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Demons, Death, and Desire: Conversation with a Myth-Maker

By William P. Simmons

The cosmic resonance of myth, secret pasts infringing on desperate presents - these are but few of the themes breathing dark life in Graham Masterton?s mythos. Beginning his career as an editor of adult UK magazines (Penthouse) and a writer of sex manuals (How To Drive Your Man Wild In Bed), Masterton is author of over 100 books. Not confining his efforts to any one category or form, he has penned everything from historical sagas (Maiden Voyage) and thrillers (Ikon), to disaster novels (Plague) and young adult thrillers. Moved by a seemingly inexhaustible passion for shadows, the author has also found time to edit Scare-Care (a charity anthology for abused children), contribute non-fiction to such magazines as Cosmopolitan, and raise a family. His short fiction, collected in Fortnights Of Fear, Flights Of Fear, Faces Of Fear, and Feelings Of Fear, is tightly constructed and unrepentantly grim, and a small handful of these dark assaults have appeared in the dark erotic television series, The Hunger.

A modern myth-maker merging the raw wonders of the dark fantastic with the anxieties of everyday life, Masterton?s vision has remained honest and vibrant in a business that regularly chews up its best craftsmen, resulting in a body of fiction as versatile as it is feverish in explorations of passion, dread, and human culpability. Armed with a sensationalist?s imagination and a street poet?s no-nonsense understanding of language, the author?s straight-forward nightmares offered to a genre weighed down by heavy-handed narratives and outdated subjects not only a revitalization of ideas, but a new method of telling them. Mining emotional terror and hysical horror by exploring the continual conflict between opposite belief systems, cultures, and superstitions, he combines the sensational pleasures of violence and eroticism with unrepentantly grim questions of human motivation and desire. Perhaps the greatest fear evident in his fictions are summoned not by the drab depiction of physical pain, but, more impressively, by the love and concern his characters share for each other. Currently enjoying a re-release of his supernatural novel, Spirit (Leisure), and the publication of Bonnie Winter, an examination of a woman?s descent into madness, Masterton shows no signs of abandoning his search through the darkness of human pain and wonder. In this interview, he agreed to take us along.

CD: Before writing The Manitou, you worked as an editor. How did this influence you as an author?
GM: Before I worked for the men?s magazines Mayfair and Penthouse and Penthouse Forum, I was trained as a newspaper reporter in Crawley, in Sussex, England. This was invaluable experience for writing commercially, because it taught me to hit readers with the very first paragraph and engage their attention, and how to weave background detail into a story without being overblown or intrusive or showing off my research. I learned how to keep a story direct and simple, while at the same time giving out all the information necessary for readers to think at the end of a book 'I never knew that ... that was interesting' and give them something to talk to their friends about. As a reporter, I also learned a great deal about real-life dialog ... I learned to listen to the way people really talk, which regrettably many novelists don?t. I believe that good dialog is essential to any gripping, believable novel.

At Mayfair magazine I commissioned my friend William Burroughs to write a series of philosophical and speculative series of articles and in return he taught me a great deal about being 'invisible' as a writer ... pick up your typewriter and walk, he used to say. In other words, don?t write 'at' your paper or your PC screen, let it melt away and imagine that you?re actually there, in the location that you?re writing about, and that your characters aren?t invented by you but real people with real problems, some of which may not be particularly connected with the main thrust of your story. Business problems, ex-wives, alcoholism, overweight. Sounds like real life? It isn?t quite, but it gives you the feeling of it. William was working on his 'cut-ups' and 'intersection writing' at the time, which was a disassembling of language and ideas and putting them back together in all kinds of mind-expanding ways, sometimes accidentally, sometimes deliberately and sometimes intuitively. The result of this work is that I feel I have acquired the ability to take the language apart and reconstruct it like an auto mechanic, avoiding clich? and giving my readers constant surprises and pleasures.

