Morrell, David 1943–
Morrell, David 1943–
PERSONAL: Born April 24, 1943, in Kitchener, Ontario, Canada; son of George Morrell (a Royal Navy flier) and Beatrice (an upholsterer) Morrell Bamberger; married Donna Maziarz (an editorial assistant), October 10, 1965; children: Sarie, Matthew (deceased). Education: University of Waterloo, B.A., 1966; Pennsylvania State University, M.A., 1967, Ph.D., 1970; graduate of National Outdoor Leadership School, WY, and G. Gordon Liddy Academy of Corporate Security, CA. Politics: "Common sense." Religion: Roman Catholic. Hobbies and other interests: Tennis, gardening, reading.
CAREER: Pennsylvania State University, University Park, PA, instructor in rhetoric, 1969–70; University of Iowa, Iowa City, IA, assistant professor, 1970–74, associate professor, 1974–77, professor of American literature, 1977–86. Full-time writer, 1986–.
MEMBER: International Thriller Writers (co-president), Horror Writers of America, Mystery Writers of America, Writers Guild of America.
AWARDS, HONORS: Distinguished Recognition award, Friends of American Writers, 1973, for First Blood; World Fantasy Award nominations, 1983, for best short story "The Hundred-Year Christmas," and 1985, for best short story "Dead Image"; Bram Stoker best novella awards, Horror Writers of America, 1989, for "Orange Is for Anguish, Blue for Insanity," and 1991, for "The Beautiful Uncut Hair of Graves"; Distinguished Faculty Alumni Award, University of Iowa, 1999; Love Is Murder best thriller award, 2002, for The Protector; Shocklines Shocker of the Year, 2005, Love Is Murder best thriller award, 2005, and Bram Stoker Award nomination, Horror Writers Association, 2006, all for Creepers.
First Blood, M. Evans (New York, NY), 1972.
Testament (horror), M. Evans (New York, NY), 1975.
Last Reveille (western), M. Evans (New York, NY), 1977.
The Totem (horror), M. Evans (New York, NY), 1979, revised edition published as The Totem (Complete and Unaltered), 1991.
Blood Oath, St. Martin's (New York, NY), 1982.
The Brotherhood of the Rose (thriller), St. Martin's (New York, NY), 1984.
Rambo: First Blood, Part II (adaptation of film of the same title), Jove (New York, NY), 1985.
The Fraternity of the Stone (thriller), St. Martin's (New York, NY), 1985.
The League of Night and Fog (thriller), St. Martin's (New York, NY), 1987.
Rambo III (adaptation of film of the same title), Berkley (New York, NY), 1988.
The Fifth Profession, Warner (New York, NY), 1990.
The Covenant of the Flame (thriller), Warner (New York, NY), 1991.
Totem/Testament (omnibus), New English Library, 1991.
Assumed Identity (thriller), Warner (New York, NY), 1993.
Brotherhood Omnibus (contains The Brotherhood of the Rose, The Fraternity of the Stone, and The League of Night and Fog), Headline Book Publishing, 1993.
Desperate Measures (thriller), Warner (New York, NY), 1995.
Extreme Denial (thriller), Warner (New York, NY), 1996.
Double Image (thriller), Warner (New York, NY), 1998.
Burnt Sienna (thriller), Warner (New York, NY), 2000.
Long Lost (thriller), Warner (New York, NY), 2002.
The Protector (thriller), Warner (New York, NY), 2003.
Creepers, CDS Books (New York, NY), 2005.
Scavenger, CDS Books (New York, NY), 2007.
John Barth: An Introduction, Pennsylvania State University Press (State College, PA), 1976.
The Hundred-Year Christmas (fantasy), Donald M. Grant (Hampton Fall, NH), 1983.
Fireflies (nonfiction), Dutton (New York, NY), 1988.
Black Evening (short stories), Warner (New York, NY), 1999.
Lessons from a Lifetime of Writing: A Novelist Looks at His Craft (nonfiction), Writer's Digest Books (Cincinnati, OH), 2002.
Nightscape (short stories), Subterranean Press (Burton, MI), 2004.
