Exhumed is my humble attempt to read and review every short story and novel excerpt ever published by Cemetery Dance magazine. In their 33+ years of publication, there have been a total of 577 (and counting!) pieces spread out over 77 issues. Since each Exhumed post covers just two stories (one “old” and one “new”), I think I’m going to be doing this for a while. I sure hope you’ll join me along the way. And, by the way, I’m always looking for requests, so go forth and comment which story you’d like me to unearth.
Normally at this point I’d jump into the nuts and bolts of the stories I’m reviewing this time around, but this time around I have something very different for you. In recent months I’ve had several people ask how I can review the really old stories when those issues are so hard to find. Do I own them all? Does Cemetery Dance hook me up? It’s a great question with a rather complicated (and, dare I say it, entertaining) answer.
So, if you’ll indulge me for this one time, instead of reviewing a couple of CD stories, I’d like to tell you how I got here. (I promise to get right back to reviewing stories next time).
Bonus Content! Me & CD, a Brief History of an Unlikely Love Affair
I discovered Cemetery Dance magazine in the summer of 2006 while rummaging through some yard sale or other. My wife was a few tables over looking for usable clothes and kitchen gadgets, and I busied myself flipping through a long row of old books and a couple boxes of magazines, not expecting very much. As predicted, nothing was catching my eye, and I was on the verge of pestering my wife to hurry up so we could go get some ice cream, when I saw it… At the bottom half-inch of a box otherwise filled with quilting and business mags, I suddenly uncovered an incredible image: a lone seashell on a beach with blood pooling out of it, saturating the innocent sand beneath. I was baffled. I was mesmerized. I remember thinking something like, “Do people really print stuff like this?” And, a heartbeat later, “What in the world is inside?” On the top-right corner was a little green sticker and the handwritten price: “$1”
That may have been the very best singular buck I ever spent, because over the next couple of weeks I carried that magazine everywhere I went. I remember sacriligiously folding it hotdog style and stuffing it into my back pocket (please don’t hate me… I didn’t know!) on my way to the pool where I sat for 8 hours a day lifeguarding for extra cash. I remember devouring the author interviews. I remember feeling a flash of excitement when I saw the title “Stephen King News…” and I remember smirking with approval when I decoded the acronym created from “The Mothers And Fathers Italian Association.” But mostly it was the stories. They were so cool. So dark. So loud in my head while still managing to echo in my heart. I read each one of them at least three times. And even though I’d been a fan of Stephen King for nearly 20 years at that point, by the end of that summer I fell in love with horror fiction all over again, and of course I was already a lifelong fan of Cemetery Dance. Long before I turned the last page for the first time I had decided I needed to find as many of the other 51 issues (it said “Issue #52” right there on the cover) that already existed, and actually maybe that should be all of the other issues. Yeah. I would find and read them all. I would have a complete collection of something awesome. That’d be so cool. I would be so cool.
8 and 1/2 years.
That’s how long it took me.
I don’t know if the obsession developed slowly over that time or whether it had popped fully to life the instant I saw that bloody seashell, but “obsession” is the only true word for my condition. It remains to this day, and it’s ingrained enough within me to say it’ll never die because it’s now a small but significant part of me. An element of the fabric that makes up who I am is Cemetery Dance magazine, and I’m OK with that. Hell, I’m proud of that.
When I started collecting, I had never thought much about the term “Out Of Print,” and I certainly didn’t understand how Richard Chizmar was just a kid barely out of college when CD #1 was printed. I definitely didn’t appreciate how small a print run of 1,000 copies really is. I bought all the in-print issues directly from Cemetery Dance, of course. And it was also a great place to get a complete list of back issues plus an understanding of those special titles (ie: from “Volume One, Issue 1” up to “Volume Eight, Issue Four”) which identified the first 29 issues. I became well acquainted with ABEBooks.com. I went into dozens of used book stores, suddenly loved going to yard sales, and spent literally hundreds of hours creating searches and scrolling through ebay, Amazon, Craigslist, and other online stores and trading sites. The only thing that slowed me down was taking the time to read them all, cover-to-cover, as fast as I possibly could.
I actually regret doing that, by the way. I sped through many of them so fast that the details faded from memory as soon as I was a dozen pages into the next one. In retrospect, I wish I would have enjoyed them as a slower pace, taking the time to ingest each one and give it the attention it deserved. Probably this little guilt trip was the initial seed for Exhumed itself. “If I ever write about it,” I told myself, “I’ll simply have to re-read them all.” (More on that later.)
