A Kiwi Halloween

October is nearly upon us. For me here in Aotearoa New Zealand, that means springtime planting, flowers, and lots of weeding! But for many of my readers, it means colourful autumn leaves, pumpkins, and the spooky season of Halloween. And for writers of fantasy, like me, it means story inspiration too (even if my witches aren’t always who you might expect …).

When I was a child in the United States, Halloween was one of my favourite holidays. Yes, the candy was a draw (I’ve always had a weakness for candy corn), but what I liked most was the chance to make a costume and then walk around after dark wearing it. 

Halloween imagery is all about darkness and things that go bump in the night. It’s meant to be scary, but I quite enjoy the night and all the creatures that inhabit it. 

As an interpretive naturalist in America, I led a lot of night hikes. ‘Spooky’ owls and bats are old friends I’ve had the privilege to not only observe in the wild, but teach with in classrooms and nature centres in a variety of places.

Spooky enough for Halloween?

And those nocturnal animals can be helpful. When I lived in Panama, there was a sizeable gap between the top of the walls of my mud house and the roof. At night, little bats would swoop into the house through the gap, zipping around snapping up mosquitoes. I used to lie awake at night waiting for their arrival before falling asleep, knowing they were keeping guard against the little blood suckers that wanted to disturb my rest.

New Zealand is blessed with a fabulous array of nocturnal animals. If Halloween had originated here, the icons of the season might be a bit different …

  • Kiwi—Imagine this beach-ball-sized bundle of fluff with a deadly beak spearing hapless hikers in the dark. Maybe there would be vampire kiwi.
  • Kakapō—What could be scarier than a nearly invisible nocturnal parrot with a booming voice that echoes through the night?
  • Wētā—Okay, lots of people already find these giant crickets spooky. And some of them bite. They’d be a perfect candidate for Halloween horror.
  • Owls … maybe not—The morepork and the little owl might need to up their game to be Halloween mascots. Their cute factor is pretty high, and their calls are far from scary. I’d even go so far to say that the morepork’s call is soothing.
  • Bats—Unfortunately, New Zealand’s bats are all endangered, so you’re not likely to encounter them frequently. However, they have some interesting habits that would play out well on the spooky scale. Short-tailed bats don’t hunt from the air like many other bats. Instead they scramble around on the forest floor, using their wings as legs. What’s that rustle in the undergrowth?
  • Moa—Yes, these giant birds are extinct and were probably only partly nocturnal, but maybe their ghosts or skeletons could haunt a New Zealand Halloween. Their diet was mostly plants, but I still wouldn’t want to meet up with a 3.5-metre-tall bird in the dark.

Of course, a Southern Hemisphere Halloween would have to fall in April or May, during the autumn here. We could all dress up as kiwi or moa and eat pavlova …

Five Spring Haiku

Today is the first day of spring, blown in by a warm and gusty nor’westerly wind, as if to say, “Take that, winter! Your time is over.” Here are five haiku inspired by the day.

Ngā koru

Swirls of yellow pollen
ripple in winter’s
vanishing puddles.

Te rā

Sunshine filters through
branches still winter-bare.
Wind rattles a welcome.

Kākāriki

Bright against dark soil,
leaves unfurl and
quest toward the sun.

Ngā puaka

Heads nod to the breeze—
frills of yellow, white, purple—
decked out in Sunday’s best.

Mahi māra

Cracked nails underlined
with dirt. Hands pressed to
the Earth’s heartbeat.

A Hobbit Adventure

As a writer of fantasy and adventure novels, it’s important to me to get out and have my own adventures. My adventures provide the inspiration and the gritty details for my characters’ escapades. I especially enjoy true wilderness adventures—the less sign of human impact, the better.

view from Mt Isobel
The view from atop snowy Mount Isobel

Of course, not every adventure can be a wilderness experience. Sometimes you want some fun with a little more luxury.

My husband and I recently spent a lovely weekend in Hanmer Springs. While the town is known for its hot pools, we’re not the hot pool type. What we appreciate about Hanmer Springs is the ability to step out the front door of your holiday home, climb a mountain, and end the hike at the pub a few blocks from the holiday home.

