If you hear anyone lamenting the state of the short horror fiction market these days, pay them no mind – they are clearly not looking in the right places. Yes, it’s true, the presence of genre fiction on the newsstands at your local bookshop is nearly nonexistent (if you’re lucky, you’ll find a beat-up copy of Cemetery Dance crammed on a bottom shelf in the Hobbies section next to the model train and dog grooming magazines), which is a shame considering the large amount of horror/science fiction movie magazines you can find just a few sections over. If you’re relying on the good folks at Barnes and Noble or Books-A-Million to feed your appetite for horrific literature, you’re all but starving.
But like a lot of things, short horror fiction has found new life online. Many small press publishers maintain online magazines that are companions to the books they produce, and the best of them – think Apex Magazine from Apex Publications or Subterranean Magazine from Subterranean Press – routinely offer stories from the genre’s biggest names.
After the release of its inaugural issue, I think it’s safe to add Nightmare Magazine to the list of online safe houses that are working to preserve the integrity and to insure the future of genre fiction.
Nightmare is a monthly digital publication with as solid a pedigree as you’re apt to find. It’s published by Creeping Hemlock Press, which has released books by Tim Lebbon, Tom Piccirilli and Lawrence Block as well as a stellar line of zombie novels under the “Print Is Dead” imprint. To edit the magazine, Creeping Hemlock (or, as they’re otherwise known, R.J. and Julia Sevin) recruited noted anthologist John Joseph Adams, the man behind a number of acclaimed collections including The Living Dead and Wastelands, and the editor of the online science fiction/fantasy magazine Lightspeed. Together, this group has a deep appreciation of the horror genre, the good taste to pick great material, and the contacts to invite some well-known friends along for the ride.
After a successful Kickstarter campaign over the summer, the group launched its first issue on the first of October. They assembled a killer lineup for the launch, including all-new fiction by Jonathan Maberry, Sarah Langan, Laird Barron and Genevieve Valentine (future issues will consist of two new stories and two reprints), an interview with Peter Straub, and a column by R.J. Sevin.
Sevin’s column is an insightful piece about the current state of the genre, and serves not only as commentary but as a mission statement for the magazine. Horror, he says, has for too long been defined in the general public’s eyes by slasher movies and Stephen King knockoffs. He points out that those of us “in the know” realize how elastic the genre is – that it goes beyond Jason and Freddy to include the psychological chills of The Silence of the Lambs or the post-apocalyptic nightmare of The Road.
Nightmare Magazine then goes on to back up Sevin’s theory with a quartet of stories that range far and wide within horror’s boundaries. Maberry’s “Property Condemned” is a haunted house story in which not a single ghost makes an appearance, although it’s as tension-filled and shiver-inducing as anything Shirley Jackson ever dreamed of. Sarah Langan’s “Afterlife” features appearances by several ghosts, but it’s the humans who will haunt your thoughts once you’re done. Barron’s “Frontier Death Song” taps into the primal fear of being hunted and becoming prey, and Valentine’s “Good Fences,” which is the least overtly “horror” story of the lineup, nonetheless gives pause as it recounts the decay of a man’s neighborhood and provides a slow reveal of the kind of terror that might be thriving right next door to any one of us.
This is a strong debut, and a very solid foundation for the Nightmare crew to build upon. You can sample it now on their website, where they will add content from each issue on a weekly basis, or go ahead and spring for the full issue or a subscription. With their game plan of releasing classic reprints plus exciting new fiction each month, Nightmare is going to be a premier place to educate yourself on the genre’s past and to acquaint yourself with its future.
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Blu Gilliand is a freelance writer of fiction and nonfiction. He covers horror fiction at his blog, October Country, and contributes interviews to the Horror World website. Follow him on Twitter at @BluGilliand.