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Featured Horror Books

A Look into the Life of Horror Writer Dennis Etchison

Possibly one of the most well-received writers and unfortunately, one of the most recently deceased within the horror writing community, Dennis Etchison made his waves in the world of writers at large. As an American writer and editor of fantasy and horror fiction, he has been hailed as, “one hell of a fiction writer,” by his peer in horror, Stephen King. Etchison himself described his work as, “rather dark, depressing, almost pathologically inward fiction about the individual in relation to the world,” which is fair–writing horror is a pretty grim business. It could be argued that The Viking-Penguin Encyclopedia of Horror and the Supernatural, which described him as, “the most original living horror writer in America,” really did recognize the genius and inspirational talent of him as a writer. At the end of this month, we’re coming up on the first anniversary of the death of this highly regarded writer of horror fiction. So join us as we celebrate the life and work of Dennis Etchison for our Dead Author Dedication of May.

Growing Up…

Born Dennis William Etchison on March 30, 1943 in Stockton, California and he grew up as an only child when World War II was still ravaging the globe. He, therefore, didn’t have any men in his home and as a result believed he was spoiled greatly as a child where he spent most of his time without normal exposure to children his own age. It’s said that this sense of isolation from his peers, as well as the need to interact with society, was reflected later as parts of the themes of many of his work. His father regularly took him to attend shows at the Olympic Auditorium where he developed a fascination in the fight between good and evil–and gave him the ability as a young boy to become a fan of wrestling as a sport.

During his teenage years he wrote for his school papers and was a decidedly good writer for his age, having discovered Ray Bradbury and emulated his style before he had developed his own. This was the time that he began writing short stories, but upon submitting them for publication was rejected every time–that is until he remembered Ray Bradbury, who had suggested that a writer should look to a market that would be the least likely to publish their work. After heeding the advice of his source of inspiration, he was promptly accepted for publication in a gentlemen’s magazine entitled Escapade.

Career

While we’re going to focus more on the literary career of Dennis Etchison in our next installment of the Dead Author Dedication for the month of May, we feel it’s important to recognize here some of the highlights of his achievements. Dennis Etchison had a prolific writing career when it came to short story fiction, something utterly unheard of for an author who was actually quite popular during their lifetime–considered a king of anthologies, he began with publications of his short stories in the 1960s.

At UCLA he sought a higher education in the 1960s, Etchison studied film and eventually became highly knowledgable on the subject; he wrote various screenplays, many of which were never produced. He even became a consultant to Stephen King for his non-fiction volume Danse Macabre (1981) and also wrote for television. In his expansive five-decade career, his range included short stories, movie novelizations, original novels, anthologies, essays, editorials, and radio work.

Not surprisingly, Etchinson also served as the President of the Horror Writers Association from 1992 to 1994. At the turn of the century, in 2002, he adapted almost one hundred episodes of the original Twilight Zone television series for a CBS radio series which was hosted by Stacy Keach. Over the course of his career, he won the British Fantasy Award three times for fiction, as well as two World Fantasy Awards for anthologies he was responsible for editing. In 2017, Etchison was recognized by the Horror Writers of America when they bestowed the honor of the Bram Stoker lifetime achievement award upon him.

Much of Etchison’s work can be found under his pen name, Jack Martin, One thing that Etchison can be credited for aside from all of his other achievements is his excessive humility when regarding his own work. Inspiration can be found from his relatability for aspiring writers and we think that this can be summarized by one quote in particular.

I know a short story or a book that I’ve written much better than anybody else in the world. I’ve read it a hundred times. And just because it’s published doesn’t mean I think it’s perfect. You don’t write in a vacuum. You write on a schedule, professionally, and something may be published that I know is flawed. I understand the weaknesses of the work better than anybody else.

