March 25, 2023

Bentley Little

Bentley Little is an American author of horror fiction and, in my opinion, the last great horror author to emerge from the 1980’s horror boom. Indeed, while the careers of the many perfectly good horror scribes ended up in a ditch by the mid-1990s, Little’s popularity carried him through. Up until 2012, Signet published a new horror novel by Bentley Little in mass market paperback every year. For the past decade or more, his novels were the only straight horror titles you could find on a paperback rack in the grocery store.

The first Bentley Little story I read was “Skin” in the Winter 1988 issue of The Horror Show. I became an immediate fan. I was a teenage author myself at the time, trying to break into the more prestigious small press magazines. That entailed ordering sample copies from any magazine that looked promising and had an address listed in the Writer’s Market. Back then, it was hard to find a small press horror magazine that didn’t contain a Bentley Little story. His tales appeared The Horror Show, Eldritch Tales, Cavalier, Space & Time, Grue, Thin Ice, Cemetery Dance, After Hours and more. He was prolific and, for my mileage, consistently good; I looked forward to every story. When his first novel, The Revelation, came out in 1990 from St. Martin’s press, I felt giddy for some reason. Maybe because I felt the New York publishing establishment had validated what I had been thinking all along — this guy is good and deserves a bigger audience. That book won the Bram Stoker award for first novel. He was off and running.

I loved his second novel The Mailman even more than The Revelation. Although it’s a book I expect the millennial generation would find ludicrous simply because the Internet makes the concept hard to swallow, as a product of its time, I think it’s a masterpiece. I am the proud owner of several editions of this book, including the fine slipcased 20th anniversary edition published by Cemetery Dance in 2012. I read the first mass market paperback edition right after it came out. It’s in the gallery below. The first paperback edition of this book, with the post office cancellation title, is scarce. I have not seen another copy of that edition anywhere except on eBay, and even there I’ve only seen it twice.

As Bentley Little was, and has once again become, one of my favorite authors, I have fond memories of moments in time when I was reading his books. The Association reminds me of early mornings in the quiet hours before the kids awoke, sitting on the back porch with the cats, drinking coffee with the crowing of roosters in the distance. The Resort reminds me of my first trip to Las Vegas. The Summoning reminds me of one sunny summer staying with my father, where I read it poolside in Colorado Springs. This was his only novel published by Zebra Books. The first paperback edition of University, also posted in the gallery below, marked his long-standing return to the Signet roster.

I admit there was a time, a little over ten years ago, when I thought I might be done reading Bentley Little’s books. Looking back, I can only ascribe this to a particular phase of my life. My tastes in fiction at the time had taken a hard turn toward mystery and crime. I was burned out on reading horror. I made it halfway through The Resort and gave up. I remember talking on message boards with other horror readers, and they were baffled at my reaction to the book. I shrugged it off — art is open to interpretation after all — but there’s a feeling you get if you feel like you might have to part ways with your favorite author. It’s like a great relationship gone wrong. Those early novels of his were among the many that carried me through some rough times. And now … well, allow me to fast forward to 2011. My wife and I were living in a community with a homeowners association. The creeps in that HOA displayed increasing levels of invasiveness and general dumbfuckery. About that time, I came across Little’s novel The Association and knew I had to read it. To this day, The Association is one of my favorite horror novels. It rekindled my love for his work, and I have been catching up the past several years on everything I missed.

It’s worth noting that I eventually came back to The Resort. I took it with me on that trip to Las Vegas I mentioned and read it cover to cover, utterly dumbfounded that I could have disliked the novel in the first place. Strangely, the things I remembered distinctly disliking about the book were not even present in the story when I re-read it. Wouldn’t it be just like a Bentley Little novel to re-write itself for a second reading? I have to add that it never sat well with me that I had abandoned reading his stories, since I’d really enjoyed so much of his early work. Coming back to the Little camp was a bit like coming home. The older I get, the more I enjoy his special brand of horror.

I’ve gone on quite long enough about my personal experiences with Little’s work, so I’ll share just a few things I know about his career. Little earned a Bachelor’s degree in Communications and a Master’s degree in English and Comparative Literature from California State University, where he met Dean Koontz at a book signing when he was still a student at the school. He’d had stories published in The Horror Show by then. When Little introduced himself, Koontz recognized his name and offered to help him get an agent for his first novel, The Revelation, which he’d written as his master’s thesis. It sold to St. Martin’s Press, which published it in hardcover and mass market paperback. His second novel, The Mailman, was published by Onyx, an imprint of New American Library. I recall reading somewhere along the line (if anyone remembers the source of this information, please jog my memory), that an editor at NAL rejected his third novel The Summoning. When that book was published by Zebra, someone higher up at NAL called down to the editorial staff to find out why they hadn’t published the book and essentially “corrected the oversight,” which resulted in Little’s long standing relationship with Signet, also an imprint of NAL.

Along the way, Little’s work was championed by Stephen King. King had read and enjoyed The Mailman, providing a blurb for the book. He named Little’s books in his summer reading lists in Entertainment Weekly.  Years later, he happened to be carrying Little’s novel The House when King was struck by the van that almost killed him in 1999. When this came out in the press, sales of the book soared.

Little is a self-professed Luddite and not a fan of the Internet. In an interview with an Orange County paper on the publication of The Academy, he admitted that his publisher was pushing him to do more promotions or book signings, but these things appealed to him not at all, as he prefers to keep to himself.  He is the author of 25 novels and three short story collections to-date. His last book published by Signet was The Haunted, released in 2012. Since then, his novels have been released in hardcover, trade paperback, and ebook formats by Cemetery Dance. The Handyman is due to be released this October.

To browse the list of his titles currently available in print and eBook editions, click here.

These cover scans are from the library of author Christopher Fulbright.

Christopher Fulbright

Christopher Fulbright is the author of short stories, novellas, and full-length novels of fantasy and horror. His short stories have appeared in many venues--webzines, magazines, and anthologies--since 1993. Fulbright received the Richard Laymon President's Award in 2008 from the HWA, and his short stories have received honorable mentions in "The Year's Best Fantasy and Horror" and "Best Horror of the Year." He is a former journalist turned technical writer, an unrepentant horror fan, and owner/webmaster of Realms of Night.

View all posts by Christopher Fulbright →

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