Tag Archives: Bracken MacLeod

The Head, the Tail, the Whole Damn Thing: Musings on Jaws, Part 7

THE NIGHT AND SILENT WATER
by Bracken MacLeod

I was five the year Jaws came out, and like all little kids who don’t know how to swim, I had a pretty genetic fear of drowning. That got turned all the way up that summer when (long story, better told elsewhere) I was deliberately thrown into a lake and almost drowned. As you might imagine, that trauma left me with a life-long hang-up about water. I don’t like being on it in a boat, I sure as hell don’t like being in it (I shower), and I’ll be damned if I’m going to go all the way under it. So, later in life when Jaws came out on home video, you can understand, I never had the desire to see it.

It wasn’t the shark; it was the water.

I like sharks. I like them better than people a lot of the time. I think about them the way Ash thinks about the xenomorph in Alien: I admire their purity. They’re “unclouded by conscience, remorse, or delusions of morality.” Of course, unlike the alien, they’re fucking real!

Eventually, I rented Jaws, but it took me a couple of tries to get through the whole thing. It’s the first ten minutes that’s the big hurdle. Let me explain. We open on a bunch of kids sitting around a fire on the beach looking like an ad for Swedish tourism. Chrissy gets up and leads drunken, horny Tom on a chase through the dunes, stripping off her clothes and diving in the ocean as he passes out, unable to even get his shirt over his head. “I’m not drunk! Slow down! Wait I’m coming! I’m coming! I’m definitely coming!” She swims out in the dark, and we get that first two-note music cue. You know the one. Duun-un. And then the shark’s POV rising underneath her as she’s treading water, naked and vulnerable, presumably wondering what happened to horny Tom.

Now, the next few moments are terrifying. She is jerked down, once, twice, and then whipped violently around, thrashing in the water—not all that realistically for a shark attack, one suspects, but still, it’s good and scary. The beast drags her over to a buoy and it seems for a moment she might be able to climb up and out to safety, but NOPE! The shark (a.k.a. “Bruce”—named after Spielberg’s lawyer) pulls her away for a few short screams of “NO!” and down she goes under the water. And this is the very point at which my worst fears are most on outward display for anyone who’s paying attention.

Only seconds ago, Chrissy was a living human out for some fun. Then her life telescopes down into its last moments, the entirety of her future… in the water. And then, there’s the shot of Tom passed out in the quiet surf, followed by the lingering view of the open ocean and the softly dinging buoy. A quiet scene of peace following terror.

And that’s the point at which my anxiety goes off the fuckin’ charts. Not the first bites, not the thrashing, or the screaming. The silence where we all know that there’s a human being in the water who wants to live, who wants to breathe and be back on land, and instead all we see and hear is the water and the bell.

There’s something primal in that opening. And it’s not the shark. It’s the water. The source of all life on Earth is bigger than us, and we are not at home in it. The shark is. And it cares not at all for us.

The beginning of Jaws is pure existential terror, and it scares the shit out of me.

I still can’t swim.

Bracken MacLeod has worked as a martial arts teacher, a university philosophy instructor, for a children’s non-profit, and as a criminal and civil trial attorney. His short fiction has appeared in various magazines and anthologies including Shotgun Honey, Sex and Murder Magazine, LampLight, Dread: A Head Full of Bad Dreams, Femme Fatale: Erotic Tales of Dangerous Women, Beat to a Pulp, Splatterpunk, and Shock Totem Magazine.

He is the author of Mountain Home, White Knight, and his newest novel, Stranded, from TOR Books is available for pre-order.

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Paper Tigers

I have been excited to read this novel since before it was written. No, I’m not psychic…well, maybe a little. But I recall a conversation on our forum, probably more than two years ago, where Damien told me she was going to soon be working on a story about a haunted photo album. I was in from that moment and waited patiently for it to materialize. This year that finally happened.

