Tabatha Wood is an Australian Shadows award-winning author of weird, dark horror fiction and uplifting poetry from Aotearoa, New Zealand. A former English teacher and library manager, her first books were guides for professional educators. She now tutors from home while also working as a freelance writer and editor, usually under the influence of strong coffee.
You can read more of Tabatha’s stories, essays and blog posts at her website: https://tabathawood.com or on Facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/tlwood.wordweaver/ and find her on Twitter @Tabatha_Writes
Can you tell us about yourself?
I’m a British-born immigrant to Aotearoa, New Zealand and a writer of predominantly speculative fiction. I started out in 2005, writing nonfiction books for education professionals, then took an almost ten-year hiatus. I returned to writing after relocating to the other side of the world, when I decided on a whim to enter a competition with the New Zealand Writer’s College. I didn’t win, but I got an Honourable Mention, and the story later became the opener in my debut collection, DARK WINDS OVER WELLINGTON. I had no plan and I didn’t have a clue what I was doing. I just knew I wanted to write again.
Your latest collection, Seeds, is coming out this month. What sort of stories are collected within, and what emotions are you wanting to evoke in your audience?
SEEDS is marketed as “quiet horror and dark speculative fiction” with a bit of body horror thrown in. It’s a real mixture of tales: some stories have been previously published elsewhere, a couple started life as free pieces on my blog and then there are others I wrote specially for the collection.
There’s a strong focus on female-identifying and queer characters, with many of the stories exploring gender and identity. The overarching themes are those of motherhood, relationships, grief and revenge, with a few monsters thrown in too. Similar to my debut collection, some stories are semi autobiographical, in that they allowed me to explore and express the darkest parts of my own life through a horror lens.
An early reviewer said they loved how dark some stories get in places and the sense of rage and justice, but also how the collection manages to stay hopeful. I think if I touch all my readers like that, I’ll be thrilled.
How do you select which of your stories to publish?
Putting together a great collection is like creating a mixtape for me; the stories have to work with others as strongly as they stand alone. I knew with SEEDS that I really wanted to play on the titular theme, so I started by breaking it into four botanically-named parts, with each section offering a different length of story. Four stories in four parts seemed like a nice round number, and after that I just had to figure out which stories seemed the best fit and how they should all follow on from one another.
I enjoy using physical aids to guide me when I’m planning, so I use Post-It notes with the story titles written on them so I can literally shuffle things around. I also scribble down a synopsis of each one so I can see at a glance if a story seems too similar or too jarring to follow another.
The opening tale is a rather dark flash-fiction piece entitled “Bloom,” set in a field of mystical sunflowers. It felt like a no-brainer to start with that and build up the TOC from there.
What makes a great short story for you?
When I read them? A great short story has to make me feel something. That might seem obvious, but sometimes a story can be technically brilliant but emotionally forgettable. I have to be invested in the characters in some way, even if that means I hate them. I know when something is good when I get lost in it.
When I write them, the same applies, but even more so. I want to forge a connection with my readers, so they’re still thinking about the story long after it ends. I want them to be satisfied with the tale I’ve given them, but still be hungry for more. Also, I have an evil streak and I delight in killing people off in my books. I think one of the best compliments you can get as a writer is someone being utterly furious with you for murdering their favourite character. That’s when you know you really moved something in them.
Why did you choose to self-publish?
The ridiculous answer is because I’m a control freak who hated the idea of querying publishers or handing over the reins to someone else, and I wanted to spend hours pulling my hair out, swearing at software and learning a bunch of new skills I never thought I’d need.
The proper answer is I wrote DARK WINDS OVER WELLINGTON as a sort of bucket-list endeavour. Writing it was cathartic, a way of processing all my emotions around emigrating. I honestly never thought anyone else would be interested in it. I definitely never imagined it would get nominated for an award. Since it did very nicely both in terms of sales and popularity, self-publishing more books seemed the way to continue.
How have you found the experience?
Overwhelmingly positive. It is bloody hard work, though, and you have to be prepared to put a lot of time into the hustle if you want to be successful. In a lot of ways, I think it has been the breadcrumbs that have led to bigger and better things. It helped me get my name out there and get publishers interested in my work.
Has the marketing aspect of self-publishing come naturally to you?
No! *laughs* I’m terrible at the marketing side and I have no “personal brand” to speak of, but somehow it seems to work out okay. I write a lot of different things, mostly horror and speculative fiction, but also nonfiction and poetry, in a variety of genres. As a freelancer I find it useful to have my fingers in many pies and be able to “write to order.”
One of my favourite writers, J. Michael Straczynski, says in BECOMING A WRITER, STAYING A WRITER that diversifying your writing makes you more marketable, and I’ve definitely found that to be true. You can make a name for yourself in one specific area or genre, certainly, but don’t turn down any opportunities that will expand your reach and readership.
Have you got any tips for others wishing to follow the same path?
I feel like some days I could write an entire book to answer this question, so I’ll try to keep my answer succinct. Writing is an awesome and thrilling career, but it can also be a long and arduous slog filled with a constant stream of rejections and crippling self-doubt. You’ve got to really love it, and keep doing it for the love of it. There are no shortcuts to success. If you want to get published, grow your readership or win awards, you’ve got to sit down and do the work, do the work, and do the work.
I always say that it’s better to make friends over contacts and to give back as much as you get given. I think the best advice I ever received was, “Get your shit together and be easy to work with.” People can forgive a poor story, but they won’t forget a poor attitude.
Please tell us about your charity work?
I love reading and contributing to charity anthologies, as I believe they do some absolutely stellar work raising money and awareness for important causes. I first got into charity work via a group called Can’t Stop the Serenity, which raised money for the charity Equality Now. It had links to Joss Whedon’s FIREFLY and SERENITY and I ran a couple of events in my then hometown of Leicester. I don’t have the time to run events so much these days, so donating my writing skills to charity is the next best thing.
I put together BLACK DOGS, BLACK TALES last year (co-edited with Cassie Hart and published by Things in the Well Press) to support the Mental Health Foundation of New Zealand. I dedicated it to a late friend of mine, and I am extremely proud to say it has raised over $1000 for the charity so far.
What other works of yours might our readers be interested in?
My weird, satirical debut collection DARK WINDS OVER WELLINGTON imagines a parallel New Zealand where all the folklore and legends are absolutely real. It was shortlisted for a Sir Julius Vogel award in 2020 for Best Collected Work.
ALL THE LAIRD’S MEN is a creature-feature, military-horror novelette set in a dystopian, future Scotland. A bit like DOG SOLDIERS meets the Loch Ness Monster.
Finally, hot on the heels of the release of SEEDS, I’ll be publishing my third poetry collection at the end of this year called TO WISH ON IMPOSSIBLE THINGS (the title is very much inspired by one of my favourite bands, The Cure) which is about my experiences as an immigrant, finding out exactly who I am and making a new home for myself.
Thank you very much for your time!