Ginger Nuts of Horror
Mark Rigney is the author of four Renner & Quist adventures, including Check-Out Time and the e-book novellas The Skates and Sleeping Bear, both available from Samhaim Publishing. As a playwright, his work has been produced in twenty states plus Canada. Full-lengths include Ten Red Kings and Acts of God (both published by Playscripts, Inc.), as well as Bears, winner of the 2012 Panowski Playwriting Competition. His short fiction appears in Black Static, Unlikely Story, Witness, The Best of the Bellevue Literary Review, and Talebones, among over fifty other venues. In non-fiction, Deaf Side Story: Deaf Sharks, Hearing Jets and a Classic American Musical (Gallaudet University Press) remains happily in print one decade on. His website is www.markrigney.net.
Could you tell the readers a little bit about yourself?
I’m a father of two boys, happily married, and living (by accident) in southern Indiana. I empathize more with Jethro Tull every year: too old to rock ‘n’ roll, too young to die.
What do you like to do when you're not writing?
I collect very old beer cans – what in the UK you call beer tins. Got any? Pre-1970 would be best. When not working to acquire more cans, I hike, canoe, bird-watch, and keep track of the world’s devolving political and environmental situation. All of which is to say that I do all the cooking and driving in this household, so I don’t really get to do much of anything else.
What’s your favourite food?
Good bread with butter and honey.
Who would be on the soundtrack to your life story?
It hasn’t yet been written, but I’m sure it will be bombastic, a mix of the orchestral and the amplified. Like Procol Harum on steroids. Most likely Peter Garrett and Tim Booth would handle any vocals, with assists from Maddy Prior and (back from the dead) Sandy Denny.
Do you prefer the term Horror, Weird Fiction or Dark Fiction?
Dark fiction, by a nose.
Who are some of your favourite authors?
In the horror genre, I’d put Shirley Jackson, Josh Rountree, and Laird Barron pretty high on the list. When he has a mind, Ray Bradbury can deliver a proper chiller.
What is your all-time favourite horror novel, and film?
My favourite horror novel isn’t a novel, it’s the short story “The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson. There’s not a supernatural element to be found, but it is profoundly disturbing. It’s assigned reading in many a U.S. classroom to this day.
On the silver screen, I adore An American Werewolf In London, not only because it scared the pants off me when I first saw it––and those pants are still missing, so if you see them any place, do call––but because of its giddy delight in employing humor to first defuse and then elevate the scares.
If you could erase one horror cliché what would be your choice?
Unmarried, attractive people have sex, then get killed in unrelated yet clearly retributive fashion. Yuck.
Which fictional character would be you perfect neighbour, and who would be your nightmare neighbour?
I’d love to have Old Lodge Skins living next door. He’s the Cheyenne elder from Thomas Berger’s truly brilliant Little Big Man. Better him than Freddy Krueger any day.
What do you think of the current state of the genre?
Seems to be groping a bit, doesn’t it? But then, I’m part of the problem. I read books, not genres. Fantasy and horror, not to mention sci-fi, continue to bleed over…and what to make of mainstream fiction’s ongoing fascination with serial killers? Horror is splashed all over the best seller lists, not to mention the news. Ebola: that’s (currently trendy) horror. Syria, or Beirut, or the eastern half of Ukraine, same thing. Don’t even get me started on North Korea.
What was the last great book you read, and what was the last book that disappointed you?
Shardik disappointed me. I was so looking forward to more work from the puppet master of Watership Down. Ian McEwan’s Saturday is very involving, the more so as it goes along, and by the end, it’s really gripping––and that, too, belongs on the horror shelves, but nobody will claim it (and McEwan, bless his stodgy heart, wouldn’t allow it). So there.
How would you describe your writing style?
Flexible. The medium is the message, so the first question for any new project is, in what form does it belong? I write plays, too, you see. Does Idea A belong on the stage or the page? And then, is it a Big Honking Long idea, one that can carry its weight for hundreds of pages, or two hours in a theatre? If not, how short ought it to be? Confining myself strictly to prose, I don’t stick to one voice. Never have.
