Monday, July 13, 2020

RIP Gary William Crawford (1953-2020)

Critic, poet, fiction writer, and small press publisher Gary William Crawford passed away in his native  Baton Rouge, Louisiana, on July 9th, at the age of 67, after a long illness.

Gary published some six booklets of poetry, including Poems of the Divided Self (1992); In Shadow Lands (1998); The Shadow City (2005); The Phantom World (2008); Voices from the Dark: Selected Poems 1979-2009 (2009); and, in collaboration with Bruce Boston, Notes from the Shadow City (2012).

He also published two booklets of his own short fiction, Gothic Fevers (2000) and Mysteries of Von Domarus, and Other Stories (2006).

He was probably best known as a critic and publisher.  He founded Gothic Press in 1979, and edited six issues of the magazine Gothic (1979-1987), which featured criticism as well as fiction and poetry.  (Galad Elflandsson's notable story "The Exile" first appeared in issue 2 in 1979.) A listing of the contents of the six issues can be found here.  Another magazine, Supernatural Poetry, began in 1987, but apparently lasted only for one issue. From 1992 through 1997 he published fourteen issues of Night Songs, another dark poetry magazine.

Of his nonfiction, his work centered in particular on three authors, J. Sheridan Le Fanu, Robert Aickman, and Ramsey Campbell.
His massive J. Sheridan Le Fanu: A Bio-Bibliography appeared from Greenwood Press in 1985. With Jim Rockhill and Brian J. Showers he co-edited the seminal collection of Le Fanu criticism, Reflections in a Glass Darkly (2011). And with Brian J. Showers he issued an updated booklet covering Le Fanu's writings as Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu: A Concise Bibliography (2011).  In 2006 he founded and edited a twice-yearly online journal Le Fanu Studies.
A booklet-sized study Robert Aickman: An Introduction appeared in 2003. And he edited a booklet of three essays on Aickman, Insufficient Answers (2012). (The three essays are by Philip Challinor, Rebekah Memel Brown, and Isaac Land.) In 2011 he started an online Robert Aickman: A Database, which in 2014 expanded to include a twice-yearly online journal, Aickman Studies.
Ramsey Campbell (1988) was a Starmont Reader's Guide to the author.  Gary's last book was a collection of essays he edited, Ramsey Campbell: Critical Essays on the Modern Master of Horror (2014).  
Other booklets of especial interest published by Gothic Press include poetry collections by Bruce Boston, Conditions of Sentient Life (1996) and Cold Tomorrows (1998); Black Prometheus: A Critical Study of Karl Edward Wagner (2007), edited by Benjamin Szumskyj;  and (apparently the final Gothic Press chapbook) Unburying the Past: The Hermeneutics of Truth in Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu's Novels (2015), by Claudio Di Vaio.

After Gary's increasing health problems, the Le Fanu and Aickman online databases and journals went offline sometime in 2016 or 2017. Some materials can still be found via the Wayback Machine, e.g. for Le Fanu here, or for Aickman here.  He also worked on a larger critical book on Aickman but this was never completed.

He also wrote articles on  Walter de la Mare, Fritz Leiber, and Stephen King, and contributed to various reference books, like Jack Sullivan's Penguin Encyclopedia of Horror and the Supernatural (1986) and Marshall B. Tymn's Horror Literature (1981). 

Friday, July 10, 2020

Rex Ryan/R.R. Ryan

It's been a few years since I posted some contemporary notices of Rex Ryan's death in 1950.  Earlier I had posted a number of notices about him in an attempt to put together some biographical information about this elusive author and playwright, including his strange upbringing with a jailbird father (for what now would be considered white collar crime) in a large house with a "Buebeard's Chamber".

