Remember when you could go out, have a meal and a few drinks and not wonder if you’ve brought home a virus? Me too. Going anywhere and feeling safe from the coronavirus doesn’t seem to be something we can expect anytime soon. It’s a challenging and uncertain time.
On the plus side, this whole experience is helping me to live in the present because each day becomes more uncertain if I look ahead. In Melbourne, Australia, housing commission flats have been locked down by police, affecting some 3,000 residents, because the virus has been detected in clusters and the spread is going to be unavoidable in the cramped conditions they live in, with the shared stairwells and lifts. That’s what we’ve been told. Most of the north of the city is in lock down with people only being able to go to work or the supermarket, visit a loved one or seek medical care. Today, Victorian borders are closed to all the other states in Australia.
Yet in all of this, there have been over 10,000 refused tests in the hot spots, and denial that the corona virus exists. I just don’t get how people can watch global news and maintain conspiracy theories about the virus or claim it’s a hoax. Each to his own, but these people put others at risk.
These things affect my writing and how I feel. Some days are better than others. Every day I wish the virus would just up and go or there was a vaccine. But this is the life we lead now. So, I’m coping by channelling that anxiety as best I can, when I can, into my writing to create more work and improve my craft.
One thing I remind myself when I’m feeling down, is that success outweighs failure. In fact, success is in part because of the failure. Each rejection teaches me something, each 'no thanks we'll pass' makes me work harder.
Thanks to corona, I’ve set up an online writers’ group and I’m writing more than I ever have. I’m loving exploring my own work, learning from others and always working to improve. Aside from that, it’s one foot in front of the other – mainly around my house!
But, amid all the chaos, I’ve had a few things going on that are pretty fabulous.
The most exciting writing one is that my application for an Australasian Horror Writers Association Mentorship was successful, and as of this week I’ll be working with Kaaron Warren on improving my short stories. So watch out! I’m ready to be inspired and influenced by Kaaron’s amazing storytelling ability! Thanks so much to Kaaron and the AHWA.
If you don’t know Kaaron yet, you should definitely check her out. Into Bones Like Oil is the book I’ll be reading next.
Right now, I’ve another editing project on the boil. I'll be working with Geneve Flynn on Trickster’s Treats 4: Coming, Buried or Not! , a charity anthology from Things in the Well, opening for submissions on 15 July.
Ciao for now.
For the month of April, the team at Writers Victoria kept many of us sane with a 30-word flash fiction challenge. The challenge took place on Twitter with the hashtag #WVFlashFic20, but participants were also able to email entries in. The theme was 'Focus' and each day a new word was revealed and we'd have 12 hours to come up with an entry.
The competition soon became the starting point of my day and was a perfect nudge out of the isolation doldrums. Each day I'd look forward to the challenge. It didn't take long to create a team spirit with other participants and I soon found myself looking for their entries, scrolling through Twitter to find what they had written.
I was fortunate to win the daily entry with a zombie story on Day 24, with the keyword 'measure'. It was truly an honour because I was amongst very talented authors in the competition.
I've listed all my entries below under the daily keyword. Some days had two entries, but I stopped on the 28th because Mum had a stroke - ironically the same day my entry won - and I couldn't complete the month.
I had such a great time with this competition, reading and writing. Thanks Writers Victoria, and see you - hopefully - for 30-words next year!
As far as routine goes for May... well, once I'm through this current medical situation, we'll see what that looks like!
Here are all the stories I've written for the 2020 comp:
Day 1 – Eyeball
‘Nearly there!’ Squelching intensifies. Two sharp pops. ‘Tadah!’ Two eyeballs on Pete’s palm.
‘Just don’t lose them. You know how long they take to grow back.’
Vampire discussion at Halloween
Day 2 – Concentrate
Uneven stitching. Mother glares. ‘Hopeless!’
Danita trembles. ‘I’m only four!’
Tears form. She tries again. Fabric slips.
She sews. Tears flow.
Everyone works during the plague.
Day 3 – Intense
‘Fire cleanses, renews! Divine—’
‘Shut-up, Ray!’ Every sunrise. Damn pagan classes! They’d promised fun: spellcasting, covens. But no. Delivered intense prayer, weird boyfriend, smelly herbs. Bettina wanted a refund.
Day 4 – Blur
I try to remember. Memories tangle, blur, slip away – elusive gossamer strands in fat and fumbling fingers.
‘Who is Mum?’
