Frisco Beat: Lit World of San Francisco Now Podcasted

If you missed the live transmission of my interview on BFF.fm a month ago, it is now in an archive and ready to be listened to.

One minute short of two hours, most of the chatter concerns my book The Literary World of San Francisco. I thought to check the page on Amazon yesterday and found that it was number 2 on the list of bestselling travel books about San Francisco.

At this moment it is no. 5.

Since it has been out of print for twenty years, I am always amazed that enough secondhand copies circulate to keep it popping back up toward the top of the heap.

At any rate, the interview covers angles no other radio interview ever has or probably ever would, real on the street stuff. And even so, almost half the time is spent on blocks of music — I got to pick two of those, and rounded up a selection from my blues music pal R. J. Mischo, and faded the time out with a barnburner from Beau Jocque.

Posted in Frisco, Lit, News | Tagged , , , , |

Rediscovered: Ed Gorman and a Book That Could Have Been

Noticed that today is Ed Gorman Day across the web.

After a long battle with cancer, Gorman died on October 15. I spotted immediate tributes by fellow writers such as Bill Crider and James Reasoner. The appeal of his fiction got a good blurb from Brian Drake.

I knew of Gorman mostly because he started Mystery Scene magazine, and I picked up an anthology or two he edited. Maybe someday I’ll do a burst of reading in his backlog, but then I always associate him with the “quiet” school of writers in his era — like Charles Grant or Bill Pronzini — and I never cared for that style. He thought Pronzini’s Blue Lonesome was a masterpiece, and as anyone who cares to read my review of it from December 1995 will see, man, do I disagree. The Maltese Falcon is a masterpiece. The Burnt Orange Heresy is a masterpiece. The Prone Gunman is a masterpiece.

I got a call from Gorman once, after my book Willeford came out late in 1997.

He liked it, and had the idea that I could do a series of articles on other writers such as Willeford for Mystery Scene — the little writers or “forgotten” writers who never get covered (or didn’t in that day).

He’d pay a penny a word — or perhaps it was as much as three cents a word, but it was definitely a pay rate that would have been understood in the pulp era.

And if I did enough of the articles, then I’d have a book.

I wasn’t bothered by the penny a word rate — for a lit survey, not so bad. I’ve had at least a couple of essays on writers that have cleared well over a thousand each, but most earn out around $100 or so, if that. The book collecting the set might have sold 100 copies, maybe 200 — if it plowed through a run of 500 or more, I’d have been amazed.

For a second or two I believe I can say I actually considered the idea.

But what I said was something like, “You know, I appreciate the offer, I do — and if you had gotten to me twenty years ago, or fifteen, I probably would have said Yes.”

I understood the time it would have consumed — to do the job Gorman grasped from Willeford that I ought to be able to do, I would have had to read the complete inventories of Gorman and some of his contemporaries, and PBO writers such as Peter Rabe and a hundred more — or at least ten or twelve, enough for a book.

A lot of work, something someone with the inclination really should write. Paperback Writers. The Dirty Dozen of the Paperback Jungle. They Had Typewriters and Used Them.

But me, what I had in me at that point was Willeford.

And unspoken at the time, although I thought about it later, was the fact that I didn’t do a book on Willeford simply because he had been neglected or because he emerged from the paperback original market. All those angles were interesting, of course, but I did the book because I thought — and still think — he was a great writer.

If I began to drudge my way through the idea, it could have become hackwork — and the fact that I am lazy has saved me from producing the usual body of hackwork you see from some of my contemporaries in the litcrit arena.

So Gorman and I chatted a bit more about Willeford, and before he rang off, he said, “Some time I’m going to have to explain to you why Blue Lonesome is a masterpiece.”

I guess my review of Blue Lonesome got around. . . .

“Sure,” I said, but we never picked up that thread. But in memoriam Ed Gorman, let me repeat: he thought Blue Lonesome was a masterpiece.