Also author of "Monsters" episode for the television series Habitat, 1990. Author of foreword for American Fiction, American Myth: Essays by Philip Young, introduction by Sandra Spanier, Pennsylvania State University Press (State College, PA), 2000. Contributor to anthologies, including Fears, 1983; Shadows 6, 1983; Shadows 7, 1984; Dead Image, 1985; The Year's Best Fantasy Stories 11, 1985; Horrors, 1986; A Century of Horror 1970–1979: The Greatest Stories of the Decade, 1987; Prime Evil, 1988; Between Time and Terror. 1990; The Year's Best Fantasy and Horror Fifth Annual Collection, 1992; Nursery Crimes, 1993; Christmas Magic, 1994; The King Is Dead: Tales of Elvis Post-Mortem, 1994; Night Screams, 1995; Millennium, 1997; and 999, 1999. Contributor to periodicals, including Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, Fiction Writer, Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, Rod Serling's Twilight Zone Magazine, Journal of General Education, Bulletin of the Midwest Modern Language Association, Washington Post Book World, and Philological Quarterly. Morrell's books have been translated into numerous languages, including Month French, German, Dutch, Norse, Swedish, Finnish, Spanish, Portuguese, Japanese, Greek, Italian, Turkish, Icelandic, Yugoslavian, Polish, Hungarian, Bulgarian, Russian, Latvian, Romanian, and Czech.
ADAPTATIONS: First Blood was adapted for the screen by Michael Kozoll, William Sakheim, and Q. Moon-blood and released by Orion Pictures, 1982; Rambo: First Blood, Part II and Rambo III, based on characters created by Morrell, were filmed in 1985 and 1988, respectively; The Brotherhood of the Rose was broadcast as a miniseries, National Broadcasting Corp., 1989. Several of Morrell's novels have been released on audiotape, including Black Evening, Dove Audio, 2000, and Creepers, 2006.
SIDELIGHTS: With his debut novel, First Blood, David Morrell garnered critical attention as a skilled author of high-action fiction. Many novels later, he is still best known as the creator of John Rambo, the protagonist of First Blood who was later played by Sylvester Stallone in a wildly successful series of motion pictures.
First Blood deals with Rambo's return to America after a long and grueling tour of duty as a Green Beret soldier in Vietnam. As the young vet hitchhikes through Kentucky, he attracts the attention of local police chief Wilfred Teasle, who gives him a lift outside the city limits. Teasle's message is polite but firm: Stay out of town. When Rambo re-enters the city not once but twice, he is finally arrested. Wishing to teach a lesson about Southern hospitality to the scruffy young man, who is assumed to be just another drifter, Teasle instructs a deputy to shave Rambo and cut his hair. The enraged Rambo retaliates, using the shaving razor to kill one officer and wound another. He then breaks out of jail, steals a police motorcycle, and rides naked into the rainy night.
The remainder of First Blood is a headlong chase through the mountains of Kentucky, pitting Teasle—himself a decorated veteran of the Korean War—and his men against ex-Green Beret Rambo. As they scour the vast hills, police and national guard manhunters find themselves easy targets for Rambo's traps and ambushes. Ultimately, the two former soldiers must face each other man-to-man. Michael Gassaniga, writing in the National Review, hailed First Blood as "the best American suspense novel of , and perhaps one of the best ever."
Upon publication in 1972, when many returning Vietnam vets were greeted with animosity or open hostility from the very public that they were trained to protect, First Blood won praise as a novel that makes a statement about war and what happens to soldiers when the war is over. "Rambo may be the boldest embodiment of a system that trains men to kill," observed Saturday Review contributor Joseph Catinella, and New York Times Book Review critic John Deck similarly felt that the novel "contains its warning: When Johnny comes marching home this time, watch out."
Critics impressed with First Blood often noted Morrell's direct, no-frills writing style and his sense of narrative drive. "From the first sentence, the reader knows that a born storyteller is talking," Catinella asserted, while a Washington Post Book World critic dubbed First Blood "the best chase thriller since [Geoffrey Household's] Rogue Male" (a work which Morrell lists among his major influences).
In 1982, ten years after its publication, First Blood was translated to the screen. Though the film was a tremendous success and sparked two sequels, Morrell was dissatisfied with the way John Rambo was perceived by audiences. Inspired in part by Morrell's father, a Royal Navy flier, and named after nineteenth-century French poet Arthur Rimbaud, the Rambo that Morrell had hoped to create was more than just a machine-gun toting superhero.
During the years between the publication of First Blood and the release of the three Rambo movies, Morrell began writing mystery-adventure novels—thrillers on a grand scale, filled with espionage, assassination, and worldwide terrorism. Among these is the 1984 bestseller The Brotherhood of the Rose, the first in a series of books that feature a revolving cast of characters, both heroic and villainous.
The principle players in The Brotherhood of the Rose are Chris Kilmoonie and Saul Grisman, orphans adopted together and raised as brothers, educated at a private academy for boys and trained in warfare and martial arts. Their mentor and father figure, Eliot, has sent them through army's special forces training and Israeli "assassination school," so they now work together as the perfect team of hired killers. But Eliot turns against the brothers, who soon discover that they are not the only killing team their mentor has created. Chris and Saul band together—first in defense, then to attack.
