Defending modern masculinity and men with ‘broken wings’ in ARAFURA

Susan discusses her novels and the complexities of modern masculinity with Darcy Delany – Yass Valley library

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Darcy: What prompted you to write an Australian romantic suspense series?

Susan: Most of us would love to experience a romantic adventure, am I right? Writing or reading a book, or watching a movie has to be the next best thing. It’s like slipping on someone else’s shoes and leaping through a window into another world.

To answer your question of what prompted me, who knows? When I was little I believed every girl had a baby inside her from birth, small as a watermelon seed, that grew, all by itself. My parents had a very hard time convincing me otherwise. As I got older I had a recurring dream. I was in a shop, rummaging through a clothes rack and there, on the floor, between the clothes, was my newborn. I’d given birth. Well, ARAFURA happened more like that, no tiny developing seed. One summer morning I woke up and the outline of a romantic novel was floating around in my head. The characters took care of the adventure and humour, once I began to write.

Darcy: Can you tell us about the first two Arafura novels?

Susan: The first book , Blood, the Wet and Tears, begins with Kat, a sensible Darwin schoolteacher, in a long term engagement with a decent man. Their relationship is a bit dull, but they’re happy enough. In ARAFURA I call them two lovebirds in an invisible cage.

One day a stranger, Adam, arrives in town, and as a favour to her father, Kat reluctantly shows Adam the touristy sights. But in no time at all, Adam has a hotline to Kat’s soul and her ovaries. Here’s an excerpt from ARAFURA Blood the Wet and Tears, explaining the ovaries bit –

‘Kat defaulted to her primal survival skills—the guy had great genes for procreation. Instinct and hormones reminded her she was at the end of a long, evolutionary line of successful couplings on the savannah.’

But is Kat going to admit her instant attraction? Absolutely not, she’s engaged and he’s an unpredictable, loose cannon.

As the story continues, there’s danger, there’s blood, there’s a suspicious dead body, and of course, there’s Adam. Soon Kat is forced out of her comfort zone and questions, not only who this man really is, but who is she?

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ARAFURA – Unfinished Business has more adventure, with darker undercurrents woven through the humour and the love story. This time, it’s not just Kat’s love life that becomes more complicated, when a US warship arrives in town and she’s swept up in an amateur terrorist plot. That’s already enough hot water for anyone to be in, so why can’t she keep her hands off her rescuer, when she knows she can’t trust him? To say any more would give away the story…

Darcy: Adam’s not as strong as he seems. Can you explain about heroes with broken wings?

Susan: After writing my first book, I discovered that women have very strong opinions about their ideal mate. Some women approached me and asked, “Where can I find an Adam?”

Then, a very dear girlfriend commented that Adam’s type might be electrifying in their hormonal, primal attraction, but they’re emotionally risky because they have a broken wing. So, even though you’d ‘shag them in a heartbeat’, they’re ‘an unsuitable choice for the trenches of domesticity’.

Now, I understand the concept of a man with issues has some women running for the hills, no matter how handsome and/or exciting he might be. But, seriously, not all ‘broken wings’ are equal! And who’s perfect? We all have problems! I believe it’s important to ask – Is this man willing to face his demons, to heal himself, and grow? Because helping someone who won’t help themselves usually ends in heartache. And if he’s not facing his demons, is he at least trying to do the right thing, and warn you off? Here’s another excerpt from Blood, the Wet and Tears:

“Can I do anything?” Kat asked his retreating figure, not sure what to say, or do. He stopped, silent for so long she didn’t think he heard her. Then Adam turned to face her.

“I think you should stay away from me,” he said, his voice husky and halting, fighting for control. It was simple, honest, futile advice. Without another word, he was gone.

Why do some women expect perfect knights in shining armour? Men are negotiating their way in a changing world too, but unlike women, they don’t talk about it very much.

Sometimes taking an emotional risk with someone can bring greater joy, intimacy and belonging.

I enjoyed exploring all this in ARAFURA, and men have enjoyed reading my books too, as the reviews on Amazon show, which I take as a huge compliment.

Darcy: How did your interest in masculinity and broken wings begin?

Susan: Probably back in gender studies at uni, that’s in addition to my real-life gender studies at uni.

Seriously, I wanted to research that my male lead had an authentic, masculine voice. Of course, it’s now accepted that male and female brains are wired differently, and hormones don’t course through our bodies the same way. BUT…

What fascinated me was how much masculinity varies from culture to culture and across time. The relationship demands on men used to be different. Bring in the money, be dependable and solid, have manly conversations, and keep the kids in line. Men in the past didn’t stress about their sunburnt skin, or getting their chests waxed. Manbags and bromances didn’t exist. They were told:

  • Real men don’t cry
  • Take it like a man
  • Real men are strong, stoic and self-reliant

But have those messages changed very much? There’s still a lot of emotional isolation for males, and I wonder if today’s young men feel a bit lost? Today’s man box appears to offer more masculinity options, (buff sportsman, hipster, sensitive new age guy, the Tinder ‘player’ etc), but do the men of today feel free to show emotions? Can they tell each other when they feel sad?

