Steve Rasnic Tem Interview

Q: Talking a little bit more about dream imagery or just dreams, UBO-UBO (an unfinished novel), "Firestorm," EXCAVATIONS, "Preparations for the Game," you mentioned "City Fishing" had come originally from a dream, all have dreams or specific dream imagery in them as very important components. I was wondering how many of these are from your dreams and how much is a literary device? It all has a dream-like quality to it.

A: Maybe in some of my early stories I may have used dreams as a literary device. I don't think I ever do it any more, in part because, to me, dreaming and fiction-making are very close activities. A few years ago, I was really into dream research and dream experimentation and hypnosis and past-life regression--I did all that stuff. One of the things I spent a lot of time on was a technique of conscious dreaming in which you give yourself a suggestion before you go to sleep which says I am going to dream and I am going to dream in this area. You gain control over the dream. I know I found myself having my physical hand reach into the dream and push things aside and rearrange characters and do lots and lots of rewriting of the dream as it was going on. That became more and more extensive with my dreaming. Some of it went into the stories but after a certain point, I began to see the two activities as the same. Now, I very seldom remember my dreams whereas before I always remembered my dreams. I would remember seven or eight dreams a night. Every day I would write them down and play with them and think about them. What that did to my writing process was that it made my writing process more of a conscious dreaming process. I would sit down at the word processor or the typewriter and it would be as if I was dreaming in some ways. Naturally, that affected the imagery.

I have this really strong belief in the imagination and how really strong the imagination is. You want to use it fully. To me, using it fully means going into fantastic areas and creating images for which, at times, it seems as if you can't take full responsibility. It is almost as if they are found objects and, as found objects, they are almost against interpretation because they are almost like a piece of another world. As such, sometimes they don't fit the story you are working on and you have to put them aside. I think in part that is what dreaming is. Dreaming is this found object. If you have really intense dreams, sometimes it is hard to feel responsibility for them. It is as if you are the instrument and you just stumbled onto this scene. Writing has become like that to me in some ways. When it goes well, it becomes just finding these things. That's why some of the stories sound so dream-like because some of those images are images that I feel as if I find, less than calculate out.

Q: Is that a handicap at all in terms of structure? Dreams don't tend to have neat beginnings and endings. Or can you arrange things so that there is a flow?

A: Normal dreams don't but self-conscious dreamings are very structured. It is like writing. Until recently when I stopped remembering them, my dreams for the last five or six years have been very structured, exactly like short stories. You can learn to change your dreams that way. Still, it can be awkward. You have to be a strong editor and toss things out occasionally because they just don't make sense.

There is a series of stories I've been working on recently that are intended to have really high imaginative content. I go with them as strongly as I can, like the DEADFALL HOTEL series that I have been working on. Occasionally a scene will come up which occurs in this hotel which I think is just terrific but makes no sense at all and can't stay in the story. Maybe someday I'll find a way to use it.

Q: Most of your characters have a sense of apartness. They question whether they deserve a normal life or a happy life. Frequently, they seem to find ways to be unhappy or to destroy the possibility for happiness. There is a tremendous amount of self-guilt in your characters. Could you comment on that? Or do you feel I'm all wrong?

A: No, I think that's probably true. I'm not sure exactly why that is except that, much to my wife's chagrin, I don't feel guilty about much of anything. One of the reasons that happens is that those kinds of people are the kinds of people that I imagine are closest to stepping over the edge into some other kind of reality because their real-life circumstances don't really explain what they are feeling. I think an awful lot of people are like that. What goes on in your real life and what you are feeling inside don't map out all that well together. In part, that's where horror comes from. You go looking for the missing piece. What are the images that match what I am feeling? Sometimes what matches what you are feeling are some pretty horrible kinds of things. Or if you are writing heroic fantasy or something like that, they can be some rather heroic things, too. The disparity is one of the sources of guilt.

