In 2014, here on our AAW website, I summarized all of the bibliographic evidence I could muster regarding August Derleth’s final book, LOVE LETTERS TO CAITLIN—reporting irreconcilable estimates found in various published statements—which dramatically changed in the years following the alleged publication.
Love Letters was listed as “Coming spring 1971” in a 1970 advertising packet from Derleth’s own Arkham House—as well as in a brochure from Peter Ruber’s The Candlelight Press in New York, the ostensible publisher of the item.
Indeed, it made a limited 1971 appearance; but a full decade passed before Derleth fans learned the plan was for 750 copies.
High, compared to the author’s many other fine press collections that typically came in runs of 300–500. But only 100 copies reached Derleth in his hometown of Sauk City.
How many finished books were there, then: 750, or merely 100?
In the initial blog post, I supplied fans one shocking answer that later evidence put forth: all pages for all copies had been printed, but only 3–4 books were bound for Derleth.
Then contrary evidence surfaced alluding to a larger quantity completed, of which Derleth may have given out up to 12 copies before he died on July 4, 1971.
Settled? A plausible new estimate appeared in 2010, with a bookseller claiming that 200 Love Letters were bound, and that one way or another 20 of these escaped the fate of the rest–—which I interpret as those sent to Derleth.
Leaving what I presented for readers to sift through—hoping one of them might volunteer something that could decide the matter—there was nothing more I could add in 2014.
Since then, however, more bits of information turned up! In particular, I stumbled upon a 1983 listing for Love Letters to Caitlin by recognized authority Roy Squires, the noted bookseller: Item 56 in Catalog No. 8, below which he included the following paragraph under the heading, “August Derleth’s Most Elusive Book”:
Squires underscored how rare the book already seemed to be, only a dozen years following whatever the quantity produced.
His account, I realized, squared with an April 6, 1970 letter Coleman had sent to Derleth, which, in passing, mentioned, “Ruber has just sent me payment in full for A House Above Cuzco,” another title Derleth offered via The Candlelight Press. Both Ruber and Derleth received from Coleman the copies each would distribute.
Reconciling these bits, any Love Letters Coleman bound all went directly—and only—to Derleth, which may explain Ruber’s story changing over the years—nothing paid, nothing due, no paperwork—having nothing concrete in his own files, he was himself attempting to piece together the facts…
Suggesting, also, why Ruber’s earlier, nearly real-time explanation in 1972, was likely closest to being correct.
We also can glean from Squires’ remarks that Coleman’s page-sets, if he kept them, probably ended up no more than a line item in his estate, that they no longer exist, and that he was never paid for his trouble.
As for 60 copies bound, I can add that Derleth’s daughter April, in a letter to me, explained that the family attorney, Forrest Hartmann, handling her Dad’s estate—“supposedly”—“‘put away’ for safekeeping” undocumented valuable literary items never recovered after the family broke from his representation.
The newest supporting bit just came in from David Rajchel, how a portion of the lost bound books, 20 copies, were discovered in Derleth’s home, from which he bought and has been reselling 10.
Which brings me to this newest trilogy of estimates: I submit up to 60 Love Letters bound, 25 or fewer accounted for, the rest destroyed or hidden. By strict definition, Love Letters to Caitlin is authentically rare.
Until something new turns up, I leave off except to add that Roy Squires’ item 56 described a fine copy, signed “Cordially, August Derleth”…
None of the copies Rajchel viewed are signed.
Using the last best estimates, the few apart from these Derleth may have handed out remains 12 copies or fewer. The subset of known signed copies—in my long years of sleuthing—stands at five.
If as many as 60 copies, highly sought, the book is nearly fabulous.
The duplicating process used, spirit or mimeo, made it difficult to transcribe but worth the trouble, for I had found a lost record, an artifact full of insights, one which finally sheds light on the fabulous Milwaukee Fictioneers.
The find was an early science fiction fan publication, the FANTASY-NEWS. According to the masthead, Will Sykora was editor, abetted by three able associates surnamed Taurasi, Moskowitz, and Racic—any of whom might have conveyed the news within.
More likely it was a member of the Fictioneers who submitted the story, allowing its use verbatim.
Fans of police procedurals can finally say “hello” to Hannah Morrissey’s first novel at a launch event next month.
