Review: INTO THE ASHES by Lee Murray – an intense thriller that will have you holding your breath, and perhaps your heart

Screenshot_20190214-133937_FacebookAll hell is breaking loose in Lee Murray’s INTO THE ASHES right from the start. A constant series of eruptions coupled with activity from the volcano have prompted an extensive evacuation of parts of New Zealand’s North Island. NZDF Sergeant Taine McKenna* is ordered to evacuate people from the area and has no idea how just how complicated that’s going to be.

First, the ground is splitting apart. Second, there are fire demons that may or may not be wreaking havoc and claiming lives. Third, there are rivers of rubble blocking roads and sweeping people and vehicles away.

Oh, and there just happen to be a group of armed convicts from the prison who are on the loose with a dangerous leader who is determined not to be charged for the murder of a guard that he commits in order to gain his freedom.

Add in that Taine’s ex-girlfriend, Jules, is on the mountain and is taken hostage by the convicts and you have a cat-and-mouse game with Taine determined to rescue Jules, but forced to overcome obstacles every step of the way.

This is an edge-of-your-seat white-knuckle ride that is action packed and intense. You never know what will happen on the next page. Murray is an expert at weaving multiple plot lines and perspectives together and always keeps the reader straight so they know whose eyes they’re seeing the world through and where they are. As the characters intersect the obstacles increase and the body count rises. Both Taine and Jules are coming to terms with the fact that they still love each other, but equally aware of the likelihood that they’ll never get a chance to put things right.

Lee Murray has been a guest at Toe Six. Check out her actor picks to play Taine and Jules here. Learn about her writing assistant, Bella, here. Read an interview about Into the Sounds here. And then Lee was back with Dan Rabarts to talk about their collaboration here.

* Completely personal note. In three of my novels set in Canada I have a protagonist named Tain, who is Native. And in my novel Harvest of Ruins my protag’s surname is McKenna. How can I not love a character who combines two of my favorite names to make one supercharacter (who thinks he’s a superhero)? And he has some Indigenous blood from one of New Zealand’s tribes as well, so he’s in tune with the spiritual aspects of the story.

Online Issue 16

Lots of crime fiction and horror goodness with Eryk Pruitt, Lucy A. Snyder, Lee Murray and Dan Rabarts, plus a resurrected article on doing great bookstore events (with insights from someone who does this for a living!) and thoughts on authors and social media and toxic tropes.


First, an important public service announcement:


Here on Toe Six:

Eryk Pruitt on truth and storytelling, reading bad books and the appeal of writing short stories

Eryk Pruitt talks about the appeal of writing short stories and how the process helps him focus on lean, mean writing, as well as the inspiration he took from a man with Parkinson’s and The Knockout Game.

The Journey to Publication, Axe Throwing and Tough Protagonists: Lucy A. Snyder talks, snakes, spiders and Garden of Eldritch Delights

Your female horror fix is in: Lucy A Snyder’s Garden of Eldritch Delights puts a lot of female protagonists into stories with titles like “The Yellow Death”, “Blossoms Blackened Like Dead Stars” and “That Which Does Not Kill You” – just in time for Halloween.

Lucy A. Snyder’s Purrbuddy, Monte

Lucy shares about her author assistant, Monte.

Teeth of the Wolf authors Lee Murray and Dan Rabarts talk spending eternity with Hermione Granger, Geysercon, fighting zombies with measuring tapes and hair clips and more

Lee Murray and Dan Rabarts talk about whether or not they relate to their characters and who’s tougher. Dan tells us, “Matiu would kick my butt with one hand in his back pocket, and still look chill while he does it.” Plus, Lee and Dan share their casting call for Teeth of the Wolf.


Review: Dead Man Running by Steve Hamilton  Reviewed by Theodore Feit

Review: Desolation Mountain by William Kent Krueger  Reviewed by Theodore Feit


Flashback Feature: Having a Successful Bookstore Event

Trying to figure out what will work and what won’t? Author Sarah L. Johnson speaks from experience – both as an author and as a bookstore events coordinator.


Over at The Big Thrill:

Facebook? Twitter? Instagram? How much value do authors place on social media? This week we’re joined by ITW Members Colin CampbellEllen ByronLee MurraySandra Ruttan and DiAnn Mills as they discuss authors and social media. Scroll down to the “comments” section to follow along!

What did we all have to say? Check out our thoughts in the comments and chime in with questions or insights. Initially, I’d planned to post a short response about most authors overestimating the value of sites like Facebook for selling books; however, recent events prompted me to expand. The other authors have weighed in as well. If you’re considering how to use social media as an author there’s plenty of food for thought.

And On Twitter:

I don’t need to rehash what was covered in my thoughts at The Big Thrill, so if you want to see what I think about the Caffeine Nights debacle and the Chuck Wendig situation, head on over to the ITW post linked to above.

However, I did see this particular gem on Twitter and thought it was worth sharing:





And what may be the best book dedication ever goes to Megan Spooner. From her book, Hunted:

Screenshot_20181013-073952_Amazon Kindle

Who would Lee Murray and Dan Rabarts want to see play the protagonists from Teeth of the Wolf?

Fun Fact: Lee says, “Although my mother speaks two dialects of Chinese, I only learned a few basic words, something that makes me sad. And I love the Māori language, but like my Chinese, I only know a few words in te reo Māori (language). Instead, I speak fluent French, a language my Chinese grandfather spoke, and one I taught to my own daughter.”

TEETH OF THE WOLF is a dual protagonist narrative with main characters Penny and Matiu.

Teeth of the WolfScientific consultant Penny Yee has barely drawn breath before Detective Inspector Tanner assigns her another suspicious death, with Matiu tagging along for the ride. That’s fine as long as he stays outside the crime scene tape, but when one of Matiu’s former cronies turns up dead, Penny wonders if her brother might be more than just an innocent bystander. While she’s figuring that out, the entire universe conspires against her, with a cadaver going AWOL, her DNA sequencer spitting the dummy, and the rent due any day. Even the weather has it in for her. But that’s not the worst of it; Penny’s parents have practically announced her nuptials to Craig Tong!

