As a kid, I had always had a love of the horror genre, be it movies, comics, or films, but it had lain dormant for a long, long time. I first heard of Edward Lee when I sensed a reawakening of my interest in horror, so I asked a friend (who is a HUGE horror geek) who she would recommend, and she recommended Joe Lansdale (whose interview you can find below), and she also mentioned Edward Lee, but then added (and I’m paraphrasing), “But only read Ed Lee if you’re really twisted.” That sounded like a throw-down to me, so my ears perked right up. Then she told me about his infamous work Header, which I have yet to lay my hands on, and I did some research. Most of the research pointed at Edward Lee as one of the most hard-core of the horror writers, and after reading some of his books, I have to say I agree. He certainly doesn’t pull any punches in his fiction, but he was kind enough to take some time out for an interview.
TH: You’re perhaps best known for your City Infernal series (and I have read all three, along with Flesh Gothic and Monstrosity). But you were writing for several years before City Infernal, with works like the infamous Header, which seems to be kind of like the Necronomicon (in original Arabic) of horror fiction, rare and cryptic. ‘Oh, you’ve actually seen a copy? Coool. I heard it’s nasty…” What were the early years of your career like?
EL: The first edition Header isn’t quite as rare as the Arabic Necronomicon, but may be more along the lines of Olaus Wormius’ Latin translation of 1228, A.D. And, yes, it’s a bit nasty. The only reason it hasn’t been reprinted is because when I sold the movie rights to Mpyreal I had to sell the print rights as well. If the movie ever gets distribution–and I trust it will–then there’ll be a reprint, for sure. My early years were a joy of wonder and discovery. I was 24 when I saw my first novel on the shelf at a Crown Books in Bowie, Maryland. The book sucked but that’s beside the point. My first “Edward Lee” novel, GHOULS, came out in 1988, and I think about that time, I’d learned enough to write a half decent horror novel (or at least I think I did!) The high point of creative joy back then was simply the learning process combined with the exhilaration of seeing things that I wrote appear in bookstores. It really was a wonderful time.
TH: What is The Story of Edward Lee? Is it a novel? A short story? A poem? A limerick? Does everybody suffer a horrible death? Or just a sense of creeping dread….
EL: Its undoubtedly a novella, which seems to be the ideal length for me, and a Godsend because for a terribly long time, there was no market for them. Now, thanks to the small-press and limited-edition markets, they are. I have two Lovecraftian novellas that I’m writing between now and October that I’m hoping will be very good.
TH: When did you know that you wanted to be a writer? How did you know?
EL: In the late-70s I read several novels by Brian McNaughton (starting with Satan’s Lovechild) which were enliveningly gritty, grotesque, and sexual; and then, (early-80s) in rapid succession, Ketchum’s Off Season, Laymon’s The Cellar, and Shirley’s Cellars. These novels are consummate excursions into modern horror and very hardcore. Until then I’d been unaware that you could do things like that in mass-market novels (in the 70’s, you really couldn’t). These aforementioned books–primed by my late-teen years of exhaustively reading Lovecraft–were the catalyst that triggered my desire to be a writer.
TH: A lot of established writers seem to have a stack of writing somewhere that will never a see the light of day. I’m talking about stuff that perhaps helped you learn and develop your craft, like the five novels the author had to write before he could get to the good one. Do you have anything like this?
EL: Oh, sure! I have several “steamer-trunk” novels siting in a drawer somewhere. They were my farm-league, so to speak. They’re unpublishable but they taught me much. The best way to learn how to do something right is to first do it wrong a number of times.
TH: Of course, most writers want to have bestsellers or make some sort of artistic or literary impact, and you’ve certainly made a name for yourself over the years with a reputation for being on the gouging edge of horror fiction. Is there some unrealized accomplishment that you’re striving for in the near future?
EL: Actually, no, not in reality. Certainly it would be great to make a ton of money but that’s idealism. As long as I make a living, I’m very happy. The kind of books that I WANT to write could never be bestseller material. Down the road, if I‘m fortunate, there may be several non-horror novels that might have that potential, but I’m not there yet. I‘ve still got plenty more to say in the horror arena.
TH: Which of your books has been the biggest seller to date?
TH: What are some of the things that most inspire you?
EL: Seriously? Women‘s bellybuttons and abdomens. Hey, you asked. (And you should see my screensaver!) On a slightly MORE serious note, though, ideas inspire me more than anything, which sounds odd, especially since I don’t know where most of the ideas come from. Suddenly, they’re just there, and then my brain takes over and starts working on it. Sure, every now and then, like any writer, I’m inspired by news articles, or something banal that I may see on the street or out a bus window, or overhear. But it‘s usually much more abstract than that.
TH: What kinds of things scare you?
EL: Rednecks. There’s a terrifying diversity amongst regional ‘necks, believe me. The scariest are either West Virginia ‘necks or Northwest ‘necks. Florida rednecks, however, seem to be the most deplorable.
TH: A lot of genre writers might be hungry to know more about the process by which you built a readership. What are the most successful ways you have used to promote yourself and your work?
