The Augusta Free Press Interview — September 2006
Do you prefer to go by Mark
Rainey or Stephen Mark Rainey?
In person, I just go by Mark. Here in town, there's another Mark Rainey and another Stephen Rainey, and I've been confused for both of them — once involving legal matters that could have been... uncomfortable. So I started using my full name for all matters other than strictly personal — just in case. For my writing, it seemed the natural thing to do.
How long have you been writing?
Just about 20 years. I sold my first story in 1987 — though when I say sold, I think I received a couple of contributor copies of the magazine as payment. My first professional story sale — meaning I received 3 cents/word — was in 1988, I believe. Now, I actually did get paid $35 for an article on the movie Godzilla vs. the Thing back in 1974, when I was 15; that was for a horror/science-fiction tabloid called The Monster Times which was quite popular in its day. And in 1979, at Ferrum College, where I went for my first two years of school, I won first place in a fiction-writing contest, for which I received $25 and publication in the school literary magazine.
What made you decide to become an author?
Well, I've always been a voracious reader. When I was a kid, I wrote and illustrated my own little stories — most of which were in the scary vein. In college, I started as a journalism major, but because I'd always been equally interested in art, I switched tracks and got a Bachelor of Fine Art degree (from The University of Georgia). But afterward, I found myself more and more enamored of the idea of writing. So in the early 80s, I got serious and started writing short stories and a couple of novels. None of them were particularly good, but they were excellent practice. Working on those helped me develop a discipline early on.
Why jump from magazine writing to book author? Was it a major change?
Not that major. Many of my stories, especially my early ones, were quite long, and I've always enjoyed being able to delve deeply into the characters and devise more complex plots than are possible in a short story. The nice thing about short stories is that I can start one and finish it in a relatively short time. Once I get into working on a novel, I know I'm going to be tied up with it for quite some time.
Has it been what you expected?
Yes and no. A few years ago, I co-wrote the novel Dark Shadows: Dreams of the Dark with Elizabeth Massie (a Waynesboro native), and for me, it was something of a dream come true. I had fantasized about writing "officially" for the Dark Shadows franchise since I was a kid. The opportunity to actually do it was one of the most exciting experiences for me as a writer. The job certainly came with its share of headaches because everything had to go through both HarperCollins and Dan Curtis Productions, who owns Dark Shadows, and the various people involved never seemed to talk to each other. That made for some complications, to put it mildly. But in the end, it was an experience I wouldn't trade. The last couple of novels I've written have been picked up by very respectable publishers, though they're in hardback, and relatively expensive, so they're a harder sell to the public. I'd love to see them get picked up as paperback releases. Mass-market paperbacks are really the only way to develop wide readership. I've got a respectable core group of readers, I think, but I'm always hoping to see it grow.
Why should people come to meet you at Book Em?
Well, apart from Book Em being a great way to promote literacy in general — which really is a critical issue — I like to interact with people who have similar interests. Writing is such a solitary endeavor, and getting out there where there are actually tons of people with books is invigorating. I enjoy meeting folks who've already read my work — unless they hated it, of course; in that case, I tend to scowl at them and say things like "If you thought that was bad, you should listen to me sing." And I always love to get uninitiated readers interested in my stuff. After they've read it, most people decide they don't want to punch me in the nose after all.
What made you choose the horror genre?
I'm pretty sure I was the world's most terrified kid. I had vivid nightmares all through my youth, and occasionally still do. Fear is such a powerful emotion, and there's something about it that compels one to share it. Little is more gratifying than for someone to tell me that something I wrote scared the hell out of them.
How did you discover your talent for writing in this genre?
People told me I scared the hell out of them. Sometimes even with my writing.
How often do you write?
Pretty much every day. I do have a full-time day job, and it's in front of a computer, so my eyes and wrists get thoroughly abused every day. I try hard to balance my schedule, so I don't overdo it, but that's a lot easier said than done.
Where do you get ideas for books?
First and foremost, I expect, are the dreams I have at night. So often, they're incredibly vivid — widescreen, THX sound, the works. I used to write down dreams more often than I do now, but fortunately, if there's really something to them that I can use in fiction, I'll remember them. I also get a lot of raw material from people that I meet or observe. Stories are about human beings first, and I tend to be quite the observer when it comes to people's behavior, their mannerisms, their conversations. Everything I've ever written contains snippets of real-life, brought out via the characters.
