This year marks the 15th anniversary of my first book GIANTS OF THE GENRE.
I’m reprinting the interview of Douglas Clegg for the celebration. (I did the same thing a couple of years ago, with my Dan Simmons interview and that is still a popular blog today).
Enjoy! GIANTS is no longer in print. But if you like the interview, the link of my other mega book of interview MODERN MYTHMAKERS is on the bottom of the page and right now, the ebooks are only .99 cents….
Check out Douglas Clegg’s website at:
Sometimes my interviews are more an organic progress. I read in the writers’ market publication Scavenger’s Newsletter that a new magazine called Darkling Plain was being formed and they planned on doing nonfiction. I contacted editor David Cox and he thought it would be great if I could do some interviews for his magazine. David and I batted a few author names around. Then I thought of Douglas Clegg – Bentley Little had talked about him for years – and he sounded like an interesting person. I mentioned doing an interview with Douglas Clegg, and David Cox (a huge Clegg fan) happily gave me the assignment.
I contacted one of Clegg’s publisher and he set up an interview. That interview was published in the debut issue of Darkling Plain.
I meet Douglas in person in Denver at the World Horror Con where he won the International Horror Guild award and the Bram Stoker award two days apart. Although he won the equivalent of the horror’s Oscar, he was really down to earth and quite humble for winning such a pair of prestigious awards.
News break: this is the website for Douglas Clegg’s signed books:
THE HOUR BEFORE DARK:
An Interview With Douglas Clegg
Born in Alexandria, Virginia, but having shared space in Hawaii, Connecticut, Washington DC, California, and other places that he has already forgotten, Douglas Clegg is getting around.
Douglas Clegg began writing in his late twenties and has already published twelve novels, a short story collection and over thirty short stories. His novels include THE CHILDREN’S HOUR, THE HALLOWEEN MAN, THE NIGHTMARE HOUSE, NAOMI, THE ATTRACTION published by Leisure Books. Cleg has worked as a teacher, editor, journalist and a bum. He is a graduate of Washington & Lee University with B.A. in English Literature. He has a border collie mutt named Randy and a tailless black cat named Sophie.
He is a survivor of the Los Angeles riots, has lived through one mother of an earthquake, and has survived a near crash in a jet. He is a survivor.
GIANTS OF THE GENRE: In May 2000, you won the International Horror Guild and the Bram Stoker award. After struggling for almost a decade this must have made you feel great?
DOUGLAS CLEGG: Well, I never saw writing novels for ten years before winning an award as a struggle. I was paid well for the books, a couple were optioned for movies, I enjoyed my editorial relationships, and readers, thankfully discovered the fiction. The two awards THE NIGHTMARE CHRONICLES received were an honorable recognition of which I’m proud – less for me than the book. But to write for an award would be foolish and destructive.
I felt in my gut that Tom Piccirilli’s DEEP INTO THAT DARKNESS PEERING was the truly outstanding collection of short stories from 1999 – like a prism of a writer’s talent. But even feeling that, I didn’t want to give the awards back – I really was touched and honored, since I don’t see my books as award-winning, just as stories and novels I write as my life goes.
Every time I get a novel finished, I consider that a sign that I’m not dead to the world; and then, when it is published, I’m happy to know that the book is out there for the readers. But an award? It was a glowing moment, no doubt, but it’s not as if my entire career changed as a result. I mean, I wish there “were” magic wands that changed everything for a writer, but there aren’t. You’re only as good as your last book, and the only thing that’s going to save you as a writer is the book you’re writing now.
GIANTS: NAOMI was the Internet’s first publisher-sponsored email serial novel. You did the same thing with THE NIGHTMARE HOUSE. What are your thoughts on the future for publishing on the Internet? Is the Internet going to replace traditional booksellers – or will they go hand-in-hand?
CLEGG: The future of publishing on the Internet is no one thing. I think the strongest candidates for Internet publishing will be the writers themselves, as well as the publishers who transform from distant parents to the writers (hanging on to the keys to the car) into partners with the writer.
Regarding booksellers, which is the second question you’ve asked: I don’t know. I would guess that each industry affected by the Internet will change with the times.
