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.”
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?
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?
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: http://tobtr.com/10973931
Lee also shares about her author assistant here and
who she’d pick to play the parts in Into the Sounds here.
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
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