The Aylett Project: Rachel Kendall Interviews Bill Ectric

AylettCoverMedium72

Rachel Kendall of Sein und Werden interviewed me about the new collection of essays on the work of Steve Aylett, edited by me and D. Harlan Wilson. Here’ an excerpt:

Rachel Kendall: A number of writers in the anthology refer to Aylett as a writers’ writer. What does that mean to you, and do you think it is significant?
Bill Ectric: Serious writers do a lot of reading. We pay attention to style, theme, and plot. We’ve seen just about every variation of theme and plot imaginable. We’ve seen detailed flowery prose and terse compact sentences; romanticism, realism, modernism, postmodernism, and all manner of genres and sub-genres. Steve Aylett, apparently bored with what’s gone before, moves past it all, often in a humorous way. Other writers get it. It’s not that he disdains what has come before him, he just doesn’t want to read what seems to him as the same books over and over again. Here’s one example: A few years ago I got interested in astronomer/alchemist John Dee and his working relationship with spirit medium/occultist Edward Kelley. I read books, articles, and essays on these men. Much later, in the Appendix to Aylett’s Shamanspace, I found a single sentence that cracked me up with laughter, because it summarized everything I’d read about Dee and Kelley with, “Elizabethan alchemist John Dee witnessed the scarab star of god blooming with a creak from the wooden table at Clerkenwell – a vision immediately waylaid by the arrival of unwitting holy man Edward Kelley who wasted years of Dee’s time with useless signs and wonders.” It was like, that’s all you need to know! You know?  If I call someone a “guitarist’s guitarist” it means that because I play the guitar, I can see just what they are doing, even though I can’t do it myself. Maybe I can learn to do it, but I would have never thought of it.

Emanations 5

Emanations 2 + 2 = 5

Carter Kaplan has announced that, “Emanations: 2 + 2 = 5 is now in the final stages of production,” saying:

Here is a glimpse of the cover art by Ruud Antonius, taken from his painting The Fourth Plinth  (oil on panel, 100 x 80 cm).
Mr. Antonius is a Dutch painter who lives in the United Kingdom.  He has a large following in Europe where in the world of fine art surrealism enjoys greater support than it does in Britain and the United States.  Please click HERE to visit Mr. Antonius’s web site.

Here is the tentative table of contents:

Tales

ROBERT MEADLEY
Meeting Dr. Malthusian
C.E. MATTHEWS
In the Spirit of Enterprise
MICHAEL BUTTERWORTH
Hey, Mr. Pressman
GENEVIÈVE LAVERGNE
That Needlework
GARETH JACKSON
Numad
TESSA B. DICK
Seasons
JEFFREY FALLA
The Sword and the Tiger
TANTRA BENSKO
Catnip Pinata
RUUD ANTONIUS
J. P. Holmes, Junior
PARAMITA DUTTA
The First Time
AZIZ MUSTAFA
I was Latching on the Moon
NEHA SINHA
The Old Lady and the Sea
PHILIP MURRAY-LAWSON
Good Deed Day
MARLEEN BARR
Bedbugwoman
D. HARLAN WILSON
Dithyrambia
ANDREW DARLINGTON
My Little Black Egg
ELKIE RICHES
Most Women do not Creep by Daylight
SUSHMA JOSHI
The Zia Motel
JIM MATTHEWS
An Interview with Archibald Mansions
BILL ECTRIC
Doctor Waxwing’s Hotel of Rooms
MICHAEL G. CHIVERS
The Squalling Terror
CARTER KAPLAN
Cold Echoes (part III)
HORACE JEFFERY HODGES
The Uncanny Story

Verse
(in progress)

Themes

MARIELLE RISSE
Becoming the Buddhist Queen Elizabeth
HOLLY BAUMGARTNER
Eastern Promise
VITASTA RAINA
Writing Un-writing: A Theory of Time

Read More at HIGHBROW

Emanations: Second Sight

This artwork by Kai Robb is featured on the book cover of Emanations: Second Sight, edited by Carter Kaplan

This artwork by Kai Robb is featured on the book cover of Emanations: Second Sight, edited by Carter Kaplan

Carter Kaplan, whose blog and Facebook posts I always enjoy, has edited a book called Emanations: Second Sight, which is part of the required reading for a college course taught by Professor Donald Hassler at Kent State University. I’m looking forward to reading it myself.

