Today’s guest is dark fantasy author Tracie McBride, renowned for her reality-twisting short stories.
What do you enjoy most about writing fantasy fiction?
The license to make stuff up!
How would you describe the flavour of your fiction in five words?
An Amazon reviewer gave me the first three adjectives – disturbing, surreal, otherworldly. I would add “blackly humorous” to the mix.
How did you decide on your genre? Have you always pursued Dark Fantasy, or did it crystallise as your writing developed?
I decided at the beginning of my writing career that my focus would be speculative fiction, because that genre is my favourite to read. I love science fiction, but I lack the scientific knowledge to write prolifically in that genre, so I have edged more into dark fantasy and horror over time. Romance and sunshine and puppies are lovely and all that, but I find it more satisfying to dredge the darkness.
When a new story starts in your mind, which elements appear first – plot, conflict, characters, setting, or….?
My stories usually start with a small seed. It might be a half-remembered scene from a dream, a bizarre sentence snippet that sticks in my head, or a surreal image that comes seemingly from nowhere. I build everything else out from that.
How much do you draw on real-life experiences when you write fiction?
Most of what I write is decidedly unreal life. But I try to draw on real people that I have known or observed to populate my stories. “Last Chance to See” is one story that is rooted in real life. I attended an informal family reunion, convened to spend some time my aunt who had been diagnosed with terminal cancer, and the story arose out of my attempts to process the experience.
What’s your favourite technique for disturbing readers?
Start off in the real world, and slowly steer them into an unreal one.
What do you do to stimulate your creativity?
When I have a theme I want to write to, or a deadline to meet, and I don’t have a ready-formed story idea in my head, I like to use a form of mind map. I write the theme in the middle of the page, circle it, then play a kind of word association game, sending shoots off from the central theme until I end up writing down something interesting or something I can work with.
Do you have critique partners? How do you get feedback for your writing?
Very early on in my writing career I joined a critique group, and it was the single best thing I could do for my writing. Crit groups are invaluable not only for giving feedback on your work, but also for building friendships and connections in what can be a lonely profession. Of course, if you tried to heed every piece of advice received on improving your work, you’d go nuts; they’re sometimes contradictory and often subjective. But it’s a safe bet that if five readers tell you something isn’t working, it probably needs fixing.
Have you had any formal training in fiction writing? What? Or are you self-taught?
I completed a Diploma of Creative Writing in New Zealand in 2004. Gaining the diploma was a bit like getting my driver’s license – it gave me the basic skills needed to get out on the road, but the real knowledge was gained by driving, driving, driving, and paying attention to people with a few more kilometres under their belt than me.
What makes a short story great, in your opinion?
When I get to the end of the story and realize I’ve been hunched over the words, tensed up and breathing shallowly, completely immersed in the tale, when I audibly utter a shaky “Wow” – that’s a great story. And any story that can make me cry.
Many people enjoy reading stories about undead creatures – ghosts, vampires, zombies. What do you think is the appeal?
I think the appeal differs from reader to reader. Some are fascinated by the possibility of a continued existence after death; some find the idea terrifying or abhorrent, yet feel compelled to explore or that terror.
In your short story ‘Last Chance to See’ published in the anthology Undead: Ten Tales of Zombies (edited by Rayne Hall) the main character gets reincarnated for twenty-four hours to say farewell to her friends and family. Where did the idea come from?
‘Last Chance to See’ has a deeply personal origin. One of my aunts was diagnosed with terminal stomach cancer. The family organised a small reunion, and I drove with my three young children from one end of the North Island of New Zealand to the other to see her (you can do that in one day if you start early; New Zealand’s not very big). It felt something like a wake, only with the “guest of honour” still present and participating. There was more laughter than you might expect, naturally a few tears, some blackly funny moments as my aunt told us of her experiences going shopping for something to wear in her coffin, and even although it was a momentous and meaningful occasion, the banal necessities of life still had to be attended to. I got to thinking – what if everybody had the chance to say goodbye to their loved ones before they departed for good? .
What would be the best possible validation of your fiction? Do you dream of winning the Hugo, of hitting the #1 bestseller spot on Amazon, or of having a story made into a movie?
All of the above! It’s possibly the writer’s curse, or even part of the human condition – no amount of validation will ever be enough, and once we achieve one milestone aspiration, we’re off looking for the next one.
What’s the best piece of writing advice you’ve ever received?
Not everything you write needs to be written with the aim of getting it published. A lot of your writing should be building up your writing muscles, much in the same way that an elite athlete trains for months in preparation for one short, medal-winning race. So don’t think that, just because something you’ve written is not publishable, it was a waste of time.
Thank you for answering our questions, Tracie. May life bring you many more twisted ideas for great stories!
About Tracie McBride
A New Zealander of European and Maori descent, Tracie now now lives in Melbourne, Australia with her husband and three children. She works part-time as a teacher aide at a local primary school. She’s a dog lover and volunteers for a dog rescue group.
Her first short story was published in 2004, and since then her work has been published or is forthcoming in over 80 print and electronic publications.
and Ghosts Can Bleed, a collection of Tracie McBride’s twisted fantasy stories https://www.amazon.com/Ghosts-Can-Bleed-Tracie-McBride-ebook/dp/B00O8L85N6 .
You can read her blog here: https://traciemcbridewriter.wordpress.com/
And the new release mentioned in the comments, Drive, She Said on Amazon.com
Tracie McBride is a New Zealander who lives in Melbourne, Australia with her husband and three children. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in over 80 print and electronic publications, including Horror Library Vols 4 and 5, Dead Red Heart, Phobophobia and Horror for Good. Her debut collection Ghosts Can Bleed contains much of the work that earned her a Sir Julius Vogel Award in 2008. She helps to wrangle slush for Dark Moon Digest and is the vice president of Dark Continents Publishing. She welcomes visitors to her blog at http://traciemcbridewriter.wordpress.com/.