So at this point a little over a year ago, I’d discovered the work of T. M. Wright and Charles Grant in my quest to educate myself in the history of the horror genre. My next discovery was the Whispers Anthologies, edited by Stuart David Schiff. A little bit about the Whispers Anthologies, below:
Whispers was probably the most widely respected and one of the most ambitious of the new horror and fantasy fiction magazines of the 1970s. It became at least as visible and nearly as influential as a series of mostly original anthologies in the 1980s.
Named after a fictitious magazine referenced in the H. P. Lovecraft story “The Unnameable”, Whispers began as a modest attempt by editor and publisher Stuart David Schiff to produce a modest semi-professional little magazine that hoped to revive the legendary Weird Tales in a small way. It went on to be an ever more elaborate and well-produced showcase for much of the best dark fantasy fiction and artwork of the 1970s.
Among the fiction writers featured in the magazine were Manly Wade Wellman, Fritz Leiber, Robert Bloch, Ramsey Campbell, and Karl Edward Wagner. David Drake published much of his early fantasy fiction there. Among the artists to contribute were Stephen Fabian, Lee Brown Coye, Vincent Napoli, and many others, both legends in their own right and younger stars. The magazine won the first “Howard” or World Fantasy Award for non-professional publishing in 1975, though it was clearly on a professional level in editorial content and production.
Beginning in 1978, an anthology series, drawing on some of the best work published in the magazine and mixing some new material, was published in hardcover by Doubleday and then in paperback by Playboy Press, soon after absorbed by Berkley/Putnam, which began a trend of parallel publication of increasingly infrequent issues of the magazine and a string of anthologies with an ever larger proportion of original fiction. A total of six anthologies were published through 1987, and later a “Best of” volume was published in 1994.
Schiff also launched a book-publishing arm, Whispers Press, in the latter 1970s, which produced elegant and well-illustrated volumes. After a sampling from Whispers was published in the Gahan Wilson-edited First World Fantasy Awards volume, Schiff and Fritz Leiber co-edited the Second World Fantasy Awards volume for Doubleday.
I discovered Whispers from the source himself: the editor, Stuart David Schiff who, wonder of wonders, lives in my area. In short: bestselling authors and genre veterans Tom Monteleone and F. Paul Wilson were visiting and conducting workshops with my Creative Writing students at my school. One night, they invited me to come hang out with them and “their friend Stu”. That night was unlike any other I’ve experienced since, hanging out with the greats of the genre. I wax overly philosophical about my evening here. Suffice to say, only days later, I was tracking down the Whispers anthologies all over the ‘Net.
And, like Charles Grant and T. M. Wright, these collections proved to be eye-opening in the extreme. Because here’s the thing: this is an unsubstantiated, off-the-cuff opinion, but it seems very much that with the exception of Ellen Datlow’s anthologies, and “Year’s Best” horror anthologies, the only other quality horror anthology (yes, I’m cutting out many small press anthologies in that statement) consisting of simply horror stories is the Horror Library, published by Cutting Block Press and edited by R. J. Cavender (and this blog series is very much about exploration, so if anyone knows of current quality genre anthologies I’m skipping, please feel free to comment!).
The rest today all seem to be themed anthologies. And while reading one or two of those is fun, the stories in Whispers just about SHAMED THEM ALL. Because they were simply fantastic stories. Of all kinds. Varied, diverse…and damn good.
I’ve read Whispers 1, Whispers 2, Whispers 3, Whispers 4 and Whispers 6. And I found that, by and large, those stories far outpace most current short fiction. In the Whispers series I discovered the likes of Karl Edward Wagner, Ramsey Campbell, Hugh B. Cave, Dennis Etchison, David Drake, Fritz Leiber, Russell Kirk, Manley Wade Wellman, Alan Ryan, Steve Ransic Tem, Tanith Lee and encountered many of the folks I’d just been discovering at that time: Charles Grant, J. N. Williamson and others.
And again – maybe I’m reading all the wrong current anthologies – but what seems to make Whispers special is their simplicity: these are simply collections of great stories, selected by an editor who KNEW good fiction. A themed collection is nice to read now and then, but every single story working off a similar theme gets old after awhile, and it seems like today’s market is absolutely choked with them. Whispers, for me, provided a much needed breath of fresh air: simply a collection of astounding stories.
Sadly, all these volumes are out of print. I found my mine pretty handily on secondary markets like Amazon and BN.com and used book stores, however, for good prices. Hopefully, these will someday be republished in ebook form for a new generation. Until then – if you’re serious about writing good genre short fiction, and serious about submitting good genre fiction to future editions of The Midnight Diner, especially…hunt up some of these bad boys, pronto.