I could give you an annotated version of one of my stories that would point out not only the references and the origins of the lines and thoughts, but what I was trying to do – what I wished there were more of, what I now think there’s too much of. After you’ve written it and set it aside, you can come back to it and you see it in a different light. So I now look back at any story of mine more than a couple of years old and it does not look good to me. I could go through it and make it better, but I don’t do that. It represents the best I could do at that time, under those circumstances, and it’s representative of the person I was. I am embarrassed by some of the early stories, which continue to come back in reprint anthologies around the world.

It’s nice to be paid for work I did in my teens! But I can look at it as if someone else had written them and say, “My God! Is he aware of how these words look on the page?” I have a more acute sense of style than I did then; a better understanding of myself and human relationships. Two years from now I’ll look back at the present stories and be appalled. But it’s like life: what you do is the best you can do on that day. You have to finish your job at the end of the day and say, given the circumstances, this was the best that I could do. But tomorrow’s a new day. I can try to do better.

Dennis Etchison on his own writing.

Throughout his career Etchison gave back to the next generation of aspiring writers, by teaching classes in creative writing at his alma mater, UCLA. The most admirable trait of this horror master, is that he inspired many to write down their stories and accept that our flaws as writers actually contribute to our ability to evolve and improve.

Death

Although his cause of death has still been relatively unreported upon, we do know that Etchison was reported to have died during the night on May 28, 2019, at the age of 76. This was a tremendous blow to the modern horror community, as it lost one of the most influential modern writers who brought originality and life to such an exciting genre of fiction.

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Lifestyle

A Lovecraftian Life and Death

Known as the Father of Cosmic Horror, H.P. Lovecraft only lived for forty-six short years. What he was able to accomplish in his lifetime, however, was enough to change the tides of an entire genre.

A Visionary from an Early Age

Howard Phillips Lovecraft was born in the late summer of 1890, to Sarah Susan Phillips Lovecraft and Winfield Scott Lovecraft, in Providence, Rhode Island. As a child of three, his father suffered from a nervous breakdown and was sent to Butler Hospital, where he remained in residence for five years until his death in the summer of 1898. Unaware of his father’s mental condition, Lovecraft was told that his father was paralyzed and comatose, but surviving medical records show that his father actually died of paresis—a form of neurosyphilis.

Following the death of his father, Lovecraft was brought up by his mother, two aunts, and grandfather—who had him reciting poetry at two, reading at three, and writing at six or seven years of age, having recognized his advanced intelligence. By the age of five, he had proven his penchant for the creative, fantastical, and mythological, eventually using these influences to inspire his own literary works. His oldest surviving work came when he was a young boy of seven, having paraphrased the Odyssey into rhyming verse in his 1897, “The Poem of Ulysses.” His grandfather played a large role in Lovecraft’s strange gothic sense of fantasy, encouraging him to pursue his weird flights of fantasy into the realm of horror.

Due to numerous childhood afflictions, including some instances of psychological troubles, Lovecraft’s attendance at school was never consistent—he spent much of his youth studying independently, favoring chemistry and astronomy over all else. As far as works of fiction, Edgar Allan Poe served as the inspiration for much of Lovecraft’s dark and imaginative creations. Despite his diminished ability to socialize, he was still able to create and maintain a number of significant friendships with his peers when he attended Hope High School, through his self-published hectograph journals. These journals, The Scientific Gazette (1899–1907) and The Rhode Island Journal of Astronomy (1903–07) garnered him his peer’s encouragement to write outside of his home. Unfortunately, in 1908 Lovecraft suffered from a nervous breakdown and never received his diploma. His inability to graduate high school and be admitted into Brown University would be a source of great shame to Lovecraft later in life

This breakdown led Lovecraft to become somewhat of a hermit for several years—exacerbated by the death of his grandfather and their consequential financial ruin—he would stay up late studying, reading, and writing poetry, then sleeping late into the day. Even though he managed to publish articles on astronomy in several newspapers, Lovecraft went through a difficult time after losing his childhood home, as well as the compulsive love-hate relationship he had with his mother, so he regularly contemplated suicide.

