Richard Laymon Interviews
This is where you'll find interviews with Richard
and also articles about him by others.
If you know of any interviews or articles that are not
represented here, please EMAIL us without delay!
- Mark Taylor, the other artist who has painted Laymon covers at Headline,
gives RLK! an interview too!
- Steve Crisp, the artist who paints Laymon's covers at Headline,
gives his only interview to Richard Laymon Kills!
- Mike Bailey, Richard Laymon's editor at Headline
in the UK, speaks with Richard Laymon Kills!
- Laymon on Laymon - Richard discusses with
Richard Laymon Kills! the inner-workings of his novels.
- DarkEcho Special. Volume 4 Issue 9. January 1997
- Richard Laymon - Extract from Dark Dreamers -
by Stanley Wiater
- The Mystery Scene Interview With Richard Laymon
July/Aug 1995 by Ed Gorman
RICHARD LAYMON KILLS!: Hello Mark, thank you for your time.
We are thrilled you can spare the time to answer some questions.
Mark Taylor: My pleasure.
RLK!: I think some Laymon fans will be surprised to find that you did some of the artwork for the Laymon covers - as I believe it's generally thought that Steve Crisp has done them all. How do you feel about this?
MT: I don't think about it usually, but I was a little annoyed when the publishers put the wrong name on a recent UK reprint of 'Resurrection Dreams'.
RLK!: So, which Laymon covers did you do?
MT: Let's see: 'Darkness Tell Us', 'One Rainy Night', 'Out are the Lights', 'Resurrection Dreams' and 'The Stake'.
RLK!: How long have you been producing cover artwork?
MT: Twenty years now.
RLK!: Do you read the authors you create covers for?
MT: Whenever possible.
RLK!: What are your thoughts on these authors?
MT: I think they are a valuable part of the entertainment industry - I wish I could do it!
RLK!: Do you create the covers having read the whole novel, or just from an outline of the story?
MT: I usually get to read the book or manuscript first, but sometimes there will just be a brief synopsis or extract to work from.
RLK!: Do the authors or editors themselves tell you how they invisage the cover and you work from this, are are they solely your creations?
MT: There is usually some teamwork involved with the Art Director or Senior Designer for the project who might have a general direction that they would like the cover to go in. Sometimes it is left up to me to do my own thing. Once the idea has been O.K'd it's down to me to come up with the final artwork.
RLK!: Have you had any feeback from the authors on your covers after the book has been printed?
MT: I usually get feedback indirectly via the Art Director as to how well the cover has been recieved.
RLK!: How many versions of a cover do you create?
MT: There are usually several cover ideas drawn up at the 'roughs' stage, but only one final painting is produced.
RLK!: Your covers are extremely effective. Do you try to make the cover as striking as possible, or do you try to convey the mood and feeling of the novel itself?
MT: I try to give a flavour of the novel in the cover, but at the end of the day the cover has to stand out from the crowd on the book shelves, so I try to make it as graphically 'punchy' as possible.
RLK!: Explain the process you go through from starting a new cover to the finished product that appears on the shelves.
MT: I read the book and the 'brief' from the Art Director and then put together 'roughs' of the cover which we then discuss. Once an idea is O.K'd I get down to the job of painting the cover - which might be airbrushed, or painted in oils.
RLK!: Do you do any other artwork either commercially or for other companies?
MT: I've produced covers for all of the major London publishing houses and worked for a variety of Design/ Advertising groups and corporate clients. More recently I've been working with a computer games company producing both 2D and 3D graphics, using Photoshop and LightWave3D.
RLK!: How did you come to work for Headline?
MT: I was originally commissioned to work on a Laymon cover by Mike Brett at WH Allen. When Headline took on the Laymon titles I got a phone call from David Grogan, after he had seen the previous covers.
RLK!: How do you feel when you walk into a bookstore and see your work on the shelves?
MT: I enjoy it. It's always nice to see your stuff in print.
RLK!: Do you have a favorite author?
MT: Not really, because I read such a variety of stuff.
RLK!: Who is your favorite artist?
MT: I have loads of favourites, from Titian through to Syd Mead!
RLK!: If you could re-design the cover for any book ever published, which would it be and what cover design would you use?
MT: I want to re-do them all!
RLK!: If you weren't producing cover art, what would you like to do for a career?
MT: I play guitar in a local R&B band and wouldn't mind doing a bit more of that, but my first choice would always be painting.
RLK!: What does the future hold for Mark Taylor?
MT: I don't know. Maybe it's the 'not knowing' that keeps it interesting.
RLK!: Do you keep any of the draft covers or alternative covers that you produce?
MT: I always keep my original artwork, and quite a few of the 'roughs'
sketches, but I'm quickly running out of storage space.
RLK!: Mark, it's been a pleasure. Thanks for your time.
MT: You're very welcome.
Richard Laymon Kills! thanks Mark Taylor
for his time and co-operation with this interview.
RLK! plans to display Mark's work as part of the MIDNIGHT TOUR
page very soon. Keep an eye out for it as we bring you another
opportunity to own your own piece of Laymon cover art!
RICHARD LAYMON KILLS:Hello Steve, thank you for your time. We have long been fans of your
cover-work for all of Headline's range, and we are thrilled you can
spare the time to answer some questions.
STEVE CRISP: No problems.
RLK: How long have you been producing cover artwork?
SC: For about twenty years now.
RLK: Do you read the authors you create covers for?
SC: In most cases, I do.
RLK: What are your thoughts on these authors?
SC: I think that they provide great entertainment, often incredibly imaginative, similar to films.
RLK: Do you create the covers having read the whole novel, or just from an
outline of the story?
SC: I've done it both ways in the past.
RLK: Do the authors or editors themselves tell you how they invisage the
cover and you work from this, are are they solely your creations?
SC: I have input sometimes from art directors, editors and authors. But at the end of the day, the artwork is my creation.
RLK: Have you had any feeback from the authors on your covers after the
book has been printed?
SC: Yes, I often receive gratifying letters from authors and, occasionally, they will purchase an original!
RLK: How many versions of a cover do you create?
