I was thinking about Don Grant today (Donald M. Grant, the publisher). About the books and writers he so generously introduced me to, and what the common thread might have been. The occasion was my reading of The Face in the Abyss by Abraham Merritt, the last major project Don was involved in publishing, having turned over the day-to-day operations of his company to Robert Weiner.
Don waited a very long time to publish that book, over a quarter of a century. He wanted just the right artist at just the right level of maturity. He found Ned Dameron, waited until he thought he was ready as an artist, and gave him plenty of time to complete the project. That might seem extraordinary, but not if you knew Don. He did things the right way. Always.
So here we go, deconstructing (or maybe it’s reconstructing) Don Grant’s library. I will use his writings, the books he published, and conversations he and I had about books to arrive at a few conclusions. Here goes.
For those of you who don’t know, let me tell you that Don Grant introduced me to publishing (I worked for him for twenty years), introduced me to the world of running conventions (he brought me aboard the committee for the First World Fantasy Convention in 1975 while I was in college), introduced me to his extended list of friends in the field, turned over his day job at Providence College to me (at which I met Matt Bechtel and where both Dan and Sara went to school), and perhaps most important of all introduced me to a score of great books and a style of writing that I was totally ignorant of.
So, in sum, he shaped my career, got me my best job, paid for my kids college education and is largely responsible for both Necon and Necon Ebooks. He was a father figure to me and it is important that I trace his (and thus my) literary ancestry. Much like tracing my own father’s genealogy. I need to understand where I came from.
First, I thought about the time I had spent in his house in West Kingston, RI. For a period of time I was out of work and Don hired me to typeset several books at his house on his machine. They were books that he wouldn’t publish for years but it put money in the pocket of a young man with a new son and he reasoned he’d have to pay someone to do it at some point. That was Don. The typesetting machine was in Don’s garage, which was legendary in the field (Stuart Schiff and others have written about it). There was no one else there so when it was time for a coffee or lunch break I would browse the titles of the bookshelves that lined all four walls of the little workroom. These were not books he had published nor were they stock (he was a long-time bookseller), but books he himself collected and read. The names were totally unfamiliar to me: Mundy, Sabatini, Lamb, Friel, etc.
So one day we had a long talk and he showed me his bound set of Adventure Magazine, a pulp that ran from 1910-1971. He said it was his primary reading vehicle. The books on the shelf were mostly reprints from Adventure. I was curious enough to buy Richard Bleiler’s Bibliography of Adventure and track down many of the stories, some in pulps that I found on my Saturday book jaunts with dealer Paul Dobish of Other Worlds Books, and some in reprint, both hardcover and paperback.
The second piece of the puzzle fell into place while selling at his table at a World Fantasy Convention in Texas. I had bought an issue of Famous Fantastic Mysteries from the ‘40s because I liked the cover art (those of you familiar with FFM are smiling). Don said off-handedly that the basis of any good collection of the fantastic was a run of FFM. From then I bought what I could find and tracked down hardcover and paperback editions of stories that had appeared in FFM. The pieces fit together nicely. The writing was similar to Adventure (in fact Mundy, Haggard, and others published in both), but FFM was more fantastic. The emphasis changed, FFM emphasized the fantastic over the adventure while Adventure did the reverse. But both were present in both publications. The picture was becoming clearer.
Another clue was 333. For those not in the know 333 was the first attempt to separate the wheat from the chaff in Fantastic Fiction. The only bibliography that preceded it was the Bleiler Checklist, but Bleiler attempted to list everything published up to that time (1946), while Don listed “the best of the science-fantasy novels” published until 1950. Over time I met all three of the authors of this seminal work (Don, Joe Crawford, and Jim Donohoe). I have no doubt that while Joe and Jim shared in the work and the expense it was Don who made the choices. This is a seminal work of S-F (Science-Fantasy) criticism. It lists the books with first edition information and about 125 words of description (Flash Fiction contestants take note). The book lists and defines nine categories of fiction and is heaviest on Lost Race and Fantastic Adventure — Don’s forte. His favorite author, Talbot Mundy, has the most entries, followed by Haggard, Merritt, and Burroughs, three more of his favorites.
Two oddities about 333. Joe Crawford told me they had planned 666 (for obvious reasons) and had chosen and written out index card descriptions for all of the books. They didn’t have enough money to print 666 so they cut it in half, intending to print Part II at a later date. Don confirmed this. Joe and Don had a falling out with Donohue and Part II was never published. Neither Joe nor Don was able later to find their index cards. It’s a great game to guess the missing 333 titles.
Second, there was an old bookseller in Providence named Richard (last name forgotten) of Dick’s Book Store. Dick told Dobish and I he remembered “little Donnie Grant” in knickers coming into his store. That should give you an idea how old he was when Paul and I met him. He also remembered Lovecraft as a customer. He didn’t like him. “A cold fish,” Dick said. He wore a cardigan sweater and a green, poker-player’s eyeshade every day of the year. He had a copy of 333 with a hole punched in it hanging from a string over the register. When you brought a book up to purchase he would check it against 333. If it was in there, it was $2.00. If not you could have it for a buck.
To this day Lloyd Currey, fantasy literature’s most respected specialty dealer, always includes a 333 notice in the description of any book he’s selling that appears therein. That’s staying power.
