EXCELLENCE DEMANDED, WHINERS PISS OFF
The last interview of Karl Edward Wagner
BRADLEY H. SINOR
Bradley H. Sinor: You’ve just completed work on The Year’s Best Horror Stories: XXII. What can you tell us about this volume? How does it differ from preceding ones?
Karl Edward Wagner: XXII is the biggest volume to date, weighing in at 31 stories and over 150,000 words. This is in part owing to the massive proliferation of small press horror publications. It differs from earlier volumes in the emergence of new writers, at least three of whom weren’t even born when the first volume appeared in 1970 from Sphere Books, the original publisher. As to its content, this volume reflects the current trend toward the indefinable, toward enigmatic horrors, toward the strange and disturbing. Horror is moving beyond stalk-and-slash and into the mainstream. This is not to say that there aren’t a few take-no-prisoners horror stories included, as well.
BHS: What sort of criteria do you use in selecting the stories that you want to include? How do you feel that your standards for selecting stories have evolved since you became editor of the series?
KEW: I select the best stories of the year, regardless of category or author. All types of horror are candidates: fantasy or non-fantasy, traditional ghost story or splatterpunk, Lovecraftian or surreal, subtle or gross, shivers or rotting zombies, enigma or in-your-face. I play no favorites with authors. Big Name Pro has the same shot as first story small press writer. I’ve run stories by Stephen King, and I’ve run stories by writers who may have never written another story. I have maintained this attitude for fifteen years as editor: No taboos. No holds barred. No free rides. Excellence required. Whiners piss off.
BHS: How did you happen to be selected as editor for The Year’s Best Horror series? I’ve heard some talk that you might be planning on stepping down in the next few years. Any truth to that report?
KEW: Dave Drake and I were in New
Orleans for DeepSouthCon fifteen years ago, strolling through the French
Quarter in search of food with then-editor Gerald W. Page. Jerry said he
had returned his contract for The Year’s Best
HorrorVIII to DAW because he wanted to devote more time to his own writing.
He told Dave to replace him. Jerry said: “No way in Hell.” I said: “I’ll
do it.” Jerry said: “You were my next choice.” Later, at
SeaCon in Brighton, Don and Elsie Wollheim came up to my room and asked me
to take over. Trying not to bite the side out of my glass, I said: “Sure!”
Stepping down as editor? No way. Never. Where do these rumors get started? I asked Elvis at the mall last night, and it was news to him. Probably started by disgruntled wannabes.
BHS: Okay, how about some basic biographical material?
KEW: I was born in Knoxville, Tennessee, on December 12, 1945. I grew up there, survived high school and the 1950s, but never became part of the local culture. In 1967 I graduated from Kenyon College with an A.B. in history, but never became part of the Gambier, Ohio, culture. I then moved to Chapel Hill, North Carolina, to attend medical school at The University of North Carolina School of Medicine. I went for combined MD/PhD (neurobiology), but never became part of the culture, and dropped out for a few years to become a Haight-Ashbury hippie and to write. Not getting rich at that, I finished medical school and earned my MD in 1974, then began a brief career as a psychiatrist. Not long after, my books began to sell. Been writing full time ever since.
BHS: When did you get interested in the fantasy and horror genres?
KEW: I suppose it’s in the blood. My great-great-great uncle was an opera composer named Richard. I learned to read from pre-code horror comics; gruesome fairy tales were my favorites. When I was five, I distressed my first-grade teacher by drawing horribly violent comic books with dialogue pretty much limited to “BOOO!” and “ARRGGHHAA!” Not much has changed in horror comics. I understand those grim fairy tales have since been censored. Twist kids’ brains, they say. Can’t think why.
BHS: When did you first start attempting to write and when did it really become serious for you? Where and when was your first sale?
KEW: My first stories were published
in grammar school and high school newspapers. Lost now, I hope. As a high
school sophomore, I wrote some of the worst Poe/Lovecraft pastiches ever
attempted, but got good grades from my English teacher. I began writing Bloodstone
at this time, in 1960, and copped an A for the prologue. At the time I was
submitting various short stories to the existing markets, with success. In
1961 I completed the first Kane story, The Treasure of Lynortis, which, while
not bad for a sixteen-year-old punk, did not crash F & SF.
