“The writer is not the infamous Stephen King antihero Mort Rainey, but the far more nefarious author of the novels Dark Shadows: Dreams of the Dark (with Elizabeth Massie, HarperCollins, 1999) , Balak (Wildside Books, 2000) , The Lebo Coven (Gale/Five Star Books, 2004) , The Nightmare Frontier (coming from Sarob Press in September 2006), and Blue Devil Island (coming from Gale/Five Star Books in early 2007); three short story collections; and over 80 published works of short fiction (for a complete bibliography, click the button in the left-hand frame that says "Bibliography" and then run like hell). I also write regular DVD reviews (mostly daikaiju flicks) for About Horror.com and G-Fan magazine.”
Click here to read Mark’s entire Bibliography, since obviously his “click the button on the left-hand side” note refers to his web site :) )
This, of course, only scratches the surface, but is a good introduction to the interview to come. Without further ado…
1) You’ve been writing for a long time, but I first encountered you as a publisher. Can you sort of walk us through from the start, a short history of Mark, as it were? Start way back around the time of your Japanese Giants days, then follow through how Deathrealm started, and how you ended up getting and seeing your own work in print. I’ve heard most of it before, but I doubt my readers have, and it’s a good story.
Mercy. I am old, and JAPANESE GIANTS was born a long time ago. Ninth grade, the spring of 1974 to be exact. I liked Godzilla then (still do!), and so I took a cue from a few other fanzines of the day, such as THE JAPANESE FANTASY FILM JOURNAL, and put out an 18-page rag that included a filmbook of DESTROY ALL MONSTERS, reviews of ULTRAMAN, JOHNNY SOKKO AND HIS FLYING ROBOT, and a bunch of other monstrous goodies. I only did one issue, but over the years, a couple of other interested parties have taken up the torch, and now, more than three decades later, JAPANESE GIANTS still appears on occasion, under the able editorship of Ed Godziszewski of Chicago.
I moved from Virginia to Chicago in 1983, primarily to be close to my friends who were involved in JAPANESE GIANTS. It was a very exciting time for me; I even up and got married there, contrary to all expectations I had for myself. I had become halfway serious about writing and was familiar with a handful of small press horror magazines at the time, so I got the bee in my bonnet to edit one myself. In 1986, I was working for a company that manufactured high-end typesetting systems, so I had the resources to create a professionally produced publication, which at the time -- before desktop publishing had become common -- was quite a novelty. Thus DEATHREALM came to be. Early on, I was lucky enough to get some first-rate material for the pittance I could afford to pay, from writers such as Jeff Osier, Wilum H. Pugmire, Jessica Amanda Salmonson, Fred Chappell, William Trotter, yourself, and hosts of others. The magazine pretty much dominated my after-the-office-job hours for a decade.
All that time, though, I was cranking out tons of short stories. Looking back, it’s hard to fathom how I could have been so prolific while editing and producing DEATHREALM, having a full-time day job, and a relatively new family that included a young ’un. In the beginning, it was mostly the small, low- or no-paying zines that accepted my work, but it didn’t take too long to start breaking into the pages of some pro-paying magazines and anthologies. I toyed with novel-writing now and again, but I focused primarily on short fiction and making sure DEATHREALM met its publication schedule.
I started working on novels periodically, beginning with BALAK in 1992, but didn’t get terribly serious about them while DEATHREALM was going strong. After the magazine folded in 1997, I renewed my efforts, and in 1999 ended up getting a nice novel collaboration deal with Elizabeth Massie on DARK SHADOWS: DREAMS OF THE DARK for HarperCollins. I’ve had several published since, but primarily from smaller houses like Gale/Five Star.
2) You have an affinity for more Lovecraftian horror, both in your own work, and in what you published in the past. Do you have any idea where that stems from, or how you nurtured it? It’s not a common literary style these days, but can still evoke some powerful emotions if handled well. What is the draw of such work?
I read Lovecraft for the first time in college, and his stories grabbed me immediately -- as did the work of several other writers who contributed to the Cthulhu mythos. The strong atmosphere of times gone by in Lovecraft’s stories appeals to my fondness for history, and that atmosphere is a cornerstone of the deep sense of dread he consistently generates. The first time I read Lovecraft, I had the impression that he had reached across the years and snatched the essence of my most personal nightmares, the images and feelings that are very much the stuff of my dreams -- much in the same way David Lynch does with his movies.
I have occasionally tailored stories to fit the Cthulhu mythos, generally for anthology projects that specifically deal with it. As a rule, however, I prefer to work more with concepts suggested by Lovecraft and his contemporaries than to focus on encyclopedias of eldritch gods, blasphemous tomes, and such. Lovecraft’s brand of horror comes from a very deep well, and it’s best explored without getting too caught up in its superficial trappings. So much fiction that attempts to be “Lovecraftian” falls flat because the writers either don’t grasp or can’t convey the depth of concept behind the façade. I hope my work at least touches that deeper level because I certainly enjoy venturing into it from time to time, and the last thing I’d want to do is put off readers with silly pastiche.
