Posts Tagged ‘october’

Editors Discuss: Scary Stories

Join editors Kim Winternheimer and Sadye Teiser as they discuss what works in scary stories and what doesn’t, as our celebration of October fiction continues.

K: You and I love October so much because it’s the season of scary stories. And generally we try to focus our content on literary fiction that scares, disturbs, disgusts, or keeps us up at night. This month is particularly exciting because our Fall Fiction Contest  is open for submissions and is being judged by one of literary horror’s best: Brian Evenson. I feel like I have to mention here that he wrote a really creepy story called “Room Tone” for us last year, and anyone interested should check out his very dark collection, A Collapse of Horses, which will not disappoint horror-lovers. This year we have new fiction by Jac Jemc, whose story “Hunt and Catch” is also spine tingling. I’m so thrilled we have our own library of fiction that services scary stories, but more broadly I want to talk about why these kinds of stories are so appealing to us. Jac’s story is about a creepy garbage man and an unreliable world, Brian’s is about a dark obsession worth killing for, and “Linger Longer,” one of our Fall Fiction Winners from Jeff Vandermeer’s year, is about ghosts and the boarders between the real and unreal. Why are these so fun to read? Why do we like to be scared?

S: I think that scary stories offer a way for us to address fears that are just too difficult to tackle outside of a fictional lens. No one wants to sit down and think about death, or the violence that one human can exert upon another, or the secrets that the people we love most can keep from us. But we love stories about ghosts and zombies, horror stories, stories with the unknown lingering in every corner.

We have also published two, very different, ghost stories that I really like. In Double Exposure” by Megan Giddings, two young women move into an apartment where the rent is cheap because of one crucial fact: it is haunted. In fact, the downstairs neighbors are ghosts. As the women become friends with their neighbors, the line between the living and the dead is blurred in unnatural ways. You are not, after all, supposed to date a ghost, and you are not supposed to envy one. In Clean Hunters” by Lena Valencia, a husband and wife, who both have the Sense that can detect spirits, find it hard to bridge the widening distance in their marriage.

What are some of your favorite ghost stories? What do you think makes for an effective ghost story?

K: I have so many. As a kid I loved the Alvin Schwartz collection, Scary Stores To Tell In The Dark, particularly the ghost stories, and the truly gruesome illustrations only deepened the horror (and the pleasure) of reading them. As an adult I love the classics like The Haunting of Hill House, The Turn of The Screw, and Stephen King’s, The Shining. I also love “The Emissary,” by Ray Bradbury. What makes a ghost story effective, for me, is the suggestion of something scary and the suspense that comes from realizing, over time, that what you hoped wasn’t true has its hand on your shoulder or is standing just behind you, its reflection visible in the bathroom mirror. Ghost stories haunt all kinds of literary corners, but I think the most effective ones have what Henry James says are, “connected at a hundred points with the common objects of life.” I really don’t think there is anything scarier than your normal life being infiltrated with the horrible, especially a supernatural power that doesn’t abide by the rules of our physical world. Our lives are so governed by physics, when you are dealing with an entity that operates outside of those rules, well, nowhere is safe.

On the whole, and from a craft perspective, good ghost stories unveil ghosts and our interactions with them, with impeccable timing. Generally, suspense is being built from the suggestion of something scary to the full realization and occupation of that scary something, the apex of that interaction being the story’s climax. Most good ghost stories also ask questions about psychology and stability. It’s almost impossible to have a ghost story and not have a character ask: am I going insane? And lastly, I think a good ghost story evokes a strong sense of place, particularly a scary or unnerving atmosphere.

We recently took a closer look at Marjorie Sandor’s essay on the uncanny. Can you talk about the highlights of this essay and how it pertains to telling an effective scary story?


New Voices: “Katie Flew Again Tonight” by Trent England

Each October, we showcase otherworldly stories that send chills up our spines. Trent England’s “Katie Flew Again Tonight” is one such tale. It is written from the perspective of a man whose wife, Katie, can fly. As Katie’s flights grow longer, they both know that one day, she will fly out of their apartment window and never return. Neither of them knows precisely where she will go, but it is certain that she will no longer share her husband’s rooted, domestic life. “Katie Flew Again Tonight” is a beautiful and chilling examination of how we all deal with finality.

“I understand very little about how my wife flies; she does not have any physical qualities associated with creatures of flight, and for all other intents and purposes, she is entirely human.”

Katie flew again tonight. She woke me up when she crawled into bed, and soon after she fell asleep, I quietly slipped out of the room. I saw evidence in our apartment of her flight: black yoga clothes shed on the floor made a trail down the hallway toward the living room window, where under the sill lay her ballet flats, haphazardly shed in the sleepy stumble to the bedroom that she makes after a night of flying. Her discarded clothes had taken on the scent of the Manhattan grit outside our windows. Katie absorbs the city’s smells when she flies; they cling to her the way a telling perfume clings to a guilty shirt collar.

