Posts from the Past

Friday, 20 July 2012

The Frightening World of Richard Laymon

Where an man realises his young mind was exposed to things far worse than horror stories...

The author Richard Laymon is an enigma.

My friends and I used to joke about him being a possible pseudonym of Dean Koontz or Jack Ketchum, such was the mystery surrounding him.  When I was in Laymon's native USA a few years ago, I asked a local bookstore if they had ever heard of him. They hadn't, and worse, they couldn't even find him on their database.  This was surprising as during the 90s here in the UK he enjoyed a large amount of success. His books took up as much space as Stephen King on the shelves of my local bookshop. His success was probably a happy accident of both his alphabetical proximity to Mr King and Mr Koontz on said shelves, and the helpful quotes from Mr King and Mr Koontz on his covers. (Strangely, despite King's quote reading "If you've missed Laymon, you've missed a treat", he once cited Laymon's The Cellar as being amongst the worst of haunted house literature). Still, even the bestseller-conscious Book Club carried his titles.

There is surprisingly little about Laymon on the internet. I'm still none the wiser as to whether the books published posthumously were completed by another author or whether they were trunked earlier works. There is no official website, richardlaymon.com is not owned by anyone and the only fan site hasn't been updated since 2008. http://rlk.stevegerlach.com/ 

I've just finished reading Night in the Lonesome October.  I think this was Laymon's last complete novel.  It occurred to me that I might have read every adult novel Laymon ever completed prior to his premature death in 2001. Admittedly I read most of them between the age of 14 and 16 -- having guiltily picked up this latest book to break up the twin intensities of I Was Amelia Earhart and Terry McDermott's Perfect Soldiers while on holiday --  but I wondered how many others had actually invested  such time in Laymon's work. And how many had actually critically appraised it.

If you aren't familiar with Laymon, his adult novels are a breed of horror that I have seen described as splatterpunk. His work uses sex and violence in such an extreme way that it borders on absurd. Often this appears very knowing, providing you like horror; at other times it makes you question how it ever got into print in the first place. (Interesting side note: I just tried finding a rare interview with the man that I watched some years ago. It has vanished! I might be misremembering, but in it he talked about how his UK publishers made him cut out some "unsavoury" scenes. Given what made it in, what was left out!?)

He wrote nearly 30 adult novels and 20 or so books for teens.  In many respects he was a "professional" writer in that he delivered books to a particular formula. No Laymon book is without its sex-in-a-shower scene, its incredibly attractive key players and its inexplicably insane bad guy. Generally his books seem to finish up at about a third of the way in, only for the bad guy to come back for one last hoorah. And there is always a vulnerable character, often a teenager or child, who winds up getting kidnapped making the final chapters a frantic race against time.

Even as an adult there are enjoyable elements in Laymon's books. The writing is punchy. The stories are engaging:  Body Rides and Endless Night are particularly good. I can see why, as a bored suburban teenager, his writing entertained me. Most of the characters are bored suburban teenagers too. In Laymon's world, the suburbs are where it's all happening. Danger lurks in every shadowy garage; every mysterious stranger out after dark is either a killer or your soon-to-be lover.   

However, there is a huge amount to dislike -- especially now I am an adult and a bit more sensitive to the world around me.  Some of what I have found has thoroughly disturbed me.

The rape stuff is just the starting point. And there is a lot of rape in Laymon. I can't think of a book of his without a rape. Not that writing about rape is inherently wrong. There are horrific rape scenes in American Psycho and a rape scene in the recently Pulitzer Prize nominated Swamplandia! by Karen Russell. But those scenes are used to serve the story, they aren't there to titillate. In Laymon's books you can't help but feel that rape is used as just another tool to entertain.

In a great interview with Laymon (you can read it here: http://www.mania.com/richard-laymon-horror-writer-bite_article_22364.html), he is asked about his use of rape in his work and doesn't exactly cover himself in glory with his defence. Here is a choice quote:

[T]he rape and degradation of women is so disturbing and off-putting (and politically incorrect--let's not forget) that most writers prefer to stay away from it entirely or soft-peddle it. Either they have no taste for dealing with it or they are afraid of negative reactions from editors (mostly New York feminists), readers, relatives, and friends. This creates a situation in which the 'rape and degradation of women' is largely not to be found in our literature.

Pretty amazing really. Rape is "politically incorrect"? Here is another:

The 'rape and degradation of women' in my books is a reflection of real life. Should I avoid being 'disturbing and off-putting' by choosing not to write about it? When I'm creating a scene, a chief concern is usually this--what would really happen in a situation like this.

Bear in mind these comments are from the end of the 90s not the 50s.

