Author and editor Wendy N. Wagner finds joy in being frightened – especially in a safe situation. “I’m so easily scared,” she admits. “I’ll be out with the dog in the front yard, and someone’s carrying a backpack, but I see a zombie. I’m the person that screams at every jump-scare in a movie. Fear is a wonderful feeling, as long as you’re safe,” she adds. “It makes you feel very alive.”
Wagner is editor-in-chief of Nightmare, a magazine devoted to horror and dark fantasy. Each month, she publishes original pieces by bestselling authors and emerging writers, with two pieces of short fiction (1,500 to 7,500 words) and two short pieces that are either flash fiction, flash creative nonfiction, or poetry. “We call these short things ‘The Horror Lab,’” she says.
The magazine features a range of horror fiction tropes – think psychological horror, haunted house stories, and narratives about zombies. Two of the four short stories in Nightmare each month become audiobook-style recordings for a podcast produced by Skyboat Media.
Wagner also publishes interviews and Q&As, book and media reviews, and nonfiction articles, including a monthly column about horror titled “The H Word.” “We’re always on the lookout for micro personal essays,” she says. “I love nonfiction, and it’s a great way to share your feelings in a compelling form. There are so few restrictions in the world of creative nonfiction, and people are just blowing up with fun and exciting stuff.”
Tone, editorial content
Wagner published Brazilian writer Dante Luiz’s short nonfiction piece, “Bunnies,” about his childhood experience of visiting someone who hoarded rabbits. “It was a horrific and traumatic experience for a small child because the rabbits were treated extremely badly,” she explains. “It’s told vividly and compellingly, with a tremendous amount of healing.”
Luiz also wrote political commentary for “The H Word,” an essay titled “Horror in a Country that is Not Afraid of Death,” in which he analyzes the way that horror functions in Brazil compared to the U.S. and the U.K.
“When you come from countries that have dictatorships and a whole different social framework than we do in the United States, what counts as scary is very different than what counts for scary in the United States or the United Kingdom,” Wagner says. “I have found that getting these other writers from other places to talk about these things is really interesting because we tend to have this idea about horror as slasher movies and vampires and stuff like that. But the more you look at it, the more personal horror becomes, and the more you realize how many different cultural aspects come into it.”
She’s interested in poetry as well, with strong imagery and beautiful language and topics that inspire emotional engagement with dark material – pieces like Maria Zoccola’s “warming” (Issue 117), inspired by climate change, and Tiffany Morris’s poem “Crossroads” (Issue 110), about devils in folklore with references to her Mi’kmaw culture.
“We take all kinds of different kinds of poems,” Wagner says. “I just bought a piece about tropical fish, which you wouldn’t think could lend itself to a horror poem, but it really does. We look for pieces that might be depressing or gross but still somehow magical and beautiful at the same time.”
E.A. Petricone has a story titled “We, the Girls Who Did Not Make It” in Issue #101. It’s a story told from the perspective of several ghosts living in the basement of a murder house. “They were all captured and sentenced to death by a pair of men who are serial killers, and you learn about their personalities and their stories as a fresh victim arrives,” Wagner explains. “It’s really about the way our culture is obsessed with the people who do bad things and how the victims are so easily overlooked. It’s a terrible thing that we have lost so many of their voices, and the story gives great voice to these women. It’s a really riveting read.”
The writer Gordon B. White has long been interviewing other writers for Nightmare, but in issue #106, he has a fiction piece titled “Gordon B. White is creating Haunting Weird Horror.” Told in second person, it’s a story about how you’ve signed up at a certain level of Patreon to receive items from a horror writer named Gordon B. White.
“You sign up to get postcards of haunted houses, and a postcard comes in the mail, and it’s just a picture of a house,” Wagner says. “On the back, there’s a short snippet about some kind of weird haunting, and you go along your way with the postcards getting weirder, and the narrator starts to hear the things associated with the haunting. They’re being haunted, even after they cancel their Patreon. It’s a hilarious story, and incredibly creepy.”
Swedish-Canadian writer Maria Haskins has a piece forthcoming in Nightmare; it’s a short essay about community reactions to the creepier elements of her great-great grandfather’s practice of magic in Sweden. Scholar Melanie R. Anderson has a nonfiction piece forthcoming as well. Titled “The Sporror, the Sporror!”, it’s a piece about the role of fungi in horror. “I really like to be able to showcase scholarly pieces like this,” Wagner says. “It’s delightful.”
Advice for potential contributors
Nightmare doesn’t shy away from painful topics. “Nothing’s really off the page here, but we don’t want people to be harmed by the fiction that we’re putting out in the world,” Wagner says. She’s not interested in publishing gratuitous violence against women, written to revel in the image of someone being tortured. “If your piece is something that I feel harms me when I read it, I’m not the right person to be reading your work,” she notes.
An effective horror piece is psychologically healthy, she says, allowing writers and readers to examine depression, greediness, viciousness, and other negative traits. “Horror gives you a chance to look into the darker sides of human behavior. It lets you kind of live with those bad sides of yourself and not have to give into them,” she says. “It also lets you practice things like being scared or being a hero. And I feel like those are things we could use more practice at.”
Nightmare at a glance
“It is our hope that you’ll see where horror comes from, where it is now, and where it’s going.”
Reading periods: Check website for details.
Length: Check website for details.
Genres: Fiction, nonfiction, poetry.
Submission format: Online, via Moksha.
Contact: Wendy N. Wagner, editor, at [email protected],
Contributing Editor Melissa Hart is the author, most recently, of Better with Books: 500 Diverse Books to Ignite Empathy and Encourage Self-Acceptance in Tweens and Teens. melissahart.com