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Fall, 2006 : Obituary:

So Long, Charlie

Editor's Note: Many thanks to Kathryn Ptacek for permission to use the photos that accompany this article. All photo rights are © Kathryn Ptacek and the images may not be re-used without permission.

Charles Grant died in September after a long illness. You've probably already heard about his career; over 100 books and 150 short stories published, winner of numerous awards, officer in SFWA and HWA. He was married more than once and had a couple of very nice kids. The final, good marriage—the one that lasted—was to fellow horror writer Kathy Ptacek. But these facts only tell you a bit of Charlie's story.

Charlie became known as the primary practitioner of so-called "quiet" horror, although he wrote all sorts of stuff, most notably his long string of humorous fantasies under his "Lionel Fenn" pen name. But he had an even greater influence as an editor of a couple dozen original horror anthologies—books, like the Shadows series, that were a virtual "who's who" of writers during the horror boom of the 70s and 80s—books that were not only among the finest horror anthologies ever produced, but showed just how varied and powerful horror fiction could be in the short form. His stint as president and trustee of the Horror Writers of America took a fledging organization (first called "HOWL" by its founders) and turned it from an idea into an effective voice championing the horror field.

He had a reputation as a curmudgeon, but anybody who knew Charlie easily figured out that was all an act. He had a wicked sense of humor, and a love for all things horrific, from high art to total trash. (Even in his hospital bed, he was still championing Larry Cohen's The Stuff. Yeah, it's hard for me to believe, too.)

And Charlie went to a lot of conventions. Back before his health failed, you'd always find him at World Fantasy or Necon, and he was an institution at Chattacon. He was always generous with his time and advice to other writers, especially newbies. He grew up as a minister's son, and he had a bit of the old fashioned gentleman about him. Women would cluster around him at the late night parties, just because they knew he would be perfectly charming and perfectly polite. And the women would be charming right back at him.

Charlie Grant

Charles L. Grant (1942-2006)

Which brings me to the West Side Story.

There's a certain silliness that goes on late at night at fantasy and horror conventions, a sense of fun and play, a sense that we're one big family here, maybe a bit on the strange side, just because of what we read and write, but a family nonetheless.

And on this particular night, at one of the zillion conventions Charlie and I both attended at the same time (don't ask me which one), half a dozen women who were friends of Charlie decided it was a great night for something special. They decided it was time to serenade Charlie with the entire score of West Side Story. All night. Wherever they could find him. And there was no way he was going to escape.

So I'd wander into one party, and there was Charlie, trying to hold a conversation with someone. But the women were there, too, singing "Tonight, tonight, won't be just any night." Half an hour later I'd see Charlie at another party, and the women would appear, singing, "Maria, I just met a girl named Maria!" As the night wore on, a bunch of us, Charlie included, retired to the bar, and there were the women singing "I like to be in America!" Yes, the singers knew them all, and Charlie was going to hear every one.

Charlie Grant

At Work

They did that because they knew Charlie would look peeved, and he would react accordingly. But they also knew that Charlie loved the whole ridiculous night, and appreciated the absurdity of it all. The singers wouldn't stage such an elaborate all-night event for just anybody. They would only do it for Charlie.

That's how important Charles Grant was to the whole fantasy/horror family. A great writer, a great editor, a great friend, and one of the nicest people I've ever had the opportunity to meet.

Charlie was part of our real family. And we miss him very, very much.

Copyright © 2006, Craig Gardner. All Rights Reserved.

About Craig Gardner

Craig Shaw Gardner is the author of a whole bunch of novels and short stories. His most recent books are THE CYLON'S SECRET, a Battlestar Galactica tie-in, and THE PURPLE BOOK OF PECULIAR STORIES, a collection.


Dec 12, 17:44 by IROSF
A thread to remember Charles Grant.

Craig Shaw Gardner's article can be found here.
Aug 2, 07:43 by James Phillips
I will always have fond memories of Charlie Grant. I had organized a science fiction convention as a student at Bergenfield High School in New Jersey in 1976 and had invited him and Fred Pohl on Ben Bova's recommendation since they had lived in New Jersey at the time. Both showed up that snow-filled January and gave wonderful lectures to the brave ones who walked through the white powder and slush. I had invited each to dine with us afterwards, but Mr. Pohl had to drive back to Red Bank, so we all went to the local Ground Round for a meal and drinks. I was the only teen who could drink alcohol at the table with the state drinking law being eighteen at the time. I will never forget the wonderful and encouraging words Charlie had for me when I told him about Barry Malzberg's letter declining the event. At this time, Barry lived in the next town over and he was in the period of his life ranting against science fiction and it was pretty intimidating. Charlie had previously written to me when he accepted the invite: "fret not; it's typical Malzberg, but don't ask me why." In his humility, he also did not think at the time that he was as famous as I had made him out to be. When he was at the podium, he asked the audience in his quiet voice to come closer and everyone did. I also introduced Charlie to my mother and seven year old sister who asked him for his autograph. A reporter (Peter Golenbock) from The Bergen Record showed up and interviewed Charlie and Fred even printed a photo of Charlie next to the article, but listing him at Charles R. Clarke, confusing him with Arthur C. Clarke, whom Charlie had mentioned in his lecture. Needless to say, I got on the phone and had the paper print a correction. All in all, looking at the photographs, I just wish I was still that skinny, wide-eyed, ambitious teenager sitting between two gentlemen on that day.
Aug 2, 23:46 by Marti McKenna
Thanks, James, for sharing this lovely story with all of us.

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