Horror & Dark Fantasy



Interview: David J. Schow

David J. Schow is an award-winning writer who lives in Los Angeles. The latest of his nine novels is a hardboiled extravaganza called The Big Crush (2015). The newest of his nine short story collections is a monster-fest titled DJSturbia (2016). He has written extensively for film (The Crow, Leatherface: Texas Chainsaw Massacre III, The Hills Run Red) and television (Masters of Horror, Mob City). His nonfiction works include The Art of Drew Struzan (2010) and The Outer Limits at 50 (2014). He can be seen on various DVDs as expert witness or documentarian on everything from Creature from the Black Lagoon to Psycho to I, Robot.

It’s hard to find out much about you prior to 1978. You had a childhood, right?

Actually, I sprang full-blown from the forehead of Zeus already grown up. If you don’t buy that, how about this: I am an actual German orphan adopted by American parents (then living in Middlesex); my mom died when I was seven years old. Childhood was fun until then.

Was The Outer Limits a big deal to you even as a kid?

I was there, day and date, for the premiere . . . and yes, I really am that old. My window for a sense of wonder was wide open. Imprinting occurred; perhaps possession. Fifty years later, I was still trying to figure out how this TV show from the 1960s had become a “lifework,” so to speak, at least for me. The Outer Limits Companion has now been on the planet for thirty years. I’m working on the third revised edition right now. For a shorter answer that will lead to a much longer answer, see The Outer Limits at 50, which is more about the autobiographical journey as opposed to the documentary approach. I’m not blowing off the question; that really is the briefest way I can respond. Hell, I’m still writing about the show!

Some of my favorite stories of yours display a rich affection for the classic Universal movie monsters. What do they mean to you as an adult?

Enough stories, in fact, to amass a decent themed collection on their own . . . which nobody is interested in publishing, so I’ll get around to it myself eventually. That’s another echo from childhood; if I changed over the years, how would those monsters also age or be interpolated into contemporary scenarios? On average, I achieved this effect much better than most of the movie reboots we’ve suffered thus far. When you’re a kid, those classic Gothic monsters quickly become allies. The next monster phase was psychos. After that came slashers, whom, if you reflect on their heyday in the 1980s, were mostly like incredibly punishing parents—don’t drink, don’t smoke, don’t play loud music or fornicate or camp out or disobey. I revisit those old friends less, these days—only when I really need to.

What can you tell us about your first sale in 1978 to Galileo Magazine? Was it a big deal for a twenty-three year-old?

First fiction sale, to the first place I submitted it, cold, and they bought it. It was a big deal to me, certainly, because I had embarked on a do-or-die, publish-or-perish approach, with no safety net. I had just made my first professional sale (a newspaper article). But at the same time, I was badgering myself because I had read somewhere that Robert Silverberg made his first fiction sale at age seventeen. So I asked Robert Bloch when he sold his first fiction, and he goes, “I was seventeen.” So I already felt six years behind!

Beginners call it “breaking in,” which is apt, because it’s a lot like burglary. I broke in and then didn’t sell any other fiction for four straight years.

You’ve credited both Robert Bloch and T.E.D. Klein as mentors. What was it like working with them? What did they teach you?

I didn’t actually meet Bob until 1982, but we had corresponded, much as Bob had corresponded with Lovecraft. Bob put a very human, workaday face on this seemingly glorious pursuit of writing for a living. I admired anybody who could type fast enough to survive in the age of pulp, to free-associate entire novels and have them retain some kind of coherence, which methodology proved to be ideal when I began hacking away at tie-ins. Five novels per year? No problem! (And I’m talking actual, 60,000-word “book length works,” to use the contractese—not the present-day, internet conception of a “novel” tossed off in a weekend.)

Bob juggled genres nimbly and wrote TV, stories, novels, and movies with equal aplomb, which seemed to be a very practical approach to which to aspire as a writer. Do it all.

I didn’t “work” with Bob per se until much later. But he remained a friend, a colleague, and an inspiration from the first. To this day he still doesn’t get enough credit for inventing the entire genre of “psychological horror,” practically single-handedly.

