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October 30, 2019

Five Things to Know About the New Haunted Library of Horror Classics, with Series Editors Leslie S. Klinger and Eric J. Guignard

Posted by tom

Poisoned Pen Press/Sourcebooks recently announced the launch of its new line, The Haunted Library of Horror Classics, which will debut in January 2020 with a new edition of Gaston Leroux’s 1911 classic, THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA. Each volume in the Haunted Library will feature a specially written introduction by a horror literature scholar or author, and include notes and annotations explaining the work’s historical context and the vocabulary of its day. The brainchild of Lisa Morton, a past president of the Horror Writers Association (HWA), the series is edited by Leslie S. Klinger and Eric J. Guignard, both longtime members of the HWA. In this Q&A conducted by Michael Barson, the Director of Publicity at Poisoned Pen Press, Klinger and Guignard explain what led to the formation of the Haunted Library line and preview some of the other titles that will be published in the months to come.


Question: Can you walk us through the discussions that led to the formation of the Haunted Library line?

Leslie S. Klinger: As Treasurer of the Horror Writers Association (HWA), I've been responsible for handling the funds for previous HWA-sponsored volumes, so I was very aware of the books that had come before. Lisa Morton and I (and there may have been other participants --- I don't recall) had a conversation about additional titles. We came up with the idea of issuing a series of horror "standards," the books that should be the baseline for all modern readers. We kicked this around with Alec Shane, our agent, as well as possible publishers. I had just begun working with my long-time friends Barbara Peters and Rob Rosenwald, owners of Poisoned Pen Press, on a series of classic mysteries, and I mentioned the idea to them, with the hope that they'd consider expanding into horror. They were excited by the idea and made a proposal, which we accepted. Fortuitously, Poisoned Pen was simultaneously sold to Sourcebooks, a large independent publisher, and they too loved the idea, to be carried out by Barbara and Rob as an imprint of Sourcebooks.

Eric J. Guignard: Les and Lisa were instrumental in developing this idea. I was brought in originally under a different role when we were discussing some optional directions to take this, but then ultimately I became co-editor with Les --- which was personally the best-case scenario!

Q: Choosing THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA as the launch title makes perfect sense, given the fame of the Broadway play and film adaptation over the past 30 years. How did the two of you decide on the next several titles, none of which are nearly as familiar to today’s readers?

LSK: The question is the answer! Certainly horror aficionados and, we hope, horror writers know all of the titles we’ve selected: Richard Marsh’s THE BEETLE (more popular than DRACULA in its day), William Beckford’s VATHEK(an early but very influential work), THE HOUSE ON THE BORDERLAND by William Hope Hodgson (cited by Lovecraft as “nearly” a classic of the first water --- he dismissed its touches of sentimentality to justify the “nearly”), the horror stories of Arthur Conan Doyle, and Robert W. Chambers’ THE KING IN YELLOW. Our aim is to make these foundational books familiar to today’s reader. There are, of course, more of these --- overlooked, underappreciated, forgotten works of genius or near-genius --- that deserve to be back in the spotlight.

EJG: Over the course of several months --- and while we were working out the direction of this series with Poisoned Pen Press --- we brainstormed with Lisa Morton (former president of HWA) a “long list” of possible titles to be used (some of which will be forthcoming in the future!). We definitely wanted works that were influential in their time, but perhaps aren’t as familiar to readers as some of the popular classics (namely DRACULA and FRANKENSTEIN). I think THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA is a great choice to kick off this series as it allows readers to understand the purpose of the series with the first title being more recognizable, but then followed by the lesser-knowns; PHANTOM helps place them in context as classics of horror, as a series with consistent significance and is still of interest to the average reader.

Q: Is there a particular decade that you consider to be the platinum high point of the horror novel? If so, please make the case for it.

LSK: Personally, I think DRACULA must stand as the most influential horror novel of all time. Though it was not the first vampire novel, it became the “platinum standard” for subsequent writers in the field, combining the mesmerizing central character with a group of victims/heroes drawn as ordinary people confronting the horrific. However, it’s so well known that we may decide not to include it in the series (or FRANKENSTEIN either for the same reason).

EJG: I’m a child of the ’80s/early ’90s, so I recall bookstores vividly in that era being filled with horror titles, which has left a lasting impression of some golden age that can never be recaptured in my adult years. But apart from childhood fancy, the 1970s seems to be a remarkable decade for titles that we consider classics today (THE EXORCIST, THE SHINING, INTERVIEW WITH THE VAMPIRE, HELL HOUSE, etc.). The 1890s were particularly momentous as well, with influential titles such as DRACULA, THE TURN OF THE SCREW, THE PICTURE OF DORIAN GRAY and THE INVISIBLE MAN.

Q: As with other genres, Hollywood’s efforts to adapt classic horror novels is often off the mark. Could each of you name a film adaptation that DOES succeed in most nearly capturing the greatness of the book on which it was based?

LSK: Nosferatu comes pretty close to DRACULA in many aspects. I’m also very partial to John Carpenter’s The Thing, loosely based on H. P. Lovecraft’s AT THE MOUNTAINS OF MADNESS.

EJG: In regards to horror classics, I don’t think older movies (pre-1970s), were generally faithful to books at all, although admittedly I’m not a film buff. From the 1970s onward, movies that seem to be faithful adaptations to more modern horror books could include The Exorcist, Jaws and American Psycho (excluding the final scene!).

Q: What was the first horror novel or story that so captured your imagination that you knew this genre would remain a part of your life forever?

LSK: For me, it was DRACULA. I read it in college and was totally surprised by how scary I found it --- completely contrary to my expectations (that were based on it having been first published in 1897).

EJG: The first horror novel I read was IT by Stephen King when I was in seventh grade (about 12 or 13 years old), and I was hooked. Before that, I’d also read King’s THE EYES OF THE DRAGON, although that’s fantasy, and his short story collections (SKELETON CREW and NIGHT SHIFT). My father and my grandmother read King (as well as Dean Koontz) paperbacks and passed them down to me, dog-eared and crumpled. So needless to say, I was hugely influenced by King!