For those of you who have been seduced by the dark side of writing, it’s time to give form to your finest literary golems, and unleash them on an unsuspecting public: the Midnight Echo goblins will soon be hungry for submissions.

Midnight Echo is one of Australia’s premier horror magazines, and the official magazine of the Australian Horror Writers Association (AHWA). Submissions for the upcoming issue #9, ‘Mythic Horror’, will open up from October 1, 2012. Guest editor, Geoff Brown, will be looking for fiction, non-fiction, poetry, and artwork to load the pages of ME#9 with all the mythic horror, terror, fear and trepidation he can cram in.

Speakeasy recently caught up with Geoff Brown (aka. G. N. Braun), realist and dark fiction writer, president of the AHWA, and guest editor of Midnight Echo’s forthcoming ‘Mythic Horror’ issue.

Speakeasy: For those unfamiliar with Midnight Echo, could you tell us a bit about the magazine and its place in the Australian horror scene?

Geoff Brown (GB): Midnight Echo is the official magazine of the Australian Horror Writers Association. We have released seven issues so far, with #8 (un-themed) due out toward the end of the year and #9 (‘Mythic Horror’) open for submissions from October 1, 2012 until January 31, 2013.

Each issue of Midnight Echo contains more than 100 pages of horror (or dark) fiction, poetry, art, graphic novels, book releases, and more. The magazine is released in a limited print edition and in digital format (e-pub, mobi, and PDF), and is distributed in hard copy and electronic format to readers all across the world, including AHWA members and the Horror Writers Association (HWA) members in the United States.

First imagined in 2007, we released issue one in October 2008. Midnight Echo has an executive editor, Marty Young, but we also feature a different guest editor for each issue, to allow a variation in style and taste for each release. No two editions will ever be the same. Previous editors have included: Kirstyn McDermott; Angela Challis; Shane Jiraiya Cummings; Lee Battersby; the editorial team of David Conyers, Jason Fischer and David Kernot for #6; and Marty Young, Amanda J. Spedding and Mark Farrugia for #8. Most recently, #7 (‘The Taboo Issue’) was edited by Daniel I. Russell.

Midnight Echo is an avenue for Australian writers of horror and dark fiction to get their stories out there to be read. We do not publish Australians exclusively, but we do prefer to have a majority of Australian writers in each issue. More recently, we have attempted to gain one or two ‘name’ authors (the most recent being Graham Masterton in #7, and Joe R. Lansdale and Jack Ketchum in #8) to drive sales and readership worldwide so as to ensure that our Aussie contributors have as much exposure as possible.

Speakeasy: What does this opportunity to guest edit the upcoming issue (#9) of Midnight Echo mean to you as a writer of dark fiction and a horror aficionado? Are you aiming to add your own flavour or vision to ME#9? If so, how?

GB: The chance to guest edit Midnight Echo #9 will allow me to sample the work of upcoming and emerging horror writers, both nationally and internationally. It will allow me to add my own tastes to the selection process, and allow me to mould the issue to something that is uniquely mythical in nature.

I have studied myths and symbols in a formal setting, and hope to find and bring some more obscure myths and legends to a more general audience via ‘recasting’ of ancient or little-known mythology into more modern settings.

Speakeasy: The theme for ME#9 is ‘mythical horror’. Can you tell us how this theme came about and what about it appeals to you?

GB: While studying for a Diploma in Professional Writing and Editing at TAFE, we studied ‘Creativity in a Cultural Context’—a subject incorporating myths and symbols into story-telling. As a result of this, I am naturally more open to and interested in the mythology of the world. Regional and cultural mythology is a fascinating part of world literature, and is mostly forgotten, apart from in some areas of speculative fiction. Other areas, such as urban legends, also hold a strong fascination for me. The way that myths and legends can be used to explain away the unexplainable is fascinating. Mankind has taken myths and legends to a new height with religion, yet the ancient myths that preceded religion have largely been forgotten or have been relegated to storybooks for children. Yet mankind has used myths and folklore since before recorded history: as warnings, as ways to curtail immoral behaviour, and for entertainment.

Speakeasy: The Midnight Echo submission guidelines state that submissions must have ‘horror as a central theme’. Since this is a fairly broad directive, and perhaps not as obvious as it may seem, can you elaborate a little on what this means to you and what dimensions of horror you hope to see in submissions?

GB: Webster’s Dictionary gives the primary definition of horror as ‘a painful and intense fear, dread, or dismay’. It stands to reason, then, that ‘horror fiction’ is fiction that elicits those emotions in the reader. Robert McCammon, one of the founders of US genre association, the Horror Writers Association (HWA), said, ‘horror can be many, many things and go in many, many directions…[it] can shock, educate, illuminate, threaten, shriek, and whisper before it lets the readers loose’ (Twilight Zone Magazine, Oct 1986).

