Chin Wag At The Slaughterhouse: Interview With Mark Crittenden

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Mark Crittenden writes great horror stories. They are honed and know what they are doing and edge unerringly towards the darkness.

He is also a talented artist who has created award winning covers.

He has stormed his way into publishing and has a multitude of projects on hand.

He is passionate about literature and art.

He met me at The Slaughterhouse where we talked about film and the publishing industry.

If you were to make a horror film how would you make it different?

First off, I would ask for a small budget and a few very good character actors.  I think a lot of recent horror movies depend too much on C.G.I. and super-models, rather than employing good characterization and a building of fear through subtlety and good screen writing. I would also invest a good deal of the budget on concept art, because I don’t see how you can move forward with a movie until the vision of it’s every aspect is clearly defined. I don’t think enough of today’s movies spend enough time in the “concept” stage. I would like to try remaking a few films that I believe were intended to be visually stimulating, and would be more so with today’s technology. Some remakes I would like to take a shot at include The Keep, adapted from the book by F. Paul Wilson, Stephen King’s Carrie, The Incubus, Scanners, and The Thing.

Do you think it’s necessary to lose control?

Every artist has a raging fire in them.  It is necessary to lose yourself in creative projects, yes.  However, as an editor I will say this: the difference between tightly written stories and amateur scribbling is the amount of time one takes observing mechanics, and the necessary order of things.  Concision is the number one rule in writing. Every word should have its place, and there is simply no getting around the need to shave, trim, polish, edit, and re-edit until you have elicited your most carefully calculated reaction from the reader.  But before you get to these final stages, yes you should be a raging crazy person.  I would wager that the average writer lives very much inside their own mind, but I would caution them to never discount the necessary skill of being an observer at all times as well.  It’s hard to be a word smith if you can’t see the forest for the trees.

What is the most radical thing you have ever done?

The most radical thing I have ever done was to combine my artistic talent, my editorial skills, my ability to recognize the rough-cut gems in the field of undiscovered writers, and became an army of one.  I started Red Skies Press in August of 2010 with the intention of revealing to the world the most phenomenal talent in the small press arena. The first instalment is Their Dark Masters, a volume of extreme vampire horror that is guaranteed to hit every major artery and shock the senses into utter submission.  It’s not just a horror anthology.  There is something much deeper there.  It’s for those who have lost something they can never get back, and there are moments where the reader will come to terms with infinite sadness, and unquenchable longing. Good will make a stand against implacable evil, and remind us that all our struggles are eternal, even when life dwindles- that even if love does not conquer all, the spirit endures.  The authors in this book are on fire and have laid out their finest, most raw and spirited work.  I would dare to say it’s the only book of its kind.   Their Dark Masters hits book sellers in January, 2011.  Look for it on Amazon.com.

Do you think the publishing industry is in trouble when you consider the need for formulaic writing and massive sales and what do you think would cure its malaise?

This is where I go ballistic. The publishing industry would be fine if they stopped trying to package all these new authors into “look-we-did-it-again” categories.  In other words, seeing twenty different vampire series on one shelf that are all more or less mockeries of Twilight makes me ill.  Twenty seven books about the cutesy teenage necromancer (because it sort of reminds you of Harry Potter) makes me ill.  Disguising it with a mish-mash of Greek mythology so that it doesn’t seem so much like Harry Potter also makes me ill.  The list goes on and on from wife-beating pop stars, to troubled drug-addicted divas, to classics re-written to include zombies. I do somewhat blame this smog of superficial artifice on our current addiction to all things digital.  Don’t get me wrong. I’m not against technology.  What I am against are reality shows that glorify dumb shits, teenage pregnancy, hooliganism, and all other things that numb the mind into oblivion.  I’m against some application that pops up on your phone telling you that something is “cool, awesome, highly recommended, and oh-my-god you’re gonna die without this.” The belief that you need to have everything right away or it’s just not worth having is a constant misnomer in our society that has led to this kind of throw-away mentality.  Out with the good, in with the instant.  For that matter who wants to read a book when you can listen to an audio of it, or watch the straight-to-dvd movie adaption just days after it hit the shelf? And by the way, how are we going to keep making all these instantly-produced movies without the aid of so many cookie-cutter dilettantes, all willing to stick to the formula that made the guy before him so rich? This is how one aspect of the publishing industry perpetuates the other, to placate us all, the digitally dependent, the now-generation, the affably stupid.  How to fix the glitch?  I’d say people need to start going back to the old fashioned method of writing…by coming up with their own ideas.

Do you believe horror really exists and if so how does it differ from the extremes of human pathology?

That is a tricky question.  I would say that horror exists when the ‘fight-or-fight’ response is evoked and you find yourself locked in that instant of dread where neither one is possible. It is an extreme word, which carries a sense of finality. I think that the reason people immerse themselves in it, either through cinema or literature, is to come to terms with something dark within themselves, maybe something they think no one else can see.  By looking at it through a lens of non-reality they can contain it…study it, away from prying eyes.  Everyone is deathly afraid of something. For some that thing is simply “the end”, one of the most abstract concepts for the human mind to grasp.  As for its relevance to the extremes in human pathology, I would say that most extreme mental states probably have origins in one acute fear of something. As a young boy I had recurring dreams of being in the middle of the ocean, and seeing giant sharks and other prehistoric fish circling me. I have since been on several shark-hunting expeditions.  Go figure.

