• Lee Murray

Darian Smith: On Romance and Zombies

Today, I’m talking with my colleague, Darian Smith, a writer making a bit of noise in the New Zealand speculative scene. 


Hi Darian, and welcome!

How does it feel to have your work in 3 categories in the Sir Julius Vogel (SJV) finals this year? 

It feels really amazing.  I’m so excited.  For me, personally, I get such a huge thrill out of hearing that people enjoyed my writing and there aren’t that many ways to get that feedback so having a nomination for the SJVs – or a review on Amazon or Goodreads etc – really means a lot to me. I think the SJV Awards are hugely valuable as a way of highlighting Kiwi writers of speculative fiction so I hope people get out there and read the works that are on the ballot and make their votes count.


Of those, what work are you most proud of and why? You’re giving me Sophie’s Choice here! Which child is my favourite? I’m proud of them all for different reasons. I’m proud of Currents of Change because I love the story and I was able to bring a strong New Zealand flavour into it and, although it’s not the first novel I’ve written, it’s the first one to be out in the world for readers. I’m proud of Shifting Worlds because it shows the range of my writing and I enjoy the intense hit that short stories can give.  And I’m proud of Drag Marks because where else can you read about an HIV positive drag queen and a woman with muscular dystrophy overcoming the zombie apocalypse?  Viva la diversity!


Why speculative fiction? 

Speculative fiction is and always will be my first love when it comes to both writing and reading.  That’s not to say I don’t love to read and write other genres (and yes, literary fiction is a genre) but I always come back to speculative fiction.  I think it gives a chance for human imagination to really soar.  We use it to expand our minds and explore inner truths.  People sometimes write speculative fiction off as escapism and it is that, but it also reflects back a lot of inner truths about ourselves and society while it entertains.  Plus I love magic and super powers.


Your stories have a strong element of romance – how does it feel being a man in a minority? 

You know, I still find it kind of odd to hear that. Currents of Change I intended to have a romantic thread in it but I’ve also seen Drag Marks described as a love story and thought, “Really?  With the zombies and the high heels to the skull?”  But it is, in its own way.  And I think the thing is this: Romantic relationships are a part of the human experience and good stories tell the human experience.  Name any hit book or movie – no matter how blokey it is – and I can pretty much guarantee there’s a romance thread in it.  Action keeps a story moving but it’s the characters that make us care about the action and characters, like real people, care about each other.That said, I was the MC at last year’s New Zealand Romance Writers Conference and I think I was one of two men in the room – the other being a reporter doing a story on the conference!  So there is still some gender bias in the way people approach these things.  There’s never a queue for the men’s toilets at those things, I can tell you that.


Your lovely wife Adrienne is also a writer – how does that influence your work? Ever have to fight her off one of your story ideas? 

Adrienne truly does write romance rather than speculative fiction so we are different in the stories we like to tell. It’s great having another writer to bounce ideas off, but we do have to remember to switch our brains into the “other” mode when we consider each other’s work. We often joke that I’m constantly trying to kill her characters off and she’s constantly trying to pair up mine. While that’s not strictly true, I think we lend our strengths to each other’s writing and are both the better for it. We do have a strong rule about whose story it is though and when the one writing the story says “no” to an idea, then no matter how good the other one thinks it is, it’s a no.


The apocalypse is upon us and you have been selected as one of a group of lucky people about to be sealed in a survival Dome. Tell us what books you’ll be taking and why? You can only take five. Nup, only five as there are space limitations. 

Oh jeepers. Do boxed sets count? I have the complete Chronicles of Narnia in one volume. If I have enough time I’m sure I could compile a suitable compendium of books into one hefty tome. I mean, sure, it would be as thick as I am tall, but that still counts as one, right?I’m pretty sure I’m gonna get locked out of the dome for taking too long to decide.


Tell us about your life outside writing. What do you do for work, for fun, and how do those things influence your writing, if at all. 

My “day job” is as a fieldworker for the Muscular Dystrophy Association where I provide information and support to people living with neuromuscular conditions. I’m also a counsellor/family therapist. I think my counselling training has been very useful for my writing in terms of character development and understanding emotion and motivation. It’s a topic I’ve spoken on a lot and recently put out a book called The Psychology Workbook for Writers which aims to help authors use some of the theories and techniques from the world of counselling and psychology to create realistic characters and conflict in their work.


What do you love most about writing? Any pet hates?

I love the creative transportation of it. There’s nothing quite like that feeling of being in the zone and creating something that can touch readers on some level.Pet hates – probably the length of time it can take me.


What actor is going to play you in the story of your life? Tell us a little secret about you to help that actor get into the role. 

Someone that makes me seem way more awesome than I really am! Like Jared Padalecki or something.  Okay, he’s nothing like me, but that’s why he’s an actor, right? As for a secret… it’s not much of a secret but I’m actually really introverted and shy.


Best advice you’ve been given as a writer?I think it’s the basics. Remember to have a Beginning, Middle, and End. Show, don’t tell.  The stuff we all hear a million times as beginner writers and yet is often forgotten.  Getting that stuff into my blood made a world of difference to my writing and is relevant to every new project I work on.


Thanks Darian! Readers can find out more about Darian and his writing at his website.


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© 2018 by Lee Murray