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

Rediscovered: Something Else Fishy for Hallowe’en

leno-goes-fishing

If you surf over to Element 118 Books you’ll find a new horror story by Brian Leno served up for Hallowe’en.

Brian must have gotten deep into the spooks and goblins mood this year, since he just did a little rundown on the Romeo Poole story “A Hand from the Deep” for us here.

I’m not sure there’s enough evidence to indicate that H.P. Lovecraft definitely picked up thematic elements from the Poole yarn, but I think it’s safe to say after reading Brian’s ripper that he has savored “The Shadow over Innsmouth” more than once.

Yeah, the witchy season is on us.

Posted in Lit, News | Tagged , , , |

Rediscovered: “A Hand from the Deep”

poole-issue

To get our surfing safari in the Hallowe’en mood, Guest Blogger Brian Leno popped in a post on an early yarn in Weird Tales from an obscure scribe — but it may have had some trace influence on another obscure scribe of the day who isn’t so obscure any more.

Hit it, Brian:

 

The ownership of a fairly large library brings not only joy, but also great responsibility. The shelves should be dusted quite often. Books need to be arranged in proper order. Either alphabetically, by genre, or by however the caretaker of the library damn well pleases.

I was engaged in this time-consuming task a while back. Being a procrastinator by nature, I decided to take a break and ramble through the contents of one of the books that was awaiting shelf-space — or, to be precise, I needed to get off the floor.

The book was Not at Night, “selected and arranged” by Christine Campbell Thomson, and is a reprinting in hardcover of stories taken from Weird Tales in the early years of the magazine.

Idly scanning the contents I was taken by the title “A Hand from the Deep,” written by Romeo Poole. I had never heard of either the author or the story, but the title reminded me of H. P. Lovecraft’s The Deep Ones and his masterpiece “The Shadow over Innsmouth.”

Needing a break from my hard work, I sat in my chair and read.

The story begins with an explosion and fire in the second floor of a sanatorium operated by Dr. Whitby, a man who is considered somewhat of a crackpot in the area. Sole survivor of this destruction is Simon Glaze, a patient whose arm was amputated just above the elbow by Whitby.

The doc qualifies as a mad scientist of sorts — realizing that lobsters or crabs can regenerate a limb that has either been broken or bitten off, Whitby had been injecting Simon with “glandular extracts” from lobsters, hoping this might spur Glaze’s arm to grow back.

While this horrible lapse of medical ethics is not yet known to the doctors now taking care of Simon, they do notice strange behavior occurring in their patient.

Glaze insists that his stump be kept soaking wet, and he pleads to be able to take a bath, in cold water, two or three times a day.

Under stress, he doubles up into a ball, “rolling on the floor… like a wooden thing.” Once, when startled by the sudden entrance of a doctor into his room “he gathered his legs and his good arm under him like a flash and sprang backward, clear on to the next bed.”

The doomed Glaze also loses the power of speech, and is “frequently found…doubled into the familiar ball, sleeping with his eyes half open.” Marsh, an intern at the sanatorium who narrates the story, feels that Glaze’s head is “losing its prominent crown and sinking into a more brutish line.”

By the time the doctors really understand what Whitby was attempting to do, it’s too late for Glaze, whose stump is developing into an almost perfect lobster-like claw and his right hand has also begun to morph into a pincher-like member.

Glaze, becoming a sort of science-induced lobster-man, is now diving for long periods beneath the water in his bath tub (must be one huge tub), coming up “half-strangled, yet seeming to enjoy it all.”

And this is where the doctors find him, at the end of the story, in a “tubful of cold water…doubled and curled up, face far down under the water — dead.” Lancey, another of the interns, diagnoses that because of Glaze’s now lobster-like brain he would have undoubtedly felt safer under the water, but since his lungs had never developed along the same lines as his brain, he was a goner.

