Monday, April 30, 2018

Another Random Monster Memory

On these shores, Daikaij√Ľ Baran — or Varan, the Unbelievable, as the U.S. version is called — might be considered one of Toho's more obscure monster flicks, as hardly anyone other than diehard daikaiju freaks would know of its existence. (Way back when, I did a capsule review of the film for the late website, which I resurrected for The Blog Where Horror Dwells; that review can be found here.) Now, the Japanese version has many merits, despite its rather plodding pace and lackluster cast. Eiji Tsuburaya's visual effects work is top-notch; the grim, black-and-white cinematography sets up a delightfully dark atmosphere; and Akira Ifukube's score is majestic and evocative. The American version, on the other hand, is a bunch of celluloid cobbled together to create an entire different movie, featuring Myron Healy sleepwalking from set to set and some monster scenes from the original film thrown in for good measure. It's junk, really, and virtually never seen these days (though it can be streamed at various sites online).

Still, I must tell you, I do have a certain nostalgic fondness for the American version. As a kid, I had only read about it in Greg Shoemaker's Japanese Fantasy Film Journal, and this made for a certain mystique about the film. When I was in sixth or seventh grade, my friends David and Jimmy, both knowing I was a monster movie maniac, kindly informed me that Varan would be coming on TV at 5:00 a.m. on the upcoming Saturday — but it was on a channel that required one of those fancy rotating antennas to receive, and we had no such high-tech gadget at my house. But lord have mercy, friend Jimmy did. What exciting news! So, on that Saturday, at 4-ish in the a.m. — with my parents' reluctant blessing, which in itself was a miracle — I got out of bed, hopped on my bike, and rode the couple of miles to David's place. Then, together, we made our way down the road to Jimmy's place. Now, another friend of mine, Frank, who couldn't come to the showing, had lent me his cassette recorder so I could tape the soundtrack for him. With almost insane eagerness, I set the machine up, and soon enough, on came Varan. The monster scenes were exciting as hell, and the lot of us ate it right up.

Later in the day, and much to my surprise, Gappa, the Triphibian Monster (a.k.a. Monster From a Prehistoric Planet) came on TV, and I had never seen it either. I was in a quandary. I only had my friend's one cassette — should I record over Varan, or miss out on Gappa? (This was all on my friend Frank's behalf, I might add, though I knew we'd be listening to whichever soundtrack we had together frequently.) On the spur of the moment, I taped Gappa over Varan, and of course, Frank was pissed at me because he had watched Gappa but had not seen Varan. So for a few minutes, I was in a the doghouse with him. We got over it real quickly, though, because Destroy All Monsters came to the drive-in theater not long afterward, and we must have listened to the recorded soundtrack to that one a couple of hundred times over.

I never got to see Varan again for about a decade, but for the U.S. version, I've always had a soft spot (which I call Frank).

Thursday, April 26, 2018

From Company Mill to Wet Willie

I'm steadily closing in on 10,000 geocache finds. Claimed six today, bringing my total count to 9,976. Ms. Brugger and I are making plans for a fun weekend together on May 12–13, at which time I plan on making the big 10K find. Got the trip plotted, and we almost have a backup plan, just in case....

The mysterious madman known as Government Mule has put out several more caches near Hagan Stone Park in southeast Guilford County, this time at the relatively new Company Mill Preserve, which adjoins the Hagan Stone property. Company Mill comprises 240 acres — mostly wetlands — and includes two lengthy nature trails. A couple of weeks back, I had challenged (and occasionally tortured) myself chasing down some of Government Mule's other caches (see "From Hagan Stone to Transylvania"), and today I discovered just how much wet there is in the wetlands. Short answer: a lot.

A few the new hides are along a power line easement through the preserve, and on either side of the easement, there are creeks, swamps, marshes, bogs, and geocaches. One of them is aptly named "Wet Willie" (GC7NK3J). To wit:
It's a little damp.
Today, I went more or less prepared for a good soaking, since we've had significant rainfall over the past week, but I managed to confine the muck to mostly my boots and pants legs. I did snag first-to-finds on three of the six caches out there, which is nice and everything, but the highlight of the journey was finding a rather ancient dam and some attendant ruins, which for me is one of the best aspects of geocaching. I love some good ruins, and the Company Mill Preserve is rich with them. I also had the pleasure of running into geocaching buddy Night-hawk (a.k.a. Tom) while on the hunt, and on my egress, I encountered ^c3^ (a.k.a. Chuck) and Ranger Fox (a.k.a. Christopher). Apparently, several folks were all about a good soaking today.

