Here is the final cover for Seventeen Stitches, my first short story collection. I'm beyond thrilled with it. The design is by British Fantasy Award finalist Ben Baldwin, from a concept idea given to him by my publisher. The piece is called "Carnations."
As a writer, I have a few hundred people I could thank for influencing me. The bulk of them have been dead at least 50 years. My living influences likely have never heard of me, and I've certainly never met them. They've influenced through their stories, teaching by pure example. I'd like to think I'm a good, attentive student.
Ed Bryant is an exception. I encountered his work first when I was about 13 years old and growing up in Lexington, KY. My father really liked horror fiction at the time, and he had Kirby McCauley's famous Dark Forces anthology on the book shelf. I picked it up after learning it had Stephen King's "The Mist" in it. The anthology also happened to include a visceral little tale called "Dark Angel," a story that pressed about every queasy sexual button in my adolescent brain. A couple of years later, I'd recognize his name when I encountered Skipp and Spector's Book of the Dead. Ed's story was called "A Sad Last Love at the Diner of the Damned." With a title like that, I expected brilliance.
And received it.
I reread that story several times over the years as I graduated high school and got a Bachelors and then a Masters degree in literature from the University of Kentucky. I'm certain that I didn't read anything else from Ed during that period, nor did I know anything about him. I certainly didn't know he lived in Denver when, in 1999, I moved to Colorado with the intentions of getting a Masters degree in library science from Denver University.
Jump ahead 8 years later, and I'm at a restaurant where I was invited to a good-luck dinner for a former co-worker who'd be running in the Boston Marathon. Another former co-worker, Linda Anderson, sat down next to me. Linda and I worked in different departments at the library, and I didn't always have occasion to talk to her a lot. But we had discussed a mutual interest in writing, and she happened to invite me to her writer's group.
"I think you'll like it. It's led by Ed Bryant, and he's a Nebula Award winner."
I have to admit the name didn't ring an instant association with me. In fact, I initially intended not to accept the invitation. At that time, I held the idiotic belief that writers should work in total isolation, influenced only by what they read. Getting someone's opinion about a work in progress seemed too much like stories I'd head of movie studios completely reshooting a film because it "failed" with a test screening audience.
Thank God a flicker of common sense, sheer curiosity, or a strong desire to meet new friends overruled my initial reluctance. I went to the group meeting. In fact, I even submitted a story for critique, called "Social Studies." If you're going to try a critique group, you might as well jump in feet first, right?
They called themselves Old Possum (in fact, we still do) because that was the name of the used book store where the group originally met. By the time I joined, they were meeting in a townhouse owned by Carter Wilson, who at the time had an agent but was unpublished. (Carter's since gone on to win the Colorado Book Award and achieve quite a bit of financial success, and I'm glad to call him one of my closest friends). And this is where I met Ed Bryant in person. We went around introducing ourselves--a fairly quick process; the group has always consisted of just a few people, 5 or 6 at the most--and Ed went last.
I didn't have to listen to him very long before the light of realization went off in my head. Oh shit, I thought. You're that Ed Bryant.
In fact, as I recall, I did more than think it. I exclaimed it. Even a few years later, the phrase "You're that Ed Bryant" sometimes came up as a private joke among us.
You might imagine how stunned I was to discover that I was in the presence of the writer behind two stories that so intrigued me earlier in life. I think I sat through most of the meeting just repeating to myself, Can you believe this? This is ridiculous. This is impossible!
Then it came time to critique my story.
I've tried workouts from P90X that haven't gotten my heartbeat as fast as it was going in anticipation of Ed's remarks. At the time, "Social Studies" felt like the pinnacle of my abilities as a writer. I thought it was damn good, my best shot. His critique was either going to confirm that I had a shot at getting stuff published, or it was going to shake me into confronting my delusions.
Smiling, Ed told me, "This is the most literate chainsaw massacre I've ever read."
I've yet to receive a critique comment that I prize more highly than that.
Ed Bryant passed away on February 10th, so I did not personally know him quite 10 years. I believe I fell just a few months short of a decade. At this moment, as news of his death spreads through the literary community, I see people posting pictures of him from the 70s, 80s and 90s, and I blink back tears and wish I'd met him so much earlier than I did.
Mentally, I've been prepared for his death for many years. He was born with juvenile diabetes and sometimes commented that he had already outlived the statistics. In the time I knew him, he suffered a host of progressively worse medical problems. There were several times I visited him in the hospital and walked away telling myself that he would not recover. But he always did. Near the end of 2016, though, we learned that he was approaching kidney failure and was going through the process of dialysis. He was endlessly exhausted as much by medical bureaucracy as by treatments. During our last group meeting in January, after summarizing the sheer amount of hoops he was having to jump through, he said, "I may simply be too lazy to stay alive." I admit I once again entertained thoughts that he would not make it to the end of 2017, but I also recalled all the previous times I made that assessment only to be proved gloriously, thankfully wrong. So I had hope.
In storytelling, mentors exist to die. The protagonist cannot move on until their teacher has been removed from the scene. I was thinking on that very point a few years back while watching "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince." Ever since Michael Gambon took over the role of Dumbledore, I had an inescapable association in my mind between Ed and that character. It's a combination of Gambon's mannerisms and, most of all, his voice. Ed had a lovely, deep voice; it's no surprise he did a stint as a radio DJ, and of course he was famous as a convention toastmaster.
And so I've lost my Dumbledore and my friend, and the world has lost one of the sweetest, most compassionate persons one can imagine. I love you, Ed.
I was recently invited to submit a couple of stories to a new publishing app called Great Jones Street. GJS is building a free library of short stories and they've got a broad range of offerings, including Hugo and Stoker Award winners. My contributions are "The Revenge of Oscar Wilde," which originally appeared in the anthology Zombies: Shambling Through the Ages and is now my most-reprinted story (it'll appear again in 17 Stitches, my short story collection); and "Riveter," which appeared in Daughters of Frankenstein: Lesbian Mad Scientists (it is also slated to reappear in 17 Stitches).
You can download the Great Jones Street app for both Apple and Droid devices (not sure about the Kindle Fire) for free.
Sean Eads is a writer living in Denver, CO. Originally from Kentucky, he works as a reference librarian.