SC: In the rough layout stage, quite a few, but once an idea has been approved, then I paint just one.
RLK: Your covers are extremely effective and make all of the Headline
range stand out on the shelves. Do you try to make the cover as striking
as possible, or do you try to convey the mood and feeling of the novel
SC: I try to make the image full of impact, with bright colors and loads of atmosphere. Sometimes sinister, sometimes gory! It all depends on how the editors want to sell the particular book concerned.
RLK: You certainly prove wrong the old saying, "Never judge a book by its
cover." Explain the process you go through from starting a new cover to
the finished product that appears on the shelves.
SC: I read the book or a detailed synopsis, then I work out ideas in the form of rough sketches based on input from the editors, author and myself. I then await approval of one or a combination of ideas. I decide on colouration and procees with the painting. Once the painting is finished, I wait for approval from the editors and sales reps. Sometimes slight alterations are required.
Then the painting is put on transparency for the printing process to proceed, together with the design for the typography of the book jacket. After this stage I have no further involvement with the production.
RLK: Do you do any other artwork either commercially or for other
SC: Yes. As well as most of the main publishers (Penguin, MacMillan, Orion, Cassels, Harper Collins and so on), I work for advertising agencies, design consultants, direct commissions for portraits and landscapes and even caricatures as well!
RLK: How did you come to work for Headline?
SC: David Grogan, the art director at Headline, saw my work on the book shelves and commissioned my first Laymon!
RLK: How do you feel when you walk into a bookstore and see your work on
SC: Very rewarded.
RLK: Do you have a favorite author?
SC: No, actually I don't. I like to read very widely.
RLK: Who is your favorite artist?
SC: I like an enormous number of artists from Norman Rockwell to Boris!
RLK: If you could re-design the cover for any book ever published in the
history of mankind, which would it be and what cover design would you
SC: "The Hobbit", "The Excorcist", and many many classics using a combination of my own style of painting and computer special effects to create something very spectacular!
RLK: If you weren't producing cover art, what would you like to do for a
SC: General artist on commissions around the world!
RLK: What does the future hold for Steve Crisp?
SC: Hopefully a full and varied illustration career!
RLK: Do you keep any of the draft covers or alternative covers that you
SC: I do keep a collection of sample covers, yes.
RLK: Steve, it's been a pleasure. Thanks for your time.
SC: I hope my answers are useful. Thanks.
Richard Laymon Kills! thanks Steve Crisp
for his time and co-operation with this interview.
I first heard of Richard it seems like decades ago but in fact it can
only be one. 1986, I'd say.
I've been his editor since then - though there was a hiatus when I left
W H Allen in mid-89 and joined Headline (just before the publication of
FUNLAND, I think). In January 90 , Virgin (who owned WHA) pulled the plug
on the mainstream fiction programme and Headline were able to buy the
rights to the WHA Laymon programme. In fact, I was reunited with a few of
my WHA authors this way.
The first Laymon novel I read (and edited) was FLESH.
Dick is very easy to edit, which is handy because we have been
publishing him on a fast-track schedule. When I receive the typescript of
the new book I read it over a couple of days, pencil in hand. Because he's
a pro and knows precisely what effect he intends to create on the page, I'm
able to copy-edit at the same time as assessing the book. Copy-editing is
simple, checking for typos, making sure it's all there, that the pages are
numbered correctly etc. When I'm done I usually have a list of small
queries and I get on the phone to him and sort them out. I also write the
jacket blurb, which I run by him for his approval. Sometimes this has
already been written on the basis of advance material he's supplied me
with. We've usually commissioned artwork for the jacket by this stage,
Once the typescript has been edited, it goes to the typesetter for setting
and reappears as page proofs. Dick reads these proofs for errors at the
same time as a proof-reader and the corrections are amalgamated onto one
set and returned to the typesetter. Later we will see CRC - camera-ready
copy - to check that the proof corrections have been made. The next thing
we receive is the finished book, some six weeks before publication. On
average, I'd say the whole process takes six months from delivery to
publication but that's quicker than we'd like. We're trying to build more
time into the schedule.
I also currently edit Ed Gorman who is basically a mystery writer with a
horrific edge - 'the poet of dark suspense' said the Bloomsbury Review. He's
great. Until recently I edited Jack Ketchum, a bleak but wonderful
craftsman who writes some of the leanest, hard-hitting prose in horror
fiction. I've never handled a lot of horror at one time though there's
usually an author or two. In the dim and distant past I've edited Dean
Koontz, Graham Masterson and Shaun Hutson, among others.
Where do I see the genre heading? I probably fail this question. I'm
not a dyed-in-the-wool afficionado and I have no vision of the genre. But
I believe that part of the attraction of fiction that thrills and terrifies
is that it enables us to confront our fears and deal with them in a 'safe'
form - ie in our imaginations. So I think horror will continue to spin
stories rooted in contemporary fears and neuroses - but the same is true of
thrillers, suspense and so on.
Is it difficult working with an author who lives in another country?
No, we get things done really quick when we have to, despite the time
difference. There are two caveats to this. The most significant is that
we can't have lunch. The second is that Dick is a bit of a techno Luddite.
It took years to persuade him to buy a fax machine - and you still have to
ring him up to get him to switch it on. He tells me now he has e-mail and
one day, I guess, we'll mail each other!
How popular is Dick in England? I'd say very though he's not yet a
household name. His initial sales on a new title are good but
unspectacular then each title goes through several reprints until, in the
case of some titles (RESURRECTION DREAMS springs to mind) we have gone back
to press a dozen times. This is pretty phenomenal.
We feel we have been publishing too many new books by Dick recently and
our new contract gives him more time to complete each one. Expect a new
Laymon every nine months from now on.
There's no new news on the Australian tour yet and probably won't be for
some months. However, the proposal is a firm one - it's just too early to
firm up details. I'll keep you posted.