The second anthology to be released by International Authors, Emanations: Second Sight showcases the work of thirty writers from around the world. With illustrations by Bienvenido Bañez, Jr., Troy C. Frantz, Terrance Lindall, Kai Robb, and Dario Rivarossa.

Reviewing the book on Amazon.com, Sue Hassler says, “The work of Marleen Barr in this collection of strange things is worth the price of admission alone. She has done some very respectable work in the mainstream of literary study but likes, also, to try her hand at experimental writing. Carter Kaplan’s brave and enterprising editing permits this for her in this context. Much else is attractive and brave in the pub. The collection should be very useful to many readers, and we have great hopes for its survival.”

Haining Waning?

                

Douglas A. Anderson maintains that this Werewolf
anthology (left) contains no story by Guy Endore (right)

Yet another bogus claim by anthologist Peter Haining, as investigated by Douglas A. Anderson on Wormwoodiana.

Anderson says, “I’ve written elsewhere of a few other instances of his outrageous frauds (for one, where he lifted one author’s story from an early Weird Tales and claimed it was by Dorothy Macardle and from an Irish magazine) . . . Now I’ve happened upon yet another example of Haining’s premeditated deceit. I’ve recently been looking closely into the writings of Guy Endore (1900-1970), author of The Werewolf of Paris (1933).

Bill’s Bookshelf # 4: Alfred Hitchcock Presents…Books

By the early 1960s, Alfred Hitchcock was riding an enormous wave of popularity. His television program, Alfred Hitchcock Presents (1955 – 1962), had made the director a household name. 1960 saw the release of his highest grossing and arguably most famous film, Psycho, followed sensationally in 1963 by The Birds. I’m a “baby boomer.” Watching and discussing Hitchcock with my parents helped us to relate, to bridge the generation gap. I suspect it was this way in many homes.

The market was ripe for all things Hitchcock. He shrewdly licensed his name and likeness to board games, magazines, books, and other merchandise. I think the Bobblehead came much later.

Hitchcock lent his name to two book series marketed by Random House as “books for young people.” One series, The Three Investigators, was similar to the Hardy Boys adventures, but with three young sleuths instead of two. Created by Robert Arthur, Jr., who also wrote some of the books and suggested story lines for others, always featured a final chapter in which the three boys conferred with Alfred Hitchcock, going over the clues that helped them solve the mystery. The other series was a succession of theme-based anthologies: Alfred Hitchcock’s Haunted Houseful (1961),  Ghostly Gallery (1962),  Solve-Them-Them-Yourself  Mysteries (1963),  Monster Museum (1965),  Sinister Spies (1966), and Spellbinders in Suspense (1967).  My cool Uncle Bob gave me one of these books for Christmas every year. They were large books with eye-catching colorful covers and dust jackets, and at least one illustration per story. I decided to revisit these mementos of my youth on a recent trip to my mother’s house.

Upon pulling these volumes down from my childhood bookshelf and perusing the tables of contents, I noticed that many of the stories were interchangeable with those found in any anthology, not necessarily intended for children only. This is either because kids had higher reading levels back in those days, or because many of the stories originally appeared in pulp magazines, which generally aimed for a wide variety of readers.

At the risk of over-simplifying, I’ve separated the authors into three groups:

  1. The usual suspects from the pantheon of “weird Fiction” writers, such as Algernon Blackwood, Henry Kuttner, and Lord Dunsany
  2. The venerable classic writers, including Mark Twain, Robert Louis Stevenson, and Arthur Conan Doyle
  3. Popular contemporary writers  like Ray Bradbury, Jerome Bixby, and Robert Bloch

Special mention must be made of Robert Arthur, Jr., the real star behind these books. Hitchcock did little more than license his name and likeness to the book series. Arthur edited the books and wrote the introductions and liner notes in that famous droll deadpan Hitchcock delivery. Anyone familiar with the Alfred Hitchcock TV show can almost hear the director’s voice when reading the introductions. This is because Robert Arthur also wrote most, if not all, of the scripts Hitchcock used when speaking to the audience at the beginning and end of each show, and leading up to commercial breaks.

