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The Unofficial Robert Bloch Website

Interviews

A Conversation with Randall Larson

Michael G. Pfefferkorn


MGP: So what you are doing now?
RL: As opposed to "sitting in an uncomfortable chair at the far end of a 13-hour work shift typing this on my laptop?" Oh, okay.

What am I doing now? Other than growing less younger than I would prefer, I am enjoying a kind of resurgence of my writing in this field over the last few months which has been very gratifying, especially in the weird fiction field. I have been so busy with nonfiction, in a variety of arenas, over the last 15 years that I've left my fiction languish in file cabinets and dusty binders. In whatever spare time is left after a challenging full time job as a communications supervisor for a metro fire department in northern California, I have been writing prolifically about film music and about public safety communication issues. I am the editor of a national trade magazine for the emergency communications community called 9-1-1 Magazine, and have been doing that for about a dozen years. I was the senior editor for Soundtrack Magazine for its last seven or eight years until it ceased publication last year. Have enjoyed opportunities to write about horror fiction, film music, and emergency communications and the fire service over the last few years. Right now I'm still fighting deadlines for 9-1-1 Magazine, writing emergency communications and homeland protection for a number of other trade magazines in that industry, reviewing horror soundtracks for Cemetery Dance magazine, writing a weekly film music news, views, and interviews column for cinescape.com, and a few other odds and end. The revitalization of weird fiction came about by pleasant happenstance when a few considerate gentlemen came out of the blue to ask about reprinting some of my older tales, which led to opportunities to write some new material, so I've jumped in with tentacles blazing to concoct some new Cthulhu Mythos tales and other stories, which I must say I feel my wordsmithing has gotten a lot better than when I left off back in the '80s. There's the possibility of a collection of my short stories coming up, and I'm also putting the finishing touches on a book about Joseph Payne Brennan, which may have just found a publication home. Obviously writing is like breathing to me, and I'm gratified for the opportunities that keep cropping up, like the benevolent tendrils of unseen creatures who hold me in some favor.

MGP: When did you first start reading Bloch's works? What attracted you to them?
RL: I discovered Bloch quite by accident at the age of 17. I was aware of the movie PSYCHO but hadn't read the novel or anything either Blochian or Lovecraftian. My literary background came from Marvel Comics and Edgar Rice Burroughs and Robert E. Howard, who, along with others, I read voraciously during high school in the very early 1970s. I had read several of Bloch's articles that appeared in Famous Monsters of Filmland. When I found out about fanzines and got the bug to publish one of my own, I came across Robert Bloch's address in a letter column of Leland Sapiro's Riverside Quarterly. So I wrote him asking about an interview by mail for my new fanzine. His reply came quickly, and that started a 25-year association of correspondence and friendship that gave me great encouragement as a young writer and reader. The more I got to know Bob, the more I got to know his writing, and that, in turn, got me hooked on Lovecraft and the Mythos, and got me completely enthralled by everything Bob wrote. As a compulsive writer and publisher myself, that inevitably led to my doing The Robert Bloch Fanzine in 1972/3, and writing/compiling three books about Bloch. What attracted me to Bob's writing was initially the wordplay - the WAY he told his stories - their sense of humor, and the way his horrors were conveyed with their snapper endings that were so pleasingly ghoulish. What has continued to attract me to Bob's writing were all the other elements that eventually came out in detail in my Reader's Guide - Bob the observer, commenting on the world and upon human behavior; Bob the moralist, who when even writing about psychopathic killers or inhuman monsters, wove a calculated morality play in which good won out over bad; Bob the humorist; Bob the science fictioneer. Pervading it was Bob's always gentle willingness to encourage me and be a friend, if usually through letters and postcards, but occasionally by allowing me egress into his world. Bob did much to influence that introverted 17 year old, and I still feel his influence strongly as I am touching 50.

MGP: What was the name of your "new fanzine"? What did you and RB discuss In that initial interview?
RL: In 1971 I published, with financial assistance from my parents, the first edition of "Fandom Unlimited," a fanzine devoted to (and hence the name) the three fandoms of comics, science fiction/fantasy/horror lit, and movies. I had the audacity to include one of my own (very early) stories, which, through the encouragement of a critical friend of mine, immediately asked everyone to ignore on the grounds that it was "terrible." Bob disagreed and said it was a nice effort. Looking back, I tend to agree with the others, but Bob saw something and was always encouraging in his letters, giving me a great shot in the arm when I usually needed it.

That initial interview was necessarily very naive, since all I knew about Bob was that he wrote PSYCHO (which, in my high school naiveté, I pronounced "Fiz-ko" until I learned better. File that in my heaping jar of personal embarrassments!) and what he had done for Famous Monsters. I knew nothing of Lovecraft except what American International Pictures had made out of his stories, so this was a wonderful period of discovery when I sought out Bob's roots and discovered this incredible world of weird horror, that quickly, with slithering tentacles, reeled me in and has failed to spew me out to this day.

