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).

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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

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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?

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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).

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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!).

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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

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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).

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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!

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Welcome, new visitors!

The Abandonment of Grace ebookHi! If you’ve been brought to my website by today’s KBoards promotion – or for any other reason – welcome! I hope you enjoy reading my new book, The Abandonment of Grace and Everything After. It’s a heartfelt, personal project for me, with stories that cover a decade of my writing career, so settle in and allow yourself to be disturbed. 🙂

While you’re here, you can download plenty of my free fiction (or click the links to my free books on Amazon). I have free short stories, novellas, and mini-collections for your reading pleasure.

I love to hang out with readers, so stop by and share your thoughts on my books (hopefully, kind thoughts!), or perhaps even ask me an author question on Goodreads. I’m happy to answer whatever curly ones you have! If you felt strongly enough about any of those books, please consider writing a review on Amazon or Goodreads. Every positive review helps!

Sincerely,

Shane Jiraiya Cummings

PS. I’m running a series of posts that discuss the stories behind the stories in The Abandonment of Grace and Everything After (using material from my afterwords and new stuff added in for context). I’ve already covered “Ian” and “The Garden Shed Pact”. Stay tuned for more in the coming days.

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The reason why there is a Funnel-web Spider on my desk

Sydney Funnel-web Spider. Yikes! Source: Arachnipedia

Sydney Funnel-web Spider. Yikes! Source: Arachnipedia

Continuing my series on discussing the stories in The Abandonment of Grace and Everything After, today I talk about the story behind “The Garden Shed Pact” – and specifically, why there is a Funnel-web Spider on my writing desk.

Who doesn’t hate spiders? Okay, don’t answer that … maybe I’m the freak, but spiders are frequent guest stars in my night terrors. I was born and raised in Sydney, and because of my concerns over that aggressive suburb-loving bastard, the Sydney Funnel-web spider (Atrax Robustus), to this day, I still thoroughly check my shoes before I put them on. I don’t even think it’s the fear of being bitten that has rattled me. It’s the alienness of spiders and their ability to wedge themselves into places they have no right to enter. It’s the jerky gait of a saucer-sized Huntsman scrambling down a wall towards you, with the intent of running across your face—or if you’re not looking, the back of your neck and down your shirt. I may be exaggerating, but you get the point. Spiders possess too many aspects of the ‘other’ for me to ever accept them. I can admire them for that, but I’ll never accept them, let alone allow them to scamper across my skin (but ask my wife, and she’ll heartily disagree; she loves the critters!).

To confront my issues with spiders—and insects in general—I spent two terms at high school involved in extra-curricular entomology (bug collecting). I cultivated two impressive collections of mostly beetles and butterflies. So much so, my science teacher, Mr Martyn, awarded me with a prize: a prime specimen of Atrax Robustus, fangs bared, encased in clear resin. I keep it as a prized paperweight on my writing desk. Trapped in a defiant pose, it is alien, fearsome, and other.

So what better metaphor for evil than a monstrous arachnid?

One of the reasons I keep the Sydney Funnel-web spider on my desk is that it reminds me I will never again end a creature’s life without the absolute best reasons, even if that life appears insignificant, such as an insect. One of the regrets I will carry into my old age is that I murdered butterflies for the wrong reasons. My collections were thrown out in my early adult years, and as much as the butterflies, beetles, and bugs looked aesthetically pleasing pinned up, arranged with wings and legs splayed, they looked even more beautiful flying free. Fearsome, bittersweet Atrax Robustus-in-resin reminds me of that every day. Guilt, it’s a potent brew.


