Night Time Logic with Brian Evenson

Night Time Logic with Daniel Braum

“The Past and Future. Ambiguity and Uncertainty. The Monstrous and the Terrible.”

photo of author Brian Evenson
Brian Evenson

Night Time Logic is the part of a story that is felt but not consciously processed. 

In this column I explore the phenomenon of Night Time Logic and the strange and uncanny side of horror and dark fiction through in depth conversation with authors. 

My short story collection with Cemetery Dance is titled The Night Marchers and Other Strange Tales in homage to Robert Aickman’s strange tales. It can be found here

In January 2024 I spoke with award-winning author Brian Evenson about McSweeney’s #71, the special horror issue of the publication that he guest edited. You can see our conversation here.

Evenson was asked to guest edit the issue of McSweeney’s to examine future directions of the horror genre and to curate stories that might challenge reader’s perceptions. We begin our conversation here with a question about the project.


DANIEL BRAUM: In the introduction you mention you hope that the issue will open up ways of thinking about contemporary horror for readers and will break down walls one might have erected without being fully aware.

What do you think some of these walls in readers are or could be? What were some of the walls for you?

BRIAN EVENSON: I think that the main wall is the one that some readers see as existing between literary fiction and horror — the idea that if something is horror it can’t be literary. In guest editing a magazine like McSweeney’s that was the wall I was most focused on since I think a lot of regular McSweeney’s readers don’t necessarily read horror fiction, so I wanted to include a few stories that might guide them into the genre. Another wall comes from people who are familiar with a certain strand of horror film but maybe don’t know the fictional genre. Still another wall comes from people who know the horror boom from the ’70s and ’80s and who are still reading work that could have been written then even if it was written more recently, but haven’t kept up with where the genre has gone since then. The possibilities of horror have really exploded in the last decade or so.

For me the biggest wall had to do with me thinking I knew what horror was and feeling that what I was doing was something different. Almost twenty years ago now I had a story collection, The Wavering Knife, which was nominated for an International Horror Guild Award. I was kind of surprised by that since I didn’t think of what I was doing as horror — though what exactly it was I would have been hard-pressed to say. And then I won that award and became curious about the other people who had been up for it. Reading the other nominees, I very quickly realized that horror was a very different and more varied genre than I’d thought, that when I hadn’t been paying attention it had evolved in ways that felt welcoming to me as a writer.

You go on to mention the issue follows in the tradition of “The New Wave Fabulists” issue of Conjunctions literary magazine from the fall of 2002. This issue was edited by Peter Straub. Back in 2016 for the Night Time Logic series I had a chance to talk to Peter Straub about this issue and some of the editing he did. In the introduction you write that you came to Peter’s work at a time when you were moving from reading literary fiction to genre fiction and then the distinction became meaningless.

How do you perceive the signaling inherent in labeling fiction. How are these things important or meaningless? For you and in general.

I think that there are a few writers associated with genre — Kelly Link, Peter Straub, John Crowley, Gene Wolfe a number of others — who are at once so good at line-by-line writing, who have such a beautifully developed style, and who are also so capable of manipulating genre that they feel at once like literary fiction and genre fiction. That’s something I’ve increasingly strived for as well, and a good part of my career has been about muddling that distinction, about trying to be the kind of writer who straddles the genre line.

I started reading Peter’s work when I still had the sense that I could put genre fiction in one box and literary fiction in another box. Reading Peter made me realize that the distinction was a lot blurrier than that, and that calling a book “literary” or calling it “horror” said very little of substance about it.

Lucius Shepard is one of the authors you mention in the introduction that you started reading when you were delving into reading horror. Lucius Shepard was one of the authors I came upon at a time when I was a relatively young reader. The interstitial nature of his work and his work in general was foundational to me. 

What was it about Shepard’s work and the work of others you read at that time that caused you to realize what you thought you knew about horror was outdated?

Shepard is another writer who is very hard to fit smoothly into a genre box — at least if you define that box in narrow, traditional terms. He’s someone who draws on all sorts of possibilities, and even when he’s doing something that has traditional elements the way he handles them isn’t quite like anyone else. His stories were the thing that drew me to him — I think “Shades” was the first story I read, and it’s a story I’ve reread a few times and taught. “R&R” blew me away and surprised me: it’s a bold strange story and feels just about perfect. And I’m very fond of Viator. But really I find all of his work worthwhile.

