Until his recent demise, Karl Edward Wagner had become nearly synonymous with DAW’s Year’s Best Horror anthology, which Wagner had edited for the last 15 volumes. In fact, Wagner has edited this series for so long that horror fans might have forgotten that Wagner did have a couple of predecessors.
After Richard Davis edited volumes I—III (1972-75) in the series, Gerald Page took the controls for volumes IV-VII (1976-79), before handing the editorial baton to Wagner. The late ’70s were a lean time for the horror genre, and Page played an important role in shepherding the series through some dark days, before the relative horror boom of the ’80s. During his editorial reign on the Year’s Best series, Page used several original stories to round out the volumes, at least partially due to the lack of quality reprints from which to choose.
In addition to his role with The Year’s Best Horror series, Page also edited six issues of the fantasy/horror magazine Witchcraft & Sorcery in the early ’70s; edited the Arkham House anthology Nameless Places; and authored a fair amount of horror fiction himself. All of these topics and more were covered in a recent conversation with Mr. Page…
TSF: How did you first get involved in the genre—as writer, editor, or even in fandom?
GP: I joined fandom—joined the Atlanta Science Fiction Organization—in 1954, and published my first fanzine, Si-Fan, in 1959. In 1963, I published my first story, a novelette called “The Happy Man,” in the March issue of Analog.
TSF: Shortly thereafter, you edited and published a fascinating little fanzine called Lore. Tell us about a little about that publication.
GP: Lore came along in 1966 or 1967, right after I got out of the Army. I was selling an occasional short story at the time. Lore came about when…I guess it was Lewis Harrell, a collector who lived in Alabama, sent me a question, asking whether I knew if William Chester, the author of the Kioga stories in Blue Book, was actually a pen name for H. Bedford-Jones. 1 was unaware of Chester at all at that time and…the question pointed out to me that there was no real source that collectors in the field could turn to for answers. So, I came up with the idea of publishing Lore, which was a fanzine that would deal with questions such as that. If I couldn’t answer a question using any of the reference sources that I had on hand, I would publish the question and see if any of my readers could answer it. And usually they could—I think we answered most of the questions that were published in Lore.
I had a good time with Lore. We had some interesting people working on it. Jeff Jones was one of our artists; he was living in Atlanta at that time and had not yet gone professional. Jerry Burge and I did most of the work on the fanzine. It went nine issues, and I was fairly proud of it.
After a couple of years, however, I was offered a job as a consulting editor for Amazing Stories. After that, I sort of concentrated my publishing, writing, and editing careers [and drifted away from Lore]. The job with Amazing didn’t last very long, but when Jeff [Jones] went to New York, I was able to get him a job illustrating for the magazine—and he lasted much longer with Amazing than I did!
Then, in 1969, I began working for TV Guide and stayed there for 20 years. I was a Programming Editor, editing program listings in the Atlanta office for various regional issues.
TSF: In 1971, you began editing Witchcraft & Sorcery, a magazine which took over for the defunct digest Coven 13, and which was published by well-known genre publisher William Crawford. How did you get involved with Crawford on Witchcraft & Sorcery?
GP: He came back into the field around 1967, with a revival of his science fiction magazine, Spaceway. I sent him some stories, Jerry Burge did some artwork for him, and we struck up a friendship with him. When he realized that he wasn’t go anywhere with Spaceway, he found another opportunity—the publisher of a small magazine called Coven 13 found that his magazine wasn’t going anywhere either, and he offered to turn the publication over to Bill [Crawford], So, Bill worked out a distribution agree¬ment and then came to Jerry Burge and me and asked us if we’d like to work on the magazine with him, to actually come in as his partners. We decided to do that, on the theory that three shoe¬strings were better than one shoestring.
Immediately after we had carefully laid out the first issue, the distributor decided that we had to change the name and enlarge the size of the magazine. I didn’t feel that Coven 13 was a particularly good name for a newsstand-circulated publication, so I wasn’t much against the changes. But it did make our first issue look awful funny, since many of the pages had already been typeset for a digest-sized publication.
