Mark Sieber is the Oz to our yellow brick road. I told him this one day, but he refused to accept such a title. No other has captured my attention more than Mark Sieber. He is the man you send in to find that rare book or film. He is the one who can tell you anything you need to know about the world of horror fiction. And if he can't, you can bet your ass he'll find out.
Mark's not just a guy who woke up one morning and decided to write one of the most remarkable books on film and fiction in recent years, he is a man who started a movement over a decade ago. When the Internet was bleak and void, Mark was there. When the message boards took off, Mark was there. Mark Sieber has been the footprint you follow. Those footprints are still there today. All one must do is look for them.
I recently caught up with Mark for a quick talk about life, books and He Who Types Between the Rows.
SL: Welcome, Mark! Glad to have you here. What was the first book you remember reading, and what impact did it have on you?
MS: There was never a time in my life when I wasn't in love with books. I adored the children's books I had as a very young toddler. My older siblings were readers, and they had science fiction books lying around, and I would look at the magnificent covers and imagine how wonderful the stories were. I wanted to read them so badly.
But the one---the one that really ignited my passion for reading--was Robert A. Heinlein's Have Space Suit--Will Travel. I consider it to be the first real book I ever read. Heinlein took me away from the boring suburban world I was growing up in and transported me across the galaxy. That book embarked me on a voyage of science fiction literature that occupied my reading time for at least a decade.
I also have to credit Charles L. Grant. I read some horror while I was growing up. Bloch and Matheson, of course. The Others and Harvest Home. Jaws. Jeff Rice's The Night Stalker. Lovecraft. Later, I avoided Stephen King, who I thought would be a trashy bestseller author. An interview with Charles Grant inspired me to buy a used paperback of his collection, Nightmare Seasons. Grant is unsurpassed in creating mood, atmosphere, and subtle chills. From Nightmare Seasons I moved on to The Shining, and my life has never been the same.
SL: Were your parents encouraging when it came to reading?
MS: Not really. Hell, not at all. My mother was a decent soul, but she was far from an intellectual. She never read a book in her life, and she was perplexed by my obsession with them.
The old man was another story. He read voraciously, but it was almost all nonfiction. History and the like. Dad was fiercely intelligent, but not much in the way of imagination. He frequently informed me that I read nothing but trash, and would try to humiliate me for my love of science fiction. He was highly suspicious that the writers were Communist. Which many of them were, at least in their youths.
It was through my older brothers that I was introduced to writers like Heinlein, Asimov, Clarke, Tolkien. I took the reading ball and ran with it. They unfortunately, like far too many others, mostly lost their love of books and storytelling.
SL: Childhood can be tough for anyone, but it sounds like you surrounded yourself with like-minded friends. In He Who Types Between the Rows, you talk extensively about Drive-Ins. My father talked about stuffing friends in the trunk of cars and sneaking them in. Can you give us your most memorable Drive-In experience?
MS: I was actually a loner for much of my childhood. I think most readers are. Especially readers of fantasy, horror, and science fiction. I don't think the term, geek, was in use at the time, but that would have summed me up.
Later, in my misspent late youth and young adulthood, I hung out with a bunch of party dudes. Our most preferred spot to indulge were the local drive-ins. We paid pretty close attention to the movies, and many of my favorite memories involve great double features. Among my most beloved were double bills of The Fly/Vamp,Halloween/Friday the 13th, The Evil Dead/Xtro, Revenge of the Nerds/ Bachelor Party. Soul Man/Jake Speed, Death Race 2000/The Brood, Rabid/Piranha. I could go on and on.
Once a few of us were watching a great double feature of Vice Squad and Fort Apache: The Bronx. We were partying as usual, and a squad car pulled in. Terrified, we started hiding the beer and other things. The good officer pulled up to a speaker post and started watching the movie. We promptly forgot about him. God bless the drive-in cops.
Lord, how did we get home all those nights, with all the drinking? That was wrong, but then it was a different time. Everyone did it.
SL: He Who Types Between the Rows is an awe-inspiring title, Mark. How did you come up with it, and what can readers expect.
MS: I wanted a snappier title than The Best of Horror Drive-In or A Decade of Horror Drive-In. I was thinking of ways to incorporate a movie into it, and Children of the Corn popped into my head. It isn't one of King's best stories, and as wretched as the movie is, it's kind of iconic. So, corn rows, drive-in theater rows, and a play on a phrase nearly every horror fan knows.