Paper Tigers is the haunting and sad story of Alison, a young woman scarred by disaster and flame. She has retreated so far within herself there seemed no hope of coaxing her back. Her mother smothers her and the public looks at her (in her mind) as a monstrosity. She drags herself through the days and nights—until the night she goes out walking and visits an odd little thrift shop and finds the antique photo album that reeks of smoke and years. Upon taking the album home, Alison begins to see things, hear things, feel things. She is lured to the promises within the book and finds that the prices are high and contracts have a long and strong reach.

Damien writes with strong and elegant prose. Her words flow with an ease and beauty that adds to the already intriguing premise. The emotional depth here is staggering, and while it is very easy to dismiss this novel as another haunted thing tale, it is so much more. The characters are so realistic and hurting that you ache with them and for them. I’ve been reading this author since she first started entering stories in the flash fiction contests we used to host on our forum. And it has been a pleasure to watch her grow, releasing her first novel, Ink, and her collection, Sing Me Your Scars. I’ll gladly read whatever she puts out.

Paper Tigers is available from Dark House Press.

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Shock Totem #9.5—Available Now!

Our latest holiday issue is now available!


Cover art by Mikio Murakami.

Treats abound, in this special edition of Shock Totem are seven short stories, one poem, and five nonfiction pieces. Of the fiction, John Boden and Bracken MacLeod venture into dark and weird neighborhoods in “Halloween On…” In “Out of Field Theory,” Kevin Lucia gives us a shadowed glimpse of what lurks beyond the frame. David G. Blake’s “Night in the Forest of Loneliness” smells of autumn and the beautiful death she brings.

Learn why sometimes it’s better to stay home on Halloween in “Tricks and Treats,” by Rose Blackthorn. Kriscinda Lee Everitt’s “Howdy Doody Time” is a poignant nod to the past. The shadows come alive in “Before This Night Is Done,” by Barry Lee Dejasu, and in my story, “The Candle Eaters,” I explore faith and hope and a darkness that haunts us all.

In addition to the fiction, Sydney Leigh provides a very fine poem, “Allhallowtide (To the Faithless Departed).”

Authors John Langan, Lee Thomas, and Jeremy Wagner, as well as filmmaker Mike Lombardo and the always wonderful and brusque Babs Boden, provide anecdotal Halloween recollections.

No tricks, all treats.

Table of Contents:

* Halloween On, by John Boden and Bracken MacLeod
* Night in the Forest of Loneliness, by David G. Blake
* Kore, by John Langan (Holiday Recollection)
* Out of Field Theory, by Kevin Lucia
* Tricks and Treats, by Rose Blackthorn
* Witches and the March of Dimes, and Mike Warnke, by Babs Boden (Holiday Recollection)
* Howdy Doody Time, by Kriscinda Lee Everitt
* When I Scared Myself Out of Halloween, by Jeremy Wagner (Holiday Recollection)
* Before This Night Is Done, by Barry Lee Dejasu
* The Mansion, by Lee Thomas (Holiday Recollection)
* Allhallowtide (To the Faithless Departed), by Sydney Leigh (Poetry)
* Flay Bells Ring, or How the Horror Filmmaker Stole Christmas, by Mike Lombardo (Holiday Recollection)
* The Candle Eaters, by K. Allen Wood
* Howling Through the Keyhole (Author Notes)

The print edition can be purchased at our webstore or Amazon.com and other retailers. The Kindle edition can be found here.

Learn more about our holiday issues here. And as always, thank you for the support!

Please note that if you buy the print edition through Amazon.com, you will also receive the Kindle edition for free.

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Shock Totem #9—Available Now!

We are very proud to announce the release of our ninth issue!


Click for larger image.

In this ninth issue of Shock Totem you will find not only a brand new, previously unpublished tale by Stephen Graham Jones, but also an interview with this modern master of words. Kathryn Ohnaka presents “Buddy,” a twisting, slithering serpent of a tale. The words are pure poetry, with fangs. “Saturday,” by Evan Dicken, follows, creeping and crawling and filled with Things that whisper of doom.

