An Interview with Mark Edward Hall
By Cyrus Wraith Walker
By Cyrus Wraith Walker
Mark Edward Hall is a premier novelist and short story teller. His first published novel, The Lost Village, gained recommendation for a Bram Stoker award and was nominated for the small press Tombstone award. It has just been re-issued by Damnation Books and is available in trade paperback and for the first time, as a Kindle download. His stories range from good old horror fiction with substance, to supernatural and psychological thrillers.
Mark was first published in 1995, his short story, "Wasps," later was re-titled, "Bugshot," after its first appearance in Raven's Tale magazine. After that it appeared several more times in various publications before finding its way into Mark’s new collection, "Servants of Darkness." He has written 5 novels plus about 30 short stories, several novellas, and is quickly establishing himself in the conventional small press publishing arena. Some of his credits include The Lost Village, The Haunting of Sam Cabot, and very soon Soul Thief.
Born in Brunswick, Maine, in 1948, Mark still lives in Maine with his wife Sheila. He attended school in Durham, Maine, with Stephen King and Chris Chesley. He is a talented songwriter, and loves anything macabre.
Though he made the decision to be a novelist at the age of 18, the Vietnam War sidetracked Mark, as did other career endeavors. He may not have started at the same time as his fellow school chums, but the psychological and supernatural impact of his novels and novellas are befitting for this new period, an age in which Horror fiction is taken more seriously, and comes awfully close to the terrors that befall us in this modern age.
1. Mark, why is the Horror genre your chosen platform for writing fiction?
I grew up with TV shows like the Twilight Zone, The Outer Limits and Boris Karloff’s, Thriller. Early on, I read Dracula, I Am Legend, the works of Poe, Hawthorn and H.P. Lovecraft. I was just drawn to those sorts of tales. They seemed to tell me more about the human condition than what society as a whole was trying to feed us. Also, my grandmother Luella was a medium and fortune teller and because I was the only grandchild interested, she chose me as a listening post for her oral tales of ghosts and the supernatural. To me these types of stories were thrilling. They still are, actually. Because Gram would never have considered writing any of her stories down, most of them have been lost. But I immortalized her in my tale, The Hero of Elm Street. If she’s in a place where people can look down on what’s happening now, I’ll bet she’s getting a big kick out of all this.
2. Do you consider what you write to be “horror stories,” “psychological/supernatural thrillers,” or some other label? What label if you were to label your own stories would you give and why?
All of the above and more. I hate labels. I just write the stories that please me and let others put labels on them.
3. When did you start writing?
In high school I wrote poetry and first began writing songs. When I was eighteen, I started writing a novel at my older sister’s kitchen table. I was determined to make it work. We were from a small town with lots of sinister little secrets, at least in our minds. The novel was going to be a blend of Peyton Place with some macabre elements thrown in for shock value. It never got finished and when I got drafted and went off to serve my country the manuscript got lost.
4. Do you have to be in a special mood to start writing?
No. I write every day whether I’m in the mood or not. Usually I am. I don’t believe in writer’s block. But there are those days, of course when other things take precedence and it’s not possible to write. On those days I formulate stuff in my head and write it down later.
5. Do you have a certain method that you use when you write?
Nothing astounding. I get up, make coffee and sit down at the computer. I always have tons of different projects going all at once and I work on whichever one I’m in the mood for on that particular day, unless I’m writing on commission for a magazine or have a deadline to meet.
6. Out of all the stories you have written, which is your favorite?
A novel no one has read yet. I’ve been working on it for more than ten years. The working title is Angel Island. Even though The Lost Village is a big novel, 258,000 words, this one is bigger. I call it my magnum opus. It blends elements of horror, fantasy, science fiction and adventure. I hope some day it will see the light of day.
7. How do you get inspiration for your stories? Does it come from day-to-day events, a word or phrase you may hear, suggestions you get from fans, personal experience, dreams, or all of the above?
This is an easy one: all of the above.
