Short Story—A Chill in the Chimes

Here is a suspense/horror story I wrote about a year ago. I have it for sale on Amazon and Smashwords for 99 cents, but I thought ‘what the hell?’ why don’t I just share it, cause if you like it, you might go and buy Dark Spaces, my book of short, suspenseful stories. Please read and enjoy!

A Chill in the Chimes large copy

The cottage at 124 Cook Street huddled in darkness. Bony twigs intermittently tapped on the window. Yellowed curtains trembled, as cold gusts poked teasing fingers through the cracked panes. Nature’s epilepsy shook the Smith’s wind chime, sending otherworldly notes ringing into the storm.

Serrated light slashed and blinded, and deep, sonorous thunder vibrated the home to its foundations. A bone-breaking crack tore a muscled appendage from the scribbly gum. The timbered weight fell; a guillotine slicing, sending shards of red tiles stabbing into the rain. Water bled into the wound. The chimes lay strangled on the front porch while 124 Cook Street waited in waterlogged silence for morning.

***

Andrew stood amongst the carnage of last night: shredded leaves, broken branches, strips of bark from trees skinned alive. He stared at the wounded weatherboard cottage. 124 Cook Street needed help. He resisted the urge to rub his hands together as he trod up the two steps to the front door. A wind chime lay tangled on the porch, its silver fingers mangled and arthritic. Andrew prodded it with a booted toe and knocked on the door.

When no one answered, he rapped again. Still nothing. He looked over his shoulder. An SES car inched past, surveying the damage. No one else was about. He turned the handle and gently pushed. The door creaked open, and he extended his head into the gap. ‘Hello?’ His voice croaked. He cleared his throat, ‘Hello? Is anyone home?’

An elderly lady shuffled through a door at the end of the hallway. She smiled the too-perfect smile of dentures. Deep lines ran from the corners of her mouth to her jaw, and Andrew was reminded of an animated, yet lifeless, ventriloquist’s dummy.

‘Can I help you?’  She reached the front door and her wrinkled lips settled closed.

‘I’m with the Emergency Services. The branch that fell through your roof has done heaps of damage. You must be flooded. I need to come in and take a look, make sure it’s safe.’ He slid his hand into his pocket and ran a thumb along the hilt of his knife, feeling the smooth bumps, which suggested the torso of a mermaid.

‘What’s your name?’

‘Phillip Baker.’ He extended the mermaid-fondling hand, and she shook it.

‘Pleased to meet you Mr Baker, I’m Gladys Smith. Please come in.’

Andrew understood why her hand was so cold when he stepped inside the dimly lit hallway. Green floral wallpaper peeling at the cornices, and spotted with stains of rising damp, complimented the shag-pile carpet, which reminded him of dead grass in its brownness. As mould spores tickled his nose, he was six years old again, crying and waving goodbye to his mother from his grandparents’ hallway. She never returned.

As he followed Gladys he wondered if he’d picked the wrong house. What could they possibly have to steal? He hoped to find some of the old woman’s jewellery, or maybe the clichéd stash of cash under the mattress. Stupid old people.

Both his hands sought the warmth of his pockets as they reached the lounge room.  The ceiling shed flakes of dandruff over everything. A brown velour sofa sat facing an old walrus of a television; the type that you’d have to pay to have removed. He scanned the contents of a dusty wall-unit and saw the crap it had taken Gladys a lifetime to accumulate. Not much to show for her existence: lace doilies, two ceramic figurines—pink ladies with parasols—and a row of faded floral plates on stands. He turned to speak to the old woman, but the room was empty.

He hadn’t seen or heard her leave. Was he so caught up in looking at nonsensical knick-knacks that he’d forgotten what he was doing? The quicker he got this over with, the better. Looking forward to the bottle of Jack Daniels and few hours of oblivion he’d buy with part of the proceeds, he turned back to the hallway, thinking Gladys’s bedroom would be one of the front rooms.

‘Would you like a cup of tea?’

Andrew stopped and brought a hand up to his chest, goose bumps peppering his arms. When he turned back, Gladys stood right behind him. What the hell? ‘Um, ok. That would be great thanks. I was just looking for the damaged ceiling. I need to see it so I can let you know what it will take to fix.’ If she didn’t leave him alone he’d have to let the knife do the persuading: it wouldn’t be the first time he’d used it.

