Apex Magazine founder Jason Sizemore recounts zine’s origins, eyes future

By G. Robert Frazier

The man who founded one of the top online magazines of dark science fiction, horror, and fantasy literature in the country didn’t set out to be an editor. But once he set his mind to it, nothing could seemingly stop him.

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Jason Sizemore

Jason Sizemore is now 11 years into his run with Apex Magazine, with three Hugo Award nominations for editing and a pair of Nebula wins by his writers to show for it. (See Apex’s complete list of awards and nominations.)

“Three things happened simultaneously that caused me to go down this path,” Sizemore confessed during a question and answer session at last month’s Imaginarium Convention in Louisville, Ky. “I turned 30, and for the first time I started feeling mortal, I guess. I had my first kid, and that also made me feel mortal; it’s lot of work and I was always exhausted. And the third thing, I was at a completely dead-end job working for a risk management group for city government as a system administrator for their software.”

A disagreement with his boss led him to quit on the spot and go home to sulk, whereupon he noticed a zine he was a fan of and decided, “I can do this.”

“I did a six-month deep dive into language arts books, I studied the Chicago Manual of Style, and a lot of online stuff, videos; there are tons of resources out there,” he explained.

“I had a few stories published very early on that I hope no one ever has seen, but those early acceptances really gave me the confidence I needed at the time.”

From there, Sizemore pulled the trigger and Apex was born.

Not that things went entirely smoothly. The cost of starting a magazine from scratch led to a steep debt and a lot of consternation. But Sizemore persisted, learning more as he went, and garnered support on the conference trail that helped bolster not only the zine’s reputation but his own confidence.

Today, he even has an award named after him at the Imaginarium Convention.

For those wanting the full story, and a few laughs along the way, Sizemore writes about hisfor-exposure experience as an editor and publisher in the book, For Exposure: The Life and Times of a Small Press Publisher.

“I look back at those first few issues I edited and I can’t stand it, because I have all this experience now,” he explained.

As for the writing, Sizemore says the most important maxim to remember is, what works for one person may not work for another.

“There is never one concrete right way of writing. It’s a very different beast from editing. There are very hard set rules for editing. While I do editing 95 percent of the time, I do like to write because there are no boundaries.”

Sizemore said it’s important to set goals with achievable milestones.

“If you’ve tried getting in all the pro zines without luck, then try the semi-prozines. You need an occasional win to keep yourself moving forward.  My growth as a writer reflects that of a lot of writers. When you start out as a newbie, you tend to jump at the first person who wants to publish you. I had a few stories published very early on that I hope no one ever has seen,” Sizemore said, “but those early acceptances really gave me the confidence I needed at the time.”

Sizemore agreed to share some additional insights with Adventures in Writing as his magazine launches its annual subscription drive.

When you’re not on the conference trail, what’s your day like?

Sizemore: Emails. Lots and lots of emails. Oh, and coffee, can’t forget the coffee. I spend a lot of time scheming with my managing editor, Lesley Conner.

My mornings consist of website updates and maintenance, accounting work, and promotional activities. After lunch, I like to do the fun stuff like copy edits, submissions reading, book layout, etc.

What’s the best part of being a small press publisher?

Sizemore: It’s definitely the fact that I’m helping bring something thoughtful and entertaining to the world. I never tire of the thrill of holding a new Apex book in my hands.

Where did your affection for dark science fiction and horror come from?

Sizemore: I give credit to my mom. When I was but a wee lad she and I would have Friday mother/son movie nights. We’d venture down to the video rental shop and pick up great movies like Alien, The Thing, Silent Running, and Lifeforce. Sure, I had some sleepless nights and some terrific nightmares, but it ingrained a curiosity in me regarding the intersection of technology/sf and the darker side of life.

Who are some of today’s writers you follow? Do you read outside your genre?