One of my own feelings about people is that you can be almost anything you want to be in terms of who you are, what is the make-up of your personality, what are your characteristics. In a sense it is a little bit like writing a story. You just decide what is going to be there and you find some source for it to copy, perhaps. Maybe something in the real world or something imagined or something in someone else that you like and you want to copy. I imagine that my characters have that sense too because a lot of them are stuck. They are stuck on one obsession; they are stuck at one place in their lives. Maybe in their imaginations they can see how other things could be going on. But they can't get there. That's where I want them to be. By sticking your characters in one place, in one obsession, you can write rather economically about them.

Q: In one of your stories--I'm missing my note on which one--a character asks or remarks to himself that maybe people die because you don't deserve them. This is close to the ultimate ego statement, to think that people exist or don't exist because of you, but also it provides the ultimate safety net, an escape from responsibility.

A: That's true. That's a very solipsistic thing for this character to think. Right off-hand, I can't remember which story that is because it could have happened in several stories, actually.

Q: It is one of the fathers, one of your many fathers.

A: One of my many fathers. Well, that's very much a father's way of thinking. Actually, that may occur in one of my more recent stories. That's a very solipsistic thing to say but that's also one reason I've used that before. To me, that's a source for a lot of ghost stories. In a sense, I've always thought that it's not that the ghosts are haunting the house; it is the victims that are haunting the house. They are the reason that all these things are happening. Ghost stories are very solipsistic in that way. Also I think a lot of people feel that. It is an illogical feeling, obviously, when someone dies but many people feel that if someone dies and they react to it very strongly, if it is someone very close to them, they feel in part it is because they didn't deserve them. People are very superstitious. Later of course, they will realize that was crazy to think probably.

Q: Many of your stories, one way or another, are about the perils and the responsibilities of parenthood and, very specifically, fatherhood. Almost all of the main characters in your stories are not only male but they are fathers. Frequently, they feel the responsibility without necessarily getting the respect of a father or getting the love of children. There is one quote from "Punishment" that says much about many, many of your stories: "Raising children, trying to help them become civilized beings was the most frightening thing in the world. It was a horror." I loved that when I found it because it is the basis of so many of your stories. I have to wonder why fatherhood is such a curse for so many of your characters, either as fathers or children.

A: For my characters, some of the positive things have been coming out lately in some of the stories. Certainly, for some of the fathers, although fatherhood is a horror for them, they also seem to love their children very much. Sometimes their feelings are mixed about them but they also seem to be almost obsessed with their children to their own detriment.

I think partly fatherhood because I don't know anything about motherhood. That's one reason. But I've always been obsessed with fatherhood even before I was a parent. I think it's because it has become almost a cliche, an old-hat kind of idea, but fatherhood in western culture is a mess. It is a horror; it's a disaster. Fathers, until very recently, have had little consciousness that it was okay to admit that it was hard to know what to do. If you look at the general mainstream of American literature, you see lots and lots of uncomfortable fathers and bad relationships between fathers and sons and bad relationships between daughters and fathers. I've always been fascinated by that in people-watching because it has always seemed to me that this is the biggest icon of failed relationships I've ever encountered. I seem to encounter it over and over again. People I know have had these bad relationships with fathers.

But another way it works for me technically is that much horror fiction and much horror folklore has been about this failed relationship between parents and children, but probably more dramatically, fathers and children. I think that most of our legends of werewolves and vampires have come from fathers, and mothers, but maybe more frequently fathers, who have gone rabid. This is an old memory; this is a racial memory. You have this parent who suddenly behaves in a way you cannot understand, that seems magical, that seems horrible, that seems monstrous. In trying to explain how this can possibly happen because it seems to make no logical sense, we create vampires and werewolves and all these other creatures of darkness to explain it. Or not just to explain it, but to make it safer. That is one effect of horror fiction. It is a safe way to be scared. A story which is about a vampire attacking a young woman is a lot safer, and probably a lot more publishable, than a rabid father attacking his daughter. It's part of my own self-conscious approach to horror fiction that I use a lot of fathers. I would use more mothers if I understood mothers better but I think that I understand fathers pretty well.

Pages: 1· 2· 3· 4

No feedback yet