I am pleased to be talking today with one of my favorite people in the crime fiction world–Jeff Marks. Jeff had the “pleasure” of sitting next to me at the Agatha Award banquet when I was nominated for Best Short Story and felt like vomiting all over myself from nerves. Despite that, he still talks to me, so he is a kind person as well as a talented writer, editor, and publisher. His work with Crippen & Landru Publishers has brought many amazing books into this world, including a short story collection by Charlotte Armstrong, The Columbo Collection, and, of course, my husband Art Taylor’s The Boy Detective and the Summer of ’74 and Other Tales of Suspense.
Let’s see what scares the man behind the publishing house with a gallows as its logo….
What is your greatest fear?
Death. I’ve had this rather morbid obsession since I was a child. When I was young, I was horrified to learn that if I died in a position that wouldn’t fit into a coffin, they could break my bones to put me in the coffin. So for several years as a teenager, I slept in the coffin position, on my back, ankles together, arms crossed over my chest. I do have my service planned out, plots purchased, and such. I’m not sure why I am always aware of the end of life, but I am.
What is your earliest childhood memory of fear? Or the scariest thing you remember from childhood?
My scariest early memory was my first bad asthma attack at the pool. It was a reaction to the chlorine, which we didn’t know at the time. Hyperventilating, wheezing, and then it went black, which is probably not a good thing close to a pool. No one knew what was going on, since I had not had any attacks prior to that. I don’t recall anything beyond that point. I woke up in the backseat of our car in the parking lot of a local pharmacy.
Is there any fear you’ve overcome in your life? How has that changed you?
When I was much younger, I was very much in the closet and had a fear that others would learn I was gay. You have to consider that this was in the 1970s-1980s, and there was very little representation in the media. It was also the start of the AIDS epidemic during that timeframe. The stereotypes were strong, and I was scared of being ostracized. Finally, I got up the courage and started the process of coming out. I feel that being true to myself had led me to the riches I have today—a wonderful spouse, a great role as publisher, and more.
What is your weirdest fear?
Fog. Maybe I read too many stories about Jack the Ripper when I was younger. Whatever the reason, a good fog and some footsteps will send me running. I don’t mind it if I’m in a car or in the house, but if I’m out walking in fog, I’m likely running.
“A good fog and some footsteps will send me running.”
Do you believe in ghosts?
I do in a way. Over the years I’ve been visited by family members during my sleep (like Scrooge.) They usually visit during times of great stress and provide advice and comfort to me. The dreams are vivid to the point of feeling real, and in most cases, when I wake and recall that they’re dead, I feel a great pang of sorrow that they’re gone.
What are your phobias?
Spiders and snakes. The snake phobia is so bad that I had to call my brother-in-law to come and get a snake out of the shed in the backyard. To his credit, he did it without asking questions, though I did hear about it afterwards.
What is your favorite urban legend?
I would say that my favorite was probably my first—Paul Is Dead, which was supposed to be a message you could hear by listening backwards to a Beatles song. Paul was supposedly replaced by a doppelganger for concerts and appearances. Since I didn’t have a record player that could play 45s backwards, I had to take their word for it.
Do you have a recurring nightmare?
It’s always a version of not being prepared. They’ve been especially frequent since I retired, and they have something to do with not having lessons or grades prepared. And of course, the fear of being fired or reprimanded is always a part of that nightmare. They’re always enough to make me wake up, but I don’t have any lingering fears after I wake.
How do you deal with fear?
It depends on the fear. If the fear is one that affects my life in a significant way, then I try to overcome it in a suitable way. If the fear is not one that impacts my daily life (think snakes,) then I just live with it.
Do you enjoy scaring other people? Why or why not?
When I was young, I used to love to scare people, hiding behind doors, rubber snakes and mice, things like that. However, I outgrew that, and now I don’t scare anyone on purpose.
What scares you most about the writing process?
Starting a new project new and finishing a project. Every time I start something new, I freak out that no one is going to be interested in the topic. The thought of investing what could be years into a book that no one wants to read scares me. The same sort of fear happens when I finish. I get very scared that I’ve now spent years on a project that no one wants to read.
What is your greatest fear as a writer?
That I’ll never be published again. Multiple books after I started, awards and nominations, and yet I still feel like I’m an impostor. I’m always sure, especially at the start of a new project, that everyone is going to open their eyes and realize that I’m a fraud.
What’s the scariest thing you’ve ever written?
It’s a different type of scary. I’ve been writing a series of crime short stories that are loosely based on my life. For a guy who closeted during that time in my life, it’s incredibly scary to open that door and show it to the world.
Jeffrey Marks is the publisher of Crippen & Landru Publishers, which publishes single-author, mystery short story collections. He is also the author of Who Was That Lady? (a biography of Craig Rice), Atomic Renaissance, and Anthony Boucher. His work has been nominated for an Edgar, three Agatha, two Macavity, and three Anthony awards. Today, he writes from his home in Cincinnati, which he shares with his spouse and three dogs. Follow him on Twitter @jeffrmarks.