CD: The Manitou, which depicts the attempt of a reborn Native American Shaman to wreak havoc on the race who slaughtered his people, evokes both fear and compassion. How difficult is it to maintain both sympathy for and fear of an antagonist?
GM: An antagonist can never be truly frightening if he (or she, or It!) doesn?t have some kind of credible motivation. There are so many monsters and serial killers in modern fiction who kill for completely nonsensical reasons, or simply because they?re sadistic, or to fit some fancy idea (like The Seven Deadly Sins). Misquamacus, the Native American wonder-worker, has a perfectly justifiable motive for taking his revenge on the white man, and in many ways he is a pathetic character as well as a hugely dangerous one. My favorite antagonist is Maurice Gray, the suave anti-hero in Picture of Evil (aka Family Portrait) who is sophisticated and charming but deeply corrupt ... yet, at the same time, we can understand his terror of dying, and his efforts to survive at all costs.
CD: What initially drew you to horror? What keeps you exploring it?
GM: I used to read Jules Verne and Edgar Allen Poe when I was younger and write horror stories for my school-friends. I have always enjoyed the challenging of frightening and entertaining people, and trying to create fictitious worlds of fantasy and fear which are nonetheless utterly believable (at least while you?re reading about them). The fascination of exploring the darker side of life is that it gives me the opportunity to write about ordinary people under extreme stress - with everything being tested, their loyalties, their credibility, their religious beliefs, their courage. Dark fiction gives me the chance to invent worlds in which all the usual rules are turned upside-down ... where shadows can take on solid shape, where children can walk through wallpaper into another world, where statues can talk. It requires enormous discipline to write books about impossible things and still make them credible, and I enjoy the challenge.
CD: Do you consciously work within horror as a tradition, or do you simply write?
GM: I don?t write within the horror genre as such. My latest novel Katie Maguire, a dark thriller set in Cork, Ireland, appears to have a supernatural threat but in fact it doesn?t ... the fear of the supernatural is all in the imagination of the protagonists. Sometimes a book will start off as a thriller (Tengu is a prime example) but the idea of a supernatural threat becomes so logical and appealing and interesting that it will develop into a horror novel.
CD: The Manitou may easily be considered as one of the small group of popular horror novels which marked a re-birth, of sorts, in horror publishing in the seventies with its easily accessible style, swift pacing, and unique treatment of an ancient terror unleashed on modern society. What inspired it?
GM: My wife Wiescka was pregnant with our first child at the time ... I had six days free ... and I remembered a story I had read in The Buffalo Bill Annual 1956 about Native American spirits called manitous. I think there is a great deal of my own character in Harry Erskine ... I had quite a few personal difficulties at the time and my response was to try and see the humorous side of them.
CD: In 1978, The Manitou was turned into a movie. Do you have any special memories of this?
GM: I flew out to Los Angeles several times to talk to the late Bill Girdler who directed The Manitou. Incidentally there is an excellent website devoted to Bill which is worth checking out ... it includes Manitou posters from all over the world, plus a trailer and voice-clips. Bill made the movie so fast that I wasn?t really involved in its production, although he did keep me up-to-date on what he was doing, and we talked about making a movie of The Djinn, too. However there is a tornado in The Djinn which is central to the story and in those days Bill couldn?t see how he was going to be able to create one on screen. Wiescka and I went to the premiere and met most of the cast, with the exception of Tony Curtis ... I don?t think he even remembers being in it.
CD: Is their any indication that we?ll get to see other films based on your work?
GM: Jonathan Mostow (U-571) has optioned Bonnie Winter (aka Trauma), which is published by Signet Books. A French company is seriously interested in Family Portrait, and the Italian director Mariano Baino has been making superhuman efforts to bring Ritual to the screen.
CD: The Manitou, followed by Djinn and a handful of other slim novels, announced the three major themes that you?ve continued exploring - opposite cultural values, the corrupting influence of the past on present, and the dangers of power to both individual and society. Do you have a conscious fascination with these topics, or are they issues which simply find themselves appearing in your work?
