Hello my Freaky Darlings,
Today on 13 Questions we have Steve Rasnic Tem. Steve’s latest book is his collection Celestial Inventories (ChiZine, August), which was preceded by Onion Songs (Chomu, March) and last year’s highly praised novel Deadfall Hotel. An all sf collection, Twember, will be published in November, and next year Solaris will bring out his new novel Blood Kin (March). He is the author of over 400 published short stories and is a past winner of the Bram Stoker, International Horror Guild, British Fantasy, and World Fantasy Awards. You may visit the Tem home on the web at www.m-s-tem.com.
1. What drives you to write?
There’s a story in my new collection Celestial Inventories (CZP, Aug 15), “Invisible,” about people who believe they are unseen, their lives unnoticed by the rest of humanity. That was me growing up, and it was a notion I complicated because I was so painfully shy, and at least in part didn’t want to be noticed. I’ve transformed myself in many ways over the years but that complex of feelings about who I am can never be shed completely. Outside my private world as a husband and father, writing is my way of standing up and saying this is who I am in the world, this is what I thought and felt about my time on the planet. It’s an idea that grounds and calms me, and makes it possible for me to do and say things I wouldn’t be able to otherwise.
2. What attracted you to writing horror?
I gravitated to dark subject matter in large part because it is suppressed, even from the self. It’s considered rude and impolite by many. It’s the shadow part of life that many seem to feel would disappear if we just didn’t talk about it. My own take is that that inability to deal with it is what gives it so much power. On the other hand, I also believe it’s not something to ‘wallow’ in. It’s equally bad to let yourself become obsessed by it. Our challenge as writers, I think, is to put it into its proper context. Generally speaking, I’m a pretty optimistic and cheerful fellow by nature, and I think it’s in large part because I’ve found a context for darkness that works for me.
3. Who are your favourite horror writers?
That would be quite a long list, as I tend to believe that comparing writers is like comparing different varieties of fruit—they bring different qualities to the table, and who I prefer to read tends to depend on what I’m trying to get out of the experience at the moment. But if I had to throw out some names whose work is consistently meaningful to me, I’d have to include MR James, Ramsey Campbell, Dennis Etchison, Charlie Grant, Stephen King, Cormac McCarthy, Caitlin Kiernan, Kafka, and Joyce Carol Oates.
4. Which horror novels do you think every horror fan should read?
Well, actually, there are quite a few more short story collections than novels whose consumption I think is essential, but if I restrict it to novels I’d have to include Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House, King’s ‘Salem’s Lost and The Shining, Straub’s Shadowland, McCarthy’s Blood Meridian, Campbell’s The House on Nazareth Hill, Kafka’s The Trial, Simmons’ Carrion Comfort, Sturgeon’s Some of Your Blood, Matheson’s Hell House, and Harris’ Silence of the Lambs.
5. Ebooks or paperback?
I like having the option of buying a cheaper electronic version of books I’m using for research, books I’m studying for style, etc, or something I want to read just for light entertainment. I’m also trying to keep the size of my book collection down now that I’m older. But if it’s a book I really care about though I’ll want a hard copy.
As a writer the issue becomes more complicated. I came of age in the print era, and my hunger for publication was embodied by books on shelves, magazines on newsstands. So I just don’t get the same emotional satisfaction out of appearing electronically—it’s a generational thing, and not likely to change for me. In terms of income though, you ignore ebooks at your peril—they have to be part of your career plan, as they are beginning to replace the mass market paperback. But I think what the proportion of electronic to paper is going to be in the marketplace, and the timing of that shift, is still anybody’s guess.
6. What would make you pick up a novel by a new author?
Like many readers I may pick up a book because of the cover, and I’ll sample a few pages. I read reviews, and I make most of my buying choices because of them. I look for the same things in new authors as in more established ones: stories that engage the imagination and the emotions, stories that will make me feel something, told in good prose with some originality.
7. Who is your favourite fictional character?
Probably Scout in To Kill a Mockingbird.
8. Do you plot your stories or does it just unfold before your eyes?
For short stories I usually have a list of landmarks or keynotes in mind I want to hit, and I jot those down, but leaving large gaps where I hope to discover things I hadn’t imagined or anticipated. That’s usually where the fun stuff occurs. For novels, at least at this stage in my life, I tend to outline a bit more fully, because it’s harder to keep it all in my head, and it’s difficult to figure out the grander movements and the pacing from chapter to chapter if you don’t have a map of the whole novel to study.
9. Do your characters take on a life of their own and do things you didn’t plan?
For me, this is basically essential, the true guts of the writing process, otherwise things feel dead and canned. It doesn’t have to be a specific character necessarily, sometimes it might be the omniscient narrator, the persona behind the telling, but that push back from the imagination has to occur, that sense that the imagination is a living voice or intelligence which seems separate from yourself, telling you things you didn’t know, taking you places you had not anticipated. I think it just makes sense that the more alive your characters are, the more likely it is they’re going to be bringing strange and new (and better) material into your story.
10. Do you listen to music when you write or do you need silence?
I sometimes have music on when I revise, and then it’s usually folk or classical.
Yes I do. I research settings, occupations, themes, pretty much anything that comes up in the story, looking for telling details, specifics I can riff off of. I suppose I overdo it a bit because for the most part such research tends to be impractical, too time-consuming. not very cost-effective. But I think I write better because of it. Most stories I write take several months, and the first month usually consists of such research and brainstorming, then I start jotting down scenes, descriptions, looking for the emotional “heart” of the story. When I find that heart I’m ready to roll forward, and it’s unlikely I’ll look at my notes/research again—I’m just too involved in the telling of the story. And I should note that I usually work on several stories simultaneously, but when I get wrapped up in the telling I finish them one at a time.
12. Facebook or Twitter?
I have accounts in both, but I’ve never really gotten the hang of Twitter. I admire writers like Neil Gaiman who use Twitter quite well.
13. What really pisses you off about writing?
It’s a contradictory activity. Here you’re attempting to capture life in all its fullness and detail and yet in order to do so you have to spend years sitting in a chair pounding a keyboard writing about that life you wish you were out there living. You give up valuable time with your spouse and kids to feed the beast. You miss movies and concerts and forgo trips to the movies and galleries and lectures and all manner of fun activities because you are driven to get it all down on paper. The first sunny day in a week comes along and yet you can’t get out to enjoy it because you’re too busy destroying yet another keyboard. Writing is an obsessive endeavour, and I suppose no obsession comes without a little pain.