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A conversation with editors Douglas Gwilym & Ken MacGregor


monster



Ever wish to peer into the mind of an anthology editor? Today on the blog, we do better than that. We're getting insights from the editing team of the monster-themed anthology Novus Monstrum.


 


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Are We All The Monsters?

A conversation with Douglas Gwilym & Ken MacGregor, editors of NOVUS MONSTRUM

 

Douglas: Hey, Ken. What’s different? There’s… something in the atmosphere.

 

Ken: Hey, Douglas. Is it…poisonous gas? No, wait. This is Valentine’s Day, so…it’s love, isn’t it? Love of monsters!

 

Douglas: Nailed it in one. I think it’s safe to say we each have what you might call a lifelong love of things monstrous and impossible. What was your first monster true love? How old were you, and did the monster’s family approve?

 

Ken: Well, I grew up on shows like The Twilight Zone (which should come as no surprise to anyone, since our current series of anthologies, The Midnight Zone, is clearly a deeply respectful homage to that) and Night Gallery, which scared the bejeezus out of me more than a few times. I read a lot of fantasy books, but was always drawn to the darker, more unsettling characters. In the Roger Zelazny Amber books, there’s a moment where he describes a person (Dworkin)  so powerful that his madness flickers across his physical being for a moment, terrifying the protagonist. That image has stuck with me for over 40 years. Man, I loved those books. I’m not sure if I’ve answered your question, but I’ll try to sum it up: I’ve always been drawn to the macabre, for as long as I can remember, and I’ve always loved monsters. And, I’m not one to care if the family approves: I’ll go Romeo and Juliet on that, probably with the same result as those crazy kids. What about you? First monster love?

 

Douglas: Ooch. Ouch. I mean, the first truly monstrous beings I loved as a child were in sci-fi and fantasy. The salt-sucking mimic with the circular mouth of terrible teeth who posed as McCoy’s ex in the original Star Trek and knocked off crew member after crew member. The towering indifferent monsters of the kaiju “Creature Feature” on a tv station I could barely pull in after school. IT from A Wrinkle In Time, pulsating and terrorizing and making you (me!) its own. But it was Gollum, from reading The Lord of the Rings (and watching the Rankin-Bass Hobbit film), who made me a real convert to monsterdom. Gollum was just an ordinary hobbit like us, but the Ring and the darkness and the malice in his heart over 500 years turned him into a gruesome, strangling, blood-thirsty monster. Terrible as he is, the sympathy started to creep in with that guy. Prepared me for Alan Moore’s run of Swamp Thing comics to set the hook forever. Alec Holland was trying to do good in the world, was murdered and reborn in a way that estranged him from humanity forever… and made him a kind of a god. I mean, where do I sign?

 

So, hey. Ken. What does it mean to you if I say, “We are all the monsters”?

 

Ken: I would interpret that to mean that humans are capable of monstrous things, which, if you watch, read, or listen to the news, is pretty clearly true. While I absolutely love monsters from fiction, and very much enjoy writing about them, I find the real-world monsters far more disturbing. I think each of us is capable of monstrosity. Even myself. I can clearly remember, after a car accident when I got hit in the head hard enough to give me grand mal seizures later, thinking to myself, “Oh. I should go kill that driver who just hit me.” It wasn’t an angry thought. It was calm, practical. Like, it was this thing I had to do to set things right again. That’s psychotic, and it terrifies me that a thought like that was ever in my head. The fact that I was ready to calmly commit homicide is quite alarming. Luckily, a cop car rolled up as I was heading to my task and my brain decided it would be better not to kill anyone today. I realize this was an injury-induced moment of madness, but it gave me pause. How many of us are just one angry customer, one failed credit card transaction, one hot coffee spilled on our thigh, from losing it and tearing out someone’s throat with our teeth?

 

Incidentally, I loved hearing about your early influences. I had completely forgotten about the lamprey-like monster on Star Trek!

 

Douglas: That negative human potential is huge. I remember Stephen King saying something like “I write these things in a ‘knock on wood’ way, to keep them fiction and out of my real life.”

 

My take is, I’ll admit, a bit different. We’ve had the supremely good luck of getting to work with some talented folks for NOVUS MONSTRUM. Not just the nine authors we invited who are real forces in the genre, but the 800-ish writers who sent us submissions from around the world. I don’t know if I could get my hands on better data about what it means to be a monster, or what the idea of monsters means to us, as humans. I am left with the strong impression that being monstrous boils down to three things: being different, being outside the grid of usual human society, and–perhaps foremost–being powerful. I think we all have tremendous potential, we humans. And I think we’re all a little monstrous in our own way. But, like the monsters in the stories by Gwendolyn Kiste, Marco Cultrera, Sarah Hans, and others in the book, you can take that power, and that license to give zero you-know-whats, and do something monstrously positive with it. But, you know me, Swamp Thing got me early and got me good. We celebrate the monsters here, because monsters can be anything. Sometimes even the hero.

 

Love that you brought up The Twilight Zone. It’s subtle, and I think it would be easy for folks to miss, but the real-world “twilight zone” is an oceanographic term, referring to a dark, in-between place in the depths of the ocean, and so is “the midnight zone”. Just one shade deeper.

