Forgotten Books: Bill Crider

By Scott A. Cupp

This is the 210th in my series of Forgotten Books.

It’s Bill Crider Appreciation Day at Friday Forgotten Books, and I will not be doing anything on a particular book but on the man himself.  I’ve reviewed a couple of Bill’s books over the years, read many more and received books from him that I later reviewed.

Before I get started, I know people have a lot of questions. Here’s what I know: 1) Bill is at home with both his children on hand. 2) He can still do a phone call. 3) He can have short visits. 4) He is not in major pain and is doing as well as you can expect. 5) He is not able to read. He has read his last book, the new Lee Child novel. I think he misses that more than anything. I personally am still in denial and making that call was very tough.

It is hard to know where to start. I have known Bill for more than 40 years. I got to know him, Joe Lansdale, James Reasoner, Lewis Shiner and Neal Barrett, Jr. all about the same time in the mid 1970’s – generally between 1974 and 1978. That was a magical time to be a science fiction and mystery fan in Texas!

I met Bill at an AggieCon, one of the longest student run conventions in the country. My first AggieCon was in 1973. By the next year, I was selling paperbacks there to cover the cost of going and to bring me some funds to buy new things. I had a lot of paperbacks.

There was this guy going through my books, looking for Jim Thompson paperbacks. I think I had one – The Transgressors, maybe, and I think it was about $2. This old guy, who turned out to be Bill Crider, and his friend, Billy Lee, were having fun looking at the books and we talked some. It was a while before I found out they were working on Paperback Quarterly, an early paperback-centric magazine. They knew their stuff.

I ended up running into Bill at more conventions; we talked more. I found out he was from Brownwood and was a professor at Howard Payne University. AggieCon was in College Station, which is a long way from Brownwood, so he stayed a night or two at the college hotels. AggieCon ran Thursday to Sunday in those days and while there was some film programming, the nights were for things such as bridge, parties and talking. Somehow, in the early ’80s, Bill, Lansdale, Barrett and I would always end up on couches in Phred, the name the Aggies gave to the Serpentine Lounge of the Memorial Student Center. Nobody paid us any mind because we weren’t generally talking about science fiction; we were talking mysteries, particularly Gold Medal, noir and the immortal John D. These conversations would frequently go until 2, 3 or 4 in the morning.

Our talks were glorious. With Barrett and Lansdale along, it was easy to be a wallflower (my early role) while those two ran with the conversation. But Bill – sweet, quiet Bill — read a lot and knew everyone. He had a real job and could go to BoucherCons and meet up with folks. And he had read everything… not just mysteries, but science fiction and literature. He could talk J.D. Salinger with the best of them, particularly the short stories. And he knew Frank Norris inside out.

The discussions at the convention are among the most fun things I have participated in. They wandered all over the place. We would start with whatever anyone was reading and then veer off into John D. and noir movies. One time we ended the evening with Barrett telling us all “Mars needs chickens!”

I visited Bill and Judy in Brownwood in the early ’80s when work took me that way. It was a magical evening. I saw his collection and we discussed current stories. Over the years I met up with Bill and Judy about once every two years in Alvin, a suburb of Houston when work sent me there. We had some great dinners.

One of the last times I saw them both we were at a Mexican place we all loved. Judy was fighting cancer. She decided to have a margarita. Apparently it was a potent one. The waitress came by and asked if she wanted another one. “No! One was enough,” she said. “I can’t feel my nose.”

Many of you have followed the events with the VBKs, Bill’s cats. I was there one night when they acquired Geraldine, or Jerry. I had been visiting the Criders, and as I was leaving, we heard a sound from a drainage ditch. It was a small kitten. Bill took her in, to the annoyance of Speedo, the resident big cat. Jerry had a nice, long stay with the Criders.

Last year, I wrote an alternate history story for an anthology Tales of the Otherverse. I had done a rock-and-roll story that I was very proud of. Bill loved it. It led off the book. But, at the last minute, the editor needed one more story and Bill wrote “It Doesn’t Matter Anymore.” I had thought I had a chance at a Sideways Award for Best Alternate History short form. But, when I read Bill’s story, I knew that was not going to happen for me. He won it. And totally deserved it.

I love Bill like the older, cooler brother who knew all the neat stuff. And I cannot do any more on this tonight. It still hurts.

Series organizer Patti Abbott hosts more Friday Forgotten Book reviews at her own blog, and posts a complete list of participating blogs.

