Deathrealm Revisited: An Interview With Stephen Mark Rainey
By Edmund R. Schubert
Stephen Mark Rainey (he goes by Mark) is the author of the novels Dark Shadows: Dreams of the Dark
(with Elizabeth Massie, HarperCollins, 1999), Balak
(Wildside Books, 2000), The Lebo Coven
(Thomson-Gale/Five Star Books, 2004), The Nightmare Frontier
(Sarob Press, 2006), and Blue Devil Island
(Thomson-Gale/Five Star Books, 2007); three short story collections; and over 80 published works of short fiction. He also writes regular DVD reviews (mostly daikaiju flicks) for About Horror.com and G-Fan
Those with long memories may recall that he edited Deathrealm
magazine, from 1987 to 1997. In its ten-year history, Deathrealm
won a bunch of nice awards and featured hundreds of short stories by authors ranging from the most established professionals to young, aspiring first-timers, many of whom proceeded to carve out names for themselves in the horror/dark fantasy field. In 2004, he edited a new anthology for Delirium Books, titled Deathrealms
which features a wide selection of short stories from the magazine. Note: Deathrealm
, the magazine, has been dead, bereft of life, and pushing up daisies since 1997, so please don't send him your submissions anymore. Really. Please.
Mark has edited a couple of other anthologies as well. The Song of Cthulhu
(Chaosium, 2001) features 20 stories of Lovecraftian horror revolving around the concept of sound as a source of unearthly power. Contributors include Ramsey Campbell, Hugh B. Cave, Fred Chappell, Caitlin Kiernan, D. F. Lewis, Thomas Ligotti, Tom Monteleone, and others. Recently, he co-edited (with James Robert Smith) a new anthology for Arkham House titled Evermore
, which features short stories involving Edgar Allan Poe as a character.
Mark lives in Greensboro, North Carolina, with his wife, Peggy, and three spectacularly lethargic housecats. He is an active member of the Horror Writers Association (HWA). His website can be found at: http://home.triad.rr.com/smrainey/index1.htm Edmund: This is the 10th anniversary of the end of your long-running, much-missed horror magazine, Deathrealm, which was published between 1987 to 1997. With the perfect clarity that only hindsight can bring, what do you miss the most? Mark:
I always enjoyed the physical process of laying out pages, matching art to stories, trying new things with the features, etc. Usually, Deathrealm
turned out to be a fairly attractive thing, and seeing the finished product on the magazine stands always gave me a little charge. Every time a new issue came out, I felt like a father. I do miss that. Edmund: What do you miss the least? Mark:
Trying to wring money out of distributors and dealers who had the strange idea they really didn’t need to pay for what they bought and sold. The kinds of creative accounting I had to suffer was positively staggering. I’m sure anyone who handles accounts receivable for any magazine going today can relate. Edmund: What is your proudest moment with the magazine? Mark:
Hard to pinpoint just one. Getting a cover by Richard Corben (issue #31, the final) was certainly a highlight. Having an issue banned in Canada (issue #27) because of the cover (by Ian McDowell) is up there too. At the time, it was an expensive loss, but over the next few issues, orders from Canada doubled. Edmund: What would you change if you could go back and do it all over again? Mark:
I would have made sure I started out with the funds to pay pro rates across the board from the very beginning. It was the one thing I hoped to achieve with Deathrealm
that never came to pass. Getting the magazine off the ground at all was a grand experiment, a true trial-and-error effort, and when I look back, it’s a wonder the thing managed to go a full decade. I was very fortunate that many well-known, established pros took a liking to Deathrealm
and were happy to support it. In today’s publishing environment, I don’t think the same thing could happen. Edmund: In ten years of working on Deathrealm, what is the craziest thing you ever saw? Mark:
A submission called “story” that went on for like twenty pages of this little kid bleeding. It was atrociously written (“small child in bed, starts bleeding, yells ‘mama, i am bleeding.’ mama yells ‘oh, there is blood!’ it is bleeding from the child’s spores.”), and thoroughly hysterical. In the end, the kid’s blood washes away a whole town. There was no SASE and no return address. It came with a sticky note attached that said, “Please accept this story, if not, give it the royal finger.” I didn’t do either. I still have the hard copy of that thing tucked away somewhere. At the time, I half-suspected it was from someone I knew just to give me a good laugh, but I’m not so sure. It was whacked-out enough to be the real thing. Edmund: Who are some of the authors you can claim to have “discovered”? Mark:
Jeffrey Osier comes first to mind. He was a friend of mine whom I’d met through my roommate in Chicago. Back in 87, when he found out I was thinking of doing a magazine, he asked if I’d be interested in seeing a story of his. It turned out to be “Encyclopedia for Boys,” which I ran in issue #1, and it is what I consider an essential horror tale. It was so damn good, it more or less single-handedly put Deathrealm
on the map. Jeff contributed a number of tales to Deathrealm
, many of which were as good (or damn near) as “Encyclopedia,” but that one being a first, it stands out as his signature piece. He hasn’t been writing or submitting fiction for many years now, although I understand he’s decided to undertake a novel. I wish him well.
