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THE TEMS: A True Collaboration
by Paula Guran

First appeared in
DarkEcho: 08.17.00 [V.7 #30]

Maybe Joe R. Lansdale summed it up best: "Steve Rasnic Tem is a school of writing unto himself." Now, that could be good or bad, but in this case it is definitely good. Steve's over 200 short stories (and one novel) tend toward the quietly disturbing and have garnered him a British Fantasy Award, as well as nominations for the World Fantasy, International Horror Guild, and Bram Stoker Awards.

Melanie Tem's first novel, PRODIGAL (1991), was awarded a Stoker for Superior Achievement in a first novel. Her other critically acclaimed novels include BLOOD MOON, WILDING, REVENANT, and DESMODUS. She wrote both MAKING LOVE and WITCH-LIGHT in collaboration with Nancy Holder. Her latest novel, BLACK RIVER, although available in the U.K.. has yet to be published in the U. S.. Her previous novel, TIDES, was published in the U.S. by Leisure last fall, but appeared in England in 1996.

The Tems collaborate in life and occasionally in fiction. A novella, "The Man on the Ceiling," published last spring may be the most compelling example yet of their literary partnership. (See review below.)

The TemsSteve says they "seem to agree pretty well on the major issues in our life: child-rearing, morality, writing aesthetics, basic values. But we are creatures of different tastes: I love comic books, I'll go to pretty much any movie no matter how bad, I'm into animation and puppetry and a variety of experimental writings and art -- things which don't really interest Melanie. I guess I also have a greater toleration for the grotesque in art and literature. On the other hand I'm more conservative than Melanie on issues like the death penalty."

Melanie, not surprisingly, agrees they hardly ever disagree about writing and are "pretty compatible" on the rest. "Our differences are not, for the most part, disagreements. Steve's more cautious than I am, especially physically. We have different interests -- he loves movies and comics, I enjoy singing and hiking in the mountains. We have our share of arguments and misunderstandings; any relationship that matters is hard work." Melanie has discovered "lots of stories" in her 25-plus year career as a social worker during which she has constantly written She currently works for a non-profit adoption agency in the special-needs adoption program. Steve "taught a little college English, and I freelanced for a very long time -- any and all kinds of writing -- and in recent times I've gone back to being a Technical Writer as my day job, writing online help, HTML Web pages, PDF, that sort of thing. I enjoy the tools, and it's surprisingly refreshing to be out and around' normal' folk once again, after so many years in my basement home office."

They live in Denver, CO and were Guests of Honor at the World Horror Con 2000 in Denver, although they do not consider themselves as "horror writers," per se. "I resist categorizations across the board, in 'life and the universe and whatever' as well as in writing," says Melanie, "because I think they're reductionist and tend to minimize the complexity of human nature. I don't consider myself a horror writer, but I certainly write horror, and will continue to do so because some stories can best be told that way."

covers Steve doesn't "reject the horror label, but I don't embrace it either. I try very hard not to think of myself as any particular 'kind' of writer. The boxes publishers put us into are bad enough, but even worse are the boxes writers create for themselves. And once you're in a box, it's hard to think outside that box -- the box creates its own pressure, it changes the way you write. And as much as we talk about how wide-ranging horror can be, how much it can contain, the way it is generally practiced is as a rather narrow, constricting kind of writing. It doesn't have to be that way, certainly, a good body of admirable theory by such writers as Doug Winter conclusively demonstrates that horror can be an exploratory, wide-ranging literature, but so often it doesn't live up to that promise. I see a great deal of writing which feels 'inauthentic' somehow, because it seems written to expectation, and not as revelation.

"I've always admired Robert Aickman's name for what he did: Strange Stories. When I think about what I'm trying to do, I know that I'm interested in anxiety, the anxiety that comes from being a human being in a difficult world. So I tend to think of it in terms of an imagination informed by anxiety to create strangeness. That's what I try to do. I don't make any particular claims for my writing -- that's not what the process is about for me -- just that I'm trying, the best I can, to bring out the stories I know are in me."

covers

They are currently working on a collaborative historical thriller set at the turn of the last century in Denver. Melanie has just finished a new novel (more suspense than horror), a couple of dark fantasy short stories, and three non-genre plays/ "I had a lot of fun writing the plays," she says, "and it's a stretch for me, so I'll probably do more. I have a list of ideas for novels, some genre and some not, but haven't decided what's next."

Steve has a large collection, CITY FISHING, coming out soon from Silver
Salamander -- 38 stories, four originals. Early next year Ash-Tree will be publishing THE FAR SIDE OF THE LAKE, a collection of his ghostly fiction --there's no overlap in content between the two books. "And there are a few other, less practical projects I'm playing with: an illuminated alphabet collection, a story written as a deck of cards, a semi-sequel to CELESTIAL INVENTORY, etc."

Answers to the ubiquitous *DarkEcho* advice-for-aspiring-writers question? Steve replies: "1. Read the best writers you can find, never mind the genre or subject (horror fiction has never been more than 15% or so of my own reading). 2. Write every day -- it has to become a habit. Try writing a fictional diary, write somebody else's life -- it can ease you into that habit. 3. Don't decide what 'kind' of writer you are -- it will make it more difficult to find your own voice. If you have to be pigeonholed, let someone else do it."

Melanie says, "Write. I don't mean to sound flip. But I hear so many people say they've 'always wanted to write," and they've never written a word. So, I say again: Write! "

The Tems have a joint Web site Penumbra

CHAPBOOK REVIEW

THE MAN ON THE CEILING
Steve Rasnic Tem & Melanie Tem
Limited signed edition of 500 copies / $10.00 / 26 p
American Fantasy Press
P.O. Box 1059, Woodstock, Illinois, 60098
garpubserv@aol.com Phone/ FAX 815-338-5512

coverSingle novellas or chapbooks rarely receive full reviews, but "Man on the Ceiling" is exceptional in all ways. I've read it several times in the last couple of months and each time I've come away with something more, something different. "Everything we're about to tell you is true," the Tems begin. As the authors write fiction concerning nonfictional autobiographical details, one realizes that everything they tell you is absolutely authentic and thus revelatory. And is this not truth? So it is all true. Somehow. As the narrative switches alternately from one point of view to the other -- or maybe it doesn't -- we learn something about a marriage, about dreams and children and, most of all -- or maybe not -- we learn about the man on the ceiling. Metaphor or entity, hallowed or horrifying, we are guided to see this creature as a "necessary angel," a messenger of transcendent darkness. Or perhaps not. The reader will bring his/her own meanings to this piece, but in its exploration of love, fear, and creation, they will themselves be redefined. Memorable, marvelous, and moving, "The Man on the Ceiling" is, simply, miraculous.

[NOTE: "The Man on the Ceiling" went on to be honored as best novella of the year by the International Horror Guild, the World Fantasy Award and the Horror Writers Association's Bram Stoker Award.]


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