Writing is a necessarily solitary occupation in virtually all of its stages: studying craft, breaking stories, producing drafts, editing manuscripts—each of these tasks consigns us to endless hours in the privacy of our own imaginations. Opportunities to bond with colleagues, a given in nearly any other profession, are often few and far between for us.
Likewise, reading is a conscious act of seclusion, as well—one in which we submit to the imagination of an author. We often (usually) have no relationship with these artists outside the forum of their fiction itself, despite the profound sense of intimacy engendered through their creations, which have the capacity—and we’ve all experienced this, regardless of the extent of our own personal creative inclinations—to shape our very apprehension of reality.
In our many discussions of storytelling craft here on this blog, and our ongoing appreciation of some of the masters of the discipline, I haven’t yet addressed the subject of relationships—either direct working associations, or the kind of indirect (yet no less meaningful) familiarity fostered with the artists we revere through their stories. Today I’d like to share a special instance in which those two roads intersected, and from it developed the rarest of all affiliations: friendship.
After featuring my first interview here last month, I am pleased to host the blog’s first guest post. Barry Hoffman works with Gauntlet Press, a specialty press devoted to publishing signed limited-edition collectibles and trade paperbacks; in the essay that follows, he discusses the influential fiction of legendary horror/science-fiction author Richard Matheson, and shares personal insights from his experiences as Matheson’s admirer, publisher, and friend:
Richard Matheson passed away June 23, 2013. Many might not recall his name, but you know his work. Matheson wrote twenty-two scripts for Rod Serling’s The Twilight Zone, including what many consider the most famous, “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet,” which starred William Shatner as a crazed airplane passenger who sees a monster on the wing of the plane. He wrote scripts for the two acclaimed Kolchak movies of the week (he was not involved with the inferior series). His most famous novel was I Am Legend, which most recently was a film starring Will Smith (the movie, though, doesn’t adhere to Matheson’s original script or novel).
He penned What Dreams May Come, which was also turned into a film. Both the film and the novel were of great comfort to the families of victims of the Columbine school massacre in 1999. He also wrote The Shrinking Man and penned the script for what became The Incredible Shrinking Man. Matheson didn’t achieve the name recognition of Stephen King because he jumped from genre to genre. He wrote two acclaimed horror novels (I Am Legend and Hell House), five westerns, a war novel (Beardless Warriors), science fiction (Earthbound), several thrillers, and novels like What Dreams May Come that defy categorization. He wrote well over a hundred short stories but abandoned the form as his short fiction couldn’t feed his family. He was a true Renaissance man who also wrote music (unpublished).
OUR RELATIONSHIP WITH MATHESON
I began working with Matheson in 1991. I publish signed limited-edition books, as publisher of Gauntlet Press, and was working on Robert Bloch’s Psycho. I approached Matheson to ask him to write an afterword. He told me he had never written nonfiction, but would give it a try. His nonfiction turned out as good as his fiction with a heartfelt essay that talked about Bob Bloch the author and the man. Still, he asked if what he wrote was acceptable. Both humble and more than a little insecure.
I then began publishing what would become thirty-four of Matheson’s books (most as signed limited editions and a few trade paperbacks). It was initially awkward for me, talking to what I considered a living legend. It’s kind of like going into a restaurant and bumping into your favorite actor. I was often tongue-tied when we initially spoke. Over the years, we developed a friendship. Matheson was a true gentleman, something that can’t be said of all popular authors. I visited him in Los Angeles, and my daughter and I went to dinner with Matheson and his lovely wife, Ruth. I was surprised that Matheson asked my opinion about current events, book trends, and everything under the sun. Some authors I’ve dealt with don’t want to hear other’s opinions. They do all the talking.
