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  • Nikky Lee

10 Questions with Lee Murray and Dan Rabarts (Part 2)

6. What’s the strangest or most interesting thing you’ve researched for your writing?

DR: When we started writing Blood of the Sun, New Zealand’s most deadly mass shooting (one of only a very few in our history) had taken place in Aramoana in the South Island, in 1990, with a total of 14 deaths. The Aramoana massacre was the highest death toll in New Zealand from a single violent event since the Musket Wars (not counting the Featherston Prisoner of War camp riot of 1943, in which 49 people died). From this sheltered perspective we in Aotearoa would watch from a distance and struggle to comprehend the almost weekly reports of another mass shooting in the United States.

So, in those idyllic days prior to March 2019, Lee and I settled on a mass gang shoot-out to kick the story off, with a pile of bodies unlike any seen in New Zealand, because it simply couldn’t happen here. Then, on 15 March 2019, a lone gunman shot and killed 51 people in the now infamous Christchurch Mosque shootings. As a country, we all felt it, like a bullet in our own guts. New Zealand was safe. New Zealand did not have this. It couldn’t happen here. But it just had. So aside from the existential gut-punch to our nation as a whole, Lee and I faced the additional challenge of our perspective changing dramatically, from the story we were telling in the world we knew, to how that story now fitted into the world that had changed so dramatically, so powerfully, in a matter of hours.

We also have a friend who is our police procedural consultant, who reads our stories and helps us straighten out the police aspect. So, I touched base and asked the question, since at that point in time the police were literally dealing with a situation not entirely unlike the massacre-on-the-wharf scene which opens Blood of the Sun. This is where we learned a whole lot in a very short space of time, around not only the criminal forensic procedures that are followed for massacres, but also the cultural and spiritual protocols that come into play whenever the police are called to deal with a scene where people have died. New Zealand is a multicultural society, and our communities have an expectation that the values they place on the dead will be respected by the police in the course of their processing crime scenes and bodies. Furious rewrites ensued.

LM: Yes, those dreadful events certainly rocked us and played a huge role in the way our own story evolved. On a more light-hearted note, I’d also like to point out that Auckland’s Puketutu Island, where our malevolent cult leader has her secret base [whoops, did I say that out loud?] also has an interesting underlying story, and not just as an idyllic high-class wedding venue either. Rather than resorting to puns, I’ll direct readers to this link:

7. What’s the most personal story/scene you’ve written and why?

LM. I believe there’s a bit of me in every story I’ve written. Early on in my writing career, for example, I drew on my experiences as a marathon runner to write a breezy chick lit novel. While living in the United States, I wrote away my homesickness for New Zealand and the Bay of Plenty with a children’s time-travel story, that landed me back on the summit of Mauao (Mount Maunganui) And in one book, a teen novel called Misplaced, I searched for my real-life friend, Florence, who went missing in France in 2013 and has never been found. In writing that novel, I hoped to find some closure in the pages.

In the Path of Ra series which I write with Dan, my character, Penny Yee, shares a lot of my own traits, and while she’s not me, aspects of her story resonate for me. We’re both slightly uptight, with science backgrounds, and a penchant for rigour. Or perhaps it’s because Penny has allowed me to examine my own blended Kiwi-Chinese heritage, together with the culture of my country of birth, an area which is becoming more important to me as I grow older. My recent work on Black Cranes: Tales of Unquiet Women, an anthology of dark tales by horror writers with Asian heritage, has been revelatory. It’s inspired me to further explore stories from my Chinese family and the wider Asian-New Zealand diaspora through the lens of horror.

Black Cranes cover

DR: I mentioned my short story Riptide earlier. Aside from the simple fear any parent has for their children, and of anything bad happening to them, I also brought to this story an experience of my own from when I was a kid, getting caught in an undertow and being sucked out to sea. My sister, who was a strong swimmer when I was no swimmer at all, dived in and saved me. Funny thing, she doesn’t remember that day, practising her surf life-saving techniques, yet it has stuck with me ever since, even making it into print.

LM: I love Riptide. Possibly my favourite of all Dan’s short stories. I think when a story is dragged from such a personal place, the emotion is smeared on the page for the reader in a tangible way. The trauma is almost palpable in Riptide. Harrowing and insightful. And such a great venue for it in Suspended in Dusk 2.