I guess what Shepard and others whose work I love do is that they don’t take anything for granted. Viator is kind of a haunted house story, but the setting is really strange and the details are strange too — it’s really not like anything else out there. Of course, as I started to read more extensively in the genre I realized that that current had been there all along. There are writers like Robert Aickman, who I discovered relatively late (due to an introduction that Peter Straub wrote for one of his books), who has probably become one of the most important influences on me as a writer. But he’s on the margins of horror, and so it took me a while to find him.

On the one hand, I think there are writers that are very good at understanding a genre and know how to write something that will appeal to a large range of readers (Stephen King, for instance) and on the other hand there are people who just seem to have an endless curiosity of what they can make a set of genre conventions do if they mess with them. (Someone like Peter Straub strikes me as amazing because he somehow manages to exist in both camps.)

But the interesting thing is that the more classic or traditional horror I read, the more I realize that a lot of the writers that we see as foundational to the genre were doing really weird stuff. For instance, Algernon Blackwood’s “The Willows.”  It’s a great story, but it definitely doesn’t compose itself from traditional elements — anything but. Or Oliver Onion’s “The Beckoning Fair One,” which I see as one of the greatest ghost stories ever written, but which is so impalpable and ethereal. Those stories really work because they play by their own rules.

I read that same introduction by Peter Straub to one of the reprint editions of The Wine Dark Sea by Robert Aickman. Straub was my gateway to the work of Robert Aickman too, I heard him speak about Aickman on a World Fantasy Convention panel and it was a game changing experience for me. In what ways did Aickman influence you? In what ways do you find yourself thinking about his work now?

Also, would you say that Aickman’s work the same that you say of “The Willows” that it composes itself by its own rules? What are the risks and or rewards of work that not only inverts and expands tropes but that operates in ignorance or complete disregard for them?

I didn’t discover him until maybe 15 years ago, so his impact has been relatively recent on me. What I love about him and his work is the way in which an Aickman story feels to me like a story that nobody else could have written. They have both supernatural and realistic elements to them, and often make very little effort to explain, or explain away, their strangeness. There are moments in his story “The Hostel” which are just so odd but which never get justified or explained. Or a really strange moment involving a horse in “A Roman Question.” There’s a persistent and unapologetic strangeness in his work that seems to me foundational rather than imposed, and that I really admire.

I do think Aickman tends, like Blackwood, to compose by his own rules. True, some of the stories are closely to more traditional ghost stories or horror stories, but the majority of them are decidedly odd and full of unexpected moments. He’s not really all that interested in drawing within the lines; it’s the moments that break out of them in his work that are strange and exciting.

You chose stories that you hope will provide the “satisfaction” that horror and ghost stories bring.

How do these two things differ, if at all? And what are some of these satisfactions?

I guess I sometimes see ghost stories as a subcategory of horror and sometimes as another category that overlaps in many ways with horror. I do think one of the things that’s happened in the last few decades with horror is that it’s moved in many different directions: there are traditional scary stories, but also weird fiction (which I guess I see in the same way as the ghost story — as a subcategory of horror except when it’s not…), slow horror, abstract horror, splatter, horror that reconsiders the notion of what it means to be monstrous, etc., etc.

I think that for me the satisfactions of both horror and ghost stories are related to the way that they create a mood, to the way that they unsettle you. In that sense they’re affective and experiential genres, more so than any other genres. They make the reader experience something and unsettle you, destabilize your sense of how the world works. That’s the reason that I read horror and also the reason I write it.

You went on to write that you hope that at the same time of providing these satisfactions the stories will expand the notion of what horror is and what it can do. Instead of asking you what these expansions and notions are we can take an in depth look at several of the stories through the lens of “what is horrible.” 

Of course.

I think the story “The Refrigerator Cemetery” by Mariana Enriquez (translated by Megan McDowell) is the perfect choice as the first story for the book. If a reader were to read only one story in this collection, I would recommend it be this one. Her work and this story wonderfully illustrates the notions you set forth in your introduction; it complicates, expands and shifts the focus on to different notions of “what is horrible”

Enriquez stories are humanistic stories, I find. The ghosts that appear in many of her works often “complicate” the lives of her protagonists. Their very mundane and down to earth and everyday lives as opposed to perhaps a high concept or big external stakes kind of story. There is something pleasingly familiar about the set ups yet they never feel derivative or trite or formulaic in the way American horror films and prose does when it gets lazy.

