Saturday, April 1, 2017

Robert Bloch, Ed Gorman, John Clute, Paula Guran and Michael Avallone on the work of Robert Bloch

Among the duties and honors Robert Bloch took on during the 1970s were the Presidency of the Mystery Writers of America (1970) and as the first recipient of the Life Achievement Award at the first of the continuing series of World Fantasy Conventions.

Bloch excerpted, speaking from the first panel above, as issued on flexidisk as part of a fanzine:

John Clute on Robert Bloch in the Seience Fiction Encyclopedia;
(1917-1994) US writer very much better known for his work in Fantasy and Horror – and also for his associational work, of which there is a sizeable corpus – than for his relatively small amount of sf; in the genres of the fantastic other than sf, he was a seminal modernizing figure, and he repeatedly applied one line of insight – the Blochian revelation that the sick protagonist in the foreground of a tale intricately manifests a larger world similarly (and more comprehensively) malign – with consistent ingenuity. He was a writer of the fantastic who saw that, in its essence, the fantastic was a kind of handwriting on the wall of the world, an opening to a sense of vastation.
It is quite likely that Bloch's use of the term Inner Space, in his 1948 World Science Fiction Convention (see Worldcon) speech, was the first formulation of the concept later articulated by J B Priestley and J G Ballard; but though the speech was printed in the Torcon Report, issued by the convention committee, his use of the term was only later recognized.

Ed Gorman on Robert Bloch:
A while back writer John Peyton Cooke made the case for The Scarf and not Psycho being Robert Bloch's true masterpiece. I'm not sure I agree but since they're both fine books what the hell.

Cooke's excellent review reminds me of another overlooked Bloch novel, the one that came right after Psycho and that nobody much seemed to care for, namely The Dead Beat. What I've always liked about it is the way Bloch took a sleazy no-good bastard and set him right down in the middle of a Midwestern family that could have doubled as sit-com people. But Bloch really makes you care about these folks and how they are so slow to catch on to the psychotic jazz musician they make the mistake of trying to help.

The title signals the era, the early sixties when the beats were so much in the news. He shows us a kind of faux beat existence with the musicians we meet early on. Bloch gets the one night stand life (in both meanings of that phrase) down just as well as he gets the middle-class days and nights of the family the musician will ultimately turn on.

Reviewers of the time didn't like the relatvely slow pace. They also complained (as I recall) that the novel didn't offer the shock or sass of Psycho (I say sass because the novel is very funny in places--something Hitchcock picked up on immediately). While The Dead Beat certainly isn't Bob Bloch's masterpiece, it's a novel that shows him in a more expansive mood, showing an interest not just in the story but in showing us life as it was lived back in the day.

"This is a thread that runs through all of my mystery/suspense fiction," Bloch has pointed out. "The terrible inability to understand the irrational behavior of certain human beings, what is it that impels that sometime senseless sadistic cruelty, and I tried to familiarize myself with it because I can recognize that, deep down within, there are certain of those aspects within myself which I probably manage to exorcise by way of the typewriter."

This was Robert Bloch talking to an interviewer about why his early career shifted from Lovecraftian horror to the more frightening horror of the human mind.

Bloch had long been fascinated with the fact that while some killers were transparent many others were hidden safely inside a studied disguise of normality.

Daniel Morley, for instance, the narrator of The Scarf, is a young man gliding through life. First a novelist and then a screenwriter, always attractive to women and smooth with the men he must deal with. 

One thing I admire about this novel is Morley's agonizing over what he does. He is not in control of his urges and he suffers for it. He's not the sleek stereotype of the mastermind serial killer of today. And his fetishistic attachment to the red scarf with which he strangles his victims haunts his nightmares.

I'm sure many readers will disagree with me that The Scarf is at least the equal of Psycho and maybe even a little bit better. Bloch had a good time playing humor off the Norman Bates character. You could even imagine Bloch smiling if not laughing out loud in places. For that reason I suspect that the Daniel Morley character was more difficult to make human. More pitfalls in making him believable. This is Jim Thompson country.

Much of Bloch's work has faded, the fate of most prolific writers. I was never a particular fan of his humor and it has not worn well. But he wrote two remarkable and timeless novels, Psycho and The Scarf, and a fine single volume collection of his very best stories could be set on the same shelf with the two books.