How do I see the future for Dick? Here's what I'd like to see - a New
York publisher striding into the office one morning and deciding to take on
a writer sadly neglected in his own country. The publisher is thinking
that all those schoolkids addicted to R L Stine have got to grow up one day
and then they'll need the real thing! After that, I see a marketing push
in the US that brings Dick the home audience he deserves, followed shortly
after by a succession of daring and imaginative movies that will make him a
household name throughout the world. Cresting the wave of this phenomenon,
I see the Headline editions of his vast oeuvre in the briefcases and on the
bedside tables and in the desk drawers of a whole new generation of
readers...Then I can fly to LA on a regular basis and have those lunches we
missed over the past ten years.
You did ask.
Richard Laymon Kills! thanks Mike Bailey
for his time and co-operation with this interview.
Richard discusses with Richard Laymon Kills! the inner-workings of his novels.
LAYMON ON LAYMON: ISLAND
I've always wanted to take a crack at writing a book about
people marooned on a tropical island. There are many classics
on that subject, such as Robinson Crusoe, Swiss Family Robinson,
Lord of the Flies. Here in the states, we have the legendary
television comedy series, Gilligan's Island, in which a group of
lovable goofballs "set sail on a three-hour tour," met a storm,
and got stranded on an uninhabited island. And it seems that
there have been countless motion pictures and television movies
about marooned people.
I like to take a subject that has been around for a while
and find a new way to handle it. The Stake was an offbeat angle
on vampire stories. Resurrection Dreams took zombies in a fresh
direction. Savage was a very unusual treatment of the Jack the
Island is my attempt at giving a new angle to the age-old
stories of castaways. Instead of being marooned when a storm
destroys their ship, my group is already ashore, picnicking on an
island when their yacht blows up. Within a few hours after that,
one of the castaways is found hanged.
I employed a fairly unusual technique in the writing of
ISLAND. The whole story is actually told, as it occurs, by a
young man, stranded with the others, who is keeping a journal.
We see the entire adventure through his eyes, as he chooses to
What makes this different from the usual first-person
narrative is that the writing of the journal becomes part of the
story, and the writer of the journal is not aware of events until
Most first-person novels seem to have been written by a
character at some indefinite point in the future, recounting his
tale perhaps years after the events of the story occurred. We
usually don't know what has prompted him to tell his story. The
telling seems unrelated to the actual events in the story. And
it is generally obvious, from the start, that the narrator
survived to tell his tale.
Not so with ISLAND.
We know why Rupert is keeping the journal. We know when.
We know where it is at all times. But we never know what may
happen next -- or whether he will even be alive to finish the
Because he writes the journal as he goes along, anything can
I had a great time exploring and experimenting with the
possibilities of using the journal format. It opened up a lot
of new ways to play with the story, new ways to surprise myself
and my readers.
The technique may have been triggered by my own novel,
Endless Night. In that story, a character named Simon uses tape
recordings to keep a running account of his horrid activities.
I was delighted, creating Simon's tapes, to discover how many
strange arid nifty things are possible when the story is being
told as it happens (or shortly afterward) by one of the
In ISLAND, I took that technique pretty much to the limit.
LAYMON ON LAYMON: Experimental Fiction
Here's a biographical aside in connection with ISLAND, and
other novels I've done.
When I was going for my B.A. degree in English at Willamette
University, I needed to pass "oral exams" given to me by various
members of the English department.
It was common knowledge that I hoped to be a writer: I'd
submitted material to the Willamette literary magazine, and one
year won the short story contest.
At the time of my orals, one of the professors asked me, "Do
you ever plan to write 'experimental' fiction?"
"No " said I.
To me, "experimental" translated as "deep, ponderous,
plotless, generally senseless, incomprehensible."
The sort of fiction with which I wanted nothing to do.
In the past few years, however, I've often wished I could go
back in time and revise my answer.
Because, in a sense, all fiction is experimental. Every new
book is an adventure into unknown territory. As Hemingway told
us, you (the writer) have to go out beyond where you have gone
If a writer isn't simply re-hashing the same story again and
again, he is constantly experimenting with new plots, new types
of characters, settings and themes, etc.
Recently, I've found myself especially drawn toward fooling
around with techniques for telling my stories.
Savage, for example, is a first-person narrative written by
its main character, Trevor Bentley, years after the events of the
story. Trevor, raised to the age of fourteen in London, recounts
his tale in a language that is an odd mixture of British and old
western American slang. He sounds a bit like a cross between Dr.
Watson and Huck Finn. His language gives the book a very unusual
flavor, I think. Savage is probably the only book ever written
in such a style.
In Endless Night, I had the main villain, Simon, tell his
own story in a series of tape recordings. By using these
recordings, I was able to show Simon's side of the story -- or
whatever he wanted us to know about it. I was also able to use
his voice. He took delight in doing and saying the most awful
things imaginable. I put some attitudes into his mouth that I,
myself, would never dare to express in print.
In preparing the contents of Simon's tape recordings, I
discovered great differences between written and spoken language.
After noticing this, I read all the tape material aloud and did
major revisions in the rhythm, phrasing and diction in order to
make Simon's monologues sound as if they'd been spoken, not
The tape recordings in Endless Night led to the journal in
Island. In the case of Island, however, the voice belongs to
my protagonist, not my villain. Rupert not only tells what is
happening on the island, from his own perspective, but the
journal format gives us a chance to study his character. He
reveals more about himself, perhaps, than he wishes.
What attracted me most about the journal format for Island,
however, was the notion that my castaway was describing events as
they happened -- or shortly afterward. The story is on-going,
even as it is being penned. Nobody, not even the narrator, knows
what might happen next.
Because of the journal technique, readers have no way of
knowing, until the very end, whether the writer of the tale even
My work-in-progress is the most experimental of all .But
now is not the time to tell about it.
I just wish I could have another crack at answering that
question put to me by my professor at Willamette all those years
"Do you plan to write experimental fiction?" she would ask.
And I would answer, "All depends on what you mean by experimental."
LAYMON ON LAYMON: BLOOD GAMES
My original title for this book was Daring Young Maids. The
concept behind the story was simple: what if a small group of
friends get together, once each year, for an adventure? They
would call their adventures, "Dares."
