The Dark Sire, Bre Stephens (Interview)
Interviewed by Zachary Shiffman
The Dark Sire Literary Journal is an online and print literary journal that publishes “monthly serialized fiction, and twice yearly paperback issues (Fall and Spring).” It seeks gothic, horror, fantasy, and psychological realism submissions in the vein of Edgar Allen Poe, Fyordor Dostoevsky, Mary Shelley, and J.R.R. Tolkien. The magazine provides a steady stream of dark and eerie short fiction, poetry, art, and serializations for its readership’s consumption, as well as tremendous support and opportunity for its contributors. Bre Stephens is the magazine’s founder and Editor-in-Chief. For more information on The Dark Sire visit www.darksiremag.com.
What are some of the challenges of running a literary magazine?
Two of the biggest challenges are reading submissions and heading a team. The Dark Sire gets 100+ submissions a month and I am the only reader. This means I am inundated with reading material. It’s important to give each submission its due course, so I take my time reading to really understand the story and the writer. Doing this takes time, so sometimes I feel like I’m never going to get through my TBR pile. The other challenge is heading a team. Though I have help in managing the everyday tasks, like social media and the blog, I still have to manage all departments, which means I not only have to center on EIC duties - and reading - but I also have to follow up with my team, making sure they are on task and hit deadlines, and, if need be, jump in if they need help. I’ve honestly had to stop reading and laying out issues so that I could help my team, causing my work to back up. Juggling a team, reading, and being the EIC is not an easy job.
What prompted you to start two literary magazines?
The Dark Sire was a reaction to a question posed by one of my graduate professors: “What will you do to contribute to the writing community?” I didn’t know at first but then quickly decided to found a literary magazine when I saw a need for more traditional dark literature. Although gothic is part of the horror genre, work like Edgar Allan Poe doesn’t quite fit. And since I write traditional gothic, it only made sense to create a literary magazine that would give a “voice to the voiceless.” The second literary magazine was the sister to The Dark Sire, a stepping stone into building a catalog of small press publications.
What inspired the Dark Sire’s horror focus? What about Tallon Lake’s romance? Furthermore: what inspired the magazines’ respective names?
The Dark Sire was named after its genres: dark fiction that also bespoke epic fantasy. I imagined darkness, smoke, a black void as dragons and knights roamed the Earth. Thus, “The Dark” equaled the dark atmosphere of the stories and “Sire” spoke of the valiant sword and shield. “The Dark Sire” then became a skeleton figure that bore a crown, waiting to hear the dark cries of his people. TDS, as it’s called, isn’t as much about horror as it is about darkness and eeriness, the creepy and the twisted. Most of the material we print isn’t meant to scare readers, per se, but, instead, to creep them out - make them shiver. TDS is geared more toward Edgar Allan Poe and Mary Shelley than modern-day horror. Poe’s work wasn’t merely to scare people but to make them think, to entangle their minds, to draw them into the twistedness that is macabre. TDS then is inspired by 18th-Century gothic literature, and my personal love of Poe, Shelly, Stephen King, and Anne Rice.
As for Tallon Lake, now an anthology, it was named for a TV series I wrote in 2010-2011. Tallon Lake (the TV series) was a drama about the inhabitants of a high-class apartment building, similar to Falcon Crest, the parody Soap, and Dallas - only modernized. Since it was a series that also dealt with romance, I thought it was the perfect name for a romance literary magazine. TL, as it’s called, would go on to become an anthology of romance literature and poetry. The reason I chose romance is because there weren't opportunities for romance short fiction, though readers wanted it. By providing for this need, I was able to contribute to the writing community yet again.
How has COVID-19 changed things for your magazines?
Unfortunately, COVID has changed a great deal for the magazines. First, TDS has had trouble getting products for its subscription boxes, with either products sold out or not delivered on time. Second, our subscribers have to wait an extra long time for their magazines to arrive due to delivery delays. Third, some past staff members had to obtain more work opportunities, thus leaving TDS/TL to dedicate to 2 or even 3 full-time jobs. And lastly, we’ve canceled live events for the last year because of the lockdown and group restrictions. Life for TDS and TL has changed tremendously, but I’ve quickly navigated the situations to overcome these obstacles, and have further prepared for permanent changes to take effect in the Fall.
How does your academic career at Kent State coincide with your press, if at all?
My publishing career doesn’t really cross-over into my academic career. Although, I do teach Vampire as Metaphor for an English Composition 2 course. I have brought in digital copies of TDS for students to analyze as they study 21st-Century social issues. In that regard, TDS has seen the inside of a classroom. But honestly, that doesn’t happen very much. So, the two careers do not coincide. With that said, I’m hoping to move forward with teaching creative writing in Spring 2022. If that happens, TDS will be a primary text.
Assuming all goes right, what do you envision for the future of your press?
The future is here, actually. This fall, BSC Publishing Group, the publisher of TDS and TL and the name of my small press, will open to queries of collections, anthologies, chapbooks, novellas, and novels. It is our goal to print 2-4 books a year, with our first major work launching in Spring 2022. In the distant future, my goal is to be one of the Big 5 traditional publishers.
What are some general tips you have for young aspiring editors? Aspiring writers?
To novel writers: Write your book and get it professionally published. Follow the guidelines, word counts, and professional standards. Get representation, listen to your agent/editor, and strive for the Big 5. If your work isn’t commercial, then go with a small press. Whatever you do, don’t publish with the mindset of making money - do it for the love of writing. When you make a name for yourself, that’s when you can seek financial reward.
To short fiction writers: Write the story and get it professionally edited. Then, send the manuscript to every magazine that it fits. Be patient but find a home for it. Do not settle just to get the work up on someone’s website/e-zine. You worked hard, so find the right home.
To editors: Know your grammar, story structure, trends. When you get a piece of fiction, you have to know what works and what doesn’t, and be able to explain why so that you can make clear suggestions to writers. And remember: This is NOT your story, so your personal preferences must be benched. Instead, use your knowledge of creative writing to determine the best action for the story and SAVE the writer’s unique voice. Mastering your craft of editing is just as important as writer’s mastering their craft of storytelling. Study, learn, practice the art of editing and be ready to advise writers on how best to make the work shine.
What is your favorite work of gothic fiction?
My absolute favorite gothic short story is Tell Tale Heart by Edgar Allan Poe, though I have plenty of favorites from Poe’s collected works. My favorite gothic poem is Anabelle Lee by Poe. These two pieces describe love, hatred, jealousy, death, and murder so eloquently and with such mastery that no one but Poe could have written them. The Fall of the House of Usher, Hop-Frog, and The Raven are other favorites that discuss mental decay and psychosis, which are especially interesting to me. I can’t get enough of Poe or gothic fiction.
Is there anything else you would like to talk about or mention? (Either about yourself, the magazines, or another topic?)
I highly encourage any short fiction writer or poet of dark-themes, especially any Poe-inspirations or tales of vampires, to submit to The Dark Sire (http://www.darksiremag.com). And, if there is anyone who has a longer work (chapbook, novella, novel), they should consider submitting a query to BSC Publishing Group this fall; for updates, email firstname.lastname@example.org.