GM: What caused the single most tumultous conflict of present times? A clash of cultural and religious beliefs. It is amazing that we are still killing each other over an extraordinary mixture of imperialism, cultural misunderstanding, and religious self-righteousness on all sides. I am constantly fascinated by gods, demons, and the ideas and fears they represent in people?s lives. In their various forms, they are the only topic of real earth-shattering moment in today?s world.
CD: Which novel in your career would you suggest was a turning point for your craft - one where you felt yourself braving new territory or striving for richer characterization, plotting, or textual richness?
GM: After the initial novels I turned for a while to writing historical sagas - Rich, for example, which in its unedited form was over 1,000 pages long. These books gave me the space and the time to develop plot and sub-plot and much more subtle characterization, so when I returned to writing horror novels, I brought these skills with me. I also wrote disaster novels like Plague and Famine and for my own amusement I would set up several totally unrelated strands of plot and see how I could weave them all together and come up with a single satisfactory conclusion. I like to think that I never stop learning how to write. Like Ward Kimball, who used to draw Donald Duck, I use a mirror to develop facial expressions and I am constantly striving to minimize dialogue so that my characters convey their meaning in nods, shrugs, and silences. Easy to accomplish in a movie, very difficult to do convincingly in a novel without making your characters sound as though they suffer from epilepsy.
CD: Many authors believe that first person narration is best suited for the short story but you often use it in novels. What are the stylistic benefits or drawbacks?
GM: Stylistic benefits of first-person writing are that you can explore deep into your character?s responses and feelings without sounding all deus ex cathedra. It?s fun, too, to pretend to be somebody else ... it?s like acting. Problems come when you want to describe some event which your first-person character can?t possibly have witnessed - although in Burial I cheated and wrote some of in the third person and some of it in the first person, and nobody seems to have been disturbed by it.
CD: You often explore extreme opposites of culture and religion locked in deadly conflict. Likewise, you often emphasize the conflict between past and present. How do such themes lend themselves to fear?
GM: The demons and devils and witches of the past were created by ordinary people to give shape and substance to their deepest anxieties. In Scotland, for example, crofters were always worried about their cattle-herds because any kind of disease could lead to starvation. They were also worried about infant mortality, which was very high. So they invented the glaistigs, witches who would come and turn their cattle?s milk sour, and then come into the house and suffocate their babies. These witches were the very embodiment of their worst fears, and all I am doing is visiting these primal terrors onto modern characters. What modern mother isn?t afraid of cot death? What modern man isn?t afraid of losing his job or his virility or his family? There are some wonderfully scary legends in Ireland ... especially the black horse-drawn coach that rumbles up to your house in the night when somebody is about to die. When you open the door you are drenched by a bucketful of blood.
CD: Do you focus more on the conflicts leading up to violence, and the emotional effects occurring afterwards, than the act itself?
GM: Any violence has to be sparked off by some kind of logic, however twisted, to be truly frightening, and readers won?t be really terrified unless the violence is inflicted on a character they know and like. So before I unleash the violence I do try to work up to a situation where the emotional, historical and (if relevant) political conflicts have been made clear, but I don?t shy away from giving readers their money?s worth when it comes to acts of extreme horror.
CD: Much of the tension and dread in your fiction is created by a character?s concern for other characters - wives, lovers, children. Is this intentional?
GM: I have a wife and a family I care about, and I know that if any of them are in any kind of jeopardy, no matter how slight, it induces a feeling of anxiety that goes far beyond the fear that I have for myself. Yes, I think I do play on that fear deliberately. It is rooted in a terrible feeling of helplessness, and to me, hell is feeling helpless.
CD: Does the use of legend - the oldest stories, and therefore, the oldest expressions of fear - lend greater richness to your work?
