An Interview with best-selling author Graham Masterton
The Horror Zine brings you one of the most versatile writers in the world!
Graham Masterton shares his very interesting experiences with all of us here.
Interview with Graham Masterton
for The Horror Zine
JEANI: How did you get your start?
GRAHAM: I was always writing stories and drawing cartoon strips from a very young age. I loved Jules Verne and invented a character called Hans Lee who fought giant squids and explored volcanoes. After I discovered Edgar Allan Poe I started to write horror stories, and even won a school magazine prize for a story about a cuckolded husband who decorated his house with parts of his dismembered wife (as you do.) I was expelled from school at the age of 17 for taking more interest in Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg and William Burroughs than William Shakespeare and Oliver Goldsmith and Charles Dickens. Also for being an incorrigible smartass. I took a job as a local newspaper reporter. I was therefore trained in journalism by my editor and chief reporter and various other Fleet Street retirees who came to work for us, and whose experience was invaluable. I stayed in that job until I was 21, doing everything from court reporting to football reporting, and eventually had my own weekly youth and pop music page.
JEANI: I understand that you worked for Penthouse as an editor. That was a pretty big step from a local newspaper reporter. Tell us how that materialized.
GRAHAM: I wanted a job on a national newspaper but they all thought I was too young and too inexperienced. But then a girlfriend told me she had seen somebody reading a new men’s magazine called Mayfair on the train, and so I wrote to them, telling them that I was probably the greatest journalist ever. The publisher interviewed me in the swimming pool of the Royal Automobile Club in Pall Mall, in London, and said that he had never read such an arrogant letter in his life, and gave me the job of deputy editor. This was not nearly as grand as it sounds because there was only the publisher, the editor, me, a secretary, and the publisher’s German shepherd on the staff, in an office the size of a shower stall. But it was a great experience. I wrote dozens of articles on men’s interest subjects, a humor column, most of the reader’s letters, and I invented a question-and-answer sex survey called Quest: The Laboratory of Human Response. Most of the questions were of the order of “did you struggle when he tried to take off your panties?” I had a falling-out with the editor of Mayfair (being an incorrigible smartass) and phoned Bob Guccione at Penthouse. By then I had three years of experience in men’s magazines and was pretty well known in the field and he hired me over the phone.
JEANI: I also know that you have written a number of well-received, non-fiction sex instruction books. Did this come about as a result of your period as an editor at Penthouse or… ?
GRAHAM: The sex books actually started when I was still at Mayfair, as an extension of Quest. I wrote two: Your Erotic Fantasies and Girls Who Said Yes, both by “Edward Thorne.” When I started work at Penthouse I became a frequent visitor to New York and I was introduced to several US publishers. One of them suggested I write a sex book, and that was how How a Woman Loves to Be Loved came to be written by “Angel Smith” – probably my favorite-ever nom-de-plume. After that I wrote How to Drive Your Man Wild in Bed under my own name, which was published by Signet and sold over 2.5 million copies worldwide. I used my experience as an editor of Penthouse and Penthouse Forum (at one point I was editing both of them simultaneously) and my acquaintance with woman like Xaviera Hollander, the Happy Hooker, and Monique von Cleef, the Dutch Dominatrix. Monique asked me if I would like to try on a spiked penis muzzle but I politely declined (the spikes were on the inside.) I continued to write sex-instruction books until the internet killed them stone dead overnight. Why read about it when you can see it, free of charge, in living color? But the books were all issued in Poland when I began to be published there, and I still get middle-aged Polish women approaching me in the street in Warsaw and telling me that I changed their sex lives forever. That’s an achievement, I think.
JEANI: How did you become such a big fan of the horror genre?
GRAHAM: It was definitely Edgar Allan Poe that did it. Followed by HP Lovecraft. I loved Lovecraft’s twisted landscapes and feeling that you have definitely taken the wrong fork past the Miskatonic River, and his hysterical italicized endings. But most of all I liked the fact that he invented a completely new mythology which was unconnected to Old World beings like vampires and werewolves.
JEANI: When did you first decide you wanted to branch out on your own to write fiction?
GRAHAM: As I say, I started to write fiction as soon as I was old enough to hold a pencil, and I have never stopped since.
JEANI: How did you begin the process? (For example, did you submit short stories to magazines, or did you start out with a complete novel, etc).
