Saturday, June 27, 2009

TM Wright's Precious Children

Today I received a very kind message from Roxane A. White-Wright, the wife of TM Wright, one of the greatest living horror authors. I was informed that TM reads this blog occasionally. To be honest, I was shocked.

TM is having a couple of health issues, so I wish him well, and I hope he finds an acceptable way to maintain quality of life.

It seems like Roxane A-W-W is just the medicine he needs.

Take care, TM.

Although he is highly respected by established writers, genre journalists, and those lucky enough to have grown up with his distinguished prose (such as yours truly), his name is not one used casually in households. It should be, of course, for he is an original voice like no other, but the facts are the facts.

In his '81 Danse Macabre, Stephen King compiled a list of the 100 most important genre books. He then added an asterisk to 35 of those, noting that they were "particularly important".

Mr. Wright's Strange Seed, published just three years before King's list, got the asterisk (King's version of the Gold Star).

Perfect example of evocative back cover copy

I'd come across the book by accident. I read the back cover (above) and it was all over Red Rover for me. My life went into a holding pattern as I adventured between the covers of this amazing, original, life-changing piece of genre fiction.

It was "Are they really children?" that got me.

What a fascinating concept!

When you read the book, and its literary offspring, you will marvel at just how fascinating it really is.

Nice of Ian McShane to lend his mug
to the cover of Goodlow's Ghosts

Wright's work is difficult to sell in a sound byte because it's a slowly rolling snowball of gathering dread. It doesn't strike you like a lead pipe to the cranium. It works its way into your pores like chilled steam.

Wright's literary style, which often performs magic tricks with repetition (read The Playground for great examples of that), has an organic, ethereal timbre. Sometimes I think of Ambrose Bierce when buried in these books, or I think about the fact that Peter Straub is a champion of the writer. That makes sense to me. Straub's Julia, Ghost Story, and Shadowland do seem to exist in the same country as Wright's children do. Bradbury's October Country perhaps?

I think of Bradbury, too, and Poe -- not because the writing is alike; no, because the way the books make me feel is similar.

I feel uneasy reading Wright, but it's an unease that surrounds you with its inviting embrace.

If you're an admirer of Ken Greenhall/Jessica Hamilton, which I am, you will understand the inviting aspect of horror of this nature.

A slightly different shade of horror, but sharing Wright's focus, is Joan Samson's The Auctioneer, one of the most anxiety-producing novels I have ever read.

In Agustin Villaronga's supreme In A Glass Cage, the line "horror can become fascinating" deftly sums up the emotional machinations of being somewhat willingly pulled into the cloying, caressing dark.

As I mentioned in a previous blog on Wright, a movie of his book A Manhattan Ghost Story was announced at one time. I feel strange saying this, but I think it's better TV material than movie theater material. Cable TV preferably.

TV permits the slow burn. The feature film is an impatient creature. It condenses and compresses. It's too anxious to please.


A writer/producer like Alan Ball (Six Feet Under) would do good things with Wright's world.

Even with his features (American Beauty and Towelhead in particular), he has always favored character and tone. That's why he'd be a comfortable fit for Wright.

Alas, the movies are a different beast. Fuck the movies for now!

This cover takes me right back to the Nasty NEL's of the 70's and 80's

If you thought this werewolf was from a New English Library (NEL) Guy N. Smith novel, you wouldn't be a fool.

Writing as F.W. Armstrong, TM took a shot at the silver bullet brigade with this unusual corporate slant on the lycanthrope myth, and Tor marketed it like a pulp throwback.

The book's dedication -- "In Memory of Eric who could have licked a thousand time his weight in werewolves" -- has always fascinated me.

It wasn't at all surprising to see King grouping Michael McDowell and Ramsey Campbell with Mr. Wright.

I love Campbell, but I always found McDowell to be equally as original as Wright -- with a different focus, of course. His Cold Moon Over Babylon raised the same hairs for me as TM.

All the writer's books are distinguished by extraordinary covers -- well, at least 90% of them are. For the most part, they capture the tone of the work, and evoke an emotion or two.

I don't know who the artist is behind the Strange Seed/Children of the Island/Nursery Tale covers, but I'm sure you'd agree that they are incredible.

Back when I lived at home with my parents, I took a macro photograph of the lower half of this cover and blew it up to movie poster size.

I hung it on the wall above my bed. It was the last thing I saw before my troubled head hit the pillow for close to three years.

I still find it spellbinding.

Ramsey puts in a kind word here, and makes a good point.

More than a "one-man definition of (horror)", Wright's brand of horror is unique to the author. If he's riding a bandwagon, he's also driving it.

Yet another author takes a stab at the title The Island. Benchley did it, Guy N. Smith did it, and it's been done countless times at the movies.

It is one of the simplest, most evocative titles. Wright's approach to it is unexpectedly sublime.

Nursery Tale ('82), the sequel to Strange Seed, was a Playboy Paperback (!).

I'd like to imagine that TM sat down in the grotto at the Playboy Mansion with Hef and gave him a potted history of the horror genre after signing the book contract. I'm sure he'd like to imagine that, too.

Bill Thompson and Stephen King are acknowledged inside -- Bill, "...who helped bring Strange Seed into the world", and Steve..."...one of the few who understood it."