GM: I try to introduce images and themes in my novels that remind readers of stories that appealed to them when they were young; such as The Snow Queen or Alice Through The Looking Glass (Mirror) and I try to encourage them to look at their fears and their fantasies from a completely different point of view. Of course some of my alternative explanations about Native American magic and Hindu mythology are inventions, but I know that many people, like me, enjoy a fresh interpretation of some story or idea that they are already familiar with. That, I think, is where the depth and the richness come from. I am cheating, in a way, by drawing on associations that the readers have already ... like playing a background song in a movie which instantly reminds people of an emotional or meaningful moment in their lives.
CD: Native American spirits, Arabic demons, exotic ghosts, demons and corrupt powers from various cultures and ages - would you agree that introducing foreign, forgotten, or largely unrecognizable figures and legends into the lives of typically ?ordinary? characters and environments gives your narratives an immediate sense of tension and mystery - the dread evoked when something attacks or infiltrates from ?outside?? the character?s expectations and preconceived notions of the universe and his place in it?
GM: You can see the fear and bewilderment that followed the tragedy of September 11. In Western culture, for instance, we find it inexplicable that somebody should be prepared to blow themselves up for the sake of a religious or political ideal. Suddenly the comfortable rug was pulled out from under our feet and we found that we were standing over a yawning abyss.
CD: Several authors consider their fiction a natural extension of their own fears and desires. Do you?
GM: To a certain extent one?s fiction has to be a natural extension of your own personality, because you are describing the world (and imaginary worlds) in the way that you see them. But I am not personally afraid of demons or devils and the dark doesn?t worry me. As for my desires, I would obviously enjoy more widespread recognition, and more money. But the most important things in life are being in love, and being loved, and those I have already.
CD: Although the content and sub-text of dark fiction is subversive, examining (and, at times, celebrating) the chaos and break down of order, the fragileness of the body, and, in short, the corruption of all things, the very acts of writing and reading a story creates faces for those emotions and possibilities we wouldn?t be able to comprehend or deal with in any other way. Would you agree with this? And does writing allow you a chance to make sense out of life?
GM: Yes, and yes. Like the glaistigs, and all of the other mythical bugaboos that haunt us, demons are a way of giving flesh to our fears, and in some ways making them more comprehensible. In reality fear comes from inside us, not from outside, but we find it easier to manage our terrors if we can explain them in terms of devils or zombies or ghosts.
CD: Besides myth and folklore, you interweave genre in-jokes and the literary creations of other authors into your work. Family Portrait, an enjoyable re-take of Wilde?s The Picture Of Dorian Gray; Mirror, a beautifully twisted rendition of Alice In Wonderland, and Prey, a continuation of Lovecraft?s Dreams In The Witch House come immediately to mind as novels where you use the reader?s expectations of the genre and recognizable, classic story-lines to amuse and surprise. What is the pleasure or challenge of working off another writer?s ideas?
GM: The pleasure of reworking established stories is that readers already know them and so they give the new twist a ready-made 'authenticity'. There is also the amusement of looking at familiar tales and characters from a completely different point of view, and I think that many readers derive a great deal of enjoyment from looking at an old classic from the other side of the mirror, so to speak. My novels have a great many literary and cultural references in them which not everybody manages to recognize, but they are there for the finding, such as the seaside scene in Death Dream which is pure Walt Whitman. There are many other hints and nudges which I put in to entertain those who have read at least three or four of my books. The running theme of a sinister doorknocker, for example.
CD: You?ve created at least three series - Night Warriors, The Manitou, and Rook (for young adult readers). Where these intentional, or did you write one book only to discover you had enough ideas - and thought your worlds rich enough - to expand on them?
