Here are fictions which unite subjects from both the above lists. In which the dead don't simply rise--they rise to _f.u.c.k__.
To some of you, these stories will seem portraits of h.e.l.l. But if you're honest, your dreams may tell you differently.
Who knows, maybe the Maiden hasn't been startled by Death at all; maybe that cold touch on her breast is what she's been waiting for all her life.
People desire stranger things, as the extraordinary Mr. Campbell is about to prove....
_London; 29th June, 1986__.
Foreword To Waking Nightmares.
Horror fiction can be many things. The field includes the ghost stories of Sheridan Le Fanu and M. R. James, not to mention the best tales of Russell Kirk. It ranges from the psychological terrors of John Franklin Bardin to the philosophical terrors of Samuel Beckett's The Unnamable and Not I. It embraces both the supernatural visions of Algernon Blackwood at his best-"The Willows," "The Wendigo"-and the relentless violence of Joe Lansdale's The Nightrunners, the last horror novel I found genuinely frightening. Horror fiction can work as humor, as metaphor, as political allegory, as the imagination's reveille. I won't presume to claim that the present book has such scope, but I'm inclined to be pleased with its range.
I've arranged the stories in the interest of variety, but I'll discuss them chronologically. The earliest is "Jack in the Box" (1974), the first of a group of stories (several of which may be found in Dark Companions) written in emulation of Tales from the Crypt and the other E.C. comics, which themselves derived from Poe and Weird Tales magazine, and in particular from Ray Bradbury. By sheer carelessness I managed to transpose the words "torchlight" and "daylight" in the penultimate paragraph of the original typescript of "Jack in the Box," an error which destroys the whole point of the story. My apologies to any readers who ended up scratching their heads over a previous printing of the tale.
"The Trick" (1976) comes next, and it isn't a story I would write now. Jim Herbert told me recently that since he became a father he has tried to steer clear of the theme of children as victims. For my part, parenthood seems to keep sending me back to the theme of the vulnerability of children-Night of the Claw, Incarnate, The Influence-but what bothers me about "The Trick" is its coldbloodedness. Still, people whose opinions I respect have found the story frightening, and I've included it here on that basis. I think it also contrasts well with "Eye of Childhood," written two years later. I would have given that story a somewhat more obvious t.i.tle, but Robert Aickman had already based the name of his second American book on the phrase from Macbeth. There's another child protagonist in the next tale, "Bedtime Story" (1980); like The Nameless, this was written after our daughter Tammy was born. Ideally-though in fact, I fear, too seldom-having children reminds one what it was like to be one.
"Playing the Game" also dates from 1980. At least, this version does, though the first version I sent to my agent was completed in late 1974 as one of my E.C. emulations. My friend Mike Ashley, the anthologist and bibliographer, suggested that the characters in that version were feebly motivated, and I came to agree with him. In 1982 I learned that T. E. D. Klein had bought the tale for Twilight Zone magazine-the original version, to my surprise. "When you rewrite," he commented to me, "you really rewrite, don't you?" Later Herb Yellin published my preferred version in an anthology from Lord John Press. Both versions of the tale attempt to convey how parts of the Liverpool docks affect me.
I wrote almost no more short stories until 1983, the year which produced the next four tales in this book. The first, "Watch the Birdie," carries its own explanation. "Next Time You'll Know Me" can be read as some kind of response to my being sent unsolicited ma.n.u.scripts. It appeared in Douglas Winter's Prime Evil, where one of those copy-editors whom writers abhor tried to change all the narrator's said-bookisms into "said." "In the Trees" stems from a walk in Delamere Forest, where I often go to play with ideas for new stories, and "Old Clothes" derives from the idea of apports, one of the very few mediumistic notions odd enough to appeal to my imagination.
"Beyond Words" (1985) owes something to the comment with which Kenneth Jurkewicz rounds off his essay about me in Everett F. Bleiler's Supernatural Fiction Writers: "For him it is indeed the words that count." Stanley Wiater suggests this is a tale best read aloud. Just as odd is "The Other Side" (1985), but perhaps the oddness is more studied, insofar as the tale was written in response to a request to write a story based on J. K. Potter's cover for the program book of the 1986 World Fantasy Convention, where J. K. and I were among the guests of honor. On one level the story is about my attempts to write something which would equal, rather than simply quote, Potter's surreal image. I should have liked to use the picture for the cover of the present book, but instead you may find it on the sixteenth volume of Karl Edward Wagner's Year's Best Horror Stories.
