Rediscovered: Klarkash-Ton for Hallowe’en


Toward my seasonal Hallowe’en reading this year, I decided I’d dive back into the eldritch oeuvre of Clark Ashton Smith — it has been far too long since I did any kind of major rereading, though of course I have read his story cycles more than once over the decades.

One of my favorite authors forty years ago, still a fave today.

Plus I have a practical reason for the refresher course: I can use my expertise in Klarkash-Ton Studies as a backstop for John D. Haefele as he works on his next book, Lovecraft: The Great Tales. Some months ago we were chatting and “Out of the Aeons,” a story ghost-written by Lovecraft, came up. I’d just reread that one, and said, yeah, that’s Lovecraft doing his version of one of Smith’s tales of prehistoric Hyperborea — with another nod to Smith in the hapless thief invading a place he really should have steered clear of. . . . So many thieves scaling towers or towering mountains in Clark Ashton Smith, so many. And if you read “Aeons,” you can see Lovecraft paying homage to that action.

Haefele mentioned that many of the so-called major Lovecraft critics don’t know how to deal with Smith’s Hyperborean cycle, which obviously becomes a key component of the Cthulhu Mythos — but they don’t want to include it in the Mythos! Too much work, I guess.

Yet Lovecraft instantly adopted Smith’s funky little demon-god Tsathoggua into his pantheon, and that circle of writers traded influences back and forth constantly, played with each other. (Lovecraft snuck “Out of the Aeons” into print without giving Smith any warning, and when Smith asked if he’d had a hand in the story, Lovecraft replied that “I should say I did have a hand in it . . . I wrote the damn thing!” To amuse and delight one another, that was part of the fun — and what led quickly to the shared-world Cthulhu Mythos.)

So, at the least I figured I’d look over the Hyperborea tales again, and some others of my favorites. And as I read through “The Testament of Athammaus,” about a headsman trying to execute a bandit with some Tsathoggua blood on his mother’s side, I pointed out to Haefele that it shows heavy influence from Lovecraft’s “The Dunwich Horror” — in the third return of the beheaded bandito the “cephaloid appendage” came back on the chest, and “one eye had slipped away from all relation with its fellow or the head and was now occupying the navel, . .  . arms had lengthened into tentacles, with fingers that were like knots of writhing vipers” and so forth. Obviously riffing on the large tentacled giant-face-on-the-back Dunwich Horror itself, in what Smith decided was his “best monster to date.”

And the way the Tsathoggua spawn climbs atop the execution block and grows, and grows, reminded me of the similar monster that appears atop the menhir in Robert E. Howard’s “The Black Stone”. . . .

Made me ponder. “Dunwich Horror” saw print in Weird Tales for April 1929 (but was written in 1928). “Black Stone” in WT for November 1931, but Haefele tells me HPL and REH were talking about subjects that might have inspired the monster in 1930. Apparently CAS thought of the plot of “Athammaus” in 1930 and after he finally wrote it up it hit print in WT for October 1932.

I’ll be curious to see how Haefele fits all these parts and influences together, as CAS nudges HPL’s imagination and HPL inspires CAS, with REH also in the thick of the initial Mythos tales.

And meantime, I get the deep pleasure of revisiting Klarkash-Ton, and at the right time of year.

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Rediscovered: Brian Leno Reviews a Bestseller; or, Amazing Exploits of the Tallest Midget

When I began my casual gig reviewing books for Publishers Weekly back in 2000, I told Pete the editor that I wasn’t interested in covering any novels that were being packaged as “bestsellers” — I did my time earlier in those salt mines doing essays about Stephen King, and that was enough for me. I will on occasion read a bestseller (Hammett sold pretty well, after all), but my plan is to read each and every crime thriller by Jean-Patrick Manchette before I ever crack open a spine on a James Patterson title. Personal preference — if you’re a Patterson partisan, go for it.

