Screaming Through the Flesh - An Interview with Edward Lee
I was recently introduced to the works of author Edward Lee. The graphic, terrifying, gritty and sexualized stories are enough to turn stomachs and terrify even the bravest souls. Heavily influenced by Lovecraft with an overarching theme of violent, erotically charged cosmic horror and a beautifully descriptive prose style, his stories blur the line between the grotesque and the inescapably wonderful. After finishing Pages Torn from a Travel Journal I decided I had to at least reach out and see if I could interview this talented creator of nightmares. Imagine my surprise when he not only responded but agreed to let me ask him some questions about his craft.
DL: What was the appeal of horror when you decided to start writing full time?
EL: When I was in the Army in the late 70s, it suddenly struck me that I had a bit of a creative bent, and I’d already started reading horror because previous to that I’d always been interested in horror movies. I started reading Brian McNaughton’s novel SATAN’S LOVE CHILD in the driver’s compartment of an M60A1 tank while training in Fort Knox,
Kentucky, because one of my fellow tankers had bought it in the PX and gave it to me because he said it was a Must Read. It’s a dynamite, unsung masterpiece of pulp horror that’s very sexual but also very Lovecraftian. It was this book that informed me of who Lovecraft was (BTW, I also read King’s THE SHINING and Leiber’s OUR LADY OF DARKNESS in the same tank, both hugely influential books.) But it wasn’t till I got to Germany that I got the opportunity to first read Lovecraft. It was “The Rats in the Walls,” in my opinion the greatest, scariest story of all time. Then one night I was walking guard duty in the tank park, and it hit me that I wanted to be a horror writer because it HAD to be the most fun job in the world. And I started outlining horror stories.
DL: How would you best define your style as an author? I’ve read terms like “occult,” “morbid eroticism”, and “visceral violence” used to describe your stories but if you had to put a label on your writing, what would it read?
EL: I do know it’s essential for any writer to, however unwillingly, label him or herself. All of those things you just mentioned are components of my writing. The best thing I can call myself is thus: a Hardcore Horror Writer, critics be damned. I’m damn proud of it!
DL: You’ve been a soldier, a cop, a scholar and much more. People take so much identity from the tasks they take on. How have these careers influenced your style? Or have they influenced it at all?
EL: I don’t know about the scholar part but I’ve always been a student of literature and history. In essence, all of life is experience and what we experience HAS to take part in what we create. I was only a cop for three months (I quit to go back to college and because I was a TERRIBLE cop) but that experience was crucial in molding me as a writer, so was the military, so was being a dishwasher in a seafood restaurant and everything else I’ve done. It’s all part of my creative makeup, it’s part of anybody’s.
DL: H.P. Lovecraft has been cited as a tremendous influence to you as a writer and that’s especially evident in the last ten years or so in works like “Pages Torn from a Travel Journal.” What about Lovecraft’s work has inspired you over the years?
EL: Lovecraft was the BIG BANG of horror, because before him horror fiction was not particularly daring: ghosts, goblins, lugubrious and over written haunted houses, and faeries. Big deal. Lovecraft kicked out the jambs with his own brand of horror. He proved that horror need not follow the expected avenues of content. He threw a monkey wrench into the whole mix, deliberately NOT writing horror the way everyone else did. There’s a little bit of everything in HPL’s work: sci-fi, mad scientists, exploration, paranormal, para-dimensional, even Coming Of Age stories (like “The Tomb.”) Lovecraft gave the read more bang for their buck than any other writer then or today. It’s IMPOSSIBLE for any enthusiast of horror NOT to be influenced by him.
DL: Staying with questions attached to your Lovecraft Kick and Pages Torn from a Travel Journal, there is a strong connection made between sex, violence, and the overwhelming sense of foreboding evil experienced by the narrator. Is the world really going mad or are these characters just exceptionally human?
EL: I think they’re just exceptionally human. I’m sure there were just as many sex predators and psychopaths back then than there are today. And it’s interesting how some
of HPL’s best stories are, however covertly, HUGELY sexual (for example “Shadow Over Innsmouth” and “Dunwich Horror.”) They’re very much about sex, and rowdy sex at that but of course back in Lovecraft’s time an author could not address sexuality in any way other than off-stage. Hence, my fascination with writing my own Lovecraft pieces. Any time I’ve ever read Lovecraft (and M.R. James, as well) it’s struck me very profoundly how cool and how entertaining it would be to write Lovecraftian tales with in-your-face violence and sex. Check out my books HAUNTER OF THE THRESHOLD and DUNWICH ROMANCE to see what I mean!
DL: Sex and horror have a long history together as being both alluring and completely taboo. The two seem very different but, from stuffy Victorian literature to campy 80’s slashers, they seem to be integral at times to one another. In your opinion is there a reason why we crave sex and violence together like this?
EL: Because we’re human “animals.” It’s our innate instinct. Mankind evolved to rule the earth because he is very violent and very sexual. These are ancient components of human dynamics, and those components linger ever as we have developed into sophisticated, civilized beings.
DL: Finally, as an accomplished author, is there any advice you can offer those of us starting out? Anything you wish you’d known when you decided to become a writer?
EL: Yes. Rule #1: Only write the kind of book that you’d want to read. DON’T write, for instance, a legal thriller because legal thrillers are selling. Only write a legal thriller if you love READING legal thrillers too! Rule #2: write at least one page every day. No excuses. No “I’ve got a headache,” or “I’m too tired after work,” or “I shucks, I’ve gotta take the kids to see Star Wars.” If you really want to be a write, you must make sacrifices. If you gotta take the kids to see fuckin’ Star Wars, then take them. And write a page when you get home. If you can’t make sacrifices of your time to write, then you won’t make it as a writer. Cold comfort but it’s the truth. Rule #3: Disregard rejection. Rejection doesn’t mean your story sucks, and typically only means that the editor either didn’t read it, or doesn’t know dick. Never give up, no matter what anyone says. An agent in the ‘50s told Elvis Presley to be a truck driver because he’d never make it as a singer.
I’m currently at work on my next novel WHITE TRASH GOTHIC Part 2, another part of my long awaited sequel to THE BIGHEAD and other things. It’s slow going, though, ‘cos I’m gettin’ old! I just hope my fans can continue being patient! Also, I dabble in horror- and comedy-related videography, which is a ton of fun. For anyone interested, check out
Lastly, let me say “God bless the spirit of Jack Ketchum. Amen.”
Edward Lee’s work on film is as fantastic and bizarre as the stories he writes and it’s definitely not for the faint of heart or those with more prudish leanings. The link is NSFW so I’d recommend checking it out from the comfort of your home rather than the office. Meanwhile, his books and stories are even more NSFW and absolutely unbelievable. You can find him pretty much everywhere. Trust me, scaremakers, when I say you won’t be disappointed.
Dan Lee is a horror fiend and freelance writer with a special place in his heart for monster movies and demonic possession stories.
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