Black Beacon Books are an Australian small press that have been in business since 2013, putting out anthologies and novella length works of dark fiction and suspense. We sat down for a chat with Editor in Chief Cameron Trost to learn more...
In part one of our interview, we met Cameron Trost, the publisher. In part two, we spend some quality time with Cameron Trost, the author…
Gingernuts of Horror: Let’s go back to the beginning - what’s the first story you can remember writing?
Cameron Trost: The very first story I can remember writing? Just let me dim the lights and pour myself a dram of Talisker. I might need a chaise longue and a hypnotist too… Right. Here goes. When I was ten or eleven, I used to read a lot of fantasy, a genre that doesn’t interest me at all these days. I was also fascinated by ancient history, particularly Celtic history. I came up with an idea for a story about a Bronze Age warrior in what would be Switzerland or southern Germany now. It think it was called Mengarion the Brave. I don’t know what happened to my scribblings, but the story included a hero, a busty beauty, a druid living in a forest, and a giant worm menacing the village. It was supposed to be a novel but I only got to about thirty or forty pages before I lost interest in the project. Soon after that, I discovered Sherlock Holmes and became obsessed with mystery fiction, but it wasn’t until more than a decade later that I attempted to write a story in that genre. On that note, I’m still working on the umpteenth draft of my debut mystery novella. Hopefully, it will be ready to be unleashed this year. Mengarion the Brave, on the other hand, is ancient history.
GNoH: Can you tell us anything about the novella? Setting, premise, title?
CT: “The Stayne Fortune” is an old-fashioned mystery which will introduce a private investigator with a penchant for all things strange and arcane. I don’t want to give too much away just yet, but the story is set in Brisbane and delves into a family drama that is actually inspired by true events from Brisbane’s history. At the centre of the novella is a code that the attentive and astute reader will be able to solve. The story includes disguises, losing a tail (real detective fiction fans will understand what that means), breaking the law in the name of the greater good, Holmesian deduction, and some sitting back with a whisky and thinking. If you like mystery fiction that actually puts the mystery at the centre of the story and gets the reader involved, it will be right up your alley.
GNoH: Having now pivoted to Mystery, can you now recall what it was about the Fantasy genre that attracted you as a kid? Do you see any traces of that early reading in your work, and if so, where?
CT: I think I was attracted by the scope that fantasy allows the imagination. The idea of worlds, landscapes, and beings beyond the rules of reality as we know it allowed for limitless storytelling possibilities. It was probably that vastness that I eventually wanted to escape as I realised that the strange and mysterious in everyday life intrigued me more. In my own work, there is little trace of this reading, except perhaps that some of my characters are quirky to the point of resembling beings from fairy tales and that I am a fan of settings and atmospheres of a gothic bent. The other fantasy trope that I often include in my work, and which is also common to mystery and horror fiction, is that of archaic objects. In many of my short stories, items like maps, treasure chests, dusty books, paintings, and various kinds of relics play an important role. This is quite possibly inspired by fantasy and mythology.
GNoH: When you look back, was there a conscious moment when you decided to take writing seriously, or has it always been something you wanted to do?
CT: I think it’s something I’ve always wanted to do. I’m one of those people who often read a story and think it should have ended differently or taken a different direction. Perhaps there could have been a clever twist that nobody would have seen coming. That’s why I started writing short fiction ten or so years ago. I suppose the moment of validation that I needed to take my writing seriously was the publication of a flash fiction piece called Beneath the Flowers. It appeared in Black Box (Brimstone Press) in 2008. Since then, I have had dozens of short stories published in magazines and anthologies. Nowadays, I have limited time to write, but I’ve come to accept that and I focus on quality over quantity. If it takes me four or five months and a dozen rewrites to get a story polished, that’s fine. The aim is to produce a unique, entertaining, and thought-provoking work that is written to the best of my ability. That’s what serious writing means to me.
GNoH: How important is a good twist or misdirection, to you? When coming up with story ideas with this feature, do you start with the twist and work outwards, or discover it as you go?
CT: I love stories with a twist, but I only attempt them if I’m confident the twist is original. A twist tale typically starts with that crucial point, which comes to me when I’m walking, sitting on the bus, or sipping whisky while staring at the trees in my garden. From there, I go back to the start and build up to the twist in a careful way. It’s a balancing act between foreshadowing and misdirection.
