For my latest installment of Imitating Order, I had a chat with author Mark Allan Gunnells about the nature of stories; what they mean, why we tell them, and the journeys that they can take us on.
Matt: We humans are storytelling creatures. It’s in our nature, it’s what we do. We tell stories all the time, whether it’s to others or the stories we tell ourselves throughout our lives. But more than that, we use and gravitate toward stories. Why do you think that is? Why are we compelled toward fiction?
Mark: I think it’s our way of making sense of what often seems a senseless world. We make up myths, legends, religions…all other words for “stories.” I believe that’s why we as a species are drawn to telling stories and to being told stories.
M: Your work goes to some dark places. What is it about horror that caused you to choose it as the vehicles for the stories you tell? And how do you feel about genres in general? You’re quite adept at smashing multiple themes together.
MG: I personally am drawn to dark fiction because it can get such a visceral and profound reaction from an audience. It can make the blood race, the heartbeat increase, make you sweat, feel tense in your stomach. It creates a physical response. Also, I believe delving into dark stories can help us face real life darkness more effectively. Cathartic that way. As for genre, though, I honestly don’t give it much thought when I’m writing. I do dabble outside of horror and suspense, but I approach all stories the same. Genre seems more an invention for publicists and bookstore shelvers. I just see story as one broad body with a lot of branching limbs.
M: Speaking of genres, how do we filter reality through them? How is it people can relate so strongly to stories of monsters and magic and terror?
MG: When it comes to stories of monsters, magic, and terror…they can often work on symbolic and metaphoric levels. Fictional creatures can stand in for real-life horrors that are hard for us to face. Going back to my earlier answer, this may help us face these real-life horrors once we’ve tackled them in the safe environment of a book. Also, sometimes the monster can stand in for the way we all at times in our lives feel like we don’t fit in, outcast, and misunderstood.
M: There are so many ways for people to get their stories out into the world these days, more so than ever before. It seems, almost, like we’re in some kind of Renaissance of publishing and produce stories. But, the question must be asked: is that a good thing? Just because a person can tell a story, does that mean they should?
MG: I think it is a good thing. If you have a story to tell, yes you should tell it. Doesn’t mean we’ll all be best-sellers, but I love that there are so many ways to get stories out there now. I know from my years in the business that there are dozens of reasons a work may not find a home with a traditional publisher, and not all of them have anything to do with quality. Some say that the glut of self-published and small press books make it hard for any one book to stand out and find an audience, but I call bullshit on that one. It has always been hard to stand out and find an audience in the market. So I think if you go into it with your eyes open, and realize that not every book is going to be on the NYT bestseller’s list and approach it from the perspective of passion for the story itself, it’s a wonderful thing that there are so many avenues for storytellers to explore to try to find an audience for their tales.
M: I love movies, and dreaming about my favorite stories being turned into them. Let’s play one of my favorite games, “What If?” What if you had unlimited funds and unlimited means to turn one of your all-time favorite stories into a movie? What would it be, and why?
MG: Hmm, one of my stories or just any story? If you are talking about one of mine…I’d love to see my novel THE SUMMER OF WINTERS. It is a coming of age story that incorporates a lot of my childhood into it, the most personal and autobiographical thing I’ve ever written. I also wouldn’t mind my novella ASYLUM being adapted just because I love zombie movies. As for stories written by others…James Newman’s ODD MAN OUT would make a powerful and heartbreaking film in the vein of Boys Don’t Cry.
M: Here at the end I’d like to offer you the opportunity to do two things: first, promote something that you’ve done or got going on that you’re proud of and would like to get out in front of the world. Second: promote something of someone else’s that you think should be seen or experienced by more people.
MG: Well, my most recent release is the short story collection BOOK HAVEN AND OTHER CURIOSITIES from Crystal Lake Publishing , and next month I have yet another collection coming out from Unnerving Press called THE DAYLIGHT WILL NOT SAVE YOU. I’m very passionate about the short form, so my collections are always very special to me. There are a never-ending list of writers I think deserve more attention; I’m a huge cheerleader for writers I love. James Newman, Aaron Dries, Elizabeth Massie, Brian Knight, just to name a few. I also think Ron Rash deserves to be a household name. When his novel SERENA came out, it seemed he was on the cusp of that but then his star seemed to fade a little though his books since then have been equally awesome.