As for Ted Klein (the “T” is for Theodore, hence “Ted”), I camped out on his metaphorical doorstep and refused to go away until he bought stuff from me. He cracked before I did. The first issue of Twilight Zone Magazine hit the stands in 1981, and I saw it with a religious glow around it, like a revelation. My destiny. I must be in this magazine. And I deluged Ted with submissions, and got some very instructive rejections. Then he started buying stuff, oh Lord . . . and from him I got very intuitive editorial input. My big victory came with about the fourth short story I sold him. He called me—we spent a lot of time on the phone—and said, “We’re taking it. No changes.”

I am one of the few people on the planet who has read the bones of Ted’s never-finished second novel, Nighttown. I read it while I was staying in his apartment in Manhattan.

My first appearance in Twilight Zone was in 1982, and I was in the magazine (and its sister digest-sized spinoff, Night Cry) every year until it folded in 1989. Without Twilight Zone, the whole splatterpunk phase never would have happened—visibly, at least. Most specially, it became a go-to place for New York editors seeking new horror. They could audition us by reading our short fiction in a magazine that regularly headlined the stars of the field—not a fanzine or a niche publication, but a periodical that had the muscle of national men’s-mag distribution. You could buy it in 7-Elevens. In more than one convenience store I found Night Cry on the register racks right next to TV Guide.

You’re now the one usually credited with creating the term “splatterpunk.” Has “punk” now been affixed to so many other words that it’s lost meaning?

“Splatterpunk” was most obviously a riff on “cyberpunk,” etymologically speaking. It was immediately inflammatory and divisive, but it was great PR. But the partyline swiftly became vicious: the splatterpunks had ruined horror for everybody. We took a lot of heat. Now flash forward to our mutual editor, John Joseph Adams, running a very successful Kickstarter campaign called People of Colo(u)r Destroy Science Fiction! Go read the essays. Inclusivity should be mandatory. The only arbiter should be talent.

To answer the question, I think folks currently into steampunk fashion would resent having their “punk” deleted. And love it or hate it, “splatterpunk” has been in the Oxford English Dictionary since 2002. Go ahead, writers—try to crack that market. I dare you.

Is it fair to say that the original splatterpunks—you, Clive Barker, Joe Lansdale, R.C. Matheson, John Skipp, among others—were dedicated to expanding the boundaries of horror in terms of both style and substance? Was that later corrupted into torture porn?

Yes to the first, and no to the second, which is an unfair corollary. It mistakenly mixes “scary stories” with the lowest common denominator of the worst slasher movies, when the two always had very little in common. Horror fiction has traditionally suffered, and continues to suffer, from a critical conflation with horror movies. One reason horror remains largely a ghetto category is that every time somebody wants to slag the entire genre, they cite torture porn, which confuses cruelty with horror. Now, the “conte cruel” has always been a big part of horror, but as Ramsey Campbell says, it’s not the only part.

In a 1997 interview, you suggested that splatterpunk had also given rise to horror’s “Riot Grrls,” new (at the time) female authors like Kathe Koja, Yvonne Navarro, Caitlìn R. Kiernan, and more. Do you think they sprang out of splatterpunk . . . or as reaction to the largely male-centered authors of the movement?

Time-wise, it’s convenient to say they succeeded us, but the truth is they were there all along. What codified it in my mind as a “moment,” if not necessarily a “movement,” was the formation of Dell Abyss, which embraced women horror writers in a way the Tor Horror imprint rarely had up to that point. And it was refreshing to read because “extreme horror” becomes self-parodying at lightspeed. Correct me if I’m wrong, but you started publishing fiction in the early-to-mid 1990s, yes?

Yep—I think it was about ’94, thanks to our mutual pal Steve Jones.

(Who has kept me alive on the other side of the pond for decades, now.)