In the 1930s, Arthur wrote for the pulp magazines, including Unknown Worlds, Amazing Stories, Detective Fiction Weekly, Collier’s, Argosy, and others. He created and edited Pocket Detective Magazine for Street and Smith, the first pocket-sized all-fiction magazine.

In 1940, he studied writing for radio at Columbia University and eventually teamed up with David Kogan to write and produce a radio show called The Mysterious Traveler for the Mutual Broadcasting System. The Mysterious Traveler ran from 1944 until 1953. They received the Edgar Allen Poe Award for Best Mystery Radio Show from the Mystery Writers of America.

Arthur moved to Hollywood in 1959, where he wrote scripts for The Twilight Zone and Alfred Hitchcock Presents, so he was the natural choice to edit and write additional material for the Hitchcock books.

A more thorough biography of Robert Arthur can be found here, at the web site of his daughter, writer Elizabeth Arthur.

Since I’ve already mentioned that some of the stories in these books transcend the genre of “children’s books,” I also remember that a few of the tales disappointed me even at age eleven or twelve, due to their generic, fairy tale nature. Case in point, Alfred Hitchcock’s Monster Museum includes a story written in 1950 called The Man Who Sold Rope to the Gnoles, written by Margaret St. Clair (1911 – 1995) writing under the pseudonym Idris Seabright. I should add that Margaret St. Clair is a very intriguing author who deserves further discussion, sometime in the near future, here at Bill Ectric’s Place, as her interests included witchcraft, nudism, and feminism, and her novel, Sign of the Labrys (1963) is notable for its Wicca theme. Maybe by the time I read her Gnoles story, I was already jaded by movies like Psycho, Revenge of Frankenstein, and 2000 Maniacs. I recently found out that the same story appears in The Fantasy Hall of Fame, Edited by Robert Silverberg (Harper Prism, 1998) chosen by a vote of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America association. This made me curious, so I clicked through a series of links, trying to understand why the Fantasy Hall-of-Famer’s have such high regard for the story.

The classic role-playing game, Dungeons & Dragons, includes gnolls (notice the alternate spelling from gnole) among its many denizens. Gary Gargax, who co-created Dungeons & Dragons with Dave Arneson, credits the idea to Lords Dunsany. He describes the gnoll as part gnome, part troll, even though Dunsany doesn’t specifically state this in his story. Perhaps Dunsany assumed we would get it.

The term was first used by Lord Dunsany in a short story called How Nuth Would Have Practised His Art Upon the Gnoles, one of fourteen stories by Dunsany in his The Book of Wonder (1912). Writers who have named Lord Dunsany as an influence include  J. R. R. TolkienUrsula K. Le Guin, Neil Gaiman, and Michael Moorcock. I think now I see the reason for my disappointment. I was looking for stories that would scare me; whereas, the “Gnole” stories were an extension of the fantasy tradition, which can sometimes be scary, but mainly strives to elicit the sensation of wonder.

Margaret St. Clair’s The Man Who Sold Rope to the Gnoles can be seen as an homage to the earlier story by Dunsany. In both stories, someone tries to “get over” on the Gnoles and it backfires on them. Dunsany’s character, Nuth, is a skillful burglar. Stealing valuables from ordinary houses has become so effortless, he decides to practice his “art” on the Gnoles, who dwell in a dark forest and are known to keep large emeralds in their premises. In St. Clair’s updated tale, the interloper is a salesman, a rope merchant, well-versed in all the sales techniques that were proliferating in countless business manuals in the booming American economy after World War II. In this light, I see how the relationship between these two stories would have appealed to the Fantasy Hall of Fame crowd.

 

Bill’s Bookshelf Number 3: The Ghouls

The Ghouls

Edited by Peter Haining

Published in 1971 by Stein and Day

They pulled out all the stops on this one: Introduction by Vincent Price, Afterword by Christopher Lee, Dedication to Boris Karloff, quote from Alfred Hitchcock leading into the Editor’s Foreword, all designed with the “classic horror movie fan” in mind.

