Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but soon — and who knows?, maybe for the rest of your life — the Some Media clump in the banner above is going to disappear.
Every few years I dink around with the website, spruce up the sidebar, check to see if links on major items are still alive. And most of the TV and radio links have gone dead — or maybe they’re still out there someplace on the net, for people patient enough to track them down.
I consider most media ephemeral, but if an interview pops up I’ll give notice. Just scurry over fast before it disappears.
One of the print/online articles I liked was the review in the Wall Street Journal by Tom Nolan on December 4, 2009, covering Xmas Gift Books. As you can see from the image at top, the most recent tour book made the cut. You can still get to his article, but to read more than the first couple of paragraphs you need to sign up.
Shortly after that one the walk was blurbed in USA Today for December 18, 2009 by no less than Otto Penzler, whose personal collection has gone on the block recently. $75,000 for the first edition of Red Harvest. Wowza.
But 2009 was a decade ago (nothing in the 40-plus year history of the Hammett Tour, but a long time for most things), so it’s time to move on.
I wrote: “On April 4th the Bay Area lost one of its finest horror writers when Stan McNail died, age 77, in his Berkeley apartment. He came to San Francisco from his native Illinois in 1953, and is best known locally for founding The Galley Sail Review, a poetry quarterly, five years later. At one time he even acted as poetry editor for The Bay Guardian. I’m one of the admirers of his many horror poems, little masterpieces of macabre atmosphere. I think they are as good of their kind as are the ghost stories of M. R. James. You’ll find them collected in Footsteps in the Attic, Something Breathing, and At Tea in the Mortuary, whose title poem offers a tea party where the deceased describe their gruesome, violent deaths. “Then Rose spoke up with a strident voice,/ “I suffered too, for I died by choice,”/ And showed us the bruises from the noose/ On her twisted neck, where the flesh hung loose.” The narrator — vintage McNail — ends with:
With nothing to show and nothing to tell,
I squirmed with shame when a silence fell
And they turned to me. I felt so cheap
To confess I had simply died in my sleep.
Thus wrote I, back in the day. Everybody in our circle of horror devotees felt that Stan had shorted us, dying at 77, when his dad was still alive at the time and in his 90s.
Stan did have a heart attack in the night in his room — 1630 University Ave suite 42 (the windows just over main doorway) — and was found lying on the floor. Perhaps that detail adds frisson to the poem quoted above.
Today is the 101st anniversary of his birth.
If I’d been on my toes this time last year— and not dying, as it were, from congestive heart failure — I could have commemorated the 100th Big One. But even if I hadn’t been distracted, most likely I wouldn’t have thought of it. Few hard details about Stan’s life are available online or in the so-called “standard” reference sources, so it’s not easy to summon up his birthday. Until now.
I only thought to look for the date after Paul Dobish, one of my Arkham ephemera collecting pals (you’ll find him cited in my article on the subject in Firsts), brought an interesting collectors detail about the Arkham House first of Something Breathing to my attention.
I figured, yeah, cool, people need to know about that — might make a good excuse for a blog post on a birth or death day.
Now, when exactly was he born?
I dug the birthday out of the file on Stan kept by Steve Eng, which somehow ended up in my hands. Steve was the main guy, and certainly the most talented, to begin serious surveying of horror and fantastic poetry. In effect, he was the equivalent of Dirk Mosig, the major figure to kick off modern Lovecraft scholarship and criticism. More pedestrian pundits have carried on their work.
Stanley Duane McNail was born March 14, 1918 in Centralia, Illinois — the spelling of the name had been changed from the traditional McNeil. He moved to San Francisco by the early 1950s (I was sure of 1953 when I did my obit, but you can fudge the info if you want — in 1953 he would have been 35 years old).
Stan told Steve Eng, “In the late fifties I participated in Poetry Workshops at the University of California Extension Center, San Francisco, under Lawrence Hart, who was the mentor of the ‘Activist’ movement in poetry. . . ‘active’ imagery and the active line in poetry.”
I knew that Stan had worked for Greyhound for a long time — in management, I’m pretty sure, not driving a bus. His obit in the San Francisco Chronicle states he held down that post “for 15 years, retiring in 1983.” So, if correct, 1968-1983 — for many of those years and afterward he kept a room in 525 Hyde Street off Geary. He relocated to Berkeley in 1986.
While the Arkham edition of Something Breathing — usually tagged between $150 and $300 on the o.p. market — is his obvious major claim to fame, and most likely the toehold that keeps Stan on that sheer cliff-face of immortality, I wouldn’t count out his poetry journal The Galley Sail Review just yet. He began the little magazine in 1958 and continued until 1971 — then revived it, so that it appeared sporadically for 37 years. Early poems by Bukowski, some of The Beats, and hundreds more.
One anecdote Stan told me about the poetry scene in North Beach in that hothouse era of the late fifties/early sixties as the Beats were coming to dominate the scene (pushing the Activists and others firmly to the side) was an ongoing feud of some sort he was having with the poet Jack Spicer. Both Spicer and Stan were gay men. Spotting Spicer in a bar frequented by poets, Stan walked over and planted a kiss firmly on his mouth.
