Hounds of the Underworld- authors’ interview

Aren’t writers supposed to be solitary?

cover_Hounds of the Underworld
Cover designed by Daniele Serra


  • Dan Rabarts: That’s just a myth we like to maintain so we don’t have to invite anyone to our parties. Writers are actually about as social as spider monkeys, and we like to do many of the same things when we’re together: eat our bananas upside-down, groom each other for tasty insects, that sort of thing. But we keep this top secret because if everyone knew, everyone would want to be writers and come to our parties.
  • Lee Murray: It’s not exactly a party! There’s definitely a myth circulating that writing is a solitary occupation, and yet I don’t know any successful writer who works entirely in isolation, even those not writing in collaboration. Obviously, there are times when you have to glue your bottom to the chair, put your head down, and churn out the words, but most writers will contact experts to support their work, send early drafts out to a critique group or writing buddy, and then, when draft is completed, beta-readers and editors move in, all of whom contribute to the work in different ways. As far as I can tell, writing a novel is always a collaborative process.

How did you come to collaborate with each other?

  • Dan: A little book called Baby Teeth kicked it all off. I had a crazy idea and got some people on board and realised I’d bitten off more than I could chew, no pun intended. Lee stepped up to help pull it all together.
  • Lee: I think with Baby Teeth – a charity project ‒ the way the anthology came together was atypical, with stories coming in from both established and emerging writers, so from an editing perspective, it was always going to be a challenge. Professionally, Dan and I brought different skill sets to the table and we tried to make it fun and not too intimidating for the newbies. Ask any of the writers: it was like a comedy routine going on in the margins, the pair of us battling it out, trying to find the best way to polish the text. On the way we both learned some new techniques, which we carried over into our individual projects. By the time Baby Teeth went on to win the Australian Shadows and Sir Julius Vogel awards it was clear the partnership was something we should explore further. I threw it out there, and Dan said, why not? But ours is more than just a professional arrangement. On a personal level, we clicked from the get-go. We’re friends: I love Dan’s sense of humour, his can-do attitude, and his wonderfully weird and twisted way of thinking. And the great thing is, our families get on too ‒ we both have incredibly supportive long-suffering spouses ‒ so when we can, we get our kids together, crack open a few drinks, and fire up the BBQ. It’s not all work.

How did you split the collaboration process – decide who contributed what?

  • Lee: Hounds of the Underworld is a he-said she-said narrative, with me writing the science consultant Penny Yee, and Dan writing her ex-con brother, Matiu. So while we each contribute to the development of the other characters, it’s as if we have ownership of those particular story threads. In terms of process, the Dan and Lee approach is an odd mixture of planning and ‘pantsting’, with doses of affectionate squabbling. In fact, the sensible big sister and subversive little brother roles of Penny and Matiu apply to our writing process too, where I am the big sister who knows best and Dan has the crazy go-off-on-a-tangent ideas. Broadly speaking, we have an idea of where we want the story arc to go, but I never quite know what to expect when I open Dan’s latest section, exactly where he’ll have taken a scene. Down some dark alleyway, usually! Working with Dan definitely means taking the story to another dimension.
  • Dan: Yip, we manage to keep this balance of driving the narrative forward in our own ways: Lee with solid research and plausibility, and me with random unexplained explosions. But we frequently sit down during the process and make sure that, at least to some extent, we’re working towards the same goal. The push-pull dynamic that Penny and Matiu share to get their results isn’t that far removed from our collaborative process.

Tell us about the most {worrying / enjoyable} part of collaborating?

  • Dan: Worrying? There’s always the risk that one of us will be abducted by aliens or otherwise removed from the process, and the one that’s left will have to not only pretend to be the other writer, mimic their style, fall into their ideas, take ownership of plot points we’ve deliberately maintained some distance from, but also knowing we’d have to maintain the other person’s social media profiles until the aliens release them back into the wild. All those hashtags. So many hashtags.
  • Lee: {rolls her eyes} Lynne, please don’t get him started. I’m going to open up the next section of the sequel and find it has aliens in it now, aren’t I? The downside is that people assume we must be married! No, I think the biggest worry is that our lives keep getting in the way. Family. Work. We’ve learned to be flexible.
  • Dan But enjoyable? That’s the magic of it. It’s having an idea which is only half-formed, and bandying it around with someone excited and committed to the project, invested in the world and the characters. Lee will bring something new to that misshapen idea, an unexpected twist that gives it direction and completion, and you have this synergy going on that leads to cool things happening, taking form on the page. Whole is greater than the sum of the parts, sort of thing.
  • Lee: The thing I like is that I only have to write half the book. Actually, collaborating ends up being more work than writing on your own, but being a ponderously slow writer myself, sharing the work helps me with the word-count head games!