Where this tale takes place is never mentioned, but I couldn’t help but think of Innsmouth and H. P. Lovecraft while I was reading it. And of course when I saw that the narrator’s name was Marsh it obviously brought to mind HPL’s mad Obed Marsh, who helped turn Innsmouth into a town of horror.

And when Marsh notices the changing of Simon Glaze’s skull I remembered Lovecraft’s description of the “Innsmouth look” in “The Shadow over Innsmouth:”

Only a very rare affliction, of course, could bring about such vast and radical anatomical changes in a single individual after maturity—changes involving osseous factors as basic as the shape of the skull…

Even the explosion on the second floor of the sanatorium sparked my recollection of the Whateleys and what lived on the upper floor of their home, for a time, in Lovecraft’s “The Dunwich Horror.” And the name Whitby does bear a close resemblance to Whateley.

Romeo Poole, the author of this Lovecraft-like tale, had three stories published in Weird Tales. His “A Hand from the Deep” appeared in the December 1924 issue, years before “The Shadow Over Innsmouth” saw print anywhere.

In this same issue were Lovecraft buddies Frank Belknap Long with his “Death-Waters” and C. M. Eddy Jr. with his cave-man story, “Weapons of Stone.”

Obviously it’s an issue Lovecraft would have been familiar with, and it’s very conceivable that he read Poole’s sea-food extravaganza.

Of course the stories differ in their approach of how these lobster/fish creatures come about. Poole has his aberration come alive pseudo-scientifically, almost Frankenstein-like, while Lovecraft dwells upon the mating of humans with creatures that should never have made their way onto land.

I’m certainly not saying that Lovecraft plagiarized Romeo, but I did find the coincidences between the two stories interesting, worthy perhaps of further study. You never know, there could have been something fishy going on.

Posted in Lit | Tagged , , , , , , , , , |

Tour: The Kermit Sheets Copy

kermit-inscription

Grizzled eBay gunhawk Brian Leno told me that a signed copy of an old tour book currently is on the block — Buy It Now for $39.50.

First printing of the second edition from 1982. Same printing as the copy I turned up at PulpFest which had the letter mentioning my first meeting with Bill Arney.

I guess now that we have reached 34 years later, the folk who bought copies back then are falling by the wayside and the books are looking for new shelves to house them.

Brian asked if I even remembered signing this one, and I said, Sure — Kermit was a really nice guy, a regular at meetings of The Maltese Falcon Society. Offhand, I can’t recall a meeting he might have missed.

In other words, a genuine associational copy, not just an inscription knocked out in a line at a bookstore or a Bouchercon someplace, although it seems I did sign it at that Bouchercon I was chairman of that year.

Kermit gave us one of my favorite moments from The Maltese Falcon Society. A little guy, kind of mousey, you wouldn’t expect any rabble-rousing from him at first glance. But when we had the enormous burly bounty hunter Tiny Boyles speak the first time (Tiny was a Society favorite, he got to come back), Kermit struck.

In the course of his talk, Tiny mentioned that he got guns for all his kids, including a shotgun for his four-year-old — or maybe the kid was six. Anyway, it seemed like a lot of gun for a kid, and may have caused a gasp or two from the audience.

During the Q&A Kermit stood up, ramrod straight, and boldly asked, “Mr. Boyles, do you think your sickness should be spread?”

Uhoh.

People started glancing at each other, convinced Tiny was going to whip out a gun from under the roll of fat over his belt and cap Kermit off right then and there.

In fact, Tiny gave what I thought was a pretty eloquent answer, defending his right to have and like guns and Kermit’s right to be outraged.

But by any standard, one of the top moments in the history of the late great Maltese Falcon Society.

Yeah, a really nice associational copy.

Posted in Frisco, News, Tour | Tagged , , , , , , , |

Frisco Beat: Big Sale at Kayo; or, The Adventure of the French Translator

Yesterday I met up with noir writer Kent Harrington from Posse McMillan and Nordine Haddad, Kent’s French translator who is in the burg for a little visit before he and Kent wander off to NoirCon in Philly in a week or so. Did parts of the tour for their amusement, introduced Nordine to the name Charles Willeford. Told him to start with Miami Blues, if he likes that, then plunge in.