"Second Sight" (1985) was produced for J. N. Williamson, who asked me to write a two-thousand-word story for his anthology Masques II, and "Where the Heart Is" (1986) was composed for Kathryn Cramer's The Architecture of Fear, an anthology of tales in which the architectural setting is also a metaphor of some kind. I liked this idea, but was disconcerted to find that in her letter describing her requirements to potential contributors she had cited me as having achieved in various stories what she had in mind: I felt as if I were being asked to imitate myself. (In general writers are likely to be truest to themselves when they are trying not to repeat themselves.) However, the family and I had recently moved house before managing to sell our previous home, and I was also losing patience with hearing the perennial claim that no ghost stories were being written anymore- at least, not by writers within the field. Together, these elements prompted "Where the Heart Is." That kind of synchronism-putting coincidences to use whenever they're useful-I believe in.
"Another World" (1987) was another tale written to order-a useful discipline-but its readers may not have noticed. I was originally approached by Paul Gamble ("Gamma") to contribute to an anthology of stories on the theme of a forbidden planet, to be published by the London bookshop of that name. I duly wrote on the theme. Later the editorship was taken over by Roz Ka-veney, and the scope was widened to include writers who had signed books at the bookshop and who were allowed their own choice of theme. Almost the opposite happened in the case of Book of the Dead, originally an anthology of tales set in the world of George Romero's trilogy of zombie films. I turned down a request to contribute, simply because I felt Romero had himself said all there was to say on his subject, but when I learned that the tales had only to use the theme of the zombie in some way I thought I might have something to offer: "It Helps If You Sing" (1987). Imagine my bemus.e.m.e.nt at reading on my contributor's copies of the book that "each of the stories in this anthology is set in a world where the dead have risen to eat the living," which is certainly not the case with my story. Incidentally, the introduction by Skipp and Spector to the book strikes me as the most persuasive statement I've seen on behalf of the splatter-punks, though I don't think all the stories in Book of the Dead live up to its claims.
"The Guide" (1988) was another story written on request, and one I especially wanted to do right by. Paul Olson and David F. Silva asked me to write a traditional ghost story for their book Post Mortem. Now, I was becoming convinced (and still am) that many of today's horror writers are unaware of the traditions of their field. Indeed, one course on writing horror advises its students to avoid learning from the old masters, as if there aren't already too many writers who appear to have read no fiction older than themselves. I therefore welcomed the chance to demonstrate that the techniques employed by M. R. James are as valid as ever. Incidentally, the James book cited in the story is genuine, as are the quotations from it.
The idea of being directed by a (probably supernatural) prompter had been lying dormant in one of my notebooks for some time when Chris Morgan asked me to write a story for his anthology Dark Fantasies. I suspect that I might otherwise have developed the idea along more comic lines than I did in "Being an Angel" (1988), and perhaps it still retains enough potential for me to do so in another tale.
I believe I can thank Jenny's and my children for generating the last two 1988 tales. It was our daughter Tammy who introduced me to the game of Blocko which prompted "The Old School," while both she and our son Matty were fond of Jan Pienkowski's pop-up haunted house book, which set me thinking along the lines which led me to write "Meeting the Author." I should think that you, the reader, have done enough of that for one book by now. British members of any professions or other groups who feel maligned by any of the tales herein should address their complaints to the Fictional Depictions Complaints Commission in the first instance, then to the Royal Commission on Representation in Storytelling. Complainants in other countries should approach the appropriate bodies. Me, I'll blame the copy-editors.
20 June 1990.
Afterword To Scared Stiff: Tales Of s.e.x And Death/
n.o.bODY REBELS LIKE a good Catholic boy, and I spent quite a stretch of my childhood in fighting the repressiveness of my upbringing. I needed to. At an early age I was infected by my mother's blushes at anything that might conceal a double meaning, and anything more explicit than that made me horribly uncomfortable: I squirmed when Bluebottle and Eccles in the _Goon Show__ looked up someone's trousers to see who he was, and felt physically ill when Victor Borge introduced the messy soprano who came in a single pile. I couldn't go through life like that, though I'm sure too many people do, and by the time I reached adolescence at a grammar school run by Christian Brothers I was beginning to grow mutinous. I'd no time for the spinsterish way one master wrinkled his nose at s.e.x in pop songs and denied us a hearing of the Porter scene in a recording of _Macbeth__. No doubt I resented his disapproval partly because pop songs and dirty jokes, some of which would have taken a David Cronenberg to visualise, were all the s.e.xual experience I had. s.e.x education was thoroughly absent, except for a talk on the ways of the world, delivered on one of my last days at school by a visiting monk who referred to girls' "head-lamps" and boys' "spouts". Still, perhaps the beatings that were frequent at the school were popular with some; in that year's issue of the magazine a school governor reminisces at unhealthy length about them. Myself, I agree with Gore Vidal (and quite a few of its pract.i.tioners) in approving of corporal punishment only between consenting adults, a theme I'll return to later.