** As an interesting aside, what does appear to have changed is men no longer wanting their identity solely linked to their day job.

Leading researchers on masculinity claim there’s still a missing, magic trifecta in the man rules which isn’t nurtured in our culture. Robert Masters calls it – head, heart and guts, which encourages the expression of both soft and hard attributes in a man, to be tough and tender. Steve Biddulph agrees.

Relationships are changing too. The modern woman is economically more independent, she’s no longer willing to play the back-up or support person. It seems women still want their men to be protective, but also able to talk about their feelings. They want to be related to in ways that some men aren’t used to. These new demands on relationships raise some men’s insecurities and concerns about not being enough.

Some women, like Kat, don’t realise how much they appreciate an emotionally literate man who has head, heart and guts until they meet one….

Nevertheless, Adam still has his battles with the man rules, believing that asking for help is a sign of weakness.

Darcy: Having flaws isn’t something to be ashamed of …

Susan: Show me someone without flaws! Robert Masters claims shame thrives when men don’t feel free to express their vulnerability. And I wonder how many of you agree with Masters that –

  • Shame is an emotion most men feel, but are embarrassed to show
  • Shame left unattended in the shadows will determine much of a man’s behaviour.
  • Most men spend their lives pretending they’re fine when they’re not.

Pretending you’re fine when you aren’t is the norm for men who’ve been raised to ‘take it like a man.’ People suffering PTSD are also weighed down with shame, especially if you’re in the military, like Adam is, where the culture demands toughness. Adam struggles with the shame of being damaged goods, that he’s not good enough for Kat.

Darcy: You’re also interested in exploring vulnerability in ARAFURA

Susan: Yes, Kat is cautious about choosing a partner, especially sexy, unpredictable ones who disappear, because she lost her parents when she was very young. So, allowing herself to be vulnerable in a relationship isn’t easy for her. But she begins to realise that without vulnerability, there’s less intimacy.

And it’s the emotional intimacy that Kat finds irresistible about Adam. He has PTSD, but that doesn’t define him. He’s also playful, and curious to know what makes her tick.

“We both have hazel eyes,” he said, studying hers. “Only yours have a touch of green, like the Northern Lights.”

“Thank you.” Adam’s expressive eyes took her breath away, but she wasn’t going to admit that to his face. Not yet. Besides, she’d noticed HIS eye colour within the first minute of meeting him. “Your eyes remind me of…” Kat wrinkled her nose as she inspected them, head on one side. “Mangroves.”

He squeezed her hand. “You’re too kind,” he said, grinning broadly.

Despite Kat’s best intentions, she’s drawn to him, and realises how stale her long-running engagement is.

Yet being vulnerable with the right person can be an act of courage, a source of strength. I enjoy exploring this in my novels.

In Arafura my characters also struggle towards interdependence – when they know they can make it on their own, but still consider interweaving their life with another person. And that involves vulnerability and risk, but surely deeper connections.

Darcy – Do you think heroes in novels can possess masculine and feminine traits?

Susan: If men are taught to bury their expressive, softer sides, I think many women suppress their harder, dominant sides. It’s fun to slowly liberate this in a character and watch them transform. I like the way Kat and Adam continually surprise each other, as they surprise me. In this excerpt, Kat discovers her tough side:

When her vehicle’s brake lights shone red, he picked up the pace, yanking open the passenger door.

“Let me drive,” he said.

Kat threw him a filthy look. “Get stuffed.”

He made a grab for her arm, but Kat white-knuckled the gear stick, and the Jeep took off for the second time. This time she wasn’t going to stop. Hot-footing it to maintain his hold on the open door, Adam made a lunge for the handle on the glove box and heaved himself into the vehicle’s cabin.

“Put on your seat belt,” she ordered, after kilometres had passed in silence.

Adam leant over to search the Jeep’s console and Kat tried to ignore his skin accidentally brushing her arm.

“Where are my sunnies?” he asked.

“Who cares?” she snapped. “They were too dark for polite conversation, anyway.”

Adam gave her a long look, then checked the rear vision mirror as he reached for the seat belt strap.

As Michelangelo said about his statues, “I didn’t create anything, I just pared away the layers and there it was.” I believe all of us have layers, both masculine and feminine. To have someone care enough to help you, who allows you to pare away the layers and reach your true potential – is a precious gift in any relationship.

Darcy: Adam has PTSD, and we can’t explain how because that would spoil the story. What experience have you had with PTSD?

I’ve known two people who grappled with PTSD every day. That inspired me to research PTSD, and how it also affects people close to the sufferers, trauma by association. I’ve discussed it with a psychologist, who was very helpful with the male lead in the third novel.

Am I an expert on love, gender and PTSD? No, but I’m curious. My stories are entertainment, they’re not prescriptive—but I’ve done enough research to learn these things aren’t the same for everybody. I do know that every person, except psychopaths, needs to connect, to feel wanted, useful, and loved. I also hope readers find some laughs along the way. I keep asking questions, and enjoy hearing other people’s thoughts on these topics.

Any questions or comments or opinions about romance and masculinity?

Find Darcy Delany’s I Don’t Date in December (The Modern Fairy Tale Series) and other novels here.