The group turns out to be several girls who meet, and
become fast friends, during their first year together at a
university. For four years, they have some rather startling
adventures on campus. When it comes time for graduation, they
make a pact to get together annually.
Each year, a different member of the group is given the
opportunity to choose their activity -- or dare -- and make all
This year, it's Helen's turn. Helen, easily frightened, is
a horror fan. So she leads her friends to an old, abandoned
lodge in the Vermont woods where a terrible massacre had taken
place a few years earlier.
It becomes something of a gals-in-peril story, of course.
But there are a couple of special things about Blood Games
that I would like to mention.
First, it contains quite a lot of material about attending a
small, liberal arts university, and about dorm life. (Also some
outrageous stuff about a certain fraternity.) Some readers may
find this interesting, and even nostalgic. A lot of it was based
on my own experiences at Willamette University, in Oregon.
The second thing that I think readers may find special about
Blood Games is that it is packed with stories about the other
adventures these girls experience over the years before their
fateful trip to Vermont. They have a fairly large and varied
assortment of escapades. They play pranks. They seek revenge.
They take trips to unusual places and meet strange people. In
one or my favorite bits (and one that some of my fans have
apparently enjoyed) they help a member of their group -- an up
and coming film maker -- do a film of a short story called, "Mess
Hall." For permission to use the story, they make a phone call
to its author. Me. We have quite a nice chat.
LAYMON ON LAYMON: Treasure Hunts
Both In the Dark and Darkness, Tell Us are books about
people being sent on treasure hunts.
I'd never realized that before now.
The two books seem to have a lot of similarities.
In Darkness, Tell Us, a group of university students are
promised riches by Butler, an apparent spirit who gives them
instructions through a Ouija board. The treasure hunt of In the
Dark is guided by MOG, Master of Games, who leaves strange
messages that, if properly deciphered, lead to ever-increasing
sums or money.
Both Butler and MOG are figures of mystery. Nobody knows
who they are, or what their motives may be. Both seem to be at
least somewhat malevolent. And it is difficult to imagine that
they aren't somehow supernatural in origin.
They are dark, unknown powers leading the characters toward
possible riches -- and maybe toward destruction.
In both cases, they are game players.
Butler and MOG are a bit like mischievous or evil children
manipulating people for reasons known only to themselves.
They are trying to play God with the characters.
And succeeding, with a combination of lures and threats.
On other levels, they are me. I am Butler, MOG, AUTHOR,
playing nasty games with my characters, devising gimmicks that
will propel them into various strange and menacing adventures for
the amusement of myself and my readers.
LAYMON ON LAYMON: FUNLAND
Boleta Bay, in Funland, is a fictional version of Santa
Cruz, California. I've gone with my family to Santa Cruz
several times, mostly to enjoy the old boardwalk amusement park
at the beach.
The first time we went there, the place was crawling with
indigents. They seemed to be everywhere, as if the area had been
invaded by an army of filthy, grotesque beggars.
In Santa Cruz, these people were called "Trolls."
And we learned that some locals, particularly groups of
teenagers known as "Trollers," had started taking the law into
their own hands -- jumping trolls, terrorizing them, giving them
rides out of town...
My wife, Ann, actually found a newspaper article about it.
I decided the situation would make a neat book, so Funland
was born. It's about a couple of local cops, a group of
teenagers who stalk trolls through the closed amusement park late
at night, and several indigents: some clearly nuts, some brutal,
and two of whom are among my own favorite characters -- Robin and
Funland also has a couple of my favorite ending sequences.
I had a theory, at the time, that I should always shoot for a
climax that is 100 pages long. Which is VERY long for the climax
of a novel. With Funland, I pulled it off.
One of my favorite sequences is the big chase through the
funhouse. The funhouse, closed for years, has been rigged into
a maze of booby-traps for the amusement of the trolls. It has
the standard funhouse equipment -- such as the slide to a lower
level. In this case, however, the slide has a very sharp
surprise at the bottom. I had a fabulous time transforming
normal funhouse items into deadly traps.
While most of my major characters are running the funhouse
gauntlet, my other favorite scene is occurring outside -- at the
top of a Ferris wheel.
Robin is up there, all alone, while three trolls climb the
framework of the wheel. They're coming to get her.
I've had many fans tell me that Funland is their favorite of
my books. It's near the top of my list, too.
LAYMON ON LAYMON: Favorites
I've learned a lot of interesting things from reading my fan
mail and by meeting a great many fans at book signings.
One of my more fascinating discoveries is that so many of
them name different books as their favorites of those I've
For many, The cellar seems to be the most special -- partly
because it was my first book they ever read, I suppose. Sort of
like a first date...
But I don't think I could name a single book of mine that
hasn't been identified as the favorite of the bunch by someone.
The really odd readers name Beware! Because it is such a
bizarre and nasty story? And maybe it speaks to their own desire
for the powers of being invisible.
One Rainy Night is favored by readers who like hard-core
action. That book is non-stop action from start to finish, as is
People who like stories that remind them of their university
days have a special fondness for Blood Games, with all its campus
and dormitory scenes. Darkness, Tell Us will also bring back
readers' memories of university life.
Dark Mountain is frequently cited as a favorite --
apparently by people who do a lot of camping.
The favorite of many fans is Resurrection Dreams. They
particularly seem to enjoy the gallows humor. Time and again,
people have told me about the huge kick they got in reading one
particular scene -- in which my villain needs to "rekill" one of
his creations. It's a funny scene, with a very peculiar
conversation followed by some odd and gruesome attempts to make
the fellow stay dead.
The Stake is certainly one of my most popular Docks. People
seem to enjoy the fresh approach it takes to vampires. Many fans
have also mentioned how much they enjoy the "inside look" at the
life of a horror novelist.
Savage is probably up there with The Cellar and The Stake
in popularity among my fans. A young female reader from
Australia happened to be at Disneyland when I was having a
signing at the hotel there. She not only told me that she loved
the book, but indicated, "I would've killed you if you'd killed
Jesse." She must've really liked Jesse. (So do I.)
Savage has been greeted with particular enthusiasm by my
fellow writers, some of whom have called it "a literary
masterpiece," an ,"epic," and "Dickensian."
