An interview with Nick Rayner, Editor of the fictional newspaper The Tandem Region Times
By Derek Newman-Stille
Nick Rayner is in the process of creating a fictional, online horror-themed newspaper about an invented region called The Tandem Region. He is currently inviting participants in this project, which seeks to combine themes from horror and journalism, mixing reality with a fictional world. The Tandem Region Times is set in a fictional Canadian small town, giving writers the opportunity to create a terrifying world within our own. In our interview, Rayner outlines his current project and the motivations and characteristics that shaped it.
You can find out more about The Tandem Region Times project at http://www.tandemregiontimes.com/ . They are currently seeking submissions, so check out their requirements.
Spec Can: To start our interview, could you tell readers a little bit about yourself and your background?
Nick Rayner: I’m a 26 year old who currently works in the advertising industry, mainly graphic design and content marketing. I currently live in Kingston, Ontario, but while living in Toronto I dabbled in self-publishing. I went to school for marketing, and before that I was in school for culinary arts. I’m at a point in my life where I describe myself as a “storyteller,” which is a cool way to say “I haven’t put in the gruelling hours to be a published Canadian author yet, but I’m cocky enough to do a project like Tandem Region Times.”
Spec Can: Could you tell readers a little bit about your current project, The Tandem Region Times?
Nick Rayner: The Tandem Region Times is an online, horror-themed newspaper about a fictional Ontario municipality called Tandem Region.It’s composed of 4 towns called Laughing’s End, Hatchet Hill, Spinning Head, and Museum City. The area also shares a dimensional schism with another reality which houses 4 similar towns, except they are populated by impossible creatures and are governed by completely alien physics and rules. The newspaper publishes stories from both realities, both in the same format, but with The Other Place being the highly experimental arm of this.
I’ve always been fascinated with internet horror, especially the stuff that isn’t really attributed to any author. Same with the images you find floating around forums and image boards. It occurred to me that the main reason these stories stuck with me was because of the lack of detail and poetry and a lot of the conventions most reputable magazines love. It’s like urban legends; they play loose with the characters and it’s more about the core narrative and making it seem like it could happen to you. There’s a mimetic quality to them as they’re passed around and altered slightly.
Spec Can: What inspired your interest in creating a fictional, horror-based newspaper?
Nick Rayner: I was working as a reporter around the time when my friend and co-editor Johnnie Alward said “we should do a fake horror newspaper.” That’s our Act 1. We’d worked on scripts and projects in the past and this was our way to take the reins and try something new.
The “news report” format to telling a story really appealed to me since it put the “concept” centre stage. I left the newspaper I was working at but the idea sounded like there was no ceiling; we could expand this thing as big as we want, and it’s completely dependent on the stories we receive. As we have more writers and different voices taking on these creepy events, we might see recurring characters and plotlines emerge, and we might see the geography of this world come into sharp relief. That’s what kept me going this whole time: the possibility, as an editor, to guide this world being created and see if patterns emerge.
Spec Can: I am struck by the potential of this paper to introduce readers to the exciting notion that horror and reality can mix and mingle a bit. What elements of the real world do you hope authors will bring into their horror editorials?
Nick Rayner: This is a very good question, and it’s one of the main questions that we’ve had to tackle with the paper. I said before there are no ceilings, so now I’m going to admit we do have SOME limitations. For example, there’s currently a lot of news about the elections in Quebec: are we going to have that sort of “ripped from the headlines” stuff in the paper? Maybe people want to write about the NSA, does that have a place here? Tesla Motors? And the answer is “sort of.” It’s a weird little small-town paper, so we’re not going to get into Palestinian politics, but this is first and foremost a place for storytellers, so if you want to tackle the NSA, maybe the story is about government surveillance, and maybe there’s a way to frame that within a city hall.
And even though I say this now, talk to me in a few months and see if I’ve completely gone back on my word, because someone might send in a story that breaks all these rules and it’s amazing and we run it anyway.
One of the first stories we will run is one I wrote where there’s a fire at a dairy mill and 20 people were dead, but it becomes clear that the milk was leaking from a vat and drawing people into it, and once they were swallowed by it they burst into flames, meaning that this was using people as fuel somehow to create destruction. So if we’re running stories like that, I don’t want to be the guy who starts slamming doors on peoples’ concepts.
Spec Can: Your website mentions that you are hoping to attract both horror authors who want to try exploring journalistic writing and newspaper reporters who may want to try introducing a bit of fiction into their work. What are you hoping will result from this collaboration and experimentation with writing styles?
Nick Rayner: From my perspective, this thing lives and dies on whether or not we can get enough variety of voices, especially in the horror genre. In comedy, you can riff on things forever. The Onion will never run out of content. In something like this – and this is another big discussion myself and Johnnie had – the fear is that we will get repetitive. We want to keep the stories fresh, but how long until we’re doing Dracula 2000?
In a lot of writing circles, there’s a bit of elitism that you run into, and I think it’s because it’s such a grind to get recognition in the writing game, especially in Canada. I’ve always said that everyone is a storyteller, though. And everyone knows when they’re hearing a bad story.