It actually was a good time for a magazine like that [to debut]. You have to remember that, during the 1960s, there were no horror magazines. The closest thing we had was The Magazine of Horror, which was a horror magazine, but was primarily a reprint magazine—it published about 4 or 5,000 words of new fiction in every quarterly issue. To sell a horror story anywhere else at that time, your name had to be a ‘name’ writer, a Robert Heinlein. Those of us who were just starting out at that time had no other real markets. Writers starting out around that time included Ramsey Campbell, Stephen King, Stephen Goldin, and half a dozen other writers who were determined to write horror fiction, no matter what.
It was really rather remarkable because…there was a general belief among editors and publishers that horror was not wanted by the public. And that sort of changed, starting in the ’70s. I kind of like to think, although I suppose that I’m being a little bit wistful here, that Witchcraft & Sorcery played a part in kicking off those changes. We did publish stories by quite a few of the top new writers, and some of the last original fiction by some of the major horror figures of the ’30s, ’40s, and ’50s—people like E. Hoffmann Price and August Derleth.
We managed to put out several issues before we finally gave up the ghost. We weren’t actually losing money, but we weren’t making any mon¬ey, either. It just became too much effort for too little return. I guess we all drifted to other interests at about the same time.
TSF: In the first issue of W&S—which was actually numbered as issue #5, since it followed four issues of Coven 13—were any of the stories in that issue left-overs from Coven 13‘s inventory?
GP: No, we inherited no inventory. In fact, I was very adamant about that. I didn’t think that Coven 13 was going in the best direction, and it certainly wasn’t going in the direction that I wanted to take the magazine. So one of the things that I stipulated to Bill was that I didn’t want any of Coven 13‘s story inventory. I was terrified, for example, that I’d get the last part of a serial they were running, but they concluded the thing in the 4th issue [of Coven 13] by running the last two parts of the serial together.
TSF: Did you look for a different kind of fiction than Coven 13 editor Arthur Landis had been publishing?
GP: I was looking for a little more variety. I liked fantasy in general, and I suppose I wasn’t sure that an all-horror magazine could support itself at that time. And I really was not sure that I could get the quality of horror material that was necessary [to fill out an all-horror magazine], considering the limits of the market. I didn’t think that many good writers would be willing to produce horror stories for us, knowing that there was no back-up market to turn to.
So I thought I would be able to get better fiction by going with a wider range of material. In retrospect, I suspect that I could have gotten a really excellent variety of straight horror fiction if I had gone with that approach—at least that was what started showing up in the mailbag near the end.
TSF: W&S was sub-titled “The Modern Magazine of Weird Tales.” Were you consciously trying to emulate Weird Tales?
GP: Basically, yes. After Weird Tales died in ’54, there wasn’t anything else like it. It was, as their sub-title said, an absolutely “unique magazine.” And I felt that we had to acknowledge our debt to that magazine—Weird Tales was com¬pletely different than any other magazine had been, and what we were trying to do was emulate a magazine that had never been emulated. We of course failed, as everyone else has failed…but we came close.
TSF: The first two issues of W&S also had “Coven 13” appearing (in small print) on the cov¬er. Was this an attempt to retain readers of that title?
GP: Yes, that was pretty much standard practice—for example, Analog kept “Astounding” on its covers for about a year [after their title changed].
TSF: I also noticed that those first two issues also listed Landis as a consultant—was that just a courtesy?
GP: Yes, that was simply a courtesy. I never had any dealings with him. Bill felt that we should do that as a courtesy to him. And he may have given some assistance to Bill, so that may well have been a legitimate listing, of him as a consultant.
TSF: What was the highest circulation achieved by W&S?
GP: I really don’t know. Bill took care of all the publishing aspects. I never sat down and talked circulation numbers with him. My basic concern was that we were covering our expenses, our publishing expenses, at least—the editorial expenses were basically paid out of my pocket, and the art expenses were being paid out of Jerry Burge’s pocket. And those never were covered.
TSF: Initially did you solicit all of your stories for W&S? I know you mentioned that, later on, you did have a slush pile…
GP: I let word out that we were doing the magazine, and we started to receive manuscripts. Initially, it was more by invitation…I’m very proud that I talked E. Hoffmann Price into getting back into writing. He did a story for us, and a regular column. Getting him back into writing was one of the best things that came out of the magazine. That, and some of the artists we had. We actually discovered Stephen Fabian in a fanzine—I saw some of his artwork and got in touch with him.