It’s hardly a wilderness experience, especially given that Hanmer Springs is surrounded by pine plantations, rather than native bush, but on a winter weekend during the rainiest month on record, it’s just right.

Our main hike for the weekend was up Mount Isobel. This wasn’t our first winter trip to the peak, but it was the first time we’d followed the ridge from the peak in order to descend via Jollies Pass. The last time we were on Mount Isobel, the wind was so fierce, there was only enough time to race to the top, snap a photo or two, and race back down before we froze. This time was entirely different.

It snowed the previous day, so we hiked through a winter wonderland. Light wind and full sun made it a stunning hike. The snow was an easily hikeable fifteen centimetres deep on the ridge—just enough to ensure our feet and lower legs were thoroughly soaked by the end.

There was nowhere dry to stop for lunch, so we ate in short snatches standing up. That was really the only downside to what was a delightful seven-hour hike.

And when your hike ends in Hanmer village, with beer and good food on offer, and a roaring fire at the holiday home to warm your toes, it’s hard to complain about anything. I think of it as a Hobbit adventure—a bit of fun without skipping second breakfast.

Fun Fantasy reads for young and not-so-young adults!

Young Adult fantasy is a popular genre, not just among the teens it’s primarily geared toward. Who can resist a good coming-of-age story or a swashbuckling adventure?

Here are some YA fantasy books from authors you may not have heard of before. They include all sorts of awesome things like dragons, samurai, mermaids and Greek gods. So whatever your tastes, there’s something for YA fantasy lovers here.

The Dragonaxi Challenge by Leslie E. Heath 

The last thing Marella wants to hear is that they’re moving halfway across the ocean during her senior year. But her father’s been posted as Ambassador to Pharlandzi, a rival mermaid kingdom, and no amount of pleading is going to change the inevitable: Marella is leaving her school and all of her friends behind to swim in strange waters.

As an ambassador’s daughter, she’s expected to know all the etiquette, curtsy to the right people and bite her tongue around others. But that tongue of hers has always gotten her in trouble, and now she’s in too deep. She doesn’t know who submitted her name into this challenge, but the one thing she knows? It’s death, or victory, and her father didn’t raise a loser. She’ll come back a dragon-riding warrior, or not at all.

Chain of Loyalty by Amanda Ward 

She must enter the realm of the dead, or lose the one she loves forever.

Grief becomes revenge when Shou vows to kill the kami king. Only one weapon can destroy him, and it is lost in the realm of the dead. Driven by her hope to save the one she loves, Shou goes where even the kami cannot follow.

But the realm changes those that enter it. And a price must be paid, one that Shou’s allies do not want her to accept.

Further betrayal awaits Shou. And a final decision as the prophecy is unveiled. For with the death of the kami king, another must rise to take his place.

The epic conclusion to The Kami Prophecy, a YA series full of action, mythical creatures, and romance, all set in a fantasy world inspired by feudal Japan.

Champion of the Gods by Julie L. Kramer 

The fate of the kingdom rests on the shoulders of a young warrior touched by the gods…which prince will she choose?

Ilia is Gods Touched, a young warrior who has spent her entire life sequestered behind the walls of the temple of the goddess of war. The goddess herself brought her there, leaving her in the care of two other misfits, with only the warning that her visions of the future would put her in the path of the gods. Now, so many years later, that prediction has come true.

Prince Aristo has been raised to be king, but when his parents put together a tournament for the eligible young ladies of the kingdom to fight for his hand and an unlikely enemy appears instead, will Ilia’s help be enough to spite the gods and help Aristo keep his kingdom, or is there something deeper at play?

Ignited by A.M.Deese 

An Eternal Flame.

A Powerful Secret.

The Republic of the Sand Sea is a dangerous land where fire wielders are forced to battle dragons for the entertainment of wealthy families. None are wealthier or more dangerous than the Thirteen.

Water is currency and enemies lurk around every corner. The stakes are high in the games of court and the players are running out of time before everything is…Ignited.

When the first of the Thirteen goes missing, Jura, the only heir, is thrust into a world of political intrigue and assassin’s threats.

In the arena, Ash, a retired Fire Dancer, is determined to reclaim his glory, no matter the unthinkable cost. Might the life of a captured child be the ultimate price?