I returned to the bedroom, lit blue from the alarm clock, and I slid under the sheets, inching my way toward the bare outline of her sleeping body. I had already seen the time, and couldn’t avoid calculating how long she’d been out. As she slowly breathed, I watched the violin curve of her body rise and fall to its own musical time. I reached out and I fell asleep with one arm resting on her. It is in moments like these that I feel as if I, too, have flown.

To read the rest of “Katie Flew Again Tonight” click here.

Celebrating October at The Masters Review

October is a month that is uniquely suited to fiction. As people hang ghosts on their porches and decorate their front yards with skeletons, graves, and witches’ feet, the divide between the real and unreal feels more pliable. Kids, and many adults, don Halloween costumes and pretend to be someone else for the night, to tell another person’s story. Fiction, too, exists on this line between real and imagined worlds. That is why we dedicate every October to a Scary Story Showcase, focusing on the fiction that sends chills up our spines: stories that scare us, that surprise us, that make the boundary between our world and the unknown seem a little smaller. We have lots of goodies lined up for you this month, including original fiction by Jac Jemc and an interview with Carmen Maria Machado. But, to get in the spooky spirit, start by taking a look at some of the highlights from our October archives. Check out Brian Evenson’s story “Room Tone” about the horrific consequences of a filmmaker’s perfectionism. We are proud to have Brian as the judge for this year’s Fall Fiction Contest, now open to submissions. Take a close look at the difference between horror and terror, with this brilliant essay by Lincoln Michel. Let Marjorie Sandor walk you though the uncanny in this deeply unsettling essay. Don’t miss our interview with award-winning science fiction, fantasy, and horror editor Ellen Datlow. Or, read Adrian Van Young’s discussion of Laura Benedict’s supremely creepy story “When I Make Love to the Bug Man.” Hungry for more? Don’t worry. This is only the first week of October. There is lots more otherworldly fiction, essays, and interviews to come.

October Recap – Fiction, Essays, Interviews

In case you missed any of the amazing fiction, essays, or interviews we published last month, here is a list of all the goods. Enjoy!2008-08-06-a-devils-distinction


“What Happened to Eloise” by MANUEL GONZALES “At first we assumed she was the only one, the young woman with a thick smear of blood on her lips.”

“Other Dangers” by BEN HOFFMAN “The Japanese people were dust now and soon we would be dust too, if we did not line up promptly, if the Soviets had their way, if our cursive wavered, if we did not keep our voices down.”

“The Punk’s Bride” by KATE BERNHEIMER “So she went and they listened to records. They got really drunk on tequila, the kind that comes in a glass skull. The next day she made him breakfast. Then lunch. Then supper. After a few years like this he said they should get married.”

Contest Winner: “In Ribbons” by PAUL MCQUADE “He has asked grandma how Miss Pak came to be blind, but each time, grandma shook her head and said, ‘There are some things little boys shouldn’t know.’ ”


“Vocabulary of Fear” by LINCOLN MICHEL “On the surface, horror and terror seem like synonyms, but Radcliffe argues that “Terror and horror are so far opposite…” Do you know the difference between horror and terror?

“Familiar Terrors: What Scares us About The Domestic Surreal” by SADYE TEISER “These stories call into question what it is we know about the very basis of our lives. They change the constant; they make the familiar grotesque. The scariest tales tell us that nothing can be known for sure. What is more frightening than that?”

“Fear Works — Scary Stories in Children’s Literature” by KIM WINTERNHEIMER “Suddenly, the thrill of a scary story becomes more than a fun way to spend a dark evening — it becomes key to development.”


Lemony Snicket – AN UNFORTUNATE INTERVIEW: “Because it’s so absurd that it’s happening to children that the line between it being terrifying and funny is more easily straddled.”

Ellen Datlow – AWARD WINNING HORROR AND SCIENCE FICTION EDITOR: “One thing I’ve learned is that the borders are fluid. Many of the most interesting stories combine science fiction and horror, or drift uneasily between dark fantasy and horror. There is science fiction that feels like fantasy and fantasy that feels like science fiction.”

Julia Elliott – AUTHOR OF THE WILDS: To me, every text—whether religious, artistic, or scientific—is a reinvention of reality.

Children’s Books That Still Scare Us Me


It is publicly acknowledged that I am fearless and dread nothing. But that isn’t to say I cannot recognize the creepiness of some children’s books, including some that were actually meant to frighten.

1325218Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark series by Alvin Schwartz (with illustrations by Stephen Gammell)

Supremely unsettling tales of folklore and urban legends, illustrated with spidery, surreal drawings that are guaranteed to creep you out at any age. To the pre-Goosebumps generation, this is the cornerstone text of scary-ass children’s literature. Extra kudos for not only being a frequent guest on the Banned Books list, but having entire stories removed for subsequent editions.  


