How did you come to write “Nightcrawlers”?
I don’t recall exactly how it came about, probably because it just “came together” as one of those things you think about for a while and then suddenly the lightning strikes. I wanted to do something that I thought was very Twilight Zone-ish, which would bring a number of people together in a confined space, facing a danger from outside. Then I think the idea of the veteran who was afraid to sleep and who knew his dreams would come to life just “happened.” You know, I always say writing is kind of a mystic experience because sometimes you don’t know where you’re going when you start out, but the story always leads you somewhere.
Price’s near-conjuring ability while awake reminds me a lot of hypnagogic hallucinations, where dreamlike sounds and images impinge on the consciousness of someone who’s awake. Did you have that phenomenon in mind at all while writing the story?
I didn’t have that in mind when I wrote the story, but it’s certainly happened to me when I’ve been working on a story or a book. Hope that doesn’t mean I’m a nutcase.
“Nightcrawlers” has been adapted into comic form and for television as an episode of The New Twilight Zone. Were you involved in the adaptation process for either one? How do you feel about those adaptations, or about adaptations of your work generally?
I think the adaptation for The New Twilight Zone was excellent. I wasn’t involved in any of the adaptations, but I think they’ve all come out pretty well. The adaptation for The New Twilight Zone was extremely intense and was directed by William Friedkin, who of course directed The Exorcist, and also directed Sorcerer, which is one of my favorite movies and was sadly underrated when it was first released.
In the 1990s you announced your intention to retire from publishing. What got you back in the game?
Hm. There was a lot of both professional and personal frustration going on with me at that time. I was just kind of tired of being disrespected, I guess is the short answer. I was tired of having to defend my work and fight all the time. The greatest thing to me was writing a book, but as soon as I finished it was back to the fighting and wrangling again, and I just got very weary of that and somewhat snakebit. And the politics and ego games of publishing wore me down. That’s not what I wanted to be involved in, but I never had one of those hard-driving agents who would step in and take it on the chin for you. So I was on my own to fight the battles with people who had a lot more power than I did, because I didn’t have the leverage of movies or a TV series or any of that. I just had the books. I’m a pretty mild-mannered person, but I found myself in situations that would have made Harlan Ellison very proud of me . . . I did not lie down and let myself be run over. But I paid for it. Anyway, people came and went, editors changed, and of course the entire business began to change in the ‘90s. I needed a break, to recharge and think about where I wanted to go from where I was.
As for what got me back, I wanted to write again. I wanted to do something that I felt was totally different and totally mine and that hadn’t been done before, and that became the Matthew Corbett series. Of course that started a whole new slew of fights and wrangling, because it wasn’t “horror” as the publishing world defined it. So . . . I’m resigned now to the fact that if I want to be a writer and live in the publishing world, I have to fight for what I believe in, and I can’t let that overcome my desire to create.
What’s changed about your writing process over the years? Are there things that have gotten easier—or harder, for that matter?
My writing process has remained the same. Come up with an idea, let it grow and test it mentally, construct some “signpost scenes” to keep you on the right track, and start writing. I want to be surprised by what happens, and I want it to speak to readers in ways that are unexpected. I want it to be meaningful and leave the reader wanting more.
It’s gotten harder . . . always gets harder, because the stories become more involved and you have to keep pushing yourself. You have to keep taking chances and, of course, you have to run the risk of failure and accept that you might fail. It’s my life, for better or for worse. I have felt both blessed by it and cursed by it, but the ideas keep coming and the things I want to say are still unsaid and so I keep doing it. When I’m done and my last book is finished and I kick off, maybe God will explain some things to me I should’ve known early on. Until then, my desire to create and to speak to people through my work remains very strong, so I keep going. That’s the story.
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