I imagine my occasional Guest Blogger Brian Leno thinks the same, yet here we are today both talking about a bestseller: John D. Haefele’s A Look Behind the Derleth Mythos!

A complete surprise to me, though I did kind of predict it in a post the other day when I observed:

Meanwhile, I wonder if we could say that Haefele’s book is a bestseller? On Amazon, it sometimes hovers in the 100,000s but sudden sales drop it down into the 10,000s — highest sales rank I noticed was 27,749. Out of all the books in all the world, I think that’s pretty hot for a volume of litcrit/lit history.

What I didn’t know was that Amazon actually keeps track of sub-categories — even horror litcrit! And for about a week now Haefele’s revamped trade paperback has held down the number 2 spot day after day, dropping to number 3 on occasion, but so far always climbing back up. Considering it is in the market against books about a bestseller like Stephen King and pop topics like zombies and vampires, again, I think that’s pretty damn hot.

If anyone had told you a month ago that a book on August Derleth and Arkham House ever would outsell something about King or the living dead, would you have believed it?

And you won’t hear me griping about unfair competition: as far as I’m concerned, all the books in the horror litcrit category belong there. It is apples to apples. Of course Haefele couldn’t be expected to outperform the new James Patterson novel or a fad diet book.

But some people don’t grasp that idea — such as my longtime pal Scott Connors, who on the Two-Gun Raconteur Facebook page for October 23 chipped in, after news that Haefele made the cut for the horror litcrit bestseller list, that: “A Best Seller in Horror and Supernatural Literature Criticism is like the tallest midget.”

Like Scott himself has ever had any kind of bestseller in his life, and horror litcrit is the precise field he writes in!

And apparently Scott doesn’t understand that he is labeling the poor guys who aren’t selling nearly as well as Haefele this week — such as Bobby Derie, Jason Colavito, S.T. Joshi, Stanley Wiater, Matt Cardin and others — as uber runts.

Short midgets.

The Lollypop Guild choir.

Better to be the Mayor of Munchkin Town, right?

And it’s not as if Scott disagrees with Haefele on the subject of Lovecraft and Derleth.

But I am curious to see how long Haefele stays on this list, at number 2 or in the Top Ten — or Top Twenty. Today he hit his highest sales rank (that I’ve noticed, anyway) at 20,898. Finally, a bestseller I can muster some enthusiasm for!

On the Two-Gun Raconteur blog today Brian Leno blurbs the book — he doesn’t do anything with the bestseller angle, instead concentrating on Haefele’s vital roots in Robert E. Howard fandom/literary criticism. Haefele had labored in Lovecraft fandom for years without getting any particular attention, but when he came over to Howardtown, he was unleashed. Won some awards. Learned to write.

And he displays all those chops in the revised trade paperback. Reflects well on the Howard critics who showed him the ropes.

A bestseller.


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Tour: Walking the Walk


On the tour for October 19 two more writers with a crime connection chalked their names on the mean streets of Hammettville: Judy Meliner and T.J. Mitchell.

One book out so far, non-fiction, on the corpse trade — with plans for fiction.

Noble lineage. Quincy. Bones. Ducky.

I’ve met MEs and coroners before — the late great Boyd Stephens notable among them. Somewhere around here I have some photos of me Dr. Stephens shot, in full tour regalia, hat, trenchcoat.

Maybe not the most lively-looking poses ever recorded, but, hey. The majority of his photographic subjects didn’t move around much.

Yep, lots of writers have done the tour. Willeford. And Ace Atkins. And David Drake. To name a few.

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Tour: On Sunday November 2 and November 9

tour with arms

Two more tours this year where anyone with $20 and four hours to kill can just show up and walk the walk — and after that we’re into Xmas Season, and rains, bleak noir rains (if luck for Frisco is running good).

Translation: show up for one of these or wait for 2015.

Sunday November 2 or Sunday November 9. Noon. Near the “L” sculpture.

