Prolific horror and weird fiction writer Steve Rasnic Tem’s latest collection Onion Songs defies genres as it examines themes of identity, aging, and loss.
The stories featured in Onion Songs were written over a span of 30 years; what made 2013 the right time to publish this collection?
Chộmu Press is what made it the right time. This book collects peculiar fiction, work unlike the horror and science fiction I’m best known for. Chộmu has a great track record for championing that sort of work.
I agree that Onion Songs seems to defy typical horror or science fiction traits, and many of the stories focus on identity, especially within themes of aging. Did anything in particular inspire these stories?
Sometimes it’s good to make your imagination ignorant of genre. These are “strange stories” or “weird fiction,” and there’s a thread of the absurd throughout. I’ve always found identity to be the hardest thing to comprehend—it’s part wish, part fiction, in part the furniture of your childhood, and a little bit of that voice whispering in your head. I think you tend to question it most when you get older, wondering what it was you were doing when you expended all that effort pursuing a self that wasn’t even there.
Do you prefer writing short stories to novels? What are your favorite stories in this collection?
I’m a self-indulgent sort of writer, and I love the thrill of completing a piece. I enjoy writing novels, but in the same amount of time I can complete many more short stories, and experience many more thrills. And short stories are like little laboratories—you can make the most fantastic and unlikely premises and structures work which would fall to pieces at a longer length.
Here, “Out Late in the Park” and “The Figure In Motion” are two of my favorites, in large part because they feature characters of extremely low visibility who are forced, by circumstance, to look at the world through new lenses, revealing both wonder and terror. For the old men in “Out Late...” the lenses are infirmity and dementia, and for the widow of “The Figure...” it’s grief.
Do you know where your stories are going to go before you begin writing them, or are you often surprised by where they end up?
Usually I try to maintain a delicate balance between knowing in general terms where something is going, and then discovering the specific words and images that will take me there, although the destination always looks differently once you arrive. But sometimes I take a leap of faith with an initial single phrase or mysterious image and hope the evolving characters will tell me what their story is. It’s a little terrifying, and I have folders full of uncompleted stories as a result, but when it works well the writing experience is incredible.