(This interview originally written for The Romance Reader in 1996)
Author Douglas Clegg first introduced himself on the Prodigy romance novel BB last year under the heading “A Guy Who Reads It!”
Because so many authors and readers of romantic fiction are involved with men who don’t or won’t read it, he became very popular. Soon he became the point man on all sorts of issues involved in romantic fiction from a male perspective.
Well, not only is Doug a guy who reads it, he is a guy who would like to write it. He may very well one day because he is already a popular genre author, albiet in an utterly different genre – horror.
His latest release, The Children’s Hour, was a lead release by Dell last fall. It is intensely horrifying and intensely bizarre. Author Kathryn Lynn Davis, who once shared an editor and an agent with Doug, said that she wasn’t sure she wanted to meet him because what comes from his imagination is so strange. Well, when they finally did meet, she was glad they did.
Although strange things do eminate from his imagination, Doug himself is . . . just a guy who reads it.
–Laurie Likes Books
On Romance In General:
“Here’s what I love about romance novels: when they’re done well, the novels transport you to a completely and fully imagined world in which love is the central emotion. I think one given in the human condition is our very real need and interest in love. . . One aspect of human love is romantic love. Romantic love, I believe, gives us a connection to a sense of eternity. Now, whether you believe in eternity or not, it’s a great connection anyway.
“There is something timeless about romantic love, even when it’s ended, it’s as if it was a golden moment out of time. That’s part of my draw towards romance fiction. The other reason, and I know some romance readers who feel the same way (only the mirror opposite) is: I write horror. I write about people who face terrors of the imagination. So, for relief, I often pick up a romance because it’s the polar opposite of horror. And still, both genres are within the “fantasy” boundaries of Anything-Can-Happen.
“We all live in the harsh glare of reality: work, debts, love that sometimes works, sometimes does not, worrying about taxes, etc. The novels of the imagination (and here I’d classify romance, science fiction, fantasy, and horror–there may be others, too) are great escapes from that, but escapes that all point you towards a different way of looking at the reality around you, of emphasizing other priorities in the world rather than the prosaic.”
On What This Guy Reads:
“I like, primarily, historicals. I just love costume dramas and epics, and books you can sink into for hours. I love Kathryn Lynn Davis, and the way she richly describes Scotland, and India, and any number of places which become the backdrops for her novels. I love Julie Garwood’s witty and expertly written novels. I fell in love with Jude Devereaux’s novels first, because I had spoken with Jude. Then I read all of them in a few months, and was dazzled by her spirit of fun and adventure in those novels. Then, I started devouring a ton of them.
“You know, non-romance readers don’t know this, but I do try to spread the word: romance fiction is a fiction of a love for language and reading.” “I can’t specify why, but I find a richness in the best romance fiction that I don’t always find in other genres. I love the way characters feel things deeply in romance fiction. I’ve got to admit, I enjoy the sensual scenes, but not the overtly sexual (just as in horror, I enjoy implied terror, but not physical dismemberment).
“I also adore gothics, and I think it’s time for a return to those. I loved Nora Lofts’ writing, and Phyllis Whitney, Barbara Michaels/Elizabeth Peters, and anything by Daphne DuMaurier–but especially The House on the Strand.”
On Stereotyping Of Genre Fiction Such As Romance And Horror:
“I don’t feel that any of the genres are literary step-children. That’s just one of those pc things that people who are not well-read in the classics think. And I think there are a lot of people like that, who are not as well-read as they’d like to be, so they latch on to a certain snobbery which has nothing to do with actual fiction. I mean, there are good genre books and bad ones–we all know that.
“The best are as good as the best literature. Beowulf, our language’s epic, is essentially a horror novel. Tennyson’s poetry of Arthur and the Lady of Shalott are romances. The Scarlett Letter is both romance and terror (and other things, too). Moby Dick is, in it’s own way, both romance and a horror novel.
“Actually, now that I’m mouthing off here, I think there’s often a connection between horror and romance in fiction. The Great Gatsby is both a romance and a very dark story. Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises could be called a romance (he wrote a lot about doomed romance). So I think it’s a fake intellectual snobbery when someone puts down romance or any genre, across the board. A bad novel is a bad novel, but a great one is still a great one regardless of genre.”
On The Act Of Writing:
“When I’m writing, I’m playing God, and I think God has a completely different agenda from the rest of us. What worries the characters doesn’t worry me. What causes emotion during writing for me is simply the act of creating. It hurts sometimes, and I can’t sleep or eat for days. Or else, I eat constantly and sleep all the time. It’s not an enjoyable state. Writing a novel is a stormy thing.