In addition to there being a ghost (or quite likely there being a ghost) in the story, the main thrust I found was an exploration of guilt, weakness, fear, bad decisions, moral ambiguity, and the struggle of the protagonist with all these things as opposed to or alongside with all the usual things one might see or think of in a ghost story or story about a haunting.

Is this what you had in mind when you mentioned “complicate” the genre in the introduction?

Yes, I was very glad we had that story, and I proposed it as the story to start with. Enriquez is another of those interesting figures who has a foot in both literature and genre. The first book of hers I read, Things We Lost in the Fire, struck me as utterly original in the way that it combined elements of horror with political events and political critique. She’s just such a capable writer in terms of walking the line between genre and literature and taking full advantage of the best elements of both. I also wanted that story to be first because I think it can be read either as a kind of ghost story but doesn’t have to be: it has all the literary elements you mention above, things that allow a more literary reader to navigate it more easily than they might a straightforward ghost story.

It’s also a story that has several paths through it; my idea was that if you were a literary reader and read that story, and then went on to read the rest of the issue, that you might return to that story and see different things in it…

Part of “The Refrigerator Cemetery” is set in the 1970s in a sort of dump site for old refrigerator appliances, in a time before doors were routinely removed from them upon disposal. The protagonist, Daniel, and Gustavo are three children playing a game of how long one can risk death by suffocation by staying inside the old refrigerators. When Gustavo dies while playing this game, we are given a new perspective on “what is horrible.” Of course, the death of the child is a terrible thing. The story brings into focus a moral failure and the decision of the protagonist and Daniel not to tell adults and authorities what happened thus leaving Gustavo to be a lost and missing child. 30 years later the protagonist returns and the decision to do so seems not to bring any peace to Gustavo but instead is self-centered again, she wants to find out what happened and to absolve herself.

What do you think about the shift in focus in this story and others, from the horrors of the supernatural to the horrors of the humans and human choices. This isn’t something brand new in horror yet Enriquez does it so well in the parameters of the ghost story. What does the story bring to the ghost story genre?

Yes, it’s not new, but she does it very well indeed. I think one thing the story brings is a different context to the ghost story than most U.S. readers are used to: the way in which Argentina is haunted by the Desaparecidos, by the disappearance of thousands of people during the Dirty War. You have hints of that in the context of the story, the sense of it as something that lurks, haunts the whole society. A ghost story told within that context can’t help but take on a different feel.  And, as you say, the story is very much about the horrors of humans and their choices, with the narrator herself being a very complicated and vexed individual, someone who seems to have gone for years without facing her past.

Spoiler warning to readers here. The story is full of surprises. Just when one thinks one knows where the story is going, we are faced with the possibility of what could be more horrible than a ghost? What could be more horrible than the guilt of leaving the child unfound? The answer to that postulates that a different set of circumstances other than the one the narrator told us was what unfolded.

The narrator encounters someone (or something) in her investigations. Is it a bum? It is possibly a spirit even though the prose leans strongly that she is seeing something of flesh and blood. What if what she encounters is actually Gustavo and that he did not die as she thought and he has roamed the refrigerator cemetery for thirty years and become this damaged shell of a person. This possibility thrusts the story into the realm of what I refer to as “a strange tale” a story designed to deliver intentional ambiguity as to the speculative element.

Is this new possibility any more horrible than the ones initially projected by the story? Is a strange tale or is this strange tale by virtue of the uncertainty any more terrible? Or possibly just more enjoyable for those who like to look at fiction through this lens?

That intentional ambiguity goes a long way toward destabilizing the story. There’s something very unsettling about the fact that she’s shown up looking for answers but somehow by the end seems to know less than she thought. And yes, the uncertainty itself for me ends up being one of the real joys of the story. Several of the stories in the issue lean toward uncertainty and the strange, since that’s something that as a writer and reader I really love. I imagine someone else editing the volume might have made different choices.

I was excited to see you included a short story by author M.T. Anderson in the issue. Anderson’s novel Feed is an amazing and visionary novel. While it is not often thought of (at least not initially) as something “horrible” or under the umbrella of horror if one looks at it through the lens of defining what is “horrible,” I think the circumstances of what happens in the book is right up there and it is why it is one of the most engaging and heartbreaking stories.

The horror in Anderson’s story “Berceuse” is delivered subtly with a steady hand. It opens in a familiar way. There is a baby. An infant. And the reader is keyed in that something is not quite right. There is a Twilight Zone sense of something being “off” about the very familiar situation of the beginning of a babysitter session. Anderson delivers a lack of memory or recall of names experienced by the main characters which crescendos into the revelation in a lack of agency.

