AHWA Interview with: Dan Rabarts

Can you tell us a little about yourself and the major influences on your writing?

I live just outside of Wellington, Aotearoa New Zealand, raising two kids and trying to fit in all of my passions around the day job: writing, music, football, and drinking good beer and gin. Aside from the landscape of my youth, which involved a lot of bush and coastline, some of my biggest writerly influences include kiwi SFFH author Hugh Cook, inimitable satirist Terry Pratchett, the art of H.R. Giger, and the music of Bruce Dickinson.

How would you describe your writing style?

Depending on what I’m working on, either dark and surreal, or dark and whimsical. I like to write humour, with a dark edge, but I also like taking the reader into very dark places and then, you know, leaving them there without a torch, to find their own way out.

Please tell us about your most recent work, and how do you think this differs from your early works?

My most recently published work is a short story titled Softbait, which appears in the military horror anthology Contact! from Screaming Banshee Press. It follows a squad of NZ soldiers on peacekeeping duties in East Timor who find themselves first in a firefight, then in a chase into the darkening primordial bush, only to find that the hunters may have become the hunted. A little bit Predator, a little bit Top Gear, but without those European guys and their one-liners. Softbait is my first piece of military horror to be published, though not my first military short story, and more recently I’ve been releasing novels in my Children of Bane comic fantasy series, and the Path of Ra supernatural thriller series, which I co-write with fellow kiwi horror author Lee Murray. Children of Bane is epic fantasy with a Pratchettian spin and lots of food puns, while the Path of Ra is crime-noir Lovecraft-meets-CSI under a dystopian Auckland skyline, with monsters and explosions and waking nameless gods and family arguments over who’s meant to be doing the dishes. Aside from that, my short stories run a gamut of science fiction, fantasy, and horror, with healthy doses of steampunk and dieselpunk in the mix to keep things interesting.

Blood of the Sun by Dan Rabarts and Lee Murray

Writing both long and short forms can be a challenging process. Are there tips you would provide new horror writers on how to move from an idea towards something more substantial they can flesh out into a story?

I have two ways of doing things: I pants a lot. Just write and see what happens. Sometimes that just works for me. Other times, it leads me down long rabbit holes that the story can never escape from, and that’s where they die. It’s sad, but at least they’re already buried. The other thing I do is stick to a Rule of Three, where I go into a story with three distinct and often unrelated props, ideas or themes which I want to work in to a story. Things like, for example 1) an unrequited love, 2) the mathematics of spirals, and 3) the colour blue. Then, when I start writing, if I ever get stuck, I look at my three props and ask myself if one of those can help me out of whatever hole I’ve ended up in, and usually, one of them can, at least enough to keep the story moving, consistent with what I’m trying to achieve, until I find the momentum again and get back into the flow of the writing. I often collect these single props in isolation, and then look over them until three seem to fall together, and putting the elements into a single pot kicks off the brew. It’s like brainstorming, but focused.  

Horror writing covers an incredibly broad range of styles and topics. Is there anything you feel crosses a line that you won’t write about as an author?

I prefer to play in the spaces where the reader fills in a lot of the blanks between the words, because people are pretty good at scaring themselves if you let them.  For my part I tend to avoid gore for its own sake, or for simple shock value, and I’ll generally stop reading anything that treads into the realms of genital mutilation. Although maybe that’s not true, because I recently narrated a story by Alan Baxter for the Pseudopod horror podcast which deals in just that. So yeah, as long as the horror is serving the purpose that the narrative needs it to serve, and the intent is to unsettle and disturb, there’s not much that’s off limits, really. 

Which of your works are you most proud of, and why? What would you recommend a reader new to your work start with?

That’s a tough one, but I’d probably say Riptide, my short story about grief, loss and madness which appeared in Suspended in Dusk 2 (ed Simon Dewar, pub. Grey Matter Press) which won the Australian Shadows Award for Best Short Story in 2019. That story was drawn up from some very deep places inside of me, and it took a long time to find a home. It’s possibly the story I spent the most time revising and rewriting out of all my short fiction, and the journey was well worth it. 

New readers can find some of my short stories for free online, such as over at the Tales to Terrify podcast, where you can listen to The Bone Plate and Children of the Tide: https://talestoterrify.com/?s=dan+rabarts (That link will also reveal a stack of my audio narrations, including such Australian authors such as Jeremy Szal, Joseph Ashley-Smith, and Cameron Trost.)

Are there any pieces of your work you would like to hide, pull back, or rewrite?

Everything has a place in the writing journey, and I’m still happy, ten years after I had my first short story published, that nothing makes me cringe to have my name on it. What I would like to do is grab every typo that slipped past me, my co-writers, beta readers, editors and proof-readers, the miskeys and mistakes that crept invisibly across the page and between the words, hiding in plain sight until the first fan picked up the book and saw it on their first reading. Yip, all of those can go take a leap. Am I right? Because despite the war we wage on them, they just don’t die. 

Could you name three other horror authors that you think we should search out?

Lee Murray for starters. Yes, I’m biased, on account of how we’ve edited anthologies together, written novels together, co-edited each other’s short stories from time to time, and how I’ve basically read everything she’s written, I think. Lee is like the godmother of horror fiction in Aotearoa, so if you haven’t read her work, you’ve got some homework to do.

Livia Llewllyn is next. Her short horror fiction is perfectly crafted terror and poetry in one, razor sharp and sweet as bloody roses. 

Finally, Jeff Strand. A veritable powerhouse of the darkly absurd, Strand’s fiction is both hilarious and grotesque, like a train wreck in motion from the opening lines to the end of the book. He also has a brilliant newsletter, which counts for a lot. 

Sisters of Spindrift by Dan Rabarts

Have you got any new projects in the works that we should keep our eyes open for?

I’ve recently released Sisters of Spindrift, the third book in the Children of Bane series, featuring my perpetually underqualified hero Akmenos, formerly of the royal kitchens of Kriikan and more recently trying to clear his name of a murder accusation, saving the world from nefarious secret societies, and looking for a nice cup of tea. I’m currently working on Book 4 in that series, Daughters of Dust, which should be out towards the end of this year. 

Where can people find out more about you and your writing?

You can find out lots more about me, including all my fiction, over at http://dan.rabarts.com/

I also have a newsletter, which you can sign up for in the same place, which includes news, reviews, and a little bit of fiction every month, plus maybe beer or gin or abandoned places to whet your interest. 

[This interview first appeared in the April issue of the AHWA’s newsletter. For more information on the AHWA, including how to join, go to www.australasianhorror.com]

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