Saturday, March 31, 2007

Well, I'll be damned...

Many years ago, when I was editing a western anthology, I called a phone number I'd be given as contact for the late Steve Frazee's estate. Frazee had been a major figure in western fiction for three decades and was one of the people I studied when I started writing westerns myself. A man answered and I asked if he could put me in touch with the executor of the Frazee estate. And he said, "Maybe I can help you. I'm Steve Frazee." And indeed he was. I'd been misinformed. He wasn't dead.

One of the writers I admired (and imitated shamelessly) in the last throes of the true Gold Medal days (which ended, as I recall, sometime around 1975) was Charles Runyon. His Gold Medals usually featured small town working class protagonists who'd run afoul of local law. The stories were drenched with the drugs and crazies of the Sixties and were often driven by tangled often dark romances. A good deal of his material reminded me of the famous Joe Esterhaus (when he was a journalist and a damned good one) Rolling Stone piece about a Viet Nam vet returning to his small town home and finding a nightmare there that rivaled his time in Nam. Runyon got the era down very very well.

In 1973 a mainstream Gold Medal called Power Kill, a political thriller, was nominated for an Edgar and showed his range and his ability to write for larger audiences. All this time he was also writing science fiction and fantasy for the dominant magazines of the day. He published four sf novels and one horror novel (if my tally is correct). He was equally adept with these forms though this was an especially turbulent time in sf. The New Wave had swept aside many more conventional writers and got most of the publicity. It was a difficult time to make your way as a full-time sf writer.

I mention all this because when Greg Shepard and I were putting together the first three-fer for Greg's Stark House publishing (three Gold Medal novels long out of print for $19.95) my choice for one of the slots was Charles Runyon. He had to be in there with the novel many consider his masterpiece, The Prettiest Girl I Ever Killed, a novel invariably compared favorably to the best of Jim Thompson though, to me, it has its own voice and themes and ultimately isn't much like Thompson at all.

I had a hell of a time getting biographical material for my introduction to Runyon's book. He'd been dead for some time and had seemed to vanish from the writing world even before his demise. And then after three months of e-mails that I suspected might be hoaxes (and that turned ut to really be from his son after all), a woman wrote me and said that she'd known Runyon was she was a young woman and that she was sure he was alive. And here was his phone number and e-mail.

And damned if he wasn't. I had a very pleasant conversation with him this afternoon. And tomorrow I'll begin interviewing him by e-mail. I'll start running the interview here as soon as it's ready.

1 comment:

Bill Crider said...

This is great news, Ed. I've read a bunch of Runyon's books and liked them all, and I even have a signed copy of The Prettiest Girl I Ever Killed. I'm really looking forward to the interview.