‘That can wait young man. I’d rather you didn’t go in there right now. My husband’s asleep.’ Her dark eyes picked at something within him, something he refused to acknowledge as fear. ‘Now sit down. How do you take your tea?’

‘Look, it won’t take long, and I’ve got other houses to look at.’

She stared at him, eyes narrowing.

‘White and one please.’

She nodded, and her mouth curled up ever so slightly.

His need itched, but he ignored it and lowered himself onto the dusty lounge. How could anyone sleep in a saturated bed? A clammy miasma enveloped him, and the room darkened. He remembered his grandparents’ wrath, and waiting for his mother; always waiting. Still waiting.

The sharp smell of freshly turned earth was so strong he could taste the grit. He looked down and imagined he could see thousands of dirt-encrusted worms writhing within the graveyard of ancient carpet.  Fuck her and her tea. He jumped up and strode to the hall, pulling the knife out of his pocket as he went.

Two closed doors waited for him to choose. The tree had fallen on the room to his left. He reached for the handle and added Xanax to his to-buy list. He looked over his shoulder. Gladys wasn’t there. He breathed out and turned the knob, muscles tensed, waiting for the squeak of the door as he inched it open. A stronger smell of earth, mildew and something else, crawled out of the darkness—he gagged. Covering his mouth with a sleeve, he paused and thought of giving up for real this time, walking out, maybe finding another house; but the thought of being so close, and the voice that called him a pathetic coward, goaded him to continue.

He ducked in and closed the door. His fingers felt for the light-switch. Click. Nothing. He pulled the knife out of his pocket and strained to see. A large shadow hulked in front of him. His heart raced, and he stepped forward, the carpet squelching under his boots. He could just make out the outline of a bed seeping out of the gloom, and the bigger shadow was most likely the ceiling collapsed on top of it, still attached by a plastered crease to the beams above.

With the door closed, the smell he couldn’t define fleshed out and became something he recognised: the syrupy tang of decay. He coughed through his sleeve, and his eyes watered. Stealing from the bottle-o would be easier than this. He found his excuse and hurried to the door, waving the knife in front of him, trying to swipe away the dread that pushed through his pores.

As he reached for the handle, the door opened in a rush, the putrefied air sucked into the void. Gladys. Her wrinkled hand, with its paper-thin, liver-spotted skin, grasped a carving knife. She smiled her wooden smile. ‘I told you not to go in there. You came to steal, didn’t you? You picked the wrong house, sonny boy.’ She cackled and thrust herself forward. Andrew dropped his knife and grabbed at her arms, his fingers sinking into wrinkled folds of flesh.

The strength of the old woman surprised Andrew, and he screamed when the knife pierced his skin. Gladys’s gurgling laugh accompanied the blood seeping out of Andrew’s stomach. He sank to the floor, gasping his demise, while his clothes soaked up stagnant moisture.

The old woman stood over him. She reached down, pulled the knife out and lifted her arm to strike again. Footsteps sounded on the porch, and Andrew screamed. The front door burst in. The knife came down.

***

Andrew woke as they finished strapping him to the gurney. He listened, eyes closed, to the voices around him.

‘Crazy shit indeed. Some SES workers heard him screaming.’

‘Lucky. How long do you reckon that old couple ‘ave been dead?’

‘Looks like at least a month. The guy we got here stabbed himself. God knows why. We found I.D. and confirmed his grandparents used to live here, before that other old couple, Gladys and Bob. He was a ward of the state for a while. Stuffed in the head I reckon.’

‘Ha, you can say that again. Anyway, better get him out of here before he bleeds to death.’

The ambulance drove down Cook Street, past injured houses, ruined gardens, ravished trees. The damage would be cleaned up, patched, made new again. What couldn’t be fixed would be taken away, dumped, and forgotten.

At 124, a policeman noticed the silver reflection of sunlight hitting the wounded wind chime. He picked it up and smiled. It would look great all polished up and hanging from his front porch. His wife would love it. As he dangled it from one hand, he brushed the chimes with his other; discordant notes sounded a lament.