 I had to local up the meaning of the title — in short, it is a musical composition that resembles a lullaby.

I’m not sure if it is officially a trope but young children are often featured in horror stories. There have been some effective classics. Rosemary’s Baby comes to mind. As is often the case stories that attempt to follow often do so with diminishing returns. What do you think of this trope? Do you feel “Berceuse” challenges or adds to the trope and or is perhaps a well-done iteration?

I like Anderson’s work a lot — I’ve taught Feed in the past, which is a great novel which is all the more unsettling because it seems to have predicted a little too much of the direction our society is moving. For me “Berceuse” is a

cover of McSweeney's #71
McSweeney’s #71

genuinely weird story, unpredictable, bizarre, but also very well written. It has slight gestures, I think, that recall Bob Leman’s “Window,” but the context is very different.

There are several stories in the issue that feature young children. Nick Antosca’s story, for instance, or Veres’s story (though the “children” in that one are not exactly human anymore). Even the Enriquez story that we were just discussing is about something that happened in childhood. I do think that’s definitely a trope in horror stories, and can be done well or poorly. I think the weirdness of “Berceuse” does challenge the trope in that the monstrousness is so odd and unexpected, and so nicely absurd, but yet still terrifying.

A follow-up question is the notion of context. A trope that might be tired to me could be the first experience with it to another reader or another set of readers. Cormac McCarthy’s The Road comes to mind. Without mentioning the emotional heart of that story, the aspect of a post-apocalyptic story possibly it could have been the first of that kind of story a reader who does not read genre experienced. What role does context play in experiencing a story? Did you have this in mind when putting the book together?

Yes, this is something I thought about a lot. When McSweeney’s asked me to do the issue, they asked me because they felt like I both had a sense of what horror was doing and that I also understood McSweeney’s and their readers (I’d been published a few times in the magazine in the past). I felt like I wanted to include both stories that would work for readers that didn’t know horror and stories that would satisfy people who knew the genre. That probably means that there will be some stories that will work better for you than others, depending on what your relation to genre is.

When I was reading the stories that had been submitted, the thing that was interesting to me was how wide the range was. At one extreme, some of the submissions were clearly pieces by people who saw the call and just decided to write their first horror story, but if you’re writing a horror story without much familiarity with the genre it’s really hard to avoid the clichés (and you may not even recognize them as clichés). At another extreme, I got some splatterpunk work that I liked but that I realized was probably not going to fly for McSweeney’s and its readers. Still, in between those extremes was more good work that I could have possibly used, so the question became how to assemble an issue that would, on the one hand, teach certain readers who didn’t know horror where the genre was going now, and on the other hand still interest readers who know the genre. It was definitely a tricky balancing act.

I had the sense you intentionally included many different “kinds” of stories when selecting this group. One kind of story I refer to as an “idea” story. This is where the story, from my perception, is more about presenting an idea or notion or situation than it is about dynamic characters or dramatic structures. “Heartwood” by Kristine Ong Muslim struck me as an “idea” story.

In “Heartwood” the fun of it is it posits a world where trees, the trees of the world, are attacking humans. A war on humans by the trees. The short story format are these brief slices of the experiences of groups of what could be “the last” of the humans reeling from and trying to deal with this.

Did you see the television show The Last of Us based on the game of the same name? I did not play the game but did watch the show. For a while there it seemed like fungi and plant-based horror stories might be an emerging Zeitgeist. Did you get this sense?

Yes, I wanted to include a lot of different sorts of stories, and “Heartwood” is a kind of “idea” story — which is a mode that I personally think works best either for very short stories like Kristine’s, or for novels (where the idea can develop and become something intense and other), but not so much for work in between. 

Yes, I watched The Last of Us, and played the game as well — the game is one of the greatest video games I’ve ever played and is emotionally intense and resonant like very few games are. Between that and Mike Carey’s The Girl with All the Gifts there did seem to be something happening with plant-based horror, but of course plant-based horror goes back a ways — Blackwood’s “The Willows,” for instance, or John Wyndham’s The Day of the Triffids.  Still, there does seem to be something distinct about the fungal version of it and it seems to be happening currently.  My very favorite book in that genre is probably Aliya Whiteley’s The Beauty.

