Steve Rasnic Tem by Stace Johnson
Meet Steve Rasnic Tem, award-winning writer and Toastmaster for MileHiCon 2020. I’ve known Steve for over 20 years, and I’m honored to call him my friend. Steve has been a fixture in the Denver writing scene since the mid ‘70s, when he moved here from Lee County, Virginia. Having already attended Virginia Polytechnic prior to moving, he studied creative writing with a combined focus on poetry and fiction at Colorado State University and published several science fiction stories under his given name, Steve Rasnic, starting in 1978.
After moving to Denver, Steve met fellow writer Melanie Kubachko. They fell in love and married, choosing to take the joint surname of “Tem,” a term with roots in both gypsy and Egyptian cultures, representing the creative landscape that always existed within them both but didn’t fully awaken until they found each other. Thus began a decades-long partnership in parenting, writing, and teaching, and a productivity streak that resulted in a large vintage bookcase filled — spine-out — with books containing their work. Sadly, Melanie left this world in early 2015, but Steve soldiers on, with numerous short story and novel sales in recent years, including The Night Doctor and Other Tales, Figures Unseen: Selected Stories from Valancourt, The Mask Shop of Doctor Blaack, and Ubo, a novel about a man forced to relive evil acts committed by historical figures, but from their viewpoint.
Steve is one of the most prolific writers working today, with over 450 short stories, three plays, six graphic stories/comics, and 39 novels and chapbooks across a wide range of poetry, fiction, YA fiction, nonfiction, and instructional works. He publishes so much that rather than updating a giant list on his website whenever he makes a sale, he just uploads a new version of his constantly updated bibliography. (It’s currently 27 pages long.) He has won the Bram Stoker Award four times, the International Horror Guild award twice, the World Fantasy Award, and the British Fantasy Award. His collaborative chapbook with Melanie Tem, The Man on the Ceiling, is the only work ever to have won the International Horror Guild, World Fantasy, and Bram Stoker awards in the same year. He has also been a resident instructor at the Odyssey Writing Workshop, and compiled the seminal Umbral Anthology of Science Fiction Poetry, which was nominated for the Philip K. Dick Award.
In person, he’s quiet and unassuming, with a dry, sometimes wry sense of humor. Once, while I was helping him run a network cable at his house, I had to reach under a particularly large and heavy desk, where a community of spiders had been busy at work. After I fished out the cable and cleaned off my hands, I said something like, “You know, you have a pretty healthy collection of spider webs under there. I’d hate for you to get bitten.” After a perfect pause, Steve deadpanned in his soft Appalachian accent, “I prefer to think of them as cobwebs.”
None of these are the reasons you should read Steve Rasnic Tem’s writing, though. You should read him because of lines like this gut-wrencher, from the story “Half-Light” in The Night Doctor and Other Tales: “When work is done, when love is done, the soul can wonder what remains, but the one thing it cannot do is explain.”
And this one, from “Twember” in Figures Unseen: Selected Stories from Valancourt: “Of course, this wasn’t snow — it was nothing like snow. It was like the moments had been snatched from the air and allowed to die, left to litter the ground. He tried to step carefully, but still they fractured with very little force.”
Or this, from the triple-award-winning The Man on the Ceiling: “He rakes back the curtains and shows me the sky: peach and purple and gray like the colors of his eyes when he opens them, like the colors of his mouth, the colors of his tongue when he laughs even more loudly and heads for the open door of one of my children’s rooms.”
Steve’s writing is rich with imagery and emotion. Sometimes chilling, more often ephemeral than visceral, his stories force us to confront our successes and failures as human beings. He writes about fear, pain, and loss, but always in the context of love, and we are better people for having joined him on the journey.