Image above: expansive gesture in Olive Street, with the back of the Great American Music Hall looming — the fading letters for “Blanco’s” are just out of range above the top row of windows. Blanco’s, stop 8 for those of you who have the tour book.

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Two-Gun Bob: “Der finstere Barbar”

german reh

I haven’t held an actual copy in my hands as yet, but have been told that the new collection of Robert E. Howard stories from Festa is indeed out and about in the world — offered for sale on Amazon, German-style.

Cool cover. Dark.

Black, even — like the stories by the Texas author that lie within.

Of course, this news might not normally make the cut for Up and Down These Mean Streets — there have been many collections of the fiction of Robert E. Howard in Germany for decades now — but this is the one that includes my “The Dark Barbarian,” title essay from the 1984 book of the same name.

They popped me the reprint fee early last year (received on Howard’s birthday, as it turned out), and I’ve been waiting patiently to see the book hit print. And here it is.

“Der finstere Barbar.” Has a ring to it, you know?

And the late great Robert E. Howard remains The Dark Barbarian That Towers Over All.

(Unless, of course, you prefer lightweight nonsensical fare, in which case other books by other authors might suit your tastes better. Nothing wrong, at all, with P.G. Wodehouse, but he wasn’t much with barbarism tearing at the walls of civilization.)

If you want litcrit on REH, The Dark Barbarian still towers over all, thirty years later. A classic — the guys at Festa knew that, and I’m glad they didn’t embarrass me with some pretty brightly-colored un-Howardian cover. They asked for “The Dark Barbarian,” and it seems they knew what they wanted, all the way through.

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Rediscovered: More on Roadhouse Benny

hollywood revue

My Jack Benny Research Team never sleeps!

Not much, anyway.

Remember the post I did back in 2012 about hearing the mention of Benny’s name in the movie Roadhouse Nights, based — and I use the word based very, very loosely — on the Hammett novel Red Harvest?

If not, go back and check out that post for the background.

Now, here’s the news: the website Tralfaz presents evidence that puts Benny on radio by 1929, which would make the reference in Roadhouse Nights more explicable.

I still stick — on a gut level — with the idea that the possible Chi-town connection between Ben Hecht and Benny may best account for the reference/in-joke.

More info as it surfaces, if ever. . . .

Posted in Dash, Film, News | Tagged , , , , |

Rediscovered: A Willeford Blurb — For Haefele?!?


Image above — Haefele’s Heretics rolling into Lovecraft Town on a convoy of Shermans. Locked and loaded.

Yep, every time I pick up the new trade paperback of John D. Haefele’s A Look Behind the Derleth Mythos all I can think of is how this thick tome is like some kind of little tank, engine rumbling, and a quote from Charles Willeford jumps instantly to mind.

In case you don’t know, Willeford was a tank platoon commander with the 10th Armored Division of Patton’s Third Army. Participated in the capture of Trier. One of the longest nights of his life, he said, was “the night I spent in a tank turret in Bergdorf, Luxembourg, during the Battle of the Bulge.” Once he ordered his Sherman to plow into an encircled village, loaded on twenty-three stranded GIs and then got the hell out of Dodge without losing one passenger.

I cover that part of his life in the chapter “Tank Command” in my book Willeford, and that’s where you’ll find him detailing what tanks can’t do — and what tanks can. Tanks, he wrote with some authority,

can knock out machine guns, cut down opposing infantry, make with a non-persistent screening smoke, give excellent covering fire, and create havoc in a small town. They also raise fear in opposing forces, and have been known to use crushing power on men who couldn’t run faster than twenty-four miles per hour.

I notice that the townsfolk of “elite” Lovecraft fandom, based on initial social media reaction, are so inbred they don’t even know a little panic would serve them well, much less that they might want to start jumping into ditches.

