Tour: Every Sunday in October

012412 tour17

Partly because some people asked for some of the dates, partly to give the packed audience for the Hammett talk in the Mechanics’ Library a chance to slip on the old gumshoes and ease on down the mean streets, you’ll find a Hammett walk each and every Sunday this month.

After October, winter, maybe with rain — so consider this is your last best chance for awhile.

Tour meets at noon.

Tour meets near the “L’ sculpture.

Tour takes four hours, sometimes even four hours and twenty minutes.

No reservations. Just show up with $20 per person, ready to go.

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Two-Gun Bob: “Pigeons” vs. Lovecraft


Let’s kick off LitCrit Month by flipping a grenade into the complacent multitudes of Lovecraft fans, milling about the base of his fane, mumbling inchoate incantations to Cthulhu and company.

I’m guessing that most Lovecraft fans never read Brian Leno’s instant classic of an essay, “Lovecraft’s Southern Vacation,” when it originally appeared in The Cimmerian. Now it is back as the title essay of Leno’s first book — and it is ironic that Leno, a maniacal collector of books and autographs and photos, would have as his first book an eBook, but we are well into the 21st Century and able to adapt to survive. And Leno thinks it’s cool.

I do a little intro about how Leno first showed up on the Robert E. Howard scene (you can read it on the free sample at Amazon), and for an Afterword took my article for Black Gate “Pigeons from Hell from Lovecraft” and made a couple of tweaks. The shrewd or suspicious might think I wrote that mini-essay mostly so it could be used here, and they wouldn’t be wrong.

“Southern Vacation” goes into depth on how Robert E. Howard took themes from his ongoing debates with Lovecraft in their correspondence and conjured up one of the scariest horror yarns of all time in “Pigeons from Hell.” Leno gets a little rough with Lovecraft, but maybe The Old Gent needed a bit more slapping around to get him into shape. Certainly Howard made him jump some in their debates.

The second essay from the TriplePunchPack covers Howard’s humorous westerns and how they fare against the output of W.C. Tuttle, a longtime pulpster and master of comedy. I notice that Will Murray in Wordslingers mentions that humor was one of the toughest forms to sell in the Pulp West, practically forbidden. Tuttle was a major exception to the rule, and may I point out that at the time he committed suicide at age thirty Howard was selling no less than three humorous western series to three different pulps?

All well and good, but most of us in Howard litcrit circles give Leno the most points in the western essay for an aside where he demonstrates that Howard saw the 1933 film King Kong. Pure textual investigation, leaving no doubt. Nice. (And as usual, Leno got there first. A few years ago Leo Grin shut down The Cimmerian blog because the bloggers didn’t seem to be up on the literature. The signal moment was when a guy — Jeff Shanks, if you must know — did a post in which he “discovered” the bit about Kong that Leno had already covered in the print magazine. Sure, let’s re-invent the wheel — or maybe it’s time to shut the blog down for awhile. I sometimes wonder if the TC blog will ever come back to life, now that some folk with better knowledge than guys like Shanks have come into the scene.)

Rounding out the TriplePunch is an essay Leno did on where Howard may have gotten the background for his Conan tale “The Frost-Giant’s Daughter” — in depth, as you’d expect, and the best idea on the topic ever advanced.

If you are one of the select few who enjoy litcrit, Leno’s your huckleberry.

Posted in Film, Lit, REH | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , |

Sinister Cinema: The Wild Life of Warren Oates


Every year or two I make the plunge into looking at refs to me on Google, though I have never managed to get to the end, if there is an end. Kind of fun to see various previously unknown citations in this book and that (lots of quotes in academic books courtesy my writings on Hammett or literary San Francisco or Robert E. Howard and other subjects). I think it was sometime last year that I came across a namecheck in Susan Campo’s Warren Oates: A Wild Life and realized I didn’t even know it was out — and it came out in 2010. Might need to check Google more often. . .

My namecheck appears on p294 in a discussion of the shooting of Cockfighter. While the email archive is gone, sunken into the cosmic aether off Altair on a starship named Another Dead Computer, I remember trying to help Susan track down a piece Charles Willeford had written about riding around with Oates — the movie is based on his novel, he did the screenplay and even acted in one of the roles.

Willeford did something like a memoir of Oates, but then segued into one of his try-outs for the never-written novel The First Five in Line. While it may turn up someday, at the moment Susan needed it for her book that little memoir was missing-in-action somewhere. If it never turns up, I may among less than a handful who ever got to read it, when I was writing my book Willeford (speaking of biographies).