There was a fun physical challenge too, one that could have ended up soaking me real good (or worse), but I somehow managed to escape nature's wrath this go-round. The trail on the southern side of Big Alamance Creek involves a couple of water crossings; nothing major when the weather is dry, but as it is not currently dry, it was a bit more difficult today. I did find a handy-dandy makeshift bridge — a cut log balanced on top of a larger cut log — which was a bit precarious, but it supported me well enough on my outbound trip. Coming back, however, just as I hopped off the log into the muckity-muck, I heard a sharp crack, and when I looked back, I saw yon log had split itself into two irreparable halves. What impeccable timing, for if it had broken while I was still on it, I might have been catapulted into the next county (Randolph, about ten miles south of there). Now, the broken bridge may impede the progress of future geocaching parties, one of which I know will be attempting these caches come Saturday, so I may get called ugly names; who knows. But it was not my fault. The log just broke, is all.
It held me well enough on my outbound trip. Not so much on the return.
Well, I've had my shower, so I am once again clean and reasonably human. Now, I don't know how many folks pop in here to read about these exploits, but if you've popped in, I hope you enjoy the tales. I write these primarily for my own edification — it's fun to be able to look back at some of these outings and find more detail than my old memory might allow. Try not to chuck things at me, it's all in good fun.

Till the morrow.
The remains of a little spring house near the dam

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Snake Oil

The origin of this little anecdote goes back many years, but recent scams and scammers — particularly the vile scum who constantly call my mom trying to finagle money from her — have prompted me to scrub the cobwebs from this event and shine a light on it.

Back in one of my myriad psychology classes at college, we frequently watched films about various mental infirmities. One of them explored autism, and the film showcased a little boy who suffered one of its most extreme permutations, in which his ability to communicate was limited to mimicking others. The film went into great detail about the boy's condition and the attempts over many years to treat it, most of which were less than successful.

Coincidentally, mere days after seeing the film in question, I flipped on the television, and what should I witness but the very recognizable face of that same little boy. For a second, I thought whatever station I had tuned to must be running that same psychology film. But no — this time, I was seeing the boy in a very different environment: the television “sanctuary” of televangelist Ernest Angley, who in those days enjoyed a sizable TV audience.

My first reaction was that the boy's parents, in desperation, must have turned to spiritual healing, however dubious such a thing might be. But then, to my horror, I discovered this was something altogether different.

The slick, oh-so-concerned Ernest Angley sidekick brought to the boy to the waiting, cherub-like figure on the dais and explained that the boy was deaf from birth and had never heard a spoken word in his life.

Why, you sorry, lying son of a bitch, I thought to myself.

It was all I could do to watch Ernest Angley pop the little boy in the head with that healing club of a hand he bore at the end of his arm, call upon the angels on high, and then scream in the boy's face, “In the name of Jay-zus, BE HEALED!”

The boy stood there silent and bewildered until the porcine Angley took him by the shoulder and said, “Now say, ‘I am healed!’”

“I am healed!” the little boy repeated in barely intelligible English.

“Glory be to God!”

“Glory be to God!”

“Praise Jay-zus!”

“Praise Jay-zus!”

Then, with a shove, Angley sent the little boy on his way and, with his ever-smug little smile, explained how the power of the lord could overcome any infirmity, even total deafness.

But the boy was not deaf. The poor soul was autistic and could only mimic words that were spoken directly to him. I had only just viewed a detailed case study of the boy in psychology class.

Now, never for one minute did I believe that Ernest Angley — or televangelists in general, for that matter — were anything but money-grubbing scammers, but I had just seen incontrovertible proof, on national television, that Angley had taken advantage of a child's tragic infirmity to spread his particular brand of poison over the airwaves. I had to assume this was done with the boy's parents' approval, perhaps to receive some much-needed remuneration for years of expensive treatment. But in the end, to me, their motives were inconsequential. Because there was no question about Ernest Angley's motives: he was a money-grubbing pig.

