One of the more prominent names in the Australian novelist scene, Rebecca Fraser has crafted a solid career following several anthology entries as well as her novels and teachings that she performs for other writers. Now, in honor of Women in Horror Month, I talk with her about getting into the business, her writing process and creating her own work.
Me: Hello and thank you for taking the time to do this. First off, when did you get into horror in general?
Rebecca Fraser: My pleasure, Don. Thanks so much for having me!
I think I’ve always gravitated toward horror, right back from an early childhood spent listening to and reading fairytales. Let’s face it, fairytales in their traditional form, are every kid’s introduction to horror!
Me: Were you into genre films growing up? What films specifically got you into watching horror movies?
RF: I was the kid in the video store (yes, I’m that old), who headed straight to the horror section. I’ve always loved horror films, and I guess it sprung from the same well as my love for dark literature, and television shows that unsettled and unnerved or explored the human condition. Shows such as The Twilight Zone, Are You Afraid of the Dark? and Tales From the Crypt had a big impact on me growing up, and spurred on my lifelong love of horror films.
Me: Who were some of your favorite writers growing up? Do you try to take influences from their style with your own voice in your work?
RF: When I first came to horror (as a pre-teen reader) I loved stories from some of the time-honored masters – Bradbury, Aiken, Saki, Blackwood, M R James, Guy de Maupassant, Poe, HG Wells, Ambrose Bierce, Henry James et al. As I progressed into my early teens I discovered Stephen King, and my head (and heart) pretty much exploded. King is a giant to me.
When I first started writing, I definitely (unconsciously) wrote with these influencers sitting on my shoulder – the result was probably a weird hybrid of postmodern America meets early 20th Century British prose!
I also greatly admired and respected the genius of Robert McCammon, Shirley Jackson, Joyce Carol Oates, and Clive Barker, and in my teen years had all the Pan Books of Horror. I have always been a sucker for a well-crafted short story.
As I developed my craft and worked on different mediums, styles, and genres, my own voice started to emerge, gaining strength, distinction, and individuality. I believe all writers are influenced to some degree by work that has touched them in some way, whether that translates to the page or not.
Me: Coming from Australia, did that hinder your interest in the genre or force you to turn to the local authors for inspiration?
RF: Australia has always had an active genre fanbase and community in film and literature, whether it’s for homegrown art or devouring the work of international writers, artists, or filmmakers, so I never had to look too far to scratch my horror itch.
Aussies also live in a country that lends itself well to horror. I mean, have you seen our wildlife?! And if it’s not the wildlife trying to kill you, it’s the landscape…and if it’s not the landscape, it’s the dark underbelly of humanity. Australia has that in spades!
Australia also boasts an absolute wealth of horror talent, and I can’t even begin to name names for fear of missing someone out. Our horror community is relatively small, yet strong. I’m continually inspired by the scope and diversity of their work.
Me: What was the starting point to become a writer? Were you always into writing growing up?
RF: I began scribbling, like most writers, at an early age. Bad angst-ridden poetry, daggy song lyrics, half-finished stories, false novel starts – you name it. But it wasn’t until around 2007 when I felt a bit more settled in life that I started to take my writing more seriously. I had always held professional communication roles – copywriting, editing, marketing, across a variety of industries – but there was something missing. I had always imagined that one day I would be a “writer” and I decided to focus more on my creative output. I joined the Australian Horror Writers Association, Qld Writers Centre – as I was living in Qld back then, joined an energetic writers’ group – and enrolled in a Master of Arts in Creative Writing to hone my craft.
I kept writing, kept submitting, and in between the rejections, every now and then would be an acceptance…and then another…and another, to keep the dream alive.
Me: What is your writing process? How do you stay focused on writing?
RF: I’m only ever a daytime writer. My brain turns to marshmallow after 7:00pm, so I try to get some writing time in every day, when possible. I’m a plotter, who allows myself to ‘pants it’ when the plotting doesn’t go to plan. I do like to have a framework to write to though, even if it’s just knowing the beginning and ending, and letting the middle resolve itself between the two.
Staying focused can be a challenge, especially in the year that was 2020! With short stories I allow myself whatever timeframe it takes to tell them properly unless there’s a particular submission closing date for a market I’m hopeful of cracking, then that will take priority.
I give myself a self-determined deadline with longer works, and aim to work towards that…but it often makes a whooshing sound as it goes sailing past! I’ve learned to be more forgiving of myself when this happens.
If I can’t focus, I like to feel that I’ve been productive in some other writerly way, even if it’s research, or catching up with my blog.
Me: Having contributed to various anthology and poem collections early in your career, what tools and skills do you acquire working on those that transferred to future projects?
RF: Brevity! Short stories demand every word carry its weight and serve the story. If a word or sentence or paragraph isn’t doing that, it gets the chop, no matter how pretty it is.
I also practice professionalism, which basically equates to the usual courtesies you should extend and expect in any area of business: meet deadlines, carefully read and adhere to guidelines, respond in a timely and respectful fashion, set boundaries, treat everyone with the same respect you would like to be treated, regardless of whether they are a shiny brand new writer finding their feet, or a seasoned industry professional.
Me: What is the general process for getting involved in these projects?
RF: Apart from the occasional commission, I use the same methods for seeking out markets and submission calls. Social media, following publishers and other writers, subscribing to mailing lists and genre-related market hives, writing associations, etc, and generally being an active member of the community and keeping a finger on the pulse of what markets are opening when.
Me: How did you settle on the plot for your novel Curtis Creed and the Lore of the Ocean?