A while back there was a book and a movie of the same name, The Ruins. Part of the appeal of that was similar to elements in “Heartwood.”Tthe vine system in The Ruins developed or just had a technique to lure humans to their death with sound mimicking humans. “Heartwood” shows us pollen attacks and kelp-based attacks, which are akin perhaps to what we saw in The Ruins, only in The Ruins there was not a sense of a war or a coordinated intelligence. Then of course there is John Carpenter’s The Thing. At one point in “Heartwood” there is discussion and speculation that humans lose their sense of self when taken over by the plants but this “way out” is made horrible by the notion that some of the self remains and is still conscious. All things to consider through the lens presented in your introduction of “what is horrible.” 

What might be more frightening the idea of a biological plant-based reflex that kills humans or a plant-based intelligence seeking to kill humans? Losing one’s sense of self or having some of it remain while the body and agency is removed?

I personally find it more frightening to have some of your self remain while body or agency is removed. That idea of feeling trapped or restricted seems terrifying to me…

“That City You Visit In Dreams Sometimes” by Nick Mamatas opens with a “stress dream,” something not monstrous but no less horrible. Stress dreams are characterized by having a dream of a real-life situation with a complication or stress factor thrown in such as forgetting one’s locker combination, forgetting one’s homework, or public speaking and realizing one is naked, to name some commonly cited ones. In Mamatas’ story for the narrator, it is the dream of a city. Common fears and lore such as “beware of black ice when driving” and “one can not read during a dream” are aspects of the story.

Please tell us about the horror aspect of this story for you. Was it included to represent the more human or psychological side of what can be horrible?

I think the story is all about mood and it has a fair amount of abstraction to it, since you’re never told directly who the person is talking to. Very gradually you begin to get a sense with that story that something more is happening, that the dream the narrator is having may be more than just a dream, is instead a kind of access to another reality, and that the people who are having him recount his dream as part of a “study” have an ulterior motive. The story concludes, though, before any of that is resolved, so it’s very much a story about dread very quietly creeping up on one, almost more proto-horror than horror proper.

Tell us about the phrase “cest la guerre” and how it is used in the story. I looked it up and came up with translations of “that’s war” or “it can’t be helped.”

The way I read that ending is that he’s being shown something that they expect him to begin to dream about — a strange city seal that shows a lot of decapitated heads with the saying “C’est la guerre” as a kind of motto. It remains vague and mysterious — it may literally be a depiction of war or there may be something cynical in terms of the combination of the motto and the image. His dreams are being seeded with something, and it’s likely only to get worse.

“Here and Now and Then and Forever” by Attila Veres (translated by Luca Karafiath) was one of my favorites of this bunch. There are a lot of things going on and in play in the story and they worked well and worked well together for me.

First off, I liked the structure. Both the internal stakes and the external stakes are very clear. And the story does something I like a lot, both sets of stakes are linked by having one action or one element as critical to both.

The internal stakes are the narrator Janka’s self-perception of success. Her perception as to being “a winner.” Her personal goal, her personal self-perception is riding on her obsessive desire to succeed as a salesperson in what appears to the reader to be a sort of murky pyramid-like scheme sales endeavor she is caught up in.

The external stakes are high. Not only is the life of a child at stake, the child of the narrator’s customer or mark depending on how one sees it but the entirety of human kind is at stake. The story is set in Hungary at a time of wars that are raging that will possibly be the end of the world. 

I usually bristle at “big” stakes such as “save the world,” and prefer the more intimate more personal stakes. What do you think of the two kinds of stakes and two kinds of horrors operating side by side in Veres’ story?

I’m really fond of this story, and of Veres’s work in general — he seemingly came out of nowhere and is just doing something unique. His collection The Black Maybe is one of my favorite collections I’ve read in the last few years. In terms of the two horrors operating side by side, it creates an interesting tension in the story. Janka, the narrator, does genuinely seem to believe in what they’re doing, but at the same time there’s something decidedly awful about it — the eternal life that is being promised is different and is all about the end of humanity as we know it: your child will live forever but as something else. The narrator accepts that and finds that it even has something awesome and beautiful to it, even though behind this awesomeness is the end of humanity. I think the story is rooted too in the idea that many of us have about what kind of world our children are going to inherit because of our actions. Veres takes that question and shifts it, inverts it. 

The narrator wants to close that one sale to save one terminally ill child, with a miracle cure. The miracle cure is what the pyramid scheme is selling. This one element seemingly is the key and critical to the internal and external conflicts in play.