References:

The New Manhood – Steve Biddulph

To Be a Man: A Guide to True Masculine Power – Robert Masters PhD

ManUp.org.au

The Body Keeps the Score, Mind, Brain and Body in the Transformation of Trauma – Bessel Van Der Kolk

Brene Brown’s TEDTalk on The Power of Vulnerability

 

Posted in Arafura - Blood The Wet and Tears, Arafura - Unfinished Business, Australian fiction, Australian romantic suspense, author talk, Books as Christmas presents, changing relationships, courage, emotional health, love stories, mental health, modern masculinity, PTSD, romance novels, Romantic comedy, romantic suspense, Self-publishing, vulnerability and shame, writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

The Casualty

The evening’s breath bites at my ears and through my coat as I dash along shadowy streets, wishing I’d asked for the car. When I arrive he’s on our bed trembling, shoes still on, body tight as a curl grub. Jeremy’s voice on the phone had been desperate and small – like these hours past midnight.

I lean against the door, gasping. Jeremy unfurls, eyes red-rimmed. Crimson blood streaks across his shirt.

‘What happened, are you all right?’

‘I didn’t know who else to call.’  A cry slips from his throat and his shoulders shake as more escape.

I take his hand — mine cold, its hold loose. He crushes my fingers.

‘Walked from chambers …for a ch..ange….’ He’s almost incoherent and leans against my breasts, his tie across my lap.

‘What happened?’

In staccato he continues. ‘A car…slammed…into a telegraph pole…thought it was a bomb.’

I jerk my head back at the image, his square jaw and wet face too close.

‘The driver…’ His voice broke. ‘There was blood everywhere so I bolted into a house, grabbed some sheets off a bed—‘

‘A house?’ I ask.

‘The front door was open.’ He wipes his nose with a sleeve, unconscious of the act, and groans. ‘I don’t think she made it.’

I pull at a loose thread in the blanket. ‘The ambulance came?’

He nods, pushing hair from his eyes, and I see the childhood scar at his temple. I hold him, then.

‘Perhaps she did, thanks to you,’ I manage, hoping she’s alive. Thanks to you I have metal screws in my hand.

Jeremy’s tremors lessen and he becomes a dead weight. When I’m sure he’s asleep I begin to disentangle myself.

‘I’m so sorry about everything,’ he whispers in the dark, his arms tightening around me. He reeks of spew and metal – of skin and tears brushed with desperation and shock.

I lie in empty space, my thoughts stripped bare, and force myself not to mould my body to his.

 

Susan Lattwein

Posted in Australian fiction, flash fiction | Tagged , | 8 Comments

777 Writing Challenge

I’m absorbed in the middle of my Scrivener software tutorial, wondering why it’s taken me so long to discover this wonderful writing tool!

Suddenly my phone is blipping and I’ve been nominated for the 777 Writing Challenge.

The rules of the 777 Writing Challenge are as follows:

‘The 777 challenge requires you go to Page 7 of your work-in-progress, scroll down to Line 7 and share the next 7 sentences in a blog post. Once you have done this, you can tag 7 other bloggers to do the same with their work-in-progress.’

I was tagged by Matt Potter, who’s obviously done a bit of painting in his time…with a twist.

I nominate Marigold Dicer, Annabelle Franklin, Paula Antonello Moore, Timi YeseiboBen Brown, Michelle Weaver, and Michelle Goodhew. (Michelle, I know you’re primarily an illustrator but I’m always inspired by your writing.)

My WIP is Arafura – Unfinished Business (aptly named) as I’m re-editing the novel before starting the third in the series.

‘Light reflecting off shattered glass on the ground caught Kat’s attention as she approached her car.

Why didn’t I notice treading on it earlier?

Looking up to see the broken car park light above, she didn’t react fast enough, even scream, before a figure rushed her from behind.

The last thing Kat felt was a sharp and painful jab to her thigh.

Chapter Two

It wasn’t until the next morning that Kat’s absence was noticed.

The afternoon before, she and Lily had attended their Sunday afternoon dance class. As usual, Kat felt safe in the darkened back row, farthest from the instructors.’

Posted in 777 Writing Challenge | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 10 Comments

International Lit Bulb Festival – flash fiction prompt ‘together’

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features new flash fiction, flash non-fiction, and poetry from across the globe. Submissions had to be 1500 words or less and include the theme or prompt ‘together’. Thanks to Matt Potter for accepting my romantic flash fiction below:

Window to the Soul

Juliet glanced up—blonde-haired legs dangled from a rope outside her window on the tenth floor. Limbs with tight thigh muscles, flexing to keep balance. She’d never admired male knees before. Oh my. It was window cleaning day.

Juliet had been concentrating on her report, but a question froze her fingers at the keyboard. With legs like that, what’s the rest of him like?

‘Rosie!’ she hissed to her friend at the opposite workstation. ‘Look out the window!’

But Rosie had already noticed. ‘Oh, look! What’s blocking the light from yonder window?’

Once again Juliet cursed her parents for her name. She was distracted by muffled voices and the soft thunk of a boot against glass, close by.

