Don’t Let Us Lose Another Bookshop

Some grim news came out today regarding Notions Unlimited Bookshop, one of Australia’s favourite bookstores. Owner-operator, all round good guy, and king of all that’s spec-fic, Chuck McKenzie, announced that the bookshop is in very real danger of closing by Christmas or soon after, due to the ever rising costs of running a business.

The following is taken directly from the Notions Unlimited Bookshop‘s website:

Since the day we opened our doors, just 20 months ago, the staff and management of Notions Unlimited Bookshop have worked hard to create something more than just a specialist bookstore, and we feel genuinely proud of much that we’ve achieved during that time, such as:

# Continuing to offer a great range of publications, including the best of Australian small-press, rare and hard-to-get titles, genre classics, and latest new releases.

# Building and maintaining a reputation for friendly and knowledgeable service.

# Keeping our prices reasonable – no mean task in these days of Internet shopping and global economic downturn.

# Becoming accepted as part of the local community, plus creating an ever-growing community of our own, bringing together fans of SF, fantasy, horror, graphic novels, gaming, manga, esoteric interests and more – something we’re especially proud of, and that we hope to continue doing for a long time to come.

In order for us to reach that last goal, however, we really do need the assistance of our customers, general supporters, and Facebook subscribers at this time.

Currently, Notions Unlimited Bookshop is looking at the very real possibility of closure – if not by Christmas, then perhaps just afterwards – with the chief cause being the ever-rising cost of running the business. It’s not definite at this point, but the writing is on the wall, and this appeal is an attempt to reverse matters before it’s too late.

Our aim, therefore, is not just to increase our daily sales, but to substantially increase the number of potential customers. Previously, we have tried to boost customer numbers through signage, social media and print advertising – yet almost 80% of our customers tell us they discovered us through referral from friends, family or colleagues.

So this is exactly what we’re asking our friends and customers to do for us now – refer us!

In a nutshell, while we’d love you to pop into our shop over the next few weeks and purchase a book (or two) to help keep us afloat, what we really want you to do is tell other people about us. Jump on Twitter and Facebook, tell your friends, family, workmates, and anybody else you know who loves SF, fantasy, horror, graphic novels, manga, media tie-ins, gaming, esoteric subjects, and other such related genres, to come and check us out in person (and then tell all of their peeps!). We’re not looking for handouts – just introductions to potential customers who may help to keep us in business. And do be sure to mention to everyone you refer us to that this is all in aid of keeping Notions Unlimited Bookshop operating.

Finally, I just want to make it absolutely clear that this is a genuine appeal, not some fake ‘going out of business’ sale or marketing trick. If things don’t improve markedly for us over the next month, we will almost certainly be forced to close our doors forever. No business owner ever wants to admit that a business is failing, but there comes a time when that owner has to either quietly slide towards the inevitable, or step into the spotlight and ask for assistance. So, if you feel you can assist, and will do so, you will have the absolute gratitude of myself and my staff – as well as, hopefully, a future in which we may continue to provide you with the range, service and community you deserve.

In the meantime, a massive and heartfelt ‘thank-you’ to all of our customers, regular and casual, who have supported us already since we opened. We couldn’t have survived thus far without you.

With Thanks,

Chuck McKenzie (Chief Zombologist)
Notions Unlimited Bookshop

Bookshops are an endangered entity in this day and age, and whenever one closes its doors for good, we are all a little poorer for it. Don’t let this happen to Notions Unlimited Bookshop. Please help in any way you can.

The Pleasures And Perils Of Compiling Horror

This op-ed is taken from one of many Australian SpecFic in Focus Snapshots that happened over the last two weeks leading up to the 51st Australian SF NatCon. The Snapshot tries to get mini-interviews from as many people involved in Australian Spec Fic as possible. This particular Snapshot was conducted by Jason Nahrung and the interviewee was writer, editor and musician, Talie Helene. Talie is co-editor of the Ticonderoga Publications series, Year’s Best Australian Fantasy And Horror. Talie was asked:

What are the pleasures and perils of compiling the horror component of the Ticonderoga Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror?