Sizemore: I have a shortlist of writers who I read faithfully: Mary Doria Russell, Brian Keene, Nick Mamatas, Michael Chabon, Joe Abercrombie, Damien Angelica Walters, Charlie Huston, Richard K. Morgan, and my guilty pleasure Chelsea Cain (I say guilty since she writes ready-to-digest crime novels, but she’s an outstanding writer).

So, yeah, I read outside my genre all the time. About the only stuff I don’t read are romance and urban fantasy.

You describe yourself repeatedly in your book, For Exposure, as a somewhat shy, socially averse person. That’s a common trait among horror writers and writers in general, isn’t it?

Sizemore: Oh yes, most people in the book publishing business are introverts. Except for agents.

I’m way more outgoing than I was just ten years ago. Running a public facing small business requires you to be able to stand up in front of crowds, to be occasionally gregarious, and learn how to hob knob.

apex-magazineWhat’s on tap for the magazine in 2017?

Sizemore: We have two special guest-edited issues that I’m excited about. Maurice Broaddus is taking the reins this coming April for an issue. In August, Dr. Amy H. Sturgis is editing an issue focusing on indigenous authors. Right now we’re having a subscription drive to raise money to expand our fiction offering and to increase our pay to our writers.

Apex has been nominated a few times for the Hugo. Short of killing the editors at the competition, what’s it going to take to win one of them?

Sizemore: Now that Apex Magazine is now considered a “pro zine” and not a “semi-prozine” it has become quite unlikely we pick up any more Hugo nominations. I’m grateful that we picked up three nominations before we matriculated to the pro-level!

If someone is new to your publication, what do they need to know?

Sizemore: Expect to read stories that will have you thinking about the ramifications of how humans interact with technology, the weird around us, and one another. Not all our stories are dark and foreboding, but a majority are.

If someone were to submit a story to Apex, what’s your best advice for them?

Sizemore: Read one issue of the magazine first. I know many writers don’t have bottomless pockets, so if you can’t afford to buy an issue for $2.99, everything we’ve published can be viewed at http://www.apex-magazine.com. Our stories definitely have a particular style, voice, and tone. If you can recognize it and it appears in your submission, your odds for success will be greatly increased. (Leslie Conner, managing editor at Apex, and her reading team offer these additional tips.)

Can a non-science fiction or horror writer find something to like about the stories in your magazine, or should they just bugger off and go find some commercial fiction to read?

Sizemore: LOL bugger off? I’d never say that to ANY reader.

I understand people have their tastes. Even within the diehard Apex Magazine fan ranks, not every story pleases every reader. Having said that, I do think we offer a broad range of interesting work. The only readers I might warn off are those who can’t handle darker material or they’re wanting a Nicholas Sparks experience.

Special thanks to Jason Sizemore for taking time out from his busy schedule for this interview. Those interested in writing or reading dark science fiction, horror, or fantasy tales, check out Apex. And don’t forget to look over all the offerings in Apex’s subscription drive.

Bloody or Creepy: Imaginarium panel debates when to write the gross-out

By G. ROBERT FRAZIER

One of the panels at the 2016 Imaginarium Convention in Louisville, Ky., earlier this month featured a fascinating discussion on the use of gore in fiction. Given all the attention the season seven premiere of The Walking Dead has received, and the fact that it is Halloween, I thought I’d share some highlights from the panelists. 

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ASHER ELLIS (moderator): Stephen King wrote, “I recognize terror as the finest emotion … and so I will try to terrorize the reader. But if I find I cannot terrify him/her, I will try to horrify; and if I find I cannot horrify, I’ll go for the gross-out.” How do we all feel about the use of gore in fiction?

Andrew Cooper: I think some may resort to gore for a lack of direction in the story, but it can be a useful tool. I don’t think a story can rely solely on gore.

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Elizabeth Donaldson

Elizabeth Donaldson: There are two different styles of horror. For some people it’s all about the gross-out. If you’ve ever read anything by Bryan Smith, then you know that gulping eyeballs is something he tends to do a lot. … There are people who absolutely can’t stand gore and there are people who absolutely love it, and it scares them. I think it’s a matter of taste for the reader as well as the writer.

