The dread Year of the Fire Monkey

tiger-monkey-zodiac

Chinese New Year starts today – 2016 is the Year of the Fire Monkey. Happy Chinese New Year!

Ahh, the Fire Monkey. In Chinese astrology, he is my mortal enemy (I am a Tiger – a Wood Tiger, to be precise, although it’s very important to note I’m not Tiger Woods. Different guy, I swear!).

If you believe in that kind of thing, with the Monkey being such a trickster, linked to the fire element and all, it will be a turbulent year (here are some predictions).

The Year of the Fire Monkey one is a bad one for us Tigers (and I thought last year was an Annus Horriblis!). That prancing little shit-throwing chimp gets all up in our regal tiger business and mucks everything up.

Reading the predictions for a Tiger in 2016 is a bit depressing: struggles with finances, struggles with work, possible accidents. There’s little in the way of good news.

The Tiger is the king of animals, but the Monkey is craftier. The only way for the Tiger to prevail is for the Tiger to become smarter.

So that’s what I’m doing. I’m having a terrible run on the job front, finances are going backwards, so I’ll be investing in my education this year. I’m enrolled in a Master of Creative Writing at Macquarie University, and I’m picking up all the skills and experience I can through activities and self-directed learning.

Most importantly, I’m writing – a lot more than I have in years. This year, writing will be my refuge.

I’ll beat that nasty little chimp, you’ll see!

Apocrypha Sequence: Master Collection

Apocrypha Sequence Master Collection

At long last, the four volumes of the Apocrypha Sequence are now in one electronic master collection! This 4-in-1 collection includes the exclusive Insanity story “Elephant in the Room”!

Apocrypha Sequence: Master Collection is exclusive to Amazon for just $2.99 (save $1).

The Apocrypha Sequence is a series of dark fantasy collections with interwoven themes and interconnected stories. They are a re-mix, of sorts, of my short fiction, around my major (canon) collections Shards and The Abandonment of Grace and Everything After.

The individual Apocrypha Sequence volumes are:

Last chance to win!

Love horror? Love dark stories about love, loss, and redemption? Then you’ll want a copy of The Abandonment of Grace and Everything After.

The collection is on the preliminary ballot/longlist for the Bram Stoker Awards. It’s filled with a bunch of award-nominated and critically-acclaimed stories. It’s the best thing you’ve never read!

The Goodreads giveaway for the book ends tomorrow! So for your chance to win one of two gorgeous hardcovers of The Abandonment of Grace and Everything After, enter in the box below:

Goodreads Book Giveaway

The Abandonment of Grace and Everything After by Shane Jiraiya Cummings

The Abandonment of Grace and Everything After

by Shane Jiraiya Cummings

Giveaway ends February 07, 2016.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

Enter Giveaway

What stayed in the Cutting Room

An old autopsy room, linked from Flickr.

Continuing my discussion about The Abandonment of Grace and Everything After, here is the history of one of my notable (and notorious) stories, “The Cutting Room”.

In January and February 2005, I attended the famous Clarion South writers’ workshop in Brisbane, Australia. It was a very hot and muggy Queensland summer, the air-conditioning was patchy, and 17 journeyman writers formed bonds, friendships, and rivalries over the course of six very demanding weeks, under the tutelage of some of the world’s leading science fiction, fantasy, and horror authors and editors. The format of the workshop required each writer to offer up for critique one story per week for six weeks, with all the other students and the tutor-of-the-week providing critiques. Each story had about an hour of continuous critique, with the author required to squirm or bask (as the case may be) under increasingly brutal crits as the weeks wore on. Several careers have been kick-started by Clarion workshops. Writers such as Nathan Burrage, Deborah Kalin, Rjurik Davidson, Mark T. Barnes, and Suzanne Church may not be household names, but they’ve had their successes in science fiction and fantasy circles. Clarion was a fabulous crucible of creation, and it set many nerves on edge and dented a few egos along the way.