A chill licked the back of Andrew’s neck. The wailing of the siren drowned out his screams.

 

 

 

 

Shadows of the Realm Nominated in 2013 eFestival of Words Awards!

eFestival of Words Awards
eFestival of Words Awards

My days just get more and more exciting. I’m proud and happy to announce that my debut novel Shadows of the Realm has been nominated in two categories in the eFestival of Words Awards. It’s an award solely (that word looks weird, solely, hmm, anyway…) for self-published authors and authors who are published with small indie presses. Shadows of the Realm has been nominated in the Fantasy and the YA categories and I’ve even been nominated for an editing award for Amber Jerome-Norrgard’s short story, David. I’ve noticed that Wool, by Hugh Howie, is in there too, so he adds some awesome cred to these awards.

The books are nominated by your peers and then the field is narrowed down by hard-working volunteers who work with eFestival of Words. Then comes the scary part: on the 1st June, 2013, the final list of books is announced and can be voted on by the reading public (although you have to be a registered member of their site to vote). I’m sure I’ll be hounding everyone for votes when the time comes. Even if I’m not an overall winner, I’m so happy just to make it as a nominated author and editor. I’d also like to say good luck to all the other authors who have been nominated. I hope you’re all as excited as I am!

Shadows of the Realm
Shadows of the Realm

Dark Spaces—Book of Suspenseful Short Stories—on Sale!

Dark Spaces is a collection of suspenseful short stories that deal with the darkness in human nature, and it’s on sale now for only 99 cents! OMG, what can you buy for 99 cents these days? A third of a coffee, ten toothpicks, one peanut? Trust me, it’s a bargain.

Dark Spaces by Dionne Lister
Dark Spaces by Dionne Lister

Dark Spaces has been getting great reviews, but I’ve been neglecting promotion because my fantasy series has been begging for my attention. So now it’s Dark Space’s turn. Run out and grab your copy while it’s still 99 cents. This promotion will run for two weeks (until the 18th May, 2013).

You can download from Smashwords (which has every format you could want) and Amazon. Happy reading, or should I say scary reading ;).

How Did This Happen? I’m talking at the Sydney Writers Festival

2013 is turning into a fantabulous year. First Shadows of the Realm reached number 1 in two categories on Amazon (albeit for a short while), then I was lucky enough to talk at the NSW Writers Centre, my second book came out last week (after months of hard work), and now I’m smiling my way through April and May—until I get to speak at the most amazing event of 2013 (at least for me) on 23rd May. The Sydney Writers Festival is a week-long event that attracts thousands of readers, writers and those with an interest in cultural things (hmm, things is such a low-brow, simple word, but all the excitement of this year has my brain lost for anything more appropriate).

Over 500 authors, journalists and creative types (including Molly Ringwald, Ruby Wax and Michael Carlton) are presenting. It’s an amazing festival to be a part of.  I don’t know how I got to be so lucky, but I’m going to enjoy it and hope it’s not the last one I get to natter at.

As an advocate for professional self-publishing, I’m sitting on a panel called The Author as Everything—Publisher, Printer, Publicist, which will discuss the ins and outs of self-publishing and is being chaired by Anna Maguire (who has many years experience in publishing and now helps self-published authors). Authors Chris Allen and Elisabeth Storrs will be joining us. It’s part of a day-long seminar on publishing in general, called The Forest for the Trees, which will be super interesting (trust me on this) and encompasses insights from publishers, authors and agents. If you can make it, it would be great to see you (well, ok, I also need some people to hold up the “I love Dionne” banners and cheer when I say something clever).

Tickets can be purchased from the Sydney Writers Festival site.

Okay, I’m going now: I have to book my hair appointment,  choose an outfit (there’s only five weeks to go you know) and practice not swearing. Bye!

The Future of Publishing Panel at NSW Writers Centre

Future of Publishing Panel
Future of Publishing Panel

I recently appeared at the NSW Writers Centre speculative fiction festival and sat on a panel—the Future of Publishing. I was honoured to be able to represent self-published authors. My co-panelists were Joel Naoum from Momentum Publishing and Zoe Walton  from Random House. It was an informative discussion and anyone interesting in self-publishing or just becoming a published author, should take a look. I’m the clever one on the right (your right ;)). Click on the photo for a link to one of the discussions and here for a short video  with me saying something that was probably very important ;).