But, as the saying goes, the hits kept coming. Every story seemed to open my mind even further to what made horror fiction so amazing. Every interview was a glimmer of light — sometimes through a window, sometimes a mirror — into the complicated world of my own writing. Every dated Stephen King “update” was a pleasant blast of nostalgia for the time I read that very same book or watched that very same film adaptation.
Along the way (and despite my nagging guilt for speeding through so many great issues), I started to notice patterns. How the stories in older issues tended to be shorter and filled with more gore and grue… how newer stories tended to be longer and more psychological. But they all scared me and gave me that extra little appreciation of my own mortality, my own psychology. Certain stories, and sometimes certain authors who CD would repeatedly publish had a way of jolting the norm into something new. I began to realize many of the name-brand authors I had known for 20 years had been mere fledgling writers when their pieces appeared in Cemetery Dance.
In the back of my mind I started to think about an article or maybe a whole thesis paper about that gradual change of the genre over time. About how certain authors, certain styles, or even certain historical moments played influence to how horror fiction was written and enjoyed. It would be a long time before I revisited that idea (I had a collection to complete, dammit!), but it never left me. Always tickling the back of my brain, I refined the idea over the years and continued to let it simmer.
When I officially started collecting them in 2007, Cemetery Dance had published 57 issues. I managed to get about half of them pretty quickly. I’d say it took six or seven months to get that far. I was usually buying in bulk and getting many double copies and even a few triples. I’d keep the ones in the best condition and re-sell the duplicates to help afford my next find.
But soon after that it became hard. Really hard. Like… another year to find another dozen unique issues. And another year beyond that to find six or seven more.
I got lucky a time or two… I remember I nabbed #3 in a lot of ten issues (I already owned all of the others in that lot, but “Hey, #3 is there and that’s all I need!”), and just a couple weeks after that I found #2 for sale all by it’s lonesome on Craigslist. It took around six years to hit my plateau, though, and that’s where my actual purchasing came to a screeching halt. I had just four more issues to go and was becoming convinced I’d never find any of them, ever. Which issues? Well, #1 of course, but also 6, 7, and 12. I had to look up those actual numbers just now, but those cover images are seared into my brain after the thousands upon thousands of little image icons I poured over for months on end, always looking and praying for a match.
For a full year, I got nothing.
Not one hit.
Not one of them for sale, anywhere, at any price.
There were plenty (and I mean hundreds!) of hits for Issue #67, by the way (those algorithms are just mean sometimes), but never #6, and never #7. And certainly never #1. I didn’t like #12. He didn’t seem like he belonged to that single-digit bunch. But #12 was just another of my nemesis for a long, long time. I had been reduced to calling rare book stores as far away as California (I live in New Jersey) and never getting so much as a close call.
And then, in the space of 5 months between October of 2014 and March of 2015, one-by-one, I found them all.
I don’t remember how or exactly when I found #12. October is all I remember. It was in another bundle, I think. What I remember most is that it felt like a dam breaking… like it would actually be possible to find the other three.
The next one I found was #1. The Golden Goose. The Mythical Unicorn. It all happened so fast I barely remember the sequence of events. I was doing my weekly search on eBay and somebody had just put up #1. And I mean just. I think the listing had been live for fewer than six hours, or something insane like that. I don’t remember the starting bid ($25 maybe?), but I’m pretty sure there was a reserve price. More importantly, there was a “Buy It Now” option for $100, and I couldn’t click the god damned buttons fast enough. When it arrived a week later, I was gobsmacked that the person had simply stuck it in a paper post office mailer and nothing else. Not a board backer, not a bubble wrap, not even a secondary envelope inside the mailer. Nothing. And yet it arrived safe and sound and uncreased and yes I totally know I stole that item from that seller. (A couple months after my collection was complete, one of my auto-searches pulled up an issue #1 for sale at an estate auction and it went for $200. And today’s going rate — if you can even find them — is even higher than that. (See pic below.)
Down to the elusive #6 and #7, my searches became revitalized. I looked at more and more obscure sites. I called more and more rare book dealers. I actually did find a copy of #6, but the store wanted an astronomical price — $500 — and I had to hang up, broken hearted. It was in February — a little after Valentine’s Day, I distinctly remember — when I opened yet another auto-notification for another item selling on eBay matching my search criteria. I was 99% sure it was going to be YET ANOTHER copy of Issue #67… And there it was, #7. No “6” in the listing, and the cover image was magically, beautifully there: That white-haired zombie guy crawling out of his grave.
