erewith the recollections of those who knew Karl Edward Wagner in life:
And our very first submission is a vignette from the former Dottiesue Stone, well-remembered as among the prettiest of Karl's classmates:
Dottisue Stone DeLeonibus ~ I do remember Karl….I can picture his class photos in my mind. I remember quiet, shy smiles. What a wonderful tribute you have built for him! I enjoyed reading it and remembering….Thanks!
Sara Huber ~ I wanted to write and thank you for your memoir on Karl. I'm a 2nd cousin of his and he's always been a bit of an engima to me. His mother, Dorthea, was the older sister of my grandfather, Edward Huber. My mom (Susan) and Karl were of similar generation and would see each other periodically growing up when they would spend time at the cabin on Watts Bar Lake.
I only met Karl once when I was about 6 years old (I'm 32 now, so that must have been 1979 or 80). My parents and I went to the cabin for a week with Aunt Dorthea and Uncle Red. One night there was a knock on the door and in walked Karl with a red pony-tail and a big smile. He made a bee-line for me and handed me a kids-sized, inflatable raft which ended-up getting much use that week and for many summers after. And the fact that Karl had given it too me made it magical. He was only there that night and I fell asleep before he left, but I remember very vividly sitting in my dad's lap and listening to Karl tell stories and fill the room with much energy. He was very unlike anyone I'd ever met or dreamed of being related to and I was really captivated by him.
When I was in middle school I got on a horror book kick (admittedly mostly Steven King), so for christmas my mom got me one of Karl's Year's Best Horror Stories. She told me many stories about Karl and it was very apparent that he was a bit of a legend in the family. Seems that he kept his distance from the family, but at the same time was a "favorite". Everyone loved Karl. I really wish I could have met him again when I was older.
When he died my mom told me it was suicide. I guess that's perhaps one way of interpreting it. I think this is what she had been told by other family members since alcohol isn't something that most of the family condoned. She also told me that there was some debate in the family about whether to tell Dorthea. She was so close to the end of her own life and her comprehension was very minimal. I never heard whether or not anyone told her.
Anyway... on a whim I did a search and found your tribute and it has without question provided me with the most complete picture of who he was and his character. I really wish I had known him. Thank you for the candid and personal portrayal - it's an amazing read and to stumble upon the names of loved ones throughout made it incredibly powerful for me.
Louise Stewart ~ I met Karl on my first day of school in first grade in 1951. I was staring at all the strange kids, and my mother said, "There's Karl Wagner. You know him. His daddy works with your daddy." I didn't know him, of course,but we became friends quickly and competed in making 100's on our schoolwork. One day I asked him to marry me when we grew up. He agreed. I was relieved to have this question settled at the age of six, so I could concentrate on other things. Unfortunately, in third grade, I got a crush on a new boy and told Karl the wedding was off. I felt bad, but I realized if I was going to be changing my mind, I'd best be honest about it.
Karl was so smart, and funny. We shared a lot of interests in grammar school. Especially Greek and Roman mythology. We read all the books our little library had on the subject.
I remember in 8th grade he wrote a horror story about some kids who laid out
of school on Halloween, and drove to the mountains, drinking beer and necking,
all those teenage sins. It was a great story. A mysterious black monster car
got them, of course. I wish I had a copy of that story.
Karl and I had terrible timing as a couple. The weekend before I was to marry someone else he came home from college and asked me out to dinner. It was several years before we met again. I had been divorced awhile, his marriage had just broken up. 1986 or 7, I'm not sure which. Then we began a strange affair that involved meeting at horror conventions. Once or twice I drove to visit him in Chapel Hill. He never came to my house. Once when we were to meet in Knoxville, he had a run-in with police on the way and spent the night in jail. He'd been calling me every 20 minutes from Brother Jack's [Barbecue] all evening, saying he was about to leave. This was my wakeup call that Karl had a serious problem involving alcohol and reality, which eventually killed him.
I loved him anyway, and he was the smartest man I ever met.
The Louise Stewart Collection ~ Karl's first sweetheart and his last, they were reunited for a period near the end of Karl's life, perhaps one of the last good times in Karl's life, and Louise, a gifted artist, made the rounds of conventions and literary events with him. She has provied snapshots and sketches, which I have begun posting as The Louise Stewart Collection.
Richard Moore ~ My name is Richard Moore and while I saw some of his early work, Karl didn't fully register with me until I read stories by him in Fantastic, Whispers, and other magazines in the mid to late 1970s. As I grew up in Georgia during the 1950s and 60s, I dove deep into fantasy and science fiction. I loved the usual SF greats but also developed a fondness for heroic fantasy--especially Robert E. Howard and Fritz Leiber. I also wanted to write but my plot ideas where anchored in the here and now and my sales were to the mystery magazines with my first story published in Ellery Queen in 1978.