This was completely rewritten as Lynortis Reprise years later. The original
version was published in German and (in English) in the Italian magazine Kadath.
If you find a copy, I’ll hunt you down. Late at night. After ten years
at this, I finally made my first sale, a Kane novel, to Powell Publications
in 1969. I had written the novel during my senior year at Kenyon. It was bounced
everywhere. Then, browsing the news-stand, I spotted a really tacky sword and
sorcery novel from Powell, or something like that. Reasoning that any publisher
who would publish something that putrid would publish me, (This is amateur
reasoning by the way, and does not hold up in practice.), I sent them, they
bought it, the book came out in February, 1970. I got my copy whilst on pediatrics;
my classmates asked if it were porno as I read it in the interns’ lounge
that night and...Well, it had been cut by about a third, and Kane had been
changed into a Black to match the cover of a Black swordsman with a banana
stuffed into his orange jock-strap, and the typos...In keeping with Powell’s
production values, they didn’t change the description of Kane throughout:
thus, Kane is a Black or a red-haired blue-eyed fair-skinned type depending
on the chapter. The reader may already have been confused by the unusual spelling
of “spy” as “spry” or the spelling of “bireme” as “direme.” Go
But, it was a first novel and a foot in the door. I took my next Kane book to Warner (then Paperback Library) as a published novelist looking for better pastures. Most important, I had saved a copy of my original manuscript, and all subsequent editions have been printed from that.
BHS: How do you feel that your medical education and training have affected your writing?
KEW: Never underestimate the value
of a medical education. Good for background, good for realism, good for the
discipline. I have written several stories (and am struggling through a novel
based on my background in medicine. I have to fall about reading splatterpunk
stories in which the killer rips off a human face with one jerk. I have flayed
human faces. I have dissected human corpses. I have participated in autopsies.
To do a good job flaying a human face, you need good scalpels and a few hours—that’s if the subject is dead.
You might use a chainsaw, but the AMA doesn’t approve.
After medical school I began a psychiatric residency at John Umstead hospital near Chapel Hill. This is the state mental hospital similar to that described in my story, “Into Whose Hands.” During my residency, two things happened: my earlier books began to sell and I got Kirby McCauley as my agent. When I left my residency to write full time, I had two books under contract: one due on the day I left, the other the following month. I haven’t looked back.
BHS: Kane is probably one of the best known fantasy/sword and sorcery hero/protagonists. How did you develop the character? Do you feel that your conception of him has evolved over the years?
KEW: Kane grew out of my childhood
fascination for the villain. Kane is not a sword and sorcery hero; he is
a gothic hero/villain from the tradition of the Gothic novels of the 18th
and early 19th centuries. Possibly his single greatest influence was the
doomed hero/villain of Maturin’s Melmoth the
Wanderer, although there are very many other sources.
What I wanted to do was to create a mysterious amoral character, far more intelligent and far more physically powerful than his adversaries. Before Kane, villains were either twisted geniuses or hulking oafs. With Kane, I wanted a character who could master any situation intellectually, or rip off heads if push came to shove. Fu Manchu with muscles. Kane is closer to the Terminator than Conan, although neither comparison is really valid. I suppose the best description is to consider Kane a genetically engineered organic cyborg created via magic and alien science. But you’ll find out more later.
My conception of Kane has not changed over some 35 years. I have always considered the series as horror (or Gothic) as opposed to sword and sorcery. When Powell published Darkness Weaves, I described the series as “gothic fantasy” and Powell so labeled it in their edition. Later, when working with Gary Hoppenstand on his groundbreaking small press magazine Midnight Sun, I described the Kane stories as “dark fantasy”. Gary liked that term, used it, and yes, I coined the term “dark fantasy”.
You’ll be seeing a lot more of him, from Eden to just down the block.
BHS: At what point do you feel that you made the jump from wanting to write sword and sorcery/fantasy to contemporary horror? Do you think that you would ever want to try your hand at sword and sorcery again?