8. What about the deep psychological ingredients found in your characters, do these come from any personal experiences?
I think all writers draw from personal experience. It’s difficult to pinpoint these experiences exactly, but yes, somewhere in the complex architecture of our minds things bubble to the surface and become ideas, and most ideas come from personal experience. Unless there’s some sort of cosmic place that we have no conscious knowledge of that just hands us ideas. Maybe, but unlikely.
9. Are you interested more in the psychological, or the supernatural aspects of your stories?
I’m interested in both but I tend to dwell on the psychological. And from that comes the supernatural. For me it’s a natural progression.
10. What are your personal feelings about spiritual influences people say they experience from certain buildings or places?
I think people experience things all the time that cannot be explained through conventional knowledge. There are possibly realms beyond which science and rational thought have not yet gone. That said, I believe in logic and reason first and foremost.
11. In your own experience, have you ever come across any ghosts, ghouls or anything that goes bump in the night?
I’ve had strange experiences in my life; I won’t deny it. But I don’t dwell on them. I tend to look for the rational explanation. I’m like Mulder’s character in the X-Files. I want to believe. I’m not the kind of person who automatically believes every conspiracy theory or ghost story or UFO sighting just because it’s the popular thing to do. I believe in rational thought processes and solid evidence gathering. Probably not what horror fiction fans want to hear but it’s true. I’m in love with the possibilities of the unknown. That leaves it open to speculation, which is what I like to do. Reality is much too elusive.
12. Do you get letters from people that say they have actually experienced things similar to what you write?
I’ve gotten letters saying that the reader has experienced a connection in some way to a particular story or character, or that the story or character has somehow changed their perception of a belief or an idea, which is strange when you consider that what I write is so fantastic. But I think people are searching and I think answers come in strange packages. I think there’s a lot of truth in fiction and I believe that certain people can see through the “lies” to a truth they might not have known existed until they read it in a story.
13. As a child, did you read horror stories and go to see horror movies?
14. In your biography on your website, you mention that horror fiction has undergone a renaissance of sorts; to what new beginning or regeneration are you referring?
Let me start by saying that I don’t believe horror fiction will ever go away. It has its ups and downs for sure, but as long as there are unknowns attached to life on Planet Earth horror fiction will be around.
Stephen King ushered in a new era of horror fiction in the seventies. There’s no doubt about that. Until that happened post World War II America had no tolerance for such things. It was a time of optimism. The world had just been through the horror of horrors.
Then inevitably came the cold war, quickly followed by fifties Sci-Fi movies. I loved them. I thought they were really cool and I still do. Those movies were a way of saying, listen, everything may not be right with the world after all. There’s some serious shit coming down. We’re just a push of the red button away from Armageddon and you had better be worried about it
There were some notable horror writers working at that time, people like the great Shirley Jackson and John Farris, but it wasn’t until William Peter Blatty published the Exorcist in 1971 that horror fiction began its true renaissance. Then came King and everything changed. Everybody wanted to be a horror writer and the market was flooded with mostly bad imitations. I think horror fiction took a bad turn in the eighties and into the nineties and I really believe a lot of people lost their taste for it. There were some writers of note, however. Robert McCammon, Clive Barker, and you can’t ignore Dean Koontz. And there have been lots of good ones emerge since then, of course.
Now, with the internet and POD publishing and devises like Kindle there is a new renaissance, and once again a lot of bad fiction is popping up on Amazon. Anybody can publish their own stuff, but I believe the public is becoming more sophisticated in their tastes. They know good stories from bad. I think the trend is toward better quality. At least this is my hope.
15. Some of your stories would make good movies, have any been optioned to the screen?
I have had some interest, and one particular movie producer has indicated an interest in turning my short story, The Nest, into a film, but I haven’t yet been given many details. Nothing is finalized so I don’t know what will happen.
16. With so many good stories out there, why do you think that Hollywood seems to continue making tired remakes of old stories instead of embracing the new?
I think it’s because the old stuff is familiar and safe, and a lot of film companies aren’t willing to spend megabucks on an unknown. It’s purely economic.
17. Embracing the latest of technology, I’m speaking mainly of the internet, what control over one’s own writing career has been regained?