EL: I‘m piss-poor at self-promotion. I fear it was mostly luck which established my fan base in both the mass market and the small-press. The diversity of the market, more than anything, worked most in my favor. From the late-80s on, more and more TYPES of horror fiction seemed to emerge; publishers more understood the importance of â€œsubâ€-genres. I suppose sticking with the type of fiction your like to write will infuse you into a particular market more than anything, though this is really commonplace advise. Lots of writers seem to try to write many different things I the hopes of â€œstriking it big,â€ but this is almost always a mistake. If your heart’s not in it, the readership’s heart won‘t be either.
TH: Was there a point at which you realized that you had â€œmade itâ€ as a writer and author? If so, can you describe the milestone or circumstances? Do you recall how that felt?
EL: Yeah, I quit my security job in 1997 and up’n moved to Seattle with the goal of being a fulltime writer. It was make-or-break time (by then I‘d been publishing novels actively for almost 10 years). I figured I owed it to myself to take the plunge. If I sink, I sink, if I float, then…THANK GOD! I’ve been very very lucky to have this opportunity.
TH: Some say that professional writers have to look at themselves as a business, a branded commodity. Do you take that approach?
EL: No, not at all. I‘m just a guy who writes books and walks on the beach every day. (Lots of great bellybuttons on the beach, by the way…) My books are hardly commodities; they‘re just ventures in escapism. All I‘m trying to do is entertain people and, thus far, with a lot of luck, I‘ve succeeded. A Three Musketeers bar is a commodity–they always taste the same. A book, on the other hand, has to taste a little different each time.
TH: What can readers expect to see from you in the near future? What are you working on?
EL: The two aforementioned Lovecraft novellas (their titles are THE INNWICH HORROR and THE HAUNTER OF THE THRESHOLD), are in progress now. Coming out in September is my first vampire novel, BRIDES OF THE IMPALER, which will be a mass-market paperback. Also in the mass-market, I just turned in GOLEMESQUE (which will likely have a different title upon release.) Down the road, there’ll be a full-length and probably hardcore Lovecraftian novella, a sequel to HEADER (that I‘m hoping will be a BIG surprise), plus several short stories I‘ve been promising for a while now: “Mr. Torso‘s Daughter,” and “The Bighead’s Autopsy.” Additionally, I may semi-sequelize my hardcore novel MINOTAURESS, but the book will not have anything to do with the Minotauress or any other characters in it; instead, I will re-explore the “Crafter” house, because there‘s still a lot more stuff that can be mined out of that house!
TH: What is the most memorable moment (good, bad, or other) you have had in your life as an author?
EL: Well, selling my first novel was wonderful, of course. I can‘t really name one particular instance. I‘ll tell ya, though, nothing will make a midlist novelist do a rebel yell faster than a surprise royalty check. I recently got one for THE BACKWOODS and, believe me, it made my day. Certainly there are disappointments in the field but I think a good deal of writers may take their status for granted. My view is simply having the opportunity to publish, be read, and get paid, is a far-reaching and insurmountable joy.
TH: What about the Header movie? It all seems as cryptic and hard to find as the book.
EL: The film is complete, very good, but just can‘t find a distributor yet. I can say that the producers turned down several offers. Whether they’re being unrealistic or not, I’m not sure. They‘re pretty sharp guys. I really want that movie out, simply because it’s a blast and I know people will like it. When it showed at several film festivals, the reviews were terrific. I’m confident it will be released one day–perhaps sooner than I think. (Everybody, PLEASE, knock on wood!)
TH: Is there anything else you would like to talk about that I haven‘t mentioned?
EL: Oh, in case you’re wondering, the actual name of my women‘s bellybutton/abdomen fetish is “alvinoaglia.” And since you were kind enough not to ask the usual “staple” questions, I’ll answer a few anyway. My favorite modern horror writer is and has always been Ramsey Campbell. No one conjures nightmares with words more effectively than him. (Read “Loveman‘s Comeback,” and “The Depths.”) My fave horror writer of all-time is–as if you couldn‘t guess–Lovecraft. Fave HPL story: “Haunter of the Dark.” My favorite modern horror novel remains Fritz Leiber’s OUR LADY OF DARKNESS. Favorite horror movie: a 3-way tie between Polanski‘s NINTH GATE, Naschy‘s HORROR RISES FROM THE TOMB, and Franco‘s VIRGIN AMONG THE LIVING DEAD. Favorite Edward Lee novel: either INFERNAL ANGEL or maybe MINOTAURESS or GAST. Last but not least, my favorite scream queen bellybutton belongs to Anne Libert.
TH: Gritty, obscure old horror films, such as Anne Libert’s films, can be a great source of “inspiration.” What‘s your best source for those kinds of films?
EL: Two things: 1) a cringing wallet, and 2) Amazon.com. The best Libert films are: Virgin Among the Living Dead, Daughter of Dracula, Rites of Frankenstein, Demons, and Dracula, Prisoner of Frankenstein. Check ’em out! I’m also a big Britt Nichols and Helga Line fan.