Browsing the British Newspaper Archive, a few more newspaper references have appeared about him in the recently digitized South Yorkshire Times and Mexborough and Swinton Times.   The following article, dated 1 October 1926, as well as including a rare photograph, has some new biographical information:

The article reads:

“Mr Rex Ryan whose ‘Tryning’ is one of the interesting performances of the Venner Repertory company’s excellent production of 'If Winter Comes,' at the Mexborough Hippodrome this week, has had an interesting career.  He began with Shakespearean work at 16 years of age, and gained part of his training with Florence Glossop Harris.  He went through the stock company school, and ran his own companies for several years.  Then he specialised in the work of Oscar Wilde, of which he is very fond, and was particularly happy in the part of Lord Illingworth in ‘A Woman of No Importance.’ He joined Mr. Venner three months ago, and made his first acquaintance with Mexborough during the present stay of the company.  Mr Ryan knows Ireland very well – loves it – and admires greatly the work of the Dublin school, which grew up round the historic effort of Miss Horniman and the Abbey Theatre.  But he is most interested in the work of Basil Macdonald Hastings, whom he regards as the Ibsen of England.  Mr Ryan is a native of Liverpool.”

Another article, dated 21 October 1927, mentions a series of "crime plays", including "The Black Triangle", which I've written about before:

And another of 23 September 1927, which includes some interesting information about a series of performances, including "Maria Marten", the infamous murder in the red barn:

Thursday, June 11, 2020

RIP Colin Manlove 1942-2020

I"m saddened to have learned that fantasy scholar Colin Manlove passed away on June 1st, "peacefully" after a long illness (according to The Scotsman, 5 June 2020).

I knew him only via email, and we shared especially our common interest in David Lindsay, about whom Colin had written in appreciation. I have, I believe, almost all of his books, and it's difficult to select favorites, but they would include Modern Fantasy (1975), Christian Fantasy (1992), Scottish Fantasy Literature (1994), The Fantasy Literature of England (1999), The Order of Harry Potter (2010), and Scotland's Forgotten Treasure: The Visionary Romances of George MacDonald (2016). Also noteworthy is his Anthology of Scottish Fantasy Literature (1996).

Thursday, May 21, 2020

Marjorie Bowen Explains Her Pseudonym

In looking through my Marjorie Bowen files for a friend, I turned up a photocopy of a stray piece by Bowen--that I happened upon many years ago--which seems worth sharing. For the February 1926 issue of The Writer, a number of authors were asked to explain their use of one of their pseudonyms--a pseudonym by which they were better-known than by their regular names. The below is Marjorie Bowen's contribution.

It Entirely Depends on the Author—”Marjorie Bowen”

The pseudonym “Marjorie Bowen” was chosen for me, and not by me. I was just six­teen when my first published book was writ­ten, and to please the publisher, as well as to give a definite girlish atmosphere to the advertisement of the work, with my mother’s sanction the name “Marjorie Bowen” was used. The name Bowen is an old family name of my mother’s, her father being Moravian Bishop of Jamaica, and since the first settlement of the Moravian Church in England my ancestors have been connected with it. Per­sonally, I do not like pseudonyms, and would have much preferred to have “Margaret Campbell,” which was my name then, attached to the book. Later “Marjorie Bowen” did not seem to fit, as a goodly number of my works are serious historical novels, but I the fear the name will now always be attached to my work, as, of course, the publishers will have it as a selling asset.

As to the wisdom of using a pseudonym, it entirely depends on the author. If one’s name is pleasing to the ear and easy to say, by no my means use a pseudonym, especially if one’s own name is in keeping with the type of literature the author is giving to the public.

Mrs. Arthur Long

Monday, May 4, 2020

Collecting Robert Aickman, by R.B. Russell

Here's another in Ray Russell's video series about collecting, this time about Robert Aickman.

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Discovering Sarban, by R.B. Russell

Here's another fine short (9 minutes 22 seconds) video documentary on "Discovering Sarban" by R.B. Russell.

Tuesday, March 31, 2020

The complete "Collecting Arthur Machen" series: Parts One through Seven, by R.B. Russell

Click here to watch part one on the original Youtube channel.

Update: part two has now been posted.  Click here.

Update: part three has now been posted.  Click here.

Update: part four has now been posted. Click here.

Update: part five has now been posted.  Click here.

Update: part six has now been posted. Click here.

Update: the final part seven has now been posted.  Click here.