The inside flap tells us that “Peter Haining has collected the stories on which eighteen of the very best horror films were based.”

This is only partly true. You would be hard-pressed, for example, to find anyone who considers Monster of Terror (1965, known in the United States as Die, Monster, Die) a good movie, much less a great movie. It’s based on a story called “The Colour Out of Space” by that paranoid old recluse H. P. Lovecraft. You can read more about the film at Scott Ashlin’s blog, 1000 Misspent Hours and Counting.

Several films have been based on The Phantom of the Opera, some good, some terrible. Regarding the inclusion of The Phantom of the Opera in The Ghouls anthology, Mark Hodgson of Black Hole Reviews tells us, “At this point Haining cheats a little, presenting a specially abridged version of Gaston Leroux’ book. But this is a good way to enjoy the story and avoid the overlong sub-plots of opera house politics and romantic rivalry.” and “This condensed version seems to have been trimmed to give us the passages that were translated to the screen for Lon Chaney’s brilliant work.”

I’ve become a big fan of Nikolai Gogol, but I had forgotten that the classic Italian horror film Black Sunday (1960), starring Barbara Steele, was inspired by Gogol’s short story, The Viy. The movie, directed by Maria Bava, has almost nothing to do with Gogol’s story, but both film and story are classics in their own way. 

I didn’t like the beginning Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Feathertop,” on which the movie Puritan Passions (1923) is based, because it starts out too cutesy, like a whimsical fairy tale, with a witch lighting her pipe by magic. But actually, there is a great scene later in the story. The witch has brought a scarecrow to life. The scarecrow, whose name is Feathertop, appears human to everyone who looks at him, but there is a scene in which he is courting a young lady, and he looks in the mirror and sees himself as he really is – a scarecrow – and I thought it was quite a chilling scene. I haven’t seen the movie so I don’t know how the filmmakers handled it.

“The Magician” (1908), by Somerset Maugham, is one of my favorite stories in the book. It’s a simple story involving a young lady who meets a “dabbler in the Black Arts” named Oliver Haddo (the character was based on real-life occultist Aleister Crowley). The bulk of the story is filled with richly atmospheric hallucinatory imagery and I can see why Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer wanted to bring it to the silver screen in 1926. Unfortunately, this seems to be lost film. There is documentation that the movie was made, but no prints have been found.

At this point, I would like to turn the report over to Mark Hodgson of Black Hole Reviews. Enjoy.

The Devil’s Generation: Bill’s Bookshelf No. 2

For the second installment of Bill’s Bookshelf, I’ve chosen another anthology, The Devil’s Generation (1973, Lancer Books, Inc.), edited by Vic Ghidalia. Each story involves kids, from an unborn baby to teenage punks and everything in between, but the book contains few, if any, actual stories about the devil. Satan was having a heyday in popular culture during the late 60s and early 70s, so the title was probably a way to cash in on that.

Hollywood was going through a phase in which they thought Frankenstein and Dracula were no longer scary, but that audiences could still be freaked out by Satanic themes. When Rosemary’s Baby came out in 1968, most of us knew Roman Polanski directed it, but the movie studio play down the fact that William Castle produced it, due to Castle’s past association with cheap, gimmicky films like The Tingler (1959) and Thirteen Ghosts (1960). I had just seen The Exorcist when I bought The Devil’s Generation, and I assumed Lancer Books was also cashing in on that blockbuster. But maybe not. The copyright date of Devil’s Generation is 1973. The Exorcist was released in December 1973. Maybe there was inside information, maybe not. Too close to call.

 By far, the best story in this collection is Call Him Demon, by Henry Kuttner, followed by The Other Wing, by Algernon Blackwood. I’ll save my commentary on those two tales until the end.

 The book features a number of authors who had become celebrities by 1973, but their stories here seem like knock-offs. For example, in 1971, Robert Silverberg won the Nebula Award for his novel, A Time of Change. His story in The Devil’s Generation anthology, Hole In the Air, first appeared in the January 1956 issue of Amazing and is no more than a variation on To Serve Man by Damon Knight, which first appeared in the November 1956 issue of Galaxy Science Fiction and became a well-known Twilight Zone episode in 1962.