Still spitting the taste of sand from his mouth, Matiu’s back on the case with Penny, and wouldn’t you know it, his big sister is in over her head again, not that she has a clue. There’s a storm brewing dark through the heat-haze on the horizon, and Makere isn’t the only one of Matiu’s friends from another life dogging his steps. Is this all because of what Mārama was trying to tell him earlier? About his heritage?

Meanwhile, Cerberus is only making things worse by losing his rag every time they cross paths with the elusive killer. Can the dog taste the hot sour reek of something trying to push through the veil and run its tongue and teeth across this world? What’s calling them? What has changed? Matiu should probably check that out, if only his probation officer would quit calling…


Augusta Xu Holland (Wikipedia photo)Lee/Penny: Scientific consultant to the police, Penny Yee is detail-oriented, risk averse, and highly-strung. Mostly, it’s her brother Matiu, who winds her up with his ridiculous talk of shadowy things from the other side, but her ex-boyfriend Noah Cordell and his mansplainy grandstanding can be equally as annoying. It’s not as if there isn’t enough pressure on her, with Inspector Tanner breathing down her neck with more cases, and Mum and Dad trying to marry her off, she really hasn’t got time to be thinking about who might play her in a movie of her life! Okay, since you insist, if she has to suggest someone, what about stunning New Zealand actress Augusta Xu-Holland? Because of all the actresses Penny’s seen, Xu-Holland is closest to Penny in background. Not only is Xu-Holland a half-Chinese New Zealander, she has a science degree from a local university, as well as a Bachelor of Arts in Asian studies. Asian studies! As far as Penny is concerned Xu-Holland is an actress who is going to understand the Yee family dynamic and represent it accurately. You might have seen Xu-Holland appear in The Last Race alongside Ralph Fiennes. Plus, Xu-Holland even has Penny’s hair. It’s uncanny. Like looking in a mirror. 


Rob Kipa-Willams IMDb imageDan/Matiu: Does it say something about representation, or maybe my TV watching habits (or lack of both) that I actually had to go away and google that to find someone suitable Especially after I wanted to say Taika Waititi but then thought that nah, we don’t want everyone giggling through the whole movie. “Aw look, it’s blood, bro. Heaps of it.That’s so naff.” But I found this guy, Rob Kipa-Williams, and thought yep, he’ll do. Never seen him act but if he falls through we can always just call Taika, right?


TEETH OF THE WOLF is the second book in the Path of Ra supernatural crime-noir series by Dan Rabarts and Lee Murray. The first book in the series, HOUNDS OF THE UNDERWORLD was long listed in last year’s Bram Stoker Awards and went on to win Best Novel in New Zealand’s Sir Julius Vogel Awards for science fiction, fantasy and horror.

Check out our interview about TEETH OF THE WOLF here.Check out our interview about TEETH OF THE WOLF here.

lee coverLee Murray is a ten-time winner of New Zealand’s Sir Julius Vogel Award for science fiction, fantasy and horror. Her books include the military thrillers Into the Mist and Into the Sounds, and supernatural crime-noir titles Hounds of the Underworld and Teeth of the Wolf (co-authored with Dan Rabarts). She is proud to have co-edited nine anthologies, one of which, Baby Teeth, won her an Australian Shadows Award in 2014. She lives with her family in the Land of the Long White Cloud. Find her at

Dan Rabarts

Dan Rabarts is a New Zealand author & editor, winner of four Sir Julius Vogel Awards and two Australian Shadows Awards. His short stories have appeared in venues such as Beneath Ceaseless Skies and The Mammoth Book of Dieselpunk. Together with Lee Murray, he co-writes the Path of Ra series. His first solo novel, Brothers of the Knife, kicks off the grimdark-yet-madcap Children of Bane fantasy series (Omnium Gatherum). Find out more at

Teeth of the Wolf authors Lee Murray and Dan Rabarts talk spending eternity with Hermione Granger, Geysercon, fighting zombies with measuring tapes and hair clips and more

Fun Facts:

Lee: My first dinner in an actual restaurant was in celebration of completing my first piano exam with distinction. I was six. My parents took me to Cobb and Co, a bistro chain named after Australia’s stagecoach company and which still exists in some New Zealand towns. The important thing about this story is that I had the crumbed chicken main (still on the menu), and my first ever ice-cream sundae, including one of those carboard wafers. I was in heaven. My pianoforte career, however, was short-lived.

Dan: Apparently I have a very distinctive laugh. Many years ago, we went to what must have been a very funny movie in a very full cinema. When the funny bits came, everyone laughed, especially me, just a little bit longer and harder than everyone else, and then there came a second wave as the entire audience laughed at me, laughing. This went on for the whole movie. I’m really not sure what was so funny.

Teeth of the WolfSR: Practice pitching: tell us what your new book is about in 50 words or less.

Dan: Scientifically driven Penny and supernaturally touched brother Matiu investigate a fresh murder, evade the monsters Penny refuses to believe exist, and dodge uninvited nuptials as they hunt for a killer. But with a pregnant girl missing and the monsters drawing closer, time is running out.

SR: Where did your idea for this book come from? Was there a specific issue that really motivated you to write this particular story?

Dan: We picked up the threads for Teeth of the Wolf from where we left off Hounds of the Underworld, drawing Penny and Matiu deeper into the plots being woven by their mysterious foes in the first book. But there are certain elements of the Path of Ra series that I’ve always been interested in exploring, such as the impact of global warming on a country as isolated from the rest of the world as New Zealand, and the complexities of family and community that arise from a diverse multicultural society like ours.

SR:  Harry Potter, Luke Skywalker, Katniss Everdeen or Arya Stark? If your protagonist could be any fictional character for a day who would it be and why?