In week two, under the supervision of SF author Michael Swanwick, my ego was given a battering over “The Cutting Room”. It was my first Clarion-written story, and from the critique, I realised that I was one of the few specialist horror writers at the workshop (many Aussie speculative fiction writers tend to dabble across all three genres of horror, SF, and fantasy, and most of the writers at the workshop were such cross-genre dabblers). A few people in the session took offence to the leery examination by Dr Parrish in this story. The criticism was hard to swallow at the time, but I persevered with the story because I realised two things: most of the disturbing stuff that appears in my stories is implied rather than shown, and in this case, “The Cutting Room” elicited strong reactions in most readers. Above all else, I want to reach my readers’ emotions. Horror is the literature of fear, after all, so I want readers to be on the edge of their seats, disturbed, and perhaps even a little repulsed. “The Cutting Room” succeeded on this level, which to me makes it is a good story.

Since its creation in 2005, “The Cutting Room” has become something of a signature story for me. It’s certainly the most popular story I have written. The story was first published in Apex Publications’ anthology, Gratia Placenti [for the sake of pleasing], and it has been published a total of eight times, to date, including being: podcast on PseudoPod, reprinted in the ‘year’s best’ anthology, Australian Dark Fantasy & Horror Volume Three, reprinted in Scott Nicholson’s bestselling collection Gateway Drug, and translated and published in French and Spanish. The Spanish translation, in the anthology Paura 4, was nominated for the Premios Ignotus [Spanish SF Award] for Best Foreign Short Story.

For the record, the examination scene published in The Abandonment of Grace and Everything After and in every prior publication is unaltered from the draft critiqued at Clarion South all those years ago.


The Abandonment of Grace ebook

You can read “The Cutting Room” in The Abandonment of Grace and Everything After, available in hardback, trade paperback, or ebook from Amazon.

Fire and the Phoenix

phoenix2

Fire. For me, it always comes back to fire.

I talked about fire in my last post about “The Abandonment of Grace and Everything After”, from the collection of the same name, and tonight, I’m revisiting a story that is not just touched by fire, it is the quintessential story about loss through fire. I consider “Phoenix and the Darkness of Wolves” one of my greatest stories. It’s a story of tragedy, magic, hope, and life in the ashes of an empty, desolate continent. It’s my longest story, a novella, but it’s also one of my most heartfelt.

It brings me angst that so few people have read the story. I’d like that to change over time…

In 2010, “Phoenix and the Darkness of Wolves” had just been published as a standalone novella by Damnation Books, and it was reviewed HorrorWorld. The reviewer drew parallels between the living inferno in the story and nuclear war. I wrote a blog post about that review here, Bushfires vs nuclear holocaust, and much of what I said then eloquently summarises my feelings about “Phoenix” today. So rather than writing something new and possibly redundant about “Phoenix”, here is what I originally said:

“Bushfires are on my mind as a writer because my family has a long, dark history with fire. My uncle was a volunteer firefighter who died in 1980 when his firetruck was overrun by flames on the Uloola track near Waterfall in the Royal National Park, south of Sydney. I’ve attended several NSW Rural Fire Service memorials, and when my grandmother was still alive, for many years, I accompanied her on an annual trek to the place where Uncle Bill died. It’s quiet and lonely out there on the Uloola track, but it’s beautiful, too. Whenever I visited that memorial, the occasion had a palpable, sombre weight to it, like I was in the company of ghosts.

“My mother and step-father have served in the Rural Fire Service for many years, too. Mum was a trainer until cancer prevented her from continuing on in the role.  My cousin Shannon (Uncle Bill’s son, who was 1 year old when his father died in the fire) served in the Rural Fire Service for a number of years, too. My father-in-law was the local fire captain in his town in Tasmania, and from all accounts, only a lucky wind change saved his life one day during a particularly fierce blaze that swept up the mountain towards him and his mates.

“I’ve lived through a number of bushfires (our house was on the southern fringe of Sydney, close to the Royal National Park) and the times when the smoke choked the sky and the sun burnt a hazy orange are amongst my strongest memories as a child.

“Fire is in the blood for me, and for many Australians, I think. Americans may read Phoenix with overtones of nuclear holocaust, but I think many Aussies will be able to connect to the story on the level I had intended. Except for residents of Japan, nuclear war is a hypothetical threat. It is like the boogeyman. It’s scary but few believe it will actually affect them in the real world. Bushfires, on the other hand, are like personal armageddons for those who have survived them or had their lives affected in some way. They’re a constant threat and even living in a city like Sydney, Canberra, or Melbourne does not make one immune from their reach. Aussies understand fire, heat, and the pain these things bring.