Locus was a magazine I subscribed to for many years and I saw a notice that Karl had taken over the editorship of BEST HORROR STORIES OF THE YEAR from Gerald Page and was open to reviewing stories that had been previously published. Unlike Page, Karl was not interested in unpublished stories. This was a policy I agreed with as it always bothered me that an anthology supposedly representing the best of a certain year would publish new stories in the following year.
As it so happened, I had a possible candidate in a story called "The Devil Behind You" that was published in the May 1979 issue of Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine. I sent it to Karl late in the year and soon heard back from him that he wanted to reprint it. That began a correspondence that lasted for several years. My story appeared in his Best...Series VIII. When he let me know he was coming to Atlanta to the Deep South Con in 1980, I traveled out to the suburban motel to meet him and it resulted in such a wonderful weekend. I had sold a few short stories but really didn't know any writers and so meeting Karl, a writer I admired, was a big deal. In addition, Karl introduced me to Ted White, a writer and editor I had followed closely for many years. The three of us spent the weekend in great conversation. As it turned out, the following year I would move to Alexandria, Virginia and reconnect with Ted and through his writer's workshop come to know with Steve Brown, Dave Bischoff, Ed Byers, Charles Sheffield, Kathleen Goonan and Elizabeth Hand.
But the centerpiece for me that wonderful weekend in 1980 was Karl. I turned 60 this year and have been around more than my share of blocks but I have to say that I have never seen anyone more on top of the world than was Karl Edward Wagner in 1980. He had a major presence that was in part his striking "look" and in part the confident persona contributing to that appearance. In addition, he and his beautiful wife Barbara were so clearly in love and devoted to each other that their presentation almost had a fairy tale quality to it.
Now I am sure there were those who were jealous of Karl. He had the big book deals, the column in the slick Twilight Zone magazine, the Best of...annual, an eye-catching publishing enterprise, a drop-dead good looking wife, and a wavy-redhaired tough guy look that all Southern boys would trade their souls for. Hey, I didn't even mention the MD degree from Chapel Hill. But I never had a moment of jealousy of Karl. First of all I was thrilled to see a contemporary Southern boy achieve what he achieved. Secondly, behind all of that appearance was one helluva good writer. My goodness, the man could write. I do not count his Kane stories as his best work, although since it has been so many years since I read them that I reserve the right to revise that opinion. The stories in his IN A LONELY PLACE blew me away and every time I read his later stories in anthologies, it underlined the opinion that when Karl was on top of his game there was no one better. Later I read WHY NOT YOU AND I and my high estimation was confirmed.
My correspondence with Karl petered out in the mid-1980s. I think we ran across each other at the Baltimore World Science Fiction Convention in 1983 or so but only to say hello. I heard through my SF & F friends that he and Barbara had separated and divorced, which surprised me. Nothing surprised me as much as the word of his death. Fittingly, that word came to me via Locus as did the article that prompted our meeting.
At the time I couldn't even begin to get my head around how this could have happened to Karl. I just parked the question in a spot where it stayed until on eBay a couple of weeks ago I bid and won EXORCISMS AND ECSTASIES (1997). At first, that answered many of my questions. I skipped around among the several rememerances that are dotted among his later stories. Purely by chance, the last I read was that by David Drake, as good a friend as Karl ever had. It was also the most honest, clear-eyed look at Karl and his career. From what Drake says, Karl's creative life was mostly over by the time I met him in 1979. Now that was a shock. Yes, he could muscle-up on a story now and then but no matter how many contracts he signed, he was shot as a novelist by 1979, and, for the most part, shot as a writer. Karl wrote me about his Conan movie script but it is only from Drake that I learn that the script was rejected before the whole project was shelved.
So I join the group suddenly aware of all that I don't know about this fellow I once knew so briefly but admired deeply. I hope through this membership to learn more about him as a person and about his writing. I make no claim of close friendship to Karl, as our contact was so limited. I do claim something of a spiritual kinship with him as two Southern white boys who grew up wanting many of the same things out of life.
Webmaster's Note: Whether David Drake was actually as good a friend as Karl ever had is subject to debate, but certainly his judgments as to the quality of Karl's writings, as well as his speculations about Karl's personal demons, should be taken cum grano salis. I think there is no debate that Karl was far and away a better writer than Drake has ever shown himself to be. John Mayer
Dave Carson ~ Dave Carson was a British friend of whom Karl spoke often. I've only recently contacted Dave, a superb artist, and he has kindly provided a few Karl related pieces to post here. Many of his pieces may be seen and purchased at his Chthulhu site. We are hoping that Dave will provide us a few remembrances of Karl soon. Meanwhile, herewith is a photo of Karl and Dave enjoying pints of cider (that's British hard cider) beside a London church. There is also an invitation to a soiree at Dave's welcoming Karl back to England.