Nope, these guys are standing around pontificating that it would have been nicer if Haefele had taken a “more objective approach” to the subject — which is to say that Haefele should be agreeing with all the misinformation about August Derleth that has been circulating for decades, and that these poor saps have accepted as truthful.

Hey, villagers! — you’re wrong. Haefele is the objective historian and you’ve bought into propaganda. A new review by Thomas Krabacher — Professor Tom Krabacher — on the Amazon page for the revised trade paperback explains the scenario quite well.

And one guy seems to have decided that he prefers — for scholarly purposes — the original hardcover edition of Haefele’s book, after I mentioned that I persuaded Haefele to drop a lot of the mock-academic apparatus (page numbers for quotes in the text, etc) from the new paperback.

The new edition has An Index. Enough said. You want to do serious research, an index gives you excellent covering fire.

But may I add that the hardcover publisher didn’t even bother to input the last two or three rounds of proofing we did for that edition. (In a way I can’t blame him — he wasn’t geared up for how much work a book like this involves. Still, really irritating.) And that this new one has much tougher MLA strictures on the cites in back (not something I care about, but the new publisher insisted).

Apparently this guy would prefer having an errata list for the hardback — instead of realizing that the new one is completely redone, improved, polished, from the style to the cites. Jeez, the new info on how Frank Belknap Long influenced “The Whisperer in Darkness” is worth twenty bucks, if you’re a true devotee of H.P. Lovecraft.

(By the way, I noticed surfing around on the serious scholar’s site that he has some posts up done in collaboration with Randy Everts — I wonder if he knows that the first day the Derleth Papers were made public in the State Historical Society of Wisconsin archives that I went in with Everts and Scott Connors to scope out the holdings? That was circa 1975 or 76, so I’ve been involved in this sphere for a long time. I did mention that research plunge to Connors at a party last month, and he didn’t remember that I was there — so I don’t think I’d hire Scott to write my biography. He is supposed to be writing a bio of Clark Ashton Smith, but I’m not holding my breath on that one, either.)

Now, I can see how someone who popped around $60 for the hardback might not want to lay out another $20 or so, just on general economic principles. But I’m pretty sure you can just keep the hardback, which isn’t going to be in print forever, and sell it for even bigger bucks later — at the moment on Amazon the price for the hardback has jumped from the $60 range to over $90. Get the new edition and sell the original on eBay someday for mucho pazoors. The fans who are eager to disprove Haefele’s research will need the hardcover to search for quotes they can quibble and grouse over, and they’ll get to pay through the nose for the privilege.

Meanwhile, I wonder if we could say that Haefele’s book is a bestseller? On Amazon, it sometimes hovers in the 100,000s but sudden sales drop it down into the 10,000s — highest sales rank I noticed was 27,749. Out of all the books in all the world, I think that’s pretty hot for a volume of litcrit/lit history. (I thought to check today, and found that my book Willeford had a sales rank of 1,429,047 — and that title has been out of print for over four years, and the publisher Dennis McMillan has quit the book game and is roaming America getting his cars and vintage neckwear stolen. Man, I have to feel sorry for books that are still in print that have a worse sales rank than Willeford.)

I do think the Look Inside feature on Amazon could have been a lot better — they don’t even include the full Contents pages. Probably the best plug for the book would have been to sample a complete chapter, such as the one — just classic — on the Black Magic Quote. You get a much better look inside on The Cimmerian Press site, if you’re still thinking about it.

That little tank is guaranteed to create havoc, and it’s going to be fun to watch.

“But, but. . . it’s not objective. . . .”

It’s a tank, inbred village idiot. Put on your running shoes.

Posted in DMac, Lit, News, Willeford | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , |

Frisco Beat: Lit Street = Mean Street

It’s around the twenty-sixth anniversary of the literary streets being named, and last night Jack London Street in San Francisco witnessed flying lead and sudden death — seems like the sort of thing I should at least mention here on Up and Down These Mean Streets.