The Day I Became a Self-Publishing Avocado … I Mean Advocate

Here I am with some exciting news! Before I tell you I’ll explain why my posts have been few and far between lately: I’m drowning in a champagne glass full of editing work, writing, and flitting about festivals. The sides of my self-imposed glass are tall and impossible to climb out of since they slope inwards, although I’m enjoying the invigorating bubbles (I’m hoping you can picture my imagery; if not you’ll be sitting there thinking this woman is crazy and I have no freakin’ idea what the hell she’s talking about.)

Did you like the suspense? Now that I’ve annoyed you long enough, I’ll get to the point. My exciting news is (da na na na na): I sat on my first writers festival panel on the weekend, and I didn’t get heckled, not even once! I attended the NSW Writers Centre Speculative Fiction festival and spoke on the publishing panel. I, of course, represented self-publishing. I was nervous at first, although the amazing and super-nice Kate Forsyth did her best to make me feel confident (thank you Kate, it worked).

Me on the panel (I'm on the far right: your right, not mine).
Me on the panel (I’m on the far right: your right, not mine).

Surprisingly, I managed to answer the questions like I knew what I was talking about, and the crowd was generous enough to pretend they didn’t notice I was pretending to know what I was doing; I in turn pretended they weren’t pretending not to notice my pretending—I’m sure you’ll agree, we all did a great job! The pretending was so out of hand at one stage, that members of the audience were tweeting quotes from me. Ha! I’m quotable. Who would’ve thought (not me, that’s for sure). I heard these tweeters were paid in slabs of rocky road but we’ll pretend they did it because I’m fabulous ;).

There were other great panels on the day, and I listened enthralled as Kate Forsyth, Ian Irvine, Juliette Marillier and Garth Nix (who, by the way, should be in country music with a name like that), among others, chatted about subjects ranging from writing fantasy, to e-books, their publishing journeys, to fairytale retelling. It was a fantastic festival and I would highly recommend it to anyone who writes or reads speculative fiction. I am also happy that I got to represent self-publishing. I’ve discovered that I enjoy being an advocate for professional self-publishing.

The gorgeous Kate Forsyth and I.
The gorgeous Kate Forsyth and I.

It was also awesome because after the festival I caught up with some writer friends (a couple of whom I’d only met online). We had a cheap pub dinner and held an impromptu writers group meeting. We read each others’ work while people around us got pissed. Ah, the life of a creative.

I have to go now, because other than the fact that you’re probably becoming bored (stop nodding), I have to clear these champagne bubbles out of my nose and finish the first draft to A Time of Darkness, the Shadows of the Realm sequel, so it can fly off to the editors on Tuesday. I’m so excited and will post an update next week. Cheers!

Me, on a Publishing Panel at a Writers Festival? Yes Please!

My continuing run of good luck, as foretold by the birds pooing on my car (it’s my new predictor of how my life is going to go) has led to one of the most exciting things I’ve done as an author.

I received a message from one of Australia’s best-loved and most successful fantasy (including adult, teen and children’s books) authors, Kate Forsyth. Kate, who is the organiser of the festival, asked if I would like to sit on a panel at the upcoming NSW Writers Centre speculative fiction festival. I was laughing and crying at the same time, I think because Kate, in all her modesty, informed me she was “an author just like you.” Um excuse me? First of all, no introduction needed as I have The Witches of Eileanan series on my bookshelf and ‘just like you’ I think not. I’m a baby at this and Kate has published around twenty five novels, some of them prize-winning and I’m sure all of them best-selling (thank you so much Kate).

I’m going to be sitting on a publishing panel and answering questions about my experiences with self-publishing. I’m nervous of course, but I’ve already been informed that a few of my interstate friends are coming up to support me and enjoy the day, as there are many awesome talks to sit in on by great Aussie authors. I’m super excited and thankful as these opportunities don’t arise often (if at all).

So, aspiring Australian writers, get along to the NSW Writers Centre at Balmain for what is going to be an exciting day (have I already said it’s going to be exciting?). Tickets are a bargain at $80! Go to the site, check out the program and book now before everyone else beats you to it. I hope to see you all there.