What are my own favorites?
First off, I like all of my adult suspense and horror
novels. (If I don't like a novel, it won't get finished.)
Secondly, each book has something about it that makes it
special to me: maybe a particular twist of plot, or a certain
character I think is really neat, or a setting, or a theme.
If I were asked to name five of my books that best represent
what I do, they might be these:
In the Dark
Sorry, couldn't narrow it down to five. And, having named
those, I feel guilty for leaving out the others. I've betrayed
them. And maybe I've betrayed the reader, too -- Endless Night,
unlisted, might've been the one he or she would've really loved.
Or One Rainy Night. Or Flesh. Or...
I have to recommend them all.
One of the other interesting things I've learned from my
fans -- after they've read one book, they can't quit until
they've read every last one of them. It's a wonderful thing.
LAYMON ON LAYMON: MIDNIGHT'S LAIR
Like Funland, I discovered the plot for Midnight's Lair
while on a trip with my wife and daughter.
In upstate New York, not far from Cooperstown, is a place
called Howe Caverns.
I like caverns. One of my friends, who is a very astute and
deep reader, pointed out to me that quite a few of my stories
have scenes that occur in caverns, mines and holes. He found
great significance in that.
To me, however, caverns seem to be full of mystery. They're
dark. Many of them have unexplored passages. They're dangerous.
In most caves, people have died at one time or another.
A person could get lost in a cave, and never be seen again.
A person might hide in a cave.
They are chock full of great opportunities for a writer of
I imagine that my fondness for caves probably has its origin
in fiction: The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. My mother read that
book to me aloud when I was a fairly young chap, and I've read it
several times since. Probably because of what happens in the
cave with Tom, Becky and Injun Joe, I've always found caves to be
wonderful places, rich with the promise of adventure, romance and
(The influence Tom Sawyer will be extremely obvious to
anyone who reads the climax of Savage: Rupert, Jesse and Jack the
Ripper in a cave...)
As for Midnight's Lair, however, the plot actually popped
into my head while I was down in Howe's Caverns, taking the
guided tour. I thought, 'What if the elevator went dead? There'd
be only one way out -- through the "natural" opening.'
Which was somewhere beyond the heavy chain that drooped
across the cave at the end of its "developed" section. On the
other side of the chain, the cave supposedly went on for more
than a mile. Without walkways or lights.
'What if somebody's in there? Waiting for us? Someone who
lives in the dark part of the cave, and wants to kill us all?
Maybe a tribe, or a family...'
Instead of a chain across the entrance, there would need to
be a wall. A brick wall, put there to seal off the bad part of
'One of us will have to smash a hole through the wall...'
And that's a little bit about the origin of Midnight's Lair.
Volume 4, Issue 9 - 27 January 1997.
by Paula Guran
Although I've never walked into a British bookshop, if I did I'd most likely
find, prominently displayed, a couple of dozen thick, well-designed, best
selling paperbacks by an author with a last name that starts with a letter
midway through the alphabet. Here in the US I'd be hard pressed to find any
author of that description save for King and Koontz.
I'm not talking about any over-promoted hack pseudo-horror writer. This is an
author who has been called "Stephen King without a conscience."..."In his
books, blood doesn't so much drip, drip as explode, platter and
coagulate."..."A gut-crunching writer who could maybe teach Bret Easton Ellis
a thing or two about keeping the reader hooked on obnoxious characters who do
Somehow the American publishing houses have done both this author, Richard
Laymon, and the reading public an incredible disservice by not publishing,
backing and promoting his work. He has at least eight novels not even
available in US editions and is virtually unknown to many even hardcore
horror addicts. This is a man with fans and fan clubs all over the world and
who sells thousands of books in several languages. Evidently American
publishers are, however, too busy putting glitzy covers on sheer crap and
calling it horror to take note of Laymon and his body of brilliant work.
Laymon (like Stephen King) was born in 1947. His novel, THE CELLAR was
published in 1980 by Warner books and made a splash -- over 400,000 copies
sold, B. Dalton bestseller list for a month and has been republished in
Italy, France, Spain, Germany, Bulgaria and is still in print in a new
edition in Britain with rights purchased for publication in Turkey and Japan.
As of January of this year he's added another 24 horror novels with another
due out this year. THE STAKE, with horror writer protagonist Larry Dunbar, is
often mentioned as a particular reader favorite and his books are selected
time and time again for non-US book clubs.
Awards? FLESH was named Best Horror Novel of 1988 by Science Fiction
Chronicle. The same book was nominated for the Bram Stoker Award for
Outstanding Achievement in a Novel in 1989 along with Stinger by Robert R.
McCammon, Black Wind by F. Paul Wilson, The Drive-In by Joe R. Lansdale,
Queen Of The Damned by Anne Rice and the winner that year --The Silence Of
The Lambs by Thomas Harris. FUNLAND was also nominated in 1991, the year Mine
by Robert R. McCammon took the honor. A limited edition collection of short
stories was nominated in 1994. Some guy named Ramsey Campbell beat him out
His latest short fiction, "Herman," can be found (along with an excellent
interview by Stanley Wiaters) in Cemetery Dance's Fall 1996 25th Anniversary
Issue (the most recent.) It's straightforward, viscous, surprisely erotic and
has something of a fairy tale feel to it. Yeah, all that.
I rarely offer bibliographies of featured writers here in the newsletter, but
in Laymon's case it tells more about him than I can. Consider it a treasure
map to the work of a writer you may have been missing far too long. Start
tracking the gold and gems down.
extract from Dark Dreamers - Conversations with the Masters of
by Stanley Wiater
Visit theStanley Wiater homepage for more information
By this point, the reader is
no doubt familiar with
the popular buzzword
regarding the "new wave" in
horror -- the infamous splatter-punk. Some writers like the
term, others who have been labeled with that name energetically reject it, while others
whose work truly fits the description have never seen their
name and that word used in the same review. A case in point:
one dark dreamer who actually has written
truly gory, sadistic, and blood-drenched tales, years before the term
which perhaps best describes him came into its current usage.
