Friday, May 1, 2020

Lee Murray’s "Into The Ashes" is #154 in the never-ending series called INSIDE THE EMOTION OF FICTION

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****Lee Murray’s "Into The Ashes" is #154 in the never-ending series called INSIDE THE EMOTION OF FICTION where the Chris Rice Cooper Blog (CRC) focuses on one specific excerpt from a fiction genre and how that fiction writer wrote that specific excerpt.  All INSIDE THE EMOTION OF FICTION links are at the end of this piece
What is the date you began writing this piece of fiction and the date when you completely finished the piece of fiction? June to November 2018

Where did you do most of your writing for this fiction work?  And please describe in detail.  And can you please include a photo? I share a home office with my husband, who also does most of his work online. We live over the hill from Hobbiton in New Zealand, and our office, while in town, overlooks a cow paddock.

What were your writing habits while writing this work- did you drink something as you wrote, listen to music, write in pen and paper, directly on laptop; specific time of day? Although I keep notes of conversations or ideas that occur to me while I am out and about, I tend to do all my writing at my desk at home.
           I’m an extremely slow writer—1000 words a day is a good day for me—and I’m also a pantser, writing with just the vaguest idea of where the story is heading, so getting a novel completed means a commitment to sitting at my desk and not letting myself get too distracted by other interesting projects.

What is the summary of this specific fiction work? No longer content to rumble in anger, the great mountain warriors of New Zealand’s central plateau, the Kāhui Tupua, are preparing again for battle. At least, that’s how the Māori elders tell it. The nation’s leaders scoff at the danger. That is; until the ground opens and all hell breaks loose. 
The armed forces are hastily deployed; NZDF Sergeant Taine McKenna and his section tasked with evacuating civilians and tourists from Tongariro National Park. It is too little, too late. With earthquakes coming thick and fast and the mountains spewing rock and ash, McKenna and his men are cut off. Their only hope of rescuing the stranded civilians is to find another route out, but a busload of prison evacuees has other ideas. And, deep beneath the earth’s crust, other forces are stirring.

Can you give the reader just enough information for them to understand what is going on in the excerpt? Into the Ashes is an action adventure involving NZDF sergeant Taine McKenna and incorporating New Zealand’s rich cultural heritage and mythology. In this quieter excerpt from the novel, Taine’s mentor, Rawiri Temera, a powerful matakite or seer, tells of his own boyhood and how he had learned of the legendary fire demons Te Pūpū and Te Hoata, and their role in creating in the country’s geothermal regions.

Please include just one excerpt and include page numbers as reference.  This one excerpt can be as short or as long as you prefer.

Lee Murray
An excerpt from Into the Ashes (Severed Press), reprinted with permission.

Temera put the mower back in the shed, giving it a shove with his foot to push it all the way in. Then he sat on the porch, shucked off his grassy gumboots, and surveyed his handiwork. Crap. It was pitiful. All afternoon, and what had he achieved? Barely half the job. Back in the day, when Temera was a boy, he used to knock off this lawn in an hour and still have energy left over to go fishing. Chuckling, he rubbed the back of his neck with his palm. Yeah, well, back in the day, he wouldn’t have got away with letting the lawn get this long, either.
He leaned back against the veranda post and looked through the trees to Te Maunga, a flake of ash fluttering from the sky to land on his sock. Temera had no sooner brushed it away when another one landed, a grey-white flake vibrant against the black wool. He looked up. The sky was raining white.
The girl on the radio yesterday had said things on the plateau were getting worse. She’d had a volcanologist in the studio, a guest speaker, who was telling everyone how many cubic metres of ash had been belched into the air and going on about earthquake swarms being the first clue to volcanic activity.
Temera snorted. He didn’t need a fancy title or a PhD to know what was going on. Any kaumātua could tell you that the mountains were bickering again. But over what? And what did Te Hoata and Te Pūpū have to do with it?
Well, if he was going to worry about it, may as well get a cup of tea and sit on a comfy couch. These wooden planks were hard on an old bum. Grabbing hold of the veranda post, Temera hauled himself to his feet. Already his body was aching from pushing the mower, and it would be worse tomorrow. This getting old sucked. More than ever, he missed his little jaunts into the forests in his nine-year-old wairua-spirit form.
He switched the jug on, then sank into the sofa while he waited for it to boil. The hum of the appliance filled the room. He closed his eyes…

