To continue the week’s Halloween festivities, XOXOAD is pleased to share this guest post from Pocket & Gallery Senior Editor Ed Schlesinger, about the horror writer who got him hooked on a lifetime of scary reads. Take it away, Ed!
I had to be honest with myself: I just didn’t know what the hell to read next. Today-me has experienced that at various points, staring at the TBR pile or bookshelf, or wondering if this would be the day that random impulse purchase from two years ago would at last be cracked open, or hooray! finally getting to that classic everyone else seems to have read but I would get around to next time. Add to that an ever-growing digital library bloated with Daily Deals, and the enchanting siren song of apps like comiXology, Marvel Unlimited, and Instapaper, and reading something, anything, for pleasure these days is truly a luxury.
But back-then, little kid me? I was firmly entrenched in the pages of Marvel and DC and the occasional old horror comic whenever I could get my hands on it (those in particular going into the middle of the pile so my mother wouldn’t freak out)…Famous Monsters of Filmland magazines…endless hours of TV and video games…but despite my love of novelizations like Star Wars and Alien, and Splinter of the Mind’s Eye (all by the amazing Alan Dean Foster, come to think of it) and the James Blish Star Trek novels, I still hadn’t found an original gateway book that I’d made a true connection with up to that point…at least, not just yet.
Until that August evening when I went with my father to the local library. Fifteen minutes until closing, and he’d wandered off to scoop up his usual assortment of Ludlum-esque thrillers and violent westerns. Then I saw THIS staring out at me from one of the mass-market paperback racks up front:
Picked it up out of the rack, intrigued. Stephen King. Night Shift? “Excursions Into Horror,” the front cover promised. Huh. The back cover went on to inform me about “sinister forces and unspeakable things” from one of “the most spine-tingling, eerie imaginations of our time.”
Truly judging a book by its cover, I then thumbed open to the Foreword and read this:
“Let’s talk, you and I. Let’s talk about fear.”
Right there, then-me would quickly read the background of a young storyteller who was speaking my language…talking to me on my interest level…but look at the B-movies he was name-dropping! Them! The Deadly Mantis! The Blob!
In the meantime, my father had come up behind me holding his own small stack of mass-market paperbacks in each hand. “Find anything?” he asked.
“Yeah…yeah, I think I’m getting these.”
I started reading Night Shift that evening, and was instantly blown away by that voice. Here were the glorious, terrifying words that I’d been waiting for, the connection finally being made. The giant rats in the sub-cellar. The boogeyman in the closet with its “claws.” The horror of Quitters, Inc.. And of course, the vampires of Jerusalem’s Lot. That was all it took. What else has he written? I remember thinking a few nights later. I jotted down some of the other books he’d published, determined to check those out ASAP, as well as the influences he mentioned in that Foreword…authors and books that I’d had knowledge of but not yet read, like Lovecraft and Tolkien…which then led me to Lord of the Flies, Ray Bradbury, and George Orwell, and shocking new voices like Clive Barker and his unforgettable Books of Blood, feeding the now-endless desire to read, read, read.
Today-me has certainly come a long way since then…but one thing remains solid: an undying passion for reading, fostered by (and with eternal thanks to) a very special author for that first real gateway reading experience. Eerily prophetic, perhaps, that one of his Night Shift stories (represented as well on that awesome cover) was “I Am the Doorway.”