A self-made woman in horror: an interview with Jeani Rector

February is Women in Horror Month and here at Mangled Matters, we take our ladies of fright very seriously.  I’ve had the incredible pleasure of interviewing dozens of fantastic leaders and pioneers in the WiH movement and I also was WiHM founder Hannah Forman’s assistant a few years back as she did what she always does in February- make horror awesome!

This year, to kick off the month-long celebration of Women in Horror, I have the wonderful privilege of chatting with Jeani Rector.  If you’re as big a horror fiction fan as I am, you probably are very familiar with Rector and her work, even if you may not recognize the name right off the bat.  She is the proud mother of The Horror Zine, a top-notch monthly e-zine that features interviews, short stories, essays and other goodies.  The Horror Zine has gained quite an audience over the years, with elite horror authors like Bentley Little, Ramsey Campbell and Joe Lansdale not only contributing to the zine but also speaking glowingly of Rector and her work.

She’s a self-made horror champion, through and through.  From waking up at five in the morning to get a start to the horror-loving day to creating a platform that brings the horror community together, Rector not only celebrates acclaimed horror writers but also independent talent in The Horror Zine.  In this month’s issue, an interview with Owen King, son of that kind of popular horror author you may know as Stephen, is featured.

Jeani Rector is someone you should most definitely know.  I hope you enjoy our chat as much I did.


 

MANGLED MATTERS:  You began The Horror Zine in 2009 as you watched other horror zines fall by the wayside and fold up shop.  Why did you feel that you would be able to survive when others weren’t?


JEANI RECTOR:  What a great question!  The truth is, no one ever knows when they begin an ezine if it will be successful or not.  In fact, when I started The Horror Zine, although I had stories published in various small magazines, I was a nobody with no contacts other than Trevor Denyer, who published me in Midnight Street Magazine.

But I knew I would work hard. I knew I had to try.  I will tell you from seeing e-zines come and go over the years, that is “sounds like a good idea” to begin one.  Everyone believes that it “sounds cool.”  The reason so many new e-zines close up shop early is because people do not realize how much work and dedication it takes to run one. I devote hours to The Horror Zine every single day without payment for my time.  But I am not complaining because it is my passion and it is a labor of love; what we call “4theluv.”

Of course, 2009 was an exception.  During that time of the financial crisis, even established, long-running e-zines like The Harlow folded.  It is one of my great disappointments that I was unable to be published by The Harlow before it closed.  For staying power, all editors of e-zines need to understand that it takes discipline, hard work, and organizational skills above all else.  I have made mistakes and sincerely try to learn from them.  But I also learn from my successes and from the successes of other editors.


MM:  The Horror Zine is one of the most entertaining horror sites around and it gives horror creators of many mediums a platform to showcase what they love to write, draw and invent.   What has been your most proud moment as creator of The Horror Zine?


JR:  Probably when Trevor Denyer, of Midnight Street Magazine and now Hellfire Crossroads, introduced me to Ramsey Campbell.  Another is when Joe R. Lansdale and Ramsey both publicly defended me when I called out a well-known plagiarist, who then went on an email smear campaign against me.  That was probably in 2011 or so.  But I knew I had a chance with The Horror Zine when talented emerging writers, poets, and artists began submitting.  Before that, no one had heard of The Horror Zine and so I had to pay for advertising in other magazines, because no one will submit if they never heard of you!

I think another one of my proud moments came just the other day, when my name was listed on a website story right next to Ellen Datlow and Lisa Morton.  Can you imagine the honor of seeing your name alongside those two?

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MM:  You have made some wonderful acquaintances over the years as a horror writer.   If you could have a round table discussion with, say, three horror authors, past or present, who you’ve never had the pleasure of speaking with, who would get a seat at the table and why? 


JR:  I cannot limit it to just three!

One that I would probably choose would be Joe Lansdale because he always writes tips for new writers.  He does that on his Facebook page (and in occasional articles for The Horror Zine) just from the goodness of his own heart.  He sincerely wants to help emerging writers just as I want to help them.  I feel Joe and I have that in common.  Plus, he has already taught me to write what I know, and to find my own “voice.”

Bentley Little would be good because he is blunt.  He wouldn’t be “nice”, he’d be honest.  And Ramsey Campbell would teach me atmosphere.  Simon Clark is very good at “creepy.”

Scott Nicholson is the best writer of ghost stories, a genre I absolutely love.  Tim Waggoner is a teacher as well as a successful author, so I’d be excited to learn from him.  Joe McKinney could teach me “street smarts.”  J.G. Faherty is a rising star – he could teach me how he does that.  And I could really use lessons about humor in horror from Jeff Strand.  I feel that Jeff is the most successful of anyone in that area.

Susie Moloney has wonderful character development, as does Kristen Houghton.  Elizabeth Massie thinks outside the box.  Lisa Morton not only has talent, but she can open doors because she is very active in the horror community and everyone – and I mean everyone-  respects Lisa.


MM:  What is the process like to create an anthology? Of the collections you’ve put together, which one had the most submissions and how many stories had to be sifted through?


JR:  I have to state again that you ask great questions. In fact, no one has ever asked me this, so bravo!

