Slipstream: Feeling Very Strange

Coming soon: More of my notes on Thomas Pynchon, Steve Aylett, and Charles Wadsworth Camp, but check this out! From Science Fiction Studies, a fantastic Special Issue on Slipstream, edited by Rob Latham, who begins by saying:

In July 1989, in his “Catscan” column in the fanzine SF Eye, Bruce Sterling published an essay entitled “Slipstream.” This brief piece combined a polemic against the moribund state of the sf genre with an analysis of an emerging literary mode that engaged the contemporary world with the ideational boldness sf had allegedly abandoned. This mode Sterling dubbed “slipstream,” rather nebulously defined as “a kind of writing which simply makes you feel very strange; the way that living in the late twentieth century makes you feel, if you are a person of a certain sensibility” . . .

. . . James Patrick Kelly and John Kessel’s 2006 collection Feeling Very Strange: The Slipstream Anthology showed the range and diversity of this new mode of writing, which at times seems like sf, at times like magic realism, at times like postmodern metafiction, but mostly a compound form all its own. Meanwhile, claims have been advanced for crossbreedings between the literary mainstream and other popular genres, but also for interminglings among the genres themselves, with terms such as New Wave Fabulism, the New Weird, and Interstitial Fiction generating their own sets of debates and semi-canonical anthologies . . .

 There’s a Slipstream Symposium, an update by Bruce Sterling, and lots of other goodies.

The Charles Wadsworth Camp Mystery

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Passport photo of Charles Wadsworth Camp

The following is an edited collection of my various blog entries on Charles Wadsworth Camp, all brought together in one place for easier access. The “mystery” lies in this question: Is Charles Wadsworth Camp’s minimal internet presence due to lack of interest in his work, or is the lack of interest due to his minimal internet presence?

“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.”  – from The Abandoned Room, By Wadsworth Camp (1879 – 1936)

Why is there almost no biographical information about Charles Wadsworth Camp on the internet? Almost all references to Mr. Camp appear in the numerous biographies of his famous daughter, Madeleine L’Engle. But Camp was also a writer. There are movies based on his work. His books are available for purchase in both used and new editions. The ebook versions range from free to 96¢, and some of his novels are freely accessable online.

Camp’s The Abandoned Room (Public Domain) is a little gem of a murder mystery with supernatural overtones. The story is briskly paced, for the most part, with a sustained  atmosphere of spookiness.  The denouement is no less satisfying than many of the Sherlock Holmes adventures. The Gray Mask is a fun crime serial, part Dick Tracey and part Green Hornet.

Charles Wadsworth Camp, also known as simply Wadsworth Camp, was born on October 18, 1879 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and died on October 30, 1936 in Jacksonville, Florida. This intrigues me because I live in Jacksonville, and it is my intention to find out exactly where Mr. Camp lived and if he wrote any of his novels or articles while residing here.

I sent an email to the Madeleine L’Engle website. After all, L’Engle’s parents were Wadsworth Camp and Madeleine Hall Barnett, and, although L’Engle passed away in 2007, maybe the mangers of her web site can fill me in. Maybe they are even planning a big Wadsworth Camp publicity campaign, even as I write this, which will make my research moot. Maybe my email will inspire them to initiate a big publicity campaign. See, that’s one of the problems with research. It’s like when scientists try to observe the position of a sub-atomic particle, the very act of observing the particle changes it’s position.

The reply from L’Engle’s web site came back the next day, “Bill, we are not aware of any resources online about Mr. Camp. Sorry. Thanks for your interest.”

Continuing my web search, I found some vital information in a New Yorker profile of Madeleine L’Engle, written by Cynthia Zarin, which gives us the spectacle of an alligator climbing up the steps of L’Engle’s Florida home before she moves to New York and lives in an apartment below Leonard Bernstein.

“Madeleine L’Engle Camp was born in 1918 in New York City, the only child of Madeleine Hall Barnett, of Jacksonville, Florida, and Charles Wadsworth Camp, a Princeton man and First World War veteran, whose family had a big country place in New Jersey, called Crosswicks. In Jacksonville society, the Barnett family was legendary: Madeleine’s grandfather, Bion Barnett, the chairman of the board of Jacksonville’s Barnett Bank, had run off with a woman to the South of France, leaving behind a note on the mantel.” – from Cynthia Zarin’s profile of Madeleine L’Engle in The New Yorker.