And it was another “Buy It Now” sale. I bought it for the low, low (no, VERY low) price of $5. (Some people have no idea what they’re doing.) Then, just two weeks later in early March, I opened another, completely unrelated eBay auto-notification and found myself staring at my personal white whale, my last one: Issue #6. I spent $48 despite the eager sniping attempt of not one but two would-be eBay trolls. But I out-smarted them both, having put in my ultra-high bid of $200 from the outset. I don’t know if the e-trolls knew what they were looking at. But I did. And I was finally as cool as that bleeding seashell image.
Wanna know what the complete collection looks like?
PHOTO NOTE: This amazing selfie is from 2016. In it are issues 1-73. I really should re-take this pic now that there are a couple more issues.
But wait, there’s more…
My story could end there, but in 2016 something really amazing happened that makes all of the above even more cool.
And then in 2018 there was something arguably even cooler than that.
First I need to briefly go back to 2013. That was a pretty big year for me as a writer. In 2013 I:
- published my first novel
- wrote a story that would win me a pair of awards
- began attending a regular writing group which introduced me to the people who asked me to host a pretty cool tv show about writing
- began the blog that changed my life
It’s that blog I need to acquaint you with right now. It was called “The Guilty Author” and I kept it up for a year and a half between November of 2013 and May of 2015. I wrote 31 posts in those 18 months, and the title basically tells you about the content. In short, I had a lot of story ideas but wasn’t writing them, though it turns out I had plenty of time and energy to bitch about it. Most of that blog was a necessary catharsis, but along the way I stumbled upon a few important ideas. Chief among them was that I was good at reviews (I know because people liked reading them). My very first, in fact, was one of my biggest hits. It was nothing anywhere close to going “viral”, but for my meagre little blog, it actually attracted real attention. Entitled “CD Story Review #1,” it was posted in April of 2014.
In total I wrote and posted 11 “CD Story Reviews” over a 13-month period before “The Guilty Author” fizzled out (more on that below). For those who are curious and/or have been wondering why Exhumed is missing a few of the oldest stories, here they are. (All of them are from CD Issue #1).
CD Story Review #1: “Body Perfect” (William C. Rassmussen)
CD Story Review #2: “A Breathe of Fresh Air” (Edgar F. Tataro)
CD Story Review #3: “The Double” (Steve Rasnic Tem)
CD Story Review #4: “Forever Angels” (Ronald Kelly)
CD Story Review #5: “Leg Man” (Chris B. Lecher)
CD Story Review #6: “Fury’s Child (David B. Silva)
CD Story Review #7: “Rock of Ages” (John B. Rosenman)
CD Story Review #8: “The Departing of Debbie” (Anke M. Kriske)
CD Story Review #9: “The Janitor” (Bentley Little)
CD Story Review #10: “An Island Unto Herself” (Barry Hoffman)
CD Story Review #11: “The Officer’s Club” (Roman A. Ranieri)
For the record, I’m a bit upset I didn’t finish CD #1 by reviewing the 12th and last story from that issue. My OCD is screaming at me for leaving a thing unfinished. But I had a really good reason!… I had a better offer.
Right around the time I started writing “The Guilty Author”, I wrote a short story I thought was pretty good. In fact, at the time I thought it was the best thing I’d ever written. Right or wrong, I must have at least been on the right track because it found a publisher almost immediately and then went on to win a couple of small awards as well. (That story, btw, is called “Bombardier”, and if you ask me I’ll gladly send you a free PDF. Just leave a comment so I can privately get your email, etc.)
The publisher was Fiction Vortex, and after my story was published I honestly kind of forgot about them for a while. Then one day I got a notification for a writing contest they were running. I entered, lost, but must have caught their attention yet again because just a couple months after that I was contacted asking if I would be interested in turning my “Bombardier” short into a full-length novel. Needless to say, this was extremely exciting for me. I said “Yes” without even considering the ramifications (meeting deadlines/abandoning the self-published trilogy I was only two-thirds finished with/figuring out how to turn a short into a full novel), and began working on it. In the process of all that additional work, “The Guilty Author” pretty much died.