Are there any reviews of your work, positive or negative that have stayed with you?
I’ve had both positive and negative reviews, which is a good sign, I think. My favourite was a post-show verbal response from an audience member at the Foothill Theater Company’s staged reading of my play The Experts. This man said, “When I heard this piece was two hours long, I wanted to leave. But now, now that we’re done, I feel great!”
Made me blush, he did. Very kind of him, very kind.
What aspects of writing to do you find the most difficult?
Because long projects often take me over a year to complete, I tend to forget threads I’ve planted at the beginning, so that when I get to the end, I’ve left out entire chunks of what should have been resonant material, and I have to back and somehow sew it back in.
Is there one subject you would never write about as an author? What is it?
If you could kill off any character from any other book who would you chose and how would they die?
Now that’s a truly difficult question. If you asked, “What species would you kill off?” I’d answer immediately: mosquitoes. But fictional characters? I’ll have to come back to this one… (Twelve hours later) Oh, I know. Mordred. That bastard blights everything he touches. He should die of a long, wasting, crippling disease, that he might learn empathy before he blessedly expires.
What do you think makes a good story?
Compelling, faulty characters in pursuit of worthwhile goals, and who go about achieving those goals in unexpected, possibly irrational ways. Of course, idiots pursuing idiotic goals can be fun, too. Think cartoons. I’m channelling John Gardner here, I realize that. The only thing that doesn’t work is really intelligent, wise characters pursuing idiotic, sophomoric goals. No reader or audience will put up with that for long.
How important are names to you in your books? Do you choose the names based on liking the way it sounds or the meaning?
Names are CRUCIAL. I can get stuck for an hour on a name. A good many of my characters wind up with surnames from old breweries. (See previous questions.)
How do you think you’ve evolved creatively?
Some might ask, “Have I evolved creatively?” I think that what I set down requires less revision than it used to, which is encouraging, and that I’m better with structure than I used to be. Clever, tidy sentences have never been my problem. Nor has speed. Hand me a keyboard, I’m plenty glib. But marrying the right structure to the story at hand, so that it chugs along at a good pace but without becoming a runaway train, that’s hard. That’s an art form all by itself, and I’m still working at mastering that, no question.
What tools do you feel are must-haves for writers?
Access to the OED. A copy of John Gardner’s The Art Of Fiction. The Elements Of Style. I do still like The Bedford Writer’s Handbook, but it’s been supplanted by Strunk & White. Dictionaries have migrated to the ether, so I suppose an internet connection becomes essential. For speculative fiction, the website www.ralan.com.
What is the best piece of advice you ever received from another author?
In person? I know so few authors, and most of those are playwrights. They hardly ever give advice, that’s for sure. Cagey buggers. Of course there’s always, “Revise, revise, revise,” that’s always popular. Or how about this chestnut, from Chis Kazan (R.I.P.): “If you think it might be wrong, it’s wrong. Change it.” Yeah. That’s the one.
How do you market your work? What avenues have you found to work best for your genre?
I’m still learning. Publishing has shifted under my feet, and continues to do so. I seek out markets willing to review my work, betting on good notices outweighing the bad. For selling books, it helps to have an independent bookstore aware of you and ready to champion your material; those places survive because their clients expect knowledgeable booksellers and hand-selling. That’s what small fish like me need to survive. I’ve joined Goodreads and LibraryThing, and will try to remain erratically active on the former at least. I maintain my own website, where I get a slow but steady increase in visitors. I blog regularly at Black Gate, and their ever-widening readership can get to know me by degrees as a result.
Who is your favourite character from your book and why?
I love my heroes, Renner and Quist, equally, but the character I enjoyed crafting most was Meryl Grimley, who also appeared in The Skates, the second R & Q story to find print. I’d never before tried to write a transgendered character. I honestly didn’t feel I could, in the sense that I didn’t feel, until perhaps two years ago, that I understood enough (an inkling, even) of that mind-set to be able to place such a character honestly on the page. Two things made it possible: one, meeting a transgendered person, and two, watching the wonderful, levelling performance by Laverne Cox on Orange Is the New Black.