Her disapproval swells.
Sometimes it’s better to forget.
Day 5 – Hocus-pocus
Hocus-pocus don’t lose focus!
Pinch of sugar and fat
Eye of spider, hair of lioness
Cunning of a rat
Touch of royalty, three sharp blades
#spell to make a cat
Day 6 – Blind
Renovations caused such grief: bright, pastel, pink, magenta, designer, store-bought. He liked, she didn’t. They spoke of divorce. They found reconciliation in the vermillion venetian blind. It had to go.
Day 7 – Hazy
Their music lasted 20 years. His loss: a chasm, deep, endless. On repeat: a hazy shade of winter, memories in vinyl. New love discovered. In a glass. Johnny Walker, neat.
Day 8 – Mirror
Cocaine, a mirror, four crisp bills were buried beneath dog-eared textbooks and a drawn-on pencil case in his weather-beaten backpack. Tears soaked its skin. His death no longer a surprise.
Bourbon-sour breath. Vicious tongue, bleeding fists. I'm cowered, beaten, repressed. Bruises bloom, some inside; they mirror all of you. Grief-wrapped fear. Searching for the exit, I fail. Life’s a maze.
Day 9 – Crisp
Hammering in Dad’s workshop sets the beat. We dance the washing line, Mum pegs. Birdsong joins laughter as we peekaboo through billowing crisp linen. Sun-drenched and joyous, with me forever.
Day 10 – Lens
Why so selfish and indifferent? We’re together, I’m alone. You enfold me, tell me it’ll pass. This road we’ve run before. When my lens clears, I’ll see the better you.
Day 11 – Myopia
Your silken touch, your whispers a caress. You bite, I gasp, at first. Blood runs, your tongue laps. Blinded by desire, myopia a subjugating mist. I’m lost. I’m yours.
Day 12 – Converge
The horde converges outside.
‘Is that our Sheena?’ says Pete.
‘Bit … green,’ says Maude.
‘Is… she waving?’
‘No, she’s eating an arm.’
‘S’pose we said to BYO.’
Day 13 – Sharp
Her tongue was sharp, his blade, sharper.
She bled lost words
Her last breath, the closing scene.
In his cell, he wrote her missing pages.
Guilt, his ink and muse.
Day 14 – Bullseye
Focused. Arm straight. She drew back the bow and fired. The arrow flew–straight past the target. She was a shocking archer. Her smile, however, hit the bullseye every time.
Day 15 – Glasses
Your wedding gift was a painting: two glasses smashed over ice. Strange, but artistic.
A year later, you’re in Aspen with my husband. While you’re away, I’m learning to paint.
She read the incantation, Poof! … Husband materialises, pants down, on the throne.
That’s not a king!
She cleans her glasses. Hmmm. That’s where she’d gone wrong. She tries again.
Day 16 – Peripheral
He hid his new tatt. A peripheral view suggested it matched one of hers.
Gross! What’s next? Matching undies?
His gift was labelled ‘Annie’s lingerie’.
Sometimes she hated being right.
Day 17 – Vague
‘It’s going to be great! Can’t wait until I can share!’
A collective moan filled the room.
Joe, still smiling, was undeterred. Everyone else, however, was sick of his vague-booking.
Black half-moons on nails, a grime-covered face, dirt-scented clothes. The camouflage hides her. Bunkering down, she waits, surrounded by a disquieting silence, a vague unease.
A twig snaps. Is it—?
Day 18 – Laser
Your laser-gaze cuts deep. Newfound courage imbues you.
‘Love?’ it drips from your bloodied lip. ‘Cowardice.’
Anger fuels me. Your defiance dares me.
But something tells me you are right.
Day 19 – Drift
The orange glow sinks below the horizon. Cicadas serenade. Stars flicker, fall and blink out. We know the sun won’t rise, but our wishes drift, seeking birdsong and sunny mornings.
Day 20 – Spotlight
Your white-gloved hands don't pull the rabbit from the hat. You freeze. The crowd sniggers then laughs. The spotlight features your failure while the rabbit nibbles your shoe.
Day 21 – Sway
For her party, turning 50.
Fancy Dress! Something nifty,
A touch of regal with tiara?
Nah. Kimono? Sigh. Sayonara.
Kinky boots, psychedelic hippy?
Yep, sway of hips, applies the lippy.
Day 22 – Centre
He rolled the toilet paper forwards, she backwards. He squeezed toothpaste from the end, she the middle. She double-dipped. Eww. Throwing him off balance, it was hard to re-centre.
