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Interview With Author/Editor Lee Murray: Her Upcoming Book, Feeling Like An Outsider, And Her Love Of Horror

I reviewed a collection of short stories by author Lee Murray a while ago.  It is a collection of stories that has stayed with me and so I was thrilled to hear from Murray again recently.  This time, Murray, along with Geneve Flynn, is the editor of Black Cranes: Tales of Unquiet Women which comes out on September 26.  This book promises to be an incredible collection of stories focused on racial traditions and roles, being an “outsider” and — of course — horror!

“As haunting and versatile as the Chinese erhu, the stories in Black Cranes pluck and bow the strings of the Southeast Asian experience with insightful depth and resonance.” —Tori Eldridge, author of the acclaimed Lily Wong novels, The Ninja Daughter and The Ninja’s Blade.

“This anthology has a power to it. An instant classic.” —Nightmare Feed.

Almond-eyed celestial, the filial daughter, the perfect wife. Quiet, submissive, demure. In Black Cranes: Tales of Unquiet Women, Southeast Asian writers of horror both embrace and reject these traditional roles in a unique collection of stories which dissect their experiences of ‘otherness’, be it in the color of their skin, the angle of their cheekbones, the things they dare to write, or the places they have made for themselves in the world.

Black Cranes: Tales of Unquiet Women is a dark and intimate exploration of what it is to be a perpetual outsider.

Featuring 14 stories by Nadia Bulkin, Grace Chan, Rin Chupeco, Elaine Cuyegkeng, Geneve Flynn, Gabriela Lee, Rena Mason, Lee Murray, Angela Yuriko Smith, and Christina Sng, and a foreword by Alma Katstu (The Deep). Includes Grace Chan’s Aurealis-nominated story ‘The Mark’, currently shortlisted for Australia’s Norma K. Hemming Award which recognizes excellence in the exploration of themes of race, gender, sexuality, class or disability in a published speculative fiction work.

Not only am I exited about this book, but I was lucky enough to interview Lee Murray and her passion for her culture, horror, and writing are tangible and infectious!  Check out the interview, and then check out the book!

(Horror Fuel)

Acting as editor instead of author on this book, what are the challenges in this role and which do you prefer?

(Lee Murray)

I love both roles for different reasons. When you’re an author, you can write whatever you like, providing you can find a venue to place it. There’s a creative freedom to take an idea and run with it, see where it goes. But editing and curating a work requires greater rigour. There are constraints, timelines, budget issues. Grammar. Being the editor of an anthology is rather like being a project manager of a construction project. It involves selecting a qualified team, inspiring them with your strategic vision, and then empowering them to create something that embodies that view. After that, your job is to monitor and shape and polish the work, so each individual part contributes seamlessly into a coherent final product that represents, and sometimes transcends, your original vision. My co-editor Geneve Flynn and I believe our contributors have achieved that with Black Cranes: Tales of Unquiet Women. In fact, Geneve and I are still amazed at the writers who said yes to this project, at the calibre of their stories, and the generosity with which they entrusted their work to us. In the power of their collective voices. Because Black Cranes: Tales of Unquiet Women isn’t a book any of us could have written on our own; a single voice was never going to be enough.

(Horror Fuel)

I love the title of this collection: Black Cranes: Tales of Unquiet Women. How important is it, especially in these times, to be “unquiet” when dealing with race and awareness?

(Lee Murray)

It’s important in every time to be unquiet when it comes to race and awareness. Since we are the people living in this moment, in this time, it is our responsibility to make space for ‘othered’ voices, and to raise up those narratives. Everyone deserves to be heard. Yet, society still expects Asian women to make themselves small, to be submissive, elegant, quiet. We must not raise our voices and bring shame to our families. Instead, we should hide our teeth behind our hands, and whisper softly into the shadows. In Black Cranes: Tales of Unquiet Women we let those whispers roar off the page. Our contributors were already writing their stories when Covid-19 became a breakfast table topic, yet several of them wrote to tell us of heightened antagonism towards Asians in their countries. Perhaps that tension is reflected in the stories we received, or perhaps the undercurrent was always there; there was simply no venue for those narratives until now.

