The Dread Machine is a dark fiction story subscription service, book club, bookseller, and burgeoning community space for authors.
Joe Sullivan: It really feels like you guys came out of the gate with a complete idea and a polished project. The website looks great, you have stories in your first couple issues from some great names(including an absolute favorite of mine, Michael Wehunt.) How did The Dread Machine come to be?
ALIN: The Dread Machine spawned from a mid-pandemic, mid-30’s crisis. I wasn’t happy in my career and I hadn’t been for a long time, but like a lot of people do, I made excuses. During quarantine, I ran out of them, and it felt very much like a “now or never” situation, so I started building the site, putting in 12–15 hours each day just to keep myself from doomscrolling the news. I had a ton of super ambitious ideas but couldn’t handle everything myself. Thankfully, right before launch, I met Monica and forced her to be my friend.
MONICA: ^ What she said. (Just kidding—I submitted a story to The Dread Machine before the project officially launched and provided some feedback on the website. Alin and I then engaged in a ferocious duel of the wits to determine who was the imposter. We outsmarted one another into a stalemate of trust, and now here we are!)
ALIN: Can confirm.
Anyone who takes on a publishing project–whether self-publishing a book, putting out an electronic journal, or wrangling writers for an anthology–inevitably hits unexpected difficulties. Would you mind discussing some of the issues you faced along the way to launching The Dread Machine?
ALIN: The biggest issue, for us, was earning the credibility necessary to be taken seriously. From the beginning, we’ve worked to let writers know we can be trusted. This isn’t a hobby business, and we won’t disappear as soon as things get difficult. That’s a pretty universal struggle though.
Personally, I’ve spent the last year figuring out who The Dread Machine is and who it needs me to be as an editor-publisher. The magazine sort of took on a life of its own after I designed the site and set it loose on the world (thanks in large part to our Discord community).
Did I have an excruciatingly detailed business plan? Absolutely. Did the magazine care? No. The Dread Machine does what The Dread Machine wants. I built it, but I don’t drive it.
We are very community-centric. I don’t think Monica or I ever make any major decisions without input from the Cultists and Mechanists.
Authors don’t have to belong to your community or take part in your discussion or critique groups to submit their work to you. What are some of the benefits for an author who is subscribed to your service on the community side of things?
ALIN: Cultists (paying subscribers) are able to access the Inner Sanctum of our Discord server, where they can receive critiques and assistance. Once a writer’s submission is accepted, they become a Mechanist and are granted free access to all subscriber content—including the Inner Sanctum—and their permissions are elevated in our Discord server, which allows them to view staff channels and speak with other Mechanists.
MONICA: When we’re considering planning Big Things—like, say, a new anthology—for The Dread Machine, we go to the Inner Sanctum to consult subscribers to gauge appetite and make sure we’re meeting subscriber expectations. We also provide early access to our new projects in special channels, kind of like the Alpha stage of a videogame, so subscribers get special insights into our progress and processes.
ALIN: Our community really is the engine fueling everything we do. Paying subscribers and Mechanists both have a substantial amount of control over what we’re doing and where we’re going.
I think I saw you guys were looking for more dark sci-fi stories, so far it looks like the horror writers have been bombarding your inbox. Do you guys hope to steer the publication in one direction or the other–being recognized as a horror publisher that dabbles in sci-fi, or as a sci-fi publisher that resides in the dark?
ALIN: Originally, we were excited to showcase a range of dark fiction stories from across the genre spectrum, but as we’ve come to know our audience better, we’re definitely focusing more on sci-fi and dark speculative fiction. We don’t want to limit ourselves, but we can’t deny that we’re settling into a more futuristic niche.
MONICA: We haven’t strayed far from that original goal of publishing dark fiction, we’ve just gotten a lot pickier over the past year about what we like. That’s normal for any publisher–as writers discover a new publication, editors have more submissions to choose from.
We still want to publish a wide range of dark fiction stories that keep us (and our readers) on the edge of our seats. If a story is dreadful, polished (doesn’t need many edits), and doesn’t violate our submission guidelines, odds are extremely high that it will be elevated to a final round of review. We prize good writing over sticking to genre definitions; our primary requirement is that the story be dreadful. There are some AMAZING stories we’ve had to pass on because they simply aren’t dreadful, and we’re always happy when we see other publications pick them up.
ALIN: We have a pantheon of gods, one of which is The Dread Hamster of Rejection. Sending a hamster to a writer whose story we loved but couldn’t justify acquiring, is always the worst.
MONICA: Sending San Ardilla, the Squirrel of Acceptance, to visit a writer is always the best!
Will The Dread Machine have books in print? Anthologies, novels?
ALIN: Our first anthology, Mixtape: 1986, is nearly complete and the Kickstarter to fund it is live (ends October 21, 2021). Our second collection, Darkness Blooms, will be published in Spring 2022. At this time, we prefer to focus on anthologies and growing from a semi-pro baby pub to a pro zine, so we aren’t yet in a place to consider novels, and I’m not sure that we ever will be. We really love short fiction and have some awesome experimental ideas we’d like to pursue first.
MONICA: Short fiction is where a lot of experimentation and change happens in genre fiction. Reading new short fiction is kind of like being on the cutting edge of science, because you see authors trying new techniques or new themes that they may not necessarily have the energy to address in a longer format. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy novels and read them voraciously, but I also enjoy the variety, creativity, and strangeness that frequents the places where short stories live. Short fiction writers are brave souls, and I’m grateful to work with so many of them!