LEE: I've sold 15 novels and have had stories in 13 mass-market anthologies; most of the material is horror. Horror rules. My novel THE BIGHEAD has been called the grossest book ever written-I'm not sure if that claim is true, but it was definitely a blast to write. Oddly, though, my most recent release is a collaborative non-fiction book just out in hardcover from Cemetery Dance Publications. It's called THE DEATHS OF THE COLD WAR KINGS, and it details some pretty shocking new evidence regarding the Kennedy Assassination. Horror fans will likely be bored shitless, but if you're into that sort of thing, you might want to check it out. I've had about 70 short stories published-almost all horror-the most recent of which is "ICU"reprinted from last year's award-winning horror anthology 999. The story has just been printed in the Houghton-Mifflin hardcover THE BEST AMERICAN MYSTERY STORIES OF 2000, edited by Donald E. Westlake. It's a pretty decent piece and would make a cool short horror film. Right now I'm living in Maryland, having left Seattle after about four years. My goal is to relocate to St. Petersburg, Florida, this summer. Favorite horror movie? Probably ANGEL HEART. Favorite horror novel? OUR LADY OF DARKNESS by Fritz Leiber. Favorite beer? Tsing Tao. Hobbies? I, uh... collect crab and lobster shells. Yeah, kind of weird.
Q: What is the most appealing thing about horror fiction for you?
LEE: The brand of escape it gives us from our every-day lives, plus the cathartic effect it delivers by showing us peripheral reflections of the real world in phantasmagoric scapes of fantasy. Fortunately, typical American life is pretty safe for the majority. We don't have to worry about famine or cholera. We don't have to worry about being ethnically cleansed or exterminated by our own government. Women aren't put into rape camps, and men don't have to spend 18 hours a day bent over in a field picking rice for the Commissar. In other words, by global standards, we live in a pretty safe society but I think there's some inherent aspect of human nature that's curious about the opposite. There's a part of use that craves danger. There's a part of us that will always wonder about horrific situations. Horror fiction gives us a little walking-around time in such realms. When we're punching that time-clock every day, when we're pushing that paperwork or painting that house or standing in front of a classroom trying to teach a bunch of kids about the Louisiana Purchase or Einstein's Unified Field Theory, our every-day lives can get kind of dull. But then you open a horror novel and suddenly you're standing in the middle of a whorehouse in Hell, or you're running from a serial-killer, or you're watching a demon scarf raw innards. Horror fiction is escape; it's entertainment. It lets us take a stroll in an impossible world. It's fun!
Q: Some writers say that what they write doesn't have much to do with themselves-others say that their writing is very much influenced by their own experiences. How is this with you?
LEE: For me, I simply write the kind of books I'd like to read. I'm sure that on some subconscious level there's an aspect of me in my work but it's not a deliberate effort. I'm pretty lackluster in real life-I'm a couch potato that chain-smokes. So perhaps I'm filling some personal void by writing about incubi, erotopathic psycho-tramps, zombies with erections, gut-eating, etc. I guess I'm making up for a laid-back lifestyle by writing books about the most outrageous things I can imagine.
Q: LEISURE recently picked up a couple of your books for release later this year... tell us a bit about them.
LEE: The first one I'm finishing up now, and I'm having a ton of fun with it. The working title is MEPHISTOPOLIS, the premise: Goth Girl in jeopardy a 'la the Wizard of Oz, only in this case, Oz is Hell, and Hell is no longer a smoldering sulphur pit, it's now an immense metropolis. The second book that Leisure contracted is tentatively entitled THE CLINIC: erotic tech-suspense with a decidedly occult angle. Both books are contracted for but release dates haven't been set yet. Leisure's doing a terrific job getting mass-market horror back into the bookstores, and I'm delighted to be on board with them.
Q: You've co-written some short stories with "Jack Ketchum". How did that come about?
LEE: Sort of by accident. Jack's a good friend of mine and there have been several occasions when I've had an unfinished story sitting around that ran dry, so I gave it to Jack and he'd throw a cool twist in and finish it. Recently I finished one of his partial stories-"Eyes Left"-and it should be released as a chapbook fairly soon. Our most recent collaboration, "Masks," came out a few months ago in a beautiful Berkley trade paperback called GRAVEN IMAGES. Jack's one of the finest writers in the field, and it's been an honor for me to be able to work with him. Another interesting project coming up (though it's not a collab) is TRIAGE; it's a 3-way novella collection that Cemetery Dance will be doing next year in hardback. One novella by me, one by Jack, and a third by Richard Laymon, and they're all based on the same prologue that Laymon wrote. It's really cool.
Q: What is the weirdest true life thing that happened to you that if you wrote it down would read like fiction?