Two men hung suspended from ropes outside said window, arcing sudsy washers in smooth strokes like a red-blooded aerial ballet. Relaxed, they swung six foot apart in the breeze with absolute trust in their safety equipment.

Suddenly Juliet locked eyes with The Legs, the younger of the two. His eyebrows shot up, his washer stopping in mid-arc. Although they were strangers, her stomach somersaulted.

‘That dude looks like he’s on drugs,’ remarked Rosie, glancing up from her screen. ‘And he’s not long for this world if he doesn’t get his shit together and concentrate.’

Juliet gave a soft laugh, her eyes riveted to the other side of the glass. The young man gave a slow smile, an irresistible combination of playful and perceptive. The intensity of his expression held her captive—she wasn’t aware of taking in his lean-against-me chest. Nor was she consciously considering the enticing possibilities of his square shoulders and taut lines of his forearms.

Juliet blushed, the first to look away.

‘Is he coming on to you? Shall I give him the evil eye?’

‘Ah, no, Rosie.’

The phone on her desk shrilled. Outside, the young man swung over and cleaned Rosie’s window, now out of Juliet’s sight. He pointed to Juliet, but Rosie gave him the finger.

Juliet’s call took forever. After hanging up, she fought the itch to stand up and investigate where he’d gone.

A few minutes later dark boots manoeuvred their way back along the sill.

The young man’s grin was infectious, yet his eyes pleaded. Phone number?

Name? she mouthed back, shrugging her shoulders.

He craned his neck, narrowing his eyes to read the nameplate at her desk.

Even as his lips formed the word she knew it wasn’t true.

Romeo.

Loser.

‘Juliet.’ She turned, startled to see her boss.

‘Whoa,’ said her manager, looking out the window. ‘Free porn at work today. How’s the Paris report going?’

‘Done,’ Juliet mumbled, pushing back her chair. ‘Just printing it off for you.’

When she returned from the utility room, the windows were sparkling—and empty.

That afternoon Juliet noticed a message scrawled in thick chalk on the ground, right outside the entrance to her building. She paused to read it again.

LOST

One heart, shot by Cupid’s arrow.

Please call Romeo.

There was a phone number underneath.

Juliet rang Rosie that night. ‘Of course it’s him,’ said her friend. ‘You almost made the guy fall off his perch. But I bet you don’t ring, unlike the office nymphos. You’re always too careful.’

‘No one will ring.’ Juliet frowned.

‘Oh yes they will,’ said Rosie. ‘Our building has ten floors. Everyone’s coming out of their own special closets since we embraced workplace diversity.’

Next morning the message had disappeared. There was a buzz of intrigue in the office, but by lunchtime it was history.

Juliet told herself The Legs incident was just one of life’s forks in the road, and fate was probably doing her a favour. What sort of desperado scribbles messages like that in a public place? He was probably a creep.

But he was far from a creep in her dream that night.

The morning after he was sitting on a bench in the tiny sculptured garden outside Juliet’s building, in jeans and a windcheater. It was freezing.

She recognised him immediately, even without a safety helmet. His expression brightened as he spotted her.

Well, this is awkward. She wandered over, determined to keep her expression neutral. The stale jokes had been with her, all her life. She was over it. Despite being wholeheartedly tired of all this Romeo and Juliet crap, his wide grin broke her resolve.

‘What’s your real name?’ she demanded as he rose to greet her.

‘Matthew.’ His voice was like honey straight from a bee-hive.

He probably floats like a butterfly and stings…Stop it!.

‘That message, was that you?’ She frowned, waving a hand towards the entrance to her building.

He raised his hands in defence. ‘You work on a secure floor, it’s like Alcatraz! Anyway, I had to remove it. Too many strange calls.’ He looked sheepish. ‘Would you like to sit down?’

Juliet balanced on the edge of the bench, letting her feelings escape in a sigh.

Matthew’s eyes searched her face, and now he sighed too. ‘You and I—it reminded me of the fish-tank scene, looking at each other through the glass,’ he explained with a half-smile. ‘I couldn’t get you out of my mind.’

Juliet crossed her arms. “Perhaps I’m not a real Juliet,’ she said, finally.

‘Perhaps I’m not a real window-washer.’ Matthew raised an eyebrow.

She gave him a long look, noticing his sensitive hands were trembling slightly. Surprising both of them, Juliet leant toward him, first brushing her lips against his, then kissing him properly. Matthew’s slow, considered response drew her hands to his chest, unconscious of her actions, curious.

A work colleague passed by and called out, ‘Get a room!’

‘Or a balcony!’ said another. But she was deaf to the taunts.

Matthew and Juliet sat on the bench, together in the winter sunshine.

‘You don’t kiss by the book, Romeo,’ she said, unable to resist.

Mathew took her hands. ‘Well,’ he said, ‘that’s probably a good thing.’

The End

Susan Lattwein

Lit Bulb.1

Read the other writers here :http://litbulbfestival.com/2015-festival-programme/

Pure Slush

SA Writers Centre

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Musings post-Sydney Writers Festival 2015

One of the themes discussed at this year’s thought-provoking Sydney Writers’ Festival was — why do we read fiction?

