Monday, August 10, 2009

The Subversive World of Ruby Jean Jensen


Kinko, Kinko,
The Kid-Loving Clown
If the kids just love me back I'll never never a frown

-- Sung by Dr. Demento
Music and Lyrics: William Frenzer; 1979


Ruby Jean Jensen's first novel, The House That Samael Built, was published in 1974. Her last, Night Thunder, was published in 1995. She established a unique genre niche with her 30 or so novels.

I confess to not being being there when Ms. Jensen's career began. She was initially published by Warner Books (as was Richard Laymon), moved to Major Books, Manor Books (the home of Pierce Nace's Eat Them Alive), Leisure Books, Tor, then finally Zebra Books, where she resided longest.

If you like the "Living Doll" episode of The Twilight Zone (and who doesn't?), you may like Ms. Jensen's work. Her style is a cross between Rod Serling, Virginia Andrews, and John Saul. Her stories are populated with evil dolls, creepy and psychologically violated children, twisted figures of authority, and ancient curses.

Below all that, a deeply subversive current runs, and that is the key to her unique oeuvre.

The back cover blurbs for her stories read like they were being directed at young adult readers. In fact, she may have been one of the very first genre writers to write Young Adult Fiction (as we know it today) without stating it so boldly.

I always found myself hypnotized by descriptions of the content like this:

"The closer they got to the cabin, the less friendly Mr. Walker's smile became."

I love that.

It shares a tone with Dr. Demento's classic Kinko The Clown, a twisted ode to John Wayne Gacy.

Her mouth even had a tiny round hole so she could eat and breathe.

Something about that is discomforting.

Then:

If she could have seen her little doll's legs kick, she would have been frightened.

Very evocative.

The troubling tone of Ms. Jensen's work has always held great appeal to me, as have the strange, fairy tale-like covers of the publisher.

For mine, Ms. Jensen's work personified Zebra's "house style". Although other authors such as William Johnstone and Stephen Gresham were synonymous with Zebra, none were as distinct.

She is rarely mentioned by industry stalwarts, she doesn't get Stephen King cover raves, and she is sometimes dismissed by "serious" commentators on the genre.

Personally, I find her to be highly underrated and a well kept, "dirty secret" (in a good way).

Unfortunately, the cover artists of these books were never credited, so I'm unable to sling praise at them.

No other horror publisher imitated them. Most were probably off somewhere feeling superior.

The blood-stained pillow in this illustration is a ravishing touch, and an enticing invitation for the unsuspecting reader.

Thankfully, I'm not the only one who has a soft, moist spot for Ms. Jensen (pictured below with a canine accomplice).

A fellow named Aaron K. Thompson has put a small site together to honor her fine work. It's at:

http://www.geocities.com/rubyfan/

A native of southwest Missouri, she began her career writing Gothic romance novels with a supernatural bent.

Another Apostle of Pulp is in our midst.

If you have a free moment, please add this lovely lady to the National Treasure list.


We have to sit on Kinkos lap there's never any chairs

Kinko likes to tickle us and give us funny stares.


--Dr. Demento

12 comments:

  1. Thank you! Very interesting. I must take a closer look at this lady. My reading nowdays is mostly pseudo-science like Von Däniken, so I need something more stimulating.

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  2. Good back blurbvs are so rare, that I am in awe of the one for 'Home Sweet Home'. I am going to have to look for that.

    Holy crap, that blood stained crib is horrible in so many good ways.

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  3. ND -- Thanks very much for your reply.

    Ms. Jensen is a unique voice.

    Speaking of Von Daniken, I am listening to the score of "Chariots of the Gods" as I type. It's terrific.

    ***

    Shon -- yes, the "Home Sweet Home" blurb is poetry.

    And that blood-stained crib? Few things are superior.

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  4. I was fortunate to read Annabelle when I was an adolescent - many years ago. After lending the book to several friends, it did not make its way back to me. To my surprise, a student of mine came into class carrying a very old copy of Annabelle in her hands. She was kind enough to give me the book when she finished reading it. I'm now on the mission of reading Ruby Jean Jensen's other books. She is such a talanted writer. That is evident since I was able to remember that book after so many years.

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  5. Anon -- what a fascinating Ruby Jean story. "Annabelle" is a terrific piece of writing. Her books are mostly found in second hand shops these days. Nothing new of late.

    Perhaps a Ruby Jean story for the school syllabus?

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  6. I've read all of Ruby Jean's books I can get my hand's on. Nobody writes like her. She never disappoints. Love how I cannot put the books down. She sets such a high standard of entertainmnet, I cannot find another author comparable--Help!! Is there anyone as captivating out there?

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  7. My mother and grandmother got me hooked on these old skool horror novels from the 70's and 80's and there was always some Ruby Jean Jensen in their book shelves!!! So yay for 3 generations of Ruby Fans!!!!! I absolutely love her stories!!! :)

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  8. Anon 1 -- not sure I can recommend anyone in Ruby's league... who writes in her unique style. Excuse very late reply.

    Anon 2 -- Cheers to your mum and gran for grooming you with these wonderful books. As my blog indicates, I love her stories, and find them terribly unique and engaging.

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  9. Great post Phantom! Perhaps one day I will actually *read* one of her books, instead of simply marveling at the covers...

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  10. Will -- worth taking the plunge, my friend.

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  11. Great post, thank you. Ruby Jean Jensen definitely deserves more recognition. I've been a fan of her work for a while and have collected a bunch of her books, mostly Zebra editions. She's a very capable writer, better than Saul IMO, better than Gresham & Johnstone too. She has such a lovely tendency to kill of primary characters midway through in gruesome manner, so one never knows what to expect.

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  12. Anonymous -- yes, I really love her work. I have as much of her work as I've been able to get. Definitely better than the writers you mentioned. I like the early Saul books quite a bit, but not as keen on his later works.

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