The Richard Matheson also wrote a famous Twilight Zone episode, Nightmare At 20,000 Feet (the one about the Gremlin on the airplane wing with William Shatner). The Matheson selection in The Devil’s Generation is called Mother By Protest. It shares a few similarities with Rosemary’s Baby, but not as scary, and the pregnant woman discovers that she is  carrying the baby of a space alien instead of Satan’s child.

There isn’t much to say about Ray Bradbury’s story, Black Ferris, except for ‘How did it serve the story’s plot to have one of the kids sneak out of his house naked? Did the editor order up a carnival, a skeleton, and some nudity?’

Robert Bloch’s tale, Floral Arrangement, is about a mother and son who live in a house overlooking a cemetery. It first appeared in Weird Tales, eleven years before his more famous story about a mother and son living among taxidermied birds in the Bates Motel.

In The Place In the Woods, August Derleth attempts to do what M. R. James did much better in An Episode of Cathedral History; that is, use a mythological creature as the basis for a supernatural tale.  

Day of Truce, by Clifford D. Simak, begins promisingly and really held my attention with a build-up of suspense, but at the end, it fizzled out and didn’t go anywhere. It ended up as just one more meditation on man’s penchant for war.

I saved the best for last. Henry Kuttner’s Call Him Demon struck a chord in me as the most original and enjoyable of all the stories, allowing for suspension of disbelief and total immersion into the secret world of kids. These kids are aware that one of the adults in the house is not really what he seems, and his presence is somehow connected to a horrible meat-eating monster in another dimension, which can only be accessed through the dark, dusky attic.

About Henry Kuttner, Wikipedia tells us:

Marion Zimmer Bradley is among many authors who have cited Kuttner as an influence. Her novel The Bloody Sun is dedicated to him. Roger Zelazny has talked about the influence of The Dark World on his Amber series.

Kuttner’s friend Richard Matheson dedicated his 1954 novel I Am Legend to Kuttner, with thanks for his help and encouragement. Ray Bradbury likewise dedicated Dark Carnival, his first book, to him, calling him one of his hardest-working and most patient teachers; Bradbury has said that Kuttner actually wrote the last 300 words of Bradbury’s first horror story, “The Candle” (Weird Tales, November 1942). Bradbury has referred to Kuttner as a neglected master and a “pomegranate writer: popping with seeds — full of ideas”.[3]

William S. Burroughs‘s novel The Ticket That Exploded contains direct quotes from Kuttner regarding the “Happy Cloak” parasitic pleasure monster from the Venusian seas.

Finally, Algernon Blackwood’s The Other Wing is not scary, but it is such a nicely crafted, classic ghost story that I must give it a thumbs up.

Bill’s Bookshelf: The Midnight People

The Midnight People
1968, Popular Library Edition,
Published by arrangement with Leslie Frewin Publishers Limited

Edited by Peter Haining

I bought this book, brand new off the shelf for 75 cents, in 1968 or 1969, when I was a teenager. While The Midnight People is ostensibly a vampire anthology, Editor Peter Haining chose to include a couple of stories in which the vampire tag is debatable. The book is stronger for those choices, however.

The cover features a painting by Hieronymus Bosch called Death and the Usurer, also known as Death of the Miser.

The Midnight People is an almost perfect example of the kind of books I loved to pore over when I was a kind, reading not only the stories, the introductions and front material, which usually included a list of when and where the stories first appeared (usually magazines), with copyright information and so on. The only reason this is not the perfect example of my collection is that it does not include the list of sources. Of course, that’s no problem, now that we have the internet.

After the Introduction, the collection begins with an article by Montague Summers (1880 – 1948) about real-life German serial killer Fritz Haarmann (1879 – 1925), who was known as “The Hanover Vampire” because he actually murdered his victims by biting into their throats.

Montague Summers was a strange character himself. He studied theology at Oxford, became a Deacon in the Church of England, then converted to Catholicism, and gave himself the title of Reverend, although historians have found no evidence that the Catholic Church ever officially ordained him as a priest. Summers had peculiar interests, ranging from occult (vampires, werewolves, and witches) to deviant sexual practices (the Marquis de Sade and the Greek chronicles of Antinous and Hadrian). In 1928, Summers published the first English translation of Heinrich Kramer’s 1486 treatise on witchcraft, Malleus Maleficarum (Hammer of the Witches).

