I always hear about writers who've written four books that end up in a drawer, and their fifth book is the one that gets published. The first book I ever wrote was published, flaws and all. For better or worse, I was allowed to learn to write in public. I think those books are simply early efforts. You have to take them as they are. I don't think they're very deep or anything; I think they're okay, but they simply represent where I was at that particular time.(At least he’s honest. Dean Koontz has a different approach; he rewrites his earlier stinkers and foists them upon the public again, usually with a different cover so they appear, to the unwary or the forgetful, to be new novels rather than recycled trash.)
The books of which McCammon is too ashamed to let see the light of day ever again are Baal (1978), Bethany’s Sin (1980), The Night Boat (1980), and They Thirst (1981). A summary of them is sufficient, perhaps, to indicate the soundness of his judgment in this matter:
A woman is ravished. . . and to her a child is born. . . unleashing an unimaginable evil upon the world! And they call him BAAL in the orphanage, where he leads the children on a rampage of violence...in California, where he appears as the head of a deadly Manson-like cult...in Kuwait, where crazed millions heed his call to murder and orgy. They call him BAAL in the Arctic's hellish wasteland, where he is tracked by the only three men with a will to stop him: Zark, the shaman; Virga, the aging professor of theology; and Michael, the powerful, mysterious stranger (from the back cover of the Avon paperback edition of Baal).
Even God stays away from the village of BETHANY'S SIN. For Evan Reid, his wife Kay, and their small daughter Laurie, the beautiful house in the small village was too good a bargain to pass up. Bethany's Sin was a weird name, but the village was quaint and far from the noise and pollution of the city. But Bethany's Sin was too quiet. There were no sounds at all...almost as if the night had been frightened into silence. Evan began to notice that there were very few men in the village, and that most of them were crippled. And then there was the sound of galloping horses. Women on horses. Riding in the night. Soon he would learn their superhuman secret. And soon he would watch in terror as first his wife, then his daughter, entered their sinister cabal. An ancient evil rejoiced in Bethany's Sin. A horror that happened only at night. . . and only to men (from the back cover of the Avon paperback edition of Bethany's Sin).
The Night Boat:
From the living hell of her watery grave she rises again. . . THE NIGHT BOAT. Deep under the calm water of a Caribbean lagoon, salvage diver David Moore discovers a sunken Nazi U-boat entombed in the sand. A mysterious relic from the last war. Slowly, the U-boat rises from the depths laden with a long-dead crew, cancerous with rot, mummified for eternity. Or so Moore thought. UNTIL HE HEARD THE DEEP HOLLOW BOOM OF SOMETHING HAMMERING WITH FEVERISH INTENSITY. . . . SOMETHING DESPERATELY TRYING TO GET OUT! Beneath the waves she will seduce the living and devour the dead...THE NIGHT BOAT (from the back cover of the British Sphere paperback edition of The Night Boat).
A MASS MURDER. A DISAPPEARANCE. A CEMETERY RANSACKED. It looked like another ordinary day in Los Angeles. Then night came. . . . Evil as old as the centuries has descended upon the City of Angels--it comes as a kiss from the terrifying but seductive immortals. Slowly at first, then by the legions, the ravenous undead choke Los Angeles with bloodthirsty determination---and the hordes of monstrous victims steadily mount each night. High above glitter city a deadly contest begins. In the decaying castle of a long-dead screen idol, the few remaining human survivors prepare to face the Prince of Evil and his satanic disciples. Whilst the very forces of nature are called into play, isolating the city from the rest of the world and leaving it at the mercy of the blood-hungry vultures of the night. . . . THEY THIRST. Theirs is a lust that can never be satisfied (from the back cover of the British Sphere paperback edition of They Thirst).
When the blurbs are better than the novels they promote and the covers all look pretty much alike, it’s not a good sign; it may be evidence, however, of McCammon’s wisdom in “retiring” such tripe and in deciding to turn his attention and talents, such as they are, to “writing novels that” are “not as easily categorized,” to employ the explanation that his webmaster supplies for the master’s newfound aversion to the genre on which he cut his authorial teeth. Like Dean Koontz, and, more recently, Stephen King, McCammon seems intent upon putting distance between himself as a serious artist and the fecal matter that first bore his name in the cesspool of horror fiction. To be taken seriously as a writer, one must not write humor or horror, it seems. Even the few who occasionally beat the odds and enter the illustrious and glorious, gilt-edged canon of Western Literature, such as Edgar Allan Poe, are sometimes said to be only “three-fifths. . . genius and two-fifths sheer fudge,” as James Russell Lowe (now largely forgotten) remarked concerning the still-remembered Poe.
Horror writers are not frequently considered great writers because, well, the field, fertile though it may be, seldom attracts the most sober, talented, and brilliant authors, except, besides Poe (and yours truly, of course), a few who have made an occasional foray into the cemeteries of darkness, such as Charles Dickens (“The Signal-man”), Henry James (The Turn of the Screw), William Faulkner (“A Rose for Emily”), and Mark Twain (“Cannibalism in the Cars,” “A Ghost Story,” and “The Man That Corrupted Hadleyburg”).
The genre is helped by the astute, well-read, well-educated, and thoughtful reader (a species rapidly approaching extinction, alas!) who can bring to bear upon these slight narratives the world of his or her own knowledge, experience, interests, and more-or-less well-cultivated tastes. Robert Block could learn from H. P. Lovecraft the same way that Lovecraft could learn from Poe--because all of these masters of the form had in themselves the capacity to be taught and to gain skills.
Some were formally instructed; others were not, but all were autodidactic and interested in the darker and hidden aspects of their lives and those of others, past, present, and, mayhap, future as well. Because of who they were and what they had inside themselves, they were able to create masterpieces of horror fiction, the genre to which their own inner demons drew them. They would have been just as likely to have been able to write so-called mainstream, or literary, novels and short stories had their hearts and minds and souls been in it. Fortunately, for the horror aficionado, these authors’ hearts and minds and souls were in horror instead.
Until such as a Hawthorne, a Poe, or a Lovecraft appears again in this “goodly realm of gold,” we shall have to be content with the Koontzes and the McCammons. At least, unlike the former, the latter cares enough about himself and his work to be properly ashamed of the worst of it and refuses to foist it off upon the public again in a supposedly new and improved edition.
Others, like King, follow a middle road, rewriting the same tired stories again and again, calling Christine, for example, From a Buick 8 the second time around, or simply recycling the tales of terror that others have told, as King does with his retelling of Shirley Jackson’s novel The Haunting of Hill House as Rose Red or H. G. Wells’ “The Red Room” as “1408.” At least, King “borrows” from the masters and, when he regurgitates previous stories, they have the semblance of something new, if not improved, rather than being slightly edited re-releases of previously released--well, you can supply your own epithet.