Let’s look at some numbers: Splatterpunk, as a conceit, had pretty much gasped its last by about 1992 . . . the same year Poppy Z. Brite published Lost Souls (her first novel) and Melanie Tem published Blood Moon (her second)—both from Dell Abyss. Kathe Koja did The Cipher (1991), Bad Brains (1992), and Skin (1993). Lucy Taylor published The Safety of Unknown Cities in 1995, and Yvonne Navarro started publishing novelizations in 1996, by which time Nancy Holder had already been publishing for ten years. Nancy Kilpatrick burned up the entire decade of the ’90s with her “Aramantha Knight” Darker Passions series. By 1998, you’ve got debuts by Mehitobel Wilson, Christa Faust, and Caitlìn R. Kiernan. Yeah, I think women horror writers pretty much owned the ’90s all by themselves.

You’ve only written three horror novels—The Kill Riff (1988), The Shaft (1990), and Rock Breaks Scissors Cut (2003). Do you think horror works better in short form?

To the first: The Kill Riff is not really a horror novel. There’s nothing otherworldly or supernatural in it; it’s more of a thriller, but Tor marketed it as horror—“urban” or “psychological” horror, I guess—which was a fatal error. Rock Breaks fits my definition of horror, but it’s only novella-length. Which leaves The Shaft as the only bona fide horror novel I have written to date.

To the second: The Shaft began life as a short story (it was published in Weird Tales, in fact). And yes, always—the short story form is the ideal form for horror. But people don’t have the love for short fiction that once existed, when Ray Bradbury would publish in the Saturday Evening Post and everybody would be talking about his story the next day, or Ray Russell would publish a new Charles Beaumont tale in Playboy. Readers now want to cock their thumb at a huge brick of text and say, “See? I read that.” But the impetus that sent generations of scary story writers down the slide was always—always—stories. Not Dracula, not Frankenstein, not Beowulf, not the infrequent long-form benchmark works, but rather Poe, Lovecraft, Finney, Bloch, Kersh, du Maurier, Dahl, Leiber, Brown, Jane Rice, Sturgeon, Shirley Jackson, and all their ilk, as experienced through a shit-ton of anthologies. I dedicated DJSturbia to all of them, to their short fiction; them and a couple hundred more, for their short stories, whether they did novels as well, or not.

When Publishers Weekly reviewed your third novel Rock Breaks Scissors Cut, they noted that it “rises above the usual genre fare.” Does a phrase like that make you a little crazy?

“The usual,” in horror, is the ghetto—hoary characters, paint-by-numbers plots, hideously under-talented Steve King wannabes. I remind you that not so long ago, nearly all of us thought we could smell the “usual” at fifty paces, because the paperbacks had die-cut covers, foil, embossing, possessed children, skulls, and cutlery stuck in fruit.

But here’s the thing: I don’t want the “usual,” and neither do most readers still possessing a functioning brain. I understand literary comfort food and literary junk food; as Joe Lansdale says, “I need my garbage, too.” There are few horror pleasures as sublime as a Harry Adam Knight novel.

But as far as Publishers Weekly goes, anything that distinguishes Rock Breaks from all the preceding “usual,” I count as a win. It was highly experimental for me—I wanted to organize the story around the concept of threes and a trio of characters, each represented alternately by first, second, and third-person narratives. This was a vain and mostly doomed choice, but I’m still rather fond of the result.

Do you see your hardboiled fiction (Gun Work, Internecine) as being a natural accompaniment to the horror works? Or are they even more closely related?

They walk hand-in-hand, and the bloodline runs all the way back to The Kill Riff. I like to write suspense novels gilded with what I call “horror perceptions,” which is one of the reasons a bona fide freak show appears two-thirds of the way through Upgunned. The action in Gun Work is nothing if not horrific.

You once spoke of writing a number of stories about “Men in Suits With a Plan.” What is that fascinates you about that sort of character?

I love stories about the secret masters of everything, or at least, encountering people who seem to have an innate grasp of what is really going on under the suffocating white noise of pop culture. Every day we look askance at things going on in the world and we wonder what the true story is, and we suspect that somewhere—perhaps down deep where we don’t wish to go—there’s a shadow figure who has the real answers.

Your work also frequently uses Los Angeles and/or Hollywood. Why does L.A. work so well for you as a horror setting?

