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William Latham
Horror Interview by The Gravedigger

Q: Tell us about yourself:

I grew up in a little town called Guttenberg, New Jersey that's right across the Hudson River from Manhattan. My dad was a minister who died when I was three, so my mom raised my three sisters and I and paid the bills working as a school librarian. Guttenberg is in a very urban area, and New York City was always a half hour's bus ride away, so the whole world seemed like it was right outside my window. There were always books to read in the house. I had some good teachers here and there. Went to college. I never took a computer class, and every job I've had since graduating has involved computers. I've done the works, from writing user guides to programming to rolling out systems to thousands of people all over the world. But I'm a fast typist, so I can usually crank out a novel a year, and still manage to work full time with computers.

Q: What is the most appealing thing about horror fiction for you and why YOU write?

I haven't really written any horror outside of MARY'S MONSTER and SPACE 1999: RESURRECTION, but it's always had a special appeal for me. A lot of my favorite books over the years have been horror, and my video collection at home would probably make you think that it's all I watch. I was drawn to it early on, primarily by the old Universal horror films from the thirties and forties, but I've always made it a priority to keep up on it. It's the best kind of story, to me. Always has been. I think as a kid, I kind of resented the power that horror had over me, in its ability to scare me, and I've been facing down that demon ever since. Can't say I get scared much anymore by anything I see, which is too bad.

Writing horror is really a challenge, in much the same way that writing a thriller is a challenge, because you're so immersed in the story that you can't really feel what the reader's feeling when they read it for the first time. It's all an act of faith. Every now and then, though, your subconscious throws you up a little tidbit in a nightmare or something like that, and those things you just have to write about. It's kind of an exorcism, I suppose. If you don't write about it, it's sitting in your head somewhere, and it's scary. I don't think I've really tried to write an out and out horror novel, yet. Someday, I want to. I just haven't come up with anything yet that scared me enough. But, I'm hopeful.

On the subject of writing in general, I guess I got hooked at an early age, and now I'm so addicted I'd be miserable if I didn't do it. I sometimes take several months off between books, sometimes as long as a year, and I can tell when it's time to get to work on a new book. The universe just kind of compresses, and there's a kind of weight that settles on you. I guess it's like giving birth.

Q: MARY'S MONSTER is a sequel to FRANKENSTEIN-and I was pleasantly surprised that it was so different than the "usual" Frankenstein tale. Although I like all the adaptations, particularly the Hammer series, you concentrate more on the psychological aspects of the characters, including the "monster's". How did the idea for that come about?

It was really an act of fate. Back in 1983 or so, I had just finished writing my first novel. I was reading a lot, trying to recharge my batteries on top of going to school, and I happened to read FRANKENSTEIN for the first time in a long time, and then I read Nietzsche's THUS SPOKE ZARATHUSTRA, which for anyone who hasn't read it is kind of this philosophical tract about a guy coming down from the mountains, essentially, to spread this new view of the world that he's come up with. The two books kind of came together for me somehow, and I wondered what it might it be like if the Frankenstein Monster came out of hiding and basically wanted to tell his story. That whole part of MARY'S MONSTER just came pouring out of me. I was about nineteen, I guess. And then the Monster's story finished, and the book just kind of died. It didn't have a plot, really. It just had this kind of oral history of how the story might have been true. So, a lot of years passed, and I tried and tried to get the thing kick started, and it wouldn't come. Then, I got involved in a kind of unpleasant relationship with someone and the Monster's voice kind of clicked back on as a result. A plot started forming, and I could see that in some ways, the Monster was someone we could all identify with in one way or another, from that adolescent side of ourselves that we never quite get rid of, but I also saw the Monster as representing these kind of odd people that we come across in our lives, these kind of broken people, who are ultimately victims, but they create other victims. I'd originally planned on writing a much lighter book than what resulted. But I guess at some point, I knew I wanted to make the Monster scary again, because he hasn't been scary in a long time. We're all too used to him. When the more horrific elements of the story come about, I wanted him to be human, but very strong, very invulnerable, but very fast, very agile, someone who could hunt with his bare hands, almost the exact opposite of what we saw with Boris Karloff.