When he was a kid Kent’s dad worked in various buildings in the downtown part of Market Street, and he has vivid memories of the city as it was. You know me, I really like the city as it was — the city as it was yesterday, with traffic completely stopped on major freeways for hour after hour all over the area all day, hey, not so much.

As we wandered around Kent decided we should duck into Kayo Books, Post between Leavenworth and Hyde. He did a signing there roughly twenty years ago, for Dia de los Muertas I believe it was. Pretty sure I attended that one. The first Kent novel published by Dennis McMillan.

Got the news from the Kayo guys that at the end of this month they will no longer be open to folk just walking in, like we were doing. At first I thought they were abandoning the storefront, continuing only as an online biz — if so, another loss to that block similar to the closing of the House of Fans.

But no, they’re keeping the space. You can make an appointment if you’re a collector rolling in from out of town.

Guess it’s kind of like when I used to do the Hammett tour every Sunday during the year, year after year, and finally began to cut back. After twenty-one years they don’t want to man the desk for a few days every week, but they’ll still sell you stuff.

Turns out we walked into the midst of an 80% off almost everything sale. They had an ex-library copy of the first edition of Miami Blues, priced around $35ish. But knock 80% off so it was under a tenspot, and Nordine decided he’d grab it and find out real fast if he’d like Willeford or not.

I spotted a perfect copy of the Solar Pons miscellany A Praed Street Dossier by August Derleth for $30 — or $6.50 on sale. Guess finally I will be reading some Solar Pons. . . .

If you’re in striking distance of Kayo, the 80% sale continues today and tomorrow. Next weekend, Thursday-Friday-Saturday, as they clear out the stock Kayo will do a final slashing of prices down to 90% off.

You’ve been informed. 90% off.

Posted in Dash, DMac, Frisco, Lit, News, Tour | Tagged , , , , , , |

Rediscovered: Gumshoe America; or, Race vs. the Klan

blackmask1923-06-01

In a couple of days I’m dropping in on a party in Tom Krabacher’s lair, and returning his loaner copy of the academic tome Gumshoe America from 200o by Sean McCann. I was curious about it, since among the major authors surveyed it includes Charles Willeford — plus David Goodis, Jim Thompson, Chester Himes, and standards such as Hammett and Chandler. A great lineup, although I can’t say that I think he really nails his overall thesis about politics and America and hard-boiled lit.

Ultimately, you end up with a lot of plot summary, but then it installs Willeford in a book from Duke University Press, so what the hell.

Tom often pops for items like this one, and usually I don’t. (The Krabacher copy of The Unique Legacy of Weird Tales currently is making the rounds in our circle, since no one else wanted to shell out circa $80 for that turkey.) The guy is a real resource.

So, while in general I’m neither here nor there with Gumshoe America — if you like this kind of book, then it may be the kind of book you like, if you know what I mean — I was totally baffled by the first chapter, “Constructing Race Williams: The Klan and the Making of Hard-Boiled Crime Fiction.”

As anyone who checks this blog knows, recently I read through the first volume of the collected Race Williams tales, including “Knights of the Open Palm” — the story where Carroll John Daly introduces Race to the world, which happened to appear in the KKK issue of Black Mask. McCann makes a big deal out of this fact, spinning some deep meaning or connection that I had never heard a rumor of before.

The Klan was flourishing at that time — with millions of members in Ohio alone — so the editors decided to work up a theme issue on the subject. To the best of my knowledge, it wasn’t as if KKK material appeared constantly in the pulp in that era. They did the one issue, and that was it — and perhaps a few items in the letters column afterwards referenced it.

Thus, as far as I know or have ever known, the Klan issue of Black Mask was an anomaly.