“I do a lot of research on the settings for my novels. But I love it–I tend to go live there for awhile or draw on my past knowledge of those places. My novels have been set in Virginia, Washington DC, West Virginia, the islands off the coast of Georgia, California, New York–all the places I’ve lived and loved. I also do what I think could be called Serendipitous research: that is, I read a lot of non fiction, and after awhile, ideas come together into a novel. But do I go to the library and look up a million things? Nope. It would kill for me what I love about my novels–a certain intuitive sponteneity.”
On Writing Horror:
“I hate scaring people. I have friends that enjoy scaring people, but I enjoy telling a story. Sometimes that involves thrills and chills, but I don’t enjoy scaring anyone. A story is very organic–it develops where it develops, and I don’t believe you can really hamper a good story if you try.
“I don’t think my emotions are any more on the surface than any one. When my emotions take over, it’s usually for a very strong reason that’s essential to what I believe. I do like to make people laugh, and certainly, regarding my fiction, I want to try to get the reader to a point of weeping for whatever is lost among the people in the novel.
“Whether it’s innocence, or a child, or a loved one, or heck, even a dog, I think it’s important for readers to have a cathartic moment. This is a point of touch between the reader and writer, and at those places where we share a common emotion, the novel becomes genuine. I do cry at a certain point in every one of my novels. Usually at the point when the bravest and foolish and doomed thing is done; when someone stands up for what’s compassionate or what’s right over their own fears.”
On What Made The Guy a Writer:
I have wanted to be a writer since I was about seven years old. I also wanted to be an artist. The artist part (painting, sketching) I put forth in school very early as I was proficient at it. But I knew by the age of nine that I was never going to be good enough as an artist. The writing I kept secret within my family. My mother and father encouraged me very early towards writing by getting me my own typewriter at the age of seven or eight.
“I used to hide the stories I wrote when I was little, and sometimes I destroyed them if I thought someone might sneak into my desk and read them. I was a reader very early, as I think most people who have a love for books are readers well before the age our culture tells them they should be.
“My folks by the way were so encouraging in the arts, that my two brothers became opera singers, and me, the writer. My sister, who was smarter than all of us, is a lawyer. Now, if only we’d had a doctor in the family. . .
“I will and have read anything. I love to read. I love to love a novel and I love to hate one, too. I love to feel so strongly about a book that I want to throw it across the room in anger if I feel the author betrayed the story with some cheap trick. I fell in love with authors of novels very early, too, and couldn’t get enough of them–reading biographies and magazine interviews. I was hungry for the bookworld in a way I have never been hungry for anything else… except perhaps doughnuts.”
That’s Right – Blame It On Mom:
“Regarding horror: I have always wanted to write novels with elements of terror. This was a love passed on to me, inadvertantly, by my mother. When I was very little, she would read us Edgar Allen Poe’s poetry ( I am still haunted by Annabelle Lee, and remember that poem word for word, although I have not read it since I was seven or eight).
“Even when she read bible stories to us, she always got to the good stuff (in a kid’s opinion): the battles, the destruction of cities, the mad king who goes and thinks he’s a bull and eats grass, the guy in the lion’s den who might be torn limb from limb, the three individuals walking into the furnace– all of these fascinated me as a kid, and still do.
“Also, my mom would hear me screaming while I watched Twilight Zone with my older brothers. She’d come in and turn it off in the middle. In my mind, the stories were MORE terrifying because I’d imagine the scariest possible situation as the ending for the stories. Years later, when I watched the reruns, I was surprised by how tame some of the endings for those shows were. So, inadvertantly, mom got me thinking about horrific situations.”
Some More About The Guy:
“I’m 38 (just), graduated from Washington & Lee University with a bachelor’s in English Literature. Studied at the Alliance Francaise in France for a year, too. Married. I live . . . in southern California in a little cottage surrounded by fruit trees–we got apricots, peaches, oranges, olives, cumquats, apples, lemons, pomegranates and persimmons . . . . Also, avocados–can’t leave those out, as I love them. So I have a bit of paradise here, which is good on those terrible writing days.
On Romance And Real Life:
“I think my significant other and I lead a definitely romantic life. We married purely for love, and if we’d both had been smarter, we would’ve gone for money and comfort instead (a joke). In fact, most writers live a romantic life, because to write a novel at the end of the twentieth century is definitely an act of defiance against the world–and what is romance, but a defiance of social pressures and sometimes even logic?
“Am I romantic date? Hardly. I like to go to the beach for walks, we go to the movies or work in the garden. Or just go for drives when the pressure of work or normal life get to be too much. To me, that’s romantic.”
About What She Said:
“I am not sure what she (Kathryn Lynn Davis) meant, but as someone who’s always prided himself on a frightening imagination, I’m complimented that such a terrific writer would say that about me. I love fear (not in real life, but in fiction)–and the resolving of fear, as in life, is courage. I love courage, too. I admire courageous people. So, if my mind is a bit frightening, it’s also a bit courageous, too.”