The following is an interview I did with author Mark Justice a few years ago for the now defunct Vintage Horror site.
Mark Justice is a busy man. He produces and hosts a great POD OF HORROR podcast. He’s co-authored three successful DEAD EARTH books with David T. Wilbanks. He’s had numerous short stories published and is a full-time radio personality to boot. His first collection of short stories from GRAVESIDE BOOKS is available on Amazon, so it seems like a good time to catch up with him to find out more about his various projects.
1. Tell us about your short story collection LOOKING AT THE WORLD WITH BROKEN GLASS IN MY EYE?
MJ: Originally, I had approached a publisher because I’d written a novella called DEAD TOWN, which was about an artist living in Greenwich Village who goes to bed one night, and when he wakes up, there is no sky. There’s just blankness where the sky should be, and he notices that only a small part of the block that he lives on is still in existence. The rest of the novella is trying to figure out where they are, he and his neighbors, and where everyone else went. I submitted that to a publisher, and they said they didn’t publish anything novella length, but if I were to submit more stories and make a collection out of it, they would take a look at it. They decided they would publish it and gave me an advance, but with a downturn in the finances they decided they couldn’t. I got the rights back and submitted it to GRAVESIDE TALES, and they wanted to publish it. By that time I had added to it. I had a book that came out a few years ago called DEADNECK HOOTENANNY that was made up of two long stories. I added that to the collection to bookend it. I had a second novella I wanted to include, plus some other unpublished stories that for one reason or another had never found a home. It ended up being a pretty hefty collection. I think the book ended up being better because of the material I got to add to it, and I think the cover by a Kentucky native Billy Tackett is a great cover. Another one of my idols as far as writing goes, Gary Braunbeck, wrote an outstanding blurb for the book that serves as the back cover copy. I’m proud of the book, and I’m looking forward to it coming out.
2. How would you describe it to those who haven’t read your work before?
MJ: It is mostly horror. Sometimes when I write, some humor creeps into it. Or at least stuff that I think is funny. In some cases it’s intentional. There’s some funny stuff in the DEADNECK stories, and there are some other stories in the book that are humorous horror stories and were intended to be that way. And there is some stuff that is very bleak. There’s a story called “Father’s Day” that I think is very dark. There’s another one called “Black Wings” which is also very dark. I think it kind of runs the gamut from straight horror to some horror with a humorous tint to it.
3. What was the process involved in choosing which stories to include?
MJ: When it came to the finished product, I just looked at things that were favorites of mine. I had a story published years ago that was called “Hole in the Sky”. I had always enjoyed that story, and I picked stories that I thought worked really well, stories that I was proud of, stories that I thought represented what I do. There’s another story in there called “The Losers vs. Beelphegor”, which was in one of the volumes of HORROR LIBRARY. It’s about a bunch of stoners from a rock band that have an encounter with an ancient god. That’s another story that has a lot of humorous overtones, and I was real happy with how it turned out. I still have enough stories that have been rattling around that have been published since the book was put together and some other things I just didn’t include for space reasons, that if there would ever be a clamor somewhere down the road for a second collection, I think that I could put something pretty substantial together.
4. Tying us in with Vintage Horror, do you have a favorite classic horror writer?
MJ: As a kid I read a lot of Edgar Allen Poe. I was exposed to him first through the Vincent Price movies, and that lead me to the books and then in high school they had more than one English class and one of them was Edgar Allen Poe. So I attended that class. As far as classic horror writers, he is probably at the top of my list.
5. When did you discover a love for the horror genre?
MJ: As far back as a young child I remember being fascinated by horror. I was growing up in the 1960’s, and there wasn’t that much network TV programming, so almost every television market ran horror or science fiction movies on the weekends. When I was finally allowed to watch them, which I think was when I was around four years old or so, I started seeing these monster movies, and I was incredibly drawn to horror for some reason. I think it’s the same reason people are drawn to ride a roller coaster, or go to haunted houses on Halloween, or things like that. We like being scared with that safety net knowing that probably something bad is really not going to happen. Of course there were comic books. DC comics had a lot of horror titles. I wasn’t too exposed to those because I was more of a Marvel guy. In the late 60’s and early 70’s when the comics code authority relaxed its stand on horror, there were a lot more monster books available, and I really got into that. Once I read Stephen King’s SALEM’S LOT and THE STAND, my path was kind of locked. I knew I wanted to write horror and try to inhabit the stories with real characters. That’s where I feel like Stephen King really created a subgenre all of his own, where he would create a world in his fiction that was like the way the world really was and then introduce a horrific element. I was just totally blown away by that.
6. What can you tell us about The Dead Sheriff?
MJ: It’s published by Evil Eye Books. It’s sort of a take on The Lone Ranger story turned inside out and backwards. It’s set in the West right after the Civil War, and there’s the legend of The Dead Sherriff, who the story says was a lawman who was murdered along with his family and he came back from the grave to avenge them. He’s got a faithful Indian sidekick, like The Lone Ranger. When the truth comes out, it’s the sidekick who had discovered a mystical artifact that allowed him to reanimate corpses. He does this and presents to the world this undead lawman. They travel from town to town as bounty hunters. They collect the bounties, and that’s what the faithful Indian sidekick makes his living with. He’s the puppet master for this reanimated corpse that everyone thinks is the avenging lawman, who actually is not moving of his own free will. Although in the first book there are some hints that there are some other things going on there. The first book will be called ZOMBIE DAMNATION.
