Monday 12 September 2016

Charles L. Grant

Photo (right): Mary Jasch

This all came about, for me, because I asked Neil Snowdon to contribute to my American Horror Mixtape post at the end of July (which you can read here).  He wrote a wonderful piece on Riding The Black by Charles L. Grant, which was as much about Grant as it was about his story and lamented that this great writer (anyone who’s a fan of horror should know who Charles Grant is) wasn’t better remembered.  So when Neil proposed this blog-a-thon in honour of the late writer, I readily agreed to be involved.

Grant was a key proponent of what’s called ‘quiet horror’, which editor Alan Ryan describes as “subtle, dark, with a lingering, bitter aftertaste.”  In the horror boom of the late 70s and into the 80s that followed Stephen King’s breakout success, the genre broadened and grew until, by the mid-80s, there was a wide spectrum of styles with the extreme (in terms of gore, violence and sex) at one end, counterpointed by quiet horror at the other.

Ironically, it was the extreme end that got me into Grant.  In the mid-80s, using King's non-fiction study Danse Macabre as a guide, I was slowly discovering books and writers that would develop and sustain my love for horror.  In 1985, he threw his support behind Clive Barker who published six slim volumes from Sphere as The Books Of Blood - I loved them, intelligent but nasty tales that appealed to the teenaged-me and made me want more.  Turning briefly down the road to Splatterpunk (as the extreme end became known), I began picking up anthologies that introduced me to a lot of new writers.  One such was Halloween Horrors, edited by Alan Ryan, which I happened to pick up at Asda in Corby in 1988, a situation I couldn’t really see happening these days (it truly was different times).
Sphere Books, 1988 edition, cover scan of my copy
The second story in the anthology was by Charles L. Grant and in his introduction to it, Ryan wrote; “For this book, I urged him to write something nasty. Something really nasty. The result is Eyes."

Eyes tells the story of Ron Ritter who, protective of his son Paulie, beats up a teenager who was mocking the boy in his ill-fitting Batman costume at Halloween.  After the beating, he turns on the teenager’s friends and it's only the sight of Paulie, sad and alone, saying “Wrong, Daddy, wrong” that pulls Ron back and they stay at home for the next Halloween, carving a pumpkin.  Paulie puts pumpkin pieces over his eyes but tumbles and catches his face on the edge of the table, driving a slice of pumpkin into his brain via - you guessed it - his eye (I’m not a fan of ocular trauma at the best of times, so this story certainly touched a nerve).  His wife Irma leaves him a fortnight later, 'sobbing that she wanted no part of a man who killed his children.'  The following Halloweens, Ron dreads the visit of his son’s ghost, wanting to play a game that leaves the story with a stomach churning penultimate line…
Headline, 1987 edition, cover scan of my copy
according to the copyright page, this was originally published in US as Shadows 4 in 1981.  It features Stephen King (with "The Man Who Would Not Shake Hands"), John Shirley & William Gibson, Ramsey Campbell, Alan Ryan, Steve Rasnic Tem and Lisa Tuttle, among others
I loved it, it was absolutely perfect for the kick I was looking to get from horror fiction at the time (the rest of the anthology is very good too) and I sought out more Grant.  His Shadows series was published over here by Headline and I picked up the first volume and loved that too (it featured a King story but also introduced me to other writers).  Over the years, I picked up more of his anthologies - Shadows 2 (the Berkley Books edition, I must have found a very good 2nd hand bookshop for that one), 3 and 4 plus Night Visions: Dead Image, which I bought from Andromeda in Birmingham.  All of them were very good but, better, they were filled with stories that improved my knowledge and understanding of the genre.
Berkley Books, 1984 edition, cover scan of my copy (bought 2nd hand)
features Jack Dann, Manly Wade Wellman, Ramsey Campbell, Richard Christian Matheson and T.E.D. Klein, among others
I did try some of his novels, reading a handful of the Oxrun Dead series but, back then, quiet horror didn’t quite do it for me, though the technique and wealth of talent on display was astounding.  Maybe it was my age, perhaps now - as a bloke a long way from his teens - they might sit better with me, so I think I’ll try them again.

Charles L. Grant was a keen supporter of my favourite genre, as a writer, editor and fan.  I’m proud that some of my education in horror came from him and I’m equally proud to take part in his blog-a-thon to highlight his career.
Berkley Books, 1987 edition, cover scan of my copy
Charles Lewis Grant was born in Newark, New Jersey on 12th September 1942.  After receiving a BA in History & English from Trinity College, Connecticut in 1964, he taught for four years before his military service sent him to Vietnam where he was a decorated (Bronze Star) military policeman.

On the set of Hellraiser (c.1986)
from left, Clive Barker, Dennis Etchison, Karl Edward Wagner and Charles L. Grant
A full-time writer and editor since 1975, he wrote 30 novels in the dark fantasy/horror genre (including twelve set in his fictional Connecticut town of Oxrun Station, as well as two X-Files tie-ins) and five science-fiction novels (published between 1976 and 1981).  He also published under several pseudonyms - Deborah Lewis (four novels between 1977 and 1979), Felicia Andrew (seven novels between 1979 and 1985), Geoffrey Marsh (five novels, including the novelisation of Hudson Hawk, between 1985 and 1991), Lionel Fenn (twelve novels between 1986 and 1994) and Simon Lake (eight novels between 1992 and 1995).

As himself he published at least 90 short stories and edited 24 anthologies, amongst them the Shadows series (10 volumes, plus a Best Of and Final, between 1978 and 1987), the Greystone Bay series (between 1985 and 1993) and three volumes for Playboy (between 1980 and 1982).

Grant was Secretary of the Science Fiction Writers Of America Association, President of The Horror Writers Association (1987-1988), on the Board of the World Fantasy Awards for ten years and President of the Board Of Trustees of the HWA for five years.  He won three World Fantasy Awards for his writing and editing, two Nebula Awards (one for short story, one for novella), the British Fantasy Society’s Life Achievement Award (in 1987) and the Lifetime Achievement Award from the HWA in 2000.  In addition, the Tales From The Darkside episode “The Milkman Cometh”) was an adaption of his short story Temperature Days on Hawthorne Street.

Grant was married twice, to Debbie Voss (with whom he had two children) and then to writer and editor Kathryn Ptacek, from February 1982.  He passed away on 15th September 2006 from a heart attack.

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