The feud continued.
But to give this celebration of Stan McNail a bit more oomph, let’s get into the dope noticed by Paul Dobish.
Arkham House collectors are going to like this one. How often do you get any new collectors info on books from Arkham?
In Thirty Years of Arkham House the print run on Something Breathing from 1965 was recorded by August Derleth as only 500 hardcover copies. One of the few Arkham titles printed by Villiers in England, using green cloth for the boards instead of the usual Holliston Black Novelex so familiar to fans of the press.
In the course of running his Other Worlds bookstore, Paul Dobish saw several copies of Something Breathing pass through his hands.
“As both a collector and bookseller,” Dobish reports, “I would compare multiples when I had them to see which copy I wanted to keep as a collector and which to put up for sale as a bookseller.
“It was in the course of doing such a condition check that I happened upon the fact of two different shades. Since then, I have seen more than a single copy of each shade.”
In short, Arkham collectors — and especially for the completists who must have each and every permutation of items from the press — Something Breathing is bound in two distinctly different shades of green. At least.
Dobish says, “I do not know how many were bound in one shade versus the other shade. It is also possible that there are more than two shades, although my guess would be that there are not.
“One — let’s call it pine — I would say is more of a green-green. The other —olive-ish — I would describe as more ‘muddy’, that is towards being a brown-green rather than a green-green.
“But even if you are pretty certain which green you have, if you go seeking the other green elsewhere, how do you get someone to describe their green well enough to know whether it is the one you have or the one you do not have?”
Scans are imperfect enough it might be hard to get the idea across. It’s not as if one cloth is green and one purple. Both green.
But let’s give it a shot. At top the “muddy” or subdued green — that’s what I have on my copy.
The bottom is the more vibrant, more “Irish” green.
Just got a note from Terry Zobeck commenting on the auction of Hammett titles from the library of Otto Penzler.
Terry reports: “I lost out on that Red Harvest—I went as high as $70,000 but had to stop when my wife found me with the mortgage.”
(I think Terry is kidding, but can’t say for sure.)
“I’m not surprised it beat out the Falcon. As it is his first book there are fewer copies out there, especially in that condition, than the Falcon.
“I have copies of about everything that Otto had up for sale (including a Pru Whitfield letter), except for the UK editions, but not in that condition (I only have The Glass Key in jacket and it has an ugly chip out of the front panel).
Evan Lewis, my de facto reporter on the ground for news of the auction of books from the Otto Penzler collection — which is to say, I’m never going to bother to follow something like that, whereas Evan is covering it like skin on his blog — just featured the results for the Hammett titles that were on the block.
If you want to surf over and give it the old gander, feel free.
I figure this one, more or less, is maybe 80% of what I sent in/intended.
The intro by Lawrence Block, which I didn’t even try to get into in the restricted word count of the review, is pretty weird. Starts off talking about I Love Lucy and meanders over into blurbing the Akashic Press City Noir series (which Block has contributed to, of course), along the way maybe trying to draw (it’s hard to tell) a fine (very fine) distinction between lit that is noir and lit that is dark. Yeah, you know, one is noir and the other one is, I guess, dark.
Bits cut: I gave the James Reasoner story a one line blurb (“The prolific James Reasoner provides a Western novel in miniature with ‘Night Rounds.’”), but that’s easy to cut if you’re fitting it all into a certain word count. I was surprised that my ref to Joyce Carol Oates hit the cutting room floor. I figured she’d be a name to conjure with. . . .
Apparently a large chunk out of Otto Penzler’s personal collection is going on the block over the next year or two. I know this news because A) it is public information, no black cats out of the bag or anything, and B) mostly because Evan Lewis has been going nuts blogging about this group of titles or that. He wants them all and can afford none. I can sympathize.
Still, one can look them over and drool for awhile, I suppose.
Evan started off with the first edition Race Williams novels, then did some Hammett, some Chandler, some first edition Sherlock Holmes — plus complete runs of the Sherlock books as they appeared earlier in The Strand magazine. . . .
But that’s the reason I’m aware that today is the anniversary of the birth of Arthur Machen, 156 years back. Alan is Getting Out of Dodge — or the Bay Area, depending on how you look at it — like so many others and wanted to lighten his load by selling off a few things from his library.
I went up and helped out, mostly picking up items I could have gotten along the way but never did. A book by William Hope Hodgson. A set of Clark Ashton Smith otherwise still in print, but I’d never bothered to place the order.
Mostly, though, I added to my Machen shelves, which is why the Welsh mystic’s birthday intrudes on my awareness. Kept seeing it in one item or another, realized, wait just a minute here. . . .
Nabbed the biography by Mark Valentine, another book I hadn’t gotten to yet — but I have a lot of the books about Machen, even Arthur Machen: Weaver of Fantasy by William Francis Gekle, Round Table Press, 1949. Might as well have another. The Valentine you can find lots of copies on sale, if for hefty metal. The Gekle, not so much.