Have you considered breaking out of the horror genre?
Well, I've done some work in other genres; a bit of straight science-fiction, some fantasy, a bit of mystery. But "horror" is not necessarily something to pigeonhole as a genre; it can be present in any type of literature. It's not always ghosties and ghoulies or Stephen King or Dean Koontz. It can be Flannery O'Connor or William Faulkner or Shirley Jackson. For my own edification, I've tried my hand at straight dramatic fiction, and while I figure I do a decent enough job with it, I don't find it as personally satisfying. Giving my imagination a thorough workout by delving into the realm of the impossible and making it seem possible is, for me, the most compelling way to tell a story. I have to satisfy myself before I can think of satisfying readers. If I do the first, then the other usually follows naturally.
How difficult was it to publish that first book?
In my experience, nothing in the publishing business is ever easy. It helped that I had established a name for myself both as a writer of short fiction and as editor of Deathrealm magazine, which I ran for ten years. But I shopped around Balak, my first novel, for a couple of years. And then after ages of submitting, I thought I had sold The Lebo Coven to one publisher — they made an offer on it, but before I could sign the contract, they cut the number of titles they were publishing that year (1997, I believe it was), and guess which book was among the titles cut.
Does it get easier after one is published?
Somewhat, at least as far as getting editors to consider my work. But it's always a challenge to first get the editor's attention and then keep on holding it. The down-and-dirty hard work part of it never goes away. And it shouldn't.
Advice to writers who aspire to become authors
READ. Nothing will make you a better writer than reading good literature. Write every day, whether it's fiction, essays, even a blog. Use proper spelling and grammar. Know the rules before you even think about breaking them.
Your favorite book/author (outside of ones you've written)
T. E. D. Klein's The Ceremonies comes to mind as my favorite scary novel. However, I think my all-time favorite novel may be Alexandre Dumas' The Three Musketeers.
Something people would be surprised to know about you
My all-time favorite TV show is The Brady Bunch.
Your role model
My dad. He passed away just over five years ago. I give him a large part of the credit for anything I ever did right as a father and husband. My daughter has grown up now and left home, but every day I think about his discipline, his strong sense of right and wrong, his wonderful humor, and do my best to emulate him in all matters that count. Of course, he was far from a perfect man, but he did so much more right than wrong that, at best, I can only hope to follow a long way behind in his footsteps.
Single most difficult thing about writing
Coming up with ideas and approaches that don't read like something everyone and his brother has done before. I believe that I've developed a distinctive voice in my writing, but it's an incredible challenge for me to find the right story to tell with it. My junk folder is overflowing with fragments that seemed like a good idea at the time, but as I set about developing them, they turned out to be less novel than I thought. Sometimes it takes writing a lot of words to find just the write ones; most of the time, when I do find them, I know it. That's when I take the ball and run. That's another thing aspiring writers need to be able to do — be willing to trash things you've written. Not every word is golden. With experience, you develop a discerning eye and hope it succeeds in separating the wheat from the chaff.
I do production work for The Mailbox magazine and book company, which produces educational workbooks for teachers.
Number of titles in print
Three short story collections: Fugue Devil & Other Weird Horrors (out of print), The Last Trumpet, Legends of the Night; five novels: Balak, Dark Shadows: Dreams of the Dark (with Elizabeth Massie), The Lebo Coven, Blue Devil Island, The Nightmare Frontier; three anthologies: Song of Cthulhu, Deathrealms, Evermore (with James Robert Smith)
Any upcoming projects?
I've got several short stories coming out in the next few months — in Dark Wisdom magazine, Cemetery Dance magazine, Inhuman magazine, and the anthologies Monster Noir, Horrors Beyond II, and Cthulhuian Singularity. My agent is currently pitching one novel for me, and I'm hard at work on another, tentatively titled The Monarchs of Harrow.
Books available at
Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble, Borders, Books-a-Million, Shocklines (online), and many other vendors.
The Realm of Stephen Mark Rainey: http://www.stephenmarkrainey.com
Anything else you want to add
Thanks for giving me the opportunity to chat about the Good Stuff. Please visit my Web site or my MySpace page (http://www.myspace.com/damnedrodan) to get to know me and my work better.