I would like to see things that do everything that Robert said. I want things that push us out of our comfort-zone: things that make us turn the lights up, make us wonder what that scratching noise is at the door. I want stories that grab the reader, stories that scare the reader, stories that make the reader think ‘what if?’

Horror is more than a genre; horror is an emotion. I want stories that engage the reader on an emotive level and incite fear of either the known or the unknown. How they do it, I leave up to the writers.

Speakeasy: Since acceptance of submissions comes down to editorial preference, what types of submissions will you particularly be looking for (e.g., fiction, poetry, non-fiction, art, reviews etc.)?

GB: I have already solicited a non-fiction piece by a world-renowned scholar (more details coming soon), so any non-fiction will have to be pretty special to warrant having two pieces in the mag. That said, I am still open to more non-fiction. Art is always welcome; we look for original cover and internal art (full-page, part-page and corner art are all needed for the issue). As well as these two, I am open to any and all submissions. I have a love of well-wrought flash fiction, so scare me in 1000 words or less; I have a low tolerance for pretentious poetry without soul, so make any verse especially vibrant and meaningful.

Speakeasy: As editor, what kinds of things immediately turn you off a submission? Conversely, what kinds of things immediately grab your attention?

GB: People need to follow the submission guidelines in regard to layout. If you can’t be bothered putting a bit of work into the layout of your tale, it doesn’t bode well for your professionalism. Included in the submission guidelines (read them very well, indeed) on the website is a link to a basic layout guide for submissions. Follow it.

Weak openings make me less likely to read the entire submission, especially once the number of submissions starts to rise. Conversely, strong openings that hook me from the opening sentence or paragraph will ensure that I read the whole thing. What hooks the editor, hooks the readers. I want my issue of ME to hook the readers.

Lack of research also tends to turn me off a story. With all the options people have to research their stuff (internet, libraries, etc.), there is no excuse for poor research. This is especially important for myths and legends. You can twist the tales a little, but be sure you know the original myth before you do so.

Speakeasy: In your experience, what are some of the most common problems afflicting horror/dark fiction submissions? What are a few of the best ways that writers can avoid/fix these problems before submission?

GB: People tend to write the common horror tropes. Werewolves, vampires, zombies are all classic horror creatures, but people aren’t doing anything different with them, except making them sexy. Monsters are not meant to be sexy. They are meant to scare the hell out of us. In asking for myths and legends for ME#9, I hope to drag some more obscure monsters and folklore from the minds of the writers.

Most common problems in literature aren’t limited to just the horror/dark fiction genres. Writers tend to forget (or never learn in the first place) the art and craft of writing. Story arc and characterisation; foreshadowing versus signposting; a twist in the tale versus a slice of life—all these things, and the way they are used, help to separate the skilled writer from the hobbyist. Grammar and punctuation seem to be very hit-and-miss these days, too. People send stories full of infelicities such as verb and pronoun confusion, dangling participles, spelling mistakes and things that a proofread before hitting ‘send’ may have eliminated.

Another pet hate I have is telling rather than showing. As Chekhov said, ‘Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass’.

Speakeasy: As current president of the Australian Horror Writers Association (AHWA) could you tell our readers a little about the association, what it does, what its goals are, and who it benefits?

GB: The AHWA is a non-profit organisation that formed, unofficially, in 2003 as a way of providing a unified voice and a sense of community for Australian writers of dark fiction, while helping the development and evolution of this genre within Australia.

The AHWA represents over 200 established, emerging, and upcoming writers. We host a mentoring program for members, in which they have the opportunity to work with an established writer; we also host the Australian Shadows Awards, which reward excellence in Australian horror-genre fiction; we promote our members’ work in Sinister Reads (our online promotional blog); and most of all, we support our members in any other ways we can.

AHWA held its official launch during Continuum 3 in Melbourne on July 17, 2005, where a full house greeted the proclamation by Richard Harland, author of the 2004 Aurealis Awards best horror novel and Golden Aurealis winning The Black Crusade, that the AHWA was ‘well and truly up and running!’

On August 5, 2005, the AHWA became an incorporated body in the State of Victoria. For further details, please see the AHWA website.

Speakeasy: Is there anything else you might like to mention to our readers?

GB: One more thing in regard to Midnight Echo #9 submissions: send me your very best proofread, spellchecked (not just by Microsoft Word, either) and researched work. Don’t use US spelling, don’t send me trunk-stories that failed to get into a targeted market, and don’t send me something you’re not inordinately proud of. Send me something you would show with pride to Stephen King or Jack Ketchum.

To paraphrase Faulkner, send me your darlings, but kill them first.

Julian Thumm is a freelance editor and writer. He has degrees from The University of Queensland and The University of Adelaide. He has worked with the Australian Journal of Communication, The University of Queensland Press, and Corporate Communication International through The City University of New York. He is currently based in Brisbane.

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