A Conversation with Bracken MacLeod

I first met Bracken MacLeod at Necon in 2011. After a day of just noticing this semi-scary tattooed bald man with a ferocious goatee, he endeared himself to me with his untethered audacity…making fun at the newly dead Amy Winehouse within minutes of the announcement she had passed. I saw hearts.

So before we delve into the shortish interview he was gracious enough to allow me to conduct, let me tell you what I have learned of the man in the years since Necon. His name is Bracken…that’s exactly like the terrifying sea monster loosed by the Gods in Clash of the Titans, but with a B. B for Badass! He is a very smart and very humble man, a father, husband and former lawyer. He also writes gripping fiction, not always horror but quite often visceral and dark. I’d been lucky enough to read several shorts before Mountain Home arrived at Shiney Acres and I could already count myself a fan. Mountain Home cemented it.

With no further dithering, let’s talk with Mr. MacLeod…

John Boden: I just reviewed your debut novella, Mountain Home, and I wanted to jump right in to discussing it. One of the reasons this novella works on such a personal and chilling level, is that it could have been plucked straight from the headlines. A week doesn’t go by where there isn’t some sort of gun violence, rampage…or some horrific event. Was there one thing in particular that inspired this tale?

Bracken MacLeod: Novella? They all can’t be Under The Dome. You’re right though, Mountain Home isn’t what the big publishers call “marketable length,” even though at fifty-six thousand words, it’s technically a novel. Part of what gave me the freedom to keep it that tight was a conversation I had with one of my literary heroes, John Skipp (who also told me I should never name drop), about a project he was putting together at the time. He was getting ready to launch a line of short novels designed to be all chiller, no filler. Books you could read in the time it took to watch a (long) feature film. I took that to heart, cut all of the padding, and I think that’s what made the rhythm and pacing of this story pop the way it does. But that’s not an answer to your question.

I find real world violence much more frightening than any monster or demon someone can dream up. Right before I started this book, Anders Brevik shot up that summer camp in Norway. I wasn’t inspired by that, but I can’t say that it wasn’t in the back of my mind when I sat down to write. I wanted to tell a locked room story and needed a way to keep a disparate group of people together and under constant stress. Given that in the last thirty years there have been sixty-two different mass shootings in America, it seemed like the most plausible scenario—and one that scares me a whole hell of a lot.

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A Conversation with Photographer Stacy Scranton-Morgan

Stacy Scranton-Morgan is a popular photographer, and I’ve run into her at several different conventions. She’s not only great at taking pictures of the panelists and speakers, but also takes wonderful behind-the-scenes pictures of moments that wouldn’t otherwise be captured. Stacy also takes headshots, which is a necessity for every author. I tracked her down and asked for a little advice on how to take a decent author’s photo.

Mercedes M. Yardley: Hi, Stacy! Thank you so much for agreeing to this interview. As authors, we’re used to using words and phrases to convey nuances and emotions. As a photographer, you do things visually. It’s a completely different world.

Take the subject of author’s photos. They can be quite daunting to a writer. Suddenly one photo is going to basically encapsulate us as a person. They’ll be used online, on the backs of our books, and as promotional tools. The experience of taking an author’s photo can be terribly awkward. This is where your expertise comes in.

Is it possible to take a good photo if the author is extremely nervous? What would you suggest is the best way to calm down?

Stacy Scranton-Morgan: The first part of the question reminds me of the episode of Friends when Monica and Chandler were having their engagement portraits taken. Chandler was so nervous that he just could not get a good picture. So I would say there are those extreme cases. Most people, especially ones that are not used to having their photographs taken, do get nervous in front of the camera. The best thing you can do is try to relax and have fun with it. Take a few deep breaths. When I’m photographing people, I try to have fun with them. I like to joke around and get them laughing a little bit. By being a little goofy, it usually helps to loosen up my subject. Just remember, you have the easy job. You just have to sit there and be yourself.

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A Conversation with Writers House Agent Alec Shane

I had the pleasure of meeting Alec Shane at the annual World Horror Convention in New Orleans this year. Alec is a friendly, savvy guy who is aggressively building up his client list. He’s also one of the few agents who actively represents horror. Talking to him was a pleasure, and I get the impression he isn’t a guy who lets the grass grow under his feet.

