August 24th, 2011 / 12:00 pm


I got an email from Zoetrope with the subject line: “Fall Preview!  The Horror Issue” and my first thought was, Awesome, I’ll probably have to resubscribe to Zoetrope: All Story.

Then I opened it and read the email’s content:

Zoetrope’s Fall 2011 release is a specially themed horror edition that includes scary stories from Jim Shepard, Karen Russell, Alexandra Kleeman, and Ryu Murakami.

Are you fucking kidding me?  Those are the authors you pick for your horror issue, Zoetrope?  Karen Russell?  Look, I’m not slagging those authors in particular.  Jim Shepard is great.  What I’ve read of Murakami I’ve liked.  Kleeman’s short story in the Paris Review was promising.  I’d be interested/excited to read any of their stories in another issue of Zoetrope.

But for God’s sake, if you’re going to do a horror issue, go for writers who genuinely write literary horror — who represent the genre, who take it to new places, who don’t get reviewed in the NYTBR.  How about Thomas Ligotti, Brian Evenson, Todd Grimson, Peter Straub, Kelly Link…?  Ligotti in particular should be in there.  Who knows, maybe there are some authors like that in there and they’re just using Shepard and Russell to sell the issue to their literary readership.  Maybe I shouldn’t rant.  Just… fucking… missed opportunity.

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  1. stephen tully dierks

      i agree those authors don’t seem right for a horror issue, although if Ryu did write a horror-ish story, i’d probably dig it.

      Zoetrope has my favorite design of any lit journal i can think of (obviously it changes each time to a new designer, but i tend to like them). also, they seem to aim for name authors who are relatively cool, and i appreciate that.

  2. Anonymous

      In addition to your names — no Brian Evenson in this issue? Really? — some newish horror writers with literary chops like John Langan, Laird Barron, and Glen Hirshberg would be worth introducing to Zoetrope readers too. And I’m sure there are plenty of others people could name.

  3. Nick Antosca

      I like Zoetrope too — in general.   But this is a facepalm.

  4. Pontius J. LaBar

      Maybe the selections are the biggest horror story they could think of.

  5. bobby

      I know everyone else is interested in the apparent FAIL on Zoetrope’s part re horror, but is it just me or has Zoetrope become really boring? I’m pretty sure the last issue that I really enjoyed and read all the way through was the Spanish issue, which came out like two years ago? 

      I know Zoetrope is supposed to be kind of like the top tier of short story publishing, but their editorial style and sensibility (I welcome any and all eye rolling when it comes to their editorial sensibility) has just been a huge bore for me the last year or two.  

      Maybe I’m just depressed. Zoetrope depresses me. 

  6. Samuel Gulpan

      Ryu Murakami wrote Audition and Piercing, both of which are horror-ish if I recall correctly.

  7. davidpeak

      the tall man lifts caskets like they’re nothin

  8. BoomersMustDie

      Seems like they wanted to gender balance, Googled, skimmed a few stories, and ended up with a couple of female fabulists. Who gives a fuck? The entire ‘top tier’ of literary publishing is a snore.

  9. BoomersMustDie

      And when did everyone start doing themed issues?

  10. Roxane

      January 17, 2003

  11. BoomersMustDie

      I blame Granta and Tina Brown and the Internet

  12. cameron pierce

      Ligotti hasn’t been publishing new fiction for a few years now, so they’d have to go with a reprint from him. But hot damn, I feel your disappointment.

  13. Nick Mamatas

      This is my favorite post ever, though I do love me some R. Murakami, and I will be picking up the issue. Also, they should have solicited me, dammit. 

  14. stephen tully dierks

      why is it a facepalm, Nick?

  15. gavin

      No Stephen Graham Jones or Laird Barron?  Kind of suspect to be sure.  And Phantasm screwed me up for years when I accidentally watched it around the age of six.  Don’t know what my dad was thinking.  

  16. bobby

      I’ve just made a vague emotional correlation between Tina Brown and Zoetrope, and it feels right.  

  17. stephen tully dierks

      i’ve read a very random sampling of Ryu, hence my ignorance of his horror-ish-ness. I forgot about Audition. good call

  18. Shannon

      There are so many really amazing horror authors around right now this is unfortunate. I think this may signal the end of me reading Zoetrope.

  19. MS, trainbound

      I guess I can sort of see Zoetrope giving its authors—and I think we recognize Shepard and Russell as pretty Zoetrope-y—a chance to try to write outside their comfort zones. There’s a value there.

      But I think I prefer a literary journal that wants to expand the reading horizons of its readers and not the writing horizons of its authors. 

      So, yes. Agree.

  20. M. Kitchell

      But he has published what ostensibly amounts to “theory-fiction” in the vein of a more grounded Reza Negarestani or something, which is just as great

  21. M. Kitchell


  22. M. Kitchell

      Audition is horror as fuck.

  23. Tomes and Talismans

      No ‘Apocalypse Now’ jokes in here huh.

  24. MS, trainbound

      I swallowed a bug?