So Laymon's defence seems to be that he is writing about rape to stick it to the cowardly political correct brigade and "New York feminists" who want to censor "real life" reflections of rape in literature.  Putting aside his claim that literature doesn't realistically depict rape, the idea that Laymon's novels are "a reflection of real life" is patently absurd to anyone who has read his work. The charm of his work is its essential unreality.

But his defence brings up an interesting insight into Laymon; an insight that brought about my feelings of unease upon reading him as an adult. As mentioned earlier, I always perceived Laymon as a bit of a savvy hack. A professional writer with a capital P. But his defence doesn't smack of savvy professionalism. It smacks of someone lacking even a modicum of self-awareness. He actually believed he wrote realistic fiction and the frightening world he presents is actually how things are.

So taking what happens in Night in the Lonesome October as my reference, this is how Laymon's "real life" looks:

  •  Everyone but a handful of white, heterosexual westerners between the ages of 15-35 is not to be trusted.
  • Ethnic minorities are suspicious. They walk around being impolite and chastise you for talking to their pets. And they probably have weapons under their long, weird clothes and will behead you if you don't give them a wide berth.
  • Old people are crazy. Particularly old women. They are ugly and probably gypsies. They will put a curse on you. Even if they don't, they are probably up to no good.
  • Gay people are either sex murderers or in need of a punch to stop them trying to come on to heterosexuals of the same sex. One character called Kirkus gets a punch in the stomach from the "hero" for coming on to him. "Stop being such a fag" he tell the gay guy, who later turns up to save the day and apologise for being so full on before.  I was surprised Kirkus didn't thank the hero for the punch...
  • Who else is awful...? Oh I know, homeless people. They are almost certainly all sex offenders and definitely cannibals. In this novel they are lovingly referred to as "Trolls". Laymon has form here, as this name is also used in "Funland".  In that book, the heroes go round killing homeless people because they are evil...

That Laymon was conservative politically doesn't surprise me, but to have had borderline far-right views and been so mainstream in the UK is really strange. 

It probably goes without saying that I don't think Laymon's worldview comes anywhere how things really are. But so what? Why am I worrying about a deceased author who was hardly a major figure even in his genre? (arguably as a president of the HWA he was a major figure...)

Well, you rarely get to see such views lying around as naked as they are in Laymon. I find it interesting trying to understand staunchly conservative views as they are so far from my own. At the very least I can learn something from having read all those books.

As someone prone to being a bit cowardly, I do understand being scared of the world. Serial killers are frightening, wars are terrifying, Yellowstone blowing up one day is just not cool. I get fear; understanding it is why I think horror is interesting and important. But Laymon's worldview is built on fear of absolutely anything different, anything not white, middle class and able bodied/minded. His insane characters are just insane. There is no explanation or attempt to understand these characters. Bad guys are just bad, and good guys are good just in virtue of not being the bad guys. 

Some more from the man himself:

Oddly enough, in our present society, there is often a perception that a crime is somehow worse when it is committed against a woman, a child, a Jew, a homosexual, a homeless person or a 'person of color' (to name a few) than if it is committed against an employed heterosexual white Christian male adult. This is the thinking behind 'hate crime' legislation. To me, a crime is a crime is a crime. Victims are victims, regardless of their individual differences. And assholes are assholes and ought to be taken out.

The last line is particularly revealing. Basically, there are good guys and bad guys, and bad guys should be killed. The End. It's your basic argument for the death penalty.  But how is it that these bad guys got to be so bad? Isn't it funny how those that abuse have often been abused? What about some context or history... you know, like real life.

A consistent trait of every Laymon hero/heroine is their ability to face down their fears, something I don't see him doing in his portrayal of the world. Laymon isn't interested in asking why we are scared of things. In fact, that's what makes his world supposedly scarier -- evil just happens. It isn't part of the usual causal chain the binds the rest of the universe.

Here is another related insight into Laymon's views, put into the mouth of one of his protagonists in Night in the Lonesome October,a university literature student. Her favourite book is Atlas Shrugged  by Ayn Rand and she goes on to talk about how it is the best book ever written but a conspiracy by teachers (who are all commies) stops it being taught because they are scared of its message. When another character (the gay guy who gets punched) suggests her message is "selfishness", our heroine says: 

That's what they want you to believe... you know what her real message is... nobody has a single goddamn right to take what doesn't belong to them. Like a government for instance. The governments got no right to make us do anything... not even for what they call the "common good". We're nobody's slaves... we don't owe jack shit to society.

