Our local branch of the HWA, the Indiana Horror Writers, got wind that long time horror writer Jerry (J.N.) Williamson was in a nursing home and decided to make paying him regular visits a part of what we want to do. As we entered the Riverwalk Village, I was immediately reminded why I have set two horror short stories in a nursing home. A couple of us had either worked in a nursing home or had close relatives in a nursing home, so we kind of knew what we were getting into.

The posture that I tend to assume, without trying to sound like a suckass (probably not the best theological term), is that as someone relatively new to the genre, I pay attention to people who have been doing it longer than I have. Plus, I was raised to listen to and respect my elders. Granted, none of us had ever met Jerry Williamson before (um, nor was he expecting us), and I was only passingly familiar with some of his work. We didn’t know what to expect from him. We needn’t have worried.

He greeted us like we were family popping in for a visit. Since I wasn’t there to interview him, I won’t report things like this was one, but I will sum up some of our conversation.

How long have you been writing?
For about fifty years. I always loved to write, but it got easier once I got myself into a routine.

How did you get interested in horror?
Through a movie called The Omen. I thought that I could do a better job of creating a situation where a group of people would be threatened by something else.

He wanted to know who some of the people we enjoyed reading were. One of our members said Peter Straub, citing his novel Ghost Story.
Peter Straub is one of the best writers in the business. Ghost Story is one of the finest ghost novels ever written. (I mentioned a few names that I was currently into, to which Jerry responded, “don’t stick with those guys too long.”)

Which led into his doling out advice to us new, up-coming writers.
I don’t like writers who criticize other writers or make a name for themselves by ripping another to pieces. Though I’d done it in my time to people I couldn’t stand. And you’ve got to be knowledgeable about your field. I’m glad to see lady writers making it in horror writing. I love the different perspectives. You’re entitled to write whatever damn thing you feel like writing. There’s no reason to not try and be the best writer you can be.

Who are some of your favorite writers?
Robert R. McCammon. He does his homework thoroughly and has worked at becoming a better and better writer. And it shows. (Okay, one of our members mentioned that McCammon was sweet looking in his author’s photo, to which Jerry quipped that “he wears it well.”)

The great Charles Beaumont. Always prolific, he wrote for Twilight Zone. A darn shame about his passing. Richard Matheson. I never read anything by him that I didn’t like. He has a firm finger on the reader’s pulse. Fredric Brown. He wrote exciting novels and exciting short stories, and odd horror stories. He had so many ideas. Obviously, I’m a fan of the writers that I invited into my Masques anthologies. All are top notch pros who should be read more.

Then this was given to me as a homework assignment. I’m to go out, read the anthology and report back on what I thought of the writers and stories. After checking out the table of contents, I’ll probably end up picking up Masques 2 also. This really was turning into quite the lesson for me.

He then turned his attentions to some of his favorites in the industry.
Tracy Knight. Mort Castle is a friend of mine. He knows writing as well as anyone I’ve ever met. He knows it and respects it. He’s a jewel. If you pay attention to Mort, you will sell a story or know why you haven’t. Gary Braunbeck. If you write well, he’ll get behind you and push. I said about one of his novels that he’d written one of the finest novels that I’ve ever read in my fifty years. He’s one of the nicest guys that I’d ever met. (Then he commenced to tell tales on Gary. If you want to hear them, you have to go see Jerry). You have to read Castle and Braunbeck.

(Okay, he admitted that he, Tracy, Mort, and Gary form a bit of a mutual admiration society, but that didn’t make his feelings any less genuine.) At this point, I gave him a copy of From the Borderlands, and raved about Gary A. Braunbeck’s “Rami Temporalis.” I originally worried about the type being too small, but he immediately started to peruse it, almost forgetting that we were still there.

We asked if there was anything we could bring him on our next visit. He said whatever the new Koontz was.
Dean Koontz is my favorite “any old time of year” kind of writer. The Bad Place. Absolutely wonderful. The kind of book that makes you want to give up writing. He’s the modern champion suspense writer.

There are some people you just get a vibe about. With Jerry, I just got this feeling that his intentions are good and honorable. He’s blunt, surprisingly spry, and a gentle man. We want to make it part of our “mission” as IHW to visit him at least once a month.

Though next time, I’ve got to remember to bring a lighter.

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