“This threat, this pain, is what Phoenix and the Darkness of Wolves is really about.”

The deadly Black Saturday bushfire, 2009.


Incidentally, after “Phoenix and the Darkness of Wolves” was first published, Australian author and artist Greg Chapman contacted and gave me the tip that the song “Wild Wolves” by English band Athlete was the perfect theme for my novella. The two were released around the same time, and I have to admit, the imagery from that song perfectly fits “Phoenix”. Scarily so! A huge shout out to Greg for bringing this song to my attention. It’s now one of my absolute favourites, and in the twilight hours, I play it on my guitar. I urge you to seek out this song and listen to it after you’ve read “Phoenix and the Darkness of Wolves”. I promise it will give you chills.


The Abandonment of Grace ebook

You can read “Phoenix and the Darkness of Wolves” in The Abandonment of Grace and Everything After, available in hardback, trade paperback, or ebook from Amazon.

On tragedy and fire: The Abandonment of Grace and Everything After

My uncle Bill fighting the family enemy at Waterfall, NSW, in the last photo taken of him before he died.

My uncle Bill fighting that fateful bushfire at Waterfall (southern Sydney), in the last photo taken of him before he died. This photo is seared into my family’s consciousness.

In the past couple of weeks, I’ve been talking about the stories in my collection The Abandonment of Grace and Everything After, and now I want to discuss the eponymous story, and what lies after grace has been abandoned …

There are certain tragedies that define you as a person. They affect everyone around you, and ultimately, change the course of relationships. The death of my Uncle Bill when I was six years old was one such tragedy. From a child’s perspective, he was that fun older relative who did cool things for my twin brother Damien and me. One of my earliest memories was Bill taking me to the drive-in to watch Jaws (a re-run or one of the sequels, I think). It was scary, and I was probably way too young for it, but that’s what made it all the more fun. I can’t remember that screening of the film (as I most likely fell asleep), but the experience lingers with me to this day – and probably feeds into my love of all things dark and thrilling.

Bill died when he was 21, and he died a hero, fighting a bushfire in the Royal National Park, south of Sydney. The fire was a monster, and like others since, it threatened the homes and lives of the people in the Sutherland Shire. Fed by savage winds, the fire changed direction, and Bill and four of his mates were trapped underneath their old fire truck (“Headquarters 81”) when the wall of flames overtook them. He and his mates died out on the Uloola track, just a couple of kilometres from the town of Waterfall, on 3 November 1980. Bill had just celebrated his son Shannon’s first birthday five days earlier.

His death devastated my family. I didn’t know it at the time, but it led to choices that shaped the man I was to become.

Many years later, when I was living with my grandparents in Sydney, my nan, Betty, found flowers at the front door. They were anonymous, and we didn’t hear anyone approach or knock. It was one of the great mysteries that haunted Nan to her grave, and continues to haunt me to this day. I’ve always wondered who that anonymous benefactor was and what motivated them to leave the flowers. If you read “The Abandonment of Grace and Everything After” carefully, I imply a possible explanation …

Whenever I hear tales of Judeo-Christian origin, I always wonder what it would be like for an angel to fall from Heaven. There would have to be a literal sense of falling, of course, but being supernatural creatures whose existence is beyond human senses, there would be additional dimensions to such an event. If an angel can fall from Heaven to Earth, why can’t they fall back in time? Given our scientific understanding of the non-linear universe, surely such a significant event would transcend space and time. The impact would be devastating. The very fabric of creation would tear. There would be destruction. There would be fire.

Fire …

No doubt influenced by Uncle Bill’s death, fire has become a character in my stories. True to its nature, its appearance always ravages those around it. Fire is in the background of this story, but it is front and centre in stories such as “Stealing Fire” (published in my flash fiction collection, Shards) and “Phoenix and the Darkness of Wolves”, which appears at the end of the book. In both cases, fire is given supernatural life, and it rampages as a force of destruction. In those stories and others, those who attempt to tame the fire always pay a steep price. Read “Phoenix …” and you’ll see what I mean.

