Thursday, February 19, 2009

HE IS LEGEND Christopher Conlon

Christopher Conlon is the editor of the new Richard Matheson tribute anthology, He Is Legend (Gauntlet Press, 2009), as well as Poe’s Lighthouse (Cemetery Dance, 2006) and The Twilight Zone Scripts of Jerry Sohl (Bear Manor Media, 2004). He is the author of the recent well-received suspense novel Midnight on Mourn Street (Earthling Publications, 2008) as well as two collections of short stories and three collections of poetry. Visit his website and blog at

Q. Tell us about HE IS LEGEND.

A. Ed, thanks for asking.. HE IS LEGEND is an all-original fiction anthology of writers riffing on worlds and characters created by Richard Matheson—sequels, prequels, stories told from different points of view and so on. It’s being published by Gauntlet Press, and it’s scheduled to be released this month. Actually I just got my copies a few days ago. It looks great, I must say—Gauntlet did a splendid job with it.

Q. For readers unfamiliar with Richard’s work, which books would you suggest they start with—and why?

A. My immediate answer is his novel I AM LEGEND, even if you’ve seen the much-altered Will Smith film version—maybe especially if you have. The original novel features everything that was so memorable about Matheson’s early fiction—the taut writing, the excruciating suspense, the one-man-against-the-world theme. It also happens to have been the first novel I ever read by Matheson, around the age of thirteen—and it was one of the truly unforgettable reading experiences of my life. But oh, there are so many others that would fit the bill just as well: THE SHRINKING MAN, certainly, which has all the qualities I just described from I AM LEGEND along with the benefit of having a really fine film version, something which I AM LEGEND still lacks—despite three tries over the years. But for people who don’t care for that kind of terror story, I might recommend his beautiful time-travel romance, SOMEWHERE IN TIME. And you can’t go wrong with any vintage collection of Matheson’s short stories.

Q. Amazing to see the names you managed to get for this book—all testifying to the fact that Richard is one of the most influential writers of our time. Stephen King, Joe Hill, F. Paul Wilson, Joe Lansdale, Whitley Strieber and many, many more. Did you have any difficulties finishing the book?

A. Anybody foolhardy enough to edit an original anthology—and this is my second, after POE’S LIGHTHOUSE—has difficulties. There are always ego issues with people, money issues, contract issues, deadline issues, you name it. The editor, really, is nobody’s best friend—except maybe on the day he’s writing the checks. Now, most people—I’m talking about writers, artists, publishers—are wonderful to work with. Over the two anthologies I’ve done I would say ninety-five percent of the folks involved presented me no significant troubles at all. It’s that last five percent that kills you.

Q. How long did it take to finish the project?

A. Too long. It was delayed several times, much to my frustration, as decisions were made—beyond my control—to add more and more names, ask more and more writers. From the signing of the contract with Gauntlet to the release of the book has been nearly three years. Still, given the final list of people we ended up with in the Table of Contents—which, I’d like your readers to know, includes a guy named Ed Gorman—it’s hard to complain too much. The book is done, anyway. And it’s a good book..

Q. Has Richard seen it?

A. Yes, he has, and I’m told he likes it a lot and feels honored by it. But I’ve had no direct communication with him since we originally got his permission to do the volume. I hope he gets in touch with me—I’d love to hear from him. The book was truly a labor of love.

Q. We all have stories about how Richard's work affected us. What has reading him most of your life meant to you?

A. To me, Richard Matheson is the ultimate storyteller. Nobody does it better. Throughout his career he’s had that uncanny talent for creating interesting characters and putting them in compelling situations—situations that keep you turning the pages long into the night. It sounds easy, but as any writer knows, it isn’t. It’s damned difficult to find the right mixture of plot idea and development, character insight, pacing, and all the rest of it—and to wrap it all up in a prose style which is appropriate to the material, neither too plain nor too showy. In his finest works Matheson is unparalleled at putting it all together into an unforgettable whole. HE IS LEGEND, THE SHRINKING MAN, fifteen or twenty of his short stories—these simply can’t be improved. They’re literally perfect. Perfect in the way that the best of Ray Bradbury is perfect. Very damned few people can manage that. So what has he meant to me? His writing has been a beacon, a guidepost, an instruction manual, an inspiration. Which is why HE IS LEGEND has such an intensely personal meaning for me, and why I’m so happy to have done it.

Q. What’s next for you, Chris? More anthologies?

A. Actually I doubt I’ll do any more anthologies, for the reasons I alluded to before as well as others. I’m primarily a writer and poet, not an editor. In the case of both my anthologies I really got into them as a bit of a lark, but they turned out to be vastly complicated and time-consuming enterprises and, in a way, sort of thankless ones. I’m immensely proud of both of the books, but putting them together wasn’t always a pleasant experience. I have a new novel out, MIDNIGHT ON MOURN STREET, and I’m writing another. I’ve recently turned MOURN STREET into a play, which will be receiving its first professional public performance—a staged reading—in April. I have stories coming up in Dark Discoveries magazine and some anthologies—other peoples’, I mean. For me it’s always been about the writing, really. Editing has been a sidelight, and it could be that I’m done with it now. But then again, who knows? If some wily rascal suggests a really good anthology idea to me, or one pops into my head some stormy night—hey, just as in a good Richard Matheson story, anything can happen.



Randy Johnson said...

Good interview. I Am Legend looks to be a book I need to get. All three novels mentioned are fine tales I read many years back. Maybe it's time to do so again.

Ben Boulden said...

Great interview. I AM LEGEND is a terrific novel--I even enjoyed its first filming--although I think I enjoyed THE SHRINKING MAN even more. Matheson's short work is also excellent.

I've read one of the stories in this anthology from EQMM and it was terrific. I look forward to the books release.

Anonymous said...

I went through my Matheson phase in the late 70s/early 80s, when most of his novels and collections were reissued by Berkeley in paperback. What a wonderful education they were for an aspiring writer of speculative fiction. I think "Hell House" is my personal favorite, though some feel it's just a Shirley Jackson knock-off. Also the short story, "Prey."

Jeff P.