An Interview with Literary Agent Bree Ogden
This interview is a discussion about all things horror with literary agent Bree Ogden. You can read more from Bree on her blog, or follow her on Twitter: @breevildead.
Maria: I’ve loved horror since I was a little girl. I fondly remember watching Are You Afraid of the Dark? and Goosebumps every Friday night, and I watched my first horror film—The Shining—when I was three years old. What was your first introduction to horror?
Bree: I have a few early memories. I can’t remember which came first. I remember one Halloween I was sick, which as you can imagine, for me is worse than death. So I stayed in our den all night watching movies. I know my parents were not aware of what I was watching because they would have died if they knew baby Bree (probably 6 or so?) was inches from the screen watching Michael Myers drown a nurse in a boiling hot tub. I also remember being extremely young, probably before the hot tub experience, when I saw the 1968 Romero Night of the Living Dead.And I distinctly remember thinking that this film felt safe. I know… super weird for a zombie film, but they were all bundled in that house, and although the house wasn’t completely safe, it was contained and felt like a solid way to deal with these living dead things (I had no concept of “zombies” at the time). It felt comfortable. And I’m sure that initial feeling of comfort and safety has affected me to this day when it comes to my use of horror as a security blanket. My earliest memory of horror that had an actual visceral effect on me was reading R.L. Stine’s The Face when I was 13 or so. Some kid gets decapitated while skiing! That’s insanity to read as a 13 year old.
You’re my go-to person for horror recommendations. What are your recommendations for readers/views who are new to the horror genre?
TV: I have a few really great ones. Keep in mind these are the things that freaked me out when I was a little girl. But I think for the most part they hold up if you don’t take them too seriously. To start with the obvious one: Tales from the Crypt. If I made it past the intro, I was lucky. But my real recommendation would have to be Masters of Horror. I absolutely loved that anthology series. I can’t recommend it enough. Each episode is an hour-long horror film by a different horror director. It’s such a treat; really awesome, terrifying, spooky, and high caliber horror for television.
Film: Dario Argento’s Suspiria! I really love the giallo film genre in general, but Suspiria takes the cake. It’s gory and gruesome, but that’s just the icing. It’s truly terrifying because it’s trippy as hell. As with most Dario films, it’s really bizarre but makes a strange sort of sense, which in the end only makes you feel crazier. It’s gold. I also highly recommend Silent House, the American remake of the Uruguayan film, La casa muda. It follows a girl in what appears to be real time and a single continuous shot (for the entire film) as she falls down the rabbit hole, an utter descent into madness. It has some real-life dark issues, but also plays some insane psychological mind games with the viewer. It’s gorgeous and Elizabeth Olsen nails the performance.
Comic: I’m going to recommend newer ones because to go back into the history of horror comics would take a lot of time, but if you want to get into some older horror comics, check out the work of comic historian Craig Yoe, he has several books that catalogue and anthologize some of comics best horror. As for some of my favorites of the last few years: Paul Tobin’s Colder, Shawn French’s Escape From Jesus Island, Steve Niles’ Criminal Macabre, Jonathan Maberry’s Bad Blood, Menton3’s The Memory Collectors, Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa’s Afterlife with Archie, and the new Archie Comics’ Sabrina title which is only one issue deep but I know is going to be unbelievable.
Book: Not a lot scares me when it comes to reading. I get scared visually. So this is difficult for me. Flowers in the Attic scares me but not on a BOO! level, more on a “whooooaaaa” level. But I will say that Anna Dressed in Blood had a serious affect on me. As far as classics go, I’ll always be terrified when I read Rosemary’s Baby. My best recommendation would be to go buy up any H.P. Lovecraft and Agatha Christie you can get your hands on.
Back when I was your intern, you were looking for a manuscript that dealt with extreme body modification, like the film American Mary. What’s on your current wish list for horror submissions?
I’m still looking for that! More specifically, I’m looking for body horror: any type of horror manuscript that deals with the deterioration of the body. I absolutely do not mean in the paranormal zombie sense. Body horror can deal with anything from manmade body degeneration or mutilation to the natural. It explores disease, mutilation (again, body modification), or mutation (see the comic Black Hole for an example of this. I would kill for a manuscript a long the lines of Black Hole.) There aren’t tons of novels—at least not mainstream—that deal with body horror and I’m dying for it. Occasionally you’ll find some superb body horror hidden in a Chuck Palahniuk novel.
I know a few of your clients write horror novels. What’s the most important thing to get right in the horror genre?
Subtlety. Even when you are leading up to something like a blood orgy (wink and nod to a certain client) you lead up to it in a way that’s subtle so the reader doesn’t know what they’ve gotten themselves into until it’s too late. It’s like the analogy of the frog in boiling water. You put a frog in warm water and slowly bring it to a boil. The frog won’t jump out; they’ll just boil to death. But if you throw a frog into a pot of boiling water, they are going to hop right out. You want to use this with your reader. Make them feel safe and then utterly destroy them.
You’re co-founder of the magnificent macabre magazine for children, Underneath the Juniper Tree. Why are you so passionate about horror for children?
One time my friend and I were babysitting her darling 4 year old niece and at some point in the night she was about to head upstairs, but each time she went to turn the corner, she came back saying there was a mean monster at the top of the stairs and she was too afraid to go up there. Naturally, my friend told her that monsters didn’t exist. I was really uncomfortable with this explanation. In the mind of this 4 year old, there was a monster on those stairs and who were we to rob her of her reality. I thought to myself, “Who’s to say this monster isn’t real?” I told my friend to be quiet for a minute. And I told this little girl to close her eyes and yell at that monster. I told her to tell that monster that it wasn’t welcome there and that it needed to go away. When she opened her eyes, I asked if the monster was still there. She had this huge smile on her face and said it was gone. Problem was solved, not ignored. That day, she found courage and innovation to deal with her fears.
Horror stands for something bigger than a monster under the bed or a vampire sucking your blood. It represents our inner demons and I don’t believe that we should ever just ignore the scary things children believe in. Give them the power to conquer. And a big part of this comes in through literature. Knowledge is power, right?
Children are smarter than we are. Their minds are so untainted, their purity allows them to be open to ideas and an intelligence we can only wish we had. Unfortunately, the majority of adults have lost the ability to still see monsters. They’ve grown too old to think that there may be something underneath their bed. It’s always been my motto that horror delves into the depths of the psyche and the emotions derived from fear fertilize innovation, originality, and artistry because it forces us to ponder and take chances. If we shrink away from horror, we shut down a vital part of our brain. The part that forces us to take uncertain plunges.
It’s no secret you love horror, but what are you actually scared of?
Spiders, wasps, and snakes for sure. But my genuine fear is being stuck in a tight space. You could put me in a dark alley with Jason Voorhees and my heart wouldn’t race as fast as it would if I was stuck in an air duct. Small spaces, eek!
What book(s) are you currently loving?
I just started Beautiful You, Chuck Palahniuk’s newest release. It’s insane and wonderful as expected. I’m also really into nonfiction books about murder. I just finished Judith Flanders’ The Invention of Murder: How the Victorians Revelled in Death and Detection and Created Modern Crime and it was super fun. I’m actively looking to read a really great nonfiction book on the Early Modern inquisition and persecution of witches in Italy if anyone has any great recommendations!