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.
SR: 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.
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.
SR: 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 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 leemurray.info
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 dan.rabarts.com.