I hate the name Eunice. When people address me as Eunice, I always have to look around and see if it’s me they’re addressing. Okay, I don’t hate the name; I just can’t seem to associate me with it. It’s Greek and means “good victory.” So that’s nice. I checked out my name on Wikipedia. It says Eunice is the name of a genus in the worm and butterfly worlds. Maybe that describes me, the worm and the butterfly. I’ll have to explore that idea later. I’ve been to Eunice, Louisiana. I like to visit that state. They’re the only people who know how to spell my name. And Eunice is the real first name of one of my favorite singers, Nina Simone. That’s why I’m E.S. Magill.
I love horror, though.
Like, “I’ve got a problem” love of horror. It’s a problem for me because I can’t read literature that doesn’t have some tinge of the dark, the supernatural, or the horrific to it. Both my B.A. and M.A. are in English, so of course I’ve read and love the classics. I came to the horror genre at a very young age though. My dad was in the Navy. When he was on deployment, my mom and I would stay up late. She sewing, the two of us watching horror movies. This was the early ‘70s so our viewing fare consisted of the Universal monster movies and Godzilla. I knew all about Godzilla as a kid. (Okay, I can still tell you all about the twin fairies, Ghidorah, and Mothra.)
Horror evolved for me when, late one night, my mom and I came across Night of the Living Dead on TV. Do I need to explain how traumatized I was from that—or thrilled? After NotLD came the other seminal works that really shaped the concept of horror for me—The Nightstalker Series with Darren McGavin, Trilogy of Terror consisting of three stories by Richard Matheson, and The Last Man On Earth with Vincent Price and based on Matheson’s I Am Legend (the closest film version of the novel).
I was writing my author bio for Blood Lite 3 last year and realized that my childhood, and even adulthood, nightmares were all because of Richard Matheson. Those midnight terrors were no laughing matter. I was afraid of everything. Thank you, Mr. Matheson, for a lifetime of trauma.
Those are films. So what about the printed word? I read all the spooky kid stuff. There wasn’t a lot of it at the time—more fantasy and science fiction. I was a big fan of Ursula K. LeGuin, Madeleine L’Engle, Alexander Lloyd. I loved Alan Dean Foster’s Star Wars books like Splinter of the Mind’s Eye. I don’t read much fantasy or science fiction anymore. Sorry, my genre cousin friends. It’s the naming that drives me crazy! I laugh hysterically whenever I watch the workshop scene on naming fantasy characters in the film Gentlemen Broncos.
So back to horror books. I’m not sure if I read Stephen King in my teen years. I must have. I was/am a voracious reader. Real horror literature became imprinted on me when a neighborhood girl (a senior, prone to leather vests, smoker’s voice) lent me three books: The Owlsfane Horror, Lupe, and They Thirst by the great Robert McCammon. So McCammon was my first real horror author love (and still is).
The next seminal period in my life was during the great horror boom of the 80s-90s. I worked at Waldenbooks then and had access to all the good stuff. I loved the anthologies the most—The Dark Descent edited by David Hartwell, Dark Forces by Kirby McCauley, The Year’s Best Horror Stories (any year) by Karl Edward Wagner. The one that left me stunned (and thrilled again) was The Book of the Dead edited by John Skipp and Craig Spector. (Hot damn, I remember thinking. Are people allowed to write like that?) But it was Joe Lansdale’s “Tight Little Stitches in a Dead Man’s Back” that squeezed my hard, little, horror heart until it cried; it was the story that made me whisper to myself I want to write a story like that.
‘Cuz the writing was always there too—from a very young age. Horror: the movies, the books, the writing. I was the girl who got invited to the popular girls’ slumber parties because I had the talent to tell scary stories. I was the kid who wrote plays then made the neighborhood kids perform them. The idea of being a real writer, like growing up to do it (something we all still fantasize about), was in the fourth grade. I had written a descriptive scene in a story, and the teacher praised it up one side and down the other. That’s all she wrote (I know, bad pun.)
I won my first writing contest as a sixth grader. I was an editor for my award-winning high school newspaper. I got As on all my term papers. Twice I almost ended up in the Literary genre. Part of a short novel I wrote in college (because the professor wouldn’t allow us to write genre fiction so I said to myself: I’ll show you; I’ll write a Pulitzer-winning story) got shown to an editor over at Simon & Schuster by a well-known agent. I didn’t bite. Don’t think me stupid. The heart wants what the heart wants. I wanted to be a horror writer.
My bibliography is short though, because I chose teaching as the career that would pay the bills and allow me to buy books. As the oldest of four girls, teaching comes naturally to me. I’ve spent the last eight years teaching middle school English. No, no…it’s not that bad. There are a lot of good kids, but it is a tough job. Teaching requires a lot of thinking, and what happens is that there isn’t a lot of room left over in your head for anything else. And writing requires a lot of brain real estate too. The two are always having a battle royale in my head. But I’ve got breaks and summers. I went away from horror for a number of years—most of my late 20s. Came back to it in my 30s and been at it ever since.
Loving horror though as a forty-something woman kind of makes you feel like an outsider. I don’t have kids. I don’t like chick flicks. My husband and I drive Corvettes. It’s difficult to find common ground with other women. My favorite people are horror writers—good bunch there. They’re my tribe.
So that’s mE. I love horror and know its backstory well. I could go on and on about the topic. Stop me at the next con and find out how long I can talk on the subject. I’ll bring the beers.
E.S. Magill likes to wear the two hats of writer and editor. She is the editor of THE HAUNTED MANSION PROJECT: YEAR ONE, an anthology of essays and short stories based on the experiences of a dozen horror writers who attended a writers retreat at a haunted mansion. She is also the former reviews editor and columnist for Dark Wisdom magazine. Her most current short fiction can be found in the Horror Writers Association’s anthology BLOOD LITE III. She has an M.A. in English, specializing in the postmodern gothic. By day, she teaches middle school English; night is a whole other story. Southern California is home to her and her husband Greg and their menagerie of cats and Corvettes. Friend her onFacebook.