JUST PEN AND PAPER
Like many of his contemporaries (Ray Bradbury and Robert Bloch), Matheson was both a gentleman and bit of a character. He was most definitely set in his ways. He wrote his stories by hand (and sadly, until I got to know him, he tossed the handwritten manuscripts away after he typed them). The most technological item he had in his home was a fax machine. His son once gave him a portable email machine you affix to your phone. He used it once and put it in his closet. You didn’t email Richard Matheson. He didn’t own a computer. If you wanted to get in touch with him, it was either via phone, fax, or letter. And unlike many authors today, he didn’t have a secretary or assistant. He read and responded to all of his mail himself, quickly getting back to anyone who corresponded with him.
As I mentioned, he threw away his handwritten manuscripts. I kept asking him to save them, as we could use them in our books as bonus material to show collectors his writing process. He forgot a number of times. He faxed me an introduction for one of his books, and when I called him to praise his work, he said, “I saved my handwritten introduction for you. I’ll send it in the mail.” From then on, he no longer threw his handwritten manuscripts in the trash.
GETTING TO KNOW THE MAN BEHIND THE WRITING
Our first book with him (Gauntlet Press) was I Am Legend. He wanted a red cover (no dustjacket) with his signature embossed on the front and a blue slipcase. Our second book with him was Hell House, an even darker tale. He wanted the same color cover as for I Am Legend (did I say he was set in his ways?). I mentioned this to his son Richard Christian Matheson who told me, “No, the cover must be black with a black slipcase.” I wasn’t about to get into an argument with Matheson, so I told his son to speak to his father. Richard called me and agreed to the black cover/slipcase. He then added, “What color is the next book going to be? Pink?” It was actually gray, but that sarcastic remark was the beginning of our friendship.
Matheson was also one of the most loyal men I’ve ever known. When we published his previously unpublished first manuscript Hunger and Thirst, he knew he needed a dustjacket flap to explain why the novel had never been published. This meant he needed an artist for the cover. I sent him the work of several artists and he chose Harry O. Morris. Matheson was bowled over by Harry’s cover art. From then on, every book of his we published (and those from other specialty presses) had to have cover art by Harry O. Morris. And at Matheson’s request, we didn’t put the title of the book or his name on the cover, just on the spine so the art could be better appreciated. When one publisher was slow in paying Harry, Matheson got on the phone and told the publisher to do the honorable thing and get a check in the mail. A check went out the following day.
Over the years, he sent me a number of his unpublished works. For all his fame and acclaim, Matheson was quite insecure. His very first manuscript, Hunger and Thirst, was a mainstream novel that came in at 800 pages. His agent told him it was far too long for a first novel. So, Matheson put it away. Literally. We published the book fifty years later. His very first novel, he told me.
Years later, he found a novel he penned when he was twelve, “The Years Stood Still.” After writing it, he put it in a drawer where it gathered dust for a good sixty years. He asked me if I wanted to publish it. While not as polished as what he wrote as an adult, the seeds of Richard Matheson could be found in the novel. It was a bit too short to publish on its own, so I included the book as part of The Richard Matheson Companion.
No, we didn’t publish his grocery list, but a few years before his death he found a novel he wrote while in college that was semiautobiographical (also written before Hunger and Thirst). We published Leave Yesterday Alone along with a journal he found that he began writing in the nineties and returned to about ten years later. Musings was as close to a biography as one could find on Matheson, giving rare insight to the man.
I could, of course, go on. I’ve been told I have enough stories on Matheson to write a book. So, I’ll close here. What struck me most about Matheson wasn’t his extraordinary minimalist writing, the plots that Stephen King has said inspired a good deal of his early work, but what a gentleman he was. I’m proud to say Richard Matheson was my friend and I miss him terribly. Fortunately for all of us, his work will endure much as that of Edgar Allan Poe, Rod Serling, Shirley Jackson, and many others who left us too soon.
Barry Hoffman is known as a publisher for Gauntlet Press; however, his true passion is writing, and he has penned five different novels: Hungry Eyes, Eyes of Prey, Judas Eyes, Born Bad and Blindsided.