Meet the Editor: Bracken MacLeod

Bracken MacLeod is one of the submission editors behind BLIGHT Digest, our new quarterly dark fiction and horror magazine. He is a past contributor to Shotgun Honey, The Big Adios and Reloaded, so who better to know what it’s like to submit to One Eye Press and face the gauntlet? Read his stories (hint: the links in the previous sentence) and the wisdom of his answers.

What was your first introduction to Dark Fiction and Horror?

My earliest memory of reading dark fiction and horror was when I read Steven Schwartz’s Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark in fifth grade. I devoured that book, keeping it out way past when it was due back at the library. I asked our librarian for more like it, but this was long before Goosebumps or anything like that and she told me they didn’t have anything appropriate I could read. So instead, I asked my mother for something. She gave me a copy of Cujo. I loved the book because Tad was close to my age and we’d once had a St. Bernard. That neither one fares well in the end (am I allowed to spoil a thirty year old book?) didn’t bother me. After that I was hooked on horror (and age-inappropriate reading). I also suspect that it’s Cujo’s fault that I am not a big fan of tidy endings where everyone is A-okay.

What is the scariest real life moment you experienced?

I’ve seen and lived through a lot of scary things and more than a couple are too personal to share. I’ve been a legal observer at crime scenes, been threatened by really bad people, and have almost died more than once (from causes both external and internal). Instead of picking one, I’ll tell you instead about the scariest place I’ve ever been: Pocatello, Idaho. The last six months I lived there they arrested James Edward Wood, a serial rapist and killer who’d done unspeakable things to a local papergirl, there were official warnings of a homeless man stabbing people who refused to give him money, and an armed, day-long stand-off in the bank across the parking lot from my apartment. That doesn’t count living above the guy who’d strangled, bludgeoned, ran over, and then burned his girlfriend one afternoon, or the various people I knew who were “randomly” attacked in years prior. It was the scariest place I’ve ever been and I’ve lived in both Imperial Beach, California back when it was still known as “Whiskey Flats” and New Haven, Connecticut. Don’t get me wrong, there are lots of really great people in Pocatello, but the ones who aren’t nice don’t play around. You want to know why I set my first novel in Idaho? Look at the crime blotter.

Stephen King or Robert McCammon?

McCammon. Although I’ve read more King solely by virtue of him being more prolific, and despite my formative experience detailed above, I prefer McCammon’s style. The Wolf’s Hour remains my favorite of his.

What are five books that have most influenced you as a writer, any genre?

  • Strega by Andrew Vachss — This is the book that got me interested in crime, noir and hardboiled when I was a teenager. As a writer, it’s my go-to for remembering how to write a protagonist who isn’t above his or her antagonist. As Vachss would say, an angel is a lousy tour guide through Hell.
  • The Damnation Game by Clive Barker — TDG was a game changer for me in terms of dark sensuality in fiction. Reading Barker’s work was the first time I connected with real body horror in literature. When I want to write something that is close and imbued with bodily terror, this is where I go for inspiration.
  • Closing Time and Other Stories by Jack Ketchum — Specifically the titular novella in this collection is what moves me. Ketchum does profound feeling like few other writers I know. Whatever it is you should be feeling in a story–horror, revulsion, longing, regret–he can make you feel it in spades. If you don’t believe me, just try to read Closing Time and not be left feeling like you’ve lost something you can’t live without. I dare you.
  • The Plague by Albert Camus — If you’ve ever wanted to understand how symbolism works in fiction, read The Plague. The citizens of Oran exemplify isolation, solidarity, and resistance in the face of cosmic indifference and the absurdity of existence. This is scarier than any tentacled monster Lovecraft could imagine. When I’m trying to work out theme in my writing, Camus is my teacher, The Plague is the preacher!
  • The Road by Cormac McCarthy — this is the book that taught me how to really write horror. Take good people, do horrible things to them. But not just that. You can’t be content saying that these are good people. You have to really show it, in this case by making them the last two people in the world dedicated to preserving goodness and love by keeping the other alive and on the right path. Now put them in constant peril of losing each other and their way. That’s how you write horror. The reader shouldn’t just want them to persevere–they should need those characters to prevail, need it right down to the core of their being because the alternative means the literal end of everything.

What are you looking for in a good horror story?

More important than coming up with the clever idea, the monster, apocalypse, or possession, make me feel something. It can be scared, it can be sad, it can be despairing, but it better be something that’s twisting my guts up. Honestly, if your story doesn’t scare you, you have no chance of doing that to me. See what I say above about Closing Time and The Road.


Meet the Editor: Jan Kozlowski

Jan Kozlowski is one of the submission editors behind BLIGHT Digest, our new quarterly dark fiction and horror magazine. We’ve asked her five questions for you to get to know her a bit more. If your interested in passing the gauntlet to publication in BLIGHT Digest, you might find the keys to passage within her answers.

What was your first introduction to Dark Fiction and Horror?

My childhood sucked in most ways, but the one positive thing I can say for my parents is they really didn’t care what I read, as long as I was reading. Being a smart kid, I figured out pretty early on that disappearing into books was the closest I could get to physical escape, so I read omnivorously. I haunted the tall, squeaky, metal bookracks at the local grocery & department stores and since paperbacks were usually under a buck I could talk my mother into slipping one or two into the cart. One day in 1975 one of those books featured an etched black cover with a single drop of red blood on it. It had a weird title, ‘Salem’s Lot with the extra apostrophe and was by some guy from Maine named King. That was it, I was hooked.

 What is the scariest real life moment you experienced?

Hmmm…tough to pick just one. Dad was an abusive SOB who liked to play with guns, so the 17 years I spent at home were pretty much one long fright fest. Then there was my urban EMS career, which consisted of 12-hour over night shifts that often went from grinding tedium to sheer terror in 3 seconds flat. I’ve been shot at, had too many knives pulled on me to remember and could count on being assaulted on a regular monthly basis by a 300lb drug addict who liked to direct traffic naked. And then there are those normal white knuckle life moments like getting married, buying a home, losing loved ones and, most recently, becoming a post menopausal woman in a pubescent obsessed world.

To paraphrase The Princess Bride’s Man in Black- Life IS fear Highness, anyone who says differently is selling something.

Stephen King or Robert McCammon?

As far as novels go, I will not choose and you can’t make me. For short stories Night Shift by King, hands down. I will ALWAYS love Grey Matter and count it as one of the creepiest stories I’ve ever read.

What are five books that have most influenced you as a writer, any genre?

The books that have made me say, “Damn, I want to be able to write like that one day” are, in no particular order:

My top 5 books about writing, also in no particular order:

What are you looking for in a good horror story?

Like every fiction editor, I’m looking for a compelling plot, memorable characters and a satisfying ending, but beyond those things, I want to be transported. I want to be sucked into your story so completely that when I finally close your story file and look at the readout on my treadmill desk I am shocked to find out that minutes and miles have passed while I was immersed in your world.