The Aylett Project: Rachel Kendall Interviews Bill Ectric


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.

Reflections on Le Fanu: In a Glass Darkly

You may have noticed that, here at Bill Ectric’s Place I feature a lot of links to Wormwoodiana. It’s one of my favorite blogs.

Today, Douglas A. Anderson tells us, “I was recently reading Herbert van Thal’s interesting autobiography, The Tops of the Mulberry Trees (1971), which covers many of van Thal’s roles in publishing—as an agent, anthologist, editor and publisher.”

Anderson quotes van Thal as saying, “I have always been surprised that Sheridan Le Fanu has never achieved the popularity of his contemporaries, such as Wilkie Collins . . .

Ardizzone's frontispiece to In a Glass Darkly

Ardizzone’s frontispiece to In a Glass Darkly

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Wadsworth Camp Cinema Connections

Left: Poster from the film The Signal Tower (1924, Universal Pictures), Top center: Cover of the May 1920 issue of Metropolitan Magazine, Bottom center: Child actor Frankie Darro, Right: Robbie the Robot and Anne Francis star in Forbidden Planet

Left: Poster from the film The Signal Tower (1924, Universal Pictures), Top center: Cover of the May 1920 issue of Metropolitan Magazine, Bottom center: Child actor Frankie Darro, Right: Robbie the Robot and Anne Francis star in Forbidden Planet

There are all kinds of connections in this overview of the Wadsworth Camp short story, The Signal Tower, and the movie that was based on it. As part of my research on Charles Wadsworth Camp, I’ve already written about a film called The Last Warning (1929) that was based on Camp’s novel The House of Fear (1916, Doubleday). Now we turn our attention to a Camp short story called The Signal Tower, which appeared in the May 1920 issue of Metropolitan Magazine. That particular issue is notable for also including a article called Spiritualism – Truth or Imposture? in which George Bernard Shaw, H. G. Wells, Arthur Conan Doyle, Sir Oliver Lodge, G. K. Chesterton, and Sir William Barrett discuss the supernatural. Maybe Camp had Sir William Barrett in mind when, in his mystery novel The Abandoned Room, he wrote: “No one,” the doctor answered, “can say what psychic force is capable of doing. Some scientists have started to explore, but it is still uncharted country.”  Barrett (1844-1925) was a professor of physics at the Royal College of Science in Dublin who was also interested in philosophy, literature, spirituality, and communication with the dead. In researching Barrett, I ran across the name of Robert Jahn, who, from 1978 to 1987 studied precognitive remote viewing at the Princeton Engineering Anomalies Research Laboratory (PEAR). By coincidence, I am currently reading Camp’s novel, The Guarded Heights, in which the main character goes to Princeton University.

Besides appearing in Metropolitan Magazine, the short story was included in an anthology called The Best Short Stories of 1920 and the Yearbook of the American Short Story, edited by Edward J. O’Brien. O’Brien wrote the introduction to another anthology called The Grim 13: Short Stories By Thirteen Authors of Standing (Dodd, Mead & Company, 1917: Blackmask 2007), edited by Frederick Stuart Greene, which included another short story by Wadsworth Camp called The Draw-Keeper. One of the prerequisites of each story in this collection was that they had  to have been rejected repeatedly by American magazine editors due to their unhappy endings and/or uncompromising realism.,

The film adaptation screenplay was written by James O. Spearing. It starred Virginia Valli and Rockliffe Fellowes as Dave and Sally Tolliver, the great Wallace Beery in one of his trademark roles as a big brute who puts the moves on Sally Tolliver while her husband is occupied with trying to prevent a train wreck. The child, Sonny Tolliver, is played by Frankie Darro, who began his acting career at age 6 and later appeared in the science fiction serial, The Phantom Empire (1935), and later went on to be the man inside Robby the Robot in Forbidden Planet (1956), although the robot’s voice was dubbed by actor Marvin Miller.

The UCLA Film and Television Archives has a print of The Signal Tower .

Another bit of Wadsworth Camp trivia, unrelated to the rest of this article, involves singer/musician Rudy Vallee. In a 1932 interview by Sidney Skolsky, Vallee said his favorite book was The Guarded Heights by Wadsworth Camp! Then again, this piece of information may not be totally unrelated to the subject of cinema connections. Sidney Skolsky is widely credited as the first person to use the term “Oscar” for the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences Award.