Which artists do you admire and why?

Since I was a child my imagination was always somewhere in the dark ages.  For that reason my favorites were formed very early. I’ll give you three: Albrecht Durer, Hieronymus Bosch, and Gustav Klimt (who is not a renaissance/medieval artist, but his use of gold leafing and mythical arrangement of characters make them seem very ancient to me). I mention these artists because it is their paintings that always come up in my memory because of their perfect execution, and because each of these artists accomplished something very new in their time.

Some art critics have theorised that Hieronymous Bosch imbibed hallucinogenic mushrooms. Have you been inspired my hallucinations in your art and if so of what kind?

I’ve never been big on mushrooms.  The stuff I see is too terrifying. I draw most of my imagery from a hard life. Night terrors, being too scrawny as a kid and getting the shit kicked out of me.  Bad stuff, all bad. I do horror because horror is what I know. When I was nineteen I weighed 135 lbs. I was that kid who had parents and a home and everything, but didn’t really belong there or anywhere. A year later I joined the Navy. I made it a point to gain weight in boot camp, so I packed on about 35 lbs or so.  I ran all the way to Japan, but what I discovered is that everything follows you.  There is no running from anything.  That took some 4 years to figure out. The only time I’m happy is when I’m finishing a great piece of artwork or telling a story.  So, at some point I figured I would do both.  It took several years to build up the confidence to submit a single story anywhere, and I started submitting in 2008 and got all rejections for a year.  I kept at it and kept at it, and finally success.  My first publish was in Champagne Shivers 2009 and the editor who at the time was Cathy Buburuz took all three of my stories and said that she had never published a single author more that twice in any issue. I was very proud of that. I landed another story in the 2010 issue (as well as the cover art), which turned out to be the last issue of that magazine.  In that time frame I hit the ground running and have published stories in several magazines and anthologies, and landed the cover art on just as many, as well as the editing of one anthology (Howl, which hopefully everyone has heard of). I guess at some point I realized that there must be a reason why I can do all of these things that sometimes take whole teams of people.  Go figure.

You’re given money to produce a horror opera, tell us how you would do it?

I would do my own opera rendition of the story of Joan of Arc, but it would be sung to a mixture of orchestral and death metal music. I would use extravagant costumes: lots of golden armor covered in spikes, and the devil would be present during the whole affair to offer his own asides and frustrations, but assuring the audience that he will get his way in the end, because all men bend to their own greed eventually.  It would end with Joan on the pyre to the music of Mozart’s Confutatis, sans the chorus of “voca me”.  This will be replaced with Joan’s parting words, reminding the audience that the flames of woe will extend to each of them, because their own enduring greed and evil will lead them all to her fate.  I can’t think of a more horrific opera than that.

What are your immediate publishing plans?

Right now I have two anthologies in production and one on the side burner waiting for life.  Their Dark Masters is the first, which I’ve already mentioned.  That will be followed up by the reboot of my popular title Howl, themed around lycanthropy and the animal myths of horror.  That one is still taking submissions and will feature some reprints from the first edition, which was launched by Lame Goat Press in March, 2010 (Amazon).  The third in the line-up is called Medieval Nightmares, and will feature horror tales set in the backdrop of that time frame.  All submission guidelines are listed in the Duotrope Digest, and of course all authors are welcome to submit.  If you are an author please give it a look.

Which small press author is likely to break into the big leagues soon?

If I had to name just one, I would say Lee Hughes.  His stories are original, and he can write in long and short hand form with equal skill.  His instinct for writing tight plots is exceptional.  He doesn’t play around or linger on the small details (which is not to say that he doesn’t have a knack for detail), and he establishes his characters and plot early on in a way that engages the reader. I have had trouble putting his stories down, even though I wanted to take a break in between.  He understands drama and how to build tension, and these things come across in his work with seemingly effortless clarity and honesty, as I can only imagine have been taught to him by life’s experiences.  I was privileged to edit his tale They, The Discarded for Their Dark Masters, which is some of his most stunning work thus far. I have no doubt the world will take notice of him very soon. I am very proud to have had the distinct honor of being his editor.

Thank you Mark for giving an interesting and engrossing interview.

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Mark Crittenden’s Red Skies Press is here.

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14 Responses to Chin Wag At The Slaughterhouse: Interview With Mark Crittenden

  1. Jason Michel says:

    “Every artist has a raging fire in them.” – Excellent.
    Mark, it was joy to be part of “Howl” & I can’t wait to see the Death Metal Opera.
    Superb interview by two of best thinking man’s horror/crime writers.