I wanted to read her book above and beyond the Willeford connection — who doesn’t like Warren Oates?

Plowed right through, think it really captured the life. Especially good on his childhood in Kentucky, since she had several interview sources from that era. Thorough coverage of the acting jobs, from plays to TV to movies — I had forgotten that Oates was a regular in Stoney Burke, but the last time I saw an episode I may have been eleven years old and didn’t have a clew who the actors were.

The rise from bit parts to The Wild Bunch (“Why not?”) and Alfredo Garcia (“Let’s go, Al.”). Dillinger. Eventually aging out and ending up in lesser vehicles. Death.

Lots of good info. A line about how there wasn’t a day in his adult life that Warren Oates didn’t drink.

(I think the plan is to go out for drinks after the Mechanic’s talk tonight — I’ll raise a toast to Oates.)

Posted in Film, Lit, Willeford | Tagged , , |

Rediscovered: Ford — The Flivver King!

Bio Month is rocketing to a finish. Sometime today Nathan Ward is supposed to hit town. His appearance in Mechanics’ Library tomorrow is sold out (but he is dropping into a few bookshops to sign store stock, if you really want an autographed copy — I’ll announce the stores when he has that angle wrapped up).

I have a couple more bios I must get to in my coverage, and three or four more I’m letting slide. Didn’t know we’d need to get a new book from The Cimmerian Press out this week, but when we spring into action. . . .

And of course there’s a somewhat biographical novel I’m now curious about, but won’t have time to track down for awhile — Upton Sinclair’s The Flivver King: A Story of Ford-America from 1937.

That book could be a nice coda to The Great Flivver War of 2015. As you may know, I notified the Two-Gun Raconteur blog about their erroneous definition of the term flivver on a Word of the Week for September 21. Then I schooled them in contemporary meanings of the word they’d obviously never heard of, and apparently couldn’t comprehend. I even pointed out how — aside from not knowing that flivvers were Fords —they were wrong about the basic definition of the simple words in the post.

More than a week later, they still have the incorrect information up on the blog. Yup, we’re ignorant, and damn proud of it!

(I now wonder if you can trust the veracity of any of the posts on TGR. Makes me doubt, to the point that I told Brian Leno — a stalwart on TGR for the last few years — that he could just bring his blogging jones over to Up and Down. Don’t want Leno tainted by egregious flivver misusage!)

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Rediscovered: Thumbing the Hammers in the Gun-Dummy Game

paul powers

Hey, can you tell that I am deep into Will Murray’s history of the pulp western, Wordslingers? A history of a genre, an encyclopedia of mini-biographies of a thousand and one fictioneers, and a debate between the proponents of the action western with its randy crew of “gun-dummies” and more historical yarns.

Yank those smoke-wagons, gun dummy!

Excellent book. Grabbed my copy at the last PulpFest.

And my pal and occasional Guest Blogger Brian Leno got around to reading another book mostly about the western pulps, Pulp Writer from 2007 (but still in print and on eBook), just in time to squeak something in for Biography Month.

The story of how Laurie Powers found the bio of Paul Powers and began stepping into the pulp world — I believe she’s currently at work on a biography of Daisy Bacon, for many years the editor of Ranch Romances, one of the most successful wood pulp magazines of all time. You put your toe in, you sometimes find yourself jumping into the deep end of the pool.

A couple of PulpFests back, I remember Laurie Powers and Will Murray holding down a dealers table, with Pulp Writer on display and Wordslingers still in the works.

Here’s Brian:


Robert E. Howard’s first published short story, “Spear and Fang,” appeared in the July 1925 issue of Weird Tales. That simple fact has made that issue a collector’s dream, propelling second-hand prices into the stratosphere, but there are more items of interest inside that usually battered old pulp.

H. P. Lovecraft is represented with “The Unnamable,” and other Weird Tales greats — such as E. Hoffmann Price, Henry S. Whitehead, and Seabury Quinn — are included in the table of contents, while the cover was reserved for H. Warner Munn’s classic of lycanthropy, “The Werewolf of Ponkert.”

Author Paul S. Powers had a short story in this issue too, prosaically called “The Death Cure.” His second appearance in the periodical; “Monsters of the Pit,” his first, was considered good enough to capture the cover for the June 1925 issue.

That byline may not be overly familiar to the purveyors of the weird and the fantastic, but under his pseudonym of Ward M. Stevens (and others) he brought action to thousands of readers who loved the pulps specializing in western fiction.