Zarin goes on to say, “Madeleine found Florida stultifying and surreal. “One afternoon, she watched an alligator pick its way up the porch steps.”

She’s lucky she wasn’t here in Florida during the vote recount/hanging-chad debacle, which was stultifying, surreal, and felt like an alligator creeping ever closer.

I hold in my hand the official death certificate of Charles Wadsworth Camp. The trade/profession section contains the one word I can only hope will appear someday on mine: Writer.

According to this document, a Dr. E. C. Swift attended the ailing author from Octber 29th until his death at 1:40 PM on October 31st, 1936. This differs from what I found online at sites like IMDb, which always list his last day as October 30. Could it be that he or a member of his family wanted to avoid any mention of Halloween?

The cause of death is blocked out, but only because I’m not a member of the family, and we know that Camp died from pneumonia at age 57. The most common story is that Camp’s lungs were already weakened by mustard gas during WWI, leaving him especially vulnerable to respiratory disease. But the April 14, 2004 issue of the New Yorker features a profile of Camp’s daughter, author Madeleine L’Engle, in which a member of Camp’s family tells Cynthia Zarin, “(Camp) used to smoke Rameses cigarettes… he used to drink a lot…Uncle Charles was not ailing in his life. He was a big, handsome man in a white linen suit smoking cigarettes on the porch and drinking whiskey. He was a favorite of my mother’s, and she was a talker, and she never mentioned anything about him being gassed in the war.” This strikes me as a very weak argument that Camp’s medical problems were related to anything other than mustard gas. For one thing, many people choose not to talk at great length about war experiences.  An off-hand remark by a relative that their mother didn’t talk about Camp’s war-time brush with mustard gas it doesn’t make it untrue. And a lot more people smoked cigarettes in those days, and millions of people drink whiskey.

Charles Wadsworth Camp

Camp’s novel “The Gray Mask” was first published as a serial in Collier’s magazine in 1915. Evergreen Cemetery in Jacksonville, FL is the resting place for Charles Wadsworth Camp and his wife, Madeleine Barnett Camp.

Camp’s residence is listed as “Red Gables” at Jacksonville Beach, Florida. It says that he had lived in this area for three years before his death, which means he probably did not write any of his mystery books here, but he was also a critic and an editor, so it’s possible that he did some work in Jacksonville.

The following is a cropped section of an image I found in an excellent ebook called World’s Finest Beach by Donald J. Mabry (used by permission). Mr. Mabry informs me that the phone book listing is dated incorrectly and should actually say 1936. This explained why only Mrs. C. W. Camp is listed, as 1936 is the year Camp died.

Jacksonville Beach 1938 - 1936 Directory

And thanks to the Beaches Area Historical Society at Jacksonville Beach, Florida, for these photos of the Red Gables “beach cottage” where Charles Wadsworth Camp lived out his final years. At the next opportunity I will drive to the spot where Red Gables once stood, find out what’s there now, and hopefully find a few local beach people who remember the place.

Red Gables

”Illyria” or Red Gables beach cottage built by Mrs. William Johnson L’Engle on ocean front (a section of 1st Street). The photo is property of the Beaches Area Historical Society.

On January 7, 2010, someone named W. Orth made an excellent suggestion in the comment section of one of my blog entries, “Some biographical material can be found in Madeleine L’Engle’s book Summer of the Great Grandmother, written primarily about her mother, although including info about her father as well. L’Engle’s other non-fiction works include info about her parents via stories of her own growing-up years.”
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I’ve considered myself a Madeleine L’Engle fan since I first read A Wrinkle In Time as a 10 year old in the 1960s, but only recently have I come to appreciate L’Engle’s formidable abiltity to address serious issues like life and death in prose that is both simple and profound.

