Sunday, September 17, 2006

Missing Charles L. Grant--One More Empty Saddle

I haven't posted a blog since March. I know. I'm an ass. I've been writing like a fiend in that time, and soon, I hope to give you an update on all that's been written, all the news, and what I'm cogitating about these many months later.

But that will have to wait.

What brings me back today is a terrible bit of news I received yesterday morning. Charles L. Grant, a towering legend in the field of horror, has died. Charlie's contributions as a writer are well known, both novels and short stories (and novellas, as in my favorite Grant book, NIGHTMARE SEASONS), but his greatest influence came through his work as the master anthologist of the horror genre. Charlie edited so many fantastic anthologies, not only the extraordinary SHADOWS series (in which Charlie published the first ever stories from so many wonderful writers) from the GREYSTONE BAY books to HORRORS and TERRORS and others. TERRORS, in fact, was the very first adult horror I ever read. I recall so clearly the day I picked it up from a spinner rack in Thayer Pharmacy on Cape Cod. I couldn't have been more than ten. I read those stories on the beach and already, in that one day, started to think of Charlie Grant as the Great and Powerful Oz, the man behind the curtain. If not for the first taste of horror that Charlie offered me, I might never have gone on to Stephen King, and from King to so many others. I might never have been set upon the path my life has taken.

In 1985, the fall that I started college, I attended my very first real convention--Boskone. Charlie was the first professional writer I had ever met, and he was gracious and generous with his time, talking to this eighteen year old kid like I had anything to say that he might want to hear.

Maybe you've heard--or you will hear--that Charlie was a curmudgeonly bastard. Well, yeah. Absolutely. But his gruffness was part of his charm and was always undercut by a smile or by the benevolence in him.

Charlie liked to play the curmudgeon, but he was one of the kindest, gentlest guys around. In the early years at Necon (a small writers convention I've attended almost every year since 1989), when I was just dreaming about getting published, Charlie was always supportive and encouraging, a friend to me. Two of the best memories I'll ever have of Necon were of Charlie--one a long conversation about our shared love of Abbott & Costello, and the other a conversation that lasted until five a.m., the only time in all my years at Necon that I stayed up until sunrise.

The first book signing I ever did was a group thing. There were perhaps six writers, and Charlie was one of them. During my stint as Secretary of HWA, he was always supportive, always had the time to share the wisdom of his experience.

I got the news yesterday morning, and posted on a board "It's been years since I last saw him, but I find myself missing him horribly today." Another day has passed, and I miss him more. Strange, because while we were always friendly, I'm not sure we were ever close enough to really be called friends. Maybe it's just that he almost seemed so much bigger than life, to me. He occupied more room in this world than most of us are allotted, not just in my view, but for anyone who met him. With his cowboy boots and his jeans and that hair and beard, he looked like a badass Texas preacher more than a writer.

I have so many great memories of Charlie, not only from Necon, but other times as well, including a trip a bunch of us made to SpookyWorld. We were all in a long (more than an hour) line for the haunted hayride and they played music for the crowd. When they did YMCA and the Macarena, many in the crowd danced along, knowing all the right steps. Charlie knew every one of those moves, and had a blast. It amused me like hell seeing the eternal grump doing those dances, grinning and so completely at ease.

I wish the SHADOWS series still existed, giving the mass market regular doses of the best and often newest voices in horror fiction. Where are the next generation going to learn what makes a horror story transcendant, if not from Charlie Grant?

Yesterday morning when I woke up--a couple of hours before I received the news about Charlie in two phone calls from Rick Hautala and Craig Gardner--I found myself thinking about Charlie Daniels, a country rocker who was a Southern rock legend in the 70s and early 80s. Yes, I used to listen to Charlie Daniels back in the day. Daniels played with Elvis and Janis Joplin and many others in the studio before launching his own career. He'd seen a lot of road. Most of his albums back then would have a little poem inside or on the back, usually in what seemed to be his own handwriting. They were pretty good, and at the time I thought they were sublime. I knew them all.

Yesterday, for apparently no reason, lines from one of those poems started going through my head. It's from an album called FULL MOON and it's called "To A Brother." It ends with the following lines--

"But we're so much less than human,
When we lose one of our own.
Now there's one more empty saddle.
This old cowboy has gone home."

Two hours later the phone rang, and I learned an era had passed.