How many people then — and now —would fall for these parlor tricks and send money to Angley and his ilk? Sadly, it's people who are desperate, who are elderly, who have infirmities of their own — such as my mom — who become the targets of these monstrous predators. Too often successfully.

Be wary of the snake oil salesman. Be wary of the snake. They're very, very venomous. How I wish I could slay the lot of them.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

From Hagan Stone to Transylvania

I'm getting closer and closer to my 10,000th Geocache find—my current count stands at 9,933, and I have made plans to go after #10K on May 12, since Brugger and I had already reserved that weekend for something a bit out of the ordinary. So, between now and then, I have to claim 67 more caches, which, all things considered, should not prove too difficult. It's just that working toward a specific number, never knowing what new caches might pop up in the interim, can end up a little dicey, as I discovered with several previous milestone finds.

This has been an interesting week for Geocaching indeed. During the past month, a number of caches along a new nature trail at Hagan Stone Park, in SE Guilford County, have been published, so I've made several trips down that way to hunt them. On my initial searches, I found all but one of them—a devilish beast called “Back From Transilvania” [sic], (GC7MX1F)—which had also stymied several cache hunters before me. On my first search for this elusive little devil, I discovered the skeletal remains of an old homestead very near the posted coordinates, and since I couldn't find the cache, I spent a considerable amount of time exploring the old ruins. I had notified the cache owner that I suspected his listed coordinates were not correct, and in a message back to me, he indicated the hide was at or near an old farmhouse. Well... in light of what I had discovered, I set about a methodical search of the various structures. Given the sheer number of potential hiding places, I knew this would be a daunting task, but I felt I at least had a sporting chance. Out here, I found myself totally isolated, the atmosphere agreeably eerie. A few turkey buzzards scrabbling around the old metal roofs made for a startling moment.

Alas, this first expedition, while enjoyable, failed to turn up the cache.

Yesterday, following a gratifying first-to-find at another new hide in the vicinity (“& Bullwinkle” [GC7MRFY]), I decided to return to the old homestead and try again. I spent a couple of hours on the hunt, focusing on certain areas around the old buildings, but I again failed to find my quarry. As I made my egress from the site, the cache owner sent me a slightly more precise hint, and I was tempted to turn around and try again, but Ms. B. and I had a dinner engagement at her house with friends—Geocaching friends, in fact: Skyhawk63 (a.k.a. Tom) and Punkins19 (a.k.a. Linda)—so I had to reluctantly admit defeat a second time.

Our dinner (my homemade vegetable beef soup, made only slightly nuclear for our guests' sake,) proved delicious, the company fantastic, and since I had resolved to hit Hagan Stone at the crack of dawn—to hopefully beat the forecast bad weather—I spent the night at Ms. B.'s place. And indeed, not long after sunrise, I was on my way back to the trail to put whatever new knowledge I had to good use.

Well. Almost two hours later, I still had turned up a whole lot of nothing. I sent some more photos of my search area to the cache owner, who at last realized I was actually at the wrong location. The cache was not hidden among these structures, but at another old place I had yet to discover.

Hoo boy.

Off I went, for finding this cache had by now become an obsession. Sure enough, after another half mile or so on the trail, I found another old building—this one very much in keeping with the CO's description.

My first discovery here: a very nice six-foot black rat snake, who was kind enough to pose for a photo session (and a very photogenic fellow he was). Happily, thankfully, mercifully, at long last, here I found the cache, and a nicely done cache it turned out to be. Snake took his leave, I dirtied up the log with my signature (in the coveted FTF slot), and after doing a little victory dance*, I marched myself the mile and half back to the Damned Rodan Mobile, headed home, and took a much-needed shower, for which the cats thanked me profusely.

I did take new coordinates at GZ and forwarded them to the CO. Apparently, he had made a typo on one of the bigger numbers of the longitude, and that had indeed mucked up the works. However, if I'd not devoted myself to going after this one prior to his checking on the coordinates, I would have deprived myself of an exhilarating, creepy, three-day Geocaching adventure. And I am, I can tell you, all about the adventure.
My geocaching partner
If all goes according to plan, my target cache for #10K is “The McAfee Knob Challenge” (GC2JJJD) near Salem Virginia—close to where I spent much time camping (along Craig Creek) back in the 80s and 90s. I do look forward to it.