Lee:  It’s not easy for Penny to pick a character since she’s not big on fantasy. None of that shadowy surreal stuff. Nothing with tentacles. She’s read the classics you’ve cited above, of course, but non-fiction would be her preference. However, even if she’d wanted to read more fantasy, over the past year she’s been trying to secure some decent contracts for her scientific consultancy and stave off bankruptcy, so there hasn’t been a lot of time for curling up with a tablet.

Dan: No argument: Eric Draven, Brandon Lee’s character from the 90s cult classic The Crow. Yeah, Matiu has a thing for old movies, and is particularly fascinated by the resonance between that film and the way it walks a line between this world and the next, just like Matiu does. Lee died during the making of The Crow, yet it still went on to do phenomenally well, granting him a certain immortality frozen in celluloid. Plus he was a wraith, and could’ve kicked Batman’s butt any day.

Hounds of the Underworld cove (1)SR: What’s one thing that you and your protagonist have in common?

Lee: Do I have anything in common with an uptight half-Chinese scientist, who regularly wears her hair in a ponytail and is perpetually squabbling with her brother? Nooo….  

Dan: I like to think Matiu is the dark, brooding, better-looking alter-ego of a me that never was. Given that he’s a reformed criminal and slightly unhinged, I don’t think I can claim much in common with him except that I’ve got two sisters, and probably had a knack of winding them up without too much effort. And I expect they’d protest the statement that I’m not unhinged…

SR:  Cage match between you and your protagonist. It’s a fight to the death. Which one of you will be left standing, and why?

Lee: Between Penny and Lee? Well, Penny is younger, so perhaps she’d have the advantage, but there wouldn’t be much in it. Anyway, you wouldn’t catch Penny getting into a cage for a fight to the death. Not unless it was a choice between that and a dinner with Penny and Matiu’s parents ‒ in which case, it could be a hard call.

Dan: Look, there’s no excuse for violence, OK? Just put that down. We can talk this through, and these shoes really aren’t good for running. Ah, hell. Yeah, Matiu would kick my butt with one hand in his back pocket, and still look chill while he does it.  

SR: What’s the first book you remember reading that had a huge impact on you? How did that story affect you? How do you think it shaped your desire to be a writer?

Dan: When I was maybe 8 years old, our school teacher read us a book called The Machine Gunners. It was set in the Second World War, and told the story of a group of British schoolboys in a country town who find a crashed German bomber and raid the wreckage to build a fort, including removing the plane’s fully operational and loaded machine gun and setting it up to guard the entrance to their fort from other boys. To this day, I still remember many details of that book, including how the boys pretended to synchronise their watches by all looking at the town clock tower, because they didn’t have watches; how they said “Wizard” in the way we’d now say “Cool” or “Awesome”; and the description of the tailgunner’s corpse in the wreck, how the flesh was shredded and burned away, how the maggots were crawling in his skin, how the birds had pecked out the soft flesh of his eyes and lips. How it’s all a game until the finger is on the trigger of the gun and someone else is staring down the barrel. And then I wonder, was this really an appropriate book for our teacher to be reading us at that age? *shrugs* In any case, the memory of that book remains imprinted on my psyche, and just might cast a shadow over much of what I write now…

SR: What do you think the hardest emotion to elicit from a reader is? Why?

Lee: Hmm this is hard. I think it’s especially difficult to instill a sense of urgency, while still keeping readers invested in your characters, while still developing those characters on a deeper level. In a plot-driven thriller, where your characters are barreling along from one calamity to the next, there isn’t a lot of time for inner reflection since any pause tends to slow the pacing. It’s a fine balance. And while urgency isn’t really an emotion, it’s connected to what’s at stake for Penny and Matiu and the people they care about, and that in turn creates fear and even desperation.

Dan: Compassion. Outrage is easy, as anyone with a Facebook account should know. Humour can go either way, depending on your ability to tell a joke and the disposition of your audience towards finding you funny. But getting a reader to really feel for your character without it being overburdened is a fine balancing act. As readers, we want to engage and empathise with the characters; that’s the point of escapism. But we don’t like being told how to feel. So as writers a key to our craft is knowing how to walk that fine line.

SR: Did you set yourself a specific writing challenge with this book? What was it, and what was the reason?

Lee: It’s a long story and we have to dial back to about six years ago. Around that time, I was vaguely aware of Dan in New Zealand speculative circles: I’d read some of his short stories and liked them. So when he put up a flash fiction writing exercise in an online forum, I decided to join in, and then, through a series of unfortunate events, we ended up co-editing the charity anthology Baby Teeth, which evolved out of that writing exercise and which turned out to be surprisingly successful.

Dan: I realized very quickly after convincing a whole lot of people to jump into Baby Teeth that I’d bitten off more than I could chew (pun intended).  Luckily Lee came to my rescue and together we made good things happen.  

Lee: After the success of Baby Teeth, I approached Dan to see if he’d like to work on a collaborative project, nothing too arduous, maybe a novella.

Dan: The novella spiraled into a novel, Hounds of the Underworld, while wearing other hats we produced another anthology, At the Edge, showcasing NZ and Australian dark fiction, and worked together on writing-community committees and assisted with programming for our national sci-fi/fantasy/horror conventions. It was a busy couple of years. And then, suddenly, we’d written a novel, and our beta readers liked it. A lot. My little cry for help was echoing off the mountainsides.

SR: What was your journey to publication like? What kind of obstacles did you have to overcome?

Lee: We sent the first book, Hounds of the Underworld to one or two local publisher friends who assured us that they really liked the manuscript, but because the book was hard to pigeonhole, it was a little too quirky for their stables. It was helpful feedback because at that point we knew we needed to look for a highly innovative publisher who wasn’t afraid to take risks. With the larger traditional publishers tending to stick to more tried and true stories, we realised that our target was likely to be small independent press, so we got cracking with our research. I traveled to Las Vegas, to the first HWA StokerCon conference, and pitched it to Jennifer Barnes of Raw Dog Screaming Press. Jennifer asked for a full manuscript and the rest is history.

