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Steve Rasnic Tem
Posted on Wednesday, February 26, 2003 - 11:18 pm:   

Well, better late than never . . .

IMAGINING THE WORST 02/26/03

So I've just come out of the Barnes & Noble in downtown Seattle and I'm walking up the street toward my hotel. I'm here for WinWriters, a technical writers' conference, and it's my first time outdoors since I've been here.

Two guys are walking behind me, a little too close for comfort. I've never been mugged, but of course I consider the possibility at all times. They're muttering back and forth in this constant flow that gets a little more excited from time to time, punctuated with oh wows and no shits but nothing more comprehensible than that and I'm thinking about dueling schizophrenics (a spectator sport where I grew up).

"Oh, there's a good one," I hear one of them say. "Oh, yeah!" is the reply. "One of those shoulder rockets launched from right here, it could take out at least a floor."

Then I look up and understand they're talking about my hotel. And I'm not too shocked about what they just said because I'd been thinking much along those same lines a couple of hours earlier. We've all been warned, afterall: hotels, malls, large sporting events. The terrorists are on their way, coming to your hometown someday soon.

It's not considered too healthy to be dwelling on worst case scenarios--people think there's something wrong with you if you do--you're troubled, and projecting your own interior darknesses onto the world. But horror writers, isn't it our job to imagine the worst?

My kids' friends used to come over, and invariably I'd catch them staring at me for uncomfortable lengths of time. Occasionally there'd be one bold enough to say, "You seem so peaceful."

No further exposition needed. There was always the unspoken ". . . to be writing that stuff."

And sometimes the spoken, "it must be a lot of fun."

I'd nod and smile, and say nothing, and I think sometimes that made me seem unfriendly. I just didn't like to talk about it much. I don't mind it much these days, but you still won't see me making too many speeches about it. In my experience most people either get it or they don't--there doesn't seem to be that much transfer. There aren't that many cases, I suspect, of sudden revelation: "Now I see the light, and at last I realize horror is a good thing!"

Sometimes it is fun, of course, the same fun found in say, a scary roller coaster ride. Amusement Park fun. Carnival stuff. And there's writerly fun, of course, the kind of nerdy fun shared by people in odd disciplines. The challenge of using a particularly tricky point of view (like that growing subgenre of fiction told from the point of view of the family dog, for example), writing a story using only one color, telling a tale backwards, etc.

But if you imagine the worst honestly and well, I think that fun is in short supply. In Philip Seymour Hoffman's great new movie LOVE LIZA, is he having fun? If you really think so I won't be going to any of your parties.

Horror seems to have a need to be fun, however. Certainly mainstream horror has always had that need. To be a thrill ride. To make us forget our own, more mundane troubles for awhile. To facilitate . . . escape.

I don't think there's anything wrong with that--and I've certainly written some fiction with that in mind.

Maybe it's a question of age. A young writer told me a few months ago that he intended to write some novels that he felt would be fun and popular, then when he'd built his reputation he'd go more personal with his work, and write about the things that really bothered him.

That's not an unsound idea as career planning goes. And I'm certainly no one to offer up advice--I stink on the business end. But I could have mentioned a few authors who quit before they ever got around to writing about the real stuff they were feeling. Most of us have less time than we imagine, I think, and even horror writers have a difficult time legitimately imagining their own deaths.

The pay for fiction in general is a joke. And the solitude necessary to create that work is seldom as romantic as it may seem from the outside. But writers are incredibly lucky in one respect: they have the opportunity--if they're willing--to make this testament, this public testimony as to how it was to be alive on this planet at this point in time, what they saw and what they felt, but especially what they imagined, even if sometimes it meant imagining the worst.

Besides 2 pieces in the LAMBSHEAD book, upcoming work I'd like to point you to includes my experimental fantasy novel THE BOOK OF DAYS, which finally goes to press this week. You should be able to get it direct from Subterranean Press or from other places in about 6 weeks. It got a great review in Publisher's Weekly last fall, but I don't know if the booksellers are going to remember that now. Also coming is my "selected poetry," THE HYDROCEPHALIC WARD, from Dark Regions press, and later in the year THE WORLD RECALLED, another chapbook from Wormhole. RECALLED is a kind of spiritual successor to my earlier chapbook CELESTIAL INVENTORY, and one of the best things I've ever done with structure and improvisation, I think. Another favorite of mine is "The Bereavement Photographer," my story in 13 HORRORS, coming out at the KC World Horror--to my mind one of the best stories I've written in years. Look at April's LOCUS for a short essay on horror ruminating on some of the things I've said here, and also look for stories in John Pelan's DARK ARTS, Kealan-Burke's TAVERNS OF THE DEAD, and the gigantic August release of GATHERING THE BONES (eds. Campbell, Dann, and Etchison).

Later,

Steve

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Night Shade Books
Posted on Thursday, February 27, 2003 - 12:51 am:   

Hi Steve,

I got a galley for Book of Days last year, and read it in a single sitting.

For all of you reading this, go get a copy as soon as it comes out. It's brilliant.

Jason
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Kealan Patrick Burke
Posted on Thursday, February 27, 2003 - 03:53 am:   

Steve:

That was an excellent essay above. The part about the kids staring at you had me nodding. My wife's family were over for dinner a few nights ago and announced they had all pre-ordered copies of my forthcoming collection RAVENOUS GHOSTS. My wife was jubilant. I squirmed, for while I was of course grateful, my in-laws are all 60+ and to my knowledge, not horror fans. While my fiction is far from gruesome (I like to think of myself as a writer-in-training at the Steve Rasnic Tem/Charles L. Grant/Ramsey Campbell school of quiet horror), much of it is unsettling and not the kind of thing I suspect my in-laws will rave about afterward.

That is what irritates me about this genre. Perhaps it is just me, but when I'm asked what I do, I answer "I'm a writer", yet when asked what I write,I adopt the look of a whipped cur and reply:"Suspense" or "thrillers" and the smiles continue, albeit it tinged with disappointment. When these people discover what you REALLY write, they look at you as if you tumbled out the back of pink Honda wearing nothing but a tutu.

Sigh.

And yet I'll be damned if I'll quit.

Good to see you here Steve.

Best,

Kealan

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