“I hate the idea of dying, because I’m afraid I’m going to miss something. As long as you’re alive, there’s always more time,” Ed Bryant in Westword, May, 2000.
Ed Bryant died February 10.
Shock. Surprise. Sadness. Hatred for the thirsty inevitability of death.
But also laughter.
This man, one of the giants of science fiction and horror, the single most giving teacher I’ve ever known, made me laugh all the fucking time.
He brought me a gift once. I don’t remember why we were together…dinner or a literary thing or who knows what…but there was nothing special enough about that particular moment to bring a gift.
A gun sight for a bazooka.
Seriously. I was all like, “What the fuck is this?”
He said, completely straight-faced, “For a bazooka. It’s a sight.”
I waited for him to say something like, “So you can blast all those editors who don’t buy your stories,” or “So you can explode the world with your literary genius.”
The man didn’t say dick. He gave it to me, laughed, and walked away. Turns out he’d found eight or ten at a flea market and just thought it was funny.
Yes, he taught me how to write, as he did for so many people. He taught me how to channel and focus and develop all the stories whirling around in my head and that was great.
But he also taught me how to read. He taught me how to see the deeper terrain of a writer’s words, the subterranean world all writers leave behind even when they don’t realize they do.
That was maybe the greatest secret he taught me about writing.
But don’t short change his own writing in everything you’ll hear about what an incredible teacher he was. The Thermals of August is one of the best things he ever wrote. Stunning in its simplicity but epic in its quiet scope. It was just a love story, except the world trapped beneath that hushed love story was as deep and dangerous and wide as the sky through which the characters glide.
And for pure hilarity? Read Aqua Sancta. Very short, like 100 words maybe. Obviously I can’t tell you because that would blow the whole story but dig it up, I promise you’ll laugh your ass off.
Ed, above all, loved words regardless of where they came from, and championed newer writers.
When I went to World Horror Convention in Eugene, Oregon in 1996, I was a brand new writer. I had published very little to that point, and nothing of note. Yet at the end of his reading, in front of a packed room because everyone goes to an Ed Bryant reading, he brought me on stage to read a little something of my own.
He had no reason to do that other than helping a new writer who desperately wanted to be noticed and taken seriously.
Later, in Phoenix in 1998, I had sold a few stories, including to a few high recognition anthologies and magazines. I was becoming a known quantity and had the ego to prove it.
Charles Grant, one of the giants of 80s horror, had surreptitiously shown up to the convention. Crowds were agog because he was getting older and didn’t travel much. The man had published, to that point, 104,027,207 novels and stories, and convention attendees were salivating to be in line for him during the mass signing.
A quick aside here, the mass signing is one of the coolest things ever. Conventions stuff every attending author into a single cavernous room and fans wander table to table and get everything signed by all the authors. They are great fun for everyone involved.
So for that mass signing, they put me at a table with?
Charles Fucking Grant.
I almost had a stroke. I had read this man as fervently as I had read Stephen King and Peter Straub and just could not get my head around the fact that I would be sitting next to him for the entire signing! I would be able to pick his brain and learn and soak in his aura.
Uh…not so much.
The line to have Grant sign books coiled like a snake throughout the room, out the door, up the stairs, out the lobby, into the parking lot, across the Arizonan desert, along the Rio Grande River to the Gulf of Mexico where it boarded a steamer heading out for seedy South American ports, where it disembarked, found a sleazy bar, got some local agave juice, and drank itself into a stupor waiting for the line to fucking move!
And the line for Trey R. Barker?
I didn’t have a single person. Talk about a kick to the balls (it was actually a good reality check and since then I’ve tried to be more like Kirk Hammett in terms of ego…I fail miserably).
But in the midst of that humiliation, along came Ed Bryant to save my day.
With a large bag in his head, he made a beeline toward me. Not once did he look at Grant. This was all about me and having me sign for at least half an hour. It was obvious Ed had brought copies of everything I’d appeared in; magazines, anthologies, a chapbook, everything. I was so excited.
“Hey, thanks, man, I really appreciate it.”
He nodded toward Grant, “Yeah, have him sign these for me,” and walked away, his shoulders bouncing up and down as he laughed.
I was speechless, not something that happens easily with me. I spluttered and banged my fist against the table and ground my teeth and plotted way to kill Ed Bryant violently and brutally dead.
Except, way down in the bottom of the bag, the absolute last thing, was a copy of my chapbook.
I remember sitting there another half hour or however long the signing lasted, somehow content, opening the books of fans for Grant so he could sign them, a copy of my chapbook on the table in front of me, and shaking my damned head at Mr. Edward Bryant and laughing every few minutes.
Straight up Ed. Supportive and funny at the same time.
There are a million other stories, from a million other writers, but in the end they are all the same. Ed Bryant was about words and loved those who put them together earnestly.
I loved him, love him still, and will miss him as much as other friends I’ve recently lost. Ed Gorman…Melanie Tem…Tom Piccirilli…Sean Moore lo those many years ago.
It happens to everyone, it is life, but it still makes me angry. There are so many more good words those guys could have written if they’d had time.
Fuck me, the collaborative novel that crew can write now that they’ve got endless time. Holy shit, I’m getting light-headed just thinking about it.