Dan: For a couple of writers from deepest darkest Aotearoa, this was a bit of a coup. First writing duo in the Raw Dog stable, and the publishers’ first Kiwi writers. We very quickly found ourselves at home, welcomed by a whole new community. It never ceases to amaze me what lovely people horror writers and horror fans are.

SR: Do you relate more to Sherlock Holmes or Professor Moriarty? Why?

Lee: I would say Penny is the Sherlock Holmes to Matiu’s Moriarty. What do you think, Dan?

Dan: Matiu might be a criminal genius on the inside, but he truly only wants to use his powers for good. Honest.

SR: Tell us something about you that isn’t common knowledge.

Lee: I have a mole on my right shoulder. In Chinese culture, this is very bad luck. It represents all the troubles I carry on my back. Given what Penny and Matiu have in store for them, I wouldn’t mind betting Penny has one on her shoulder, too.

Dan: I may have a tiny bit of OCD, just around a few little things. My kids thought it would be fun to buy me socks for Father’s Day, seven pairs each with a different day of the week printed on them. Not only do I feel obliged to wear those socks only on the day of the week they represent, but I also have to lay them out  in the drawer in Monday – Sunday order. But that’s OK, because they match my Monday – Sunday boxers, so I now feel complete.

SR: You have to flee the country. Where are you headed to and why that location?

Lee: France. My husband and I lived there for seven years in the nineties and I have still have friends there who would be willing to hide me in the basement while I wait out the storm. Some of my French friends have caves filled with rather nice wine, so at least I won’t suffer too much.

Dan: Probably not too far from home. Whatever misunderstanding I’ve managed to cause this time will probably blow over fairly quickly, so I’ll just duck over to Australia and visit family, pretend nothing’s wrong, and keep one eye open even when I’m sleeping.

IMG_6136SR: It’s the zombie apocalypse. You have to pick a weapon from what’s currently within 10 feet of your present location. What will you defend yourself with?

Lee: Well, that’s me dead. A hair clasp isn’t going to be much help ‒ even a creepy one.



Dan: I’m going to take their measure, tell them to keep their distance, and if all else fails, poke them in the eye with the pointy little catch on the end of the tape measure, which also just so happens to be both blade and armor, apparently:

SR: How long will you survive in the zombie apocalypse? How long will your protagonist survive? Why?

Dan: Since, like most of us, I’m the hero of my own story, I’m pretty sure circumstance and coincidence will align to give me a decent shot at making it out alive, even if I lose the ones I love along the way, only to get within sight of the barbed wire and machine guns and then get mowed down by the living who mistake my filthy disheveled appearance and the staggering gait I’ve taken on as a result of twisting my ankle in that mudhole as proof that I’m one of the walking dead. A tragic, ironic and gratuitously brutal end to a tale of woe within sight of salvation. As for Matiu, he’ll just run the zombies over in his trusty Holden Commodore, and he’s never short a firearm he really shouldn’t have, so he should be fine. Unless he just steps over the veil, enters the other realm, and makes himself zombie-king. That has possibilities, doesn’t it Lee?

Lee: Um sorry, Penny’s a card-carrying scientist. She has a doctorette, as Mum so kindly puts it. Until Penny sees evidence to the contrary, and by that, I mean rigorous, reproducible evidence, then the zombie apocalypse can walk on by because she doesn’t believe in the undead.

SR: What advice do you have for aspiring authors?

Lee: Seek feedback from people who aren’t your mother.

Dan: Walk before you run. If you haven’t tried writing and submitting short fiction, it’s an excellent proving ground to give you a feel for how the biz works, to gain some name recognition, and to improve your craft as a writer.

SR: Now for fun, if you were stuck on a deserted island and found that magic lamp with a genie and the genie had the power to bring any character in any of your books to life to be your companion, who would you pick and why?

Lee: I’d quite like to meet Rawiri Temera, the matakite (seer) from my Taine McKenna series, Into the Mist and Into the Sounds (Severed) He might be able to give me a heads-up about whether I’m likely to get off this island!

Dan: Akmenos, the protagonist from Brothers of the Knife, the first book in my fantasy series due out in 2019 (Children of Bane, Omnium Gatherum). He can whip up a meal out of practically nothing, maintains a sense of humour under even the most arduous circumstances—such as having a brother trying to murder him—and can be relied on to always have a tea-towel handy, which is far more useful than you might think.

SR: And if the genie would only bring characters from works by another author to life who would you pick to spend eternity on that deserted island with?

Lee: I’d like to spend some time with the time-travelling mercenary Toria Conner, in JL Gribble’s Steel Empire series. I suspect she could have some insights about how to avoid spending eternity in wasteland.

Dan: Eternity is a long time. It’d have to be someone both practical, to help maintain the primitive shelters which would form the basis of the island empire we would eventually come to rule over, but also interesting and intelligent enough to pass the evenings away with. So without a doubt: Hermione Granger.

SR: Do you have any special events coming up? Where can people catch up with you in person or on a podcast?

Lee: Recently, Dan adapted my award-winning short fiction The Thief’s Tale into a radio play which was performed by Sherri’s Playhouse, with actress Cathy Kutz playing the role of Whitney. Dan’s adaption gave the story a fabulous small town southern feel, which the actors developed further, but it still retains a lot of its original flavour. With over 60,000 listeners already, you can listen to The Thief’s Tale HERE.

Dan: Director Sherri Rabinowitz interviewed both of us on her blogtalk radio show Chatting with Sherri.

Lee: It’s a half hour chat where we talk about our Path of Ra series and some other projects we have on the go. If you want to hear our Kiwi accents, you can tune in HERE.

Dan: Also, if you’re going to be in NZ any time in the next couple of years, we’re both regular attendees at our SFFH national conventions. 2019 will be GeyserCon, held in Rotorua, and the year after that of course will be WorldCon, in Wellington. That is going to be huge, and we hope to see a bunch of people there.

Lee: Yes! New Zealand’s Prime Minister, Jacinda Ahern, has extended a welcome to everyone. You can listen to her HERE if you’re interested.