Sunday, March 8, 2020

A plagiarism in early Weird Tales

In the March 1925 issue of Weird Tales, which Farnsworth Wright had been editing since the November 1924 issue, there appeared a short three-page story entitled "The House of Fear" bylined as by "Albert Seymour Graham."  Within a few weeks Wright had discovered that the story was a plagiarism, and the same "author" had submitted to him as original work three further plagiarisms, of an early H.G. Wells story, of Fitz-James O'Brien's "What Was It?", and of a section of Sax Rohmer's The Insidious Dr. Fu-Manchu.  None of the further stories were published, and the name of "Albert Seymour Graham" appears only one other time in a pulp magazine, closely contemporary to the Weird Tales appearance, in a list  of correct respondents to a cypher contest in Flynn's for 17 January 1925.  There Albert Seymour Graham is noted as being from Chicago, Illinois.

The name is unusual enough that I can find in genealogical sources only one Albert Seymour Graham, a young African-American boy who was aged 15 in 1925.  He was born in Manhattan on 10 November 1909, the younger son of Albert M. Graham (born around 1876 in Virginia) and Carrie E. Seymour (born around 1881 in Connecticut).  The older son, Charles, was three years older than his brother. Between the 1910 and 1920 Censuses, the family moved to Chicago, where the father's profession is given in 1920 as "usher, railway station" and in 1930 as "porter, railroad car."  In 1930, the two sons were employed as follows:  Charles, age 23, "mail clerk, railroad company" and Albert, age 20, "elevator operator." In his 1940 registration for the draft for W.W. II, Albert was living in Chicago (5' 4" and weighing 140 pounds), and his wife's name is given as "Eula Handson Graham." A later wife was named "Alma Bernice Strong." Albert Seymour Graham died in Chicago on 15 May 1994. 

And what of his plagiarized short story?  It has some touches of Poe but otherwise (like Farnworth Wright) I don't recognize any direct source. Does anyone?  I have scans of all three pages below (click on the scans to make them larger).

Tuesday, March 3, 2020

Gavin Selerie remembers Glen Cavaliero

Gavin Selerie's elegy, "Silent Glabber," in memory of Glen Cavaliero, is now available in issue 16 of the online journal Noon: Journal of the Short PoemThis link should bring it up on page 14. 

Thursday, February 6, 2020

A New Issue of Biblio-Curiosa

Chris Mikul has published a new issue of his wonderful zine Biblio-Curiosa, devoted to unusual writers and strange books. I always enjoy these very much. This issue (#8) has articles on Dulcie Deamer and Gabriele D'Annunzio (including "A Visit to the Vittoriale"--D'Annunzio's ideal home overlooking Lake Garda in northern Italy; D'Annunzio was clearly an inspiration for Robert Aickman's novel Go Back at Once, reviewed here). Each issue of Biblio-Curiosa has numerous illustrations, of people, places, books and dust-wrappers, mostly in color. I show a scan of the cover of the new issue below, along with a listing of the contents. Ordering information can be gotten directly from Chris Mikul at chris.mikul88 [at] gmail [dot] com.

Biblio-Curiosa [#8 (2020)] (Chris Mikul, 44pp, digest s/s)
2 · “The Devil's Saint” by Dulcie Deamer · Chris Mikul · ar [Dulcie Deamer]
12 · The Seductions of Gabriele D'Annunzo · Chris Mikul · ar [Gabriele D'Annunzio]
26 · A Visit to the Vittoriale · Chris Mikul · ar [Gabriele D'Annunzio]
32 · "The Human Bat" and "The Human Bat v the Robot Gangster" by Edward R. Home-Gall · Chris Mikul · ar [Edward R. Home-Gall]
38 · "Malombra" by Antonio Fogazzaro · Chris Mikul · ar [Antonio Fogazzaro]

The contents of the previous issues are listed in the FictionMags Index here.  

Saturday, January 11, 2020

A Chat with Jon Eeds of Bruin Books

Bruin Books was founded by Jonathan Eeds in 2009, and has published some thirty-odd works in three main imprints, Bruin Crimeworks, Bruin Asylum, and Bruin Odysseys. The “Crimeworks” imprint focuses, obviously, on works of crime literature, and includes a number of titles by Fredric Brown. The “Odysseys” imprint encompasses “tales of adventure, travel and intrigue.” Presently there is only one title out, Prester John by John Buchan, but Bruin Books has announced for 2020 a major expansion of this imprint.