Finally I looked at the books Don chose to publish. Not just with Donald M. Grant, Publisher but also with Grant-Hadley, Buffalo Book Company, Grandon Books, and Centaur Press (all of which Don ran). I found that Merritt (3 books), Mundy (4 books), Friel (2 books), Burroughs (3 books), Howard (dozens) and other names occurred over and over in the various lists. I finally had a handle on what Don Grant read and loved.
What did they have in common? Here are a few conclusions. Most feature a hero who is good at his job. He might be an archaeologist, a professor, a surveyor or a military man. Above all else he was competent at what he did. He would leave the comforts of his urban locale and travel to exotic, distant places like India (Mundy), the Amazon (Fried), Africa (Haggard), past historical epochs (Howard), or Mars (Burroughs). Once there he would interact with and learn an unfamiliar but exciting culture and usually fall in love with an exotic Priestess-Queen-Princess-Amazon. He would defend her honor against the evil King-Priest-Rebel-Scientist and either they would live happily ever after or the volcano would blow up.
Formula fiction? Sure. But so are Jane Austen and Stephen King. All fiction is formula fiction and some of the writers who used this particular formula are Jack London (South Sea Tales), Herman Melville (Typee, Oomo) and Joseph Conrad (Lord Jim). Don’t take it lightly.
In sum they are stories about a competent, curious man who wants to be loved. What’s wrong with that? It’s what Don wanted. It’s what I want. Don achieved it, in spades. I hope I have too.
Note: You will no doubt notice the absence of the modern horror writers that Don published in this essay — Stephen King, Peter Straub, Charles L. Grant, David Morrell, Les Daniels, etc. They are of my generation and Don read them at my urging. He was open and liked their work (especially King’s Dark Tower books). But they did not form him. In many ways I have dedicated Necon Ebooks to the continuation of his work with writers of my generation. Another thing I have to thank him for.
- Winter Wake by Rick Hautala
- The Black Castle by Les Daniels
- Phantom by Thomas Tessier
- The Kill by Alan Peter Ryan
- Darkborn by Matthew Costello
- The Piercing by John Coyne
- Night Things by Thomas F. Monteleone
- The Face That Must Die by Ramsey Campbell
- The Troupe by Gordon Linzner
- Transients and Other Disquieting Stories by Darrell Schweitzer
- The Searing by John Coyne
- In Silence Sealed by Kathryn Ptacek
- The Gargoyle by Don D’Ammassa
- The Hour of the Oxrun Dead by Charles L. Grant
- The Hunting Season by John Coyne
- A Cold Wind In July by Craig Shaw Gardner
- Dead Voices by Rick Hautala
- Wurm by Matthew Costello
- And No Birds Sing by Kathryn Ptacek
- Tom O’Bedlam’s Night Out and Other Strange Excursions by Darrell Schweitzer
- The Complete Short Fiction of Charles L. Grant, Volume I: Nightmare Seasons
- The Complete Short Fiction of Charles L. Grant, Volume II: The Orchard
- The Complete Short Fiction of Charles L. Grant, Volume III: Dialing the Wind
- THE COMPLETE UNIVERSE OF HORROR TRILOGY by Charles L. Grant
- Book I: The Soft Whisper of the Dead
- Book II: The Dark Cry of the Moon
- Book III: The Long Night of the Grave
- Servants of Chaos by Don D’Ammassa
- Garden by Matthew Costello
- The Epicure by Holly Newstein & Ralph Bieber
- Cravings by Joan VanderPutten
- The Rick Hautala / Holly Newstein Bundle
- The Fear Report by Elizabeth Massie
- 13 Drops of Blood by James Roy Daley
- Sympathy for the Dead by P.D. Cacek
- The Secret Backs of Things by Christopher Golden
- House of Pain by Sephera Giron
- Christmas Trees and Monkeys by Daniel G. Keohane
- White and Other Tales of Ruin by Tim Lebbon
- The Haunted Forest Tour by James A. Moore & Jeff Strand
- How to Recognize a Demon Has Become Your Friend by Linda Addison
- Sundown by Elizabeth Massie
- Death’s Companion by Dan Foley
- The Birds and The Bees by Sephera Giron
- Still Life: Nine Stories by Nicholas Kaufmann
- Dark Duet by Linda D. Addison & Stephen M. Wilson
- Borrowed Flesh by Sephera Giron
- The Whispers of Crows by Dan Foley
- Exorcising Angels by Tim Lebbon & Simon Clark
- Carousel by Janet Joyce Holden
- Snowbird Gothic by Richard Dansky
- Jerks and Other Tales from a Perfect Man by John M. McIlveen
- For the Love of Horror by Michael Arruda
- The Wind Caller by P.D. Cacek
- Cosmocopia by Paul Di Filippo
- Dark Dreamers On Writing by Stanley Wiater
- The Collected Cinema Knife Fight, Volume One (2004 – 2009) by L.L. Soares & Michael Arruda
- In the Spooklight by Michael Arruda
- Necon E-Books Best of 2010 Flash Fiction Anthology
- Necon E-Books Best of 2011 Flash Fiction Anthology
- Necon E-Books Best of 2012 Flash Fiction Anthology
- Catching Lucifers Lunch by The Brothers May
- Ill Conceived by The Brothers May & Shelton Bryant
- Lost In Transition, Vol. 1: The Golden Ticket by Errick A. Nunnally
- The Undying Monster by Jessie Douglas Kerruish
- Incredible Adventures by Algernon Blackwood
- Brood of the Witch Queen by Sax Rohmer
- The Sorcery Club by Elliott O’Donnell