Alec was gracious enough to stop by for an interview. Read up on what he has to say, and then send this man a query!

Mercedes M. Yardley: Very few agents seem to represent horror. Why is this? And why do you choose to do so?

Alec Shane: One of the best parts of being an agent is that you get to represent the kind of books that you love. I grew up loving horror of all types—Stephen King is more or less the reason I’m sitting here today answering these questions—and so it only makes sense that I would be drawn toward the genre now. I learned very quickly that, as an agent, you have to really believe in the book you are representing, and if you are as passionate about the project as the author is, then you will be much more willing to throw yourself into getting it out into the world.

The role of the agent is changing every day, a lot of what we do is editorial, and it’s a very tricky market at the moment, and so it’s especially important to remain very selective in what I do and don’t take on. Horror happens to be a genre that I love, so here I am. I also love a lot of other kinds of writing—mystery/thriller, historical fiction, middle-grade, certain types of nonfiction, and sports to name a few—but horror will always hold a special place in my heart.

MMY: So you personally enjoy horror and dark fiction. Any favorite books or movies?

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A Conversation with Grimm’s Russell Hornsby

Russell Hornsby has acted in films and television for well over a decade, appearing in shows like Lincoln Heights, Grey’s Anatomy, Law & Order, and movies such as Meet the Parents and After the Sunset. He now appears weekly on NBC’s Grimm, a show that is kind of hard to explain.

Matt Betts: I don’t want to be cheesy by starting out quoting IMDB, but I’m going to be that guy anyway.

Russell Hornsby: Okay, go ahead.

MB: According to IMBD, Grimm is an “American police procedural television drama series.” And they also categorize it in the genres of fantasy procedural, horror and mystery. Grimm is a pretty hard show to pin down and describe, isn’t it?

RH: Yes. I have a tough time myself and I don’t know if I always get it right. I’m glad someone is able to do it.

MB: Well, there’s just a little bit of everything in it. There’s action, there’s horror, there’s fairy tale, and it is all blended together so well.

RH: I think, as you said, they do it so well and I hope, sooner rather than later, that it would just be its own genre. You know what I mean?

MB: Absolutely. With all of that in mind, what made you want to take the role of detective Hank Griffin?

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A Conversation with Sarah Langan

As some of you may recall, I doled out a high-praising review of Sarah Langan’s Bram Stoker Award-winning second novel, The Missing. I knew it was a semi-sequel to her debut, The Keeper, but that had no bearing on my enjoyment of the novel.

Having recently found a copy of the debut, I excitedly went to work devouring it over a weekend. Upon its completion, I was shamed at waiting so long.

The Keeper tells the tragic tale of Bedford, Maine, a small town built on the back of a paper mill. The Mill, now closed, employed most of the townsfolk and paid for its existence. But as the story unfolds and its deeply textured characters are introduced, we find that this small town is quite unlike others. It is haunted. Haunted in a very unique way.

A thickly veined historical horror that begins when the town does and continues throbbing and festering until it culminates in the events chronicled in The Missing. I will not give away any details, other than to say this book is packed full of so many deeply disturbing visuals and delightfully surreal flourishes, that to call it a haunted-town story, or a nod to “Ancient Evil in a small town” books, would be a white lie, true at its basest level but highly inaccurate at the same time.

Recently, I was lucky enough to have the chance to ask Sarah a few questions and she was kind enough to answer them.

JB: First, Sarah, allow me to thank you for taking the time to grant this little interview. I will get the giddy fan boy stuff out of the way and say I love your work. LOVE, in all capitals. I read the first two out of order and it had no impact on my enjoyment of each; both are highly effective and greatly visual novels. I also read and enjoyed Audrey’s Door. That was actually the first book I bought of yours, solely on the fact that John Skipp told me to. Then, when I was interviewing Jack Ketchum, he dropped your name, and I decided I was missing out on someone special.

I was right.

Could you give us a short encapsulation of your work, what you have out there in addition to these three wonderful novels? What is on the horizon? Do you think you’ll revisit Bedford again?