Beshar, Tenth of the Thirteen, knows that true power comes from knowledge. But is information worth sparking a dangerous new friendship with the First family?

A Drop of Magic by Janna Ruth 

Magic, Demons & High School Drama

All Lucille ever wanted was a perfectly normal high school experience, but her town doesn’t do normal. Not when a few Latin words set her hand on fire, the entire town gets possessed by evil spirits, and the cute guy she’s got her eyes on brings a freaking sword to the battle.

Now Lucille has to make a decision: return to her cushy, and safe, life-style at the boarding school, or face the monsters that hunt her and the magic that lurks inside of her.

A Drop of Magic is the first of this action-packed YA fantasy series with the wit of Buffy, the magic of Charmed, and all the drama of the Vampire Diaries.

Do Something Scary

Do one thing every day that scares you.

Paper! Never needs a new operating system.

I heard this bit of advice years ago, and while I wouldn’t say I do something scary every day, I do try to push myself out of my comfort zone when I have an opportunity.

Yesterday, I did something that for me was scary.

I updated my computer system.

I know that sounds pathetic, but I’d put off any updates for years, because I had a host of expensive software that would be rendered useless if I upgraded. The software worked well for me—why would I upgrade and have to spend thousands of dollars to replace it? 

The reason why came to a head as I tried to publish Fatewalker last week. My software was no longer supported by the upload algorithms at Amazon, which meant my e-book wasn’t uploading properly. It was the last straw in an increasingly frustrating game of eking out my old software for as long as possible.

So I spent some time over the last week searching out alternatives to my expensive old software and emotionally preparing myself for the inevitable frustration of a new operating system and new software, which may or may not be able to read files created by the old software. 

Yesterday morning I made two complete backups of my computer.

Then I clicked on the dreaded button to install the latest operating system.

My computer flashed up warning after warning, asking me if I was sure I wanted to do this. 

Yes, I said. I’m ready. 

The screen went black.

A progress bar told me it would be about four million years until it was finished.

I spent my afternoon trying not to glance at the still-black screen, writing a short story in a notebook, enjoying the beauty of analog writing.

I brainstormed titles for my current work in progress, revelling in the scratch of pencil on paper while ignoring the whine of my computer’s cooling fan.

I took a long break with a cup of tea.

Finally, light returned to my screen. I was relieved to see the update had been successful. None of my software worked, but all my files were there. 

I pulled out the credit card and bought new software. I purged the old, useless software from my applications folder. On a whim, I downloaded some free software that looked useful (software I couldn’t have run before). 

The process was almost fun, in a nail-biting sort of way.

There will be a learning curve, of course (and no doubt some swearing involved). I have lots of new systems to master. But I uploaded a fully functional version of Fatewalker today to replace the cobbled-together one I uploaded last week—not a single warning or error message to be seen. And I played around with some new software, just to see how it worked, and was pleasantly surprised at how intuitive it was. Then I got down to work, and added over 3000 words to my work in progress. 

It was a good day. Scary thing conquered.

What scary thing have you done recently?

Fatewalker Available Now!

I’m pleased to announce the release of Fatewalker–book 2 of the Fatecarver series!

What will you become–woman, falcon or snake?

Kalish is a Fatewalker, chosen by the god Iskra to save her people and their enemies from a common threat. But how does a young woman who’s been banished by her own clan convince anyone to listen to her?

As her shape-shifting power grows, her influence does too, but Kalish’s personal goals—a home and a people she belongs to—seem as far away as ever. 

Personal and societal struggles intertwine as Kalish and her followers grapple with the question, not of who they are, but of who they wish to become. 

Book 2 of the Fatecarver trilogy is another action-packed fantasy, full of strong female characters and magic realism! Pick up your copy today and continue your adventure!

Get it now!

You can’t always do what you’re supposed to do

papers on a desk
Some of the notes about this story I’ve been scribbling over two years.

There’s a live Arlo Guthrie album (I can’t remember which one) in which he’s talking between songs, and at some point he says, “I know I’m supposed to be singing. But you can’t always do what you’re supposed to do.” To which the audience roars approval.

It’s true. You can’t always do what you’re supposed to do.

