One of the biggest authors in New Zealand, author Tracie McBride has brought a lot to the local scene with an active involvement in not just her own writing but also working with publishing houses working to get more authors' voices out there. Now, in honor of Women in Horror Month, I talk with her about her start as a writer, getting involved in her anthology work and her own short story collections.
Me: Hello and thank you for taking the time to do this. First off, when did you get into horror in general?
Tracie McBride: One of my earliest memories is watching Doctor Who on a black-and-white TV when I was maybe three or four years old, so you could say I’ve been interested in speculative fiction since I was old enough to understand storytelling. But a specific interest in horror probably started in my teens with Stephen King, the man responsible with kicking off the writing careers of many of the English-speaking horror writers currently on the planet.
Me: Were you into genre films growing up? What films specifically got you into watching horror movies?
TM: Fantasy and science fiction – oh, yes! Horror…not so much. Watching The Exorcist at a sleepover with half a dozen other fourteen-year-old girls was a formative, and scarring, experience! These days, I’ll happily watch a zombie, vampire or werewolf movie. Anything else, I miss too much peeping through my fingers.
Me: Who were some of your favorite writers growing up? Do you try to take influences from their style with your voice in your work?
TM: In no particular order, and by no means a comprehensive list – the aforementioned Stephen King, Julian May, Anne Rice, Kurt Vonnegut Jr, Edgar Allan Poe, Robert Heinlein, Dr. Suess… I don’t consciously try to emulate the style of other writers, but if anyone were to make a favourable comparison between my work and any of my literary idols, I would be glad of the compliment.
Me: What was the starting point to become a writer? Were you always into writing growing up?
TM: I loved books as a child, even before I learned to read; one of my gift requests as a preschooler was for a “book that never ends”. It wasn’t a big leap from loving reading to loving writing. A lot of writers will tell you about getting praise and encouragement for their writing from an early age, which fueled their ambitions, and I am no exception. Still, that ambition was buried for several years in adulthood, and it wasn’t until I was pregnant with my second child that I seriously set about disinterring it.
Me: Coming from New Zealand, did that hinder your interest in the genre or force you to turn to the local scene for inspiration?
TM: New Zealand – home of the Lord of the Rings movie trilogy, Weta Workshops, and Sir Peter Jackson, baby! The scene there is, admittedly, small, but punches above its weight. When I first started writing short stories for publication, I was partway through a Diploma in Creative Writing that had a decidedly literary bend. The speculative fiction writers’ group I joined in Wellington was instrumental in helping me polish my work and get to grips with genre writing.
Me: What is your writing process? How do you stay focused on writing?
TM: I respond well to external deadlines, so if I am writing for a particular anthology or publication that has a submissions closing date, I will usually dig in and get it done. This year I have promised myself that I will complete the first draft of a novel, and I recently read an opinion piece that recommended committing to writing a minimum of 250 words every day. It doesn’t sound like much, and that’s the point – it is not an onerous target. But 250 words a day equals over 90,000 words in a year. So that is my current process, and although it’s only very early days, so far it is working.
Me: Having contributed to various anthologies and short story collections early in your career, what tools and skills do you acquire working on those that transferred to future projects?
TM: For a few years, I worked with a group of authors around the world to establish and run a small press, Dark Continents Publishing, which specialized in horror fiction – but I don’t know if that’s a particularly good example, because ultimately, we ran out of money and had to shut up shop. However, I can now give lots of tips on how not to run a small press! There is that first novel that I am working on, and I have also enjoyed working on the other side of the submissions process, helping to read and assess stories for magazines and anthologies, and sitting on judging panels for the Australian Shadows Awards. I am now at the stage in my career where I occasionally get invited to contribute to anthologies (as opposed to taking my chances in the slush pile), which is always a good, affirming feeling.
Me: What is the general process for getting involved in these projects?
TM: For me, it’s all about taking on things that I can commit to timewise and that I think I will enjoy doing. I’m a member of the HWA, the AHWA, and various groups and pages on social media, I attend local genre conventions, and I keep an eye out for submissions opportunities. So the process is both quite simple and quite haphazard – whenever I see a call-out for volunteers or contributors that I’m interested in, I’ll put my hand up for it.
Me: How did you settle on releasing your first solo collection, “Ghosts Can Bleed,” after working for various publication services?
TM: When we were establishing Dark Continents Publishing, it was originally envisioned as an author collective. The collective decided that we would each contribute a novel to be published under the DCP banner. Everyone else in the group already had a novel ready to go, except for me, so I put together a collection of my previously published speculative fiction work. And lo, Ghosts Can Bleed was born. When DCP closed, I was fortunate to find another publisher to pick it up, so even although it is now ten years old, it is still in print.
Me: Was there any part of your real sense injected into the characters?
TM: Very little. Most of my stories involve bad things being done to, or done by, the characters, and I don’t like to imagine myself in either position. In real life, I am much too boring to fictionalize, anyway. Probably the closest I have come to writing myself into a story is the opening one in Ghosts Can Bleed, which is called “Last Chance to See”. It is a story about a woman who has died in a car accident and awakens to find that her consciousness has been downloaded into a prosthetic body for one final day of existence.
Me: Once it was finally written, what was the process to having it published?
TM: The process I went through with my second collection, Drive, She Said, is probably more typical of how you go out seeking publication than with Ghosts Can Bleed. First, I decided on an overarching theme for the collection; all the stories in Drive, She Said feature women (or in a few stories, monsters in feminine form). Then I pitched the concept to a publisher who was already familiar with my work, having published a couple of my stories in anthologies, and who had expressed an interest in seeing more.
After acceptance, the process for publishing a short story collection is probably slightly easier than a novel, especially if most of the content is previously published because then each story has already been edited and proofread. Once I had sent in the full manuscript, there was little left for me to do except sign the contract, give a little input on the cover design, and approve any minor final proofreading tweaks. Oh, and of course tell everyone when they could expect to see it available for purchase!
Me: How did moving from short story to full-length novel challenge your writing skills?
TM: Ugh. I’ve only just started along that road, and it is HARD. Ask me again at the end of the year.
Me: What else are you working on that you'd like to share with our readers?
TM: I have a shout-out for an anthology being released this year called Spawn: Weird Horror Tales About Pregnancy, Birth and Babies which contains one of my stories. I’ve read the ARC and can attest that the contributions are surprising and inventive.
Me: Lastly, being that this is Women in Horror Month, what special message do you have for any women out there looking to join in the industry in any capacity as you are one yourself? Thank you again for your time!
TM: My message is this: find your people. They could be in a writers’ group, a book club, an online group or a professional organization. They will help, support, encourage and guide you along your journey, and some of them may even become lifelong friends.
To follow her online, check out her website HERE.