*I did no such thing.
My first view of the old structures just off the trail
The first place I focused my search
Big barn a few hundred feet from the collapsing structures below
Turkey buzzard chuckles while watching me hunt in vain
Yet another old farmhouse along the trail, about a half mile from my original search area

Sunday, April 8, 2018

From Ferrum to Saxapahaw

Some nice Geocaching buddies near Ferrum, VA
Closing in on 10,000 geocache finds, I am. Picked up an even dozen this weekend, bringing my total find count to 9,921. I am hoping to make the 10K find... whenever and whatever it might be... something memorable, so I need to start doing my research. It would be great if it involves kayaking and is close to a winery, in which case Ms. Brugger would be inclined to join the fun.

After spending Friday and Saturday looking after my mom in Martinsville, I set out after a few caches before heading home. Three new ones had come out around Ferrum, VA, where I went to college back in the darkest of dark ages, so I decided to target them. They had been published several days earlier, but, surprisingly, no one had logged finds on them. Fortuitously, I managed to claim FTF on all three by an hour or so, as longtime geocachers (and forest rangers) TracksAll & Will Ketchum apparently came along soon after me. I almost feel bad for beating them to the punch, since they don't get to cache nearly as much as they used to. But hey, a smiley is a smiley, and an FTF is a damn near empty honorific, at best.

From there, the Rodan Mobile conveyed me to Fairy Stone Park, where I have spent many happy times and found numerous caches over the years. There was a relatively new one there, which did not appear to involve significant hiking... until I opted to depart the trail and make a beeline for the cache. Making a beeline for the cache turned out to be more like hauling one's self up and over one majestic incline after another, and reaching the cache involved a rather precarious change in elevation just above a creek. On my egress, I decided to keep to the trail, which proved less rigorous but also involved no little altering of altitude.
Hanging out with funky little Tiki Dude

Then it was on to Eden, NC. Here, there were several more to find (two of which I sadly did not), including a wondrous, beastly little hide amid a massive network of roots in a deep, dank ravine, which I found to be a pure joy in the driving rain that had begun to fall. You may think I speak facetiously, but I do not speak facetiously, for I had a grand time of it making this find (admittedly with a modicum of help from friend Night-Hawk (a.k.a. Tom).

Drenched and exhausted, I eventually made it home. Then, this morning, friend Robgso (a.k.a. Rob) and I made another fine day of it, first at Hagan Stone Park in southern Guilford County, then at Cedar Rock Park in Alamance County, and then in Saxapahaw, on a scenic trail along the Haw River. Lunch at the Saxapahaw General Store was, hardly unexpectedly, among the day's highlights. Ms. B. and I have had some mighty good meals at this place over the years, and today the goat burger was the item of choice, and a fine one at that. Caching-wise, we found a couple of particularly enjoyable hides, including a rat in a tree and a funky little coconut Tiki dude. We finished our hunt—successfully—at the edge of the Buckhorn Gamelands, where we have cached on many previous occasions, and then we came home, where I fell over and went boom.
Rodan's Roots?
View of Philpott Lake from the Lake Shore Trail
View of the Haw River
Found along the Haw River Trail
Old, crumbling dam on a Haw River tributary

Friday, April 6, 2018

Speaking of Chicago...

In my previous entry about my story, "Willow Bend," I delved into the importance of setting and how a specific location—Rock Castle Gorge in Virginia—played a major part in the tale. However, the real genesis of the story may be traced back to an incident that occurred 30-some years ago and 700-some miles away, in a very different setting—Chicago—where I lived in the mid-1980s.

At that time, I was an avid Paintball player, the game being known in those days as "Survival." I was part of a group that got together every weekend in the woods near the Wisconsin border, and I was as addicted to Paintball then as I am to Geocaching today. It was beyond fun shooting the hell out of each other (though it hurt like like a motherfucker when you got hit), and certain experiences from the game naturally wove their way into a number of my stories over the years. The event in question, however, involved not the game itself but one of my fellow players. I'm pretty sure his name was Kurt, and for the purposes of this narrative, that is what I shall call him.

