Stuff Of Nightmares Is A Dream For 25-year-old Publisher

December 01, 1991|By Carol L. Bowers | Carol L. Bowers,Staff Writer

Richard Chizmar's dream come true was born of that from which nightmares are made: horror, mystery and suspense.

The 25-year-old publisher of Cemetery Dance, a quarterly short story magazine that publishes horror, mystery and suspense fiction, has won the 1991 World Fantasy Award -- the most prestigious honor in science fiction, fantasy and horror writing.

"I'm humbled," said Chizmar, an Edgewood native who set out 2 1/2years ago to redeem horror's bad name, which developed during the years of popularity enjoyed by Freddy Krueger, the deranged killer fromthe horror film "A Nightmare on Elm Street."

"I never thought it would be this successful," Chizmar said of Cemetery Dance. "The most exciting thing now is to look ahead and to think, 'If we keep working, what could happen next?' "

A fan of what he calls "subtle horror," Chizmar created the magazine while a journalism student at the University of Maryland at College Park.

"Subtle horror is where you rarely see the blood and gore," said Chizmar, who graduated in 1989. "The violent people are called splatter-punks, who prefer graphic, unrelenting, violent, fast-paced horror. I prefer horror stories with mysterious elements that are chock-full of suspense."

The magazine, named after the second short story Chizmar sold, started with the publication of 500 copies of the first issue. It has metamorphosed into a full-color, 100-plus page depository of horror, suspense and mystery that sells 5,000 copies of each issue.

Ten issues have been published. Chizmar now screens 400 to 500 unsolicited submissions a month. He publishes stories by famous authors and the not-so-famous and has published 30 short stories of his own and edited several horror anthologies.

"The first three issues of Cemetery Dance were mainly horror, but now it's really a cross-genre magazine. It's all just snowballed. The magazine led to editing, and now to book publishing," saidChizmar, who lives in Baltimore County with his wife, Kara, who works with him, and his dog, Max.

Chizmar said he plans to start his own book line, CD Publications, next year. The first book will be a collection of short stories titled Prisoners & Other Stories by Ed Gorman, an award-winning mystery writer.

Gorman, in a telephone interview from his home in Iowa, said he selected Chizmar's publishing house to publish his next book because he believes in Chizmar's abilitiesto market the book.

"He's very modest, but I know a lot of peoplewho have tried everything he has and who failed miserably," said Gorman. "He can do things for me a big publisher can't. He can take risks. Rich is as ingenious a marketer as anyone I've ever met in New York. I think he hides the struggle. It's like watching Fred Astaire dance."

Gorman said another reason he chose the small publishing company is that "there aren't a lot of really good short story markets.

"So magazines such as Cemetery Dance, where you have an editor witha wide-ranging taste and a real knowledge of fiction are heaven-sent. I think he's the new wave of horror fiction, something more sophisticated and adult and more broadly defined."

Chizmar said he is still amazed by the praise he gets from Gorman and other authors.

"I got into the field because I read Stephen King," said Chizmar, an Edgewood High graduate. "And now, to get a letter from him saying, 'I like Cemetery Dance and here's a quote you can use' . . . I was taken aback. To have someone who's influenced you come back and say they like and respect what you're doing, that's more rewarding than selling the paperback rights to one of your books."

Chizmar gives a few reasons for his company's success during an economic recession in a field that is just coming out of its boom years: mistakes and trust.

"We do what we say we're going to do. If we make a mistake, our promise is that we won't ever make the same mistake twice," Chizmar said. "Sometimes people think I overemphasize the trust issue, but prominentauthors have to trust and respect you to give you their home phone numbers."

And then there's that other element of success: family.

"My parents, my family and Kara have never once done anything but given me unlimited support," he said. "I mean, it is an odd field to go into. If I was a father and my son told me he wanted to go out and be a publisher, I'd say, 'Go get a job.'"

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