Hell, very late in his career he wrote a masterpiece, the long story "The Yougoslaves," one of the finest, darkest and most original stories I've ever read. The Scarf is well worth looking up.
Last night and this afternoon I read The Will To Kill by Robert Bloch. When you pair this one with his novel The Kidnapper you discover that in his own quiet way Bloch was writing horrorific noir fiction way back in the mid-Fifties, the same kind of fiction so much in vogue today. While I've seen both novels compared to Jim Thompson and Cornell Woolrich, Bloch told me once that he'd never read Thompson, though he readily acknowledged the Woolrich influence. But these two short books are unique in voice and storyline and are, in some respects, two sides of the same story--the man who fears he's a killer and the man who revels in being a killer. They're both claustrophobic as hell. You're completely inside the mind of the man narrating the stories. The Kidnapper should be easy to find. It was reprinted in the late eighties by Tor. Will is hard to come by but well worth the search.

With the current centennial [in 1999] of Alfred Hitchcock's birth being noted with various events and symposia, I can't help but observe that PSYCHO -- the most notorious and perhaps best known of all of Hitchcock's films -- was adapted from a novel of the same name by Robert Bloch. As Douglas E. Winter put it in his 1985 FACES OF FEAR, "Two masters of horror have been immortalized by the motion picture PSYCHO...One, of course, is its director, Alfred Hitchcock; the other is the man who wrote the novel on which it is based. And no one ever said it better than Hitchcock himself: 'PSYCHO all came from Robert Bloch's book.'"

Before his death in 1994 at age 77, Bloch often joked that his obituary would begin with PSYCHO, a novel that was just a tiny part of his flood of work. Of course, he was right. And, although Mr. Bloch might disagree, perhaps that's the way it should be. PSYCHO, both the film and the book, had a resounding effect on both literary and cinematic horror. Quoting Winter again, "From the Depression heyday of WEIRD TALES and the evocative Universal film adaptations of FRANKENSTEIN and DRACULA, the tale of terror had suffered until the mid-1950s, as if the real horrors of World War Two had snuffed out the human need for fictional confrontation with death. Not until the Eisenhower era did the monsters reemerge in force: first in the innocuous science-fictional context of the "big bug" films, then in the exuberant American International youth films like I WAS A TEENAGE WEREWOLF (1957), and finally in the serious context of films and books like PSYCHO." PSYCHO, however, was not Bloch's first or last exploration of psychopathology or the only way in which he influenced modern horror fiction.

Although genre fiction was generally disregarded by the literary cognoscenti, PSYCHO received positive reviews -- including mentions in THE NEW YORK TIMES BOOK REVIEW and THE TIMES HERALD. Bloch's agent, Harry Altshuler, received a "blind bid" -- the buyer's name wasn't mentioned -- of $7,500 for screen rights to the book. The bid eventually went to $9,500 which Bloch accepted. Bloch had never sold a book to Hollywood before. His contract with Simon and Schuster included no bonus for a film sale. The publisher took fifteen per cent according to contract, the agent took his 10% -- Bloch wound up with about $6,750 before taxes. Despite the enormous profits generated by PSYCHO, Robert Bloch never received further direct compensation.

Bloch is fondly remembered by members of the horror writing community for his kindness, gentleness, humor, and warmth -- a man who had nothing in common with the maniacal sociopaths he explored in his fiction. The interview David J. Schow includes at the end of the recently published THE LOST BLOCH: VOLUME ONE gives a suggestion of Bloch's personality. Peter Straub has remarked that the interview "brought Bob back to life; he was right there in the room again." And, although Bloch has been recognized within that community with numerous awards and paeans, he is little known outside it.
Hugh B. Cave wrote (in HORROR: THE BEST 100 BOOKS, edited by Stephen Jones and Kim Newman): "What Bloch had to say in PSYCHO influenced the whole art of horror writing. Back onto dusty shelves went most of the...beasties of the Victorian novelists. To front and center came a probing of men's minds and an awareness of the frightening things to be found lurking there...Robert Bloch took us from then to now in one big, scary leap, raising the hair of his readers while they eagerly turned the page of what was scaring them, and showing writers how to handle a new kind of horror story."