And as these develop the horrors emerge. The horror of a world at war, the horror of war and the end of order and civilization that may or may not come to one’s world is in the background of more “immediate” conflicts. The horror of the “cure” is that it turns pre-pubescent children into creatures that are more than human as they are immune to all the things that ail humans. But the cost is they are monstrous avian-like things. They are misshapen, have lost their human-self, and while they can be sustained on anything they hunger for flesh. This offers all the characters in the story a horrible choice.

What is the importance of choice, in fiction. And in this story. What do you make of the various choices characters have made, such at the head of the pyramid scheme who presents one of the avian-monsters as his grandchild?

I think in my own fiction choice (and sometimes the refusal of a character to make a choice) is central, very important. In general I think fiction, and horror fiction in particular, is about the tension between the choices the characters make and the choices we would make if we were in their shoes. It’s a way to live out struggles and mistakes vicariously — though of course it’s also a lot more than that. Veres’ story spells out the parameters of the choice, makes it very clear, and then leaves us, in the dark of the van with the two women, with Janka trying to talk Kriszta into making a choice that goes against Kriszta’s sense of humanity.  But again, Janka — and the head of the scheme as well — genuinely believe in their product. The story is open-ended: we stay in the van with them, wondering how it’s going to turn out. That’s part of the horror of it, being suspended in that moment of impossible choice.

As the story nears its end, I was able to look at it through the lens of a “strange tale.” I questioned if any of the characters could be trusted. It was not clear if what we are seeing and what we are told is really happening or is everything a scam?

And thus, we have an intentional ambiguity in play.

And the horrors of the pressure of a job in sales. Of being caught up in a scam. Of the pressures one puts on oneself to succeed. Of worth in society. Of the possible end of human kind. Of the choices one may or may not make for a pre-pubescent person. The horror of the cure being worse than the ailment.

Do you find that the “monstrous” horror in the story, the actual purported flesh-eating avian-things to be the least monstrous of the list of everything in play? While they are in cages, we never see the creatures eat flesh, did you take everything at face value or question if all might be a scam?

I’ve got a great suspicion of multilevel marketing — I grew up in Utah, which has been called the hub of multilevel marketing. For me, I start the story very suspicious of the characters and what’s going on, but when I see the “children” I take that at face value.  That and the seriousness of the situation — that they’ll be shot if she doesn’t succeed in making a sale — puts the story in a different place for me. So for me I start out-thinking scam but then get to “Oh, wait, no: there’s something much more unsettling going on.” Of course the head of the scheme has all the trappings of people at the top of any pyramid scheme — nice clothes, obvious markers of success, etc. — but in this case I felt like he had those because it was expected of him: they hid or soften what’s really going on.

Another of my favorites is “The Wolves” by Senaa Ahmad. Werewolves (and for that matter classic monster stories) are a hard sell for me and I approach them with a lot of skepticism. This one won me over quickly.

“There were wolves who turned into men under the light of the full moon.”

Right from the start it had my attention.

It also wraps up with a wonderful and wonderfully thematic last line.

The human as the monster or as the worst kind of monster is nothing new. Perhaps it is common enough to be its own trope or in danger of being tired in modern horror. “The Wolves” nicely plays with both tropes delivering a historical werewolf story and a story where the horrors and cruelty are afflicted by humans that satisfies while also putting its own unique spin and touch on both kinds of stories, I found. 

Also, the prose is wonderfully rendered. I found it to be lush, descriptive, and effective. I found myself immersed in it. 

One of the themes I found was the horror of power and powerlessness. There is a nice reversal where we get a bit of the “powerlessness” of the monsters. What did you think of these themes and/or what did you see in the story?

That’s a story I like a lot as well, and it was a story that I found in the submissions pile. I hadn’t heard of Ahmad before, but I’ve since read other stories by her, and they’re all very good.

I agree that the story questions the notion of what the monster is, and complicates the notion of werewolves by shifting how we think about them— — something like Stephen Graham Jones’ Mongrels does that too, though it shifts werewolves in a different way. Here there’s also a kind of fairy tale quality to the story, a way of talking about war and damage symbolically in a way that makes it feel like a fable.  And of course the power/powerless dynamic is not only with the wolves but with the women who are fleeing as well, and with the baby who later will hear the story.

