LEISURE TIME with GLENN ROLFE:
THE BACKWOODS by Edward Lee
Hey, hey, hey! Welcome to the second edition of Leisure Time with Glenn Rolfe. I’m your host, Glenn, and this time, we’re checking out THE BACKWOODS from splatterpunk master, EDWARD LEE. If you haven’t read Ed’s work yet, you are missing out on some of the very best hard-edged, full metal mayhem horror out there. From the Infernal series to his latest White Trash Gothic series, Edward Lee has been doing this as good, if not better than most for some time.
The late great Richard Laymon didn’t call him “The living legend of literary mayhem” for nothing.
The Backwoods is the story of Patricia White and her hometown of Agan’s Point. Patricia was raped as a teen. She never saw the attacker’s face. After school, she moved away and became a successful, married lawyer.
After her sister’s husband is beheaded (yes, you read that right), Patricia returns home (leaving her husband at home) to help her sister cope with the murder.
Turns out Patricia’s sister, Judy, owns a lot of land. And there is a big money man trying to buy that land. The problem is, Patricia and Judy’s family always allowed a group of people referred to here as “Squatters” to live in the woods on the land. They keep to themselves, mostly, and crabbing in the bay, and practicing their pagan-like rituals, never bothering anyone. They’ve never had problems with the people of Agan’s Point…until now.
Add in a couple of local cops-the mostly straight-laced chief and his younger less than honest office-, and Patricia’s old friend, Judy’s live-in handyman, Ernie, and you have a good-sized and intriguing cast.
This book is more of a small town mystery than Lee’s other works, but that doesn’t mean it’s missing his trademark flare for sex and violence. When they appear before your eyes, you will know you’re in an Edward Lee book.
Lee does a great job of making you like and empathize with the “squatters”. I felt bad for them throughout. Especially after they get framed! For selling meth!
One of the biggest gripes in the review community (and take them for what you will), is that this story leans on too much sex and gore/violence. Well, that’s bullshit. There is a fuck ton of sex (handled only the way Lee can), and when it’s time for someone to die, yes, it is in-your-face and raw as hell. But here’s the thing, people, Lee doesn’t do it with cookie-cutter characters. He’s earned it in every way with these people. His characters are weak and strong, good and evil, ready and willing and then ashamed.
The most sexual bits of the book center on Patricia. Her rape is hard to read, but it is an essential part of the journey we’re on with her. Her relationship with Ernie is one of the best parts of the book. You have a friend from school that she never knew wanted her, and the attraction between the two is intense and fun to follow, eventually blowing up into a lusty encounter after an aphrodisiac filled dinner with the squatters. Wow, sorry about that long ass sentence!
Anyways, Patricia also has a lot of sex-filled dreams, but considering her feelings growing for Ernie by day and the fact that she’s back in the town of her rape, the mind does some serious fucking with her.
Another favorite part of any good horror book (and this one especially) is when the squatters set their evil spirit upon the nasty elements in town. You fucked with us? Tried to run us from our homes? You killed and raped because you were paid to? Guess what? YOU are about to get FUCKED!
From beheadings, vanishing internal organs, and total exsanguination the bad guys pay…big time! And it rules. Lee creates such vile antagonists that it’s always a joy as a reader to watch them get it. THE BACKWOODS was no different.
If I had any problems with this particular title, it was that Lee bothered giving Patricia a husband (Byron, by the way). He didn’t need him, and Byron is pretty much non-existent throughout. Maybe just have her have an on again-off again boyfriend back home?
Overall, it’s wild, it’s sexual, it’s gritty at times, and when the horror moments come, Lee shoves you in face-first. I thought it was great. Still not as good as my favorite THE BLACK TRAIN, but definitely a book I’m glad to have read.
Check it out.
Read on for my interview with Edward Lee
LEISURE TIME: You put out a lot of titles with Leisure Books, THE BLACK TRAIN ranking as my favorite. What are some of your fondest memories of your time with Leisure?
EDWARD LEE: I honestly must say everything I remember about Leisure is a positive memory. Don D’Auria gave me a shot with City Infernal, and suddenly I had a career again. He’s the best editor I’ve ever had and I owe him big time. Leisure was a great opportunity for me and many writers in the late-90s, and the reason their horror line worked so well for so long was because of Don. He knew the importance of diversity, and he always gave his authors a long creative leash. The only bad memory I have of Leisure, of course, was their going out of business. Everything changes, I’m afriad, and I HATE change!
LT: THE BACKWOODS was awesome. Is the background for your “squatters” (in regards to their beliefs and lifestyle) based on something you’ve studied, or was it something you came up with on your own?