Thanks to a comment by W. Orth on my last Wadsworth Camp installment, I have discovered the wonderful world of  The Crosswicks Journals, which consists of the following four autobiographical books by Madeleine L’Engle:

I read Summer of the Great-Grandmother first. It is actually the 2nd book in the list. The “great-grandmother” in the title is Madeleine L’Engle’s 90 year old mother, the great-grandmother of L’Engle’s grandchildren. The “summer” refers to a time when all four generations were gatherd together in the large Connecticut farmhouse known as Crosswicks, the home of Madeleine and her actor husband, Hugh Franklin. It’s a moving and honestly human account by L’Engle about caring for her mother, a once-brilliant and adventerous woman in the throes of advancing senility.

Now I’m reading A Circle of Quiet. Years ago, in a creative writing class, we read excerpts from this book. I had almost forgotten about it, but the wit and wisdom must have entered my subconcious mind. It feels like I’m picking up where I left off with an old friend. A Circle of Quiet may very well be one of my favorite books of all time. You don’t have to be an aspiring writer to enjoy the book, and it can be enjoyed by children, teenagers, or adults.

One thing I admire about L’Engle is that, according to Donald Hettinga in Christianity Today, “(L’Engle) has been perceived as too worldly by some conservative Christian audiences and too dogmatically Christian by some secular audiences . . . Ministers preach sermons against her; books and articles denounce her and any Christians who evaluate her work favorably or even evenly; librarians in Christian schools and churches handle her books as though they carried dangerous heresies, sometimes relegating them to back shelves where patrons must ask specifically for them, and sometimes banning them altogether.”

I can’t recall reading anything by L’Engle that seemed remotely dogmatic. In the book I’m reading, for example, she says, “The artist’s response to the irrationality of the world is to paint or sing or write, not to impose restrictive rules but to rejoice in pattern and meaning, for there is something in all artists which rejects coincidence and accident.” That almost sounds like a William S. Burroughs sentiment.

L’Engle is not afraid to express doubt, nor does she downplay the importance of common sense and and mental health science to get through a hard time. She was apparently the way I imagine Maud Newton to be, although I don’t know if Maud would approve of that statement.

But this blog entry is supposed to be about Wadsworth Camp, so let me move on to Mister C.

In The Summer of the Great-grandmother, Madeleine L’Engle tells us that her mother, Madeleine Hall Barnett and her father, Charles Wadsworth Camp, were married in Jacksonville, Florida and went to nearby Saint Augustine for a brief honeymoon, where they stayed at the Ponce de Leon hotel. They then moved to New York, where Camp worked as a newspaper reporter, writing reviews of plays, operas, and concerts. Camp dressed elegantly every evening, whether he was eating dinner at home or taking the horse-drawn trolley a theater or concert hall. Many of their friends were msuicians.

L’Engle tells this story:

“One hot summer evening, long before I was born, (my mother) walked through the hall and glanced at the etching of Castle Conway and said, ‘Oh, Charles (Camp), it’s so hot. I wish we could go to Castle Conway,’ ‘Come on!’ he cried, and swept her out of the house without toothbrush or change of clothes, and into a taxi, and by midnight they were on a ship sailing across the Atlantic. In those days a trip could be as spontaneous as that. My parents were not poor, but neither were they, by today’s standards, affluent. Father was a playwright and journalist, and their pocketbook waned and swelled like the moon; this must have been one of the full-moon cycles.”

My research on Charles Wadsworth Camp will continue. For now, in honor of Jacksonville Beach, here is another quote from Madeleine L’Engle:

If I frequently use the analogy of the underwater area of our minds, it may be because the ocean is so strong a part of my childhood memories, and of my own personal mythology. If I am away from the ocean for long, I get a visceral longing for it. It was at the ocean that I first went outdoors at night and saw the stars. I must have been very little, but I will never forget being held in someone’s arms – Mother’s, Father’s, Dearma’s, someone I loved and trusted enough so that all I remember is being held, and seeing the glory of the night sky over the ocean. – Excerpt from The Summer of the Great-grandmother (1974, Farrar, Straus and Giroux), Chapter 8, by Madeleine L’Engle

The Golden Notebook Project

This is the kind of thing Bill Ectric’s Place was originally created for and I’m happy to have stumbled upon it like a treasure hidden right under my nose (which is almost always how it happens with me). From Doris Lessing, A Retrospective , here is The Golden Notebook Project,  in which seven women are reading the The Golden Notebook (1962, Simon and Schuster)  and conducting a conversation in the margins. The book text is also available online for anyone to read. 

