Revelations of an Editor
an exclusive Lost Souls interview with Douglas E. Winter

Douglas E. Winter edited the celebrated horror fiction anthology Prime Evil. His eleven published books include the definitive critical biography Stephen King: The Art of Darkness and the World Fantasy Award-winning Faces of Fear. He is a partner in the internationally based law firm Byran Cave LLP and a member of the National Book Critics Circle. He lives in Oakton, Virginia.

Lost Souls: Not a lot of people know Doug Winter. Maybe you could fill us in on who Douglas Winter is?

Douglas Winter: Well, I was the third gunman on the grassy knoll (laughs). And that's all I'm saying. Gee . . . where do I start with something like that?

Lost Souls: Well, how did you get involved with Clive?

Douglas Winter: I met Clive in 1983, just before he was published. I was in England at the time, visiting Ramsey Campbell, who is a good friend. I was staying at his house, and one night . . .late in the evening after our wives had gone to bed, he came into the living room and handed me a huge manuscript that was . . . I don't know, at least 1,000 pages. Keep in mind this was like 1:30 in the morning after we'd been overindulging, to say the least. He handed me the manuscript and said, "You're about to read the most important new writer of horror fiction in the 1980's." And what he gave to me was the Books of Blood. I read about the first 50 pages, through the introduction and the first story. I knew immediately that Ramsey was right. The following day I went back to London with this manuscript and also a phone number. Ramsey had suggested I give Clive a call. So, a couple of nights later, Clive came around to my hotel, met with me, had a drink and we talked for a little bit. We'd ended up enjoying ourselves immensely. We went around the corner to dinner at an Italian restaurant. We had a wonderful time. We formed both a friendship and sort of a critical relationship, and later, an editorial relationship, among other types of relationships (laughs). . .

Lost Souls: How long ago did you get into editing fiction?

Douglas Winter: Editing fiction is really a more recent development. Formally, I suppose it happened about ten years ago. After my book on Stephen King had been published, I was interviewed by the Washington Post about the book and my work as a critic. In the course of that conversation, they asked if there was some kind of a dream project I would like to pursue. I said that I would like to create an edit an anthology that would attempt to reflect the state of the art of horror fiction as we reached the close of the 1980's. A book that was a major influence on Clive, by the way, was a highly regarded book called Dark Forces, edited by Kirby McCauley in 1981. This book was sort of a landmark of the sate of the art of American Horror fiction around 1980, which was a strange period in time when contemporary American horror had not really taken off commercially as it would in the mid 80's. The idea that I was voicing aloud was that it would be something very special to create something of a bookend to Dark Forces. It would be something that provided a close to the 1980's and a close to this time period in which horror had a tremendous popularity. But at the same time it would be very forward looking, which I didn't think Dark Forces was . . . the book was a summation of established writers of horror fiction, and by that I mean going back to the 50's rather than focusing in on any one particular period in time. I thought the 80's were a very exciting time in horror and that it would be interesting to be at the helm of a book that presented what horror fiction was in the 1980's and would be in the 1990's. A couple weeks later I was visiting my publisher, and my editor pulled out a copy of the interview I'd done for the Post and asked, "were you serious about this?" I replied, "Of course I am. I'm very serious about this." They asked me to make them a proposal and added that that I'd be interested in publishing the book. The result was the book that became Prime Evil. So, that really was a start of . . . I won't say the start of, but that really represented my first major editorial project. I had previously edited as a non-fiction writer. I'd also edited a little book called Black Wine which was done as a special edition for a World Fantasy Convention.

Lost Souls: What do you believe originally drew you into Horror fiction?