But my strongest resentment against the church and my upbringing at that time was over the forbidding of books. I had the impression--how accurate I can't say--that as a Catholic I was prevented from reading all sorts of things on pain of some unspecified and therefore daunting penalty. Having persuaded my mother over the years to let me borrow adult ghost books from the library, and eventually, when I was ten, to allow me to buy science fiction magazines and even _Weird Tales__, I now felt ready to confront censoriousness--or at least, I thought I did. This was the year _Lady Chatterley's Lover__ was first published in Britain, and while I don't think any of my schoolmates were brave enough to bring a copy to school, quite a few claimed to have read it; undoubtedly some of them had. The best I could do, however, was to skulk near bookstalls where it was displayed and clutch the three and sixpence in my pocket in a vain attempt to goad myself into picking up the book. It wasn't until I left school that I determined to make up for lost time by reading whatever I liked.
So I bought Nabokov's _Lolita__, having seen it recommended by Graham Greene, and found it liberating in several ways, not least as a writer. In order to write anything lively enough for publication I'd needed to unlearn some of the restrictions I'd been taught at school--you couldn't contract "I had" to "I'd", for instance--but the effect of reading Nabokov was an instant lightening of my style and a greatly enhanced enjoyment of language (a pleasure which, I fear, at least one teacher of English literature had had no apparent time for). Meanwhile my first published stories, imitations of Lovecraft, had begun to appear. Pat Kearney, a friend who published the very first in his fanzine Goudy, told me about the Olympia Press, Lolita's original publisher. A house devoted to publishing books banned in Britain sounded fine to me, particularly since I was incensed to discover that so many books were banned, and so with the advance paid on publication of my first book, I took my mother and myself to Paris, whence I returned with William Burroughs' _The Soft Machine__ and _The Ticket That Exploded__ and a copy for Pat Kearney of a book of bawdy ballads pseudonymously edited by Christopher Logue. How I intended to bluff my way through Customs I have no idea, but a rough and protracted Channel crossing came to what I was able to regard retrospectively as my aid. Faced with the sight of me, wavering and pale-faced and be-spattered with remains of that morning's croissants, the Customs officer waved me through. In the introduction to his bibliography of the Olympia Press, Pat Kearney celebrates this incident with a description that makes me think of Anthony Cronin's last grisly sight of Brendan Behan.
Another source of banned books was August Derleth, my friend and mentor and (in the days when Arkham House was pretty well his one-man operation) first professional publisher, who sent me Henry Miller's _Tropics__ and Lawrence Durrell's _Black Book__. This led me to a.s.sume he wouldn't mind if I introduced a different kind of shock into my Lovecraft imitations, but he took the s.h.i.t out of a line of dialogue. I still think it's what the character would have said, but I see that that may not be relevant to such a stylised form as Lovecraft pastiche. I therefore tried writing for the Olympia Press, who were then publishing a magazine. "A Third-Floor Withdrawal" was an attempt to deal with my adolescent s.e.xual turmoil, and the editor of _Olympia__ gave me the impression that it might have been published except for its brevity (it was about a thousand words in length). I tried again with "The Folding Socket", a plotless fantasy influenced by William Burroughs, which I wrote at my Civil Service desk in the lunch hours. This, I imagine, was too gross for the magazine, which was aimed at the British and American bookstalls. Both stories are lost, and certainly the latter need not be mourned.
Years later--1969, I think--I had a different sort of experience involving Olympia Press. In the first newsletter of a short-lived Liverpool underground film society, I advertised for sale the Olympia edition of de Sade's _120 Days of Sodom__, whose three volumes I'd found somewhat tedious. Of course the nondescript fellow who called at the house to examine the books proved to be a plain-clothes policeman, who had no doubt been planted in the film society so as to keep an eye on things, though I didn't realize this until he returned with three of his colleagues and a warrant to search the house. They were unfailingly courteous, and seemed to be impressed by both my naivete and my having been published. Weeks later I was invited to the police station to be given a cup of tea and the news that the Director of Public Prosecutions had decided not to prosecute, and almost everything they had seized was returned to me, including Kenneth Patchen's _Memoirs of a Shy p.o.r.nographer__ and Samuel Beckett's _Imagination Dead Imagine__, in which page 12 had been marked in pencil, apparently because it begins with "the a.r.s.e" ("the a.r.s.e against the wall at A, the knees against the wall at B and C, the feet against the wall between C and A, that is to say inscribed in the semicircle ACB..."). I don't think Beckett had previously been regarded as a p.o.r.nographic writer. I had to sign away my rights only to the de Sade, a book which caused the policeman to wrinkle his nose in exactly the way pop songs had affected my old schoolmaster.*
*How times change! These days not only the novel but Pasolini's bleak and distressing film of it are openly on sale in Britain.