Because I’ve walked these streets for four decades. Watched them morph. And again, the point of view is not restricted to horror fiction. The three books of my unofficial, very loose trilogy of modern L.A. hardboiled hit-man stories all take place here. Their roots are here. Upgunned takes a slight detour to the East Coast, but it’s because of the film industry. The third one, The Big Crush, stubbornly insisted on sticking to the San Fernando Valley . . . and when the books start telling me what to do, that’s when I feel the most excited about the process.

You and Dennis Etchison have both made effective use of L.A.’s canyons as horror settings. Why are they so damn scary?

I can’t speak for Dennis, but L.A. is a desert full of canyons, and the canyons are full of critters and darkness, and if you were stuck in one, you might discover that you had an extremely long walk ahead of you before you got back to anything resembling civilization. Spend the night in Griffith Park sometime—sneak in and wander around after hours. Then remember some jogger got decapitated right where you’re walking. You instinctively react to how dark it is because city light doesn’t intrude. There are sections of the hills—I checked this out for a story—where it is entirely credible that a tree canopy could completely obscure an abandoned mansion, and that place could easily be utterly forgotten.

You started writing after studying the works of writers like Gerald Kersh and Charles Beaumont. Why do they remain relevant?

“Studying” is kind of arid; it suggests academia, and I’m a college dropout. I avidly read these writers and many more (again I direct your attention to the dedication for DJSturbia). Kersh is fascinating to read in story or novel form, a unique craftsman from whom you cannot help but learn. It’s interesting that you should cite Kersh and Beaumont together, since I’ve always seen Kersh as the sort of stylistic “bridge” from the work of John Collier to Beaumont. As contemporary fantasists, these people were easily equal to Bradbury, or Matheson, or Leiber, but are little-read today, even despite Beaumont’s Twilight Zone connection. The Beaumont shelf should be twice as long as it is, but he never managed such output before he died prematurely.

You were once involved with an attempt to revive Grand Guignol. What happened to that?

Ahem, this was when I finally got a chance to work directly with Bob Bloch. It was an attempt to revive the idiom of the Theatre du Grand Guignol for modern, live theatre audiences circa 1990. It was executive-produced by Douglas Cramer, who produced some of Bob’s TV movies in the 1970s. Bob sold the production the stage rights to his story “Final Performance,” but did not want to write the actual script, so they called me, and I got to attend unofficial “vaudeville school” with Bob, to insure accuracy of reference. The closest we got to an actual performance was a live read-through with actors; Lea Thompson played “Rosie.” There was a competing Grand Guignol project at the time that Joe Lansdale worked on. As far as I know, both projects collapsed about the same time. For the curious, this is covered in a lot more detail in Crypt Orchids.

Your 1988 anthology Silver Scream was successful and is now considered to be somewhat influential. Why haven’t you edited another horror anthology?

Nobody asked. Plus, editing an anthology is usually a crushing amount of work fraught with crises, and I admire the people who manage to do it serially.

Then somebody asked. A huge new omnibus of current horror talent, no theme, a brand-name imprimatur, overseen by a very reputable advocate at a respectable publishing house. (You’ll understand my circumspection in just a moment.)

Using email, I filled the book in eighteen hours flat. I flew to New York and met with the brain trust just in time to smash into the first brick wall: “Well, you’ve gotta have one of these three writers or we won’t publish it.” I had this rich, wonderful menu; contributors were throwing great new stories at me, and it was all dependent on one of three souls on the entire planet. And I pulled it off—I acquired one of the three. Then the whole enterprise went swirling down the toilet, because the people in charge were, plainly, idiots or criminals or both. They never wanted an actual book in the first place. They just wanted a brick of text with covers, so they could point at it as something they “did” to prove they weren’t total illiterates when it came to horror, to legitimatize them so they could con other people down the line.

Off and on, that sucked up a year or two, all for nothing. Guess who was stuck with explaining to the contributors why nothing happened? I had asked people who were friends of mine to throw in, and they did, enthusiastically. And not one of them got hot or pissed off—everybody understood that this is the nature of even the best-intentioned of projects. They’re not only my friends, but they’re professionals, and they’ve all walked through fire at one time or another.