Daly already was appearing in The Mask, so I take it when he got word that the theme issue needed copy, he created Race Williams and had old Race encounter a Klan-like cult.

Made the sale, cashed the cheque.

But per McCann, something significant was going on, and he spends close to fifty pages in the chapter going on and on about Race and, well, race. . . .

Then suddenly, out of the blue, on page 45 McCann writes:

It would be a mistake, however, to overemphasize the role played by the Klan in the development of either hard-boiled crime fiction or Black Mask magazine. After 1924, the Klan faded quickly from political and social prominence, the victim of a series of public relations disasters. Likewise, the group (and nativist varieties of fiction that it may have helped inspire) disappeared from Black Mask after the mid-twenties, and neither the magazine nor hard-boiled crime fiction ever made direct reference to the Klan again. It seems unlikely, then, that the KKK provided an essential element for the success of the genre or that the fiction could not have developed as it did without the Klan.

In short, he’s admitting that his theory has no weight to it — and then he spends many more pages trying to prove it again.

Very bizarre.

If you ever write any litcrit, make sure you don’t stick something like that into your book or essay.

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

Rediscovered: More Mask and Daly — and The Munnster Rides Again

Speaking of Carroll John Daly and Black Mask, as I just was, yes, I got the memo on July 19 that Steeger Properties LLC had bought the rights to The Mask — and also acquired rights to the Daly backlog.

Since I guess Steeger is also, more or less, Altus Press, that’s good news — I have praised the first volume they released of the collected Race Williams yarns, so I figure there won’t be any road blocks to many more such collections.

May they rip along until the last roscoe sneezes Ka-Chow! and the last pill pings. . . .

In 2013 I did a little announcement  for the previous corporate incarnation of The Mask, where they had a series of eBooks planned out. I didn’t keep track of how much they got done, but there’s a lot of ore in them thar pulps. One thing Altus has just announced that may interest people is a revival of Black Mask and a couple of other pulps, with some new stories, some reprint.

And I was very interested to see in their news that they had landed rights to the backlog of the late great H. Warner Munn, best known from his stint in Weird Tales and his later-in-life epic fantasy such as the novel Merlin’s Ring. I once visited Harold for a week in his home in Tacoma. Really great guy — he’s one of the people I’ve met who knew Lovecraft personally. Plus for purposes of more books — always more books — Munn has an impressive body of work.

Posted in Lit, News | Tagged , , , , , , |

Rediscovered: Carroll John Who? H. Warner What?

On the tour in recent years (three or four years ago, five, not twenty years ago, not thirty-five) a woman mentioned that her uncle — or maybe he was her great-uncle — like Hammett also had written for the pulp Black Mask.

“Oh,” I said, “What’s his name?”

She said, “You wouldn’t have heard of him.”

My take on it was that by then she’d mentioned her uncle often enough to enough people, she’d gotten used to no one knowing his name. But I figure my odds at this guessing game are better than most.

My favorite example of this expertise, thus far, had occurred just a few years earlier than that tour, during Burning Man. Midday, to duck the heat I’d entered the Big Tent where Miss P handled the coffee bar. Got into a conversation with a young guy named Andros. Somehow we got on to the subject of writing — maybe he asked me what I do, and I mentioned the Hammett tour and tour books.

Andros said, “My father was a writer.”

“Oh,” said I. “What’s his name?”

“You wouldn’t have heard of him. He wrote science fiction.”

Hey-hey. I figured my odds just rocketed through the canvas roof of the tent.

“Give me a shot. I know lots of writers.”

Theodore Sturgeon,” he said.

I looked at him, really amazed that he could have been hanging out in venues like Burning Man and had met anyone who was not aware of his father’s work. But that’s the way it is.

To show him I was hip, I said, “Venus Plus X, More than Human, The Dreaming Jewels” — I rattled off five or six Sturgeon titles so there’d be no doubt I knew the name.