Yesterday I  finished reading The Harvard Psychedelic Club , by Don Lattin, and I’m waiting for notification from the library that the three Madeleine L’Engle books I requested are ready for pick-up. I wanted something to read during breaks at work, so I asked the psychic forces to guide my hand as it hovered in front of the bookshelf. 

“What’ll it be today?” I asked. “Ahh, the little Ecclesiastes booklet from the Grove Press Pocket Canons Books of the Bible  series.”

I really like Ecclesiastes because it speaks from a very down-to-earth, human point of view, with a shade of Zen-like wisdom. This particular volume includes an introduction by Doris Lessing. I’d read the introduction by before, but today I decided to learn more about Doris Lessing, and here I am, all excited about what I found.

Fine Lines

I suppose my recent cut-up experiment is more about marketing than writing. It’s certainly easier to write a cut-up than it is to get someone to read it, but I don’t want to trick anyone into reading something that isn’t any good. Quality should always come first. One should believe they have a product of top-notch quality before promoting and marketing it. One produces a good cut-up the same way one creates good poetry or prose – study, practice, persistence, and patience.

I used to think maybe I was “cheating” when I added, deleted, or otherwise manipulated the raw composite of two different texts joined together in the middle. Finally, a quote from William Burroughs himself, which I found at Reality Studio, put my mind at ease. In a statement to the 1962 International Writers’ Conference, Burroughs said, “In using the fold in method I edit, delete, and rearrange as in any other method of composition.”

Note: A fold-in is simply a variation of the cut-up. As Burroughs explains in the same Statement to the 1962 International Writer’s Conference:

“Brion Gysin, an American painter living in Paris, has used what he calls ‘the cut up method’ to place at the disposal of writers the collage used in painting for fifty years — Pages of text are cut and rearranged to form new combinations of word and image — In writing my last two novels, Nova Express and The Ticket That Exploded, i have used an extension of the cut up method I call ‘the fold in method’ — A page of text — my own or some one else’s — is folded down the middle and placed on another page — The composite text is then read across half one text and half the other — The fold in method extends to writing the flash back used in films, enabling the writer to move backwards and forwards on his time track — For example I take page one and fold it into page one hundred — I insert the resulting composite as page ten — When the reader reads page ten he is flashing forwards in time to page one hundred and back in time to page one — The deja vue phenomena can so be produced to order — (This method is of course used in music where we are continually moved backwards and forward on the time track by repetition and rearrangements of musical themes.”

Go to Reality Studio to read more of Burroughs’ statement as published in the Transatlantic Review

Now, back to my statement that quality should always come first. I’m enjoying a novel by Jeff VanderMeer called Finch (the third and possibly last in the Ambergris cycle). This reminded me that Jeff and I had briefly discussed an article by Jessa Crispin about Jeff’s other new book, Booklife. It went like this:

19 October 2009 at 6:21 PM

Bill Ectric says:

Jeff, I would like to say a word about the one negative review of Booklife that I’ve read. I’m a fan of Jessa Crispin and many of the books she recommends are right up my alley, but when she says Booklife “made her uneasy” and has questionable priorites, it occurs to me that virtually every book Crispin likes has already been through the “networking” and “ego-feeding” processes that she apparently finds distasteful. The difference is, in many cases, those authors have people in the trenches to do the legwork and nurturing for them. Jeff, I believe you wrote Booklife for authors who must “switch hats” from artist to publicist to merchant without loosing foucus. Anyone who has read your fiction knows that creativity and skill are first and foremost. I’m finding Booklife to be quite solid and helpful.

19 October 2009 at 6:27 PM

JeffVanderMeer says:

Bill: I was bothered by it because it seemed to insinuate that I was being dishonest in the book. But I’ve since asked Jessa if I can interview her for this site, and she accepted. That’ll run sometime in November or December, but it’ll go into more detail about her views on writing, creativity, and careers. I do plan in the second edition to reference that “non review” as she called it, in the context of double and triple making sure that readers understand why I’m offering up the information in the Public Booklife section.

I really look forward to further dialogue between Jeff and Jessa, two of my favorite bloggers, and I hope it happens!