I don’t think much control has been regained. The internet allows anybody to self-publish, but that doesn’t mean the work is good or that it will gain a wide audience. If it’s poorly written and the story doesn’t hold up it’s not going to go anywhere. The truth is, there’s no substitute for the filter of a good editor. Also, the reading public is more sophisticated than they’re given credit for. They know a bad story when they see it. That’s not to say that everything put out by traditional publishers is good. A lot of it isn’t. Just check the reader reviews on Amazon of some of the world’s bestselling authors. Publishers are reluctant to go with new talent. It’s a crap shoot. There’s comfort in the tried and true.
18. Do you actually believe in the things you write about, at least in part?
I believe in writing good stories. I like to be entertained and I like to entertain. I enjoy the process of bringing characters and situations to life on the page. I don’t believe those characters or situations exist in the real world. That would make me a nut job. Might make for a good book, though.
19. Several of your stories deal with average people beleaguered with great difficulties. You deal a lot with human nature. Is there a philosophical side to your stories?
Sure. I think all good fiction is about ordinary people caught up in extraordinary circumstances. If it’s not about that, then what would it be about? That’s just my opinion, of course.
20. Do your stories end for you when you are finished writing them, or do they sometimes continue in your imagination?
Oh, a lot of them continue in my imagination. I’m never really through with a story. I always think I could make it better or that I might come back later and continue it or write a sequel. They’re like my children. I care about their welfare.
21. Do you think it is important to keep your readers guessing?
Yes I do. This is my predominate goal in writing. Keeping readers guessing. Never giving them the truth of the story until the last possible moment. And the bitch of it is, sometimes there is no truth. Always an ending but not always a truth. Sometime this frustrates even me. But hey, that’s life.
22. Which do you like better, short stories or novels?
Novels. But I like short stories almost as much.
23. Since many of your stories deal with the psychological and supernatural, have you ever felt in any physical, mental, or spiritual peril from such forces, influences, or individuals?
I can’t answer this question here. I will, however, answer it sometime in the future in the form of an essay or non-fiction work that has been brewing in my mind for a while. So, I guess that would be a ‘yes’ with conditions.
24. With the new direction that horror fiction seems to be taking, do you think that the old attitude that horror stories are just cheap shots, that all you have to do is write a very simple story, has changed?
I’m not sure about that. I can’t write simple stories. I think there are those that can and do. If they’re good simple stories they will find an audience. Case in point: Jack Ketchum’s Off Season. Simple, but a terrific story. My stories have to be multi-faceted, multi-dimensional. It’s very difficult for me to write a simple story. I think today, for the most part, publishers are looking for stories with substance.
25. Do you enjoy reading other people's horror stories?
Absolutely. I like to see what’s out there, what’s being written.
26. Who is your favorite author of all time?
27. Which is harder to write, a story that appeals to the intellect or one that hits you at a visceral level?
I can’t speak for others, but I like my stories to do both and I try to make sure it happens simultaneously during story development.
28. Is there a certain fascination that drives most of your stories?
Not really, other than I want to write as good a story as I’m capable of and I want to be surprised by what comes out. I’m always pushing myself, trying to break boundaries. I strive to write a better story than the last one.
29. Have you had a subject that you have wanted to write about but have never been able to do it?
30. Breakthroughs in technology have advanced at a startling rate. It is no longer inconceivable to imagine things like one might have seen in say, John Carpenter’s They Live. Reality is quickly taking the place of delusional conspiracy theorists such as those that purport things like “voice to skull weaponry.” One of my stories Eternity V2K is based on such a shift after Holosonic, a sound technology company, scared the bejesus out of New Yorkers by using such technology to beam an advertisement into the craniums of unwary passers by.
That being said, Mark, do you see a time when fact will go beyond any kind of fiction a writer can conceive?
Unequivocally no! The dreamers have always been the ones who spur innovation, never the other way around.
To date Mark Edward Hall is one of my favorite premier authors. You find his serial novel Soul Thief at his website in the list below. He is in the process of posting a chapter per week. I highly recommend any of Mark's publications. He is on his way to being a contemporary master of horror.
You can purchase The Lost Village and other works by Mark Edward Hall at these locations:Amazon
Barnes and Noble