Steve Rasnic Tem Interview

Q: I made all these notes about things that come up over and over again when reading your stories. These themes are both different and much more direct than many people write about. Many people are writing about the same things but they seem to feel safer writing about the werewolves and the vampires. They are to a greater or lesser degree conscious of what they are doing but they retreat from dealing with a human to human confrontation, where the supernatural comes in as a result of those relationships. But you also deal with the guilt of the survivor, whether the hibakusha in "Firestorm" or the survivors of a killer flood in EXCAVATIONS. It seems as though those who survive are actually much worse off, frequently, than those who died originally.

A: I'm not sure where my interest in survivor guilt comes from. That's part of the haunting theme, the ghost theme, in horror fiction. When I put myself in a horror-writing mode, much of this just comes up naturally because, to me, that's what the genre is. I try as much as possible to treat those things as straightforwardly as possible.

The other thing, too, is that I came out of the Sixties. I grew up in the Sixties. To me, people who made it to thirty-five or thirty-six, we're a generation of survivors. Most of us who grew up in the Sixties had friends who didn't make it, because of drugs or the Vietnam war or whatever. I have people in my past that, who, either because of the war or drugs or mental collapse, did not make it into adulthood. Even the ones who may be in a mental hospital, it may seem strange but they didn't make it into adulthood somehow. You think gee, why me. I would have been the one most likely not to survive if they had held a poll. That's something I think about. As my wife says, I don't seem to feel guilty about anything but I think I understand that kind of survivor's guilt. It is a strange kind of feeling. I think we all wish that we could have held onto a friend and pulled them through and, of course, you can't really do that. You can't really save anyone, finally. You can give them a helping hand here and there but ultimately you can't. I guess the survivor thing comes out of the Sixties for me.

Q: Now that I've mentioned it a number of times, could you tell us a little about EXCAVATIONS, your forthcoming novel. Also, could you tell us why it is set in Appalachia?

A: EXCAVATIONS is about a fellow whose family was wiped out when a coal waste dam in Kentucky gave way and essentially buried part of the region where he grew up and buried the family house. That is based actually on several instances which happened in Kentucky and elsewhere. This fellow has moved to Colorado, interestingly enough, when he starts getting these phone calls. He is getting phone calls apparently from his father, who is supposed to be dead, so he goes back. He is an archaeological student and proceeds to actually excavate his homesite and try to come to some terms with all this. As he proceeds to excavate, what he uncovers and what he is having to face affects not only him but also affects this town, which has never adequately dealt with what has happened to it in the past and its relationship with the coal industry and its own survival guilt.

It's about that region of the country because that is something I know a lot about since I grew up there. They say a writer has to live in a place and then be away for six, eight, ten years and then they can write about it adequately. I suppose that happened with me. Although recently I haven't written many things about that area of the country, I probably will in the future. That's one reason it's set there. It became the first novel, even though lots of other pieces had been started many years before that novel, because I first wrote it as a novella, which didn't work. It didn't work because there were too many unanswered questions. The characters could not stay within the scope of a novella. It quickly did not want to be structured like a novella so it had to be a novel. It grew that way.

Q: Avon Books is publishing it?

A: Yes, the end of this year or early next year. I hope.

Q: What part do you think that a sense of place plays in a story? Could EXCAVATIONS have been set anywhere? A number of your stories are set in Denver and it is very recognizable to those of us who live in Denver. Is there a direct connection or is it just literary convenience for reader or writer?

A: I don't believe in literary conveniences for the reader. Richard Hugo used to say, if you want to communicate, use a telephone. That's basically my philosophy of writing.

I'm not sure exactly why the stories appear in certain locations. One reason EXCAVATIONS takes place in the region in which I grew up is that I knew there was going to be a bear in it. So let's put it back there. Also it is a novel about childhood and naturally I would feel more comfortable writing about a childhood which takes place where I grew up. The parental stories, you may notice, have not taken place back there. They take place here in Denver where I'm a father.