(Horror Fuel)

What was the inspiration behind this collection?

(Lee Murray)

Way back in November 2019, when the Australian bush fires were the apocalypse of the day, I attended Brisbane’s GenreCon, where I finally met Geneve Flynn. I’d known of Gene in Australasian horror circles for some time. I’d convened a mentorship programme pairing Gene with horror author Deborah Sheldon. We’d emailed. We were distant colleagues. Friends of friends. Connected via social media. But that day, both being conscientious Asian girls, we’d turned up especially early to the conference so we would not be late, and it was while waiting in the lobby area for events to start that we got talking. We chatted about Asian writers and writing, and horror, about being bananas (yellow on the outside and Western on the inside) and our shared perspectives. Where were the other Asian writers? Where was the anthology of horror fiction that spoke to our Asian perspectives? And of course, before I boarded the plane home, the idea was born. Very dangerous stuff talking in lobbies.

(Horror Fuel)

How did you find people to contribute stories to this collection?

(Lee Murray)

I guess when you don’t see yourself represented in fiction, you’re always looking for writers whose work might reflect that experience, so when we talked in Brisbane, Gene and I discussed a number of potential candidates, writers whose work we loved and who we knew could write a fantastic story whatever the theme. We both went home and started collecting names, buying books, reading, swapping suggestions until we came up with our list. We’re so humbled that those writers took to the concept so readily and offered us their wonderful stories.

(Horror Fuel)

You mention a sense of “otherness” in the press release. What can you tell us about that feeling and if you have personal experience with it?

(Lee Murray)

I was one of the first Chinese-Pakeha (European) children to be born to a bi-racial couple in New Zealand. Not the first, but one of the first. In school, the only other Chinese children were my brother and two cousins. We ate weird food and had slanty eyes, so we got called all the usual things. But our cousins were full Chinese. My brother and I were only half. Somehow the titre of our blood was important and being only half Chinese meant you were lesser: we weren’t proper New Zealanders and nor were we properly Chinese. Our own family rejected us. My brother and I were five and six-years-old and we were other. I remember my Chinese aunt demanding that I choose whose side I was on. Who did I love most: my mother or my father? How could I answer? Even then, I knew it was an unfair question.

(Horror Fuel)

In your amazing short story collection “Grotesque” you showed a huge variety of plots and ideas. How do you come up with your ideas, monsters, character?

(Lee Murray)

Thank you! I’m so glad you enjoyed it. This is a common question asked of authors, so allow me to quote the first paragraph from the book’s afterword here: “…when children ask me this question, I give them a naughty smile and say, “I steal them”. I explain to them how I steal character traits from people I know, splicing physical appearances and personalities together like Frankenstein to create new characters—some likeable and some not so nice. I steal people’s words, too; I’ll sit at cafés or on the bus, pretending to drink my coffee or look out the window, when in reality I’m eavesdropping on conversations, writing expressions and phrases into my notebook to extrapolate or exaggerate into a story of my own. I pinch mannerisms and points of view. Settings. Themes. If I need names for my characters, I’ll steal them from my friends’ list then, if it suits me to, I’ll gleefully kill them off. “I’ll steal your heart, your thunder, even the shirt off your back if it serves the story,” I tell my students. Writing is a subversive act and it’s important that children learn this as early as possible.”

(Horror Fuel)

What books are on your shelf? What are your influences?

