Following the Literary Works of Dennis Etchison

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Featured Horror Books

For authors like Dennis Etchison, who had prolific writing careers and a popular reputation within the genre of horror, it’s hard to believe that there was ever a time when they weren’t completely brilliant. With a unique voice and the ability to paint a realistically terrifying image of the scenes that play through their head, an author can snatch the very breath from the lips of their readers. So what it is about a specific author that makes them so special? Why are people like Dennis Etchison voices within horror and what did they leave behind as a creative legacy? The answer may seem to be nothing more than simple common sense, but I know I learned something new or at least found something inspirational about the way he grew up and lived his life.

Short Stories

The fictional short story works of the late Dennis Etchison have graced the public since 1961 and can be found in a wide variety of publications–including, but definitely not limited to The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, Mystery Monthly, Escapade, Fantastic Stories, Fantasy Tales, and Weirdbook. Apart from his work in magazines, he was also featured in anthologies like Orbit, New Writings in SF, od Sterling’s Other Worlds, Prize Stories from Seventeen, The Pseudo-People, and The Future is Now. This is far from an exhaustive list, since his stories can also be found in many of the major horror and dark fantasy anthology publications that include FrightsHorrorsFearsNightmaresDark Forces, Terrors, New Terrors, ShadowsWhispersNight ChillsDeathWorld Fantasy AwardsThe Dodd, Mead Gallery of HorrorMad ScientistsYear’s Best Horror StoriesMidnight and many others.

The Dark Country (1982)

In 1982, Etchison published his short story collection, entitled The Dark Country, which subsequently received both the World Fantasy Award for its title story–interestingly enough he tied with Stephen King for this award. For this collection he also won the British Fantasy Award for the Best Collection of that year, an award for which he had been previously nominated for his Late Night Shift (1981) collection. That would be the first time that one writer would receive both of those major awards for a single work. Possibly the most interesting part about the story of his first award-winning collection of short stories is how it very nearly got published over a decade earlier in 1971–but on the eve of the release of the publication, the company went bankrupt and Etchison had to wait for his first collection to reach his audience and be received to critical acclaim. He since published several more collections, some of which won Best Short Story, such as The Olympic Runner (1986) and The Dog Park (1994).

Novels

Aside from his brief time dabbling in the adult, erotic scene, Etchison’s first official novel was intended to be The Shudder, was meant to be published in 1980, the editor was very demanding when it came to changes to the manuscript that Etchison believed were highly unreasonable. Although a portion of the novel was published in A Fantasy Reader–the book of the Seventh World Fantasy Convention–in 1981, the novel as a whole sadly remains unpublished. That’s something that we as readers would nearly die to read!

Movie Novelizations and The Jack Martin Books

Between the 70s and the 90s, Etchison fell into the business of writing movie novelizations–not the best of gigs, given his awards received with his past publications–a form of writing considered to be a thankless form of writing. Arguably the only form that garners less appreciation is ghostwriting. Both forms offer poor pay, unrealistic deadlines, and a certain apathy that consumers approach the style of literature with.

Despite the early obstacles that he faced, Etchison became a renowned author of short stories, novels, and a highly regarded anthologist in his own right. Even Dennis Etchison had to eat though and the decision to churn out novelizations of an already established plotline became an easily defended one. Surprisingly, or perhaps not due to their popularity on-screen, these movie novelizations are now amongst his most popular works as an author. Die-hard fans of the HALLOWEEN franchise tend to hold those particular novelizations by Dennis Etchison, under the pseudonym of Jack Martin, in great esteem.

The Fog by Dennis Etchison (1980)

THE FOG (1980)

One of the only books that Etchison wrote under his own name, versus his pseudonym Jack Martin, was THE FOG (1980). This particular novelization is considered the best of all of them–not just of his movie novelizations, but out of all of his novels period. This may be due in part to the fact that while Etchison’s best work was in short story format, that this particular novelization had a creative voice and flow that went unmatched with the rest of his novel-length work.

