Please introduce yourself.
I’m an award-winning author from Melbourne, Australia. I write short stories, novellas and novels across the darker spectrum of horror, crime and noir.
My latest releases, through several publishing houses, include the horror novels Body Farm Z, Contrition, and Devil Dragon; the horror novella Thylacines; the crime-noir novellas Dark Waters and Ronnie and Rita; the romance-suspense novella The Long Shot; and the collections Figments and Fragments: Dark Stories, the award-winning Perfect Little Stitches and Other Stories (Australian Shadows “Best Collected Work 2017”), and 300 Degree Days and Other Stories.
My short fiction has appeared in many well-respected magazines such as Quadrant, Island, Aurealis, Midnight Echo, and Dimension6. My fiction has been shortlisted for numerous Australian Shadows Awards and Aurealis Awards, long-listed for a Bram Stoker Award, and included in various “best of” anthologies. I’m also guest editor of this year’s edition of Midnight Echo.
Other credits include TV scripts such as Neighbours and Australia’s Most Wanted, feature articles for national magazines, non-fiction books published by Reed Books and Random House, stage plays, and award-winning medical writing.
You can visit me at http://deborahsheldon.wordpress.com
Tell us about your recently released books.
Happily, 2019 is a busy year for me, with three titles coming out through different publishers. My horror novel Body Farm Z (Severed Press) was released in August. My collection Figments and Fragments: Dark Stories (IFWG Publishing Australia) is currently available on pre-order and will be released in November. And my romance-suspense novella The Long Shot (Twelfth Planet Press) is slated for publication in December.
Body Farm Z is an action-packed zombie novel with an Aussie twist. The back-cover blurb reads:
To solve murders, you must understand the process of decomposition. Australia’s newest body farm, the Victorian Taphonomic Experimental Research Institute, is hidden in bushland some four hours’ drive from Melbourne. Scattered across its 150 acres are human donor cadavers and pig carcasses arranged to mimic some of the ways in which police might find murder victims: exposed to the elements, buried in a shallow grave, wrapped in tarpaulin. Forensic scientists and graduate students meticulously track each stage of putrefaction. Today, Detective Rick Evans of the Homicide Squad is at VITERI for the re-creation of one of his cold cases. A human donor will be locked inside a car. But the donor has other ideas… So begins a facility-wide outbreak of the reanimated dead.
Figments and Fragments: Dark Stories is my second collection with IFWG Publishing Australia; the first being my award-winning Perfect Little Stitches and Other Stories. This latest collection distils my earlier published work, and includes three new stories written especially for it. The back-cover blurb reads:
Brutal. Compelling. Sinister. From wheat farms, roadhouses, caravan parks and beaches to quiet suburban streets and inner-city apartments, award-winning author Deborah Sheldon tells distinctly Australian stories about violence, loss, betrayal and revenge.
How did you come up with the ideas for these books?
The idea for Body Farm Z originated from a conversation with my husband a few years ago. I was chatting about my work-in-progress, the noir-horror novel Contrition (IFWG Publishing Australia), when my husband asked if I’d ever considered writing a zombie story. “No,” I replied, “but if I did, I’d set it on a body farm. That would be a seriously scary place for a zombie infection.” And then we moved on to other topics. But the idea took hold and wouldn’t let me alone. Body Farm Z demanded to be written and I couldn’t resist!
Figments and Fragments: Dark Stories is a collection, so each story was sparked by a different idea. Mostly, ideas sprang from random, fleeting moments that happened to grab my attention. For example, driving past a curious sign on a sandwich board; hearing an old song that unearthed a long-forgotten memory; eavesdropping on a snippet of talk between strangers at the supermarket. Other times, stories came about because I wanted to experiment with a new technique such as second-person point of view or the 100-word drabble.
Do you have any creativity tricks?
Oh, I have plenty! I read novels, novellas, anthologies and collections across a range of genres. I read every day, usually in bed before lights out. Good stories make me itch to write.