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A Conversation with Anthony J. Rapino

Anthony Rapino is a dark fiction author with a sense of humor. It was cool to interview him. Hope you enjoy!

MY: So, Anthony, thanks for stopping by! Why don’t you start off by telling me what you have out, and what you’re currently working on.

AR: Thanks so much for having me. I have to admit, my first impulse when you asked what I “have out” was to tell a vulgar joke. Let me just tuck that away. The vulgarity, I mean! Oof. What’s that they say about first impressions?

MY: Your first impression is shot.

AR: Moving on. I currently have a few short stories out in print magazines and anthologies such as the Arcane Anthology, On Spec #86, and Black Ink Horror 7. I of course also have the short story collection Welcome to Moon Hill available through Amazon, and my debut novel, Soundtrack to the End of the World available from Bad Moon Books. They put out a beautiful limited signed hardcover edition as well as a paperback edition.

I’m currently working on a two different super-secret anthology submissions. I’m also working on my second novel, which I published an excerpt of in Welcome to Moon Hill.

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A Conversation with James Newman

James Newman…a Southern Gentlemen who gave us the novels Midnight Rain and The Wicked, as well as such novellas as the co-authored Night of the Loving Dead, with James Futch, and Holy Rollers. And his latest novel, Animosity, was just released through Necessary Evil Press.

Newman was kind enough to take time out of his busy schedule to sit and chew the fat with me…

JB: James, we’ve known each other a few years, met up—where was it, the old Horror Channel board? I don’t recall, do you?

JN: I think that’s right. Of course, I can barely remember what I did last week, half the time. I used to think it was because I’d smoked too much weed back in the day. Now I know it’s just ’cause I’m getting old.

Seriously, though, thanks for asking me to do this. It’s always a pleasure talking to you, John.

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Three Questions with Maggie Slater & the Zombie Feeders

The Zombie Feed, Vol. 1 is the first anthology published through the new Apex Publications imprint, The Zombie Feed Books. It features zombie-fried fiction from seventeen authors, of which I am one. Recently, contributing author Maggie Slater offered up her blog for a series of three-question interviews with several of the anthology’s authors, so I am returning the favor.

Below you can read Maggie’s interview as well as those interviews hosted on her blog.

And if you’re interested, check out The Zombie Feed, Vol. 1. You can pick up your copy from Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble.com, or from The Zombie Feed directly. Get it on your Kindle or your Nook (or in any e-format from Smashwords) for just $2.99! Seventeen kick-ass zombie stories for $2.99! Can you dig on that?

1. The Writing Question: If you could sit down with one author, from any time in history to today, to get a writing lesson, who would it be?

I had three answers for this initially—Samuel R. Delany, Edith Wharton, and Roald Dahl. If I had to narrow it down, though, I’d pick Samuel R. Delany for several reasons. First, I’d love to just talk fiction with him—I’m about 90% through Dhalgren, and reading it as a writer is a little Twilight Zone-esque. All of Kid’s thinking and working and pondering the process and experience of creating a work of writing feels so intimately familiar, even as his process is different. I’ve also read Mr. Delany’s book About Writing which is hands-down the best book about the writing process I’ve ever read. It’s not an instructional manual, but almost a treatise on the creative endeavor. His discussions about the inner editor were very influential on me, and his emphasis on care when drafting, of really visualizing the scenes, works much better for me than the mantra “just write the first draft as fast as you can” which seems to work very well for others. His essays feel very close to a one-on-one discussion, as do the letters in which he’s critiquing a work sent to him, but it’d be great to get a few pointers in person!

So that’s one part. The other part is that whenever I read a novel by Samuel R. Delany, it reminds me of what writing can be. Not just in terms of style and poeticism, but in the sheer vividness of imagination, both in content and in execution. Reading his work always reminds me that I can push my own boundaries and play in realms that aren’t common in the books you’ll find on the bookstore shelves, that not all stories have to be told the same way. I can lock myself into tunnel vision pretty easily when it comes to “how you’re supposed to write”, so reading a good Delany novel can kick me out of that and set me on better paths.