It is "In Memory of John Lennon".

An excellent book, but one of the few stock covers that felt out of sync with Wright's oeuvre.

Published by Tor in '89.

If you have not read TM Wright, I envy you the frisson of discovery.

I look forward to many more of Wright's precious literary children.

Upcoming is Blue Canoe from PS Publishing.

19 comments:

  1. Pretty cool cover, I'd like to read some of tem!

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  2. Missesgrim -- they are all worth reading. I suggest starting with "Strange Seed", then onto the other four in the series.

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  3. You might be interested in reading an interview I did with Terry back in May, that appeared in Apex online,

    http://www.apexbookcompany.com/apex-online/2009/05/apex-interrogation-tm-wright/

    He is one of the great writers of our time, and one of the most overlooked.

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  4. raingods -- thanks so much for that link. It's a great interview with Terry, and it's clear you know his work well.

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  5. Thanks Phantom! I've been a fan since the early 80's when I first read Manhattan Ghost Story. since then I've read almost all of his work, with the exception of maybe one or two novels. It was MHG that made me want to become a writer.

    I started talking with him through the shocklines forum and a nice friendship developed. He said some very complimentary things about a poem I have in an upcoming anthology, and it was the biggest thrill of my life.

    BTW If you haven't read Eyes of the Carp yet, Terry's take on serial killers, I highly recommend it; it's one of his best works.

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  6. raingods -- I have a Cemetery Dance edition of EYES OF THE CARP and love it. Loved the ambiguous nature of the man character's journal entries reagrding his wife.

    Very strong stuff, indeed.

    I am looking so forward to BLUE CANOE.

    Is your writing/poetry available on the web or on-line seller? I'd like to read some.

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  7. My poem "Forgotten Son" is in the upcoming anthology Death In Common. It should be ready in about a month or so, as it's just gone to the printer. If you're interested, I can send you a pdf of the final version. It was my first sale, but allowed me to make another sale for the seond DIC, and to be a co author of another poetry project.

    The irony is, I've never considered myself a poet, I'm much more comfortable in the short story/novella arena.

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  8. raingods -- very keen to read your poetry.

    Would love a PDF of the final version if that's possible.

    email is phantomofpulp at gmail dot com

    A strange irony, to be sure.

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  9. More on the unmade Manhattan Ghost Story film adaptation:

    Ronald Bass (the writer of Rain Man and many other major films) was paid a then-record $3 million to write the film for Carolco. The film was expected to be another big-budgeted epic for the company but the film went into turnaround after Carolco's bankruptcy.

    Sony then picked up the film and attempted to make it but canceled the project due to the success of The Sixth Sense, feeling that both screenplays were too similar.

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  10. Buscemi -- thanks for this additional info on Manhattan Ghost Story.

    The Sixth Sense and Manhattan Ghost Story (the book, anyway) share similarities, but are quite different.

    Funny how a company is happy to make six pus-filled sequels/clones of some pile of shit, but they balk at a work marginally similar and superior -- and possibly the original source.

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  11. This T.M. Wright sounds *amazing.* I recall him in King's list but had no idea he has written so much. Sorry I'm a year late to this party. Thanks!

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  12. Will -- He has written much and is still writing like crazy. I have so much admiration for him. I envy you your first experiences with his work. It's a journey to another zone.

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  13. Oh, meant to say, nice shout-out to IN A GLASS CAGE. Difficult movie but an amazing one.

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  14. Will -- it's an exceptional piece of cinema. Difficult for many, amazing to a few.

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  15. Where in the world can i find books of this remarkable author? I live in México and when I was 12 years old I read "nursery tale" (biblioteca del terror Ed. Forum) and then "strange seed" (same Ed.) I keep reading that his books have been translated to many languages but I think they've forgot spanish! :S I assume I'll have to read them in english, but I still haven't found any of them here in Mexico City, any suggestions? Loved the info in this blog, pretty interesting, a really good contribution to terror-lovers :B
    My name's Claudia and my e-mail is angelilith64@hotmail.com

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  16. Bless you for shedding some much deserved light on an extremely talented, important, often overlooked author. Wright is a mainstay in this household and I think you summarized perfectly just why that would be.

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  17. A_Wonder -- thank you for your kindness. We both ought to be grateful for the amazing contribution Terry has made to literature. He's a towering figure of rare breeding.

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  18. The artist behind the TM Wright covers you love is Hector Garrido, also known for creating artwork for GI Joe, Nancy Drew, Hardy Boys, Three Investigators Crimebusters, the Destroyer series, the Baroness series, and much more.

    A lot of Hector's work has just resurfaced, some of it on www.webthriftstore.com, as charitable donations by Hector, and some on his own Flickr site (http://www.flickr.com/photos/hgarrido). In both places, some of his original paintings are available for purchase.

    Possibly some of the TM Wright cover art will show up.

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  19. Awesome article! I've never read Wright but plan on picking up Strange Seed after reading this. I really enjoy your site, you have some great book reviews. Also, I interviewed Will Errickson of Too Much Horror Fiction about The Auctioneer. Email me at gino@bookshelfbeats.com if you'd like me to send you the link. Keep up the great work.

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