The second Fatecarver book (Fatewalker) is with the editor, and I really should be working on book 3 if I want to keep the books in the series coming out at a reasonable pace for my readers.

But a couple of weeks ago when I sat down to start book 2, a different book began pouring out of my fingers onto the keyboard.

It was like a flash flood. Within a few days, 15,000 words of a book I shouldn’t be spending time on right now had flowed out. I gave in and have let it flow. I don’t even have a title for the story, which has been kicking around in my head since New Zealand’s first Covid lockdown in 2020, but it’s already over a third written.

Here’s the gist of the story. I can’t wait to be able to share it with you. If things carry on this way, it won’t be long before I can.

Alex Blackburn has inherited all her Grandmother’s possessions. And all her secrets.

When she discovers an ancient book on summoning spirits among Gran’s books, she … sort of accidentally summons one of them.

It’s three metres long and looks like a centipede. 

And it’s just eaten Gran’s dog.

She drags Gran’s neighbour, Shelby, into the drama because the book came from his great-great-great-grandmother. Alex can’t work out how to get rid of the demon, but maybe Shelby’s inherited some of his ancestor’s ability with magic.

Or maybe he’s just terrified of centipedes.

While the demon munches its way through the neighbourhood pets, Alex and Shelby scramble to find a way to send it back to where it came from before it …

Has babies.

This fantasy set in small-town New Zealand will have you sitting on the edge of your seat (while checking underneath it for centipedes), and cheering on Alex and Shelby as they bumble their way around magic and each other.

Aftermath: Stories of Survival in Aotearoa New Zealand

Aftermath: Tales of Survival in Aotearoa New Zealand is SpecFicNZ’s new anthology.

The anthology explores Aotearoa in a post-apocalyptic world. Disasters have occurred around the country and the world. New Zealand, in our isolation down under, may have escaped most of what happened around the world, but it was pretty bad out there. As Kiwis are apt to do, though, we’re “getting over it”. You know, she’ll be right …

This is not just an anthology of disaster stories. The pages are filled with hope in the form of short stories, poems, flash fiction and artwork about what comes afterwards. The contributions are exclusively from SpecFicNZ members and reflect the diversity and breadth of this country we love to call home … even if the edges are a bit torn and tattered.

I have had the pleasure of working on this anthology for the better part of the past year as a co-editor with Gary Nelson and Jill Winfield, and I can heartily recommend it.

Pick up your own copy today!

Middle Grade March Promotion

I’ve teamed up with 30 other authors this month to promote our books for ages 8-13. There’s a fabulous line-up of books here, and many of them are on sale or free at some point during the month of March. I’ll be posting a link to a different book each day during the month on my Facebook page. Be sure to check back frequently for new deals—some only last a few days.

Sir Julius Vogel Award Nominations

New Zealand’s annual Sir Julius Vogel awards recognise excellence in science fiction, fantasy and horror works created by New Zealanders and New Zealand residents.

Fatecarver cover

The awards are named after a journalist and politician who was not only the Premier of New Zealand in the 1870’s, but also wrote what is regarded as New Zealand’s first Science Fiction novel—Anno Domini 2000—A Woman’s Destiny) which envisioned a New Zealand of the year 2000 largely run by women (which was quite prescient, given that in 2000 New Zealand’s Head of State, Prime Minister, Governor General, Attorney General and Chief Justice were all women).

The awards are presented annually by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Association of New Zealand in a range of categories. 

To be honest, I haven’t paid much attention to the SJV awards in the past, in spite of their importance to the NZ speculative fiction community. But I was recently notified that my novel Fatecarver has been nominated for Best Youth Novel. 

Of course, I’m chuffed about that. But I know that in order to get onto the shortlist, Fatecarver will have to be nominated more than once, because the number of nominations determines which works move on to the voting round.

Hence this post. Anyone around the world can nominate an eligible work, and it doesn’t cost anything to do so. Now that at least one person has nominated Fatecarver, I’d love to see this book make it to the short list.

And while I’m at it, my short story, Deathventures Inc, which was published in the anthology Alternative Deathiness is also eligible for a SJV award for Best Short Story.

So if you have a moment, I’d really appreciate a nomination or two. Nominations are open until the end of March. The nomination form is here, and information and guidelines for the award are here

Thanks!