Douglas Winter: That's the $64,000 question? Really, this stuff has interested me since before I could write. I have written about how 'Invasion of the Body snatchers,' seeing that as a child, affected me and certainly provoked that interest into creative areas. But I've written horror stories, stories of the dark fantastic as I would prefer to classify them, back in 1st grade and I know I still have some from 2nd grade. It's difficult to say, but I was drawn to it by the imagery, certainly. I remember some of the earliest things I wrote tended to be like the Japanese rubber monster movies. Rodan was a big influence. Some of it tended to be based upon creatures, a love of creatures, but some of it was very much from a reader's aesthetic. My mother was a school teacher and she taught me to read at a very early age. I remember when I was in 1st grade and they brought me to a 6th grade class one day. They handed me a 6th grade test book on geography and I then, like an obliging circus animal, read this book to the assembled 6th grade class. Now, how much of it I really understood I don't know but, damn I could read . . . And that's the influence of my mother.. At the same time, she taught me to write and to express myself through writing. Part of it was that and part of it was the fact that I can't draw, I can't paint, I couldn't build land this was the way that I expressed myself. I would create stories about very fantastic things because those were the things that appealed to me. They served as an escape, to a certain extent, and also, just a way of expressing those things inside that were my peculiar way of looking at the world.

Lost Souls: Are you working on something right now?

Douglas Winter: I'm literally putting the finishing touches on a novel. It's called RUN. I've been writing this book for a couple of years. It's finished but I'm still. . .noodling the last three chapters. I'm an unrepentant editor and reviser. I mean, I'm sitting here now with the photocopied galley of the paperback version of Revelations. I know I'm going to be fooling with it. I'm going to read the whole book again and I probably will propose some changes, if only copyediting changes, to some of the writers. That's just the way that I am. Some people say I can't leave well enough alone, but that's who I am. So this novel is done, but from my point of view it's not done. I'm still tinkering with it.

Lost Souls: Sounds like it makes for a long book.

Douglas Winter: The book in itself is not that long. It's not like Imajica. No way is it that long.

Lost Souls: Right. Long task, long process.

Douglas Winter: Yeah. The process of writing becomes a very extended one for me. Part of it is because I care a great deal about what goes out under my name or in the names of people who, as an editor, I work with. I take that very, very seriously. Also, I think as a result of coming to professional writing sort of late in my life, later than some people did, coming to it in this odd way that I have. I mean I've written all my life but, as a professional writer I really only started after going to law school, and after having another job that paid me extremely well. I've had the virtue of being able to be able to take the time. There haven't been economic reasons that have driven me to finish things earlier than I felt they should be finished. I find some very sincere pleasure in finishing something under my own terms and knowing that it's done. There's something very powerful about that I suppose.

Lost Souls: Do you enjoy being a lawyer?

Douglas Winter: (Laughs). Well, it's sort of like asking the hangman whether he likes being the hangman. I have very mixed feelings about being a lawyer. I have enjoyed some of the things that I have done. It's certainly been a tremendously rewarding career for me in financial terms and some other ways. Does it satisfy me the way writing does? No. When I write, I'm creating something out of myself for myself or for editors or readers who are genuinely interested in what I have to say. As a lawyer, I'm more often than not. . . the old saying is that lawyers, especially litigators, are hired gunmen is true. Your responsibility, more often than not, concerns cleaning up somebody else's problem.

Lost Souls: What type of lawyer are you. I guess what kinds of things do you do?

Douglas Winter: I'm a litigator. I prepare cases for trial and try cases primarily in federal courts throughout the country. One of my specialties is appeals. I'm known as a great legal writer. I mean my best skills are in writing briefs. I don't enjoy examining witnesses that much or performing in front of juries. There's just something, whatever it is inside of me, that's a bit more of an abstract personality. So, I tend to enjoy the writing element , writing arguments and briefs more than anything. I also like arguing with judges. It's the more intellectual aspects I like, I guess. No, that's a bad word. It's the more abstract practice of law, although the issues I deal with are very real and very human. I'm known foremost in my practice for aerospace and aviation matters and cases involving air disasters. One of the reasons that Revelations and the book on Clive are so late is that about 5 years of my life in the 1990's were complicated by all the cases surrounding the 2nd worst air disaster on American soil. It occurred in Detroit in 1987. I was counsel for McDonnell Douglas in that case. The trial lasted 2 years. It was in front of a jury for 19 months, every day in the courthouse. The pre-trial period was very lengthy and after the trial there were 26 appeals. I lived that case for many, many years. It nearly killed me and it certainly put a damper on my writing career.