I love pretty much all things Frankenstein. As Mary Shelley created the Monster, he was a fascinating character, the kind of guy who speaks for all of us when we wonder why we're here, and what the universe owes us for taking us out of the land of non-existence into the world of the living. But I recognized that he'd be just a very broken person, kind of like victims of child abuse, but particularly neglect. He's a neglected child more than anything else. While he's been played as childlike by nearly all the actors who've portrayed him, nobody ever really showed him as anything other than an idealized child. I wanted to show a real person, who just happened to have the background of the Monster. You can't expect him to be normal. There have been other FRANKENSTEIN novels over the years and they all went for this kind of over-the-top characterization of this supremely confident and all-powerful near deity. That never made sense to me. While he's very strong, I always suspected that inside, he'd be incredibly unconfident, insecure even. He really doesn't have much going for him. He has a certain wisdom, that the years just kind of force on you, but it's all out of books. He can talk about humanity, but he really can't function around human beings. He's just suffered too much.

Q: SPACE 1999: RESURRECTION is the continuing adventures of Moonbase Alpha. The book takes place in the "first" series, nothing with the Metamorph character. Why did you decide to continue from the first season rather than where the television series left off? In subsequent books is the 2nd season going to be ignored, as if it never happened?

Mateo Latosa, the publisher at Powys Media, is really in a better position to answer that question, but what I can tell you is the book series is not limited to the first season of the show - it's going to bridge the two seasons, and then go out beyond to explore new territory. The fan base for Space: 1999 is pretty much evenly split - a lot of folks like Year One, and other folks like Year Two, but I think Year One is generally the more respected of the two. I basically pitched to Mateo that after a twenty-five year gap with no novels in the series being produced, it was going to be really important to prove to everyone that this new series was legitimate - we had to prove that we could do the same kind of story that they'd produced in the actual TV series, and we had to shoot to be as good as the best episodes, not just as good as any of the lesser episodes. Mateo sent me episodes of the show to watch and they were all Year One, so it was completely his call. I haven't even seen any Year Two episodes, yet. I didn't really know anything about Space: 1999 when I started working on the book, so I had to pull the same kind of stunt that Nicholas Meyer did with Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan - basically learn the rules while I was already running the race. So to answer your question, it was ultimately Mateo's call, he wanted a sequel to one particular episode from the show, which just happened to be a Year One story. I argued that it needed to prove a lot to people, and the best way to do that was to go back to the beginning, not start out doing something unfamiliar and new. Plus, to get familiar with both seasons of the show was something Mateo wasn't prepared to ask me to do.

Q: Both of the books, MARY'S MONSTER and SPACE 1999: RESURRECTION are based on existing characters-was this a coincidence or intentional?

I know Mateo at Powys and I had discussed a sequel to MARY'S MONSTER, and at the same time, the Space: 1999 project was coming along, and at some point, the two projects kind of became the same project. Playing with existing characters is kind of fun. With MARY'S MONSTER, though, I think most people think of Boris Karloff when they think of Frankenstein's Monster, and they're not that familiar with Mary Shelley's book. I always thought Mary Shelley's character was much more interesting, but Boris Karloff made a monster you could really feel affection for. Most of the books I've written, that aren't published yet, are original creations, and enough time passed between the two books we're talking about that I wasn't worried much about playing with other people's toys. About a decade passed between the writing of the two books, but they were published only a few years apart, so I guess it looks like that's all I want to do. It's not. To answer your question, it's pretty much a coincidence. But it's something I like doing, playing with characters that already exist. It's a lot of fun to create original characters, and I think for all intents and purposes my version of the Frankenstein Monster is not somebody we've met before. But there's a certain amount of ingenuity that's required to work with existing characters - you need to walk within the boundaries established by others. It's a challenge, but a fun one.

Q: What is the next SPACE 1999 book going to be about?

It's called THE FORSAKEN by John Kenneth Muir. I haven't read it yet, and don't really know any details, other than that it's a bridge book between the two seasons. John's a great guy - I'm looking forward to reading it.

Q: Both books also have very similar themes running through them. Balor and the "Monster" are alone and want to be understood by humanity. Balor makes the crew of Moonbase Alpha immortal so that they can understand his perspective on things and the monster wants to be a part of society, no longer an outcast.