“The Abandonment of Grace and Everything After” was conceived as a story that was to be as a critique of suicide and nihilism. A man—a fallen angel—was to be sitting in his car out in a field, reflecting on what tied him to his mortal life and weighing up whether those ties were enough. However, when I sat down to write that story, something very different—this story—came out instead. I obviously have a few personal demons to work out, and this story was a vital first step in that process.

Perhaps that’s why there is hope at the end?

Perhaps we all need a little absolution?


The Abandonment of Grace ebook

You can read “The Abandonment of Grace and Everything After” in The Abandonment of Grace and Everything After, available in hardback, trade paperback, or ebook from Amazon (ebook currently on sale for just 99c).

Aussie horror bestsellers

David Conyers (43) and Shane (44) representing Aussies on the horror bestseller list.

David Conyers (43) and Shane (44) representing Aussies on the horror bestseller list.

Australia Day has come early, with two Aussies – myself and the vastly underrated but super awesome David Conyers – representing on the Amazon horror bestselling author list. David pips me at #43. I’m at #44 (which is cool – 4 is my favourite number). #straya! #aussieaussieaussie #oioioi

No. 1 with a bullet!

RATN No 1Thanks everyone for your support with the RAGE AGAINST THE NIGHT giveaway. Thanks to you, Rage Against the Night is the NUMBER 1 Bestseller (free ebooks) in horror, and is NUMBER 4 on the overall bestseller list.

Nothing is more awesome than excellent authors writing about the battle (and occasional triumph) against the forces of evil. This is what Rage Against the Night is all about.

You can still download it while it is free, but you don’t have long!

After you read and enjoy it, please share your thoughts in an Amazon and/or Goodreads review. Every review makes a huge difference!

If you enjoy Rage Against the Night as much as I hope you do, I would thoroughly recommend these other books of mine/from Brimstone Press:

Macabre ebook coverMACABRE: A JOURNEY THROUGH AUSTRALIA’S DARKEST FEARS

Edited by Angela Challis and Dr Marty Young

Explore Australia’s dark literature past, present, and future all in one landmark anthology! From the very earliest colonial ghost stories through to grim tales of modern life, Macabre will take you on a journey through the dark heart of Australian horror.

With classic stories from Australia’s masters of horror alongside the best of the new era, Macabre: A Journey through Australia’s Darkest Fears is the finest dark fiction anthology ever produced in Australia.

Macabre features 38 stories from Australian literary legends such as Henry Lawson, Barbara Baynton, Marcus Clarke, David Unaipon, Mary Fortune, and A. Bertram Chandler; modern masters such as Terry Dowling, Kaaron Warren, and Sean Williams; and the 21st century’s brightest new horror stars: Stephen M. Irwin, Shane Jiraiya Cummings, Paul Haines, Richard Harland, David Conyers, and Will Elliott.

Macabre: A Journey through Australia’s Darkest Fears won the 2010 Australian Shadows Award, and was nominated for the 2010 Bram Stoker Award!


The Abandonment of Grace ebookTHE ABANDONMENT OF GRACE AND EVERYTHING AFTER

Thirteen spine-tingling stories of darkness and desolation from Australia’s award-winning master of the macabre, Shane Jiraiya Cummings.

The Abandonment of Grace and Everything After is Cummings at his fear-inducing best: from the seductively erotic autopsy of “The Cutting Room” and the insanity of “Ian” through to the post-apocalyptic tragedy of “Phoenix and the Darkness of Wolves”.

Imagine a secret from the future that could affect creation itself – a secret so dark, demonic powers would do anything to learn it. Ride a train across the Outback as it descends into a bloodbath. Be entranced by a song that threatens to tear reality apart. Listen for screams only a deaf man can hear …

With personal afterwords from the author that provide insights into each story, and powerful narratives that explore love, loss, and redemption in the darkest of circumstances, The Abandonment of Grace and Everything After is one of the most significant collections of Australian horror ever published.


Shards (2014 cover)SHARDS

Short Sharp Tales

Take a guided tour of the darkest backroads of the imagination. Imagine worlds that are twisted fragments of our own …

In one, a woman with foresight puts her scarred body on the line to stop crimes before they happen. In another, a pervert channels the spirit of a dead school friend in the hopes of getting lucky. In yet another, the Antichrist is a misunderstood teenager who is tired of being manipulated.