Check out which actors Lee and Dan pick to play their protagonists here.

Plus, more with Lee Murray about Into the Sounds here and here, and Lee talks about her author assistant, Bella, herehere.

lee coverLee Murray is a ten-time winner of New Zealand’s Sir Julius Vogel Award for science fiction, fantasy and horror. Her books include the military thrillers Into the Mist and Into the Sounds, and supernatural crime-noir titles Hounds of the Underworld and Teeth of the Wolf (co-authored with Dan Rabarts). She is proud to have co-edited nine anthologies, one of which, Baby Teeth, won her an Australian Shadows Award in 2014. She lives with her family in the Land of the Long White Cloud. Find her at

Dan Rabarts

Dan Rabarts is a New Zealand author & editor, winner of four Sir Julius Vogel Awards and two Australian Shadows Awards. His short stories have appeared in venues such as Beneath Ceaseless Skies and The Mammoth Book of Dieselpunk. Together with Lee Murray, he co-writes the Path of Ra series. His first solo novel, Brothers of the Knife, kicks off the grimdark-yet-madcap Children of Bane fantasy series (Omnium Gatherum). Find out more at

Online Issue 14

TSP OI14 coverAuthor Lee Murray talks about her novelInto the Sounds, and how traveling has shaped her life and writing, the actor she’d pick to play her protagonist for the series and her faithful author assistant, Bella.

Stuart R. West drops by to talk about his faithful companion, Zak, and his novels Secret Society (which may be one of the most original takes on a serial killer story) and how a real-life ghost town inspired Ghosts of Gannaway.

Jon O’Bergh is back to share the music his characters in The Shatter Point would listen to.

S.D. Hintz is also giving us the goods on the nosey neighbors who inspired The Witching Well and the reason he may just live in the creepiest house, ever.

ICYMI, Brian talked to Steph Post and Nik Norpon about their tattoos. And there’s a new story up at Zombie Cat: Waiting on the Stress Boxes by David Hagerty.

Goldilocks and the Dark Barometer

Every now and again, someone writes about the darkness that permeates Young Adult fiction. This leads to speculation about whether it is too dark, and summaries on the topic. I could do likewise, but I felt  already did that so well, I don’t need to.

What I did decide was that I would focus on reading some popular YA authors and titles and see what I thought. So, reads over the past few months classified as YA have included Nightwolf, Salt, The Fragile Ordinary, The Forest of Hands and Teeth

Out of all of these offerings, Nightwolf is probably the darkest. Salt has monsters and The Forest of Hands and Teeth has zombies, but Nightwolf focuses on real horrors some kids today live with, and although it isn’t pure noir, there is a sense of hopelessness and futility that permeate the story. It isn’t what I’d call cheery. The other titles have varying degrees of hope – for resolution of problems, for overcoming difficult situations, for the future. I didn’t find any of this unrelentingly dark.

Now, your mileage may vary. But here’s the thing. Young people are dealing with a lot of crap. We did, too, in our day. They’re trying to figure out who they are, what they want out of life and what others expect of them. They have to make decisions that will shape their entire future. And they’re looking at a war of words between politicians that might lead to war with North Korea and all kinds of other crap going on that could change their future. They want to assume control of their lives but they aren’t adults, so they’re caught between taking responsibility for their actions and having limited authority for their choices.

And everything they do is presented on social media for all the world to see.

Frankly, the stuff I’ve heard about via the kids over recent years has been numbing. They are far more aware of a lot of crap than I ever was. And I specifically started watching The Walking Dead because their biomom was watching it with them when they were eleven. Brian and I always felt we should have some sense of what they were watching and being exposed to so that we could have informed conversations about it, so a show I’d resisted watching became part of our regular viewing. (And they had some good seasons, so for a while it wasn’t a chore at all.) Frankly, if they can watch that when they aren’t even teens, it’s got to be pretty damn hard to top that level of darkness in fiction.

People read for all kinds of reasons, and one of those reasons is to escape. Another is to learn about things they otherwise wouldn’t get answers about. And another is to help them process things they’re dealing with.

Hells bells, I’m just glad to see young people reading. You want to read dark? Read on, I say.


Review: Salt by Hannah Moskowitz


Review: The Fragile Ordinary by Samantha Young


Review: Creatures of Want and Ruin by Molly Tanzer


Review: The Middleman by Olen Steinhauer


Review: Walking Shadows by Faye Kellerman


Review: Robert B. Parker’s Colorblind by Reed Farrel Coleman


Bye Bye Kindle Boards

From their new terms of service:

“You agree to grant to KBOARDS.COM a non exclusive, royalty free, worldwide, irrevocable, perpetual license to reproduce, distribute, transmit, sublicense, create derivative works of, publicly display, publish and perform any materials and other information you submit to any public areas, chat rooms, bulletin boards, newsgroups or forums of KBOARDS.COM or which you provide by email or any other means to KBOARDS.COM and in any media now known or hereafter developed. Further, you grant to KBOARDS.COM the right to use your name and or user name in connection with the submitted materials and other information as well as in connection with all advertising, marketing and promotional material related thereto, together with use on any other VerticalScope Inc. web sites. You agree that you shall have no recourse against VerticalScope Inc. for any alleged or actual infringement or misappropriation of any proprietary right in your communications to KBOARDS.COM.”

You have to email and ask for all your information to be removed. Always nice for some assholes to come along and change the terms of service after the fact so that people’s information is already being sold. Jerks. Time to sign off.

Hulu Programming Campaign for Letterkenny

Now, Brian’s new favorite show is a Canadian show called Letterkenny. The first two seasons are on Hulu, and he wants them to get all the seasons added. So here’s hoping some of you will have a full appreciation for the quirky humor and jump on the bandwagon. Season 1 has a running joke starting episode 2 that has payoff in the final episode of the season…. just brilliant. These clips have nothing to do with the ostrich fucker, or my favorite joke about a certain book, or even the super-soft birthday party, but they do help set the tone of the show.