SWF

One theory put forward in the SWF event, A Pack of Lies – Narration in Fiction, is that we read to make sense of our lives and to develop empathy. It doesn’t really matter if the stories are true or not, they offer us access to the lives of others.

Guest speaker Dr Paul Dawson commented there’s more to reading fiction than the opportunity to walk in someone else’s shoes, or the intimacy of being in another person’s head. Paul called storytelling cognitive play and if done well, narratives can provide referential truths for readers.

Photo credit: Michael Leunig

Photo credit: Michael Leunig

There are many reasons why we’re drawn to stories, and I think one of them is checking other people out. Apparently we all read autobiographically, i.e. through the lens of our own experience. Some of us read to answer the question — is it just me? Humans are social creatures, and we tend to like reflections of ourselves in others.  Delving into other people’s minds and mental journeys can reassure us. We compare ourselves to others, assess, check, validate, justify, and if we’re open to it, can be challenged and altered by the stories we read. They can offer us a hint of the other way out.

According to Professor Robert Winston, the most complex task our brain must do is socialise; to learn to relate to other people, to learn the cues for who to trust, how to read people, how to win the friendship of strangers and love of those who matter most to us. Novels may not give us the added visual cues of body language, but narratives still give us fascinating insights into how to master the above.

Fiction is the watering hole we gather around to dip our toes in, and see how different yet similar we all are. Diversity is so much more than the colour of one’s skin, gender, sexuality or place of birth. Diversity is every other difference too — variations in DNA, in utero experiences, parenting, personality, upbringing, education, birth order, culture, religion, opinions, wealth, intelligence, opportunities, social skills, looks, social mores, moral compasses, preferences, even variations in the ghost symptoms of this or that mental illness many of us are pre-disposed to (aren’t most of us a little autistic?) and yes, empathy. Here are the rich pickings of fiction.

Perhaps writers put their stories out in the world to test how alone they are or aren’t in the world. And perhaps people read their stories for the same reasons.

sydneywritersfestival

The question was also raised — why do women read more fiction than men?

I think there are many approaches to this answer. Fiction often deals with emotions. Perhaps women read more fiction because they’re more open about emotions, and have been socialised to share their feelings more than men. I have seen many women (not all) choose to do so in workplaces, mothers groups, study groups and book clubs. Women give advice, discuss husbands, children, relatives, schools, careers, recipes, handy hints, health, films, TV shows, holidays, cars, real-estate, pets, retirement plans, superannuation etc. Okay, and men. Many women are happy to share from the minutiae of daily life through to the 5 year plan, (just look at Facebook) and this includes recommending books to each other.

Why? Perhaps it’s an evolutionary thing? Did women who collaborated, were curious about the way others maintained relationships, found food, kept warm, and reared their young improve the chances of their survival and that of their offspring? Perhaps this desire to bounce off each other is hard-wired into us more than we realise? Hard core feminists can shoot me down, but it’s interesting to ponder why women read more fiction than men.

Having said that, many men have come to enjoy the literary or popular fiction novels their female counterparts have suggested/left lying around/forced upon them. I’ve been surprised and delighted that men enjoyed my first novel in the Arafura series. Feedback like the comment below on Amazon altered the way I approached the next Arafura novel – Unfinished Business (I’m still confused by the broad term, ‘chick lit’, which seems to be attached to any female author who has a female protagonist who falls in love. What if the dude falls in love too, and men enjoy reading about that?)

‘When I first heard about this book, I was warned that I may not like it because it’s ‘Chick lit’. Well, if only women can enjoy this tale, then I need to get my oestrogen levels checked, because I thoroughly enjoyed it. I’ll admit I wouldn’t normally pick a book like this, but I’m glad I strolled outside of my comfort zone.
I enjoyed the humour, the location, and the characters … hell what isn’t there to like about this book? If this is an example of how good ‘Chick lit’ can be, then I’ve been missing out on great stories for years. Two thumbs up.’ (Ben Brown-Perth)

Perhaps why women read more fiction than men is only cultural, a socially constructed gender issue? Let the publishing marketers loose with that.

Why can’t men read fiction with elements of romance? I look forward to Graeme Simsion and Anne Buist’s new novel, Left Right, which sounds like a romantic comedy told from the separate perspectives of the leading male and female characters. I’m sure many men will be reading Left Right after thoroughly enjoying Simsion’s, The Rosie Project, which is classified as a romance novel on the internet. Bill Gates loved The Rosie Project and recommended it on his blog (one giant leap for Graeme, but his novel IS a great read).

The-Rosie-Project

Why do we in the West feel the urge to allocate types of fiction and its readers into such tight pigeonholes anyway?

Another question—why are we drawn to violence and crime in fiction, was also raised at the SWF event, On Deception, with Michael Connelly, Liane Moriarty and Sascha Arango.

Sascha Arango suggested we’re drawn to crime and violent stories because they allow us a window into a world we’re no longer allowed to participate in. In The Human Mind, Professor Robert Winston supports this, saying as humans we share a universal battle to master our emotions and control our behaviour. In civilised society we must do this for the good of all, but it’s entertaining to vicariously tiptoe over to the dark side.

