Author Spotlight: Stephen Mark Rainey
There are very few living authors who I trust to never disappoint and Stephen Mark Rainey is right at the top of the list. With an admirable mix of Southern charm and sardonic wit, Mark Rainey is what I consider to be an old school storyteller. He populates his stories with characters and locations that are all too familiar by light of day, but as the fog rolls in and darkness descends, Rainey’s fetid imagination unleashes horrific beasts and unseen forces to show the sinister machinations of those things that do far more than just go bump in the night.
OD: Let’s turn back the clock, shifting as we do to a place in time where we find a young boy named Mark Rainey discovering for the first time the thrills of all things horror. What captured your imagination then, and does it still fuel you today?
Mark: My earliest memories are of being afraid. When I was a kid, we lived amid woods populated by whippoorwills. They always wailed their eerie songs at night, and back then, there was no way to convince me that little birds could make such a racket. No, sir, that had to be ghosties and ghoulies. Nowadays, I find Whippoorwill songs wistful and lulling, yet on the infrequent occasions that I do hear them, I inevitably get a brief, vivid, and wonderful twinge of that profound terror I felt at age two. Also in those days, I was captivated by the horror/science fiction movies of the ‘30s through early ‘60s, and TV shows such as The Outer Limits and Twilight Zone. Those made incredible impressions on me, and I still love them—both for nostalgia’s sake and just the fact that some of them are effective, powerful movies. Curse of the Demon, for example. The Abominable Snowman of the Himalayas for another. The Haunting.The original Godzilla . Coupled with the fact that I’d regularly watch those, then go to bed and hear whippoorwills, my dreams would be utterly terrifying. Several of those nightmares remain as vivid as any waking memory, and they’ve all found their ways into my fiction. “Fugue Devil,” “Silhouette,” and “Lake of Shadows” all include imagery (and plot details) that come from those very early dreams. And probably not coincidentally, those are the tales that most of my readers identify as my most “scary.”
Today, as an adult, fear takes very different forms, but I enjoy couching it in some of the familiar tropes from way back when. The challenge—and the treat—is taking those old symbols and twisting them around, bringing them into the reality of today, so that (if I’m successful) the reader can experience the kind of enjoyable thrill that those old horror standards provided while also getting something altogether different. Perhaps a bit of insight into contemporary…or bizarre…characters and mindsets. Maybe a taste of something resembling philosophy or allegory. (“Resembling” is as much as I’ll admit to on that count.)
OD: You first entered my radar for having penned, along with the lovely and talented Elizabeth Massie, the Dark Shadows novel Dreams of the Dark. Now, a decade later you’ve had the opportunity to script the audio drama Dark Shadows: The Path of Fate featuring the voice talents of original stars David Selby and Lara Parker. Being a lifelong fan of all things Shadows, that had to be a thrill for you.
Mark: Yeah, it’s been great. I (co)wrote on Dreams of the Dark…mercy, over ten years ago now…in an absolutely giddy state. Of course, writing Dark Shadows is a job; essentially work for hire. There’s nothing like a tight deadline to temper the fannish enthusiasm and focus one’s mind on the business at hand. I must say, though, when I was a kid, had I known I was going to grow up and write “real” Dark Shadows stuff, I would have had a coronary, and thus never grown up and been able to write “real” Dark Shadows stuff.
OD: As most of our readers know, you helmed Deathrealm, one of the most revered genre magazines of the late 80s and 90s. What were some of the highlights of that ten year run as editor?
Mark: Identifying highlights is about as daunting as trying to pick the “best” fiction from its decade-long run. Deathrealm came long before social networking sites—for that matter, largely before the Internet—became everyday staples, and the magazine, as it evolved, became a focal point for close interaction between lots of wonderful people. Through Deathrealm, I met some supremely talented individuals, and many of them I still count among my very best friends. For me personally, this aspect overshadows all the great fiction, art, poetry, awards…everything. Many of the writers and artists who started out in Deathrealm and other small-press fixtures from that period have carved out great careers. Some of them remain very good friends, both with me and with each other. I still get a lot of queries from folks wondering if and when I might revive it. I don’t think Deathrealm, the thing that it was, could ever be repeated or duplicated, nor should it be. It was right for its time. It’s remembered—generally with fondness. For me, that is the biggest highlight.
OD: Your recent collection, Other Gods, published by Dark Regions Press, was such a phenomenal read and really captured the essence of your entire writing career. It was truly remarkable. Looking back over your career, are there certain stories that stand out for you? What one tale sums up “Mark Rainey – the author”?
Mark: The ones I mentioned previously, which my earliest nightmares inspired… those articulate fear in the most honest terms, even if it was juvenile fear. What those stories chronicle is not the fear per se, but my delving into that ancient personal terror and attempting to translate it into something meaningful in the present—and beyond. “Fugue Devil,” for example, started out as a monster story, full of imagery and emotions that came straight out of a youthful nightmare. But to succeed as a work of fiction it needed to be something altogether different. It required a human story with depth; as it turns out in the tale, the monster is only relevant as a symptom of the characters’ own personal darkness. But the human story in “Fugue Devil” is absolute fantasy. It’s the monster story that was drawn from my own life experience. Topsy-turvy, perhaps, but I think that’s what gives the tale its strength. It took me so many years and so much creative energy to bring that one to light that I feel it’s probably my most significant personal achievement, fiction-wise.
“Silhouette” similarly draws on old, old fears. What brought it into being, though, was something of an academic exercise. Back in the early 90s, my friend Bill Trotter gave me a tape of some creepy music, which included “Hidden Voices” by minimalist composer Ingram Marshall. Eeriest stuff I ever heard. Dani D’Attilio, who helped me edit Deathrealm, and I decided to sit down and play the music in absolute darkness, then write about whatever came to us as we listened. Her story was actually called “Hidden Voices.” For me, “Silhouette” was the result.
OD: We wouldn’t be “The Occult Detective” if we didn’t delve into the paranormal side of the equation. Have you had any “supernatural” experiences that you’d care to share, and if so, how have those experiences helped to shape your fiction?
Mark: I’ve never experienced anything that I can say with conviction falls into the realm of the supernatural. A few oddities here and there, but “supernatural” is not a term that I even consider valid. Paranormal and/or preternatural…well, maybe, as far as terms go. Any unusual occurrences that have inspired my fiction were handed down to me by others. I’m not gullible enough to buy into most stories about peculiar goings-on, nor am I arrogant enough to rule out the possibility of events and entities that defy conventional explanation. To me, quantum physics is freaking supernatural. “Getting it” is pretty much beyond my capacity. However, the fact that quantum physics is demonstrably valid, to me, opens up possibilities for things outré. Take that for what it’s worth.
OD: So, Mark, what can we look forward to reading from you in the near future?
Mark: More Dark Shadows!
OD: Thank you so much for taking the time to visit with us, Mark. Your tales never fail to entertain and frighten and for that I am eternally damned and grateful.
And for you, my erstwhile readers, I encourage you to visit The Realm of Stephen Mark Rainey and his blog, aptly titled The Blog Where Horror Dwells for information on where you can pick up his books. You can rest assured that to delve into Mark’s fiction is to invite in the stuff of nightmares.