In celebration of the release of Hello, Transcriber, Morrissey will speak about her book and sign copies starting at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 30, at Barnes & Noble, 95 N. Moorland Road, Milwaukee, Wis. The public is welcome.
Morrissey’s compelling new crime thriller features a female police transcriber who goes beyond her daily duties and deep into danger to help solve a harrowing case. According to the book jacket:
“Every night, while the street lamps shed the only light on Wisconsin’s most crime-ridden city, police transcriber Hazel Greenlee listens as detectives divulge Black Harbor’s gruesome secrets. As an aspiring writer, Hazel believes that writing a novel could be her only ticket out of this frozen hellscape.
“And then her neighbor confesses to hiding the body of an overdose victim in a dumpster.
“The suspicious death is linked to Candy Man, a notorious drug dealer. Now Hazel has a first-row seat to the investigation and becomes captivated by the lead detective, Nikolai Kole. Intrigued by the prospects of gathering eyewitness intel for her book, Hazel joins Kole in exploring Black Harbor’s darkest side.”
As the investigation unfolds, Hazel will learn just how far she’ll go for a good story—even if it means destroying her marriage and luring the killer to her as she plunges deeper into the city she’s desperate to claw her way out of.
Hello, Transcriber will be available in hardcover, for Kindle, and as an audiobook on Nov. 30, courtesy of Minotaur Books, an imprint of St. Martin’s Press and premier publisher of crime fiction.
I should perhaps say a word or two about vanity publishing. Many writers have published their own work, among them some of the most eminent in the core tradition of American literature. Many more have taken part in cooperative publishing. For a writer to seek out a printer and arrange to have his work brought out is testimony of his faith in himself; he may — probably will — lose money, but at least he will not be paying some vanity publisher to lose it for him, and double the sum he will lose … Self-publication need carry no stigma; but vanity publishing certainly does.
(Derleth, “My Life in Poetry”)
Wisconsin writer and publisher August William Derleth (1909–71) skirted the label of vanity publishing, despite issuing hundreds of books under four owned imprints, including numerous titles of his own. Doing so successfully required not only adroit maneuvering, but frequent explaining.
Of the four publishing ventures, is there any connoisseur today who has not learned of Arkham House, Derleth’s pioneering specialty press established in 1939 to publish exclusively supernatural fiction? Its books still fervently sought and collected today — still trading at ever-climbing prices?
Arkham’s first was the omnibus The Outsider and Others, a huge collection of tales by H. P. Lovecraft, first as well by that now-famous author. But Arkham’s second was Someone in the Dark, a Derleth title, the first to raise the specter of vanity publishing and the need for the following oft-repeated explanation:
What changed my mind about publishing more widely was the collecting of my own first book of ghost stories. My contract with Scribner’s, who had by this time published several of my historical novels and other books, called for first rejection rights on any manuscript prepared for publication. I accordingly sent them the manuscript of Someone in the Dark. In rejecting it — again on the basis of potentially too slender sales — Bill Weber suggested that, since I had an imprint specifically related to the field in Arkham House, I ought to publish the book myself. I replied that I did not look with favor on anything that smacked of vanity publishing. He in turn answered that the difference between vanity publishing and good business was the difference between throwing away money to gratify vanity and making it on a sound publishing venture. He explained that, if Scribner’s published Someone in the Dark, they could sell at best 2,000 copies at a retail price of $2.00, and thus earn for me something like $400.00 in royalties. At the most generous estimate, reprint sales might bring in another $500.00, which, by contract, must be shared with the publisher. If, however, I published the book myself, no such division of income would be necessary.
(Derleth, “All ‘Round Bookman”)
In 1945 Derleth launched a “companion” imprint, Mycroft & Moran, to gratify fans of a small subgenre of fantasy: occult detective stories and Sherlock Holmes pastiche. Because he revered the famous Great Detective of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, M&M became a vehicle for the adventures of Solar Pons, Derleth’s pastiche of Sherlock Holmes — most of which had been previously published, separately, in scattered periodicals.
As a rule, for all authors, the two imprints were used to collect or anthologize stories already published. But there were occasions when Derleth composed a new short to “round out” a collection. And he did add stories to his own to The Survivor and Others that were sitting in the queue, publication pending, when Weird Tales magazine — pretty much the only surviving market for these tales — suddenly stopped publishing.