The case in point is Richard Laymon.
Right from the start, with the publication in 1980 of a no-holds-barred chiller called
The Cellar, Laymon has shown that he is not afraid
to hit below the waist. Laymon writes in a style that leaves
little to the imagination, and yet he deals with ordinary details
and people in such a way that the reader almost always imagines
an even worse fate for his terrified characters.
Born on January 14, 1947, in Chicago, Illinois, Laymon's family
moved to southern California in the early sixties. He still lives
in that state, but now with a family of his own. Like many writers, he has
served time as both a librarian and a high school
teacher. He has written in a variety of genres (Westerns, romances, juveniles,
mysteries) under several pseudonyms. He has published
some fifty stories, many of them for straight mystery magazines such as Ellery Queen's
Mystery Magazine and Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine. (I am also pleased to
say that I obtained his services in this form as one-third of the
lineup for Night Visions 7, which I edited in 1989.)
Horror, of course, has always been his primary interest, and
remains the focus of nearly all his novels. In addition to The
Cellar, they include The Woods Are Dark, Out Are the Lights,
Night Show, All Hallow's Eve, Tread Softly, Flesh, Midnight's
Lair, Beware, Resurrection Dreams, Funland, and The Stake.
Several show a pronounced influence of a steady diet of horror
movies, particularly the low-budget splatter variety.
In person, Laymon actually does remind one of a high school
teacher, or more closely the stereotype of a quiet, pleasant,
unassuming physical education coach. Like all the dark dreamers, he does not appear
to be in any way as sadistic and warped
as his imagination. An imagination which he will admit he keeps
in check because his visions are so dark they often would be
stomached only by the most hard-core horror fan. About the
only way you can tell that Laymon enjoys his work is that he
can't help grinning from ear to ear whenever he comes up with
a particularly repulsive idea. Whatever buzzword you may give
his style, Richard Laymon is a killer with words.
WIATER: I imagine your work has been rejected by more than a few
editors who might otherwise be receptive to more "standard" horror
LAYMON: I'm pretty sure that it has been [laughs]. I have a letter from
a publisher which has its own horror line, and though the editor doesn't
spell out exactly why she declined my work, says something to the
effect, "In all good conscience it wouldn't be right for us to publish
these novels." I also have a great rejection slip from a literary agent.
The first time I ever sent out a novel -- one that's never been published,
by the way -- I got back a letter from this old, established agency saying,
"The book shows a lot of talent, and we wish you success with it
elsewhere, but we found it was too sadistic in subject matter and don't
think we could handle it." I framed that letter.
WIATER: The critical perception that you write stories with sadistic
themes has been with you since the publication of your first novel. In
Fangoria, for example, your early novels were praised for the way your
characters often ended up drenched in blood. Which is leading to, do
you think you deserve -- or do you even want -- to be thought of as a
LAYMON: Speaking of Fangoria, there's a lot about the magazine in my novel
Night Show. You might want to check that out. I did a lot of my research
for the book by reading Fangoria. In fact, the magazine itself plays
a key part in the plot, which deals with a special-effects makeup artist. But you asked
about splatterpunks. Well, I don't like the "punk" part of it because you picture people
with spiked hair and razor blades in their ears. Now, if you want to call it "rock 'n' roll
I might go along with that.
My real problem with some of the splatterpunks is that their main characters
often seem to be the real punks. I don't think readers appreciate protagonists
who are obnoxious assholes [chuckles]. Yet I certainly have no qualms against writers
getting down and dirty. Or bloody and gory. Not if it's done well.
In spite of the way I feel about the so-called splatterpunks, I do
sometimes resent it when I hear about them and I'm not mentioned. I
was writing graphic, erotic horror novels when some of those guys were
still in high school. But I really don't want to be identified with a group,
anyway. Especially not that one.
WIATER: It would seem undeniable that you truly like to get "down
and dirty" in your work. Do you ever restrict your imagination, or pre-censor yourself
to give the story or novel a greater chance of acceptance
with a publisher?
LAYMON: Oh, I've started restricting myself considerably.
WIATER: [taken aback] Why -- for what good reason?
LAYMON: It depends on the market. I did pull out all the stops when I
wrote my story for the anthology Book of the Dead. But I think this a
factor that horror writers have to deal with: If you want to try for major
success, you can't be too far out. To have that "blockbuster mainstream" novel, you
have to temper the nastiness, gore, sex, sadism -- all that fun stuff [laughs]!
(Copyright 1990 by Stanley Wiater. All Rights Reserved. Reprinted with
GORMAN: Tell us about Quake, which is now available over here.
LAYMON: An excellent description of Quake was
provided in the British periodical Time Out.
The reviewer wrote, "LA is hit by the big
one, but instead of giving us a standard
disaster scenario, Laymon sets up a wicked
female-in-peril situation as the earthquake
provides a perfect opportunity for pervy
Stanley to get his hands on a woman
trapped in the ruins of her home. In the
aftershock chaos, can her blinded husband
and daughter reach the house before she is
attacked? There's enough cat-and-mouse
suspense here to leave your nails in shreds."
(By the way, the daughter isn't blinded -- R.L.)
A reviewer for the Manchester Evening
News wrote, "It's a catalogue of horrors that
makes Nightmare on Elm Street look as
cosy as Coronation Street."
Quake was inspired by my own earthquake experiences. I've been in three large
earthquakes (and too many smaller ones to
count), but the idea for Quake came to me in
the wake of the Whittier shaker of 1987.
When it hit, I was alone in a second-story
law office in Glendale, not far from the epicenter. I was also about thirty miles from
my home in west Los Angeles. After the
quake ended, my only concern was getting
home to my wife and daughter. Not knowing the extent of the damage, I was terrified
for their safety.
I took that experience, magnified the size
of the quake, created a bunch of characters,
threw in my perceptions of modern Los Angeles civilization (or lack thereof), and
presented my own version of how things might
be for a family trying to survive -- and save
each other -- after a major quake has broken down not only the walls of the city,
but the rules of decent behavior.
In other words, LAPD is shut down
and people are left to fend for themselves.