Now, this one… maybe not young kid friendly. But a great illustration of ‘show not tell’ writing. I know exactly what Wayne and Daryl think about Squirrely Dan’s revelation about his sexual experience without so much as a word from either of them.


Lee Murray picks the actor to play her protagonist from Into the Sounds

Fun Fact: “One of my great grandmothers was Rebecca Brooker (née Jenner) 1819-1887. The daughter of famous British physician Edward Jenner (inventor of the smallpox vaccine), she was a missionary nurse and a signatory to New Zealand’s famous Treaty of Waitangi. Rebecca Avenue in New Zealand’s Christchurch is named after this famous ancestor.”

Xavier Horan


Who would Lee like to see in the lead role of her novels?

For the protagonist of Into the Mist, and now INTO THE SOUNDS, I’d love to see a home-grown actor play the role of Taine McKenna, so my pick would be New Zealand actor Xavier Horan. A personal trainer as well as an accomplished actor with multiple credits, Horan could be Taine McKenna’s brother as you can see from this excerpt from Into the Mist, told from the point of view of Taine’s commanding officer, Major James Arnold:


“Go through, Sergeant McKenna,” she said, turning sideways and offering the junior officer her prettiest smile as he stepped into the office.

James could hardly blame her. At thirty-four, Taine McKenna was closer to her age, and with steely eyes from his father’s side and skin liked polished rimu – a legacy from his Māori mother ‒ he was a handsome mongrel. What’s more, the boy had all the power and dexterity of an All Black midfielder, and abdominals to match. James couldn’t even remember the last time he saw his own abs. Today though, McKenna’s musculature was hidden under regulation combat fatigues.

He came to attention before the burnished kauri desk. “Major Arnold.”

James waved away the younger man’s verbal salute as Dawson closed the door. “At ease, McKenna. Take a seat.”

“Boss,” McKenna said, using the SAS diminutive for his commanding officer. He folded his two-metre body into a chair with surprising grace.

James took his seat. “A job for you, McKenna. From Aitkens Street,” he said, referring to the Defence Force head office. Not that there was anything much left to run these days, the force whittled away to the bare bones. The work of short-sighted suits in government – she’ll-be-right types, who thought the country was perfectly safe, simply because it was stuck on the arse-end of the globe…

With his NZDF sense of duty and loyalty, my protagonist, Taine, is also a gifted matakite (seer), imbued with all the spirituality and mysticism this role engenders, and Horan’s portrayal of Rangi in Toa Fraser’s acclaimed film The Dead Lands reflected all of these qualities. In fact, this was Fraser’s vision, the director setting out to create a movie that combined an action film narrative with a deep regard for New Zealand history. As he tells Stuff reporter Siena Yates: “I wanted to tell a story in a way that I imagined our ancestors told stories.” In writing the Taine McKenna adventure series, I hoped to give readers that same experience: a New Zealand action narrative infused with deeper revelations about the complexity and beauty of New Zealand’s cultural heritage.

The Deadlands

Cast of The Deadlands, Xavier Horan far left, director Toa Fraser, far right. (IMDb image)

Check out Lee’s interview about Into the Sounds

and her pictures of her four-legged author assistant, Bella.

Lee-15-Head-BWLee Murray is a ten-time winner of New Zealand’s Sir Julius Vogel Award for science fiction, fantasy and horror. Her books include the military thrillers Into the Mist and Into the Sounds, and supernatural crime-noir titles Hounds of the Underworld and Teeth of the Wolf (co-authored with Dan Rabarts). She is proud to have co-edited nine anthologies, one of which, Baby Teeth, won her an Australian Shadows Award in 2014. She lives with her family in the Land of the Long White Cloud. Find her at

How Bella keeps author Lee Murray on her toes when she’s writing

Fun Fact: “A big lover of cheese, I have been lucky enough to have lived for several years in some of the most significant cheese locations of the world, beginning with my home country of New Zealand, then England (home of Red Leicester and Wensleydale), France (my favourite is still the Tome de Savoie) and America’s Dairyland, Wisconsin, famous for its cheese curd and Montforte Blue.”


My author assistant since April 2018 is Bella. She’s an 8-month-old Jack Russell-Shih Tzu cross with a penchant for adventure and causing trouble. The perfect antidote for depression, Bella’s main job is to encourage me to get up from my desk and stretch my legs at frequent-frequent-frequent intervals, a task she takes very seriously by bringing me balls to throw. She tends to go crazy whenever the postie stops by, no doubt in anticipation of new books to be added to my to-be-read pile, since Bella recognises the importance of reading to a writer’s craft. Occasionally, she’ll hop up on my office chair, squeezing herself into the gap between my back and the chair back. This spot serves the dual purpose of providing me with a lovely warm lumbar support, while also allowing her a sneak peek at my latest plot twist. She barks any time I’m too long on the phone, a gentle reminder that I have a book to write. She also makes short work of any pages that might land on the floor, saving me a trip to the rubbish bin. And recently, she ate through a TV remote in a not-so-subtle reminder that, in her view, the book version is always better than the movie, and for that reason I should keep at it. I’d already completed INTO THE SOUNDS by the time we adopted Bella, but she was my assistant while I wrote INTO THE ASHES, the final instalment in the Taine McKenna adventure trilogy. I hope Bella’s influence shows and, like her, the latest adventure is high-speed and action-packed.



Lee talks about Into The Sounds here, and shares her casting call for the novel here.

