Graham Masterton is a well known horror author in Europe. Having worked as a Deputy Editor for Mayfair, he has also worked as the editor of the British edition of Penthouse. He has authored a myriad of novels and short stories on wide variety of subjects from thrillers, horror (including horror books for children), and historical fiction, to his sex instruction books, creating a wider range of fans. Mr. Masterton can also be found as a regular contributor to Cosmopolitan, Men’s Health, Woman, Woman’s Own and other mass-market self-improvement magazines.
Of all the Graham Masterton’s horror novels, “Family Portrait” is quite popular for it’s being an update of the Oscar Wilde’s novel The Picture of Dorian Gray. In this interview Mr. Masterton talks on this truly horror epic and his other literary experiences.
Would you like to discuss your career graph started from a local newspaper reporter to a well known horror author?
I was always writing horror stories from a very young age, even before I became a newspaper reporter. I was inspired by Edgar Allan Poe and Algernon Blackwood and MR James and Bram Stoker. When I was 14 I wrote a 400-page vampire novel which fortunately has not survived the passage of time! I continued to write poetry and fiction even when I left school at the age of 17 and joined my local paper as a trainee reporter. At that time I became very interested in the writing of “Beat” authors like Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg and William Burroughs, who wrote a notorious novel called The Naked Lunch. When I was 21 I tried to get a job on a national newspaper but had no luck. Fortunately a girlfriend of mine had noticed somebody on the train reading a new men’s magazine called Mayfair. It was a British copy of Playboy, with lots of pictures of girls with no clothes on but also some very serious articles which give the readers some justification for buying it. I applied for a job at Mayfair and was immediately appointed Deputy Editor – even though the staff consisted only of the owner, the Editor, me, a secretary, and the owner’s dog. I worked there for nearly four years, and learned how to commission articles, page layout, typography, and all kinds of other journalistic skills (most of which are completely out-of-date.) William Burroughs came to live in London at this time and I not only commissioned him to write a series of articles for Mayfair, but wrote a novel myself with his input and assistance – a very obscure piece of work called Rules of Duel. I found the manuscript only last year and it was published for the first time (40 years after it was written!) by Telos Books. I had a bit of an altercation with the Editor of Mayfair and went to work for Penthouse magazine, first as Deputy Editor and then as Executive Editor. I also edited the sex-instruction magazine Penthouse Forum. Penthouse had just started up in the United States in those days so I was a frequent visitor to their offices in New York. There it was suggested by an editor at Signet Books that I write a sex-instruction book How to Drive Your Man Wild in Bed. This turned out to be a huge success, so I followed it up with more sex books, all of which sold very well to begin with. In 1975, however, the bottom fell out of the sex book market, so to speak. I had a contract with my publisher for a new sex book but they didn’t want it, so I insisted they honor their contract and sent them The Manitou instead. This was a novel which I had written in five days (in between sex books) for my own amusement. It was about a Native American medicine man being reborn in the present day to take his revenge on the white man. I was inspired by a story I had read when I was a boy about Native American spirits in The Buffalo Bill Annual 1955; and by my wife Wiescka’s pregnancy with our first (of three) sons. The Manitou became an immediate best-seller and was filmed with Ton Curtis playing the lead role of a fake fortune-teller, as well as Susan Strasberg, Stella Stevens and Burgess Meredith. After that I continued to write horror novels, as well as historical sagas like Rich and Lady of Fortune and Maiden Voyage. Eventually I came up with the idea for Family Portrait.
Give us a brief of your well-received horror novel “Family Portrait”, a favorite amongst fans.
Family Portrait tells the story of a long-dead family who are only surviving because they made a pact in which their portrait was supposed to grow older and show all the signs of their debauchery while they themselves remain young. Unfortunately for them, they have lost the portrait, and the poor technique of the painter means that the paint is beginning to flake off, which has a devastating effect on their physical selves. Family Portrait tells the story of their desperate hunt for the portrait and the gruesome ways in which they are keeping their physical selves from falling apart.