Michael Avallone on Robert Bloch:
(excerpt from an article reprinted from The Scream Factory magazine, issue 10, without credit to the interviewer as posted) (thanks to James Reasoner for the pointer)
Although there’s a persistent rumor that Avallone edited the Frankenstein Horror Series, he says there’s no truth to it:
“As far as I can tell, the editor of that line should have been James T. Bryans. Jim was the major editor at Popular Library during that period.”
Avallone had earlier used the [Sidney] Stuart pen name for his adaptation of the film, The Nightwalker, which was scripted by Robert Bloch. In this particular instance, the author regrets his decision to utilize the pseudonym.
“That goes to show how stupid you can be. I did that in 1963, and I didn’t want to ride on Robert Bloch’s coattails, so I used the pen name. And to this day, I say ‘what a stupid bas­tard I was. Look how much better it would be to have it say ‘Michael Avallone [adapting/novelizing] the Robert Bloch screenplay.’”
Although the aforementioned book is a source of hindsight frustration to Avallone, the writer whose work he was adapting—Robert Bloch—is the subject of far different emotions.
“[Bloch is] my greatest friend. I get a letter every other week from him, for the last 20 or 30 years now. He is the nicest big name alive today. You cannot do better than Robert Bloch. In fact, I dedicated The Coffin Things to him. And what a checkered history that book had. They had a second printing of it, they bragged about Francoi Truffaut going to do a film ver­sion of it—this was 1969, I think—but then funds got frozen in France and they never got back to it.”
Returning to the subject of pen names, despite the cloak of anonymity provided by a pseudonym, Avallone says he never ‘took it easy’ when writing behind another name.
“I always gave it my best shot, even when I was working under a pen name, because even with a pen name, the agent still knows who you are, and the publisher still knows who you are.”
In fact Avallone goes so far as to say that “I think The Night Walker and The Beast With The Red Hands are two of the best things that I’ve ever done.”
Although Nightwalker was published in 1964 and Beast in 1972, Avallone’s association with the horror genre actually goes back much further.
“Between 1948 and 1951, I wrote my head off doing horror and fantasy. Real genuine, Weird Tales-kind of stuff. Anthony Boucher (editor of F&SF at that time) always said I came close but I wasn’t quite good enough. Weird Tales told me that they had to use the same authors, issue in and issue out. It was a real tough market for a rookie to crack. They practi­cally drove me out of the horror field because I wasn’t selling any of (my horror stories). I had about…27 stories. So I stopped that kind of short story output, and I started writing detec­tive fiction; and I kept writing it, because it sold like crazy.
Todd Mason on First World Fantasy Awards:
Cover by Gahan Wilson, of course:

From the Contento Indices:

First World Fantasy Awards ed. Gahan Wilson (New York: Doubleday 0-385-12199-7, Oct ’77, $8.95, 311pp, hc) 
9 · Introduction · Gahan Wilson · in 
11 · Map of Providence · Gahan Wilson · il 
15 · The Convention · Kirby McCauley · ar * 
17 · About the Fantasy Awards · Gahan Wilson · ar * 
19 · The Awards · Gahan Wilson · bi * 
21 · The Bat Is My Brother · Robert Bloch · ss Weird Tales Nov ’44 
36 · Beetles · Robert Bloch · ss Weird Tales Dec ’38 
46 · Acceptance Speech · Robert Bloch · sp * 
53 · About Robert Bloch · Misc. · bg * 
55 · The Forgotten Beasts of Eld · Patricia A. McKillip · ex New York: Atheneum, 1974 
63 · An Essay · Robert Aickman · ar * 
66 · Pages from a Young Girl’s Journal · Robert Aickman · nv F&SF Feb ’73 
97 · The Events at Poroth Farm · T. E. D. Klein · na From Beyond the Dark Gateway #2 ’72 
137 · A Father’s Tale [Brigadier Ffellowes] · Sterling E. Lanier · nv F&SF Jul ’74 
168 · Sticks · Karl Edward Wagner · nv Whispers Mar ’74 
187 · Come Into My Parlor · Manly Wade Wellman · ss The Girl With the Hungry Eyes, ed. Donald A. Wollheim, Avon, 1949 
198 · Fearful Rock · Manly Wade Wellman · na Weird Tales Feb ’39 (+2) 
253 · About Manly Wade Wellman · Misc. · bg 
254 · The Ballantines · Misc. · bg 
256 · Lee Brown Coye // An Appreciation · Gahan Wilson · ar Whispers #3 ’74 
260 · The Bait [Fafhrd & Gray Mouser] · Fritz Leiber · vi Whispers Dec ’73 
263 · The Vampire in America · Manly Wade Wellman · ar Whispers Dec ’73 
268 · The Shortest Way [Dama (& Vettius)] · David Drake · ss Whispers Mar ’74 
277 · From “Chips and Shavings” · Lee Brown Coye · ar Mid-York Weekly Oct 17 ’63 
279 · The Soft Wall · Dennis Etchison · ss Whispers Jul ’74 
290 · Toward a Greater Appreciation of H.P. Lovecraft · Dirk W. Mosig · ar Whispers Jul ’73 
302 · The Abandoned Boudoir · Joseph Payne Brennan · pm Whispers Jul ’74 
302 · Cradle Song for an Abandoned Werewolf [“Cradle Song for a Baby Werewolf”] · H. Warner Munn · pm Whispers Jul ’73 
303 · Guillotine · Walter Shedlofsky · pm The Fantastic Acros, 1970 
304 · The Farmhouse · David A. Riley · ss New Writings in Horror and the Supernatural #1, ed. David A. Sutton, London: Sphere, 1971; Whispers Jul ’74 