RF: Curtis Creed and the Lore of the Ocean is a tribute to my long-term love affair with the ocean! It’s set in the fictional coastal Queensland town of Midnight Cove and tells the story of an upcoming surfer moving through the grief of his father’s death and a dramatic storyline in which two undersea species fight it out for an all-important object.
The characters had been whispering in my head for a couple of years before they began chattering incessantly. When they started shouting for attention, I knew the time was right to start committing their story to the page.
Me: Was there any special significance to making the characters ocean-goers?
RF: Curtis Creed and the Lore of the Ocean combines my fascination with what lurks below the surface with my passion for speculative fiction with an Australian setting. It felt fitting that Curtis (a human boy) should be pulled into an aquatic world populated by two warring species: the Arax and the Glynts. The Arax were inspired to some extent by merfolk, and the Glynts take their inspiration from deep-sea viperfish (land walking viperfish if you don’t hardly mind!)
Me: How did moving from short story to full-length novel challenge your writing skills?
RF: With short stories, readers explore something brief and intimate within a restricted space and place. Novels are a whole different ball game, drawing on a very different set of skills. While some schools of thought suggest short story writing is the more difficult form to master, I find the stamina required for longer works can sometimes be challenging.
I have learned discipline, and to take a ‘big picture’ view of novels—is every chapter serving the story in the best possible way, arc, and order? Are plot threads being resolved in a satisfactory manner? Are character’s internal and external conflicts aligning with their behaviour and respond to the situations I place them in? There are so many elements that go into pulling off a novel-length story—I know I will never stop learning.
Me: Your newest release is the collection 'Coralesque and Other Tales to Disturb and Distract.' What can we expect inside this new collection?
RF: I’m so excited Coralesque and Other Tales to Disturb and Distract is going to be released worldwide on 15 April, 2021 through IFWG Publishing Australia (my same publisher as Curtis Creed and the Lore of the Ocean).
While I write across several genres, this collection represents what I love best: dark, speculative fiction that unsettles and unnerves. The stories (and a smattering of poetry) in Coralesque have been distilled from a period spanning approximately a decade, and represent a range of styles and sub-genres. I feel most ‘myself’ writing the types of stories I love to read, so I hope you enjoy reading them too.
Here’s what you can expect…
A surfer who becomes horrifyingly one with the sea. A new mother’s devastating search for belonging. A stone gargoyle with a violent history. A fisher boy who discovers the real cost of forbidden love. A farmer whose delight at drought-breaking rain quickly turns to terror. A hedonistic rock star who manifests double trouble. A young girls’ chilling quest for justice. A dirty ex-cop with a dirtier secret. An unscrupulous mayor’s solution to rid her city of the homeless …
These are just some of the characters you’ll meet in Coralesque and Other Tales to Disturb and Distract, a collection of dark offerings comprising short stories alongside a smattering of flash and poetry.
Introduced by multi-award-winning author, Steven Paulsen, Rebecca Fraser’s collection brings together an eclectic mix of new work, along with previously published, award-nominated, and prize-winning fiction, embracing a diversity of styles from gothic to cyberpunk, to contemporary horror, fantasy, dystopia…and every dark cranny in between.
From the harsh terrain of the Outback to the depths of the Pacific Ocean, the wilds of Tasmania, dystopian futures, enchanted lands, and the familiarity of suburbia, Coralesque and Other Tales to Disturb and Distract takes readers on a journey into unsettling, unforgiving, and unforgettable territory.
I’m very grateful to fellow Aussies, Steven Paulsen for contributing such a terrific foreword, and Greg Chapman for his awesome work on creating such an eye-catching cover.
I hope these tales will distract everyone in the best possible way. We could all use a good distraction from what’s going on in the world at the moment! Pre-orders for Coralesque and Other Tales to Disturb and District are available here.
Me: What else are you working on that you'd like to share with our readers?
RF: It’s an eclectic mix with regards to works in progress at the moment! I recently completed another middle-grade fantasy novel, which is ready to be shopped around. I’m also still tinkering away at a YA space opera/space western, which is proving to be a lot of fun, but also a worldbuilding challenge.
I’ve also started outlining a novella titled Perfect For Us, which will blend psychological horror with haunted house tropes. This one was inspired by my family’s own true-life experiences. Naturally, the story and characters are 100% changed, however, 90% of the inexplicable occurrences described really did happen!
Me: Lastly, being that this is Women in Horror Month, what special message do you have for any women out there looking to join the industry RF: in any capacity as you are one yourself? Thank you again for your time!
RF: Go for it, girls! Writing is a business not for the faint-hearted. You need to have a thick skin to deal with the inevitable, numerous rejections, and you also need to have the tenacity to work at your craft in a very solitary, insular fashion … and you also have to find time, which brings with it a whole spectrum of guilt—especially when you’re a working mum.
I’m fortunate that I have a very supportive husband and son – they’re my biggest cheer squad – but it’s very hard to overcome feelings of guilt when you shut yourself off for your ‘creative time’. Trust me, there are whole books written about the psychology of this. I’m sure it’s a dad thing too, but it’s very much a mum thing!
But, as women, we’ve never been faint of heart. And we’re expert-level time managers. And we’re kickass writers of horror and dark fantasy. Never feel like you need to apologize for your content or your love of the genre. Surround yourself with like-minded scribes for support, and allow yourself the freedom to write uninhibited!
Thank you very much for having me, Don, and for your terrific support of women writing and working in the horror genre!
If anyone would like to learn more about my writing, or simply say G’day, you can catch me at:
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