Friday, November 8, 2013

The Jaggerstein Monster: A Writer's Tale

This anthology marked the first appearance of my story, "The Man with the Barbed-Wire Fists." Back in the day, we all thought the cover boy looked a lot more like Mick Jagger than Boris Karloff... but, hey, it was the nineties, after all.

I remember going into Tower Books over in Concord and spotting Frankenstein: The Monster Wakes faced in a paperback dump (i.e. cover out in a cardboard display case) before I even knew the book had been published. Wow. A new anthology, and I had a story in it... and Tower Books had a ton of copies! That was a moment.

The next year I had another -- I was in the same Tower around the time the paperback edition of my first novel (Slippin' Into Darkness) came out, grabbing a couple anthologies. I gave the clerk my plastic, and (in return) he gave me a funny look. Like: kind of startled.

"Are you the Norman Partridge?" he asked.

The only answer I could think of was: "Do I owe you money?"

Anyway, writing about Shivers VII the other day made me nostalgic for anthologies like this one. Sure, there are still anthos out there, but how often do you discover them by wandering into a bookstore and spotting them in a paperback dump? That was fun. And I could multiply that particular pleasure by a couple dozen after I hit the point as a writer where I'd spot the bylines of writers I actually knew on the table of contents page. For example, check out this crew in Frankenstein: The Monster Wakes -- Peter Crowther (a whirlwind talent who soon added publishing to his game), Rex Miller (a very nice guy who wrote very mean books), Gary Braunbeck (like me, one of the "House" writers in the early days of Cemetery Dance), Larry Segriff (my Minnesota snow-blizzard World Fantasy Con roommate!), Brian Hodge (who'd often make me want to break my pencils)... and even Rich Chizmar (the Cemetery Dance honcho himself). Of course, envy might rear it's head if I didn't have a story in said antho, too -- What? A Dead Elvis book and they didn't ask me? I can't believe it! -- but as Elvis himself once said: That's the way the mop flops, son. You pays your money and you takes your chance... and besides, there was always another anthology opportunity right around the corner.

Apart from that, there was a genuine camaraderie among the writers who populated the TOCs of books like this one -- at least among the young guys -- even if we weren't connected by the net back in those days. Apart from a single boiled-down biographical paragraph that usually ran in an abbreviated About the Authors section at the tail-end of each anthology, we were pretty much anonymous. We certainly weren't the Mick Jaggers of horror, and there wasn't much showbiz in our games. We didn't have author platforms; no one was bothering to interview us; the only thing we had going for us were the stories themselves. So the stories did the talking, and odds were that you knew other writers by their work long before you knew anything about them personally.

But to tell the truth, that's a pretty fine way of knowing a writer.

In fact, maybe it's the best way.

Or, as someone once said: "It is the tale, not he who tells it."

Back then, it really was.