Her answer provides some fascinating insights not only into editing horror, but into the horror genre itself, and we’ve reposted her answer here. You can read the original, full Snapshot interview here and you can find Talie Helene online here:

What are the pleasures and perils of compiling the horror component of the Ticonderoga Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror?

One of the guiding principals I have is that the stories need to go to different emotional places, because horror is about hitting raw nerves. If you hit the same nerve too many times, you desensitise and the stories become emotionally monochrome. Horror is unique in that the genre is defined by emotion, rather than trope or context – you can have a completely supernatural story that is horror, and a totally realistic story that is also horror. So trying to keep the mix fresh and blow the readers away in different ways, keep the emotional impact – that is pure fun. Editing a Year’s Best is a bit like being a DJ. The works are already published and polished, so the job is to find that mix of hits and undiscovered gems and make the overall experience entertaining and powerful and surprising. It’s a kick!

Working with Liz and Russell at Ticonderoga is totally a pleasure. I was a dark horse choice for this editing job, and having them believe in my instincts is very humbling. They are also really understanding, and they’ve been very supportive throughout. Having a purpose that isn’t focused on my own headspace has probably been a saving grace for me. Just getting to associate with such fine writers is a buzz and an honour; meeting some of ‘my authors’ and having these instantly engaging conversations about narrative that I would never otherwise have is a delight.

The perils. Well, there should be perils in compiling horror, right?

I think probably the biggest peril is balancing literary horror and visceral horror; horror goes to places that connect with visceral responses, and it goes to places of deep trauma and danger and anger, and sex and death are so very tangled together. If the emotion overwhelms the form it can be incomprehensible, and if the form overwhelms the emotion you get cliche. The quality that lifts both aspects up is authenticity. I’m just one person, so I have to trust my own instincts as to which stories do which of those things excellently. Just entering that territory is perilous, because when people disagree they will disagree vehemently. Conversely, if I didn’t stick to my guns about my choices, I have no business editing horror.

I worship what I would call literary horror – writing that engages with top-shelf word craft and narrative constructs in the service of hitting those raw nerves. In the Capital L Literature world the idea of ‘literary horror’ is regarded as an oxymoron. The reality of any genre is you have to read through a truckload of mediocrity to find the amazing work. Go to a Capital L Literary spoken word night. You will have to endure an avalanche of bullshit to experience a few dazzling talents. But I think it’s harder for people to go the other way – from the literary world, to the horror world – because horror stories do contain exploded intestines! The bad ones have exploded intestines! The brilliant ones have exploded intestines! It takes a committed reader to learn to separate being repulsed by bad gory writing, and enthralled by brilliant gory writing – which is also repulsive! But repulsive in the service of some larger meaning.

Really great horror stories aren’t just about horror – there is always something else that makes you empathise. That’s the reason Stephen King writes so much about love and different kinds of relationships. If you write about death, you write about life. I think horror is the deepest genre because it speaks from that precipice of our mortality. But I’m not allowed to harpoon people who don’t share that view!

While I prize literary horror, I also feel very connected with visceral horror. There would be something really wrong if the horror selection in Year’s Best didn’t include some stories where things that are supposed to be inside people are splashed all over the page – maybe that is blood, or a terrible secret, or unbearable knowledge. I think there are people who read horror and appraise the shock value over the literary merit – that reader is going to roll their eyes at terror in sunlight stories or existential horror. For me, blood and the numinous are equally powerful. By making a broad selection, I’m demanding the reader be open to all of that.

Is that condescending? I don’t mean to be condescending to consider that a peril. My gut tells me horror writers feel that they put great demands on readers too, and that is one of the issues of commercialism (or lack of) for horror.

