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death and life of education

Apex Publications’ Jason Sizemore On Genre Literature, Humor, And Perspective

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If you like science fiction, fantasy, and horror, you’re probably already familiar with Jason Sizemore, the head honcho at Apex Publications. I got to know him a couple of years ago, when he published my short story, “Frank,” in Apex Magazine. (If you’re nervous about reading it, I assure you, it’s not a story about what a racist Lovecraft was, but instead about how an evil scientist’s zombie henchman teaches a woman to drive stick.) He regularly gives pretty awesome interviews–which you can read here, here, here, or here, just for starters–so, rather than retread familiar ground in my short time, I went straight for the questions about my favorite book he’s published and things pertinent to our discussions. He was kind enough to oblige. This interview has been lightly edited for clarity and style.

Me: This past October I saw your author, Chesya Burke at the Southern Festival of Books. She was on a panel with George Singleton. There was supposed to be another author, but she couldn’t make it. Anyway, with just the two of them, the panel blew my mind. She writes horror stories that can be pretty damn funny and Singleton writes funny stories that can also be very horrifying.

It really got me thinking about how horror and humor compliment each other — and clearly Chucky and Freddie are funny (or supposed to be) and Cabin in the Woods has some great humorous moments. I’m just not sure why they work so well together. What do you think?

Jason: I won’t pretend to be a psychoanalyst, but I’ll give you what I *think* horror and humor works so well together. Horror makes us face aspects of our life that make us uncomfortable. This can be a variety of things… fear of death (probably the most common device used in horror)… the fear of pain, the fear of loss, etc. When we’re uncomfortable, we’re quick to find something that will cut the tension and fear. Humor does a good job of giving us an emotional distance from fear.
Gallows humor has been around a long time. I suspect guys like Joss Whedon, Sam Raimi, and Joe Lansdale have a better understanding of this dynamic, and thus why they’re famous and critically loved.

Speaking of Burke, I love her book Let’s Play White. It’s angry, funny, and scary as hell. How did you guys end up publishing that?

Speaking on behalf of Chesya, thank you! I’m always delighted when I hear a reader enjoys the work Apex publishes.

The genesis of Let’s Play White can be traced to World Fantasy Con in 2010 (the WFC held in Columbus, OH). At a professional convention like WFC, if you’re a publisher, editor, or agent, you should be ready to accept pitches from authors (after all, that is the primary reason many authors attend). So I was taking pitches throughout the weekend while working the Apex table. One of the line of writers who shared their book idea with me was Chesya. Chesya had several advantages over most other authors that weekend. She had read many of our books. She knew that I have an affinity for publishing stuff that can be considered unique, a bit edgy. And she had cultivated a friendly and professional relationship with me over the past four years. All the same, I would have published Let’s Play White without any of those factors based on the strength of her work. Let’s Play White is written by female person of color from southeast KY currently living in Georgia. She might have one of the most unique perspectives in all of genre literature.  This gives her stories an entertaining, eye-opening quality. She also knows how to ratchet the horror and stretch her imagination.

You and I live in the South. Okay, the South-ish. We live in a region of great ghost stories. And we live in a land of large houses where terrible things happened. Where’s our iconic haunted house story? How come New England spawns so many and we so few?

New England (and I would add Great Britain) certainly are the standard bearers when it comes to haunted house stories. But I would argue that the South has a fair share of well known stories. Lexington (KY) has several semi-famous haunted houses (Whitehall, chief among them).

Perhaps since there are so many supernatural things going on in the South, that the ghost house stories only seem to stick in a regional manner? I had never considered this question before. Now it will bother me to no end!

Did you read Paul Elie’s blathering about belief and novels of belief in the New York Times? Maybe I’ve tipped my hand by framing the question this way, but it seems like he missed the forest for the few trees he’s familiar with. Apex Publications is a small operation, and yet, just flipping through your titles, there are angels and crosses and other religious iconography and you’ve published two collections (Dark Faith and Dark Faith: Invocations) that are specifically about belief and believers. Is the problem that Elie’s not looking in the right places for the work he seeks? Is that because of the stupid way our culture treats genre fiction and literature like two separate things?

That last thing you said. Walk through the genre aisles and you’ll see no end of angel wings, demons, pagan imagery, etc. Paul Elie obviously needs to do some research before he talks out his ass about a subject he has no clue about. I believe I will mail him a copy of Dark Faith signed by the editors.

Original author: Betsy Phillips
Think Progress is a project of the Center for American Progress Action Fund. The Center for American Progress Action Fund is a nonpartisan organization. Through this blog, CAPAF seeks to provide a forum that advances progressive ideas and policies.


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