Thursday, October 31, 2019

Remembering T.M. Wright with Two New Books

T.M. Wright died four years ago, on Halloween morning of 2015, at the age of 68.  He was the author of thirty-some books, most of which were novels, some of which were novellas, and one was a grab-all collection of his short stories, poems and art, called Bone Soup (2010).

P.S. Publishing has just released two volumes of Wright's works edited by Steven Savile. One is a collection, The Best of T.M. Wright, and the other is a short novel based on a final project Wright attempted some years before his death, as his health gave way to Parkinson's Disease. This last project was called by Wright The Prison and has now appeared, retitled Mallam Cross, as a posthumous collaboration with Savile. I shall have more to say about it in a future post. Both new volumes are very attractively produced, with cover art by David Gentry.

Bone Soup consisted of some thirteen stories and twenty poems, Wright's fine late novel, Cold House (2003), slightly revised and with the original introduction by Jack Ketchum, plus some fifteen interior illustrations by Wright (one of which also served as the dust-wrapper art). Bone Soup was commissioned by the publisher Cemetery Dance around 2005, and first announced for publication in 2006. A galley was produced in 2007, but the finished book did not come out until October 2010, and then only in an edition limited to 750 signed copies.

The Best of T.M. Wright is basically a kind of revised edition of Bone Soup, but with some notable changes (including what appears to be a random reordering of the materials). First, all of the artwork is dropped. Second, nineteen of the twenty poems from Bone Soup reappear here, but they are inexplicably reformatted as short prose pieces. (Why the poem "I Ask" from Bone Soup was omitted I can't guess.) And the novel Cold House has been removed and replaced with Sally Pinup (2010), a novella originally published as a trade paperback limited to 150 numbered copies. This replacement is unfortunate, for while Cold House deserves a place in a collection entitled The Best of T.M. Wright, Sally Pinup probably does not. This points to the inapplicability  of the use of "Best of" in the title.  For the collection isn't really a "Best of" book--just a compilation of things by Wright that editor Savile seems to have known about.

All thirteen short stories from Bone Soup are reprinted in the new volume, with one welcome addition, a forty-three page story called "Otto's Conundrum," previously unpublished.  This was originally written circa 2006 or 2007 (Savile is not very clear about dates), for a shared-world anthology conceived by Savile that was to be titled Monster Noir, about a place "where all of those monsters we grew up loving were real, and had been hidden away in an enclosure in the Nevada desert, victims of the Monster Alienation Act passed by Nixon" (quoted from Savile's Introduction, p. viii). The anthology never sold, but it's very good to have this story as an addition to Wright's canon.

Savile also claims in his Introduction that "there are no more lost T.M. Wright stories waiting to be discovered. This is it, right here, in this collection, the rarest thing, the last original and previously unpublished T.M. Wright story" (p. viii). This is a bold-faced error. Wright was generous to his friends and family with his manuscripts. I myself know of two early unpublished short novels, The Crows and The Walking Stick, and a long short story "The Collage." Plus there is the original version of what became his first novel, Strange Seed, which was set in the late 1800s and titled Nursery Tale (a title which Wright later used on his third novel, the first sequel to Strange Seed), and additionally there is the screenplay of Strange Seed that Wright wrote in the late 1980s (the attempted revision of which in 2009-2010 was among his final projects). Wright also handmade small booklets of his writings for family members. Who knows what else might be out there?

Savile seems to have known Wright, mostly via email (with Savile living in Sweden and Wright in upstate New York), from around 2005 through 2012, when Wright's illnesses really took over. Savile, in the afterword to Mallam Cross, notes that at this time Wright was "too sick to write, blind now"--but this was not usual blindness but cataract problems.  Wright had each eye fixed, one in late 2012 the other in early 2013, and was able to see again.  But what the Parkinson's was doing to the rest of his body did not bring back the ability to write.

The "Story Credits" at the end of the book are unreliable, missing out on a number of first appearances. Savile also missed a number of published stories, so one wonders whether he didn't know about them, or whether he deliberately left them out. These include "After Dunkirk"  (2007), "The Blue-Faced Man" (2008), "Fog Boy" (2010), "The Lost Woman" (1997), "A Moment at the House" (2011), "Murder Victim"  (2007), "The Puzzle Maker" (2007), and "Welded" (a collaboration with Tom Piccirilli that was published in early 2014, though it reads much more like Piccirilli than Wright). Two of the above stories appeared in Postscripts, published by P.S. Publishing, so one would think that Savile would have had access to them.

Another notable omission from the book is Wright's essay "The Stuff of Horror, Or Gray Matter All over the Inside of Your Skull" (American Fantasy, Summer 1987), which is almost a personal manifesto for Wright's own approach to horror. It would have served as a great introduction (or even as an afterword) to balance the collection of his short fiction with Wright's own views on the making of his art.

All in all, it's great to see some of Wright's writings made available again in printed form. But sadly I think this collection could have been better curated. 

6 comments:

  1. Very accurate & detailed review of Terry's new published work. Great work Doug. I'll read one of Terry's stories today to honor,and remember my good friend. Also no better way to celebrate Halloween!

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  2. Like the ghosts that T.M. created, may his words continue to whisper to us. This is a great, thoughtful review - so appropriate for today, the 4th anniversary of Terry's death.

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  3. Thanks for this info. All things considered, would a reader new to Wright be better served by Bone Soup or the new PS collection?
    -Jeff Matthews

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    1. Actually, I think he worked better in longer form, so I'd suggest his first novel Strange Seed (1978), or his late novel, Cold House (2003). I also very much like The Last Vampire (Gollancz, 1991). For the US edition (Leisure, 2001) Terry added a long prologue (almost 50 pages), which is okay but I think the structure of the book worked better without it. Anyway, those are my personal favorites.

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    2. Thank you!
      -Jeff Matthews

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