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Clarion Write-a-Thon Update

I have been proceeding ploddingly at my self-appointed task for the Clarion West Write-a-Thon. Updates appear sporadically here.

Here is the start of chapter 9 of what is today being called, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, Now With Many More Monsters.

“Nothing is more painful to the human mind than, after the feelings have been worked up by a quick succession of events, the dead calmness of inaction and certainty which follows and deprives the soul both of hope and fear. Space Vampires (also known as Mind Parasites) are admittedly near the top of the list, but still, the dead calmness thing is officially pinned at the top. Justine died, she rested, and I was alive. The blood flowed freely in my veins, free of miniaturized nuclear submarines in search of tumorous targets, but a weight of despair and remorse pressed on my heart which nothing could remove. Sleep fled from my eyes; I wandered like an evil spirit, and not a generic one from a James Wan movie, for I had committed deeds of mischief beyond description horrible, and more, much more (I persuaded myself) was yet behind. Yet my heart overflowed with kindness and the love of virtue. I had begun life with benevolent intentions and thirsted for the moment when I should put them in practice and make myself useful to my fellow beings. Now all was blasted; instead of that serenity of conscience which allowed me to look back upon the past with self-satisfaction, and from thence to gather promise of new hopes, I was seized by remorse and the sense of guilt, which hurried me away to a hell of intense tortures such as no language can describe, except perhaps in the voice of Pinhead.

“This state of mind preyed upon my health, which had perhaps never entirely recovered from the first shock it had sustained. I shunned the face of man (must I mention Pinhead again?); all sound of joy or complacency was torture to me; solitude was my only consolation–deep, dark, deadly, spooky-as-a-spooky-skeleton deathlike solitude.”

Still no sponsors, according to the report I received several days ago. Who dares to be the first? Please don’t make me ask my mother. Or my children.

Return of the Monster (That Never Really Went Away)

In keeping with the promise of the Clarion West Write-a-Thon, I tonight reworked Chapter 7 of Frankenstein, Now With Lots of Monsters. Herewith, the first and final paragraphs of the chapter:

“My dear Victor,

“You have probably waited impatiently for a letter to fix the date of your return to us; and I was at first tempted to write only a few lines, merely mentioning the day on which I should expect you. But that would be a cruel kindness, and I dare not do it, any more than I dare descend into a moaning crypt blindfolded and bare of foot. What would be your surprise, my son, when you expected a happy and glad welcome, to behold, on the contrary, tears and wretchedness? And how, Victor, can I relate our misfortune? Absence cannot have rendered you callous to our joys and griefs; and how shall I inflict pain on my long absent son? I wish to prepare you for the woeful news, but I know it is impossible; even now your eye skims over the page to seek the words which are to convey to you the horrible tidings, and also those which satisfy the guaranteed density of monstrosities, which, let’s face it, are the main reason this particular phrase exists.”

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“Dearest niece,” said my father, “dry your tears. If she is, as you believe, innocent, rely on the justice of our laws, and the activity with which I shall prevent the slightest shadow of partiality. And recall that even Kamoebas the Space Amoeba could be defeated by Godzilla when he stuck his neck out.”

Please consider sponsoring me, or any of the other fine writers, to support the work of Clarion West.

Onward…

A So-Called Story

I just sold a new story to Asimov’s: “A Mammoth, So-Called.” Note my attempt to include as much punctuation as possible in the title! I wouldn’t expect it in print before 2018, but it’s short enough (2,400 words) that perhaps it will squeeze unexpectedly before the end of the year.

Here’s the first paragraph:

“The time has come,” said Vargas, apparently prompted by contemplation of the ice bucket he had just filled from a freezer in his cellar, in order to chill his famous Expeditionary Tonic of dark rum, espresso, and flavors less identifiable, “to speak at last of the so-called mammoth we discovered on our Arctic expedition. Hard to believe that was 1947. Seems like only last year.”

Here’s where I discover that the magazine is now called simply Asimov’s Science Fiction, and is no longer the chunkier Isaac Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine (IASFM), which is how I first knew it. And I bought the very first issue off the newsstand racks, 40 years ago.

Keep an eye on this space for further details.

No, not that space. This one:

 

 

Kindle Cover Inversions

The Amazon store page for my ebooks has just been updated to reflect changes in the covers. We flipped the white background for a black one. Amazon’s policy is to not automatically push revisions to customers unless they are judged to be very serious or significant, and new cover art doesn’t rate. So these covers will appear for new buyers only, sad to say. You can ask them specifically to push the new versions to you if you care about that sort of thing.

Here are a couple of the new ones:

 

 

Twisted: I Alone Am Escaped From the Floppies To Tell Thee

I sent several 5.25″ floppies to a service that scoured them for salvageable files. Most of what they found were documents of little interest or which I already possessed on paper.

This very short piece called “Twisted,” featuring Charles Dickens as an “eye in the sky” breaking news reporter, is the one exception.

I don’t remember anything about, but it seems quite self-contained and self-explanatory. The world was perfectly fine without it, but I’m happy to have rescued it.

Twisted!