This book was nearly finished when
the big quake hit us on January 17,
1994. The manuscript, a stack of about
500 loose pages, was sitting on a wobbly TV tray in my home office. Our
chimney separated itself from the
house, bookshelves toppled, televisions
hit the floor, the refrigerator and stove
marched across the kitchen, cupboards
emptied themselves onto floors, a window broke, walls cracked, our fireplace
collapsed...and after it was all over, I
discovered the loose manuscript pages
of Quake still neatly stacked on the wobbly TV tray as if nothing had
GORMAN: Quake has all the virtues and
none of the vices of too many
bestsellers. Big cast, big theme, yet
it keeps the voice and viewpoint
that make all your books so solid.
Were you aiming for a larger audience?
LAYMON: Was I aiming for a larger audience?
Not consciously. For the most part, I was
just trying to write a book that would
please myself, my agent and editor, my
friends, and my fans.
In the United Kingdom, all my books
have a large audience. Over here, however, none of them since The Cellar has
been given enough distribution to have
a chance at a large audience.
So, in a way, there seems to be no
point in "aiming for a larger audience."
There is a vast potential audience in
this country for plenty of writers, including you and me, but the audience
isn't likely to notice any book that isn't
given a large push, at the outset, by a
publisher with clout. If it doesn't get The
Big Push, it'll die on the shelves, mostly
unseen and unbought.
My book Savage seemed like a novel
with fairly large sales potential. It's a
very unusual book, sort of about an
English Huck Finn hunting down Jack
the Ripper in the American West, told
from the boy's point of view in a brand
new language that mixes British idiom
and old American slang. I figured Savage should appeal to mystery fans, western
readers, horror fans, plus anyone who enjoys a large, mainstream adventure novel. Add
all the Jack the Ripper buffs, and the thing could've been a smash.
But it got little or no publicity, a small
printing, and very little distribution. In
effect, the hordes of people I envisioned
falling in love with my book never had
a chance to know it exists.
The same goes (to a lesser degree) for
The Stake, which I figured had a lot
going for it. As vampire novels go, The
Stake seemed to have huge mainstream
But it didn't get the Push.
So...I might as well have written a
trite little genre potboiler, for all the
difference it made in terms of distribution and sales in the U.S.
Those experiences have given me the
idea that "aiming for a larger audience"
is a waste of time. No book, no matter
how good, has a chance of reaching a
large audience unless the publisher
SEES the book's value.
Which makes a nice segue into the
next subject. As opposed to what happened in the U.S., The Stake and Savage both
did extremely well in Great
Britain. (And continue to sell over there,
since my entire backlist is in print in
the U.K) The first U.K. printing of Savage went so fast that it's now a
collector's item here in the States. I've
heard of people selling copies for
GORMAN: Can you explain why you're now
a major name in England but aren't nearly as well known in your home
country over here?
LAYMON: My agent, Bob Tanner, had a lot to
do with it. He helped me find publishers who live my stuff and know how to
Here, we've never had such luck.
My British publisher once told me, " We don't publish books, we publish
In that one sentence is the heart of the difference.
The author, here, is generally treated
like crap. I know of one U.S. editor who
said, "Why should I give Laymon
$10,000 for a book when I can pull Joe
Blow off the street and pay him $2,000?"
Do I sound a little annoyed?
I am. I shouldn't be angry for myself,
though. Thanks to England and all the
REST of the world, I make an excellent
living as a writer. But I resent that,
because of what I see as the stupidity
of many American editors, there are
great numbers of people in the U.S. who
are missing out on my books. (Even my
American fans resent it. They have to
spend twice as much money, or more,
because so much of my work is only
available in British editions.)
The real shame, however, is that
bunches of American writers have to
depend for their livelihoods on American publishers.
Plenty of U.S. publishers pay $2,000
to $5,000 for a novel. Very few writers
can get more than $10,000 - $15,000 for
a single book. Which means that most
writers are paid so miserably by American publishers that they would need to
write four or five books a year (if not
ten) to even reach the poverty level established by the U.S. government.
If that isn't enough of a disgrace, few
actually PAY the money on time. They
have to be brow-beaten before they'll
put a check in the mail -- and THEN
many U.S. literary agents will keep the
check for a few MORE months, apparently using it to cover gambling losses,
or God knows what.
Which may all sound like wild exaggerations -- except to those of your
readers who are writers. I don't know a
single pro who hasn't been shafted time
and again by U.S. publishers. I also
know quite a few writers who've noticed
how wonderful, by comparison, the British publishers are.
For a writer, being published by a
company such as Headline in England
is like "dying and going to heaven." Also
not an exaggeration. I have letters from
a few writers who've used that actual
A bit more than you probably bargained for, Ed, when you asked me that
GORMAN: You seem to have started out as
more of a mystery-crime writer
than anything else.
LAYMON: My first sale was to Ellery Queen's
Mystery Magazine. I subsequently sold
several stories to EQMM, Alfred
Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, and
Mike Shayne's Mystery Magazine. This
was back in the 1970's. There were no
good markets for short horror stories
(other than a couple of men's magazines) so I concentrated on the mystery
magazines. They were each buying
more than a dozen new stories every
My stories from that period were reprinted in my collection A Good, Secret
Place. Though these early stories were
published in "mystery" magazines,
readers will probably find them to be a
trifle quirky. Many of the stories contain elements of the grotesque and bizarre. I
pushed things about as far as I
could within the rather straight-laced
boundaries of those magazines.
Once I moved on to writing horror
stories for anthologies in the 1980's, my
short fiction became a lot more liberated. I was able to write stories that
have the same "voice" as my novels.
As an aside, I do think that there is a
lot of overlap between crime fiction and
horror fiction. The Silence of the Lambs
is the example everyone cites. But l
think it would be difficult to find a noir
or hard-boiled crime novel that doesn't
have elements of horror. Of course, I see
horror everywhere. I think Lonesome
Dove is a horror novel. (And it was part
of my inspiration for writing Savage.)
GORMAN: You seem to fit most comfortably
in the category of "dark suspense" - crime fiction that is not a who-dunit, horrific
fiction without a supernatural element. Is that a fair description?