GM: Night Warriors was not intended to be a trilogy but I had so much fun with it that I decided to write some more, and when I get the time I intend to write a grand finale. It was the same with The Manitou ... as I learned more about Native American legends I saw far more possibilities in the conflict between Harry Erskine and Misquamacus and so I developed two sequels. The pleasures are that it is highly amusing to re-introduce characters from previous novels after time and experience has changed them; as well as bringing back a malevolent entity whom the reader already knows is threatening and scary, and so comes trailing his reputation behind him like Dracula?s cloak. The irritation is remembering every detail of what happened before. As you may know, Amelia Crusoe and her boyfriend MacArthur were killed in a fire in The Manitou, but when I wrote Burial several years later I totally forgot that they were dead and brought them back to life as if nothing had happened. All I could do was explain that the bodies were so badly burned that the police had made a mistake in identification.
CD: For several years your novels and short story collections have been difficult to obtain, and until recently, you?ve enjoyed more publishing success in the UK than in the United States. Why?
GM: I?ve been writing for 30 years and markets come and go, just as publishers and editors come and go. When I started writing my books were published exclusively in the US and I didn?t sell The Manitou in the UK for years. Then I found several enthusiastic publishers and my career took off. I was still selling strongly in the UK when the bottom dropped out of the horror market in the US, which was fortunate for me because I know a great many American horror writers who have suffered badly. I also worked hard on developing my foreign sales, especially in France where my books regularly appear in the best-seller lists because the French have a huge enthusiasm for mythology and horror; and in Poland, where The Manitou was the first Western horror novel published since World War Two and sold 1 million copies in six weeks, in an edition that looked as if it had been printed on toilet-paper. It did slightly help that my wife and agent was Polish. Now, however, with a new New York agent, Richard Curtis, I have been working hard on reviving my US sales and I believe there is a great upsurge in interest in horror - so long as it?s very good horror. Spirit was published by Leisure Books in November, 2001, and January 2002 saw Trauma from Signet and The Chosen Child from Tor, with more to come.
CD: What is your opinion of writing as a business?
GM: When I started writing full-time, which was probably a mad thing to do, you had a very personal relationship with your editor, who took time and trouble to nourish your career. I shall never forget the tremendous work and interest put into my early novels by Andy Ettinger at Pinnacle and Marty Asher at Simon & Schuster ... as well as a whole roster of other editors who guided me, such as Susanne Jaffe at Ace, Christopher Sinclair-Stevenson at Hamish Hamilton and Howard Cady at Morrow. These days, it is very difficult to maintain the same kind of relationship because editors come and go every few months - although Melissa Singer at Tor and Don D?Auria at Leisure have been notable and very well-appreciated exceptions. Most publishers are now part of huge multi-nationals and multi-nationals are run by accountants, who refuse to understand that, like movie directors, every professional writer will produce an occasional turkey. The trouble is, you?re only as good as your last sales record ... even if your next novel turns out to be the most amazing thing you?ve ever penned.

Obviously this change of scenario has affected me at times, like every other working author. Occasionally I have accepted advances that were verging on the derisory, just to make sure that a novel was published. But you have to roll with the punches, be adaptable, be creative, listen to criticism when it?s justified and ignore it when you believe it isn?t, and keep on writing. It?s the best job in the world, bar none.
CD: The Night Warriors series introduced a richer element of fantasy and comic-book like atmosphere to readers. What was your goal with these books?
GM: I wanted to see how far I could take readers into the realms of pure imagination, and how closely they would identify with characters who were like knights on a holy quest. There is also quite a strong sentimental content in these books ... memories of childhood, memories of school, memories of cowboy movies, memories of lost loves.
CD: Besides horror, you?ve also written historical novels, young adult titles, and sex manuals. What lessons has each different form taught you?
GM: Writing historical novels gave me the experience to research locations and events and to use them to give my novels authenticity even when their plots were highly improbable. I use maps, photographs, memoirs, books, and especially local newspapers. I try to visit my locations whenever possible but it doesn?t add an awful lot to what you can find in written and visual material. I went to Chicago to research my newspaper saga Headlines but the best thing I found there was a book with photographs of every street on the South Side in 1949 ... every street, every shop, every road intersection. I never could have found such a wealth of contemporary research even if I had walked the streets for months.

