When he's not shape-shifting into a part-time Bedford library assistant, Bret McCormick writes and edits hellacious horror stories.
McCormick, along with E.R. Bills, another Texas author, began compiling an annual anthology of dreadful Lone Star-tinged tales about four years ago called Road Kill: Texas Horror by Texas Writers that’s been raising some eyebrows and heart rates.
“We agreed, after the second year, to switch off each year,” McCormick says of sharing editing duties with Bills. “Next year, he’ll be editing.”
Road Kill’s fictional horror stories range from about 3,500 to 11,000 words, says McCormick, adding that submissions for Road Kill vol. 5 should open sometime in early February.
”We read during the spring, refine during the summer and the issue comes out in October,” he says. ”We want to promote the Texas literary community, and we’d like to hear from anyone out there who thinks they can write a scary story. We really are eager to find new talent.”
McCormick, who was born and raised in Fort Worth, says collecting enough stories for the first issue was a challenge, but the task has gotten easier. Although he believes all the stories in the fourth volume are strong, he says some, like "From These Muddy Waters" by Patrick C. Harrison III; "The Girl in the Car" by Corey Lamb; and "His Death Offers No Respite" by Thomas Kearnes, really screech.
“Those three stories kind of continued to haunt me after I read them,” McCormick says.
In "From These Muddy Waters," Harrison weaves a subtle sense of terror into a tale about a kid’s harrowing encounter while fishing out on a lake with his rambling grandfather. Describing the writing as “compelling and believable,” McCormick says that “along with the unfolding of the story, it all plays really well.”
The publication aims for diversity and tries to not use the same authors again and again. Moving forward, McCormick says, 35% of each new volume will be committed to authors previously published in the collection. Overall, the search is on for originality and spooky stories with a distinct Lone Star flavor written by Texas authors rather than tales that could take place anywhere.
“I avoid anything that’s an overdone trope,” McCormick says. “You’d be hard-pressed to get me to publish a vampire story and definitely not a zombie story.”
McCormick, who’s seen his share of horror flicks, admits he could be a bit jaded.
“I always liked the movies,” he says. “Before I was able to read, I was watching the old horror movies on TV. Once I began reading, my folks steered me in the direction of Edgar Allan Poe.”
Although McCormick liked Poe’s work, he says it was difficult for him to get seriously spooked by it because of the archaic language. Then, he got his hands on a Ray Bradbury anthology, which he found poetic, imaginative, frightening and relatable.
“That really clicked it for me,” he says of Bradbury's work, “that made me want to be a writer.”
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But McCormick didn’t stop there. He went on to make movies as well. He describes The Abomination , which he directed, as a “very low-budget, very bloody, difficult to describe movie” with a small, but rabid, global cult following.
“Obviously, it had greater legs than I expected it to,” he says. “But most of what I did was cheap action movies, cops-and-robbers stuff.”
Between 1984 and 1996, McCormick was involved in more than 20 low-budget feature films. He’s also written Texas Schlock: B-Movie Sci-Fi and Horror from the Lone Star State, a book that he says is all about “cheesy, horror films” made in Texas by various directors from the 1950s to now. However, the first few writings he sold were humor stories to the Saturday Evening Post.
“A lot of my horror stories have a humorous angle to them,” McCormick says — with an implied "BWAHAHA."