There is an amorphous danger zone of gender politics in the speculative fiction community in Australia, and in horror more than any other genre. It is in part due to a disparity in theorised feminism, because writers range from all walks of life – can I say thank fuck? That is something I can appreciate from both sides, because I’m not a theorised feminist myself. (I don’t have a degree, and while I do read feminist musicology with interest, I’m truant on Feminism 101.) I think the sticking point is that horror is often violent, and historically violence precedes from the patriarchy, so there has been confusion in separating confronting language from gendered language.

As horror editor of the Year’s Best, I’ve had to remain silent on feminist issues I might have otherwise been very vocal about, because I have conflict of interest – and I support people in their artistic practice who have completely contradictory views, including views that I don’t agree with. It doesn’t mean I’m not participating in the discourse, because I will recognise writers who are disrupting and interrogating those issues in their work, and that becomes an influence in my editorial process. I want the anthology to be a powder keg of awesome! My philosophy is stolen from an old 3RRR Radio Station ID: ‘Diversity in the face of adversity’.

A more personal peril is discovering if I don’t include a writer’s stories, I can hurt the feelings of a friend – and maybe give them the erroneous impression that they had ‘a bad year’. While the words ‘best’ and ‘horror’ are the stars by which I navigate in story selection, there are also other pressures on the selection process – and not every fine story on the shortlist makes it through. It does not always mean those stories aren’t as good – or that I am prejudiced against a certain flavour of horror and won’t ever include it. This is the arts. It is subjective. It has to be subjective. And the DJ part of the editorial process serves a mix, not just an evaluation.

The final peril is for me as an emerging writer. Donning the hat of gatekeeper threatens to crush my view of my own writing with 10,000 tonnes of neurosis. (And that’s what SuperNova [writing group] is for.)

You can find the Year’s Best Fantasy And Horror volumes through Ticonderoga Publications here.


Op-Ed – Horror as Hero: Setting the Wrong Things Right

This article is an opinion editorial. Views expressed are solely those of the individual author and not necessarily those of Thirteen O’Clock, its Contributing Editors, or its contributors. Thirteen O’Clock welcomes interaction – please feel free to discuss this piece in the comments section. If you’d like to write an op-ed for Thirteen O’Clock, please pitch your article to the editors via the Contact page.

At much-loved writer and friend Paul Haines’ memorial earlier this year, Cat Sparks gave a speech, during which she said: “True horror is the fact that we’re all standing here today when Paul is gone.” I agree, so strongly. We all deal with real horror in our daily lives, of countless different kinds – horror’s name is Legion. People say “I don’t like horror”, and whilst I understand the sentiment, I think to myself that’s like saying you don’t like breathing. Too bad if you don’t like it. It’s part of life. You’re living horror. I’m living horror. Ignoring and rejecting it makes it sordid, and it doesn’t have to be. It can be beautiful, albeit painful. We can explore it, probe it, know it, and thus, paradoxically, find a framework within which to de-scarify everything around us. Humanity has always lusted to light up the darkness; it is why we needed to discover fire. But you can’t illuminate the shadows without accepting and understanding what lurks within them. Horror is important, and leads us to the light, by holding our hand and allowing us to safely confront the dark.

I, like so many of us, have experienced a great deal of real horror in my life. Humour me, if you will, while I share just a little of it with you for the purpose of context. I’m not going to tell you everything, but I’ll tell you enough to, hopefully, show you why horror is my hero. I have no hesitation in sharing my stories with others; any shame therein is that of others, not my own. So please, don’t feel uncomfortable about reading. It’s safe. Horror is holding our hands. We will not be lost in the night.

My childhood was riddled with extreme familial and parental dysfunction, and as a result I was a very isolated, introverted child, who preferred her own company and found solace in literature from a very early age (I’m talking, like, 6 – I read early, and I read all the time). I read widely, but I always loved horror best of all. I believe there was a reason for my choice of genre, which is the point of this Op Ed, and I’ll get to that in a moment. For now: back to establishing context.

