Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Tribute: Richard Matheson (February 20, 1926 – June 23, 2013)

Richard Burton Matheson (February 20, 1926 – June 23, 2013)

Sunday we lost one of the greatest story tellers of the 20th Century. Richard Matheson is author of more than two dozen novels, as many screenplays and teleplays. Unlike his contemporary Ray Bradbury or Stephen King who he was major influence on I believe most are familiar with his work but not his name. When you start naming his work people know right away. I Am Legend, Stir of Echoes,The Beardless Warriors, Duel, Somewhere in Time, What Dreams may come and probably most of all his classic Twilight Zones.

I read my first Richard Matheson novel in 8th grade, I was a young horror geek who was reading every Stephen King and Clive Barker book I could get my hands on. I watched a lot of Twilight Zone episodes because it was one of my favorite shows. I kept noticing that a lot of my favorite episodes were written by Richard Matheson. At some point I was at a local used Bookstore Cavet emptor looking through horror books and I saw several books by him. So I picked up a collection Shock II (still on my shelf) and I Am Legend. I instantly became a fan for life. Have read some of those books multiple times, my favorite being What Dreams May Come.

As reader who eventually wanted to become a writer Matheson was master of story-telling who had a no frills approach. To me he had almost no weakness, he was great at every aspect of story telling, this was displayed in his screenplays as well as novels. What I learned personally from reading Matheson was how perfectly he knew how to unveil moments of suspense. Matheson was master at giving you moments and flavors that ramp up suspense.

I was able to meet Matheson two times when I lived in Southern California. The first time I was in the same room with him at a screenwriting conference in LA where he was interviewed on stage by Harlan Ellison. This was great because Ellison started taking over the interview, like he does. Few stand up to Ellison but Matheson did asking his son author RC Matheson to finish the interview.

A year later Matheson released a small press novel and did a singing at So Cal’s all horror bookstore Dark Delicacies. Just standing across a table and saying Hi blew my mind, even more so than meeting Clive Barker I was star-struck. This is the dude who wrote about a planet of vampires in the 50’s and the thing on the wing of the plane in the 60’s… He was excited because I had a copy of his often forgotten Horror-western novel The Shadow of the Sun to sign.

Then at the 2005 Bram Stoker awards in LA after a panel about the Twilight Zone I got a chance to speak to him for a moment. I told him what an influence reading “I Am Legend,” was as a young man. I wanted him to know how heartbreaking the chapter where Neville tries to earn the trust of the dog was. He shook my hand and told me that he workshopped that novel in a class in 1954. That the teacher of the class pointed to that chapter and told him how powerful that chapter was. He said that chapter gave him confidence.

I Am Legend is a masterwork of both science fiction, and it’s author was always a hero to me. In that moment he was a human, and I felt connected to him beyond the stories. We as authors have that greatness inside, few however will grab it like Matheson did.

My personal Matheson collection minus the signed hardcovers shelved with my signed books. That copy of Shock II is the same one I bought in 8th grade.

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