Dark Dreaming: A Conversation with Stanley Wiater

Folks, I’m really excited today. Truthfully, I’m excited just about every day because I’m thankful to be alive and I’m endlessly thankful for my family. But right at this moment I’m also excited about something else too. An interview I’m about to share…

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If you’ve been around the horror genre at all at any point between 1980 and now, the name Stanley Wiater will be familiar to you. One of our pre-eminent writers, editors, interviewers, and teachers, Mr. Wiater has played a key role in helping the realm of dark fiction evolve into what it is today. He has worked with Stephen King on a wonderful book called The Stephen King Universe. He has interviewed (in print or on television) King, Peter Straub, Ramsey Campbell, David Morrell, Joe R. Lansdale, Richard Matheson, Robert Bloch, Harlan Ellison, Clive Barker, Richard Laymon, Wes Craven, and too many others to mention here. His editing and writing has not only advanced the genre—it has ensured that future generations of horror writers and fans will understand the amazing legacy of which they’re a part. I could write for hours about how much I respect Stanley Wiater, but that would further delay our interview.

So let’s get to it, shall we?

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JANZ: First of all, thank you so much for agreeing to talk with me. You are an essential member of the horror genre and a man who has helped shape horror for more than three decades. I am deeply honored to have you on my blog.

WIATER: Thank you for the very kind words. All I will admit to is that, over the years, I’ve become a fairly large fish in what will always remain a relatively small pond.

JANZ:  You list Edgar Allan Poe and Ray Bradbury as major early influences on you and your career. These are both incredible storytellers, but they’re also very different storytellers. What did you learn from Poe, and what did you learn from Bradbury?

WIATER: From Poe I learned that words can literally scare you. From Bradbury that words can forever haunt you.

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JANZ: You have sold a staggering number of stories, essays, and other works. I know this is putting you on the spot, but do you have any favorites among your own works? If one were unacquainted with your fiction, for example, do you have a story you would suggest that he or she read first?

WIATER: For my books (almost all are now available on Kindle) it would have to be DARK DREAMERS ON WRITING: ADVICE AND COMMENTARY FROM FIFTY MASTERS OF FEAR AND SUSPENSE. It won me my second of three Bram Stoker Awards. I think the title pretty well sums up its contents.

For a short story, my most highly regarded is “The Toucher,” which was the sole winner of a competition judged by none other than Stephen King back in 1980. It was in fact my first professional short story sale. (It will be included in a forthcoming short story collection of all my short fiction.)

JANZ: DARK DREAMERS: CONVERSATIONS WITH THE MASTERS OF HORROR is one of my favorite non-fiction books in the genre. In that book—which I’ve read cover-to-cover about six times—you interview many of my favorite writers of all time (from Stephen King to Richard Matheson to Joe R. Lansdale and too many others to name here). Did you ever feel intimidated or nervous when speaking with these authors? Were you always confident in your interviewing skills, or did you often second-guess yourself? How did you approach an interview with a writer like Stephen King, for instance? (I’m very nervous about interviewing you, by the way.)

WIATER: No, I never felt intimidated by anyone I’ve ever interviewed. That’s why I refer to them as “conversations” and not formal “interviews.” I approached King in the same manner as I have everyone else. I simply say, “Okay, we’re finally alone. Now spill your guts if you ever want to leave this place alive.” That subtle approach has served me well since 1970. My first formal interview with a dark dreamer was with Ray Brabury, which occurred on August 7, 1974. I can remember the conversation like it happened last week….

JANZ: You believe in humanizing a story’s antagonist, and when you write fiction, you go to great lengths to make your antagonists three-dimensional rather than inhuman killing machines. Is there an example of a villain in your own fiction of which you’re particularly proud? And why are you fond of this villain?

WIATER: I try to write stories where the “victims” are also the so-called “villains.” This is the case in “Moist Dreams,” “When the Wall Cries,” “Smoke,” “Close Call” and of course “The Toucher” where the victim/villain is an illiterate little girl from rural Kentucky. There is no greater monster than ourselves.

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JANZ: I apologize for how generic this question sounds, but I’m genuinely curious about your opinion. Having lived through and been involved in multiple periods or stages of the horror fiction genre, how healthy do you feel the genre is at the moment, and how do you feel about the genre moving forward?

WIATER: The genre is a self-healing wound. Horror cuts itself open every few years, explores a new facet of itself,  then goes back and further explores such traditional elements such as vampires, ghosts and zombies. Most critics now prefer the term “dark fiction” to “horror fiction,” but it’s still about taking the reader on the same journey into the darkness.

JANZ: In CUT! Horror Writers on Horror Film (published, I believe, in 1992), you list and write very eloquently about thirteen films you found particularly disturbing (including Eraserhead, which tops my own list). What horror movies in the past twenty years have you found especially well done (either frightening or disturbing or simply interesting)?

WIATER: Polanski’s THE TENANT (1976)  has always shaken me. Yet it’s usually completely overlooked in  most discussions. His World War II epic THE PIANIST is also very upsetting for an entirely different list of reasons. But both will haunt you for years even after viewing them just once.

JANZ: You conducted the only filmed interview with the late Richard Laymon that I’ve ever seen. It’s a wonderful interview and a further confirmation of my belief that he was a genuinely kind person. Why do you think Mr. Laymon’s work continues to be so popular?

WIATER: Because he was BRUTALLY direct and honest as a writer. He showed no mercy for his characters–and very rarely for the reader.

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JANZ: You once taught workshops at the University of Massachusetts about writing and the business of writing. I realize this is a simplification of what I’m certain are multi-faceted workshops, but what lessons do you especially try to impart on your students?

WIATER: Have a professional attitude until you prove yourself to be  professional. Write out the whole story or novel in first draft, rewrite only when you’re done with the entire project. Finish what you write. Sell whatever you write. Keep writing and you will keep selling.

JANZ: Lastly, I’m curious about what you’re working on now. Do you have any fiction or non-fiction projects in mind currently or in the near future?

WIATER: For the past two years I’ve been working on an oral biography of the late Richard Matheson. (He asked me once if I’d be interested in writing his biography, and now is the time for me to tackle it.) I daresay I’ve  interviewed Matheson more times than anyone else on the planet, save perhaps for my colleague Matthew Bradley, with whom I co-edited THE TWILIGHT AND OTHER ZONES: THE DARK WORLDS OF RICHARD MATHESON. (Also available as a paperback or a Kindle/Nook book.)

I’m also issuing next year a collection (in two volumes) of all my fiction and selected non-fiction. And hopefully we’ll get DARK DREAMERS: THE TELEVISION SERIES back on the air for a third season. As you know, the first two seasons are out now on DVD. Some of my finest work is done there.

As they say, I haven’t left the building yet…..

JANZ: And at this point in your career, are you more interested in creating your own nightmares or helping others find their own voices?

WIATER: I in fact get bored way too easily, so I try and maintain an equal level of interest of doing both……

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I want to thank Mr. Wiater for making my questions sound halfway decent with his wonderful answers. It was an honor to have him on my blog. If you’re interested in Mr. Wiater’s fiction or non-fiction (and by now, how could you not be interested?), his Amazon page is right here.

Thanks, folks, for reading, and have a beautiful weekend!


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