Perhaps I am doing Laymon a disservice by assuming these were his actual views, but given the interview above and that these comments come apropos of nothing in the book, I am assuming they were. What strikes me about these views is that if everyone believed them, we probably would live in a world just like the one Laymon wrote about. If we didn't pay taxes or contribute to "the common good", it would be every person for themselves. There would be no police (police are often Laymon protagonists) to tackle crime. No health service (or in the US, no charitable organisations) to tend to the mentally ill, no doubt exacerbating the homeless problem that Laymon fears so much. The only winners in such a world would be the brutal psychopaths that stalk Laymon's work. There would be no stopping them because what "right" would someone have to contravene their desire to murder people. After all, psychopaths are "nobody's slaves".

Richard Laymon is not just a straw man; I doubt he would have seen himself as such. He represents a certain strain of thought that is still prevalent. It's the "we want freedom from criminals, we want freedom from the law" mentality. The people that want to see petty criminals hung but can't believe they have to pay a speeding fine.  At the centre of such views is always an individual who ultimately believes that he is the good guy and that the world is trying to oppress them.  The problem is, lots of people think that, even the psychopaths.  We can't all be the good guy.

I certainly hope Laymon isn't the good guy.

I don't think he is. He could only be if his world represented "real life".  But the sad indictment of Laymon's work aesthetically was that it just wasn't scary. Sexy, thrilling, ridiculous, and entertaining? Sometimes. But it never kept me up at night. Never had me worried. The things he was asking us to fear were just ridiculous. They were straw men.

The scariest thing about Laymon really, is that he thought he was writing about real life. 

35 comments:

  1. Perceptive and as far as I'm concerned spot-on insight into Laymon's work.

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  3. Actually I'm a bit surprised you don't have more comments here... My evisceration - heh - of THE CELLAR brought the most comments ever to my blog, from lots of snarky & pissed-off readers... And yet: I want to read more Laymon to see if he's as bad all the way through.

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  4. Well, technically this has brought the most comments to my blog now! :) If you want to give Laymon a fair crack, I'd try either Body Rides or Endless Night. Savage also stuck in my head. Let me know what you think if you get the chance to read them.

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  5. What the hell is this tripe? You know nothing of Laymon or his work past what you gathered from dead ended relics, fool.
    "It probably goes without saying that I don't think Laymon's worldview comes anywhere how things really are. But so what? Why am I worrying about a deceased author who was hardly a major figure even in his genre? (Arguably as a president of the HWA he was a major figure...)"
    What? You’re kidding, right? Yhea, you wrote that. You. Your words, not mine.
    Laymon not a major figure in our genre?
    Please…
    No. You, sir, are grossly misinformed and I am here to represent the literary horror genre as a whole to tell you that without a doubt, you are 100% wrong about that fact.

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  6. Hi Chuck, thanks for your comments. I'll keep your post this time but if you use childish insults again, afraid I'll just press delete. But since you raise such intelligent points in your outburst I'll oblige this once.

    "You know nothing of Laymon or his work past what you gathered from dead ended relics." I don't know what a "dead ended relic" is, but I've read all Laymon's books? Are these the relics of which you speak?

    As for you getting in a huff over me saying that he is "hardly a major figure" in the genre, the context of that remark was to establish why I was bothering to write about an author that not many people have heard of. When I was in the USA 3 years ago no bookshops, indie or chain, carried his work. Surely my HWA remark shows I obviously think he is a target worthy of discussion? And the fact that you have heard of Laymon and claim he is a major figure simply justifies my decision to write this piece.

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  7. vincent ronovsky7 March 2013 at 11:48

    I've found S.R. Mastrantone article insightful and well argumented, but it won't change the pleasure I get at reading Richard Laymon's novels (excuse my somewhat approximate english, for it's not my native language -I'm a french man) : Laymon's universe is obviously unrealistic, but that doesn't bother me while I'm reading his books ; I like their nocturnal B- movie mood and I take it for what it is : entertainment. Franz Kafka's universe, for exemple, is unrealistic too, but far more frightful according to me than Laymon's.

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  8. Thank you for your comment Vincent. I tend to agree that Laymon's novels, particularly those I mention above, are good pulp offerings. My thoughts are that he just wasn't a very nice person. I suspect his earlier novels were edited quite heavily in a way that made his work seem knowing, but his posthumous work revealed more of what he was about as a thinker.

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  9. Vincent Ronovsky12 March 2013 at 06:05

    Hi!
    Could you please develop your saying about Laymon not being 'a very nice person' ? Do you mean it from a political/ideological point of view ? Or do you know something 'personal' about the person that makes you think so ? To my opinion, only the skills of an artist (writer or whatever) should matter. Laymon is not a genius : it seems to me he wasn't an 'adult' deep inside, rather an adolescent, but that immaturity is interesting in itself -when you're aware of it. Most of the people who knew him wrote (in 'In Laymon's Terms', for example) about what a 'nice' guy he was -but I guess that's what you can expect from a tribute book!
    I'd be interested to read more from you about what you find unpleasant about Laymon's person.

