Saturday, May 4, 2013

Jean Marie Stine Recalls Robert Bloch

Long before I met him in the early 1970s, Robert Bloch made an off-the-cuff quip at his own expense that stuck. So that you could read any science fiction or horror movie magazine and in profiles of him encounter the following. "Horror writer Robert Bloch says he has the heart of a little child - in a jar, on his desk."

He had the face of a mortician and a ghoulish twinkle in his eye, and was so soft spoken you had to listen carefully, or you would miss the rapier-thrust of his lightning wit.

Here is an example. At one time, and likely they still do (tradition dies hard with futurists), the Los Angeles Science Fantasy Society (LASFS) held an annual Fanquet to fete any members who had sold their first story to a science fiction magazine, book publisher, or anthology.

And as you may have guessed, long ago in my youth, it fell my lot that I was one of two members who were so honored (I for my first book, the erotic science fiction novel, Season of the Witch). (Out of discretion, I shall not drag the name of the other honoree into this sordid story.)

Someone had told me that we were each expected to make a few remarks about our book. What led me to decide it would be appropriate to talk about the origins of my erotic work, and that of most erotic writers, in our sexual fantasies, I can, alas, at this late date no longer recall. Nor can I recall just how a 20 minute speech (for which I made copious notes) and "a few words" became conflated in my youthful brain. Writing this now, and reading it, as it were, over my own shoulder, it seems blatantly demented.

(Leaving out the part about the man who rushed up to Barry Gold and myself, waving a barber's knife in our faces and spouting something utterly incoherent as we left my apartment for the Fanquet, and especially leaving out how I managed to divert the man and send him back happily to his place of employment - which we then saw was a barber shop (apparently, he had wanted us to come in and try his handiwork) - I will hasten on to the Fanquet itself and Robert Bloch who appears in the very next paragraph of what is becoming another interminable JMS anecdote.)

As my fate would have it, Robert Bloch had been asked to be the toastmaster at this particular Fanquet (which was a thrill), because he was a writer who had also "graduated" into the profession as a member of a science fiction fan club. And he had graciously accepted the position. He no doubt introduced the event in his usual adroit and courtly manner. Blochian witticisms must have been enjoyed by all.

Then my turn came. I stood and gathered my five pages of notes to begin speaking. (Up to this point everything is a blank, after this point it is all to mercilessly clear.)

Just exactly how I thought people who had come to eat good food and have a good time with friends - and show their regard for two fellow fans who had "broken into the big time" as professionally published authors - would react to a frank discussion, over dessert, of sexuality, masturbatory fantasies, and how these fantasies fueled the underpinnings, activities, and imagery of erotic novels, is a mystery to me.

As I reached the half way point in my remarks, it began to dawn on me that some people seemed a bit taken aback, others had croggled expressions on their faces, and some were eying others a bit uncertainly - and almost no one really seemed to be on-board with what I was saying.

Sitting near me was Jane Gallion, a woman easily 50 times braver and more capable than I in every way. She had just sold an erotic novel of her own (Biker), and I turned to her and appealed for support. "Jane, you've written one of these things. Don't the scenes come from your masturbatory fantasies?" I mean, holy smoke, talk about putting a friend on the spot!

Jane, choosing what I now know to be the wiser course, shrunk down in her chair and muttered something noncommittal. (After all she had to look those folk in the eye every week at the club.)

I know I troupered "bravely" on, finished the entire speech, and sat down. I don't have the sense there was much applause. More like stunned and disbelieving silence.

Then Robert Bloch stood and returned to the podium. He looked out over the audience and in his deliciously mordant voice declaimed. "I never had a wet dream. I had a dry dream once. But I told it to Frank Herbert and it became Dune."

He broke up the house, relieved the tension, and he certainly broke me up.

Jean Marie Stine
Futures-Past Editions
author, Herstory & Other Science Fictions, ebook and paperback.

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