But before Powers hit the sagebrush trail he appeared in Weird Tales and “The Death Cure,” a fairly simple yarn dealing with the murder of a drug addict and what happens when a maniacal doctor tries to bring him back to life, was actually Powers’ first sale to Farnsworth Wright. He was paid one-half cent a word, with the grand total coming to $21.75.

This little item of pulp history I found in Pulp Writer: Twenty Years in the American Grub Street, an autobiography by Powers, edited by his granddaughter, Laurie Powers, who provides some very insightful essays to the volume.

Ms. Powers, in her essay “Discovering Pulp Writer,” admits she knows very little about her author grandfather, and also confesses that she knows even less about pulp magazines. She writes that, before starting her research, the only pulp character she knew of was The Shadow.

She adds that to her, pulp fiction brought up “images of lurid magazine covers with detectives in fedoras, dark corners, plenty of blood and guts. Skulls. Women in bondage.” But, after doing her homework, she realizes that the pulps were a “publishing phenomenon that created thousands of characters and involved hundreds of different magazine titles during the first half of the twentieth century.”

Her essay, dealing with the search and eventual discovery of her grandfather makes for great reading and provides good solid history pertaining to Paul S. Powers and Wild West Weekly and the author’s creations of Sonny Tabor and Kid Wolf.

But the real gem in the book is Powers’ autobiographical portion, where he details his life in the pulp jungle, which he writes of with both pride and some bitterness. “Under my own name,” he states, “but usually under the several pen names I have used, more millions of words have been published than I care at the moment to tote up. I have been paid, by one company alone, in the neighborhood of one hundred thousand dollars.” Certainly something to be proud of — and many authors toiling today can probably only shake their heads in envy.

The bitterness shows in Powers when he complains about the editorial policy of some pulps to only pay upon publication. This policy, of course, was something which would irritate many pulp authors, including Robert E. Howard.

Pulp Writer had many laugh out loud moments for me, something I don’t usually do when I’m reading — but Powers’ short autobiography is a pure joy. There are many examples that would bear repeating but one of the most interesting concerns when he ran into a fellow writer who had almost gotten a story accepted by Esquire. Condescendingly, this almost accepted amateur informed Powers that the day could come when Powers might break into the slicks himself.

Powers pens that he enjoyed telling this snob that he had already been published in the slicks, and that the really hard work came when he was trying to break into the pulps. I’m sure all lovers of those tattered old magazines will enjoy hearing of that exchange.

The team up of granddaughter-grandfather is a good mix and provided me with a few hours of informative and entertaining reading. But what this book really did, and what every book should do, is make me want more. So don’t be surprised if you see me at Pulp conventions, picking up copies of Wild West Weekly. Or I might pound the eBay pavement and lasso a paperback of Powers’ novel, Doc Dillahay.

Pulp Writer: Twenty Years in the American Grub Street will take the reader on a voyage to those golden times when entertainment could be had for less than twenty-five cents. As Laurie Powers discovered, it’s a journey well worth taking.

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Two-Gun Bob: The Flivver Dither

flivver 1921

It is now two days since I rebutted the note on the Two-Gun Raconteur blog about a flivver not being, specifically, a Ford. No corrections or apologies or anything — gee, you’d think Damon Sasser got mad at me or something. There are some people who hate to be corrected, and had rather double-down and perpetuate bad info than man up and get it right.

And Damon or someone has removed my name from the “Friends of TGR” roster in the sidebar. . . .

In the Robert E. Howard fan field I think I have met more people who jump the wrong way than in any other activity in which I have ever been involved. Take, for example, the Ben Zoom kerfluffle of a decade or so back — you’ll find it covered in the eBook eXtras materials in The Dark Barbarian That Towers Over All. I warned various people not to use Zoom’s stuff, since it was terrible, and nonetheless Damon published two of his “essays” in two successive issues of TGR — sales plunged, credibility took years to be restored, etc. & etc.

I think if this response was an evolutionary impulse, the dude would be extinct.

But folk can believe who they will — me, or people putting out a Howardian Word of the Week who don’t know what words mean.

Want further proof?

The flivver entry in Word of the Week is illustrated by a pic of a Chevy circa 1935, because that seems to be the model of Robert E. Howard’s car. Damon even kind of brags about the image of “Bob’s Chevy ‘flivver.'”

Look at the definition of flivver they use: noun 1. slang. an automobile, especially one that is small, inexpensive and old.

From information they link to in the post, apparently Howard bought the machine — which isn’t “small” — new in 1935. He killed himself with a bullet to the head, seated inside that car, on June 11, 1936.