3) I remember reading your novel, Balak, on the way home from a convention several years back and proclaiming it the best unpublished novel I’d ever read (despite some quibbles over serving “chilled” red wine). You’ve now published novels through several venues, Gale Five Star, Wildside, your Dark Shadows collaboration with Elizabeth Massie, and a limited HC novel soon in the UK with Sarob Press. Can you sort of give us the ups and downs of your road to published noveldom? What is your plan from here on out, if you have one, and where would you like to be with the writing, and the books, say, in five years?
The wine again! Know what? I like my red wine cold. So do my neighbors. Just last weekend, we drank red wine, and it came out of their damned refrigerator. But just to please you, in the published version of BALAK, the wine does -not- reside in the fridge. So there, take that, you beer-guzzling tattooed monster freak.
Yeah, I’d like to see my latest novels get picked up by mass-market publishers, though I’ve had mostly excellent experiences with the smaller houses I’ve dealt with to date. My dealings with the bigger houses haven’t always been so pleasing. But you takes your chances when working with them, and that’s the time that it pays to have a good agent. I think I do (and I expect you do too).
I try to have at least one novel proposal in the works at any given time, though I’ve currently got a bunch of short fiction occupying the better part of my available writing time. My agent does have a completed novel as well as a new proposal in his hands. Plus the contract period for the hardback edition of THE LEBO COVEN (Gale/Five Star) has expired, so it can be shopped around to mass market houses. Can’t remember if it was Zebra or Leisure, but one of them had originally intended to buy LEBO several years ago, but they ended up cutting the number of titles they were releasing that year, and guess which novel was among them?
4) I don’t always ask this sort of question, but in your case, I think you have a unique perspective. You published Deathrealm during the formative years of a lot of the newer voices in horror, and you’ve been reading / writing horror for many years. How do you see the state of horror literature in these modern times? Who do you think bears watching, and why? Does the sudden rash of horror and dark fantasy movies bode well for horror in print, or are the two related?
Well, perhaps strangely, I haven’t read all that much new horror in recent years. Some of their work is horror, some is not, but the authors I’ve recently read include Scott Nicholson, Nick Mamatas, S. E. Hinton, William R. Trotter, and Raymond Benson. I enjoyed all of them on some level, but none of them blew me away, either. I’ve got Brian Keene, James Newman, more Scott Nicholson, and your latest all sitting on my TBR pile, but I’m notoriously slow reading stuff anymore. My eyes don’t hold up so well reading these days after being on the computer full-time for my job and then all evening working on my own projects.
In my experience, the correlation between the performance of horror movies and horror novels is negligible, except in the case of actual tie-in properties. The market for both seems fairly strong at the moment, though I expect the movie market is about to crash and burn due to overkill. Not so sure about the literary type. If we don’t get some relief from high gas prices, I expect all kinds of markets are about to go in the crapper. You going to drive to work next week or buy books? I don’t know about you, but on my family’s income, something has to give.
5) Standard question: You have 24 hours to come up with the idea for your next book. You can either spend that time in a library where all the world’s books are at your disposal, in a quiet room with a state-of-the-art stereo and any music you desire, or you have transportation available to anyplace you care to go. Which do you choose for your inspiration, and why?
I’ll take the travel, thank you very much. The music selection would be a very close second. I get lots of pointers from reading other people’s work, but rarely inspiration per se.
I love traveling in this country and don’t have a great desire to go elsewhere. There’s so much here to see, to explore, and almost any time I go somewhere new, my writer’s instincts immediately kick in. I’ve spent a wee little time in New England, and what I’ve seen of it, I like very much. I’d like to have the time and opportunity to do some deep exploring there someday. Same goes for out west. I’ve never been to the Rockies, only flown over them. To me, setting is a major part of my work’s formula. It’s usually as important as a character and plays an integral part in the plot. I loathe tales that supposedly take place somewhere I might know, but the author hasn’t accurately portrayed it. I do my best to make sure that never happens in my work.
To read Mark’s work, follow the links at the top – or click the cover images below. I’m including these last – a link to his Amazon Short, available for .49, the anthology Deathrealms (which displays the myriad talent he presented in his magazine) and a couple of his short story collections to round out my display of this prolific author’s career. Enjoy!
This is Mark’s Amazon Short, Sky of Thunder, Sky of Blood only .49!
This is a collection of some of the best fiction published in Mark’s magazine, Deathrealm. (This one also includes a story by me…what a bargain!)
This is one of Mark’s three short story collections, and my own favorite.