Silver Scream was originally supposed to have a follow-up volume (SS: The Sequel, naturally); that never happened because I wanted someone else to edit it, so I could legitimately submit a story to it. Since then, the Silver Scream format and title have been ripped off several times by people who don’t feel the need to cite precedents.

For years, Joe Lansdale and I have been trying to interest someone in a big anthology that would sum up the influence of Twilight Zone Magazine. Everybody was in that magazine; our contents page would knock your eyes right out of your skull. I think it would be a cornerstone volume of considerable historical interest, at least to horror fans. No takers, ever.

So, encouragement to tackle another anthology? Not so much.

In the afterword to your collection Crypt Orchids, you mention having once considered putting together an anthology of “stress fiction.” What is “stress fiction”?

Call it endurance fiction. Put characters in a tight spot and make it tighter from frame one, kind of similar to Lester Dent’s classic formula for pulp writing: pile it on and keep piling it on until circumstances look as hopeless as they can be . . . then, at the end, you find out what your characters are made of.

In the past, you quoted a Doug Winter interview with John Coyne in which he referred to readers of horror fiction as “language-deaf.”

Coyne wasn’t singling out the readers of horror fiction, but all readers. Do you have a burning urge to write? Go find a copy of Doug’s interview book, Faces of Fear, and read the John Coyne interview to discover if you have what it takes. That burning urge might just be indigestion.

Incidentally, also refer to Doug’s book if you want to read the story of how William Peter Blatty was inspired to write horror by reading a story by . . . Robert Bloch.

Do you think that’s still the case, or has the genre opened up more over the last two decades to more traditionally literary work?

I like pulp, but I love language and its permutations. Many readers (in any genre) are only capable of reading on the pulp level, which means great lashings of plot, plot, and more plot, or as some writers have termed it, “blue collar fiction.” There is nothing whatsoever wrong with this sort of writing, or this sort of career—it achieves its aim by entertaining those who come to be entertained. I’ve written metric tons of it, myself. But to subsist solely on one type of writing, be that a genre or a style, is a very limiting, no-growth scenario. It turns the whole of literature into a Baskin-Robbins with one flavor. Some people love being sent to the dictionary every so often. For others, that’s the point at which they fling the book across the room because its language is too highfaluting. Sometimes I need fiction to be more nourishing beyond merely stacking of bricks of plot. I’m sure you do, too. Maybe it’s a craving felt more keenly by writers, because every day you have to decide what altitude is good for the project you’re working on (unless you only work on one level, which strikes me as similar to being color-blind, or creatively hobbled).

My test, in terms of horror fiction, is to transition someone from pop-lit by letting them sample Ramsey Campbell, say, or Peter Straub, and then report back. See if they enjoy a slightly more complex flavor.

You’re one of two credited writers on the screenplay for The Crow (the other was John Shirley), but you’re the one who was on set in North Carolina. Had you worked on a set before as the writer? What was the experience like?

There’s a little clause in most contracts that says if someone deems your presence necessary during production, you get to go and be blessed by the Per Diem Fairy. The contract, in fact, obligates you to go. These days, a writer on the set has to come after thirty “producers” who want to rack up air miles and see the whole deal as one of their many vacations.

I was on the set, on the lot, and at the locations for over a hundred days, from pre-production through wrap. Rewriting on a daily basis, intensively. There are all kinds of chores for a writer to do on set, such as coming up with forty names and inscriptions for headstones in a cemetery, or creating all the building names and business signage on a city street—usually in a single day or less for each task. Does the movie have a band? Does the band have an album? Then you get to title the album, suggest the artwork, and invent all the song titles that will only be seen in a freeze-frame. I spray-painted graffiti on all the buildings. I was also part of the second unit throughout. I doubled a lot, for close-ups. I shot up the board room with an air gun for cutaways. I did my first “movie stunt.” Then my second. A dozen different tasks per day. If you’ve done this sort of thing, no explanation is necessary . . . and if you’ve never done it, no explanation is really possible.

