Shock Totem #10 (Jan 2016)
- Closing for Submissions
- Shock Totem Returns!
- Apex Publications Acquires Shock Totem Book Line
- The Head, the Tail, the Whole Damn Thing: Musings on Jaws, Part 8
- The Head, the Tail, the Whole Damn Thing: Musings on Jaws, Part 7
- The Head, the Tail, the Whole Damn Thing: Musings on Jaws, Part 6
- The Head, the Tail, the Whole Damn Thing: Musings on Jaws, Part 5
- The Head, the Tail, the Whole Damn Thing: Musings on Jaws, Part 4
- The Head, the Tail, the Whole Damn Thing: Musings on Jaws, Part 3
- The Head, the Tail, the Whole Damn Thing: Musings on Jaws, Part 2
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Tag Archives: Mountain Home
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.
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.
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.
by Michael Wehunt
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.
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.
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.