Checkbooks too scary for horror writer
Saul has scared the living daylights out of us for the better part
of three decades with modern-day horror novels that pit young innocents
against ancient terrors and unspeakable evil.
Forget the high-concept stuff -- give him a couple
wayward teens, a house with a dark history and a drowsy small town
and stand back as Saul makes all hell break loose. He did it first
in "Suffer the Children," his 1977 debut that sold a million
copies and became the first paperback in history to scale The New
York Times' bestseller list. He does it again in his 31st novel,
"Black Creek Crossing," which manages to combine a haunted
house tale, the Salem witch trials and a coming-of-age novel in
It was either fate or serendipity that launched the
Pasadena, Calif., native into the top ranks of terror; for 15 years
prior to his breakout, he worked odd jobs and wrote non-horror novels
that nobody wanted to publish. Even "Suffer the Children"
was plan B after Dell Books said they loved his writing but rejected
his thriller based on the CB radio craze of the day ("Roger
that, good buddy").
By the time fame and fortune arrived, Saul had acquired
the strong work ethic to handle it, turning out his unbroken string
of bestsellers at better than a book a year. His success has enabled
him to spend winters at his Maui retreat and summers in the Pacific
Northwest, where he owns homes in Seattle and the San Juan Islands.
At 62, Saul is branching out with two non-scary stage
projects that are dear to his heart: "Empress," an old
fashioned Broadway musical set in Gold Rush-era San Francisco, will
be produced by the Maui Light Opera Company this spring, and his
comedy, "Last Rose of Summer," is being considered by
several theater companies.
Bankrate.com caught up with Saul in Fort Lauderdale,
Fla., on the eve of a Panama Canal cruise sponsored by the Maui
Bankrate: Like many writers, you held a series of
odd jobs before breaking into publishing, but one of yours was truly
odd. Is it true that you broke the gender barrier at Western Temp
John Saul: I know I was the first male Western Girl.
I certainly was the only one when I was there. They subsequently
took on a lot more. I would walk into these fancy offices and say,
"Hello. I'm John Saul. I'm your Western Girl," and they
would look at me like I was some loony-tune. Then I would convince
them that it wasn't some mistake, and usually at the end of the
day they would say, "You did great! Come back again tomorrow!"
Bankrate: Fastest fingers in the West?
John Saul: I used to be able to do 93 words a minute
with no errors, which I guess isn't much any more, with modern word
processing and really great keyboards that can whip out 120 words
per minute, which I think was the world record when I used to type.
But that was one those old-fashioned electrics where if you typed
too fast, the keys jammed. The manual typewriters have an absolute
speed limit, although I did know a kid who was a two-fingered typist
and he could type over 110 words a minute on a little Smith-Corona
portable. You couldn't even see the keys fly; all you heard was
what sounded like machine-gun fire.
Bankrate: How were you able to make ends meet?
John Saul: Well, you lived with a lot of other people,
and if you wanted to go out, you found some bar where they were
giving away free dinner with a beer or something. I was living mostly
in San Francisco and Los Angeles; I went back and forth a couple
of times. Fortunately, I was popular enough with Western that they
kept me busy wherever I wanted to go. They always had me a job by
the next day.
Bankrate: It was a kind rejection by Dell Books that
sent you in the direction of horror, right?
John Saul: They didn't reject me; they rejected the
book I was working on. It was a weird thriller and they already
had one just like it. It was very much of its moment; it was back
when CB radios and truckers were all the rage, so I was working
on a CB trucker thriller. It's actually a good thing they stopped
me halfway through because I had no idea where the book was going.