So, I asked generic questions about background and other rather simple questions. This was the first interview I'd ever done - I learned better over time. (The second interview was with Fredric Wertham MD, the infamous "Seduction of the Innocent" psychologist who raised the enmity of so many comic fans when he decried them as the cause of all violence in youthful society, and by that time I'd learned a lot more; in fact Wertham himself told me he found my questions "very searching" and we carried on a limited correspondence and friendship by mail until his death. So I file this one in my jar of rewards and happy memories. Further interviews with Bloch would find a home there too!).

MGP: Can you tell me a little about your "Robert Bloch Fanzine" (i.e., what you remember about putting it together, about RB and other's reactions)? How many issues did you print, and how was it circulated?

RL: During that first interview for Fandom Unlimited, Bloch had mentioned something about a bibliography that had been done a few years back. That sparked my budding publishing interests because here I had (1) contact, and (2) the interest and ability to expand my publishing empire (Fandom Unlimited would eventually become a small business publishing more than half a dozen titles, until my lack of financial planning coupled with the reality of marriage led to its demise). So I asked Bob if I could publish an update. Bob never let on that he was a little leery - he later told me many people had asked to do the same thing, and he devoted hours and hours providing them with assistance and updates and information only to have them disappear into the ether - but he provided me meticulously kept records about reprintings and new stories, and that resulted in The Robert Bloch Fanzine in 1972, a poorly mimeographed journal that included new and reprinted tributes to Bob as well as the bibliography. A second, better printed edition, appeared in 1973. That eventually grew into my book, The Complete Robert Bloch, which I self published under the Fandom Unlimited label in 1983 (the book was licensed to Borgo Press, which issued it in hardback the same year); those years of correspondence and a couple years of intensive analytical reading of Bob's work resulted in The Reader's Guide to Robert Bloch from Starmont Press a year or two before the CRB, which I still feel is probably my best written nonfiction book. But, again, Bob opened up his home and his files on many occasions, allowing me to see and photograph (and handle!!) that very first issue of Weird Tales in which the 17-yr old author had his first story published, and other rare tomes (Iranian editions of Psycho, gorgeous French reprints with poster-worthy cover paintings, etc).

MGP: How did RB encourage you as a writer?

RL: By treating me not as a fan and he a pro, but by allowing me into his world, to an extent, of course, and making me feel at home. Simply by knowing Bob I was encouraged and a learned a lot in a pivotal time in my growing up life (high school and after). I was an intensely shy lad, and it showed often when we met at conventions, but in his home I was made to feel like one of the Fictioneers, even though at that time I'd only written for fanzines (but then, so had Bob, so there may have been a connection there). That, and making available his work for me to read and absorb, that gave me many lessons in wordsmithing.

MGP: What was meeting RB in person for the first time like? Did he match the mental image that you had?

RL: The mental image was helped along by photos of Bob that he sent or I had seen prior. We first met at, I believe it was Filmcom 1, the first film-oriented sci fi convention in Los Angeles, and of course met again frequently at other conventions and later at his home. But his friendly, welcoming, and encouraging demeanor - and those wickedly punful convention speeches he became famous for - were everything I'd expected from reading his work. I was painfully shy during some of those early meetings, though, although I soon recognized that Bob was essentially just as much of an introvert as I - he'd just had more practice at overcoming it through humor and intellect than I, and he'd honed his public persona into a well-fitting suit that he wore very well and very honestly in public appearances. But as I got to know him better I realized that the real Bob was truly more introverted and introspective.

MGP: How would you describe RB's home? How would you describe his wife, Elly?

RL: His home was a very nice, inviting, warm, and well kept abode. It overlooked the valley and had a great view from the Laurel Canyon hills. Elly was a wonderful, lovely, and gracious woman, and I felt they were very much a partnership in their marriage. There were times when Bob and I were chatting and he'd call Elly out to have her hear some remark I'd said that reverberated off of something Bob and she must have been speaking about earlier. I felt very much at home with both of them, they were very hospitable and welcoming hosts. Even though Elly wasn't interested in the horror writer side of Bob, she appreciated my interest and our discussions often fell into general matters of mutual interest beyond the writing. But I think it was their graciousness and kindness that I remember most about the two of them. When I got married, they sent a gift; when my first daughter was born, they sent a gift and later Bob even autographed a copy of LORI to her (now that she's 15 I will probably let her read it!).

MGP: How do you think RB viewed the stories he wrote? How do you think he viewed his career?

RL: I think Bob viewed his work pretty much as work - a means to make a living. While I don't mean this to sound as though he didn't take care of his craft or consider his work as worthy (he was greatly modest but he was also realistic and was aware of his standing in the sci fi/fantasy/horror community), but that he took it far more matter-of-factly than did I and other fans who held his work in very high artistic esteem. He seemed pleased with his career but clearly cared more about the people that his career allowed him to meet and become friends with, especially the Hollywood people he admired.

MGP: Did you ever discuss politics or religion with RB?