Jimmy Gillente: It also depends on what type of book it is, what style the writer has, what market he’s tryng to go for. Bryan Smith, his fans love the really dark gory stuff, so that’s what he writes. It’s just another tool. I do feel it can be misused and overdone.

Andrew: Writing primarily for gore is an art. People have been doing it for hundreds of years, since way before film existed. As an art it’s one I appreciate. It’s one that a lot of people have no interest in whatsoever, but it’s also an art that requires thought, practice and talent, like every other art. … Chances are it’s going to be pretty crappy until said person studies it and gets better at it, because that’s what most art requires.

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Asher Ellis, Tommy B. Smith, L. Andrew Cooper

Asher: In “Splat Goes the Hero,” an essay by Jack Ketchum in On Writing Horror, he says his secrete is you shouldn’t shy away from writing gore, but if you’re going to have it, you’ve got to get to your character and what this actually means for them. It is a tool and it can be used pretty well or pretty poorly, but how do we know the difference?

Jimmy: For me, one of the guys who really uses gore effectively is Clive Barker. Sometimes he gets very dark and very visceral and very violent in his books, but he writes it so well. His book, Cabal, it actually gets very downright disgusting, but I still love the story.

Tommy B. Smith: Clive can write about ugliness in a very beautiful way.

Elizabeth: Off Season by Jack Ketchum uses gore, but he exercises compassion. If your gore is based solely on what’s the most disgusting thing we can do to this random human being we don’t care about, that’s what I would consider Stephen King’s gross-out level. If you, however, are caring a great deal about this person, being able to make this person someone for whom you can have compassion, then the gore is going to be that much heightened and your horror level will be much higher.

Tim Waggoner: Barker invites us to find his beautiful. Ketchum invites us to see the honesty of what brutality and violence does to humanity.

Elizabeth: (Imaginarium Guest of Honor) Brian Keene’s book Ghoul is not an easy read for anyone with a light stomach, but it is brilliant work.

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Asher: Bryan Smith has a solid fan base who would be disappointed if he didn’t give them the Smith style of gore. Do you guys consider your audience when you get to that sort of stuff or is it more off the cuff, whatever happens happens?

Elizabeth: That’s marketing. When I write, I do what’s interesting me right now, then I think about who the hell am I going to sell this to, starting with whichever publisher first and how are we going to market this. They look at me funny and we try to come up with a plan.

Tommy: I appreciate having the freedom to explore whatever concepts interest me at the time.

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Asher: As novelists, we have that freedom you’re talking about. If you look at other mediums of writing, screenwriting or TV or movies, they have a rating system. If I’m going to write something for ABC, it’s not going to be something I write for HBO. Even if you’re a musical artist, we slap parental advisory labels on CDs. If there was a rating system for novels, would that suck?

Tim: It could be good thing for readers, but on the other hand it would be difficult because novels are so much more complex. There’s so much else in there.

Andrew: Amazon does put age recommendations on its products. A lot of my books have 18+ recommendations. (Holds up his book, Peritoneum) If you’re offended by this cover, if this grosses you out, you don’t want to read this because it gets worse. I would not put my stuff in the hands of a 10-year-old. I have told people not to buy my book before.

Elizabeth: One of the most violent books I wrote was given a YA cover with young cartoony characters heading off into a haunted swamp where one of them is going to be eaten by one of the undead cannibal elves. You don’t want to ever have to say to someone, no don’t buy my book. If you ask, is your book appropriate for my 15-year-old, I would ask, well, how stable is your 15-year-old? You know your kid better than I do. Let me tell you what’s in it, then you decide.

Jimmy: I feel it should be up to the parent and the reader. It all depends on the individual.

Tim: Part of it is just practical. I think as (mid-list and indie) writers, we just don’t draw as

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Tim Waggoner

much attention. If every parent found one of our books in their hands, there might be an outcry for a rating system.