Horror gifted me with reading and writing as power; my superhero skill.

My parents divorced when I was very young, and I think that was a good thing, ultimately, though it meant I spent the following years caught in that boringly traumatic push-pull between them that so many children of divorce experience. Later, the emotional and psychological dysfunction I lived with every day turned into full-blown domestic violence, when my mother remarried an alcoholic psychopath who regularly beat her to a pulp and on more than one occasion actively attempted to murder her. I became intimately acquainted with women’s shelters, halfway houses, and police stations. I attended five primary schools in six years; three high schools in just one month (that was during a period when my stepfather was particularly energetic in his efforts to kill my mother…we moved a lot). As I grew older, I vowed never to be a helpless victim, always to go down fighting, to hit first, to hurt first (not necessarily a healthy thought process in every situation, but one that has saved me many times). Later, when an ill-chosen boyfriend choked and punched me, I knocked him out and dragged his unconscious body outside into the freezing Hobart night (and broke up with him, obviously). Not for me the abused woman role. Never. Ever. Again. I couldn’t save my mother, but I could save myself.

Horror taught me to fight.

My mother died when I was 22. After having survived so many things, including several brain aneurysms, she died alone, of pneumonia. Nobody even knew she was sick. I didn’t know she was dead until days later when my estranged brothers called me to tell me, after one of mum’s neighbours became worried, called the police, and they broke down her door and found her dead on her couch. It was a type of suicide. Actually…no, it wasn’t a type of suicide, it simply was suicide. Even now, it’s incredibly hard for me to accept that…I want to delete the statement because it can’t be true, right? My mother was lonely – having finally left my stepfather, and with me having left the state a year earlier to go be young, flighty, selfish and rebellious in Melbourne (and oh, the guilt!) – destitute, and, I believe, mentally unwell, as she had been for most of her very rough life. She got sick – very, very sick – and rather than seek treatment, I think she saw it as an escape.She kept it secret, like a magical key, and used it to unlock the door out of this life that had always been so harsh with its treatment of her. I remember visiting her house the day of her funeral, finding everything just as it had been when the police broke the door down. Blood-and-mucous-stained handkerchiefs everywhere. Blood liberally soaking her pillow and the sheet around it. (So there was no way, no way, she didn’t know she was seriously ill. No way it was quick. And can you imagine how that weighs on a daughter’s mind?) No real food in the place, but it was clean and tidy – my mother was house proud. Her box of tobacco lay tumbled on its side on the couch where she’d knocked it over when she died next to it – yes, smoking, whilst dying of pneumonia. I remember throwing up in her toilet at the horror of it all. She hadn’t told me any of it, not about being sick, not about being in financial strife, not about anything. We’d chatted on the phone numerous times before her death, and they’d been hopeful, loving, positive, redemptive conversations. I’d called her several times the day she died and thought it unusual, though not alarming, that her phone rang out, unanswered. She would have been dead on her couch right next to the phone while I was calling.

Horror. Real, savage, stark, inescapable horror. Reading and writing it helps me live through it.

Whilst mine pales into insignificance compared to, say, the horror experienced by men, women and children struggling for their very survival in the face of unfathomable violence, starvation and disease in war-torn countries; it is horror, it is real, and it is mine. I live with it every day, and it’s hard not to buckle under its weight. Often, I do buckle. My knees give out from under me and I fall in a heap and I am useless for days, sometimes weeks. In addition to the loving care of my husband and friends, books save me, every time, as they always have. Horror books. Like cures like.

On June 2nd, 2012 (next Saturday), it will be the ten year anniversary of my mother’s horrible, horrible, horrible death. I’ll travel to Tasmania to visit her plaque and be with the memories, good and bad. I loved my mother so dearly. I saw myself as merely an extension of her, we were so tightly connected. Us against the world. Her loss almost killed me – still has the power to bring me to the brink. That’s some of the real horror I’ve experienced. I know I’m not alone – we each have our unique horrors to deal with.

