An interview with Stuart Buck, Editor of The Bear Creek Gazette
For many, Bear Creek will feel eerily familiar — the way any Main Street, USA will seem quaint at first glance. However, the longer you stay, the more hidden dread you observe under the town's chipped paint. The charm wears away quick — you're hungry and depressed, so you ask a local for directions to the Brown Bear Hot Dog Stand and Suicide Prevention Center; instead, he takes you to the new Fuckable Wax Museum. You don't want to be rude, especially the way he's staring at you, smirking, waving goodbye, but he ain't leaving. So you start running — somehow the forest seems the only safe place... until it's not. But how come YOU'RE the one who ended up in the police blotter of the Bear Creek Gazette? I asked the editor, Stuart Buck, what makes Bear Creek tick? "It's like, inverted lime disease," he said, before answering the rest of my questions without unraveling the mystery. Because even if you felt at home at Bear Creek for a minute, you're insane — because there's no other place like it on the internet. And now with the first "A Rough Guide to Bear Creek" Anthology coming down the mountain, there's a whole other place to bury your head (until they get to the rest of you).
How did you go from living in Wales to editing a very American fictional newspaper? Could a town like Bear Creek exist in the UK or did your move to the States give birth to its very American nightmare element?
In a very literal sense, I moved from Wales to the US when I met my wife on twitter. I have always been an impulsive person, so after we sent a few nudes and talked for a while, I decided to travel 8000 miles from Wales to Colorado in order to meet them. We ended up falling madly in love and lived up a mountain for a year. Our nearest town was classified as a ghost town. There had been two fires there that had gutted the place and most people had just left. You can still see all the burnt out buildings. Most of the people living there now live rent free, get no power or water and need food shipping in. Now I live in Upstate New York, but no doubt my experience living in Colorado shaped a little of Bear Creek's geographical obscurities.
In a more artistic sense, I feel like Bear Creek has a very American mythos. I grew up watching Twin Peaks, The X-Files and reading Stephen King books about fucked up little towns where darkness runs underneath the streets. Even things like the 80s cult horror film Society, which very bluntly portrays the seedy side of suburbia, influenced Bear Creek. More recent media like the Welcome to Nightvale podcast gave Bear Creek a structure. All these things have one thing in common – they are very American at the roots. I think Britain has its own messy little towns and villages. If you have ever watched a Hammer Horror movie, then you know what I am talking about. But in terms of inspiration, it's a very American thing. Europeans grow up consuming a lot more American media than the average American consumes European media.
The other great thing about Bear Creek is I left it especially vague to begin with, so the artists and writers got to shape the place. Since most of the writers submitting were from the States, that helped turn the town towards an American location.
As the editor of BCG, how much control do you feel like you maintain before and after an issue? The pieces often seem to take on lives of their own, unintentional subplots forming like creepy synapses between some articles where at times it seem like a mischievous psychic entity has taken over the whole operation. Do you see it as a literary journal or more of an ongoing experiment?
In terms of the overall aesthetic of the Gazette, I definitely retain a lot of control. I design everything myself, from the banners through to the posters used to countdown on Twitter before each issue. Bear Creek is my baby, I have no staff or readers.
But in terms of the writing, I think it has just blossomed from little messy seeds into something huge and monstrous. Writing for a fictional newspaper should, in theory, be more constraining than writing for a journal that focuses purely on the words. But I have found the opposite to be true. I take no credit for it at all, because it is down to the people who create the art, but I feel like there is more creativity in one issue of the Gazette than in a dozen online lit mags. The work is all over the place, barely contained by an overall theme. I have pieces in the first three issues that are extremely Bear Creek focused – then there are pieces that take place in other fucked up places, pieces that are just really weird, incredibly dark pieces that have a very particular real life history. And then, once people read the work and started writing, they began keying in to the themes of other pieces. It made this huge web of plots, subplots and characters. I read submissions now that make me boot up the site and search for where one particular element came from. It sounds cliche, but Bear Creek has become a living, breathing place.
A lot of people write for the Gazette under pseudonyms. A few people write under more than one name. It’s a beautiful confusion of weird people. That’s all I ever wanted it to be. Fucked up people coming together and making art. I don’t censor anything anyone sends. If it is strange and entertaining, I find a place for it. Doesn't matter who you are or what particular corner of the artistic world you inhabit. Bear Creek is a fictional place and that gives me the ability to tune out the everyday bullshit of the literary world and focus on the art itself.
