Last week I shared & discussed a cool petition to help make Halloween a national holiday. Sadly, the petition failed to get to required 100,000 signatures to get looked at by the government. In fact, it fell miserably short, garnering only 12,483 names.
It looks like I have a lot more work to do to get average people interested in Horror.
To that end, this week I’m super excited to introduce you to what will likely be the mainstay of this blog: reviews of short stories published in my favorite Horror magazine, Cemetery Dance.
WHAT IS CEMETERY DANCE?
Chizmar in his office. What a great job.
Cemetery Dance is a Horror-exclusive print magazine founded in 1988 by Maryland native & University of Maryland Journalism graduate, Richard Chizmar. Chizmar spent pretty much every dollar he’d had (plus some borrowed dough as well) to launch his ‘underground hobby publication’. He was 23 years old at the time.
Chizmar’s design was typical but not bland. Each issue featured original Horror fiction from some names you’ve heard of and some you haven’t. As time went on, there were also reviews, interviews, & articles, all relating to the Horror genre. What Chizmar aimed for was (and I’m cribbing this directly from the ‘Very Brief History of Cemetery Dance’ page of their website): “horror blended with a strong dose of mystery and suspense and wonder. The kind you used to see on television on The Twilight Zone and Night Gallery, the kind you could find deep in most bookstore’s Horror sections, but usually far, far away from the Bestseller Lists…”
Cemetery Dance, Issue #1. Image was drawn by Chizmar’s college roommate.
The premier issue came out in December of ‘88 and thanks to heavy promotion in the established Horror mags of the time (and much to Chizmar’s delight), nearly half of the 1,000 printed copies sold right away.
Cemetery Dance #2. Still just black & white, but a better cover image, for sure.
Six months later issue #2 came out & sold slightly better.
Those first couple of issues were… well, to be brutally honest, they were a bit rough around the edges. (You’ll see what I mean when I start reviewing those older stories in the upcoming weeks).
Yet despite the crudity of the magazine itself (and, indeed of most of the stories within it), there was a certain harsh honesty and fundamental appeal to both the stories & the magazine’s design. Meanwhile, Chizmar was never satisfied, and each successive issue was clearly better than the last.
Cemetery Dance #3. Ooo! A third color now!
By the time issue #3 was published in December of ‘89, Cemetery Dance had a respectable following. This was particularly interesting since two of the biggest names in Horror- Twilight Zone and The Horror Show– had recently closed shop. Sensing a hole begging to be filled, Chizmar then began publishing at a breakneck pace, printing & selling 4 issues per year & growing quickly to a print run of 10,000 copies/ issue.
Cemetery Dance #14. Coveted for its original publication of Stephen King’s “Chattery Teeth”.
Their big moment in those early days was the unexpected submission of an original, never-before-published story called “Chattery Teeth” by a guy named Stephen King. It appeared in the 1992 Issue (that’s issue #14 if you want to try to get your hands on it) and solidified Cemetery Dance as an important name in Horror.
Chizmar & King. Yeah, they’re pretty much friends now.
Around that same time, Chizmar began toying with the idea of launching a book imprint in addition to the magazine. Chizmar began the book publications slowly (and regular readers were understandably frustrated at the suddenly slower pace of production of the flagship magazine), but it grew quickly in popularity. Then, similar to King’s surprise short story, the CD book imprint got its own boost of fame & publicity when a guy by the name of Dean Koontz asked them to print a limited-edition of his short story collection, Strange Highways. Soon CD was equally famous for its special-edition hardcover publications of novels & collections as well as its magazine.
Brian James Freeman, current ‘Cemetery Dance Magazine’ Editor-in-Chief.
Today, Chizmar runs the book imprint while management of the magazine has been handed to Pennsylvania native, Shippensburg University Journalism graduate, & respected Horror author Brian James Freeman.
Both the book imprint & the magazine are still in continuous production. The magazine recently published issue #75 (a double-sized Joe Hill special), and the published book list has passed more than 300 full-length titles.
Today Cemetery Dance is easily one of the biggest names in Horror. They are known for having printed a Who’s-Who of the most respected names in the genre, including: King, Koontz, Clive Barker, Peter Straub, Charles Beaumont, Graham Masterton, Richard Laymon, Bentley Little, Michael Slade, Douglas Clegg, Jack Ketchum, William F. Nolan, Joe R. Lansdale, Poppy Z. Brite, Ronald Kelly, & Rick Hautala, just to name a few.
But perhaps more impressive, CD is also known for continuing to ‘discover’ many authors before the big publishers even know about them.
These days, the magazine rarely calls for open submissions, but when they do they get an incredible response. Last year they announced a single slot open for an upcoming issue & got more than 5,000 submissions in less than a week.
Needless to say, getting published in Cemetery Dance is not just a mark of distinction, it’s often the beginning of a whole new career. To a lowly Horror lover & unknown author such as myself, getting picked up by Chizmar’s remarkable creation is one of the top 5 items on my bucket list.
It’ll probably never happen, but a guy can dream, can’t he?
MY (VERY) LAME CLAIM TO FAME
Short version: I own every single issue of Cemetery Dance Magazine.
It took me 7 years, hundreds of dollars, and an incredibly understanding wife to find & purchase them all. It’s one of the few things I’m genuinely proud of owning.