EL: I been doing some loose research about the original American “rednecks” (BTW, they were called rednecks only because they wore red scarves to denote their coal mining affiliations and their union, as I recall) and I discovered that a great deal of people from Scotland came to the Colonies because they were persecuted for religious reasons and, uh, they were incarcerated criminals. They were made an offer they couldn’t refuse: stay here and die or get on the boat and take your chances in the colonies. But they avoided New England, Maryland, and the Carolinas. These Scots took their boats deeper down the (I think) Shenandoah River. They wanted to get as far as possible from other European types, lest they be persecuted all over again. What they brought with them, of course, were various types of Protestantism, as well as other snippets of older belief systems, pre-Christian snippets or quasi-Christian. So, in Backwoods, I wanted to invent a hidden, leftover society of these people whose belief systems incorporated a mixture of Christianity and paganism the same way Santeria and Voodoo mix Catholicism and saint worship with African witchcraft. Hence, to answer your question, yes, I invented the Squatters, but I peppered the fabrication with truth.
LT: There’s a huge cast of characters in this one, something I always appreciated reading in tons of the late Richard Laymon’s books. It’s also something I tend to do in my own writing. Is the large cast part of your plan for a book or story from the outset, or does it just go that way as you’re creating each novel?
EL: Interesting question! It’s never really a conscious motive; novels have a way of dictating their own course, and plot elements that you might not even be aware of when you start wind up shimmying their way into the meat of the plot. Essentially, the breadth and scope of the story determine whether there’ll be a lot of characters or nor. Strangely, I don’t give that much thought to it! If suddenly I need a new character, then one undoubtedly will step up!
LT: I found Patricia White to be a great character. You prove that she’s overcome such a dreadful early experience in her life and grown into a strong, confident, successful woman. Despite having the perfect hubby at home, she still is massively affected by Ernie. While her actions with him are a bit dramatic compared to real life, this kind of challenge does happen in our lives and its part of what really pulled me into their scenes. What were the challenges for you in playing with that strong sexual dynamic between Patricia and Ernie?
EL: The synergy between two characters always presents a challenge regarding credibility. The reader has to believe that these things are happening to these characters; they have to feel the pathos to it, or the excitement, the arousal, the horror, etc. It’s the hardest part of writing fiction, I’d say–creating characters out of black ink on white paper and making the reader SEE them, BELIEVE them, love them or hate them, or whatever it is you want. It’s scary because the author never really knows if he or she pulls it off.
LT: I always roll my eyes when reviewers balk at the amount of sex in a book. Same goes with gore. In what I’ve read of your work, it fits. Each novel feels like it has a strong primal undercurrent. THE BACKWOODS was no different. I know a lot of young writers out there that dig splatterpunk, but will have that same challenge going forward. How do you deal with the people (readers/reviewers) that get stuck on the sex or gore in a story and completely miss the story?
EL: What critics and detractors don’t understand is simply is that the levels of sexuality and explicitness are INTEGRAL to the story and the characters in it. Sexing up a book or grossing it up for the sake of it NEVER WORKS. The final product STINKS. I never set out from the start to write something hardcore, and merely set out to write a book and then very soon after the beginning, my “muse” lets me know if it needs to be explicit. Like most writers, I have a number of “steamer trunk” stories from the old days; in other words, stories that I stopped writing because they weren’t working, or I lost interest, or whatever. Sometimes a publisher suggest I take those stories out, “gross them up,” and sell them for extra money. But that’s pointless! The stories suck, whether I gross them up or not!
LT: Do you have any personal favorite books from your fellow Leisure Books authors? And if so, which ones stuck with you?
EL: Oh, of course, and it’s impossible to name them ‘cos there are so many!
LT: I just finished one of your latest releases, IN THE YEAR OF OUR LORD: 2202. Man, that book was awesome. You certainly didn’t fuck around in the end. What sparked the idea for that book?
EL: Richard Laymon came up with the idea, the idea of me, Jack Ketchum, and himself all write a story based on an opening scene by Laymon. It was for a limited hardcover that Cemetery Dance would eventually publish called, TRIAGE. The final product, I think, was fantastic, because none of the stories were anything like what we expected from the three of us. Dick’s was a modern thriller with a cool O. Henry-type ending, Ketchum’s was a howlingly funny satire, and mine was a very left-field sci-fi with an HPL drop-kick in the end. It was supposed to be much shorter but I just couldn’t stop writing it ‘cos it was so much fun!
LT: You also won a Splatterpunk Award in 2018 for WHITE TRASH GOTHIC. Do you keep up with the current splatterpunk scene? And if so, who are some of your favorites out there?