Elizabeth: I know there’s a push for trigger warnings in some books, where you just put a line on the inside front cover that says, “Warning, this book contains scenes of graphic sexual violence.” That’s a warning to somebody that might be really uncomfortable reading it so they know in advance, is this something that’s going to be too difficult for me to read? That leaves the decision in the hand of the reader as opposed to some sort of censorship device, which we certainly don’t want.

Tim: We can try to help, but I don’t think we can really avoid the things that could trigger an event, because you don’t know what might be a triggering event.

Andrew: Sometimes I am writing to overwhelm. I write extreme horror. If the cover of this book isn’t a trigger warning, I don’t know what is. I don’t expect this book to be mainstream, but I think that some art is meant to cross lines.

Asher: Gerald’s Game by Stephen King is a great example of that. It’s very cerebral. The story takes place in main character’s head, but at the end there is one of the most visceral scenes, that great moment when you have to throw a book down and actually shudder, when the character to escape her bonds must deglove herself. She slices her hand and pulls her skin off. It is so unlike everything else you’ve read before that of just psychological battles with his character, then, all of a sudden, boom, you are degloving a human hand.

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Tim Waggoner and Jimmy D. Gillentine

Jimmy: That’s a good example of a scene used to convey shock, and it’s a good plot device. She had to do it to get away.

Tim: It’s good symbolism, too, because she’s bound and caught up in this stuff that’s going on, and it shows her removing her outer layer. Nobody is going to think about that when they read it, but on a subconscious level I think it does all those things really well. That’s when gore is a masterful technique, when it hits all those notes.

Elizabeth: I don’t think a good editor would say, “No you’ve crossed a line here.” A good editor would hopefully say, “this feels out of place…like you’ve thrown this in here just because it’s been X amount of pages since our last horribly gory death. We need to find a better way to make this integral to the story.”

Andrew: There is a moral dimension of not cutting away. For example, the old westerns used to be bloodless until Sam Peckinpah came along and had “squibs” (of blood) exploding. This was happening at same time as the Vietnam War, because the media started to show violence instead of cutting away. Bringing people into confrontation with gore isn’t necessarily the immoral choice. Sometimes it’s the right thing to do.

Tim: You could consider it irresponsible or immoral if you don’t show the reality of it.

Asher: We live in a culture now where it’s not even shocking.

Tim: The Universal Monsters movies always struck me as odd in that these monsters are really supposed to be doing these horrible things to people, but there’s no blood. In that sense, there is a certain level of dishonesty in that, especially if we teach a kid that violence is clean, it’s easy to do and there are no horrible consequences. It’s like cartoon violence. You’re just rubber; you can walk off screen and come back and you’re fine.

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ABOUT THE PANELISTS

Asher Ellis is a graduate of the Stonecoast MFA in Creative Writing program at the University of Southern Maine, he has written award winning short stories, plays, and films. He teaches creative writing and English professor at Colby-Sawyer College in New London, N.H.

Tommy B. Smith  is a writer of dark fiction and the author of Poisonous and Pieces of Chaos. His work has appeared in numerous publications over the years, including Every Day Fiction, Night to Dawn, Blood Moon Rising, and a variety of other magazines and anthologies. He has previously worked with Morpheus Tales as editor of the magazine’s Dark Sorcery and Urban Horror special issues. His presence infests Fort Smith, Ark., where he resides with his wife and cats.  www.tommybsmith.com

L. Andrew Cooper scribbles horror: novels Burning the Middle Ground and Descending Lines as well as anthologies of experimental shorts Leaping at Thorns (2014 /2016) and Peritoneum (2016). He also co-edited the anthology Imagination Reimagined (2014). His book Dario Argento (2012) examines the maestro’s movies from the ‘70s to the present. Cooper’s other works on horror include his non-fiction study Gothic Realities (2010), a co-edited textbook, Monsters (2012), and recent essays that discuss 2012’s Cabin in the Woods (2014) and 2010’s A Serbian Film (2015). His B.A. is from Harvard, Ph.D. from Princeton. landrewcooper.com

