From the Mouth of the Madman
The ‘Círculo Lovecraftiano & Horror’ proudly brings you a new edition to its section “De Boca del Loco” (From the mouth of the madman).
Today we are happy to present a Master among the Masters, Mr. Steve Rasnic Tem.
Steve is native to Virginia, he grew up in a small semi-rural area full of forests and mountains. And over the years he has used this kind of environment to set his 400 plus short stories and novels.
He has been acclaimed by critics and fellow writers as well, as one of the best horror authors of his generation, together with King, Barker and Joe Lansdale.
Steve has won the British Fantasy Award, the World Fantasy Award, and the coveted among the horror and Sci-Fi writers, the Bram Stoker Award for his novel “Blood Kin”.
And now let’s enjoy some wise and wicked words directly... From the mouth of the madman!!!
Círculo Lovecraftiano & Horror: Mr. Rasnic Tem, thanks for giving your readers in México this interview. You were born in a small town in the Appalachian region, full of dark folklore and gothic rural culture. How did this influence you to start writing?
Steve Rasnic Tem: I grew up around very few books—there was no public library or book stores in the region until I reached secondary school—but I was surrounded by southerners who loved to tell stories—both realistic stories about the past and outlandish “campfire” stories about ghosts, monsters, and insanity. So I developed a hunger for books and magazines, and then a hunger to be IN those books and magazines. And the oral storytelling gave me a love for telling stories myself, and a belief that even the most outlandish stories contained truths which couldn’t be arrived at in any other way.
CL&H: You grew up in a time when there was a constant fear of nuclear wars, suspicion of alien invasion and new age changes. What scared you most when you were a child?
SRT: I grew up in an isolated region—many of the people I knew had never travelled more than a hundred miles from home. We would watch the national nightly news at dinner every night and it felt as if that news had nothing to do with us—they might as well have been talking about life in another country. So I had a lot of fear of the outside world—nuclear wars and other catastrophes which were outside our local control. Or I’d see a story on tornadoes and I would become frightened of those, even though tornadoes were extremely rare in our mountainous area. Old horror movies on television were similarly frightening—I put them in the same class as tornadoes. I’d never seen a vampire just as I had never seen a tornado, but apparently they existed elsewhere. But it was the standard issues, I suppose, which frightened me the most—I was terribly afraid of the dark, and heights, and the death of loved ones, and of loved ones going suddenly, inexplicably, insane. Oh, and of rabid dogs—which I heard could be seen in our rural area from time to time—the movies “To Kill a Mockingbird” and “Old Yeller” which I saw when quite young had terrifying scenes involving rabies which pretty much did me in.
CL&H: Your first novel “Excavation” (1986) seems to be settled in a place very similar to the town you grew up in, coal town and all, and we see a lot of references to the spooky side of the back road country, -and I guess some references to your own experience- yet us, the Lovecraft fans, can't help but notice some elements common to the Lovecraftian universe, the mental instability of the characters, the search in a doomed place. Do you consider H.P. Lovecraft an early influence in your work?
SRT: By the time I enrolled in college I knew I wanted to be a fiction writer of some sort, but I hadn’t really settled on a subject matter. I was interested in fable and fairytale-like writings, and writers like Richard Brautigan and Donald Barthelme. I’d read a lot of science fiction by this time, but very little horror (although I’d read a number of ghost stories, I hadn’t really identified them as horror). Then I picked up the Ballentine Books editions of Lovecraft’s work—the ones with the John Holmes covers—and read my way through most of those. I didn’t particularly care for Lovecraft’s style (eventually M. R. James and his followers were much more influential on me in that regard), but Lovecraft’s ideas, in particular this kind of cosmic paranoia about the secret workings of the universe, stayed with me, and can be seen scattered throughout my early work.
CL&H: Although there have been a lot of writers through the ages who write about violence and the dark side of human nature, you are definitely a pioneer in the shocking literature field, crafting the kind of stories that as a reader often you have to pause, close your eyes and breathe so you can continue. How did this style start for you? Was it a way to show how evil we as human can be?
SRT: I’ve long felt that ignoring the dark and violent side of human psychology only gave it power. If you really want to control it and put it into its proper context you have to bring it out in the open. I also tend to believe that the positive aspects of humanity are more evident when you are able to contrast them against the dark side. So from time to time I have explored violence in my stories with this dichotomy in mind. In UBO, my most recent novel from Solaris books (February), I went deeper into this examination of violence than I ever have before. UBO is a blend of science fiction and horror exploring violence and its origins, featuring such historical viewpoint characters as Jack the Ripper, Stalin, and Heinrich Himmler.
CL&H: We have the utmost respect for your late wife, both as a person, for all the social work she did and as the best female writer of her generation and one of the best horror writers ever. Proof of this are all the prizes and awards she achieved (probably you are the only couple who had pairing Bram Stokers, Brit Fantasy and W. Fantasy Awards). What was it like working with her? Was it intimidating to be with such a talented person?
SRT: Melanie and I had very similar literary aesthetics and ideas about what constituted good writing, so it made collaboration natural and easy for us. And we served as each other’s first editor. No piece of writing went out of the house for either of us that the other hadn’t read and commented on. She was the best line-by-line editor I’ve ever known, and writing was something we discussed constantly. The main reason I wanted to create our writing guide—Yours To Tell: Dialogues on the Art & Practice of Writing (Apex Books)—was because I wanted to preserve as much of the writing knowledge she had as possible. The book is written as a series of dialogues between the two of us on a variety of subjects related to writing, characterization, plot, engaging the reader, etc. I think we managed to include pretty much everything both of us know on the subject.