From Isolation to Notoriety

Emerging from his need for isolation in 1913, like an internet troll emerges when they see something online that drives them absolutely crazy, Lovecraft wrote an entire letter in verse to Fred Jackson as an affront. He joined the United Amateur Press Association in 1914, which is where his amateur journalism career began, leading him to launch his self-published magazine The Conservative in 1915. It would be safe to say that these opportunities launched Lovecraft’s entire career out from within the pit of his own self-pity.

H.P. Lovecraft (1915)
H.P. Lovecraft (1915)

“In 1914, when the kindly hand of amateurdom was first extended to me, I was as close to the state of vegetation as any animal well can be… With the advent of the United I obtained a renewal to live; a renewed sense of existence as other than a superfluous weight; and found a sphere in which I could feel that my efforts were not wholly futile. For the first time I could imagine that my clumsy gropings after art were a little more than faint cries lost in the unlistening world.”

Howard Phillips Lovecraft

It only took two more years of his life before he once again delved into his fictional worlds—in the summer of 1917, Lovecraft easily produced “The Tomb,” as well as “Dagon,” which were two shorter stories that he owed to his passion for fiction. The dark edgy tales of Edgar Allan Poe and fantasy tales of Irish author Lord Dunsany, which inspired some of his earlier fiction pieces.

I will tell only of the lone tomb in the darkest of the hillside thickets; the deserted tomb of the Hydes, an old and exalted family whose last direct descendant had been laid within its black recesses many decades before my birth.

The Tomb”, June 1917 by Howard Phillips Lovecraft

It was around this time that his mother’s own mental and physical deterioration began to really affect her and after her own nervous breakdown in 1919, she was admitted to Butler Hospital—the same hospital Lovecraft’s father had been committed to and subsequently died in. Only two years later a failed operation caused the death of his mother and in spite of his devastation, Lovecraft recovered enough to meet his future wife a few weeks later. In 1923, the horror magazine Weird Tales paid Lovecraft for his stories, which was his first paid gig as a writer. When he married Sonia Greene in 1924, they moved to New York for two years, but the marriage soon failed and Lovecraft returned to Rhode Island where he began working on his most renowned stories. Just two years after splitting up with his wife, “The Call of Cthulhu,” came out in the Weird Tales magazine, which was the first piece that really helped make a name for Lovecraft as an author of otherworldly horror.

The Death of a Legendary Horror Writer

I am essentially a recluse who will have very little to do with people wherever he may be. I think that most people only make me nervous – that only by accident, and in extremely small quantities, would I ever be likely to come across people who wouldn’t.

Howard Phillips Lovecraft, 1926
Tombstone of H.P. Lovecraft
Tombstone of H.P. Lovecraft

The last decade of his life was spent creating what is now known as his classics, having found a niche for himself as an author of weird horror fiction, and prolific writer-of-letters. The last few years of his life, in particular, were incredibly strenuous for Lovecraft, beginning with the death of one of his aunts in 1932, from there his writing became largely too complex to sell to a normal reader. At this part of his career, he began to attempt a career solely editing, as well as ghostwriting stories, poetry, and non-fiction—no longer even trying to sell his own original creations. The suicide of a close friend brought him depression, but it was ultimately his own incurable illness that would bring Lovecraft’s final days. In the winter of 1936, Lovecraft’s intestinal cancer caused him pain that increased on a daily basis and eventually he had taken himself to the hospital where he died five days later, on March 15, 1937.

Like many other underappreciated artists of his age, Lovecraft has gained a far greater following after death than he ever saw during his lifetime. He’s been the inspiration for writers Peter Straub, Stephen King, as well as Neil Gaiman—to name a few.

Lovecraft has yet to be surpassed as the twentieth century’s greatest practitioner of the classic horror tale.

Stephen King
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Featured Horror Books Horror Mystery and Lore Women in Horror

Beyond Frankenstein—Mary Shelley’s Literary Successes

The tragedy of Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley is that, despite having one of the most famous horror stories of all time, her other work is virtually unknown. Her other two novels, aside from Frankenstein, were actually strange and unique in their own way—keep reading to learn more about the roads Mary Shelley paved for the literary community.