By then I had completed _Demons by Daylight__, my second book, though it wasn't published until 1973. It may not seem especially radical now, but it certainly was then, not least in dealing with characters whose guilts and fears and s.e.xuality and, especially, emotional clumsiness were based on my experience. Indeed, if I hadn't felt driven by the need to bring horror fiction up to date, in line with the contemporary fiction I was reading, I might not have had the courage to continue; I felt that these stories were unlikely to receive August Derleth's approval--so much so that when I'd finished typing the book I fell into a horrible depression, because I both regarded Arkham House as my only market (as Lovecraft regarded _Weird Tales__ as his) and was convinced that Arkham wouldn't touch it. But Derleth bought it, though he never gave me his opinion of it, and I was set on my course.
It is sometimes suggested (by Paul Schrader, for instance, in an attempt to justify his vulgar remake of _Cat People__) that all horror fiction is about s.e.x. This is nonsense, and unhelpfully reductionist even when applied to tales with s.e.xual themes: it's too easy to slide from "that's what the story is about" to "that's all the story is about." But it's true that many horror stories have a s.e.xual subtext, and I think many of us in the field tended to a.s.sume that if the underlying s.e.xual theme was made explicit, it would rob the fiction of its power.
It was the anthologist Michel Parry, an old friend, who gave me the chance to test this theory, though I don't think he quite realised what he was helping to create. After editing three volumes of black magic stories for Mayflower, he complained to me that n.o.body was submitting tales on a s.e.xual theme. Aroused by the suggestion, I wrote "Dolls," which enabled me both to explore what happened to the supernatural story when the underlying s.e.xual theme (not always present, of course) became overt and to write a long short story that was stronger on narrative than atmosphere, a useful preparation for writing my first novel. Michel hadn't expected anything quite so s.e.xually explicit, and I was amused when his publishers, Mayflower, felt compelled to show "Dolls" to their lawyers for advice. The lawyers advised them to publish, and over the next few years Michel commissioned several more such tales, all of which are included here.
My original t.i.tle for this book was _Horror Erotica__. The one it bears was the inspiration of Jeff Conner at Scream/Press. At least we didn't call it _w.a.n.king Nightmares__. My correspondent Keith B. Johnston of Goshen came up with _Eldritchly Erect__, and Poppy Z. Brite suggested I should write a second such collection set in Liverpool and called _Mersey Beat-Off__, though admittedly that was after I proposed she call a book _The Phantom of the Okra__.
I don't know if much need be said about most of the following stories. "The Other Woman" has offended some readers, and I probably wouldn't write it that way now if at all, but I think it's a story about fantasies of rape rather than merely being such a fantasy itself. I believe "The Seductress" was filmed for the cable television show _The Hunger__, but although I was paid for it I've never seen the episode. "Merry May" (which was written to tumefy the first edition of this book) became transformed into "Merry Way" on the cover of the American Warner paperback, which also toned the original subt.i.tle ("Tales of s.e.x and Death") down to "Seven Tales of Seduction and Terror."
"The Body in the Window" was written for the _Hot Blood__ paperback anthology series, while "Kill Me Hideously" suggested itself as soon as I agreed at a British science fiction convention to offer as an auction item the chance for the highest bidder to appear in my next novel. That was _The Last Voice They Hear__, but the charming bidder had nothing in common with the unlucky Lisette in the present book.
"The Other Woman" and "Loveman's Comeback" were written for the short-lived _Devil's Kisses__ series of anthologies of erotic horror Michel edited as Linda Lovecraft, who was in fact the owner of a chain of s.e.x shops and who is one more reason why asking for Lovecraft in a British bookshop may earn you a dubious look. Perhaps the anthologies were ahead of their time, because the second in the series was pulped shortly after publication, apparently in response to objections from Scotland Yard. Rumour had it that the problem was a tale reprinted from _National Lampoon__, involving a seven-year-old girl and a horse. Michel held on to "Stages" for a possible anthology about drugs, but after the above incident the story went into limbo. I confess to being more amused than irritated by the banning of _More Devil's Kisses__, much as I felt upon learning that my first novel had been seen (in a television doc.u.mentary) on top of a pile of books for burning by Christian fundamentalists--something of a compliment as far as I'm concerned. On reflection, though, I think I wasn't ent.i.tled to feel quite so superior about censorship. Though my s.e.xual tales had been, on the whole, progressively darker and more unpleasant, I'd suppressed the third of them, "In the Picture." It was the initial draft of the story published here as "The Limits of Fantasy."
