Thursday, April 7, 2011
THE NEW NEIGHBOR: The Story Behind the Book
By 1990, I had kind of developed a reputation for writing erotic horror. I would say this was entirely unintentional ... but it wasn’t. I use sex in my writing for a reason. I’ve always felt that one of the things that makes horror fiction work is familiarity. Take a familiar situation, characters the readers can identify with, make your readers comfortable with those things and then throw in a supernatural or twisted threat that turns all of that upside down. How many of us have been to a beach in our lives, whether it was the ocean or a lake? How many of us have gotten into the water not knowing what else was swimming around in there? That is why Jaws was such a blockbuster success. After the release of the movie in 1975, people were terrified of getting into the water. I knew people who didn’t even want to get into the bathtub! Suddenly, something safe and familiar had become dangerous and frightening. That’s what the horror genre does when it works.
Things like vampires and werewolves and the other creatures that populate the horror genre don’t really exist (there are people who will argue that point – some quite vehemently – but I tend to avoid those people) and we never have to deal with those creatures in our daily lives. So in order to make them work in a story, I think it’s vital that they be surrounded by characters and situations that are familiar to all of us. We may not deal with vampires in our daily lives, but we all know what unemployment is like. Werewolves may not be a common problem, but relationship trouble is. We may never have to shoot a zombie in the head, but we may have to watch a loved one die a slow, agonizing death of cancer. The monsters are stand-ins for these horrors and others – real-life horrors. They are an entertaining way to release the tensions and anxieties created by these real horrors in our lives. But those monsters have no effect unless they are placed in a world we know that is populated by people like us, who have experiences, anxieties and feelings in common with us. What is the one thing we all have in common? Sex.
They say sex sells. And that’s true, of course. But it sells because sex is something we all want, need and participate in at one time or another. It is during sex that we are the most vulnerable – literally naked and defenseless. When I was writing my first novel, Seductions, which is a very sexual book, I thought to myself, Wouldn’t it be fun if I could do to sex what Jaws did to swimming? Obviously, I didn’t succeed, and I doubt anyone could – even the threat of AIDS didn’t do that, and that was pretty damned scary. But I keep trying. Hey ... a guy’s gotta have some goals.
When I wrote The New Neighbor in 1990, I wanted to inject more than a supernatural threat into a typical small-town neighborhood. I wanted to take a Leave it to Beaver neighborhood and turn it into a black orgy of lust, adultery and incest. I wanted to write a horror novel that was a porn novel -- a porn novel that was a horror novel. While I was working on the book, whenever anyone asked me what I was writing, I’d respond, “Penthouse Forum from hell.” But in 1990, nobody was interested in that. It was too graphic, too dark – just too much. Reading the book now, that seems odd, because all these years later, it doesn't seem quite that extreme. But in 1990, it was too extreme for the publishers who read it. Then I met Joe Stefko of Charnel House. Joe is a fascinating guy. An successful musician, he toured with John Cale of the Velvet Underground for two years in the 1970s until Cale chopped the head off a live chicken on stage in London. Joe, a vegetarian and animal-lover, had told him in advance that he would walk off if it happened, but Cale did it anyway. And Joe walked off. He was Meat Loaf’s drummer during the three years that Bat Out of Hell was such a raging success. But decades of Joe’s life have been spent with The Turtles, where he remains on the drums, quite happy. “I have played with a lot of other acts during these Turtle years but none have been as much fun,” Joe says in his bio on the band’s website. “I even turned Meat Loaf down to stay with them. Life is short and fun is at a premium.”
But Joe is also a publisher. He started Charnel House in 1989 with the idea that book craftsmanship was an art form, and he turned it into the country’s foremost publisher of finely bound and printed limited edition books in the horror and science fiction genres. The New Neighbor was the company’s second title. It was published in two extremely limited, expensive, drop-dead gorgeous editions. There were 500 copies of the numbered edition, 26 copies of the lettered edition. The illustrations are by JK Potter and they are stunning. It was an enormous honor to have my work illustrated by such a brilliant artist. Potter is the best, and his work in this book is, I think, among his best.
The lettered edition was hand-sewn, bound in crimson Morocco leather with a strip of lace stocking embedded down the front cover and a black silk garter strap and clip for a bookmark. Because of the graphic sex and violence in the book, the publisher’s lawyers advised that each customer state in writing that he or she was at least 21 years old. You might find a one of the Charnel House editions available for sale now and then, but they ain’t cheap. I’ve seen the lettered edition sell for as much as $1,500. I will always be extremely proud of the Charnel House editions of The New Neighbor, but it was so limited that very few people read the book.
The novel languished in obscurity for 14 years until it was reprinted by Cemetery Dance Publications in 2005. Once again, a beautiful edition was published (CD link) with a gorgeous cover by Caniglia. It was limited to 1,000 signed copies, 52 lettered. My only complaint was that the book was inaccurately called a “vampire novel” on the publisher’s website.
Now, more than 20 years after its original publication, The New Neighbor is available to a much wider audience. It’s not limited this time – in fact, it’s unlimited as a paperback and ebook.
The Pritchard family is living a life of familial contentment on Deerfield Avenue, a street where the neighbors are friendly and the yards are neat. Then Lorelle Dupree moves in across the street. She is uncommonly beautiful, warm and friendly ... and powerfully seductive. One by one, the Pritchard family succumbs to her advances. But they aren’t the only ones. Lorelle gets to know everyone on the street. The residents of Deerfield Avenue slowly become ill, exhibiting flu-like symptoms, and the better they get to know Lorelle, the sicker they get. And then ... the killings start.
The New Neighbor is available as an ebook for Kindle and Nook. To see my entire bibliography and keep up with new releases, please visit my website, RayGartonOnline.