With which other writers would you / have you collaborate/d? Tell us about that…

  • Dan: We’ve both collaborated with other writers, and produced some fairly cool works as a result. I’m part of a writing band called Cerberus, which comprises myself, Grant Stone and Matthew Sanborn Smith, and one of our stories, Dada, has appeared in Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine. We produce some extremely weird fiction. But my favourite collaboration outside of the Rabarts/Murray workload right now is a little story called “The People Machines”, which my ten-year-old son and I are writing at bedtime. It’s a story about two boys who get the power to turn into any machine they can imagine, just in time to protect the world from the evil, machine-eating Corlocks. Fart jokes and witty puns abound.
  • Lee: I have a collaborative YA novella, Mika, with YA specialist, Piper Mejia. We’d already worked together on a number of student anthologies, and when I moved to Wellington, the project gave us a reason to talk every week. With Mika, a Kiwi version of the Wizard of Oz, we wrote alternating chapters and then ‘smoothed’ the final text, so it reads like a single writer. I also have a couple of picture books out on submission, both collaborations with Eileen Mueller. But like I said earlier, all writing involves an element of collaboration.



Tell us what fun and games went into the cover design…

  • Lee: It’s gorgeous, isn’t it? It’s by Italian artist, Daniele Serra. In terms of fun and games, there weren’t any: we sent in some ideas, just concepts really, and it came back perfectly formed.

What’s your favourite way to meet your readers ‒ at book signings, conventions, or other events – and why?

  • Dan: Book launches, for sure. Because that means they might be buying a book. Yay! (Buy books, people. We love you when you buy books.) But otherwise, pretty much anywhere. Bars are good. Personally, I like those impromptu gatherings of a dozen people dropping in on an unsuspecting restaurant downtown somewhere to chinwag and press the flesh and talk books and writing and the deplorable state of American politics while comparing craft beers. Good times.
  • Lee: Any time you meet someone who likes your story. Online. At a launch. Conventions. Anywhere. There’s nothing more uplifting than to know you’ve inspired a reader. I walked into the supermarket once, and a woman came running over to me and said, “You’re that writer lady, aren’t you? You’re doing so well.” That was pretty special.

Red: Thanks, Dan and Lee for the distance interview


Hound of the Underworld can be purchased at
publishers {click the logo to go and buy}




Puzzle—how can your mother walk off on an errand and never be seen or heard of again? 
How can you, as a young teenager in your final secondary school year, focus on the expectations to get back into the usual cycle of school and friends? How do you cope with the turmoil in the neighbourhood, with police popping in and out regularly,  and your mother’s Missing Person poster plastered everywhere?
By taking each day one at a time, facing stress, argument, feelings  of futility. By accepting help from unexpected quarters, of unexpected kind, welcome or not.  
Add to the mix of the mash-up – your father, Phil,  shows himself as being totally at odds of what you thought your father was. Not just a car dealer, but also someone who would have ruined the marriage and family even without your mother, Tiffany, going missing.
It takes time, good friends, a wise school counsellor, principal and coach, and desparate attempts to follow up on clues that aren’t clues… 
Could you successsfully cope? Would you come out of it as a changed person? 
Adam shows us how he coped, struggled, and came through, in this gripping tale of any child’s nightmare. In the more-than capable hands of Lee Murray, we see Adam’s turmoil both from the outside and from his inner self. I especiallly enjoyed Murray’s natural way of bring the modern adolescents’ comfortable use of Instant Messaging into the novel as another channel for communication between Adam and his friends.

A damned good read for any teen, boy or girl – with my whole-hearted recommendation.
ISBN (print) 978-0-473-26600-4
ISBN (epub) 978-0-473-26601-1
ISBN (mobi) 978-0-473-26608-0
Published by Leapy Sheep Books of Tauranga
©Lee Murray, 2013
Reviewer’s note: Buy links will be added later.

