Monday, April 11, 2011

Cemetery Dance: One of the Good Guys

There haven’t been many constants in my life that are still constants today. Things change, relationships change, people come and go, there are ups, downs and in-betweens. Life is always in flux. But there are a few things that remain. I’ve been with my wife Dawn since 1988. I have books on my shelves that I’ve had for 40 years and probably won’t get rid of until they fall apart my in my hands and can’t be repaired. And then there’s Rich Chizmar and Cemetery Dance Publications.

Don’t ask me when my relationship began with Cemetery Dance. I couldn’t tell you without doing a lot of digging around in my office and, even worse, some math. I was still drinking when I hooked up with CD, and that probably has a lot to do with why I can’t remember. I haven’t been a drinker in a long time. The fact that Rich started dealing with me while I was a drinker makes it pretty amazing that we still have a relationship today. My stories have appeared in Cemetery Dance magazine and in some of their anthologies and Rich has published many of my novels, novellas and collections. There was a period in the 1990s when I would have disappeared completely had it not been for CD. Rich kept me writing. In some ways, he kept me alive.

Cemetery Dance Publications has become a mainstay in the horror genre. As much as it has grown, it remains a small independent publisher. The horror community tends to take it for granted. There’s a joke about CD. Maybe you’ve heard it.

“There’s Eastern Time, Central Time, Mountain Time, Pacific Time and Cemetery Dance Time.”

This joke refers to the fact that CD is not always punctual with its releases, does not always stick rigidly to its schedule. CD takes heat for this. Sometimes a check is late, and believe me, when that happens, we writers have the capacity to go completely monkeyfuck crazy in ways one does not often find in people of other professions. But like I said, we – all of us, fans and writers alike – tend to take the company for granted. Many are unaware of how the company is run.

Nobody in the genre has more genuine affection and respect for writers than Rich Chizmar. Rich is a writer himself and he knows what we do, how we do it and why we do it. He knows that writers are usually dysfunctional in one way or another, quite often damaged. And he likes us, anyway. He also does what he can to take care of us, to show us support when it will do the most good, throw work our way when it’s needed. But what you hear about is tardiness, grumblings from the fans, the usual complaints from writers. When a check is late, we writers sometimes fly off the handle, make angry phone calls, shoot off outraged emails, and all of this lands in Rich’s lap. I’ve done this myself. I’ve done this recently. We don’t know what’s going on at Rich’s end. Sometimes life gets in the way of things for publishers, too – a family crisis can pop up, illnesses occur, loved ones die, financial problems arise,and we’re quick to forget that this is not Simon & Schuster we’re dealing with, here, it’s still a relatively small, independent publisher with limited staff and funds. Most are also unaware that sometimes a check is late because a Cemetery Dance writer is in crisis and Rich has made an effort to do some shuffling to help him or her out. That’s the kind of person he is. But instead of getting the credit he deserves for that, he gets yelled at for something else.

Sometimes people in this business get credit they don’t deserve. Someone will come along and crow about his love of the genre and his great respect for writers when in fact he’s found a genre he knows nothing about filled with young, inexperienced writers so desperate to get published that they don’t care how hard a publisher fucks them and won’t complain either out of fear of reprisal or simply because they’re too dazzled by the sight of their book on a book store shelf. This is just a hypothetical example, of course. I’m not pointing fingers, just trying to make a point. The credit an undeserving person or company might get is often because most people are unaware of what’s really going on behind the scenes. Of course, the same can be said of criticism.

Rich Chizmar and Cemetery Dance deserve more credit than they get. They really do know and love the genre. They really do have great respect for writers. If that weren’t the case, I’m sure Rich would’ve thrown in the towel long ago. He certainly takes enough crap from us writers when we’re up against a wall and desperate for a check we’ve got coming. It happens. If writers were good business people and financial planners, they wouldn’t be writers. But in that desperation, we sometimes forget that the only check we’ve got coming at the time is from Cemetery Dance, because it’s still there, still buying our work, still supporting us, still producing fiction in one of the most disrespected genres in all of publishing, and in beautiful editions of which we can be proud.

I’m talking to myself here as much as anyone else because I’ve been guilty of this plenty of times. That’s why I’m writing this. I think it’s important for us to stop when those desperate times come, take a breath, and remember who we’re dealing with, who we’re about to shout at over the phone, who we’re about to send that angry, vitriolic email to in our blind desperation for money before we do it. This is Cemetery Dance we’re talking about. Rich has put up with us this long and he’s still around, still doing it. While CD has been successful, the guy could just as easily find the same success in some field where he’d have the luxury of dealing with more stable people. He doesn’t do that because, to paraphrase Sally Field’s old Oscar speech, he likes us, he really likes us.

So the next time you want to complain about a late release, or if you’re a writer, a late check, take just a moment to stop and think about this. Times are tough for everyone right now, and at some point they’ll get better, and then later, they’ll get tough again. Let’s hope when that happens that Cemetery Dance is still around, that Rich is still doing what he does so well, what he does with such affection. If a little tardiness is the worst thing you can complain about, then for crying out loud, be thankful. You want to hear some real horror stories about publishers? You want to hear about writers deliberately being ripped off? You want to hear about genuine contempt for writers hidden behind smiling public words of praise? How much time have you got?

On second thought ... nah. That’s not what I’m here for right now. But trust me, it happens. It hasn’t happened with Cemetery Dance. You don’t hear those stories about Rich Chizmar. Because they don’t exist. That’s one of the reasons he’s still around. He’s a good guy, a decent guy, and sometimes that alone gets in the way of efficiency.

So, a book is late? A check is late? Cry me a river. It could be worse. Trust me. Much worse. MUCH worse. And it has been. For many. But that sort of thing has never been done by Rich Chizmar. He’s on our side, and he’s one of the good guys. In all the years that I’ve had a relationship with Cemetery Dance the longest and most fruitful professional relationship I've ever had I’ve never met the man. But I think of him as a friend, and I’m grateful for CD. We could all be a little more grateful.