LEE: There have been a LOT of weird things that have happened to me, but here's one that's appropriate. In the early-'80s, I was a municipal police officer for a town near Washington, D.C.; I was only on the force for a few months. It was a cool job but it didn't take long for me to realize that I wasn't cop material. I had this tremendous fear of being shot. Anyway, I quit the job to go back to college, but a few weeks after I quit, guess what happened to the guy who replaced me? He got shot. Ironically, I wrote a story about it not too long ago-called "Gut-Shot"-which will appear in the CD-ROM anthology PERSONAL DEMONS, coming in July from Lone Wolf Publications. This is a pretty interesting project because each author in the anthology writes a story based directly on one of their personal fears. Some other authors in it include Ramsey Campbell, C. Dean Anderson, and HOWLING author Gary Brandner.
Q: Who is YOUR favorite horror author?
LEE: Very hard to say-I've got so many. But if I had to whittle it down to a single author, it'd probably be Ramsey Campbell. The man's prose can damn near cause hallucinations. Campbell's got the highest creep-factor of any writer I've read. What he conjures between the lines is many times more distressing than the in-your-face gore-fests that I tend to write. Check out his collection DARK COMPANIONS and you'll see what I mean.
Q: If you could take a SCREAM QUEEN home for a night who would it be and why?
LEE: Julie Strain. Why? Duh! She's not just a woman, she's a living monument to female beauty. No, she'll probably never win an Oscar but... who cares! Her boobs should hang in the National Gallery. A close second would be Barbara Crampton but I don't know what happened to her. Someone told me she went on to become successful in soap operas, but this mystifies me. To me, Crampton is the ultimate trooper. Any woman who will allow a severed head to jabber between her spread-eagled legs is okay by me. I also have a great fondness for Linnea Quigley. She's hotter than a rock in a camp fire.
Q: How is the horror writing industry at the beginning of this new millennium?
LEE: Things are on an upswing now, which is great, and I think the horror genre of today will provide books that are more powerful than anything written in the past. Whether we like it or not, our society is becoming more grotesque and explicit in this new age, and this evolution will become apparent in not only mass-market horror fiction but in just about every other field of entertainment. Twenty years ago we had "Three's Company," Pet Rocks, and Donahue. Today we've got the two-headed girl on Oprah, quadruple amputees getting married on Springer, and UN excavation teams digging up trenches in Yugoslavia that are full to the top with the corpses of murdered women and children on the six o'clock news-just in time to watch while we eat dinner. It's a new age now, and fiction should reflect that. It doesn't mean we're becoming more demented, it means we're becoming more curious about the awful things that our world is producing. Maintaining an awareness of these things isn't perverted, it's actually healthy. Acknowledging the truth is healthy. Being prepared for it is a normal sensibility.
Q: One of your stories was optioned for a low budget film-tell us a bit about that.
LEE: Actually it looks like two of my stories will see actual film production in the low-budget arena. One is GRUB GIRL, which was originally a story I sold to Pocket's HOT BLOOD series. Shortly thereafter, Glenn Danzig's comic company, Verotik, Inc., bought the comic-adaptation rights, which then led to four more comic sales to them. (And let me tell you, writing comic scripts is a BLAST!) Anyway, for several years there were some film bites on GRUB GIRL and Glenn finally got one that sticked. Grub Girl is a zombie prostitute who, like, tinkles on crypto-fascist soldiers and vomits in their mouths-stuff like that-all in the name of the New Feminism. There's a production announcement about the film at Danzig's website (and there was also a blurb about it in the March HUSTLER. From what I understand, principle photography has already begun and there will be two versions of the flick. One version will be sexually hardcore and rated X, and a lighter R-rated version will be made for video-store distribution. If they stuck to my script, it should be a kick. Secondly, my novella HEADER is being tailored for film; Header, LLC will be producing this movie in association with Thevast Entertainment. It'll be a three-week shoot that begins this June. I'm really enthused about the project. It'll be way over the top, and I hope that its subject matter can garner it a sort of NECROMANTIC-type cult hype. The trailer's already been made and it looks great. Within a month or so there'll be a website (www.whatsaheader.com) where you can see some of the trailer and get more info. If all goes well, myself and some other horror writers will appear in cameos.
Q: Anything you want to add?
LEE: My sci-fi novella, OPERATOR B, is long sold out in print form but now it's available as a free download at Douglas Clegg's website (Plus I've got a couple of independent comic projects coming up, the first of which will be an adaptation of a story I co wrote w/John Pelan called "Transcendence." Several publishers are biting on it, but we haven't decided which one to go with yet. The artwork is being done by a new artist from Yugoslavia (Dejan Ognjanovic) and its really tough stuff. After that will be an adaptation of my gross-out piece "The Wrong Guy." Overlook Connection (who published the 2nd printing of THE BIGHEAD, will soon be reprinting my novella GOON (also co written with John Pelan): sex, horror... and pro wrestling. Additionally, I'll more than likely be attending this year's World Horror Convention in Seattle (May 25-28). That's about all I've got in the way of news for now. Thanks for the interview!