Remembering the Man Who Made the Descent (David G. Hartwell)


David’s Facebook profile. Note the shirt. Also, books.


I should be writing–I have a novella due–but I learned tonight that David G. Hartwell, editor of Tor (many readers will know him from the consistent shout-outs from F. Paul Wilson in his Repairman Jack novels) and, to me, a staple of a convention I used to go to, Confluence, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, passed away this evening at the age of 74.

Other outlets will eulogize David better than I can, so let me just share two memories, one a hodge-podge, one specific.

Hodge-podge first:

Before I knew David as a la-dee-dah editor, I knew him as a book dealer at Confluence, a con I attended from 2009 until 2012.  He had rare books, new books, random books.  He was easy to spot, first because of the amount of his wares–dude seemed to have everything–secondly because of his predilection towards very loud shirts (the only one I know off the top of my head who shares equal volume when it comes to habiliments is Jonathan Maberry).  In 2009, I was, in writing, less than a nobody, coasting in as a panelist based on three sales and a few years of minor journalism.  David, to me, was massive, in the abstract sense.  He knew his business, had little time for bullshit, and, when I learned he was a la-dee-dah editor, I was a bit starstruck.  Not in a drool-y, fanboyish way, but…Look, I was trying to make it as a writer, making my bones with short fiction sales, and here was an honest-to-Jesus editor with a major publishing house attending this little con in this little city.  It was like a step-down for him, right?  He should be at WFC and wherever the Hugos are being held and those big-ass cons, right?  (Later, when we knew each other a little better, he told me that while he attended those cons, he preferred the smaller cons because they weren’t so fucking frantic and chaotic–my terminology, not David’s.)

Specific, now:

2012, Confluence.  By now, my career had gotten underway with a dozen sales and one anthology–Torn Realities–under my belt.  I no longer felt like a kid who’d snuck into the circus.  I was also asked to help with programming because I was the only person the other programmers knew who was steeped in horror to any degree.  (Word to the wise: If you value your sanity, don’t you fucking dare do a con’s programming.)

The previous Christmas–this would be December 2011–my wife had bought me The Dark Descent, a massive tome cataloging horror up to that point:


It is an education in and of itself of the horror genre to read.  I cannot recommend it enough.  Anyway.

Since I was on programming, tasked to come up with horror panels, and was reading The Dark Descent, I noted that the book had originally been published in 1987.  25 years ago.  And–hot shit–David was going to be there!

So, through some e-mailing, I set up a panel discussing the book and where horror’s gone in the 25 years since.  The panelists were me, Jonathan Maberry, Tim Waggoner, and David–who, in e-mail, was pleased to have a panel for his work even if it meant closing down his booth for an hour.


Hence why, unfortunately, he wasn’t in this shot. From left to right: Tim Waggoner, Jonathan Maberry, and me (photo used, with thanks, from Karen Yun-Lutz)

Note some presumption here: I was sitting on a panel with people who had read or written more books than I had gone through in a year.  Me, Mr. Dozen-Short-Story-Sales-and-One-Small-Press-Editing-Gig.  Still, it was a fun, breezy hour and no one–particularly David–even found it weird for me to be there, although it was bizarre for me.  We discussed horror in the general, the merits of splatterpunk (which had been big in 1987), and Jonathan and David played this weird version of Six-Degrees-of-Separation involving books Jonathan had found and some familial relation (Jonathan might not even remember this part, but if he does–dude, shine a memory light for me, would you?).

Afterwards, David of course rushed back to his table in the vendors room and we broke apart.  Tim and David chatted after, Jonathan most likely did, and on the last day of the con, I was done with panels and perusing David’s stacks, when I came across this:


Sorry the laptop cam sucks–this is The Outfit, Richard Stark’s third novel about the thief Parker, published in a special-edition by Gregg Press in 1981.

I plucked the book from the stack–David was in the slow process of closing up shop, as were all the vendors–and we started talking about Parker–how spectacular the opening lines of the books were, how fucking sharp the pacing was, the merits of the second run of Parker novels that Stark had started publishing in 1997 (good…but not as good as the novels in the 1960s and 1970s).  In the end, I bought The Outfit because of course I did.

That was the last time I attended Confluence, or saw David.  Life got in the way.  Of course it did.

Just two memories, but memories I think of often–when I think of cons in general, or editing specifically.  David was a giant in a field of little people, but never acted that way.  And his taste–in books as a reader and stories as an editor–will be sorely missed.

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