Kurt and I got to be pretty good friends, and as experienced players, we took considerable delight in teaming up each weekend to take out craploads of newbies who came to sample the Survival experience. He was a hardcore Paintballer, and he owned several of the CO2-powered guns we used in the game. He offered one of them to me at a bargain-basement price, and I was happy to take him up on the deal. It was kind of nice having a gun of my own rather than renting one every weekend.

One day he came to me with uncharacteristic solemnity and asked whether I might be willing to do him an unusual favor. Apparently, Kurt lived next door to an aging woman who was convinced that people were coming into her house at night and making a lot of racket. Oddly, when she would get out of bed to accost them, there was never anyone there. This happened every Friday night, and one weekend she asked Kurt if he might be so kind as to stand watch outside and have cross words with any strangers inclined to enter her house uninvited. She did suggest that, since there was no knowing these people's intentions, it was only prudent that he should arm himself. Well, the only arms Kurt owned were Paintball guns, so figuring... I guess... that two Paintball guns might at least partially compensate for their basic lack of lethality, he asked me if I'd be willing to join him standing vigil overnight at the nice lady's place.

Well, ever one to rise to a stimulating challenge, of course I said yes. Hell, neither of us believed a word of it, for the lady was old and probably firmly in the clutches of dementia, and this struck both of us as an opportunity to stay up all night, drink beer, shoot the shit, and maybe shoot somebody's eye out with paintballs should the need actually arise.

The lady lived in a small Chicago brownstone in a reasonably well-to-do neighborhood. On either side of the house, there were tall, thick evergreens that separated the adjacent lots, so shortly after sunset on this chilly evening, Kurt and I armed ourselves with our Paintball guns, a shitload of paintballs, a twelve-pack or two of Old Style, some munchies, and a few packs of cigarettes, and we settled ourselves across from each other in the shelter of the tent-like evergreen branches.

For lord knows how long, we drank, smoked, and jabbered back and forth, until the lady popped her head out the door and told us to shut the hell up because she really wanted to see the situation resolved, and our cavalier attitudes were of no help. This was sound logic as far as it went, so we got serious, clammed up, and went on full alert. This state of alertness lasted until sometime around two in the morning, when I began to get really, really sleepy.

The next thing I knew, Kurt was shaking me and saying he could hear voices coming from inside. We both crept to a window and, sure enough, there were low, masculine voices emanating from what I believed to be the living room. A second later, the woman began to holler from another room, and the voices went silent. Kurt produced a key, and we rushed inside with our Paintball guns ready to blast the hell out of any intruders. What we found was a bewildered, frustrated-looking lady and... not one other soul in the house. No TV or radio turned on. No indication that anyone other than the woman was, or had been, inside.

And that was that. Our hostess told us that, inevitably, once the people went away, they didn't come back anymore on the same night. Disheartened, Kurt and I returned to our posts, where we spent a few more uneventful hours until daybreak. When we finally parted ways, we half-heartedly assured each other it might be worth trying the same plan on some other night, but we never did. Frankly, despite things having been a little weird, we did not believe anyone besides the lady had ever been in that house. She probably had turned on the television, or voices coming from somewhere else simply sounded as if they were coming from within. After all, at any given time, we were surrounded by a fair amount of city noise....

Some weeks or months later, Kurt told me that the woman had had no more complaints about intruders, so we did take some satisfaction in the idea that... maybe... our Paintball guns had scared the dickens out of some ghostly ghosts and sent them permanently packing. I felt happy, for the night had proven interesting enough, and thirty-some years later, it became the basis for one of my scary stories.

And that was the Night We Shot a Ghost's Eye Out.

Thursday, April 5, 2018

Willow Bend

Discovering intriguing, scenic locations has always been a joy for me—which is one of the main reasons I am addicted to Geocaching—and in my fiction, setting virtually always plays a significant part in the story. One of my relatively recent tales of terror, “Willow Bend” (slated to appear in in the Ulthar Press anthology Voices in the Darkness later this year), came about after Ms. B. and I, on a geocaching venture at Rock Castle Gorge in Patrick County, VA, discovered The Austin Homestead, a tract of privately owned land in the middle of the state-owned Rocky Knob Recreational Area (see “Stonewalled,” “The Haunting of Stonewall, Episode 4”). My first impression of the place was that it was the Vermont setting for H. P. Lovecraft's “Whisperer in Darkness” transplanted in Virginia. A few additional hikes in the area convinced me that I needed to use a fictionalized version of the place in a story of my own. And thus, in 2016, “Willow Bend” came about. It's a ghost story set in a location based closely on the Austin Homestead and Rock Castle Gorge.