 

Charles L. Grant: Restless in Silence

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In September of 1974, age 14, I bought my first issue of The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction from a newsstand. This was one of the first times I encountered short fiction live, as it was happening, rather than from one of the relatively stale collections stocked in the library or supplied by the Science Fiction Book Club. I discovered in that issue the latest stories by several young writers I had never heard of: Tom Reamy, Michael Bishop, and Charles L. Grant. The cover was inspired by Bishop’s dreamlike planetary adventure, “Cathadonian Odyssey”; Tom Reamy’s “Twilla” featured a striking glimpse of a genie’s enormous schlong; but it was Charlie Grant’s “The Rest Is Silence” that struck me most deeply. (Well, I confess I do still think of that genie dick from time to time.) I did a lot of my reading, back then, in the back seat of cars, with the freeways of Southern California gliding past; and I still remember how the bright hot afternoon was pierced by a moment of dark chill and stillness as I reached the end of the Grant’s story.

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From that moment forward, I sought and devoured every one of his tales, wherever I could find them. A couple dozen Grant stories appeared over the next few years, in various magazines and anthologies, and I read most of them. They were all beautifully written, lyrical, more occupied with atmosphere and character than with the shocking effects of many other writers at the time, who were trying to one-up The Exorcist in the gross-out department. His distinctive titles suggested poetry as much as genre horror: “When All the Children Call My Name,” “A Glow of Candles, A Unicorn’s Eye,” “The Dark of Legends, The Light of Lies”…

As he shifted his energy into writing novels, his output of short fiction dropped off dramatically. But Grant’s influence was already in effect on my own writing. Among my ambitions as a writer of horror and dark fantasy, I now valued the quiet chill of Charlie’s work, and always looked for opportunities to emulate it.

Grant was often compared to Ray Bradbury, perhaps because he wrote a number of stories that focused on childhood in ways reminiscent of Bradbury’s own nightmarish stories of youth; and no doubt Bradbury was a huge influence. But his work reminded me more of Rod Serling. Not the Serling of the science fiction twist, but the author of “They’re Tearing Down Tim Riley’s Bar,” who drew deeply from the hearts of haunted people. Serling and Grant were both veterans, both marked by their wartime experiences, and I wonder if this is one of the reasons I found something similar in their work. As far as I know, Charlie never wrote openly of his time in Viet Nam or used it as a setting for fiction (I would love to hear otherwise), but there is no question the stories sublimate his experience and come from a darker place perhaps than Bradbury’s Midwestern carnival idylls. Both wrote of death, but while Bradbury’s prose seems ultimately innocent and scarcely scathed, Charlie appeared to know much more of the wounded, of how one lived with scars and struggled on through injury.

In the summer of 1977, after a week at a small wooded lake in Oregon, I came home and wrote an aimless, atmospheric story about weird things in the woods. Its wordy title, “A Peaceful Summer by the Lake of Shadows,” marked it as something written under the spell of Charles L. Grant. That October, I carried the manuscript with me to the Third World Fantasy Convention in Los Angeles, and late one night, in a smoky hotel suite, I introduced myself to Mr. Grant and asked him if he might read it and give me feedback. I believe I must have written him some fan letters by this time; but even so, he had no particular reason to accept the manuscript. Still, he took it with him, and a few days later sent it back to me with some notes. I no longer have his reply, but I know it was a gracious one, even as he gently let me know that I had a long way to go.

Around this time, he announced the creation of the Shadows series. The ultimate validation for me at that time would be to know I’d written something worthy of inclusion in the volume. I almost certainly pestered him with multiple submissions, although it couldn’t have been many, since I was just heading off to college and my own writing tapered off to almost nothing for a few years. It wasn’t until he was reading for Shadows 6, with the series well-established, that I sent him a very minor short story called “Sneakers.” Charlie seemed relieved that he could finally justify publishing something of mine, and despite the very un-Grantish one-word title, you can see his influence in the way very little is seen directly, and most is told literally through whispers. I always hoped to sell him something more substantial, but I was moving away from horror at that time, in search of my own voice. (And apparently Charlie liked the story a bit more than I realized, because while looking through old boxes of books, I discovered that he’d troubled to include “Sneakers” in his Best of Shadows anthology…a fact I had forgotten until yesterday.)

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Years later, I wrote a story that in retrospect seems a much better example of the Charlie Grant influence: “Cell Call.” Charlie was certainly much on my mind around the time I wrote “Cell Call.” He was gravely ill, and his health was a topic of much concern among the community of writers and fans who admired him. I had never gotten to know him beyond our early correspondence, but I was glad to join others in writing to let him know how much his work had meant to me. I hope he received many such letters.

Despite my love of his work, I read only a few of Charlie’s novels. Around the end of the Seventies, he moved away from short fiction, commencing a prolific period of writing novels under several different names in addition to his own. This was the time when I was drifting away from genre in general, so I read fewer horror novels, including Charlie’s. But though I return again and again to read horror from every era, it is still those stories of the mid-to-late Seventies that strike me as the purest, finest examples of his work. While most of Charlie’s novels languish out of print, I note that editors continue reappraising and collecting his short stories in such volumes as Scream Quietly: The Best of Charles L. Grant (2011), edited by Stephen Jones.

Even so, “The Rest Is Silence” is still fairly hard to find. It was nominated for a Nebula Award the year it came out, but it is not in the last few collections of his best work. This strikes me as an oversight. It’s time to go digging into my boxes of old magazines. It’s time to appreciate Charles L. Grant anew, before the silence settles in completely.

Won’t you join me?