Interview with Edgar Award-winning Writer Graham Masterton


ManitouGraham Masterton is an Edgar Award-winning writer of horror, mystery and non-fiction. Several of his books, including his first, The Manitou, have been adapted for film. He's known for intense, disturbing fiction, and emphasizes character and emotional connection in storytelling. Mr. Masterton took some time out to talk exclusively to FEARnet about his upcoming work and his thoughts on writing.

You have several new works debuting, one of which is Community. What is that novel about?

Community tells the story of a young man who is returning home to San Francisco with his girlfriend when they are involved in a crash on the freeway which appears to have been caused deliberately. He wakes up in a clinic in a small town in the foothills of the Cascade Mountains, but he has completely lost his memory. He has no idea who he is or what happened to him. He doesn't even remember that he had a girlfriend.

He is taken into the local community to live with a very attractive and sympathetic woman to help him recover. As time goes by, however, strange things start to happen. He sees people standing outside in the middle of the night, in the snow. He begins to doubt the reality of his own existence, and suspect that he might in fact be dead. The truth, however, is even more shocking -- and tragic, too.
I wrote Community as a way of exploring our perception of ourselves and our own lives, and how we accept what people tell us without question. It is also a story of lost love.

Your work is known for being pretty intense. As a writer working in the horror genre, what do you think the appeal is for fans?

You have just used two words that I never do ... "genre" and "fans". Although I do write what are generally thought of as horror stories, I do not specifically write in the horror genre. Community for instance will be marketed as a horror novel because it is easier for the retail trade to identify its core readership, but it is more of a ghost story or even a love story. It was the same with my novel Descendant which appears to be a vampire-hunting story but is much more concerned with describing the intensity of human emotions than blood-sucking. I believe in facing up to the reality of life, no matter how disturbing it is.

I am writing a novel at the moment with scenes set in London in the 18th century and the reality of everyday life in those days makes today's horror stories look positively anemic. Raw sewage running down the middle of the street, dead dogs rotting on the pavement, nobody washing or cleaning their teeth. Half of infants did not survive beyond the age of two, and adult life expectancy was 35. I know that some of my novels have disturbed or shocked people. But life is disturbing and shocking and we have to face up to it, and I think my readers appreciate this, and that is why they pick up my books.

The other word I never use is "fans." People who read my books are readers, and most of them turn out to be friends.

grahamHow do short stories and novels differ for you (besides the word count) and which do you prefer?

I love writing short stories because they can be very intense and I can keep up the scare level all the way through. They are much more difficult in some ways than full-length novels because every word has to count, and there is usually a twist at the end which has to be clever and surprising. I have published five collections of short stories so far ... the latest Figures of Fear will be coming out later this year or early 2014.

For those not familiar with your horror work, where do you think is a good place to start?

I think my first horror novel The Manitou is a good place to find out what I do and how I do it. Then some of my 1980s - 1990s novels like The Pariah, Mirror and Family Portrait, all of which were re-published not long ago in the Hammer series of horror novels. Follow that up with later books like Burial, Blind Panic, Fire Spirit and Ghost Music.

New readers will discover that my work is very varied, like Trauma, for instance, about a crime-scene cleaner in Los Angeles, which appears to have a supernatural element in it ... but does it? Is it all in her mind? Or Night of the Gargoyles which is more of a genetic thriller.

What do you think are some of the challenges facing horror writers today?

Apart from the challenges which face all writers -- that of making a living by telling stories -- I think that horror writers today have never had it so good. The audience is much more receptive to horror and of course we can reach our market much more directly through eBooks. The only limits are what horrors we can think up!

What else are you working on?

I have been trying to appeal to a wider audience than just "genre fans" and my crime novel White Bones will be published on March 1st. It is already well up in the Amazon bestsellers. It is set in Ireland where my late wife Wiescka and I lived for several years, and although it is a crime novel I think it is sufficiently graphic not to disappoint my horror readers.

A follow-up novel Broken Angels will be published in September. I am currently working on Scarlet Widow which, as I mentioned, is set in the 18th century and contains elements of witchcraft. Or does it?

Anything else you want to add?

I think that horror writing has never been so creative and interesting as it is today. There are so many new talents emerging, and so many fascinating new ideas. All I would say to a new horror writer is, stay away from vampires and zombies and other hackneyed themes. I know that I have written about them myself (Manitou Blood and The Red Hotel) but I have always tried to see them from a completely different viewpoint.

Nancy O. Greene started writing at the age of nine. Her short story collection, Portraits in the Dark, received a brief mention in The Year's Best Fantasy and Horror 2007. Other works have appeared or will appear in ChiZine; Lovecraft eZine; Cemetery Dance; Tales of Blood and Roses; Haunted: 11 Tales of Ghostly Horror; Shroud Publishing's The Terror at Miskatonic Falls; Dark Recesses; Flames Rising; Smile, Hon, You're in Baltimore!; and others. She has a BA in Cinema (Critical Studies) and a minor in English (Creative Writing) from the University of Southern California, and is a Film Independent: Project Involve Fellow.