GERARD HOUARNER: ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Gerard Houarner fell to Earth in the fifties and is a product of the NYC school system. His writing life started in grade school, when his parents observed him endless scrawling and drawing on any paper product in the house and bought him a baby blue Smith-Corona typewriter. He immediately produced 2-page “novelizations” of black and white Chiller Theater fare like Gorgo and It! The Terror Beyond Space. He graduated to twenty page space-opera “novels” illustrated with “action-packed” spaceship battles.
In high school, he was introduced to certain realities about the craft of writing from more experienced students and teachers, including one student who would go on to become President of DC Comics and a teacher who would eventually win the Pulitzer Prize for Angela’s Ashes. He also learned quite a bit by cutting early morning classes and hanging out with a few other classmates at the Julian Billiard Academy, though much less about pool and more about the characters among the early-morning clientele who wanted nothing to do with a bunch of snot-nosed teenagers.
It was, after all, an “Academy.”
Another influence in the writing life rooted in this time, besides Howard, Moorcock, the New Wave, Kafka, the Ballantine Adult Fantasy line, and the movies from PBS silent and samurai film series to 42nd Street and even Greenwich Village movie revival and European film houses, was the beginning of a working life on Manhattan streets serving the needs of the wealthy, just as his mother had done when she cleaned East Side medical offices and rich folks’ apartments, and like his father, who was a Chef at the Plaza and Hilton hotels and the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
By the time he graduated, he’d sold his first story to Space and Time Magazine and was working the Manhattan streets moving fur pelts and coats through midtown streets, and picking them up from and delivering them to rich people’s apartments.
At the City College of New York, which was free at the time, he landed in classes taught by Catch 22 author Joseph Heller and Black River poet Joel Oppenheimer, while crashing hallucinogenic William Burroughs seminars. The legendary Heller told him he could write well enough (he was kind not to mention well enough for what), but didn’t know how the kind of material that was being submitted would sell at a rate to make any kind of living.
After graduating, he took some time working at a real job as the suit in the kitchen at the Plaza Hotel and exploring the realities of writing, film and editing careers. He also discovered that a wide range of people talked to him and that he appeared to be a good listener. In time, he applied to film school, a writing program, and a psychological and rehabilitation counselor program.
Realities and rejection slips, and a suspicion that the work might inform the writing, steered him to the counseling path.
While in graduate school, and working full-time to pay for school, he also wrote his first novel, desperately hanging on to the writing life and dream.
Carrying that novel to a prized internship interview nearly ruined that counseling career before it started, when the clinic director asked about the package, and upon hearing it was a fantasy novel, declared the writer was not equipped to help others who had lost touch with reality.
The argument ended when the director was told an editor had asked to read it, which meant the story had enough reality, despite its fantasy setting, to interest someone to consider making an investment of thousands of dollars to publish it.
The internship was secured, and later a first job at that same clinic. The novel was eventually purchased, after strong editing and requests for revisions, by Lester Del Rey and published by Ballantine.
The mental health career quickly influenced the writing life: jobs included working in Hell’s Kitchen next to a SRO Hotel for prisoners released from Rikers Island; the lower East Side with one of the first identified AIDS patient in a hospital’s methadone program; in the Bronx at the beginning of the crack epidemic; as well as with children, adults with substance use and psychiatric backgrounds, forensic patients in long term hospitalization, and the developmentally disabled mixed in by mistake.
The stories turned darker, but the pursuit of horror and dark fantasy resulted in greater publishing success. More lessons were learned from editors and in classes with writers like Terry Bisson and Nancy Kress, and the many rejections and shelved manuscripts.
Through the decades and the challenges of real and work life, he has tried his best to keep the writing life alive, and has almost 300 published stories, some collections and novels short and long, as well as a handful of anthologies edited and a nearly 20 year run as Fiction Editor for Space and Time to show for his efforts.