The Underground Author Series
Interview #5:
Mark McLaughlin

By way of introduction: Mark McLaughlin’s fiction and poetry have appeared in more than 450 magazines and anthologies, including Galaxy, The Black Gate, The Last Continent: New Tales Of Zothique, Bending The Landscape, OctoberLand, The Book of More Flesh, Darkness Rising, The Best Of HorrorFind, Best Of The Rest 2 and 3, The Best Of Palace Corbie, and two volumes of The Year’s Best Horror Stories (DAW Books). Recent collections of his work include a fiction paperback, Once Upon A Slime..., a poetry chapbook, Professor LaGungo’s Exotic Artifacts & Assorted Mystic Collectibles ... and a poetry paperback, The Gossamer Eye (co-authored with Rain Graves and David Niall Wilson). Forthcoming collections include a fiction hardcover, Hell Is Where The Heart Is... and two poetry chapbooks, The Spiderweb Tree and also, Men Are From Hell, Women Are From The Galaxy Of Death. Lone Wolf will release his audio fiction CD, Cryptic Doom: The CD Of Forbidden Knowledge. Also, he is the editor of The Urbanite: Surreal & Lively & Bizarre.

During the interview, Mark will be channeling the octopoid demon-god Kugappa, who first appeared in Mark’s story, “When We Was Flab.”

JL: You are one of the few to use the Lovecraftian mythos in an innovative way, always bringing something fresh to the table. What's your take on the Lovecraftian sub-genre?

MM: Well, if you’ll recall, in his stories, Lovecraft said that Cthulhu was insanely ravenous for delight...and Azathoth hung out with mad creatures that just blew on pipes for eternity...and all those demonic critters lusted for total anarchy and destruction. Now don’t those sound a a bunch of 24/7 party people or what? They weren’t gloomy Gothic gargoyles or effete phantoms. They were hungry, wicked, utterly jaded freaks...and I try to bring out that aspect of the vision in my own Lovecraft-inspired tales.

KUGAPPA: Hungry, yes! Me want flesh! Living flesh, ripe with blood!

JL: Your poem “Cyber-Cleopatra Vs. Robo-Demon Crazy-Boots,” from THE GOSSAMER EYE, just about gave me a seizure. Where you do get these ideas from?!

That poem combined a lot of ancient Egyptian and contemporary anime images. I read about ancient Egypt when I was little, and these days I enjoy anime, and I see some similarities between the two. The energy, the bizarre creatures, the lavish style—that poem sprang from my love of both of those influences.

I also used a lot of different historical references, including Egyptian, in my recent poetry chapbook from Flesh and Blood Press, Professor LaGungo’s Exotic Artifacts & Assorted Mystic Collectibles. One of the items in the professor’s shop of terrors and bargains is The Sandwich That Killed Cleopatra (the asp didn’t get her—it got her sister, Nif-Nif).

JL: Your poem “Ghost”—from the Dust Devil anthology—really struck home for me. Is there a story behind it?

MM: Well, whenever I read about a literary contest that has an Ethnic subcategory, it makes me sad. I realize they may be trying to honor different cultures, but in making them separate that way, they are only fencing them off. I also don’t like it when people try to pigeonhole writers by their personal specifics, even when they’re trying to give praise—“Oh, So-and-so is a fine black author” or “Yes, So-and-so is such a wonderful gay author”. It still seems condescending. How about just, “So-and-so is a great writer”?

JL: You seem to be a trailblazer in the fields of office horror and television horror. Office horror can be found in your poetry chapbook, Your Handy Office Guide to Corporate Monsters, and TV and movie horrors abound in your fiction chapbook, ZOM BEE MOO VEE. What is it that draws you to these subjects?

MM: They’re the horrors of the everyday. Most of us city dwellers spent too much time in the office and too much time in front of the TV. We’ve become obsessed with offices and TV (and the worst of all, TV shows set in offices!) and obsession sets the foot firmly on the horror path.

KUGAPPA: Let me chew on that foot! Me hungry! Put me on TV to enslave the yummy masses!

JL: Do you prefer creating poetry or fiction? Do you see yourself ever just sticking to one form?

MM: Like my octopoid friend Kugappa, I have many arms—but while his are on the outside, all mine are on the inside. I do a lot of different things, because I always have to keep busy. I’ve done some illustrations for a few books and magazines over the years—I’m always drawing, molding odd little figures out of plastic, clay, you name it.

KUGAPPA: Make more Kugappa figures! Worship my majestic tentacles!

JL: What is your power animal?

