Short News, Fighting Neverland Edition

Averoigne and Its Malcontents. Inpatient Press, a small publisher in New York, has produced a trade paperback of Clark Ashton Smith’s stories set in Averoigne, a medieval French province haunted by vampires and sorcerers. Even better, they’ve published it in the style of the Ballantine Adult Fantasy series from the early 1970s, with the line’s distinctive art and minimalist typography. Ballantine editor Lin Carter published four books of Smith’s work in the series and planned a fifth — Averoigne — but the series was canceled before the book could appear anywhere except the Sandman’s library shelf.

For years I’ve chronicled various attempts to produce the missing fifth volume. In 1995, publisher Donald M. Grant began advertising a hardback edition edited by Ron Hilger, but that book remained vaporware. It finally appeared 21 years later, published by Centipede Press as an expensive collector’s edition that ran only 200 copies. Hilger says a paperback version is forthcoming from Hippocampus Press, release date TBD. Meanwhile in June, Pickman’s Press published their own e-book collection of the stories.

Hilger is none too happy about the Inpatient Press paperback, labeling it a “pirate edition,” an “illegal publication,” and a “fraud” because it wasn’t authorized by Smith’s estate, which is operated by Smith’s stepson. Inpatient informed me, however, that the book is perfectly legal — they used the Weird Tales versions of the stories, which are in the public domain.

Place Settings. I like to listen to podcasts about pirates, vintage RPGs, and 19th-century history, but for awhile I’d been searching without satisfaction for a podcast about utopian intentional settlements. Then, lo and behold, along came Curbed with their series Nice Try! An early episode discussed the Oneida community in upstate New York, which is one of my favorite examples of the utopian arc: what began as voluntary social experiment eventually devolved into a dysfunctional, if not horrific, cult. Not to mention an internationally known tableware company.

Coincidentally over at LitHub, author Caite Dolan-Leach discusses how she used Oneida as a template for the modern-day utopian commune in her new novel. Likewise I used Brook Farm and Fruitlands as models for Bonaventure, the setting for A Season of Whispers — although as far as I know, Dolan-Leach’s book doesn’t involve whispering walls and mysterious disappearances.

Watching the Detectives. CrimeReads has a list of three post-apocalyptic detective novels sure to brighten anyone’s year-end round-up of post-apocalyptic fiction. If, you know, that’s something you do.

No Time to Explain. Over at Fast Company I found some tips on how to be a better storyteller. The big takeaway for me: keep your anecdotes to 90 seconds or less.

Short News, Literary Agency Edition

War of the Pamphlets. To promote the publication of a new, two-volume reprint collection of Revolutionary era pamphlets, the Library of America has posted an interview with editor Gordon S. Wood. Self-published luminaries Samuel Johnson, Edmund Burke, and John Dickinson make appearances, as does Thomas Paine:

He was our first public intellectual, and unlike the other pamphleteers, he lived solely by his pen. As such, he aimed at a much broader audience than did the others, one encompassing the middling class of artisans, tradesmen, and tavern-goers. Unlike the elite writers who bolstered their arguments with legal citations and references to the whole of Western culture going back to the ancients, Paine did not expect his readers to know more than the Bible and the English Book of Common Prayer.

Run Your Own Race. I love running as a metaphor for writing. There are sprints and long slogs, uphills that burn your quads and downhills that kill your knees, and most of all, the work that no one sees, the runs you put in just to show up. Kristine Kathryn Rusch makes the same analogy, arguing that every writer runs at his or her own pace:

I mentioned New York, which had 50,564 finishers in 2014, which made it the biggest marathon ever. Average “important” marathons usually have 35-40,000 finishers.

That’s a lot of runners, most of whom have no hope of crossing the finish line first.

Note I didn’t mention “winning,” because runners are very clear about the varied definitions of winning. Winning for a non-elite athlete might be a personal best.

Affordable Smith. Remember back in 2010 when I complained that inexpensive editions of Clark Ashton Smith’s work were largely unavailable to casual readers interested in learning more about him? Well, after years of financial troubles and improprieties — which finally ended with the company being bought by another publisher — Night Shade Books has begun releasing its five-volume collection of Smith’s work in paperback and for Kindle. Volume One is already out, with the next to appear in January.