Lee-15-Head-BWLee Murray is a ten-time winner of New Zealand’s Sir Julius Vogel Award for science fiction, fantasy and horror. Her books include the military thrillers Into the Mist and Into the Sounds, and supernatural crime-noir titles Hounds of the Underworld and Teeth of the Wolf (co-authored with Dan Rabarts). She is proud to have co-edited nine anthologies, one of which, Baby Teeth, won her an Australian Shadows Award in 2014. She lives with her family in the Land of the Long White Cloud. Find her at

Author Interview: How traveling and living abroad has shaped author Lee Murray

Fun Fact: “You know that old story about having to smooch a lot of frogs before you find the prince? Well, before becoming a writer, I tried on a lot of hats: I was a research scientist, a massage therapist, a safety and health officer, as well as New Zealand’s Energy Advisor to the OECD. I’ve also done some time putting up kiwifruit irrigation lines, serving chateaubriand, and as a wallpaper hand. These days, you’ll find me in my natural writing habitat, in my home office overlooking a cow paddock.”

intos (2)SR: Was there a specific issue or incident that really motivated you to write this particular story? What was the prompt?

LM: When it came to INTO THE SOUNDS, it was the publisher, the success of the first book Into the Mist prompting them to request a sequel. I hadn’t envisaged writing a sequel, so I had to tease a long story arc from story threads in the first book. I tried to retain vital elements that readers had enjoyed about Into the Mist: an atmospheric New Zealand setting, fast-paced action, mythology, science, and a predatory primordial monster. However, INTO THE SOUNDS is definitely not the same story, with a bunch of new characters, plenty of dark moments, and some unexpected twists.

SR: How do you think your protagonist would respond if aliens landed in the center of town on page 57?

LM: NZDF personnel are trained to protect New Zealand and its citizens from any threat, so faced with a few aliens, I suspect Taine McKenna would take it all in his stride.

SR:  Is your protagonist more likely to go insane or end up in prison?

LM: This is a tough one, since either is possible. Taine is a matakite of sorts, a seer, and sometimes those revelations can be difficult to reconcile, both with reality and with other people’s expectations, so perhaps, in time, he might struggle to retain his sanity. With regards to prison, I know Taine would never do anything like rob a bank or commit fraud, but I could imagine him stepping over the line in defence of someone he loves, so I would have to say this is the most likely of the two.

SR: What’s your protagonist’s greatest fear? Why?

LM: Losing people he is duty-bound to protect ‒ because it happened once before…

The noise didn’t bother Taine particularly, but a little girl of six wearing a pale blue smock did, one of the three girls lucky enough to attend school. She was terrified. Wisps of shiny black hair escaping from under her hijab, she curled up under a table, whimpering as she sucked her thumb, rocking back and forth to squeeze out the din.

An hour passed. Then another. The insurgents’ rockets hit the school building more than once. Taine doubted the Afghans had the situation under control. Their track record was dismal. Less than a year before, the US embassy had been the centre of a 19-hour siege by the Taliban. Finally, suicide bombers had put an end to the waiting, attacking the compound and killing nine civilians. No way was Taine going to have a repeat of that snafu on his conscience. Besides, this group wouldn’t handle a prolonged stand-off. Already one of the teachers was showing signs of flipping out. It wouldn’t be the first time. Last thing they needed was him running out into the street in a panic. For a Taliban sniper, a hysterical teacher could be brought down like a housefly with a single squirt of fly-spray.

Better to get the kids out. They’d take the back route out of the compound while the allied air support had the fanatics boxed in.

Taine had already given the order when Trigger pulled him away from the civilians. “What the fuck, McKenna?” he’d hissed. “We can’t go out there! We gotta just sit tight and let the local boys handle this.”

“Like they did last year?”

“I don’t like it either, but we have to take our chances. There are little kids here. How are we supposed to get them out under fire, man?”

“But this is a school, Trigger,” Taine had retorted, wrenching his arm free. “If the Taliban can’t make a dent in the diplomatic compound across the road, how long do you think it’ll take them to turn their fire on the next best target, one that’ll make the western world sit up and take notice? What if they’ve got someone out there strapping on explosives as we speak? Some jihadist nutter prepared to run in here and blow himself and everyone in here to Hawijah? Tell me what chance these kids will have, then?”

They’d hardly made it two blocks before Taine knew it was a mistake. The street was choked with smoke and fumes. Full of debris. Empty car carcasses stood in the middle of the road, the doors flung open. Overhead NATO Black Hawks bombarded the construction site, kicking up rubble to contain the militants. Taine’s group made themselves small, moved swiftly. It might’ve worked, but friendly fire kills just the same.

SR: Is there something you hope the reader carries away with them after they’re done reading? An insight or philosophy that you wanted to come through in your work?

LM: In New Zealand, mythology is a living breathing thing which permeates our everyday. Stories and legends shape the way we see the world, and, ultimately, how we interact with it.

SR: If you were in an arm wrestle with your protagonist who would win? What is your protagonist better at than you? What are you better than your protagonist at?

LM: Taine would win in an arm wrestle. Every time. Anything to do with accuracy, speed, strength, strategy, and not being afraid of heights, and Taine has it in the bag. He’s highly intelligent, so I wouldn’t win on that score either. He’s a master carver and a practitioner of ancient Māori music, skills I don’t have, and he has a deeper understanding of New Zealand culture and mythology than I do. I can knit a jersey, something I haven’t seen Taine McKenna do yet, but the more time I spend with him, the more I learn about him, so I wouldn’t be surprised if he could do that, too.

SR: What’s the first book you remember reading that had a huge impact on you? How did that story affect you? How do you think it shaped your desire to be a writer?

LM: Horton Hatches the Egg by Dr Seuss. My dad used to read it to my brother and me, each of us sitting on one knee. Dad was really good at voices. “I meant what I said, and I said what I meant. An elephant’s faithful, one hundred percent!” Maybe that instilled in me how effective good dialogue can be in revealing character. But Horton taught me some other great lessons which have carried me through life: lessons about persistence, sacrifice and reliability. All good traits if you want to become a writer. And since both my parents were accountants, they made sure I knew what a percentage was, too, which can be helpful when those royalty cheques come in.

SR:  What’s the best thing about writing?

LM: Being able to work from home, and in my pajamas if I want to.

SR:  What’s the worst thing about writing?

LM: Self-doubt.

SR: What detail in your writing do you obsess over the most? Character names? Locations? Description? Dialogue? Research?