The “Asylum” imprint is the place where readers of Wormwoodiana will find the most titles of potential interest. I first discovered the imprint through the 2015 reissue of Dr. Mabuse by Norbert Jacques, originally published in German in 1920 and in English translation in 1923. (It was filmed by Fritz Lang in 1922.) There were other titles on the Bruin list that normally would have interested me, but I'd already read them, like G.S. Marlowe's I Am Your Brother from 1935, and the more recent A Garden Lost in Time (2004) by Jonathan Aycliffe, which had its first American edition via Bruin Books. The “Asylum” list now sports around a dozen books. The additional titles include The Undying Monster by Jessie Douglas Kerruish, The Unholy Three by Tod Robbins, an omnibus of three novels by Hugh Walpole (Walpole's Fantastic Tales: Volume 1), and W. Somerset Maugham's The Magician and Other Strange Stories which includes the original 1908 text of Maugham's novel, plus eleven shorter stories. (See the various links at the bottom of this post.)

Give us some background on your publishing enterprise. Why did you get started? Tell us some highlight about each of your three main imprints. 

I’ve always been a book lover—since childhood, when we still had those bookmobiles rumbling through the neighborhood. For a shy kid, they were a place to hide and yet be in the middle of a wide wonderful place at the same time. When I was in the Navy, spending so much time at sea, they gave me a break from the tedium and provided comfort during the stressful times. Since my Navy days I’ve always enjoyed reading the most while traveling and set adrift from the work-a-day world. Starting Bruin Books was the natural extension of my love for books. My main motivation was to give something back for all the joy books have given me, and to experience more of what books had to offer in the terms of design and production.

Bruin Books started in late in 2009, while I was still fully occupied in a career in High-Tech. Print-On-Demand (POD) technology was just becoming widely available. I remember being very excited about discovering it. It’s not often that an opportunity lands in your front yard, but that’s exactly what it felt like. To learn the mechanics of book design, I first published my own short comic novel, Cardinal Bishop, Inc. I didn’t want to make a slew of mistakes on somebody else’s book. The three or four people who read the book really liked it, so I was encouraged to continue. I wanted to focus on crime fiction first. I was really impressed with Hard Case Crime and what they were doing with their retro-looking cover art. I wanted to do something like that. My first attempt at a crime book, and only my second book, was a new version of No Orchids for Miss Blandish by James Hadley Chase. It was Chase’s first book, and it was a massive bestseller during the war years (WWII), but he felt the need to rewrite in in the early 60’s. The new version did make some significant improvements in character development, but it also dropped some of the best nasty bits from the original and so diminished its shock value. What I did was weave the two books together, while keeping the plot firmly rooted in 1939. My efforts were authorized by the JHC Literary Estate, and I think the results were really quite good. It remains one of the “must read” crime novels: very surreal and brutal in its reimagining of the tough American gangster. I hope to return to Chase’s crime fiction in the coming year.