RL: Only on a couple of occasions we discussed religion, and these were both quite pleasant discussions. I was, and remain, a Christian, while Bob had become pretty much of an agnostic despite some religious upbringing in his youth. But he was very much open to discussion and I was far from a bible-thumping zealot on the topic, and I recall some interesting discussions especially related to Old Testament history, and even an idea I had of setting a series of heroic fantasy stories on those epochs - kind of a Conan meets Moses scenario. Probably fortunate I never got around to actually writing that! But even in those areas of discussion where we disagreed Bob was kind and tolerant and encouraging, even though he clearly had his mind made up in many areas of politics and sociology and metaphysics.

MGP: When you met him, did you get the sense that some element of RB was still a "fan," or do you think that he had moved on by then?

RL: Bob was always a fan, and that's one of the most remarkable things about him. He never lost his fannish roots, and despite his fame and success, he still looked at many aspects of the genres he loved with the attitude of a fan. You don't always find this - a lot of former fans who have achieved professional success and stature have stepped over that very well defined line into Pro-dom and seem to consider fannish things now beneath them. Bob clearly scuffed out that line at every opportunity, and while this also meant he was vulnerable to being taken advantage of by eager fans (some well-meaning, some not so) (and he was), his approachability and generosity remain his best-remembered attributes.

MGP: In looking over "The Complete Robert Bloch," your bibliography project, I find myself impressed at the sheer scope of the project. Notwithstanding the fact that you were assisted in the project by having access to RB's files and your previous work on the Robert Bloch Fanzine, didn't you find the prospect of assembling the project daunting? How long did it take you to complete? How did the end product compare with what you had planned?

RL: The project began with The Robert Bloch Fanzine back in 1972 - and THAT began with the last version of the bibliography that had been printed in 1964. Bob gave me a copy of that and pages and pages of updates. Fortunately he kept excellent records of all his published work, which in those days, without them - and without the Internet and lots of free time to travel to libraries and universities and used book stores the world over (which I clearly didn't have, I was still living at home, just out of high school, and flat broke) - I'd never have gotten started. I contacted dozens of other collectors, I had assistance from Gene Gressley at the University of Wyoming (Laramie) Bloch Collection, but it was mostly with the updates and willingness to review and proofread everything that I got as clear a handle on the bibliography as I did. When I first started, I was too young and too naive to recognize just how daunting the project was. I was too excited to be doing it! Being able to assemble the supporting material from other fans and artists (I'd even commissioned a poem from one of my Fandom Unlimited writers who did a fine job even though I don't think she really read Bloch, but I was having too much fun gathering assorted and sundry material to notice!), and receiving kind permission from Samuel Peeples and Sam Moskowitz and others to reprint their biographies, I was very pleased with the way the first Fanzine turned out, especially the second, better printed edition. And when it came to the Complete RB, which totally refined and reformatted the bibliography, gathering the book and pulp and fanzine covers and interior illustrations I was able to include - all of which came via Bob's accessibility - I was thrilled. Taken as a complete trilogy, the three Bloch books are definitely my personal favorite achievements in horror lit.

MGP: Speaking as a collector and a fan, what surprises did you uncover in your research and assembly of "The Complete Robert Bloch"?

RL: Probably the sheer number of foreign editions that his books and stories have seen. We tend to become so saturated in our American and UK editions that we forget there's a huge world out there and Bob's library included amazing editions of his work from China, Russia, Poland - places that never even paid him since a lot of then-Iron Curtain countries didn't respect copyright laws and translated and published whatever they felt like. To imagine some high school kid in Warsaw or Shanghai or Argentina reading about Norman Bates or the Kidnaper or Jack the Ripper - and wondering what he felt about that from HIS experience in HIS country, now that made for some interesting contemplation. Otherwise, just encountering so many other people who knew and loved Bloch was quite rewarding, and the opportunity, through the process, of learning a little more about what made the man tick, what made him mad, and what met his pleasure, that was probably the most rewarding part of the process. Being allowed, in some small way, to share that world and have the opportunity to make my own impression upon him, that remains a highlight and a treasure of my life.

_______________________

The former editor/publisher of CinemaScore, CineFan, and Threshold of Fantasy magazines, Randall D. Larson has written 8 books and more than 200 articles for fantasy, fire service, public safety, cinema, and motion picture music periodicals, books, CD booklets, and Web sites. Larson is currently the editor of 9-1-1 Magazine (public safety communications and response), and a senior editor for Soundtrack magazine. Avoiding spare time at all costs, Mr. Larson is also a writer for cinescape.com while maintaining a full-time career in the field of emergency services communications.

Mr. Larson is also the author of three of the major reference books on Robert Bloch and his writings -- a book of collected interviews, a readers' guide, and a detailed bibliography, all as discussed on the FAQ page. These books may be ordered from Mr. Larson directly.

Mr. Larson can be contacted at larsonrdl@aol.com.

This interview was conducted by Michael G. Pfefferkorn via email during March 2004 It was edited by Mr. Pfefferkorn and published on this website in February 2004.

The webmaster wishes to thank Mr. Larson for his indulgence and patience in this interview.