The book is an x-ray of a horror fan's mind during the period of 2006-2017. Reviews of books and movies, commentaries about the community of fans, and aspects of my own life. Some have flattered me by saying that their favorite chapters deal with my life, and that they would have liked more of it. Sadly, my life isn't interesting enough to fill a book.
A lot of it flowed from my mind in an almost stream of consciousness way. I just poured the stuff out. While I was editing the chapters for publication, I was careful not to change the essence of it. Some typos here and there, maybe some awkward sentences, but no real alterations.
SL: Let's talk about Joe Hill for a moment, Mark. Before it broke that Joe Hill was Stephen King's son, I was scrolling through his website and found a portrait of him. I think it was sketched. I laughed and said, "Jesus, he looks a lot like a young Stephen King. He should capitalize on this." A few months later the story hit. My favorite Joe Hill short story is Pop Art. What is your favorite book/short story, and where do you see Joe in twenty years?
MS: Joe is great. I don't like Pop Art as much as others do, but I do love his stories. My favorite is Best New Horror, which is a smart and deeply informed insider's look at the genre and the creative process behind it. As for novels, I adored The Fireman. It took a while for it to build steam, but I barrelled through the second half of the book in record time.
I expect Joe Hill will continue as his father has done. Prolific, writing books that will please some and disappoint others. Also like his Dad, Hill is the big vista on the horizon, so it's easy to criticize him. I think he's miles better than the vast majority of the horror competition. Do I love everything he's done? Well, no, but I can say that about nearly every other writer I know of.
SL: Most memorable film in the last thirty years?
MS: Wow. That's a hard one. I'll assume you mean horror movies. I'm actually the wrong person to ask about this. While I was writing the pieces in He Who Types Between the Rows, I was watching as much horror as I possibly could. Now I am watching very little. I haven't even seen the Jordan Poole or Ari Aster films. For a long, long time I put more emphasis on movies over books. Now I am reading a lot more, and not only that, I am tending to my book collection. Mylar covers, etc. Some seem to think this is a tragedy, but I am perfectly happy with the situation. In fact, I've never been happier in my life.
The last horror film that resonated with me in a deep way is It Follows.
SL: Films have changed since the golden age. What can future directors learn from He Who Types Between the Rows?
MS: That tradition and the genre's history is just as important as new growth. Anyone seriously involved in working in the horror field should educate themselves as much as possible. To learn from the gothic masterpieces of the thirties, the melodramatic films of the forties, the atomic age hysteria of the fifties, and so on, up to the down and dirty grindhouse 70's fare and the horror comedies of the eighties. There are always some who want to jump on the horror bandwagon to make a quick buck, especially at a time like now when the genre is hot, but I think most who are serious about horror already know their history. I hope I point out some movies they have overlooked, or perhaps even challenged their notions about ones they are familiar with.
SL: Do you have any desire to write fiction?
MS: I did, but the attempts I made at it have been lamentable. I think it's best for everyone concerned that I leave it to those more suited to the craft.
SL: Unless I know their backlog of books and am a fan of their work, I tend to stay clear of those who beat me over the head with their books. I find myself looking for those who speak very little about themselves. As a reader, Mark, what attracts you to new writers?
MS: There are some people I trust. I take Stephen King's recommendations seriously. I don't always agree, but I like most of the things he praises. I also take Richard Chizmar's editorial choices to heart. If Cemetery Dance publishes a new author, or one new to me, I will take the plunge. Peter Straub never fails to steer me to superior books and authors.
It's hard to discern the really good stuff from the average. I see too much over-hyped horror fiction these days. I hear all these raves, and I try a writer or a book, and I'm like, really? This is great?
I find a lot more satisfying works done by the big publishers than the independent writers these days. I know that's not a popular stance, but for me it's true. So much of the indie stuff seems to be in dire need of editing, and I'm not just talking about proofreading. A real editor will kick a story in to shape when a writer, no matter how gifted, is too close to the source to see the narrative problems.
SL: And lastly, what advice can you give the up and coming directors and writers in our field?
MS: I have none for the directors. They have to deal with the money people and all bets are off in that realm.
For the writers, I'd say to aim high. Shoot for the bigger markets and don't settle. Be your own harshest critic. Expect bad reviews and learn from them. Don't rush a manuscript off to be published or looked at. Edit and polish until it hurts. If you decide to self publish, get a professional editor. Not a friend or a family member. Someone who will bust chops and not be afraid to hurt feelings. As my friend Tom Monteleone says, put your dick on the chopping block and wait for the knife.
Be sure to visit Mark's website at http://horrordrive-in.com/serendipitynew/