This week author Pauline Montagna is busy dropping by many blog sites as part of her Surburban Terrors Virtual Blog Tour.
Pauline Montagna was born into an Italian family in Melbourne, Australia. After obtaining a BA in French, Italian and History, she indulged her artistic interests through amateur theatre, while developing her accounting skills through a wide variety of workplaces culminating in the Australian film industry. In her mid-thirties, Pauline returned to university and qualified as a teacher of English as Second Language, a profession she pursued while completing a Diploma of Professional Writing and Editing. She has now retired from teaching to concentrate on her writing. She has published two books, The Slave, an historical romance set in Medieval Italy and Suburban Terrors, a short story collection.
Thanks Helen for hosting me during my virtual blog tour.
My pleasure, and congratulations on Suburban Terrors. It is an enjoyable read.
Could you tell us about the inspiration behind Suburban Terrors?
You could say that the inspiration for Suburban Terrors came from a story in my local paper. As a teacher of English to migrants, I’ve found that the local newspaper is a great resource. It’s free, you get a new one every week, and it gives you lots of information about the local area. We were reading an article I found there about a car chase. The police were chasing a stolen car down a suburban street. The stolen car clipped another car that flipped over trapping the two elderly passengers, then crashed into a front fence. The driver leapt out of the car, jumped over a few back fences and tried to hide under a house that was being renovated. Unfortunately for him, he was found by the builder who kept him trapped there until the police came for him. Soon after that I was asked to write a horror story in Short Story class. I’m not much of a horror fan, but I do like ghost stories and I remembered that newspaper article. What if, I thought, the car thief had actually got inside a house, a house that belonged to an elderly couple that were in that car he hit? And what if the couple didn’t survive, but had been killed? So combining that thought with characters inspired by real people, I wrote the earliest story in the collection – A Hostage Situation – though what you’ll read in the book is a later version of the original story. The success of this story inspired me to start thinking about putting together a collection of similar stories and Suburban Terrors was born.
Do you have a favourite character or story in this collection? If so, which one and why?
Now you’re asking me to choose between my children! I love them all. I hope my readers will, too.
Are there any stories in Suburban Terrors based on your own experiences? If so, could you elaborate on one of them?
Jim-from-next-door is based on my own neighbour when I lived in Perth. It so closely follows the actual facts that I would give the whole story away if I told you all about it, so I won’t. Suffice to say that while the narrator is fictitious, almost everything that happens between her and Jim (OK so I spiced it up a bit) actually happened, though not all to one woman. Instead I’ll tell you about the origins of ‘In the Loop’. In 1998 I went to Germany and spent a few days with a friend in Hanover. One day we caught the tram into town where we witnessed a rather strange incident. A couple of young students got on the tram. He was dark and handsome and she was pretty with long blonde hair. They spent most of their time in a prolonged kiss. Soon the boyfriend got off leaving the girl behind and they lovingly waved goodbye. At the same stop another dark and handsome young man got on with a male friend. He would have seen the fond parting. Although he continued to talk to his friend, he found it difficult to keep his eyes off the girl. She knew he was looking at her and pretended very ardently that she didn’t notice and didn’t invite it. In fact, she could have easily avoided his gaze by sitting in a nearby seat with her back to him, but she didn’t and remained standing where he could see her, even after he and his friend sat down. All three got off at the same stop which was a major intersection in the city’s underground. The last I saw of them he was following hard on her heels up the escalator. I dearly wished I could see what came next. This was one of the rare occasions when I wrote such an observation down. (Truth to tell, I’m not much of an observer of life, living mostly in my head as I do.) The incident was certainly intriguing, but the problem was how to turn it from an anecdote into a story, and a story with a twist at that. Finally the answer came to me. Here in Melbourne our suburban trains also go underground in the city centre in a circular system we call the Loop. Trains enter the Loop, go around the central city then come out where they came in and head back out to the suburbs. This similarity to the original location, its circularity and the hint of repetition in the original incident – the second boy looked very much like the first boy – all came together in a story in which a commuter observes a similar incident seemingly endlessly repeated.
When you wrote, did you have a favourite place to write?
I have the good fortune of having a room set aside for my writing, what should be the second bedroom in my two bedroom unit. I have it well set up with a wide screened computer and lots of book shelves. Unfortunately the view out the window is restricted to the side fence and my neighbour’s clothesline, but then I couldn’t have written a book like Suburban Terrors in the country!
How do you get started with writing real stories with a twist? (ie. how do you start developing the story?)