I think that's one of the reasons Mateo asked me to write RESURRECTION - he saw a certain kinship between Balor and the Monster. So did I. The immortality issue alone is obvious. I don't know that Balor really cares much about making the Alphans understand his perspective - he'd much rather have them bowing at his feet. With the Monster, it's different. The Monster is a very, very sad character. Always has been. The guy so desperately wants to live a normal life. From a visual sense, the Monster is always depicted with scars, these jagged scars that join his limbs together. The scars inside are much deeper, and they're really dark scars. This guy never had a childhood. He's never really had a happy time in his life. He can't function in society, and he desperately wants to. Balor has lived a very accomplished life. But I think he's far more demented than the Frankenstein Monster. He doesn't really want to fit in. He's got contempt for life. I think the Monster only has contempt for people.

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?

It really depends on the book. When you're writing a thriller, sometimes, the best way to get the book to be exciting is to put your hero in some predicament, ask yourself what you would do, and then have him or her do the exact opposite. With SPACE 1999: RESURRECTION, there are little glimpses of me, but I guess from a very intellectualized perspective. With MARY'S MONSTER, I think to some degree, I identified with all of the major characters in one way or another. MARY'S MONSTER I tried to write as true to life as possible. Is it a gothic horror story? No, not by any means. But we all come across monsters in our lives. We all face times when guilt really cripples us. We all come to points where we have to face things we can't bear to face. That's really what MARY'S MONSTER is meant to be about. The guy who brings the Monster out of the woods in Canada is, at least to me, an interesting character because he keeps latching on to these very weak people, just kind of pulls them into his orbit, so he goes from an alcoholic wife to the Frankenstein Monster. What's interesting to me is the title of the book. It doesn't refer to the Monster himself, because he's decidedly not Mary Shelley's monster. I think the ultimate monster Mary Shelley wrote about is…us.

Q: What is the weirdest true-life thing that happened to you that if you wrote it down would read like fiction?

I was applying for a job about ten years ago and had to take a test for the job, part of which was an essay. I wrote the essay with my awful handwriting and finally I got the job and about a week or two after I started, I came home and found a message on my answering machine. The test had been sent to a testing service in Connecticut. The person who read my essay thought it was really well written and looked at the name and the phone number on the test and called just to tell me about it. It turned out it was my seventh and eighth grade reading teacher from my grammar school in New Jersey. She told me she never bothers to look at the names on tests when she reads the essays and this time, she was just shocked to see a name she recognized and just had to call. There's a review I'll never live down.

Q: Who is YOUR favorite horror or sci-fi author?

Richard Matheson, to me, is one of the most important writers of the Twentieth Century. Right up there on the same level as the Steinbecks and the Hemingways and anybody else you'd care to mention. His subject matter is what would keep him out of a lot of people's top ten lists. But his techniques? I wasn't even alive when he wrote most of his best stuff, but I can only imagine how it must have affected people to read I AM LEGEND or THE SHRINKING MAN or a lot of his short stories back when they were written. When I was fourteen, I guess I was drawn to him just through casual interest in his work on THE TWILIGHT ZONE and I was nowhere near prepared for I AM LEGEND. I was just starting to think about writing, just starting to dabble in it a little, and reading that book was like walking into a classroom with a grand master, and I was the sole student. It was a life changing experience. I don't think I've ever since sat down to write since without Matheson's voice in my ear. Would I ever try to write something like he would write? Probably not. It's the way he wrote it. The man is a master at a very simple thing that a lot of writers never really grasp. You can have elephants flying out of keyholes if you establish the reality well enough. You can have crazy things happen, but show the normal things that lead up to it and that follow it. The day-to-day routine of Robert Neville in I AM LEGEND is what makes it work, not the vampires. We remember the vampires of course, but we believe it because Robert Neville gets up and shaves and makes coffee. It's such a simple technique, but it's an important addition to American literature, and it hadn't been done before. He's been incredibly influential, but it's a quiet influence. I think you can certainly see that technique in SPACE 1999: RESURRECTION. There are people eating and drinking and feeling like they have to go to the bathroom, and Commander Koenig gets annoyed because the air supply in his spacesuit dries out his sinuses. Those moments are the foundation for everything else in the book. They establish the believability. I can't praise Richard Matheson highly enough.

Q: Anything you want to add?

Check out www.powysmedia.com for information on MARY'S MONSTER and SPACE: 1999 RESURRECTION, as well as other books in the Space: 1999 series coming in the near future. For anybody who wants a copy of MARY'S MONSTER, it was a very small printing, so strike while the iron's hot.

find information about William Latham at imdb.com find horror stuff by William Latham

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