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  10. Quite an interesting piece.

    I am a huge Laymon fan/collector & the early part of your blog here could easily apply to me. I discovered RL in 1993 & I also found him something of an enigma. I too wondered if he was a pseudonym. Considering how big he was in the mid 90's (I remember my local WHSmith having a display at the front of the store for his novel Quake - that seems amazing now thinking back) yet there was so little about him in magazines, no movie adaptions etc.

    Anyway I believe I have the video interview you referred to, I think it's from a documentary called Dark Dreamers, and it is interesting as it appears to be the only actual video footage of Mr Laymon. I haven't watched it in a while but from recollection I think he said (about his UK publishers Headline) that mostly his books were left as he wrote them but that he had had problems with one book due to the age of the characters. He didn't name the book but if I was to hazard a guess he may have been talking about Endless Night as the cover art shows the two leads looking far younger than they actually are in the book. Like I say it's a guess and I'm assuming the cover was commissioned before the change was made.

    Interestingly the original UK version of The Cellar was toned down but all Headline reprints are the same text as the more extreme US edition.

    Laymon still has a special place on my bookshelf - yes in retrospect some books aren't as great as I remembered and yes he's extreme, yes he's perhaps not always politically correct, yes his politics were a touch to the right, yes he was very pro-gun - but the stories still entertain.

    As someone else pointed out the In Laymons Terms tribute anthology recently came out and contains not just works from the man himself & stories in the style of him but touching & personal remembrances from fellow writers, friends & family. For all his possible faults (and lets be honest who is perfect ?) he was greatly respected & much loved by many people both as a writer & as a human being.

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  11. Little extra point i missed - you say "his posthumous work revealed more of what he was about as a thinker." Really ? There are only 4 posthumous novels - No Sanctuary, Amara, The Lake & The Glory Bus - the only one that I found to be different in tone/style was The Glory Bus which had an un-Laymon like religious undertone. I will say The Lake was a mess but again pretty standard Laymon subject matter.

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  12. Thanks for the comments, anon. I find Laymon a fascinating character even now and am currently working my way slowly through his book on writing. I hope to own a real copy of the thing one day but as they are all around the £1000 mark I'm having to make do with an e-version.

    This blog came largely out of re-reading Laymon again as an adult and finding myself genuinely shocked at some of the stuff I'd missed as a kid. But I didn't re-read all Laymon again, just some of the later stuff. Still, my feeling was that perhaps some of the more unpalatable bits of his repertoire were toned down by conscientious publishers early on because I just didn't remember them being there. Perhaps I am wrong on that front and they have always been present, only I didn't notice them so much when I was younger. I agree with you about The Lake btw. (That was a messy affair.)

    I'm sure he was an okay guy if you were his friend or family. His writing persona is a little cowardly on the moral front though, often choosing victims (the homeless, the mentally ill, social outcasts) as the bad guys. In fact, if you haven't read the Rodney King remarks in A Writer's Tale I urge you to. They are quite shocking. Reading between the lines I think Laymon felt very unsafe living in L.A. and viewed the cops as unquestionable "good guys".

    I think you are spot on as to the video I referred to. If you have a link to an online version I'd love to view it again. I'd be interested to hear about your collection too. Drop me a message if this blog has a facility for such a thing? Cheers.

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  13. Thanks for the response S.R. Mastrantone.

    As I mentioned the only noticeable toning down of his work I have come across was in the original NEL version of The Cellar. As you will read in A Writers Tale there are a few differences between the texts of the US & UK versions of Resurrection Dreams & possibly Funland (I don't remember exactly).

    The Woods Are Dark was republished in its original form by Leisure in 2008 & that is significantly different, again Laymon talks at length about the issues he had with that book in "AWT" so I won't spoil it for you.

    Yes I know the parts you refer to about Rodney King & he also seemed to have issues with the OJ Simpson trial which resulted in him basically fictionalizing it in Body Rides. You will also find some interesting comments from Mr Laymon about how he can use bad guys to say things he can't in the section about Endless Night.

    I will also just add that two of his closest writer friends could not be more politically opposed to Laymon - Jack Ketchum & Bentley Little are both rather lefty/liberal writers but both either worked with Laymon (Triage) or provided or were provided introductions for each others works
    ( The Cellar/Murmours Haunts).

    I can't find a message link thing here but if you want to chat about Laymon collectibles you can reach me at wsboots@hotmail.com I can probably sort you out a copy of the DD interview or the In The Dark movie too if that's of any interest.

