Review: Suspended in Dusk, Ed. Simon Dewar

Suspended in DuskI’ve been wanting to read Suspended in Dusk for some time, given all the praises flying around in my social media circles. SQ Mag (the ezine I edit) competed against this anthology in a strong field for the Best Edited Work of 2014 in the Australian Shadows Awards, from the Australian Horror Writer’s Association. Some of the eminent Australian speculative fiction authors even featured in both our works.

In Suspended in Dusk there’s monsters in the traditional guise and monsters loosely associated with human beings. There’s a tangible thread of the threat of dusk woven through this collection of thematically diverse stories, each bearing up a dark or horrific element. While the thread linking the stories is tenuous, Simon Dewar has collated some excellent pieces.

Alan Baxter’s palliative care nurse protagonist drifts dreamlike through wards, compassionate and available, in Shadows of the Lonely Dead. Rayne Hall’s Burning world is pure small town nightmare. Maid of Bone draws out the ostracised, the lonely in an intimate way Tony Bennett seems to know. Miriam Vale is seemingly picked straight from memory by S.G. Larner, and that phenomena where the stranger always knows best. Tom Dullemond perfect captures the clinical detached psychopath in Would To God That We Were There. Wendy Hammer’s Negatives is an excellently painted twin horror in a deserted theme park.

There’s other situations that are unexpected, like vicious coral zombies and devolution, in truly abhorrent settings like fat camps. Angela Slatter turns some post-apocalyptic tropes on their heads in The Way of All Flesh. Where recognisable creatures from the dark appear, the authors have tried to give their kind a new twist, a deeper meaning.

On the whole, Suspended in Dusk is a well put-together anthology. Some of the stories are reprints, if they seem familiar, but each was a piece worth reinvigorating. As with any collection, some of the pieces had a style or voice or plot that was more appealing, but that’s the downside of collected works: short stories are always compared.

Suspended in Dusk is a strong first anthology from the collaboration of Simon Dewar and Books of the Dead Press. If a creeping chill is your choice of entertainment, Suspended in Dusk won’t disappoint. It is obvious why this appealed to the Australian horror community, and its follow-up anthology will be eagerly anticipated.

The year that was, 2015

When I first wrote this post, I got to the end and walked away disheartened and depressed. I know we’re all supposed to put our positive out into the world, but the reality is when I laid it all on the table, I was disappointed with my year.

The first post I wrote was lauding all the personal successes I had this year: anything to avoid looking honestly at how this year had been for me as a writer and editor.

If you step back to look at my year, it looks pretty darn good. Adventures in the States, both short breaks and one long holiday, which was incredible. No regrets about the travel; it was an experience I won’t forget. I had two groups of wonderful writer friends who inspired me and gave me great feedback and critiques.I had this novel–I’ve written more of The Whale Singer than any other novel idea I’ve ever had–whose idea and protagonists I loved. I had two polished stories that no one had given me criticism of, but seemed to be in search of the right homes. There were ideas bursting out my ears thanks to my muse with her wanderlust.

SQ Mag had a year of wins. We won the Shadows Award, an award from Australia’s preeminent horror organisation, the Australian Horror Writer’s Association. There were international award wins and recognition from the profession by the selection of SQ Mag stories for Best of Anthologies. We’ve also had some wonderful solicited authors.

The reality is that while there were some amazing happenings this year, my writing has not been at its best. Buoyed by the confidence of placing a story in two anthologies (still proud to have worked with Cameron Trost and Black Beacon Books, and also the team at Phantom Feather Press, Alicia Ponder, Eileen Mueller and Peter Friend), I thought this year might be the time I got cracking.

However, the uncertainties in my life did not add up to a good writing practice. I felt and still feel out of control in my editorial world. My polished stories did not find homes, though one was with a big name publisher for quite a while (I’m looking at that as a pro, that it wasn’t rejected outright, but con, it was still rejected).

As a writer, there were no successes for me this year.

I’m a realist: I know you can’t win all the time, certainly not in most to all of the areas of your life. There is also much that I have to be grateful for.

That didn’t stop it being disheartening. I put a bit of myself in my stories, and I’m a rejection wuss, though am better when it comes with helpful critique from someone genuinely trying to make your work better.

So for 2016, I think my work-to idea is one step at a time.

One step for my own practice and honing my craft.
Another step for doing a little bit at a time, and forgiveness if I didn’t do what I thought I could.
One step forward with a submission at a time.
One step forward with words, a chapter, anything to progress this novel toward the finish line.

And reminding myself, there will be backwards steps too. I might go nowhere, have no more measurable success. But that if I don’t work at anything, there’s no chance my writing will ever go anywhere. And I’m really at my first step, the early stages of any writing career I want to have.

My wish for 2016 for everyone is that there are at least little wins, and enough striving for better to make them feel worthwhile.

Striving for the little wins