Mark: All writers have two lives: their published life and their personal life. I'll start with my published life. My fiction, poetry, articles and artwork have appeared in more than 325 magazines, anthologies and websites. These include Galaxy, Talebones, Ghosts & Scholars, Gothic.Net, FeoAmante.com, Masters of Terror, Terror Tales, 100 Wicked Little Witch Stories, The Last Continent: New Tales Of Zothique, Bending The Landscape, The Best of Palace Corbie, Best Of The Rest 2, and The Year's Best Horror Stories (DAW Books). My currently available fiction collections include ZOM BEE MOO VEE & Other Freaky Shows, I Gave At The Orifice, and Shoggoth Cacciatore And Other Eldritch Entrees. Also I am the editor of The Urbanite: Surreal & Lively & Bizarre.
As for my personal life... I've always worked in various positions in advertising and graphic design. I drink too much coffee and eat lots of sushi. I love cats, monster movies and British sitcoms. I'm allergic to wool and also certain perfumes -- so I am especially aware of just how many different products in our society are scented. Heaven forbid anyone should smell like a human being. No, we all must smell like flowers, or mints, or musk, or citrus, or a mountain forest after a Spring rain.
Q: What is the most appealing thing about horror fiction for you and why do YOU write it?
Mark: Horror fiction is a wonderful diversion -- it makes the real world, highly dangerous and unpredictable as it is, seem tame by comparison. But really, fiction -- being of course fictitious! -- is the tame one: it's a kitten behind a tiger mask. Lots of people might say, "People who write horror must be evil!" What kind of ridiculous logic is that? If I wrote Westerns, would that make me a cowboy? If I wrote science fiction, would that make me an alien creature?
Horror fiction makes the reader feel better about his or her life: a person can say, "Well, I may not like having to buy groceries or paint the garage, but at least I'm not being devoured by a grotesque monster." I write horror fiction partly because doing so empowers me. Ha ha! I cry: I can create monsters -- to some degree, I have conquered fear! Also, I enjoy creating bizarre characters. I am fond of all my fictional offspring. Necrilda Voltaire, Zombie Island princess, the most beautiful creature who ever died. Wilbur Tillinghast McAzathoth IV, lame-brained seeker of eldritch mysteries. The Rhinodactyl, Lord of Absurdity. Ingrid Thel, the hare-lipped actress. Performance artist Zannika Taint and her agent Yoyo. Dr. Matapathamos, inventor of the failed Cathartoleptic Approach. The list goes on.
Q: Why do you enjoy writing short stories?
Mark: For me, writing a story is like traveling for a brief but exciting spell in a strange land that I am making up as I go along. It allows me to have quick, thrilling adventures. My characters may not survive the plot, but hey, I'll live to tell another tale and create more characters.
Q: You are also an artist -- which came first, the drawing or the writing?
Mark: The drawing -- I used to draw all the time when I was little. And while artwork eventually became a big part of my advertising day-job career, it does still crop up in my night-job career, the horror genre. I illustrated the poetry chapbook, Night's Voice by Scott Urban. I did the artwork for the story collection, Tales of Love and Death by Wilum Pugmire. I did an illustration for the poetry book, A Student of Hell by Tom Piccirilli. And I've done some other illustrations, too, for various magazines and other projects.
Q: Your chapbook, Shoggoth Cacciatore, pokes fun at the Lovecraft Mythos but at the same time remains very faithful to it. How did this whole sarcastic take on an otherwise grim tradition come about?
Mark: From my readings, I have gathered that Lovecraft was a complicated and brilliant eccentric. Like all human beings, he had a few character flaws -- who doesn't? -- but all in all, he was a very likeable, quirky guy. If he were alive, I'm sure I'd enjoy talking to him. My parodies of his work are affectionate spoofs that play off of his literary excesses and add plenty of modern obsessions to the mix.
For example, in my story "She's Got The Look," I plop the Mythos right in the middle of haute couture society. The Mythos is filled with effete, mysterious sorts who follow obscure rules and long to achieve great power. The same can be said for the fashion industry!
My story "Super Digital Nekronomi Pals Are Zing!", also in that collection, sets the Mythos in a sort of anime cartoon cosmos. Anime cartoons are filled with bizarre monsters and arcane secrets -- just like the Mythos! Ah, the more things change, the more they stay the same.
Q: "She's Got The Look" really captured the feeling of the whole fashion industry scene (I used to work for a company that did videos for all the fashion designers in NYC). Did you have some connection to this or did it come from simply observing all the model/media hype on the news and television?
Mark: I enjoy reading about the fashion industry because it is so delightfully excessive and glamorous -- and ridiculous. But it is a form of ridiculousness that creates jobs and allows people to indulge their egos and bizarre whims. Is that so bad?
Who wouldn't want to be a model? In interviews, models act like it's such hard work. Oh, how they cry out against the torments of their chosen industry -- the lights, the diets, all the travel, photographers everywhere. Boo hoo! Cry me a river! Let's face it, it's not like they're digging ditches.
I've appeared on TV a few times in the Midwest -- in commercials and on a couple shows -- and I've been a movie extra, but I've never been a model. I'm not fat, but I'm burly and big-boned and I have a face like Ming the Merciless, and no one wants to see that combination up on a catwalk. But hey, if hell freezes over and fashion suddenly decides to turn its fickle spotlight in my direction -- if the industry suddenly cries out, "Hey, guys who look like bouncers have got it ALL going on!" -- sure, I'll play ball. I'll change my name to Rakshasa and die my hair bronze. I'll eat nothing but lightly salted wild greens. My bidet will flow with champagne and my orange tabby will nibble on imported French mice.