Day 23 – Read
The rustle of pages alerts you. Within moments, deep snoring stops and amorous husband hands search. Determined to read, I’m annoyed. But later, when you’re gone, I beg for interruptions.
A tall dark, handsome …
In inheritance from …
A new job …
Travel! Lots of travel!
If only Zelda could read the tarot, rather than using the suggested predictions.
Day 24 – Measure
Crazy, mental, stalker?!
Only called a thousand times.
May have followed you around
Sent sonnets, songs and rhymes
But, If you measure how I love you
Are these really crimes?
‘Fascinating,’ says the doctor. ‘Fast-moving necrosis! If I can measure how long it takes to reach the brain—’
The patient bites his arm.
‘Not long,’ I say, and run.
Day 25 – Rivet
‘Riveting, I’m sure,’ said Jim. Smiling intolerably.
‘It’s about being a human chimpanzee,’ said the writer. ‘People will love it.’
Next fancy dress, Jim would not go as David Lynch.
Day 26 – Clarity
Clarity, not charity! If you don’t learn this for yourself now, you’ll always rely on others. I didn’t think much of the old man, but on this he was right.
Day 27 – Distorted
We stand at the edge holding hands. Summer scents mingle with salty air, water tickles our toes. Is this how it ended? Our bodies diminished and memories distorted by time.
Day 28 – Gather
We take the flowers to the temple, gather and sing praise to our pagan gods. Performing the ritual, heady perfumes combine with blood-stench. I’d gag, but the blood is mine.
They say change brings opportunity, and we're certainly facing some pretty radical changes right now.
Steve Dillon from Things in the Well has once again reached out to authors to contribute during these challenging times and created not one, but two anthologies that will certainly leave you feeling that things can indeed be worse.
All proceeds from Infected: Tales to Read at Home and Infected 2: Tales to Read Alone will be donated to Save the Children and once again fund-matched by Microsoft as part of their Giving Campaign.
Both editions now available at Amazon.
From the publisher, Steve Dillon, regarding my contribution in Infected 2:Tales to Read Alone:
"Some stories in 'Infected'1 and 2 are reprints of tales told long ago, when the current situation could only be told of using fiction. In contrast, Louise Zedda-Sampson's 'Confinement' from Infected 2 was written only a few days ago, and in this you really get a sense of claustrophobia. It's a very short flash fiction that succinctly encapsulates life in these current times, this 'new normal' that we're being prepared for. Let's hope it doesn't get as bleak as Louise's imagination!"
'Most of the pieces run to 5 pages or less, so while there’s plenty to sink your teeth into, these are light bites – some much lighter than others as flash fiction pops up alongside a couple of longer pieces. And there are plenty of stand-out tales to make this worth stumping up your cash for: Miguela Considine gives you a tropical taste of death in Old Stones, a grim fairytale filled with vivid imagery and discomforting darkness. A discarded heart looks for love in Kardia by Donna Laemmlen, a truly bizarre and brilliant piece, rollercoastering between downbeat and hopeful, gruesome and weirdly beautiful. Josh Strnad offers you A Receipt to look over and chuckle at briefly, as does Janis Butler Holm in a pun-filled flash fiction piece called Abduction Again – you can probably guess what that one’s about.'
'There are some seriously talented writers in this book, from those who capture fear and suspense perfectly, to those who weave a beautiful verse of poetic symphony. Tales of loss and hope, the scary and the mundane, worthy endeavours and petty failures.
My personal favourites include Smoke Signals (a great twist), Valentine's Volunteer (fantastic writing), Heart of Dust (I loved this one), Hermit 2.0 (you broke my heart) and Seamless (so eerie and chilling!).'
Ceri Hoener writes as K.B. Elijah. Her wonderful story 'To Cherish, Love and Obey' is included in this collection.
Thanks Rebecca for contributing your excellent story, 'Hermit 2.0' to Burning Love and Bleeding Hearts, and for this fabulous post.
Check out Rebecca's website for a list of her other publications.
