Ken Eulo (CD #63)

For this installment of Where Are They Now?, we tracked down Ken Eulo, who’s best known for his horror trilogy centering on a young woman named Chandal, which included the novels The Brownstone (1980), The Bloodstone (1981), and The Deathstone (1982).  Eulo also authored five stand-alone genre novels: Nocturnal (1983), which focused on clairvoyance; The Ghost of Veronica Gray (1985), a story of ghostly possession; the vampire novel The House of Caine (1988); Manhattan Heat (1991), a thriller involving Santeria and the New York subway; and Claw (1994; co-authored with Joe Mauck), which concerns secret scientific experiments and a 700-pound Siberian tiger loose in LA’s Griffith Park. With Tor Books reprinting The House of Caine this year, it seemed like a particularly appropriate time to catch up with Eulo and see what he’s been up to over the last several years…

CD: Let’s start with the beginning of your writing career…am I correct that you were a successful playwright before publishing your first novel in 1980?

KE: Yes, I was a Eugene O’Neill playwright, and I also had four or five off-Broadway productions; I wrote Black Jesus, which was produced at Lincoln Center; I also had a lot of plays done at regional theaters—The Hartford Playhouse, Louisville Repertory Theater, the Plattsburgh Playhouse, and so forth. I’ve written some 48 plays. And I still put on three or four one-act plays every eight weeks, here in Florida.

CD: Did any of your plays feature horror themes or elements?

KE: You know, it’s funny…you have to realize that I didn’t come out as a “horror” writer. To me, there are three categories: there’s suspense, and if you can’t sustain suspense, you drop to horror, and if you can’t sustain horror, you drop to gore. Which is what I feel has happened with a lot of writers, which is why horror has fallen somewhat out of favor. When I started writing, I was much more interested in suspense, playing with the readers’ minds. In fact, Simon & Schuster basically coined the term for a whole new genre for me; they couldn’t figure out what exactly I was writing, so they decided to call it dark fantasy.

CD: OK, let’s rephrase, then.…did any of your plays feature horror, suspense, or dark fantasy elements?  (Laughs)

KE: OK, yes. There’s The Frankenstein Affair, which was done off-Broadway; it was recently done at the Orlando Shakespeare Festival, and has been done all over the country. It’s about Mary Shelley writing Frankenstein, and it uses a split set where one set features Mary Shelley, and the people she’s dealing with in her life are the bits and pieces of her novel, and then on another set we’re actually doing Frankenstein. So, is that horror? (Laughs) I certainly think so.

And I wrote a play called Puritan Night, which is about the Salem witch trials; the Hartford Stage Company did that. Another one of my plays is about Beatrice Cenci, who was totally immersed in witchcraft during the Italian Renaissance—and I’m now writing that story as a novel, called A Witch’s Tale. And then…there’s Billy Hofer and the Quarterback Sneak, which was about the reincarnation of a woman from Dachau, who’s running up and down the halls with a hammer, and going to kill this kid. Is that horror? I think so.

So yes, I think some of my plays reflected the same kind of horror that I went into in my novels.

CD: And so you decided to dip your toes into novel-writing… why horror/dark fantasy?

KE: Because I just didn’t like the “standard” novel. Back at that time, Harvard and Yale and all the others, they were going to what I call “cold, cool literature about suburbia” almost like we’ve around to again with Desperate Housewives. And that stuff just didn’t interest me, mainly because as a playwright, I had a much more theatrical background, where you’re able to use sound and lighting and extraordinary actors…so, the common angst of suburbia just didn’t interest me, unless the underbelly of it was…more horrific.

So, the first one I wrote was The Brownstone, and I wrote that because I wanted it to take place in New York, in the city, not out in suburbia or in a rural area. I wrote it to be horror taking place…within horror. It seemed to me almost that living in New York was horrible enough—that that was the real horror.

When I wrote the Brownstone, Bloodstone, and Deathstone books, I wasn’t so much writing about a girl who was possessed by witches as I was a girl who might be schizophrenic. I always liked to write about the real world, which could suddenly drift into…unnatural circumstances.

CD: And was The Brownstone the first novel you actually wrote, or…?

KE: No, there was The Last Remains of Edgar G., which Yale published, and then I wrote Her Husband, Her Son, which never got published because it was too soft. You could say I wrote three or four novels…and then one day, I read The Amityville Horror, and I thought to myself “Oh Christ, I could do this in my sleep.” And so I wrote The Brownstone. That was my response to The Amityville Horror.

CD: Did you plan on The Brownstone books being a trilogy right from the get-go, or did that develop over time?

KE: Actually, it became a trilogy as a result of arguing with Simon & Schuster. At the end of The Brownstone, [they wanted the main character] to come out of the fire and live happily ever after, and I said “what are you, crazy? She killed her husband, she set the brownstone on fire, she’s been possessed by two major witches. There’s no happily ever after.” And they said, “well, you’ve got her in an asylum, why don’t you at least let her out of the asylum?” And I said “OK, I will.” And so I let her out of the asylum…but still possessed.