Lost Souls: So when you finish a trial, does it satisfy you that it's finally done and over with or. . .

Douglas Winter: Oh no. Things are never as clean as they appear to be on Perry Mason or anything else. For example; when this trial was finally over, we won totally and completely -- a 19 month jury trial returned a complete victory for our client. Certainly there were moments of celebration, you know, but within weeks we were back in court on the same case. There were many, many arguments presented on what happened during the trial and there were appeals that followed. As I said, there were 26 appeals and they took almost 5 years to resolve. So this air disaster occurred on August 16,1987, the jury came back in 1992, andthe court of appeals decided the final appeal just last summer, July of 1996. It must be very frustrating and exhausting. Yeah. I was talking to one of my partners the other day and she pointed out to me that it's been ten years since that plane went down. I'm still, literally, working on those cases. I spent about half an hour on it just yesterday. A tremendous amount of my life has been spent dealing with that one huge, terrible air disaster.

Lost Souls: That has to be one hefty legal bill. . .and we should probably talk about your writing.

Douglas Winter: Just one thing I was going to mention in terms of the law. The law is only satisfying on a certain level. There are some avenues in which my creative impulses can be exercised in my legal writing. Once, in a two week period, I wrote about a 50,000 word brief, which is essentially a short novel. A tremendous amount of my words have been poured into legal matters and my effectiveness as a writer has been rewarded there. But on another level, it doesn't satisfy whatever it is inside of me. I think a lot of it concerns itself with the act of communication. I enjoy the idea that I'm being read by people who I'll never meet. That I might, in some fashion, influence them in some way for the better. I think that's an important thing for writers to do. I think that's why writers exist. I don't think writers exist just to entertain. The writers who don't take themselves with a certain level of seriousness are the ones that sort of remind me of cotton candy, I guess. They may satisfy you briefly but there's nothing there that sticks to you. Maybe cotton candy is not such a good metaphor, but you know, the idea of actually touching someone and influencing them is so important to me. And when it's someone I've never met, that has tremendous appeal. I love it when people come up to me. At the convention in Atlanta, a member of Lost Souls came up to me after the auction and said, "I really was saving my money for your book (Black Sun)". I told her that I took it out of the auction because I realized belatedly that it was all going to be Clive material. I really didn't feel that it was appropriate for the auction. So I said, "Here, if you want it, take it. " She told me that she'd read one of my stories and it had really affected her. When people come up to you out of the blue and say that, it means a tremendous amount. Even more than when a friend says it was a good story.

Lost Souls: Do you think, with you law practice, that it might influence you to write novels that dealt with the judicial system, etc. . .

Douglas Winter: Yes and no. I think I'd be hard pressed to write a legal thriller, though my last publisher (Dutton) talked with me very seriously about doing one. I think that this novel I've written has an element that my legal career has brought to it. Certainly some views that I've formed in seeing the justice system operate helped form this book, but I don't think that anybody would ever consider it a legal thriller or a court room thriller. Because it's not. I've written stories about the practice of law. I've had characters who were lawyers in some stories. But RUN is as far from John Grisham as you could imagine. Clive's written about lawyers, too (laughs) and they're certainly not legal thrillers.

Lost Souls: Do you consider the new novel you're working on to be Horror Fiction?

Douglas Winter: That's the question that everyone is asking me and will ask me. I suppose my answer is yes, but I think there will be very few people out there that believe it's a horror novel. Certainly it's a horrific novel. It has the emotions of horror. To me, that's what defines a horror novel. But, it's not a supernatural novel in the traditional sense, in the sense that it involves itself with ghosts, although there are ghosts in it, or angels, although there are angels in it, or the hereafter, although the hereafter might be in it. I tend to believe that a realistic novel, if it's an honest book, is a supernatural novel -- in the sense that we live in a world in which most of the people believe that there is something supernatural going on, or at least there's the possibility of it going on . . . The real world, if you think about it, has a supernatural element, and that's why I've always balked when people asked whether I prefer supernatural novels to realistic ones. I think any good realistic novel is by default a good supernatural novel. Having said all that, I think most people would consider the book to be a criminal suspense novel or a thriller. It concerns gun running, it concerns gangs, it concerns the problem of guns. The meaning weapons have in our current culture. It's very violent and very ugly. Horrific as I said. I think it's funny and my wife thinks it's funny as well. It's set in what I think is a very real world. It's a world in which there aren't good guys and bad guys -- as my agent says, there are just bad guys and worse guys. And I think that's appropriate based on what I'm trying to say in this particular book.

