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.