Metropolitan Magazine May 1920

My Interview with Sohrab Fracis at LitKicks


“Imagine you have a friend name Rob,” says our instructor at the University of North Florida Writer’s Conference. “If you want to ask your friend a question, you might begin by saying, ‘So, Rob…’ and that is how to pronounce my first name.”

Sohrab Homi Fracis (“Fray-sis”) is the first Asian writer to win the prestigious Iowa Short Fiction Award. He received it in 2001 for his collection of short stories, Ticket to Minto: Stories of India and America. He resisted advice from publishers to combine the thematically related stories into a single novel, which they thought would be easier to sell. Fracis believed passionately that the stories stood strong and worked best as they were.

“And I was proven correct,” he says.

India Magazine calls the book, “Stunning in its breadth and scope of language and description … a fresh voice in South Asian fiction,” and adds, “One can grow tired of Rushdie wannabes, mother-in-law stereotypes, and village parodies. Fracis’s writing is brutally honest, exposing sinew and nerves and getting at the heart of the matter.”

Read the interview at Literary Kicks

Morbid Fascination

Via Literary Kicks, here’s an interview with Michael Largo, author of  “Final Exits: The Illustrated Encyclopedia of How We Die“, “Genius and Heroin: The Illustrated Catalogue of Creativity, Obsession, and Reckless Abandon Through the Ages” and “God’s Lunatics: Lost Souls, False Prophets, Martyred Saints, Murderous Cults, Demonic Nuns, and Other Victims of Man’s Eternal Search for the Divine“. 

Levi: Looking at your three books together, I see … death, creative self-destruction and religious fanaticism. I have some idea what I think might be the common denominaton between all three, but I’d love to hear what you think the common denominator might be.

Michael: Please tell me what it is. I only know that death is extremely fascinating. A life, a person’s story, cannot be complete without it. It is interesting to write the stories of the dead when knowing the beginning, middle, and end. Thematically, there is a Dylan Thomas rage against the “dying of the light,” but of a brand that requires going to the edge of the cliff, not over it. There is a “Hail Mary Full of Nada” denominator, I imagine, but not so serious. More like being locked in a fun house. By in all, there is this lingering suspicion that life is a meaningless proposition, so what else is there to do but create something that might matter, might be remembered, and if nothing else, at least entertain.

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Fake Book

Jean Shepherd was called “the first radio novelist” by media scholar Marshall McLuhan. He is probably most famous for narrating the 1983 movie A Christmas Story, which was based on his book In God We Trust (All Others Pay Cash), a collection of stories he first told on the radio about his childhood in Hammond, Indiana. Parts of my novel, Tamper, like Danger Hill (Chapter Four), Treasure Hunt Chapter Five), and The Boy Who Hid In Leaves (Chapter Six), were inspired by events in my own childhood, growing up in a small town in Virginia, and my manner of telling these stories is influenced, in part, by Jean Shepherd. Not to mention the Nabokov-like introduction of fictional books. Here’s the story of a fake book that became real. Jazz musician Bob Kaye tells the story on his web site:

