2020 Snapshot: Deborah Sheldon

Deborah Sheldon is an award-winning author from Melbourne, Australia. She writes short stories, novellas and novels across the darker spectrum of horror, crime and noir. Some of her titles include the novels Body Farm Z, Contrition and Devil Dragon; the novella Thylacines; and collections Figments and Fragments: Dark Stories and the award-winning Perfect Little Stitches and Other Stories. Her short fiction has been published in many well-respected magazines such as Quadrant, Island, Aurealis, SQ Mag, Dimension6 and Midnight Echo. Her work has been shortlisted for numerous Aurealis and Australian Shadows Awards, long-listed for a Bram Stoker, and included in “best of” anthologies. Other credits include TV scripts such as Neighbours, feature articles for national magazines, non-fiction books for Reed Books and Random House, and award-winning medical writing. Visit Deb at http://deborahsheldon.wordpress.com.

1. Tell us about your recent publications/projects?

Amongst other things, I’ve had a couple of novelettes published this year.

The first novelette was Hand to Mouth, released in January by the UK outfit, Demain Publishing. The blurb reads, “When the truth doesn’t satisfy, people make up stories.” An imprisoned man writes letters to his son, trying to explain the bizarre circumstances that led to his incarceration. But can his son believe him? My husband inspired this story. His workplace regularly holds Health & Safety meetings. One meeting featured a man who had lost his arm in an industrial accident. This man happened to mention that he was taking part in a clinical trial to test a new breed of prosthetic that plugs into the nervous system. When my husband told me this, my scalp started tingling and I knew I had the germ of a story idea. I decided to write a sci-fi/horror novelette in an epistolary format and to make it a mystery, building the plot like a puzzle with multiple levels of interpretation for the reader to ponder.

The second novelette was Barralang, pop. 63, released in April in Dimension6 #19 (Coeur De Lion Publishing). The premise: Barralang is a place where hope comes to die. A mysterious Mr Blank purchases a small, derelict town in its entirety, and an out-of-work journalist visits to find out why. I wanted to write a phantasmagorical horror story. The inspiration was an article I read about towns that experience bizarre and inexplicable “rainfalls” of animals – with some towns experiencing these rainfalls on a semi-regular basis. Like Hand to Mouth, my technical approach was to rework each draft of Barralang pop. 63 with deeper and deeper layers; this time using surreal, dreamlike elements. Even though I live in Melbourne, I’m drawn to writing stories that are based in country towns. The reason might be because I find the sensory overload of cities stressful, whereas the countryside allows my imagination to wander.

Upcoming soon with Twelfth Planet Press is my crime-suspense novella, The Long Shot. The blurb reads: Simone Parker visits her home town of Brownbeck after six long years away. After she witnesses a brutal bashing, police officer Mitchell Ross needs her testimony; Brownbeck harbours a criminal gang dealing in firearms. Simone is keen to help, until she discovers her estranged sister, Claire, might be involved. Caught between family loyalty and feelings for Mitchell, Simone decides to solve the mystery herself – and is soon in grave danger. The novella has dark themes, but also explores love in its various forms such as familial and romantic. The inspirations for The Long Shot were multiple, including my desire to explore the emotional landscape and psychology of an adult character who endured an abusive childhood. I also wanted to challenge myself and write a “glass half-full” story, since my fiction tends to be quite bleak and noirish.

Another project I’m excited about is my anthology Spawn: Weird Horror Tales About Pregnancy, Birth and Babies, which will be released next year by IFWG Publishing Australia. I’ve wanted to edit an anthology for a while now, and the thematic inspiration for Spawn was my horror story, “Hair and Teeth”, published by Aurealis in 2018. The protagonist is a middle-aged woman who believes that her relentless vaginal bleeding isn’t caused by menopause but a nest of monsters infesting her uterus. Spawn has four commissioned writers – the bestselling and multi-award-winning authors Isobelle Carmody, Jack Dann, Kaaron Warren and Sean Williams – and is open to on-spec submissions from Australian writers until August 31. The submission guidelines can be found here: https://ifwgaustralia.com/2020/04/30/taking-submissions-spawn-weird-horror-tales-about-pregnancy-birth-and-babies/

Currently, I’m writing a horror novella, and it might be one of the darkest stories I’ve ever written. It’s dystopian, which is a sub-genre I’ve never tried before. Wow, what a challenge! From a technical point of view, I’m constantly having to resist the temptation to “info-dump” and explain everything in exposition like a Wikipedia article. Finding different methods to insert back-story in ways that feel natural and organic to the narrative is absorbing stuff.

2. What has been the best publishing experience of your career so far?

I’ve been a professional writer for a long time – since 1986, when I sold my first feature article – and I’ve had work published, produced or performed across a wide range of media. I turned my attention to prose fiction in 2007. While my stories were dark with horrific elements, I first explored “pure” horror in 2015. The best publishing experience of my career so far? Every single one of them!

In my career, I’ve worked with a huge number of content producers, some easier to work with than others. But whether the publishing experience turned out to be good, bad or indifferent, putting my work into the marketplace and having it judged by industry professionals as good enough for publication (or production) is always satisfying. In particular, as a fiction author of short stories, novellas and novels, I’ve discovered that no two publishers have the same approach. Therefore, each new publishing deal feels like I’m starting from scratch. And that’s invigorating!

3. Which recent Australian/NZ work would you recommend to international fans interested in expanding their Antipodean spec fic knowledge?

I read anthologies all the time, mainly from publishers in Australia, New Zealand, US, UK, South Africa and Canada. Hands down, one of the best anthologies I’ve ever read is Dead of Night: The Best of Midnight Echo (Issues 1 to 11) edited by Shane Jiraiya Cummings, and published in 2016 by the Australian Horror Writers Association (now known as the Australasian Horror Writers Association).

In my five-star Goodreads review, I wrote: “A superb collection. (Please note, I have a story in this one, which I’m leaving out of my review.) I’m a lifelong aficionado of the short story form, and Dead of Night is impressive by any standards. Australia and New Zealand have tremendously talented horror writers, and this anthology is all the proof you’ll ever need. A word of warning: body horror features strongly, so don’t forget your cast-iron stomach.”

Do yourself a favour and read this anthology. It’s world-class dynamite.

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