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  14. Three quick comments: The kids burning homeless people in "Funland" weren't meant to be the heroes of the book. They're the bad guys, even though they're not the *main* bad guys. Second, I don't think Laymon wrote 20 books for teens, unless you count the "Fastbacks", which aren't novels. They're barely books. (They're tiny short-story books that are basically pamphlets.) He did write two actual novels for kids: "Your Secret Admirer" and "Nightmare Lake" (both as Carl Laymon instead of Richard). Third, all of Laymon's posthumous books were older books he completed himself.

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  15. Thanks for the comments. Here are some thoughts. 1) It has been a while since I read Funland (wow, 15 years!), but my recollection was that the central character gets involved with a gang of "troll killers" led by a girl who was raped by a cadre of homeless men. Perhaps "heroes" is too strong? My point was the homeless weren't portrayed as the heroes or as victims, they are rendered more like like monsters stalking the earth for no reason, rather than being the result of some sort of underlying social problem in the town. Hardly insightful or realistic. 2) I did mean the fastbacks and they are sold as single unit books so I'm not sure what else to describe them as. I never claimed they were novels. I own a few and they fit pretty nicely on my bookshelf. 3) Thanks for the info on this, that is pretty interesting. I'd be keen to see a source if you have one as I'm sure I'd read somewhere that his daughter/wife may have finished them, but information online was pretty sketchy when I looked last. Thanks for dropping by, hope to hear back from you.

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    1. The posthumous books are supposed to be all Laymon. I believe that at the time they were announced Dean Koontz was in charge of the Laymon estate & would be involved in selecting the titles for release & tidying them up & readying them for publication. Whether he did or not is unclear as he was barely mentioned again in any press releases nor credited in any of the 4 released titles (No Sanctuary, Amara, The Lake, The Glory Bus) although did provide a forward for one (Amara, I think). To me, none of them feel like true Laymon novels.

      Taking them in order -

      No Sanctuary, released only 9 months after Laymons death (Nov 2001), is the best & most typically Laymon of the four. There is however a section towards the end that feels very added in in order to make the book longer. The section I refer to is the one where the two main campers stumble across the cabin. It has no bearing to the rest of the story & just seems like an excuse for an extra 30/40 pages. The style also seems slightly different. No Sanctuary is not mentioned in "A Writers Tale" however one of the sub-plots (the one involving the house occupier) seems to be an expansion of one of Laymons Fastback stories (The Intruder) which would date it as possibly being written somewhere in the mid 80s. Looking at AWT, Laymon mentions a suspense novel titled "The Intruder" that was rejected by Warner books in early 1987. Is "The Intruder" the book that was released as "No Sanctuary" ? It certainly has the length & feel of 80s Laymon. At 281 pages it is short for a latter day Laymon release (typically around 340 pages in hardback). Without the cabin excursion it would be even shorter, begging the question - Was it expanded to fill a particular minimum page count that was stipulated in his contract with Headline ? If so who added the extra text ? Koontz ?

      Amara (2003) was mentioned in AWT, it dates from around 1980 & was originally titled "Dead Corse". If this is the original manuscript it is far longer than anything else he was writing around that time period. Again certain sections feel very added in. The entire plot surrounding the cages/the blind girl really have no connection to the main plot at all & only briefly brush together towards the end. So to the adding in of the runaways in the car. These sections feel very differently written to the sections involving the main story of the Mummy/Amara. Again I would not be surprised if they were added to up the page count. If you remove them you would have a novel of similar length & feel to other early Laymon novels such as "Night Show" & "The Cellar". However, with or without the additional sections Amara just isn't very good.

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    2. Continued

      The Lake (2004) is an unholy mess. It would appear to have been written in the 1980s as that is when it is set. Looking through AWT it is hard to find another manuscript mentioned by Laymon that could actually be TL. In 1984 there is a book he worked on called "Mystery Mystery" that he renamed "Murder By The Book" but he gives no detail or synopsis. This could possibly be "The Lake". Another book mentioned is "Missing Pieces" but I believe that was re-worked & released as "Among The Missing" in 1998. There are numerous issues with "The Lake" the main one being it is awful. If this is an unaltered Laymon manuscript it is definitely un-finished or polished. Which begs the question who gave it the green light or thought it was acceptable to be released in this state ? Koontz ? It would have been nice if with each posthumous release a preface had been provided detailing when the history of the book & why it had remained unreleased. In the case of "The Lake" had it been clearly stated that it was an unfinished work in progress and that to maintain the integrity of the work it was going to be released "as is" it would be far easier to understand what you as a reader were going to get. To release it as a proper finished book was a mistake. There are also areas that do lead me to question if it is all indeed Laymons work. For example at the end a character is wearing a Guns N Roses t-shirt. Laymon rarely made pop culture or music references in his work and certainly not rock ones. Also with the book being set in 1986 & thus very probably having been written in or before that year I somehow doubt Mr Laymon was in any way familiar with Guns N Roses at all. They existed yes but didn't release Appetite For Destruction until 1987. It then took around a year for the record & band to break big. So not only the fact that he has a character wearing a band t shirt (lets face it most female characters wore chamois shirts) but the fact that band in question were unknown at the time makes it seem unlikely Laymon wrote that passage.

