I’ve published 34 books by Richard Matheson over a 25-year period. What began as a somewhat uncomfortable business arrangement turned into a deep friendship?
I first contacted Matheson in 1991 when Gauntlet Press published Robert Bloch’s Psycho as a signed limited edition. I contacted Ray Bradbury to write an introduction to the book and Matheson to write an afterword. Both were colleagues and close friends with Bloch. Bradbury immediately said yes. Matheson told me he had never written non-fiction but if I was interested he would give it a go. The man’s fiction (I Am Legend, Hell House, What Dreams May Come to name just a few) were classics. I figured if he could write such wonderful fiction he could write a tribute to his friend. What I received from both Bradbury and Matheson was wonderful. Both commented on Bloch the writer and, just as importantly, Bloch the man. When Matheson sent me his piece he scrawled a note: “Is this okay?” As I later found out Matheson was humble and a bit insecure. His piece was more than okay.
After Psycho was published I asked Matheson if Gauntlet could publish his acclaimed novel I Am Legend. He had conditions (the reason why I didn’t find out until shortly before his death several years ago,). He didn’t want to write an introduction to his novel. Not a problem. He needed 6 months to sign the tipsheets that are bound into the book. No problem. He didn’t want a dust jacket — just a cover with his name embossed on the book itself. Again, no problem. I sensed he was a bit disappointed that I agreed to all he asked. The good news was he was thrilled when he received his copies of the book (the cover red, the slipcase blue).
Next I asked if we could publish Hell House, another masterpiece. He agreed. When I asked him what color he wanted the cover he told me to make it just like I Am Legend. I was friendly with his son, Richard Christian Matheson, a fine writer in his own right. When I told him about the cover for Hell House he said no, it must be black to go with the tone of the book. I was not about to tell Richard Matheson what to do. This early in our relationship I was more than a little intimidated by the man. I grew up on his fiction. Learned how to write using his minimalist style. Son spoke to father and Matheson agreed to a black cover with a black slipcase. When he informed, me he told me his first joke and the ice thawed. “What color do you want the next book to be . . . pink?” he asked.
It was several years later that I knew that he truly trusted me. He asked if I was interested in publishing his first novel written as an adult, a mammoth unpublished manuscript, Hunger and Thirst. After he wrote the novel in the early-fifties he showed it to his agent who told him the book was too long for a first novel. Matheson quickly put the manuscript in a drawer. As I said he was a bit insecure. It wasn’t a genre novel. Had it been published when he wrote it his career might have gone in an altogether different direction. Fifty years later he sent it to me. “Let me know if you don’t like it,” he told me (insecure much?). “I won’t be offended.” I loved it. We published it to fine reviews. And, with Hunger and Thirst two other things occurred. Because the novel was fifty years old he knew he needed a dustjacket so the inside flap could let the reader know this wasn’t a newly written novel. I sent him samples of several artists I used and he chose Harry O. Morris. He loved Harry’s art for his book so much he refused to allow anyone else to do the cover art for his signed limited editions. And, because the book had gone unpublished for so long he also said he wanted to write an introduction. From then on, the books of his we published had a dustjacket with Harry O. Morris art and he wrote introductions without once having to be asked.
My daughter (my layout and design editor) and I went to L.A. in the nineties and had dinner with Richard and his wonderful wife Ruth then went to his house where he showed me drawers that had hidden treasures — unpublished material I was later to publish. We had become friends. Several years later he sent me a novel he wrote between the ages of 12-14. Wrote it and put it in a drawer without anyone having read it. Insecure even then. “Do you want to publish this?” Of course, I told him after reading the manuscript. For someone that young the novel was exceptional and showed the roots of Matheson’s genius. However, because it was written when he was so young I knew some critics (a number can be vindictive) might unfairly trash the novel. I told Richard I wanted to hold the novel for the moment and pair it with something else. A year later we published The Richard Matheson Companion and included his novel at the end of the book. With a short introduction both fans and critics reacted favorably to Matheson’s first fiction. Sadly, he had nothing from his years in elementary school. Not even a crayon drawing.
That he would send me something so raw when he had refused anyone to read the manuscript cemented our friendship. I’ve worked with dozens of authors. I’ve only befriended a few. Richard Matheson was an American treasure.
Barry Hoffman is known as a publisher for Gauntlet Press, however his true passion is writing and he has penned five different novels. Hungry Eyes, Eyes of Prey, Judas Eyes, Born Bad and Blindsided.