The Sample Copies of Yesteryear

sample copies

Let me tell you of the days of print magazines!

For those of you who don’t publish or aspire to publish your writing, part of the process often involves familiarizing yourself with magazines. Back in the print-only days, that meant ordering sample copies from a publisher, or subscribing, or (increasingly rarely as newsstands waned) going somewhere to purchase a copy in person. These days even print-only magazines often have samples of their fiction online, partly to lure would-be readers, partly to give writers an idea of what (not) to submit. This summer I was doing some cleaning and was reminded that over the years, I’ve amassed a small horde of sample copies. What you see here is a tiny fraction of it, as I have piles elsewhere of magazines I subscribed to or bought an issue or two of, including Cemetery Dance, F&SF, Grue, Deathrealm, Weird Tales, etc..

A pleasant surprise was seeing names that are familiar to me today from tables of contents, social media, conventions, and other parts of the publishing world: Allen, Cisco, Kilpatrick, Pugmire, Schwader, Schweitzer, Thomas, and many more. Some of those authors are still publishing in magazines, big and small. Some write full time, some part time. Some have had a lasting impact on readers and writers who came after them and, in some cases, followed their models.

tales of lovecraftian horror toc

A squamous menagerie…

I’d like to think the continued presence of these authors in the field says something about continuity, and about what makes a writer a writer (writing, yes, but publication, too). Once upon a time I bought into the idea of a standard template for authors’ literary lives, and up until a few years ago I was still thinking in those terms. The disruptions caused by publisher consolidation, e-books, etc., has changed that for me, but also taking a long, hard look at the market, and realizing that the Big 5 currently have only a sliver of a sliver of a niche for dark fiction, and it’s parceled out across the bookstores. (I’m skipping over YA and graphic novels, which are different kettles of fish, and neither of which I really write.) Instead, there are—as there were hundreds of years ago—various means for making your work public. The familiar names that I see belong to people who learned that lesson and published consistently wherever there was room, or who found a way to make room for themselves.

Less happily, the names I didn’t recognize in these magazines are as disproportionately female as those I do recognize are male. What happened to them? Hard to say, given how many writers publish a story or two and then vanish, and I don’t know every corner of the field, but many of the TOCs I saw do clearly uphold the idea of horror as a boys’ club (awareness of which has led to various attempts at correction), and there is a host of reasons why women historically have published less often than men. Personally I love the broadening of the field in recent years. Long ago I was reading Brite, Jackson, Rice, etc., and in the last decade authors like Carter, Kiernan, Link, Llewellyn, etc. The writer just starting out today who looks back in twenty years will have a new group of authors  to consider foundational, and I think it probably goes without saying, but that group will look different in more ways than one.

Further Insight into Basic Mysteries

cover of pulp fiction essay collectionThis weekend I read an essay by Andrew J. Wilson in Pulp Fiction of the ’20s and ’30s, a volume in the Critical Insights series: “The Last Musketeer: Clark Ashton Smith and the Weird Marriage of Poetry and Pulp.” I read it partly as potential grist for something I’m working on, but also simply because I was curious to read more criticism of Smith, an author of weird fiction and poetry who continues to be read, but who has received little critical attention when compared with the likes of Chandler or Lovecraft. Wilson inserts a quotation from Smith’s “notebook of ideas” that resonates with the thinking of any number of  people in the pulp era, weird fiction writers or otherwise:

The weird tale is an adumbration or foreshadowing of man’s relationship—past, present, and future—to the unknown and infinite, and also an implication of his mental and sensory evolution. Further insight into basic mysteries is only possible through future development of higher faculties than the known senses. Interest in the weird, unknown, and supernormal is a signpost of such development and not merely a psychic residuum from the age of superstition.