Halloween II by Jack Martin (1981)

The HALLOWEEN Franchise

Etchison wasn’t the author for the novelization of the first HALLOWEEN movie, instead, he followed Curtis Richard’s 1979 publication of HALLOWEEN with the sequel, HALLOWEEN II (1981). The novelization by Curtis Richard was rather impressive, which gave Etchison a fairly high standard of literature to match, even if he was operating under his Jack Martin pseudonym. Considering even just the content of the movie itself, with a storyline that just couldn’t be compared to the original movie, HALLOWEEN II and its subsequent novelization felt as though it were lacking. The quality that he had made himself known for, through his short story collections and THE FOG (1980), was simply not there.

There is something to be said for a good plot and storyline, but no one would ever say it about the HALLOWEEN sequel, because there wasn’t a comprehensive plot to be found. Truthfully, there is little of Etchison’s presence in the book at all, aside from chapter headings and brief moments where he let his writing personality shine through. This book, as well as the following HALLOWEEN III, pushed Etchison out of his comfort zone. As a more cerebral and non-violent horror writer, the fact that he had to write gory and bloody horror forced him to write material that would never have been seen in an original novel. Despite all of the pitfalls of these two particular novelizations, they managed to somehow be bestsellers amongst fans of the genre.

VIDEODROME by Jack Martin (1983)

VIDEODROME (1983)

The final movie novelization that Etchison wrote under his Jack Martin pseudonym, was VIDEODROME (1983) a movie originally by David Cronenberg. After THE FOG (1980), VIDEODROME is considered one of his stronger novels, since the genre of horror that it falls under is more in line with the author’s writing style. Etchison’s strengths always came from the ability to create a palpable tension, the apprehension within a character and their motivations, as well as the atmosphere in which the entire story operates under. Unlike the slasher genre that HALLOWEEN belongs to, VIDEODROME capitalized on the fear of mental, emotional, and physical torture that suited Etchison’s talents just fine.

Editorial Work

Etchison not only excelled with his talent for writing–as shown by the many awards he won in that field–but he was also a talented editor, having received two World Fantasy Awards for Best Anthology. One of the awards was for MetaHorror (1993) and the second was for The Museum of Horrors (2002). Other anthologies that he edited include the critically acclaimed Cutting Edge (1986), Gathering The Bones (2003) as well as the three volume series Masters of Darkness.

Have you read any of the novels or short story collections that were authored by Dennis Etchison? Let us know what you thought about them in the comments!

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From Traumatized to Terror Creator, the Life of Robert Bloch

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Featured Horror Books Horror Mystery and Lore
Robert Bloch (1979)
Robert Bloch (1979)

His Youth and Education

Robert Albert Bloch was born in Chicago, Illinois on April 5 in 1917, to two German Jews, Raphael Bloch and Stella Loeb who, despite their Jewish heritage, had the family attend a Methodist Church. When Bloch was only eight years of age, he attended a screening of Lon Chaney Sr.’s The Phantom of the Opera (1925) on his own, where he was traumatized by his first horror scene—where Chaney removes his mask to reveal the Phantom’s horrific face. According to Bloch, “it scared the hell out of [him] and [he] ran all the way home to enjoy the first of about two years of recurrent nightmares.” Like many fans of horror who see their first horror flick too young, this trauma and subsequent nighttime hauntings sparked his interest in horror. He became an avid reader at eight, reading books well above his own level of schooling, as well as experimenting with pencil sketches and watercolor art. While he very much had a love for artwork, but he was diagnosed with myopia in his youth and it deterred him from pursuing it professionally.

At the age of twelve, Robert’s father lost his job at the bank and the family moved to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where he grew up throughout the Great Depression. During his youth, he delighted in the Golden Age of horror films that played in the picture houses, and the magazine Weird Tales, which he scrimped and saved for each month from his allowance so as to purchase a copy of this pulp magazine. Bloch’s favorite childhood short story was one of Lovecraft’s first-person narratives about an artist whose disturbing creations lead to his disappearance, entitled “Pickman’s Model,” and he would also end up doing flattering imitations of his mentor’s style later on. When Bloch was just seventeen years old he wrote to his highly regarded idol, H.P. Lovecraft, to proclaim his admiration for the writer’s short stories. It is said that he greatly preferred Lovecraft’s particular flavor of genre—cosmic or as it’s often regarded, Lovecraftian horror—over what he was being taught in his own high school English classes.

