Mark Tullius - Horror, Crime and Mystery
Mark Tullius is an Ivy League grad, former fighter and football player, who writes some of the darkest fiction around. He also writes nonfiction about MMA and brain damage and hosts the podcast Vicious Whispers. As our Author of the Day, he tells us all about his book, Untold Mayhem.
Please give us a short introduction to what Untold Mayhem is about.
Untold Mayhem is a collection of 24 short stories that are filled with horror, crime, and mystery. Although the collection is not extreme horror, all of the stories contain violence, and some are rather gory.
What inspired you to write this short story collection?
I fell in love with writing through short stories and often use them as a much-needed break from working on a novel or as a reward for completing one. When I saw the positive reader response to my first collection Twisted Reunion, I put more effort in to creating some new stories and rehabbing a few older ones. At first, I was worried the stories wouldn’t mesh as a collection because they weren’t all necessarily “horror,” but readers haven’t had a problem with that.
How do you switch from writing nonfiction about MMA and brain damage to short stories?
One of my biggest problems as an author is getting overwhelmed with too many projects. In 2020 I released 3 other books besides Untold, and I am constantly popping in and out of projects. Writing nonfiction is not very fun, but fortunately, with both the MMA and brain damage books, I have been able to write fiction while doing research. When it comes time to write a chapter, I push the fiction to the side. I used to think it was difficult switching gears, but I’ve come to understand it’s all just putting words on the page, minus the deaths and blood.
You also host the podcast, Vicious Whispers. Please tell us more about this.
As a child, I enjoyed listening to stories on the radio with my family, and I thought it’d be nice to give nightmares to other families by sharing a story at the end of each Vicious Whispers episode. On the podcast, I talk about my writing and what’s going on in my life, and sometimes bring on friends or special guests to interview.
Readers say your stories are very dark, they go places where the devil would need a map and a flashlight. Do you ever get nightmares while writing your stories?
I have never gotten nightmares from writing a story, but a ridiculous amount of my stories have been inspired by my nightmares. I’ve had very vivid and violent nightmares the majority of my life. Instead of carrying around the lingering and unsettling dread throughout the day, I would pour those emotions onto the page. Whether it’s losing a loved one, taking a life, or being tortured, I will find a way to work it into a format with whatever else I’ve been ingesting.
Is there anything you're too scared to write about?
As much as I love writing about death, which definitely stems from my fear of it, I struggle writing about sex. I blame this on my Catholic upbringing, but I’m making progress and included a few naughty scenes in my novel Ain’t No Messiah. But just like the rest of my writing, even these scenes typically turn out to be messy and a bit disturbing.
Which story in the collection is your personal favorite and why?
“In the Cards” is my favorite story and one of the last to be written. Like a lot of my stories, it is based off events that I experienced. This story is one of the less violent stories in the collection and focuses more on the characters. It’s also one of the few first-person POV stories I’ve written with a female character, which is always a challenge.
Besides writing, do you have any other secret skills?
I have developed quite a few hobbies over the last few years to help with recovering from my traumatic brain injuries. While I wouldn’t call myself very skilled at any of the activities, I have improved at playing guitar, learning German, and playing Fortnite with my 7-year-old son. The most practical skill I have is being a purple belt in jiu-jitsu. It helps make my fighting scenes more realistic and it might come in handy when my daughter begins to date.
What was your greatest challenge when writing Untold Mayhem?
The greatest challenge with Untold Mayhem was not the writing of the stories but overcoming the self-doubt that plagues many authors before a release. I was so afraid of the stories not working well together that I almost didn’t put out the collection. Another problem was worrying about a couple stories like “News First” which involves a school shooting. I knew this story would be a trigger for a lot of people, but I was pleasantly surprised to find that many readers name it as their favorite in the collection.
What is your favorite motivational phrase?
Tomorrow isn’t promised. Every day I acknowledge my mortality and that of my loved ones. This may sound grim to some but it’s an incredibly liberating practice that helps me be more productive, enjoy life, and tell those around me how I feel about them. Life is too short to put things off and by remembering there might not be another day to do those things, it helps me focus on the present.
What has most surprised you about the response you've received from readers of Untold Mayhem?
I’ve been blown away by all the positive responses for Untold and am always surprised when readers compare my writing to Stephen King, who has had the most influence on my storytelling. The other surprise was that everyone has their own favorite stories. There are a couple stories I almost didn’t include because I no longer cared much for them, but then readers will say those are some of their favorites. Going through the reviews has helped me realize I can’t please everyone and that I just need to keep writing what I want and not worry about how the reader is going to take it.
Do you have any interesting writing habits? What is an average writing day like for you?
Pre-Covid I had a very strong writing habit and would knock out a ton of writing while my kids were at school. Now I’m overseeing distance learning, making meals, playing at recess, jumping in video games, washing more dishes, and laundering more clothes. But even with all these distractions, I force myself to make time.
One of my favorite writing routines is printing up pages and taking them into my infrared sauna. Not only am I not distracted for an hour, but I’m forced to either write or sit there in boredom. Another great habit that I’ve developed this year is being able to squeeze in writing whenever I have a moment. Beforehand I wouldn’t even bother trying to write unless I had a solid hour to work. Now I’m happy to get in a few minutes here and there, knowing that it’ll add up to a decent amount.
Another huge thing that has changed with my writing was that I had largely done it at night while everyone else was sleeping. Now that I understand the power of sleep and how crucial it is for recovering from traumatic brain injuries, I go to sleep much earlier and knock out some writing first thing in the morning.
What are you working on right now?
This list is one of the reasons I sometimes slip into feeling overwhelmed. It can also feel like I’m not making much progress because I have so many things going at once. But because I’m jumping from project to project I am being very productive and able to publish three to four books a year.
My Choose Your Own Adventure-style series is what I am most focused on at the moment. The books that I plan to have finished by next year are TNTD: Super High, TNTD: In 25 Perfect Days, and TNTD: In the Wild West.
I am also finishing up The Bridge, book 2 in my Tales of the Blessed and Broken series, and my nonfiction book on recovering from traumatic brain injuries.
Where can our readers discover more of your work or interact with you?
I love meeting readers and encourage people to visit my website www.MarkTullius.com and sign up for my newsletter. I also love connecting through social media and all my links can be found right here: https://youcanfollow.me/MarkTullius