Particularly for less-experienced writers, the effective setting may often be overlooked or short-changed. Even in a story that is driven primarily by the characters or specific events, a work that fails to convey a sense of place often lacks one of the crucial elements of believability. In the proper hands, the setting can function as a character, evoking mood and emotion, or serving as a motivator for critical events.

Forgive me for picking on the late Rex Miller, but I'm going to pick on Rex Miller. His novel, Slob, which in many respects stood out as an effective, gripping tale, was ostensibly set in Chicago, yet there was not one scene I can recall that in any way evoked the sense of being in Chicago, where I lived for several years. Every aspect of the location felt nondescript, even lifeless, so much so that it damn near pulled me out of the book. Contrast this with author Wayne Allen Sallee's fiction, much of which is set in Chicago, his hometown. Holy crap, Wayne's stories—even those that don't need Chicago to function—function so much the better because every vivid detail of the setting brings all other aspects of the story into stark clarity. Had one never visited Chicago, sufficient exposure to Wayne's body of work might fool one into thinking one had lived there for a decade or two. And seen many things that sane individuals ought not see....

“Willow Bend” is one of my many tales in which the setting plays a distinctive, crucial role, and I hope I have succeeded in making it a place you might care to visit. And perhaps remain...indefinitely.

Figuratively, of course. Perhaps.

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Voices in the Darkness

Oh yeah. My little chiller-thriller, “Willow Bend,” has been accepted for Voices in the Darkness, a new anthology from Ulthar Press slated for release later this year. This new anthology will explore horror in all its many shades: quiet, chilling stories; loud, violent tales; stories about monsters, both human and not; quick jolts; lingering reflections of the macabre; classics and new voices all muttering, whispering, crying, and screaming in the darkness. Here is the complete table of contents (not necessarily in order):

  • “The Junkyard” by Joe R. Lansdale
  • “The Coming of the Storm” by Jeffrey Thomas
  • “Bedside” by Christine Morgan
  • “Broken” by Jeffery X Martin
  • “The Pipe People” by Mark Allan Gunnells
  • “Eat to Live” by Brian M. Sammons
  • “The Rennard Inheritance” by Andi Newton
  • “Dreams of Shattered Teeth” by Tim Waggoner
  • “Jack: A Dirge” by David Dunwoody
  • “She Never Swept” by Robert M. Price
  • “Luna e Volk” by Mercedes M. Yardley
  • “Something for the Weekend” by William Meikle
  • “Willow Bend” by Stephen Mark Rainey
  • “A Lack of Humanity” by Oscar Rios
  • “Here in Status Symbol Land” by D.A. Madigan
  • “Barking” by Pete Rawlik
  • “Those Who Stay” by John Linwood Grant
  • “The Beatification of Custer Poe” by Laird Barron
  • “Let Me Call You Sweetheart” by Don Webb
  • “Trista“ by Cody Goodfellow
  • “Out of Days” by Nathan Carson
  • “Those That Dwell Below” by Glynn Owen Barrass
  • “Ogopogo” by Edward Morris
  • “Down There” by Ramsey Campbell
Look forward to Voices in the Darkness with excitement and dread, if you would be so kind.

Monday, April 2, 2018

Diverse Voices

The issue of diverse literary voices—especially in anthologies of short fiction—has in recent times rightly become a critical subject for editors and publishers, and in certain quarters of the social media set, a matter of no quiet contention. It would be hard to argue that, historically, the dark/speculative fiction field has been dominated by anyone but heterosexual male authors, of which I am one—not that I can claim to dominate anything above and beyond a household of cats (and most might argue I'm fooling myself on that count). I may not the world's most accomplished or prolific editor, but I have had my share of experience in the field: ten years of editing Deathrealm magazine; anthologies for publishers such as Delirium Books, Chaosium, and Arkham House; and a handful of guest-editing stints at other professional publications.