For deeper detail on what it was like in the day-to-day, read “For Brandon” and “Door Wars” in Wild Hairs. For the story on why you’ll probably never see most of the behind-the-scenes video I shot, there’s a piece in DJSturbia that might fire you up.

Is it ever hard for you to sit in a roomful of Hollywood executives and keep a straight face?

There are two general reactions. In one, the executive is about twelve years old and saw The Crow at a tender young age when his or her window for a sense of wonder was wide open (see above) . . . and I can’t shit on that.

In the other, if you accept the challenge, you realize you must take people back to school because they know nothing—literally nothing—but are in a power position to hire you in such a way that it might keep their salary going, which is when they get interested. One of my favorite meeting anecdotes has to do with a gaggle of producers who fancied themselves very edgy and “dark.” I asked: “Why me?” And they said, “Because we love your stuff, it’s out there, man, it’s dark and we like dark and we want something really dark.” I submitted some ideas based on their ideas and they kind of sucked air through their teeth and said, “Ehhh, not that dark.” Turns out what they wanted was a kind of Dark Lite—you know, half the fear-calories of regular dark. And “Lite” is just another word for watered-down.

In 2015, Centipede Press did an edition of your second novel The Shaft which included a lot of extra material. How hands-on were you in the production of that book?

Credit S.T. Joshi for suggesting the idea. I added the original short story, which was published prior to the novel version. Jerad Walters of Centipede suggested a variety of layout conceits we bashed back and forth for over a year—most of them pretty goddamned cool. Jerad brought in David Ho as artist, and I fell in love with his samples. The text was troublesome. No electronic file existed for the book—that’s how old it was. And on the first pass, first layout, I noticed all the italics had vanished. No global way to replace them. So it was one page at a time . . . one line at a time . . . through about six passes, whenever something new would go astray between proofs.

How is it possible that the Centipede Press edition of The Shaft was the first U.S. edition?

Assorted contractual shenanigans led to me selling The Shaft directly to Macdonald/Futura in England, and it has been in print in Germany since its original publication. In the Centipede edition, we actually printed some of the excuses for domestic rejection alongside the critical fluff—you know, the up-front blurbs stuck in the grille to make you look good. Every potential mainstream publisher in America wanted to gut the book, or shove it to the back of the bus. One long-term advantage nobody could have predicted was that the sheer absence of The Shaft meant it acquired a reputation (deserved or not) as some sort of “repressed” underground horror high-point.

Centipede was not the first small press to offer to do it for the first time in the good old U.S.A. There were about five predecessors. The Shaft seemed to delight in destroying small presses (although it was more a matter of timing in each case). When Babbage Press was doing those beautiful trade editions of my backlist, we had The Shaft all ready to go, gorgeous cover, polished text and all . . . and it just never happened, because Babbage evaporated and that wasted at least an additional year. We also had a reprint of Silver Scream equally ready to go, with another gorgeous cover. It was a lot of work to prep those two titles, all for naught. And each failure compounded the frustration, especially when each subsequent offer was a chance to reset to zero and start all over again, and after awhile you think, I cannot do this again. Then came ebook editions; you’ve got to get those on Amazon, right? Great—now proofread five more of your books again. After awhile you just crumple, and then have to work your way back up to tackling a task you’ve already done one . . . more . . . time. And that sucks even more time, because you’re trying to finish new work as well.

But The Shaft now exists as an ebook, and a more affordable trade paper edition is right around the corner. I’m getting there. Slowly.

Tell us about the stories in your new collection DJSturbia from Subterranean Press. Are there any new stories in there?