On the ‘plane on my way home to be with my mother’s ten year old ghost, I’ll be reading a horror book. It will keep me company. It will look after me.

Through all the things I’ve outlined above, the professionals who got me through the horrors in my life weren’t doctors, they were horror writers. Stephen King was a better father than my own and remains so to this day. I might’ve had to listen to my stepfather beating my mother through thin walls, but hey, the world was dying from a plague and the apocalypse was looming, man! Jack Torrance’s demons were far worse and more powerful than mine, Carrie fucked people’s shit up when they messed with her, and Rose Madder exacted the revenge on her abusive husband that I wanted to exact on my stepfather. There were bigger worries than mine in those books, so I escaped and found relief and reassurance there; and there were solutions. The victims fought. They got revenge. They got justice. Even when they lost, there was rhyme and reason. There is an order to things in horror, a savage, merciless order (as in life), and I love it. It comforted a little girl living amid blood and tears and violence, and it comforts me still as an adult.

It’s why I have always read horror, and it’s why, now, I write it. To not only be able to escape to those words, but to have the power to shape and craft them myself! Oh, bliss! What a privilege!

To put the wrong things right. To remind myself that I may have seen a monster ten feet fall, but that there are monsters thousands of feet tall out there, so it’s not so bad, really – I can survive. To get justice. To escape. To reassure myself I’m not weird and others have danced in the abyss with monsters too. To confront death and destruction and know I can accept it, even if I can’t defeat it. To face insanity and know I’m already insane – we all are, we all float down here – and so there’s nothing to fear, because the worst is already here with us. To fight. To fight. To have the power and strength to go back in time and no longer be a powerless little girl, to be an arse-kicking huricane who can devour my evil stepfather and visit pain and destruction on everyone else who ever hurt anyone.

I write and read horror to set the wrong things right. Horror is my hero.

How about you?

Op-Ed: Horror Or Dark Fantasy – What is it exactly?

by Alan Baxter

This article is an opinion editorial. Views expressed are solely those of the individual author and not necessarily those of Thirteen O’Clock, its Contributing Editors, or its contributors. Thirteen O’Clock welcomes interaction – please feel free to discuss this piece in the comments section. If you’d like to write an op-ed for Thirteen O’Clock, please pitch your article to the editors via the Contact page.

Many terms are bandied around when it comes to dark fiction. Since the schlock and pulp of the 80s, the term horror has carried many connotations, most of them doing a disservice to what horror really is. As a result, many people have moved away from using the definition “horror” and tried to address the genre in different terms. But there are variations of dark fiction and, in my mind, it’s not all horror in the definitive sense.

I’m a speculative fiction writer, primarily dark speculative fiction. My work covers sci-fi, fantasy, thriller, crime and all variations thereof, usually with dark and definite horror aspects. I certainly write horror sometimes, but I classify myself more as a dark fantasy writer; mainly contemporary, often urban-based dark fantasy. My novels and the majority of my short fiction falls into that category, with occasional forays into sci-fi, crime and straight fantasy as well as horror.

I’m not loathe to use the word horror where it fits. I’m happy to be thought of as a horror writer for the horror I do write or when horror is used as a catch-all definition. Just as Space Opera, Hard SF, Science Fantasy, Planetary Romance, etc. are all sub-genres of SF, I see Weird Fiction, Dark Fantasy, Urban Fantasy, Splatterpunk, Ghost Stories and so on as sub-genres of Horror. But a lot of people see the word “horror”, think slasher movies or torture porn, and don’t give the genre as much respect as it deserves. I’m sure the majority of people reading here wouldn’t think that way. Anyone with a good reading history of horror would know how interesting and diverse the genre is. But from a literal definition, I’m not primarily a horror writer.

Of course, then comes the difficult task of defining just what these genres are. Any kind of genre definition can be hazy. Some people consider dark fantasy and horror to be the same thing, but I strongly disagree. One definition I’ve often seen is that horror is something designed to scare or cause terror, and that’s where it sits in my internal dictionary.