  25. JKL

      This is about on par with Granta, which is doing a horror issue in October that features Joy Williams, Don DeLillo, Alice Munro (!), Roberto Bolano and a bunch of other pedigreed fucks. True, it also includes a story by Stephen King, but he’s the literary equivalent of the Surgeon General’s warning, so that doesn’t really count. I’m surprised Mr. Lethem hasn’t made his usual knee-jerk cameo in any of these rags; he’s the one “literate genre writer” that nearly every journal keeps in stock, like vinegar. Bottom line: The Ivory Tower casts a long, smothering shadow, and horror is still skid row. When pubs like Zoetrope and Granta try to celebrate it their efforts have all the sincerity and nerve of driving through Ciudad Jaurez in a tank.

  26. BoomersMustDie

      You forgot Chabon

  27. JustSaying

      Old man yells at cloud. 

      By which I mean, young hipster yells at magazine he hasn’t read. 

  28. Bradley Sands

      I read an interview where he said he was no longer writing fiction shortly after I tried to solicit a story from him (he ignored me). His last book was a book-length essay that might have been about how the human race should volunteer for extinction. It’s the only book of his I haven’t read, more else less. Although there might be a book of poems that I missed.

  29. Bradley Sands

      I’ve only read Coin Locker Babies from Murakami, but that makes him seem like a good choice. I seem to remember a really fun article in Dennis Cooper’s Smothered By Hugs that was about Cooper’s attempt to interview him.

      The last issue of Zoetrope that I read was pretty awful. I used to like it and once had a subscription for a year. They seem to only publish stories with non-endings that attempt to seem profound. But that seemed to be the trend back when I decided that I no longer enjoyed literary (print) journals.

  30. BoomersMustDie

      Sticking up for the old media stalwarts is always the edgy tack to take

  31. M. Kitchell

      have you read The Agonizing Resurrection of Victor Frankenstein & Other Gothic Tales?  it’s the only one i’ve never been able to get through the library and it’s ridiculously expensive/the content isn’t reprinted anywhere as far as i know

  32. Bradley Sands

      Nope. On second thought, I haven’t read that script that he wrote for the X-Files either. Crampton maybe.

  33. Nick Antosca

      I’ve always wondered, why do you use your middle name when your initials are STD?

  34. Nick Antosca

      Yeah, indeed.  It sounds to me like they decided to do a horror issue and instead of seeking out new authors outside their comfort zone, they just asked authors they’ve already published a bunch of times already if they had a “horror” story lying around, or wanted to write one.

  35. Nick Antosca

      He wrote a script for the X-Files?

  36. Nick Antosca

      Yes, they should have.

  37. JustSaying


      I wasn’t sticking up for anyone, only saying that people should read something before proclaiming it isn’t good. But your the mindless knee-jerk attacks on “old media stalwarts” that everyone makes on this site are oh so edgy and thought provoking. You are such a literary rebel! Surely the bards will sing tales of your internet comment heroism in the annals of history. 

  38. stephen tully dierks

      grim humor? idk… tully is my mother’s name and i like it, friends have called me by that name. u didn’t answer my question, ‘Tosca

  39. stephen tully dierks

      typed about why i h8 statements like “this is a facepalm.” fuck it tho

  40. Nick Antosca

      I will probably read the issue, and as I said I think Shepard, Kleeman, and Murakami are all good writers.  I don’t need to read the stories though to know that a bunch of the authors they picked for their horror issue are just authors they regularly publish anyway.

  41. cameron pierce

      Ligotti and this other guy (think his name is Brandon Trentz) originally wrote Crampton as an X-Files script, but then nothing happened with it and the script was published in a limited edition. The names of the main characters were different, but it was still a male/female paranormal investigation team. I read it a few years ago and liked it, but unless you’ve already read everything else Ligotti has written, I don’t know if it’s worth tracking down. I’d lend you my copy, but I had to sell it.

  42. Bradley Sands

      Yeah, but they didn’t use it. Some press published it though. (Oops. Didn’t see Cameron’s reply).

  43. M. Kitchell

      i think the implication is that it’s a facepalm because to someone who actually appreciates genre fiction it’s condescending that a well established journal would ask a bunch of people who pointedly do not write genre fiction to write genre fiction, further widening the gap between a hegemonic acceptance of “literary fiction” and “genre fiction”

  44. BoomersMustDie

      You’re goddamned right they will sing tales to me. Their seers will scour the archives for threads glistening with my greatness.  And where do you see me sticking up for “old media stalwarts?” I was criticizing your comment.

  45. stephen tully dierks

      oh you know what i’m an idiot, bc i thought he meant my comment was a facepalm, when now i see clearly he was just restating his position on the zoetrope issue. jeez…

      hi mike!

  46. deadgod

      Ha ha ha – I, too, thought you meant to ask why he’d called the Zoetrope issue a “facepalm” (in other words, is it really such a “missed opportunity” to invite writers to try something new for them).

      You might have asked Kitsch when not writing horror is “pointedly” not writing horror, and, more to the point of his exegesis, whether excluding writers who don’t generally write horror from a ‘horror’ issue doesn’t “widen the gap” that characterizes “hegemonic acceptance”.  It’s cool if genre fans embrace the reverse-prestige of living in a ghetto, but then to denounce that part of segregation which is self-imposed . . .