(Lee Murray)

For writing that reflected my Chinese heritage, I read Pearl S Buck, and much later Amy Tan, Jung Chang, Xinran’s 2003 title The Good Women of China: Hidden Voices which offers real-life narratives more chilling than any traditional horror text. For gothic atmospheric fiction, Kiwi writer Katherine Mansfield’s works resonated for me, with their connection to the New Zealand landscape, as did Keri Hulme’s The Bone People, the Mann Booker winner, with its bi-cultural themes, mental health issues, and violence juxtaposed against beautiful magical realism. There were no Chinese-New Zealand dark fiction texts available when I was growing up, and even today very little, if any, exists. Perhaps that lack explains why it was so important to me to bring Black Cranes: Tales of Unquiet Women into being.

(Horror Fuel)

Why horror? What made you choose this genre?

(Lee Murray)

Admission: when I started out writing, I didn’t write dark fiction. Instead, I was influenced by that old ear-worm about ‘writing what you know’, and at that time I was a long distance runner (I ran 25 marathons and an ultra-marathon before I broke down), so I wrote a breezy fun chick lit novel called ‘A Dash of Reality’ which tells of a young woman’s attempts to save her job and her apartment by running a marathon (it’s complicated). I had a wonderful time writing it and I learned a lot about writing and publishing over the course of the project, but I also learned that I wanted to explore deeper issues in my fiction than just wardrobe malfunctions and cupcake deprivation. Not that I don’t enjoy a bit of light-hearted escapism when I’m reading, but for my writing, I wanted to examine the things that keep me up at night, and naturally that led me to dark fiction and horror.

(Horror Fuel)

What would you recommend non-horror fans to watch or read to get them into horror?

(Lee Murray)

Do you know how many people say, “oh I don’t read horror’ when I say I am a horror-thriller writer? So many. They back away, grimace, hold their hands up as if I’m about to smear blood on them. It isn’t fashionable to admit you like horror. Not done. I think some readers tend to associate the word horror with early pulp comics, or low budget spatter movies. Horror must forcibly be poor quality. Recently, a local writer described me as writing commercial fiction, and her disdain was palpable. And yet, many people who describe themselves as non-horror fans are in fact horror fans if you quiz them properly. They’ll have read Attwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, or Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House. Of course, they’ve read Poe’s The Raven, and a volume of poetry by Emily Dickinson. Because those works are also literary, readers often won’t consider them true horror. Perhaps if non-horror readers broaden their definition of horror, if they can be made to understand that horror works elicit a spectrum of fear ranging from unease to terror, then it would be clear to them that, in fact, they already love horror, only they were unwilling to admit it.

(Horror Fuel)

Anything else readers and potential readers should know about you and your books?

(Lee Murray)

About me… one of my keenest regrets is failing to learn Cantonese—my mother’s first language, a failing that I have felt even more keenly while working on Black Cranes: Tales of Unquiet Women. Later in life, I lived abroad and learned to speak French—which incidentally was one of the many languages spoken by my gong gong, my Chinese grandfather, who was an autodidact. Learning French taught me of the insights into a people and their culture that can be achieved through understanding their language. So while being bilingual is a good thing, it has led me to realise that by not speaking Cantonese, I am missing a part of myself. I guess that same regret also applies to the two other-than-English official languages of New Zealand: te reo Māori and New Zealand sign language. How can I fully be a Kiwi with such limited understanding of those languages which make up a vital part of the culture of my place of birth? How can I possibly write with authenticity about my country and its people without those insights? I need to rectify this—please, hold me to it.

Lee Murray is a multi-award-winning author-editor (Sir Julius Vogel, Australian Shadows) from Aotearoa-New Zealand. A three-time Bram Stoker Award®-nominee, her work includes military thrillers, the Taine McKenna Adventures, supernatural crime-noir series The Path of Ra (with Dan Rabarts), and debut collection Grotesque: Monster Stories. Editor of award-winning titles Hellhole, At the Edge, and Baby Teeth, Lee’s latest anthology Black Cranes: Tales of Unquiet Women, edited with Geneve Flynn, releases in September 2020. Read more on her website, www.leemurray.info

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