7. Tell us about your pulp adventure called DONOVAN PIKE AND THE LOST CITY OF GOLD?
MJ: Another big influence when I was a kid was the reprinting of pulp characters, and the biggest certainly was DOC SAVAGE. I collected all of them when I was a kid. They had amazing covers by an artist named James Bama, who later became one of the greatest western landscape artists. All these books were reprinted from pulp magazines from the 30’s and 40’s. There was THE SHADOW and later THE AVENGER. There were other reprints too; THE SPIDER, and G8 AND HIS BATTLE ACES, which was a World War 1 pulp. It was all basically big adventure and science fiction elements. I’ve always loved that. There’s a couple of companies that publish modern pulp fiction, and I’ve contributed some to those anthologies. I just wanted a venue where I could write something like that without dealing with publishers, without any restrictions, so I set up a website called Pulp Nocturne , and I do that. I write it as often as I can, whenever I have a hole in my schedule.
8. What’s it been like collaborating with David T. Wilbanks on the Dead Earth series of books?
MJ: People find it kind of curious that I’m working on my third book in a collaboration with another writer who I’ve never met, but we have a pretty good working relationship. We’ve worked out a good system for writing the books and we’re having a great time with them.
9. You and David Wilbanks were pioneers in the horror podcasting field with Pod of Horror, how did that come about?
MJ: I don’t know how many other horror podcasts were out there, but we originally started Pod of Horror to kind of promote our writing and ended up with a program that has a very healthy audience for every episode. As you and I are talking today, I’m getting ready to put together our 65th episode. Because of time reasons, David Wilbanks had to drop out awhile back, but he still stays in touch. We had him on when DEAD EARTH: THE VENGENCE ROAD came out last fall, and we had a long conversation with him on the podcast talking about how the thing came together. Pod of Horror has turned out to be something that is bigger than I had anticipated it becoming, and I do enjoy it quite a bit. I get to talk to a lot of established writers and up and coming writers. Things that I take away every time I interview one of these guys is it leaves me pumped up to get back to my own writing.
10. With all these projects and a full-time radio job, where do you find the time to get it all done?
MJ: The day job, which pays the bills, has to come first. It’s not a traditional 9 to 5 job, so it becomes difficult at times to set aside time to write. I just have to find my opportunities wherever I have a few free minutes. Then there will be days when I can’t get any writing done. One thing over the last couple years that I’ve been a little better at is not beating myself up so much when I have a day I can’t write, because I used to really be hard on myself, and that would lead to frustration. The truth is there are just sometimes when it’s not going to be able to happen.
11. I recently read on your blog that you’re working on a novella called The Ghosts of Logan County. Are you able to give any details on this?
MJ: I have a specific publisher in mind for it, and it’s something that has taken a little bit of research. It also involves the civil war, although it is set in modern times. It’s something I’m real happy with how it’s progressing. I hope to have it finished in a couple weeks. It’s about a father who’s lost his son and is trying to start a new life and encounters some unexplained events, and we’ll see where it goes from there.
12. What horror creature or element consistently gives you the chills?
MJ: When I was a kid my parents had either TIME LIFE or READER’S DIGESTS coffee table sized books. This particular book was THE WORLD OF NATURE. This huge book had a full page close up of a praying mantis’ head and, when I was a child, it was the most frightening thing I had ever seen. Also, for a number of years I had a recurring dream. I don’t know why it started or why it ended, but I would be going through the house and each room I went into the lights would not come on. Eventually, I had the dreams so many times, that when I would flip the switch and the lights wouldn’t come on, I’d realize I was in a dream. I couldn’t do anything about it, but I would realize it.
13. Is there anything you would like to add?
MJ: From the time I was a kid, the only two things I really wanted to do was be on the radio and write. Now I get to do both, so I’m a really lucky guy in that respect. The third thing I wanted to do was draw Marvel comics, but it turned out I have no artistic talent. So that quickly went out the window, but I’m enjoying what I’m doing, and I hope I’m able to keep doing it for a long time.
14. Link info:
Mark’s blog: http://www.markjustice.blogspot.com/
Mark’s message board: http://horrorworld.org/phpBB3/viewforum.php?f=78
Pod of Horror: http://www.horrorworld.org/poh.htm
LOOKING AT THE WORLD WITH BROKEN GLASS IN MY EYE: http://www.amazon.com/Looking-World-Broken-Glass-Eye/dp/098331411X/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1379874006&sr=1-1&keywords=looking+at+the+world+with+broken+glass+in+my+eye
DONOVAN PIKE AND THE LOST CITY OF GOLD site: http://pulpnocturne.blogspot.com/
THE DEAD SHERIFF: ZOMBIE DAMNATION http://www.amazon.com/The-Dead-Sheriff-Zombie-Damnation/dp/0984880011