My first experience with Laymon was terrible. I was 20, working at a department store on the overnight shift stocking shelves, and painfully bored while on my coffee breaks. Shit...this was before I even started drinking coffee! The sheer thought of having to talk to my co-workers about their home lives or their money woes wasn’t bearable anymore. By that time, I’d made it a habit to rifle through the magazine section in search of something that would keep me entertained for a couple of hours. This particular time around, nothing was speaking to me. Having read every magazine that was there to offer (including the hairstyle and hip-hop mags), I decided to go through the books.
Side note: If you’ve ever scanned the shelves and impulse racks as Zellers, K-Mart or Walmart, you’re already familiar with the massive amount of Thriller, Romance, and best selling novels that are presented. At this point in time, though, Department stores, here in Canada, used to stock mass market paperbacks of all variations. Even the now stigmatized Leisure/Dorchester was present, but we all know how that’s going. Now there is nary a horror novel to be seen in department stores in Toronto, and the only books there at all are from the likes of Tor, DoubleDay, Random House, etc.; and authors like Patterson, Picoult, King and Koontz.
To explain my choice that night, you’ll have to know that I was at a point in my life where I’d amassed quite an extensive collection of horror movies on VHS - which is still my favorite way to watch a movie. I was what I considered to be “a collector” (read: hoarder). To say that I was obsessed would be a complete understatement. It was known throughout my friends and family that I was the one to go to for all-things-scary, and I was completely okay with that. But keep in mind, this was also before I started reading avidly. This was even before I could say that I’d read anything even close to 50 books in my life. Thinking back, it’s actually kind of embarrassing.
Getting back to my point, I’d like to repeat: My first experience with Laymon was terrible. Why? Because the first Richard Laymon book I ever picked up was No Sanctuary. If any of you have read this title, you’ll completely understand. This is, in my opinion, one of Laymon’s hardest reads. It begins with an incredibly sympathetic character that I could relate to somewhat, and then throws in the most disturbing, adrenaline packed, relentless scenes of brutality and depravity that I’d ever read in my life. Beyond that, it became something of an emotional trial. It was hard stuff to stomach.
I’d read less than 50 pages of the book, put it down, and intended to never pick up another book by this maniac again. I was shocked and appalled. I couldn’t understand how someone like this could ever have something be published. It’s safe to say that, at that point, I was a completely new to modern horror, and not at all ready for what Laymon had to offer.
*In retrospect, I should be glad I didn’t pick up something like The Bighead by Ed Lee first, shouldn’t I?
Fast forward a few years, add a wife and child to my life (we had our first kid when I was 23), and imagine me working in a lab at a hospital. Again, I was bored. I was reading a little more these days, but still nothing heavier than a magazine and/or re-reading my favorite Poppy Z. Brite or Clive Barker novels. I was facing a one and a half hour commute to work, was running out of music to listen to that was exciting me, and had nothing in the way of video games. I was lucky to be working only a few blocks from “The World’s Biggest Bookstore”, and found myself looking for solace in horror fiction once again.
The horror section at this store used to be very impressive (sadly, it’s now been downsized because of the lack of mmpb titles being released every year). I started my one hour lunch break, took the trip down to the book store, and stood gawking at the choices that lay ahead of me. I went through everything from Lee to Keene, Gonzalez to Ketchum, and my beloved Barker and Brite. While I was checking out with a fist-full of novels, my eye caught a deliciously dark cover. A book called The Woods Are Dark (the unexpurgated version - 2008) stood out amongst the other “new paperbacks” near the cashier, so I grabbed it and checked out. I didn’t ever bother reading the back, nor did I recognize the name of the author. If I had, I wouldn’t be writing this right now. And yes, if you did the math correctly, you’ll now know that I’ve only been reading Laymon steadily for about 3 or 4 years. There are many other folks you’ve read on this blog, or will read this week, that have spent much more time with Laymon, and thus have more authority to talk about the master than I do. But finding that one piece of Laymon that speaks to you is like using a “gateway drug”, and after The Woods Are Dark, I was hooked!
I don’t really remember what the other books I picked up that day were (Keene’s Ghoul was one of ‘em, that much I know), but I can tell you that I devoured The Woods Are Dark. I ate it right the hell up. The impassioned forward by Kelly Laymon touched my heart, and the novel itself seemed to burn up in my hands. It was disgusting, depraved, twisted, gory, and absolutely inappropriate in every-which-way. There were parts of it that made no sense to me at all, and still don’t. When I was done with that novel, I ripped through my book collection (which is probably 1/16th of the collection we have at home now), in search of something like it. What did I come up with? No Sanctuary. I couldn’t believe that Laymon had written both, and couldn’t understand why I’d not enjoyed it. With that in mind, I revisited the No Sanctuary and ended up loving it.
Since then, I’ve made it a mission to collect all of the Laymon books I can possibly get my hands on. I’ve mistakenly given a few away to Value Village, found a few in used book stores, and even met a guy in a gas station parking lot in order to buy a box-full of his Headline releases for just under $200 (the best purchase I have ever made in my entire life). My collection is sitting at 30-something of his novels right now (including The Halloween Mouse - his children’s book), and with the help of friends, I’m getting closer to having everything he’s ever written. I hope to one day have a collection that can stand beside Brian Keene’s personal Laymon library. One can hope, right? (In a strange twist, my Laymon collection and my Keene collection ended up sharing a shelf by accident. It was only later that I found out they were friends. Weird.)
My ultimate goal is to own a copy of A Writer’s Tale, which is limited to 500 signed and numbered copies, and 26 lettered copies. All of them are signed. I’ve had my eye on the eBay auctions for years now, and will one day own one. Mark my words, I will own a copy of that book.
*Note: Since writing this post, I have managed to get my hands on the holy grail that is A Writer’s Tale, and it is in-transit as we speak. I couldn’t be more excited!
I honestly couldn’t imagine a life in literature without Laymon. There is nobody that comes close to reaching that particular brand of daring, yet comfortably formulaic writing. There are a few authors that I’ve been following for a while (like Brian Keene, Bryan Smith, Gord Rollo, Greg Lamberson, and John Everson, to name a few) who grab the literary world by the balls and show the genre who’s boss, but none that could ever replace the smooth style that Laymon left behind.
Without Laymon’s fiction, I doubt I would have started Paperback Horror. My love of horror wouldn’t have gone any further than the screen, and my collection of books wouldn’t be nearly as large as it is right now. I doubt I would have found any of the authors that I’ve come to love, and I definitely wouldn’t be thinking about horror fiction all of the time. I’m indebted to the man, wherever he is.
I’m glad that Grade Z Horror decided to throw this party in honor of a true master. It gave me a chance to really think about how I felt about his work, how I still feel about it. Horror fiction wouldn’t be where it is now, without him. I hope we can do this again next year, as I’m sure there is no shortage to love we can spread for Richard Laymon. Share his books with your friends, and introduce his work to everyone looking for something more. Keep the legacy alive.
Colum runs the best damn genre review site out there over ar PaperbackHorror.com. Aside from being the author of some of my favorite reviews, Colum is one of the nicest dudes in the world. Please, please, please head over to his site and prepare to be enlightened!