Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Legacy of Leisure

Leisure Books is an imprint of Dorchester Publishing, a large publishing group.

Currently guided by Dan D'Auria, they are a unique presence in mass market publishing because they publish two horror novels a month. In a recent interview (sorry, but I can't find the source) D'Auria did not discount the possibility of bumping the two to three. It will depend, of course, on market forces. I hope sales maintain an upward curve. Twenty-four mass market horror books a year in a country with almost 300,000,000 people (plus the rest of the world) just doesn't seem right, does it? Jesus, do most of those people really prefer American Idol and Dancing With The Stars?

These titles are from a very different era of Leisure horror. None of the authors are currently writing in the genre, if at all.

JN Williamson, a legend of sorts, died in 2005. He wrote novels and edited a shitload of horror anthologies.

William Essex, the author of Slime ('88), wrote material similar to that of Britain's Guy N. Smith, and he shared Smith's love of the lurid. Slime was a fun read, not particularly realistic, and it featured a cautious afterword by Essex warning us of the dangers of chemical contamination.

The slime of the title crawls, oozes, and eats stuff (like fingers) in the style of The Blob. One minute you've got a hand, the next minute you've got stumps. In runs along that tract.

Essex was actually John Tigges, a prolific author of pulp such as Kiss Not the Child, Vessel, Monster, and The Curse. Monster ('95) was his last horror novel.

If anybody could be considered America's answer to Guy N. Smith, it was Tigges (aka William Essex).

Fangs, from Richard Forsythe, was a woman-into-wolf novel, but not a werewolf novel per se. There was more than one, too. I picked it up for fifty cents in the mid-80's and read it on a train to Sydney. In retrospect, I found it readable in a Jack Ketchum way. Salty prose. Good characterization. Gruesome where it needed to be. Certainly not Ketchum subject matter, but a cut above writing-wise.

I have not read Forsythe's Bishop's Landing. If anybody has, please tell us about it.

When I was a lad, the second hand bookshops of suburban Melbourne were full of JN Williamson books. He was a prolific bugger. He died with thirty-five novels to his name and even more short stories and collections he'd edited.

I always liked his straightforward, no-frills style.

Consider this from the opening of Premonition:

"The naked, old white man sitting expressionlessly in the corner of the room was both completely bare and indescribably old. He seemed propped there and left, idly, the way some might lean a dilapidated umbrella against the wall, forgotten until one just had to use it again. His corded sinews and veins, products of a long life spent in ceaseless labor, appeared to be the ribs of the umbrella, his nearly emaciated body the shaft."

Aside from "expressionlessly", which doesn't read easily to me, this paragraph does a great job of conveying age and disregard.

Written in '81 and dedicated to JN's wife Mary and agent Ray Puechner, Premonition is a gripping read.

I'm not crazy about the cover, though. It's just bland. It's hard to picture an editor seeing it and signing off on it. "Awesome cover, guys! Print it!" What were they thinking?

These days, Leisure has asserted itself as the premier mass market publisher of horror. They have a horror book club, too, of which I am a member. No other mass market publisher (at this time) reliably puts out two titles a month.

Would Leisure publish the likes of John Tigges and Richard Forsythe today? I'm not so sure.

JN Williamson. I reckon they would.

1 comment:

  1. A blast from my very own past Mr Mark!!! I too salvaged Fangs from a 50 cent bargain bin in the mid 80's! I do believe that I may well have had my grimy little hands on Bishop's Landing also at some point back in the day. More unsavory topics of conversation for next time either way Son.

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