I did so by taking a tour of The Rocks a few nights ago in Sydney, and I agree with Sascha. The violent history of The Rocks is a world away from us now in 2015. No more public hangings, Bubonic Plague, men sold into naval slavery, murderous gangs in the streets, and often hand-to-mouth existences. But it was SO compelling hearing the stories.

I think we love to read or watch how far other people might go in certain situations, and why. We’re fascinated by what might happen when the boundaries are tested and the gripping consequences that might play out. Historical fiction (and autobiographical non-fiction) can be especially tantalising for some as they’re based on true stories, thereby offering cautionary tales made more shocking and potent by facts and actual human behaviour.

The theme for this year’s Sydney Writers’ Festival was, it’s thinking season, and this was certainly true for me. I now also have a reading list a mile long!

Sydney Writers’ Festival

The Human Mind by Professor Robert Winston

Posted in A Pack of Lies - Narration in Fiction, Anne Buist, Arafura - Blood The Wet and Tears, Arafura - Unfinished Business, Dr Paul Dawson, Graeme Simsion, Liane Moriarty, Paul Dawson, Robert Winston, Sascha Arango, Sydney Writers' Festival, The Rocks, The Rosie Project, why more women read fiction, why we enjoy violence and crime in fiction, why we read fiction | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 16 Comments

Don’t Kill Me, I’m in Love

Don't kill me

Image credit: Pure Slush

 

Many thanks to Matt Potter, editor of Pure Slush, for his guidance and advice whilst I wrote my story (the sixth in the serial) for don’t kill me I’m in love

In the serial each story picks up from where the previous story left off, using one or more of the characters, but taking the story somewhere else. Before I knew it it I was a gay social worker in a womens’ prison, burnt out and about to hand in my resignation, except…

The stories before mine are written with imagination and great word-smithery, which daunted me! Stories are 1500 words or less. 30 writers have signed up for the project, and you can find who they are and the order of their stories and their publication dates by clicking here.

Pure Slush publishes flash fiction and non-fiction on-line every month … and also in print. Here is part of Matt Potter’s reasoning behind Pure Slush and you’ll see why I enjoyed writing my story in the serial.

Image credit: http://bit.ly/1HdTFr3

Check out Pure Slush if you enjoy writing flash fiction and non-fiction.

🙂

 

Posted in Don't kill me I'm in love, flash fiction, Pure Slush, serial fiction, short story fiction, writing | Tagged , , , , | 8 Comments

FLASH FICTION Challenge #2 – try it, you might get addicted…

No, no, the title isn’t the prompt!🙂

Stories for the first Flash Fiction Challenge  Love Gone Wrong ranged from putting the love-blame squarely on Jane Austen’s shoulders, to Lola’s suspicious mind and where it got her (besides an expensive plumbing bill, and that’s looking on the bright side), to a steam-punk romance where giving your heart takes on a new meaning,  to love in the trenches of domesticity – despite wearing sexy pants, to Curt’s doozy of a limerick.

‘Ma shut the cellar door that led to the bakery. They were always noisy at first,’  can be continued here, as can another tale about love not taking a straight path, even afterwards

Flash Fiction Challenge #2 is –

‘A lone street-light, a person and strange noises coming from the boot (trunk) of a car.’

Please feel welcome to have a go if you’re remotely tempted. Simple guidelines can be found here

I’m going to kick off Challenge #2

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Photo credit: http://bit.ly/1zjBfNk

The knocking from the boot hit me hard in the chest.

Thump, thump.

Thump.

Losing concentration, I hit a dead kangaroo on the road. My car bounced, the headlight beams going berserk in the stark, low-lying scrub.

Silence.

I took a corner faster than usual at a railway crossing, rattling over the long abandoned tracks. No sound from the back.

Back on straight, level bitumen, then—clunk.

Fear pricked at my temples—this sound was unpredictable, made with intent. It wasn’t just my hockey stick rattling around back there. I should have tossed the potential weapon in the back seat after training.

The next thud vibrated through to the steering wheel. My hands gripped it tighter, remembering I had no phone reception out here.

The nearest police station was fifteen kilometres behind me. I was on my way to a party at Emma’s property, out of town. My best friend was playing matchmaker, and she’d invited an acquaintance who brewed beer using wild yeast collected from his beard. I warned Emma I wasn’t into microbiology, but she insisted I branch out from my usual type. She was probably right, magnetic but needy guys like Richard, my ex, were no longer on my radar.

Another heart-pounding bang and I spotted a lone street-light at a crossroad in the distance. A minute later my tyres crunched to a stop on the roadside gravel. The warm blanket of the night lay thick and still, and the sweet, childhood smell of dry grass through the open window should have been reassuring. I decided to keep my headlights on and the engine running. As I opened my door, a shooting star joined the dots in a diamond crusted sky.

Snatching a medium-sized rock from the ground, I approached the rear of the car, my hands trembling.

Not a thud now, but a shifting, scraping sound. There was definitely something in there—alive. I crept closer, fear knotting my stomach, panic clawing at my bowels.