I submit to you that a car bought new in 1935 was not “old” by June 1936.

And I have just an inkling, a mere twinge of a feeling, that a car bought new in 1935, just like a car bought new today, was not “inexpensive.”

So, even if you are among the hapless souls who think in the 1920s that a flivver didn’t mean a Ford, you can see that the curtains don’t match the carpet on that entry, right?

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Hammett: A Few Notes from a Former Thin Man

Naturally, my post the other day about the first meeting of me and no less than Bill Arney on a tour back in 1982 was noticed by Bill Arney, who says:

“Oh, man.

“That was my first hat, my first trench coat, and I had met Don for the first time about two hours earlier, give or take. Yeah, Summer, 1982.

“And it was that first hat that started all the ruckus — for me, anyway.

“Really glad that guy took the photo. It captures a critical moment in time.

“I remember being pissed when I read the plaque, as I had not yet read The Maltese Falcon, and the plaque gives away the whole damn mystery!

“And damn! WE WERE THIN!

“Funny, I never thought of myself as thin. I guess thinner would be a more appropriate term.

“Great find — historic!”

And I also got a note from Hammett maven Mike Humbert, seeking to get his name back in my Tag Cloud, who notes:

“Amazing coincidence. Then again, those things happen once in a while. When my wife was a teenager, she worked as a waitress in Skipper’s seafood restaurant. One time, she was telling various stories about those days, and mentioned a guy who used to come in and order a pitcher of root beer and one glass.

“I started smiling. ‘Did he have a big mop of curly hair?’ I asked.

“‘How did you know?’

“‘Because that was ME!’

“As it turns out, Carla and I ‘met’ years before we thought we did.”

Do you get the feeling that the Hammett arena is more fraught with coincidence than most?

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Hammett: Getcher Tickets!

NathanGot a note yesterday from the Mechanics’ Library that 71 seats have sold for the appearance by Hammett biographer Nathan Ward (left, pictured in his Brooklyn turf) next Wednesday — if that’s not sold out, it is closing in. Not like the Mechanics’ is Madison Square Garden. You can only pack it so tight.

Anyway, the point is if you want to attend, check now to see if a few last chairs are open, and get in on the fun.  Nathan will do a little reading from The Lost Detective, we’ll have a panel to chew over Hammett fact and fiction, books can be signed — and no doubt there’ll be some general milling around talking. For a couple of hours, Hammett Central.

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Rediscovered: “Cthulhu and his myth-cycle”

Haef eBookOkay, John D. Haefele has given thumb’s up to me presenting for your edification one of the new riffs he added to the eBook edition of A Look Behind the Derleth Mythos — hey, a little publicity never hurt anything, right?

While all the new stuff is very cool, this insert is by far my favorite — if you have the trade paperback, thumb to page 55. Between the second and third paragraphs, following “notice one way or the other).” and ahead of “To be sure….” you now should read:


Joshi repeats all of this in his I Am Providence biography of Lovecraft, stating bluntly: “The term ‘Cthulhu Mythos’ was invented by August Derleth after Lovecraft’s death; of this there is no question.”

But there is a question.

Though the precise term, Cthulhu Mythos, capitalized, is never used formally by HPL, during his most crucial and creative Mythos phase, merely months after he completed At the Mountains of Madness, we find him writing: “There are so many ideas to write out, & so little time to write them in! Cthulhu & his myth-cycle are purely fictitious, & of my own invention” (HPL to Barlow: 13 July 1931).

Clearly, at least in this passage, HPL is referring to his Cthulhu myth-cycle!


Thus Adds Haefele!

Nice addition, no? He also notes, “Moreover, Derleth likely absorbed this terminology just as he composed ‘H. P. Lovecraft, Outsider: A Commentary’ — though he seems to have forgotten this specific source by 1944, if he even realized he’d encountered HPL’s use of the term in one of several hundred of Lovecraft’s letters — thousands of closely-written pages — that passed through his hands.”

Haefele also reports that

Barlow volunteered use of his letters from Lovecraft to Derleth early that same year: “I have many hundred letters which you may see, if you like….” (Barlow to Derleth: Mar. 1937) Subsequent correspondence mentions the packages of HPL-related material he sent to Sauk City, the first in April.

Despite, then, possibly millions of folk all over the web (and even guys who are in actual books) proclaiming that the Cthulhu Mythos was just something Derleth made up, I think the reasonable among us will agree it is not something he made up out of the blue. And it is a lot catchier than Cthulhu and His Myth-Cycle.

