I COULD FRAME a long litany of “once upon a times” about Charlee Jacob, but none would be as effective as any of her prose. She was an inspiration to me before I knew her and a friend once we met.
ONCE, she wrote a short story about A Town Called Everson… and I responded by writing a story about an oracle named The Char-Lee.
ONCE, I read a story I’d written called “Bloodroses” that I thought was hard and brave and that I hoped would convey bitter heartache to a small crowd at the very first World Horror Convention I attended, in Denver in 2000. At the end of the reading, when the rest had dispersed, there was Charlee still remaining, sitting three quarters of the way back in the room. She told me the story was good, and her words meant more to me than dozens of good reviews in the coming years.
ONCE, at the World Horror Convention in Chicago in 2002, I drove her husband Jim to the Korean market neighborhood in Chicago, to try to find a whole plucked chicken for her to swing around over her head during that night’s gross-out fiction contest. Because while she was soft-spoken and often serious, she was also brave and darkly funny.
ONCE , I questioned (as I often did), my writing ability and told her how I toyed with the idea of hanging it all up. At the time, I hadn’t been able to sell Covenant, my first novel, and there was another novel I thought about writing, but wasn’t brave enough to tackle. Tears welled in her eyes when she told me that I HAD to keep writing, and I had to write that novel that I was afraid of… it took me 10 years, but that novel eventually came out as NightWhere, one of my most successful books. I never forgot her encouragement and emotion.
ONCE, I won a Bram Stoker Award for Covenant, and not long after, a package appeared in the mail. It was a framed, fuzzy fowling spider nearly as big as my hand. It was from Charlee. She sent it in congratulations on the award, and I named it Stoker. It has hung in my office ever since.
ONCE , I talked on the phone every few months with Charlee and even stopped at her house a couple times to go to dinner with her and Jim when I was in Dallas on business trips.
ONCE , a dozen years ago, she did me the honor of writing the introduction to my third short fiction collection, Needles & Sins and said nice things that I didn’t deserve… but I was happy to have her in my corner.
ONCE , we were much closer than we have been the past few years, as sickness chained her to a bed, and she could no longer come out to conventions. I’m terrible with phone calls and she did not use social media or e-mail. I still heard from Jim now and then via Facebook, but my connection to Charlee slipped from regular conversations into the realm of “remember whens…” But I always thought we’d sit together and talk again. Now, instead, she’s sitting talking in a place I can’t reach with the others who once sat around tables together at World Horror Conventions in the early 2000s — GAK, Tom Piccirilli, Jack Ketchum, Richard Laymon, Larry Santoro, Edward Bryant, Robert Weinberg…
ONCE, the world was a better place when she was alive and writing dark, disturbing fiction that will always haunt you once you’ve read it. But once is no longer. She died this morning and I will never have that chance to catch up ever again.
I’ll miss you Charlee Jacob, but I’ll always be better off for having known you.