How about the least favourite character? What makes them less appealing to you?
Call it cliché, but if you don’t love all your characters, including the villains, then either revise them or cut them. I’m talking fully fledged characters, not walk-ons, like “the teenager behind the cash register” or the “woman who was hurrying to catch the bus.” Every book requires a little window dressing (although plays do not, and cannot afford any extra bells and whistles of this sort). I can say who I feel most sorry for: the gas station attendant who gets yelled at by Quist as he drives south to rescue Renner. Quist makes her cry, and he makes me mad for doing that; I want him to not only apologize (he does) but to be mature enough not to mouth off in the first place (he isn’t).
Fame, fortune, or respect?
I’m not wealthy enough to throw over fortune entirely, but respect wins in the end. Fame can take a flying leap, and the last thing I want is to be recognized by strangers on the street. In any event, I’d want it to be the work that is judged, and judged to be good, not me.
What piece of your own work are you most proud of?
An unpublished novel entitled A Most Unruly Gnome, although I have several dozen close seconds. A Most Unruly Gnome is topical, chock full of adventure, is an out-and-out fantasy, and it makes me cry. What more could I want? Publishers, however, don’t know where to shelve it. Speaking as a former bookseller (assistant manager with Crown, regional trainer with Borders), I know perfectly well that a book with a slippery identity is dead on arrival, but I wrote the damn thing anyway, because the story is more important than corporate shelving strategies. So there.
And are there any that you would like to forget about?
Not that have found print, no.
For those who haven’t read any of your books, what book of yours do you think best represents your work and why?
Most of my published prose work is short fiction. I believe I’m up to fifty-two short stories either published or under contract to be published. Books: at present, I’ve only got two, plus two e-books (because they’re novellas, also in the Renner & Quist series). Book number two is non-fiction, and deals with Deaf culture (in the U.S.) and a production of the musical West Side Story using a mixed deaf and hearing cast. So already you can see the problem: between those and my stage plays, what is representative? My advice (if you’re still reading): check out my webpage, and let that guide you. www.markrigney.net
Can you tell us about your last book, and can you tell us about what you are working on next?
Check-Out Time tracks an odd-couple pair of reluctant investigators, Renner & Quist, one of whom gets stuck inside a hotel that is trying to reassert itself into the world after having been razed in the early eighties. As the back cover blurb says, “All things must pass, indeed—but that doesn’t mean they have to go quietly.”
I’m working on at least three projects right now. One is the sequel to Check-Out Time, entitled Bonesy. I’m dealing with final revisions, and it’s definitely my favourite of the series so far, combining (I hope) the laughs of The Skates with the blood and thunder of Sleeping Bear, and the deepening friendship of the two men that drives Check-Out Time. Project number two is a play, The Fox, about a children’s entertainer accused of sexually abusing a minor. Project number three is The Copyist, a historical set in Rome, circa 1452. A departure for me, and commercial suicide I suppose, but the heart wants what the heart wants. I expect to have The Copyist complete by early spring.
What's the one question you wish you would get asked but never do? And what would be the answer?
Nobody ever asks me what I’d do with ten million dollars. The answer is, I’d refurbish a downtown building right here in Evansville such that the downstairs levels become a series of art galleries and rehearsal/performance spaces. I’d operate the building as a roadhouse for artists of all sorts as they travel through from larger cities, and I’d pay for the space by renting out the upper floors to lawyers, physicians, etc. It’s a model that’s worked for Universes, and I don’t see why it couldn’t work here. All I need is the seed money.
With my second ten million, I’d create large dollops of world peace.
Amazon Author Page:
At this hotel, check-out time never comes!
All things must pass––or so we’re told. When Reverend Renner responds to an invitation sent from a long-demolished hotel filled with ghosts of guests from times past, he soon discovers that checking out will be a lot harder than checking in. His sometime friend and investigative partner, Dale Quist, heads to the rescue, but it will take more than brawn and benedictions to put this particular hotel out of business. All things must pass, indeed– but that doesn’t mean they have to go quietly.