Forgotten Book: Blind Voices by Tom Reamy (1978)

Review by Scott A. Cupp

Here’s another rerun, this one from 2010.  I just got back from the Las Vegas trip and the Challenge Entertainment National Trivia. My team competed against 201 other teams from across the country. We managed to squeak out the win during the Final big question, rising from 4th place at half time and third place before the final question. I’m still on an adrenaline high and should be back to the normal review schedule next week. Until then, sit back and enjoy the stories on one of my favorite novels and writers.

This is the rerun of the 2nd in my series of Forgotten Books from 2010.

When I do the reviews of the Forgotten Books each week, you will learn a little of my past. Most will deal with Texas writers of Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror. So we move to a sad story.

I met Tom Reamy in 1974 at the second science fiction convention I ever attended, AggieCon 5. He was there promoting MidAmericon, the 1976 World Science Fiction Convention which was going to happen in Kansas City, just a few weeks after I graduated from college.  Tom was an affable guy, a Texan by birth and upbringing, and a beginning writer. At that convention I bought a membership to the WorldCon and a copy of Tom’s short story “Twilla” in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction which I got him to sign.  He came back the next year where we discussed his award winning story “San Diego Lightfoot Sue.” I last saw him in 1977 when I got my copy of “The Detweiler Boy,” also in F&SF, signed.

I read those stories and saw an amazing talent, particularly in “Twilla.” We talked and he had great stories of Texas fandom from the ’50s and ’60s. He would not talk about Big D in ’73, the aborted WorldCon bid for Dallas. That was still a sore subject. I found other stories, and you could see that he was the real deal. And he was not a newcomer to the field. He had been nominated for a Hugo for his fanzine Trumpet and had won the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer.

In 1976, I went to my first WorldCon and I looked up Tom there. He was associated with the film program and it had amazing content. I vaguely remember watching five films back to back in the hall. They included A Boy and His Dog, Dark Star, Tales of Hoffman and The Last Days of Man on Earth. My brain went into overload.

So, when he sold his first novel, I was excited. This was going to be the start of a truly amazing career. Then, at age 42 in 1977, he had a heart attack and slumped over his typewriter, where he was later found. We got one novel (which was in the revision stage) and a handful of stories. (There is still one story which has yet to be published, though it may theoretically appear if the anthology-which-is-not-to-be-named ever appears. At this point it is nearly 35 years past due).

BLIND VOICES is a quiet pastoral fantasy with hints of Clifford D. Simak and more than hints of Ray Bradbury and Jack Finney. It is not a flashy, pyrotechnic spectacle. Rather, it is a musing on life in the Depression in the Plains. Hawley, Kansas, was the setting for several stories in Reamy’s output, most notably “Twilla” (which was a Nebula finalist when it appeared). And some characters appear in multiple works.

It is the story of three girls, just out of high school, looking to the future and trying to enjoy a last summer before they enter the real world. Into this sleepy town comes Haverlock’s Traveling Curiosus and Wonder Show with its assortment of freaks and oddities. The freaks here include Tiny Tim who stands 12 inches tall, the Minotaur, Medusa, Electro the Electric Man, the Little Mermaid, the Snake Woman, and Angel the Magic Boy. The girls go to the show when the local cinema is invaded by a skunk with a temper. Together, they look for magic and adventure, they look for life and excitement, even danger. And they find it all.

Our primary viewpoint character is Evelyn Bradley, who attends the show with her friends Francine and Rose. Each girl finds love and adventure, each finds death and danger. None is ever the same after the brief two days covered in the telling of the tale.

I have said in a number of occasions that Tom Reamy was going to be my generation’s Ray Bradbury. I still stand behind that statement, though he may have been able to surpass him. His loss was a blow to me when I got the call about it, and it was also a loss to the field.

The novel is currently in print from Wildside Press with a truly hideous cover that has no immediate reference within the book. The written matter contained within, however, will grab you with the poetry of the prose and with the vividness of its setting.

As I did a little research on the web I found first that the book has a five star rating on Amazon. An amazing feat. There are a few reminisces of Tom out there. People who read the book remember it fondly, even fervently. That it is Forgotten is a shame.

I re-read it this last week and the power is still there. Now I need to go find the short stories or the short story collection San Diego Lightfoot Sue and Other Stories and remember.

Series organizer Patti Abbott hosts more Friday Forgotten Book reviews at her own blog, and posts a complete list of  participating blogs.