LM: I’m not fabulously good at outlining. Typically, I start with a concept I’d like to explore, and a general outcome or conclusion I’d like to reach, then then I send my character off into the breach, hoping he’ll find his own way. The problem is trouble seems to follow Taine with a capital “T” and this is where things get complicated: I can see the end, I’m just not sure how Taine is going to get there. It’s that saggy middle bit of the book that causes me the most angst. LM: Sometimes I suffer for weeks in this fiery torture chamber, waiting for inspiration to strike so I can help Taine and his friends haul arse out of there, but once I find the key that pulls all the story threads together, it’s a mad rush to the finale.

SR: Are you drawn to things that are really popular or wary of them? Do you find it helps you to market your work if you’re familiar with what’s currently selling or do you ignore all of that and focus on what you’re interested in?

LM: I write what I love, and that usually means stories set in New Zealand’s sweeping landscape with characters who are quintessentially Kiwi, using local vernacular and prescribing to New Zealand cultural themes. It’s an aspect of my writing that can be a double-edged sword when it comes to marketing. Some readers, like these readers of Into the Mist, love to discover a new location and culture in a story:

“The New Zealand voice is refreshing and fantastic.”

“Enjoyed the Polynesian cultural aspects of the story.”

“I have never read a book that took place in New Zealand and I was excited to learn a little something about this region.”

However, others would prefer to stay home:

“I can certainly understand folks in this region of the world loving the constant local dialect usage and references to local mythical lore but a Yank like me got seriously tired of it.”

SR: What’s your personal life motto?

Be kind.

SR:  Is there something you’ve experienced that’s affected your view of life? Tell us about it and how it changed you.

LM: I’ve lived in four countries now and travelled to many others, and nothing makes me appreciate New Zealand more. I’m not sure that I’ve changed, just that I’ve come to understand how lucky I am to have been born here and to call this place home.

SR:  If you have to live in a potential natural disaster zone, would you pick blizzards, hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes or volcanic eruptions? Why?

LM: There’s no need to choose: I already live in a natural disaster zone. New Zealand is sometimes known as “the shaky isles” because of the prevalence of earthquakes here, and we’re part of the Pacific “ring of fire’ a 40,0000 km horseshoe-shaped region famous for its volcanic and seismic activity. INTO THE ASHES, the final installment in the Taine McKenna adventure series takes place on New Zealand’s central volcanic plateau in the middle of an earthquake swarm, which is a prelude to something else. Here is the blurb:

No longer content to rumble in anger, the great mountain warriors of New Zealand’s central plateau, the Kāhui Tupua, are preparing again for battle. At least, that’s how the Māori elders tell it. The nation’s leaders scoff at the danger. That is; until the ground opens and all hell breaks loose. The armed forces are hastily deployed: NZDF Sergeant Taine McKenna and his section tasked with evacuating civilians and tourists from Tongariro National Park. It is too little, too late. With earthquakes coming thick and fast and the mountains spewing rock and ash, McKenna and his men are cut off. Their only hope of rescuing the stranded civilians is to find another route out, but a busload of prison evacuees has other ideas. And deep beneath the earth’s crust other forces are stirring.

SR: What movie or TV world do you wish you could live in? Why?

LM: Firefly. I’m a New Zealand-born Chinese and although my mother speaks two dialects of Chinese, I’ve never learned more than a few words. If I were dropped into the Firefly world, as well as meeting some of my favourite characters in the verse, I’d have a great command of Cantonese/Mandarin, and without all the effort of learning. Plus, my ‘grown’ children are both Browncoats, so I know I’d feel at home there.

SR: Everyone needs an outlet to help them recharge. What hobbies do you have outside of writing?

LM: Reading, walking, soaking in the spa pool, playing with my dog, watching movies with my kids.

SR: You strike it rich. What charity are you going to create or support?

LM: Alzheimer’s New Zealand. There is nothing more terrifying than losing your identity by degrees or watching a loved one suffer. It is the cruelest thing. My dad has always one of the biggest influencers in my life, but for many years now he hasn’t known my name. I’d give a fortune to hear it one more time.

SR: What factors influence you when you’re choosing a book to read?

LM: Mostly the genre (dark and speculative are my go-tos) the author (particularly if I’ve read and enjoyed their work before), the cover (sometimes the artwork will compel me to buy it), as well as recommendations from my colleagues and friends. I also trawl the reading lists of a number of book awards: there are often some gems there that might not make it to the finals because of the judges’ tastes or because they were published by a smaller house, and sometimes these titles are perfect for me. Occasionally, publicists and publishers send me copies of books I might like to review, and I follow a number of reviewers and bloggers who have similar reading tastes for their recommendations. I also like to browse bookshops and library shelves to ‘discover’ new-to-me titles. A frequent award judge and a commissioning editor for a small publishing house, my just-for-me reading time tends to get swallowed up by other reading.

SR: Do you have any special events coming up? Where can people catch up with you in person or on a podcast?LM: I’ll be attending New Zealand’s National Writers Forum in September, where I’ll be running a workshop on Magical Realism, and I’ll also be in Australia (Canberra) for Conflux14 at the end of the month. I’m on several blog-talk radio podcasts on Chatting with Sherri (a search on my name should find them), including one this month with my Teeth of the Wolf co-author, Dan Rabarts. The link is here:


Lee also shares about her author assistant here and

who she’d pick to play the parts in Into the Sounds here.


Lee-15-Head-BWLee Murray is a ten-time winner of New Zealand’s Sir Julius Vogel Award for science fiction, fantasy and horror. Her books include the military thrillers Into the Mist and Into the Sounds, and supernatural crime-noir titles Hounds of the Underworld and Teeth of the Wolf (co-authored with Dan Rabarts). She is proud to have co-edited nine anthologies, one of which, Baby Teeth, won her an Australian Shadows Award in 2014. She lives with her family in the Land of the Long White Cloud. Find her at

Social Media Accounts:


Twitter: @leemurraywriter