CL&H: I must say “Blood Kin” is one of the best horror novels, and the genre really needed to head back to this raw style, we craved for a good old fashioned dark, gothic American tale. Do you think this should be “the one” Rasnic Tem story to put on the big screen? It would definitely scare people as we haven´t seen in years.
SRT: Possibly. There are a number of my works I wouldn’t mind seeing adapted for the movies or television. Blood Kin is one of them. My collaboration with Melanie in our collection In Concert, “Bees From the Hive”, is another. And I always thought a really interesting television series could be made out of my novel Deadfall Hotel. But nothing has happened so far. One obstacle, I think, is that so much of my work is rather internal, or inward-looking, and that doesn’t always encourage adaptation for the screen.
CL&H: There is an animated short on the internet... “The Swimmer” by you, and I read somewhere that you have made some of the graphic art in your books. Is this your secret career? Or probably one of the jobs you were planning on doing besides being an Author...
SRT: I’ve always had a deep interest in both art and animation. I’m not particularly great at it—call me an enthusiastic amateur. But various art movements—particularly German Expressionism—have influenced my approach to imagery in my fiction. Oftentimes I will work out the images for a story in sketches while I’m thinking them through. I don’t see much of a future for me in the graphic arts, but I have published a few graphic story pieces along the way.
CL&H: Speaking about graphic arts, how did you choose to work with John Kenn Mortensen? An artist some people call the modern Edward Gorey.
SRT: When Centipede Press started work on the hardcover limited edition of Deadfall Hotel they asked me what style of art I preferred for the book and if I had any specific artists I wanted to suggest. I told them I was a fan of some of the fine pen-and-ink book illustrators of the past, so I wanted something along those lines, with a full page illustration for each section. I went on the internet and specifically Googled phrases such as “creepy pen-and-ink,” “Gothic illustration,” and yes, “Edward Gorey.” One of the things that came up was this series of illustrations Mortensen had done on post-it notes. I emailed a link of these to Centipede with the note that if the artist were interested in working at a larger size, he would be perfect for the project. So they tracked down his contact information and made the suggestion and he accepted. I gather Deadfall Hotel was the first book illustrations he had ever done. We were quite lucky to get him. And Solaris used his cover illustration on the paperback edition as well.
CL&H: I asked a similar question to Simon Strantzas in the last edition (coincidences are scary), he wrote a story, “Burnt Black Suns” settled in the hot Mexican country of a man in search of his son... you wrote the story “The Bad People” long ago (unfortunately I haven't been able to find it again), where a widower takes his step son on a trip to México, NOW, that is probably one of the most twisted/scary stories I've read... because I guess a lot of step fathers would love to get rid of the kids... specially if the child in question is an ugly brat like the one you describe on this tale, and the sarape man actually has an offer for the father... How did you get the inspiration for this story and why did you set it in México? Have you been here or was this just inspiration from the books?
SRT: “The Bad People” was collected in The Best Horror from Fantasy Tales and in my collection The Far Side of the Lake. I had written a few stories about the darkness experienced by unwanted children, and it occurred to me that coupling that theme with a trip to a foreign country might be especially chilling. I’ve never been to Mexico (the closest I’ve come is Yuma, Arizona, just a few miles from the border), but I’ve read fiction set there, and watched a few movies. And at that point in my career I don’t believe I’d ever set a story in a foreign country before. Mexico seemed like a good choice. I did my usual research activities—looking for bits of detail and language that would reflect and heighten the protagonist’s dark inner struggle. The actual events of the story evolved as I came up with these little dark details, these dark bits of language and description. I think writing that story taught me a great deal about developing a horror story from raw idea to completion.
CL&H: Being a writer who has explored the good and the bad sides of human nature, do you think, as a society we have surpassed fiction in a dark dangerous way?
SRT: Reality almost always stays ahead of fiction in both its darkness and its light. Even the best imaginations have a difficult time keeping up with the real world in this regard. A great deal is sometimes made of the predictive qualities of fantasy and science fiction, and yet our actual track record at seeing into the future is rather dismal I think. Reality always surpasses our imaginations in its inventiveness, its wonder, and its tragedy.
CL&H: What can you tell us about Steve Rasnic Tem that nobody knows?
SRT: I tend to be an open book about most things, but a lot of people are surprised, when they get to know me, at how much of an optimist I am. I love comedy and I love to laugh. I find comedy to be a necessary antidote to the dark materials I write about. People are also surprised to learn that in the past I’ve dabbled in both bad puppeteering and bad ventriloquism. Writing, it seems, is the only art form I’m very good at.
CL&H: Any final words for the CL&H Monterrey you would like to add?
SRT: Just that I hope people will read my new novel “UBO” and my and Melanie’s writing guide “Yours To Tell”. Also, I currently do not have a Spanish publisher for my novels and collections, so if anyone in Spanish publishing is interested I’d love to hear from them.
The Círculo Lovecraftiano & Horror is grateful at Mr. Steve Rasnic Tem for giving us a dose of wise and wicked words.
Don’t forget to click the link below to see more of the work and life of Mr. Steve Rasnic Tem. Keep reading us and be ready for our next edition From the Mouth of the Madman!!!
- El Dumpstero -