GIANTS: Your book BAD KARMA (written under the pseudonym Andrew Harper) was recently filmed for a movie. What can you tell us about the movie? It was filmed in Ireland and in the book it was set on Catalina Island, in Southern California – how do you feel about that? Also is there any plans to re-release the book under your own name now?
CLEGG: I don’t know known when the movie is coming out – I only know they finished principal shooting last fall. I would guess that would mean, assuming it makes it out of the editing room, that BAD KARMA the movie will be out in the summer or fall of 2001. I’ve had no involvement in the movie-making process, so I don’t have much news.
I’m pretty happy that it was filmed in Ireland – Catalina Island, particularly the town of Avalon, looks a bit more like a Mediterranean seaside village than an Irish village, but I’d guess they changed locales and ended up with a good setting. Any new element a movie adds may either make the story wonderful or wretched, but it’s all second-guessing at this point. I used to work a bit in Hollywood, and the only thing I learned: the last person needed on the set of a movie was the novelist.
Of anything to do with the movie, I’m probably most excited about Patsy Kensit playing the main character from the book – she will be wonderful, especially when she kills people. Patrick Muldoon plays the other main character from the book, and who knows? Maybe the two of them together will create some hot chemistry between the murderous rampages…
Regarding plans to re-release the book? I’ve spoken with people at Kensington, the original publisher, but I haven’t gotten much in the way of yeses or nos or even maybes from them. Of course, they have that terrific editorial director now, John Scognamiglio, so I’m sure he’ll take some good action regarding this, since he seems to have fine instincts for horror and suspense fiction and a real sense of honor when it comes to dealing with (and fighting for) writers. He’s a prince among men.
GIANTS: On the same lines, you published BAD KARMA under a pseudonym. Why? And was it hard to take – being a best-seller when the book is not your own name (á la early Dean Koontz syndrome)?
CLEGG: I wrote BAD KARMA under a pseudonym for the fun of it. I wanted to try a different kind of novel, a mainstream thriller, brutal though it was. I wanted to indicate to readers of my supernatural horror novels that this was a bit different. It really was a lark, but for some reason, everyone wanted to know if I was hiding or if I changing direction permanently. Neither of the two. I just wanted to try a different name.
GIANTS: Let’s talk about some of your work, starting with THE INFINITE.
CLEGG: Well, THE INFINITE is the last book about Harrow – and, as with MISCHIEF and NIGHTMARE HOUSE, it lives independently of the others. You don’t have to have read MISCHIEF to “get” THE INFINITE.
Several people gather at Harrow to study the potential haunting. These include a woman who has psychometric abilities, a guy who hears voices that predict slightly into the future for him, a guy who has some untapped ability that comes and goes and generally involves what might loosely be called telekinesis.
They’ve each grown into their lives in various ways – the woman has become a psychic investigator on homicide cases, the guy with the voices has become a bit of a bestselling author (writing about his own psychic phenomenon and predictions) and showman despite the gambling habits that routinely deplete his savings, and the young guy with the teleknetic ability is really just starting out into adulthood – he’s 19. One of them may also be a murderer.
A women named Ivy Martin has, for obsessive reasons, bought Harrow, and through an investigator into the paranormal, restored it to some of the original glory, and has set up video cameras and various measuring instruments for documenting the haunting. But of course, nothing goes the way anyone wants it to, and then the horror begins.
If I tell more, the story will just start to unfold too much and that will ruin all the fun. I really just wanted to stay with these people for awhile. It’s not really about the house per se, but about the journey of people’s lives through the secret abilities and talents we all hide away from the world. The house, more than anything, is the catalyst for unleashing their own instincts. It gets a bit violent, but we live in a culture of violence, there are violent tendencies in all us – so, why not go with it for fiction?
I’m pretty excited that’s the first trade hardcover of mine to come out under my own name – and that Leisure Books has created a hardcover line, as well. They’re a pretty amazing publishing house right now.
GIANTS: YOU COME WHEN I CALL YOU.
