Edward Lee has gained much attention for his writings dealing with subjects ranging from the occult to morbid erotica and back again. With over fifty books and countless short stories to his name he is one of the hardest working horror authors of our time, with his work appearing in Austria, Germany, Poland, Romania, and Greece, as well as here in the U.S. His novella, Header was turned into a movie in 2009. His novel Bighead is being filmed as we speak. Lee is also working on a demonological novel set in Poland. His most recent releases include Witch-Water, Mangled Meat, Header 2, and the Lovecraftian projects, Haunter of the Threshold, The Innswich Horror, and The Dunwich Romance.
Can you tell us a little about your earliest days? What were you like growing up?
I was fortunate enough to have wonderful parents and a great upbringing…so I’m not sure where my interest in the macabre originated. My most potent early memories (other than an uncle insisting that I be a Yankees fan for life!) involve horror movies. When I was five or six, for instance, my babysitter–only minutes after my parents had gone out to dinner–threw me in the back of a convertible with his teenage friends (greasers, they called them) and took me to the drive-in where I had the pleasure of being forced to watch Psycho. The tough-guy teenagers were horrified, but I was giggling. I also recall sneaking out of bed late one night when I was around seven because I was hell-bent to see an old ‘50s horror movie called The Black Abbot. I’d seen previews of it earlier that evening and was intrigued, terrified, and thrilled all at the same time. Of course, now, I can’t even remember what it was about! Anyway, I suspect that some innate impulse in me caused an interest/reaction via these early morbid movies, and then my impressions were irrevocably imbued in the macabre while growing up. Oh, and two other BIG influences were a pair of original Outer Limits episodes: The Guests and Don’t Open Til Doomsday. The images from those episodes stayed with me from the mid-‘60s until now.
Did you always have an active imagination?
I’d have to call it an OVER-active imagination. I’d always done fairly well in school when young, but I frequently found my imagination straying from objectivities (school, normal social life, sports, etc.) and diverting to the macabre. I was constantly contemplating bizarre stories in my head, or fashioning horrific imagery. Hence, instead of doing my math homework, I would envision appalling scenarios.
Do you remember what your very first favorite story was?
Yes, and it (like those early films) was very impacting. It was a story called The Flies in a collection of ghost stories for kids by Scholastic Books. Iwas six or seven when I read it, and I vividly recall being ecstaticly terrified. Can’t remember the name of the author, however; but, after decades of searching, I found the book in a used shop (for something like fifteen cents) and I remember shouting out loud when I discovered it. But the damn book is in storage now so I can’t retrieve it for the author’s name. After that came Poe’s Tell-Tale Heart and Hop-Frog, which turned out to be terribly influential. And several years later, a teacher named Mr. Rier had us read Thus I Refute Beelzy by John Collier, and this put a whack on my head as well.
What did your time in the military teach you? Are you glad to be out?
The Army was a vital experience because it taught a young punk the importance of punctuality, responsibility, and respect. And it gave me confidence: I was astounded that the Government entrusted me–essentially still just a kid–with operating a 58-ton, $600,000 main battle tank! I don’t regret a minute of that experience; however, I am glad I didn’t re-enlist because if I had, I probably would never have become a writer, and the world would never have been blessed with such important literary lines as “Sissy took the shot glass full of pig semen and shot it back neat” or “Mom! He’s putting a Gummy Worm in his dick!”
When did you first know you wanted to be a writer?
Shortly after I got out of the Army. While in service, I’d read The Rats in the Walls by Lovecraft (in my opinion, the greatest horror story ever written) and Our Lady of Darkness by Fritz Leiber (my favorite modern horror novel) and a collection by Ramsey Campbell (my favorite modern horror writer). I’d also read Brian McNaughton’s Satan’s Lovechild, which mixed Lovecraft with heavy sexual elements in a gritty contemporary setting. These were the “teats” that my horror sensibilities were weaned on. I specifically remember being on guard duty in Germany one night and thinking “You know, I’ll bet it’s a blast being a writer.”