And they said, “you can’t do that, she’s been through too much already.” And I said “listen, that’s the truth of the story.” And so I wrote that ending where she walked out of the asylum, still possessed. And there was a sense of “oh my God, what’s going to happen to her?” So I decided to tell that story; I decided she was going to go to Hollywood.  (laughs) She’s going to meet a nice guy, but she’s going to be drawn back to New York—because I was really writing a metaphor about actors who’re torn between Hollywood and New York.

CD: After publishing your first five titles through Simon & Schuster/Pocket, you moved to Tor Books for The House of Caine in 1988. How did that move come about?

KE: It was very simple—they cut their horror line, they bailed out. Some new execs came in, and all the people that I’d worked with left. And Pocket decided they weren’t going to put any more money into their horror line, because by that time splatterpunk had arrived on the scene, and it was just getting ridiculous—the horror audience was fleeing by the truckloads.

And so I went to Tor for The House of Caine and Manhattan Heat, and then I wound up going back to Simon & Schuster for Claw, which I wrote with Michael Korda. But that didn’t work out because [Simon & Schuster] wanted me to write Michael Crichton-style books, and I said “great, it took my two years, working seven days a week, to do all the research and write Claw, and now you want me to put out a book a year?” That wasn’t going to happen.

And then after Claw, I went back to the theatre, because a lot of my plays started being done again. By that time I was producing a lot at The Courtyard [Playhouse], and from there I took it on the road and went to Europe, and…theatre took back over.

CD: And I believe that at some point in there, you moved from New York to Florida, correct?

KE: No, not exactly. I moved from New York to LA, where I was Creative Consultant for Paramount Studios, did The Bob Newhart Show, did Marblehead Manor, became a staff writer, did Golden Girls, Benson, Hawaii Five-O. From there, I moved to Florida because of my son, and then when I got to Florida, I realized that there were an awful lot of people in Florida who had come from New York, so I started the New York Acting Ensemble again here. Before you know it, I was up to my ass in writers, directors, and actors, and that’s what I’m still doing now.

CD: Earlier you mentioned that you were working on a novel called A Witch’s Tale. I also found mention on the internet of an unpublished novel you’ve written called Killing Time in LA.  What can you tell us about your unpublished novels?

KE: Killing Time in LA, that series, has been optioned four times for a film, so I’ve been doing a lot of writing more with film in mind, because I don’t think there’s much money in writing novels any more. When I started writing novels, it was nothing for a first printing of one of my books to be a million copies—so there was money in it. But now there’s more money—for me, anyway—in working in television and film, because even when you do a spec script, you’re looking at 45 or 50 grand, even if they don’t use it.

But whatever I’m writing, I’m always looking for something that’s going to run the current of contemporary America. For example, there’s the sequel to The House of Caine that I’m writing…if you read [the original] The House of Caine, you’ll see it’s not so much about vampires as it is about a country changing. That’s why it takes place in 1967, which is when I think the world went insane. And you’ll see that what I predicted in that book is actually happening today. It’s so much about what’s happening today, it’s absolutely amazing. So what I want to do in the sequel is pick up on how politics allow the underbelly and the fringe to rise up—the neo-Nazis and the crazies like that.

But I’ve got about five novels now in the works. I’ve got the Killing Time in LA and Killing Time in Washington series, and the sequel to The House of Caine, and I’ve got two or three others I’m working on. And I’m just about to finish A Witch’s Tale, about the Cenci legend. What’s been holding that up a bit is that it’s set in the Italian Renaissance, but I’ve now found a way to make the girl totally modern. She’s a thirteen-year-old girl, who’s beheaded for her father’s death. I figure that’s a nice basis for a modern-day novel. I’ve even had a lot of requests from people to write a fourth book in the Brownstone series.

Oh, and by the way, my book on acting, The Lost Art of Acting, is going to be coming out from Simon & Schuster. There’s also my writers book, The Causative Formula, which Writer’s Market is publishing.

CD: Tor is reprinting The House of Caine this year…how did this reprint come about after all this time?

KE: Well, I got the rights back to all my books. I didn’t let the rights linger with any of these companies. And I’m a longtime friend of Tom Doherty at Tor Books and I called him and said, “Tom, some of these vampire books you’re putting are out are just dreadful, why do you keep putting out this dreadful shit when you could reprint The House of Caine, which made you a helluva lot of money and which I’m now writing the sequel to?” And they’re now even considering putting out the Brownstone trilogy in an omnibus hardcover. Let’s face it, horror should be coming back [in popularity] right now because everyone is feeling scared to death and horrible.

And some of my other books…like Manhattan Heat—Tor is absolutely crazy not to put that book back out. They screwed the cover up the first time, they didn’t sell the book properly, and still it was a lot of people’s favorite. It’s about New York City, the underground subways, and zombies.

CD: Interesting, that’s the book of yours that I know the least about…

KE: Did you know they took the idea for The X-Files from that book? The history of Manhattan Heat is this: everybody was saying to me, “Ken, horror’s dying, what are we gonna do?” And I said, “listen, you’ve gotta create a new form, you can’t keep writing the same thing. So I’m gonna combine police procedural with horror.” So I wrote Manhattan Heat, and Tor said “oh my God, this is great, this is your best book.” But then they decided to put that stupid cover on it… But the book is too good to get buried—there’s a comics publisher looking at making a graphic novel out of it, and out in California, they’re thinking of filming it.

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