Saturday, July 08, 2006

He Is Legend

I’ve been impressed by Mystery Scene magazine, ever since it passed into the hands of veteran editor Kate Stine (formerly of The Armchair Detective) and her husband, Brian Skupin, back in 2002. While other mags of this sort can be uneven in writing quality, and sometimes amateurish in appearance, not an issue of this latest incarnation of Mystery Scene has gone by without satisfying me for one reason or another. And generally for more than one reason or another.

The new, Summer 2006 number is a splendid example. Highlights include a retrospective on the fiction of S.S. Van Dine, né Willard Huntington Wright, creator of the aristocratic (some would say “insufferable”) amateur sleuth Philo Vance; a spry profile of L.A. art critic-turned-novelist Susan Kandel, creator of biographer-detective Cece Caruso (Shamus in the Green Room, Not a Girl Detective); and rather more serious reports on both Jeffery Deaver (Cold Moon) and Gayle Lynds (The Last Spymaster). Oh, and Kevin Burton Smith tries, once and for all, to distinguish the modern private eye from every Tom, Dick, and Harriet of a crime-solver.

But the real treat in these pages, for my money, is Dick Lochte’s interview with Richard Matheson, the now 80-year-old Southern California author who’s written westerns and science fiction; helped create The Twilight Zone; wrote the 1971 teleflick Duel, which starred Dennis Weaver and “launched Steven Spielberg’s directorial career”; and penned the teleplays for The Night Stalker (1972) and The Night Strangler (1973), ABC-TV movies-of-the-week (starring Darren McGavin) that spawned the short-lived cult series Kolchak: The Night Stalker (1974).

Anyone who’s seen Duel, and remembers the tension Matheson and Spielberg wrung out of a cross-country battle between a hapless driver and a mysterious semi, will be intrigued by this author’s recollection of where he came by that story idea:
It was the day John Kennedy got shot [in 1963]. A friend of mine, science fiction writer Jerry Sohl, and I were playing golf when we got the news. We were driving home and this crazy truck driver started tailgating us through the canyon. Going faster and faster. I don’t know why. Maybe he was made about Kennedy being shot. Finally, Jerry zoomed off to a side part of the road, and we spun around in the dirt. Between being furious at the driver and being totally upset and traumatized by Kennedy’s assassination, we were screaming out the window at this guy as he went roaring past.

Then, being a writer, my fear immediately transcribed itself into a story idea. I grabbed an envelope of Jerry’s and wrote it down. That was ten years before
Playboy published it.
Unfortunately, the Matheson interview and most of Mystery Scene’s contents are not available online.

READ MORE:Richard Matheson: The Legend That Inspired Me,” by Stephen King (London Times).

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