Just then plastic cracked, shards of it splintering from a rear brake light after a vicious kick from inside. Leaping back, I knew I would not unlock that boot—not alone, not out here in the middle of nowhere. I was safer driving with this god-awful, terrible thing in my boot, and dealing with it at Emma’s.

Another hard blow sent blood pounding straight from my chest to my head. Turning to make a run for the driver’s door, I froze, detecting movement from my peripheral vision. To my horror the toe of a canvas shoe emerged from the damaged brake light, the lit bulb dangling below like a dislodged eye.

Red-hot-poker anger replaced my visceral fear. I knew that shoe.

I yanked the boot open so damn hard it almost slammed shut again.

Inside—trussed up by the wrists and ankles with nothing on but his shoes and Batman jocks was my ex-husband, grinning despite the gag—as if he’d just jumped out of a cake.

What will it take for him to move on?

(Susan Lattwein)

 

 

Posted in Australian fiction, Australian flash fiction, flash fiction, Flash Fiction Challenge #2, short story fiction, writing | Tagged , , , , | 19 Comments

New flash fiction prompt…

Here’s a new flash fiction prompt to experiment with — for fun — to allow contributors to try different writing styles and genres. In 500 words or less it’s a quick, simple and collaborative way to practice writing.

PROMPT –

A lone street light, a person (you?), and strange noises coming from the boot (trunk) of a car.

Reminders about flash fiction:

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What is FLASH FICTION? In short—a very short story. Let’s not get too complicated here. It can be serious, funny, mysterious, scary, sad, romantic, adventure, sci-fi, historical etc, etc, your call. (Please no erotica.)

  • Due to its brevity, you may wish to start your FF story in the middle (eg, the woman ran into her lover’s arms, still in his prison uniform …)  FF often ends in a twist, or a punch line. Hit them where it hurts.
  • Flash fiction is a complete story (has a beginning, middle and end). It’s often rich in interpretation, its language compressed.
  • Ask yourself, is every word necessary to your story? Distilling experience into a few paragraphs forces writers to pay close attention to what they’re doing. It’s great editing practice to remove everything that isn’t essential to the setting, the action, the feelings of the characters, or moving the story forwards.
  • The fewer characters the better.
  • Inferred meanings give the reader a puzzle to solve, rather than stating the obvious. A little mystery goes a long way—make the mystery worthwhile, lure the reader to the end.
  • FF can be prose, poetry, a song.
  • Commenting and giving feedback on stories is definitely encouraged (like a friendly writing group would). As always, be helpful, be nice. And a bit of hilarity is good for the soul, too.

It’s easy, just submit your work in the comments section of my next post , NOT THIS ONE or it will be hard for readers to find. (I’ll publish Saturday morning, 28 February, Sydney, Australia time.)

500 words or less, with your name and the link to your blog if you have one. (That way readers can go and check out what else you get up to if they wish.)

Don’t be afraid to experiment! Put on those writing wings! You’ll never, never know where that story might go.

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Photo credit: http://bit.ly/1AbElrG

(All rights to works published here will be retained by the original authors.)

P.S. I’m sure your entries will be less scary than my attempt to teach FF to an over-imaginative Year 5. They got uber-keen and put together a book for me with titles like The Cannibals, The Three Little Pigs Attack, The Parasite Is Coming, Death In a Car Boot (timely, at least), The Curse of the Crazy Killing Blood-Dripping Vertebrate, The Night In Hell and others I’m still too scared to share. (They got you’re right so I am happy)

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Posted in Australian flash fiction, editing, flash fiction, Wordpress, writing | Tagged , , | 5 Comments

Interview with a vampire!!!

Yes, an interview with a vampire!! IN REAL LIFE!! – as my kids would say.

I was lucky enough to ask Christopher, the vampire from Marigold Deidre Dicer’s The Black Swan Inheritance a few questions.

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First, here is a description of the novel.

‘Anita had the kind of reputation in high school no one wants to carry into adulthood, especially since she wants to be a doctor like her dad. Now at university, she is determined to be good, but one little end-of-semester celebration can’t hurt, right? Well, it can if she ends up having a one-night stand with a werewolf that triggers a dark awakening.
The Black Swan is a powerful legacy that brings both temptation and danger. Having now inherited the title and all that comes with it, Anita finds herself beset upon by ancient abominations that won’t take no for an answer.  But Anita is determined not to run away – she is here to help, whether the medieval dragon-wolf or the undead cultists want it or not.
She will be no one’s pawn. She will rise to the challenge.
If she can just manage to deal with her own flaws first. Anxiety, panic-attacks, and bouts of bitchiness does not a successful diplomat make.’

Okay here we go –

Thanks for the opportunity to ask you a few questions, Christopher. I’ve never interviewed a vampire before …

Not at all. It is so rare I speak to a human about my nature. I appreciate your open mind.

Please tell me how a human can turn into a vampire?

And here I expected you would begin with the easier questions…

I must admit, I was not aware of my own transformation to vampirism. As a general rule of thumb, people who kill themselves do not expect to have to claw themselves up and out of their grave three days later. If anything, I expected fire and brimstone for taking the coward’s route, and instead I was given a second chance.