NecronomiCon 2015

On Sunday I did something I swore I would never do: I attended a writerly convention.

I’ve mulled attending writers’ cons before but the programming — forums on television shows or movies I’ve never seen or academic panels hashing obtuse literary points — never appealed to me, and the current radioactive climate of genre writing is not an invitation to reconsider my apprehension. But when I learned of NecronomiCon 2015, a celebration of all things H.P. Lovecraft located in Providence, Rhode Island, just two hours up the highway from me, I was tempted. When I also realized NecronomiCon only happens every two years, and moreover 2015 was the 125th anniversary of HPL’s birth, I threw down $30 for a day pass and put gas in the car.

I don’t regret it. A panel on Clark Ashton Smith provided a wealth of biographical details I hadn’t known beforehand, and a later discussion on Lovecraft and philosophy, which ranged from existentialism to the Kantian sublime to Schopenhauer, was a hilarious high point of the day. A sure way to make a cynic laugh is to point out that Lovecraft’s monster-worshipping cultists were just millennialist Christians in bathrobes — the Rapture is great for them but a horror story for the rest of us.

Left to right: Jack Haringa, Phillip Gelatt, Scott Connors, and ST Joshi discuss Clark Ashton Smith's love of strange. And I mean that in the Urban Dictionary sense.
Left to right: Jack Haringa, Phillip Gelatt, Scott Connors, and S.T. Joshi discuss Clark Ashton Smith’s love of strange. And I mean that in the Urban Dictionary sense.

Over at the marketplace in the convention center, I met the super-nice artist Jason C. Eckhardt, who has done work for Chaosium as well as the illustration for the cans of Innsmouth Olde Ale. He said he had received enormous positive feedback at the con and was considering making prints of the Olde Ale artwork. Narragansett Beer also had a booth; their next offerings in the Lovecraft Series will be the Reanimator — a modification of their helles bock — and, in the winter, the I Am Providence stout. I bought some books and a T-shirt, which I suppose are connish things to do.

Reanimator Helles Lager

Yes, Lovecraft has his issues. But you know what else he has? Fun. As H.L. Mencken wrote,

The great artists of the world are never Puritans, and seldom even ordinarily respectable. No virtuous man — that is, virtuous in the Y.M.C.A. sense — has ever painted a picture worth looking at, or written a symphony worth hearing, or a book worth reading.

I love Lovecraft’s incredible descriptions of New England landscapes, I love his globetrotting mysteries, I love his Jazz Age atmospherics. Decades after first discovering him, I can crack open a Lovecraft story and still thrill as ordinary men become detectives, drawn to uncover dark secrets and cosmic conspiracies at the cost of their lives and sanity. There’s something powerful there, and it was worth $30 and a two-hour drive to reflect upon it for a day.

Anthologists and Their Headaches

Over at SFWA.org, Jeff VanderMeer stresses the importance of writers establishing clear instructions for their literary estates and the obstacles, as an anthology editor, he sees too often:

To a least some extent, the ease with which an anthologist can contact a writer’s representative and obtain rights to a story speaks to how often that writer will be reprinted. A nonresponsive agent, publisher, or literary estate is just one of an anthologist’s worries. Another is, believe it or not, active hostility toward the request. A third is a misunderstanding of the marketplace wherein a writer’s representative asks for such an exorbitant fee that the anthologist cannot reprint the story, or a desire to treat the rights as if they were shares in a company, and to not allow any reprinting, hoping the value goes up.

Hmm. Numbers two and three sound familiar…

Meantime, Donald M. Grant Publisher, Inc. has announced their 17-year-old Averoigne collection has “an expected release in the Spring of 2012”:

We are not taking orders at this time, do not have prices and have not set a release date. Please do not call or email us asking for more information than is posted here.

Oh boy! Sounds like it will be available any day now! Considering such excellent customer relations and Grant’s clearly rock-solid business model, I’m sure this news is trustworthy and sincere.