1. an overwhelming and painful feeling caused by something frightfully shocking, terrifying, or revolting; a shuddering fear: to shrink back from a mutilated corpse in horror.
2. anything that causes such a feeling: killing, looting, and other horrors of war.
3. such a feeling as a quality or condition: to have known the horror of slow starvation.
4. a strong aversion; abhorrence: to have a horror of emotional outbursts.

This, by actual definition, certainly encompasses a lot of fiction with a dark bent. But I feel that a lot of dark fiction, a lot of my own included, explores beyond this definition.

Charles L. Grant is often cited as having coined the term “dark fantasy”. Grant defined dark fantasy as:

“a type of horror story in which humanity is threatened by forces beyond human understanding.” (The Greenwood Encyclopedia of Science Fiction and Fantasy: Themes, Works, and Wonders, Volume 1,edited by Gary Westfahl, Greenwood Publishing Group, 2005.)

Grant’s term was a direct alternative to the perception of horror as visceral works designed to frighten or terrify. It’s exactly this division of definition which works for me.

If something is fantastical, supernatural or paranormal and deals with the darker side of life, darker emotions and psychological stresses, but doesn’t have, as its primary intention, the desire to scare readers, then it isn’t horror but could certainly be dark fantasy.

If we were to call something horror, most people would expect a scary story, which, at its heart, it might not be. If we were to call it contemporary fantasy, people would think first of a swords-and-sorcery-style tale set in the modern world, with an expectation of something lighter, which it isn’t. Therefore, contemporary dark fantasy gives us a far better expectation of the story contained. It’s contemporary, not historical or sci-fi; it’s dark, not light and probably frightening or horrible in places; it’s fantasy, so has fantastical elements, be they supernatural, cryptozoological or whatever. Perhaps dark fantasy is more a description of what something is not, rather than what it is.

It helps if we use direct examples. Ursula Le Guin’s Earthsea is dark fantasy, in my opinion. It deals with the darkness inside people and the black that follows the character of Ged. So while it’s primarily fantasy, it’s also dark. But it’s not horror.

I would call Neil Gaiman’s work contemporary dark fantasy, even though that is far removed from something like Earthsea. Interestingly, the fact that Gaiman’s novel American Gods won three major awards, one recognised as primarily a horror award, one recognised as a sci-fi award and one recognised as a fantasy award, goes some way to demonstrating how hard a time people had categorising that book. I think dark fantasy is the perfect category for it. It’s also the ideal definition of Gaiman’s Sandman comic books and most of his other work.

I think a lot of Stephen King’s and Dean Koontz’s books would also be better classified as dark fantasy rather than horror, but they are both authors who certainly blur the lines between the two genres. Some of the things they write are definitely horror. But not all.

The short fiction of Angela Slatter and Lisa L Hannett is as often dark fantasy as it is horror.

Clive Barker’s Weaveworld.

Trent Jamieson’s Death Works novels.

The movie Dark City would be a good example of dark fantasy. It’s certainly fantastical, it’s often scary, but it’s not a horror film. The movie The Prophecy would fit in there too.

So, to me, a work is dark fantasy if it deals with any elements of fantasy and/or the supernatural or paranormal in a way that studies the dark and frightening side of our nature, our world and other worlds. If it explores the darkness of our psychology and the weird, sublime and uncanny. If it doesn’t shy away from the gore and horror of its own darkness, yet doesn’t primarily aim to spook. If it has heroes that are not knights in shining armour, but people who sometimes have to do unsavoury things. If it has villains who aren’t necessarily all bad as well as villains who really are all bad. But, regardless of all these things, its primary purpose is not to scare or terrify, but to explore the darkness.

And I certainly don’t claim to be any kind of final authority. This is really just scratching the surface and genre definitions are always minefields of opinion. I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.