PS. Several times over the past few weeks (Sydney summer time), a large spider has invaded my ‘man-cave’ (where I do my writing), scuttling in under the door at night. I shooed it away every time, except last night, when it came barrelling in under the door and was near my foot (I sat on the other side of the room!) within a couple of seconds! It’s been getting bigger, and I finally took note of its markings last night. After looking at Funnel-web pics today, I realise with dawning horror that my nocturnal visitor is, in fact, a deadly male Funnel-web. My problem: I lost him under a suitcase last night, so he’ll be in there … somewhere … *shudder*


The Abandonment of Grace ebook

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

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The secret history of Ian

ianThe Abandonment of Grace ebookMy collection, The Abandonment of Grace and Everything After, features my most notable non-flash dark fiction. It spans a decade of my work, so there are plenty of notable tales in it. In the collection, I explain the history behind, and motivation for, my stories, so to give you a glimpse, I wanted to blog about some of the most notable of those notable stories.

Let’s start with “Ian”.

First published in Ticonderoga Online in 2005, “Ian” is one of my personal faves.  This story is so (in)famous, it is listed (first no less!) on the list of ‘fictional Ians’ on the Wikipedia entry for Ian (and no, I didn’t put it there!). It’s about as close as I’ve come to influencing pop culture.

Did you know the name ‘Ian’ means “God is gracious”? It is the Scottish Gaelic derivative of ‘John’. In the 1960s, it was in the top 10 of all male first names in the United Kingdom, and as I write this, there are estimated to be at least 300,000 Ians in that country alone. 300,000 of them! The name has been consistently popular in the USA, as well, ranking about 70th most common each year amongst male names. No doubt it has been similarly popular in Australia.

The opening line of the story says it all:

Every man I’ve ever met has been named Ian.

Okay, perhaps a slight exaggeration on my behalf, but there has been a particularly worrying confluence of Ians in my life, and it’s made me bloody wary of making new male friends! First up, after I met my wife, Angela, I discovered her first husband was named Ian. Compounding this, her best friend at the time was named Angela and her husband was named Ian. Apparently, the four of them—two Angelas and two Ians—had made a dynamic and confusing foursome until my Angela’s relationship went south.

As a nod to Angela’s upbringing, I located our Ian-haunted female protagonist in the wilds of North West Tasmania.

Ian

Ian

Back to the Ians … I’ve mentioned just two Ians so far. That’s not so bad, right?

Long story short, let’s just say a cavalcade of Ians has paraded through my life since. Notably, a good mate of Angela’s when she went back into study was Ian. Also, several years back, my mother met a new fella, and you guessed it, his name was Ian. Oddly, it was after “Ian” was written and published, which leads me to believe that I’ve only strengthened the Ian curse by writing this story. As fate would happen, that particular Ian is now my stepfather, and he’s a great bloke, but I think somewhere, if there truly is a God out there, he is hidden away in some secret corner of the universe having a hearty belly laugh at my situation. “God is gracious” indeed!

Ian is my curse, but I don’t have any such worries with young Jacks (unless I count my eldest stepdaughter, Jacqui, who we often refer to as Jacqs—phonetically, ‘Jacks’). As you’ll read from my other afterwords, there is a heavy streak of Bills (or Williams or Wills) in my family, with my grandfather, uncle, and second youngest brother being the most notable examples. There’s also a healthy stock of Johns (usually as middle names), culminating with my youngest brother, John. But no Jacks. No Ians, either, thank goodness!

I stated earlier that Ian is a derivative of John. You know what else is a derivative of John? … Shane.


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

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KBoards promotion

The Abandonment of Grace ebookOver the coming few months, I’ll be experimenting with ways to increase my ebook sales. Although I only have collections, novellas, and anthologies out there in the wild (as opposed to novels, which makes it a little harder), I have several books, which constitutes a small but growing backlist.

To kickstart proceedings, my new, major collection, The Abandonment of Grace and Everything After, will be on sale for 99c on Amazon from now(ish) until Wednesday January 13. This coincides with a Kboards book discovery promotion on Tuesday January 12, which will feature the collection.

The Abandonment of Grace is also enrolled in the Kindle Matchbook program, so if you buy the gorgeous hardcover or the trade paperbook, you can download the ebook version for free.

Now is a brilliant time to dive in, buy the collection, and delve deep into the dark fiction I’ve created over the past decade. I guarantee you won’t be disappointed.

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