I read The Picture of Dorian Gray when I was at school and always thought that it was a great idea. So great an idea that it could very readily be expanded into a dramatic present-day horror story. I have never been afraid to take another writer’s idea and put a new twist on it…in The Manitou I brought in the Native American gods that H.P. Lovecraft invented, and in Mirror I rewrote Alice Through The Looking Glass. Using an idea with which readers are already familiar can give a story much more credibility.
What do you think is the most frightening scene in the Family Portrait?
Certainly the most horrible scene in Family Portrait is when Vincent discovers Edward’s body and it is nothing more than a mass of maggots. “The mindless twisting and turning of all those semi-transparent bodies, and the way they glistened in the daylight.”
You have been authored more than 35 horror novels. Which of them you think is the scariest and why?
Actually I have written 58 horror novels, plus several collections of short horror stories. It is impossible for me to say which is the scariest, because when you write them yourself they don’t scare you! But I think the story which still gives me a feeling of unease when I re-read the first chapter is The Pariah. In the middle of the night, a man thinks he can hear his dead wife swinging on the swing in his back yard, even though there is nobody there. I have also just finished a new novel called Community, in which our hero discovers that there is something very wrong about the woman with whom he has just gone to bed…
How did you become passionate about writing for the horror genre of fiction world?
As I mentioned before, I started reading Edgar Allan Poe’s Tales of Mystery and Imagination when I was only ten or eleven years old, and I began to write my own horror stories to frighten my friends at school. Thirty years later, I met one of my friends and he told me he still had nightmares about one of the stories I read out to him in the school playground! However, I don’t really consider myself a horror writer, only a writer who happens to write horror stories amongst many other things, such as historical sagas, thrillers, and even humor.
Your first horror book, The Manitou, published in 1975, was adapted into an awesome film in 1978. How you felt then to see your very first book becoming a best seller and then turned into a movie?
Extraordinary. Very exhilarating…especially the trip to Los Angeles to see the premiere. I had talks with the director Bill Girdler about making a movie from my next book, The Djinn, but tragically he died in a helicopter crash soon after.
Of all the books you have compiled so far, which is your favorite as a reader?
I still have soft spot for Trauma (aka Bonnie Winter) because I love writing about women and their personalities and their day-to-day problems. I will have two new crime books to be published in 2013, White Bones and Broken Angels, and they both feature my Irish detective Katie Maguire, who is a feisty but very sensitive and complex character, with a lot more difficulties to deal with in her life apart from police work.
Who is/are your role model(s) in writing world and how far your passion for writing is influenced by the same?
When I was younger I loved the work of Nelson Algren (The Man With The Golden Arm) and Herman Wouk (The Caine Mutiny), American writers who could tell a story plainly and evocatively without the personality or the opinions of the author coming in between the reader and the story. These days I have no heroes and I read nobody else’s fiction, although that doesn’t mean I don’t respect them. After writing all day I simply don’t have the time or the inclination. If I were a chef I wouldn’t spend all evening cooking.
Would you like to say something to your readers and fan club?
I have the warmest and friendliest readers I could ever wish for. The messages I receive on my Message Board (www.grahammasterton.co.uk) and the postings I receive on my Facebook page are all evidence to me that I have not only succeeded in entertaining my readers but making them feel that they are living inside the worlds that I have created for them. For a writer, that is very gratifying. There are plenty more books on the way…The Red Hotel comes out in June, 2012, and will be followed by Garden of Lies, a new book about Jim Rook, the college teacher with supernatural insight. Also, I am happy to say that many of my backlist books will soon be available as ebooks, which you can download. While I was answering the questions in this interview, I was given news that a further 15 books will soon be downloadable, including Burial, The Hell Candidate and House of Bones. My best wishes and thanks to all of you, and good luck!