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  An Interview with Ed Lee

 

 Interviewed by: Elaine Lamkin [Wednesday, June 15th, 2005]

Edward Lee started out life on May 25th in Bowie, Maryland, served in the Army in Erlangen, West Germany, returned to the States to become a police officer near DC, quit that to move to Seattle and eat Dungeness crab (Lee has an intense fondness for shellfish), eventually tired of the interminable rain of Seattle and currently lives on St. Petersburg Beach, Florida.  All this and he’s still in his 40s!  Check out his website for a better overview of his most interesting life: http://www.edwardleeonline.com.  He started writing under various pen names but most of his literary endeavors were “hunks of junk” including his first published novel, “Night Bait” (1982).  It wasn’t until the 1988 horror novel, “Ghouls” that Lee found his niche and ran with it.  Boy, did he run…!

I’ve just given a very brief overview of your life.  Is there anything you would like to add?  What was you childhood like?

Very normal childhood.  I never even played frog baseball.  When I was about six, a baby-sitter threw me in the back of his convertible, picked up a bunch of his greaser friends, and went straight to the drive-in.  PSYCHO was playing.  What I remember most about that night was that the greasers were screaming but I was giggling.  Hmm. 

Were you a fan of horror from an early age?  Who did you enjoy reading or watching on TV or at the movies?

Oh, sure.  I’d sneak into the 25-cent matinees with my friends to see stuff like THE HAUNTED PALACE and HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL.  I recall reading a lot of Poe as a kid, plus a fascination with the old EC Comics.  My earliest TV memories are shows like ALFRED HITCHCOCK PRESENTS, OUTER LIMITS, ONE STEP BEYOND, and, of course, TWILIGHT ZONE.  See, more normal childhood.  And when I was in 8th grade, I–like many horror writers my age–hot-footed it home from the bus stop every weekday to catch the end of DARK SHADOWS.  I suppose all of this comprises my initial horror foundation.  In the D.C. area, we never had an Elvira, we had Sir Ghastly Graves and Count Gore Dival.  Oh, what wonderful times!

Where did you receive you formal education and what did you study?

I went to University of Maryland and majored, naturally, in English.  I loved literature–particularly philosophical literature–Ibsen, Sartre, Camus, etc.--but I was in a curriculum to get a teaching degree.  One day it occurred to me that I had no desire nor aptitude to be a teacher.  I had this revelation while sitting in a History of the English Language class: “I don’t want to be a teacher!  I want to be a writer!”  So I got up in the middle of the class and walked out.  Left my books on the desk, even.  I quit college, in other words, with a 3.89 GPA and only about 15 credits left till I’d get my degree.  Damn it, I was going to be a writer!  Everyone said I was out of my mind–and they were probably right–but within 12 months I sold my first novel.

“Ghouls”, your first horror novel, is very different but not as extreme as you will eventually become.  What was the inspiration behind “Ghouls”?

Route 450 in Maryland, a creepy, winding stretch of road that leads through a forest between Bowie and Annapolis.  I was working in Annapolis as a night watchman, and I’d drive this road every night.  The “look” of this road inspired the entire novel.  Just a few months ago, I’d returned to Maryland to help my mother recover from a medical emergency, and I had occasion to drive this self same road in the middle of the night during a rain storm.  It hasn’t changed a bit!

From “Ghouls” you seemed to escalate in the amount of grue and perversity until you hit an apex with “The Bighead”.  Was this a conscious decision – to see how much you could get away with?  What inspired “The Bighead”?

I wasn’t necessarily trying to see what I could get away with, but after selling a string of mass-market paperbacks to Berkley and Zebra, I just wanted to write a novel “my” way without worrying about pissing off my agent or a New York editor.  Two-way catheterizations, oral prostate massage, and forced auto-emetic ingestion just won’t cut it in the mass-market.  Ah, but in the independent market?  No censorship there!  I had "Bighead" on the brain–the title and character inspired by a poem by Wayne Allen Sallee.  I just HAD to write.  I loved the Alexander character.  So I quit writing the sci-fi novel I was in the middle of and devoted all of my time to "Bighead".  In the distant future, there will be a sequel novella entitled "The Bighead's Autopsy".

You have collaborated with John Pelan in a number of works including the gastronomic “Family Tradition” which seems to play on your love of seafood albeit in a stomach-churning way.  Will you continue to collaborate with John?

John and I will definitely write a sequel to "Goon", which is actually already in outline, but it won’t be for a long time ‘cos we’re both too backed up with current work.  It’ll be a blast, though, when it happens.  I’ve collaborated with about a dozen people, and I can honestly say it was always a lot of fun.  Every collab is different, but they’re all unique.