Similar whisperings can be heard in Bracken MacLeod’s “Thirteen Views of the Suicide Woods” and most of you will know the voices. Tim Lieder’s darkly rhythmic “Hey Man” will get you toe-tapping and “in the mood.” With a touch of science fiction, Emma Osborne’s “The Box Wife” is sure to leave you uncomfortable. The box wife is one and many, but you’ll recognize all.

Stephen King once called Jack Ketchum “the scariest guy in America.” What scares the scariest guy in America? Karen Runge. And you’ll know why after reading “Good Help.” Peter Gutiérrez provides the poetry with his outstanding “Anteroom.” Closing out the fiction in this issue is S.R. Mastrantone’s “Alan Roscoe’s Change of Heart,” a tale that chips away at a well-mined vein–the near-death experience–but manages to produce an untouched gem.

In addition to the previously-mentioned conversation with Stephen Graham Jones, F. Paul Wilson is also interviewed. The seventh installment of our music-meets-horror serial, “Bloodstains & Blue Suede Shoes,” tackles the 80s and Catherine Grant provides the editorial, a scary piece that hits close to home for creators and readers of horror.

All that and more!

Here is the official Table of Contents:

* Unacceptable Content, by Catherine Grant (Editorial)
* Buddy, by Kathryn Ohnaka
* Saturday, by Evan Dicken
* Morning Books and Evening Books: A Conversation with F. Paul Wilson, by Barry Lee Dejasu
* Thirteen Views of the Suicide Woods, by Bracken MacLeod
* Anteroom, by Peter Gutiérrez (Poetry)
* Strange Goods and Other Oddities (Reviews)
* Hey Man, by Tim Lieder
* The Nightmare Rolls On: A Conversation with Stephen Graham Jones, by Zachary C. Parker
* You Are Here, by Stephen Graham Jones
* The Box Wife, by Emma Osborne
* Bloodstains & Blue Suede Shoes, Part 7, by John Boden and Bracken MacLeod (Article)
* Good Help, by Karen Runge
* Alan Roscoe’s Change of Heart, by S.R. Mastrantone
* Howling Through the Keyhole (Author Notes)

The print edition can be purchased at our webstore or Amazon.com and other retailers. The Kindle edition can be found here.

As always, thank you for your continued support!

Please note that if you buy the print edition through Amazon.com, you will also receive the Kindle edition for free.

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White Knight

With Mountain Home, Bracken MacLeod proved himself a force to be reckoned with. It was a lean, mean, fighting machine of a debut novel. With his latest novella, White Knight, he doesn’t let you forget what he’s already taught you. Wear a cup.

White Knight is the story of a prosecutor, one who specializes in those cringe-worthy abuse cases. He sees them daily and feels them always. One day, he makes a gesture a bit beyond what is expected of him, he offers a genuine hand to help a victim. A helping hand is often bitten and what happens from that point will leave you reeling.

Honestly, I couldn’t stop this until I was done. Gritty and violent and tied up with piano-wire tension and sharpness.

Bracken, a former attorney, is channeling some personal shit here and you can feel it. There is no better writing than that which is personal. If you can feel it, so will others. I’m lucky enough to call Bracken MacLeod a friend, I’m smart enough to call myself a fan.

White Knight is available through One Eye Press.

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Shock Totem #8.5—Now Available!

Shock Totem Publications is proud to announce that our second holiday issue is available for purchase!

Cover art by Mikio Murakami.

Love is in the air. Can you feel it? The most wonderful and diabolical emotion of them all, and we’re going to celebrate it. Ostensibly as a Valentine’s Day issue, but really…it’s all about love.

And horror, of course.

In this special edition of Shock Totem you will find “Clocks,” a beautifully tragic tale told by master storyteller Darrell Schweitzer. “Silence,” by Robert J. Duperre, is a gut-wrenching tale of love, war, and death. You won’t soon forget this one. In “Broken Beneath the Paperweight of Your Ghosts,” Damien Angelica Walters tells of a man and his tattered heart. Catherine Grant’s “Sauce” teaches us that sometimes things left behind are best left alone. Tim Waggoner examines the perfect lover in “The Man of Her Dreams.” “Hearts of Women, Hearts of Men,” by Zachary C. Parker, follows a battered woman struggling to free herself from an abusive relationship while a serial killer is on the loose. In total, nine tales await you…

Like our previous holiday issue (Christmas 2011), the fiction is paired with nonfiction, this time by Violet LeVoit, Jassen Bailey, Kristi Petersen Schoonover, C.W. LaSart, Bracken MacLeod, John Dixon, Brian Hodge, and more. True tales of first loves, failed relationships, misfortune, death, sex, and…meatloaf.