Temera had been twelve. It was autumn and a bit cold, so there was no one else at the foot pool. Temera’s teacher, Mātua Rata, said that was why autumn was the best time to come, so they could have it all to themselves.
Rolling up his trousers to the knees, the old man sat on the edge of the pool and eased his wrinkly feet into the hot water. Then, his palms braced on the ground behind him, he put his head back and breathed in the steam.
Temera could never understand why anyone would want to sniff in the pongy air. It smelled like rotten eggs. Mātua didn’t seem to mind.
“Ah that feels good,” Mātua said. “Come on, Temera. Get in.” He waved a skinny arm at the water.
“What if someone peed in it?”
“Don’t be ridiculous.”
“Well, it looks like someone peed in it,” Temera grumbled, but he stepped into the brown water and immediately leaped back onto the bank, jumping up and down on the spot. “Ow, ow, ow, that’s hot,” he wailed.
Mātua chuckled. “You have to ease your feet in slowly, get used to it. Have another try.”
“I don’t want to.”
“Suit yourself,” Mātua said.
“Why are we here, anyway?” Temera asked. With Mātua, there was usually a lesson involved.
Mātua folded his arms across his chest, closed his eyes, and took another deep breath. “To soak our feet.”
Temera rolled his eyes. Mātua always did this; made him wait for the lesson. Although Temera didn’t mind the stories. Some of them had epic battles: a great chief fighting a taniwha-serpent, or two rivers racing one another to reach the ocean. Sometimes it would be about a journey, or how the Māori people had learned to make nets. Temera especially liked the ones about Māui ‒ the demi-god who fished up the land with a fish hook made from his grandmother’s jawbone. The problem was, he was supposed to learn things from the stories, and that was the hard bit.
Sitting down with his wet feet not quite touching the water, Temera plucked at a hebe bush, shredding the tiny leaves with his fingers and letting them drop onto the ground between his legs. “I don’t see what’s so great about soaking our feet. It’s just a hot pool,” he said.
Mātua’s eyes flew open. “Not just a hot pool. A special gift.”
“Is there a story?”
“What do you think?”
“I think there is.”
“Well, are you going to listen?”
“I guess so.”
“Put your feet in the water, then.”
Temera dipped his toes in the pool as Mātua began his tale.
“The tohunga-priest Ngātoro-i-rangi came to Aotearoa on the mighty Te Arawa waka-canoe. It was a long trip from our ancestral lands in Hawaiki. Even before his people left there’d been a famine and some family squabbles, and then the entire waka nearly got eaten by a big shark, so they were pretty pleased to get here.”
Temera slipped his feet deeper into the hot water.
“After blessing the new land, Ngātoro-i-rangi set off to explore, leading his people inland to—”
“Here?” Temera interrupted.
“Not quite. Close, though. He came to Lake Taupō—”
“The eye of Māui’s fish!”
“Exactly.” Mātua put his hands into the water, his fingers spread wide, warming them. “While Ngātoro-i-rangi was at the lake, he climbed the nearest mountain, Mount Tauhara, and stood at the summit, where he looked to the south, taking in the view. Imagine how he must have felt, way up there, gazing over the lake and the mountains.”
Temera’s mentor chuckled at his joke, sending ripples across the surface of the pool. “Probably,” he said. “It’s a long way up Mount Tauhara. But Ngātoro-i-rangi was determined to visit the mountains in the distance. So, the next day he and his people set off, skirting the edge of the lake until they came to the biggest mountain, which Ngātoro-i-rangi named Tongariro. They’d almost made it to the top of the mountain, when a huge storm blew in from the south.”
His feet fully submerged now, Temera curled his toes in the water.
“The travellers were hounded by bitter winds carrying snow and ice. Soon, Ngātoro-i-rangi and his people were dying: freezing to death. He had to do something. So he called to his sisters Kuiwai and Haungaroa, who were waiting nearby on an island called Whakaari.”
“Wait! He called across the ocean to them. So Ngātoro-i-rangi was a matakite then? A seer like us?”
“He was.”
Temera stood up in the pool. “Did Ngātoro-i-rangi get his spirit guide to carry the message to his sisters? Or did he use a pūrerehua?”
Mātua sighed. “I don’t know. I’ve told you before; it’s not the same for all seers, Temera. Now do you want to hear the rest of the story or not?”
Temera sat down again. He wrapped his arms around his knees, his calves still in the water.
Mātua went on, “Almost dead, Ngātoro-i-rangi begged his sisters to send him fire to keep his people warm. ‘Kuiwai e!, Haungaroa e!, ka riro au i te Tonga. Tukuna mai te ahi!’ he called. Sisters, the south winds have me pinned down. Send me fire!”
“What did they do?”
Mātua dropped his voice to a whisper. “Well, there was a problem. While the sisters were able to get the sacred fire from the god Rūaumoko, there was no way they could bring it to their brother themselves. There wasn’t enough time. Ngātoro-i-rangi’s people would die before they got there. So instead, the sisters sent the fire spirits, Te Hoata and Te Pūpū, who carried six baskets of sacred embers to Ngātoro-i-rangi through secret tunnels beneath the earth.”
Despite the stinky steam, Temera sucked in his breath. This story was so cool.
“Only, there was another problem. Travelling under the ground, the fire spirits couldn’t see where they were going, so they were forced to raise their heads…” Mātua lifted his toes out of the water. “…and each time they did, they lost a basket of the sacred fire, which spewed from the earth’s crust in a burst of sparks and embers. By the time the fire spirits emerged from the tunnel at the top of Tongariro, only one basket was left, and Ngātoro-i-rangi’s companion Ngāuruhoe was dead.”
“Hey, Ngāuruhoe,” Temera said. “There’s a mountain called Ngāuruhoe.”
“Named after Ngātoro-i-rangi’s companion, yes.”
“Ngātoro-i-rangi must have been pretty sad.”
“Actually, he was furious; only one basket had arrived, and too late to save his companion. He was so angry, he kicked up a stink, stomping his feet and slamming his paddle into the earth.”
“Wow. He had a bit of a temper, then?”
“More than a bit. In his rage, Ngātoro-i-rangi knocked over the precious basket of fire and the embers caught, filling the mountains, and the underground tunnels with Rūaumoko’s volcanic power.” Mātua lifted his feet out of the pool and began to dry them on an old rag. “Quite the story, isn’t it?”
Temera sat up. He frowned. Hang on, that couldn’t be it. Mātua never let him off that easily. “So, what’s the lesson?” he demanded. “I’m a matakite so I can get fire from Ngātoro-i-rangi’s sisters?” He stepped up on to the bank and, one foot at a time, shook the droplets off his feet.
“Don’t have a temper?”
Mātua smiled. “No ‒ well yes, you need to control your temper ‒ but there’s no lesson, Temera. I just thought it would be nice to soak our feet.” Mātua threw him the rag. “And since this is one of the places Te Hoata and Te Pūpū popped their heads above the ground, we have this lovely hot pool.”