 

Ken: One of the things that initially drew me to the term The Midnight Zone was, first, the homage to The Twilight Zone, naturally, but also that, in the midnight zone of the ocean, no light penetrates: it’s a place of eternal darkness, inhabited by nothing but predators and scavengers. What better setting for an anthology of monsters?! It is inherently creepy, oppressive, scary. So, we started with this vibe, this unsettling title for our series, and hit the ground running. When we settled on the theme for volume one, “original monsters,” it felt like the perfect fit. And the response from our invited authors, and the overwhelming enthusiasm from the open call for submissions, we could tell that we had hit on something pretty special. Whenever I’m describing NOVUS MONSTRUM to people who haven’t yet read it, I always say that these are honestly some of the best short stories I’ve ever read. There’s a reason these 22 made the cut, out of nearly 800 submissions. I couldn’t be more proud of this thing we created, Douglas, and I am absolutely down for doing it again. At some point. Once we’ve recovered from the year of working on this one.

 

Douglas: A moment to breathe is always good. A chance to take the inspiration of working with storytellers of this caliber and supercharging our own writing? :) I’ve got my own short story collection, They Take Our Best & Other Weird Tales,circulating with some of my favorite authors and accruing some wonderful blurbs. I’m also itching to get my latest novel in shape for the monstrous masses. What do you have in the works?

 

Ken: My first story collection (and first ever book), An Aberrant Mind, was recently released to me from the publisher. So, I’m reworking it, bringing it up to my current standards, with the goal of self-publishing it sometime this year. It’ll be my first foray into that sort of thing, and I’m nervously excited about it. There are some other projects in the works, too, but they’re kind of too early to really talk about now. Don’t want to put the cart before the dead horse, or whatever that expression is.

 

Douglas: Nice! May all your dead horses pull the carts you want them to.

 

And that leaves us with tales enough for another day, doesn’t it?

 

Ken: It does. Incidentally, “All Your Dead Horses” is my new band.



Excerpt


Novus Monstrum cover
A Grace of Finer Form - Post-apocalyptic survival tale. The monsters are mutants: amalgams of living creatures, one so enormous it rivals the Titans of myth.

 

“She… remembered a time when the animals weren’t… distorted… with extra limbs, eyes in the wrong places, wings or tails that don’t belong. But, to me, the two-headed chipmunk-lizard hybrid that scrambled up my sleeve… was as natural as any other thing in the forest. These twisted animals were all I had ever known.”

 

“[T]he massive thing on the horizon was closer, resolving itself into a towering titan’s form, still hazy in the dawn light. It was a person, but with too many limbs, too many faces, pearlescent skin shimmering in the sunlight, horrible and wonderful to behold. It was so tall its faces were wreathed in clouds like a crown. Around the titan’s head, winged creatures wheeled and dipped like a god’s heralds. At its feet, a retinue followed, at this distance appearing like a seething mass.”

 

“Its faces turned and turned so that each pair of eyes could behold me there…. It stood over me, five-breasted and seven-armed, three phalluses dangling between its many legs. What I had taken for a pearlescent shimmer at a distance was actually the oscillation of the vegetation that sprouted from the titan’s skin, long-stemmed mushrooms and coiling vines and bell-shaped flowers the size of a dog waving and juddering with each of the giant’s steps.”

 

“The wings of an eagle combined with the body of a lynx, but also the eyes of an insect, the paws of a raccoon, the tail of a snake. Horrifying and miraculous all at once.

 

“Amber and Kelly ran, screaming. I followed them, pursuing them doggedly into the trees. I was faster, now, the titan’s tears making me an ideal version of myself…. I enclosed them in my embrace, my arms lengthening and my flesh stretching to encompass them wholly in the love of the goddess…. The titan’s tears melted their skin and melded it with mine. Our bones snapped together into one skeleton, our hair braided itself into one wild tangle. Amber and Kelly and I became one creature with six legs and six arms and three faces, weeping with terrible joy.”



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About the Editors

Douglas Gwilym

Douglas Gwilym has been known to compose a weird-fiction rock opera or two. His short story “Year Six” is on Ellen Datlow’s recommended reading list for Best Horror 14. He edited Triangulation for four years and now co-edits The Midnight Zone—forthcoming edition, Novus Monstrum, a collection of never-before-seen monsters, featuring original stories by greats, and new voices, in strange, dark fiction. He reads classics of the proto-Weird on YouTube and has been guest staff at Alpha Young Writers workshop. His short fiction appears in LampLight, Lucent Dreaming, Novel Noctule, Shelter of Daylight, Tales from the Moonlit Path, Penumbric Speculative Fiction Magazine, and Tales to Terrify.

 



Ken MacGregor

Ken MacGregor has written three story collections, an award winning young adult novella (Devil’s Bane), and has co-authored a novel (Headcase). He is a member of the Great Lakes Association of Horror Writers and an active member of the Horror Writers Association. He’s also written TV and radio commercials, sketch comedy, a music video, a one-act play, a scattering of poems, and a zombie movie. Ken has curated three original anthologies, one of which (Stitched Lips) was a finalist for the Shirley Jackson Award. His third anthology, Novus Monstrum, was co-edited with Douglas Gwilym. It is the first installment in the Midnight Zone series for Dragon’s Roost Press.

Ken is also a part-time literary assassin: he will write you into an original short story and kill you for money. Ken drives the bookmobile and lives with his kids, a fierce-but-cuddly tiger cat, and the ashes of his wife.


He can be found at www.kenmacgregor.com.

 

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