In Shards, the seasons turn deadly, and a day at the beach becomes a nightmare. A vision in the mirror is anything but heavenly. The zombie apocalypse triggers one survivor’s unhealthy obsession. And where do you run when the world begins to physically unravel?

Shards is fiction at its shortest and sharpest, a collection of disturbing stories from a master of dark flash fiction. A shard is a story read in just moments … but it will linger with you for the rest of your life.

Every story in the print edition is lavishly illustrated by Andrew J. McKiernan.


Dreams of DestructionDREAMS OF DESTRUCTION (Ravenous Gods book 2)

Backed by the savage power of Dreamtime monstrosities, and supported by shadowy masters, an Australian cult known as ‘The Reign of Terror’ attempts to detonate a supernatural weapon of mass destruction at a meeting of world leaders in Perth, Western Australia. If successful, their bold plan will devastate the earth. Can mercenary hero Captain Max Calder infiltrate the cult, fend off the yakuza and Lovecraftian horrors, and ultimately bring down the plot from the inside – with one hell of a bang?

Winner of the 2015 Australian Shadows Award!


 Requiem for the Burning God (2014 cover)REQUIEM FOR THE BURNING GOD (Ravenous Gods book 1)

Evil festers beneath the mountains of 1930s Peru, and British Great War ace turned mercenary Captain Max Calder unwittingly stumbles into the thick of it! Calder is confronted by Lovecraftian horrors, the machinations of a world-spanning cult, and a lunatic song that haunts his every step. Armed with his trusty Webley pistol and his wits, Calder must confront a cult that seeks to unleash a monstrosity on the world. Will he succumb to madness … or will he put a bullet between the eyes of an insane god?

All the Rage

Rage Against the NightTo coincide with tomorrow’s BookBub promotion, my mega-anthology, Rage Against the Night, is free for the next FIVE days! That’s right, FIVE days! (and that’s the ebook edition, normally $4.99, not the print edition).

In case you’ve forgotten what Rage Against the Night is, it’s an anthology about giving the finger to supernatural evil. The anthology features horror megastars, including Stephen King, Peter Straub, Ramsey Campbell, Jonathan Maberry, Scott Nicholson, Chelsea Quinn Yarbro, F. Paul Wilson, Sarah Langan, Nancy Holder, Lisa Morton … the list goes on and on and on!

Get all the Rage you want at Amazon until Australia Day (January 26).

The Abandonment of Grace and Everything After on the Preliminary Stoker Ballot!

The Abandonment of Grace ebookI was having a pretty turrable (as Cleveland Brown would say) day when I opened my email this evening and a mate (g’day Aaron!) let me know that The Abandonment of Grace and Everything After had made it onto the Bram Stoker Award Preliminary Ballot for Superior Achievement in a Collection.

Super exciting! This is how I feel:

Congratulations to everyone on the list!

What makes this even more awesome is the way the Stokers work. The preliminary ballot of ~10 works in each category comprises the 5 most popularly recommended works from Horror Writers Association members and 5 works as determined by a jury of HWA judges.

My collection was published very late in the year, so I had no traction to get HWA members to read and recommend it, which means the judging panel rated my book one of the best. In the WORLD! Having the book included because of the judges’ selection is an amazing feeling … and helps ease one of the nagging doubts I’ve had about my writing.

Now before I get too excited, this does not mean The Abandonment of Grace and Everything After is a Stoker finalist/nominee. There’s still a voting process to whittle down the preliminary ballot to 5 shortlisted finalists, but I’m in with a chance – and more importantly, a jury of well-respected, widely read peers read and enjoyed my work, which is all I could ask for.


PS. Commiserations to Robert Hood. His epic collection of ghost stories missed being in the top 5 member recommendations (and therefore, being on the Preliminary Ballot) by 1 rec. I was looking forward to renewing our rivalry (and I use the term very loosely)  after going head to head with Rob in the Australian Shadows Awards last year.

PPS. There’s lingering discord in my household (from me, anyway!) that Angela is a Stoker finalist (for the outstanding Macabre anthology) and I am not (when I mentioned it again tonight, she said “was I?” in complete blank-faced seriousness. Grrraaahh!).

Giving away Grace

It has begun! I’m giving away two very sexy looking hardcover copies of my collection, The Abandonment of Grace and Everything After, on Goodreads.

Click the link below to enter the draw (you need a Goodreads account to enter).