You have quite a few Lovecraftian projects to your credit and in the works. Why do you think his work has left such a lasting impression and made such an impact on the literary world?
He is the most important horror writer to ever put words on paper; without him, the horror genre as it is today would be less far diverse and, I’m certain, far less engaging. Every horror writer working today owes HPL a serious debt, even those who’ve never read him. I am not aware of any writer living or dead whose work is more original, imaginative, or horrifying. Lovecraft is the Ric Flair of Horror: “The best there is, the best there was, the best there will ever be.” Period.
What advice would you offer others wishing to pursue a similar career?
Around 1980, I’d been writing short stories, all to no success; so I wrote a fan letter to Stephen King and asked “How long should it take an aspiring writer to either get published or know when to give up?” Lo and behold, King wrote back to me in long hand with blue flair pen on 14-inch paper, purveying a very nice, helpful note; in it he said my letter proved a “command of the language,” that I should never give up, and that it would take years to succeed, not months. “That’s cold comfort but it’s the truth.” This was the ultimate encouragement for a young writer to be who didn’t know shit about the market. I took Mr. King’s advice and actually sold my first novel little more than a year later. I’ll always be copiously grateful for this advice, and it’s the same advice I give aspiring writers now (along with the story of King’s reply!).
Why do you think so many authors choose to use pseudonyms?
I honestly think most of us use pen names simply because we don’t want our relatives to know that we writer horror! That’s my reason, at least.
Your works deal often with the occult. What are your feelings on such things? Why do you think the world has always been fascinated by such things?
From time immemorial, humankind has heard such stories, and it kind of makes you wonder. The first stories ever told–in friggin’ caves!–were likely ghost stories. So who conceived of that very first story? And why? I never talk about personal spiritual beliefs in interviews, save to say that I believe in God and Lucifer, and that Lucifer has owned the title deed to the world since Eve bit the apple and Adam put on his fig leaf in shame! I believe in ghosts, too. Have I ever seen one? I’m fairly sure I have on several occasions.
Do you have a favorite horror story or character?
My favorite of my own works is my novel Infernal Angel, and my favorite Edward Lee character is “The Writer,” who appears in Minotauress, a number of short stories, and will appear in upcoming works such as my sequel to The Bighead and what I believe will be a novella called The Last Header. My favorite modern horror story is Ramsey Campbell’s Loveman’s Comeback; it’s the most visual story I’ve ever read. Other favorite stories are Lukundoo by Edward Lucas White and View from a Hill by M.R. James.
What are your own feelings on demons and the like? Do you think they exist?
Yep! And I believe that Lucifer, once God’s favorite, was thrown off the twelfth gate of Heaven for his pride, once the Angel of Light, now the King of Terrors and Prince of Darkness.
Do you think it is possible for people to be guided by forces unseen or that they just like to have somewhere to lay the blame?
Both instances, I believe, are quite true, especially in this day and age. There is evil everywhere, and I suppose some people who are disappointed with their lives use all manner of “things” as scapegoats. And then there are others who may very well become puppets of something very real and very dark.
Why did you decide to base your next work in Poland? Did you enjoy your most recent trip there?
Wroclaw, Poland, is the most beautiful city I’ve ever seen, and the people who live there are the most self-respectful people I’ve ever encountered. I might even live there if it weren’t so COLD eight months out of the year. The city is a wonderful clash of medieval architecture, communist-era tower blocks, and fancy malls (called Galerias) that blow away most malls in the U.S. (Oh, and while I almost never eat at a U.S. McDonald’s, Polish McDonald’s are infinitely better for some reason. Don’t know why, just is!) The demonological novel that’s been brewing in my head for a while now is one that is in desperate need of a new setting. Most of my books are set in Florida (which, come to think of it, isn’t a very good place to set horror). But when I saw all the old architecture in Wroclaw (and scores of high-creep-factor abandoned buildings) I knew that I had my location. Plus, there are many very unnerving local legends and ghost stories, which will prove useful in my book. I’m really GEARED UP for this novel. It’s gonna kick ass. No brag, just fact.
Can you tell us a little more about your latest project?