To the woman on the tour, I said, “Come on. It’s Black Mask. I may have heard of him.”

I figured I had a chance. Of course, dozens and dozens of writers appeared in Black Mask. Her uncle might have had only one or two stories — my pulp-writing pal E. Hoffmann Price only cracked Black Mask once out of hundreds of story sales.

And if I had never heard of him, I’d never heard of him — I came close to never having heard of Charles Willeford when he showed up on the tour.

She said, “Carroll John Daly.”

“Of course I’ve heard of Carroll John Daly!!!” I exclaimed.

Side-by-side with Hammett, Daly was one of the most popular and prolific writers for The Mask. I admit that I wouldn’t expect someone from the general public to have heard of him — the general public may know of Hammett, and Chandler. But for someone involved with the history of the pulps, to not recognize the name would be to say you don’t know anything about the pulp era.

To know Hammett but not Daly, would be like knowing of H.P. Lovecraft but never having heard of Seabury Quinn. If you don’t know Quinn, then you don’t know anything about the pulp Weird Tales.

For me not to have heard of Daly — jeez. . . .

By the way, my pal Morgan “The Morgman” Holmes told me about writing an essay for the litcrit collection The Unique Legacy of Weird Tales — and he mentioned some of the details on his blog:

I recently had a piece in a book of non-fiction, ostensibly literary criticism, about Weird Tales. After I submitted my first draft, one of the co-editors wrote to me that he learned a lot from my essay having never heard of H. Warner Munn or Nictzin Dyalhis. I was astounded. Munn was one of the solid second stringers of Weird Tales and Dyalhis has a certain mythological status.

You’re editing a book about Weird Tales and you never heard of Munn??? In that case, you don’t know enough to edit the book with any degree of intelligence. In the history of the magazine, H. Warner Munn is a lynchpin with his Werewolf Clan yarns.

And if you haven’t heard of Munn, that also means you don’t know much about Lovecraft. Munn was inside the Lovecraft Circle, living in Athol near Lovecraft’s pal and eventual publisher W. Paul Cook — a visit to Athol gave HPL the background for “The Dunwich Horror.”

Man. No wonder so much of modern fantasy  litcrit is crap. The expertise just isn’t in play.

Posted in Lit, Tour, Willeford | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

Frisco Beat: October 4, On Air with Burrito Justice

literary_world_of_san_francisco_1_cover_don_herron

On Tuesday October 4 I drop into the studio from noon to 2p.m. for an episode of the Burrito Justice Show, a.k.a. the Burrito Justice League — I believe Burrito himself will be on the control panel and Nicole Gluckstern also will be on hand to toss out additional questions.

I think you can catch it live if you can figure out the info page, and they archive the show for later listening. If you Tweet, you can pop in questions in real time.

You may recall Nicole and Burrito from a ceremony held to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the naming of the literary streets in San Francisco. I covered Hammett for that deal, and also got drafted to blurb Richard Henry Dana when the Dana guy couldn’t make it. I dropped in some cool info about Alex Haley into the little Dana talk.

While the show may bounce here and there, the intent is to cover the naming of the lit streets back when, which author made the cut and which got bounced. You got Bob Kaufman Street, but not Richard Brautigan Street.

In connection with that theme, my book The Literary World of San Francisco gets a block of time — how did I research it and so on. A guy many years ago came up to me, kind of angered that I had an address for Jan Kerouac — daughter of Jack.

“Where did you get that information?!” he demanded. “I’ve never heard of that before.”

I almost regretted having to tell him that I got it in person from Jan Kerouac during a little interview.

I probably should have told him I just made it up. . . .

We may also cover the Hammett Tour — maybe even the Fritz Leiber Tour. If the talk spins that way, the subject of The Suicide Club wouldn’t be out of the question.

One way or another, I think all the talk will be an evocation of San Francisco.

Posted in Frisco, Lit, News, SFSC, Tour | Tagged , , , , , , , |