Love has its dark side, folks, and fittingly this issue has very sharp teeth.

Come see why Shock Totem is billed as “…one of the strongest horror fiction magazines on the market today” (Hellnotes).

Table of Contents:

* Clocks, by Darrell Schweitzer
* Lose and Learn, by Brian Hodge (Holiday Recollection)
* Hearts of Women, Hearts of Men, by Zachary C. Parker
* Unlearning to Lie, by Mason Bundschuh (Holiday Recollection)
* Sauce, by Catherine Grant
* Something to Chew On, by Kristi Petersen Schoonover (Holiday Recollection)
* Silence, by Robert J. Duperre
* Hanging Up the Gloves, by John Dixon (Holiday Recollection)
* Golden Years, by John Boden
* Akai, by Jassen Bailey (Holiday Recollection)
* She Cries, by K. Allen Wood
* The Same Deep Water As You, by Bracken MacLeod (Holiday Recollection)
* One Lucky Horror Nerd, by James Newman (Holiday Recollection)
* Omen, by Amanda C. Davis
* The Scariest Holiday, by C.W. LaSart (Holiday Recollection)
* Broken Beneath the Paperweight of Your Ghosts, by Damien Angelica Walters
* Everything’s Just Methadone and I Like It, by Violet LeVoit (Holiday Recollection)
* The Sickest Love is Denial, by Richard Thomas (Holiday Recollection)
* The Man of Her Dreams, by Tim Waggoner
* Howling Through the Keyhole (Author Notes)

Currently you can purchase the print edition through Amazon or our webstore. More online retailers will follow in the days and weeks to come. The digital edition can be purchased here.

Interested in our back catalog? All past issues are still available digitally and in print and can be ordered directly from us or through Amazon and other online retailers.

Please note that all of our releases (except Dominoes) are enrolled in Amazon’s MatchBook program, so everyone who purchases a print copy gets a Kindle copy for free.

As always, thank you for the support!

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And the 2013 Flash Fiction Contest Winner is…

Stabat Mater
by Michael Wehunt


As many of you know, throughout the year we host a bi-monthly flash fiction contest on our forum (not to be confused with the bi-weekly one-hour flash challenge). From those bi-monthly winners, an overall winner is chosen by a neutral judge, to be published in the next issue of Shock Totem.

This year’s judge was up-and-coming horror scribe Bracken MacLeod, author of the excellent Mountain Home. (Click here for our review of Mountain Home and here for our interview with Bracken.)

Of the five bi-monthly winning stories from 2013, Bracken chose “Stabat Mater,” by Michael Wehunt, as the winner. The contest prompt for this story was this Harlan Ellison quote from a Tor.com interview:

“In the introduction to this new edition of Web of the City, Ellison writes of a possible legend about Ernest Hemingway intentionally destroying his first novel. From the introduction:

“Yes, the story goes, Hemingway had written a book before The Sun Also Rises, and there he was aboard a ship, steaming either here or there; and he was at the rail, leaning over, thinking, and then he took the boxed manuscript of the book…and threw it into the ocean. Apparently on the theory that no one should ever read a writer’s first novel.”

The quote was referring to the reissue of Ellison’s first novel. For the contest prompt, I asked participants to write about tossing away their firstborn child and base it on the same theory Ellison describes above. I also asked that they not take the easy road and write something that involves sacrificial/religious offerings.

To read what Michael did with the prompt, check out “Stabat Mater” in the next issue of Shock Totem, due in January 2014.

Congratulations, Michael!

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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.

(more…)

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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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