  2. AJ Hayes says:

    So much complete agreement here that I’m kinda confounded. It’s going to sound like I’m some sort of dumb ass rubber stamp, “Yeah, what he said,” moron. But it’s true. From making a horror film (Joan? That’s immense.) to reigning in the “I never edit, I Let the genius of the story tell itself” bullshit statements from sad ass wannabes to his brilliant answer for “What’s wrong with the publishing industry?” Aw hell, I guess I am one of those “Yeah, What he said” morons after all. Ya know what though? It don’t bother me none. A guy tells the truth? Man, ya can’t argue with that.

  3. Erin Cole says:

    Great interview, Richard and Mark. Hearing other authors talk about their work, passions, past, and future is always entertaining, but even better when they are an editor too, bringing a unique edge to writing and publishing.

    Thanks for sharing!

  4. Lily Childs says:

    Mark is an inspirational editor. Although I am fortunate to have had two stories accepted for Their Dark Masters I am humbled to be in the company of Lee Hughes, Barry J. Northern, Erin Cole, Mark himself – and others.

    I have worked for lawyers and accountants for too long; to collaborate with an extraordinary artist such as Mark makes all the difference. Only they can see the world within, and the bliss without.

    Mark, Richard – great interview!

  5. Mark! Your passion and precision is so apparent in your answers. I love your Joan of Arc idea, and you would be a fantastic movie director with your being able to see the “forrest for the trees”. I wish I was able to bounce between the wide and narrow scopes as easily as you do. One of the cool things abuot this interview is we get to see your observations through an artists eyes as writer AND illustrator. So cool.

    Keep howling, Mark. Don’t you dare stop (or else!).

  6. Jason, Thanks much! I hope that someday I get a chance to write that opera.

    AJ, Thanks for being in agreement with a lot of that. I’m just glad in all that huffing and puffing I did manage to say what was on my mind. 🙂

    Erin, I’m glad you enjoyed it. I always like to hear others talk about their work too. I’ve been introduced to a lot of cool people by your site. Thanks for always having an interesting place to host your events!

    Lily! You’re work is so intricate and unique. I’m glad to have been able to see that world. The pleasure is mine.

    Jodi, You write with so much spirit. That kind of energy is a fantastic thing, and you must keep that alive. I’ll keep howling too. 😛

  7. Mark, your recurring childhood shark dream followed by venturing out on shark hunting expeditions as an adult especially piqued my interest. As a child, I couldn’t stand to hear the word “vein” as it reminded me of blood. I would physically recoil when I heard the word. As an adult, I got an associate’s degree in embalming. I guess we overcome our fears. Also, I had never really thought about why we watch horror films. I assumed it was the thrill, but I thought about what you said here and I reviewed the films I have sought out in the past. I think we do seek what is most horrific to us individually, perhaps as a coping mechanism.

    Another great interview, as we fans of this series have come to expect. Richard, you always ask provocative and intriguing questions. Thanks.

  8. I dig these interviews. Looking forward to seeing what else Mark can come up with. Good luck Mark. You know where to find us. 😉

  9. Miss Alister says:

    Enjoyed your answer regarding the publishing industry, Mark. Seems simple.
    Publishing’s got like the people vs. the government: there are more of us than them, but we’d have to be solidly united to turn the big wheel of power around, but we’re divided into myriad factions…
    The final “but,” though, is more and more small presses serving up new authors’ own ideas look poised to turn things around over time. And your own involvement in that is commendable and appreciated.

    Richard, your questioning is as inspired and impeccable as your stories are. Each question is erudite, intuitive, wide open. And loaded! None are determinate. It’s like you hand out shotgun shells. And it’s always a blast to see where the intellecutal and emotional buckshot goes when the interviewees fire them back : )

  10. Kristin, yes I even modeled my vampire fangs a bit after shark’s teeth on the cover of Their Dark Masters. I tried to put elements of things in there that I would be afraid of. Thanks for reading.

    Carrie, there will be more to come. I hope you will join the party. Don’t feel like you ever need an engraved invitation to jump in, but if you do…here it is:

    Ms. Alister, so true, so true. One thing about the small press world I have noticed is that people have this tendency of trying to outdo each other instead of joining together. I suppose that is what makes it so vast, and the level of competition is always a good thing. Thanks for adding your thoughts on this, and thanks for giving my interview a read.

  11. richardgodwin says:

    Thank you Mark for an honest and memorable interview.

  12. Absolutely, Richard. It was fun. Thanks for the opportunity.

  13. Joyce Juzwik says:

    I really enjoyed this interview, Mark. It was so refreshing to see someone agree that when writing, we can be crazy. So much running through the mind, spilling out onto the paper, absolute chaos. One must pull in the reins though once its written. Unfortunately there is the need for editing and finalizing and so on. But that doesn’t necessarily mean losing the fire–it doesn’t have to. I totally agree too that so much out now comes off an assembly line of words. Different names (although not always), but same situations, same settings, same outcome. BORING. I can’t stand it when someone re-makes something. Don’t re-make what someone else created. Have an original idea. It’s not THAT hard. There are so many writers out there that need to be read, but if their work doesn’t seem ‘marketable’, they get nowhere. You recognize the need for their voices to be heard and make that possible. You are a true artist indeed. And last, but most certainly not least, Richard, thank you again for a fascinating and revealing interview.

  14. Thanks much, Joyce! So glad you agree on those points.

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