Steve Rasnic Tem’s last novel, Blood Kin (Solaris, 2014) won the Bram Stoker Award. His next novel, UBO (Solaris, Febuary 2017) is a dark science fictional tale about violence and its origins, featuring such historical viewpoint characters as Jack the Ripper, Stalin, and Heinrich Himmler. He is also a past winner of the World Fantasy and British Fantasy Awards. A handbook on writing, Yours To Tell: Dialogues on the Art & Practice of Fiction, written with his late wife Melanie, will appear soon from Apex Books. Visit the Tem home on the web at: www.m-s-tem.com
1. What inspired your story in Shadows & Tall Trees 7?
“The Erased” began, as many of my stories do, with a vague, real-world perception of strangeness, which I then pursued into fiction. When friends my age (I turned 66 a few months ago)get together their conversations sometimes devolve into a small set of obsessional topics. It doesn’t seem to matter the level of education or sophistication, we find ourselves talking about our illnesses, acquaintances of similar age who have died recently, or recent changes in our environment: stores remodeled, streets altered, houses and businesses torn down, and the structures which have replaced them (for better or worse). You would think we would have become accustomed to these changes by this point in our lives, but often we seem surprised, sometimes even shocked. Something in our part of the world suddenly disappears, and we have to make the effort to readjust. Sometimes the adjustment doesn’t come without a struggle. Sometimes the weight of change feels like almost too much to bear. It reminds us how strange it is to be so mortal, so impermanent, while our minds seem capable of imagining “the forever.” An older friend and I were having one of those conversations about the neighborhood where I lived up until seven years ago (and the big old house where I raised my kids, built in 1898). When I moved away the newest house in the neighborhood was from the 1940s. Now, because of the recent huge demand for housing in Denver, they’re turning every garden lot and side yard into a housing lot, as well as tearing down older homes on big lots and replacing them with three or four units. All the new houses are in this “urban industrial” style—plain boxes with metal or wood panels attached in various configurations. The juxtaposition of these structures with those from the 40s, 30s, 20s, 1890s, feels, well, strange. And that’s the feeling I started with when I began “The Erased.”
2. Can you recall the first story you ever read that made you think “I want to be a writer!”?
It was a combination of two things really. In junior high I was reading my way through Jules Verne, and was especially taken with The Mysterious Island and its Robinson Crusoe-like ingenuity. I was also reading a huge volume of fairytales and fables—I don’t remember which one. But the combination of the two kindled an excitement in me about writing and telling stories.
3. What scares you?
Of the big, usual phobias, I’ve always been scared of heights. When I was young and had to go up a big staircase I was always afraid I’d trip, or do something crazy like leap off the side. It terrified me. When I became an adult, my biggest fear became the death of someone I love, and that remains my biggest fear today.
4. You can take five books to a desert island: which ones do you choose?
Two of the books would be by Cormac McCarthy: Sutree and Blood Meridian. After that, maybe Toni Morrison’s Beloved, The Collected Stories of MR James, and the Vandemeers’ giant anthology The Weird.
5. What’s next for you?
I’m working on an odd scattering of projects, but my two books coming out this year are probably the things that excite me most. Apex Publications is bringing out Yours to Tell: Dialogues on the Art and Practice of Writing, the last project I wrote with my late wife Melanie. It’s a handbook on writing fiction containing almost everything we’d learned about writing over the years. The other book is Ubo, my novel coming out from Solaris in February. Another decades-long project, Ubo is a blend of science fiction and horror, a meditation on violence utilizing such viewpoint characters as Stalin, Himmler, Charles Whitman, Jack the Ripper and Gilles de Raiis. I began it in the early 80s, and it was the most challenging thing I’d ever attempted. More problematic, however, was the fact that I had a 5- and an 8-year-old at home, and working on Ubo during the day and then playing with my children and reading them bedtime stories proved to be a wrenching experience. I put the manuscript aside. Over the years I’d pick it up again, until finally I felt sufficiently equipped emotionally and technically to complete it.