The late Charles L. Grant was my friend and mentor for more than twenty years. He was the master of what has come to be known as quiet horror (where the horror is low-key, suggestive, and understated), and was one of the people who influenced the careers of folks like Stephen King, Dean Koontz, Robert McCammon, and a host of other writers.In fact, he published Stephen King’s short story, Nona, in the first Shadows anthology…one of Stephen King’s first really big short story sales.

As Charlie described it, the elements of quiet horror  “…can be found in narrow alleyways, a moonless waterfront, or in the corner of a familiar room where light always falls short. And it can be found deep within each of us.”

The consummate professional, he had infinite patience with new writers who wanted to learn the craft of writing and no patience at all with pros who put themselves on a pedestal, looked down on their readers, and rode on their past accomplishments.

And he had a special affinity for his fans (though he didn’t like the word).

In 1998 I was with Charlie in Atlanta signing copies of his new anthology, Gothic Ghosts, to which I was a contributor. He also had a series of stand-alone novels out (he’d had over 120 published during his career), so Barnes & Noble had plenty of people in the store that night. As we sat there signing books, we noticed a young man with a medium-sized box in the back of the line. Every time someone got behind him, he moved out of the line, came back, and went to the end of the line.

This went on for over an hour and a half.

When everyone else was gone and he finally made it to the table, the fellow looked at Charlie sheepishly and said, “Mr. Grant, I was going to ask if you would sign my collection of your books, but I know you must be tired, so would you be willing to just sign one of them?”

Charlie looked at the box (we found out later there were 30 books in there), looked at the boy, and said, “No.”

The fellow was stunned. He looked like he had just seen Elvis eating a fluffernutter sandwich in the corner.

Before he could say anything, Charlie took the box from him, put it on the table, and said, “I think you’d better pull up a chair. This could take a while.” And with that, he asked the young man’s name and started inscribing and signing books.

While Charlie signed, he asked the young man about himself. The story was that he was (1) a college student and (2) all of the books were used paperbacks because he was (3) a not-so-well-to-do college student and (4) a huge Charles L. Grant fan. After the story was finished (and Charlie was 20 books into the signing session), he looked at me and said, “Pass me one of those Gothic Ghosts and let’s sign one of those for him too. We’ll just buy him a copy.”

So that’s what we did.

When the young man started to protest because he felt Charlie had already been way too kind by signing a box of used books, Charlie said, “Listen, I know what it’s like to be a college student. I was one myself a hundred years ago. And if you went to all the trouble of bringing a box of my books for me to sign, used or not, I am honored to do it. I don’t care that they are used. Even if you had stolen them, at least you would have thought enough of my work to steal my books and not somebody else’s. And as for the Gothic Ghosts, I think we can see our way clear to buy a deserving college student some educational material.”

Then Charlie got serious. “Let me tell you something. As a writer it is an honor to be asked to sign any book you have written. So unless you catch the author in the bathroom or running out of a burning building, anybody who doesn’t want to sign a copy of something for you isn’t worth reading and you should promptly take their book back and buy one by somebody else.”

Can I get an Amen!


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