C. L., Charles, and all that Chaz…
Hard to believe, but I met Charles L. Grant forty years ago.
Things were a lot different back then. Charlie and I were what they call Young Turks. At that time, we also had more hair, fewer children, and a hell of a lot less published—mostly a handful of stories to the digest-sized magazines like Amazing and F&SF.
I met Charlie during the first “gas rationing” crunch back in the mid-Seventies. Having been invited to spend a weekend in New Jersey, I literally couldn’t get enough fuel to make a round-trip drive between Baltimore and Atlantic City. I had to go to that pre-casino town to visit an editor of science fiction anthologies by the name of Roger Elwood, who said he’d like to meet me before “assigning” me some short stories for a few of his many book projects. If there are younger readers among you who don’t remember Roger Elwood, I don’t know—maybe you’re lucky. He was well meaning, I guess, but almost single-handedly destroyed the SF anthology by flooding the market with “theme” anthologies filled with stories, which were, in the main, sub-par examples of what good SF should be. When many of Elwood’s books crashed & burned, financially as well as critically, most publishers cited this data as reason for not buying good anthologies from more competent editors.
But that’s another story for another class.
Today’s lesson is Charles “The Chaz” Grant.
So anyway, I ended up taking a Greyhound bus from Baltimore to A.C., and wasn’t that a weird and wacky ride? People who ride buses between cities are a species apart, deserving of their own sociology course, and I think this trip was the first time I realized this. Anyway, Elwood picks me up at the bus station in his Volvo station wagon, and we take a short ride to a suburb called Margate. I walk into Elwood’s house, and I see two other guys standing around the prosaically furnished living room. Roger tells me they are also being invited to write for his anthologies. I’m introduced to both of them: one is a gaunt, Semitic looking fellow, Barry Malzberg; the other is a young-ish, longhaired, handsome guy who introduces himself as Charlie Grant. I don’t recognize the name until he says he uses the byline C. L. Grant. I tell him I’d seen that name infrequently and had always assumed belonged to some middle-aged woman from someplace like Indiana. I’m sure he was real glad to hear that.
I don’t recall a lot about what we did that weekend, other than signing on up to write some stories for a grocery list of anthologies Elwood had sold, and play ping pong in his basement. The only thing that sticks out is what a really good person this Charles Grant seemed to be. He was smart, confident, and obviously talented. We talked a lot. Laughed a lot.
It didn’t take us long to start comparing notes on our impressions of our weekend host, and it required even less time for Charlie and I to concur that Roger Elwood was certainly an intriguing, if not outright strange, character. (We were both especially taken with this painting in his office of this figure of a rather large (well, giant, actually . . . ) Jesus putting His hand on the roof of the United Nations Building.) It looked like a movie poster for a B-Movie.
We also talked about the various writing projects for which Elwood intended to recruit us, and how we might use them to further our very young careers.
But something more important also came out of that weekend:
Charlie and I became good friends.
Over the next few years we both worked hard at becoming fulltime writers and pretty heavy correspondents. I think what we were doing was reinforcing each other’s beliefs that yes—we were going to make it as fulltime writers, as well as becoming friends. We planned novel collaborations that never seemed to get off the ground, wrote a few short stories together, and even co-authored a daytime, occult, soap opera, which we pitched (unsuccessfully) to all the Networks. We edited anthologies (me a one-shot called The Arts and Beyond; Chaz an obscure series I think he called Shadows). And of course we wrote lots of novels.
His first one was called The Shadow of Alpha, and I don’t remember a damn thing about it (except that the “Alpha” of the title never does manage to make it onstage) and that the book was definitely sky-fie. I remember Charlie made no squawks about it—he wrote it as SF and sold it as same.
Can you believe it?
Yeah. Charlie, like Vonnegut and Ellison and Koontz and lots of other guys, actually thought—for a brief moment—he was a sense-of-wonder-where’s-my-calculator?- Science Fiction Writer. And even though he eventually went on to cop a Nebula Award from the SFWA, Inc., I think he knew in his heart of hearts sky-fie wasn’t really his métier.
Sure, he wrote a few more books set in the same universe as his first Alpha book, but he started branching out, trying some other things like suspense and horror and even historical romance. What struck me about him from very early on was the huge number of pages he managed to write every day. It was nothing for him to pound out twenty or twenty-five pages on his typewriter before kicking back at night with a tall tumbler of Dr. Pepper and a Peppermint Patty.
I remember the time he called me and told he’d written a bestseller-type thriller called The Uranus Problem (or something like that). I told him it sounded like a presentation paper at a proctology convention, and suggested he should maybe rethink the title . . .
But I also recall thinking: he wrote a whole book over the last couple months?!
Even back in those early days, The Chaz-Man used to astound me with his stamina and his sheer productivity.
He was always a hard worker, and when we cruised at conventions and parties, I always had a rough time getting him to loosen up—his hardnosed Scottish, work ethic surrounded him with this kind of afterglow of seriousness that took a while to shake. But when he eventually sloughed off that outer husk of grim determination, hey, Charlie could party with the best of us. I can remember when he and I were co-hosting the SFWA Hospitality Suite at the 1976 WorldCon in Kansas City and he actually stayed up until about 4:00 in the morning on a Saturday night.