These liberties only affected this commercial vein of Derleth’s writing, the fiction he referred to collectively as “entertainments,” a small — in the author’s mind inconsequential — portion of his total output.
Also in 1945, for serious work — the novels, novelettes, short stories and poems he wrote about rural Wisconsin — Derleth christened his third imprint, Stanton & Lee. Most titles of this list were reprints of books published by other publishers. Necessary, Derleth believed, because all pieces of his “saga” were connected, and it was a way to keep the necessary titles in print and whatever else he fancied to publish, even collections of popular cartoon strips. Ostensibly, even with Stanton & Lee, Derleth managed to sidestep the vanity publishing charge.
Decades later Derleth introduced a nonfiction book to mark a landmark anniversary — Thirty Years of Arkham House: 1939-1969 — a “comprehensive bibliography of the publications of Arkham House and its subsidiary imprints throughout the [first] 30 years of its existence.” Purportedly, he was describing all of the books he had published. But in fact he omitted a fourth imprint for reasons never explained. But, in “Hawk & Whippoorwill: Derleth’s Overlooked Imprint,” I discerned a partial explanation, but more importantly how H&W served as a Stanton & Lee “name-change” during the period when Derleth was issuing poetry books.
And how Derleth’s precise wording in the bibliography itself revealed a likely motive — “Arkham House and its subsidiary imprints” — the use of “its” being the operative word, not Derleth and his owned imprints — by suggesting a cost in time and money that for him was prohibitive. How recording the contents of the missing books, adding pages of H&W journal and collection poem titles would for a relatively low-demand book, of limited interest to a subset of Arkham House patrons, nudge expenses up to an unacceptable level.
Besides, there was more that should have been mentioned…
Because the threads that bound Derleth’s self-publishing efforts involved yet a fifth imprint: The Candlelight Press of New York and Copenhagen. Ownership notwithstanding, Candlelight may be the gray area regarding Derleth and vanity publishing.
Candlelight Press did not exist when Peter Ruber lived in New York, 1960–62, employed as the Advertising and Public Relations Director for a major food service organization. In his spare time, he had edited The Baker Street Gasogene, a Sherlockian journal to which Derleth happened to subscribe — all that Peter Ruber knew of Derleth was a handful of Solar Pons stories he had stumbled upon in magazines.
Learning that the Gasogene was failing, Derleth, an advocate of this sort of “Little Review” publishing, offered gratis a short piece on Solar Pons, which Ruber accepted gratefully and published in the fourth issue. Although the “Sherlockian Quarterly” did fail, there began between them “a friendly correspondence for a decade, exchanging letters about mutual literary interests and business.”
Ruber had also been working on an informal “biography” of a mutual friend, journalist, bibliophile, and author, Vincent Starrett, whom he occasionally visited in Chicago.
As did Derleth, Ruber not only cherished The Great Detective, Sherlock Holmes, but also The Great Bookman, Vincent Starrett. And before long, he would also cherish That Other Great Detective, Solar Pons, and That Other Great Bookman, August Derleth! “August was as much a literary anachronism as the old bookman I was writing about….”
Derleth invited Ruber to visit nearby Sauk City, which he did May 1962. The two discussed publishing, Ruber writing later, “I have taken your advice about calling the VS work The Last Bookman — I personally think it is a grand suggestion.”
Together they planned to publish Derleth’s memoir of three acclaimed regional authors: Sinclair Lewis, Sherwood Anderson, and Edgar Lee Masters. The latter especially had impacted Derleth’s early regional work — notably the ongoing series of poems that appeared for years under the banner “Sac Prairie People,” modeled upon Masters’ singular Spoon River Anthology epitaphs about life in neighboring Illinois. Originally merely a pastiche (as Derleth did of other favorites, including Doyle, Thoreau, and Lovecraft), “Sac Prairie People” evolved into an ongoing homage.
Most importantly, Ruber and Derleth decided to launch a new publishing imprint that would hail from “New York and Copenhagen” (the latter location, presumably, relating to Ruber’s forbears). One that would provide the degrees of separation Derleth needed, a bulwark to show, as he so often groused, “it wasn’t vanity publishing if the books sold”:
Now, there is nothing wrong in a publisher’s sharing costs with an author. It is sometimes done by reputable publishers with highly specialized books, and it is honestly done. The author should know, however, that reviewers all know the vanity press imprints; that books bearing these imprints are very seldom reviewed; and that a certain stigma attaches to an author who is unwise enough to seek publication through a vanity publishing house. At the same time it is perfectly true that many good books never find publishers, especially in this period of relatively high production costs, and the temptation to produce one’s own book is naturally perfectly understandable and wholly honest.