"David Morrell invests the characters in this spy thriller with a high degree of normalcy," wrote Mason Buck in a review of The Brotherhood of the Rose for the New York Times Book Review. Michael Dirda, meanwhile, noted in the Washington Post Book World that "all any reader will want to do is turn the next page and the one after that until it's way past bedtime." James Kaufman wrote in the Christian Science Monitor that Morrell's novel "has everything, every ingredient necessary for a first-class thriller," and added: "It is obvious that [Morrell] is stalking intrigue novelist Robert Ludlum." Dirda even ranked Morrell's work above Ludlum's fiction, asserting: "By comparison to any Ludlum, The Brotherhood of the Rose really moves."
In the 1980s, Morrell followed The Brotherhood of the Rose with a string of best-selling thrillers that includes The Fraternity of the Stone, The League of Night and Fog, and The Covenant of the Flame. Though he is occasionally chided for constructing flat characters or over-complicated plots in these novels, he inevitably wins recognition as a born storyteller. "He's a master of violence and of who, how and why—in short, suspense," wrote a Publishers Weekly contributor. Dirda noted: "In none of [his books] does the action ever flag. As Morrell has memorably said of his work—but in words that should become the motto of any storyteller—'If you're writing a book, by God, let's move that sucker along.'"
Assumed Identity, which appeared in 1993, concerns talented, resourceful Brendan Buchanan, a government agent with particular proficiency in the art of disguise. But while Buchanan, posing as a renegade drug-enforcement agent, tries to ingratiate himself with vicious drug-dealing twins, he is identified by an oil worker with whom he was held hostage, under another guise, while in Iraq. Buchanan thereupon kills the twins and is arrested and tortured by the Mexican police. After surviving further misadventures, including a blackmail attempt by the oil rigger, Buchanan returns to action in Mexico and determines to halt the operations of a brutal oil magnate.
In Desperate Measures, despondent reporter Matt Pittman tries to save the life of a Washington, DC, power broker suffering from heart disease. For his efforts, Pittman is, incredibly, suspected of trying to kill the aforementioned figure, who is eventually exposed as an arms dealer. Forced to flee for his life, Pittman finds that anyone he approaches for help is soon found dead. He thereupon determines to gain assistance from some of the criminals whose exploits he once decried in print. A Kirkus Reviews contributor called portions of Desperate Measures "fairly gripping."
Morrell's next novel, Extreme Denial, features exhausted spy Steve Decker, who withdraws to New Mexico and the charms of a widowed woman with artistic aspirations. Decker soon finds that life in his new home is anything but tranquil and restorative. First, he finds himself with little alternative but to kill four murderous intruders. Then he comes to believe that his lover has perished in a nearby explosion. When he also develops the suspicion that his lover may have commissioned the earlier attempt on his own life, Decker is compelled to return to action and uncover her mysterious past. Booklist critic Wes Lukowsky reported that the formulaic Extreme Denial constitutes "what readers have come to expect," adding that "it's what Morrell delivers, and he does it very, very well."
With Burnt Sienna Morrell tells the story of Marine-turned-artist Chase Malone. Malone reluctantly agrees to paint a portrait of Sienna with the inside knowledge that her husband had portraits of his previous wives painted before they died mysteriously. "Thrillers don't get any better than this," wrote Jeff Ayers in the Library Journal. A Publishers Weekly contributor declared: "The mayhem concludes in a pyrotechnic ending with a twist that Morrell's fans will love."
Morrell's Long Lost tells the story of Brad Denning, who ditched his little brother, Petey, one day while out playing, only to later find that his brother never made it home. More than two decades later, Brad runs into a construction worker who claims to be his brother and who knows only things that someone in Brad's family could possibly know. Brad takes him in but is betrayed when Petey pushes him into a deep ravine and kidnaps Brad's wife and son in an apparent act of revenge. "Altogether: good storytelling, neatly plotted and admirably paced, Morrell's best in years," according to one Kirkus Reviews critic. Wes Lukowsky, writing in Booklist, commented that the author "put[s] the reader right in the middle of the action … in riveting fashion," and Library Journal contributor Jeff Ayers commented that Morrell "maintains the suspense until the last page."