KEW: There never was jump. My earliest published amateur stories were horror. I consider the Kane series to be horror rather than adventure, and Darkness Weaves was deliberately structured after the gothic novel. The second Kane book, Death Angel’s Shadow, appeared in 1973, the same month that F & SF published my vampire story In the Pines. Death Angel’s Shadow also includes a vampire story, as-well-as a werewolf story, Legion From the Shadows, which has a scene in which a girl’s flayed skin is discovered sewn back together and stuffed with human eyeballs. The kickball scene in Dark Crusade resulted in my German publisher getting busted. Ever count all the survivors at the end of a Kane story? One hand is all you need. I’ll be writing more ‘costume’ (if you will) fantasy, but don’t look for cutesy elves.
BHS: When you sit down to write, how much of the story do you know in advance, a little or a lot?
KEW: I usually have an entire story developed in my mind before I begin to write. Writing it down then becomes a matter of selection and control of language in order to achieve the desired effect. I suppose this is similar to a director looking at a script and deciding how to shoot it.
BHS: Do you have a quota of words or pages that you require of yourself?
KEW: I have no quota of words to write each day. If I am bored or confused with what I’m writing, I can’t expect my readers to do any better with it. Back burner city. Sometimes I go months without writing; on two occasions I have written 20,000 words of published prose within 24 hours. Not bad for a one-finger typist.
BHS: What do you consider to be the particular challenges for your short stories and in novels?
KEW: Short stories demand a certain tightness in writing. Each word should count. Novels you can be loose with. One so-so chapter won’t kill the book. Thus: short fiction requires intense concentration; novels are more relaxed. However, novels require greater organization, a long term vision, and lots of white paper awaiting lots or words. Life’s a bitch.
BHS: How did you come to be writing Robert E. Howard pastiches?
KEW: I was asked to write some
Robert E. Howard pastiches by Glenn Lord via my agent, Kirby McCauley. None
of us were happy with the sorry state of the then-current crop, and I was
brought in as a hired gun to try to sort the matter out. Legion From The
Shadows and The Road of Kings were both difficult to write. I wrote in my
own style, remaining true to Howard’s characters.
The second Bran Mak Morn novel, Queen of the Night, was held back for various reasons. It will be published in England later this year (1994) as a double volume.
BHS: What kind of approval system did the Howard estate/Conan Properties have on the books? Were you ever interested in doing any more?
KEW: Glenn Lord knew what I could do, knew that I would stay true to Howard’s creations, and gave me carte blanche. I was to have written three Conan novels, but by then, Conan Properties had assumed control with Sprague de Camp at the helm. He killed my first version of The Road of Kings, which told of Conan’s rise to king, on the basis that he meant to write that portion of the saga. Lost several months of work there. On the completely different novel of the same title, he made pages of quibbling and quarrelling objections. I was able to override them. After that, never again. Andy Offutt and Poul Anderson wrote the other two I’d been slated to do. Despite all this, Sprague and I have remained good friends. We’re professionals, after all.
BHS: In the introductions to the three reprints of Howard’s original versions of the Conan stories, you seemed to have been somewhat disdainful of pastiches in general. Do you regret doing this? How did L. Sprague de Camp, Glenn Lord and the rest react to what you had to say? In the years since, have you changed your opinion or do you still feel that way about pastiches?
KEW: I clearly and plainly stated my disdain for Howard pastiches in my introduction to the three authorized Conan collections, including advising readers that I, too, had written such pastiches, which they were welcome to read, just don’t mistake them for the real thing. Glenn Lord agreed with me. Conan Properties killed the project, which would have completed the untampered-with Conan saga in three more volumes. Damn shame, that. My opinion remains the same as to pastiches. I gave the ones I wrote everything I had. I don’t think Howard would have been ashamed. This morning on TV I saw a brainless Conan cartoon show, then an ad for Conan action figures. The pastiches were reverent. This...Bob, come on back. I’ll help you blow these bastards to Hell.
BHS: I understand that you were supposed to write the screenplay for Conan III and had some rather interesting encounters with Dino De Laurentis and company along the way. What happened to that project?