To the unending joy of Bloch, Lovecraft wrote him back and sent him copies of earlier stories he had written and asked Robert if he himself had written any weird fiction. This is when he would be admitted into The Lovecraft Circle as well as when he began writing some of his first (of many) short stories that would be published in Weird Tales. He would be the youngest member of The Lovecraft Circle, which were a group of writers who followed H.P. Lovecraft and published their short fiction in Weird Tales—a pulp horror magazine that circulated during the Great Depression.

Career

With the early influence of Lovecraft and his cosmic horror, Bloch’s earliest short stories took place in Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos fictional universe. Not too long later, Bloch would begin to associate with the Milwaukee Fictioneers, a group of writer’s dedicated to pulp fiction where he began to deviate and develop his own style, instead of relying upon the Lovecraft influence. When Lovecraft died in 1937, Robert was deeply affected by the loss of his mentor, but used it as a reason to keep writing.

Despite my ghoulish reputation, I really have the heart of a small boy. I keep it in a jar on my desk.”

Robert Bloch

Novels

Bloch’s first novel to be published was The Scarf (1947) and was very reminiscent of the style he had developed when he was involved with the Lovecraft circle, but also marked the beginning the development of a style he would explore later that would be considered pulp fiction. Like most other horror writers, Bloch had a certain kind of story that inspired him—for some writers it’s urban legends, supernatural monsters, or wicked folklore; but Robert’s inspiration didn’t come from folklore so much as it did true-crime serial killers from all throughout history. Jack the Ripper, Marquis de Sade, and Lizzie Borden were amongst those whom Robert created stories based on their legacies, which included short stories such as “A Toy for Juliette” and “Lizzie Borden Took an Ax….”

When Ed Gein was arrested in his home in Plainsfield, Wisconsin for the murders of two women in 1957, authorities discovered that Gein had been stealing corpses from fresh graves of local women and then using their flesh to create furniture, silverware, and clothing. Bloch only lived about thirty-five miles away from where Gein had lived, so after the discovery of this serial so close to home, he became obsessed. The idea of his next door neighbor being a monster, but going undetected even in such a small town is what he considered his largest inspiration for Norman Bates, the anti-hero of Psycho (1959). The story of Ed Gein was sensational at the time, but what really translated Bloch’s Psycho into an instant classic both in text and Alfred Hitchcock’s adaptation for the big screen, was due to the psychological not-so-undertones of the story.

While Bloch had enjoyed some critical and commercial success before he produced Psycho, it wasn’t until the novel was published that his life changed forever. With Psycho and its instant success, he was approached by a Hollywood production company with an offer to purchase the rights to the film. He made a whopping $9,500 which through inflation would equate to $84,472 and some change.

The world of horror would be forever changed by Norman Bates, the sensitive mama’s boy, whose domineering mother corrupted him—which brought an interesting air to the 1960s as the field of psychoanalysis and the research of the Oedipus Complex which coincided with a crisis in contemporary American masculinity which followed the women’s movement of liberation. When Norman psychologically becomes his mother at the end of the novel it was representative of Freudian horror in the utmost of extreme cases. Psycho wasn’t Bloch’s only success and he continued on with his creative writing, winning awards and accolades for his talent.

Death

Bloch was seventy-seven when he passed away on September 23, 1994—he had long battled with cancer and it finally took him at his home in Los Angeles. Before he passed, however, he wrote what was considered an unauthorized autobiography, which was titled Once Around the Bloch (1993) and while he didn’t speak of his illness, it was clear that it was written with the realization that he was not long for this world.

Index of Sources

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