Don’t know how many other killings may have occurred on the various lit streets, but this is the first to come to my attention.

Police vs. the criminal element — read about it here, and keep your nose clean.

Posted in Frisco, News | Tagged , |

891 Post: And More on 895 Post

How about another 891 Post post?

Eighteen people hauled out for the walk on September 21, including Warren Harris of Midget Bandit Week fame (so naturally I had to do lots of extra coverage of Edwin Ware) and a guy named John Fox, who just popped me a note to say that the four-plus hours “was a long time on my feet for an old man” — but John seemed to enjoy himself. He’s even planning to read some Continental Op tales now.

John rolled down from the Tri-Cities in Washington state after seeing the write-up in the New York Times — specifically the mention of 891 Post Street. He had a connection to that address, so when we got to the apartment building of Sam Spade, I pulled him in as a Guest Lecturer:

“From fall 1935 to summer 1937,” John told us, “I lived with my uncle, Raymond B. Powers and his wife. I have found no record of the address in anything I have, but I’m  almost certain from looking at the buildings that it was 839 Post.

“We had an apartment on the east side of the building facing the street but also a window at the rear facing a very small courtyard.  I think it was the second or perhaps third floor. I was in the 4th & 5th grades at Redding School.”

Same block as 891 Post, 79 years ago — but here’s the cool part:

“Ray’s office on the corner at 895 Post St. was the Chamberlin Metal Weather Strip Co. and had a small storeroom and shop in back with a side door on Hyde. I’m not sure how long it was there, but by 1939 or 40 when the exposition was on, he had moved to Russian Hill and the office moved to 119 S. 9th.  It closed shortly after Pearl Harbor as there was no more metal and we moved back to Portland (I was then living with them again).”

So that business space in 891 Post — that has been some kind of laundry the entire time I’ve been doing The Dashiell Hammett Tour — used to front a weather stripping shop. John mentioned that during that period he can’t recall any mention whatsoever of Hammett once being a resident of the building.

How would they have known Hammett once lived in the building, anyway?

Still, some living history along for the walk — got to love it.

And any fan of the fiction will appreciate the reality of “895 Post” as a street address. Back in 2011 I went nuts with a discovery found in the Op story “Death and Company,” which specifically uses 895 Post.

(Inspired by Warren Harris’ sleuthing out of an I.D. on The Midget Bandit, John even has made some tentative moves to uncover the real life model for “the Joel Cairo character, based on a 1920 forger in Pasco, WA” — Pasco, one of the Tri-Cities:

(“I visited the small Franklin County Historical Museum in Pasco this week, discussed it with a volunteer there and gave her a copy of the statement by Hammett which mentioned this very briefly. She is referring it to their archivist to look into. I have no idea what resources they have to trace this.

(“This might be another ‘claim to fame’ for what was then a little railroad town of a couple  thousand and now a fast growing city of 65,000.”

(Yeah, it would be swell if the model for Cairo could be uncovered, too.)

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Tour: Sunday October 19

tour and jeopardy

In the image above, the tour stops to gander the plaque marking 811 Geary Street, notable — per the plaque, and it is just true — as the building where Fritz Leiber wrote his novel Our Lady of Darkness.

One of the sideline sites usually included on the four hour version of The Dashiell Hammett Tour.

If you’ve got four hours, four hours and 25 minutes or so to spare, this month the tour will be offered on Sunday October 19 — if you can’t make that one, the next walk offered will be on Sunday November 9.

All you have to do is show up by noon. No reservations. Just be there, ready to walk.

Bring $20 per person. Comfortable shoes recommended. And it is as simple as that.

The Fritz stop, by the way, is where I talk about how I was once a question on Jeopardy! And that brought out the info from the guy in the dark blue shirt, standing in the front right of the photo, that he was once a two-day champ on that venerable game show.

One degree of separation from Alex Trebek. Two degrees of separation from Jesse Ventura. . . .

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