Burning Love and Bleeding Hearts is the first anthology I’ve created as an editor – and what a wild ride it was. I co-edited with award-winning author Chris Mason, who I’d not met or talked to prior to this experience. What a way to get to know someone – it was certainly an ordeal by fire! Between mid-December and the end of January, Chris and I read 200 submissions and edited 60 poems and stories – just under 60,000 words. There were days full of email communications, other days with phone calls and Facebook chats. We read each story and poem submitted, most of them several times. We didn’t always agree, often having to revisit stories and reread to find what the other person saw in it that we didn’t. We had long lists, short lists, possibly rejected and definitely rejected lists, and over the six weeks the call was open, things moved with some fluidity between categories. But, we got there, almost all of a sudden. In the week before submissions closed, the theme and categories were clearly established, and the anthology began to really take shape.
I would also like to thank all the other people who helped complete the task: first thanks has to be to Chris Mason. It took longer than either of us thought and she just pushed everything else aside to get it done. Everyone else: The proofreaders: Liz Charpleix, Rebecca Fletcher, and Tyler McPherson (who can be found on Instagram: @trmcpher), the cover artist Luke Spooner, and of course, we couldn't have done it without Steve Dillon at Things in the Well and all the authors who contributed their stories. Everyone donated time. Kudos to all of you.
When I pitched the idea of a Valentine’s Day anthology to Steve Dillon – just before Christmas I might add – I had no idea, whatsoever, what would be involved. To be honest, I was hoping he would do it and I would help. But he said, ‘It’s yours! Who do you want to work with?’ and suggested Chris Mason. It happened so fast I was saying ‘Yes’ before really thinking it through. At this time, Chris was under threat of the fires in the Adelaide Hills in SA. Thankfully, the fires caused her no harm and a few days later, Chris agreed to be co-editor. There were fires still burning in many other places when we started, therefore it was easy for us to dedicate receipts from this anthology to the victims of the bushfires.
It’s been one hell of a journey. Sure, there have been some ups and downs: missed emails, incorrect spellings, misunderstandings, even a little tension here and there. But it was a massive job with a tight timeframe, and we chucked everything we all had into it, so this was bound to happen. Now the project is complete, we are all happy with the result and still talking to each other – which is always a bonus, especially for someone with an Italian temperament (me). Would we do things differently another time? Certainly! For a start, I wouldn’t have to ask so many questions about contracts, acceptances, rejections, process, protocol and – all the other stuff you need to do when publishing a book – printing, sales, reviews and marketing. Maybe I’d also look at a longer submission period with more warning for authors – starting in … November!
As we compiled the anthology, Steve would remind me, often, about Hell’s Bells, the 2016 Australasian Horror Writers Association member magazine. Steve was president and I was a general committee member and we’d created Hell’s Bells in two weeks. Two weeks. Could it be harder than that? Could it? Apparently so! For a start, Hell’s Bells was a member magazine and had only forty submissions of 500 words – all of which were accepted. But, knowing it could be done … thanks Steve for the gentle encouragement along the way.
The thing I most loved about the submissions for this anthology was the way in which the authors took to the theme. The submission call was brief:
“The theme is Valentine’s Day, so we’re after dark, suspenseful, menacing, memorable tales of human love gone wrong, or monster love gone right!”
And we certainly received tales that suited. There were some that didn’t match our interpretation of the theme, and others that were looking for a home in a different type of anthology perhaps, but we enjoyed reading every one. As a writer, this made me realise that some submissions can be very well written, but they don’t suit the editors’ vision for their product. This is really worth remembering when you get your next rejection.
The other thing we wished for was more time to work with authors on their stories. Big take home for authors who are submitting to a call out – Don’t submit last minute! Towards the end of the submission period, we had a clear idea of what we still needed and what we already had. It would be true to say that some stories, had they come in first, may have been accepted in place of others.
We also saw so many diamonds in the rough that we would have loved to help polish, but just didn’t have the time.
When we were reading the submissions, we did not want to be influenced by publishing credits or experience and often read the introductory letter last. Maybe because of this – or certainly in part, who can really say – we’ve ended up with a collection that showcases emerging, established, literary and genre writers, all from a multitude of backgrounds and ethnicities. The stories selected transcend the standard love tropes. The characters in this collection find love in crisis, experience love that is or creates a crisis, and find love born from crisis. Once again, crisis is the catalyst that helps us find what we seek, and is why I love the speculative fiction and horror genre so much. The tales of love, in some instances, extended beyond species, gender and death. Another reason to love this genre – there are limitless boundaries.
Now, as I hold the proof copy in my hand and flick through the pages and read the stories anew, it’s like childbirth: I forget the bumpy road and all the work it’s taken to get here. I look at this new creation and know: It’s a damn fine collection.
