Know a Nominee Part Seven: Steve Rasnic Tem
Welcome back to “Know a Nominee,” the interview series that puts you squarely between the ears of this year’s Bram Stoker Award nominees. Today’s update features Steve Rasnic Tem, nominated in the category of Superior Achievement in a Novel for Blood Kin.
DM: Please describe the genesis for the idea that eventually became the work(s) for which you’ve been nominated. What attracted you most to the project?
SRT: Blood Kin is the novel I always knew I was going to write. It’s a project I’ve been contemplating since high school (which, in my case, was a very long time ago). I grew up in the heart of Appalachia, Lee County Virginia, one of the poorest counties in the state. It’s a gorgeous area with a long history of colorful inhabitants. My family has been there for generations. The seeds of the book came from the stories my mother and father and numerous aunts and uncles told me about growing up there in the thirties—stories about snake handlers, ghosts, mountain granny women, home life, and Melungeons. All that information went into notebooks and clipping files, and was added to over the years along with narratives concerning some experiences of my own. So when it came time to get serious about the book I had a wealth of material to draw on.
DM: What was the most challenging part of bringing the concept(s) to fruition? The most rewarding aspect of the process?
SRT: The hardest part was the major problem you always face with a book that’s been extensively researched—making difficult decisions about what to leave out and then sculpting what’s left into an effective narrative. And to make things even harder for myself I decided to tell the story from two different points of view, utilizing a variety of southern speech patterns. But that was also the most rewarding aspect—the challenge stretched me I think, and made me a better writer.
DM: What do you think good horror/dark literature should achieve? How do you feel the work(s) for which you’ve been nominated work fits into (or help give shape to) that ideal?
SRT: I believe the best horror illuminates the world and the time it’s written in–this is our opportunity to record how we felt during our brief span on the planet. And in looking at our fears, we better understand what it is we truly value. As to how Blood Kin fits into this—I never make claims for what I do. I just do my best.
DM: I’m curious about your writing and/or editing process. Is there a certain setting or set of circumstances that help to move things along? If you find yourself getting stuck, where and why?
SRT: If I feel stuck, I may switch to a different room, or a different computer, or I might even write by hand for a while. Changing up the time I write can also sometimes help. Or I might dig back into my research, and just start writing everything I can think of about the characters or the setting or the theme involved. That puts a lot of excess material on the page, but often I find the other end of the thread I need, or some complication that amplifies the meaning, or some other piece that helps things along later on. It becomes a treasure hunt, and sometimes that can be great fun.
DM: As you probably know, many of our readers are writers and/or editors. What is the most valuable piece of advice you can share?
SRT: Read a lot of fiction, and not just in your genre. Read literary fiction. Read translations of foreign work. Read things you don’t even expect to like. Look for alternative ways to begin and end stories, alternative ways to structure them. Build your repertoire of tools and strategies—it’ll serve you well later on. When I teach, I tell my students to read a thousand short stories consciously, looking for these approaches and techniques. To me that’s a bare minimum.
DM: If you’re attending WHC this year, what are you most looking forward to at this year’s event? If not attending, what do you think is the significance of recognitions like the Bram Stoker Awards?
SRT: I won’t be attending unfortunately. The Bram Stoker awards are significant because they are the public face of our organization for many people. How we handle those awards, how we deliver them, affects how others perceive us.
DM: What scares you most? Why? How (if at all) does that figure into your work or the projects you’re attracted to?
SRT: Violence scares and disturbs me more than anything else—why it happens, and how it transforms our lives and culture. It’s the subject of UBO, my novel next year for Solaris. UBO uses a mixture of dark fantasy and science fiction elements to create a meditation on human violence. During the course of the novel readers are invited into the heads of such disreputable historical figures as Jack the Ripper, Charles Whitman, Gilles de Rais, Joseph Stalin, and Heinrich Himmler. It’s a dark book, and was both disturbing and exhausting to work on.
DM: What are you reading for pleasure lately? Can you point us to new authors or works we ought to know about?
I’m always finding new authors to read and rediscovering old ones. Some current favorites include Simon Stranzas, Adam Nevill, Lynda Rucker, Nathan Ballingrud, Jeff Ford, Jeff Vandermeer, John Langan, Theodora Goss, Laird Barron, John Howard, Reggie Oliver, Angela Slater, Kelly Link, Arthur Bradford, Anna Tambour, just to name a few.
About Steve Rasnic Tem
Steve Rasnic Tem is a past winner of the Bram Stoker, World Fantasy, and British Fantasy awards. His latest novel Blood Kin (Solaris), alternating between the 1930s and the present day, is a Southern Gothic/Horror blend of snake handling, ghosts, kudzu, and Melungeons. His previous Solaris novel was Deadfall Hotel. Coming late Spring of 2015: In the Lovecraft Museum, a standalone novella from PS Publishing. Later this year Centipede Press will be collecting the best of his uncollected horror stories in Out of the Dark: A Storybook of Horrors. And in 2016 Solaris will present his dark sf novel Ubo, a meditation on violence as seen through the eyes of some of history’s most disreputable figures.