About that List of Weird Fiction Publishers

A little over a month ago, I assembled and posted a list of weird fiction publishers. I shared it widely at the time, and in turn it’s been shared and reposted in a number of places, including Reddit. It’s gotten traffic most every day since then, and the overall number of visits here has risen to (for now) a steadily higher level than in past:

 

recent blog stats

 

My process for assembling the list was fairly straightforward. I reeled off a list by memory, took a quick-but-not-exhaustive look at my bookshelves, looked at websites of high-profile writers of weird fiction and link lists from high-profile publishers of weird fiction, and trawled social media. As such things inevitably do, all of that took longer than I’d planned. Originally I’d intended simply to do a list of names & links, but the speed with which the list grew, along with comments from a bunch of people, led me to organize it a little bit. Maybe not surprising for a librarian.

The list serves my original, stated purpose: a list for me and the world to use in order to find publishers of weird fiction. That said, lately I’ve been reading about the history of publishing, as well as literary sociology, and because I tend to overthink things, and because I’m having an especially ruminative year, I started pondering where this fits into the list of literary activities that are not creative writing: readings, social media, agenting, editing, reviewing, criticism, publishing, awards, conventions, conferences, affinity groups, etc. I don’t have any grand conclusions to articulate here, other than that I feel like the list is an attempt on my part to engage a little more fully with and contribute to the Weird-o-sphere.

And on the off chance you’re reading this and don’t know what weird fiction is? Here’s Stephen Graham Jones‘ Flowchart of the Weird [BoingBoing; Weird Fiction Review; flickr]:

weird fiction flowchart

Stephen Graham Jones’ Flowchart of the Weird

Ramsey Campbell and the World Fantasy Lifetime Achievement Award

If you haven’t already heard, Ramsey Campbell will this year receive a World Fantasy Lifetime Achievement Award, along with Sheri S. Tepper. Phrases like “this award is long overdue” are overused, but I’m very glad to see an author often regarded variously as the greatest living writer of weird fiction or the greatest living writer of horror fiction receive this honor. For my money, his Midnight Sun is among the great novel-length achievements in the tradition of the Weird, and I’ve re-read both it and The Hungry Moon many times.

ramsey campbell booksWhere I first encountered Campbell’s work, I don’t know, but the first of his books I remember reading was The Hungry Moon, either in ’86 or ’87. Strange to think, but I read Campbell before Lovecraft, Machen, Blackwood, etc. The first weird fiction I encountered was Stephen King’s “The Mist,” and it opened the door, but Hungry Moon was a longer, slower meditation on darkness, mobs, religion, and the horrors of the English village, and the author’s ability to maintain a mood of subtle, strange dread over the length of a novel was a revelation. Midnight Sun came out in the U.S. in 1991, and it was another revelation for me, drawing as heavily as it did on atmospheric effects and nature to tell the story. It’s a novel-length exploration of the kind of terror of nature that previous authors like Algernon Blackwood had deployed in “The Willows,” “The Wendigo,” etc., or Ralph Adams Cram in “The Dead Valley.”

While I don’t generally like litmus tests, Ramsey Campbell’s work is one such for me when talking with fellow readers. His work looms large in and is essential to discussion of the field of weird fiction, but I do think his novels serve as a useful A|B test. Must atmospheric work be short story-length, or can a reader appreciate it at novel length? I feel that Campbell carefully builds a mood of the brooding and numinous, sustaining every story I’ve read by him at whatever length he chose to write. The term “master” is as overused for authors as “overdue” is when applied to awards, but in this case I feel both terms are apt.

Congratulations, Ramsey Campbell, and thanks for the terrors.

Kazuo Ishiguro Eats Live Babies, Twirls Moustache

boxers in ringI will never forget when I first learned about hostility between public and academic librarians: the first week or so of library school, when a number of public-librarians-to-be complained loud and long about how horrible and snobby academic librarians were. I was then (and remain now) appalled by it. I grew up loving libraries of all kinds, and having respect for all of them. Library school didn’t change that, but it did teach me some some sad lessons about myopia and prejudice.

The genre-v.-literary debate is fraught in different ways, but fundamentally I see little difference between it and the situation I describe above. The war has been fought for so long that its origins are forgotten, or at least meaningless. There point of the war is the war. It will only end if we stop looking for insult, stop counting our scars, stop picking scabs.