March 10, 2015

A Gathering of Ghosts: an interview with Mark Allan Gunnells, author of "Welcome to the Graveyard"

Mark Allan Gunnells loves to tell stories. He has since he was a kid, penning one-page tales that were Twilight Zone knockoffs. He likes to think he has gotten a little better since then. He has been lucky enough to work with some wonderful publishers such as Apex Publishing, Bad Moon Books, Journalstone, Evil Jester Press, Etopia, Sideshow Press, and Gallows Press. He loves reader feedback, and above all he loves telling stories. He lives in Greer, SC, with his fiance Craig A. Metcalf. (source: Amazon)

Gef: I'm often curious how a collection of short stories comes into being. What was the impetus behind Welcome to the Graveyard

Mark: I have literally hundreds upon hundreds of short stories, and had previously published a couple of collections.  However, I hadn't really attempted to get another one off the ground for a while.  Then my fiance and I attended the SC Book Festival in Columbia, South Carolina, and one of the panels we went to was on short fiction.  I found it very inspirational, and it reminded me that my first love and truest passion was the short story, and I was suddenly very motivated to get the ball rolling.  I contacted Evil Jester Press the next day and pitched what would become WELCOME TO THE GRAVEYARD. 

Gef: There is the obvious difference in approach between short stories and novel-length fiction, but how much of a gear shift is it for you as a writer when switching between the two?

Mark: I'm not a writer that plans or outlines much.  I always say I "write from the gut."  With a short story, I typically just get an idea and start, letting it unfold naturally.  With a novel, there has to be a bit more planning.  I still don't do detailed outlines even for novels, but I do have to do a bit more prep.  I also have to spend more time considering pacing for a novel, whereas I feel I have more of an instinctual sense of pacing for a short.

Gef: You've been cutting your teeth these last many years in the horror genre. Is this collection exclusively horror fiction, or are you dipping your toes in other genres?

Mark: Horror is what I mostly write, and I unashamedly embrace the horror label, but it isn't all I write.  And this collection does include a number of stories that have no horror or fantasy element whatsoever.  I did want to show that diversity in my writing.

Gef: Was there any kind of local folklore to influence your writing?

Mark: I do set a lot of my work around the area in South Carolina where I actually live, and local residents will recognize many settings.  What I aim to do is capture a sense of small town southern life, which is a combination of community and an ability to keep secrets locked tightly away from the rest of the world.

Gef: What do you consider to be the strength or saving grace of the horror genre?

Mark: What I think is the best thing about the horror genre is its limitlessness.  Anything can happen.  There are no boundaries, no taboos.  It's totally free reign for the imagination.

Gef: And what's the appeal for you to short fiction as opposed to a novel?

Mark: I think short fiction is a marvelous thing because when done correctly, it can truly give you a complete world and fully realized characters in a one-sitting tale.  For a writer, that can be a thrilling challenge.  For a reader, it's nice to be able to complete a story in a small amount of downtime, and buying a collection is like getting a dozen or more fictional worlds for the price of one.  Talk about bang for your buck.

Gef: What's the worst piece of writing advice you ever received? Or what piece of writing advice do you wish would just go away?

Mark: I was told by a publisher early on that if I was serious about a career in the horror genre, I probably shouldn't be so openly gay.  That kind of advice, well meaning as it might be, is of no interest to me because I believe above all else a writer should be him or herself.  I'm also not a big fan of "write what you know."  I always say, write what you can imagine.

Gef: What kind of guilty pleasures do you have when it comes to books or movies or whatnot?

Mark: I don't usually use the term "guilty pleasure" because if I like something then I like it, no guilt.  I have a fondness for 80s slashers because they were such a huge part of my childhood.  Some I think still really hold up, others I know objectively are not very good but I still love them for nostalgic reasons.

Gef: What projects are you cooking up that folks can expect in the near future, and how can folks keep up with your shenanigans? And where can folks pick up their own copy of Welcome to the Graveyard?

Mark: Well, I have a few more short story collections coming down the pike.  COMPANIONS IN RUIN will be released from Sinister Grin, and HALLOWEEN HOUSE OF HORRORS from Great Old Ones Publishing.  Sinister Grin will also produce my zombie novella FORT.  I can be found on Facebook and have a blog at 

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