeks. The hardest was probably The Trade. It was the first I wrote, and I was still getting my writing process down, transitioning from the screen to the page.
Did releasing your work become any easier or harder as you went along?
A bit of both. The physical process of self-publishing became easier. I began to enjoy the workflow: writing, working with cover artists, publishing. The writing became harder, because expectations had increased across my releases. When I published The Trade, there were no expectations. When Bones came around, I was much more nervous about how people would receive it.
What is your process in sitting down to write?
I’m a big planner. I never write without a plan. I write a lot of plot A to Zs. I’ll carry an idea in my head for weeks, sometimes months, before starting to write it. Over that time, I’ll plan pieces of dialogue, scenes, often on my phone or in a notepad. Once the idea has had time to develop to a point I’m happy to start writing it, I’m a big believer in long days in front of the laptop until the work is done. Generally, I edit as I go, not afterwards. That way, when I finish a story, it’s finished, and I can move onto the next project. I have a big backlog of ideas, and so keeping moving is important to me. When I worked in the film industry, producers wouldn’t even look at a script unless it was up to draft two or three, so I just used to write draft three on the front before sending the first draft screenplay out. A good story is a good story, it doesn’t need to be redrafted until it’s so overcooked the initial idea and feel of it’s been lost.
What is your process for coming up with a story idea? Do you always have them, or do you read/watch/listen to anything that helps give you ideas?
I’m lucky in that I generally have too many ideas and not enough time to write them. I keep a list of all the projects I’d like to write. It’s got everything from flash fiction to screenplays and novels on it. At last count, there were 29 ideas ready to go. When I complete a project, I cross it off the list. Often, by the time a story is complete, I’ll have added two or three more ideas in its place.
I think it’d be naïve of me to suggest that what I read, watch, [and] listen to doesn’t influence what I write. When I’m writing, I don’t read anything else, and so my TBR pile grows and grows until I get a break between projects. That all started years ago because I’m a big fan of James Ellroy, and I found that I couldn’t read his work without his clipped, dense style permeating what I was trying to write. He’s got such an incredibly strong voice that I’d find my characters becoming more and more Ellroy-esque. I stopped reading while I’m working on my projects and it’s stuck to this day.
If you can give us any hints, what can we expect from you in 2020?
At present, I’m working on the stories that will be in my next collection. It’s going to be called HEART, and I’m planning to release it in late 2020.
Will you be touring overseas in any fashion to promote Remains? In general, what kind of promotions are you doing for the book?
I’m not touring for Remains, but that’s definitely something I’d love to do in the future. A trip around the US promoting a book I’ve written is real bucket list material for me.
Any movie adaptations considered or planned?
I’d love to see Remains adapted for the screen.
How has your home (where you actually grew up) influenced your life? Influenced your writing? Stories?
Well, I wrote about Thatcham (where I spent most of my childhood) in Did You Forget About Me? I’m not a huge fan of that town, but then who loves the place they spent their awkward teenage years? That’s about the only similarity between myself and Cam in the story. For the most part, I had a very happy childhood. I grew up in a family of readers. My parents were hugely supportive of my wanting to be a writer. Even when the chances of me making a career of it seemed a million miles away, they never once suggested I should pursue anything else. Without their support I’m not sure I’d be doing this now.
How has that changed as an adult, perhaps leaving your birth home?
I’ve travelled quite a lot as an adult. I grew up in the UK, and now live and work in Melbourne, Australia. Those are two cultures that are very similar and incredibly different at the same time. That’s definitely had a positive influence on my writing.
Do you ever end up writing yourself into a story in some fashion? Or anyone you know?
I think all writers put themselves into the story in one way or another. There are definitely aspects of me in my characters. You might have noticed that often my characters are stubborn. Yep, that’s a family trait!
I’m actually more often asked by people if they could [be] featured in my books. I’ve got a list of people who’d like to die horribly in my stories. I generally don’t have very high body counts in what I write, so it’s going to take a while to work through that list!
