Sunday, September 17, 2006
I was a science fiction freak when I was growing up. I lived for the stuff and I read dozens, if not hundreds of SF books. There came a time however, in the early 1980's, that I began to gradually tire of that genre. I had read most of the works by my favorite writers and I wasn't that impressed with the majority of the newer writers. I had heard (of course) about this writer named Stephen King, but in my ignorance I thought he wrote trashy potboilers. But I was seeing more horror books on the shelves and I had read an interview with Charles L. Grant in one of the SF magazines. I liked what he had to say and I bought a book by him: Nightmare Seasons.
To say that I liked Nightmare Seasons would be an understatement. Immediately I was hooked and I started buying more books by Grant. The next books I got from Mr. Grant were The Nestling and The Hour of the Oxrun Dead. Both of which I loved.
I went on to read other writers of horror, including that guy from Maine and I liked just about everything I read. Great stuff was coming out and though I still read some science fiction, the majority of what I bought and read was horror.
Among the many books I devoured in this period were anthologies edited by Charles Grant. The Shadows series of anthologies were my favorites, though I liked others like Terrors, Fears and the wonderful Greystone Bay books.
With his own fiction as well as the stories he bought and published, Charles Grant championed suggestive, rather than explicit horror. Chills up the spine instead of a gag reflex from the reader. When done right (and Grant certainly did it beautifully), this kind of horror can be more effective than stories than contain brutal violence and bloodshed.
One thing I remember most about Grant was the well publicized sparring over loud vs. quiet horror during the splatterpunk days. I never knew how serious all of that was, but I assumed that the fighting was mostly affectionate. But I never knew for sure. Around this time, the market was changing. Upstart writers that appeared to be more influenced by rock and roll and splatter movies, rather than any literary tradition, were selling books in big numbers and fewer people seemed to be buying and reading the kind of fiction that Charles Grant excelled at. That had to have hurt the man.
Don't take me wrong with what I just said. I loved the splatterpunks. I never stopped reading Grant, but truth be told I loved the loud guys more at the time. The 80's were a great time to be a horror fan. All kinds of fiction was being published. Traditional and radical and I was one of the ones that loved the wild stuff more. It was an exciting time. Just as today must be exciting to those that are into the Bizarro style of writing. Honestly, I don't get most of that stuff. Maybe I'm just getting old, but give me a story with a start and a finish that has credible and likable characters and I'm happy.
Anyway, the years dragged on. The much heralded horror fiction boom died down and it was harder for veterans like Grant to sell books. Still the man doggedly produced quality fiction and eventually began writing fiction that seemed to be influenced by the enormous popularity of The X-Files.
Still more years passed and news started circulating about Charles Grant's failing health. It saddened everyone. And yesterday I heard the news that Charles L. Grant had passed away at his home.
I cried when I heard it, even though I never personally knew him. It hurts even more today. That may sound silly, coming from someone that never met the man. It seems like a part of me is missing now. Charles Grant was, is and always will be a God to me. He represented all the best things about the horror genre; all that it had to offer and the high potential it always had. Grant wrote horror fiction in beautiful language that rivals anything that the literary authors can boast of. He could scare you with a whisper, which is much harder than scaring you with a bloodcurdling scream. Or the sound of an ax landing in someone's skull.
Charles Grant is at peace now. I do not know if he was a religious sort of man, or if he believed in any sort of immortality. I do believe that his work should achieve immortality. It should be read, praised, taught and preserved for future generations to come. Yet at the present I'm not even certain that anything of his is in print. And that is the biggest crime of all. But for the time being, there is a huge body of literature to be cherished. Charles Grant sold a lot of books in his time and used copies are plentiful and cheaply obtained. Find them. Buy them. Read them and pass them on. Keep Charles Grant alive in the only way we can.
I wish I had never sold my copy of Quietly Now, the magnificent tribute anthology for Charles Grant that was edited by Kealan Patrick Burke. That makes me sadder than anything right now.