KEW: I did indeed write the script for Conan III. Dino had a studio in Wilmington,
North Carolina, so it was easy to get together for conferences. Dino was great
to work with, one of the last of the old school producers. Stephen King recommended
me to Dino, and things took off. Now, as a Writers Guild of America member,
I get a $35,000 minimum for one script and two revisions, regardless whether
the script is ever produced. Nice work, if you can get it.
The first version of Conan III was to have been shot in China with a $20,000,000 budget; Mako and Grace Jones (known to Dino as Macho and Girl-with Stick) to continue their roles from Conan the Destroyer. “Give Girl-with-Stick big part,” sez Dino. I was in L.A. for a final script conference with his daughter, the most excellent Raphaella, whilst David Lynch kept breaking in with problems on the final cut of Dune. He’s lost a can of film, but worse problems awaited. Dune was a megabomb, and Dino had to regroup.
The second script for Conan III was to be shot in Tunis on a much smaller budget. I was to downplay the special effects, and was told: “Girl-with-Stick. We kill her halfway through film.” I wasn’t certain how Grace Jones would react to this (she was a budget cut casualty), but I had her snuffed fighting a rearguard action against zombie priests as a whole mountain caved in. Uncle Richard would have been proud of that scene.
Dune really bombed. Raphaella’s comment that she needed to make back $125 million on the film was a bad guess. The third version of Conan III was to be filmed in North Carolina, no special effects, and no Girl-with-Stick. I came up with a rousing adaptation of “Beyond the Black River,” but by then Dune had put an end to Dino’s major budget films and had killed Conan III.
BHS: What other film script work have you been doing? How do you feel about the medium for writers?
KEW: I did a treatment for Delta
Force for Dino, but he didn’t think
the film would work. Another screenplay was The Twist, a film noire that Kirby
McCauley was to produce, but that fizzled. Best near-miss was a teleplay of
Howard’s “The Horror from the Mound,” which I did for Laurel
for Dark Side. Kirby bought the script back from them to use as a Howard trilogy.
I was to adapt “The Cairn on the Headland” as well, and Stephen
King was to adapt the Howard story of his choice. All to be shot on location.
Sam Peckinpah was to direct. Kirby was discussing the project with Sam just
days before Peckinpah died. So did the project.
Script work is no place for a real writer. You have to be a team player, which most writers aren’t. You have to set aside your own creativity to accommodate the wishes of those who hire and fire. You have to put up with the madness of the Hollywood mindset. You have to roll with the punches, expect to get fucked over, and hope their checks will clear. Then you can laugh a lot.
BHS: Were there any films that you can look back on now and credit as an influence on your writing when you were growing up?
KEW: Any number of films. Captain Nemo from Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea and Caine Miro from Roger Corman’s Gunslinger both merged into Kane. Forbidden Planet showed me the awesomeness of an unstoppable force. Yojimbo and A Fistful of Dollars brought home the fascination for the amoral wandering killer. And I have watched The Wild Bunch over a thousand times.
BHS: If they adapted your work to the screen, who would you like to see direct and star in it?
KEW: That would, of course, depend
on which work was adapted. Sam Peckinpah and Val Thewton would have worked,
but...I was on location with Clive Barker along with Dennis Etchison and
Charles L. Grant when Clive was directing Hellraiser. Clive had an idea for
an anthology film in which each of the four of us would script and direct
one of his own stories. I said I’d like to do “The
River of Night’s Dreaming” in black and white with hand-held cameras.
Maybe that’s why the project never materialized.
When I saw William Smith in some 1970 biker films, I thought he would be a perfect Kane. Check out The Ultimate Warrior. He’s a bit past it now, but I did get him the role of Conan’s father in Conan the Barbarian. Rutger Hauer would be my choice now, although he’s showing age. Check out Flesh & Blood. I think Rutger is Kane in that film.
Director? Again, depends upon what story is being adapted. A few names: Dario Argento, Walter Hill, Werner Herzog, Akira Kurosawa, Samuel Fuller, Louis Malle, John Millux, Roman Polanski, Oliver Stone. Dream on.
