John Mayer has been an artist on a mission for the last few decades: to win more local recognition for his close friend, the late horror/fantasy novelist Karl Edward Wagner. To his fans around the world, Wagner is one of the greats of genre fiction; in Knoxville, his hometown, he is little remembered. But Mayer's campaigning has hit some pay dirt: Karl Wagner will be inducted in the 2013 East Tennessee Writer's Hall of Fame on Thursday, Oct. 10, which coincides neatly with Mayer's own annual Wagner fete on Saturday, Oct. 12.
The Hall of Fame is an annual fund-raising event sponsored by the Friends of Literacy, and this year's inductees include News Sentinel sports writer John Adams, poet Arthur Stewart, social-media writer Mark Schaefer, and none other than film director Quentin Tarantino, who lived in Knoxville as a child (sure, why not). Mayer had lobbied to get Wagner on the slate in the past with little success (nominees are sent in by ballot from the public), but this year he got an assist from Wagner's fans.
"It finally occurred to me that perhaps a lone voice—regardless of the passion, conviction, and authority with which it resonates—might not be enough to convince those in charge that Wagner has a worldwide following," Mayer says in an e-mail interview. "So, through the magic of Facebook, as well as [the Wagner] Yahoo group, I urged members of that worldwide following to speak up. Apparently some of them did."
Friends of Literacy help provide free literacy and education programs for adults in Knox County. The presentation starts at 7 p.m. at the Crowne Plaza Hotel downtown, and includes a three-course dinner, silent auction, and meet-and-greet time with the authors. Tickets are $100 and can be purchased by calling the Friends of Literacy office at (865) 549-7007 or visiting friendsofliteracy.org.
For the past five years, on each Saturday closest to the date of Wagner's death at the age of 49 on Oct. 13, 1994, Mayer has assembled what he calls the Karl Edward Wagner Fall Fear and Fantasy Festival. While the festival itself might more closely resemble a get-together for fans to eat, drink, and discuss Wagner's stories, its proper name is an indication of Mayer's aspirations. He envisions a full-on horror festival for Knoxville, named after its foremost horror writer. But actually creating the festival will require some like minds with events-planning experience.
"I have no skills in the planning and organizing of events and am, in fact, a recluse who does not even have parties, or, for that matter, guests," he says. "But I do think such a festival would be a boon to Knoxville and to fans of Wagner and of horror and fantasy in general."
In the meantime, however, he has indeed managed to line up some festivities for this year's edition, which should draw hardcore Wagner fans from around the country. ("One lady had hoped to be able to visit from St. Petersburg, but couldn't get her visa in time. That's St. Petersburg, Russia, mind.")
On Friday, Oct. 11, at 7:30 p.m., there will be an informal meetup at Suttree's High Gravity Tavern, followed by a visit to the Birdhouse (800 N. 4th Ave.) for a concert by Blackgrass, a gothic bluegrass group. ("I, for one, believe that goth bluegrass is the perfect musical genre to represent an East Tennessee horror writer.")
On Saturday, Oct. 12, at 4 p.m. (not long after the Zombie Walk on Market Square, coincidentally enough) the Karl Edward Wagner Literary Society will meet at Organized Play in the Old City before setting out at 5 p.m. for a tour of local sites of significance to Wagner and his work, including his childhood home (featured in his short story "Cedar Lane"), sites in "Where the Summer Ends" and "Bloodstone," and Wagner's grave. At 7 p.m., the group will reconvene at Organized Play for dinner from the Crown & Goose, and then at 8 p.m. will head over to the nearby Pilot Light for a dramatization of "Where the Summer Ends," adapted by Ron Brassfield and performed by Patrick McCray (director of dramatic arts at Webb School of Knoxville) and company. Then it's back to Organized Play for more cocktails and conversation.
And finally, on the actual anniversary of Wagner's death, there will be one more item on the agenda. "Recently, the Preservation Pub was kind enough to offer to help promote the event, but I can only say that they have a Wagner-related surprise in store, on Sunday, the actual 13th," Mayer says.
If you're not already acquainted with Wagner's works, you may have trouble finding them at list price since most of his books are out of print in the U.S. However, last year, boutique publisher Centipede Press did put out two volumes collecting his short stories—while volume one goes for about $100 from Amazon sellers, volume two is still available from Amazon itself at a still hefty $32.59.