What’s Worked in my Self-Publishing Journey so Far

Hello again. Today I was bragging about the fact that Shadows of the Realm (SOTR) was still in the top 100 for teenage literature fiction books on Amazon after two weeks up there. Even though it’s liable to drop out at any moment, today was good because I was sitting ahead of one of the Twilight books and one of the Gossip Girl books—it just proves dragons still have some clout. After I tweeted it out, I had a comment from another indie author who wanted to know how I had made it this far. I’ve been meaning to write about my experience for a while, and that was a good reminder. So here’s some of what I’ve learned. I hope it helps someone, somewhere, especially when you feel like giving up—believe me, you’re not the first and won’t be the last.

Screen Shot 2013-01-22 at 3.06.53 PMSelf-publishing is a tough business—you have to be self-motivated, persistent and thick-skinned, as well as media savvy, hard-working and willing to learn. I still have days (and I’m sure there are more to come) when I seriously question the sanity of what I’m doing. Publishing is one of the most competitive fields to be in and I don’t think anyone has worked out what makes one book a best-seller over another. And I won’t lie: seeing books you perceive to be not as polished as your own, selling much better than yours, is disheartening. But don’t get me wrong—I don’t begrudge others’ success, but wonder “how come I’m not successful too.” Other thoughts you’re liable to have are: “Why bother, no one is ever going to buy my book,” or “Out of all the books out there, why would someone choose mine?” The secret is: you are never going to be able to answer those questions, so don’t even try. Your biggest weapons are persistence and hard work. And as an indie author you are also battling the perception that indie authors are unprofessional. This perception exists because unfortunately many are :(.

I started my self-publishing journey in October 2011 when I arrived on Twitter knowing absolutely zilch about marketing and social media. I always thought Twitter was for those wanting to follow the latest reality celebrity moron (OK don’t hit me; they’re not all morons) and to be honest, I really don’t give a crap about what famous people I will never meet are doing. After working out how to tweet and follow people, I was off and running (I’m technically challenged so if I can do it, anyone can). And boy was I surprised.

I only followed writers, and what an amazing and wonderful bunch of people I met. This was my first smart (and lucky) decision. The good friends you make on Twitter are the ones who will encourage you when you’re having those I feel like giving up days. They are the ones who will help you when you are wondering about how to upload your book to Amazon and Smashwords, and they are the ones who will put up their hands when you need someone to beta read your book or tweet your book sale (I just want to take a moment to thank all those who help me every day; without you I would not have done as well as I have, and when I’m not doing well you make me laugh).

Facebook and Google plus are also great ways to connect with writers. There are loads of writers’ groups you can join that will answer your questions, and I find writers are generally a fun lot of people to interact with (it’s true—we are all crazy).

So after being on Twitter for a couple of months, one of the amazing Tweeps I met (Peter Hobbs) asked if I had a blog. Of course I didn’t have a blog. “WTH is a blog?” I asked, and when I found out I thought, “Well who in the hell wants to read what I have to say?” Luckily for me, it turns out some people (I haven’t confirmed numbers but I’m pretty sure it’s more than one) actually find me amusing and/or informative. Other people’s blogs are also a source of valuable information about writing and self-publishing. Go visit them because what you learn will help (it helped me).

I hope you’re taking notes. Get on social media and do a blog—it not only gives you a support network, but this is where you build respect for your work and your brand (in other words,  you). The next thing you need to do, if you haven’t already, is learn your craft. Not everyone can afford to study full-time but in case you haven’t already figured it out, it’s rare for anyone to be born with the ability of a literary genius. I found that out after the first draft of my book was rejected by publishers all over the world (how embarrassing; I can picture them laughing while reading the first paragraph). And here I was thinking I was going to sell millions without even trying. Thank God I realised I had a lot to learn and I enrolled in a creative writing degree. You can, at the very least, join a critique group or find a cheap, basic online course to do. Having said that, there are unedited, poorly written, self-published books that sell well, but for the sake of your own pride, and the reputation of indie authors, please aim to write well.

