Most people avoid their demons; Clive Barker embraces his. The British-born author has served up terrifying scenarios in his novels, yet seems quite sanguine when explaining why he has devoted himself to horror books. As a boy, he was fascinated by Larousse's Encyclopedia of Mythology,where, he says, "no one questioned that gods walked the world, casually causing trouble for mortals." When he started writing, the realm of fantasy, both dark and light, beckoned.

"With a horror book, you can have the pleasure of being scared by something you know won't be waiting under the bed for you when you get home," he says.

Barker began his exploration of the genre with short stories. The Books of Blood, published in 1984, was followed by works that mixed in elements of fantasy with the buckets of blood. Weaveworld, Imajica and, most recently, the children's book Abarat, helped him break new ground.

"The stories ended rather bleakly," he says. "With Weaveworld and Imajica, I found a [way] to counteract the darkness. I owe it to my readers to take them on a more complex journey. Fantastic fiction has always had a better chance of experimenting with visions of the world, even grim visions, than realistic fiction. I'm looking to put the terrifying and the transcendental nose-to-nose."

When citing the work that he thinks turned out best, Barker leans toward the transcendental—Imajica. Barker was completing the novel as he was moving from his native England to the United States. "The themes of the book, of moving out of one world and into another, coincided with my own life," he says. "When I look back at the book, I thought I achieved what I wanted and [Imajica] was helped by my life's circumstances."

Today, Barker lives in a hidden canyon in Los Angeles, a locale that served as the setting for a 2001 novel, Coldheart Canyon. With his prodigious output, one might think Barker has no time to read his peers, but he keeps up with Peter Straub, Thomas Ligotti and, of course, Stephen King. "I revisited Salem's Lot recently and found it thoroughly entertaining all over again," says Barker.