Most nights after dinner, I noodle around on the Internet, jumping from one link to another wherever my mood happens to take me, and can occasionally stumble upon a topic I find intriguing. For example, I once read about the phenomenon of spiders taking to the trees in their millions to escape floodwaters. That inspired my short story “Angel Hair”, which was nominated for an Aurealis Award and given an Honourable Mention in Ellen Datlow’s Best Horror of the Year #10.
Most importantly, I give myself wholehearted permission to daydream. From childhood, we’re admonished for “putting our heads in the clouds”, but allowing your mind to wander is one of the most creative things you could ever do. I daydream while doing mundane, repetitive tasks. In particular, washing my hair always stimulates my creativity!
How do you deal with creative block?
Whenever I’m working a long-form project such as a novella or novel, I (quite regularly) write myself into corners. To figure out what my characters should do next, I find it helps to meditate on the plot-point while I’m falling asleep or just after waking up. There’s something remarkably creative about a drowsy brain. Ideas pop out of nowhere. I guess that explains the old saying “Sleep on it” – the subconscious mind is adept at problem-solving.
Personally, I never experience writer’s block. I believe it’s often a symptom of boredom. My advice would be to mix things up – for example, if you usually write short stories, try crafting a poem or a non-fiction article. In other cases, writer’s block is caused by uncertainty – if you don’t know where your story is headed, the words dry up. I’d recommend stepping away from the keyboard and focusing on plotting instead. And try daydreaming.
Do you have tips on choosing titles and covers?
For novellas and novels, the title should give the browsing reader an idea of the book’s content and genre. I tend to favour straightforward titles. For example, my creature-horror novel about the Varanus priscus or devil dragon, a giant Australian reptile that went extinct some 12,000 years ago, is unambiguously called Devil Dragon!
For short stories, you can afford to be more oblique or mysterious. For example, in my horror and dark fantasy collection Perfect Little Stitches and Other Stories, I have pieces titled, “Sarah Jane runs away with the circus”, “What the sea wants”, and “Post hoc ergo propter hoc”. None of these titles divulge what the stories might be about. Instead, the titles are beguiling and invite the reader to explore.
Regarding covers, I’m a traditionally-published author which means my publishers make the final decisions. Suits me! Experienced publishing houses are skilled at putting together covers that work and attract the reader’s eye. While the choice of artist, cover image and font design are outside my direct control, my suggestions and feedback are always asked for and taken into consideration. I’m not an artist, so I’m happy deferring to another’s expertise.
My advice for self-published writers is that the cover should, like the title, suggest the book’s content and genre. I’d recommend hiring a capable freelance designer rather than attempting a DIY job.
How do bad reviews and negative feedback affect you and how do you deal with them?
I’ve been a professional writer for over 30 years so I’ve got a thick skin. That said, I do sometimes feel discouraged and disheartened by a bad review. But I don’t indulge in misery for too long. I remind myself of one simple truth: it’s impossible to write a book that is universally loved. No author in human history has ever achieved it, and no author ever will. Remembering that usually makes me feel better.
However, if I feel especially kicked in the guts, I’ll head to Goodreads and peruse the one-star reviews of my favourite books. Doing so reminds me that a reader’s enjoyment always boils down to personal taste. For example, seeing how intensely some people hate The Great Gatsby helps put my bad review into perspective!
What are your plans for future books?
After finalising the pre-publication work on Body Farm Z and Figments and Fragments: Dark Stories, I’d been working on short stories and novelettes. My intention was to keep going with these forms until the end of the year. But just a couple of weeks ago, an idea for a novel grabbed me by the throat. (And guess where that creative epiphany happened? In the shower while washing my hair, I kid you not.) So, once my current projects are finalised, I’ll start work on this next novel. And let me tell you, I’m pretty excited about it.
Body Farm Z: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B07WMTY9X7/
Figments and Fragments: Dark Stories: https://ifwgaustralia.com/2019/08/03/preorder-offer-figments-and-fragments-by-deborah-sheldon/
Perfect Little Stitches and Other Stories: https://deborahsheldon.wordpress.com/perfect-little-stitches-and-other-stories/