Peter Straub, horror novelist and Stephen King collaborator, dies at 79

American writer Peter Straub was walking through London in the early 1970s wondering what he was going to do next. Her first novel passed without notice and her idea for the next one was rejected.

He said he feared he was “the most pathetic of all creatures” – a one-book novelist. His agent had suggested a stab at gothic fiction as more marketable. “Finally, I had a little idea that scared me,” he said in 1984.

The result was “Julia” (1975), about a woman haunted by a malevolent supernatural presence who may be her dead daughter. The book was a hit, inspired a film starring Mia Farrow and redirected Mr. Straub’s career to become one of the most celebrated writers of horror tales, psychological thrillers and stories that have runs the pulses and the pilot lights stay on.

Mr. Straub, who died on September 4 in New York at the age of 79, entered a literary era in the late 1960s and 1970s that led readers to dark corners of all kinds: “Rosemary’s Baby” by Ira Levin (1967), William Peter Blatty’s “The Exorcist” (1971), Stephen King’s first novel, “Carrie”, in 1974 and “Interview With the Vampire” by Anne Rice (1976).

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Mr. Straub, a published poet, retained his love of literary precision in his stories, turning his narratives into taut explorations of the “inner geography of horror, dark fantasy and psychological suspense”, wrote Michael Dirda from the Washington Post in 2012.

Mr. Straub followed that up with ‘If You Could See Me Now’ (1977) and the best-selling ‘Ghost Story’ (1979), which became a 1981 film and cemented his reputation as a master of horror. He has won numerous awards, including the Bram Stoker Lifetime Achievement Award in 2006, and was named an International Horror Guild “Living Legend” in 2008.

“Ghost Story” tells the story of four men who share ghost stories and find themselves threatened by a vengeful spirit.

Mr Straub – who collaborated with King on ‘The Talisman’ (1984) and a 2001 ‘Black House’ sequel – said he had long resisted being lumped into the category of horror novelist. But he made peace after deciding it gave him plenty of room to dig into timeless emotions and fears – including even his Blue Rose thriller trilogy published between 1998 and 1983.

“The adult perspective was that if the books were horror,” he said in 2016, “then horror covered a lot of ground.”

Peter Francis Straub was born March 2, 1943 in Milwaukee and earned a degree in English from the University of Wisconsin in 1965. He moved to New York for a master’s degree at Columbia University in 1966, then returned to Wisconsin to teach English at his old prep school.

At the age of 7, Mr Straub was seriously injured when he was hit by a car. He temporarily used a wheelchair and had to learn to walk again. Mr Straub said the injury and the long recovery gave him a childhood awareness of his own mortality.

In 1969 he began work on a doctorate at University College Dublin, but he did not finish. He wrote two collections of poetry in 1972, “Ishmael” and “Open Air”. Her first novel, “Weddings,” about an adulterous affair, was published in 1973.

Mr. Straub died at New York-Presbyterian Hospital of complications after a fall, his family said. He is survived by his wife of 55 years, Susan Bitker Straub; son Benjamin Straub; a daughter, novelist Emma Straub; and three grandchildren.

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Mr. Straub maintained a steady stream of novels and short fiction for decades, including supernatural thrillers such as “Shadowland” (1980) about apprentice magicians; fantasy worlds such as “Floating Dragon” (1983); and a tale of evil and obsession in “A Dark Matter” (2010) and novels including “The Ghost Village” (1992).

“I’ve always loved hearing and telling stories,” Mr. Straub said in a story for the Wisconsin Alumni Association. “Furthermore, telling stories and writing fiction is a way of managing and exploring my own impulses and emotions. I am not at the mercy of my terrors, of my shame. I push the dredged up emotions into forms that are ultimately pleasurable, even if their content seems violent or disturbing.

Yet he also loved the outlandish twists of daytime soap operas. For his 60th birthday, his wife surprised Mr. Straub with a behind-the-scenes tour of the “One Life to Live” set, which opened the door for the author to play a cameo role as blind detective Peter Braust.

Despite the success of Mr Straub’s collaborations with King, he noted the challenges of a creative partnership that at times left them “pretty fed up with each other”.

In a 2001 interview with USA Today, Straub described writing as a “deeply private and intimate activity.”

“Its own style is achieved at a cost,” he said. “You don’t want anyone else in your workshop, playing with your tools, unless you trust them.”

Mr Straub also said that any worthwhile horror tale must remain tied to childhood fear and imagination.

“Novelists have to write from their deepest places,” he said in a 1983 interview, “and a horror novelist had better stay in touch with his fears, his childhood still lives within him.”

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