At the time (May 1975) I believed I had decided not to revise and submit the story because it wasn't up to publishable standard, and that was certainly the case. However, the reasons were more personal than I admitted to myself. All fiction is to some extent the product of censorship, whether by the culture within which it is produced or by the writer's own selection of material, both of which processes tend to be to some extent unconscious. Perhaps the most insidious form of censorship, insofar as it may be the most seductive for the writer, is by his own dishonesty. For me the most immediate proof is that it wasn't until Barry Hoffman asked me if I had any suppressed fiction he could publish in _Gauntlet__ that I realized, on rereading "In the Picture," that my dishonesty was its central flaw.
One mode of fiction I dislike--one especially common in my field--is the kind where the act of writing about a character seems designed to announce that the character has nothing to do with the author. On the most basic level, it's nonsense, since by writing about a character the writer must draw that personality to some extent from within himself. More to the present point, it smells of protesting too much, and while that may be clear to the reader, for the writer it's a kind of censorship of self. I hope that "In the Picture" is the only tale in which I succ.u.mb to that temptation.
"In the Picture" follows the broad outline of "The Limits of Fantasy," though much more humourlessly, up to the scene with Enid Stone, and then Sid Pym begins to indulge in fantasies of rape and degradation which I believe are foreign to his s.e.xual makeup and which are contrived simply to demonstrate what a swine he is--in other words, that he is quite unlike myself. Nothing could be further from the truth. In response to Barry Hoffman I treated "In the Picture" as the first version of the story and rewrote it exactly as I would any other first draft, and I had the most fun writing Pym's boarding-school fantasy, which is at least as much my fantasy as his. For me his presentation of it is both comic and erotic.
It seems to me that even the most liberal of us employ two definitions of p.o.r.nography: the kind that turns ourselves on, which we're more p.r.o.ne to regard as erotic, and the kind which appeals to people with s.e.xual tastes unlike our own and which we're more likely to condemn as p.o.r.nographic. In my case the absurdity is that the group of scenarios which I sum up as the boarding-school fantasy (which is obviously as much fetishistic as s.a.d.i.s.tic) is the only species of p.o.r.nography I find appealing, and it was therefore especially dishonest of me to include no more than a hint of it when I collected my s.e.xual tales in _Scared Stiff__. I suppose, then and in my original suppression of "In the Picture," I was afraid of losing friends, but that really isn't something writers should take into account when writing. I suspect I was a.s.suming that my readers and people in general are squarer when it comes to erotic fantasy than is in fact the case. Since the publication of _Scared Stiff__ I've heard from readers of various s.e.xes that they found parts of the book erotic, and a female reader gave me a copy of _Caught Looking__, a polemic published by the Feminist Anti-Censorship Taskforce, in which one of the ill.u.s.trations (all chosen by the FACT designers on the basis that they themselves found the images erotically appealing) is a still from _Moral Welfare__, a British spanking video. (The Spankarama Cinema in Soho, rather unfairly chastised in the winter 1982/83 _Sight and Sound__ and touched on by a.s.sociation in _Incarnate__, is long gone; perhaps I should have had a publicity photograph taken under the sign while it was there.) Incidentally, perhaps one minor reason for my reticence was the notion that this s.e.xual taste is peculiarly British, but a few minutes on the Internet will give the lie to that. I keep feeling there's a novel in the theme, to be called _Adult Fun__, but who would publish it? Meanwhile "The Limits of Fantasy" adds variety to this collection, which has sometimes struck me as too mechanically including the standard variations in tale after tale.
So I trust this hasn't been too embarra.s.sing. I haven't found it so, but then I may sometimes lack tact in these areas: I once greeted a friend I met in a s.e.x shop, who immediately fled. Still, I'm committed to telling as much of the truth as I can, as every writer should be. If we can't tell the truth about ourselves, how can we presume to do so about anyone or anything? Secretiveness is a weakness, whereas honesty is strength.
If I'm told my field is incapable of something, I'll give it a try--hence these and others of my tales. No doubt the irritation of censorship also has something to do with it: here it seems to have behaved like Spanish fly. On that basis I should like to thank censors, especially the self-appointed, for helping me write. I love them all. After all, as they must recognize, we hate most in others what we can't admit about ourselves.
28 May 2001.