In the novel The Protector Protector Cavanaugh and his company are hired to help a scientist, Daniel Prescott, hide from a drug gang who wants a substance created by Prescott that stops drug addiction but is highly addictive itself. Cavanaugh, however, soon learns that the real story is much more convoluted and dangerous. The FBI and other federal agents soon become involved in the case, and Prescott's wife is threatened with death. Writing in Booklist, Lukowsky noted that the author "draws more than a few complex characters imbued with layered motives and capable of intelligent dialogue." A Publishers Weekly contributor commented that "there are plenty of twists, several impressive action set pieces and a narrative that speeds like the souped-up Taurus."
Creepers concerns the story of a group of urban explorers known as "creepers" who explore the old Paragon Hotel. Although looking for adventure and accompanied by a New York Times journalist, the group soon learns that some of them have a hidden agenda that involves a potential treasure. The group also encounters a mad kidnapper and faces other dangers as the building crumbles around them. "Morrell delivers first-rate, suspenseful storytelling once again," wrote a Publishers Weekly contributor, who also commented that the novel is "a gripping story that demands to be read in a single sitting." Lukowsky, writing again for Booklist, concluded that the novel is an "unabashedly entertaining thriller that has blockbuster movie written all over it."
Although best known for his thrillers, Morrell also publishes works in the horror genre. Among these is Testament, which a St. James Guide to Horror, Ghost & Gothic Writers contributor described as a novel that "confronts the ultimate horror of a man losing his family." In the horror novel The Totem, a bold police chief and a cynical reporter team up to thwart a wave of violence in Potter's Grove, Wyoming. Morrell eventually published a revision of The Totem, but the St. James Guide to Horror, Ghost & Gothic Writers, contributor prized the original version as a "breakneck novel."
Morrell's shorter horror writings include "Black and White and Red All Over," wherein a newsboy's security is undermined by a stalker; "Mumbo Jumbo," in which teenage football players discover that their team's success derives from a supernatural statue possessed by their coach; and "Dead Image," in which a dissatisfied screenwriter courts a dead actor's look-alike for casting in the writer's directorial debut. "Dead Image," the St. James Guide to Horror, Ghost & Gothic Writers contributor reported, raises "questions … about fate and the nature of stardom."
Morrell presents a collection of thriller, horror, and science fiction short stories in Nightscape. The stories include "If I Should Die before I Wake," a rumination on the Spanish flu epidemic of the early twentieth century, and "Rio Grande Gothic," about a cop who becomes intrigued by various shoes he sees lying on the side of the road at different times only to have them lead him to a series of ritual sacrifices. "Morrell's stories tend to combine clean, understated prose and a relatively low-key story line with a shocking surprise at the end," wrote a Publishers Weekly contributor. In a review of the collection for Booklist, Regina Schroeder reported: "Morrell writes compelling psychological suspense and manages to cover lots of ground."
Morrell has continued to write in a wide variety of genres over the years, including his short story collection Black Evening. The fifteen stories in the collection were written over twenty years and include "The Type-writter," about a magical typewriter that quits producing best sellers for a frantic writer. "Even the less successful stories … have a gripping quality," wrote a Publishers Weekly contributor.
Drawing on his years of experience as writer, Morrell authored Lessons from a Lifetime of Writing: A Novelist Looks at His Craft. Morrell writes largely about the fundamentals of novel writing, including how to develop plot, characters, and structure. A Publishers Weekly contributor called the author's advice "careful and thoughtful, and at times, inspirational." Robert Moore, writing in the Library Journal, noted that the author's "revisionist take on how to write keeps the book interesting."
Morrell once told CA: "I became a writer because of the influence of Stirling Silliphant's writing for the TV series Route 66. I write high-action thrillers that try to communicate important issues to a broad audience—issues such as professionalism, discipline, religion, the relationship between parents and children, and the effects of grief."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Morrell, David, Lessons from a Lifetime of Writing: A Novelist Looks at His Craft, Writer's Digest Books (Cincinnati, OH), 2002.
St. James Guide to Horror, Ghost & Gothic Writers, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1998, pp. 416-418.
Booklist, February 15, 1996, Wes Lukowsky, review of Extreme Denial, p. 1072; February 15, 1998, Emily Melton, review of Double Image, p. 948; March 1, 2002, David Pitt, review of Lessons from a Lifetime of Writing, p. 1079; March 15, 2002, Wes Lukowsky, review of Long Lost, p. 1189; May 1, 2003, Wes Lukowsky, review of The Protector, p. 1550; June 1, 2004, Regina Schroeder, review of Nightscape, p. 1713; August, 2005, Wes Lukowsky, review of Creepers, p. 1952.
Christian Science Monitor, June 13, 1984, James Kaufmann, review of The Brotherhood of the Rose, p. 27; October 23, 1985, review of The Fraternity of the Stone, p. 22.