      The Glory Bus (2005) is mentioned in AWT by name. It is the only posthumous release that dates from the 1990s & late 90s at that (1996/7). It is a good book but has a distinct shift in tone/voice mid way through. There is also a spirituality to the book that is absent in all his other works with perhaps the exception of the end of "The Stake". Purely speculation by me but the second half of "The Glory Bus" feels very Edward Lee. Lee was a friend of Laymon, the two had been working on a novel together (Triage) around 2000 & Lee had been picked by Laymon to contribute a story to Richards "Bad News" anthology. Was "The Glory Bus" an actually completed manuscript ? Or was it a partially written one ? After the mess that was "The Lake" was the decision made to employ an actual proper writer to finish TGB ? Lee, being a friend, may have felt honored to be given the chance to complete Laymons final novel. This may also explain the spirituality theme at the end of the book.

      There is however one more posthumous book - the original version of "The Woods Are Dark" released in 2008 & pieced together by Laymons daughter Kelly. A great & interesting opportunity to read Laymons original vision for one of his classic books that also came with a very informative introduction explaining the background & process of putting the novel back together. From this release it seems Kelly is the one now taking care of her fathers legacy. The question is when did she start to ? How instrumental was she in choosing which books & in what condition were released from 2001 onwards. The care & attention taken over the 2008 release of TWAD is sadly missing from the four earlier releases.

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    3. Continued

      In closing I think the four posthumous releases were something of a missed opportunity to do something special - like the 2008 TWAD or 2011s In Laymons Terms - and provide some background detail as well as celebrate the work of Richard Laymon.

      As a side note the last couple of months have seen ebook releases of two rare Laymon titles - "The Wilds" & "Your Secret Admirer" - by the publisher Laymusings. One assumes these are self published by the Laymon family. I certainly hope so & that it may be the start of the release of a number of other rare titles. And hopefully, just maybe a few unreleased ones ? Maybe "The Queen Of The Sunset Palace" the novel Laymon was working on at the time of his passing. Obviously unfinished it would still be a fascinating read.

      In closing I think the four posthumous releases were something of a missed opportunity to do something special - like the 2008 TWAD or 2011s In Laymons Terms - and provide some background detail as well as celebrate the work of Richard Laymon.

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    4. Cheers Anon, enjoyed reading this, esp as I just finished AWT recently. Can't disagree about the quality of The Lake.

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  16. Interesting article.
    I remember back in 90-something when I was in a King/Koontz craze, I tried reading Laymon, I think it was Resurrection Dreams. I never really got into it, but that could be because it was a bad translation (I live in Denmark). I do mostly read in English, though, if the book is written in English, so I don't know why I chose this in Danish - maybe because it was from the library, I didn't have a lot of money back then ;)
    The funny thing is, in your description of him, if you'd let out the parts with rape, his daughter, and a few other things, it could all easily apply to Dean Koontz as well. Now, I was a HUGE Koontz fan not many years ago and have read 90 or so of his novels, but he last five or so years he's really gone off the deep end with his politicsand he also seems to have an innate fear towards anything different on his older days. Such a shame, since we once was a pretty god writer.
    Luckily, Stephen King - after a rut that lasted a couple of years . has been back in, and on top of, the game since Duma Key.

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  17. Yeah, Koontz is for a whole different blog m'thinks. My friend and I (and I can make this observation as a member of the bald community) used to joke that his hair transplant messed up his brain; after that operation he became insanely right-wing and paranoid. And obsessed with dogs... I loved Koontz's earlier stuff and salvaged a few books when cleaning out during a recent house move. I always hated that he never finished the Moonlight Bay Trilogy. But yeah, Koontz and Laymon were friends apparently... one wonders how those conversations went.

