Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Geocaching in the land where horror dwells

I'm really happy to be chatting with Stephen Mark Rainey today, one of the good guys of horror, although an introduction could go on and on, but I'll give you the short version. He has seen nearly 100 of his short stories in print, as well as five novels and three collections of his work. He was editor of the critically acclaimed and award-winning magazine DEATHREALM, has edited three anthologies, and is a confirmed DARK SHADOWS and Godzilla addict.

JOHN: If I recall correctly, your first published short story was “Smiert Galgalith.” That appeared in HAUNTED JOURNAL Magazine in 1987. How long had you pursued writing at that point, and can you describe what it was like to see that first story in print?

STEPHEN MARK RAINEY (SMR): Wow. That one is so old my memory of it is no doubt faulty. Prior to that, I had worked on a series of connected short stories about a giant monster called Pachacutec—which was itself based on a tale titled “Night of the Firebeast,” which I’d written in the mid-1970s, as much for my own amusement as to share with a few other daikaiju fans of my acquaintance. “Smiert Galgalith” was born out of my love for occult-based fiction and was semi-autobiographical, being based on events and the accompanying emotions of my life at the time (I had recently moved to Chicago). Naturally, the plot was driven by my then-favorite motivating premise, “what if supernatural things were real?” I recall being fairly excited when THE HAUNTED JOURNAL published it, though by that time a few other of my stories had seen print.

JOHN: Five years later you wrote your first novel, BALAK. How long before you found a publishing home for that work? Tell me what it was like to hold your first published novel in your hands for the first time.

SMR: BALAK went through at least a couple of drastic revisions before it was published by Wildside in 2000. Better that it did, too, as the original draft was dreadful. In the mid ’90s, a relatively decent draft made the rounds at all the big publishers, of course, and it actually received a lot of positive feedback. One well-known publisher made a tentative offer on the book... and then proceeded to vanish from the face of the earth. That was fairly upsetting. But based on the feedback I’d gotten, I revised it yet again and sent it to Wildside, who picked it up. Of course, it’s a PoD title, but it’s been selling steadily over the years, and I’ve made a reasonable sum from it. It’s just taken a bit longer than if I’d gotten a big advance up front, heh heh. Now, DARK SHADOWS: DREAMS OF THE DARK (HarperCollins, 1999), which I co-wrote with Elizabeth Massie a few years later, actually came out before BALAK. Still, it was all very cool.

JOHN: Can you tell us a little about what moved you to write initially, and how your motivation has changed—if it has changed—over the past 25 to 30 years?

SMR: I’ve loved reading since I was a little kid, and back in those dark ages, everything I read—or watched on television or at the movies—inspired me to write stories of my own, though they were essentially pastiches. Most everything I read or watched was of the scary persuasion, of course, and so I was naturally inclined to move in that direction with my own creative works. I still enjoy the scary stuff, as one might surmise. Of course, as I’ve gotten older, the things that get under my skin have changed, and my writing has evolved to reflect that fact. For instance, it’s harder for me now to focus purely on supernatural themes without giving certain reality-based subjects equal time. To me, the ideal story is one that successfully combines the real with the unreal and you don’t—or barely—notice a transition. I still find it difficult, not to mention undesirable, to abandon supernatural-based fiction altogether. While I have no real belief in the supernatural or trappings of the occult, exploring possibilities within that realm, and doing it convincingly, remains an endless, exciting challenge.

JOHN: In 1987 you began a ten-year effort to edit and publish the award-winning DEATHREALM magazine. I have to say, that was one fine publication—when I first moved to Martinsville, Va., your hometown, I stumbled across the magazine at a book store there and fell in love with it (in fact, I still have two or three editions around the house). Editing and publishing a magazine is such a different skill set than writing, what prompted you to make that leap?

SMR: Lord, I don’t know. Insanity, delusions of grandeur. Something like that. I remember being terribly dissatisfied with so many publications I picked up, be they small or big press. “Jezus, I could do better than this in my sleep!” You know, that kind of thing. I think I decided to put my mettle to the test—to see if I actually could do better in my sleep. Problem was, once I started, sleep became more and more elusive...especially once DEATHREALM got big enough to become more than a one-man job.

JOHN: Not to dredge up any bad memories, but what made you decide to give up the magazine?