TSF: You mentioned Jeff Jones earlier in regard to Lore. He was also one of your artists on W&S. And Berni Wrightson is another familiar name who appeared in W&S. In those days, was Wrightson just starting out, and affordable for you to work with?
GP: Actually, Wrightson’s [involvement with the magazine] occurred by accident. We sent a story that we were going to run in the magazine to Jeff Jones to illustrate, but the post office was late getting it to him. It only showed up a few days before the deadline. So, since time was short, he penciled the illustrations, and then he had Wrightson, who was a friend of his, do the inking.
TSF: How did you wind up getting stories from Ross Rocklynne and E.C. Tubb, both of whom were better known in the SF field?
GP: Rocklynne is one of my all-time favorite writers, especially his work from Planet Stories. But he had written fantasy previously; he was a contributor to Unknown. He was just coming back into the field at that time, and sent me some stuff. I bought a short story from him, and sent him a request that he do part of the round- robin. It was Rocklynne, by the way, who sug¬gested David Gerrold [later of Star Trek fame] as a contributor.
As for Tubb…Phil Harbottle, who was working as Tubb’s agent at the time, sent me some Tubb stories. We only used one of them…we had hoped to use two, but we went out of business before we could print the second. Coincidentally, the stories [Harbottle sent] had originally been written for a British magazine that had folded before the stories could be printed.
TSF: I noticed that you ran a story of your s under your “Carleton Grindle” pseudonym in W&S #5. Was that the first use of your Grindle pseudonym?
GP: No, Grindle was first used back in a short-lived magazine called Anubis, in ’67 or ’68.
TSF: The only other pseudonym of yours that I’m aware of is Kenneth Pembrooke. Is that the only other one you’ve used?
GP: No, there was also…Edmund Shirlan. That was the name I wrote the Simon Grisaille stories under.
TSF: In one of the W&S issues, an advertisement for a future issue mentioned a Ramsey Campbell story, and another issue’s editorial mentioned an Eddy Bertin story. Neither of these ever appeared in W&S. Were there many other stories left in inventory when the magazine was discontinued?
GP: Yes, but most of them were eventually printed elsewhere. For instance, I bought the first pro story from Karl Edward Wagner, but never got a chance to publish it. That story was later published in Fantastic.
TSF: Another person who appeared in W&S—in the letters column, actually—and then later became quite well-known was Kirby McCauley.
GP: Yes, that was before he became an agent. Kirby was living in Minneapolis then, selling insurance. Kirby was just starting up his agency at that time and wanted to know if I’d let him represent me. And I said “Sure.” I don’t think he ever sold any new stories of mine, but he did get me some reprint checks, and he talked the Arkham House people into letting me do the Nameless Places anthology.
TSF: Speaking of which, how exactly did Nameless Places come about
GP: That came about shortly after Derleth’s death. Derleth had purchased a bunch of stories for The Arkham Collector [a small periodical that Arkham was publishing at that time]. They were minor stories for the most part, but a few interesting ones. The magazine was being discontinued and Arkham wanted to get the [remaining] stories into an anthology, but they didn’t have enough to fill out the book. So they hired me, gave me a budget, and set me loose. Which I gather they have lived to regret. But I had fun.
I went after writers like David Drake, Attanasio, and Price. When I finished that book, that seemed to be the end of my edit¬ing career in the field, until Don Wollheim wrote me out of the blue and told me that he wanted me to take over the Year’s Best Horror series.
TSF: Why do you say that Arkham may have lived to regret turning you loose on the anthology?
GP: I don’t think it sold real well. It was still in print the last I noticed, even though it had a small print run.
TSF: It looks like you used some of your contacts from W&S to fill out the anthology—people like Scott Edelstein, Brian Lumley, Bob Maurus, David English, and Ed Price.
GP: Some of those stories were definitely originally submitted to Witchcraft & Sorcery. And you’ll notice that some of those same names kept turning up when I was [later] doing the Year’s Best Horror Stories.
TSF: Let’s talk about Year’s Best Horror. I notice that one of your stories, “Thirst,” appeared in an early volume of that series, while Richard Davis was still editing it. I was going to ask if that had somehow led to your later becoming editor of the series, but you mentioned a little while ago that Don Wollheim sort of con¬tacted you out of the blue…?