Chris and I love Burning Love and Bleeding Hearts. We feel every piece selected adds to the narrative and makes the anthology richer for its inclusion. With this concluding thought, our wish is that you, the reader, enjoy reading it as much as we enjoyed reading and compiling it.
Happy book-release day to us, and happy bloody Valentine’s Day, sweethearts!
Burning Love and Bleeding Hearts is now available from Amazon and major online retailers. As the publisher Steve Dillon says: "Scream, shout, jump about and share the news! It's alive!"
Britain's most respected living horror writer Ramsey Campbell has said of this magazine-sized charity book of short stories: "A fine anthology for a fine cause. Invest your imagination in it and you'll be investing in the world as well."
"Burning Love and Bleeding Hearts. The title says it all. Who would think love could be so… dangerous? This anthology is a mix of poetry and short fiction that brings you 60 tales of love found, love lost, or love experienced in ways you may never have imagined. Weird and macabre, sometimes humorous, often terrifying, these tales – presented by an international line up of authors – will make your heart skip a beat."
Nadja is one of the authors in Burning Love and Bleeding Heats. Her story 'Geometric Dilemma or Made for Each Other?' is a wonderful speculative study of how love makes us look differently at ourselves and at others.
Thanks, Nadja, for your reflections on story and your feedback on the anthology.
We're pleased to announce the final ToC for Burning Love and Bleeding Hearts, edited by Louise Zedda-Sampson and Chris Mason and published by Steve Dillon at Things In The Well. We received just under 200 submissions and have selected 60 of these to be included. We thank every single person who submitted. All funds will go to charity to assist those affected by the Australian bushfires.
The ToC will read as follows:
Tender Whisper on a Crimson Tongue by Erik Hofstatter
Orchid, Squirrel, White-Hot Star by Russell Hemmell
A Saint Valentine’s Day Tale by James Dorr
To Cherish, Love, and Obey by K. B. Elijah - author
Waxing Her by Michael Arnzen
Oldstones by Miguela Considine
Melody in the Dark by Sarah Doebereiner
The Rose Room by Kurt Newton
Teratophile by Blake Jessop
Kardia by Donna Laemmlen
Smoke Signals by Lynne Lumsden Green
Abduction Again by Janis Butler Holm
Invisible Boy by Bruce Meyer
Valentine’s Volunteer by AJ Collins
King Cupie by Josh Dygert
Geometric Dilemma or Made for Each Other? by Nadja Maril
Fallen Angel by Alyson Faye
Dark Wings by Gerri Leen
Jarred by N. M. Brown
When He Comes by Susan Snyder
Seamless by Geneve Flynn
Screaming for Love by Diane Arrelle
Edible Panties by Kevin J. Kennedy
Flowering Night by Mere Rain
Love Ya to Death by Steve Carr
Honeymoon Lodge by Kurt Newton
Cleaning up the Act by Steve Dillon - Writer
A Receipt by Joshua Strnad
Pit of Love by Claire Fitzpatrick
Lover Song, Mantis Instinct by Russell Hemmell
Dance of the Forever Wolf by S. M. Fedor
Broken Crows by William Falo
Bloom by Kurt Newton
Wrong Number by Noel Osualdini
Vegan Vamp by Donna J. W. Munro
One from the Heart by Anthony Paul Ferguson
Polluted by Sara Tantlinger
Lovers’ Quarrel by Michael A. Clark
Threeplay by Suzanne Lafetra
DNA by E. E. King
Encore by Nic Brady
Whiter Shade of Pale by C L Raven
Incisions by Sara Tantlinger
The Music of the Heart by John Grant
The Catch by Eugene Johnson
Vampires and Perfume by Michael Arnzen
Doris by Ronnie Smart
Out of Sight, Out of Mind by Alan Meyrowitz
The Lucky Palace by syney khoo
A Ballet of Blood and Flames by Liam Hogan
Still Broken-Hearted by Lynn White
The Lonesome Defeat of Bridge Repair by Gabriel Hart
Heart of Dust by Ric Connely
Or Something by Sara Tantlinger
Damaged by Kevin David Anderson
Stonecold by Leslie Wibberley
Lovers by Laura Wilde
Fermented Fatalities by Sara Tantlinger
Hermit 2.0 by Rebecca Fraser
The Ballad of Elvis O’Malley by Matthew R. Davis
Pre-orders now available at Amazon. Release date 14 February for Valentine's Day...