2. The Horror Question: What used to scare you the most as a child?

Funny story: zombies, actually. Back in fifth grade, I went to a Halloween party a friend of mine was having, and they showed Night of the Living Dead Returns, which completely freaked me out. (I mean, it didn’t take much back then: I was terrified of ET, also.) Needless to say, after watching about thirty minutes of NotLDR, I left the room and couldn’t watch any more. For a month I didn’t sleep unless my mom was in the room, I closed my eyes whenever we passed any kind of structure that looked like a medical warehouse, and it seemed like ages until I could hear the word “paramedics” without feeling queasy.

That experience actually set me back probably five years: I actively avoided horror movies (or even not-so-scary PG-13s, like Jurassic Park) until I was about fifteen. Then I saw The Sixth Sense, and fell in love with it. I’d always loved ghost stories, but the film format always made me nervous. After that, and after realizing that I could watch certain spooky movies without getting horribly vivid nightmares afterwards, I started pushing my limits of tolerance bit by bit, until in college I finally watched Shaun of the Dead, and thus my fear of zombies was…well, not quite over—they’re still creepy as hell—but at least resurrected as a fondness, rather than abject terror!

3. The Oddball Question: If you could be friends with one fictional character, who would it be and what kind of venue would you meet at?

Oh, hands down (and this is rather like using one of my three wishes to wish for more wishes): Nero Wolfe. We’d meet at the brownstone, of course, on West 35th Street in New York City, and have a delightful meal (perhaps game hens) prepared by his brilliant chef, Fritz. Of course, Archie Goodwin would have to be there too, and (don’t tell my husband) I’d definitely let him take me dancing once in a while, just to keep my footwork sharp, of course. I certainly wouldn’t protest if Saul and Orrie and Fred joined us, and if Jackie Jaquette or Lily Rowan wanted to stop by, I wouldn’t mind at all! Then, after dinner, Wolfe would show me his most recent breed of orchid, and we’d discuss potting material, plant genetics, and books, of course. It’d be the perfect evening!

Maggie Slater writes in Maine, where she lives with her husband and two old, cranky cats. She has seen her work published in a variety of venues, such as Dark Futures: Tales of SF Dystopia, The Zombie Feed Anthology Vol. 1, and most recently in Leading Edge Magazine. She currently moonlights as an assistant editor for Apex Publications. For more information about her and her current writing projects, visit her blog at maggiedot.wordpress.com.

And if you’re interested in the rest of the Three Questions interviews…

Kristin Dearborn | Andrew Porter | Danger_Slater | Daniel I. Russell | Monica Valentinelli | Simon McCaffery | BJ Burrow | Ray Wallace | K. Allen Wood | Brandon Alspaugh

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Mercedes: An Update and an Interview

As some of you know, one of our own, the lovely Mercedes M. Yardley, has been on bed rest for the past six weeks or so, and she’s been away from the Internet for a little over a week. The reason for this can be read here.

I spoke to Mercedes today. (Freaked her out at first, I think. She wasn’t taking to my fake weirdo-redneck accent.) She’s home now, still on bed rest (can’t sit up at all), and is still unable to get online. Though I think I gave her some workable ideas on how to rectify that.

Apparently, when she was in the hospital, she was having contractions every two minutes. Amazing that doctors can reverse that. The doctors did an amniocentesis and removed a lot of fluid, so that relieved some pressure, which was partly the cause of the contractions. Plus she’s on steroids to help further suppress the contractions.

I don’t envy her, but she’s doing well enough and seems to be in good spirits. Sounded like any other happy 9-year-old girl. Haha. (Have you heard her childlike voice?)

And if you need a little more for your Mercedes fix, she was recently interviewed by Jamal W. Hankins, which you can read here.

Oh, and she says she met a nurse in the hospital who was a fan of Shock Totem. How cool is that?

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Would You Like Some Toasted Cheese with that Giant Nazi Chicken?

The lovely Stephanie Lenz conducted an interview with me recently. It’s called Creating a Monster and is up now at the long-running and excellent Toasted Cheese.

You can read read the interview here. Rock!

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