Anyway, moving right along, when his son, Ian, was born, Charlie honored me more than he’ll ever know by asking me to be The Godfather. (I tried to be a good one even though I had Ian’s birth date wrong for about six years and Chaz never had the heart to tell me—he’d just take the check I’d send each year and hold it for six weeks before giving it to Ian.)
I have a lot of good memories with Charlie. All those times we drove into Manhattan together, anxious to meet with our agent, Kirby McCauley, and our editors, but always ready to dive into the nearest bar as soon as the sun went down. Or driving out into the northern midlands of New Jersey to visit his parents’ place—a beautiful English-style cottage in a neat little town called Caldwell. Or when Charlie decided he was the consummate bon vivant and signed up for a key to the New York Playboy Club, and we’d go there for drinks just so we could play at being grown-up people.
Yeah, they were the heady, halcyon, and salad days, all right . . . .
Thinking back on those times, it seems like we practically did everything together. As I alluded to previously, we both thought we were science fiction writers, but the “success” of our first novels did a lot to dispel that notion. Although it took me a little longer to make the quantum leap, I ended up following Charlie’s lead into the land of dark fantasists and horror writers rather than that of the propeller beanies and spaceships. We both picked up the same literary agent—an obscure Irishman from Minnesota (the aforementioned Kirby), who also picked up another young writer by the name of Steve King.
Just in case you been vacationing in Estonia for the last three decades, Kirby and Steve went on to find out what it’s like to have lots of books on the New York Times bestseller’s list while Charlie and I (still doing things together) decided to explore alternate literary experiences. Eventually we decided to change agents and we both (Surprise!)signed on with Howard Morhaim.
As the Eighties rolled on and the genres of horror and dark fantasy became so immensely popular, Charlie stepped up to the plate to become one of its most consistently influential and admired writers. Becoming a fixture at the World Fantasy Awards banquets, Charlie walked off with so much hardware, he must have needed a special room in which to display it all. If your stories didn’t appear in his Shadows anthology series, then you just weren’t cutting it. He personally helped shaped the careers of an entire generation of writers, and he did it without a lot of hubris or bullshit posturing. But rather a quiet reserve as smooth as a single malt Scotch whiskey.
When Dean Koontz drafted him to help stabilize and focus the then-new (early Nineties) Horror Writers Association, he jumped in with both feet and pulled me along for the ride as his V.P. He took on the job with his usual thoroughness, and somehow figured out a way to squeeze in all the administrative work and correspondence into his writing schedule without missing a paragraph. I did what most vice presidents do.
In the late Nineties, Charlie and I pitched a TV series to Columbia Tri-Star and they liked it enough to option it, then exercised the pick-up price. Things were just great until CBS got into the mix and insisted on using their own writers instead of us . . . the resultant pilot script was so bad it made Murder She Wrote read like Macbeth. Tri-Star ran in the other direction and things dissipated quickly. Charlie and I came that close to be the Chris Carters and David Chases of our generation . . . and then we didn’t.
Yeah, I guess we’ve been pretty tight through the years, but we never were very good at pulling off the TweedleDee/TweedleDum act. In case you haven’t noticed by now, Charlie and I have always been very different. I am the son of a Knight of Columbus/machinist; Charlie is the son of an Episcopalian minister (which makes him Catholic Lite). He writes a smooth, atmospheric line of prose; I write stuff that’s steamed, reamed, and dry-cleaned. He’s been sporting a beard for so long, I can’t remember seeing him without it. I’ve never liked facial hair myself. (Remembering the words of my grandfather, who always averred we Monteleones were far too handsome for anything more than a dashing mustache). Charlie still sneaks a cigarette now and then; I gave them up more than twenty years ago. What else? Well, Chaz tends to wear clothes you see only on the actors in Seventies TV; whereas I am (thanks to Elizabeth) the pinnacle of fashion, savoir-faire, and elegant good taste.
(This is where Charlie always used to remind me that Dingo boots and Levi jeans never go out of style.)
Although this piece is supposed to be an “appreciation” of Charles L. Grant, I know mine has been sounding more like pages from a memoir, but I think that’s okay with me and my pal. I mean, we already know he tells a great story, or we wouldn’t be gathered together here to honor him so justly. And you wouldn’t be reading us.
I suspect some of the other contributors will be covering Charlie’s literary trademarks and achievements in greater detail than I have, and that’s copacetic. Besides, writing that kind of pseudo-scholarly (dare I call it criticism?) and analysis is hard work, and I wanted this to be just plain fun.
And now, ladies and gennamens, I’d like to use that last line to make this beautiful transition: even though a lot of what I’ve been saying has been for smiles, as well as mildly informative, I have to get serious for a few lines here. Charlie Grant is living proof Leo Durocher wasn’t completely right—nice guys don’t always finish last. He and I have been through good times and bad times, but I gotta tell you plain and simple: Charlie’s the oldest friend I’ve got in this whole crazy brotherhood, and we understand very well the choices we made to spend our lives writing.
You know, I (fittingly, I think) dedicated my first horror novel, Night Things, to him. The inscription read:
This one is for
Charles L. Grant,
a fine writer,
a better friend.
For me, I guess that kinda says it all.
Grantham, New Hampshire
December 03, 2003
(C) Tom Monteleone 2003. This piece originally appeared in SCREAM QUIETLY a best of Charles L. Grant collection edited by Stephen Jones and published by PS Publishing. Expect more from Tom later this week.