Interview with Author Steve Rasnic Tem by Brian M. Sammons

December 04, 2017

Steve Rasnic Tem's long-lasting writing career has spawned over 200 tales and his work has been favorably compared to the likes of Franz Kafka and Ray Bradbury for his mix of horror and wonder. His writing has earned him a British Fantasy Award and a World Fantasy Award among others. He was nice enough to take some time away from his busy schedule to talk to me about writing and his new story in the upcoming anthology I AM THE ABYSS from Dark Regions Press.   

BMS - Thanks so much for taking the time to talk with me, Steve. Now before authors began to write, they were readers, so what were some of your earliest literary loves? Who inspired you and made you want to keep on reading?

I grew up with very few books, but the ones I could get my hands on I loved: mostly folklore, fairytales, the stories of King Arthur, the stories of Robin Hood, some Jules Verne and H.G. Wells. When our county finally got a public library I devoured the science fiction collection. I remember particularly liking Arthur C. Clarke, and read everything by him I could find.

BMS – What is your favorite book or story and why?

My favorite book for a very long time was Ovid’s Metamorphoses, mostly because I was obsessed with the subject matter—transformation, people changing into other beings. I found that theme both hopeful and terrifying. My favorite short story came later—Kafka’s “A Country Doctor.” I love the way it moves from the real to a dream-like reality which still feels intensely truthful.

BMS - Do you recall when you first thought about writing your own stories? Was it a sudden epiphany, a gradual thing, or something else entirely?

The idea of telling stories always appealed to me, but I only became driven to do so when I found my subject matter: secret realities. For me, secret realities included the world of dreams and folklore—alternative ways at looking at the world which found truths that were beyond the obvious. But it also included “under-reported” realities such as congenital malformations, hydrocephalic wards, the results of Hiroshima, the realities of the concentration camps, the details of what was done to Jack the Ripper’s victims, etc. These were ugly truths which in the intensity of our need to suppress them achieved the level of myth in my mind.

BMS - What was your first sale and to what market?

My first professional sale was the story “City Fishing” to Ramsey Campbell’s New Terrors. There were poems and short prose pieces published before then, but they only paid in copies.

BMS - What is the best thing about being a writer?

You have the opportunity to provide public testimony as to how you felt and what you saw during your time on the planet. That’s a rare privilege.

BMS - What’s the worst thing about being a writer?

It has become increasingly difficult for most of us to make a reasonable living at it. Most of us have to supplement it with other money-making activities, or write things we don’t particularly want to write.

BMS - If I had no idea who you were and asked you the dreaded question: “So what kind of stories do you write?” how would you answer that?

Next spring Valancourt Books will be bringing out my collection Figures Unseen, Selected Stories. It includes stories chosen from each of my collections. Simon Stranzas is writing the introduction. I would tell them “Read that. That’s what I do.”

BMS - If I asked you for three stories or books that would give a reader who is unfamiliar with your work the best representation of you as an author, what would those three be?

The novel Deadfall Hotel, and the short stories “Wheatfield With Crows” and “Red Rabbit.”

BMS - Now on to I AM THE ABYSS. What first attracted you to the book, to do something for it?

I loved the concept. A personal vision of Hell. A chance to be Dante. That’s a rare opportunity indeed.

BMS - What can you tell me about your story in the book, “Torn”? Give me the “elevator pitch” on it.

A young man drives his car off a cliff. When he hits ground he enters the nightmare world of his childhood, overshadowed by the devil his father truly was.

BMS - Do you see yourself revisiting the characters, locations, or themes of this story in later work?

I don’t think so. It’s so self-contained, and so final, any other use of it would be a dilution.

BMS - Any words of advice, or even warnings, you would like to give to beginning authors?

Read as much as possible, and analyze what you read. If you want to be a short story writer read at least 1000 short stories—all genres, all types. Think about how the story began and how it ended. How is the middle structured? What are the storytelling strategies involved? That’ll give you a tool set for going forward.

BMS - What is the best way for people to learn more about you and your work?

Read A Primer to Steve Rasnic Tem. It’s a book edited by Eric Guignard. Also read Yours to Tell: Dialogues on the Art & Practice of Writing. That’s a writing guide I wrote with my late wife Melanie. We lay out pretty much everything we know about writing in that book. You might also try my latest novel Ubo, from Solaris. It’s a book about violence and its origins with such viewpoint characters as Stalin, Himmler, and Jack the Ripper. It’s the darkest thing I’ve ever written.

BMS - Thanks again for your time today and for all the wonderful stories you’ve given us over the years.

Thank you, Brian.

Steve Rasnic Tem has a novella entitled Torn in the new Dark Regions Press anthology I AM THE ABYSS shipping in 2018.

Steve Rasnic Tem was born in Lee County Virginia in the heart of Appalachia. He is the author of over 350 published short stories and is a past winner of the Bram Stoker, International Horror Guild, British Fantasy, and World Fantasy Awards. His story collections include City Fishing, The Far Side of the Lake, and In Concert (with wife Melanie Tem). Forthcoming collections include Ugly Behavior (crime) and Celestial Inventories (contemporary fantasy). An audio collection, Invisible, is also available. His novels include Excavation, The Book of Days, Daughters, The Man In The Ceiling (with Melanie Tem), and the recent Deadfall Hotel. In this Edward Gorey-esque, Mervyn Peak-esque novel a widower takes the job of manager at a remote hotel where the guests are not quite like you and me, accompanied by his daughter and the ghost of his wife--"a literary exploration of the roots of horror in the collective unconscious."