Grandpa's HeadGrandpa's Head


HWA was packaging a series of anthologies for Pocket, with limited editions from Cemetery Dance. They paid well and looked classy and I was annoyed that I hadn't managed to place a story in the first couple, Under the Fang and Freak Show.

I started writing a story for the third one, Peter Straub's Ghosts, but then my daughter was hospitalized and I missed the deadline. (In fact, I still haven't finished that story. Kiri's fine, though.)

So when Robert Bloch's Psychos was announced, I was determined to at least submit something. Given the theme I figured they'd get lots of traditional slasher stories, full of blood and violence, so I set out to do something subtler. It's often been said that horror is about the things we fear in ourselves, so I took that as my starting point, and wrote "Grandpa's Head."

Really, that's everything there is to say about how the story came to be, but there's more about how it got published. For one thing, I got elected president of HWA shortly after I submitted the story. Once I was in office, Marty Greenberg, who was handling all the contracts and technical details on the project, informed me that Robert Bloch was dying, and was too sick to do much of the actual editing. He had agreed to take on the project more than a year earlier, and Marty had told HWA's officers then that Bloch's health wasn't good, but they had chosen to go ahead and do Peter Straub's Ghosts first anyway, and now...

Well, HWA was committed to the project, so we forged ahead. After Bloch died a couple of people volunteered to take over the editing, and at least one of them claimed to have Bloch's blessing, which Bloch's wife denied. I was not inclined to appoint any of these volunteers, who seemed more enthusiastic than I thought seemly. It was suggested I could take over the editing, as president, but I had a story among the submissions and besides, I didn't want to edit the damned thing. Being president was already taking up all my time. So I asked Marty to edit it solo once Bloch was gone, which he did.

I made some enemies with that decision.

I also offered to withdraw "Grandpa's Head," to avoid any appearance of conflict of interest, but that got put on hold.

Anyway, I thought that was all settled and the anthology was on track until Marty contacted me again to inform me that there was a problem. After going through all the submissions he only had four stories he thought deserved publication under Bloch's editorial byline. Most of HWA's big names had not submitted anything; there'd been a sort of "Let's give the new guys a chance" feeling. Unfortunately, a lot of HWA's junior members weren't actually very good writers yet. So out of dozens of submissions, there were only four stories Marty wanted to buy.

One of them was "Grandpa's Head." When I pointed out that my offer to withdraw it still stood, to make room for newer writers, Marty said he'd just give up on the whole thing if I did that, because then he'd only have three decent stories.

The possibility of filling the book out with reprints was mentioned, but that would have violated our contract with Pocket.

In the end, we reopened the anthology to new submissions and deliberately went after some big names, trying to coax stories out of them. Whereupon we hit the jackpot -- Stephen King had a story lying around that he hadn't sold yet. And some of the folks who had held off before gave it a shot.

The result was an anthology much better than we had expected, but with few new voices in it, and published about two years late. At Marty's insistence, "Grandpa's Head" stayed in, along with the other three that had been in the first round of submissions.

"Grandpa's Head" got good reactions; in fact, I was told that a college course on horror fiction used Psychos as one of its textbooks and that "Grandpa's Head" was one of the stories they focused on. So despite all the hassles of getting it into print, I'm proud of the story and glad I wrote it. I included it in my collection, Hazmat & Other Toxic Stories.

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