I’M LISTENING NOW TO “Rise Again,” a track from Wumpscut. It opens a mix CD that Dave Barnett gave me a long time ago. Dave introduced me to a lot of cool club music over the years, from Wumpscut to Covenant to Goldfrapp to Assemblage 23. Dave was a well-known figure in horror fiction circles, as the founder and publisher of Necro Books, as well as a great author in his own right. But he was also a longtime club DJ in Orlando. I loved to talk music with him as much as horror. But Dave won’t be introducing me to new music anymore. Yesterday, he was killed by a wrong way driver.
One of my publishers in Poland IMed me this morning to give me the news just before I started work (the world is a strangely small place). I have thought about Dave all day today while at work, and at the end of the day, I had a long call with Jim Jacob and found out that Dave had been killed by a driver who veered out of her lane in the wrong direction right into Dave. I’d been thinking all day that he had finally succumbed to one of his many health issues, which was bad enough. But to find out that no, after all of his hard-won battles in the hospital, he was killed like this… it is extra heartbreaking.
I feel terrible for his mom and all of his friends in Orlando tonight. I owed Dave an email from the weekend that I never got to. And now never will. But I’ll write “to him” here, remembering some of the good times to say goodbye.
My friendship with Dave Barnett goes back to my very first year of publishing horror. In 1994, he published one of my early erotic horror stories, “Cage of Bones” in his magazine Into the Darkness. We struck up a friendship via email, and I agreed to help copyedit the magazine. Within a year or two, he ditched the magazine and started the Necro book line and I served as copyeditor and proofreader for him for the next dozen years or so.
I wish I still had our correspondence from the ’90s. I read through some of our old emails from the early 2000s tonight and I could hear his voice in my head as I read his words. I asked for instructions on one manuscript that he sent me back in 2003 and his answer was pure Dave: Proof that fucker, byotch!
Dave was sharp, acerbic, and hilarious. He always told you what he thought, regardless of whether it was what you wanted to hear or not. I always knew I could trust his opinion to be honest. Dave didn’t sugarcoat.
I worked with Dave for years via the Internet before I finally met him at World Horror Convention in 2000. I gave him an early draft of my first novel Covenant to look at back then for Necro, and he rejected it with a typical Dave shrug. “Nothing happens for the first hundred pages, man,” he said. Or something close to that. I did a lot of rewrites after that before I finally got the novel in shape to be published (originally by Delirium Books). Here’s a picture of Dave with me and Delirium Books publisher Shane Staley from back in 2002 at the World Horror Convention in Chicago.
It wasn’t until 2007, after I’d been working for Dave for over a decade that he finally published a book of mine — my third collection Needles & Sins. I knew it didn’t matter that I worked with him, if he didn’t like it, he wouldn’t put it out on Necro Publications… so for a long time I didn’t know if he’d ever publish a full book of mine. I remember the process of building that collection was nerve-wracking. For every story I sent him that he accepted, he’d reject one or two others. I worried at one point that I’d never come up with enough “Dave-worthy” stories. In the end, of course, I did, and the book happened. I have Dave to thank for building probably my strongest collection, and my only one to include a Bram Stoker Award finalist story (“Letting Go.”) I wouldn’t have written that story if not for Dave because I wrote it specifically for that book. And here I am tonight, 14 years later, letting go of Dave.
My favorite years as a horror author center around the first decade of the 2000s, and Dave was a big part of those. I copyedited for him, he published Needles & Sins and a limited edition of my novel The 13th, and we hung out a lot at conventions. In those early years, I was always with Dave, Jim and Charlee Jacob, Gerard Houarner, GAK, and Chad Savage at cons. It’s hard to believe Charlee, GAK and Dave are all gone now.
A lot of people go to cons in “gangs” and sleep on floors to keep the hotel charges cheap. In my life, I only did that once and it was with Dave — Chad Savage and I both camped on Dave’s hotel floor at Baltimore’s Horrorfind Convention in 2004, while Dave and GAK had the beds.
That Horrorfind convention generated one of my favorite photos from all of the cons I’ve been to with me, Brian Keene, Chad Savage and Dave all lying on a bed in one of the party rooms:
Dave also taught me at that con how to maximize space at a convention table. He’s behind the Necro table here with Gerard Houarner. A couple of those GAK-a-lanterns are in my basement now:
I saw Dave when I visited Orlando for vacations or work over the years, and Dave took me out whenever I was in town. It’s an odd thing to remember, but once while I was in Orlando with my family, we went out for a beer together while my wife and young son stayed back at the hotel. When a song came on the overhead bar speakers, and one of us wondered who it was, he suddenly held his phone up in the air. I was like… “what the hell are you doing?” and he probably raised one “duh” eyebrow and said, “Shazam, man.” He showed me the Shazam app that night and I learned you could easily discover what music was playing on the speakers around you by using it. I still use that app today (just did the other night in fact during an online DJ’s set I was listening to).
I remember him taking me to his club once, on the last night I was in town for a work convention. It was so cool to see him in his element, manning the DJ booth. Everyone there knew “Little Dave.” I don’t remember what time he finished DJing and we finally left the club, I only know that I didn’t bother to turn the sheets down on the bed at my hotel that night. I laid on the comforter for about an hour before heading right back downstairs to catch my dawn cab to the airport. Not something I could pull off again now. Sucks to get old.
There was another time when he picked me up from my hotel and we hopped on the interstate and drove an hour or more down to see Edward Lee and have dinner at one of his fave hangouts by the ocean. Another amazing night.
And there was the time that we had dinner with Lee during World Horror Convention in San Francisco in 2006, where Lee showed me how to crack open a crab leg the right way. Here we are after, with Lee and Terry Tidwell, and Dave trying to hold my gut in for me.
Those were the days, my friend. And I wished they’d never have ended. But all things do…
Dave’s health stopped him from going to cons for a lot of the last decade, and I haven’t traveled to Florida in awhile. We talked occasionally or emailed, but not enough. Time moves the calendar pages faster and faster.
All I can say is that I am proud to have known Dave Barnett for more than 25 years. He was, and always will be, one of my favorite people.
Rest in Peace, Dave. I wish you could Rise Again.