Q: Your other chapbook, ZOM BEE MOO VEE, also has a sarcastic yet disturbing take on the movie/TV industry. It seems that you like to take a particular theme and run with it.
MARK: Yeah, I guess I do. I have lots of unusual themes that run through my work. I write about cats a lot, because I love cats. And I write about different sorts of witches, male and female, because I think the concept of witchcraft can be used as an interesting metaphor for self-empowerment.
I love old movies -- I parody a lot of movie concepts out of affection, much in the same spirit as my Lovecraft parodies. One of my most ambitious stories from the ZOM BEE MOO VEE collection is "True Love, Special Effects And Unspeakable Devastation In The Amphitheatre Of The Glitterati." It has three storylines and parodies a variety of foreign films -- zipper-in-the-back monster movies, angst-ridden art films, and light-hearted bedroom comedies.
I'd love to write for movies and TV. I think a lot of my concepts would make great movies. So many movies these days seem to be just a lot of chase scenes, explosions and one-liner jokes tossed together. Of course, if I wrote a script and the director said, "Add an explosion -- AND a chase scene!", I'd do it, but only after I'd decided on some rambunctious way to make MY explosions and chase scenes wildly different from all the other explosions and chase scenes out there.
I Gave At The Orifice, a chapbook of my work from Eraserhead Press, includes some of my very weirdest stories. That's the only theme with that one: stories of the just-plain-weird. The lead story was recently reprinted on Gothic.Net and is entitled "Melina Mavrodakis And The Five Something-Or-Others Of The Apocalypse." Melina is a stairway-witch - she and her wee companion, the Cat Man, exist on the steps of time, just outside of reality. The idea of stairway magic just poured into my head one day -- while climbing some stairs, naturally. We take them for granted, but stairways are pretty much as old as architecture. When we think of heaven and hell, don't we often think of them as being accessed by stairways? Plus, a spiral staircase is visually reminiscent of the DNA double-elix. What's up with that... ?
Q: What is the weirdest true-life thing that happened to you that if you wrote it down would read like fiction?
Mark: Ha! Where do I begin? My life is a catalog of such weirdisms. I do have a hidden talent that often freaks people out. I am unusually strong --much stronger than one might expect from someone who spends most of the day in front of a computer. I'm not sure why -- I wasn't a strong child, I don't have Charles Atlas muscles, I don't even exercise regularly. But there have been many times when people have asked me to help them lift something large, and I would just pick up the thing myself quite easily and carry it, much to their amazement. Sometimes, at parties or just horsing around with friends, guys have tried to wrestle me and I subdue them in about one minute. And I'm talking big grown men. I must have some weird strength gene. Or maybe I was bit by a radioactive spider, like old what's-his-name.
Wrestling's okay if the participants are just having fun. But I never physically fight in anger with anyone. I would never hit anyone. Violence is pointless. There is no acceptable reason for ever inflicting injury on another person. It solves nothing. These days, whenever anyone tries to hurt me, I just walk away and leave them behind.
Q: Who is YOUR favorite horror writer?
Mark: My favorite writer is the late Robert Aickman. What a wordsmith. A master of both style and substance. His stories have the flavor of old-fashioned leisurely British ghost stories, but they also add surrealistic modern touches. He had an amazing grasp of the complex workings of the human mind.
I've learned that Aickman was also an expert on inland waterways, and he loved to sail in small boats on England's rivers. That sounds very charming. I can just picture him on deck, sitting at a little white table, maneuvering the cherrywood rudder with one hand and penning his elegant tales with the other. A true gentleman.
Among living writers, there are many marvelous talents. Many are at an up-and-coming level: not globally famous yet, but give them time. I almost hesitate to list them, for fear of leaving out some especially fine ones. So I'll limit myself to just five, in alphabetical order, though I could easily list more. Alexa deMonterice has a wicked sense of humor, and her imagery is very vivid. Brian Keene is a great young writer, crackling with energy. Jeffrey and Scott Thomas are brothers, and it amazes me that one family can have so much talent in it. Richard Wright is a young English writer who is gaining visibility, and is becoming increasingly active in the film industry.
Q: Anything you want to add?
Mark: I have loads of projects coming up. I have stories coming up in about two-dozen magazines, anthologies and websites. I'll be one of the Guest Writers at the HorrorFind Convention, where I'll be doing some readings. I've done lots of readings at literary conventions across the United States and some in England. I just returned from the World Horror Convention in Seattle, where I did three group readings and one reading by myself.
Later this year, Lone Wolf Publications will be releasing an audio CD anthology which will include my reading of my story, "ZOM BEE MOO VEE." Meisha Merlin will be bringing out a three-way poetry collection by myself, Rain Graves and David Niall Wilson. I have two story collections coming out from other publishers, too. Those won't be coming out for a while, so it's too early to start promoting them, but I'll be putting updates on them later this year on my personal website: http: //theurbanite.tripod.com/bio.html
I'm working on some novels with a collaborator named Mike McCarty, so in the future you'll soon be seeing horror books on the shelves by the Mc's of Madness, McCarty and McLaughlin.
Here are the websites of the folks who have published my currently available collections: