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Missing Charles L. Grant–One More Empty Saddle

It’s hard to believe it’s been a decade since we lost Charlie Grant. In that time, I’ve recognized his influence on me a bit more clearly. I’m not sure he’d like to lay claim to that influence—much of what I do is not nearly quiet enough for Charlie. But his work as a writer and editor still looms large in my mind and in the minds of so many who felt his influence both as author and tastemaker. (God, he’d have hated that word, “tastemaker.” He’d have mocked me for using it, no doubt.) Still…it’s true. Many of you may be learning about Charlie for the very first time, or at least being shown the extent of his influence for the first time. That, my friends, is a wonderful thing. Go and read his work. Track down his novels but especially his short stories…and locate the anthologies he edited, because I’ll tell you—everything you need to know about the vitality of the horror genre in that era can be found in those pages. The Shadows series. Terrors. Greystone Bay. So damn many…

We lost Charles L. Grant way too young. But when we had him, man, did he deliver.

Charlie and I were friendly, but we weren’t close friends. Still, he held an enormously important place in my development as a writer and I enjoyed every moment I ever spent with him. How many people can we say that about?

Ten years ago, the morning after, I posted a blog reacting to his passing. I hope you’ll read it now and remember Charlie with me.

It started like this….

 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, from the extraordinary SHADOWS series (in which Charlie published the first ever stories from so many wonderful writers) to 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 always 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 transcendent, 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. 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.

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