BHS: Do you see any particular themes running through your work?
KEW: The primary them is betrayal: characters betrayed by their lovers, their
friends, their dreams, their past. Virtually all of my major protagonists are
loners, alone against a hostile world. Some are destroyed; others, like Kane,
manage to triumph.
BHS: What writer, both in and out of the genre, do you consider to have been influences on you?
KEW: When you’ve been writing this long it’s impossible to name all the writers who have influenced you. Here are some: Robert W. Chambers for his gift of placing a deliberate barrier to final comprehension; Walter do la Mare for rather the same; Charles Birkin and Thomas Burke for their command of controlled psychological sadism; Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler for their precise control of the English language; Paul Busson and Leo Perutz for their ability to distort reality in the macabre; R. R. Ryan and Hanns Heinz Ewers for their elegant management of decadent cruelty; Edgar Wallace and Mickey Spillane for their tight writing and killer closing lines; Sax Rohmer and Lester Dent for headlong adventure; E. H. Visiak and David Lindsay for reaching beyond their readers’ grasp.
BHS: Do you consider yourself to be a “southern” writer?
KEW: No, I certainly do not consider myself to be a “southern writer,” although I have written about the South. The dust jacket copy to Doubleday’s First World Fantasy Awards anthology calls me a British writer. G o figure. Well, I do use British settings a great deal and hang out in London a lot and have enough of a British accent so that American tourists come up to me in pubs to ask directions to the British Museum, but seriously...
BHS: How did you happen to meet Manly Wade Wellman? How much of an influence on you and your work was he?
KEW: I first met Manly Wade Wellman
in June of 1963. My brother had just graduated from The University of North
Carolina, but had to turn in a late paper. He didn’t want to make the long drive from Knoxville to Chapel Hill alone.
I was mowing grass; Jim knew I was a Wellman fan and promised to introduce
us; we piled into Dad’s 1961 thunderbird and took off.
Manly was discovered at the old Wilson Library on campus; we had a short conversation. I said I was writing fantasy stories, Manly wished me luck and said he was all through with fantasy now that Arkham House was bringing out Who Fears the Devil. Four years later I returned to Chapel Hill as a medical student and looked in on Manly. We became the best of friends, and so it remained until his death in 1986.
However, Manly was in no way any influence on my own writing. We had vastly dissimilar techniques and philosophies. Manly used to say that he would give me good solid advice and then I’d go out and do the opposite. Mostly true. When I gave him a copy of Darkness Weaves, he read it and scoffed: “The day will come when you will repudiate this.” Considering the butchery of the text, I can’t blame his attitude. Twenty-four years later, Darkness Weaves is still in print world-wide.
BHS: Can you tell me how you came to found Carcosa Press? What current projects does Carcosa have in the works?
KEW: During my hiatus from medical school, I decided to start my own small
press, Carcosa, getting permission to revive the name from the four partners
of the original Carcosa House, which published one book back in 1947 out in
Los Angeles. With David Drake and my medical school roommate, Jim Groce, as
backers, I arranged with Manly to bring out an expanded version of his collection
Worse Things Waiting, originally accepted by a New York publisher who went
bust at the close of the Depression, later accepted by Arkham House, but shelved
after Wellman and August Derleth had a falling out.
Carcosa brought out four books, the last one in 1981. We have not done business since, and there are no plans for further books. Readers simply would not shell out the money for a deluxe limited edition; our stock rotted in storage, and we lost a bundle.
BHS: I realize that publishing goes in cycles and horror seems to be in a down turning cycle now. What do you think the sudden cancellation of the Pocket and Pinnacle horror lines and the reduction of Zebra to one a month portends for the immediate future of the genre?
KEW: This is simply a matter of survival of the fittest. Maybe 90% of the horror novels of the past decade are pointless, derivative crap, churned out by hacks who will now go back to writing romances, or by amateurs who have seen a dozen splatter films, read a Stephen King novel, and now want to write the same. It was a feeding frenzy of schlock publishers going for the current fad with no concern for quality nor any knowledge of the genre. Tough luck now for the twit who hopes to sell his novel about vampire cockroaches. Tougher luck for writers who do have something new to say, but have been lumped together with the garbage and discarded as no longer commercially viable. The good writers will hang in there and survive.
