Ginger Nuts of Horror
First up, thanks so much to Jim McLeod for giving me the chance to chat here about Crow Shine. It’s an exciting time, having my first collected volume of short fiction published. After six novels, it’s a good feeling to have something that feels like a first book again. Putting together a collection is also a uniquely difficult task.
I’ve had over 70 short fiction publications through my career so far, and narrowing that number down to the best is tough. It’s also incredibly subjective, so having a great editor on board, in this case Russell B Farr from Ticonderoga Publications, was a boon. The initial cull was straightforward enough. While I write across horror, fantasy and sci-fi, this is a collection of the cream of my dark fantasy and horror stories. Stuff I usually refer to as the dark weird fantastic. There's magic and monsters, there's revenge and consequences, there's wonder and darkness. And hopefully a few thrills along the way.
So once the high fantasy and sci-fi and so on had been removed from the equation, it came to picking the best of those dark weird fantastic stories. Some were easy choices, like “Shadows of the Lonely Dead” which won the Australian Shadows Award for Best Short Story in 2014. Others were award-nominated or included in Year’s Best volumes and recommended reading lists. And, of course, a few were personal favourites that maybe didn’t get noticed as much as I’d have liked in their original publications. And then I wrote three entirely new stories just for this book.
So all up there are 19 stories, ranging from historical yarns set in places like the weird wild west and pirate-populated Caribbean, to more modern yarns set in Australia, Britain, America and “could be anywhere”.
It’s interesting that in the selection process, certain themes began to emerge. I’ve never really written to a pre-conceived theme, but once the best of my work was put together like this, I could see clear ideas explored in numerous ways. The stories in Crow Shine explore agency and justice, revenge and consequences, magic and jeopardy and the cost of all those things. I was so fortunate to get a blurb from Laird Barron, one of my favourite writers ever. He said:
“Alan Baxter is an accomplished storyteller who ably evokes magic and menace. Whether it’s stories of ghost-liquor and soul-draining blues, night club magicians, sinister western pastoral landscapes, or a suburban suicide–Crow Shine has a mean bite.”
And another of my favourite modern writers, Nathan Ballingrud, said:
“Crow Shine, by Alan Baxter, is a sweeping collection of horror and dark fantasy stories, packed with misfits and devils, repentant fathers and clockwork miracles. Throughout it all, Baxter keeps his focus on the universal problems of the human experience: the search for understanding, for justice, and for love. It’s an outstanding book.”
I repeat these two quotes here not only because I’m incredibly proud of them, and blown away by such kind words, but because they both really nail the vibe of this book and the chords I’m trying to strike when I write.
Character and humanity are always front and centre of my stories. I find the supernatural, especially dark and horror-tinged supernatural, a fantastic vehicle to explore those questions of what it is to be human, where we have agency and where we don’t, what we can do in the face of horrors. And what we can do when there’s nothing to be done but we’ve survived, or we’re left when someone we love hasn’t survived. GK Chesterton made that famous quote about fantasy being important because it doesn’t teach us that dragons exist, we all intrinsically know that, but it teaches us the dragons can be beaten. I think horror exists to teach us that sometimes the dragons can’t be beaten and what can we do about that?
Hopefully, with Crow Shine, I’ve touched upon some of those issues in different and interesting ways. And I certainly hope that in doing so I’ve also told some good, entertaining yarns.
Stay tuned for our review of Crow Shine