Frankenstein, or The Modern Prometheus (1818)

Shelley’s first and most notorious novel was started when she was still a teenager, in 1816, at age 18. Female writers around the world, myself included, are grateful for her contribution to literature, even though she published initial additions anonymously when she was twenty in London in 1818. Her name didn’t actually appear on the publication until the second edition was published in Paris in 1821.

Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus

What is incredible about this book is not just that it was written by a teenager, or that it was written by a woman, but that it was written by a woman from the perspective of a young male scientist. This story arose from her travels through Europe in 1815 while she traveled along the Rhine in Germany. Eleven miles away from what is considered Frankenstein Castle, where two centuries before her visit a mad alchemist conducted various experiments. She continued her travels across Geneva, Switzerland—which was also used as a setting for much of the novel. Shelley and her traveling companions had incredibly controversial conversations that ranged from the occult to galvanism—this of course was around the time that Luigi Galvani was conducting his experiments with his frog galvanoscope.

The legend of how Shelley came up with her idea of this particular novel tells us that Shelley and her traveling companions, most all of them writers, decided to have a contest amongst themselves. They wanted to challenge each other and see, who among them could create the most engaging, terrifying, and outrageous horror story. Initially stumped by the prompt, Shelly thought upon the topic for days until she finally had a dream that would inspire her to write the story of a scientist who created life, only to be horrified by his own creation.

The story of Victor Frankenstein was rather controversial due to the idea of Galvani’s technology and what his experiments meant for the scientific community at the time. So, Shelley portrays Victor Frankenstein, a young scientist as a man pursuing knowledge that lies in the unorthodox, blasphemous fields of secrets yet-to-be-told. Life and death are uncertainties in this story, when Victor creates a sapient creature, one constructed from the pilfered parts of those who have died.

Galvani’s experiments gave the scientific community a lot of ideas about reanimation after death and also launched experimental medical treatments using electricity to cure diseases that were incurable at the time. If you’re interested in learning a bit more about the process that Luigi Galvani used to achieve this ground-breaking discovery about electrical impulses and the nerve system, there are a few YouTubers who decided to replicate the experiment. Enjoy!

The Last Man (1826)

Shelley’s novel The Last Man is an unusual topic for the time during which it arose; originally published in 1826, this book envisions a future Earth—set in the late twenty-first century—that is ravaged by plague and unknown pandemic. It harbors the eery scene of a planet in the throes of apocalypse, where society has degraded to a dystopian nightmare, amidst the ravages of an unchecked and unknowable plague that blankets the globe.

The Last Man

In order to write this particular novel, Shelley spent time sitting in meetings of the House of Commons in order to have a deeper understanding of the inner workings of a Romantic Era political system. As such, she created another first in literature—dystopian apocalyptic visions of the future within the writing community. Due to the insanely new concept of a dystopic world, her novel was suppressed by the literary community at large, as it was a wholly nightmarish idea at the time. It was almost considered prophecy and it wasn’t until the 1960s that the novel resurfaced to the public where it was clearly understood to be a work of fiction.

Mathilda (1959)

Mathilda is one of those books that, if it had been published during Shelley’s lifetime, it might have created another scandal for Mary Shelley—as such her second long work, despite having been written between August 1819 and February 1820, wasn’t published until 1959, well after Shelley’s death. While this isn’t a horror novel, it does provide some insight into the dark and depressed mind of Shelley following the death of two of her children. Their deaths in 1818 and 1819 respectively caused Mary Shelley to distance herself emotionally and sexually from her husband which was an incredible hardship on their marriage.

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The plot of this particular novel dealt with a common theme found in Romance Era novels—incest and suicide, this novel in particular was the narrative of a father’s incestuous love for his daughter. Now you may be thinking—that’s disgusting! And by today’s standards of familial relationships and romantic relationships, you would be correct.

