Confessions of my Past, Present and Future
Robert E. Dunn
The question everyone gets when talking about the book’s they’ve written is, who were your influences? That’s a question, both casual and serious. Casually speaking, it’s basic curiosity to wonder who we think about when we try to be our best. Every author can give you a list of the people that inspired them. All writers are readers by nature. In fact, it is from that nature that the desire to tell our own stories come. An honest list from any of us would give a few surprises, like hearing that your favorite rocker also has a thing for Yo-Yo Ma.
I’ve admitted many times that I grew up on comic books. I had hundreds of copies of 1960’s and early 1970’s comics. They were mostly DC and the old horror comics from Warren like Eerie and Creepy. A lot of us kids on military bases could not come up with the change for all the comics we wanted so we used to trade. That created both an opportunity for more reading and a community within which to share. That’s is an amazing incubator for any writer.
Casually, I will tell you that my influences are kind of obvious for a writer of horror or spec fiction. Aside from the comics, I read a lot of classics by Poe, Lovecraft, Burroughs, Robert Lewis Stevenson, that kind of thing. Later I discovered Robert A. Heinlein, Arthur C. Clarke, Isaac Asimov and the hundreds of authors in those orbits. The book that most defined me and my reading at the time was a copy of Adventures In Time And Space that I kept, with a duct taped spine, until it was lost in a house fire in 2009.
Later, after discovering William Peter Blatty and the nightmare The Exorcist inspired, I began seeking out the horrible more than anything else. That, of course, led to Stephen King. My first exposure and forever my favorite was Salem’s Lot.
Seriously though, the other side of the, who influenced you, question is really, who laid the path you hope to walk? There are so many writers that I read and wish I could match in skill or out-put. But, in the 1970’s, Stephen King started something. He, his books anyway, made it okay to be known as a horror writer. Before him, there was acceptable literary horror that was not so scary or pulp horror that was usually, well, pulpy. Horror had not yet developed the kind of geek culture that it has now. You had Universal horror monsters and Japanese big stompy things, or Vampirella and Aurora, glow in the dark models defining horror.
King said, horror is just another kind of good story and he defined it by writing well, not by what he wrote. There were others, yes but he was the name that was on everyone’s radar. He was our poster-boy just like Lucas/Spielberg became the touchstones for the movie geeks out there.
By writing a series of books that were called horror, but were really just good books and good stories, King and the other big names, Straub, Matheson, Barker, Koontz, Herbert and others created a market that has bloomed into the most prolific, and exciting niche in publishing. Horror has the largest, most active small publishing community out there. It has the most diverse readership that supports everything from, weird western to splatter horror, cryptids to sparkly vampires. I believe that would all be there without those big names but I also believe it would still be fringe instead of the commercial force it is. And the one thing those reader groups have in common is Stephen King. We all read him. We may not worship, some do, but I bet we can all tell you a favorite of his.
I can give you a list of the writers I read. I have shared my list with pretty much everyone many times. In fact, that has become most of my social media presence, finding the writers I enjoy and basically saying thank you. I make a pest of myself sometimes just expressing how much the work of other author’s means to me. I’ve never met or talked with Stephen King. I don’t expect to. But he made the path so many of us have started out on. We all add our own trails but when we say, I write horror, someone will always ask, Like Stephen King? No, not like King but, in a small part, because of him. Thanks, Mr. King.
These days I don’t actually read King as much. The new stuff that is. He’s gone his direction and I’ve gone mine. These days I’m reading Richard Kadrey’s books, Jonathan Maberry, Nick Cutter, Joe Lansdale, Chuck Wendig and of course Hunter Shea.
Yeah I like monsters and I like the monstrous. There are so many others it’s impossible to simply list the authors we read. I imagine it will be the same in the future. I have turned my daughters into geeks. They remind me of this every chance they get. One is more into Tudor history than she is into zombies but she’ll go to any monster movie with dad. The other two are D&D loving, ghost hunting, chips off the ol’ block. So that’s really my future.
There is another future though, more in the realm of hopes than expectation. I hope to see the horror I love become the horror everyone can relate to. It does that by inclusion. I don’t think my daughters have any interest in becoming horror writers but if they ever express any, I’ll be right there cheering them on. To any other women who want to write a scary, or gory, or just plain creepy book, I say go for it. Actually I’m asking, please go for it. Everything is changing, publishing, marketing, reading. Finding new voices is the only way the most exciting of genres stays relevant and expands.
To the writers I know, most of us white guys writing white guy characters, we can help the future unfold in the best of ways. Support a woman who wants to write the same way we support the guy’s. Support the writers of color with your interest in their point of view and experiences. Step out of your comfort zone and write a character that is very different from you, female main characters, gay heroes, African antagonists. Then treat them the way you do every other character, put them through hell and kick their butts while you make them grow. I think it will be good for us all.
In 2045 I will turn 85, with any luck. I started novel writing late in life after having made my living writing for corporations and more than anything else, video programming. It was probably the day to day making a living thing that made me need to write a novel. Then the next one and the next one after that. Life builds on itself I think. In that sense we’re all these walking bits of coral reef.
I hope I’m still writing so close to the center of this century. I hope a few people know my name and one or two buy a book. If nothing else, as long as I breathe I know I will be reading. I can’t wait to see what scares the books have in store for me.
You can buy The Red Highway here.
You can buy any of Robert’s other books here.
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Robert E. Dunn was born an army brat and grew up in the Missouri Ozarks. He wrote his first book at age eleven, stealing, or novelizing, as he called it at the time, the storyline of a Jack Kirby comic book.
His college course of study, philosophy, religion, theatre, and film/TV communications, left him qualified only to be a televangelist. When that didn’t work out, he turned to them mostly, honest work of video production. Over several years he produced everything from documentaries, to training films and his favorite, travelogues. Still always writing for the joy of it he returned to writing horror and fantasy fiction for publication after the turn of the century. It seemed like a good time for change even if the changes were not always his choice.
He lives in Kansas City with three daughters, a young grandson, and an old dog.
He is the author of the horror novels, The Dead Ground and Behind The Darkness: Alien Invasion, from Severed Press as well as The Red Highway from Necro Publications. In 2016 he will be releasing Motorman and The Harrowing from Necro, and A Living Grave from Kensington/Lyrical. In addition, he is the author of romantic/erotic suspense novels written under a pen name. He dares you to find out that name.
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