Suspense, speculative, and horror fiction writer Stephen Gresham (1947- ) has been intrigued by the gothic tradition of the South since moving to Auburn, Lee County, in 1975 to take a teaching position at Auburn University. This area of Alabama provides the backdrop for his novel The Fraternity (2004) and imbues works such as Rockabye Baby (1984) with the horror and fantasy elements of the southern magic genre that guide him as he writes of supernatural creatures and forces. His work is primarily aimed at young adults.
Stephen Gresham Gresham was born in Halstead, Kansas, on September 23, 1947, to Chester Gresham, a building contractor, and Helen Kennedy, housewife and wartime riveter. He was raised with five brothers. Gresham’s literary passion was sparked by listening to his grandmother read him everything from comic books to Edgar Allan Poe and watching 1940s B movies by horror film producer Val Lewton. Gresham studied journalism for two years at Wichita State University, where he began his professional writing career as a freelance sports reporter at the Wichita Eagle. He then transferred to Kansas State Teachers College (present-day Emporia State University) to earn a bachelor’s and a master’s degree. In 1975, he completed a Ph.D. in English Renaissance literature at the University of Missouri. While in Missouri, Gresham married Linda Duffy in 1969, and the couple would have one child.
In 1975, Gresham joined the English Department at Auburn University as a professor of creative writing. By the later 1970s, he had published several pieces of short fiction with two small presses. Gresham is drawn to the mythical South and has described east Alabama as an inspirational place. Moon Lake, Gresham’s first novel, uses such a backdrop to tell the tale of two honeymooners who encounter evil hidden in the water hyacinths on Moon Lake.
Gresham’s novels aim to mesh the supernatural world of ghosts, magic, and witchcraft with the real horrors of places like his boyhood Kansas, with its tornados, polio scares, and threats of nuclear war. The most distinctive aspect of his writing is the centrality of unrequited love and the unexpected yet powerful bonds formed by his characters. When Teddy, the teenage hero of Haunted Ground, battles ghosts at a neighboring farm, he must also come to terms with his adolescence and the wrath of his dysfunctional family. This focus on the destructive innerworkings of families is balanced by a respect for what Gresham refers to as “soul” families, those united not necessarily by blood but by heart or circumstance. Even after Teddy is assaulted by his own brother and neglected by his psychologically unfit mother, he is able to find solace with his cousin Judith, the black sheep of his extended family.
Stephen Gresham Cover Another characteristic of Gresham’s books is his attention to research and historical settings. In the 1990 novel Blood Wings, Gresham researched the field of cryptozoology to create the massive batlike creature from which the novel gets its title. In The Fraternity (2004), two warring vampire fraternities battle against the backdrop of Depression-era America where the only threat greater than the crumbled economy of the Hoover years is the risk of being kidnapped by rival vampires.
In addition to the many novels he has published under his own name, Gresham has also written under two pennames to establish a distinct identity between his suspense thrillers and his young adult fiction. For the 1994 suspense/thriller Primal Instinct, he adopted the name John Newland from the 1950s television series “One Step Beyond.” The next year, he paid homage to director Val Lewton when he published two novels, Just Pretend and Called to Darkness, under the name J. V. Lewton. Gresham’s best-selling novel to date has been Midnight Boy (1987), and Haunted Ground (2003) has garnered the most favorable response from readers. Reception from readers, especially young ones, has been largely favorable, and he continues to publish thrillers.
Gresham retired from Auburn University in 2008 as a full professor and currently resides in Auburn.br/>
Selected Works by Stephen Gresham
Moon Lake (1982)
Rockabye Baby (1984)
The Shadow Man (1986)
Midnight Boy (1987)
Blood Wings (1990)
The Living Dark (1991)
Primal Instinct (1994, as John Newland)
Just Pretend (1994, as J. V. Lewton)
Called to Darkness (1995, as J. V. Lewton)
Haunted Ground (2003)
Crossing the River of Good Mind (2007)
The Book of Moonlight (2007)
Snakehole Man (2015)
Brooks, Clifford V. “Talking Terror with Stephen Gresham.” In The Scream Factory, edited by Clifford V. Brooks, Peter Enfantino, and Joe Brooks, pp. 9-10 (San Jose, Calif.: Deadline Publications, 1989).
Pringle, David. St. James Guide to Horror, Ghost & Gothic Writers. New York: St. James Press, 1998.