Reasonable Doubt

He Was Supposed to Be the Next Stephen King. Then the Aliens Came.

Reclusive writer Whitley Strieber reflects on his career — and ‘the visitors’ that interrupted it

Drew Millard
Published in
15 min readFeb 11, 2019


Whitley Strieber at an exhibition opening at the Annenberg Space for Photography in 2016. Photo: David Livingston/Getty

WWhitley Strieber was supposed to be the next Stephen King, a pop-horror writer whose golden pen produced books begging for big-screen adaptations. His first novel, the 1978 werewolf-realism procedural Wolfen, was turned into a movie by the filmmaker behind Woodstock. In 1983, his sex-vampire thriller The Hunger was adapted into a movie starring David Bowie, Catherine Deneuve, and Susan Sarandon. It was directed by Tony Scott, who subsequently made Top Gun. A year later, Strieber’s fifth novel — a faux-journalistic account of life following a minor apocalypse called War Day, which he co-wrote with his friend James Kunetka — was optioned for nearly half a million dollars before even being published.

Whitley Strieber was going places, and it was going to take something absolutely crazy for him to not get there.

That’s when something crazy happened. Namely, one night at his cabin in upstate New York, Whitley Strieber had what he perceived to be an alien encounter. Or rather, an encounter with a group of nonhuman beings he refers to as, “the visitors.” His hesitation about…