Writing stories of any kind is a creative process so it’s hard to pin down how I went about it. Calling on how I wrote ‘A Hostage Situation’, I started by collecting stories – news stories, anecdotes I had heard, incidents from my own experience, urban legends – and putting them in individual folders which I would revisit from time to time and add a thought here or a link there. However, when I decided to publish a collection, I had to knuckle down and turn those notes into cohesive stories. Mainly it was a matter of working on it until it came together. Sometimes I kept the structure of the original story intact but created a new cast of characters. ‘Last Fare’, for example is closely based on an urban legend in which a kindly taxi driver gives a dying woman her last look at her old haunts. In my story a rather grumpy taxi driver picks up a mysterious passenger who is connected to his own past. Sometimes the original idea became a simple germ that developed into a completely different creature. For example, ‘I Know What You Did’, in which a killer is harassed by a mysterious caller, came out of a story I had heard many years earlier about a teenage telephone prank. The final story bears absolutely no resemblance to the original story except that they both involve phones. I can’t tell you where the final story came from. It just popped into my head.
What advice would you give writers who wish to work on a collection of stories?
Well, first of all I have to warn you that in general poetry and short story collections and anthologies don’t sell very well, so it’s unlikely that a publisher will take you on. If you do decide to self-publish, make sure your stories have been workshopped by fellow writers or have done well in short story competitions. This will ensure that the stories work and aren’t just anecdotes or synopses for a novel. If the stories are meant to be comic, test them on a few readers to make sure they also find them funny. You can’t tell a reader ‘you had to be there’. Most readers find ‘literary’ short stories, in which nothing much happens and its ending is unresolved, rather disconcerting. If this is your style, make sure your potential readers know what to expect.
What advice would you give to writers who run out of creativity when writing?
All writers dread writer’s block. It makes you feel that perhaps you’ve chosen the wrong career. The advice I was given is that if you are in the middle of a project and find yourself stuck, it may be because you’ve taken a wrong turning at some point. You should go back to the beginning and look for the point where you had a choice and explore what might have happened if you took the alternative route. If that doesn’t work, then I would advise you to step back from what you are doing for a while and take a break. If you have other projects on the boil, devote some time to one of them and let the ideas brew subconsciously. If you really feel you’ve run out of ideas altogether, then start reading. Read newspapers, blogs, biographies, history books, other books in your genre, good ones for inspiration, bad ones to react against. Watch documentaries, especially those about ordinary people in extraordinary situations. The ideas will come.
Where can we purchase Suburban Terrors?
Suburban Terrors is available as a paperback from Lulu and Amazon, as an ebook in all formats from Smashwords and as an epub from Barnes and Noble, and directly from my website at http://paulinemontagna.net/suburban-terrors/ .
Could I also take this opportunity to tell readers that I’ll be holding a book group discussion about Suburban Terrors on my Goodreads Group between September 1 and 12 (one day for each story). To join in you will need to become a member of my group at https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/114808 . In the meantime you might want to comment on this book tour, or put a question to me. I look forward to seeing you there.
Pauline Montagna, Writer and Publisher http://paulinemontagna.net/
Thanks Pauline for dropping by, and sharing your Suburban Terrors journey.
Wait! There’s more.
Please drop by my blog later today for my review on Suburban Terrors. It is an enjoyable read.
In the meantime, you will find a sample story from Suburban Terrors below:
Pauline’s Social Media contacts:
Where to Buy the Book:
As an eBook for $2.99 -
Author’s website at: http://paulinemontagna.net/suburban-terrors/
As a Paperback for $12.79 -
Here is a Sample Story from Suburban Terrors:
It was all Dave’s idea, I swear. He figured it was easy money. Grab a dog (you had to make sure it was well looked after, no use picking a stray) ring the owners and demand a ransom. Easy. I mean it’s not like you’re grabbing a kid or anything. We just needed some quick cash, just to see us through ‘til the crop headed.
But it was me that found the dog. A little black thing it was. Just a puppy really. Dave said it looked like a big black rat. I thought it might be a fox terrier, or maybe a cross, part labrador or something. Anyhow, it came to me when I called it, all trusting and wagging its little tail and looking at me with its big black eyes, while Dave jumped on it from behind with this sack. It struggled a bit when we shoved it in the car, but it didn’t make a sound.
When we got it home we took it out to the backyard. I had this old lead from when we had a dog, a big pit bull terrier, but someone came over the back fence and poisoned it and stole our crop. Dave wanted to get another one, but I couldn’t stand it. I loved that old terrier. Maxy, his name was. Anyhow, we had this old lead, so I used it to tie the dog to the clothesline. Used one of those really good knots I learned in the boy scouts so it wouldn’t get loose.
