Graham Masterton has published more than 100 novels – thrillers, disaster novels, historical sagas and horror novels, for which he is principally known. Born in Edinburgh in 1946, he started writing horror stories when he was still at primary school. He was trained as a newspaper reporter before being appointed deputy editor of Mayfair magazine at the age of 21, and three years later executive editor of the UK edition of Penthouse. He went on to write a series of million-selling books on sexual instruction before turning his hand to novels. His first horror novel The Manitou was filmed in 1975 with Tony Curtis and Susan Strasberg in the lead roles. After living in Cork, Ireland, for five years, he and his wife Wiescka now live in Surrey, England. He is currently working on several new horror novels.
1. You are one of those great horror authors who came out of the ‘70s. How does it feel to be writing in the genre after all these years?
GM: The 1970s may seem like a long time ago to you but it certainly doesn’t to me! In any case I started writing horror stories when I was ten or eleven years old at school, so technically I have been writing in the genre for much longer than that. I won a school magazine prize for a short story called Sophonisba about a deranged man who decorated the exterior of his Gothic house with the dismembered remains of his unfaithful wife, and for another story about a man who woke up to find that he was living his life backward […]. When I was fourteen I wrote a 400-page vampire novel that regrettably has been lost (or perhaps not regrettably: I seem to remember it was very verbose and pompous.) I got back into horror writing in the 1970s more by accident than design. I was editor of Penthouse magazine in those days and having great success with “how-to” sex books such as How To Drive Your Man Wild In Bed. But the market quickly became flooded and my publishers decided not to publish my next book even though they had contracted to bring it out. As a substitute I gave them The Manitou which I had written in a spare five days that I had between sex books. The idea was inspired by a feature about manitous in the Buffalo Bill Annual, 1955, and my wife Wiescka’s pregnancy with our first son. After the first four or five horror novels I turned to historical sagas for a while, and it was only when I wrote Tengu, my Japanese-demon-Hiroshima-revenge story, that my publishers persuaded me to return to horror. Writing for a writer is as natural as breathing, so for you to ask me how it still feels after all these years, all I can say is that it is part of an organic, continuing and developing process. I have so many ideas that I will never be able to write all of them in my lifetime. Bummer, n’est-ce pas?
2. Who were some of the fiction writers who influenced you when you were starting out?
GM: At school I was strongly influenced by Jules Verne and Edgar Allan Poe and Bram Stoker, as well as Ray Bradbury and several other science fiction writers. In my mid-teens I was inspired by Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg and Gregory Corso and Lawrence Ferlinghetti, the Beat writers, and then by William Burroughs. I corresponded with William when he was living in Tangiers, and when he moved to London in the mid-1960s we became friends. I was editor of Mayfair magazine by then and I commissioned him to write a series of revolutionary articles which became known as The Burroughs Academy. I wrote a novel called Rules of Duel at that time, using the technique which William devised with the writer and artist Brion Gysin, known as “intersection writing”, where you repeat and cut up phrases and sentences so that they reveal many different meanings…kind of a literary Cubism. I have always been fascinated by the nuts and bolts and mechanics of grammar and syntax, and one of the main influences that William had on me was to try and become invisible to the reader, so that a novel seems more like a movie (or, even better, a real-life experience) than words that a reader is looking at, on a page. I was trained as news reporter by several Fleet Street journalists, including the late Brian Silk, and they were ruthless in making me write with economy and precision.
3. Each of your novels seems to take place in a different part of the world. Why is that?
GM: My novels are predominantly set in the United States, which makes commercial sense since it is the largest English-speaking market on the planet, and also other nationalities are familiar with American settings through movies and TV series. But if I visit a place and find it interesting and atmospheric, I do like to use it as a background for a novel. Every city has its scary legends. Apart from that, it is very important for a novel’s setting to be believable, especially if you are going to introduce a highly-unbelievable threat, such as a demon or a monster or a drawing that comes to life.
