Rod Serling ’50 has made an indelible mark on succeeding generations of Antiochians, from his giving writers opportunities to be published to his encouraging words and example.
Since graduating from the College in 1971, medieval historian and author Sharan Newman has published eighteen books, some of which became international best sellers, along with many short stories and articles. But before there were those books, articles, and stories, there was the summer of 1969 when Serling returned to the College to lecture and show one of his films. While Serling did not influence Newman’s writing per se, he kept her “from giving up on it,” she says “I had written a lot in high school, and even had some small publications. But since I started college, I had written nothing but term papers,” she says. After meeting Serling, she told him “how worried I was that I would never write fiction again.”
His response? “Of course you will!”
Newman did not know if he was telling the truth, “but it didn‘t matter,” she says. To her, a writer she respected assured her that her “brain hadn‘t frozen.” Today, she uses her encounter with Serling to remind herself of that whenever she became discouraged, and also to nurture other young writers.
Another Antiochian influenced by Serling arrived at the College 40 years after he graduated.
Christian Feuerstein ’94 was searching for a college to attend. The self-described wannabe writer was a science fiction and fantasy addict, devouring magazines such as The Twilight Zone Magazine every month. After reading an editorial by associate publisher and contributing editor Carol Serling ’50 that mentioned and thanked the magazine’s Antioch College intern, Feuerstein immediately added another college to her list of possibilities. Reading an issue of Writer’s Digest that featured two columnists with Antioch College connections – Lawrence Block ’60 and creative writing professor Judson Jerome – left her irreversibly hooked. For the young Feuerstein, seeing the named “Antioch” printed three times in two different writing magazines lead her to believe that she had to attend the College, or as she puts it: “I thought, Antioch College must be a school for writers!”
To understand TZ Magazine, one must understand the deep connection between the College and the founders of the Twilight Zone brand, Rod and Carol Serling. Rod Serling, creator of the television show that would loan its name to the magazine, was also once a budding writer who found his writer’s voice at the College. He never thought he‘d be a writer – after all, he entered college as a physical education major after World War II. But the young man who once said he arrived at Antioch “mixed up and restless” became, as a result of co-ops and community involvement, a star in the broadcast world.
Printed from April 1981 to February 1989, TZ Magazine was, just like its namesake television show, known for its quality writing and moral imperative. The magazine, like the television scripts, emphasized imaginative and speculative fiction, or fiction that critiques the day’s political and social mores. And also like the weekly production, it was rooted in Rod Serling’s – as well as the College’s – progressive ideals.
Publishers approached Carol Serling about using the Twilight Zone brand to create a magazine that would be, in her words, “a way to publish new fiction in the genre from ‘new’ and ‘old’ writers…while at the same time entertain and enlighten.” Soon, Serling signed on to be an associate publisher and contributing editor, and well-known fiction writer T.E.D. Klein was recruited as editor. While the name might make it seem like purely a fan’s magazine, it was not just for fans. It was a popular monthly magazine that was available in grocery stores as well as comic book stores, giving it a diverse group of followers. “People took it home in their grocery bags,” Carol Serling writes.
The appeal of the Twilight Zone television show nonetheless helped the magazine, writes Stephen Jones, a science-fiction writer and professor of English at the University of Colorado at Boulder. Using the Twilight Zone brand is “automatic legitimacy, and works for the readers, too, in that it makes them look back to one of the more popular instances of science fiction – and good science fiction at that.”
The magazine’s premiere issue featured writers such as Joyce Carol Oates and Stephen King – and later issues were as dynamic, featuring Roald Dahl, Philip K. Dick, and John Saul. Amidst the fiction were pieces of The Twilight Zone show’s memorabilia, including scripts, interviews with former cast and crew members, as well as recollections of Rod Serling.
While attending the College and serving as manager of the Antioch Broadcasting System, Rod Serling won a writing contest for new and unpublished writers. In honor of this award, the magazine tried to regularly appeal to new and unpublished writers, blending them into the fray with well-known names. It also ran a short story contest every year that appealed to exactly that group. With rewards including a cash prize as well as the opportunity to be published in the magazine, “we had hundreds of entries,” says Carol Serling, many of which she read. When there was not a contest, the magazine ran its “TZ Firsts” section, publishing pieces by new and up-and-coming writers. It was invaluable to many unknown writers, and even helped launch the careers of a few including Dan Simmons.
Four years into its premiere, the magazine’s successes made another publication viable. Night Cry, a companion to TZ Magazine and a quarterly digest of primarily horror fiction, ran from 1985 to 1987. With staffer Alan Rodgers from TZ Magazine at its helm, it promoted new writers almost more than TZ Magazine, Rodgers writes by e-mail. Night Cry’s eventual retirement would foreshadow, however, what was to come for TZ Magazine.
In 1986, Tappan King ’73 became TZ Magazine’s editor. While he was unable to comment for this article, Feuerstein recalls in an e-mail that King’s “editorials always spoke to me more than Klein’s. King’s editorials always seemed to be about how to bring fantasy and art into one’s everyday life, how compartmentalizing one’s life was unneeded and unnecessary.” (King, coincidentally, met his wife Beth Meacham ’74 at the College and also worked at the campus radio station.) His dedication to TZ Magazine was unparalleled, but was met with cuts by the publishers. Still, he remained at TZ Magazine until the last issue.
TZ Magazine’s 65 issues contributed significantly to the fantasy and science fiction genres. But most of all, Serling and his work were remembered. And to many writers he is remembered as the man whose publication, bearing his brand’s name, gave them a chance at publishing.
In the publishing world, magazines rise and fall fast. In a field where mass-produced, popular fiction reigns and where fan magazines are valued, the role of intellectual fiction like that which the magazine published had a limited audience. And when competing with popular, long-running magazines such as Asimov’s Science Fiction and The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, there comes a risk, especially when seeking both quality and readership.
But there was more to the magazine’s demise than just its market value, according to Carol Serling. In the case of The Twilight Zone Magazine, she shares, “I was at the mercy of the publishers who had delusions of grandeur when they started out. Our circulation was in the neighborhood of 250,000, which isn‘t bad for a magazine of this type, but the publishers had expected one million... Not realistic at all. Toward the end they were beginning to cut corners, like the quality of the paper. Even [though] I was an associate publisher and consulting editor, when push came to shove, it wasn‘t my money. I was sorry to see it all end, but I didn‘t like the cuts that were being instituted.”
Carol Serling did not let the magazine’s demise dampen her efforts to keep her husband’s work in the limelight, however. She continues to edit anthologies of his collected scripts, manuscripts, and stories inspired by her husband, including the recent Stories from TZ. She tours the country speaking about her husband’s legacy and works with the Rod Serling Memorial Foundation in upstate New York along with their two daughters.
But most importantly, she can‘t forget the College. After all, it is where the Serlings’ story began.
James Michael Russell enters Antioch College this fall as a Horace Mann Fellow.