My sex books have all been based on anecdotal interviews, either face-to-face or on the telephone, and this is an extremely demanding form of research. What it did, however, was give me a feeling for the way in which people express themselves in conversation, how they explain themselves, how they skirt around embarrassing subjects, the euphemisms they use ... and how suddenly they can let go and tell you the most intimate details of their private lives with no inhibitions whatsoever. Occasionally I pick up one of those books and I can?t believe I wrote it myself. Like, how did I know that?
CD: As your novels increased in number, so did your use of sexuality. Do you feel horror and sex, lust and the fusion of fear, are natural, er, bed partners heightening the effect of each?
GM: Absolutely. One of the reasons I wrote sex manuals was because many people are afraid of powerful sexual feelings and/or of kinky or strange sex. I once interviewed the famous Dutch dominatrix Monique von Cleef, who was wont to hang men up by their ankles, blindfold, and give them enemas. I can tell you now ... forget Misquamacus, I?ve never been so scared in my life!
CD: A look at your massive creative output suggests a firm love for the supernatural. Why does the occult captivate the human imagination?
GM: I think demons and devils are embodiments of the things that frighten us the most. But often there are practical reasons why people have invented them, such as to warn people away from dangerous places or risky behavior. In India, for example, cows are sacred not only as part of a religious belief but because they were draft animals, pulling plows to grow arable crops. If a hungry farmer were tempted to kill and eat his cow, he would be left with no means of cultivating his rice and his wheat, and then he really would starve to death. That?s what interests about me so much about mythology - it?s the way it illustrates human need and human behavior in their intensest forms.
CD: Death Trance, The Sleepless, and Black Angel offer moments of gut-wrenching graphic viscera. Although you?re not afraid to describe violent events to their logical conclusion, you rarely appear to indulge in grue for its own sake.
GM: People read horror novels to get some horror, and if you?ve ever seen a major traffic accident you?ll really know what graphic viscera is all about. Many wrecked automobiles are crushed with body parts still inside them because the police won?t retrieve them and neither will the tow-truck operatives. But graphic horror is meaningless unless you care something about the characters and it?s an essential part of the narrative. So I don?t play it down, I simply try to put it in context.
CD: How do you answer the charge of some critics and politicians that exploring sex and violence corrupts the ideals, values, and emotions of readers and film viewers, particularly children?
GM: As a father of three sons, I believe that a certain amount of sensible parental and social control needs to be exercised for the protection of young children. I wouldn?t expect to take a 12-year-old to see Natural Born Killers or Debbie Does Dallas. It?s a question of responsibility and respect for the child?s lack of ability to understand and deal with what he or she is being exposed to. But if a child is brought up lovingly and taught to value other people, no amount of sex and violence is going to turn him or her into an ax-wielding rapist. As far as adults are concerned, I believe that they should be allowed to watch or read whatever they want.
CD: In another interview, you mentioned a dislike for graphic violence and sadistic sexual imagery for its own sake, mentioning Hellraiser as an example that was 'sadistic'. How do you differentiate between violence and sex for its own sake, and some of your own output, which, as we already discussed, is occasionally quite graphic? Further, how would you personally measure the fine line between justified violent/sexual content and exploitation?
GM: I have no time for gratuitous violence or gratuitously sadistic sex. If the violence or the sadism has a reason, and that reason is an integral part of what the author is trying to explore and explain, then fine.
CD: In your novel Bonnie Winter, Bonnie works as a cleaner of violent crime sites, which eventually bleeds into her home life and search for identity. What interested you in this subject?
GM: I read several newspaper reports of trauma scene cleaners and was interested to discover how many of them were women. I began to wonder what effect that kind of work would have on a woman?s psyche and Bonnie Winter was born.
CD: How much value do you place on research?