Somewhere along the way, however, the Fiction Vortex people got word of my then-defunct blog, looked into it, and asked if I would also be willing to write one for them about the horror genre in general. I have never been one to look a gift horse in the mouth, so in 2016 “The Bone Pile” was born. It only ran for a year, and many of the 15 posts I made were updated repeats of the “Guilty Author” CD reviews, but there was one that was special, though I didn’t know it at the time.
As mentioned above, a really special thing happened in August of 2016. Here’s that story…
So one night I’m busy working on a Bone Pile post and my wife asks me how it’s going, specifically wondering if I was getting any more interesting comments on the new blog. And I had gotten one just that day, actually. The post was titled “An Intro to Cemetery Dance Magazine” and it was exactly what it sounds like. In that post I gave a brief rendition of me slowly collecting all of the issues. The comment I had received was a new reader to CD who had done what I had done… read exactly one issue and immediately decided to gorge on the entire collection. My wife, as she so often does, surprised me by taking the conversation in a totally different direction. “You should send that post to Richard Chizmar,” she said. “I bet he’d get a kick out of it.”
Normally I’d scoff at such a bold notion (I was shy as a child and holdovers will always be there) but for some reason that day was different. Maybe it was a newfound confidence thanks to my experiences with Fiction Vortex, but I actually thought to myself that it sounded like a good idea. So before I could think my way out of it, I wrote a short message explaining how much I loved his magazine, mentioned my two blogs and the post I had recently made about Cemetery Dance and then included a link to the post. I was expecting to be ignored. I was hoping for a “Thanks for the plug, Keith! That’s really cool.” What I got blew my mind…
The “Brian” in Mr. Chizmar’s message was, of course, Brain Freeman, the then editor-in-chief of the the magazine. And two months later Exhumed was launched. I hope to be doing it for the rest of my life.
Pretty cool, huh?
But I also teased with you with “something arguably even cooler than that” in 2018.
A tall order, I know, but here is that story…
As many of you probably already know, Richard and his son Billy Chizmar co-authored a haunted lighthouse story called “Widow’s Point.” (It’s really good, btw… you should go get it!) Anyway, they did a local book signing in or near Forest Hill, Maryland, where the Chizmars live… And I happened to be only two hours away just outside of Trenton, New Jersey… And my wife was away for the weekend so I had nothing particularly important to do…. So I packed my suitcase and drove myself to the book signing. And while I was there…? Yeah, during the Q&A I just casually mentioned that “Out in my car I have a suitcase with every single issue of Cemetery Dance Magazine and my question is how many of them can I get you to sign for me today, Richard?”
Do you want to talk about cool? Then look to Richard Chizmar. He beamed and immediately said “Every one of them!”
And he did.
One of them.
Rich (can I call him Rich yet? Probably not… Mr. Chizmar, then) told me that day that he’d only seen six or seven complete collections, and he also confirmed he’d never signed a complete collection. So, what you’re looking at in the picture above is a genuine one-of-a-kind collection. The only one in the world. Every single issue of Cemetery Dance magazine, and all of them signed by it’s creator.
It’s no wonder I’m obsessed with reviewing all the CD stories I can, don’t you think? I mean, readership aside, I just owe to the guy, don’t you think?
So that’s my little love story about Cemetery Dance Magazine. I’m still obsessed, still reading and salivating each new issue, and still consider myself one of the luckiest fans in the world. Every story I read (and re-read) is like falling in love all over again. Every review I write is like a love letter. And every person I meet who is another fan (or whom I can convince to become one) is like a long-lost member of my family. And that’s you, dear reader. You’re my family.
Thanks for listening.
-K. Edwin Fritz
On the next installment of Exhumed I’ll be back to my old reviewing tricks. Specifically, that’ll be each of the following tales:
“Night Game” (William Relling Jr.), from CD #2
“Orange Grove Court” (Jason Sechrest), from CD #77
I do hope you have the opportunity to read along with me. (And remember to get your copies of the CD issues still in print).
Until next time…
-K. Edwin Fritz
Keith Edwin Fritz entered this world on Halloween. The year, 1974, was the same as when Stephen Edwin King published his first novel. Keith prefers to think neither the date nor their middle names were a coincidence.
Today Keith teaches Middle School English and writes to his heart’s content during his “spare time.” The best of these moments are nearly always by moonlight. The worst of them are also by moonlight.
Keith lives with his wife, Corina, and their brilliant, adorable, and infinitely silly daughter, Isabella, in Stewartsville, New Jersey.