After publishing a few crime novels, I started our second line: Bruin Asylum. Although I read a lot of science fiction growing up, I’ve been more drawn to the supernatural as an adult. Horror fiction is much more rooted in psychology and better explores the darker regions of the mind. Ever since starting Bruin Asylum I’ve been trying to better define it. Out of the gate, it’s been a bit of a scatter-shot. The books so far have ranged all over the place from classic (and highly respectable) literary tales of the macabre such as the The Magician and Other Strange Stories by Maugham to the really schlocky Bat Woman by Cromwell Gibbons. The first true Asylum novel actually appeared in the Crimeworks line. I hadn’t started Bruin Asylum yet. That book was Deliver Me From Eva—a supremely crazy novel about a legless mad scientist who tools around in a Dalek-like scooter and performs experimental surgery on family members by adjusting their cranium plates. I adorned that book with Renaissance-era anatomy plates by the likes of Albinus and Vesalius. It sounds weird but it works. Cheesy novels like Bat Woman and Eva are really fun to read, but going forward I’m going to swing the ship around to the more literary channel. That’s why Celestial Chess was so important to me. It was a compass-book that helped to reset our direction.
The “Asylum” imprint's most recent title is Celestial Chess by Thomas Bontly. It was originally published in 1979, and the book has been a favorite of Thomas Kent Miller (who provides the introduction to the new edition) for many years. Tell us about it:
Thomas Bontly’s Celestial Chess is a balancing act of sorts: it’s highly entertaining, humorous and humane, with well-drawn characters that resonate with the reader, but it also goes into some pretty scary and sometimes kinky places: satanic cults, ancient ghosts and medieval curses. The novel has an intriguing parallel story that takes place in the 12th century. The medieval narrative sets up the events that transpire in and around Cambridge University in 1962. A cursed manuscript—a poem written be a wicked, befallen monk—links the two timelines and leads anyone who pursues it to disaster. Chess, the game of kings, is of course a central motif of the book. The novel is a homage to the classic ghost stories of M. R. James, who was Chancellor of Kings Church at Cambridge, but it is also a serious nod to Henry James’s Turn of the Screw, which Bontly greatly admired and extensively wrote about. Like Celestial Chess’ hero, David Fairchild, Thomas Bontly was an American Professor of Literature and had spent some professional time at Cambridge. No doubt it was a rich time for Bontly, for that first-hand experience gives Celestial Chess a feeling of authenticity and intimacy. It’s an Outsider’s Insider book, if that makes sense.

I consider it a gift that both you and Thomas Kent Miller recommended it to me. Until then it totally escaped my attention. Even though it was originally published forty years ago, not many people know of it. It fell into a hole somewhere. Tom picked up his copy in the early 80’s off a liquor store rack not far from the San Francisco State University campus, where he was attending classes. He bought the book on a lark but never let it go. Ever since then he has been recommending it to small publishers for a revival. Thank goodness it landed with Bruin Books. It was an absolute pleasure to work on. It also gave me a chance to correspond with the author’s wife, Marilyn, and his son Thomas. Tom followed in his father’s professorial footsteps and teaches Philosophy at the University of Connecticut.

Yes, Celestial Chess is a horror novel, but my favorite parts were the scenes of humor, romance and comradery. Fairchild is a supremely confident protagonist. You don’t often find that in a horror novel. The characters in a horror novel or movie are generally fried to a frazzle by the middle of the story, but Fairchild rises to the challenge with good cheer. He uses his wits, humor and scholarship to defend against the Dark Powers. I can’t think of any other horror novel that is so buoyant and life affirming.

Sadly, Thomas Bontly is no longer with us, but I take heart in knowing that we were able to bring his wonderful novel back into print so that others can discover it.
I wrote an entry on Bontly on my Lesser-Known Writers blog, which can be accessed here. What do you see for the future of Bruin Books?
We have a third genre line, Bruin Odysseys, that is just sort of dangling out there. I’ve shamefully neglected my original plan for many years by letting the Bruin Odysseys concept collect dust. It’s here that I want explore adventure and travel. Bruin Odysseys has the greatest potential from a decorative and design standpoint, plus adventure and travel books are such a rewarding and eye-opening experience. There are many grand old volumes that are works of art unto themselves due to their fine illustrations. I’m thinking of Verne and Dumas, but also of the real-life adventurers such as Mungo Park. When you pick up an early edition of Verne you find a very detailed steel engraving every few pages. I can’t imagine how long it took an artist to produce such a work of art. The amount of patience required and the need to “think like a mirror” in created the engraving is simply amazing. A Verne novel can contain eighty or ninety of these beautiful illustrations. The same is true of Dumas, and I am sure there are others. These old books are very expensive, but maybe we can do something to make them more available, published in a way that gives a least a hint of their past glory. It will be a challenge but it will give me a great deal of pleasure to pull it off.