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DREAMTIME – pt 1 of Guardians of the Shimmer by Garth LAWLESS

From the moment I realized the fantasy is set in New Zealand, is well written, and its antagonists are a family of parents and teenagers, I knew the author is on a winner.
His descriptive passages are vivid; we See the green bush, the space between the shimmer curtain, the safe haven, the dream worlds … in efficient writing which drew me on, reading until ungodly hours of the morning. 
His characterization is realistic. 13 year old Cole and sister 17 year old Lily are astonished to discover their parents are part of a fantastic “other world” in parallel to ours. In Gap-Space – between the Shimmer and Dream-Time – they quickly become enmeshed in the world of the Guardians, acquiring skills and powers to help the Guardians keep back the VELI, who are able to absorb innocents, change them to Veli, use them. 
Cole and Lucy become part of the Guardians’ quest to discover and return keys to the Shelter, and find they can move to other Shelters around the world. The chase and fight scenes are full of action, described in a way that will appeal to the young adult or adolescent reader. Finishing with an unresolved dilemma, Lawless leaves us demanding “where’s the next in the series?”
Intended for the ten to thirteen year old boy, it is proving popular with older age groups and with girls and women as well. Heck, I’m sixty-two and I want to read the sequel!
Dreamtime“, part one of the series Guardians of the Shimmer
Author: Garth Lawless
Illustrator: Joyce van der Lely
Publisher: OceanBooks,
PO Box 4075, Mount Maunganui South, Bay of Plenty, New Zealand 3149
ISBN: 978-1-937215-38-8 (paperback)
          978-1-937215-39-5 ( ePub)
          978-1-937215-40-1 (Mobi)
Available from …
·        Oceanbooks: http://www.oceanbooks.co.nz/shimmer.html

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  • Book suitable for an older child.
The Ultimate Sacrifice: Book one of the Gifted Teens series by Talia Jager,
(c) 2011 (Kindle version, ISBM 978-09836164-3-6 e-Book)

On first appearances it’s aimed towards the 11 to 16 year old (teen) female market.
  • Stats:  subject matter, language use, …
    Subject matter: Fantasy fiction – Children of teen age are living in closed community schools, having in common they each have a strange, futuristic or magical power. They are “Gifted Teens” – Compellors, Predictors, Mind Readers, Animal Commmunicators, Lie Detectosr, Telekinetics, Dreamers …
  • Most significant characters are female teens, or young adults; male teens form a “supporting cast” for the two heroines – Kassia, able when enraged to inflict great pain, unknown limit; her friend Mira who is the only person immune to Kassia’s rage.
    There are other characters :  Vala (a female shaman) and a Ramsay Battar (whose “expertise” or power is never made clear); Noe (gifted teen – a predictor); Auralee (gifted teen – a mind-reader), Daxton (a dreamer and Kassia’ love interest), Zane  (an animal communicator and Mira’ love interest).                
    • And then the “baddies”: demons, swarms of them, under the control of chief demon Kern.
  • Plot Line: Early in the plot, Mira, alone in the city, is subjected to rape. Kassia races to the aid, and unleashes such rage at the perpetrators that she kills them; from that moment, she becomes of interest to Kern, who envisages turning her to join him and his demons in overtaking the world.
    The plot proceeds with the six friends being sent away from their community school to try and keep the demons away from the other gifted teens. After a number of demon attacks, over which Kassia’s rage power increases, frightening the other friends.
    Kassia realises that the only way to protect her friends from a massive demon attack is to kill herself, and persuades Zane to promise that should she become a danger to the friends, he is to kill her.
    The friends meet Vala who gives them each a special “faerie  dagger”, embellished with the tattoo each wears to indicate their power. They set up an attack scene, and Kassia is allowed to be captured.

    After meeting  Kern, revolted by his determination to have her join his forces by one method ro another, she stabs herself it the heart with her faerie dagger. His demon servants dump her body, it’s found by the friends and Vala, who sends the friends back to the college, and revives Kassia. Kassia now learns more of her own background, and is trained by Ramsay and Vala to harness and control her power.
    Final scenario has the demons attack both gifted teens schools at once; the children have been preparing for battle, learning arms-manship, martial arts etc. In the middle of the fight, Kassia appears at the college (via a “portal”) and in the battle mix, comes against Kern. By stabbing him three times in the heart with another special sword, she is able to kill him.
    Expected happy ending all around.

  • Specific market elements.
    • Similarities to the twilight (blech) series – male meets female of a different “kind”, and together they fight for a common cause. That’ll appeal to readers whose parents know they’re too young for twilight.
      What doesn’t work: some of the social scenes between the friends (teens, remember) are rather child-like; the presence of demons I can take – readers would love them; the powers of the gifted teens seem straight from a Marvel comic; the presence of “faeries” and Kassia having “angel blood” in her family line – hhmm, are we looking at a very young teen reader?
    • I  did enjoy  reading it – it didn’t take long; Ms Jager’s books seem (so far) to be available as  e-Books only

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Thank you