I always begin the process of assembling a collection when I don’t have enough stories—thirteen per book, for those of you who are counting—in order to purposefully leave “holes” that are generally filled over the course of about a year, which is on average how much time it takes me to interfere and nitpick every aspect of the book design, which is a luxury Subterranean Press permits me to indulge. So, yes, there are always new or unpublished stories in each collection. One of the most satisfying moments is when one of those stories which only saw “original” publication because I put it into the collection (sometimes because nobody-but-nobody would buy it) gets chosen for a best-of annual. Very few people have read “Quebradora” or “Watcher of the Skies,” but those are two of my personal favorites among my own stories . . . possibly because they have no submission guidelines to fulfill, or reputation to justify or explain. In DJSturbia, the new stories are “Three Missing Footnotes from the Bad Time,” “The Chili Hunters,” “Two Scoops,” “The Ghosting,” and “Graveside.”

Some of your collections in the past have been almost themed. Is there anything that ties the stories in DJSturbia together (besides being all by you)?

I wrote about this a bit in the afterword. The unifying principle—this time—seems to be “monsters.” Adding some bits of nonfiction allowed me to fold in Creature from the Black Lagoon, Godzilla, The Thing, and The Andromeda Strain in addition to actual, made-up, invented monsters that weren’t zombies or vampires or the same old ho-hum.

You don’t currently have a website, but you’re active on social media sites like Facebook. How much of a trap for writers is spending time on social media?

The devil’s deal is that social media is a conditional necessity when writers are forced to shoulder their own publicity. Take Facebook—here you have a zillion people who all have instantaneous access to each other. Everybody feels compelled to participate, so everybody supplies Facebook with “content” for free, which drives Facebook’s advertising revenue.

Except for a lot of people, seeing their own words on that screen is a lot like getting your picture in a local, small-town newspaper . . . and many users become convinced this makes them a writer, or an artist, or a director, say. Now we’re surrounded by self-styled “writers” and “artists” and “directors,” with nothing to distinguish the genuine ones, the ones who did due diligence and basic coursework, or the ones who have any talent, because many of those distinctions have been made irrelevant by the mass of people, all of whom wish to be perceived as creators, as talented, as artists themselves. The need for editors and simple basic style has been cast to the wind. I’m arrogant enough to think there is still a very important difference between professionals and “writers” who publish their own work and sell it only to their parents and other writers in their workshop group. And I am definitely not saying that there aren’t talented people out there with no recourse other than waving the writer flag and hoping for the best. But too many people have learned the tricks of presentation and marketing before they bothered to learn anything about writing, and too much of that output is better left unknown. This is the hurricane you must tilt against if you court social media, and you may from time to time feel the need to spend half an hour making a point such as I have just made, here. But remember—you’ll get three “likes” and they’ll move on, because nearly everybody is a “writer” on Facebook. Just look at their profiles.

You just won the Rondo Award for The Outer Limits at 50. Is that your favorite award?

That’s a bear-trap question, like asking “which of your books is your favorite?” when they’re all my children. I cherish the Dimension Award from Twilight Zone Magazine because it’s one of the rarest awards in the horror field—it was only given once. I love the International Horror Guild Award for Wild Hairs because it was an acknowledgement that my work in Fangoria had some value. I love my now-politically-incorrect World Fantasy Award because it’s a friggin’ sculpture by Gahan Wilson, a friend of mine. And then there’s that Rondo. I’m equally fond of that little bald guy. Your mileage may vary. It certainly seems that the era for anthropomorphic trophies is past. In which case I would argue for a reinstatement of the Dimension Award—we got it right the first time.

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Lisa Morton

Lisa Morton

Lisa Morton is a screenwriter, author of non-fiction books, and award-winning prose writer whose work was described by the American Library Association’s Readers’ Advisory Guide to Horror as “consistently dark, unsettling, and frightening”. She is the author of four novels and 150 short stories, a six-time winner of the Bram Stoker Award®, and a world-class Halloween expert. Her recent releases include Weird Women: Classic Supernatural Fiction from Groundbreaking Female Writers 1852-1923 (co-edited with Leslie S. Klinger) and Calling the Spirits: A History of Seances; her latest short stories appeared in Best American Mystery Stories 2020, Speculative Los Angeles, and Final Cuts: New Tales of Hollywood Horror and Other  Spectacles. Forthcoming in 2021 is the collection Night Terrors & Other Tales. Lisa lives in Los Angeles and online at lisamorton.com.