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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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Mountain Home

I’ve been online friends with Bracken MacLeod for over a year. We did sit near each other one time at Necon 2011, but it wasn’t until he slagged on Amy Winehouse mere hours after her demise, saying she looked like she’d been “rode hard and put away wet,” that we saw fireworks and hearts. It’s been all goatees and mutton chops ever since.

So I was quite excited when his debut novella, Mountain Home, came out last month. But I also was a little anxious. What if I didn’t like it? What if it sucked the big one? I hate hurting feelings.

But I had no cause to worry. At all. Mountain Home is a gem. It zips out of the box like a shot and never slows up until the final, jarring scene. What I am saying here is, Bracken knocked it out of the park.

Lyn works at a rest-stop diner, the kind of scummy place that serves the best food. She’s good with customers, but she hates her job and views it as a single step on her life’s journey. She doesn’t care for her boss or most of her co-workers. But when the shit hits the fan and the diner falls under siege from a combat veteran with some serious issues, Lyn finds herself in the reluctant role of leader—and savior—of the band of survivors holed up inside.

Mountain Home is a tale of gritty, nerve-racking action. An indie blockbuster movie that plays on your brain. The characters who carry it upon their bleeding backs are some of the most real and deftly portrayed I have read in some time. The story is smooth and entirely believable. There are twists and surprises but nothing so jarring as to fuck up the groove, the amazing dance he sets us to.

I greatly enjoyed Mountain Home and simply cannot wait to read more from this man. I hope we get that chance.

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