A little while back, Mark West put together a fantastic BRIT HORROR MIXTAPE on his blog, inviting contributors to recommend and write about their favourite British Short Horror stories. It was an excellent list, full of excellent recommendations from excellent writers. So I was immensely flattered when he invited me to contribute to the follow up an AMERICAN HORROR MIXTAPE, which went live yesterday.
It’s a cracking lineup of contributors and a cracking selection of stories – each and every one essential reading. Go check it out.
For my part, I wrote about Charles L. Grant.
“Riding The Black” by Charles L. Grant
Some day I’ll tell you how Harlan Ellison changed my life, but not today. Today, I want to talk about Charles L. Grant.
Elmore Leonard (who knew a thing or two about writing) once said you should never start a story with weather. I’d add the caveat: “unless you’re Charlie Grant”.
No one wrote weather like Charlie. No one else could make it speak and breathe the way he did. It wasn’t just mood, it was a character, and he wrote place as well as Machen or Blackwood.
It pains me that he’s not talked about more, that there aren’t websites full of interviews and columns that he wrote; that his name doesn’t come up more often when people speak of Greats within our genre, because he was.
The cadence and the rhythm of his prose, the attention to the ebb and flow of it, is almost musical; certainly poetic. It demands attention, full and undivided. Not because it’s ‘difficult’, but because it’s delicate. Fragile. And to break it is to lose its finely wrought sensibilities, perfectly balanced craft. It demands to be savoured. No use chomping down on this one, you have to let it melt in the mouth, let the flavours overwhelm you.
I feel like I should have a porch to sit and read him on at the end of the day – perhaps the best time to read Charlie – as the sunset bleeds from shades of blood to shades of dying (that’s one of Charlie’s right there), as shadows lengthen and the night sets in, and the clock in the hall talks death to itself (that’s one of his too). I’ve spent the last couple of weeks re-reading Charlie’s short stories (those I have to hand), and trying to pick just one. I almost settled on “Coin Of The Realm”, because there’s something sort of perfect about it. Something very classic, very TWILIGHT ZONE, very American about it.
But I’m choosing “Riding The Black” instead, and here’s why:
Because it just won’t fucking go away.
I don’t know that it’s the ‘best’ Charles L. Grant story ever written; as with all Great writing, and all Great writers the work grows, and changes, and means something more, or less, or different every time that you return to look again. But, of this I’m sure: I’ve read a tonne of Charlie’s stories in the last few weeks. Swum in their deep, dark waters; breathed their shadows and tasted their particular chill. I’ve wallowed in the worlds that Charlie created. A week ago I closed the covers on those books and came back home. This story that came back with me.
It haunts me.
Not because it was the scariest. Not because it shocked me so. Because it moved me. Because it oozes sadness. And because I’m not quite sure what it means. Is the guy just an ageing gunfighter who outlived his times? Is he a God or a Legend? Is he one of the Four Horsemen? Is he the Devil, or Death itself?
I don’t know. Sometimes I think one, sometimes the other. But I’m sitting here, with the kids playing in the room behind me, and it’s still with me. He’s still with me. Haunting. Lingering. Like the smell of the summer as the clouds close in and thunder rolls in the distance. There’s gooseflesh prickling my arms.
And I’m smiling, and thinking of Charlie…
Which lead directly to the idea of DANCING WITH SHADOWS, the Charles L. Grant Blogathon.
12th-18th September I’ll be hosting a celebration of Charlie and his work, with contributions from myself, Ramsey Campbell, Nathan Ballingrud, Mark Morris, Gary McMahon, Gary Fry, Christopher Golden, James A. Moore, Lynda E. Rucker, Stephen Bacon, Mark west, James Everington, Thomas F. Monteleone, Nancy Collins, Stephen Bissette, Stephen Gallagher, Jean-Daniel Breque, Tim Lebbon, Jonathan Oliver, Marc Laidlaw, Steven Savile, Kealan Patrick Burke, P.D. Cacek and John Langan and more to come…
If you’d like to be involved, get in touch!