Birthday Tribute to Robert Bloch: The Man Who Wrote PSYCHO

FantasyReader16
Avon Fantasy Reader No. 16, featuring an early Robert Bloch pulp novella “The Black Kiss.”

I had only written to a few authors in my life up until that point. None of them ever replied. Somehow, I thought this would be different.

I was 16 years old.  I was a long-haired hellion struggling with that ever important career decision between writer and rock star.  I had nothing but rejection letters to my name.

This writing thing was tough.

I needed advice.

The year was 1987.  I discovered Stephen King a couple of years before.  My uncle, upon finding out that I enjoyed reading horror and fantasy, opened a door for me to the amazing world of pulp fiction.  I imagine I had stars in my eyes reading those tales by Robert E. Howard, Clark Ashton Smith, Seabury Quinn, Thorpe McClusky, and a whole list of writers criminally forgotten today.

I loved the work of H.P. Lovecraft. I’m not ashamed to say that this love was spawned by my fondness for the Lovecraft “adaptations” of Brian Yuzna and Stuart Gordon – Re-Animator and From Beyond.

My battered copy of one of my favorite Robert Bloch collections, The Skull of the Marquis De Sade.
My battered copy of one of my favorite Robert Bloch collections, The Skull of the Marquis De Sade.

I read everything by Lovecraft that I could get my hands on.  I learned of the circle of Weird Tales writers who corresponded with one another.  I learned that Lovecraft corresponded with writers seeking advice.

One of these writers was a very young Robert Bloch.

Upon that revelation, I had to read Robert Bloch. Although he was primarily referred to as “that guy who wrote Psycho,” I discovered him first through his short stories. I was fortunate that the first two books of his that I found were very good short story collections: The Best of Robert Bloch and The Skull of the Marquis De Sade.  He became a favorite of mine.  I’d read that he had a way of paying forward the advice and kindness that Lovecraft had paid him early on, before his first professionally published story.

Heck, I thought. He must have been the same age I was at the time he wrote to Lovecraft.

I needed help. Bloch was a master. This seemed right.

If he’d reply, I’d be golden. He’d tell me everything I needed to know, and then I’d hold the key to success!

Funny how, when we’re young, we always think that lessons learned by hard knocks and skill earned by years of putting pen to paper will somehow rub off on us like fairy dust and make us good writers.

So I wrote to Robert Bloch, in care of Del Rey/Ballantine Books.

Honestly, I had no expectation of a response.

About four weeks later, I received a letter in a small envelope. It had no return address as I recall – just an ink stamp of a typewriter.

As an acolyte of Lovecraft, Bloch wrote many stories considered part of the Cthulhu Mythos collected here in Mysteries of the Worm.
As an acolyte of Lovecraft, Bloch wrote many stories considered part of the Cthulhu Mythos collected here in Mysteries of the Worm.

It was a letter from Robert Bloch.

I wish I could say I still had it. Right now, thinking about the loss of that letter, I feel a little pain in my heart. I lost the letter along with a lot of other precious things when, in my early 20s, I lived with a friend who’d been spending our rent money on crack cocaine. Not kidding. I’d been giving him my half of the rent for a couple of months, thinking he was … well, you know, actually paying the rent.  As it turns out, a couple months without paying rent = eviction.  I got a call where I worked split shifts at Sea Galley one day, saying the Sheriff was at the apartment, and I had 10 minutes to get up there and grab what I wanted before they kicked our asses out onto the street. Our apartment was in the middle of town, and I was way down on the south side of Colorado Springs.  With no car. I’d been riding the bus to work, so there was no way I could get there in time. It was ugly. One of the things I lost was a World War II-era Navy trunk that used to be my grandfather’s. Inside was a complete run of Cemetery Dance magazines issues one through eight, issues of The Horror Show, Grue, Haunts, 2AM, some rare pulps, piles of rejection letters, and that letter from Mr. Bloch.

I wish I had it so I could read it all over again. No doubt, there was wisdom there that escaped me in my youth.

Robert Bloch was a prolific short story writer. Fear Today, Gone Tomorrow is one of many of his collections.
Robert Bloch was a prolific short story writer. Fear Today, Gone Tomorrow is one of many of his collections.

I still remember a few things clearly, however.  That typewriter stamp was in the top left corner of a page of typing paper.  The letter was handwritten.  He said some encouraging things, said he saw promise in my letter (maybe just being nice), and gave me one piece of advice that stuck with me.

He told me not to use profanity in my stories if I could avoid it. The one line I remember in clarity was – “everyone can spell ‘bullshit’ but few people can spell ‘acquire.’”

I remember being stunned.

I can’t say I’ve been good about following that advice, but still….

God, I wish I could read that letter again.

Anyway.  It was a momentous occasion, and I was grateful he took the time to write (actually write) to me.

I have enjoyed his stories and novels ever since. I will never forget that he took time to write to me, and if I should ever be in such a position that someone actually wants my advice, I will always look to his example and extend kind advice and encouragement to fellow writers embarking on this long and lonely quest.

Robert Bloch in the late 1950s.
Robert Bloch in the late 1950s.

April 5 was Robert Bloch’s birthday.  I’ve been mulling over some kind of blog post to feature a little more of my collection, and this seems natural.  Robert Bloch was a star, an amazing writer, and, as I understand it, a kind man with a great sense of humor.  He should never be forgotten in writing circles as an influential man of varied interests and significant accomplishments. I won’t recount a list of those accomplishments here, which are well documented around the Interwebs.

So, I’ve posted my collection of Robert Bloch books, which bring me a great deal of joy.  I enjoy looking at other people’s collections, so I figure others do, too. Hopefully this is seen as a fitting tribute to someone who was extremely prolific in the genres of suspense, science fiction, and horror.

Happy birthday, Robert Bloch.  Thanks for the hours of enjoyment, for the example you set in your writing, and your willingness to pay it forward.

And for the record, I’m glad I chose writer instead of rock star. But I guess there’s still time.

R.I.P. Robert Bloch (April 5, 1917 – September 23, 1994).

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