I’m starting off small in early 2020 with a new version of J-H Rosny’s La Guerre Du Feu (better known as Quest for Fire). It a small book but we’re handling like a major project. There are many illustrated versions of the short novel in French, and German and even Russian, but only one available in English, plus the English version is very difficult to locate. Forget about finding the illustrated hardback published in 1967. Only the Penguin and Ballantine movie-tie-in versions are available at ridiculous prices—typically ratty copies at that. The quality of the paperbacks is poor due to the hasty effort to cash in on the film release. (Quest for Fire is one of my all-time favorite films, by the way.) I’m sure a newly illustrated version of Quest for Fire would make a quite few people happy, although renaming it Conquest of Fire might be an appropriate change to it. We are going do our best to make it the most beautiful paperback possible, one that is enriched with new illustrations and design values. I’m confident my team is up for the challenge.
What other titles are you interested in?
Actually, I could use a little help in this regard. Without help, I would never have discovered Celestial Chess. I only have so much time to plough through the books I’ve already collected. Chances are if you find something intriguing in somebody’s blog, the book has already been snagged by another publisher. It’s a rich time for readers who are hungry to explore for new discoveries, but it is also highly competitive for small publishers trying sort out people’s interests. Even the big guys, the New York publishers, have adopted Print-On-Demand strategies to keep their back-listed titles under their roof. I know POD still has a stigma with some collectors, but it is often the only way you can acquire a rare title, such as Tiger Girl by Gordon Casserly. So, I guess I am saying that I am very eager for suggestions. Are there some titles that the followers and contributors of Wormwoodiana would really like to see back in print, or see new and innovative versions of? For instance, would anyone be interested in an illustrated version of A Voyage to Arcturus? It’s a crazy thought—it’s such an esoteric book, but why not? What about a heavily illustrated version of the Ingoldsby Legends? So, please, hit me with your recommendations! Sometimes I feel as if I’m standing on a deserted island when it comes to project selection.
September 2020 will mark 100 years since the first publication of A Voyage to Arcturus, and I know of some planned centenary editions. I'm actually working with Centipede Press on a lavish edition of A Voyage to Arcturus, but not for the centenary. It is aimed for 2022.

The main constraint I've often seen about good out-of-print books that need to be reissued is the question of rights. When the book is still under copyright, chasing down the rights owner can entail a lot of detective work, and then the attitude of the rights owner is sometimes very unpredictable.

How would you summarize Bruin Books from a business standpoint?
Most of my professional life has been devoted to manufacturing and operations, environments where you have to continuously improve to succeed. Each new project must make an improvement over the last. You can never be satisfied. You have to be customer focused, to be absolutely devoted to the customer. These are the tenants I’ve brought to Bruin Books. Now that I am retired from High-Tech I can fully devote my attention to the continuous improvement of Bruin Books. Before 2019 it was only a part-time proposition and I could easily (and rightfully) be distracted by my career. I can tell you that Publishing is a lot more fun than the high-wire High-Tech act. I have a very talented team assembled. We are scattered all over the world and hardly ever have the chance to meet in person, be we all share a love of the creative process, and that bonds us. It’s probably better that they are not here with me in Oregon, or else they would expect me to bring in donuts. I’ll be making the rounds to their individual countries in the near future. They can have donuts then.
Thanks, Jon.  Readers of Wormwoodiana can check out the Bruin Books website here.

And here are some links to a number of the Asylum titles. (US)
Jonathan Aycliffe, A Garden Lost in Time
Thomas Bontly, Celestial Chess
Gordon Casserly, Tiger Girl 
Cromwell Gibbons, Bat Woman
Norbert Jacques, Dr. Mabuse
Jessie Douglas Kerruish, The Undying Monster
G.S. Marlowe, I Am Your Brother
W. Somerset Maugham, The Magician and Other Strange Stories
Tod Robbins, The Unholy Three
Hugh Walpole, Walpole's Fantastic Tales (UK)
Jonathan Aycliffe, A Garden Lost in Time [US only]
Thomas Bontly, Celestial Chess
Gordon Casserly, Tiger Girl 
Cromwell Gibbons, Bat Woman  [US only]
Norbert Jacques, Dr. Mabuse
Jessie Douglas Kerruish, The Undying Monster
G.S. Marlowe, I Am Your Brother
W. Somerset Maugham, The Magician and Other Strange Stories
Tod Robbins, The Unholy Three
Hugh Walpole, Walpole's Fantastic Tales