1.Tell us a bit about Horror Express. When and how did it get started?
The Horror Express began in 2003 because I was so disheartened with the whole horror business. As a writer I had been trying for years to get something published and it appeared to me that unless you were a close friend of the editor or an already established writer you didn’t have a chance. I saw the same names surfacing in the same magazines over and over again and to be honest, it disgusted me. I had been published by a few magazines but they didn’t seem to be as ‘clicky’ as the others – I must take my hat off to them. It was after this that I decided to create my own magazine to give some authors the opportunity to get some exposure. Of course, to make the magazine commercially viable I need to include established writers such as Dean Koontz and Graham Masterton as this helps attract attention and build a positive reputation.
2.What type of horror fiction do you consider? Are you open to submissions?
Yes, I am open to submissions at the moment. As regards the type of fiction I consider – I will take suspense over gore every time. I do not have an aversion to gore but there has to be a point to it. Take Bret Easton Ellis’s American Psycho for instance. This has got to be the goriest, sickest novel I have ever read but it is probably the best novel I have ever read too – because there is a point to the gore! On the surface the novel is a terrifying journey into darkness, but on a deeper level the themes that run through the narrative is about selfishness, otherness, the fear of female sexuality and the consumerism of the eighties. The true horror is that Bateman’s world is not a direct contrast from the one in which we now live in. Anyway, when it comes to accepting a story I will favour the ones where character building and evocative language are used to create the story. I also love it when the author has something to say. There are not enough writers out there who do this as far as I’m concerned. Of course it needs to be well written and an interesting story but I’ll certainly be even more interested if they have a message, whether it is ani war, anti religion, a critique of social class – whatever! I’d rather there be some sort of theme going on in the work. I like stories where paragraphs are spent evoking fear through long descriptions such as the whisper of the wind, the shape in the darkness and the shudder of a leaf. Here I find the prose seeks to evoke fear by the use of spare images and it stirs thoughts of death and loneliness and despair. These writers tend to write better prose, line by line, than those who wade gleefully knee-deep in blood and guts.
3.If you could narrow down to three the elements that make a great horror story, what would those be?
Definitely suspense, character building and a good plot.
4.What are the most common flaws you encounter when reading submissions?
The number one flaw has to be not even bothering to follow the submission guidelines. You wouldn’t believe how many writers out there do not do this. Whether the submission is not in double spacing or the wrong font is used or they haven’t sent a SAE or they have sent a submission when we are not open. This is certainly not the best way to go about trying to get published. My advice is follow the guidelines exactly. They are there for a reason. Many Editors, including myself, feel if you can’t be bothered to follow the submission guidelines then I can’t be bothered to read your work.
5.Do you review horror books? If yes, how may authors interested in a review by Horror Express submit their books?
Yes, we review horror books and movies. We have film companies who send us DVD’s all the time – about three or four a month. We have a similar amount of books sent in from authors and publishers. Unfortunately we cannot review them all and only three or four per issue get accepted for review.
6.There are so many horror sub-genres—cutting edge, dark fantasy, extreme, supernatural, quiet, psychological, etc.. Do you think some have higher literary value than others? Which one do you think is more popular at the moment?
Unfortunately it appears that extreme horror is popular in the small press at the moment. I get a lot of submissions that are gore-fests. I wouldn’t say any sub-genre has more literary value over another but I feel many of those who write extreme horror tend to neglect the art of storytelling and just lay on the gore and violence with the misguided notion that vividly portraying evisceration is just substitution for talented writing. I find this offensive as their only point appears to be to shock. There is usually no theme or message running through the work and this tends to be boring to the reader who thinks. Overt gore to me only appealing to the perpetual adolescent, it is not at all interesting to the mature mind. Don’t get me wrong, as I have previously said, I am not opposed to violence and gore in fiction. American Psycho is certainly extreme but has literary value as far as I’m concerned.
7.Your magazine has been compared to Flesh & Blood, Cemetery Dance and Black October. To what do you attribute its success?
Being compared to Cemetery Dance, Flesh and Blood and Black October is an honour as they are well respected magazines but I think the success of The Horror Express is down to giving writers who felt that they were banging their heads against a brick wall a chance. I have had dozens of emails from writers I have published telling me they were on the verge of giving up because they felt there was no one out there willing to give them a chance. When I receive messages like that from writers it makes all this worthwhile.
8.Do you think the horror fiction market has declined, reached a plateau, or is still climbing?
I can’t help but feel it has declined. Major publishers don’t want to know if you are horror. You are frowned upon and they will reject you just by looking at your cover letter that states you are a ‘horror writer.’ Established authors have turned their back on horror and there is so much stuff out there that is a regurgitation of work that wasn’t even good in the first place.
9.How hard is it to market and promote a small horror publication like Horror Express when faced with the competition?
It is hard. I try by sending out flyers and advertising in other magazines but it is very costly. Of course there is also the website that gets quite a bit of traffic. I feel having a high quality website is a must!
10.Could you tell us about the advertising and promotional opportunities Horror Express offers authors?
I am willing to help any up and coming author out there, that’s what the magazine is for. I have interviewed new writers such as Garry Charles, the artist Alex McVey and James Cain the editor of Dark Animus to give them exposure and I am always here if anyone wants to advertise their work.
11.What is the scariest book you’ve ever read?
It would have to be The Shrine of Jeffrey Dahmer because it actually happened.
12.Which authors, in your opinion, will be remembered as the best horror writers of the 20th Century?
I think the authors who will be remembered as the best horror writers of the 20th century will be H.P Lovecraft, Richard Matheson and of course Stephen King all of these changed the face of horror and tugged it into the mainstream.
13.I understand you’re also an author. Do you want to tell our readers about your present or future projects? Where is your work available?
Well, as a writer over a range of genres and mediums I have just had a couple of short stories published by The Writers Post Journal and Gold Dust Magazine (both magazines are available to buy on their websites) and I have a comic that will be surfacing soon from Horror Express Publications. I am trying to get a publisher for the novella that I wrote last year and an agent for several screenplays that I have in my files. I am currently working on another comic script which I am hoping to send to a major publisher. As a publisher I have several chapbooks and anthologies available as well as the magazine that will be surfacing in the near future and anyone who is interested can go to www.horrorexpress.pwp.blueyonder.co.uk to find out more about me or Horror Express Publications.
Interview by Mayra Calvani