Hmm, I’m waffling a bit so I’ll hurry up. I improved my writing, employed an editor and went through my book three more times (that made it a total of eight) to proofread and make sure I had banished as many redundant words and passive language as I could. I paid a professional artist to do the cover, and I still get comments from people who love it.

Because I did all this, when I paid for a mail-out to announce my recent book sale to fantasy readers, it resulted in me selling four times as many books in two weeks as I had in the first eight months of my book’s public life. When the readers saw the cover and blurb it was enticing, then when they clicked on the link to Amazon there were a lot of good reviews for them to read, plus the book reads well in the sample because I went about it in a professional way (I am by no means suggesting it is the best writing you will ever read, but it doesn’t have typos or grammar and punctuation errors in every sentence). My support network also helped by announcing the sale on their blogs and tweeting and facebooking it.

The sales of my book to date and the Amazon rankings I’ve achieved in the last two weeks might be the best I ever do, but they wouldn’t have happened without hours each day promoting myself and helping others by giving feedback on their work or just encouraging them when they feel like giving up. When you go three weeks without one sale it can have you ready to pull your book off the internet and going to get a job where you ask “Would you like fries with that?”, but don’t. If, like me, you love writing, you will never be able to give it up. Just surround yourself with good people who understand what you’re going through and be patient and persistent. If it was easy, everyone would be a best-seller, right ;).

And take heart—apparently it takes between two and three years to build your platform to the point where you achieve consistent sales, and the more books you have out the better. It’s a steep learning curve being an indie author, but when you do have some success, it’s satisfying because you did it through your own hard work and because of the support from your friends. I can honestly say I’ve learnt more in the last two years than I ever have, and I’ve met incredible people I admire. I still have a way to go but I’m more determined than ever. I hope this post has given someone some kind of information they can use, if not, it was good writing practice for me ;). And feel free to contact me if you have any questions (I don’t know everything, but I’ll answer what I can and point you towards others more knowledgable than myself if I can’t). Happy writing!

 

 

When a Good Book Goes Bad—Shadows of the Realm has Stripped!

Ok, I know I’m going on about it but my book is now on sale! I’ve really put the price down to $1.99. I know it’s not free, but this is as far as I go for now, kind of like playing strip poker—I’m the prude wearing 50 layers of clothing. I’ll only take off so much before I put it all back on again. Although, it is a bit nerve-wracking: what if no one buys it, even when it’s cheap? Maybe that’s why stripping off scares me: what if I take it all off and people look for a moment then look away in boredom, or even worse, disgust—what do I have left? Nothing. And please nobody hold up cards with one star on them. Oh dear, I’ve given myself away and people are telling others about how unimpressed they are. Ok, maybe I’m going too far. I’m sure you’ll love me naked, ah, I mean my book, you’ll love my book, and I’m sure you’ll buy it at $1.99 because you wouldn’t want it to get depressed would you? Rejection is so hard to take.

So, show my book some love and tell your friends, tell your family, even tell that weird old lady who sleeps at the bus stop—she’s probably secretly a millionaire and can’t wait to read my epic fantasy novel. Shadows of the Realm, or SOTR as it’s becoming known because of the ease of fitting into a tweet, is perfect for teens and adults—it’s an awesome crossover/family read. You’re always complaining that you have nothing to talk to your teenagers about, so buy this, both read it and get talking!

You can purchase it at Amazon US, Amazon UK and Smashwords. Happy reading :).

The Circle of Talia Series—Awesome YA Epic Fantasy

Artwork for Shadows of the Realm Cover
Artwork for Shadows of the Realm Cover

The Circle of Talia is an epic fantasy saga and coming-of-age series for teens and adults. Join Bronwyn and Blayke, two young realmists, and their animal companions, as they are forced to leave the only home they’ve ever known to undertake a dangerous journey towards Vellonia, city of the dragons.

The gormons, banished to the Third Realm over 1,000 years ago, are invading, slipping through the corridors between realms, and they want blood, lots of Talian blood. Will the young realmists learn enough of the Second Realm magic to prevail, or will everything they love be destroyed?

Shadows of the Realm, the first book, and A Time of Darkness, the second, are available where all great ebooks are sold (links available here), and if paperbacks are more your thing, visit Amazon and pick yourself up a copy.