You have also collaborated with Elizabeth Steffen, a forensic expert/crime analyst for two books, “Portrait of the Psychopath as a Young Woman”, which is sort of a female version of “American Psycho”, and “Dahmer’s Not Dead”, about one of America’s most horrifying serial killers.  What was behind your decision to do this collaboration?

The plots, for one, and her technical expertise, for another.  The time was right.  These books predated the CSI craze by about a decade, but they’ve got all the same stuff as that show.  It’s kind of interesting watching it, ‘cos I recognize all these nifty techniques that were in our books so long ago. Steffen, by the way, is working on a solo novel now, in the crime-thriller vein.

"Creekers", which is one of my favorite of your books, is set in rural Maryland and the protagonist is a police officer.  Are there any real-life connections to the books and the time you spent as a cop?

Of course!  If you were a smart-ass critic you might even point out that the cop in "Creekers" is howlingly similar to the cop in "Ghouls".  I imagined and infused aspects of myself into both characters.  And any author who says he or she doesn’t do that on occasion...is a liar!

Several of your titles have been published by “mainstream” publishers, mainly Leisure Books.  Would you consider those titles “milder” or more “reader friendly” than the small press titles?

Actually, between Leisure, Berkely, and Kensington, I’ve sold 16 mass-market novels, and my stories have appeared in 13 mass-market anthologies.  The majority of my published wordage is in the mass-market.  No, these projects aren’t as explicit but they’re still harder than a lot of what I’m seeing in the mass-market.  In the small press and collector’s market, I get to do the “darkest heart” thing the exact way I want, but even if I were allowed to do that to the same level in the mass market, I’m sure I wouldn’t.  It just doesn’t seem that it would serve the work.  I’m frequently accused of injecting gratuitous gore in my work, and that’s pure bull-hockey.  There’s nothing “gratuitous” in my stuff, and I can honestly say I’ve never once written gore for gore’s sake.  It’s the nature of the story, not the treatment of the story that dictates those levels.  Some people don’t seem to get that, but it doesn’t matter.  I get to do what I love, and I’m very grateful for that opportunity. 

What are you currently working on?

My next novel, "The Backwoods", comes out in hardcover from Cemetery Dance this summer, and the Leisure paperback comes out this fall.  I just can’t get away from my redneck obsession.  The book I’m about to turn in is still officially untitled, and I don’t want to jinx it by telling you what it’s about.  I will say, however, that there are a lot of women in bikinis in it, and a little of the old trans-rectal-evisceration.  There’s even a little sex in it, if you can believe that.  I’m just about finished with it, and it’s a hoot.  It’s Gilligan’s Island, from Hell.

What horror movies have you seen recently that you thought particularly good?

I loved SAW and MALEVOLENCE. I also loved THE VILLAGE, and everyone laughs at me for saying that.  Didn’t like THE GRUDGE, and everyone laughs at me for saying that as well.  I judge a “favorite” movie in terms of how often I re-watch it, and in that case my favorites in the last 20-30 years would be films like THE SENTINEL, THE HOUSE BY THE CEMETERY, THE INCUBUS, ANGEL HEART, DEVIL’S ADVOCATE, and THE NINTH GATE.  I’m also addicted to old horror movies; I think the original HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL and 13 GHOSTS, plus HORROR HOTEL and THE SCREAMING SKULL are all masterpieces.  I re-watch them incessantly.  I also love “bad” horror movies, and I could probably have a decent crack habit with what I spend on DVDs.  NUDE FOR SATAN, THE DEVIL’S NIGHTMARE, CRIMSON CULT, THE HOUSE THAT DRIPPED BLOOD, are all very important to me, yet not particularly good from a critical standpoint.  Now I know how some housewives can become addicted to Home Shopping Network, because I’m the same way with Amazon’s DVD selection.  Some other movies I can’t live without would be: ZOMBIE FLESH-EATERS, SATAN’S SLAVE, THE ATOMIC BRAIN, THE NIGHT EVELYN CAME OUT OF HER GRAVE–oh, oh, and LADY FRANKENSTEIN and GRAVEYARD TRAMPS.  My all-time favorite horror movie?  Paul Naschy’s HORROR RISES FROM THE TOMB.  My God!  What wonderful pulp horror!  As for film prospects of my own, HEADER was shot in upstate New York about a year and a half ago.  Jack Ketchum and I appear in cameos (we’re police officers who’ve just discovered a corpse, and I’m happy to say that Jack and I nailed our lines.)  The producers are finishing up the post-production and I’m told the film will be officially released “soon.”  I’m really looking forward to seeing it.  A company called X-Ray Productions recently bought an option on "Messenger".  Their first movie, CUP OF MY BLOOD, is really cool, and they want to do "Messenger" next.  These guys have their shit together big-time, and I really hope they can do "Messenger"; it’s the perfect vehicle for them.  I actually might be meeting with the director this summer.  Plus I’ve got a couple other film options going but I don’t really want to talk about them at this point ‘cos it’d be bad luck.  In the past, whenever I’ve run my mouth about film options, the projects tank.  This happened with "Incubi" (twice), "Ghouls", "Dahmer", and "City Infernal".  Ultimately, if I never get a novel made into a feature length movie, I’m still very grateful to just be able to be an actively published novelist. 