BHS: There have been some complaints that some publishers are trying to force the horror genre into a very narrow definition. Do you think that this is true? And, if so, how do you feel about it?
KEW: Are you defining crap artists like Zebra and Pinnacle as publishers? True, they bring out books, but these are not movers and shakers. What has damaged the horror genre is same-old-same-old. Same as splatter films. A group of victims get snuffed horribly but not before showing some T & A. Interchangeable shit. However, if readers demand nothing better and writers strive for nothing better, you can’t blame a publisher for buying what’s available and sells. Did Robert Aickman ever make the grocery store newsstands? I don’t think so, gringo. Publishers publish what readers read. Raise your sights and share a vision.
BHS: I understand that you keep a commonplace book to record your dreams in, for possible story ideas. Can you point to any stories that have evolved out of ideas that you’ve gotten from dreams?
KEW: Stories directly based on my dreams include “The River of Night’s Dreaming,” “Neither Brute Nor Human,” “Endless Night,” and “Cedar Lane.” I am still puzzling over one such dream entry in my commonplace book which is simply “Nematodes.”
BHS: What can you tell me about Tell Me, Dark?
KEW: Tell Me, Dark was the greatest
creative disaster of my life. I’m
still trying to get over it.
Right. Artist Kent Williams approached me with a few pages showing this guy wandering about, seeing this girl, then getting blown away by her in his hotel room. Good paintings, but plotless. Can you write a story, sez Kent. Sure, sez Wagner, but we need to do something about having your man killed off on page 5. Sez Kent, I’ll want some creative input in the story. Here Wagner should have finished his beer and walked.
It was to be an 80-page painted book, eight chapters. Kirby McCauley cut the deal at DC: is thou for me, rather more for Kent. Deluxe hardcover, mega promo. Clear sailing. Wrong. Outline accepted, worked on script and art begins. Two things happen.
Editor Karen Berger goes on extended maternity leave. Musical chairs editors accepts the script and pay off in full. Cool. Karen Berger, whose idea of writing is confined to dudes in tights and balloons with easy to read words, returns from leave and hates the script.
Meanwhile, back in Chapel Hill, Kent Williams has added his own creative input, turning a two-panel taxi ride into five pages of a taxi ride on a deserted M4 at rush hour then has injected a similar long boring clot of pages involving a fat Mexican wrestler in a jockstrap and with a flour sack on his head cavorting in the sand while our woman clad in a bustier is buried up to her ass in the sand and our man wearing boxer shorts is sitting in a ladder-back chair taking all this in. Kent thought I could write it into the story. Arrogance and stupidity are not a pretty combination. The eight chapters became five chapters. Major scenes and crucial characters were tossed out. The climax, which should have been ten pages, came down to a few pages, in which I had to explain what was going on in the missing sections of the story. Not good.
Kent wouldn’t change one brush stroke. Karen was clueless. Kent thought a concealed sawed-off shotgun could be carried about London even though it hadn’t been sawed off. Karen thought my character, an American hit man, would be more sympathetic as a stockbroker who went broke during the recession and whose wife had left him. And so it went. There was no meeting of the minds, even assuming Kent and Karen had room temperature IQs.
I got fired on Saturday morning, by special FedEx Saturday morning delivery, just to make the break gracefully. This after wasting a year trying to resurrect my story from the shambles, all after I’d been paid in full. Does it get worse? Yes.
One of my closest friends, John Rieber, had been sucking up to the comic books crowds ever since I introduced hi to the local colony. He really did want to be a writer. DC gave him the script to rewrite to fit Karen’s muddled ideas and Kent’s completed pages. For three grand he sold out. Going rate used to be thirty pieces of silver. He and Kent magnanimously insisted that I receive partial credit (with Kent) for characters and situations on my butchered and plagiarized script.
