The Horror Zine accepts stories between 1,600 and 5,000 words (no flash fiction at this time). The editor looks for creative stories with strong character development, Hitchcock-type endings, and Twilight Zone weirdness. A surprise ending is always a plus. Read the complete guidelines here.
SQF: Why did you start this magazine?
JR: I began The Horror Zine in July of 2009 after realizing that so many online zines were going defunct. It seemed that every time I wanted to submit a story, another one bit the dust. When even the well-respected e-zine The Harrow went on a hiatus, I figured I’d better get into action myself.
The mission of The Horror Zine is to support and promote struggling writers, poets, and artists. However, not all of our contributors are struggling. The Horror Zine has had the extreme pleasure of displaying works by such “masters of the macabre” as Ramsey Campbell, Simon Clark, Joe R. Lansdale, Trevor Denyer, Graham Masterton, Deborah LeBlanc and many others.
And now The Horror Zine is pleased to announce that we also produce anthology books that contain the contributors to the e-zine.
SQF: What are the top three things you look for in a story and why?
JR: First of all, I want the very first paragraph to grab me. Don’t start with history and whatever you do, don’t start with explanations. The very first paragraph needs to start with ACTION. Make me want to read more. Be intriguing.
Most of all, I want character development. I want to be able to care about the character. Most good stories give me a sympathetic character that gets involved with an unusual situation and has to deal with it. Conversely, if you are writing about a villain, then I want to hate that character enough to cheer if he or she is eliminated in the end.
And in the end, I want a nice twist. I want to be surprised.
You said three things. . . can I cheat and add a fourth? I want to see good descriptive prose, atmosphere, mystery or suspense that has thought, insight, and depth. I don’t like stories that feel “rushed.”
SQF: What are the top three reasons a story is rejected, other than not fitting into your answers to the above question and why?
JR: I reject stories if they are so predictable that I can guess the ending well before I get there.
I am always on the lookout for something new and fresh. Predictability is my number one reason for rejection. Don’t give me something I have seen before. I want a story with depth; simple, one-dimensional stories do not make the grade.
Number two is if someone “tells” the story instead of “showing” it. Don’t narrate as though you were a newscaster. That’s also why I always reject “second-telling” stories, i.e.: stories as though reading from a diary, or being told second-hand by a character talking through the entire story. Readers want to feel it, to experience the action as it happens, as seen through the protagonist’s eyes, in “real” time.
I need a good story arc: the ending has to make sense and fit with the beginning. Don’t suddenly go somewhere out of the blue which would cause me to think, “Huh? How did that happen?” Your story needs to make sense from start to finish. I don’t want to ever think, “Yeah, as if THAT could happen.”
Give me a story, don’t give me gore for gore’s sake or try to shock me without substance. Good plots never go out of style. It is always about the story. Take your time with it. Enjoy the experience.
Next, I don’t want the dialogue to overshadow the action. Don’t give me all dialogue and no action. Dialogue is good; but it needs to be limited and it needs to be authentic. If I have to stop and think about the dialogue, it isn’t working. The dialogue should flow with the story, not distract from it.
Believe it or not, another reason for rejection is when people do not pay attention to my word count guidelines.
SQF: What is it about the characters in a story that makes them pop off the page and grab hold of you?
JR: Most of all, I like to see ordinary people thrust into extraordinary circumstances.
The character should be well developed. I want to feel what the character feels, to sympathize, to understand why he/she behaves the way he/she does. I want to care enough about the character to want that person to escape harm, to cheer for victories. If the person does something evil, I want to understand why that person was justified. I want the reader to see from the character’s point of view.
SQF: Will you publish a story an author posted on a personal blog?
JR: Yes. I am not exclusive; I accept simultaneous submissions. Only if I like it, though. Really like it. I am a tad harder on stories that have been published all over the place. I prefer new stuff but will accept simultaneous submissions if the story is good enough.
SQF: What one question on this topic do you wish I'd asked that I didn't? And how would you answer it?
JR: I am a bit different from most editors because I have “been there.” If you are talented but cannot seem to break into the business, I have been where you are. So I understand. That is why I tend to be more open and more communicative than most editors.
If I see potential, but the story is not quite up to par, I will work with the writer, editing it and making suggestions until the final product becomes stellar. Most editors do not take the time to do this service, especially for free like I do.
But again, the mission of The Horror Zine is to support and promote struggling writers, poets, and artists. I want you to succeed. I really want it. So if I see potential, I am going to help you succeed. I give it my all.
Thank you, Jeani. We all appreciate you taking time from your busy schedule to participate in this project.
NEXT POST: 6/16--Six Questions for Brian Carr, Fiction Editor, Dark Sky Magazine