If you have ever read any of  the work I have produced, whether as writer or editor, you have almost certainly picked up on the fact that a large percentage of it is related, directly or tangentially, to the good ol' Cthulhu Mythos; or, at the very least, that it is rooted in the supernatural, the occult, the outr√© in its countless permutations. In fiction, above all things, the Weird Tale has been my chosen oeuvre. Now, the greater share of both aficionados and writers of the Weird Tale has typically been the human male, and while things have changed in that regard, even since I started getting paid for my writing in the mid 1980s, as near as I can tell with these aging eyes, it still holds true. I will confess to you that, at least in those early days of my editing career, diversity—most notably in regard to female writers—was not a huge consideration in my mind, simply because I never felt the works I produced were aimed at an audience beyond what might be called the stereotypical. In my editorial experience, I tended to select the works I felt best represented the theme or tone of the book or periodical as a whole, without regard to the identity of the writer. End of story.

Well, actually, not. The current "discussions"—a term I toss out with no little irony—have served to crystallize certain personal ideas and observations that evolved over many years in this business. First of all, I'll toss out a few stats, just as background (and bear in mind that these are not hard numbers but estimations derived from long hands-on experience). During my days of editing Deathrealm (1987–1997), it's safe to say that 70 to 75 percent of submissions came from male writers, at least early on. Later, that ratio changed to something like 60 to 65 percent. Subscribers were even more male-dominated, with a majority around 75%. That changed only slightly over the years, the biggest shift happening during the last two. Given these stats, would I submit that there was even a hint of intentional discrimination involved in the editorial process? None whatsoever. Would I concede there was a male-centered mindset that blithely sailed past considerations of more diverse tables of contents? Highly likely.

The biggest factor at play here was... is... basic sensibilities. Males and females simply do not share all similar interests, nor should they. I'm certain the readerships of Popular Mechanics and Sports Illustrated differ wildly from those of Cosmopolitan or Vogue (that's my best guess, anyway, though maybe I'm wrong and fully half the first example's readership is women; I'm gonna bet not). I can tell you from years and years of experience, the male audience for Godzilla movies outweighs the female audience by uncountable metric tons. The simple fact is that, historically, Cthulhu and the rest of the Great Old Ones, kith and kin, appeal more to the Godzilla-type demographic.

You need not remind me that dark fiction encompasses a much vaster range of subjects, themes, and styles than the relatively limited scope of Lovecraftiana. Of course that's true, but somewhere in the typically male-dominated hierarchy of authors, editors, and publishers, I suspect that this concept still holds an inordinate amount of weight. To be honest, twenty-five years ago, it struck as me something of a novelty that as many women as did wrote, edited, and published dark fiction. Not only good, but great dark fiction. What an eye-opening experience it became for the likes of me. I made the acquaintances, virtually and in-person, of such women as Ellen Datlow, Jessica Amanda Salmonson, Elizabeth Massie, Kathleen Jurgens, Peggy Nadramia, Kristine Kathryn Rusch, Melanie Tem, Kathe Koja, Poppy Z. Brite, Nancy Collins, Lucy Snyder, Cynthia Ward, Caitlin Kiernan, Nancy Kilpatrick, Anne K. Schwader... the list goes on and on.

How could a literate being not take note of the numbers, the voices, the power in the perspectives shared by these and so many creative women who have emerged in the days since? What vistas one can behold when the blinders aren't fastened so tightly.

Taking notice leads to cognizance, and cognizance leads to action. If by some mad quirk of nature Deathrealm were to make a resurgence during my lifetime, would there be a whole new set of sensibilities at play in its production? A resounding yes. Naturally, I'm very proud of the number of female authors that Deathrealm showcased during its years. If my youthful sensibilities had evolved more deeply and rapidly, no doubt there would have been more. Now, granted, in this space I have primarily focused on women as examples of diversity; I have hardly addressed other marginalized groups whose voices are just as worthy and just as impressive, but for now, this is a start, and deadlines and other duties call.

I simply say to any and all creative persons who labor in the field who may yet wear a set of blinders: take notice. Things can—must—progress from there.