EL: Splatterpunk was an important movement in the horror genre overall, which by now has evolved into some bigger. It all started in the mid-80s with all those great books and stories by David Schow and Skipp and Spector, R.C. Matheson, etc., fiction that blew out the envelopes of horror fiction as it was previously known. Those were exciting times, and it’s even more exciting to see how that movement has so positively affected the field today. It’s an honor for me to have witnessed it from the beginning and to be part of it now.
LT: Thanks for chatting with me. What else do you have on the horizon?
EL: Thanks. Oh, and speaking of Leisure, I’m thrilled to say that many of my Leisure novels are finding a new life in the German horror market. It’s kind of like getting a second career by surprise! Also, since you like THE BACKWOODS, I’m excited to say that it was recently re-issued by Poltergeist Press in the Russian language. Cool! And in the Shameless Plug Department let me apprise you of my newest releases: POLISH EXTREME, by Necro Publications, which is a short novel by me along with hardcore stories by four of Poland’s hardest-core writers; and also WHITE TRASH GOTHIC 2, by Section 31 Press, the middles section of my Bighead’s Return series. Both are easily available on Amazon.
Edward Lee is an American novelist specializing in the field of horror, and has authored 40 books, more than half of which have been published by mass-market New York paperback companies such as Leisure/Dorchester, Berkley, and Zebra/Kensington. He is a Bram Stoker award nominee for his story “Mr. Torso,” and his short stories have appeared in over a dozen mass-market anthologies, including THE BEST AMERICAN MYSTERY STORIES OF 2000, Pocket’s HOT BLOOD series, and the award-wining 999. Several of his novels have sold translation rights to Germany, Greece, and Romania. He also publishes quite actively in the small-press/limited-edition hardcover market; many of his books in this category have become collector’s items. While a number of Lee’s projects have been optioned for film, only one has been made, HEADER, which was released on DVD to mixed reviews in June, 2009, by Synapse Films.
Lee is particularly known for over-the-top occult concepts and an accelerated treatment of erotic and/or morbid sexual imagery and visceral violence. He was born on May 25, 1957 in Washington, D.C., and grew up in Bowie, Maryland. In the late-70s he served in the U.S. Army’s 1st Armored Division, in Erlangen, West Germany, then, for a short time, was a municipal police officer in Cottage City, Maryland. Lee also attended the University of Maryland as an English major but quit in his last semester to pursue his dream of being a horror novelist. For over 15 years, he worked as the night manager for a security company in Annapolis, Maryland, while writing in his spare time. In 1997, however, he became a full-time writer, first spending several years in Seattle and then moving to St. Pete Beach, Florida, where he currently resides.
Of note, the author cites as his strongest influence horror legend H. P. Lovecraft; in 2007, Lee embarked on what he calls his “Lovecraft kick” and wrote a spate of novels and novellas which tribute Lovecraft and his famous Cthulhu Mythos. Among these projects are THE INNSWICH HORROR, “Trolley No. 1852,” HAUNTER OF THE THRESHOLD, GOING MONSTERING, “Pages Torn From A Travel Journal,” and “You Are My Everything.” Lee promises more Lovecraftian work on the horizon.
Grab his books HERE
As for the upcoming Russian Edition of THE BACKWOODS that is coming from POLTERGEIST PRESS, I fired a few quick questions to the publisher about Edward Lee’s novel and Leisure Books.Here’s what they had to say:
LT: What made you choose THE BACKWOODS to release with Poltergeist Press? Of all Ed’s books, was this a favorite? And if so, what about the story or characters did you love?
POLTERGEIST PRESS: When choosing what to publish first by Edward Lee in Russia, I had in mind that I would like to bring his work not only to his hardcore fans but also introduce new readers. I chose THE BACKWOODS because it’s the first novel that I read by him, and it’s the most mainstream and tame of his works. It has all the Lee signature traits yet it’s accessible.
LT: What are a few of your favorite Leisure Books titles and authors?
PP: Here’s just a few of them:
Richard Laymon- THE TRAVELING VAMPRIE SHOW, 2001
Richard Laymon, Edward Lee and Jack Ketchum- TRIAGE, 2008
Brian Keene- THE CONQOUER WORMS (Earthworm Gods), 2006
Brian Keene- GHOUL, 2007
Simon Clark – VAMPYRRHIC, 2002
Jeff Strand- DWELLER, 2010
LT: Many of those are favorites of mine, as well. Lastly, when is the Russian edition of THE BACKWOODS set to release?
PP: The release date is 25th of September.
That’s all for this episode of LEISURE TIME with GLENN ROLFE.
Be sure to join us in October when we review and discuss THE RESURRECTIONIST with author, WRATH JAMES WHITE!