GRAHAM: I wrote a couple of stories for Mayfair when I worked there. The real turning point was when I was writing sex books for Pinnacle Books in New York in the 1970s. The bottom temporarily dropped out of the market (so to speak) and as a substitute for my next sex book I submitted a short novel that I had written in the five days between finishing one sex book and starting another. It was based on my wife Wiescka’s first pregnancy and an article about Red Indian magic that I had read in The Buffalo Bill Annual 1955, about manitous. The result was The Manitou.
JEANI: Your first book, The Manitou, was first published in 1975 and then was made into an awesome film in 1978. Tell us the backstory about how you felt about having your very first book not only published but to go on to become a best seller, and what your role was for the film.
GRAHAM: I had already had so much work published that I suppose I was rather blasé about having The Manitou in print. I was very pleased that it sold so well, however, and Wiescka and I thoroughly enjoyed the trips to Los Angeles to talk about the movie with the director, the late Bill Girdler. I played absolutely no part in writing the screenplay and the first time I saw the movie was when it was first screened at Culver City.
JEANI: How do you discipline yourself about your writing? Do you spend eight hours a day at your computer, or do you write when inspiration hits?
GRAHAM: If you are trained as a professional writer, you sit down and write. Not eight hours a day, these days, but at least four or five. I have more ideas than I will ever have time in my life to write them all, so I just get on with it. I would like to write in many different genres, but the problem with that is that publishers and booksellers prefer you to stick to the same characters and the same genre, because it makes you easier for them to market. I have just published a very avant-garde novel titled Rules of Duel that I wrote in the late 1960s with the help and encouragement of the late William Burroughs, whom I knew very well at that time. It has taken forty years to find a publisher!
JEANI: What advice would you give to a new writer about coming up with ideas for a novel?
GRAHAM: Study the market and try to ascertain what is reasonably popular and what definitely isn’t. Having said that, some of the best-selling novels have been so unusual and left-field that it is very hard to predict what will appeal to a publisher and then to an eager book-buying public. What made Harry Potter such a phenomenal success? Who knows? I have read many books about wizardry that are much better written and much more entertaining. Not only that, if Harry Potter was such a brilliant wizard, why didn’t he fix his eyesight and get laid? But you can’t begrudge success like that. All I can say is that a new writer should try to come up with an idea that is very high-concept. Ocean liner turns upside-down. Native American witch-doctor returns from the dead to get his revenge on the palefaces.
JEANI: What suggestions would you give to a new writer about finding a literary agent?
GRAHAM: Keep trying.
JEANI: All new writers want to know what they can do to make their work stand out from the slush pile. Any advice?
GRAHAM: Check out the publishers’ websites and follow their submission requirements to the letter. If you are sending in sample chapters, bind them in a stand-out color like shocking pink or bright red.
JEANI: Of all the books that you wrote, do you have a personal favorite?
GRAHAM: I have a soft spot for Trauma (aka Bonnie Winter) which was about a crime-scene cleaner who is having trouble with her marriage and is gradually being traumatized by the crimes she witnesses. I also like A Terrible Beauty which was a murder mystery set in Cork, in Ireland, where Wiescka and I used to live. Both have female protagonists and for some reason I enjoy developing female characters very much. It’s more of a challenge. I also like Ghost Music which is about a composer who finds himself in a very scary and haunting relationship with another man’s wife.
JEANI: Graham, can you please tell us something personal about yourself? Your hobbies, recreational activities, and your favorite vacation spot? How about your favorite movie?
GRAHAM: I enjoy cooking a great deal, especially Indonesian and Thai meals. I have spent many a (very) relaxing vacation in Rancho Santa Fe, near San Diego, which is extremely sleepy. Victor Mature retired there, as did the late Neil Reagan, Ronald’s older brother, with whom we spent many a lazy afternoon chatting. They say that Rancho Santa Fe is the only graveyard with a post office. Apart from that, I like Poland a great deal. Wiescka is Polish and I feel very much at home there. We have visited Warsaw, Poznan, Wroclaw, Katowice, Krakow and Gdansk, which is where the shipyard strike began which eventually led to the end of Communism in Poland. Wiescka and I used to visit Poland before this happened, back in 1989, and you would not believe the way in which the country has been transformed. Also, the food is wonderful. At home I cook my own version of bigos (hunter’s stew with sauerkraut.) My favorite movie used to be Elvira Madigan by Bo Widerberg (we used to live in Stockholm and it always brings it back). I don’t know what it is now because I haven’t seen a movie in a coon’s age.