Suspended in Dusk 2 cover

8. Who are your literary influences? In what way?

LM: My dad. Not a writer, but an oral storyteller, who instilled me with my love of story. Otherwise, writers like Poe, Wyndham, Harper Lee, CS Lewis, and Kiwi writers, Sargeson, Mansfield, and Keri Hulme. I should probably also mention Dr Suess, who reminded me of the importance of a universal theme.

DR: I’d love to recommend kiwi SFFH author Hugh Cook, who was a huge part of my reading as a teenager and into adulthood, but sadly his works are out of print and extremely hard to find. His fantasy series The Chronicles of an Age of Darkness spanned classic fantasy to horror science fiction, all in the same world and within the same timeframe, a vast and varied fantastical milieu linked by portals and peopled by monsters, magic, and ancient technologies that were just as likely to elevate common folk to godhood as destroy everything they touched. The works of Paul Haines and Larry Santoro made a big impression when I was focused on short fiction. But probably the biggest influence of them all has to the satirical genius that was Sir Terry Pratchett. Sadly, Hugh, Paul, Larry, and Terry have all passed away, so in my search for living heroes, let’s just say I quite like the comedic horror of Jeff Strand and the indefatigable weirdness of Matthew Sanborn Smith.

LM: Oh, I agree about Hugh Cook and Paul Haines. That story of Paul’s, High Tide at Hot Water Beach, which appears in A Foreign Country (Anna Caro & Juliet Buchanan eds.) still gives me goosebumps. I never visit the Coromandel without thinking about that story. And yes, Jeff Strand: I love everything Jeff writes—even his monthly newsletter. That delightful blend of mirth and macabre. If folks are looking to discover Matthew Sanborn Smith, I recommend starting with this lovely little horror story about teddy bears, Fluff and Buttons on the Teddy Bear Range, just a dollar on that platform which must not be named.

9. What books are on your bedside table right now?

LM: I’m currently reading Piper Mejia’s Dispossessed a teen thriller with strong Kiwi themes, which comes out next year from IFWG Australia: a sneak peek as I’ve been asked to write the cover blurb. Print books on my bedside table right now include Michael Crichton’s Dragon Teeth, a novel published posthumously, Dracul by Dacre Stoker and JD Barker, and the newest must-have horror writing compendium, Writing in the Dark by Tim Waggoner.

On my e-reader, I have a copy of Slay: Stories of the Vampire Noire (edited by Nicole Givens Kurtz) an anthology of vampire stories from the African diaspora, timely given current world events; there’s Kiwi Marty Young’s Behind the Midnight Blind & Other Devilish Things; and SpecFicNZ President Grace Bridges’ latest Earthcore book, High Tide, which is set right here in the bay. I loved the first three books in this series, so I can’t wait to dive into that one. However, I also have about twenty books (print and e-book) to read for various award juries and selection committees, and I’ll admit to being a little behind this year. I’m blaming 2020. Still, a teetering to-be-read pile is a bittersweet thing, because on the one hand I love the anticipation of all those wonderful adventures awaiting my attention, and on the other, I know I’ll never live long enough to read everything I want to. Of course, I’m going to give it a try…

DR: I’ve been catching up on contributor copies of anthologies I’ve had stories in lately, so I’ve recently finished Black Dogs, Black Tales, a charity anthology raising funds for the Mental Health Foundation of New Zealand, and Outback Horrors Down Under: An Anthology of Antipodean Terrors. I’m also reading Vox by Christina Dalcher, and Guards, Guards! by Terry Pratchett with my 13-year-old son, and I just finished Willow Moss and the Lost Day by Dominique Valente with my 9-year-old daughter. In truth, I spend a lot more time reading books to my kids than I do reading for myself!

10. Last and most important, where can we find your books/stories?

LM: Thank you for asking! Blood of the Sun (and the series’ previous titles Hounds of the Underworld and Teeth of the Wolf) can be purchased on request from all good bookstores, from online distributors, and also direct from our US publisher Raw Dog Screaming Press. Or, if you prefer, please ask for our titles at your public library.

DR: Readers can find links to quite a few of my short stories, many of which are available online in text or audio on podcast like Tales to Terrify and StarShipSofa, by browsing through the fiction page on my website. Novels are available from the publishers, Raw Dog Screaming Press and Omnium Gatherum Media, or through Amazon. The first couple of chapters of my fantasy novel Brothers of the Knife is up on my website for free.

Follow Lee and Dan on these platforms!


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