I also thought it was really effective showing the horror of fleeing, the horror of leaving material things behind that one character experiences. The mode of storytelling was also very effectively handled. The story is being told from the present where the narrator is in a place of safety while looking back at these events from her childhood. What are your thoughts on structure and method on storytelling as it relates to horror and expectations readers bring to a horror story?

There are a couple of stories in the issue in which the way the story is told is as important as the story itself. This is one of them, and it does it in subtle ways, slightly destabilizing the piece. For me the moment when the narrator suddenly remembers that there were two people where she was describing one is destabilizing and powerful and makes us wonder what else she isn’t telling.

Jeff Ford’s story is another: it’s a story about storytelling, a kind of metafictional horror piece in which the horror only becomes prominent in the last line or two.  And Stephen Graham Jones’ “Lover’s Lane” is also about someone telling a story, giving her findings online in a way that might make us begin to question moments of it.

The closing story in the book is “Lovers Lane” by Steven Graham Jones. With the element of the story’s narrator examining the evolution and nature of folklore and modern horror stories it is a solid choice for the closing story. 

The narrator’s observations and ruminations on the nature of horror folklore bookends the story of a lover’s lane serial killer. There is talk and discussion on stories that go viral as the layers of the lore of this killer are peeled back while the narrator tries to get closer to the “prime” event.

Folk horror seems to be enjoying an upswing in popularity at the moment. What do you see as the relation between horror and folklore?

There are parts of “Lover’s Lane” that are self-referential and examine the nature of the horror story. And the evolution of story-telling and folklore. It is very much a story of “now” as it shows shows the change in media, medium, and technology and the effect these things have on the story in general and the story being narrated. 

Why did you choose it as a closing story? What does the story say about the direction of horror? What do you see as the or “a” direction of horror? 

I spent a lot of time figuring out the arrangement of the issue and working through ideas with the editors of McSweeney’s. I knew pretty quickly that I wanted to open with the Enriquez story. There was a moment when I thought that I might want to have Stephen’s story second, but as I started to think about how the stories were juxtaposing and talking to one another I began to feel that Stephen’s would be the right concluding story.

I don’t really see the McSweeney’s issue as suggesting a movement in time from beginning to end. I do feel that the Enriquez story was a great one to start with since I think it provides ways in for readers interested in the literary as well as readers interested in/familiar with horror as a genre.  And it made sense to me to follow that with Nick Antosca’s “The Noble Rot,” since it’s accessible and plot-driven, but also unapologetically in a horror vein (it’s hard to imagine a literary story that does with a vacuum and ice cream what that story does), and yet still well written. Then Kristine Ong Muslim’s story pushes in a still different direction, and so on, and so on.

What I like about Stephen’s piece is the way that it takes on the idea of urban myths and legends but does so in a somewhat unexpected way — and a way that probably feels different from much of Stephen’s other work. Stephen probably knows as much about horror as anyone I know. He’s published in virtually every subcategory of the genre, and he’s involved in a broader reconsideration of what horror is and what it can do that a lot of indigenous writers and BIPOC writers and filmmakers are leading. If there’s a direction that horror is going it feels to me that it’s involved in that shaking up of the genre by smart, thoughtful people who genuinely love the genre but are still interested in challenging business as usual. Genres stay alive by evolving and changing and questioning: horror seems so vibrant to me today precisely because of that.



BRIAN EVENSON is the author of a dozen and a half books of fiction, most recently the story collection None of You Shall Be Spared (Weird House, 2023) and the Weird West microcollection Black Bark (Black Shuck, 2023). His collection Song for the Unraveling of the World (2019) won the Shirley Jackson Award and the World Fantasy Award and was a finalist for the Los Angeles Times’ Ray Bradbury Prize. Previous books have won the American Library Association’s RUSA Prize and the International Horror Guild Award, and have been finalists for the Edgar Award. He is the recipient of three O. Henry Prizes, an NEA fellowship, and a Guggenheim Award. His work has been translated into more than a dozen languages. He lives in Los Angeles and teaches at CalArts. A new collection, Good Night, Sleep Tight will be published in Fall of 2024.


cover of Serpent's ShadowDANIEL BRAUM writes “strange tales” in the tradition of Robert Aickman. His stories, set in locations around the globe, explore the tension between the psychological and supernatural.

The all-new Cemetery Dance Publications edition of his first short story collection The Night Marchers and Other Strange Tales can be found here

Cemetery Dance Publications released the trade paperback edition of his novella The Serpent’s Shadow in Sepetember 2023. It can be found here.

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