Remains features plenty of creepy and unsettling moments. Which gave you the most creeps in writing? What was your favorite sequence to tackle?
I love horror, but I rarely get genuinely unnerved. A lot of my writing is about trying to scare myself. If I find myself listening for noises in the silence at night, or checking over my shoulder when I’m writing, then I feel I’m getting somewhere. I can’t really tell you what my favorite sequence in Remains is without spoilers, but in general, it’s the quiet scenes that precede a dark revelation. The scenes where you get that sinking feeling, when the rug is slipping out.
Do you have any special pieces of advice to give your readers that may want look up to you and want to write as well?
Just give it a go. A lot of people want to write but let that nagging, negative voice in the back of their minds talk them out of it. You’ll never know if you’re any good at it unless you try. Also, you get better the more you do, so keep trying. It’s absolutely possible that that idea you’ve been carrying around in your head could become someone’s favorite novel once it’s down on paper. But none of us will know unless you do it.
How has social media and independent publishing houses shaped your ability to operate the way you do?
I’ve met a lot of incredible people through Twitter. The horror community is very strong, very supportive. I’ve gotten to interact with people who I admire a great deal and have made a lot of good friends. It’s really fantastic to find so many like-minded people in one place. I consider myself to be lucky to be a part of that.
Without being able to self-publish Bones as a paperback, it’d still likely be sitting on my hard drive. I might be wrong, but I don’t think any publisher would have picked it up. I was an unknown author when I released the collection. Being able to get Bones out there, into readers’ hands, has been fantastic. It’s really made a difference to my career. Self-publishing today allows authors a level of exposure that wasn’t possible a few years ago.
What are your ultimate goals? Is this what you’re looking to do as a career? Or is it just a hobby that you do in the midst of another career? What were you doing prior to your success with Bones?
I guess my goal is to entertain and scare people with my stories, and hopefully to get better at doing that as I write more books. I’ve loved horror since I was a kid, and the idea that I can be a part of the genre, that I can give people those exciting, frightening experiences that I crave, well, that’s a dream come true for me.
Lastly, I would like to include a space for the most recent and unfamiliar author on my list: Alan Baxter. Luckily for me, this guy has a ton of material out there for me to tackle in the coming year. At this time, I have only read Devouring Dark, which has reminded me of The Darkness comics I would check out in my youth. The whole anti-hero subgenre is a great one, and Baxter takes it on with ease.
Though we only spoke briefly prior to this piece, the KR team here has featured Baxter multiple times on the site previously (so put his name in the search bar, why don’t you). Even better, there’s a new feature on him currently in the works (at the time of writing this) to help promote his new collection of stories, Served Cold (releasing September 17th via Grey Matter Press). So make sure to search that as well on the KR website.
Finally, Baxter did share with me that he has a new novel currently being submitted to publishers for a home, and is working on another novel he aims to complete by the end of this year. Do like me and start reading some Baxter if you haven’t already – he’s got plenty out there and ready, and more to come soon!
You can find out more about Alan by visiting his website HERE
Will this piece become an ongoing series? I’m thinking it could come back around every quarter or so, featuring a different country each time. If you would like to see more features like this, make sure to hit up Kendall Reviews with such requests. There are too many great authors out there to ignore!
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Where the Dead Go To Die (co-authored with Mark Allan Gunnells)
Aiden Merchant is an independent author of horror, suspense, science fiction, and more. Under another alias, he got his start as a critic for such music magazines as Alternative Press (AP), American Music Press (AMP), and Outburn Magazine. He currently has two story collections available — Dead As Soon As Born and Kill for Them — and has big plans for 2020. He is married, a father of one, and living in the Appalachian Mountains.
Dead As Soon As Born
There is evil inside us all, and no one lives forever.
In this debut collection of short stories from Aiden Merchant, you will bear witness to murderers, monsters, and other horrors.