The Birmingham News: Back in the game (11/09/07)

The Birmingham News, November 9, 2007

Back in the game

Friday, November 09, 2007
News staff writer

In 1994, Robert McCammon did something rather extraordinary for an award-winning and best-selling author of 13 books.

He quit.

The Birmingham-born author of "Boy's Life," "Mine" and many others was fed up. He had just published "Gone South" and was prepping his next book.

"I wrote `Speaks the Nightbird,' and it was something do different for me," McCammon recalls. "I had a collision with an editor. She wanted me to do the book a certain way, and I wanted to do it another way. My confidence had really been hurt, and I just said, `I'm done.' I just took my book and came home."

For about eight years, McCammon stayed out of the publishing game, spending time with his wife, Sally, and daughter, Skye, at home in Vestavia Hills.

Then, in 2002, after reading parts of "Speaks the Nightbird" to students at UAB, River City Press approached him about publishing the historical fiction piece - his way.

"They did a wonderful job with it," McCammon says of the book that introduced Matthew Corbett, a law clerk in Colonial America who helps solve a murder revolving around a witch hunt.

Still, McCammon thought he was retired. But then a friend of his, director Frank Darabont ("The Shawshank Redemption," "The Green Mile"), called McCammon to update him on the status of "Mine," which Darabont holds the film rights to.

"He said it's coming along, and we're going to be casting soon," McCammon says. "If you have a movie, things start to happen, and I really needed to be doing something if that occurred."

So McCammon "unretired" and brought Corbett back in "The Queen of Bedlam," released last month. The author will appear Wednesday at a benefit for the Literacy Council.

"I am absolutely un-retired now," he says.

Creating a challenge

For McCammon - who early on made a name for himself in the horror genre - "Speaks the Nightbird," "The Queen of Bedlam" and others he plans in that series have opened up a new world for him creatively.

"I'm so glad to be doing something that's not been done before," he says. "As far as I know, no detective story has ever been set in the Colonial era in America. I really like that era, and I like the idea of a detective in that era."

Now, McCammon is busier than ever. "Mine" is still on Darabont's radar, and McCammon is 60 pages into the third book in the "Nightbird" series.

The series is another step away from the horror books that McCammon began writing in 1978. He had worked in advertising and was on the copy desk for the Birmingham Post-Herald when he decided he was ready to do something new.

"When I was a kid, I had always done short stories, just playing around," McCammon says. "About 1978, I had an idea in mind, and I thought, `I might as well try it now.'

"The first book I did was OK, the best I could do at the time," he adds. "I was more amazed than anybody in the world that it sold."

That first book, "Baal," was followed by other best-sellers in the horror genre, and a number of nominations and wins for Bram Stoker Awards from the Horror Writers Association. That includes wins for best novel for 1990's "Mine" and 1991's "Boy's Life," even though McCammon was easing his way out of horror writing.

"When I did `Mine,' that was really breaking out of the horror genre," he says. "It's not that I didn't enjoy doing it, but it's constrictive in there are only so many things you can tackle in the horror genre. I did them all, really - the vampire, the haunted house, the werewolf."

He's excited by the prospects of the historical fiction genre he's been working in.

"It can be difficult to do something different if you're successful," McCammon says. "There are some fans who would rather you stay there and do that. But this new series is a real challenge. I'm enjoying the research, and I've been true to the era."


2007 The Birmingham News

Reprinted with permission.

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