Tim Waggoner’s first novel came out in 2001, and he’s published over thirty novels and three collections of short stories since. He writes original fantasy and horror, as well as media tie-ins. His novels include Like Death, considered a modern classic in the genre, and the popular Nekropolis series of urban fantasy novels. He’s written tie-in fiction for Supernatural, Grimm, the X-Files, Doctor Who, A Nightmare on Elm Street, and Transformers, among others. His articles on writing have appeared in Writer’s Digest, Writer’s Journal, and Writer’s Workshop of Horror. He’s been a finalist for the Shirley Jackson Award and the Scribe Award, and his fiction has received numerous Honorable Mentions in volumes of Best Horror of the Year. In addition to being an adjunct faculty member in Seton Hill University’s MFA in Writing Popular Fiction program, he’s a full-time tenured professor teaching creative writing and composition at Sinclair College.

Jimmy Gillentine grew up with a fondness for horror, science fiction and fantasy flavored with the southern tang of his native Memphis. His debut novella, “Of Blood and the Moon,” was first published in 2009 and was the first runner-up for the Darrell Award. Other publications include the short “Fifteen-Minute Break” in the annual anthology Cover of Darkness and the novella “A Night at Death’s Door.” His novel The Beast Within begins the bittersweet story of Andrew and Angela, which continues in Crossroads, published by Inkstained Succubus Press. Look for its conclusion in Blood of the Father, to be released in 2016. Currently pursuing a bachelor’s degree in English literature and creative writing at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville, Jimmy is a member of the Literary Underworld, Imagicopter and the Eville Writers, and is married to author Elizabeth Donald.

Elizabeth Donald is a writer fond of things that go chomp in the night. She is a three-time winner of the Darrell Award for speculative fiction and author of the Nocturnal Urges vampire mystery series and Blackfire zombie series, as well as other novels and short stories in the horror, science fiction and fantasy genres. She is the founder of the Literary Underworld author cooperative; an award-winning newspaper reporter and lecturer on journalism ethics; a nature and art photographer; freelance editor and writing coach. elizabethdonald.com

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How do you feel about gore’s use in books, TV or film? Join the discussion by posting in the Comments Section.

These magazines are giving me The Creeps

The Creeps

Back in the day you may recall there were these really cool black and white horror comics magazines by the names of Creepy and Eerie. Well, imagine my surprise when I came across a new black and white horror comic magazine at Barnes & Noble called The Creeps! And, better yet, the stories and art are written by some of the original Warren writers and artists! Naturally, I had to order the back issues I’d missed and now I have all four issues to date. Yes, comics fans know that Dark Horse publishes modern-day versions of Creepy and Eerie in standard comic book size, albeit on slick paper. But nothing compares to the gritty feel of the old magazine pages. The Creeps gets it right and I have to say this is the most excited I’ve been about comics in years! Go to Barnes & Noble now. Buy your own copy of The Creeps. Seriously.

Around the Web: Bazaar of Bad Dreams has everyone talking about King again

by G. Robert Frazier

Every day I scour the web and my newsfeeds for interesting articles about reading and writing. Because I’m such a swell guy, I then like to share the links to the best stories and most helpful advice I come across. Here’s a roundup of what I’ve seen and read this week that may also interest my fellow writers:

The Bazaar of Bad DreamsIf you haven’t noticed, Stephen King has been all over the news this past week in conjunction with the release of his newest collection of short stories, The Bazaar of Bad Dreams. King is a god among authors so anything he does demands attention and further study. At the Killer Nashville conference this past week several of the panelists referenced King as a major influencer of theirs while also citing his popular book on the craft, On Writing. Novelist James Smythe shared 10 things he’s learned from Stephen King in a recent article on The Guardian’s website. The New York Times did an interesting interview with him this week, describing him as not just the guy who makes monsters. If you still can’t get enough Stephen King, check out this article and video clips from the Dick Cavett Horror Roundtable in 1980 in which he hosts King, Peter Straub, Ira Levin and George A. Romero. And after you read his latest book and reread On Writing and have learned all you can from the master, you can enter the Stephen King Short Story Contest.