M. R. James’ An Episode of Cathedral History is one of my favorite supernatural stories, combining, as it does, James’ vague but chilling depiction of an undead thing escaping from a tomb under a church, with a storyline that literally defines the gothic horror genre. “It was in 1840 that the wave of the Gothic revival smote the Cathedral of Southminster,” says the old church caretaker, Mr. Worby, referring to the 19th Century fashion trend of restoring authentic gothic structures and by building new structures in a mock Gothic style. Worby explains that a church official, intent on having a Gothic style cathedral, ordered carpenters to remove most of the sanctuary’s beautiful handcrafted woodwork, including the podium, under which was discovered a stone slab that sealed the mysterious tomb.

Most people know the story of how John Polidori wrote The Vampyre as the result of a challenge by Lord Byron to a small circle of friends, which included Mary and Percy Shelley, to each write a ghost story. Mary Shelley eventually wrote Frankenstein (1818) as a result of that challenge, and Polidori wrote The Vampyre (1819). This was not the first vampire story ever written, but it was probably the first one written in English, and it set the now-familiar image of the vampire as aristocrat – a cloaked lord or nobleman, Byronic, decadent, and darkly romantic.

Editor Peter Haining tells us that Bat’s Belfry is one of August Derleth’s first horror stories, containing “certain elementary mistakes which can be expected from any young writer.” This is a whopping understatement. It’s a silly hodge-podge of supernatural motifs. I should add that I greatly admire Mr. Derleth for his industrious achievment, along with Donald Wandrei, of establishing Arkham House Publishers, a classic small press success story. I simply don’t know why Haining chose to include this story, unless it was for Derleth’s name recognition among the H. P. Lovecraft fans.

I’m as exciting about ebooks and their possibilities as most other modern publishers and readers, but sometimes it is still fun to consider the print book as art and artifact. I hope to make “Bill’s Bookshelf” a regular feature here at Bill Ectric’s Place.

Creepy Cut-Up, sort of

Astral Weeks columnist Ed Park finds that horror story quotes take on a life of their own (via the Los Angeles Times).

While assembling my notes for a review of the Library of America anthology “American Fantastic Tales: Terror and the Uncanny” (Library of America, two volumes, edited by Peter Straub: “From Poe to the Pulps,” 746 pp., $35; “From the 1940s to Now,” 714 pp., $35), I noticed a peculiar thing. The quotes that I had quarried seemed to assemble themselves into a sort of ur-story, a template of the unheimlich. As I stitched together sentences from the works of writers as varied as F. Scott Fitzgerald and H.P. Lovecraft, John Cheever and Kelly Link, something about the common gambits and rhythms, across nearly two centuries, sent a chill through me. The following text has been constructed entirely from sentences found in “American Fantastic Tales.” Each is numbered and identified at the very end.

Read it at The Los Angeles Times

The Rich Mystique of Pirate Lore

Fast Ships, Black Sails

A new anthology edited by the always top-notch team of Jeff and Ann VanderMeer. Publishers Weekly says:

“Saintly pirates, loony pirates, pirate cooks and talking animal-buccaneers slash and swagger through the Caribbean, the Internet, the perpetually frozen Atlantic and the seas of distant planets in this collection of 18 original stories. The anthology begins strongly with Elizabeth Bear and Sarah Monette’s Boojum, a tale of one space pirates self-discovery, and concludes equally well with a gentleman rogue and his magical puppet in Garth Nix’s Beyond the Sea Gate of the Scholar-Pirates of Sarsköe. The levity of Castor on Troubled Waters, Rhys Hughes’s playful romp through time and space, and Howard Waldrops conflation of fictional pirates, Avast, Abaft!, are balanced by 68° 07′ 15″ N, 31° 36′ 44″ W, Conrad Williams’s …horror [story]. These ingenious variations on a theme deserve to be savored slowly.”

Click here to read more about the book and to watch a really cool & entertaining short video featuring some of the authors represented in the anthology