SMR: The single most significant factor was Fine Print Distributors going bankrupt. They owed DEATHREALM a substantial amount of money, and even though the magazine kept going for a few issues afterward, it was just too big a bite to shrug off. After a decade of producing the beast, I wasn’t willing to increase my workload to take up the slack, and my publisher, Malicious Press (a partnership consisting of screenwriter Terry Rossio and author Lawrence Watt-Evans), quite understandably, wasn’t interested in spending additional money to keep things going. As it stood, I was already putting in considerably more time, energy, and resources running the business of DEATHREALM than editing and producing it. It was more than a full-time job on top of my full-time job. Something had to give, and DEATHREALM was it.

No, I don’t have any current plans to resurrect it.

JOHN: DARK SHADOWS. You have a well-documented fascination with the old ABC series, and you’ve had the good fortune to be involved in a few DARK SHADOWS projects, including the aforementioned mass market paperback DARK SHADOWS: DREAMS OF THE DARK, which you co-wrote with Elizabeth Massie. Most recently you’ve been doing audio plays set in the world of DARK SHADOWS. Tell us a bit about that process. (How it is different than writing a short story or novel? How did the opportunity to do this present itself?)

SMR: Back in 1998, Beth Massie had learned that HarperCollins’ intended to release a series of DARK SHADOWS novels. Beth had worked with the editor before and was very keen on the project. I happened to be the biggest DARK SHADOWS fan she knew, so she called and asked if I might be interested in collaborating on a novel. When I stopped screaming in excitement, I said, “Sure.” I pretty much had a plot finished by the time I got off the phone with her. It was a long and involved process drafting a story that both HarperCollins and Dan Curtis Productions would approve, but it finally happened. In the end, it’s proven to be a popular novel, and while getting it done was rigorous, to say the least, it was one of my favorite adventures in the land of horror writing.

Writing the audio stories has been enjoyable as well. When I began the process, they gave me a sample script, and I just followed that format when writing my own. The trickiest part was probably getting the scripts wrapped up in X number of pages to fit the prescribed running times. It’s particularly fun to hear the dramas performed by the actual actors from the show. Had I known anything like that was going to happen when I was a kid watching DARK SHADOWS, I would have had a heart attack and died and thus never gotten to write the DARK SHADOWS dramas. That would have been bad, I guess.

JOHN: Where can people find these?

SMR: The easiest way to pick them up is straight from the Big Finish Productions’ website. You can order the dramas on CD or download them. Visit

JOHN: Okay, let’s move away from writing for a bit. I know from your Facebook posts, as well as your blogs, that you are a big geocacher (if that’s a proper term). Can you describe exactly what geocaching is, and its attraction to you?

SMR: Basically, geocaching is a high-tech scavenger hunt. Someone hides a container; anything from a big old ammo can to a magnetic nano (about the size of a pencil eraser). They can be hidden in just about any public area—from hiking trails in the wilderness to urban parking lots—but my favorites are the ones out in the woods. Using a hand-held GPS device, the hider records the latitude/longitude coordinates of the hidden container and then posts those coordinates and a cache description on the geocaching website ( Other geocachers enter those coordinates into their own GPS and go out to hunt the thing. Some are quite easy to find; others present all kinds of mental and physical challenges. I’m especially fond of caches that have me climbing trees, going down in wells, following trails of reflectors through the woods at night, that kind of thing. (There’s plenty of inspiration to be found in this sport for writers of scary stories. Elizabeth Massie has also taken up geocaching, by the way.) It’s been a great thing for me. It got me to quit smoking, lose a bunch of weight, and visit intriguing locations all over the country that I would never have known about otherwise.

JOHN: Favorite vampire not named Barnabas Collins.

SMR: Hmm. At the moment, I’d probably say Damon Salvatore on THE VAMPIRE DIARIES, which, along with TRUE BLOOD, has become my new vampire addiction.

JOHN: Favorite modern television show.

SMR: I’d probably have to say THE VAMPIRE DIARIES because it’s essentially the only broadcast show I turn the TV on for. It’s about the closest thing to DARK SHADOWS since DARK SHADOWS. I’m pretty fond of DEXTER as well.

JOHN: Favorite pre-1990 television show not named DARK SHADOWS.

SMR: THE OUTER LIMITS, I expect. And maybe KOLCHAK: THE NIGHT STALKER, which I absolutely loved as a young’un. I’ve been watching them all again on DVD in recent days, which has been a treat.

JOHN: Favorite restaurant—you can either give me a specific name, or a favorite type of restaurant.

SMR: Japanese (primarily sushi) and Thai food are at the absolute top of my list. There are quite a few of both in this area that are fabulous. I recently discovered a restaurant called Izakaya Sushi Republic near here, in Greensboro, which had some of the best sushi I’ve ever had.

