Dan Coxon, editor of The Shadow Booth, explores the fertile hinterland between horror and literary fiction, and reveals why he’s launching a new journal of weird and eerie short stories. The Shadow Booth features stories by Paul Tremblay, Malcolm Devlin, Gary Budden, Richard V. Hirst, David Hartley, Stephen Hargadon, Dan Carpenter and many more.
The word means different things to different people. It feeds upon our individual expectations, our experiences, our fears. For some, horror is all about the boogeyman, the Freddy Kruegers and Pennywises, the monsters stalking us in the night (and it’s always night-time in horror films, isn’t it?). For others it’s ghosts, or zombies, or vampires, or nameless tentacled deities from the nth dimension. My wife was once scared out of her wits by The Mothman Prophecies. Yes, the Richard Gere film. Horror comes in many guises.
When I first started thinking about launching The Shadow Booth, I didn’t want it to be just another collection of horror stories. There’s nothing wrong with that, but the idea simply didn’t excite me. I wanted something different. Or more precisely, at least at the start, I knew what I didn’t want. No werewolves, no vampires, no zombies. No boogeymen in general. Certainly no torture, no gore (well, maybe a little). Ghosts were… okay. Those tentacled Ancient Ones were okay too, in moderation. But definitely no curses, or giant killer sharks/snakes/crocodiles/spiders/gerbils (delete as appropriate).
So where did that leave me? I knew that I wanted the stories to be unsettling more than outright horrific. I knew that I wanted them to be intelligent, and well-written, and surprising. Above all, they should be strange. Yes, they would definitely be strange.
As I started to talk to people about the project, two words cropped up time and time again: ‘weird’ and ‘eerie’. These became my cornerstones. They encompassed all that I liked in horror – Arthur Machen, Thomas Ligotti, Ramsey Campbell, Adam Nevill – but more importantly they also bled into other areas. I wouldn’t consider Nicolas Roeg’s 1973 film Don’t Look Now a straightforward horror movie, but nobody could deny that it’s eerie. Jeff Vandermeer’s excellent Southern Reach trilogy (the first of which, Annihilation, is soon to be a film too) has few moments of outright horror, but it is disturbingly weird.
At this point, it’s worth offering some kind of definition of the two terms. Each is up for debate, but I found myself coming back to Mark Fisher’s definitions most often. In his book The Weird and the Eerie, he links the terms together by pointing out that: ‘What the weird and the eerie have in common is a preoccupation with the strange. The strange – not the horrific.’ He’s a little hazier when defining the difference between them, but rightly so. There are hinterlands where the weird becomes eerie and the eerie becomes weird. His definition of the weird as ‘that which does not belong. The weird brings to the familiar something which ordinarily lies beyond it, and which cannot be reconciled with the “homely”,’ seems pretty close to the mark (his italics). Similarly, he manages to capture the essence of the eerie: ‘[it] concerns the most fundamental metaphysical questions one could pose, questions to do with existence and non-existence: Why is there something here when there should be nothing? Why is there nothing here when there should be something? The unseeing eyes of the dead; the bewildered eyes of an amnesiac – these provoke a sense of the eerie, just as surely as an abandoned village or a stone circle do.’
Fisher is also at pains to point out that the weird and the eerie are not genres. They are ‘affects, but they are also modes: modes of film and fiction, modes of perception, ultimately, you might even say, modes of being.’ As such, they are not confined to a single genre, or even a single art form. A painting can be weird or eerie, as much as a story can. Given the right circumstances – or, perhaps, the wrong ones – anything can be weird. Anything can be eerie.
By its very nature, The Shadow Booth only focuses on fiction. It can’t screen a film, or play an eerie piece of music. But it can cross genres in its approach to short stories, and I think that’s something it achieves. There are established horror authors in Volume 1 – Paul Tremblay, Richard Thomas – but there are writers from other backgrounds too. Gary Budden writes what he calls ‘landscape punk’, a heady blend of psychogeography, horror, weird and inner-city angst. David Hartley’s story owes its biggest debt to Kafka, while also leaning heavily on Tomb Raider. Malcolm Devlin’s ‘Moths’ is deeply unsettling, and yet doesn’t have a single scene that I would consider to be horror. All of them are weird or eerie, however; all of them are strange. None will leave you sitting very comfortably in the dark.
For The Shadow Booth to work (and yes, this is the sales pitch) we need readers to pre-order their copies. It was one of the other principles I had that I wanted to pay the writers a reasonable rate for their work, and I’m proud to say that if we make our target, almost exactly half the money raised will go to the writers featured in the journal. It’s the largest single payout, larger than any of the costs, or the inevitable Kickstarter fees. So, if you need another reason to back us, please remember – you’re not just backing the journal, you’re paying the authors for their work. And what great work it is.
Please check out our Kickstarter campaign, see the rest of that line-up (Richard V. Hirst! Sarah Read! Stephen Hargadon!), and pledge something to help make The Shadow Booth happen. Even if you just pre-order a copy, it helps get these stories out into the world. If you can pledge a little more (and we have T-shirts, postcards, magazines and signed books to give away, as well as short story critiques and even a professional copy-edit of a novel manuscript!) then it helps us even more. We need to reach our target by 25 October to make this happen.
Finally, if you like what you see, either here on the Kickstarter page, please share it online. We’re doing this all by word of mouth – so one of the biggest gifts you can give us is a shout-out on social media, or an email to that horror fan in your life. The Shadow Booth needs you. Maybe it’s about time you embraced the weird…
The Shadow Booth is crowdfunding now on Kickstarter, until 25 October 2017:
The Shadow Booth is a new journal of weird and eerie fiction featuring stories by Paul Tremblay, Malcolm Devlin, Gary Budden, Richard V. Hirst, David Hartley, Stephen Hargadon, Dan Carpenter and many more. It is currently crowdfunding on Kickstarter (https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/dan-coxon/the-shadow-booth-a-new-journal-of-weird-and-eerie) until 25 October. This story is taken from Volume 1, and appears on STORGY for a limited period only as a special preview of what’s in store. If you enjoy it, please show your support and order a copy of The Shadow Booth.
Tune in tomorrow for an exclusive preview of The Shadow Booth featuring the short story ‘Flotsam’ by Dan Carpenter
You can also follow the journal on social media here:
Dan Coxon is an award-winning editor, author, copy-editor and proofreader. In 2016 he won Best Anthology at the Saboteur Awards, for Being Dad: Short Stories About Fatherhood. He runs his own editorial company, Momus Editorial, and has worked for numerous publishers and authors in the past, including Urbane Publications, Unsung Stories, Influx Press and Dodo Ink. He is also a Contributing Editor at The Lonely Crowd, and has previously edited Litro magazine.
His own writing has appeared under his own name and under a pen name, in publications that include Black Static, Unthology, Unsung Stories, The Lonely Crowd, Popshot, STORGY and The Year’s Best Body Horror.
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