Whom have you read in the horror genre that you would highly recommend?

It wouldn’t be practical to list all my favorite modern writers–there are too many to name.  My favorite horror writer working today is Ramsey Campbell.  Every sentence that man writes is a nightmare.  He’s like a drug or something–it’s an inexplicable talent that pours from Campbell’s pen.  Read “Loveman’s Comeback”, in his "Scared Stiff" collection; it’s my favorite horror story.  My favorite horror novel is "Our Lady of Darkness" by Fritz Leiber, followed closely by Peter Straub’s "Ghost Story" and King’s "The Shining"

What is a typical day like for Edward Lee?

I get up at 10 a.m., walk five miles on the beach, appreciate the creative visual stimulus of so many attractive women in bikinis.  Then I sit down and write 1000 words.  Sometimes it take two hours, sometimes it take ten.  Then at night, I watch a “bad” horror movie.  Three nights a week I go out with my middle-aged pals, drink cheap draft, and watch baseball scores.  That’s my life.  I dig it.

Quite a few of your titles, especially the earlier ones like “Ghouls” and the phenomenal “Creekers”, are out of print.  Any suggestions for how readers might get a hold of copies?

I’m afraid the original paperbacks you have to order from the used market, and they can get pricey, plus they’re never in good condition.  But Necro is re-issuing "Creekers" in hardcover pretty soon.  "Ghouls" will be reissued one of these days, too, as a limited hardcover.  I own all the rights to my backlist now, so eventually all my Berkley and Kensington titles will be reissued.

Many of your works have made the preliminary ballot for the Stoker Award; do you think it’s because of your “notoriety” that you’ve never made the final ballot, much less won a Stoker?

That’s not quite true.  “Mr. Torso”, from Pocket’s "Hot Blood IV", made the final ballot for best short fiction in 1994.  I lost to a tie between Jack Ketchum and Nancy Holder–pretty good company!  I’m sure I’ll never win a Stoker, though, because, in all honesty, I’m not “respectable” enough.  I write pulp horror.  I think I do it well, but it’s still the kind of fiction that exists as escapism, not literature–and I’m fine with that.  I’m not in this for awards–I‘m in it to do what I love, and to pay my rent.  I get my award every day when I sit down and work on my latest novel.  I’ve sold a total of 27 books, and I pray God I get to write more.  Just being a writer is my dream come true.

How helpful have you found the HWA to be for writers in the genre?

Oops, you asked the wrong guy!  I quit HWA almost ten years ago!  It’s a fine and vital organization but there was no reason for me to be in it.  I’m not a “writer’s group” kind of guy.  I’m simply a writer. 

You are good friends with several other “Bad Boys” of horror including Jack Ketchum who you have collaborated with in the collection “Sleep Disorder”.  Who else would you say is considered one of the “Bad Boys” and should be read by fans of all things gruesome?

Charlee Jacob.  Read her novel "Dread in the Beast".  It’s the best hardcore horror novel ever written.  Period.  Charlee Jacob makes Edward Lee look like Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm.  And as for the inception of hardcore horror into the genre, I’d name these three books as being the most important: Ketchum’s "Off Season", Laymon’s "The Cellar", and Shirley’s "Cellars"

How about those recipes for spicy crayfish spring rolls and deep fried shrimp heads stuffed with lump crab?  Care to share?

You asked for it, you got it...

EDWARD LEE’S SECRET CRAB CAKE RECIPE, VARIATION NUMBER ONE

I may not be the best horror writer in the world.  In fact, I may be the WORST horror writer in the world.  However, I do cook the best CRABCAKE of any horror writer in the world.  Does this sound like a flagrantly arrogant statement?  It is. But it’s also an incontestable truth.  Don’t question it.  Believe it. 

After ignoring requests and pleas by, literally, millions of fans and culinary experts, here, for the first time, bestowed upon the world for free and without patent, is the recipe for Edward Lee’s Secret Crabcakes, Variation Number One.