JOHN: You’re stranded on an island. All you have is a wide screen color television, DVD player, a popcorn popper with plenty of popcorn and butter, and a nearly endless supply of your favorite beverage. Maybe a recliner, too. If you had to choose just one—would you have with you the entire DARK SHADOWS series collection, along with the movies and the 1991 mini-series or a full collection of Godzilla movies (the American and Japanese versions)?

SMR: Wow. Some choice. In some respects I’d prefer the Godzilla movies, but with 1,225 episodes of the original DARK SHADOWS, it would last longer. Not to mention that every second of every Godzilla film is already indelibly imprinted on my brain. If my sequestered existence was going to be a lengthy one, I’d probably go with DARK SHADOWS.

JOHN: Speaking of islands, Ginger or Mary Ann (any readers under age 40 probably have no idea what that’s about)?

SMR: Yes, please.

JOHN: A DARK SHADOWS movie is due out later this year, starring Johnny Depp as Barnabas Collins. Are you thrilled and can’t wait, dreading its release, or something in between?

SMR: I’d like to say I’m thrilled, but at best, I’m merely curious at this point. From the pics I’ve seen of the production—particularly Depp’s make-up—it has all the earmarks of being played for camp. Way back when it was announced, my first impression was that Tim Burton really isn’t the best director for a project like DS. What I’d really love to see is DS made film noir-ish. Or hell, give it to the Coen Brothers! Who knows, maybe I’ll be pleasantly surprised, but my expectations aren’t all that high.

JOHN: Dream car—what would you be driving if money was no object?

SMR: I think so little about cars beyond my meager means that I’m hard-pressed to come up with anything more intriguing than a sporty BMW, maybe a Z4.

JOHN: Okay, back to writing. If you read some accounts, you’d think it was the end of the traditional publishing world the Mayans had predicted near the end of 2012, at least as far as print is concerned. Have you considered going the e-publish route, specifically self-publishing novels and short story collections?

SMR: I’ve thought about it. So far, not very seriously, although I do have a novella that I may yet consider e-publishing on my own, just to give it a whirl. I’ve gotten into reading a few e-books on the Kindle on my Android phone, which—much to my shock, I confess—is not even slightly uncomfortable. I haven’t broken down and gotten a larger Kindle or other reader because I just don’t want to deal with another freaking device. I suppose I’d like it well enough, but it’s not a high priority for me. Naturally, I still love my paper books. I’m not an avid book collector, but I do like having all those titles on my bookshelves. I like browsing brick-and-mortar stores more than online, at least for reading matter. Granted, there is a lot to be said for the convenience of e-books.

JOHN: What can we expect to see from you over the next year or two? Any projects coming out now?

SMR: The past three years or so have been pretty weird for me. I’ve done some writing, certainly, but life has taken me down roads I never could have begun to foresee. My wife of 23 years and I separated in late 2009, and this past year, the divorce was finalized. Relatively speaking, it was all pretty amiable; still, it’s a traumatic thing, to say the least. We had a lot of years invested in each other. But after the separation, we both got involved in new relationships—which seem to be the ones we’re both -meant- to be in at this point in our lives. I’ve dedicated everything I’ve got to make this one all it can be, and so far, I can’t imagine anything better. Of course, I’ve taken up geocaching, which keeps me physically active. Unfortunately, having a full-time day job at the computer and writing most of the night leads to a hellishly sedentary lifestyle. I couldn’t take it anymore. The down side of my most prolific writing period was that I had gained a lot of pounds, my blood pressure and cholesterol were through the roof, and I was smoking too many cigarettes. I’ve done something about all that. Although my writing output has decreased significantly, sometimes to my chagrin, I’ve never felt more fulfilled. Regardless, over the past couple of years, I’ve had some excellent book releases that I’m very proud of. Dark Regions released my short story collections OTHER GODS and THE GAKI & OTHER HUNGRY SPIRITS. Marietta Books released BLUE DEVIL ISLAND in paperback. Crossroad Press released THE LEBO COVEN and THE NIGHTMARE FRONTIER as e-books, and BALAK and THE NIGHTMARE FRONTIER as audio books. I’ve recently written a couple of Cthulhu Mythos stories for new anthologies edited by Robert M. Price, though I’m not sure of the publication schedule at this point. I’ve just finished a new short story and am plotting another. I’m still around, probably will be for longer than most people care to know about. So there.

JOHN: Thanks so much for taking the time to chat with us a bit today. If you want to learn more about Stephen Mark Rainey, keep up with his writing, or follow his geocaching adventures, visit him at The Realm of Stephen Mark Raney.

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