That’s The Signpost Up Ahead
By Jeff Baker
Somehow in the last few weeks, nostalgia has been flowing freely here. Not the drinkable kind, but a feeling, that wistful mood of nostalgia for days gone by. Writers and other creative types are particularly susceptible it seems, at least this one is. A few songs play on the radio, a package arrives in the mail and then the nostalgia hits. And it brings up memories of a regret.
I have been outrageously fortunate: I have lived a life with very few regrets; one of them goes back nearly forty years to my college days here in town, living in the dorm when I was just really figuring out that I was Bisexual, but hadn’t figured out that I was going to be largely writing fiction. Back then I was a Communications major with a minor in Journalism. The thought of writing and submitting fiction was something I hadn’t considered, even though I spent a few evenings reading through stories by Arthur Conan Doyle and Stephen King (in “Night Shift”) and had a thought or two along the lines of “gee, if I was any good at writing fiction, I’d like to write stuff like this.” And that brings me to “Rod Serling’s Twilight Zone Magazine.”
An engaging blend of short fiction, interviews and features related to the television series and genre fiction, the magazine first appeared in 1981 and lasted an amazing sixty issues (monthly the first couple of years, bi-monthly after that) and it encouraged new writers: as they often reminded readers, Rod Serling’s writing career began when he won a writing contest. Yes, I started writing a story to send them and never finished it, but that’s not the regret I’m talking about. It sounds silly, but I should have subscribed to the magazine. Or, at least, to some fiction magazine. But this one was special.
The fiction in RSTZM blended sci-fi and horror and featured work by established names, like Ramsey Campbell, up-and-comers like Joe R. Landsdale and winners of the magazine’s annual contest for new writers. As well, of course, as fiction by writers for the series: Richard Matheson, George Clayton Johnson and the late Charles Beaumont. I only bought the couple of issues I bought for the scripts: usually each issue featured a teleplay (usually by Serling) of one of the original Twilight Zone episodes. I have fond memories of crashing out in my dorm room, reading through the couple of issues I bought in ‘82 and ‘83. (I still have them.) But in the last year, I’ve bought a few back issues online and have been happily reading through them and reminiscing about ancient days gone by and wondering why I didn’t shell out the twelve bucks a year to have the magazine delivered to my dorm mailbox. That’s a small regret, I realize but it may tie into one other, one I have in common with some other writers.
Namely; regular exposure to such short, genre fiction may have kicked my fiction writing gears into operation and I might have started writing earlier, or tried to. “I wish I’d started writing earlier” is a regret a lot of writers I’ve known have expressed. Nothing can be done about that now, except to keep on writing and working at it.
As an addenda here; RSTZM was published before the LGBT literary movement took off, but there are a few tenuous connections: Thomas Disch wrote a regular review column and David Gerrold was a contributor. And eight years is not a bad run for a fiction magazine (there was even a spinoff magazine: Night Cry, a horror digest lasted eleven issues) and some of the stories that first saw print in RSTZM I read in reprint anthologies in the 90s, when I was reading everything and trying to teach myself how to write. So what goes around does come around.
Especially in the Twilight Zone.
Jeff Baker blogs about reading and writing sci-fi, fantasy and horror on or around the thirteenth of each month. He would like to dedicate this column to the memory of Carol Serling and to the very-much-alive T.E.D. Klein who published the magazine he babbled about above. Jeff and his magazines happily live with his husband Darryl Thompson in Wichita, Kansas. Jeff posts fiction athttps://authorjeffbaker.com/, and can be reached on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/Jeff-Baker-Author-176267409096907/