GM: I place a great deal of value on research if it gives the story reality and is genuinely enlightening. I have just finished writing a short story called 'The Burgers of Calais' which is based on what really goes into hamburgers, and the research for that was fascinating and totally nauseating. For Bonnie Winter, for example, I looked into the work of women trauma cleaners in Philadelphia, California and Texas. But I don?t believe in being a slave to research. Bonnie?s character is totally invented, as are some of the entomological 'facts' ... the important thing is to make the story and the character 'feel' real.
CD: Bonnie Winter centers on the psychology of the human mind, treating the supernatural as both possible receptacle and/or instigator of human evil. Although the figure of Itzpapalotl (an Aztec demon who occasionally took the form of a butterfly and tempted people to kill their loved ones) figures into the narrative, continuing your tradition of instigating character transformation through an interaction with occult powers, the connections between the fantastic and psychosis appear consciously ambiguous.
GM: Believe it or not, I was aiming to explore the ambiguous relationship between the supernatural and human psychosis. As such, Bonnie Winter is a natural extension of my earlier work, only much more shaded.
CD: What scares you?
GM: Car crashes. We had a couple of very bad ones in both of our Mustangs and I never got my fearlessness back (which is just as well.) In the first one we hit a concrete retaining wall at 70 mph and in the second one (my fault) I skidded on a wet road and rear-ended a Mini full of Indians. The trunk of the Mini flew open and the road was knee-deep in Basmati rice.
CD: How do you translate your own fears, and the terrors of your characters, to readers?
GM: By describing what people really do when they?re terrified. A lot of the time, they laugh. Other times, they?re simply bewildered. You should read the newspaper accounts of Western journalists pleading for their lives at the hands of the Taliban. One reporter was whimpering and crying and actually hanging on to the Taliban?s beard. That?s so ludicrous that it?s horrifying.
CD: Could you describe your daily work process?
GM: Get up, go down the road for a bit of craic with the newsagent. Come home, read the papers. Switch on PC, check emails and www.grahammasterton.co.uk. Start writing. Occasionally get up to check a fact or a map. Stare out of the window at a large tanker sailing up the river. Take Wiescka out for lunch. Stop in the pub on the way home for a couple of glasses of wine and a bit more craic. Go home and write some more. Stop writing, switch off.
CD: One of the pleasures of reading later Masterton novels, beginning with Charnel House, has been the rich characterizations. How do you work yourself up into a state of such creative empathy?
GM: I deliberately introduce conflicts into my character?s lives that have nothing to do with the main thrust of the plot. This gives them extra depth and sympathy. I also love being them. I act out the dialog out loud so that it sounds realistic. I act out gestures. I give my characters goals and ambitions and disappointments that have nothing to do with trouncing demons.
CD: How important is setting to you?
GM: Critical. A supernatural story has to be set in a believable place. A good setting also makes any novel more interesting. I loved writing about Warsaw in The Chosen Child and about Cork in Katie Maguire. My next novel is set in Portland, Oregon.
CD: Much of dark fantasy and supernatural horror fiction plays stark reality and the fantastic against one another for authenticity. Is this why you take such efforts to establish a meticulous feeling and setting of reality before introducing occult elements?
GM: Absolutely. Otherwise I?d just be writing fairy stories.
CD: Does combining dark miracles and events of dramatic suspense with a character?s trite, every day routine assist you in weaving a greater spell of believability?
GM: I think it?s essential. Novels are about people and how they react to what happens to them - not about things that happen on their own.
CD: Your short fiction has been collected in Flights Of Fear, Faces Of Fear, Manitou Man, etc. What are the unique challenges or rewards of this more disciplined, immediate literary form?