CLEGG: It’s a big sprawling novel of four teenagers growing up in 1980 on the high desert of California, and the demon that ends up possessing them. The story follows them for twenty years as the horror within them continues in one way or another. It’s also a bit of a tenement cathedral of a novel – an unsound structure, full of secret chambers and corridors that lead to precipices. As with THE HALLOWEEN MAN, rather than go with linear and chronological reality, I followed the psychological reality of the four main characters. I have been writing and revising (and cutting) this novel for over a decade, which means I have no perspective on it. It might suck; it might be good. But I do think that it’s a kind of horror novel that no one is writing at the moment, and I hope readers enjoy the experience.
GIANTS: Why did that book take you ten years to write?
CLEGG: Well, mainly because I really didn’t want to publish it. It feels like the novel of my life, yet it doesn’t resemble my life much. I wanted to create – don’t laugh – a cathedral of a novel, a cubist novel, a story that could be moved forward or back through and still all the elements could be picked up. I actually believe you could read this novel backwards and still maintain suspense and momentum. Perhaps I’m insane.
Originally, YOU COME WHEN I CALL YOU reached a maximum of two thousand pages, but this was because I was living the book. I destroyed relationships around it; then I grasped what was more central to the story, and I brought it down into readability. Plus, I was writing other novels, too. so I’d set the book aside for six months at a time. And I think I needed to mature before I could see the story clearly. The ten years helped. I wasn’t ready to serve the vision I had of this story when I was twenty-eight and began writing it. I never thought a novel would take so much of my life; it almost hurts to let it go.
GIANTS: What was the inspiration for NEVERLAND?
CLEGG: When I was a bit younger, I went with a friend and his family to their summer place on Sea Island, Georgia. The place – desolate but beautiful at the time – had a profound effect on me. But my main inspiration was that I wanted to detail how I felt about childhood perspective, and then the horror just came through. There is a bit of a homage to “Sredni Vashtar” if you look for it in that novel – the story by Saki, one of my favorite writers.
GIANTS: In THE NIGHTMARE CHRONICLES, you said in the dedication that writing is like being held hostage. What does that mean?
CLEGG: Storytelling is a form of kidnapping. I really believe that if the story is right, then the reader is captive. It’s a way of drawing attention into another world – kidnapping the reader into another realm of experience. I like that about stories.
GIANTS: Was THE BREEDER turned into a movie?
CLEGG: Nope. I think there were several cheesy horror movies called THE BREEDER or BREEDERS. It’s a popular title, I guess. I’m pretty sure my book came first – in 1990, although it was written and in to my publisher in 1988.
GIANTS: Is the horror midlist writers getting more attention and respect these days? Is the midlist going to be the Dean Koontzs of the future (who was once a midlist writer too)?
CLEGG: If there were a way to predict this, I’d be a multimillionaire consultant for all the major publishers. Bestsellers often come out of nowhere; or they come from carefully planned and extremely expensive marketing campaigns; or they come from years of building a backlist; or a movie gets made and propels an author’s name forward; or any number of other ways.
But regardless, you can’t force a book on a readership; if the readers don’t want the book, it doesn’t matter how much money or time you spend trying to convince them otherwise. As a writer, all you can do is create the best story possible.
The midlist is something of a myth: it’s all the books that are not national bestsellers. So, to me, it’s a meaningless term in this context. My guess is what you mean to say is “horror writers are getting more attention and respect.” I agree with that. I find it more interesting when Brian Hopkins, who has primarily come from the independent press, wins a (Bram) Stoker despite the fact he has no mega-marketing campaign behind him, or a writer who doesn’t have a large publish behind them distinguishes themselves. In other words: when the writing speaks for itself, and people listen, that to me is an amazing event. And I see it happening more and more.
I do think the future of horror fiction innovation is going to come from the independent press, mainly because high profits are not their main goal, and therefore they can publish less mainstream horror fiction, and horror that goes outside the boundaries of what a Wal-Mart or a Safeway might carry. In fact, an indie press might carry something that would go in UnSafeway. I do think Leisure has straddled this a bit, because Don (D’Auria) has been bringing in writers from the independent presses who have taken the road less traveled, and come through with some really stunning work (Gerard Houarner comes to mind, as well as Michael Laimo and Tim Lebbon).
And yes, I think horror writers are gaining momentum right now mainly because sales of the books are going up in general. Publishers respect sales – so if a writer’s sales go up, regardless of genre, the writer’s work will generally be more visible to the public because the publisher will make money by facilitating this.
