Byron Craft’s novels of strange, Lovecraftian horror had their start in the weirdest of places: Hollywood
Byron Craft writes Lovecraftian horror fiction. That is to say, he utilizes the Cthulhu Mythos, the shared fictional universe, based on the work of American horror writer Howard Phillips Lovecraft. But Craft’s novels are a bit different. Not only because they were written with the full knowledge and the full blessing of April Derleth-Jacobs (daughter of Lovecraft collaborator August Derleth) and her publishing company, Arkham House, but because they started out as a screenplay for a film that, had it ever been made, promised to be “…as if H. P. Lovecraft stood behind the camera.”
In fact, the film’s production artist, Tom Sullivan, has called Craft’s screenplay, THE CRY Of CTHULHU, “one of the coolest movies never made.”
I talked to Byron Craft about his books and the screenplays from which they came and the long strange journey they took through the weird lands of Hollywood.
Dark Worlds Quarterly: A lot of us remember an article from Starlog Magazine way back in 1979 written by Frederick King about a movie that was going to be made called The Cry of Cthulhu. Personally, we were very excited about it. Take me back to that point. How did that all come about?
Byron Craft: Well, I was involved with filmmaking all the way back in my college days when I worked with the Skotak brothers, if you’ve ever heard of them – Bob and Dennis Skotak. We made some amateur films together and wrote a few screenplays. This was at a junior college called Schoolcraft Junior College. That was where I met Bob Skotak. We had so much in common and he was the one who turned me on to H. P. Lovecraft. He was the guilty party on that one. I wrote a couple of screenplays that Bob and I worked on and we actually made an amateur film… well, semi-professional film… that never got out of the can. We were in Michigan at the time but then (Bob & Dennis) moved to California.
I had this screenplay that I wrote called The Cry of Cthulhu. I had a partner then, Bill Baetz, a fine, fine gentleman. We were co-producers of the film and we went to California and spent a lot of time trying to sell the project. We met everybody from Jeffrey Katzenberg, Gene Roddenberry to Dino De Laurentiis. We spent a lot of time with American International pictures. Quite frankly, we just ran out of patience, and money (especially) and needed to go back and take care of our families.
DWQ: So you shopped the hell out of the project.
BC: Oh, yeah. This was in the late seventies when Hollywood was going through some real big economic crisis. We got so frustrated. We would work our way up through junior Vice Presidents of studios — we spent a lot of time with Paramount Pictures — we worked our way up and everything looked good and then we would come back in two weeks and Paramount had fired everybody! And there was a whole new staff of junior Vice Presidents and we had to go all over again. It just got to be frustrating.
Back in the days before PowerPoint we had a wonderful slide presentation and we were fortunate enough to work with the young fellow by the name of Tom Sullivan. Tom did many, many paintings depicting different sequences from the film. Tom went on to became very well known and ended up doing artwork, model making, special effects and animation for the Evil Dead movies. Tom and I have been friends ever since. When I published The Cry of Cthulhu, he and I worked out a deal. That particular novel has about twelve paintings and illustrations in it depicting different sequences in the film… or in the book, in this case.
There was a time when I went through different agents and publishers and it got frustrating. I shelved the project for a while. I’m a retired general contractor. I was very successful in Naples, Florida as a contractor. Twelve years ago, I started writing for a magazine in Las Vegas by the name of StripLV Magazine. I wrote over a hundred articles for them. I also wrote for a lot of website content, that type of thing. Finally I just thought: “Well, I’m going to dust this old novel off and do a rewrite on it and get it published.” And that’s what happened.
DWQ: When the book was first published in 2014 it had a different title, didn’t it?
BC: Yeah. And that was a mistake. That was a bit of my naiveté… my inexperience in the publishing industry. I thought at that time that the novel needed a more mainstream title so I published it as The Alchemist’s Notebook.
There was a couple of errors that I made on that. Number one: I didn’t do enough research. I found out later on that there were two other books with the same title. One was a cookbook and the other was a book of poetry. I realized then, that when you’re writing within the Lovecraft Cthulhu Mythos, it is what’s called a niche market. I got encouraged by a lot of people – through my website, through Facebook – they said: “You know, Byron, you need to release the book under its original title.” So that’s what I did.
DWQ: How successful has the book been for you personally… has it done what you expected it to do?
BC: It’s been very successful. I’ve really enjoyed the new indie market for books. When I first published about 80% of my sales were paperback – it was about 80% paperback/softcover and 20% Kindle sales. Nowadays it’s turned completely around. About 80% of my sales are Kindle sales.
At one time I was with… oh, I don’t know… over a dozen different publishing houses. It turns out that Amazon is the best place to go. (The book’s) done really well. It’s surprising. It did very well as The Alchemist Notebook and it’s done extremely well as The Cry of Cthulhu.
There is so much more to this interview, from stories about shopping the screenplay all over Hollywood in the 1970’s (where you can find out what made Dino De Laurentiis jump up and down on his desk) to more about The Cry of Cthulhu, its sequel Shoggoth and Craft’s new Noir-Lovecraft series The Arkham Detective.
You can read the entire interview and more in the latest issue of DARK WORLDS QUARTERLY. Download issue # 2 for FREE right here, or click on the download button below!