Lost Souls: So, we'll all get to read RUN soon?

Douglas Winter: Well, I hope so. I've written it without a safety net -- without a contract. Something I haven't done for 15 years. It was a wonderful and yet very anxious experience. I wrote the first half and then polished the hell out of it, put it into what I consider to be final form, and sent it to my agent just to make sure I was going down the right path. He thought I was doing all right, so that made it much easier to devote time to doing the second half, and doing it right.

Lost Souls: So, REVELATIONS. . .

Douglas Winter: Yeah.

Lost Souls: Wonderful book!

Douglas Winter: Thank you. It took a lot of time, obviously.

Lost Souls: Where does all this time come from anyway? It's hard to figure out where you get all the time to be a lawyer, writer, critic and an editor.

Douglas Winter: Well, I don't know. Revelations is a good example, it took 7 years to assemble and 2 publishers to see the book into print. In many ways I see Revelations as (and it has been) a jinxed book. I felt like I didn't have the time to do anything right with the book. So, I don't feel like I have enough time and this is the prime example. The book took way, way longer than it should have taken to bring it to market. I do feel, however, that it would have been a difficult book to assemble under any circumstances, to do it well, anyway.

Lost Souls: How long ago were some of the stories inside the book delivered to you?

Douglas Winter: I think the first one was delivered in 1994. So not that long ago. Clive delivered his portions to me in 1996.

Lost Souls: This has probably been asked quite often but, where did the idea of tying these stories together into a century come from?

Douglas Winter: The short answer is that you should read the afterword. I was trying to think of a book that would, in terms of its concept and its potential audience, outdo Prime Evil. I was interested in how one could structure an anthology -- which, according to some publishers and primary book sellers, people don't like to read, which is one of those self-propagating myths -- of stories that were completely independent, but at the same time had the momentum or feeling that was like a novel. In the late 80's, I was way ahead of the millennial bandwagon. I saw the year 2000 looming and I recognized that it would be an important celebration: A time of looking back and a time of great anxiety. But at the same time, just by its very nature, it imposed a structure on time. It would be a valuable way of looking at fiction: to try to look at the century through fiction. That's the idea essentially.

Lost Souls: We've been receiving a lot of e-mails from people wanting to know how they can get the book. We respond to them to just go down to the bookstore and pick it up. It's a fairly new book, there shouldn't be any problems. What is the problem?

Douglas Winter: The problem is that the chains (bookstores) have a great resistance to carrying collections of stories or anthologies because of the myth that they don't sell. Let's face it, there are a lot of anthologies in particular that kind of fill a gap. Anthologies of great cat stories? Not that the concept alone might not be a good one, but there are a lot of these "gimmick" anthologies, and I think the bookstores get these kinds of books and see they can sell 2 copies of them and that's it. They don't re-order them. So, when they're approached with new anthologies, no matter how good the idea might seem, it's an apparent problem to sell books. More and more things in publishing are driven by computers. You rarely hear of a book with a small 1st printing that goes on to become a best-seller. Books are becoming self-fulfilling prophecies. The publisher puts a lot of money behind a book, well there must be a reason for that. A lot of copies get put out there and they either sell well or they don't, but you don't want your book coming up from it's boot straps. So unless you have a big advance sale, then A: you're not going to have a lot of copies sitting in the bookstores, and B: you're not going to have a lot of re-orders, even if they sell out of it. If the bookstore buys 3 and they're gone, well, it's a month later and you've got other new books coming your way. Are you going to buy just three again, or are you to going to buy the next book that comes along -- as opposed to the 50 Stephen King books that are sitting over there. That's the big dilemma.