Although not what I’d necessarily call “discoveries,” Wayne Allen Sallee, Jeffrey Thomas, Wilum H. Pugmire, David Niall Wilson, Elizabeth Massie, and several other notable writers saw much of their early work in Deathrealm
. Whether it helped them build their careers, I can’t speak with authority, but I’m pretty sure it didn’t hurt them. Edmund: How did being a magazine editor affect you as a writer? Mark:
You mean apart from eating up virtually all of my writing time? Actually, looking back, I managed to be fairly prolific during the Deathrealm
days, but I have no freaking idea how I did it. Youthful vigor, I suppose.
I sure learned a lot about what not to do, both creatively and technically. Having a regular magazine out there at least kept my name in front of editors and publishers, which I count as a plus. It made me hypercritical of my own work, which is one reason I’m still never satisfied with it. That keeps me struggling, though, which is a good thing. Edmund: Many writers seem to be much more comfortable writing short stories vs. writing novels, some are the other way around. Yet you’ve been quite prolific in both areas. Why do you think that is? Also, regarding shorts vs. novels, do you have different writing processes for each? If so, what are they and how do you transition from one to the other? Mark:
When I was in my early twenties, I produced a couple of very long, intricate dark fantasy novels -- which really sucked, but the experience was good. It helped me establish a discipline for writing early on, and drove home the fact that short stories were a lot more convenient to construct. Particularly in the early days, even my short stories tended to be long. I’ve always enjoyed building three-dimensional characters and creating elaborate settings, so working at novel length came naturally.
I don’t consciously think much about transitioning from one form to the other. The processes for both are different, of course, but when ideas strike, they dictate to me early on whether they’re going to grow into something complex or fit into a compact tale. I just listen to the ideas and do what they tell me. If I don’t, I get in trouble. Edmund: All of a sudden it seems as if you’ve got a big pile of books out.
The Nightmare Frontier, Blue Devil Island (which I’m about half way through right now and thoroughly enjoying), and
Evermore. Tell us a little bit about each book, as well as how you ended up in the middle of so many projects all at once. Mark: Blue Devil Island
and The Nightmare Frontier
both have a bit of Lovecraftian influence, though the latter is probably more influenced by Roger Zelazny than Lovecraft. The former is a World War II action-thriller in which a naval air squadron encounters something in the Pacific a bit more frightful than the Japanese. And Evermore
is an anthology that James Robert (Bob) Smith and I edited, in which Edgar Allan Poe is featured prominently as a character in tales by 15 different writers.
It was just the fortunes of the business that brought the books out so close together. I wrote Blue Devil Island
during 2002-3, and The Nightmare Frontier
in 2004. Bob and I put Evermore
together during 2004-5. Thomson Gale/Five Star picked up Blue Devil Island
at the end of 2005, but it took just over a year for them to release it. Sarob Press bought The Nightmare Frontier
in Spring 2006, and actually got the book out a few months before Blue Devil Island
. And due to various mitigating factors, Evermore
was over a year late coming out from Arkham House.
The problem with all this is that I’m now hard at work on a new novel, but I don’t have another book coming out until this one sells -- assuming that it will. Edmund: I’ve heard a number of other writers say that for a variety of reasons, they don’t read within their own genre. Do you actively read horror? If not, why? If so, who in the genre do you have your eye on? Where do you see the next big ‘break-out’ novel coming from? Mark:
I try to keep up with some current horror; more often than not, I’m reading books by friends of mine. I haven’t read King or Koontz, or many other authors I don’t know personally, in so many years I can’t count them. I prefer to read horror in relatively small doses, but I couldn’t keep up with what’s out there -- or in my own TBR pile -- even if I read several books a week. Unfortunately, I’ve become a very slow reader because my eyes give out quickly -- a result of being on the computer all day at work and then writing in the evening.
My favorite recent horror novel is Damage
by Lee Thomas. It came out as a limited edition from Sarob Press, though (just like The Nightmare Frontier
), so it’s not widely available. Bob Smith’s The Flock
, from Thomson Gale/Five Star, is also killer. Edmund: If they could bury you with only one of your own books in your hands, which would it be and why? Mark:
I guess I’d have to say Blue Devil Island
. I think I came closest to achieving what I wanted to achieve with it, so I could at least feel some measure of pride having a copy dumped in the ground with me. (I expect to be cremated, however.) Edmund: Write your own epitaph: Mark:
Why? Do you have grand plans to dance on my tombstone and poke fun at my words? Well, “Nyaah!”
I guess “Nyaah!” will suffice, then.
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