The other reasons that locales come up is that, when I go to a place, I pick up little pieces and objects. Frequently those things generate a story. One of the last stories I wrote, "Little Cruelties," takes place in Denver in a little area called Globeville underneath I-70. It is a neighborhood which has been devastated by building interstates through it. That story took place there because I was writing a story about city life, and the details of city life that I know take place in Denver. The little details I pick up go into this whole theme of the city and that's why it takes place there.

I've been working part-time on a story that will take place in Tucson. I've been to Tucson once but I found myself walking around one night and looking at the saguaro cactus and thinking about a painter out in the desert and his daughter. He's painting all these night landscapes of cacti in the desert surrounding Tucson. That story came almost directly out of the landscape there. I find a lot of stories tend to do that. An object in the real world may remind me of a theme. It is a magnet, a seed. There's an object, there's a theme, then a character and there's these three things sitting there. Then they pull in a sign or a bottle or a tin can, a particular house or a building. It collects that way. A lot of my stories germinate that way. They will germinate like that for a year or two sometimes and collect pieces. When I have enough pieces, I start writing the story.

Q: What are you working on right now? And what are your plans for your immediate and far future?

A: I'm working on a series of pieces that will be a novel called THE DEADFALL HOTEL. The first of those will be appearing in Charles Grant's SHADOWS 9 in October. I don't know if the other pieces will be separately published or not. That depends. I decided finally let's have some fun and I decided to write a novel which would be a series of episodes having to do with the traditional, basic horror figures. Deadfall Hotel is this hotel on some unnamed coastline. It answers the question: where would a vampire go on vacation. They don't go to the Holiday Inn. Where would they go where they would feel safe and accepted and could be what they are within certain limits? I decided that there is this place, the Deadfall Hotel, and it gets its name from the perpetual deadfall of limbs from a wooded area in front of the hotel. The Deadfall Hotel is sprawling; I described it as following the broken line of a train wreck around the coast. It is patched together. You never can keep it all in repair. To this hotel come all these creatures or people or whatever you want. The current manager is someone who needs to be the manager of such an establishment, if you can imagine who would need to do this. But he needs to do this. He brings along his daughter as well as the ghost of his dead wife, who haunts the hotel.

Each section of the novel has to do with a different visitor. One visitor is a vampire; one visitor is a werewolf; one visitor is a zombie; one visitor is a thing without a name, which will be probably the longest section in the book. Another section will have to do with my one and only cult story about a cult which comes there to have a little ceremony. It is a fun book to write. But as well as being fun, I am trying to say everything I can say about vampires in the vampire section, everything I can say about werewolves in the werewolf section, and try to talk about what I think those things really are. To try to take some of masks away to reveal what is underneath. At the same time I am trying to be as fantastic as possible in some of the imagery and some of the things that go on.

One of the things that is fun but also has some of my best writing is that it gives me the opportunity in each section to talk about a different aspect of the hotel. For example, in the vampire section I talk about the plumbing system of the Deadfall Hotel. In the werewolf section, I have a little bit of business on the recreational department of the Deadfall Hotel and those who use it. Also each section of the book relates to a particular season of the year, except for the thing without a name section which is a year-long, season-meld phantasmagoria kind of section where things become timeless.

I'm trying to finish up the second novel which I've been working on for years and years and years which has to do with the South, particularly Virginia, Kentucky and the mountains, in the Thirties and the snake-handling church. And also--this is historically true--a group of people called the Melungeons. When the first Scot-Irish settlers came into that area of the country, they found some people already there up on a high plateau. They were speaking a strange form of Elizabethan English and worshipping some degenerate brand of Catholicism. They had no written records and no one could remember where they came from. No one has still been able to figure that out. This is about those people too.

Those are the main two projects. And miscellaneous short stories.

Q: Thank you.

copyright 1986 Leanne C. Harper

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