Excerpts from the interview:
“I started writing horror because I grew up reading comic books, and a lot of comic books have horror ideas behind them. And of course my mother (wise woman that she was) introduced me to Edgar Allan Poe. I was also encouraged by movies. I grew up on Roger Corman films and Universal films, so I was attached to horror -- like a tick! I was sucking the life out of it, or maybe it was sucking the life out of me, depending how you look at it. But I was attracted to and inspired by and driven by horror from a very early age, so it was only natural that I went in that direction.
“Growing up on Algernon Blackwood, Edgar Allan Poe, and Roger Corman, I developed this mixture of the quiet and the savage. I was never interested in that debate about quiet horror being better than graphic horror or vice-versa -- I think it’s a meaningless and stupid argument. Some people just can’t deal with the violent stuff; other people are impatient with the quiet stuff. For me, I like ‘em all.”
“The stories I enjoy writing the most are the ones that seem grounded in reality to some degree, and yet there’s a kind of hot, burning lens you can look through that makes things bigger-than-life, that distorts everything into something bigger than it really is. I have one story, probably my most famous, called ‘The Night They Missed the Horror Show’. It’s about a series of little horrors, yet it’s humorous when you stand back and look at it. Before I read it for the first time at a World Fantasy Convention in the late ‘80s, I told myself, ‘If the people don’t laugh at a certain point, I’m in trouble. And at one point if they don’t cease to laugh, I’m in trouble.’ When I started to read it, people were a little uncomfortable -- they didn’t want to be the first to laugh. But once somebody laughed, everybody started laughing. Then, when it got to that other point, they went dead quiet.
“Real horror seems to disturb some deep truth in the back of your mind. Other horror is more like tapioca pudding: it’s OK, but when you’ve eaten it you move on. Though I’m proud of all my work, some of it’s designed to provide a nice fun read, give you a little chill, and then you go to bed. With my best work, I don’t want you to move on. I’m trying to create some echo beyond the reading. Raymond Chandler said he wanted to read a novel where, if the last page was torn out, you’d still read it anyway. The style, the characters, and the attitude are more important than the plot.”
“I believe that in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, those of us who were part of the horror boom changed the way horror fiction has been written ever since, for good or bad. For us it was exciting because horror was so rare, but now you’ve got 24-hour channels with SF, fantasy, and horror. Used to be, I would have watched through static and snow just to see some guy in a zipper suit as a monster, but now it’s a part of people’s natural language. You can watch commercials that contain elements of SF, horror, and fantasy -- and cost more than five or six Roger Corman films used to cost to make!
“People who were kids then, who read the books and watched the films, are behind this revival, a sort of nostalgia for horror from that era. But I’m always amazed when people came up to me and say, ‘Oh, I read your book when I was 13.’ Your parents let you read that? My god!
“I think the best thing now in horror is the new writers shaking up what’s become a mundane field -- which to me is always exciting. Some friends of mine hate to see the new writers, because they think they’re going to take their place. Of course they are! It’s supposed to happen. But they can’t get me ‘til I’m 90-something! When I’m in the grave, then you can have my slot. It’s fascinating to meet these new writers who say, ‘Your stuff influenced me.’ I think, ‘Didn’t I say that to Robert Bloch?’ You don’t think of yourself that way. To me, I’m eternally 18 or 25.”
“Horror has to have some road signs to show that it’s a wrong turn, without the narrators imposing themselves, but just in the attitude of the story. So there are lines that I draw, but I’m not entirely conscious of them. I would never write about things I think are truly negative to the human race, unless I was satirizing it or making it clear those were not good people. I would never write anything that was supportive of something I didn’t believe. So I wouldn’t write a story about the good side of incest -- there’s no such thing. I would never advance the idea that killing people is good. I show that we do it, which is a different thing. My horror sometimes just stands off to the side and lets it happen; there’s not an obvious moral, but it’s still there. Things don’t always come out nice, but I hope the reader will see I’m trying to point a finger at the flaws of human nature. I’ve had some stories where I felt I was preaching a little bit (not in the religious sense), but I try not to do that. I try to write a story in such a way that the circumstances speak for themselves.”