GM: Short stories are harder work in some ways because they are more intense and focused and they need a great deal of polishing. But sometimes I will have an idea that won?t carry a full-length novel and it seems a pity to waste it. The rewards are enormous ... there is nothing like writing 30 pages of highly-refined prose. It?s almost like being a brilliandeer in an Amsterdam diamond-cutters. And sometimes the financial rewards are very good, too. I sold the motion picture rights in my story 'Changeling' for a six-figure sum even though the story was only 21 pages long and the purchaser never got around to making a movie of it.
CD: What would you wish your readers knew about you as an author? As a man?
GM: Being an author is a unique opportunity to share your feelings with thousands of other people, and as the messages on my website show, it creates a family of friendly, like-minded enthusiasts, and that gives me tremendous satisfaction and pleasure. As a young man I used to be arrogant and self-satisfied, but I have learned through the years to accept criticism with good grace, to have a kind word whenever possible, and to be patient (except when there?s some bastard in front of me who won?t move when the traffic lights turn green). I raise money with the sale of limited proofs and memorabilia for the Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, which is my particular charity. I also have some brilliant limited-edition Graham Masterton mugs for sale on my website, which goes to my other particular charity, me.
CD: Any current future projects you care to share?
GM: I am writing a new horror novel with a particularly scary and nasty protagonist, and I have a kind of a woolly idea for a thriller somewhere in the back of my head.

William P. Simmons is a fiction reviewer, journalist, author, poet, and editor specializing in dark and fantastic literature. Holding a Cum Laude honors degree in World Literatures from Suco College at Oneonta, his first short story, 'The Wind, When it Comes' will receive an honorable mention in the upcoming Year's Best Fantasy and Horror. Writing the 'Literary Lesions' column for Gauntlet magazine, which explores controversial literature, he also writes 'Digging Up Bones', a column reviewing obscure horror fiction for Hellnotes. In the past he also wrote 'Folk Fears', a column celebrating dark folklore for Twilight Showcase, 'Savoring Darkness', a review column for Horrorfind.com, and 'Whistle In The Graveyard', a column studying folklore for The Haunted.

A genre historian, his reviews and interviews appear regularly in Cemetery Dance and Hellnotes. In addition, his criticism has been featured in Mystery Scene, Rue Morgue, and various small press publications. His fiction and poetry appears or will appear in issues #2-9 of the Darkness Rising anthologies, Octoberland, Chi-Zine, Gothic.Net, Flesh & Blood and #2 and 3 of the Decadence anthologies, etc. Some of his current and upcoming stories include 'The Halloween Boy', 'They Never Come Back', 'Cleaning' and 'The Dead Boy in the Wall'.

As an interviewer, William has spoken with top names in the field, including T.M. Wright, Al Sarrantonio, Graham Masterton, Mick Garris, etc. His chapbook, That Terrible Freedom: An Interview with F. Paul Wilson on Repairman Jack is now available from Gauntlet Press. His new interview series covering female horror authors - 'Our Ladies of Darkness' - will begin in issue #40 of Cemetery Dance with Poppy Z. Brite.

An editor as well as writer and critic, William's first anthology, Cold Touch, a collection of modern suggestive supernatural horror (edited with the dynamic team of Maynard and Sims), including new fiction from Barry Hoffman, Al Sarrantonio, and T. M. Wright, is available from Prime Books November, 2002. Ask Prime how to pre-prder! Also available in October 2002 will be his anthology Vivisections, a collection of emotional, spiritual, and physical pain available from Catalyst Books, which due to advanced public interest will be followed by Vivisections (2) in late 2003. Also in 2003, Prime will release his fourth anthology, Grand Guignol, a collection of viscera and suspense.

William's first short collection of fiction, The Autumn People, will be available from the award-winning Flesh & Blood Press in September 2002, and he's currently working on his second in addition to a poetry chapbook, Even dead Folk Get the Blues. William lives in New York State with his wife, Valarie, and their two year old daughter, Bonnie - both of whom he owes much.

Originally appeared in Cemetery Dance magazine, issue 38. Used by permission. William P. Simmons 2002.