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See the charms--and horrors--of small town living

This book might just have you quaking beneath your bed

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It's not uncommon for Cambrians to approach Richard Taylor and claim to know the actual identity of the Monroe House--the ghost-ridden bed and breakfast featured in his horror novel, The Haunting of Cambria. And if they're not tossing out the names of actual inns or bed and breakfasts, they're hinting that they know the real identities of the characters. Taylor's pen-made people are lifelike enough, and he references enough Cambrian businesses--The Pewter Plough Playhouse, the Brambles, The Sow's Ear, White Water Inn--that it's not entirely surprising that his readers are having difficulty distinguishing between the real Cambria and the author's evil-infused fictional version.

Taylor is quick to dismiss rumors that real people found their way into his pages, though he acknowledges that the small town is a major source of inspiration for his novel.

IMAGE COURTESY OF RICHARD TAYLOR
  • IMAGE COURTESY OF RICHARD TAYLOR

# "The book is set in Cambria, but everyone has their own perspective," Taylor said. "Cambria is a very small town, and, as small towns are, it's made up of the people you know. The characters are from my mind, and that's what every fiction writer does."

It was only after moving to Cambria in August of 2002 that Taylor was inspired to write The Haunting of Cambria, and his appreciation for his dream town is evident. Just as Taylor and his wife moved from Los Angeles to Cambria after vacationing there every year, Taylor's protagonist begins the tale by moving to Cambria with his new bride. The terrible secrets that he discovers there markedly contrast descriptions of the town where light and fog engage in an everlasting dance. Cambria is Taylor's muse and, at times, a second protagonist.


In fact, Taylor immersed himself in the novel the day after he moved, writing between 6,000 and 8,000 words a day. He completed his literary task on Halloween, mere months after beginning the project. He surprised himself by the themes and characters that emerged from the story.

"When I write something, I know the beginning and I know the end--and if I wrote an outline, I'd be so bored I couldn't finish it," Taylor explained.

Though The Haunting of Cambria is Taylor's first published novel, it's far from his first brush with the writing process. While working as head of security for Warner Brothers in Los Angeles, he wrote screenplays, some of which he sold. By the time they reached an audience, many of them bore little resemblance to what he had originally written.For that reason, he's particularly enamored by his newest literary endeavor.

"The most satisfying part of my life has been since I started writing novels," he said. "The reality is the writer is the star, and it's good or bad based on his ability to write the story."

He's written other novels, and is currently working on even more, each as different from the last as it is possible for two books from one creator to be. Taylor never writes the same thing twice, and will likely never return to horror--he's not particularly a fan of the genre. He does, however, like Stephen King, a preference reinforced by the fact that his characters read that author's works at various points in the story.

His other novels include a reworking of the vampire legend and a story written from the perspective of a young girl. That Taylor would write from a female perspective may be of interest to anyone who finds his protagonist in The Haunting of Cambria--Theo Parker--an unapologetic sexist. Taylor acknowledges that Theo may represent his shallower self, though the events in the book punish the character for his sexism.

"The book is about sexual politics and how there are inequalities based on gender," Taylor explained. "I think it's intended to be pro-humanist, about people getting past their prejudices. I don't know where that came from, though. I'm not an activist."

Taylor's complex female characters make it impossible to dismiss The Haunting of Cambria because of Theo's backwards attitude. Theo encounters the women in quick succession--first Lily, beautiful and funny, whose death is announced the very first sentence of the book. The cause of her death? Theo was looking at her legs instead of the road while driving. Then Eleanor Glacy, quiet, thoughtful, and extremely damaged. When Theo meets Eleanor, he pities her both because her chest is small and she doesn't have a man in her life, exhibiting a thoughtless male arrogance that tends to overshadow most of what he does and says.

Lastly there's Laura Karczek, the lawyer who's determined to go down with guns blazing--if she has to go down at all. Laura is Taylor's favorite character, a fact not at all surprising given that it's Laura who represents strength. She's a blazing beauty in a bomber jacket. Unlike Lily and Eleanor, however, Laura will never be a romantic interest for Theo. She stands alone, in a sense redeeming Theo's cliche observations about women.

Ultimately, of course, this is Theo's story--however much the female characters hijack the reader's sympathy over the course of the tale--and it's his opinions that are presented as fact.

"Women who don't possess the life-giving dynamic, or who suppress it or kill it in order to be more like men, and hence more competitive with them, lose far more than they gain," asserts the book in one of many statements not attributed to anyone. The comments float around without being tied to a particular character, so it's hard to determine whether they're an expression of the author's own opinion.

Were the assertion that womanhood is irrevocably tied to maternal preoccupations made by the author, rather than an admittedly sexist protagonist, it would probably be worth setting the book aside. But the collapse between Theo's and the author's apparent voice at certain points allows the more sexist statements--even those made outside of the context of a particular character's statements or opinions--to be attributed to the less-than-admirable protagonist.

Perhaps the most original aspect of Taylor's tale is his unexpected ghost--a diabolical energy force residing within the Monroe House. As the plot progresses, the ghost's transgressions progress from creepy wailing to assault to murder. The ravenous force is ultimately identified as a seemingly unassuming life form, a surprise for any reader expecting a malevolent Casper.

"With The Haunting of Cambria I was interested in asking what is the ghost, what could a ghost be," Taylor explained. "At some point, it jumped into my mind. I think I was taking a shower at the time."

After completing the book at record pace, Taylor spent the next two years looking for an agent. He sent out dozens of queries, received significantly fewer requests for a couple of pages, sent out pages, and received still fewer requests for the entire book. Finally, a few agents were prepared to make Taylor an offer. It took another year for his agent to shop the book before settling on a publisher, who scheduled the book for a release in the summer of 2006. There were delays and the tale of Theo Parker, the haunted bed and breakfast, and Taylor's beloved town was finally released in August of 2007--a long road for an author whose original plan was to self publish.

The past four months have seen Taylor promoting his book at signings and readings, a duty, he insists, that writers aren't really cut out for. But with the assistance of his wife, Jacqueline, his work is for sale at various locations in Cambria in addition to mainstream book suppliers like Barnes & Noble and amazon.com. Any reader who harbors a special fondness for Cambria--or for reading scary novels under the covers with a flashlight--would do well to add The Haunting of Cambria to his or her reading list.

INFOBOX: Get spooked

Richard Taylor's The Haunting of Cambria is available at most major bookstores, including Barnes & Noble ($24.95) and amazon.com ($16.47). On Feb. 6, from 10 a.m. to noon, Taylor will participate in a reading and signing for the Morro Bay Friends of the Library. For more information, visit www.hauntingofcambria.com. For more information about the reading, call 772-9268.


Arts Editor Ashley Schwellenbach once fought a petunia. Send pesticides to aschwellenbach@newtimesslo.com.

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