The dog had a collar with the owners’ phone number, but no name. I asked Dave if we should ring the owners straight away, but he said wait a bit and let them stew. He said they’d pay more that way.
So we left the dog and went to the pub.
We got home pretty late because Dave was meeting this bloke he knew who was selling us one of those big plasma TVs off the back of a truck. He was only asking $500. Dave loves his footy and I don’t mind a good flick now and then, you know, one with a good car chase. So we had to wait ‘til well after dark for him to turn up and then we had to have a couple of drinks with him. He was trying to sell Dave an indoor gym as well. He had to be joking. Anyhow, Dave was trying to put him off without admitting he didn’t have any more money. Once we’d got home and brought the telly inside it was well after midnight before we remembered to feed the dog.
When I saw the mess I just swore to buggery. You should’ve seen it. Chewed up marijuana plants thrown around all over the lawn. And they were just about to head, too. Dave came racing out. When he saw it he roared. ‘Where’s that fucking dog? I’ll kill the fucking cunt.’
I got to the dog first. I could’ve killed it myself. When it saw me it got up, wagging its little tail and looking at it me with its big black eyes. I’ll give you wagging your little tail I was thinking, but then I saw it couldn’t’ve been the dog. It was still tied to the clothesline just as we’d left it, same knot tied in the same way and all. I showed it to Dave. He was still so angry he’d’ve given the dog a good kicking anyway, but I made him see sense. Whatever the little mongrel had done, it meant money to us, money we’d need more than ever now. Dave gave the shed door a good thumping instead.
The next morning I cleaned up the mess, but it wasn’t ‘til I went to feed the birds that I saw the worst of the damage. They were all lying still in the bottom of the aviary, their little claws stuck up in the air. And there wasn’t a mark on them.
That night Dave rang the owner while I listened on the extension. A woman answered. Dave put on this really tough deep voice. ‘We’ve got your dog. It’ll be five thousand dollars if you ever want to see it again.’ Dave reckoned that was fair compensation for losing the crop.
There was nothing for a moment on the other end, then she said, ‘Is the dog all right?’ She sounded worried, but pretty calm.
‘For now,’ Dave said.
‘I’m just a pensioner,’ she said. ‘I can’t pay five thousand dollars.’
‘You will if you want your dog back in one piece.’
‘You won’t hurt the dog, will you?’
Dave just laughed. ‘We’ll give you another ring soon. You think about it.’
‘I’ll call the police.’
‘No you won’t, love. Not if you ever want to see your dog alive, you won’t.’
Dave gave me a grin as he hung up. ‘She’ll pay.’
Dave had bought another plant from a mate, just for our personal use, so we decided to put the dog to bed in the outside laundry, just in case. I tied it up to the pipes with a good strong knot. We left it sitting on top of the washing machine and bolted the door. We didn’t hear a peep all night.
The next morning I got up and went outside for a piss. I thought I might check up on the dog, give it a drink of water or something, when I saw all this water coming from under the door. I unbolted the door and jumped back. It opened by itself and all this filthy water came pouring out. I thought the dog must’ve drowned, but when I looked in it was sitting on the washing machine, just where we left it the night before. The taps were running and the trough had overflowed. I rushed in and turned off the taps and then looked around. It was a bloody fright. All the dirty clothes we’d left in the washing machine were torn up and thrown all over the place. There were even bits hanging from the rafters. Everything was covered in soap powder, and all the bottles were open and the stuff inside emptied out all over the place making this sticky goo. But when I checked out the dog it was completely clean and dry and when he stood up you could see the spot under him was clean, too.
We rang the owner again that afternoon. I’d managed to clean up most of the mess before Dave got up, but I had to tell him what happened. He wasn’t too happy, but the old woman wouldn’t budge. ‘I still can’t pay you,’ she told us.
‘Look, lady,’ Dave said, ‘you’ve got a nice little dog there. You wouldn’t want to see it come to any harm, would you? There are places that’d pay good money to get their hands on a healthy specimen like him. Would you like that?’
‘No, I wouldn’t,’ she said, ‘but I just don’t have the money.’
‘All right,’ Dave said. ‘What about two thousand dollars? You think about that and we’ll call you tomorrow.’
That night we emptied everything out of the old broom cupboard off the kitchen and put the dog in there. Dave screwed a huge bolt to the door and we even wedged a chair under the door handle. There was no way he was going to get into any mischief in there.