The draw ends on February 7. I hope you win!

Goodreads Book Giveaway

The Abandonment of Grace and Everything After by Shane Jiraiya Cummings

The Abandonment of Grace and Everything After

by Shane Jiraiya Cummings

Giveaway ends February 07, 2016.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

Enter Giveaway

Inside the killing jar

Bolboreta_Bluebottle_Graphium_sarpedon_milon_GFDL

The prized Blue Triangle butterfly. I had one in my collection.

The next story I want to talk about from my collection The Abandonment of Grace and Everything After is one of the originals: “Razor Blade Anthropology (Guerdon for the Beautiful People”. Like “The Garden Shed Pact”, it was one of my Clarion South stories (written at the workshop in 2005).  Compared to that story, “Razor Blade Anthropology” is a much more off-beat, black humour story, so I didn’t try hard to sell it to a magazine or anthology (although I did have it accepted to one many years ago, but that disappeared into a black hole…).

Another thing the two stories have in common is bugs …

Bugs (and any small creepy crawlies, including frogs) … they’re a difficult subject for me. Sure, there’s been a 30-something year-long fear of them, but in my late 30s, I finally overcame this. I was even able to safely remove frogs by hand from our pool (and with a pool within hopping distance of Lake Joondalup in Perth, we had frogs in the pool every week).  There was no single catalyst for overcoming this fear. It was a combination of immersion therapy and logic.

However, my ledger with insects is far from clean. If you’d read the afterword for “The Garden Shed Pact” (read more on that here), you’ll remember that for two years, I was involved in the high school entomology group. While admittedly über nerdy, it was a hands-on activity I did with my friends. It was competitive, engaging, scientific, and honed my handicrafts (I built my own display board), but let me tell you the downsides …

Do you know how to kill a butterfly without damaging its magnificent wings?

I was taught to catch the butterfly in a net, and while it was trapped, to crush its thorax (chest section) to prevent it from flapping its wings. This was done with a firm squeeze. Too much pressure, and you kill the butterfly and its innards ooze everywhere. Not enough, and you might simply injure it without paralysing its wings.

You then put the crippled but still-living butterfly in an envelope until you could return to the lab. There, you prepare a killing jar. That is essentially a glass jar with a cotton wool square that is immersed in a killing agent. From memory, that agent was ethyl acetate (nail polish remover). You seal the crippled butterfly in the killing jar with the agent, and to ensure the job is done properly, the sealed jar is placed in a freezer overnight.

After 24 hours in a freezer sealed inside a killing jar, my insects were removed and then pinned to the display board. This involves driving a large pin straight through the centre of the insect’s back, and with winged insects, holding their wings in place with pins and paper (but never pins directly into the wings). Once the insects were like that for a day or two, the wings stayed locked in position and the excess pins were removed.

The same process applies to any other small insect, except the thorax wasn’t crushed.

The bulk of my collections were butterflies and beetles. Beetles were especially tough buggers—particularly the weevils. On a couple of occasions, several minutes after having pinned a beetle to the board, it would revive and begin flailing. Remember, they had survived 24 hours in the killing jar in the freezer and the pin through their back. Another, higher dose of killing agent was the most humane way to end their suffering at that point.

It’s not something I would do again (and not something I’m particularly proud of, in hindsight), but the experience of collecting insects will always stay with me, for better or worse.


The Abandonment of Grace ebook

You can read “Razor Blade Anthropology (Guerdon for the Beautiful People)” in The Abandonment of Grace and Everything After, available in hardback, trade paperback, or ebook from Amazon (ebook currently on sale for just 99c).

Yeah, but he’s big in Japan

I used to joke, after a run of French short story publications, that I was big in France.  Well, I’m soon to be published in Japan for a third time, so I’d like to think I’m getting big in Japan, too! My friends at Night Land – now Night Land Quarterly – will be publishing my story “The Song of Prague” in a 2016 issue of the publication. I’ll update you when the issue is live.

saitamaI’m always super excited to be published in a non-English market. How excited? Well, drawing on my current Japanese obsession, One-Punch Man, this video clip is a good description (FYI, this is the One-Punch Man anime series opening credits song). It’s a tenuous link, sure, but I love the Caped Baldy as much as I love Japan. Enjoy!