Tell us about the anthology project — is this the beginning of BCG being chronicled in a new format or more of a celebration of the website? What was your process with choosing from such an array of feral material?
The boring shit answer is that it came from a tweet I sent, asking whether people wanted an anthology or not. The response was hugely encouraging, so I decided to take the plunge and start a Kickstarter to fund it. Bear Creek can be shambolic sometimes, but behind all the bullshit is my love for art. So if I do something, it’s done properly. I did all the math, worked out how much I needed and shot my shit, which for me is a big deal. Like most writers, I fear rejection, and what better way to be rejected than pouring your time and effort into something and having zero interest shown in it. Thankfully that never happened, and the project was funded in 2 days, and ended up being 181% funded. Remarkable really.
As far as choosing the work is concerned, the anthology is taking the form of a tourist guide, so for the most part I opted for work that was Bear Creek based. The whole idea originated from a piece in Issue 2, a guide to the queer hot-spots in the town. So I hope I've selected works that build on the lore of the town, as well as being entertaining to read. The fact that Bear Creek gets such wide ranging submissions will give the anthology a variety, even though I have set a theme. We have operettas, fairy tales, murder mysteries, poems, prose, comics, all sorts of crazy shit.
The anthology is just the beginning of what I call the Print Creek Phase. I will be making anthologies every 3 issues, so the next one will be 4 through 6. I am going to make that one an actual newspaper. I am also setting up a press towards the end of the year which will publish chapbooks and novellas. Bear Creek is artist focused, there will never be reading fees or any of that nonsense. I will make the books beautiful then send them out into the world. I don’t give a shit about making money.
Who exactly is The Mayor of Bear Creek? Some would assume it's "you," yet you seem more of his spokesperson or press secretary. He seems to rule BC with some form of iron fist, yet the township is low-key lawless and in the short time I've visited I've also heard he's died, like a couple times at least.
It’s definitely not me! To be honest, the mayor just appeared one day on the roof of the church and he's never left. He likes to think he has control of the town but as you said, lawlessness reigns in Bear Creek. He dies a lot, but I've never attended his funeral.
The Mayor reports directly to the Town Council. I have seen them only once, but it was horrifying. Whenever he is called in front of them, I see his face change. It drops somehow, as if he has seen his own death.
He does read the Gazette. I get a report via email after every issue. What he is happy with. What he would change. Who he wants taken outside and beaten. I just humor him. We all do.
For such a vast project, BCG is just one of your literary outlets. As Stuart Buck: writer, what projects have you published and what is in the works?
I just released my third book of poetry. I've been writing for about ten years now. I started out writing haiku for competitions and it just took off from there. I'm currently working on a collection of short stories. I would say my style is ‘subversive and weird’ but I try and write with humor where I can. My stories are all over the place, though unlike the stuff I publish in Bear Creek, I actually write very little out-and-out horror. I try instead to find the unsettling moments in life and amplify them. I want people to feel uncomfortable when they read my work, but still be entertained. There is so much talent out there now. Life is so shit for so many people, and a shit life often promotes great art. Unlike a lot of people I know, I am not the kind of creative who starts loads of different projects. My brain doesn't allow me to focus on more than one thing at a time, so once one book is written, another book comes along. If an issue of Bear Creek is due out, that's my writing finished until it's launched. So I fit my own work around the Gazette. It keeps me busy and that is what my mind needs. If I have nothing to do I would lay on the floor all day crying.
What kind of advice, or warning, would you give to someone visiting Bear Creek for their first time?
Visit the Wet Deli on North St. if you like cured meats, special sauces and soaking wet bread. Remember that the only cameras that work within the town boundaries are Polaroids from 1985. Don’t listen to the music that they pipe through the hedgerows. Remember that Bear Creek is a reverse allergy town – so if you are not allergic to something in the real world, you will be in Bear Creek. It makes getting around the town very difficult but on the plus side I can eat fucking buckets of peanut butter and not have a stroke. Watch out for the angels.
Most of all, have fun. Because one day we are all going to die.
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