LAYMON: Pretty fair. Thinking about the subject, I find that I seem to be writing
three different kinds of novels. One
batch has strong supernatural elements: The Cellar, Beware!, Beast
House, Resurrection Dreams, One
Rainy Night, Flesh, and Darkness, Tell
Us. Others tread a middle ground in
which the supernatural is down played
or merely hinted at: Tread Softly,
Funland, Blood Games, The Stake, In
the Dark. But quite a few of them are
straight, realistic, dark suspense novels without any supernatural whatsoever: Out Are
the Lights, Allhallow's
Eve, Night Show, Alarms, Midnight's
Lair, Savage, Endless Night, Quake, and
my forthcoming Island.
Even when the supernatural does
rear its head in my books, it is usually
more of a catalyst -- a device to trigger
the conflict -- than a major focus of the story.
I don't worry much about whether or
not one of my stories contains elements
of the supernatural. If I come up with
what I think is a nifty concept, I'll give it a whirl.
With or without elements of the supernatural, all my books end up containing pretty
much the same blend of other elements -- what you define as a
"Richard Laymon World" in a later question.
GORMAN: Following your first bestseller,
The Cellar, you went through some
rough times, right?
LAYMON: Right. Here in the States, my career
has never recovered. The Cellar, sold
well over 200,000 copies and ended up
on the B. Dalton bestseller list for a month.
But my second book, The Woods Are
Dark, flopped. That flop ruined me here.
They dumped me like a bad meal. Nobody here would touch my stuff for several years.
At one point, a major editor at Berkley was all set to make an offer
for two or three of my books, but the
deal went south when their sales people
checked with my former publisher. As
recently as a couple of years ago, a possible sale to another publisher was
killed because of what had happened at
the old publisher more than a decade
earlier; one of their people was working at the old publisher at the time The
Woods are Dark didn't sell up to expectations.
The bright side of my career in the
U.S. aside from my fans, my reputation,
and the collectors, is that I've found a
pretty good home, for now, with Thomas Dunne at St. Martin's Press. So far,
I haven't gotten much of a push there -- but they are publishing my books regularly in
hardbound, and the books are
finding their way into the stores.
In fact, the St. Martin's hardbounds
turn up in larger quantities, for the
most part, than my paperbacks.
My association with Thomas Dunne
and St. Martin's is the best relationship
I've ever had with a U.S. publisher. I'm
still waiting, however, for a U.S. publisher to decide one of my books is worth
GORMAN: You're one of only a few writers,
including Dean Koontz, who use
humor to enhance the terror in
your books. Most writers seem
afraid to try that.
LAYMON: Ed, please. That stuff wasn't supposed to be funny.
The deal is, I like it when a book
makes me smile or laugh. I like it when
people make me laugh.
My feeling about fiction, regardless
of the genre, is that it is meant to be a
representation of life. I want my books
to give a whole spectrum of experiences
to my readers. Not just fear or terror or
revulsion, but excitement, laughter,
pain, sorrow, desire, etc.
Most of all, I like to surprise them.
GORMAN: There's now a "Richard Laymon
World" a literary theme park: white
middle-class people who struggle,
and sometimes perish, in a world
so violent they can no longer comprehend it. There are great moments of humor, of
tenderness, of sex, but there is almost never any
respite from the sense of dread they
all seem to feel. Is that a fair description?
LAYMON: I would add that in my "World,"
people are very often the authors of
their own destruction. They may fall
victim to temptation -- or make a
simple, grave mistake.
"For want of a nail, the shoe was lost..." is a big part of my fictional world.
Somebody gets careless.
Another aspect of my World: the bad
stuff is generally perpetrated by people
who are evil -- not misunderstood.
And my protagonists meet evil with violence.
Usually the cops aren't around, so
normal, everyday citizens have to defend themselves or perish.
When I do have cops in my novels,
they are always the good guys. They are
the "thin blue line" that guards the
gates of civilization against the barbarians.
A major theme underlying Quake is
this: look what happens when the
LAPD is put out of action. Chaos. We
got a very small taste of it back in 1992,
and Quake shows the possible results
on a much larger scale.
GORMAN: Describe your average working day.
LAYMON: My average working day hit the skids
when I started to watch the O.J. Simpson trial.
Normally, however, I get up and read
for an hour or so. I'll write from about
8:30 to 11:30 a.m., then have lunch,
watch some news on TV, maybe read for
a while and/or take a brief nap. Then
I'll return to my word processor at about
1:00 and continue writing until 3:00 or
4:00 p.m. Then I'll quit for the day, read,
and drink a couple of beers before dinner.
It's a pretty loose schedule.
I might take a day off in the middle
of the week and go to a movie or a mall.
I'll usually work at least one full day
My main goal is to write at least 30
pages per week on my novel. I'm very
pleased when I go over 30, and delighted
when I hit 50.
The main thing that messes up my
schedule is travel. I generally spend
about eight weeks per year away from
home on various trips. They're great for
research, but they sure do interrupt my
The great quantity of free time -- and
freedom in general -- is one of the wonderful perks of being a writer.
GORMAN: What are you working on presently?
Do you see any big changes coming in
LAYMON: My next novel, to be published by
Headline in June, is Island. It's a contemporary suspense/adventure story in
which a small group of people on a
yachting trip gets marooned on an uninhabited tropical island.
It was inspired by Gilligan.
The most unusual feature of Island
is that the entire novel consists of journal entries made by one of the cast-
He got marooned with lots of paper. I'm joking, but not lying. People will
need to read the book if they want to
see how the guy found the time and
supplies to write such an extensive journal.
Big changes in my career? I'm not
planning on any major new directions
in my writing. Things are obviously
changing, though. I seem to grow more
willing, all the time, to take big chances
with my fiction. My philosophy is, "go
for it." If I blow it, I blow it. But I'd
rather take a big risk, and fail, than find
myself writing the same book again and
again, just to be safe.
I'm actually allowed to feel that way
because I know that Headline and my
readers are on my side, rooting for me,
and eager for more.