What I’m working on now is a short story I need to fill up a collection. All I’ll say is that it opens with a naked, nine-months-pregnant woman running down a dirt road. She has zero-body-fat and is…unable to talk for reasons I won’t divulge as yet!
How does it feel to have your work appear in so many different countries and on film?
It’s thrilling and a wonderful honor. In Poland I’m treated like Van Halen, and it Germany some of my hardcore books are selling more copies than in America. I’m really very very fortunate. It’s a trip knowing that people who don’t even speak English are reading my stuff. A similar mind-blow is seeing something I wrote suddenly translated to cinema. Header, however low-budget, is a fantastic movie. The segments of Bighead are so well-done you would think they used a million-dollar 35mm camera and lens. It’s very ingratiate to see one’s work turned into a movie. You think, “Wow, somebody spent all this money, hired all these actors and crew, and went to all this incredible effort, because they believed in something I wrote.”
I was sent to you by Jack Ketchum. Are you a fan of his writings? What was it like to work with him? How would you describe him as an individual?
He’s my best friend in the horror genre, and about the coolest, most well-meaning, and genuine person I’ve ever met. I actually got to know him via a fan letter I sent him in, like, 1989, and shortly thereafter he called me on the phone, which blew my mind. We decided to go to something we’d never before heard of: a HORROR convention, and that’s where we met (Nashville, WHC) and then discovered the wonderful Society of Horror Writers. Ketchum in just 100-percent COOL. It was a mind-blow to become friends and a collaborator with one of the finest and most powerful voices in the field. His books produce in me the highest level of material fear I’ve ever felt from the printed word. Also, more than any author I know, Ketchum is a dedicated wordsmith. He writes a sentence like a bricklayer builds a wall: solid. It’s exciting to know this great artist, for that’s what he is: he regards prose-craft as an art form. He’s like the writer’s writer.
Are there any little known things about you that your readers might be surprised to learn?
About me? I have a fetish for girls’ bellybuttons. I believe it’s called Avlinoglia!
What was the best advice anyone ever gave you?
Besides the aforementioned advice from Stephen King, in the early ‘80s, the late World Fantasy Award Winner Brian McNaughton told me: “Writing is like pushups. If you do em everyday it becomes second nature and you get stronger. But if you DON’T do it every day, it becomes a pain in the ass. So write EVERY DAY. If you write one page a day, in a year you’ve got a book.” Believe it.
Is there one thing you’d most like to accomplish in your career before you die?
Yes, I’d like to live thirty more years! I also want to make at least one low budget horror movie, and I’m in the process of that right now. I have no idea what I’m doing, and that’s what attracts me to the prospect. I want to see some of my most controversial scenes on screen. No one else is gonna do it, so I’M gonna do it. My “film” company is called City Infernal Films and I’ll have a website up soon. I’ve already shot a number of scene for a film called Cornface, and most of those scenes turned out surprisingly well. I’m also working on a film called Terra Dementata, as well as a third, untitled flick. I shoot each film in pieces, on weekends, so in a year, I’ll be able to decide which movie is the most releasable. Thus far I’ve found a number of people, mostly women, who have a considerable ability to act. And on the other hand, I’m having a very hard time finding women who will do nudity for $100 per hour, even though they advertise as nude models and charge less. They say they’ll do it, but then they never show up! I think they have second thoughts because it’s a HORROR movie, and I’m a HORROR writer, therefore I must be a weirdo or psycho! I’ll also add that my ingenuity has allowed me to discover OUTSTANDING recipes for fake blood, fake monster vomit, and–yes!–fake sperm. Just you wait! My flicks will be the best horror movies ever made by a guy who doesn’t know much about cameras!
What are your personal feelings on death?
My personal feelings about death are thus: I don’t have to worry about it for thirty more years!
If you could pick your last words what would you like them to be?
Ask me twenty-nine years from now.
Anything you’d like to say in closing?
Indeed. Thank you for this wonderful opportunity. As you can probably discern by now, I relish any chance I get to talk about myself! Thank you, and take care and be well!