Admittedly, it took another lifetime to recognise it as such…

The ritual requires blood magic, darkness, and earth. I am not certain of the particulars beyond that, although I have since discovered committing suicide is not a requirement. It was a natural assumption, since all of my fellow vampires were killed by their own hand. Either the old master targeted vulnerable people to raise from the dead, or the ritual was more applicable to us for another reason.

What is it like, flying? I’ve only done it in dreams.

I take the form of a bat to fly, which immediately feels restrictive until you get used to the short feet and oversized hands. The act of taking off and landing are the challenging parts, although I believe that has more to do with trying to consciously think about the mechanics as opposed to letting my new instincts take over. I would compare it to riding a bike – it is not difficult, as long as you make sure you don’t think too hard about it. And as with a bike, once you get used to it the motions become effortless and exhilarating.

It is fun.

It would be. What are you afraid of?

I would like to say I no longer fear death, but that would be a lie. Death is still the great unknown, and, as I mentioned before, the first time I died was not a final death.

I am not looking forward to discovering true and final death.

I fear for Anita, and the safety of the nest. She is strong, but there are stronger monsters in this world, and if she were to be challenged the consequences could be disastrous. For practical reasons, I do not want another to claim her. I have felt the abuse of a mad master – she does not deserve the same.

You don’t have to answer this, but why did you consider yourself a broken soul?

Oh, so, so many reasons. Committing suicide is a mortal sin. Ever since I was resurrected I felt like a shell of a man, my only purpose to follow the master’s commands and wait for the end of days. In retrospect, I was given no choices. I spent my nights praying for a forgiveness I knew I would never receive. It was easier to belief myself a weapon, a tool waiting to be picked up and used. Until then, I had to fight the temptation of hope.

Anita has gotten you out of a major pickle. How do you feel about that?

Our first meeting did not go to plan, I will admit that. I almost wonder what would have happened once the sun rose. Having been told our mortally wounded bodies would turn to ash, where would that leave me? A ghost?

While she did do me a great favour, she was acting in her own interest as well. I was honestly surprised she was not interested in using me, even though I was her pawn. I am grateful to her. She might not always act as a leader should, but her intentions are noble.  Well, for the most part.

Ahem, just like yours? Moving on, what are your big dreams, despite being dead?

I never thought of unlife as a second life. Anita changed that, for me and for my fellow vampires. She has provided us the freedom to seek our own purpose, within reason, of course. We still die with the night, only to rise again when darkness falls. Thankfully, in this modern society that is not such a hindrance.

While this freedom is certainly appreciated, the power we have gained also ensures that hunting is much quicker and safer, for all involved. I have yet to determine where, specifically, I should direct all the free time I now have. I still worship God but now my reading material has broadened to include history, current affairs, even novels. The internet is a wealth of knowledge for the common man.

I have found myself contemplating where my family is now. I wonder, did my brother survive the war? Is my mother still alive?

Am I an uncle?

I will not search the answers to these questions until I am confident I can handle them.

There’s obviously chemistry between you and Anita, and I was hoping you two would be exchanging more than blood. Do you have any teasers you can share for the second book in the Black Swan Inheritance?

Things between me and Anita are strained. Her nature and my desires are not easily compatible. The Black Swan is the witch of seduction; it is where she gains her magic. She cannot be faithful to me, and so we are at an impasse.

I respect her greatly, and am undoubtedly attracted to her, but it is impossible for us to have a healthy romantic relationship. I will be her loyal confident, and will support her, but I cannot have hope that we can ever be together.

Not unless something changes.

Well, I look forward to the second book in the series, and discovering what’s in store for you, Anita and the other characters. I hope I haven’t kept you up, or out, or anything …. Christopher? Oops, he must have flown off.

That interview gave me the shivers!! Visit Marigold’s blog, Versus Blurb for more details.

 

 

Posted in Australian urban paranormal fantasy, Marigold Deidre Dicer, The Black Swan Inheritance, urban paranormal fantasy, vampire, Versus Blurb, writing | Tagged , , , , , | 6 Comments

Character Interview with @SusanLattwein ‘s Lily from the Arafura Series

Marigold asked Lily (Kat’s sister from ARAFURA) some up-front questions. If you ask me I think they’re a little similar… (not a bad thing at all!)🙂

Versus Blurb

24713706My first ever character interview is with Lily, the boisterous and excitable sister of protagonist Kat Howard from Arafura.

Thanks for joining me Lily. Now, I’ve gotten to know your sister quite well these past few months, and she is obviously passionately in love with Adam. What’s your attitude to wuv, twue wuv? Are you going to search for it, or wait for it to fall in your lap?

True love? No such thing, babe! My sister, Kat, thinks there is, even love at first sight (I guess Adam is a catch but he’s not as hot as Ben). Knights in shining armour on their trusty steeds don’t exist, just ordinary (some less than ordinary) dudes trying to navigate their boats like the rest of us. Let’s face it, we all have issues. I do love Ben, (you have me worried now that I’m not demonstrative enough in public…). I guess he’s the…

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