The_Twits_first_editionThe Twits by Roald Dahl (with illustrations by Quentin Blake)

Dahl has a bevy of beloved bestsellers, but this anti-beard screed about scary neighbors never seemed to be as widely-read as his hits. Which is to say, I was the only one I knew who wrote a book report on it. Because it scared me to death. Mr. Twit eats food out of his beard? They play cruel pranks upon each other for fun? Why are they so goddamned abusive to their pets? And let’s be real here, twit is also clearly one of the greatest words of the English language. It almost sounds like an obscenity but it’s not. TWIT! What a word!

242041The Amazing Bone by William Steig

In The Amazing Bone, a pig named Pearl finds a bone that lets her speak any language. As she walks home, she encounters a number of perilous obstacles. It’s pretty basic stuff, but worth it for the drawings. Steig is someone who I appreciate more now that I’m older, especially for his illustrations. His art is childlike, almost outsider fare, but for some reason it creeps me out big time. Perhaps because of the primitive quality, some illustrations looks like they were scrawled in the witness box by a child who saw their parents tortured. Most importantly, the image at the top of the page really freaked me out when I was young. I wondered if I was supposed to be seeing things like this at such a young age. It seemed R-rated.

lord-of-the-fliesLord Of The Flies by William Golding

Golding’s 1954 novel, set in the midst of an unspecified nuclear war, begins with a plane crashing into a remote island. The only survivors are adolescent boys. Even as an adolescent boy reader, I knew this book was my living hell. Then the kids start to argue and fight with one another, a clash of groupthink mentality and individuality themes that meant nothing to my child mind because, come on, no parents, no girls, and no bathrooms?! It was later assigned for school reading; I distinctly remember everyone in class seemed impressed that I had already read the book. Little did they know my childhood innocence ended when the savages brained Piggy.

The_Giving_TreeThe Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein

You remember this one, of course you do. The beautiful tree gives selfless love to the little boy, providing him a trunk to climb, apples to sell, branches to build a boat with. By the time the book is done, the little jerk has grown into an old man. Having used up every last piece of wood, the old man finds just a stump where his beloved apple tree once stood proud and majestic. Fittingly, and to my eternal horror, he pops a squat on the corpse. This book is like an S/M primer.

by Andrew Wetzel

Interview: Award-Winning Editor, Ellen Datlow

An enormous thanks to Ellen Datlow for agreeing to discuss horror with us this month. Ellen has been editing science fiction, fantasy, and horror short fiction for over thirty years. She was fiction editor of OMNI Magazine and SCIFICTION and currently acquires and edits stories for She has edited more than sixty anthologies, including the annual The Best Horror of the Year, Lovecraft’s Monsters, Fearful Symmetries, Nightmare Carnival, and The Cutting Room. Forthcoming are The Doll Collection and The Monstrous.

She’s won multiple awards for her editing. She was named recipient of the 2007 Karl Edward Wagner Award, given at the British Fantasy Convention for “outstanding contribution to the genre”; has been honored with the Life Achievement Award given by the Horror Writers Association, in acknowledgment of superior achievement over an entire career, and the World Fantasy Life Achievement Award for 2014, which is presented annually to individuals who have demonstrated outstanding service to the fantasy field.

ellen datlow

This month The Masters Review is focusing all of our content on horror and scary stories, of which I consider you the authority. Can you talk about your specific preferences in the horror genre? How they’ve changed, grown, or even simplified? What must a story evoke to be considered horror?

I’m afraid I’ve got to disappoint you—I have no specific preferences in horror. I love stories that stick with me because there’s more going on in them than just a one-note “scare.”  For me, great horror fiction has the same elements as any great fiction: A unique voice, characters that keep me interested, and a believable plot that forces me to continue reading. With the addition of an underlying sense of dread.

You’ve edited more than sixty anthologies, have over thirty years of experience editing science fiction, fantasy, and horror, and have numerous awards to your name. What have you learned about the genre in this time?

One thing I’ve learned is that the borders are fluid. Many of the most interesting stories combine science fiction and horror, or drift uneasily between dark fantasy and horror. There is science fiction that feels like fantasy and fantasy that feels like science fiction.

And some of the best writers dance around the genres gracefully by creating disturbing horror, compelling fantasy, or realist science fiction depending on where their muse leads them.

I often think horror is misinterpreted. What would you say to someone who doesn’t like it? Who would you encourage them to read? What does horror offer readers that is unique (beyond the obvious thrills and chills)?

I’d advise them to ignore most of the movies that refer to themselves as “horror”—they’re not. Most of what’s out there debases the entire genre with its graphic violence against women and its slasher mentality. That type of sensation horror is the lowest form of the genre.

To me horror often overlaps with the weird, in that it’s creepy and gives you a chill. (Although as I mention below, some weird work isn’t dark enough for me to consider it horror.) A movie might keep you on the edge of your seat (which doesn’t mean there should be no violence—John Carpenter’s The Thing is one of the most effective pieces of horror film making I know).

Effective horror explores the truths that humans are loathe to face: death most prominently—the fact that we’re all going to die. The loss of loved ones, losing one’s control, fear of the unknown, pain. These things scare us whether couched in the supernatural or psychological. (more…)