Mathilda tells her story from her deathbed, having barely lived to her twenties, in order to tell the story of her darkest secrets that have led her to such a young demise. She confesses the truth of her isolated upbringing which leads to the ultimate begrudging truth of her emotional withdrawal and inevitable, secluded death. She never names her father, who confesses his incestuous love for her—his confession fuels his decision to commit suicide by drowning.

Index of Sources

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Featured Horror Books Scary Movies and Series

Cinema and Television Inspired by Horror Author Richard Matheson

Many of Richard Matheson’s works went from page to screen pretty successfully–perhaps that’s part of the reason why so many people are familiar with work that he originally penned, but are unaware of the source of the story. After such a long career, one might hope that people would come to recognize your name, but it didn’t seem to bother Matheson, who seemed to only write for the love of writing.

The Films Based on Matheson’s Novels

I Am Legend (1954) is Richard Matheson’s most talked-about novel–it was such a success and inspiration to creatives everywhere that it was even adapted to film three separate times. The Last Man On Earth (1964), The Omega Man (1971), and I Am Legend (2007) all wonderful movies in their own right, just never seemed to capture the concept behind the original novel.

The Last Man On Earth (1964)

The Last Man On Earth (1964) Movie Poster

The dark tale of The Last Man On Earth takes place in a post-epidemic nightmare world, where a scientist by the name of Robert Morgan–played by Vincent Price–is the only man immune to a vampire plague which has transformed the entire population on Earth. This vampire society comes to fear Morgan, as he turns into a monster slayer. As a scientist, he studies the plague and ends up being able to cure one of them, by transfusing his blood into her. This upsets the vampire race and they end up killing him for what he has done to Ruth.

The Last Man On Earth on IMDB

The Omega Man (1971)

The Omega Man (1971) Movie Poster

Considered the second adaptation of I Am Legend to film, Charlton Heston plays Robert Neville, a man who is the only recipient of a serum that made him immune to the germ warfare between Russia and China. This caused him to be the only known normal human left alive and he lives in a gaudy, antique-decorated penthouse in Los Angeles where he roams the vacant city by day and fends off bloodthirsty (read: vampire) mutant scavengers. Eventually, Neville comes across a young group of healthy non-vampires, which destroys the idea of him being the last remaining normal human being.

The Omega Man on IMDB

I Am Legend (2007)

I Am Legend (2007) Movie Poster

The third adaptation of Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend, this attempt at the film follows Robert Neville–played by Will Smith–as the last man on Earth struggling to survive and fend off the infected victims of the vampiric plague. He’s a brilliant scientist who is meant to find the cure to a highly contagious superbug–something he is inexplicably immune to, as we find out later in the film. By day, Neville searches high and low for supplies, sends out desperate radio messages with the hope to find other survivors, and by night he hunkers down in his fortress of a home while attempting to find the cure to the virus by using his own blood in experiments on vampires he has captured. The horde of vampires is more intelligent than Neville realizes, however, and they take vengeance upon him after he captures a vampire woman who the alpha vampire is bonded to.

I Am Legend on IMDB

The Legend of Hell House (1973)

The Legend of Hell House (1973) Movie Poster




Adapted from Hell House by Matheson, into a screenplay by Matheson himself, four people with supposed extrasensory powers are hired to spend the weekend in a haunted house in order to gather evidence of the haunting.

The Legend of Hell House on IMDB



Stir of Echoes (1999)

Stir of Echoes (1999) Movie Poster

Tom Witzky lives a fairly normal life, he works in Chicago and lives with his wife and son, not believing in anything out of the ordinary. One night, while at a party, Tom and his sister-in-law, Lisa, get into a verbal debate about psychic communication and the power of hypnosis–he challenges Lisa to hypnotize him, so she does. She plants a post-hypnotic suggestion for Tom to be more open-minded and things begin to happen.

A Stir of Echoes on IMDB

Television Shows Inspired by Matheson

Matheson wrote several screenplays, including sixteen episodes of The Twilight Zone, where he could simply pitch an idea and spur an entire episode.

