Haunts launched its first issue in 1984 on the leading edge of the venerable heyday of small press horror magazines. The premier issue was a saddled-stitched chapbook of black and white art with stories type-set using a typewriter. The text was interspersed with illustrations by up-and-coming illustrators in what fast-became a segment of the market rife with talent and potential. The magazine’s editor Joseph K. Cherkes later adopted the tag line “Tales of Unexpected Horror and the Supernatural” as the magazine evolved to a perfect-bound, digest-sized publication with professional layout and typesetting.
Haunts was a standout in an era when new small press horror magazines appeared on a regular basis. These were proving grounds for new writers. Every year, the Novel & Short Story Writer’s Market listed a new bevy of chapbooks and magazines. Many short-lived titles were flash-in-the-pan events in the history of micropress horror, but Haunts was something special. Publishing under the moniker Nightshade Press, Cherkes delivered a solid, high-quality magazine on a more or less quarterly basis. The stories varied in quality, but the art and layout made an attractive package. Contributors of note include Jessica Amanda Salmonson, Norman Partridge, Roman A. Ranieri, Ty Drago, James S. Dorr, Edo Van Belkom, Yvonne Navarro, t. Winter-Damon, and Geoffrey A. Landis to name a few. An author by the name of Mike Hurley had a story in almost every issue, but I don’t believe he ever expanded beyond the pages of Haunts, with the exception of one collection published by Nightshade Publications. Flipping through my stack of back issues, I was pleased to find a poem by my friend and author Steven L. Shrewsbury in issue #28, Summer/Fall 1994.
I’m pretty sure I discovered Haunts through an advertisement in another small press magazine, as we so often did back then. It must have been in 1990, when I was a staff writer for the Mountain Sun newspaper with long term career plans to be a famous writer. (I was 19 years old so this seemed totally doable.) I sent away for a sample issue, read it, and then proceeded to send stories for Mr. Cherkes’s consideration. I was focused on a short list of magazines at the time, Haunts being one of them. After about a year’s worth of submissions, I was shocked and elated when I received an acceptance letter in the mail for my short story “Last Respects.” My story appeared in Haunts #25, Spring 1993, alongside work by Geoffrey A. Landis, Norman Partridge, and Jessica Amanda Salmonson. Although I had several stories published before that, I still consider “Last Respects” to be my first professional sale. I got paid 1/4-cent per word, but competition was fierce. It felt like a win, a crowning achievement. It was a damn fine little magazine.
For a brief personal and yet related story, we have to fast-forward a few years. I moved to Texas in 1997. Those were good but lonely times. In a sad attempt to win a woman’s heart, I wrote her a poem. I told her I was a writer. I gave her my contributor’s copy of Haunts #25 to prove it. She ditched me, but kept my poem and the magazine. (Let this be a lesson to all of you would-be suitors out there.)
A year or so later, I tracked down the editor of the magazine, Joseph Cherkes, who lived in Rhode Island. After a fine talk on the telephone, he assured me he remembered all the stories I sent him. When I told him I lost my only copy of the magazine in which my story appeared, he commiserated; alas, he had no extra copies himself. He told me the magazine folded under the weight of distributor mishandling the previous year. Then we talked football. I tried my best to assure him I was not a Cowboys fan (raised in Colorado, I am a dyed-in-the-wool Broncos fan, for better or worse). He went on for a while about his disapproval of Jerry Jones before finally letting me go and wishing me the best of luck finding another copy.
Fortunately, eBay came through. By now, I’ve managed to get my hands on several copies, including the pictured stack of issues published between 1989 and 1994. I had an opportunity to buy two more lots that went back pretty early in the magazine’s run, but they were too expensive, so I focused on collecting the perfect bound issues that had some nice gems included. As far as I can tell from my research, the last issue of Haunts was published in 1997, which makes for a solid 13-year run.
Sellers on Amazon list issues of Haunts from time to time. Check them out here. I’ve sold an extra issue or two on eBay myself. Check out the Realms of Night eBay auctions here, and follow us to keep an eye on future sales.
These scans are from my personal collection.