GNoH: Which are some of your favourite ‘twist’ stories in literature?
CT: Here are a few of my favourite classic tales with a twist or a surprise of some kind.
The Venus Fly Trap by Ruth Rendell
Dip in the Pool by Roald Dahl
The Snail-Watcher by Patricia Highsmith
Lot’s Wife by Charles Birkin
The Brazilian Cat by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
The Man and the Snake by Ambrose Bierce
GNoH: Who were those early influences? What writers do you look up to, and why?
CT: My writing isn’t directly influenced by others in terms of style. I know there are many writers who study, analyse, and imitate the work of their favourite authors, but I’ve never tried that… maybe I will one day. That said, many readers have told me that there is a subtle Victorian feel to my prose, and that is possibly a result of my tendency to read fiction from that era. In terms of form (I am primarily interested in short fiction), theme, atmosphere, and the ability to twist the end of a tale, I do, of course, have writers I admire. My earliest influences were the giants of mystery and horror fiction: Edgar Allan Poe, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Ambrose Bierce, M. R. James, Sheridan Le Fanu, Agatha Christie, and Ruth Rendell. I later discovered the quirky adult fiction of Roald Dahl, Iain Banks, Christopher Fowler, and Patricia Highsmith, and just recently, I stumbled upon the contes cruels of Charles Birkin.
GNoH: How has your work as an editor for Black Beacon Books influenced your writing?
CT: That’s an interesting question. I don’t know that my editing work has influenced my writing. It’s probably the other way around. Editing certainly improves the technical side of my writing, but in terms of theme and style, I draw inspiration from the world around me, art and music and film, and sometimes other stories I read.
GNoH: Tell us about your first published story - what was it, how did it happen, and what did you learn from the experience?
CT: The Ritual was my first short story sale to appear in a print publication. It was a tale about a coven of teenage witches who decide to use magic to achieve their goals. I don’t want to give too much away, but the twist at the end is a nasty one. It was published in Midnight Echo #2, the magazine of the Australian Horror Writers’ Association, in 2009. The issue was edited by Angela Challis and Shane Jiraiya Cummings, a couple who formed Australia’s most dynamic horror editor and author partnership at the time. Indeed, joining the Australian Horror Writers’ Association (of which I am now the vice-president and competitions coordinator) was possibly one of the most important steps in bringing my writing to the world. It helped me get in touch not only with fellow writers but also experienced editors, booksellers, and visual artists. What I particularly appreciated with Midnight Echo was the thoroughness of the editing process. Angela Challis put a lot of time and energy into my story and made a number of excellent recommendations that tightened it and improved the prose without affecting the plot in any way. As a budding writer and future editor, this experience taught me quite a lot about the editing process. In particular, it showed me that you need to choose every word and place every comma with care, and then, just when you think everything is absolutely perfect, you need to go over your work with a fine-tooth comb, let it incubate for a few days or weeks, and then dig that comb out again.
GNoH: Given that long incubation period, do you often work on multiple projects, or do you stick with one idea until it’s a finished article?
CT: I always have at least four or five stories at various stages of the process at any given time. Letting stories incubate helps me tweak them as different ideas come to me over time. There isn’t usually any change to the central theme or plot, but I sometimes add foreshadowing and final touches. At the moment, I’m working on three short stories, and doing the umpteenth edit on a novella and a novel, the latter of which has been about five years in the making so far. If I happen to have a few hours of free time, I work on whichever short story jumps out at me that day. I tend to only look at the novella and novel if I have a whole day to myself, which is rare.
GNoH: And finally, what are your plans for 2016?
CT: Ideally, I will find a publisher for my novel, novella, and three or four short stories this year. I’m off to a reasonably good start with my psychological suspense tale, “The Corkscrew and the Void”, being accepted for Morbid Metamorphosis (Lycan Valley Press), an anthology which is set to be released in June. I also have a ghost story on the shortlist for a British anthology at the moment. So, hopefully, I’ll have another publication announcement or two shortly.
GNoH: Excellent - best of luck, and thanks for sitting down to chat with us!
Cameron Trost is a writer of strange and mysterious tales about people just like you. His short stories have been published in dozens of anthologies and magazines, and many of them can be found in his collection, “Hoffman’s Creeper and Other Disturbing Tales”. He lives in Brisbane, Australia, and is the vice-president of the Australian Horror Writers’ Association and an Australian Shadows Award-winning editor.