Fantasy Review, January, 1984, review of The Hundred Year Christmas, p. 26; March, 1984, review of The Hundred Year Christmas, p. 8.
Journal of Modern Literature, summer, 2000, Morton P. Levitt, review of American Fiction, American Myth: Essays by Philip Young, p. 601.
Kirkus Reviews, July 1, 1993, review of Assumed Identity, p. 809; July 15, 1994, review of Desperate Measures, p. 941; February 15, 1996, review of Extreme Denial, p. 253; March 1, 1998, review of Double Image, p. 291; March 1, 2002, review of Long Lost, p. 284.
Library Journal, February 15, 2000, Jeff Ayers, review of Burnt Sienna, p. 198; October 1, 2000, Lane Anderson, review of Totem, p. 176; March 1, 2002, Robert Moore, review of Lessons from a Lifetime of Writing, p. 116; April 15, 2002, Jeff Ayers, review of Long Lost, p. 126; August 1, 2005, Nancy McNicol, review of Creepers, p. 70; September 1, 2005, Nancy McNicol, review of Creepers, p. 133.
Los Angeles Times Book Review, December 22, 1985, review of The Fraternity of the Stone, p. 8; May 10, 1987, review of The League of Night and Fog, p. 8.
National Review, February 16, 1973, Michael Gassaniga, review of First Blood, p. 222; May 28, 1976, review of Testament, p. 574; January 19, 1979, review of Last Reveille, p. 111.
New Yorker, July 16, 1984, review of The Brotherhood of the Rose, p. 93.
New York Times Book Review, June 18, 1972, John Deck, review of First Blood, p. 6; December 12, 1982, Newgate Callendar, review of Blood Oath, p. 37; May 13, 1984, Mason Buck, review of The Brotherhood of the Rose, p. 22; November 3, 1985, review of The Fraternity of The Stone, p. 26; August 16, 1987, Stewart Kellerman, review of The League of Night and Fog, p. 16; May 26, 1991, review of The Covenant of the Flame, p. 22.
Observer (London, England), February 4, 1973, review of First Blood, p. 36.
Publishers Weekly, September 13, 1985, review of The Fraternity of the Stone, p. 123; December 13, 1999, review of Black Evening, p. 65; February 28, 2000, review of Burnt Sienna, p. 64; February 25, 2002, review of Lessons from a Lifetime of Writing, p. 55; April 1, 2002, review of Long Lost, p. 51; April 21, 2003, review of The Protector, p. 38; July 19, 2004, review of Nightscape, p. 149; June 27, 2005, review of Creepers, p. 39; June 5, 2006, Matthew Thornton, "Jane Dystel of Dystel & Goderich Has Sold a New Novel by David Morrell, Scavenger, Again to Roger Cooper at CDS Books, an Imprint of the Perseus Books Group," p. 8.
Saturday Review, December 2, 1972, Joseph Catinella, review of First Blood, p. 80.
Times Literary Supplement, November 10, 1972, review of First Blood, p. 1375.
Tribune Books (Chicago, IL), May 26, 1991, review of The Covenant of the Flame, p. 7.
Washington Post Book World, July 2, 1972, review of First Blood, p. 9; May 13, 1984, Michael Dirda, review of The Brotherhood of the Rose, p. 6; February 3, 1985, review of The Brotherhood of the Rose, p. 12; October 6, 1985, review of The Fraternity of the Stone, p. 195; June 21, 1987, review of The League of Night and Fog, p. 9; September 11, 1988, review of Fireflies, p. 3; May 5, 1991, review of The Covenant of the Flame, p. 12; May 19, 1991, review of The Covenant of the Flame, p. 12.
Agony Column Book Reviews and Commentary, http://trashotron.com/agony/ (September 4, 2006), Mario Guslandi, review of The Protector.
All Readers, http://www.allreaders.com/ (September 4, 2006), Harriet Klausner, review of The Protector.
Book Reporter, http://www.bookreporter.com/ (September 4, 2006), Joe Hartlaub, review of Creepers; (September 23, 2005), David Morrell, "An Obsession with the Past"; (November 4, 2005), interview with David Morrell.
David Morrell Network, http://www.davidmorrell.net (September 4, 2006).
Fantastic Fiction, http://www.fantasticfiction.co.uk/ (September 4, 2006), information on David Morrell's works.
Hatchette Book Groups, http://www.twbookmark.com/ (September 4, 2006), brief autobiography by David Morrell.
Internet Movie Database, http://www.imdb.com/ (September 4, 2006), information on David Morrell's film credits.
Writer's Write, http://www.writerswrite.com/ (September 4, 2006), "Interview: A Conversation with David Morrell."