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  18. Interesting article about Laymon. I can imagine you getting a lot of flack after describing the guy in a negative light, but I have to say that your observations are pretty spot-on. The article you refer to was the first interview of his I read. It seemed to me that given his quotations in the interview, one could make the inference that he considered his work to be deep, which seemed strange to me. The first work of his I read was Funland, and though I enjoyed it, I would not describe it as deep by any means. It was escapism, enjoyable escapism, to be sure, but more on par with Tales from the Crypt, without the moral compass of the old EC comics. In Funland, the "monsters" were indeed the homeless. Interestingly, the secondary antagonist and one of the central characters, a girl named Tanya, is given a backstory revealing the reason she became a villain: She was raped by the homeless, and as a result, she became unstable, violent, and vengeful. The homeless on the other hand are given no explanation as to their monstrous ways. They simply pop out of the woodwork in vast numbers, dragging poor souls to their doom. No rationale is given for their actions or motivations, beyond vague suggestions that the mysterious sideshow master is somehow influencing them with promises of recreational murder and mayhem. (And to what end? Evil for its own sake. Good escapist stuff, but not good realism.) I don't know which is more troubling... the thought that Laymon was perfectly aware of what he was doing when he wrote this, or that his own warped worldview seeped into his work entirely by accident.
    Of course, even H.P. Lovecraft had his faults... blatant racism, anti-Semitism, etc. Clearly, a writer with such views can still produce great works, if not in spite of his own beliefs, then perhaps because of them.

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  19. I'm almost done reading all of Laymon's books (now struggling throught The Lake, yecch) and I have to compliment you on your article. These are exactly the thoughts I've been having. If the writer reveals himself in his work, what it says about Mr. Laymon isn't good IMO. The constant dwelling on the perfect bodies of underage girls, the amount of times his characters end up with multiple sexual partners who don't seem to care about monogamy, his casual racism (he never mentions race, but "thugs" and "gangbangers" are often mentioned), his obvious hatred of the homeless ("bums" and "beggars" are either a nuisance or actually evil), etc. etc., etc.

    Don't get me wrong, I enjoy some of his books. As for his writing, the kindest way to put it was a description I heard Jack Ketchum give, "There are writers and there are storytellers. Richard was a storyteller." His outlandish, over-the-top stories (mostly in his early work) are great fun. It was when he decided he was a serious writer and started churning out 400 page books where nothing happened that he really began to turn me off.

    Laymon must have been a really great guy in person, because no one has a bad word to say about him. From the standpoint of an outsider he had some great stories, but was not a very good writer.

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  20. This is the post that keeps giving! I'm glad people enjoyed it. I think the guy had talent, no question. It just surprises me that he got away with what he was doing without it being pointed out, particularly here in the UK. I think given his literary background, and the intelligent way he writes about his work in "On Writing", Laymon intended his worlds to be the way they were.

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  21. The dark dreamer interview is below.

    https://www.dropbox.com/s/tuje61m3ei3gzr1/Dark%20Dreamers%20Interview%20With%20Richard%20Laymon.mp4

    Regards

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    1. In case that DropBox link doesn't work or you just want to watch it online, someone named Jeff Dommer (which is either a fantastic pseudonym or the most unfortunate example of a real name biting you in the butt) uploaded the Laymon Dark Dreamers interview to YouTube a couple of years ago:

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KvRcduX3SmY

      Hope this helps. :)

      *huggles*
      Areala

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  22. Richard Laymon is my favourite author. I do not find his novels offensive at all..it is horror..it's purpose is to scare and disturb you! So what if he has rape scenes in most of his work?? Rape is SCARY and DISTUBING! And to sum who he is up by a few interviews and comments alongside his imagination..that is pathetic and ignorant. Get over it!

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    1. Thanks for the comment, Casey. I think you are the first person to use the word "offensive" in this whole discussion. The point of my post wasn't about offence, a weak moral claim at best. My criticism was aimed at how Laymon handles rape in his novels, in that they don't serve the story and are often explicitly detailed in such a way that suggests he is using them solely to tittilate. That's certainly something you could debate, but having read all but a few of his adult novels it'd take a lot to convince me otherwise. Cheers.

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  23. Stumbled across this since a friend and I were talking about him earlier tonight, both of us massively turned off by his simplistic writing, worldview and frankly the fact that his views on rape and underage females is really disturbing. (present tense since thanks to art his views are present though the man is not) I don't know of any other author who consistently wrote so hatefully toward an entire gender. I don't know what he was like as a person, I know many of the comments you listed and others by him really make me think he was an unpleasant man. But based on his work, he's the only horror author I've ever read where frankly I have serious questions about his mental state and how he viewed women.

    I admit I was queasy at his quote suggesting that only a New York feminist could be turned off by rape and violence against women. Makes me wonder, all I'm saying. Frankly, and I was fool enough to buy all his books after reading half of one and enjoying it, by book two the pattern was emerging, by 5 it was insulting and tedious, but I'm glad he's not better known. There are some great underrated horror authors out there who deserve more love, he does not.

