Robert R. McCammon

Robert R. McCammon is an American author of horror and historical suspense. He was, of course, one of the giants of the genre during the horror boom, legitimately placed on par with usual suspects from the horror pantheon including King, Koontz, Straub, et al. He is a New York Times bestseller and multiple award-winning author.

McCammon was born and raised by his grandparents in Birmingham, Alabama and graduated from the University of Alabama with a B.A. in Journalism in 1974. He was eager to become a reporter in the wake of the 1972 Washington Post exposé by Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein that blew the lid off Watergate, leading to the bestselling novel and subsequent movie All the President’s Men.  He was not the only one inspired by the work of Woodward and Bernstein; their investigation had romanticized the profession and intrigued many, so there was a lot of competition for jobs at the time. McCammon was hard-pressed to find a position as a reporter. He eventually landed a position as copyeditor and headline writer for the Birmingham Post-Herald, but this left him frustrated and unhappy. During this time he turned his eye toward writing a novel, channeling his inner turmoil into Baal.

Baal was accepted and published in paperback by Avon books in 1978. He admits in retrospect that he was surprised by this — not expecting his first novel to sell so readily — but he quickly forged ahead and wrote The Night Boat. About this time the horror movie Shock Waves was released, which contained elements similar to his novel, so Avon was reluctant to publish it, opting instead to release his third novel Bethany’s Sin in 1980 as his follow-up to Baal. Avon published The Night Boat later that same year.  They Thirst was published in 1981, followed by Mystery Walk and Usher’s Passing in 1983 and 1984. Mystery Walk was McCammon’s first hardcover release, published by Holt, Rinehart, and Winston, who also published Usher’s Passing in hardcover. At this time he switched paperback publishers to Ballantine Books, who did interesting things with cover art — Mystery Walk had three variations, and Usher’s Passing featured striking, embossed art.

On a personal note, my fondness for Usher’s Passing is the primary reason I am writing this article two days before Halloween. It is a fantastic novel that should be appreciated by anyone who likes a good occult horror tale, but especially those like me who grew up with Edgar Allan Poe at their bedsides. Usher’s Passing is one of the penultimate autumn horror novels, and I highly recommend it.

By 1986, McCammon had met with praise and accolades for his work, but admitted to feeling isolated from fellow writers in the genre. With the idea of fostering a horror community and organization to help writers of like-mind, he reached out to his friends Joe and Karen Lansdale to help organize H.O.W.L — the Horror and Occult Writers League. This later became the Horror Writers of America, with Dean Koontz serving as the first official president. Later still, the organization expanded to include members world-wide and became the Horror Writers Association, which continues to this day.

The year 1987 marked the publication of what some feel is McCammon’s masterpiece Swan Song, an epic that drew inevitable comparisons to The Stand, if only because it was a long novel about the apocalypse by a horror novelist. This also marked McCammon’s return to the paperback format exclusively for a while, with the exception of Stinger, which was released in a Book Club hardcover format the following year. In 1987, McCammon also contributed three stories to Night Visions IV, appearing alongside Dean R. Koontz and Edward Bryant, and an introduction by Clive Barker. One of my favorite McCammon short stories, “The Deep End,” appears in this anthology and remains uncollected elsewhere, as far as I know. It won the 1987 Bram Stoker Award for Best Short Story.

Pocket Books handled the publication of McCammon’s remaining titles through 1993, by which time his books were being released in hardcover once again. These include what I feel is a timeless classic Boy’s Life (see my review here), Mine, and Gone South.

By this time McCammon had published 12 well-received novels and the collection Blue World. He took some time to focus on family and spend more time with his wife and daughter. He took two years to complete his next novel, Speaks the Nightbird, which was a significant departure from the work he had done up to that point. Since it was not a “McCammon novel” — at least as far as the publishers were concerned — they recommended changes to the book that would have transformed it into a historical romance.  Editorial commentary on the book led McCammon to pull it from consideration and start work on another novel, The Village, which took three years to finish. Again a significant departure from his previous work, publishers were cool on the book overall. Finally, McCammon announced his retirement from writing fiction in 1999.

Of course, we all know that was by no means the end of the story — Speaks the Nightbird was published in hardcover by a small Alabama press, River City, in 2002.  This opened the door for McCammon to return to the world of fiction. In a somewhat ironic twist of fate, Pocket Books ultimately published the book in mass market and trade paperback editions. He has written several new works since then, including new horror and historical novels released by Subterranean Press, Pocket Books, and TOR. As of this writing, his latest novel The Listener, is scheduled to be released in Feburary 2018 from Cemetery Dance Publications. Perhaps this goes without saying, but anyone looking for information on Robert McCammon needs to visit his official website, which is maintained and curated by Hunter Goatley.  It contains staggering amounts of information on McCammon and is frankly one of the best author websites I’ve visited. For fellow paperback collectors, it includes complete cover galleries for every edition published to-date.

To browse the list of Robert McCammon’s titles currently available in print and eBook editions, click here.

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

Leave a Reply