When Shepherd came to New York in the early 50’s he had a totally different concept of what he wanted to do on radio. Basically, he wanted to do what other close friends of his (Jack Kerouac, Herb Gardner, Jules Feiffer) were doing, but in a different medium. To Shep, the airwaves were his blank page, to fill with his satiric and usually right-to-the-point observations about Mankind.
In addition to being a popular radio personality on WOR Radio in New York City, Shepherd appeared at The Limelight Café in Greenwich Village, emceed jazz concerts, improvised spoken word for the title track on the 1957 Charles Mingus album The Clown, and wrote for a wide variety of magazines and newspapers, including The Village Voice, The New York Times, Mad Magazine, Playboy, Omni, Car & Driver, and many more.
Another indirect connection to Tamper is Shepherd’s book hoax.  As jazz musician Bob Kaye tells it, Shepherd complained that:
New York was a city that was entirely run by lists. Nobody dared go to the theater without reading ten reviews first! If Clive Barnes said the show was good, it was good. Even if you fell asleep in the first act,
you somehow felt that it was your fault! Did it ever occur to you that lists are compiled by mortals?”
It was around this time Shepherd formed his concept of “Night People and Day People.” Kaye quotes him as saying:
“At 3:00 am the people who believe in lists are asleep. These are the people who get all the latest hit show tickets. Anyone still up at 3 am secretly has some doubts. There are only two kinds of people. Us and Them. And they don’t know that we exist!”
At about 2 am one night, Shep said to his listeners, “let’s all go to the local book stores tomorrow and ask for a book, that we, the Night People, know doesn’t exist.” Since it was a communal thing, he asked the listeners for suggestions for a title.
Finally, at about 4:30 am someone came up with “I, Libertine”. Shep then created an author, Frederick R. Ewing, formerly a British Commander in World War II, now a civil servant in Rhodesia, married to Marjorie, a horsewoman from the North Country.
So what’s next? The first guy walks into the store and asks for ‘I, Libertine.’ The owner says he never heard of it. Man number two walks in asking for it. Now (the owner) says ‘it’s on order.’ The next guy
comes in. Now (the owner is) on the phone to the distributor. Well, after 350 more people ask for it, Publisher’s Weekly is in shambles!
You must remember that the listeners KNEW that this was a nonexistent book!
After finally revealing to the public that the book did not exist, Shepherd had lunch with Ian Ballantine of Ballantine Books and the famous science fiction writer, Theodore Sturgeon. They decide to take it to the next level. Shepherd and Sturgeon quickly wrote a novel called I, Libertine. Ballentine published it and the book and it actually became a best-seller! By then, most people knew it was a prank and many of them probably bought the book for just that reason. Profits from the sale of the book were donated to charity.

The above collage features a section of a photograph by Pieter M. vanHattem showing Richard Nash,  Lee Boudreaux, Alexis Gargagliano, and Eric Chinski

I’m a little late getting this up (I saw it first on Bookslut ) but it’s too good not to post.  From Poets & Writers Magazine, Agents and Editors: A Q&A With Four Young Editors by Jofie Ferrari-Adler.

Here are some of the best parts, not necessarily in order:

NASH: I went to see a (Bruce Nauman) retrospective before I was in publishing. There was this sense, as you went from room to room, that the guy just had access to something that he wasn’t going to lose access to. You know what I mean? There was a certain frequency of the world to which he was tuned in. It could express itself in different ways, but he wasn’t going to lose his capacity to listen to it, as a result of which the work was always going to be operating on a certain level.  

BOUDREAUX: You’re never going to get a whole roomful of people to agree on fiction the way you sometimes can with nonfiction: “Is this the right book at the right time by the right person with the right platform to write the book on whatever?” With fiction it’s all sort of amorphous, and you’ve just got to feel like you’re picking the ones that are potent enough to go the distance.

CHINSKI: The word necessary always comes to mind for me. Beyond a good story, beyond good writing, does the novel feel necessary? A lot of good books are written, and I’m not saying that they shouldn’t be published, but as an editor you can’t work on everything, and the ones I tend to be drawn to are the ones that either feel personally necessary or globally necessary in some vague way that’s hard to define. And that should be at the sentence level, too. People who can write really well sometimes get carried away by their own writing and forget what’s actually necessary on the page. I would also raise the question of believability. A book can be surreal and fantastical and all that, so it’s not believable in any straight sense, but it has to be believable in the sense that the author believes in what he or she is doing.  

GARGAGLIANO: This is one of the things that I get most frustrated by, partly because I didn’t care about book reviews when I wasn’t in publishing. I would never read the New York Times Book Review. I just wanted to walk into a bookstore and find something. But people don’t do that anymore. People aren’t interested in the community of books. So it’s finding the niche markets. I just published a book called The Wettest County in the World. It’s a novel about the author’s grandfather and granduncles, who ran a bootlegging ring during Prohibition. It’s amazing. And we’ve gotten IndieBound, we’ve gotten lots of things for it, and it’s gotten amazing reviews. But the sales aren’t going to happen on that alone. So I’ve been mailing it to bloggers who have beer blogs and whiskey blogs, and bourbon drinkers, and distilleries. I’m trying to find the niche market. I think that’s the way things are going. I think that kind of thinking is much more exciting-you’re more likely to find the readers who are interested-but publishers aren’t set up to find niche markets for every single book.

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