Okay, so, more than any other single book, except perhaps the Ellison collection/anthology Partners in Wonder, this one's responsible for my typing this bit of electronically-captured prose...for it was a rather delayed but nonetheless welcome celebration and representation of the First World Fantasy Convention, in Providence, RI, in 1975 (venue chosen in honor of H.P. Lovecraft, in whose likeness the annual award statues, the Howards, are struck, from a design by editor and world-famous cartoonist Wilson [and which award statues have since been reconfigured, due to growing distaste for Lovecraft's tendency to espouse various sorts of chauvinism]). I was aware, distantly, of the fannish subculture that had developed around sf and fantasy, and had spread to help create similar subcultures around crime fiction and comics (and was helping to create one around punk rock as this book was being published, even as it had particularly around folk music in the '60s), but this book is also an invitation to the ongoing World Fantasy Conventions and all their sibling gatherings, publication, etc. Isaac Asimov's introductions to The Hugo Winners volumes and the SFWA Nebula Award anthologies also had a similar effect, but they documented the fannish apparatus rather more sketchily than the speech transcripts, the bits of on-the-scene journalism and other matter usually not published in a trade-press (as opposed to fannish-press) book, left out at libraries where not-particularly-innocent children can stumble right across them (I was already a fan of first Life Achievement Award-winner Robert Bloch, whose stories collected here were more rare [at that time] than good, and of Manly Wade Wellman (his sample stories are better and more representative), and certainly knew of J.P. Brennan's and Robert Aickman's work...but I believe this might've been my first exposure to Dennis Etchison, Fritz Leiber, and certainly to T.E.D. Klein and Patricia McKillip, her excerpt being the major representative of non-horror fantasy in these proceedings (though David Drake, whose work I believe I'd seen in The Year's Best Horror Stories annual, skirts the line there, too). Never did develop a taste for Sterling Lanier's club stories in the Brigadier Ffellowes series, in the tradition of Gerald Kersh and Lord Dunsany, among others (who did it better)...Lanier might be remembered longest for being the editor at the Philly-suburb how-to publisher Chilton who encouraged them to take on a much-rejected epic sf novel by newish writer Frank Herbert, Dune, which gave him some leeway to publish some further fiction titles there, including his own work. And Lee Brown Coye...just the other day [at time I wrote this], the town of Hamilton, NY, saw an auction to fundraise to preserve a mural Coye did there...all in all, a fine anthology, but a more important document (that Stuart Schiff's Whispers magazine started publishing best-of/new fiction anthologies the next year didn't hurt, either).


Sergio Angelini said...

Great to have this all brought together Todd, really is.

Todd Mason said...

Thanks! And thanks for the heads-up on intermittent difficulty in commenting on my and other Blogspot blogs. (This is Even more often a problem with Wordpress blogs, one reason I haven't bothered to switch. And don't get me started on Tumblr...)

Sergio (Tipping My Fedora) said...

I think I have WILL TO KILL but need to check - and phew, have been able to post on blogger again since yesterday - hurrah (let's hope the Wordpress wars are now settled!). By the way, just wanted to say that I was glad to see you mention Henry Kuttner in a previous posting - along with Leiber and Bloch, he (or they, with CL Moore by his side) remain my three favourites of the writers who emerged from that original batch of Lovecraft followers.