But the next morning I was woken up by Dave bellowing like a wounded bull. I rushed out to see what was wrong. There were broken CDs and DVDs all over the living room. The videos had all been unwound and the tapes were all tangled up together. And the brand new plasma TV was lying smashed up on the floor. Screaming like a banshee, Dave ran out to the kitchen and pulled the carving knife out of the drawer. ‘Where’s that fucking dog?’ he yelled. ‘I’m going to kill it.’
He pulled the chair away from the cupboard door and unbolted it. I stood back (I’m not good with blood) but Dave stopped in his tracks, the knife still in midair. I peaked over his shoulder. The dog was still tied up inside, wagging its tail and looking at us with its big black eyes.
Dave backed out and turned and looked at me like he was in shock or something. I sat him in a chair and took the knife off him. I made him a cup of coffee and sat down with him, but we had nothing to say to each other.
That day, I talked to the dog’s owner. ‘Look, lady, we know you don’t have much money, so we’ll do a deal with you. We can give you the dog for a thousand dollars.’
But she wasn’t ready to deal. ‘I’m sorry,’ she said. ‘That’s still too much.’ And she hung up on us.
We put the dog in the aviary that night. We tied it up with two strong ropes so it could barely move. We locked the door and tied it shut with another strong rope, making sure the knot was well out of reach. And they were good knots too, the strongest ones I’d learnt in the boy scouts. There was no way it could get out of there. Then we went inside and locked all the doors and shut all the windows.
But I tossed and turned all night. I kept having these dreams about the little dog sneaking around the house, looking for some more mischief. I finally fell into a deep sleep in the early hours of the morning, so I didn’t wake up until late. Still pretty groggy, I went to the kitchen to make some coffee and found Dave lying unconscious on the floor. One leg and an arm were lying at funny angles and he was bleeding and bruised all over. While I was waiting for the ambulance, he came to. He couldn’t tell me what happened, just that he’d got up in the night to get a drink of water and fell over something. He said it was something warm and moving.
After the ambulance took Dave to the hospital, I went out to look at the dog. It was sitting, just as we left it, tied up in the aviary, looking at me with its big black eyes.
I rang the owner again that afternoon. I couldn’t let Dave down altogether so I asked for five hundred dollars.
‘I’m sorry,’ she said, really cool like. ‘I’ve already told you. I’m a pensioner.’
There was no use carrying on so I asked her for her address and said I’d bring the dog round to her. I thought maybe she’d give me something for my trouble, but she refused to tell me and hung up on me.
I was at home all alone with the dog that night. I put it back in the aviary and tied it up. I locked and tied the aviary up. Then I took all the heavy things I could find in the shed and the backyard and put them in front of the door and all around it. I locked all the doors and windows in the house. I went to my room, locked the door and moved a chest of drawers in front of it. But I still didn’t feel safe. I sat up all night, and all night I could hear something outside my bedroom door, scratching and knocking.
In the morning the noises had stopped, but I was still too scared to go out. I called the owner on my mobile. I begged her to come and get the dog. I swore I wouldn’t hurt either of them.
She didn’t say anything for a while, then she said, ‘All right. Tell me your address. But if there’s any trouble I’ll call the police.’
Quarter of an hour later, I opened the door to this really weird looking woman. She was tall and sort of elegant, pretty young looking for a pensioner, except that she had this really long white hair. She was wearing a long black dress with all these symbols sewn on it in red. And she had these really blue eyes that looked right through you. ‘I’ve come for the dog,’ she said, ‘and no funny business.’
I wasn’t going to give her any trouble.
I took her out to the backyard and let the dog out. It jumped straight into her arms and licked her all over. She laughed and kissed it back, talking baby talk to it.
As I took her back through the house to the front door she looked around and said, ‘Where’s your friend? I thought there were two of you.’
I told her he was in hospital.
She gave this cold, cruel smile and said, ‘Well, he should be safe there.’
I opened the front door to see her out. Ours is only a short street and I know everyone’s car. There were no strange cars in the street. Where we’d picked up the dog was at least an hour’s drive away, and I knew she lived in the same area because of her phone number. I couldn’t help asking, ‘How did you get here?’
She gave me a knowing grin that gave me this cold feeling.
Before I knew it I was shoving a hundred dollars into her hand for a taxi.
‘That’s very generous of you,’ she said with that same grin, stuffing the note down her dress. She looked around for the dog. It had gone exploring up and down the street. ‘Here, Satan,’ she called to him, ‘let’s go home.’
Please drop by my blog later today, for my review on Suburban Terrors.