Hello my Freaky Darlings,
Today we have Mark Alan Gunnells in the interrogation seat.
Mark loves to tell stories. He has since he was a kid, penning one-page tales that were Twilight Zone knockoffs. He likes to think he has gotten a little better since then. He loves reader feedback, and above all he loves telling stories. He lives in Greer, SC, with his fiance Craig A. Metcalf.
- What drives you to write?
Honestly, it seems to be something inborn. I just have a compulsion to tell stories, it feels like an innate part of who I am. Without it, I’m not really me.
- What attracted you to writing horror?
I think the limitlessness of it. Anything can happen, anything is permissible, nothing is taboo. And yet you also have to ground it in enough reality that the more otherworldly aspects will be easier for the reader to swallow, making it a fun challenge.
- Who are your favourite horror writers?
May be cliché, but Stephen King is a definitely a favourite of mine. I also love Clive Barker, Robert McCammon, and Anne Rice. Each author is very different, but they all have something I admire. And the unifying thread is that they all seem passionate about the stories they tell. The late Richard Matheson, while not just a horror writer, I think wrote some really terrific stories that are considered classics now for good reason.
- Which horror novels do you think every horror fan should read?
A few by King come to mind. Salem’s Lot and The Shining I think are near perfect horror tales. One details an entire town, and one a more isolated location with just a handful of characters, but they are both handled to perfection. Misery I think is a brilliant, tightly-paced thriller that is not only terrifying but has a lot of very intelligent things to say about writing. I think Anne Rice’s Interview with the Vampire was a game changer. At the time it was published, it was wholly unique and showed that even the most standard horror tropes can be explored in fresh and original ways. The Girl Next Door by Jack Ketchum I truly believe is the best of visceral, gut-wrenching horror. You are totally invested, which makes the horrors all the more painful.
- Ebooks or paperback?
I’m equal opportunity here. I am addicted to story, and therefore the vehicle through which the story is delivered isn’t all that important to me. I initially was wary of ebooks, just because there is a tactile pleasure in holding a book, but once I started reading digitally I got lost in the story in the same way.
- What would make you pick up a novel by a new author?
I certainly have no prejudice against new writers, so all that is required is for me to read a description that sounds appealing. That simple. Of course, recommendations from people I know have similar taste as I do doesn’t hurt.
- Who is your favourite fictional character?
That is a tough one, but I might have to choose Annie Wilkes from King’s Misery. He pulled off an impressive feat here, creating a villain that was horrifying, but also making her a complex character with multiple dimensions. There were times I found myself actually feeling sympathy for her, then having to remind myself how insane she was. That is rather awe-inspiring.
- Do you plot your stories or does it just unfold before your eyes?
I’m definitely not a plotter or an outliner. I may go in with a brief sketch in my head of how the story will unfold, but it is always loose and has built into it the freedom to be tossed aside once the story takes over. That’s my favourite part, when the story starts leading me instead of the other way around. I always say writing is as much an act of discovery for me as it is one of creation.
- Do your characters take on a life of their own and do things you didn’t plan?
Sometimes my characters truly do come alive and do things I never expected, and it is an exhilarating feeling. The goal is to always have the characters come alive, but sometimes they come alive instantly so before I even start putting them down on paper, I know what they are going to do because they’ve already told me. Other times, and these are often the best times, I think I know a character, but once the story is rolling, they say to me, “No, I’m not going to do that. I am going to do this instead.” Some characters have gone in drastically different directions than I anticipated, even altering the direction of a story.
- Do you listen to music when you write or do you need silence?
I don’t listen to music, but I don’t really have silence either. I’m lucky that I get to write during the downtime of my day job, so I can’t exactly call it quiet but it works for me.
- Do you do a lot of research for your stories?
Depends on the story, really. Some tales don’t require that much, but when a story does require research I definitely dig in. I set a lot of my stories in real places, so I like to visit them and get the layouts right. If I’m using Wicca in a story, I visit practising Wiccans to make it believable. The internet also makes research so much easier. If I need to know how much gas was per gallon in 1955, or how big Lake Michigan is, I simply pop over to Google and have the answer in seconds.
- Facebook or Twitter?
Facebook all the way. Twitter confuses me. Seems to me if you can say what you have to say in 140 characters or less, it might not be worth saying. I feel Facebook offers more opportunity for real in-depth discussion and interaction.
- What really pisses you off about writing?
Writing itself doesn’t piss me off at all. It truly is a joy for me. There are rough days, and times when I struggle with a plot, but overall the experience is one of pure pleasure. What really pisses me off is the business aspect. It doesn’t come natural to me, and the self-promotion that is part and parcel of being a small press writer can be daunting. Too much and you’re obnoxious. Not enough, you aren’t reaching the people who might actually be interested in your book. Some publishers, like Apex and Crystal Lake, have been wonderful at helping promote, but often the writer has to do the heavy lifting, and that is hard for me.