My gift to you all...

Ingredients:

- 1 and ½ pounds freshly cooked crabmeat
- 3/4 cups of mayonnaise  (Don’t be a bonehead and use store-brand mayo.  Use Kraft.)
- 1/4 teaspoon of salt
- 1/4 teaspoon of Worcestershire sauce (that’s probably spelled wrong.  I can’t even pronounce Worcestershire much less fucking spell it.  But you know what I mean.  An important note, however, must be made.  Even a pinch too much of this can royally fuck up crabcakes, but when you leave it out, something’s simply missing.  Most great chefs would use a little more than I do for this amount of crabmeat.  Experiment on the less side, to suit your taste.) 
- ½ teaspoon of pepper (fresh ground is best, including the $1.99 bottles of McCormick whole peppercorn pepper with the built-in grinder. If you like some kick, substitute some or all of the pepper with Fire Dust, a mix of ground dried peppers, including habanero peppers.  It’s made by the Cajohns Fiery Foods company, of Ohio).  
- 1 tablespoon of fresh lemon juice  (Don’t use the bottled lemon juice or those dumbass plastic lemons.  Fresh lime is an interesting substitute.)
- 1 tablespoon of Far East Mustard Sauce  (Sounds petty but you MUST use this specific brand because it works better than anything else.  Some grocery stores have it and most oriental markets have it.  It’s made by the Far East Spice Company of New Jersey, a buck-fifty per 5-ounce bottle.  Get it.  Trust me.  Also, a superior steamed shrimp and/or Dungeness crab dipping sauce can be made by adding Far East Mustard Sauce to mayonnaise.  The more mustard sauce you add, the more kick.)
- ½ cup of Italian bread crumbs  (Get quality bread crumbs.)

The Crabs: Always cook your crabs live, then pick the meat.  Even the best fresh jumbo lump Blue Crab meat bought in a plastic container ain’t good enough.  Not for Edward Lee Secret Crabcakes.  And don’t use pasteurized cans of crabmeat.  Don’t be tight.  The best crab in the world for crabcakes is the Asian Swimming Crab, but unless you live in Ho Chi Minh City, you can’t get those, so use Blue Crabs.  When it comes to crabs, Edward Lee knows a lot of things you don’t, and here’s one of them.  There are two kinds of live Blue Crabs available to Americans.  One is called the Calinectes Sapidus, and the other is the Calinectes Bellicosus.  The Bellicosus has bigger claws but a squattier carapace.  It’s found in Mexico and surrounding areas, and also the Everglades.  It’s a fine crab to sit down and eat at a big redneck Fourth of July but it’s not as good for cakes ‘cos it comes from waters with higher salinity.  The Sapidus is the best for cakes ‘cos it’s sweeter meat (lower salinity).  These grow in the Chesapeake and the Gulf of Mexico.  Get them alive and kicking.  (There’s actually a third blue crab available in the U.S., on the Left Coast–called the Calinectes Arcuatus, but it’s a watery.  What else would you expect in a crab from California?  It’s just not as good.  Take my word for it.)  Steam (never boil) your live Calinectes Sapidus crabs in Old Bay MIXED INTO an inch of water and an inch of vinegar.  (Don’t put Old Bay ON the crabs while they’re cooking–not for cakes.  Don’t argue.)  Also, make sure crabs are topside down when you put them into the steamer.  Steam the crabs till they turn red and their “trapdoors” come away easily with a fork.  Next, and VERY IMPORTANT for the best crabcakes: lay the cooked crabs on a tray (topside down!)  and put them in the fridge for an hour or two.  When they’re cool, pick all the meat of them, and don’t do it half-assed, or you’ll have shells in your mix. 

Whisk all of the other ingredients above together in a big bowl, excluding the breadcrumbs.  Slowly fold in the cool crabmeat.  Try not to mush the pieces of crabmeat up, you want big pieces.  Then slowly mix in just enough breadcrumbs to make the mixture shapeable.  The fewer breadcrumbs, the better.  (If you have balls--like me--you won’t use any breadcrumbs, and instead of pan-frying your patties, you put them on a greased pan with an ice-cream scoop, and bake them.  They don’t look as good, but they taste better than anything.)  Anyway, after you’ve mixed in the fewest breadcrumbs possible, put the whole bowl in the fridge and let it set for several hours.  Perfection is never rushed.  This gives all the ingredients time to incorporate.  When your party has arrived, shape the mixture into inch-plus-thick patties, pan fry in butter (or butter infused with lemongrass) till they’re brown on each side.  Finish in the oven.

And there you have it.

 

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