JEANI: I have admired how you are so attentive to your fans. I know that you personally answer everyone who posts to your message board HERE. Is there anything you’d like to tell your readers at this time?
GRAHAM: My main website is www.grahammasterton.co.uk, through which readers can link to my message board, bibliography and other stuff. I also have a very good Polish website http://grahammasterton.blox.pl/html which has an automatic translating facility (occasionally producing some hilarious results.)
JEANI: How much fan mail do you get? If one of The Horror Zine readers wants to send you a fan letter, to where can he/she send it?
GRAHAM: I get a huge amount of mail from readers on every subject that you can think of (including questions on sexual etiquette!). Readers can send comments to my message board.
JEANI: Is there any more advice you can give to struggling writers, poets, and artists who haven't yet made it to your level of fame?
GRAHAM: Keep at it. Listen to criticism but don’t lose faith in what you really want to write about. If you’re not enjoying it, it’s not worth doing it. Write as if you are actually there – in the place that you’re writing about. Don’t look at the screen or the page in front of you. Describe everything around you as if you can feel the wind on the back of your neck. Write about your characters as if they’re real people: sometimes you’ll find that they don’t behave the way you want them to, but that will make them seem even more real. Don’t appear in your own book. William Burroughs gave me some of the best advice: be invisible, El Hombre Invisible, and don’t get between your readers and your story. Don’t lecture – show, don’t tell. Even if you’ve done some really amazing research, don’t pound your readers’ ears about. It’s enough that you know…you knowledge will come across in the confidence with which you tell your story. Don’t eat too much while you’re writing. Writing is a sedentary job and you will become obese. You don’t want to be too fat to go and collect that Bram Stoker Award that one day will have your name on it.
Graham Masterton has published over one hundred novels, including thrillers, horror novels, disaster epics, and sweeping historical romances.
He was editor of the British edition of Penthouse magazine before writing his debut horror novel The Manitou in 1975, which was subsequently filmed with Tony Curtis, Susan Strasberg, Burgess Meredith and Stella Stevens.
One of his best sellers, Blind Panic, was published by Leisure Books in January 2010, and tells of a final devastating conflict between the characters that first appeared in The Manitou – Harry Erskine the phony mystic and Misquamacus the Native American wonder-worker.
After the initial success of The Manitou, Graham continued to write horror novels and supernatural thrillers, for which he has won international acclaim, especially in Poland, France, Germany, Greece and Australia.
His historical romances Rich (Simon & Schuster) and Maiden Voyage (St Martins) both featured in The New York Times Bestseller List. He has twice been awarded a Special Edgar by Mystery Writers of America (for Charnel House, and more recently Trauma, which was also named by Publishers Weekly as one of the hundred best novels of the year.)
He has won numerous other awards, including two Silver Medals from the West Coast Review of Books, a tombstone award from the Horror Writers Network, another gravestone from the International Horror Writers Guild, and was the first non-French winner of the prestigious Prix Julia Verlanger for bestselling horror novel. The Chosen Child (set in Poland) was nominated best horror novel of the year by the British Fantasy Society.
Several of Graham’s short stories have been adapted for TV, including three for Tony Scott’s Hunger series. Jason Scott Lee starred in the Stoker-nominated Secret Shih-Tan.
Apart from continuing with some of most popular horror series, Graham is now writing novels that have some suggestion of a supernatural element in them, but are intended to reach a wider market than genre horror.
Trauma (Penguin) told the story of a crime-scene cleaner whose stressful experiences made her gradually believe that a homicidal Mexican demon possessed the murder victims whose homes she had to sanitize. (This novel was optioned for a year by Jonathan Mostow.) Unspeakable (Pocket Books) was about a children’s welfare officer, a deaf lip-reader, who became convinced that she had been cursed by the Native American father of one of the children she had rescued. (This novel was optioned for two years by La Chauve Souris in Paris.)
Don't miss Blind Panic, the Masterton horror novel mentioned above that tells of the entire United States struck down by widespread and instantaneous blindness. Planes fall from the sky; cars collide; and in the space of less than a day, the country is plunged into panic. See Blind Panic HERE.
And here's some news! Graham Masterton is about to release The Ninth Nightmare, and you can get a headstart on that one HERE.
See all of Graham's books HERE.
Graham Masterton has his own page on Amazon HERE.