MM: The octopus, of course. Lots of strong, sinuous loves the dark deeps and can withstand a lot of pressure...and it’s tasty, too! I do enjoy calamari sushi.

KUGAPPA: Just as I savor the flavor of human sushi!

JL: What has been your experience as editor/publisher of The Urbanite: Surreal & Lively & Bizarre? What impact has it had on you as a writer?

MM: This year it’s becoming an anthology, and while I’ll still be the editor, Catalyst Books will be the publisher. As for impact...well, reading that big slush pile has shown me types of stories to avoid writing! For example, I’ll never write a story about a kitchen witch who turns her husband into a couch potato, because that’s the sort of cliche that gets overused a lot. Plus, characters like that are pretty stereotypical.

JL: Rumor has it that decades from now you will be flash-frozen, eventually revived and made younger by sex-mad aliens, then sent back to us here in 2003. Care to comment?

MM: Yes, John, that is true. A story (if indeed, the truth can be called a story) chronicling that occurrence will be appearing in a certain anthology being edited by—

KUGAPPA: By me! Kugappa, the mighty editor from beyond time and space!

MM: No, actually I think John is editing that, and I imagine he’ll be telling the world about that project in the not-too-distant future.

JL: Honestly now gave at the orifice?

MM: So to speak—I once wrote a chapbook entitled I Gave At The Orifice. I can be a slave to puns, sometimes. I think that might be the evil influence of Kugappa...

KUGAPPA: Sorry, wretched human! You’re on your own with that one.

JL: You have a little background in acting, right? How did your theatrical training effect your writing career?

I’ve been in some commercials, had a bit part in a movie, once had a small role on a local TV show, a few other odds and ends—I even once starred in a stage production of Shakespeare’s As You Like It. I suppose all that gave me a better ear for dialogue. I do a lot of readings of my work at coffeehouses and conventions, and I’ve recorded a CD of stories for Lone Wolf Audio. So I think the acting experience helped with that. I’m not afraid to speak in front of a group of people, even though that’s supposed to be the Number One fear in America. That says a lot about us as a culture, doesn’t it? We’re so self-conscious. We’re not especially afraid of hunger or wolves or tornadoes or even death—but we’re afraid of being looked at!

JL: I've seen quite a few of your illustrations in various publications. Will there ever be a fully illustrated release from Mark McLaughlin?

MM: Yes, I did all the artwork for my poetry chapbook from Kelp Queen Press, which is called Men Are From Hell, Women Are From The Galaxy Of Death. That will be out in Spring 2003. That was a fun project to work on. I also did the cover art for my Lone Wolf CD, which will be called Cryptic Doom: The CD of Forbidden Knowledge. And I’ll be doing the cover art for my poetry chapbook, The Spiderweb Tree.

JL: Readers can scarcely keep up with such a prolific mind as yours, but please tell us more about your forthcoming 2003 releases.

MM: I’ve already covered many of them. My fiction collection from Catalyst Books, Once Upon A Slime, brings together all the stories I’ve read at the World Horror Con gross-out contests, along with a lot of new gruesome tales. Most of the stories are humorous, but the last and longest one is serious, and it’s science-fiction, too—it’s called “Tell Your Secrets To The Slime.”

Later this year, Medium Rare Books will release Hell Is Where The Heart Is, a hardbound collection that contains all the stories from many of my earlier chapbooks. There are a lot of other previously uncollected stories, too. And, it ends with a previously unpublished novella by myself and Matt Cardin entitled “A Cherished Place At The Center Of His Plans.”

KUGAPPA: Me shall be released from my alien dimension in 2003! Humanity shall become entangled in my tentacles forever! The Earth shall become my buffet! Me would also like to get into movies. Maybe direct.

JL: Any new projects in the works? Any rumors or celebrity gossip you’d care to share with us?

MM: Lots of collaborations these days! I’m collaborating on some novels with writer Michael McCarty. I’ve also started a collaborative project with an illustrator named Dan Wild. I’m also got yet another collaborative project going with somebody with the initials JL, and it ain’t Jennifer Lopez or Jerry Lewis. And I’m writing a children’s book, too (by myself, no collaborator for this one). I’m pretty excited about all those projects.

KUGAPPA: Me hear Azathoth is dating a black hole. He such a player! He just can’t get enough! Me think he need to check himself before he wreck himself.

JL: Good advice for any demon or life-form. Thanks, Mark and Kugappa!

MM: Thanks, John!

KUGAPPA: Eat now?

[~interview truncated to protect the sanity of this dimension's fleshforms~]

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