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    1. Hi Mo, thanks for commenting. In the four years since I wrote this, enough people have commented to convince me I wasn't completely off the mark trying to start a discussion about RL. I guess the slightly worrying thing is that he might be getting more popular, as his frightening worldview does seem to be doing rather big business at the moment in certain political circles.

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  24. I've only ever read two of his novels but I think you're reading too much into his personality as extrapolated from his fiction. What I did find interesting in your essay is the mention of the term "professional writer": I've been a lifelong fan of Stephen King, but disappointingly, that is how I've come to view his work.
    I recently read Cell, and although I did enjoy it, it almost felt like I was re-reading Tommy-knockers with a bit of The Stand on the side.
    That was just a quick example, but I've found that he loves to regurgitate characters and situations to the point of basically plagiarizing the first five books he's written repeatedly.
    I'm going to give a few more of Laymon's novels a go since I really enjoyed the two I've read, and I hope that I get through more than four before finding them too formulaic.
    Since King feels more like Prince nowadays and Barker's gone completely nutters, I feel that I'm running out of good Horror writers that I can trust to be entertaining.
    -PS: Sorry, I know my rant was skirting the domain of being completely off topic.
    Cheers.

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  25. First of all, Vincent Ronovsky is absolutely right. The work shouldn't be taken too seriously. But if we're going to try to discuss it, it sounds to me like you've decided to dislike Laymon because of your own political bent. As a result, you zeroed in on the most left-wing explanation you could come up with to counter his supposed right-wing view. But there are many other interpretations to be made. For example, his characterization of almost everyone as capable of evil in the right circumstances sounds like the fear of a man who himself was not treated very well by the world he lived in. His only fallback could have been his family, causing him to associate white and middle-class with a sense of security. Traumatized people never quite shake off the uneasiness that an outside threat of danger might pose, even if there's no real basis for it. His characters' constant double-guessing the motivations of others or the horrible outcomes that await them smack resoundingly of this unfortunate fear.

    Here's another interpretation: He was perfectly stable and happy but was a cynic. Despite living a happy life, he may have had the piercing insight and intelligence off the page to see human beings as an inherently barbaric species. We like to think we're civilized, but all it takes is one beloved sports team to lose for jungle-like chaos to ensue on the streets. Look up the Vancouver riots following the loss of the Vancouver Canucks to the Boston Bruins for an example. Laymon could have simply used this philosophy as the basis for his stories and used creative license to push the boundaries into life-and-death, kill-or-be-killed situations. Instead of a hockey team losing and people burning storefronts, he creates an earthquake and throws in a homicidal pervert ("Quake"). They've been known to exist and many didn't wait for earthquakes to kill and rape. Instead of people fighting with the fans of the other team, he decided to harness the natural urge of greed into one woman's motivation for doing horrible things ("In the Dark").

    Whatever his true motivation, he could write a story with satisfying twists, even if he did spend too much time describing the clothes his characters were wearing.

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    1. Hi Mark, thanks so much for your comment--some interesting ideas in there. I'm not sure I would have ever given RL a second thought had I not read how seriously he took his own work. So I think given he did, it's only respectful to give his work a little serious consideration, as you've done by leaving this comment.

      What I did was extract Laymon's moral and political philosophy from his work, and what I found surprised and appalled me a little bit (morally, I should add, not politically--although those two things are related). I also found it a bit self-defeating (all your heroes are cops, your bad guys law-breakers: and society is bad?) So, you could query the first bit, namely is this really Laymon's moral and political philosophy? You could query whether or not this worldview is morally appalling. Maybe you could query whether or not this worldview is self-defeating or not. But everything you've listed is speculation about Laymon's psychological state, and doesn't actually contradict anything I said in the original article. It supports it actually. What you suggest might be true, but they're explanations of why he has his Hobbes-meets-Rand worldview rather than refutations of it. I'm sure living in L.A. and witnessing riots and violence near to him (as his book on writing details) did scare RL, and influence his views and writing. But just because someone has reasons for their horrible views, it doesn't excuse them from criticism. Especially not once they're in the public domain in the form of literature.

      A related point, and a response of sorts to something thematic in a lot of the comments on this piece. This is literary criticism, and is about the work of RL. It's a not a criticism of the actual man himself, about whom I know nothing having never met him. Plenty of those who knew him speak highly of him, so I'd defer to them if you want to know how he was as a person. When I refer to RL, I mean the persona he presented in both his work and in interviews about his work. Referring to a work's strengths or failings as the writer's strengths or failings is pretty common in book reviews and literary criticism. I'm sure there is overlap between the real and the public personas of many artists, but that's not what this particular piece was about.

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  26. I'll just leave this here, as I think it pertains to the discussion: http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/belief/2009/may/01/philosophy-religion-hobbes-ayn-rand

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