Ginger Nuts of Horror
“Bring a vampire around, people start discovering religion.”
― Richard Laymon, The Stake
When you talk about horror authors, the same few names always crop up. King, Koontz, Herbert and Laymon.These four authors helped to shape and mould a whole new generation of horror authors. Without their input, the horror genre would not be where it is today, a genre full of great talent. But it wasn't just their writing that helped to shape the horror genre. It was the writers themselves, and probably none more so than Laymon. In stark contrast to his dark and brutal fiction Laymon was warm, generous and ever accommodating person, a man who always had time for other writers. Laymon was a true gentleman of the genre.
As a companion piece to the long forgotten interview with the man himself, I have asked a number of writers whose careers have been shaped by Laymon to tells us about what the man and his writing meant to them.
A special thanks must go to Neil Snowdon, who originally printed the interview in his fanzine. It is a huge honour to be able to be able to bring this wonderful interview to a wider audience
“Now you got us whammied with the curse of squirmy death.”
― Richard Laymon
Dick Laymon was a mentor and cheerleader and scout master for so many of us working in the field now. When we were all just starting out, we could always rely on him for advice, encouragement, laughs, and even a gentle ass-kicking when we needed it. Even writers who didn’t care for his work (preferring their horror quieter or their prose more “literary”) looked to him as sort of a guidepost as what to do and what not to do in this industry.
His autobiography, A Writer’s Tale, is the seminal bible for an entire generation of writers—as essential and mandatory as Stephen King’s On Writing and David Morrell’s Lessons From A Lifetime of Writing. Stylistically, you see echoes of his influence in the works of writers like Bryan Smith, Steve Gerlach, Monica J. O’Rourke, Brett McBean, Jonathan Maberry, and so many others, including myself.
What doesn’t get acknowledged as much, is his influence as a human being. Yes, his books were filled with depravities and atrocities, but the man himself was humble and good-humored and a monument to what it means to be a husband, a father, and a friend. As I said on my podcast, The Horror Show, a few weeks ago, there have been times in my life where I have regretfully failed to follow that example (a sentiment co-host and author Geoff Cooper agreed with for himself), but it’s something to aspire to. With Dick, there was always another book or story to move on to and write, and with life, there always another chance to move on to and get it right.
No book, no matter how good, has a chance of reaching a large audience unless the publisher SEES the book's value.
Richard Laymon, interview, The Mystery Scene, July/August 1995
How awesome was Richard Laymon? I had the good fortune to meet him in September 2000, when a then-upcoming horror author named Brian Keene had a gathering at his home for those of us who were part of his discussion group/email list “Jobs in Hell.” Mostly a weekly listing of horror writing opportunities, it was also a forum to get to know other horror writers.
I went to the gathering, not knowing what to expect. I took my oldest daughter, Sarah, because Brian had published a story of hers in the newsletter, and wanted to meet him.
What followed was an amazing weekend where I got to meet people I only knew online, where we ate, drank, shared stories, and got to know one another.
Everyone was so nice, but Richard stood out. Of course, he was the famous rock star of the group; I’m amazed he went. But he never came across that way. He brought his wife Ann and daughter Kelly (who were, and still are, just as cool as he was), and just hung out with us like he had known us for years. My daughter was only 11 at the time, but he never talked down to her or treated her like a little kid. He included her in conversations and seemed to genuinely enjoy her company.
A few weeks later, my daughter received an unexpected package in the mail from Richard. Inside was a book called My Secret Admirer, written by Richard under the name Carl Laymon. It was a mystery for young readers, and he signed it for her. We still treasure it.
But the really cool thing about this book is that I read it when I was a kid myself – and I had no idea about that when I met him. To see this book I had loved, so generously given to my daughter, is something I will never forget. Because although I had always loved to write little stories when I was a kid, reading that book is what really got me wanting to write. It would be (many) years later until my first published story, but I never forgot that book. And I will never forget Richard Laymon.
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 before.
Richard Laymon "Laymon on Laymon"
“The thing about Richard Laymon that people take for granted is this: writing stories that are fast-paced and entertaining requires a great deal of skill. If what he did was easy, there’d be a great many people creating stories of equal quality and readability. I mean, we all like money, right? But the fact is, no one can write like Richard Laymon.”
