On some crime show I saw recently, a man suspected of murder has just been told his wife is dead. After being subjected to a brief but intense grilling, he tells the detectives, “I need a moment.” On the off chance that he’s innocent and they may have just broken devastating news to him, they leave him to himself in the interrogation room.
When I heard today that Graham Joyce had died. I needed a moment. I won’t say he lost the battle with cancer, because—as he so eloquently stated in this BBC Radio 4 piece—he rejected that language. He had the same peculiar breed of cancer that my father did, so I knew the prognosis wasn’t great, but still we hope. Alas, it was not to be.
I was introduced to Graham Joyce the writer by Peter Straub. The first time I met Peter, at a book signing in Dallas in the late 1990s, we went to dinner at a barbecue restaurant after his event. We talked about who we were reading, and Peter mentioned Graham. Naturally, I took the recommendation seriously, and thus began my adventure in the fascinating, ambiguous, magical, terrifying and amazing worlds of Graham Joyce. I’ve read virtually everything he’s written—except for a couple of his YA books—and I’ve never been disappointed.
When I started to write novels, it was Graham more than anyone else that I wanted to emulate, not that other guy with whom I’m most strongly associated. I was and continue to be fascinated by the manner in which he was able to present both sides of a possible supernatural occurrence. It either happened or it had a logical, mundane explanation. Both interpretations were valid, both for the characters and for the reader. It’s something I attempted to capture in the first novel my agent tried to sell. Clearly I hadn’t quite learned the lesson well enough yet.
The first time I met Graham the man was, I believe, at the World Horror Convention in Chicago in 2002, though we had already exchanged email by that point. I was at the Subterranean Press booth in the dealer room when Bill Schafer opened a box that contained Graham’s chapbook, Black Dust, fresh from the printer. I bought the first copy, and Graham passed by a few minutes later and I got him to sign it for me.
Our paths have crossed a number of times over the years, in person and online. He was a Guest of Honor at Necon one year and he fit right in to that quirky event. I remember a World Fantasy Convention (Albuquerque, I believe) where he arrived at the hotel late in the evening straight from his transatlantic flight, to discover that he was scheduled to do a 9 pm reading. I think he’d had a little courage on the long flight, so he was a tad disoriented. I knew where his reading room was, so I got him there on time and he regaled us with an excerpt from his latest work.
I wrote a long essay about Graham’s work for a book that never materialized. I can’t recall at the moment to which point it is current, but I should go back and look at it some day to see if it’s worth an overhaul. I always recommend The Tooth Fairy and Requiem to people, but you can’t go wrong with any of his novels, and he got stronger and more amazing over the years.
Later this summer, PS Publishing is releasing 25 Years in the Word Mines, The Best of Graham Joyce, a collection of his short fiction. I had already sprung for the signed edition (which has a chapbook containing extra stories). Sad to think that this is probably the last we’ll hear from such an exceptional author.