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Celebrating Our Elders: Interview with Stuart David Schiff


Photo Credit: Terry McVicker

Stuart got his undergraduate degree from Cornell University (1968) and his D.D.S. from The Columbia School of Dental and Oral Surgery (1972). He spent 8 years in the Army that included time as one of only four dentists in the 82nd Airborne. After he left the Army (1980), he joined a group dental practice in upstate NY and retired in 2012. He has won four World Fantasy Awards, the British Fantasy Award and had two Hugo nominations. In 2014 he was a Guest of honor at the World Fantasy Convention.

Did you start out working in the horror field, and if so why? If not, what were you working in initially and what compelled you to move into horror?

I started reading in the “field” with Greek mythology, the all powerful Gods whose machinations and incredible powers were fascinating. I moved on to science fiction (Cliff Simak) and then Lovecraft. HPL’s works fascinated me and my Whispers magazine’s name came from a Lovecraft story. His tales drew me into horror-fantasy which made up much of Whispers fiction.

Who were your influences as an editor/publisher when you started out and who, if anyone, continues to influence you?

I started editing during my dental school years with the festschrift HPL. One of my neighbors while at Columbia was David Hartwell (who at the time was in charge of Columbia’s medical dorm). He was just starting out in the editing/consulting field and used the dorm to host science fiction writers he was meeting at conventions and through his consulting. I used to get calls asking me over to meet Phil Dick, Arthur C. Clarke, Brian Aldiss, Harry Harrison and the like.

I did, though, generate my own friendships and connections though conventions and MANY letters. People I met in my dental school years (sans David’s introductions) included Frank Belknap Long, Ray Bradbury, Richard Powers, Virgil Finlay, Lee Brown Coye (who cast my wedding band!), Robert Bloch, Gahan Wilson, H. Warner Munn, and Isaac Asimov (I used to park his car, but that’s another story!) I was also collecting Arkham House books and developed a correspondence with August Derleth.

While I was in the US Army, I had a lot of time on my hands, and I decided to start a magazine similar to The Arkham Collector. (A fantasy, horror fiction and poetry magazine first published in Summer 1967 and edited by August Derleth.) I chose the name Whispers From Arkham, but agent Kirby McCauley convinced me to drop the Arkham so as not annoy the publisher, Arkham House. I typed the magazine at night on the dental clinic’s IBM Selectric. While in North Carolina, I was able to meet and join forces with David Drake, Karl Edward Wagner, and Manly Wade Wellman. The stories by them were the backbone of my little magazine. David urged me to pay for fiction, a huge boost for my standing with writers. He said free stories were usually worth the price you didn’t pay for them.

I would be remiss not to mention other authors and artists who helped me and Whispers. Hugh B. Cave (who often thanked me for bringing him back to the field), Ramsey Campbell, David Campton, E. Hoffmann Price, Joseph Payne Brennan, and Fritz Leiber and the artists Steve Fabian, Tim Kirk, and Frank Utpatel all brought acclaim to Whispers. Fritz and I worked together on three books generated through the magazine and press.

Do you think you’ve encountered ageism? If so, how do you counteract or deal with it?

I do not believe I have encountered ageism. Most of my editors were my age!

What do you wish you knew when you were just getting into the field?

I did not know how much work editing and publishing a little magazine would be! Fortunately generating original fiction and new art more than made up for the sweat and tears.

How have the changes in horror publishing over the past decades affected you?

Very little. I have always done everything my way and only once had a curse word or two edited out. One of the reasons I did my own magazine and press (plus becoming a dentist) was the ability to be in charge. (And while in the Army I had to “listen,” I always did my thing with patient treatments.) And of course, I had to strictly obey the jump master even though I always outranked him!

Do you have any advice for writers just starting out?

Read, read, and read.

Do you think older characters are represented fairly and honestly in horror fiction?

I truly never looked at the ages of characters except the very young.

What are some of your favorite portrayals of older characters?

Tolkien’s wizards.

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