Anthologies are extremely hard to do if you also need simultaneous submissions for a monthly e-zine. To produce a good antho, one needs original, previously unpublished stories, or else Ellen Datlow and the Bram Stoker Awards really won’t look at them.

Many people don’t realize this, but there is a glut of anthologies out there, and they just don’t sell as well as do full-length novels.  Of course, there are always exceptions.  But generally, the process is to first announce that you are accepting subs from emerging authors for an antho on public forums such as Facebook, then contacting professional writers separately.  I have both self-published and gone to professional publishers for anthologies, and find that the process is much smoother when you do not self publish.  Post Mortem Press was a great publisher, and there are many more quality small presses, too.

A plus side with using a pro is that they help to market your book.  If you self-publish, you self-market, and that can be expensive and time consuming.  Successful self-publishers are those that are willing to fly to a lot of conventions and bookstore book signings themselves.

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MM:  What is the scariest novel you’ve ever read?


JR:  I have always thought that John Farris’ Son of the Endless Night was the scariest, but I have not read that one in years so I will have to pick it up again to see if it still gives me the same effect.


MM:  Is there a horror novel or short story out there that you can think of off the top of your head that would make a great feature film?


JR:  I would love to see Joe R. Lansdale’s The Bottoms made into a film.  The last I heard, that could indeed be in the works.  The Dwelling by Susie Moloney would make a great ghost story, as would anything from Scott Nicholson.  Joe McKinney is probably the best at zombies.  Kristen Houghton is an up-and-comer with her Cate Harlow character.

But something I would really pay money to see is a film made from any of Jeff Strand’s works.  Imagine being scared and laughing at the same time!  Sounds improbable, right?  But not if Jeff does it.  Think An American Werewolf in London.


MM:  You’re a well-respected author, as well. How often do you still write original fiction?


JR:  Thank you for your kind words.  No editor of any magazine can ever find the time to write a lot.  That just comes with the territory.  But occasionally I still write short stories and get published in various magazines.

Recently I published The Best of Jeani Rector, and that one is guaranteed to scare.

I would like to start on two future historical fiction novels, one about the 1930’s dust bowl and the other on the rarely heard about Spanish Flu of 1918 that wiped out more people world-wide than World War I did.  Think of it as a more modern version of my Pestilence: A Medieval Tale of Plague.

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MM:  I read that you wake up at 5am each day to start your work day on The Horror Zine.  What continues to motivate you some 8 years after the site began and even as the site draws in over 100,000 views per month?


JR:  Yes, I do get up at 5 am.  The great talent I encounter from professional and emerging writers alike inspires me every day.  There are amazing writers, poets, and artists that need to be showcased for the world to see.  They deserve to be known and read and/or viewed.

I will admit – probably the first time ever, here, for your magazine – that there are times when I get tired or frustrated and feel like quitting.  But some people depend on knowing that there is a much-viewed venue that will continue to showcase their work to the world.  That has meaning.  I think I feel like quitting when I feel underappreciated, or when there is a misunderstanding about the (hopefully few) times I misspeak and offend.  I honestly do not intend to ever be hurtful, but everyone makes occasional mistakes.  The other times I feel like quitting is when someone gets mad if I reject that person’s work for publication.

But then there are the times when I get support that lifts me up.  Like the so very many people who voted for me recently in the Preditors and Editors Readers Poll, causing The Horror Zine to win first place in the Best Fiction and Best Poetry categories.  These lovely and supportive people make me realize that yes, even after almost eight years, The Horror Zine still has meaning for many and still serves a purpose.

There is also the idea of reputation. It takes years to build up a reputation.  If I quit The Horror Zine and officially closed it, then changed my mind, it would take starting over from the bottom once again.  Starting from scratch.  That is not generally a winning strategy for a successful e-zine.  So I would have to think long and hard to ever decide to close The Horror Zine.  I personally believe it provides a service for talented people to showcase their work to, as you said, 100,000 hits a month.  That’s a lot of eyes.


MM:  What can fans expect from the latest issue of The Horror Zine?


JR:  Although I make a shout out to Women in Horror, it mainly features an interview with Stephen King’s son Owen King (courtesy of our Media Director, Christian A. Larsen) and a story from Joe R. Lansdale.

At this time I have no idea who will be featured for fiction in the March issue, although I believe I have an article about Edgar Allen Poe from Brent Monahan lined up.  I have found that a lot of people like The Morbidly Fascinating Page that is featured every month on a different (yes, morbid and fascinating) topic, and I will admit I love doing that page most of all.  It is deliciously weird.


MM:  Lastly, what makes horror so special to you personally?


JR:  When I was ten years old, I spent every Saturday night at my best friend Patti’s house.  Together we always watched the Bob Wilkins Creature Feature, while lying on her living room floor.  We loved the corny, B-grade films he always showed.  Then came Stephen King’s ‘Salem’s Lot and Ramsey Campbell’s Hungry Moon.  I was hooked!

I enjoy the genre because it is like riding on a roller-coaster -it provides a thrill, but because it is fiction and not reality, I can have the thrill vicariously.  In the end, I will be safe because the horror roller-coaster is simply imagined and not real. Or is it?  BRAA-HA-HA

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Do yourself a favor and check out The Horror Zine frequently! 

 

 

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