WIHM: Jennifer Lesh Fleck: Combining rare talent with a rare disability.

Horror Tree
6 min readMar 26, 2024

Jennifer Lesh Fleck: Combining rare talent with a rare disability.

By Angelique Fawns

Jennifer Lesh Fleck is a horror and poetry author whose dark and imaginative musing are finding homes all over the short speculative writing world. We are in a writing group together called The Fireside Quills, and I recently published one of her stories in my anthology, Peculiar Pets: A Horror Lite Anthology, which you can check out here:


You can also find Fleck’s stories in The Arcanist, MetaStellar, Radon Journal, If There’s Anyone Left, and Cosmic Horror Monthly.

AF: How did you originally become interested in horror?

JLF: As a kid, I told stories to myself at night in an effort to cope with obsessive thoughts and insomnia. I had frequent nightmares; my sketchbooks were full of strange monsters. During sleepovers, my best friend would always ask me to tell her a story, and so we had these long, complicated sagas we’d return to over and over, some of them running for years. Wild, funny, fantastical characters and situations. Now, she’d usually fall asleep at some point and so I’d lose my audience, but it was a way to practice weaving an entertaining and satisfying story, figuring out how to successfully convey one’s inner world so another person might experience it, too.

Another heavy influence would have to be annual The Twilight Zone New Year’s marathon; my family watched it without fail. The ironic twist in the tail of these stories appealed to me. Oh, and old cartoons, the stuff from the 1920s, 1930s, 1940s. A sophisticated adult subtext runs beneath them, but also…many of them are rather surreal and fabulist, even horrific.

AF: Who are your writing influences and what are your favorite horror novels?

JLF: Early on, rummaging in my mom’s and sister’s book stashes, it was Stephen King, Dean Koontz, VC Andrews, Richard Matheson, and Andrew Neiderman (who became VC Andrews’s ghostwriter after her death). The books by VC Andrews aren’t exactly age-appropriate, but the teenaged characters on the covers drew me in and I swiftly fell under their soapy Gothic spell. Teen years it became Shirley Jackson, Edgar Allan Poe, Joyce Carol Oates, Sylvia Plath, Anne Sexton, and Margaret Atwood. I listened to goth and new wave, started my first business and saved up to buy clothes from NaNa in Santa Monica, and was one of the first girls in our school to lace up a pair of Doc Martins (and was ridiculed, predictably enough). The music, in particular, had a dark poetic sensibility, a weirdness and an emotionality that spoke to me and left an indelible impression.

When I was seventeen and taking my first college writing courses, an older poet of some renown saw promise in my work. I’m sure she felt she was doing right by me by firmly steering me away from the ghoulish stuff I loved and pushing me/guilting me into studying “fine” literature and poetry. (She said the word “genre” like it was dogshit on her loafer.) I was malleable then, so I took it all to heart and became a poet and dabbled with and in the literary scene for many years.

Still, most of favorite literary influences along the way were actually writing dark and speculative fiction. George Saunders, Karen Russell, Katherine Dunn, TC Boyle, Steven Millhauser, Thomas Pynchon, Kazuo Ishigiro, Octavia Butler.… The heart wants what it wants, and my heart wants weird.

Around the time the pandemic hit, I’d decided to try writing fiction. The world around me had become increasingly bizarre and unsettling, so trying to write “realistic” literary fiction now seemed, ironically, an absurd and naive pursuit. So I began to entertain my stranger, darker ideas, and here we are.

AF: What is your day job, and does it influence your writing?

JLF: I own one of the longest continuously running online vintage stores. I’m not sure my job heavily influences my writing, but some characters are styled after people I meet on the road sourcing vintage. Buying trips over the years have taken me all the way to high end shops in Paris, but also into some very sketchy situations stateside. One time I went picking in a Bakersfield junk store that stood out by the railroad tracks, solitary and well apart from other buildings in all directions (so nobody could hear a woman scream should she need to scream). The interior was a maze of these tall, locked glass cases full of expensive carnival glass and Rookwood and Weller pottery. Nothing I was looking for. After making the requisite polite chitchat with the owner I turned to leave and discovered he’d locked and bolted the front door. I had to talk my way out of that situation.

That’s the second time I’ve been held against my will by a man I didn’t know, actually. In my twenties I was briefly kidnapped by some random guy who’d picked me up on the side of the road when my truck broke down. Let’s just say he was only pretending to be a Good Samaritan, and things took a dark turn. Again, I had to use my wits to talk him out of doing what he blatantly told me he wanted to do. That’s another story for another day.

Anyhow, whatever we survive becomes more grist for the mill. On some other, darker timeline, I reckon I’m just bones buried deep in a forgotten vineyard.

AF: You have an unusual health problem. How has this affected your work?

JLF: They diagnosed me a couple years ago with Marfan syndrome after MRI imaging turned up a condition in my lumbar spine that’s rarely found outside this inherited condition. I had many of the physical signs already, and Marfan syndrome was brought up off and on as a possibility, but because I’m average height, they kept changing their minds. Having a connective tissue disease like this has meant three major cardiothoracic and orthopedic surgeries to fix me up, as it had started to impact my heart and my left lung. I’m left with impressive levels of metal hardware, a torso and spine that can’t bend or twist, and considerable day-to-day pain. (I can also do all the bendy Marfan party tricks with my hands!)

So body horror comes very easily.

As a young woman, my quest to feel whole and secure took me into some really strange corners of the Internet, and I met a cast of odd characters there. I now use writing in an unabashedly therapeutic manner — it’s cheaper and less boring than talk therapy, and it’s safer than poking around on the Internet and getting into trouble.

AF: What are you reading right now?

JLF: On my nightstand I’ve got The New Black and Exigencies neo-noir anthologies. My interests tend to cluster, with one anthology inspiring me to chase down the work by several of its authors, everything branching out from there. So I also picked up the collection Vile Men by Rebecca Jones-Howe. I’m looking forward to reading more work from Micaela Morrissette, too. Her story “The Familiars” is everything I’d love to be doing in the literary-speculative vein…it’s breathtakingly beautiful, emotionally truthful, and disturbing! One of those stories where you walk away fundamentally changed in some fashion.

AF: What is exciting you most in the current field of horror?

JLF: I love how increasingly inclusive it feels. That it’s been receptive to my voice and the voices of others who aren’t coming out of the prevailing mainstream. I’d love to capture how it feels to be born in a different kind of body, to grow up female with all the laborious expectations and baggage, but with the double-burden of masking considerable hidden disability. I’m one generation out from the stark poverty my parents both experienced as children. I grew up in an obscure town in the rural, non-glamourous part of Californian. This all contributes nicely to bringing an unusual viewpoint into weird fiction.

AF: What is in the future for Jennifer Lesh Fleck?

JLF: Near future, I have new horror stories coming out in two different anthologies, and Tales to Terrify will be producing one of my longer stories for their podcast. A couple exciting holds, too, that I hope will bear fruit.

2023 was my first full year sending submissions out, and it’ll be difficult to top. But there are prestige dark and sci fi markets I’d love to crack. I’ll continue studying my favorite writers, honing my craft, and letting weirdness proudly take the wheel.




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