      Marcus Tullius Cicero was called, in the Renaissance, by his (then-modernized) family name:  Tully.  Not the worst nominal precedent, but also information that might have been not available.

  47. Nick Antosca

      Yes, it is.  I just feel like I’ve read multiple Ryu Murakami stories in Zoetrope before… in fact Ryu Murakami was just published in the winter 2010/2011 issue! And now another story in the Fall ’11 issue?  Feels like they just went with a comfort zone choice. 

      That said, yes, Ryu Murakami seems like absolutely the most appropriate choice out of the four authors listed.

  48. Adam Golaski

      The enthusiasts among you who name authors who work clearly in the horror genre–Barron, for instance, who has declared himself a horror writer on his blog–betray a bias not unlike Zoetrope’s. I see about 4 or 5 horror authors mentioned in your comments, all of whom have been writing and publishing fiction for a decade or more, + Brian Evenson. It isn’t that any of those authors are bad, but they are hardly revelations. Conjunctions tapped a number of those authors a couple years ago for their big fantasy issue (edited by Straub), and McSweeney’s knows their names, too.

      Is the concern that Zoetrope isn’t going to some imaginary font of “real” horror fiction authors? That’s silly. If Zoetrope asked their favorite authors to write horror stories, and those authors did so, then Zoetrope might have a nice set of horror stories for us to read written by people who don’t often write horror.

      That said, if the editors at Zoetrope wanted to shed light what’s being done in the genre, a little (very little) digging would have turned up a wealth of excellent, lesser known talents: Brian J. Showers, Barbara Roden, Mark Samuels, Paul Walther, Nina Allen, Angela Slatter, Eric Schaller, etc., etc.

  49. JustSaying

      Do you… know how to read? I was making fun of your “mindless knee-jerk attacks on ‘old media stalwarts'” not saying you suck up to them. 

  50. JustSaying

      To be honest with you, I’m not sure what to think re: this issue. On the one hand, I do get where you are coming from. Magazines could do more to branch out of their normal zone to get different writers (certainly Evenson pops to mind as someone who is very literary but can write a good horror story). So that does make sense to me.

      But on the other hand, what is the point of a literary magazine just going out and picking well known horror authors like Peter Straub to be in the issue? Isn’t that just as uncreative as using their normal literary writers*? If Zoetrope is going to merely pick famous horror authors that would appear in a normal horror magazine, they aren’t really being Zoetrope… they are just publishing an issue of a normal horror magazine. 

      Whether or not Russell and Murakami are the right call, getting the literary writers they like to publish to write in a different genre is an interesting exercise and can yield great results. The McSweeney’s genre issue was a very mixed bag, but a few of the stories from the “literary” writers were totally fantastic. The typical genre authors they included, like King, turned in pretty boring pieces.

      (*their inclusion of Stephen King falls under this. A boring choice to me)

  51. JustSaying

      Ah this comment says what I was just trying to say. Yes, Straub and King are even more unimaginative picks. That’s actually the most boring thing a magazine could do. 

      The two interesting routes are what you describe. Either getting authors you admire to write out of their normal style/genres or you shed light on the less famous horror authors out there. Perhaps you could do a bit of both. 
      But publishing the most obvious names seems terribly uninteresting. 

  52. JustSaying

      “Horror fiction mags should get their revenge by doing a round of literary fiction-themed issues with horror authors.”

      If they view it as “revenge” that would be pretty silly, but this is actually a great idea. 

  53. Bill Hsu

      I’d appreciate more recommendations for literary horror. The problem is, I can be very particular about the voice and specific stylistic tics.

      Of the names mentioned in this thread, I’m a big fan of Brian Evenson. I find Ligotti too long-winded. I love some of Kelly Link’s stories, but I think she’s uneven. Just finished Peter Straub’s charming Little Red’s Tango. Haven’t warmed up to the Laird Barron I’ve read. I couldn’t stand many of the entries in Jeff Vandermeer’s New Weird anthology. Other vaguely horror-ish work I’ve enjoyed: Joy Williams’ The Changeling, David Nickle (also uneven, but I loved The Sloan Men), Joe Hill’s short stories, selected China Mieville.

  54. BoomersMustDie

      Okay fair reader… how should I interpret: “. But your the mindless” ?

  55. Bill Hsu

      I just started reading Conjunctions’ New Wave Fabulists issue. I gave up 15 pages into the John Crowley. I love Kelly Link, but I think “Lull” is one of her weaker efforts. Enjoyed the Straub and James Morrow though.

      I would hope there are better genre-themed literary journal issues. But maybe I’m just old and cranky.Bill

  56. Ethan Chatagnier

      Does anybody have any comments on the stories themselves?

  57. Anonymous

  58. Bradley Sands

      I’ve read one book by John Crowley: Little, Big. Really good,except the shitty ending.

  59. M. Kitchell

      unless you are from the future, it’s not october yet so the stories are not available for anyone to comment on

  60. Anonymous

  61. Ethan

      That is a most excellent point. 

      I’ll stand by my thrust, though, that this is a lot of commentary and complaining about stories without those stories actually having been read and given an assessment on their own merits.