Think I also cleaned out Alan’s supply of the journal Faunus from several years of a membership in the Friends of Arthur Machen club, and now I’m thinking, maybe I should join FoAM myself. And maybe I’ll get around to it.
He had a copy of the Knopf yellowback of The House of Souls, a second printing from August 1922. Grabbed that one — I already have a copy (first printing May 1922; I figure I’ll keep both, since the endpapers on the first are plain and on the second decorated, as the Knopf firm began to realize they had something going on with Machen titles).
I’ve had my original copy since circa 1974 or 75, at least, but reading along in it discovered that two sheets (pp271/272 & pp 273/274) were missing. I doubt the bookseller even noticed, and as I recall, it was cheap. In St. Paul, Minnesota I used Richard L. Tierney’s copy to make Xerox inserts, and that’s the copy I’ve been using happily all these years. As I’ve said, my Machen collection is ragtag, but for my tastes you can’t beat the personal association with RLT — me and Tierney, in the Reading Machen Game together.
So, I had Knopf yellowback one and two, and as I was dipping into the run of Faunus found reprinted a brand new introduction that Machen wrote for the third yellowback printing, April 1923. I may have known about that intro at one time, but if so it slipped from my active memory as I pursued one thing or another. I prefer the Knopf printings with the new intros, of course.
In keeping, then, with my ragtag I-buy-Machen-to-read aesthetic, I suddenly have in hand a one, two, three — one with Xerox inserts, two with new endpapers, three via the medium of a journal.
Since I now have two copies of the Knopf House of Souls, I probably don’t need a later printing just to have the intro in that book.
Just an appetizer against the full feedbag of the book he’s working on, an in-depth look into the boxing world known to REH. But it’ll give you a taste.
Pieces brooding over the life of Howard, the lives of boxers — Jim Tully and Ernest Hemingway — what happened when Howard’s local fave Kid Dula went to Chicago and cracked the fight card for Jack Dempsey’s first promotion.
Not to be left out of the Derleth Anniversary action thundering around the internet, Brian Leno sends in some start-of-the-day thoughts.
Take it, Brian:
The other night I watched Night Gallery and the episode was “The Doll” by Algernon Blackwood, teleplay by Rod Serling. After reading all the blogs lately about Derleth I started to wonder where Serling might have read the story, then thought it would be kind of cool to tie him into the Arkham House The Doll and One Other.
While the Arkham volume is from 1946, Derleth reprinted the story in The Sleeping and the Dead: Thirty Uncanny Tales a year later. Blackwood had his own Tales of the Uncanny and the Supernatural follow in 1949 — must have liked Derleth’s use of the word “Uncanny.”
Blackwood’s collection was reprinted a few times before Serling adapted his story in 1970-71. The show aired January 13, 1971. While Night Gallery had quite a few dogs, “The Doll” is one of the better episodes.
One reprint fell in 1969, so that’s close. But even if Serling didn’t get the tale direct from Derleth and Arkham House, he did come to it in a roundabout way because of the Wisconsin storyteller.
Quite a few Arkham authors appeared on Night Gallery. Derleth himself a few times. Donald Wandrei, Clark Ashton Smith and of course Lovecraft with “Pickman’s Model” and “Cool Air.”
An actor even portrayed Derleth, wearing his habitual sweater, in “Professor Peabody’s Last Lecture.”
Obviously Derleth — in addition to preserving the stories in print through Arkham House — had something to do with getting these tales onto the small screen. Someone had to okay the rights.
(I know the show Thriller took a lot of stories from Weird Tales, adapting Derleth, Robert Bloch and of course Robert E. Howard’s “Pigeons from Hell.” I wonder how many realize that “Pigeons” never appeared in book form until two years after the Thriller televised play — in Arkham’s The Dark Man and Others.)
If Derleth had a hand in getting these tales to the television market, and I’m certain he did, that’s where many thousands of people got their first look at Lovecraft and the rest.
Who knows how many of these viewers became Arkham collectors?
I wonder if Rod Serling was an Arkham collector. At the very least, it’s a safe guess that he opened up a volume here and there to spice up the horror in his anthology series.
Like I was saying, one of the most influential litcrit reassessments of recent years — in my case, it didn’t cause a re-evaluation of Derleth, since I already knew the score (see “The Dark Barbarian” from 1984). But it popped my eyes wide open to the pivotal role of Frank Belknap Long in the intellectual life of the Lovecraft Circle, pointing out a significant series of interrelated stories from Young Belknapius and HPL that I don’t believe had ever been pointed out before.
That’s the kind of litcrit I want to see, not further droning drudgery repeating the same old same.
In 1977 Don Herron began leading The Dashiell Hammett Tour, now the longest-running literary tour in the nation. On this site you’ll find information on current walks — dates, where to meet, arranging tours by appointment — plus a hard-boiled blog with news, reviews of books and film, and a dash of noir.