Two years wasted. Two friendships lost. I refuse to look at the rape of my creation, but I’m told my hit man turned stock broker wound up as a rock star. Hell, I’d seen it all in Hollywood, and I’ve been tossed out of better bars than DC.
BHS: So what do you like to do just to relax? What do you like to read?
KEW: I like to pour a drink, cocoon on the couch, and play channel roulette
with my cable box. If depressed, I turn my stereo way up and watch The Wild
Bunch again, though not usually at once.
Best relaxing read: the grocery adverts in the newspaper. There’s something about The Ramones, pump shotguns, and pictures of raw meat that soothes my tormented soul. Also I read dusty old tomes of eldritch horror that only Bob Hakji has ever heard of, then I reread The Long Goodbye.
BHS: To the best of my knowledge you’ve only done the one collaboration, Killer, with David Drake. How did that project come about?
KEW: When Dave came back from Nam
and returned to Duke Law School, he was still trying to make it as a writer.
Some early sales to August Derleth (based on the date on letter and check,
Dave almost certainly sold the last story that Derleth bought), but not much
more, primarily because Dave was writing fantasy (a dead market just then)
with solid historical backgrounds. Dave wrote a story, “Hunter’s Moon,” and submitted it to Fantastic,
where Ted White ate it. Dave had only retained his rough draft of the story.
Gary Hoppenstand had begun publishing the pioneering small press magazine,
Midnight Sun. I had given him a number of my stories; Gary needed more free
copy, and I thought Dave could use the exposure. Dave gave me the rough draft
of “Hunter’s Moon,” which I rewrote as “Killer” and
gave to Gary. This version has often been reprinted.
Some years later Dave and I were sitting about, talking shop, and we suddenly decided that “Killer” could be expanded into a novel. We brain-stormed a plot outline, Dave did the first draft and all the legwork on historical background, and I revised and wrote the final draft.
BHS: What do you think are your best written story and novel? What have been your most popular ones?
KEW: I like all of my stories. Otherwise, no one else but the trash collector would have seen them. I don’t submit anything I don’t like. This is why I’m so prolific, right? If I had to choose, I’d say my best story is “The River of Night’s Dreaming.” My best novel is probably Dark Crusade. “Sticks” has easily been my most popular story. I’ve long ago lost track of reprints and translations. The story was dramatized for National Public Radio and bought for the Dark Room television show (which was cancelled before the story was produced: William Nolan was to have scripted it). Bloodstone is probably my most popular novel.
BHS: What time of day is best for you to write in?
KEW: I used to write mostly late at night. The last few years I tend to work from late morning to mid-afternoon, assuming I’m not disturbed. I need a couple hours in the morning to clear my chest, and if I eat anything I get sleepy. So now I fast, argue with my muse, then relax in the evening.
BHS: What does your writing area look like? Is there anything that you like to keep around just for luck?
KEW: I have been writing out of the same study for over twenty-five years now. It is small, incredibly, really incredibly, cluttered. Last month I threw out utility bills from the early 1970s. My walls are covered with original art and photographs of Diana Rigg. I compose with a ballpoint on legal pads, type on the Royal manual portable I got in college, and play my stereo very loudly. I have a cheap Depression-era writing table, cluttered with such objects as an early-‘30s Packard hood ornament, beer steins, a bust of someone named Lydia, an Iron Cross, a ‘30s Coke tray, and lots of other neat stuff to fiddle with. For luck I keep a Colt Model 1911 A .45 in my desk drawer, cocked and locked.
BHS: I don’t want to jinx anything, but can you talk about any of your current projects and upcoming publications?
KEW: I have a bunch of short stories forthcoming in various anthologies. I’ll be collecting these and others for my third contemporary horror collection, Exorcisms and Ecstasies. Queen of the Night is headed for the UK. Much delayed Satan’s Gun and The Fourth Seal are past due at Tor and Bantam. At First Just Ghostly awaits completion as a novel. The Year’s Best Horror Stories XXIII will beckon at year’s end. And I’m working on a novel version of Tell Me, Dark. Several Kane projects are slowly taking shape.
BHS: So what do you want to be when you grow up?
KEW: A lumberjack!