You’d think some guy like Joshi would be aware of this stuff — the Lovecraft letter to Barlow with the quote appears on page 4 (page 4!!!!!!) of the 2007 book edited by Joshi and Dave Schultz, O Fortunate Floridian: H.P. Lovecraft’s Letters to R. H. Barlow. Yet much more recent editions of Joshi’s Lovecraft biography still contain the “no question” bit.

And that’s one of the many reasons why Haefele is now the reigning expert on the history of the Cthulhu Mythos. He pays attention, and gets his facts straight.

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Two-Gun Bob: The Flivver Controversy Erupts!

ford 1921

After my post yesterday about flivvers being Fords they added “A Note from the Editor” to the Word of the Week on Two-Gun Raconteur, which reads:

Apparently Don Herron has his ignition wires crossed in a recent post on his blog regarding this particular Word of the Week.

According to Webster’s Third New International and other sources, no distinction is made about makes or models: a flivver is simply a small, inexpensive, possibly unreliable automobile. They all state that the origin of the term is unknown.

Fords were of course small, inexpensive, sometimes unreliable cars, so they could be flivvers, but so could any make or model which fit the definition. In the scores of examples of usage online, none make any distinctions as to manufacturers.

Fords, in fact, were more often referred to, in slang, as Tin Lizzies.

Ford does have a distinctive association with the word when it comes to aircraft, though: in 1926, Ford introduced the Ford Flivver, a small personal airplane. It was not a success.

Unless Don has some actual evidence that the word flivver means exclusively “Ford,” he’s just running on four flat tires.

Gee, I wonder why Ford called its bird a flivver in 1926. . . ? You’d think that might be a clew for a dedicated word-researcher. . . .

My copy of Dictionary of American Slang (an actual book, which I have read cover-to-cover, not an easy online resource) from 1960 has as a third meaning (after n. 1 A hoax and 2 A failure) the now common definition — it is from 1960, after all — of “a small, cheap, old, dilapidated automobile” but with an origins note reading Orig. an early model Ford, c1918.

That Ford assembly line, cranking out the machines, using wood from the packing crates parts came shipped in for floor boards — you could look out on any street or road and spot a flivver tooling around. Some of them were even brand new! Hot off the lines!

And while life experience does not seem to have much value these days over on the TGR site, I am happy to say that I have had many hours of conversation with people who were alive in the 1920s and 30s — in particular, the late great pulp fictioneer E. Hoffmann Price once proclaimed something about the Ford Model T which I have set aside to use in a neo-pulp tale some day, one of those tidbits you couldn’t get from someone who didn’t know the era. (A Wiki definition of flivver, by the way, reports that: “A contemporary term was a “Tin Lizzy” [referring to a Ford Model T].” Again, note the specificity. Not any Ford. The Model T. Some people are just so loose with words, as if they don’t understand they have meaning.)

But I know that these days — and based on the reaction on TGR — that many people in fact trust largely to internet sources, so how about this meaning from The Internet Guide to Jazz Age Slang:

flivver: a Model T; after 1928, could mean any broken down car

So, since Damon Sasser asked for a source for what he suggested was merely my “opinion,” there you go. Note the 1928. Most of Robert E. Howard’s poems were written by that date as he had less time for them, plunging into his volcanic career as a wordslinger for the American wood pulp magazines.

Yeah, Two-Gun Bob slung those words. Personally, I think he knew what they meant, and the lines

Now flapper ridden flivvers whiz
Along the ancient road.

refers to Fords — not to Chevvies or some product off the line from Standard Steel or Westcott Motor or Auburn Automobile or Liberty or Winton or the legions of other auto makers of that bygone era — an era apparently lost to the TGR crew. But not to me.

If you care to check page 174 of San Francisco Noir 2: The Classics, where my neo-pulp yarn “Knives in the Dark”  — set circa 1921 — appears (alongside efforts by mugs such as Mark Twain, Bierce, Hammett and other guys who tossed all those words around meaninglessly) you’ll find:

The corpse took his machine smack into a flivver parked in the gutter, pushing it up on the kerb and spraying glass shards around.

Yeah, the dead guy ran his car into a parked Ford.

I’m not stupid.

(And by the way, I got the gist of that scene from conversations with another notable pulpster, Don Wandrei, who once told me about an opening he had for a detective tale that he couldn’t figure out how to play. A little tribute to Wandrei to lend some pulp-era mojo to the action.)

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