“Mr. Laymon has always sold boatloads of books because he writes stories that people want to read. I think it’s easy to look at his novels and reduce them to B-movies in book form. And while there’s definitely an element of pulp in his stories, a closer look at them reveals a great deal of craftsmanship. A Laymon book moves. Like a master percussionist, he is able to vary his rhythms, his paragraph length, and his syntax in a way that makes the reader tap his toes. A Laymon book is an extended groove, an infectious melody that’s impossible not to hum.”
“My own novel SAVAGE SPECIES, in addition to being its own beast, is an homage of sorts to Richard Laymon. Because I’ve read so many Laymon novels, it was very natural for me to channel some of his sensibility in my story. There are detestable villains, unlikely heroes, a great deal of action, and many other Laymon-ian elements in SAVAGE SPECIES. I’m not suggesting it’s exactly like a Laymon book because it’s not. But I hope folks who read it see his influence in my novel and get a sense of how much I respect him and appreciate what he has meant to me as a writer and a reader.”
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.
Richard Laymon , interview, The Mystery Scene, July/August 1995
Somewhere in the 1979/1980 time frame, I read THE SHINING by Stephen King. Describing that experience as “life-changing” is an understatement of colossal proportions. Until then, I had been a sci-fi geek, but thereafter it was all about horror for me. King became my favorite author and remains so to this day. However, while THE SHINING was my gateway into the genre, it was just the first of a number of seminal horror reading experiences in my youth. Another such experience—and one nearly as impactful—came when I read Richard Laymon’s THE WOODS ARE DARK.
THE WOODS ARE DARK was a paperback original from Warner Books. I’d seen an ad for the book in Fangoria magazine, which included a blurb from someone who called Laymon “Stephen King without a conscience.” Well, of course, being the King fanatic I was, I had to check that shit out. While I don’t know about the “without a conscience” part, I totally got what that person was saying right away. I devoured THE WOODS ARE DARK in a single sitting and promptly read it again. In that book, Laymon displayed a willingness to go places where even King would not go, describing scenes of sex and violence with an explicit frankness I’d never previously encountered. And it wasn’t just that he was willing to go to that place, but that he REVELED in it. That’s something that has stayed with me through the years, and Laymon’s lingering influence on my own writing is no doubt apparent to any discerning genre reader.
Love is always right.
Richard Laymon , The Stake
Richard Laymon dedicated his wonderful coming of age epic, THE TRAVELING VAMPIRE SHOW to me. It read:
This book is dedicated to Richard Chizmar, owner, manager and coach of the CD team. You took us to the show.
The truth of the matter is: Richard Laymon took me to the show. When he allowed Cemetery Dance to publish a limited edition of his classic THE CELLAR, it served as a warning shot to the rest of the genre that these CD guys meant business. If they could land THE CELLAR, one of the most talked about horror novels of the past couple decades, well, they could do just about anything. And we did...when we went on to publish the rest of Richard Laymon's controversial Beast House series -- THE BEAST HOUSE and THE MIDNIGHT TOUR and the Cemetery Dance exclusive FRIDAY NIGHT AT BEAST HOUSE. Richard taught me a lot about breaking the rules and aiming high. He taught me a lot about generosity and professionalism and mixing fun with work. He taught me even more about being a good father and giving back to the genre. Richard Laymon took an awful lot of us to the show.
Dick Laymon was not what you might have expected. Long before AI read his work, I met him. Why? Because when we met his books were barely available in the US. He was a force to be reckoned with in the UK, but in the United States he was a rarity and usually only available in limited editions. that cost more than I could spare (I remind you that I am a writer, and that usually means not filthy stinking rich.).
Still, he had a powerful reputation in the small presses and a goodly number of my peers were singing his praises. When I finally managed to get my hands on one of his books, THE TRAVELING VAMPIRE SHOW, I set aside everything else I was reading and settled in to see what was so special about the very nice, and surprisingly calm man that I had enjoyed conversations with and never met.
Damn. It is incredibly rare for me to burn through a book in a matter of hours. I work a full time job, I write full time, and at that point I was happily married and liked spending every spare moment with my wife.
Laymon's voice was powerful. he spoke softly, but his words screamed with a potent rage. I felt like I was reading a fusion of Ray Bradbury and Stephen King with a twist of Ed Lee. A coming of age story with a few dozen twists and a dark streak four miles wide. From that moment on I was hooked. I grabbed whatever I could get my hands on and drank in the stories and plots and palpable tensions of one of the finest writers of his generation.
I am forever baffled as to why he did not take off here as completely as he did in the UK. And I will most assuredly sing his praises whenever given the chance.
James A. Moore, author of The Serenity Falls Trilogy.
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