If I say to you “I went to the store,” your immediate response is “…and?” Then I say “I got some milk.” Then you say “And?” “And I went home.” “So?” Everyone knows how to tell a story, and everyone knows when they’re hearing a bad or incomplete story. We are human beings and we love narratives. We can comfortably say that at this point it’s in our DNA.
If we can figure out a way to tap into that, and if we can figure out a way to engage the experiences of as many individuals as we can, that’s how you inject life into this stuff. That’s the grand experiment with this thing. I think a hard-news reporter telling a horror story and a creative writer doing a hard-news report can both blow my mind in different ways.
I love the format for this reason. A blank canvas spooks a lot of people, and it can be intimidating. I’ve always liked writing scripts because there are formatting limitations and certain rules you need to follow.
To give a sports metaphor that makes no sense and will make everyone hate me, imagine you have a ball and you’re bouncing it in a room. It’s a big open room and all you have is a floor. You need to give me a wall, or a net, or a pole, and suddenly you have a game. That’s why writing exercises are the most important thing you can do to become good. You need to add some challenge – some limitation – and that gets people’s minds working. So if it’s “tell me a story, make it scary, keep it 800 words or less and give away as much of the story as you can in the first paragraph,” it feels a bit like a game.
Spec Can: I would imagine that, much like a newspaper, you are hoping for a lot of visual material. What sort of visual art contributions are you hoping for?
Nick Rayner: This is completely dependent on the stuff we receive, but I can tell you what the dream is.
The dream is that we have artists, photographers, and graphic designers sending in whatever they would qualify as “scary.” The mantra for the project overall is “it can be scary, it can be creepy, it can be bizarre, it can even be humorous, but it needs to be interesting.” We might end up with a pile of photographs of creepy buildings, forests, people, and we find ways to fit them in, or we write stories about them. A previous writing project I did called “It’s Made Of Hells” (madeofhells.tumblr.com) was all about this. I looked at the huge stockpile of creepy images I had and write stories that explained them. That’s fun, that’s something a lot of people can do. I can’t say for sure that all these people will start sending us things right away, but that’s the dream.
Spec Can: What can the visual dimension add to this project?
Nick Rayner: If the goal is to tell stories, then the visual dimension offers up all sorts of opportunities. A written piece can stand on its own, a photograph can stand on its own, or maybe one inspires the other. We’re open to anything that triggers inspiration. If someone sent us in a weird podcast, we would find a way to work that in. If someone has a collection of photos of weird food they’ve cooked and they want to run a cooking column about cooking things they found in a swamp that only appears every other month, that’s amazing, tell me more.
Spec Can: In what way do you hope that The Tandem Region Times will expand and change the nature of Canadian horror fiction?
Nick Rayner: It’s about creating opportunities. I think a lot of Canadian writers end up going the independent route simply because there’s not a lot of agents, there’s not a lot of publishers, there’s not the same market that you see in the US or the UK. That’s one of the reasons we wanted to make the Tandem Region a Canadian area, and not just a nondescript place.
It’s a buyer’s market out there for writers, and that’s why magazines/publishers can be so picky. That’s just what happens when there is an abundance of a resource. If the “problem” is there’s too many writers and not enough publishers, why don’t we find a new-media solution for this? Let’s just get as far away from the old business model as we can. Let’s figure out a way to give as many people a platform as possible, have enough editorial oversight to keep it consistent and ensure quality control, and build this thing where people know they can find great stories and writers can develop their skills. And get paid, once we work out the advertising situation.
Spec Can: I have to say that I really enjoy the notion of inserting a bit of fictional horror into a newspaper format since newspapers often contain so much real horror. I like the idea of playing with the nature of “real”. What inspired you to create a work of fiction that plays with notions of reality?
Nick Rayner: It’s the reality that makes things truly terrifying, and it’s the fuzziness of it that sticks with people. That’s the difference between a demonic possession movie where a bunch of random wacky stuff happens, and a movie like Black Christmas. You can tell when some humanity has been put into the bones of the thing, cause at some point someone thought “what truly scares me?”
Anyone can watch a show where someone gets shot in the face and blood goes everywhere. But if you stumble across a YouTube video of someone doing it, there’s some switch that gets flicked in your brain. It doesn’t look exactly like it should; the human body does unexpected things when it dies. Like I mentioned before, that’s why urban legends work. “It could happen to you.” One of the tips we give on the site is “don’t tell us a story about a recently divorced woman who is scared for her children because it’s raining blood. Just tell us it was raining blood and put us in that world.”
It’s interesting, though: you ask that question and it really does make a case for how the sensationalism of news is essentially telling horror stories, isn’t it? “It could happen to you.” Prejudice is built on this, fear is instilled with this sort of thinking, maybe that’s the social commentary that will emerge over time. That’s above my paygrade. Let the muckity mucks on Parliament Hill sort that out, I’ve got 2 days till retirement.
Spec Can: Is there anything further you would like to add to our interview?
Nick Rayner: I’d just like to thank you for asking me these questions and I hope all the tangents I went on serviced the answer to the questions asked.
I want to thank Nick Rayner for these new insights about this interesting Online collection. There is something very exciting about mixing news (a format for the horrors of reality) with horror fiction. I look forward to seeing what this project develops into and I hope that others are inspired to contribute materials.
Remember, you can check out The Tandem Region Times project at http://www.tandemregiontimes.com/ .