GP: “Thirst” was only in the British edition [Editor’s note: The contents of the first two volumes of The Year’s Best Horror series were different in the US and UK]...I think what happened was that Wollheim knew me from fandom, and our major contact was from Lore—I had discussed in one issue the possibility of the Doc Savage novels being reprinted in paperback, and I think 1 ended the piece with some flippant sentence like “What about it, Don Wollheim?”
And so he sent me a long letter, in which he explained why the Doc Savage novels would never be published in paperback! He may have felt that I had shown a certain amount of perspicac¬ity or insight in that. And he was aware that I edited Witchcraft & Sorcery and that I had edited the anthology for Arkham House. And since the field had been dormant for so long—for at least 15 years and probably closer to 30—I may have simply been the first name to pop into his head. But however it happened, I’m very pleased that it did, because I had a lot of fun with those [Year’s Best Horror] books.
TSF: Do you know if Richard Davis voluntarily quit editing the series, or if Wollheim decided he wanted a different editor?
GP: Wollheim was apparently displeased with Davis’ selections. Davis had actually delivered a [fourth] volume in the series, but Don decided to reject it. Don sent me a letter, offering me the editorship, but telling me he would need the book in a very short time—just a matter of weeks. I immediately wrote back to him, accepting the job, and started searching out stories. Fortunately, I had that year’s selection of [genre] magazines organized and at hand. Today, I wouldn’t be able to do that at all. In fact, I don’t even own half the [genre] magazines published this past year. But I just started picking up magazines [back then] and reading through them. When I read one that I particularly liked, I would add it to a list. Within a few weeks, I knew exactly the stories that I wanted.
I got along very well with Don Wollheim. The only problem that we had during the entire period was when, in that first book, I selected a story that he had also selected for The World’s Best Science Fiction anthology—Fritz Leiber’s “Belsun Express.” So Don wrote back and told me that he felt it was more of a science fiction story and that he had already taken it. I didn’t argue with him, I just got in touch with Leiber, and found another story, and everything worked out very well. That was the closest we ever came to a disagreement on anything. Don let me have control over the book; he let me run original stories, which was very important to me, because at that time there still weren’t a lot of good markets for horror fiction [to choose reprints from]. And I’m very proud of the original material that I bought.
TSF: In the first volume of Year’s Best Horror that you edited, there were some familiar names from Nameless Places—such as David Drake, Joseph Payne Brennan, Brian Lumley—but only two actual reprints from that anthology, by Ramsey Campbell and Arthur Byron Cover. Were those two your favorites from the anthology?
GP: Not necessarily, but they fit the [Year’s Best Horror] anthology the best. You have to remember that Nameless Places wasn’t strictly a horror anthology—it had fantasy as well. But the Campbell and Cover stories were certainly among the best. I was very proud of both of those stories.
TSF: Many of the authors from Year’s Best Horror IV are still familiar to horror fans of today. However, there are at least a couple of names that are not. Who were Joe Pumilia and G.H. Gabbard, and how did you come across them?
GP: Joe Pumilia is from Texas, and is very prominent in Lovecraft fandom. He was submitting stories to Witchcraft & Sorcery, and had a lot of stories published in fanzines and the small press. Gabbard was pretty much the same situation. I really believe that the story I published by Pumilia probably showed a lot more talent than his subsequent career would suggest. I suspect that one of these days we’ll hear from him again. The Gabbard story I don’t remember a lot about, other than being impressed by it. Gabbard was in Nameless Places, and I may have asked to him to let me see anything else he had [to consider for Year’s Best].
TSF: There were three original pieces in Year’s Best Horror IV—stories by Gabbard and Hal Clement, and an article by E. Hoffmann Price. How did you acquire the Clement story in the short time that you had to put the anthology together?
GP: He heard I was doing the anthology, and he had a science fiction story on the theme of vampirism, which he hadn’t been able to sell. I liked the story and ran it, even though it may not have been the kind of story that should have been in the book.
TSF: How about the Price article— what’s the story behind that?
GP: That appeared because there was a controversy at the time regarding the two recent Lovecraft biographies, and I wanted Price’s opinion on it. I thought a little controversy might help the book. On reflection, I was probably wrong. But on the other hand, it was an E. Hoffmann Price article, and you can’t argue with that.
