Richard Matheson—Storyteller

An Interview with Richard Matheson—Storyteller: Past, Present, and Future

Matheson’s Other Kingdoms has been hailed by the Associated Press as “Believable as well as compelling…Matheson himself is a literary faerie of sorts, his trick being his ability to coax us off a story’s familiar pathway to take us deep and deeper into his world.” (You can read an excerpt here.) This romantic fantasy from the creator of Somewhere in Time concerns 18-year-old Alex White, who in 1918 travels from the trenches of World War I to the seemingly placid setting of Gatford, a pastoral English village. But Alex will also take a journey into the faerie realm known as the Middle Kingdom.

Like What Dreams May Come, this novel includes a bibliography, although unlike the afterlife, wicca and faeries were not lifelong interests for Matheson, who found his material at the Bodhi Tree bookstore in Los Angeles. “I had looked for a research subject for about a year,” he recalls. “I had two groups of books, one about backpacking, so I used [that] first for Hunted Past Reason [published by Tor in 2002]. I had piled up a lot of books about the Middle Kingdom, and I also had a number of books about World War I trench warfare, so I just decided to combine the two.”

As is often the case, Matheson incorporates many details from his own life and family, sharing with Alex both a birthday and such biographical details as a Brooklyn upbringing and combat experience in a World War. Typically, the name of his enchanting faerie protagonist, Ruthana, mirrors that of his wife, Ruth Ann, whom he calls “my faerie princess.” Of Alex’s dictatorial sire, Captain Bradford Smith White, USN, Matheson adds, “The nautical father was Ruth’s, not mine. My father was in the Norwegian merchant marine, but it never had any effect on my life.”

Alex is also a professional writer, who tells the story in flashback as the 82-year-old author of the bestselling Midnight series, written under the nom de plume of Arthur Black. Matheson had first planned to write it without the framing device, but “decided I didn’t know how to do that. When you’re 85, it’s a little hard to think with the mind of an 18-year-old.” Because he has often said that he would be better known if he had stuck to writing the same kind of books every time, one gets the sense that Black—with his frequent punning asides—is the writer he never wanted to be.

Ruthana’s rival for Alex’s affections, the wiccan shapeshifter Magda, is a fascinating creation, at once seductive and terrifying, and in general Matheson seems to have lavished extra attention to characterization in writing Other Kingdoms. “I hope so,” he said. “I tried to give it a little more depth than I usually do.” Asked about the story’s obvious cinematic potential, he replied, “I had thought for a while of James Cameron, because he’s pretty good at big stories. I’m not familiar with the younger directors, unfortunately, [but the lead] would have to be an 18-year-old actor.”

Despite mixed results with such films as I Am Legend (2007) and The Box (2009), Hollywood still turns to Matheson for its source material, including executive producer Steven Spielberg’s forthcoming Real Steel, based on the story “Steel” and starring Hugh Jackman. “I hear it’s so good that they’re talking about a sequel,” Matheson reports. Television, too, has not neglected his work of late: just last year, his story “The Splendid Source” was loosely adapted on Family Guy, and Jude Law starred in a parody of “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet” on Saturday Night Live.

Given this multimedia success, Matheson’s conquest of the stage has been overdue ever since the abortive Broadway production of his mystery-suspense play Magician’s Choice during the ’70s. Although he continued trying to get it produced after converting it into the novel Now You See It…, “It seemed like the [Old] Globe [Theatre] was going to do [it], and then they lost so much money doing the Sammy Davis Jr. story [Sammy] that they dropped the whole project. Wild Bill and His Lady [his one-man show based on The Memoirs of Wild Bill Hickok] is in total limbo.”

Fortunately, plans for a Broadway musical of Somewhere in Time, with a libretto co-written by Matheson, seem to be forging ahead. “I haven’t heard from [producer/co-writer Ken Davenport] lately, but I gather so, until I hear otherwise,” he says. Meanwhile, he has resumed writing short stories, despite swearing off them after “Duel” 40 years ago, and two of his recent efforts, “The Window of Time” (The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, September-October, 2010) and “Dr. Morton’s Folly” (Vice, December 2009), are scheduled to appear in Tor’s Real Steel.

Perhaps the most exciting recent development is the formation by Matheson and his son, Richard Christian, of Matheson Entertainment to increase control of their work on screen. “We’re trying to get a corporate entity financed by some studio. At the moment, Twentieth Century seems the closest. We’ve got like 150 different projects, most of them mine, but Richard has a lot, too.” One is an expansion of his story “Witch War”; says Matheson pére, “We’ve worked out a very clever storyline. We also have another one where we’re expanding on ‘The Children of Noah.’”

Continuing a burst of productivity that belies his age, Matheson has written another new novel, Generations, based on his family history, and has an e-book, Lyrics, in the works. The author, who has written two songs recorded by Perry Como, notes, “I’ve been writing them since I was 17. There are a load of others. They haven’t [been produced]; that’s why I tried to get them into book form.” Regarding the growing body of work that documents and celebrates his growing body of work (Richard Matheson on Screen, The Twilight and Other Zones, He Is Legend), he modestly concluded, “It’s very nice, very flattering. I mean, I don’t believe a word of it, but…”

Matthew R. Bradley is the author of Richard Matheson on Screen, praised by Mystery Scene as “remarkable,” and the co-editor—with Stanley Wiater and Paul Stuve—of The Richard Matheson Companion (Gauntlet, 2008), revised and updated as The Twilight and Other Zones: The Dark Worlds of Richard Matheson (Citadel, 2009). Check out his blog, Bradley on Film.


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