Once More Into the Thickets

James Maliszewski of Grognardia ran into troubles of his own when he tried to produce an RPG based on the settings of pulp fictioneer Clark Ashton Smith. The obstacle, however, wasn’t Smith’s estate — in fact, William Dorman, Smith’s stepson and director of CASiana Literary Enterprises, signed off on the project. The problems began when Maliszewski tried to include excerpts from Smith’s stories in the game rulebook:

I wrote to Mr Dorman to make certain this was acceptable and received word from him that CASiana has an “understanding” with the publisher Arkham House. This understanding is such that, while CASiana may be Smith’s literary executor, it makes no claim to holding the copyright to Smith’s actual literary texts. Instead, Arkham House makes that claim and, if I wanted to include any text from Smith’s stories, I’d need to contact Arkham House.

Naturally, I did. April Derleth, daughter of the company’s founder, directed me to someone else, who acted as Arkham House’s “literary agent” or some similar title. I can’t recall the man’s name, but I did get in touch with him. He and I exchange some letters and emails before eventually coming down to brass tacks about the cost of securing the rights to Smith’s texts for an RPG. Needless to say, the cost involved was higher than I could justify given the likely return and so, unhappily, I reported this back to the interested publisher. There was brief talk of negotiating for a better deal, but, in the end, all concerned knew it’d hardly be worth it, as this would be a niche product.

Apparently Dorman also told Maliszewski that both CASiana and Arkham House use the same agent (the one I quote throughout this post) because the two entities have a “shared interest in copyright.” Since Smith himself took part in assembling at least three of Arkham House’s collections — Out of Time and Space, Lost Worlds, and A Rendezvous in Averoigne — Arkham House has maintained the copyright of these slightly different texts, whereas the original versions that appeared in Weird Tales are most certainly in the public domain. Recall that the agent stated:

Also note that some of the earliest of CAS’ published works may be considered in public domain, and Wildside (Prime is a part of Wildside) do unfortunately take advantage of this.

Which is a clear admission that neither party has ownership of the copyright to these early versions.

It’s interesting that on the copyright page to Necronomicon Press’s 1995 collection Tales of Zothique, Arkham House is never mentioned. Instead, editor Will Murray used Smith’s original manuscripts archived at Brown University. When, in a few cases, the originals were absent, the Weird Tales versions were used. There is also this:

Of invaluable help also was William Dorman, representative of the Estate of Clark Ashton Smith, without whose enthusiasm and support this project would have never seen the light. … All items reprinted by permission of CASiana, the Estate of Clark Ashton Smith.

So my advice to anyone seeking to do what James and I failed to accomplish: communicate with Dorman solely; bypass Arkham House and the joint agent completely; and, if reprinting Smith’s texts, use the Weird Tales versions.

Averoigne on the Internets

First The Cimmerian and then the Los Angeles Times picked up my tale of woe regarding my intent to put together an Averoigne collection. It’s an instructive case of the kicking and screaming that occurs when literature enters the public domain, yes, but it’s also a demonstration of the perils of the same agent representing both an author’s shade and the publisher who prints his work.

If I were an outsider reading these posts, not to mention the memorials uploaded back in January, I might be curious enough to give Clark Ashton Smith a try. Problem is, as a fan, it’s hard to tell newcomers where to go — which is my whole argument. But if you want to get started, try Out of Space and Time and Lost Worlds. Together they offer 44 stories that were hand-selected by Smith for their original publication in the 1940s, and since they’re paperbacks, they won’t break the bank.

Also, Eldritch Dark has all of Smith’s writing online — though, if you’re like me, that’s no substitute for an old-fashioned book.

Incidentally, Ron Hilger, who edited the Averoigne collection that Donald M. Grant, Publisher has been promising to print for fifteen years, posted in December on the Eldritch Dark forums that the project may have legs again. On the other hand, Grant has been teasing this volume for fifteen years. From what I’ve read, if it does appear, it will be hardback with full-color plates within. So not cheap.

Illo by the inimitable Jim Roslof for the Averoigne-inspired D&D adventure, Castle Amber.