Long version: (You can skip this part. Really. Just scroll down to “MY PLAN” & move on with your day. I’m just going to vomit out a history of how difficult it was to find them all).
You’re still reading? Ok. You must have about as much of a life as I do. Sorry to hear that. I hope I can give you a bit of entertainment by showing how pathetic my own is…
Cemetery Dance #53. How can you not love that image?
I can’t recall when or where I first came across Cemetery Dance, but I do remember it was issue #52 & that the image on the cover- a conch shell on the beach weeping with blood- caught my attention immediately. I also can’t recall if it was a single story or interview or article within those pages that floored me so or if it was the overall magazine. I just remember turning the last page & vowing immediately to start a collection. I wanted to own & read every issue that had ever been printed.
I had no idea what I had just done.
While the later issues (anything after, say, #25) were relatively easy to find even though they were long out of print (I found the vast majority on ebay), there were nonetheless several holes.
Cemetery Dance #44. Still one of my favorite covers.
Certain issues were extremely hard to find. #44 seemed to be coveted for its unique, compelling cover & #50 seemed to be a milestone issue everyone wanted to keep to themselves.
Cemetery Dance #50. A milestone, special-edition issue.
The early issues, though… dear God, those early issues were IMPOSSIBLE to find.
Get this: Issues 4, 5, 6, & 7 had less than 3,000 copies printed, ever.
And issues 1-3 had only a thousand copies printed.
When & if they did go on sale, they went for crazy prices and were gobbled up within hours. (I once saw issue #2 for sale at $500. I remember feeling the jab of having a lowly teacher’s salary in a whole new way that day because I knew there was no way I could ever afford it).
But I was persistent.
I contacted rare book dealers & got my hands on #12.
I scoured Craigslist in all my surrounding states & one day snared #9.
I contacted Cemetery Dance themselves & asked if they might happen to have any old copies lying around. (They didn’t. In fact, Brian James Freeman personally responded to me saying that even they didn’t have any copies of Issue #1 & if I found an extra could I please let them know).
Eventually, I got down to having just 3 issues missing from my collection: #6, #7, & of course the golden egg, the premiere issue #1.
My fist lucky break came through the set-up of automatic notifications on ebay.
I used to get 2 or 3 emails a week this way, but all of them were for the wrong issue (#16 or #27 or #11). For 7 full years I dealt with this. I got so used to disappointment that it began to feel like a pipe dream.
Cemetery Dance #7. I had nightmares about finding that damned guy crawling out of that grave.
Then, one astounding month in the winter of 2015 I found & nabbed 2 of them in a single, 2-week expanse. I got #7 in a bundle of 2 issues for the low, low (no, REALLY low) price of only $10 (I resold the other issue since I already owned it… so my total cost spent: just $5. Damn!)
Cemetery Dance #6. As a guy with a genuine Hallowbirthween Day, this one gets me right in the guts.
Then, just 12 days later, #6 popped up all by itself. There was a small bidding war for that one, but in the end I got it for $48. (I don’t think the other guy knew who he was up against. My original bid had been $75 & I watched the final 3 minutes like a hawk with my finger on the Increase Bid button).
Finally, I was left with just issue #1, and that one really did cost me. When it FINALLY showed up on ebay, it was sitting there with an opening bid of $25 on a 10-day listing. But they also had a Buy-It-Now price of $100. I didn’t even hesitate. And despite having to sleep on the couch for a couple nights (kidding… my wife did growl at me, but she was actually pretty cool about it), I know I got it for a steal. Not more than 2 months later I saw another copy for sale at an estate auction of all places. It went for $200 and was easily in poorer condition than mine.
So, am I a bit obsessed? Yes.
Does my wife shake her head in begrudging confusion when I show off my collection to my friends? A bit.
But who gets to benefit all that hard work & insanity? You do.
In addition to chatting about Horror in general, “The Bone Pile” will attempt to (eventually) read & review every damned story Cemetery Dance Magazine has ever printed. And I’m one of the few people in the world who can do it, because I own every damned copy.
But be patient with me. As of this date, there are already more than 550 stories.
Yeah. This is going to take me a while.
Because the older stories are… um, subpar… and because the new stuff is current, my plan is to review 2 stories each time I post: 1 story from an old issue & 1 story from a recent issue. To be honest, I have serious doubts as to how I’ll be able to do that in only a thousand words, but what the hell… I know I’ll have a ton of fun trying.
Lots of people have collections. Many of them border on (or widely surpass) an obsession. I have no disillusions that my Cemetery Dance collection is one of these.
But the thing is, most people rarely get to show off their collection. It’s usually reserved for a once-a-year visit from an old friend. Worse still are the family members who couldn’t give two hoots about your odd tastes & smile politely when you spread your arms wide at what you’ve spent years to collect and display.
But me? I get to write to you fine people any time I like. And if you’re reading a blog with the subtitle of “Horror Reviews and Introspectives”, I’m willing to bet you’re going to love it.
And even if nobody ever clicks a single LIKE button or leaves a single comment, I get to re-live each story one-by-one as I review them.
Best of all, there are still dozens upon dozens of CD stories I still haven’t gotten around to reading. Most, in fact, are still sitting on my shelf just waiting to be cracked open and discovered. I sure as heck can’t wait for that moment.
I hope you’ll be here to join me when it happens.
Like what I’ve had to say?
(Or think I’m totally nuts?)
I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.
-K. Edwin Fritz