4. Many of your novels are based on myths and legends. What are some of your favorite mythology books?
GM: I have scores of books on legends and demons, so it isn’t easy for me to choose a favorite. But one of the most interesting was given to me by my friend and publisher Lefteris Stavrianos when Wiescka and I were staying in Greece, Modern Greek Folklore and Ancient Greek Religion, by Judith Lawson. It has some really insane creatures in it.
5. What is your process for writing a novel?
GM: The idea usually comes from an interesting news story or a profile of somebody with an interesting career. Take Basilisk, for example. I read a piece about research biologists who were trying to recreate extinct species of animal. It then occurred that maybe a fictional biologist could try to recreate mythical beasts such as the basilisk, and the phoenix, and gargoyles. The purpose of the research would be to extract stem cells which would help to treat incurable illnesses such as Alzheimer’s. So – in spite of the fact that the resurrection of a basilisk would be intrinsically ridiculous – the story was already grounded in modern scientific fact. What I frequently do is take a terrifying legend and visit it on some ordinary, everyday people, and try to work out how they would cope with it. As for actually writing the novel, I start the day with what the American railroad pioneers used to call a cup of “horseshoe” coffee – so strong that a horseshoe would float in it. Then I do The Daily Telegraph crossword just to give my brain-cells some PE. Then I sit down and start writing. But living the story, rather than writing it. Then I stop, and that’s it for another day. Writing isn’t very exciting, especially for anybody watching a writer at work. As my old chief reporter used to say, “Writers are laborers. The only difference is that laborers shovel shit and we shovel words, and to be frank it’s sometimes it’s hard to tell them apart.”
6. You have provided many a chill for your readers. Who scares you most?
GM: I am not scared of the dark, or ghosts, or spiders. I have had one or two serious car crashes which were scary at the time, but only for a few seconds. I think if anything scares me it’s losing control of my own life. That’s why I am intensely opposed to CCTV surveillance and government intrusion in my private affairs, such as income tax. In 1974, Wiescka and I drove all over England and Scotland for days and days and nobody knew where we were. These days, that would be impossible. Our faces would have been recorded at every gas station where we stopped to refuel, and in the lobby of every hotel, and our car registration would have been noted along every motorway that we travelled. I have a police detective friend who warned me never to scratch my ass while walking down the street “because you’re being watched.” I find that frightening.
7. Which of your own books are you most proud of, and why?
GM: I always find it satisfying if a book becomes “real” to my readers -- such as Trauma, and Unspeakable, and the Jim Rook and Sissy Sawyer novels. But a lifetime of writing is a continuous experience, and each book is part of a large construction, like bricks in a house, and the eventual pride in what you have achieved or the disappointment in what you have failed to achieve only comes at the end.
8. What are the five greatest pleasures in life?
GM: You haven’t found out yet? Not necessarily in this order, they are sex, lobster, reading stories to your children, laughing and winning the lottery twice in one week.
9. What news of upcoming projects can you share with us?
GM: A seventh Jim Rook novel Demon’s Door is almost finished. A new Night Warriors novel The Ninth Nightmare has had its keel laid down. Our monster hunter Nathan Underhill will be chasing gargoyles and Sissy Sawyer will be reading the DeVane cards again. And of course I am continuously banging away at various Hollywood producers to get movies and TV made.
10. What are your five favorite music albums?
GM: I once did a “Desert Island Discs”-type programme for a BBC radio station, and I found it almost impossible to make a selection of my favorite albums, because the music I like depends on so many things…my mood, the weather, the place I’m in. When I lived in Ireland I liked fiddly-diddly music. When I was in San Francisco I liked flowery-hippy music. Today I happen to like Days Like These by Van Morrison, but I’m already starting to find the arrangement a bit too clean and abrupt, and I won’t play it again tomorrow, or the day after, or possibly for months, if not years. Musicians are the same as writers. They’re like laborers, and we all know what laborers are doing.