Temera pushed himself up from the sofa. Even that small action made every muscle in his body groan. He scratched the back of his neck where a piece of grass had worked its way inside his jersey, fishing it out and throwing it in the sink. Then, switching the jug on again, he leaned against the kitchen bench and looked through the open door at the veranda post. The tiny blackened print where the fire demon’s talon had scorched the wood stared back at him, demanding his attention, like the dot on an exclamation point. Mātua had said there was no lesson, just a chance for an old man and his student to enjoy the thermal waters, but as a swirl of ash drifted across the open door, Temera understood. It might not have been important back then, yet it was significant now. Te Hoata and Te Pūpū had carried a message for Ngātoro-i-rangi from his sisters when the tohunga-priest was in mortal peril. The fire spirits were messengers. When the pair had visited him many years ago in Rotorua, they had carried a message from Rūaumoko, a warning which had prevented his grand-nephew’s death.
What message were they carrying, this time? And for whom?
And why would they stop to visit him?

Why is this excerpt so emotional for you as a writer to write?  And can you describe your own emotional experience of writing this specific excerpt? Writing this excerpt wasn’t as emotional for me as it is reading it today, during the week following my father’s death. My dad was an amazing storyteller, definitely my first influence, and someone who inspired my own love of stories. This excerpt reminds me of the way Dad would conjure up stories in all sorts of unusual moments and places: on road trips, pottering in the garage, on walks on the beach, or while we were turning over the vegetable garden, for example. And he’d always find a way to make his tale relevant and fun. There were the stories about comedy duo Horace and Aristotle, two accident-prone frogs who lived in the creek at the bottom of our road, or Professor Morgan and his Zzz-Burp, an imaginary inventor who travels the world in his super-duper steampunk creation helping people solve problems. 
          And I remember being a small child, and visiting Kuirau Park in Rotorua, New Zealand’s geothermal heartland, (Left) where I soaked my feet in the thermal pools there with my family. It’s a special memory, so I’m pleased to have been able to recreate the experience here in Into the Ashes along with an equally warm memory of my dad.

Other works you have published? As well as the Taine McKenna military thrillers, I write the Path of Ra supernatural crime-noir series with my Kiwi colleague Dan Rabarts, (Right) and several other novels and novellas for children. There’s usually an up-to-date list of publications, including short fiction and poetry on my website.

Anything you would like to add? Into the Ashes was a finalist in the HWA Bram Stoker Awards® for 2019.

Lee Murray is a multi-award-winning writer and editor of science fiction, fantasy, and horror (Sir Julius Vogel, Australian Shadows) and a three-time Bram Stoker Award® nominee. Her works include the Taine McKenna military thrillers, and supernatural crime-noir series The Path of Ra, co-written with Dan Rabarts, as well as several books for children. 
          She is proud to have edited thirteen speculative works, including award-winning titles Baby Teeth: Bite Sized Tales of Terror and At the Edge (with Dan Rabarts), Te Kōrero Ahi Kā (with Grace Bridges and Aaron Compton) and Hellhole: An Anthology of Subterranean Terror. 
          She is the co-founder of Young New Zealand Writers, an organisation providing development and publishing opportunities for New Zealand school students, co-founder of the Wright-Murray Residency for Speculative Fiction Writers, and HWA Mentor of the Year for 2019. 
          In February 2020, Lee was made an Honorary Literary Fellow in the New Zealand Society of Authors Waitangi Day Honours. Lee lives over the hill from Hobbiton in New Zealand’s sunny Bay of Plenty where she dreams up stories from her office overlooking a cow paddock. Read more at She tweets @leemurraywriter


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Into The Ashes
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