TSF: In Year’s Best Horror V, there were four original stories, by H. Warner Munn,
Tanith Lee, Arthur Byron Cover, and Charles Grant. Did these authors simply hear that you were editing the series and decided to send you stories, or…?
GP: Grant, who has since become a good friend, submitted stories to Witchcraft & Sorcery. He was starting to sell by the time I was doing the Year’s Best. McCauley, who was his agent at the time, probably sent me that story. We wound up having 2 or 3 originals by Charlie over the years, and they were all excellent.
Munn I had been corresponding with, and I asked to see something. He sent me that story and I was floored by it. The Lee story was sent to me by Don Wollheim, who was desperately trying to hang on to her exclusively [as publisher] at that time. Cover…I’d run stories by him before, and asked him to send me more stuff. He’s a very good writer; probably deserves to be a lot more famous in the field than he is right now.
TSF: In Year’s Best Horror VI, there were even more original stories—five, to be exact—which I suppose was a reflection of the dearth of quality reprints to choose from at that time?
GP: That and the fact that we were also pretty established by that time, and people knew my tastes, so they were sending me original stories that they thought I would like.
TSF: Three of those originals were by authors you’d been working with in the past—Tanith Lee, David Drake, and Charlie Grant. The other two, though, were by newcomers to your canon—Dennis Etchison and Manly Wade Wellman. How did the latter two come to have original stories in the book?
GP: There was no way I was going to pass up the opportuni¬ty to publish either Etchison or Wellman, to be perfectly honest. Etchison is another writer for whom I have the utmost respect. There is something deep down inside his fiction that is absolutely compelling.
TSF: You did one more volume after that, volume VII, and then quit editing the series. Why?
GP: I often think about that. A primary reason was that it was starting to become too much work. It was taking away from my writing…And the real reason probably is that Wollheim rushed me. He sent me a letter in August, saying “I’d kind of like to get the contract signed now.” That was a couple of months earlier than he had been signing it. And I was thinking “Do I really want to do this again?”
So…I guess it was at DeepSouthCon, which was in New Orleans that year, I was having coffee with Dave Drake and Karl Wagner, and I asked them if either one of them would like to take over The Year’s Best Horror. Dave said he didn’t want to; Karl said “Sure, I’ll do it.”
So I wrote Don and told him that I didn’t really want to do it anymore, but that I’d found somebody I thought would be pretty good at it. I’ve had a lot of regrets about [quitting]. I certainly enjoyed doing it at the time.
TSF: As far as I know, you’ve had little or no involvement in the horror genre since resigning from The Year’s Best Horror…
GP: Well…I’ve published a dozen or so stories in Weirdbook, and have written a few other things. I’ve done some horror radio plays. I’m doing a lot of stuff now for Atlanta Radio Theater, all kinds of things— they’ve performed about 50 of my scripts, and some of those have been horror.
I do enjoy the field, [although] I’m not particularly interested in what appears to be the mainstream of the horror field right now. I’m more interested in the older stuff, particularly cosmic horror. And there’s not a lot of markets for that now. If I find an idea that’s compelling enough though, I write it and eventually it sells.
TSF: I noticed that in Mike Ashley’s book Who’s Who in Horror and Fantasy Fiction, which came out back in ’77, his entry about you mentions your story “Thirst,” saying “around which [Page] is compiling a horror collection.” Were you, in fact, at one point going to put together a collection of your horror stories?
GP: Yes, but nothing ever came of it. I had discussed it with a couple of people, but they lost interest. I’ve never been a “name” in the horror field, and I’ve never actually written anything in horror that’s made a lasting impression. My most successful stuff has been my science fiction— “The Happy Man,” which was my first story, just got translated into Japanese and Italian this year; it’s been performed on radio and television; it’s been reprinted in several anthologies, most recently last year. But I’ve never had that degree of success with my writing in the horror field.
TSF: You mentioned that you’re writing radio plays. What else are you up to these days?
GP: Well, I’m writing a lot of short stories. And the radio plays are taking a lot of time, because we just signed an audio tape contract with a national distributor. And I’m doing a lot of writing on pulp magazines—a lot of research and writing on that, publishing a fanzine, Spicy Armadillo Stones.