Nightmare at 20,000 Feet (2002)

Nightmare at 20,000 Feet (1963) Screenshot

A salesman is traveling via plane after a recent nervous breakdown–after being told that he’s recovered from his issues–while flying, he begins to believe he’s seeing a monster climbing on the wing of the plane and damaging the engine. The only problem is, is that he’s the only one who sees it.

Nightmare at 20,000 Feet from The Twilight Zone on IMDB

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Featured Lifestyle

Departing From the Mind of H.P. Lovecraft

Colour Out of Space by Ludvik Skopalik
Artwork by Ludvik Skopalik

During this month’s Dead Author Dedication of H.P. Lovecraft, we have talked about his life, death, literature, his own personal inspirations, and how he has inspired authors and artists all over the world since his death. The question on this writer’s mind is, “how did a master crafter of the written word end up poor and barely able to make ends meet doing what he loved?” and what that means for aspiring writers.

The Legacy of Lovecraft

Last week we delved into the topic of why and how the work of Lovecraft never really successfully makes it into the film medium; since he was such an influential writer for the horror genre. Other authors in this genre have had their work be adapted into films–sometimes these stories are so popular they have even been remade, to update the story with more modern age techniques and higher quality film in order to see if they could do a better job capturing the original source. Stephen King has been one author who has been successful and lucky enough to be able to boast this honor, the productivity of his own lifetime of writing is something of a celebrity amongst aspiring writers. Any writer would be so lucky to capture even a fraction of the renowned that someone like Stephen King has managed, but the kind of reputation that Lovecraft has grown to develop as a writer since his death has a deeper and more concealed appeal.

H.P. Lovecraft Interview (1933)

The thought of having a cult following has an enchanting draw for artists, one that evokes the concept of an inextinguishable legacy; an artist who may have struggled from their creative inception can’t help but entertain the fantasy of their work not only lasting long after their life has ended but becoming more appreciated with time. There have been so many artists inspired by the chaotic and terrifying concepts that Lovecraft helped to create, that we were able to construct a list of books for people interested in learning more.

Even Lovecraft himself never expected to live to see his own stories adapted into film and like all good authors and literary critics, he agrees that while the film industry is a great and complex art form, it cannot and will not ever hope to replace literature entirely. His argument here, and we’re inclined to agree, is that literature is far too complex a beast to ever be matched by the artistic avenues of film. One cannot hope to accomplish the intricacies of the written word with mere dialogue and action, where words effectively capture our innermost thoughts, desires, fears, and secrets.

Out of Mind: The Stories of H.P. Lovecraft
H.P. Lovecraft statue in Providence, RI
H.P. Lovecraft Statue in Providence, RI
Artwork by Gage Prentiss; Photography by David Lepage

Out of Mind: The Stories of H.P. Lovecraft comes across as a fairly low budget short film, which lies more in the mystery genre, but it’s a brilliant show of how Lovecraft inspired minds to create a more complex, tangled, and generally incomprehensible universe–one that alludes to far greater, far darker, far more ancient and terrible things in comparison to the world that man knows. Lovecraft’s legacy was what can really bring hope to aspiring creatives, his legacy of work speaks to the complexity of the overflowing river that is the human imagination. This is a river that can never truly run dry, but it is only the limits of our own mundane experiences that can place our creativity within constraints.

It’s important to understand that while we here at Puzzle Box Horror greatly appreciate the body of work that Lovecraft added to the horror genre, we recognize his biases and do not endorse them or agree with them. We were more than ecstatic when we found that there were actually literary responses to these particular issues and hope that such responses continue to appear within the literary community.

Now that we’ve spent a month looking into the creative, yet dark and hellish mind of H.P. Lovecraft, it’s safe to say we know a fair amount about him–but there is always more to learn about his work that helped the horror genre become what it is today?

Is there anything you’d like to add about this mad and mysterious mind? Comment below!