While we’re on the subject of horror stories, check out this Art of Stories article on plotting a great ghost story. There are several links to ghost stories to read and other articles on writing ghost stories.

Speaking of short stories, Literary Hub shared an interesting piece from the introduction of 100 Years of the Best American Short Stories edited by Lorrie Moore on why we read and write short stories.

I keep saying I’m going to start a writing journal and this article about John Steinbeck’s writing journal is further reason why I should.

Finally, here’s an interesting video discussion between writers Alan Moore and John Higgs, describing HP Lovecraft, horror, and 20th century America.

Read anything interesting about writing on the web? Share it in the comments section.

Horror world loses iconic director Wes Craven

wes_craven_photoWes Craven, 1939-2015

Wes Craven, the man who gave us Freddy Krueger in A Nightmare on Elm Street, Scream and The Hills Have Eyes has died. He was 76.

I believe the cinema is one of our principal forms of art. It is an incredibly powerful way to tell uplifitng stories that can move people to cry with joy and inspire them to reach for the stars.

On horror movies:

It’s like boot camp for the psyche. In real life, human beings are packaged in the flimsiest of packages, threatened by real and sometimes horrifying dangers, events like Columbine. But the narrative form puts these fears into a manageable series of events. It gives us a way of thinking rationally about our fears.”

More quotes to remember Wes Craven by

The official site of Wes Craven

Read the original script for Dream Warriors

Remembering the man who transformed horror

The Atlantic: How Wes Craven redefined horror

How Wes Craven wrote, then rewrote his own horror rules

A video tribute to horrormeister Wes Craven

Book review: Sci-fi premise of The Fold fizzles into horror movie mayhem

I don’t read a lot of sci-fi, but The Fold by Peter Clines looked like an interesting read, and it was – though not in the way I expected.

The FoldThe novel details a unique program in which scientists have created a new mode of transportation, dubbed the Albuquerque Door, in which people can cover long distances by simply stepping through the doorway. Unlike a transporter on Star Trek in which a person is disassembled down to the very molecules that make them up and then reassembled on the other end, the door simply folds great distances together, like points on a piece of paper. You step through one door and come out the other, miles away.

Mike Erikson, a teacher with an annoying eidetic memory, is recruited to report on the project’s viability in the face of pending budget cuts. He’s immediately regarded as an outsider and a spy by the scientists working closest to the project and, as a result, begins to suspect they are hiding some big secret about its inner workings. Of course, as the story progresses, he’s proven right.

None of the scientists can actually pinpoint how or why the fold works, they’re just elated that it does. There’s some mumbo-jumbo about how the idea was fueled by some nonsensical equations in an old 1880s text written by a man named Aleksander Koturovic. The scientists were all drunk at the time, but they didn’t let that stop them from running the numbers anyway. Then they turned on the device and, voila, it worked.

“And to this day we don’t know how,” one of the scientists boasts.

So much for a solid sci-fi story. Instead, the reader is suddenly thrust into a realm of pure fantasy make-believe bullshit. And, sadly, the plausibility of the story just goes downhill from there.

To his credit, Clines slowly builds the mystery and intrigue surrounding the doorway. There is a palpable sense of awe and wonder about the ramifications of such a machine could mean, as well as its unintended consequences.

Unfortunately, Clines is unable to sustain the scientific part of the novel, casting away intriguing scientific theory in exchange for big guns, C4 explosives, creepy crab people and Cthulhu’s multi-tentacled flying cousin. It’s an unexpected turn of events, and one that will keep you reading, but it’s an unsatisfying freefall from the scientific possibilities the story first mines.

As a horror fan, I loved the chaotic conclusion, but sci-fi fans will justly groan about the lost opportunities.

Note: I received this book from Blogging for Books in exchange for this review.