Lost Souls: That just seems really strange to us. Even with Forms of Heaven, you never really saw that book on the shelf either.

Douglas Winter: Right. That falls into the same category. You know, it's a book by Clive Barker, but it's not a novel. Who reads plays? You can see the bookseller thinking that or saying, well, Clive Barker does sell plays but we only sell a few copies of anyone's plays, and there they are, over there in the theater section. That's all we'll order. They don't look at it as being anything different . . . or special.

Lost Souls: I have noticed that the majority of anthologies on the shelves are horror fiction.

Douglas Winter: Yes. But that's a paperback thing too. I've seen the proposed paperback cover for Revelations and they've gone to great lengths to make the book look like a novel. That's a great marketing strategy. You want the bookseller to believe that the book will sell like a novel rather than an anthology. You know, with hindsight, maybe that's what they should have done with the hardcover. The cover of Revelations in paperback will not have any writer's names on it. In fact, it just says Revelations. It's a very radical, neat cover design.

Lost Souls: You would think that people, nowadays, being so busy with everything in their lives, would jump at a collection of short stories.

Douglas Winter: Exactly. That's another thing that troubles me, because I'm very interested in short stories. I've been a great champion of the short story and it disturbs me, not simply that the story seems to be rendered into a 2nd class citizen, but also that there isn't a comprehension that you can actually view short stories as being short novels. Revelations is a collection of short novels. These are not short stories. That was the intention. It was going to be short novels. Stephen King's The Green Mile is six short stories, and you add them up to a novel, right? Well, look at Revelations. It's the same thing, it's just written by different authors. That's the thing that is troublesome. And yes, you would think today's readers would actually be drawn to shorter books. The fact of the matter is they are and they aren't. There's a great market right now for shorter novels but big, thick novels still sell. That may be instructive as to why books sell in general. Maybe people do want to spend a lot of time getting lost in something. Maybe that's why they prefer novels to short stories.

Lost Souls: How about the biography? How is that coming?

Douglas Winter: Actually I was working on it last week. I just finished the Sacrament chapter and I'm now going back to do all the revisions. I'm hoping to turn it in within the next couple of months. Hopefully HarperCollins will bring out the book in 1998. I've tracked down some real interesting things for the book.

Lost Souls: How do you track this stuff down?

Douglas Winter: I've interviewed a lot of people for this book. In England, you know, people would say, "oh, I thought you might like to look at this" and then they'd whip out this piece of artwork that Clive did when he was 13 years old. Clive had thought it had disappeared. So far I've discovered 2 manuscripts that Clive thought no longer existed. One was a novel he wrote and the other was a short story. I found what may be the only existing copy of "Humphri", which was the magazine that Clive created when he was in school. I'm trying to persuade the fellow who has it to allow photographic plates to be made. It would be something to reproduce as a little book because it's really pretty amazing. But, it's incredibly fragile. I've interviewed people from the Dog Company. They'd ask me if this thing they had with hundreds of old Clive doodles on it was worth anything.

Lost Souls: No. . . just give them to me.

Douglas Winter: Unfortunately there has been a certain amount of that happening. One television documentary fellow in particular ripped off several people. He made a documentary on Clive and when he went around and met people, he asked them for certain things. Things he was going to photograph or videotape or something. He promised to return them and then never gave them back. I've really learned too much for this book. I'm the sort of person who likes to be all inclusive. The draft I turned into Harper-Collins was 190,000 words, which is monstrous. I've had to cut the book back. It's been an interesting and painful process. Clive's life and work are the sort of wonderful pool that, once you dive in, it's difficult to regain the surface . . .

Lost Souls: For those Lost Souls out there that have not had a chance to locate Revelation in the bookstores, Doug offered us an address to which you may order the book directly, and each copy includes his signature. The cost, including postage, is $25.00 per copy. Checks should be made payable to:

One Eyed Dog - PO Box 27305 - Washington DC 20038