However, the function of the HWA (Horror Writers Association) in many ways is to recognize quality in fiction through their awards nominations process, to connect a community of horror writers, and to promote that community wherever possible, regardless of sales figures or current popularity of the writer. So, regardless of whether a novel is considered top of the list, lead, mild, or category by a publisher or
bookseller, I think books is books and should be accorded respect based on what’s between the covers.
GIANTS: Why do you write horror?
CLEGG: I write horror because it seems to be my perspective, at least fictionally. Writing novels is really what I do – and some novels of mine may not be called horror, some will. I just write what I write, and I don’t really think about genre, nor do I sit down to write a horror novel. I just sit down to tell a story, and the stories thus far have come from a horror respective.
GIANTS: Did you always want to write, or was it something you sort of fell into and liked?
CLEGG: I knew I would write fiction for a living since I was about nine years old, when I began typing out stories. Most of them I kept hidden because I knew they weren’t right. I began writing nonfiction and editing for a living in my early twenties, and I didn’t finish a novel until I was about twenty-eight, and this novel was GOAT DANCE, which came out in 1989. I still edit and write nonfiction, too – these are the things I enjoy doing, so I just go with it.
GIANTS: What’s the hardest part of being a professional novelist?
CLEGG: The hardest part is the galleys – I hate this stage in writing when I see all the flaws in a book and must figure out how to love a book again after I’ve spent years writing or thinking about it. Frankly, I don’t think there’s a hard part to being a professional novelist; the hard stuff for me would be wondering what people do who don’t write. Life would seem empty to me without it, it would be like life without music.
GIANTS: Do you think you’ll ever venture into another genre?
CLEGG: Maybe; I really can’t predict this. I go where the story takes me, and if one day I come up with a romance or a science fiction tale, then I’ll follow where the story leads. The only label I want is “storyteller.” The story is the most important thing; someday I’ll be dead, and the story will still either exist or not, without me being there. I’m just a servant (and not a humble one – I love being able to tell tales).
GIANTS: What sort of reactions do you get from people when you tell them what you do for a living?
CLEGG: I don’t tell too many people. Generally, when people find out, I don’t get any interesting reactions – I wish I had a better answer, but it’s the truth. Americans generally don’t care about writers unless the writer just signed a $100 million deal, then suddenly Tom Clancy becomes a fascinating person. Luckily, we all care about stories. Stories feed us. So I’ll let Clancy have the interest at cocktail parties, and I’ll just keep writing stories, which are always more important than writers, anyway.
GIANTS: What advice would you give to someone who just published their first novel?
CLEGG: Be patient, enjoy the process, don’t believe everything you’re told, and hang on to as many rights to your work as you can – they do become more valuable as time goes on.
From my own experience, I’ve found that if you feel an editor or agent is holding you back from doing the work you were meant to do, move on – your writing and your creativity comes first in that equation, and if you feel stunted, get out and find a way to publish where you can flourish with your fiction. I’ve had at least one editor who had no idea how to work with a writer, and it was one of the worst experience of my professional life, and of course I blamed myself at the time. Looking back, I think this is a personality type that probably should be avoided: the editor who enjoys making a crisis out of the editing process (and it’s always good for the writer to not enjoy that crisis-making thing, also). Most editors are not like that; certainly, my current ones aren’t.
Conversely, when you find an editor who really loves your work and is a joy to work with – think carefully before leaving that person, even if another deal for more money is staring you in the face. Sometimes what looks like a lot of money on paper is not all that much. Better to put yourself among the advisors and nurturers who are going to help you get to the best book you have in you than to be bought off by someone who would be just as happy if your book failed another on the editor’s list succeeded.
GIANTS: Last words?
CLEGG: I guess my last words are: aim high whenever you write. Don’t write for your friends, for the markets, for the glee of grossing people out. Write because your story demands that it be written.
Then, if it grosses people out beyond horrifying them, well, you can probably get a little glee from that.
MODERN MYTHMAKERS by Michael McCarty
“Modern Mythmakers,” available for just $.99 in the Kindle store. If paperback is more your style, Amazon’s got you covered, too, for $15.99.”
Only .99 cents in kindle or nook…