(Derleth, “The Author and His Public”)
In late 1963, The Candlelight Press debuted with two paperbound titles: Derleth’s Three Literary Men and Ruber’s The Last Bookman. (Also published: two small chapbooks in the mystery-detective field: Finch’s Final Fling, by J. A. Finch, and Strange Studies from Life, by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.)
Another two were on the drawing board: Praed Street Studies (published as Praed Street Papers) and the off-trail “The Adventure of the Orient Express,” which Derleth described:
It is tongue-in-cheek … all the way through while being done straight; only aficionados of the detective story may catch it … it just isn’t the sort of story that will go over with a magazine.
Derleth to Ruber: April 9, 1963
Duly published, the two chapbooks appeared in 1965. As the introduction to Praed Street Papers, Ruber’s “A Weekend with August Derleth” dramatized the 1962 Sauk City visit. Overall, it is generally accurate, fulsome, even creative, but Derleth, after receiving his copy, in a letter dated June 17, 1965, called out two dozen little details Ruber ad-libbed:
I have no very great feeling of pain about all this, I hasten to assure you, though it comes close to making me out a sort of boor; it is only that as this sort of imaginary accounting builds up, it becomes ever more and more difficult to separate fact from fiction, and in time the legend simply outgrows the facts.
Although he understood that the slightly-larger-than-life-character Ruber shaped was only to further interest in himself, Derleth filed for posterity a carbon copy of the corrections letter — a patented tactic he did often to head-off controversies.
The relationship between Ruber and Derleth continued to flourish. In “A Portrait of August Derleth,” Ruber reveals how before visiting Derleth he had stayed awake nights “devouring his life’s literary output.” And how it pleased Derleth to learn he favored the “Sac Prairie stories better than his detective or macabre fiction….”
Having a publisher based in New York was important to Derleth — a presence in that literary mecca, on the fringe at least. Years earlier, in the mid-1940s, Derleth reached enviable heights with his books published by the prestigious firm of Charles Scribner’s Sons, and even as the Ruber years began, he was affiliated with another Big Apple publisher, Duell, Sloan & Pearce, but he was also weighing what that arrangement afforded him against other avenues more lucrative. Sales figures of Arkham House books were burgeoning, with commitments in place for many more — resources were limited, especially time. (Only one Mycroft & Moran book and one Stanton & Lee book had been published 1963–65, the latter a Scribner’s reprint — the same interval during which Derleth brought down the curtain on Hawk & Whippoorwill, ending the journal he edited and discontinuing the imprint altogether.)
Thus with Ruber, as he suggests himself in “A Portrait of August Derleth,” Derleth saw another way forward:
Due to his instigation I put myself into hock over my ears and formed a publishing company specializing in regional and literary books, and August was the center of it, helping me to distribute certain titles through his own publishing venture, Arkham House….
The pot now boiling, Derleth visited New York City in 1965. Between face-to-face meetings, he teased Ruber with routine updates, reporting on January 3, 1966 how he had completed a “a segment of Return to Walden West” and “must soon begin my next junior novel.” Augmenting frequent letter exchanges, Ruber cited the “innumerable telephone conversations.”
At some point, seemingly, this decision: The Candlelight Press would fulfill the purpose ceded by moribund Stanton & Lee. Years later in the introduction to Country Matters, Ruber shed light on how the entire arrangement also benefitted him:
I became his primary publisher in 1965, after Duell, Sloane & Pearce’s parent company, Meredith Press, decided to shift its editorial focus to more commercial literary properties. Having a New York publishing imprint for the Sac Prairie Saga was important to August; and having an established writer with his credentials on my list was a distinct advantage to me. It was the ideal foundation for a business arrangement. The association gave him control over what he wanted to have published, instead of being subjected to the usual editorial board scrutiny at Duell. In addition to my retail and library distribution, August distributed his books to his Arkham House patrons, and benefitted from the maximum distributor discount on top of his royalties, thus maximizing his income.
Plus, he shares an insight into the unique relationship Derleth required of publishers:
But getting his books into print was often a stormy affair. August wasn’t the easiest man to work with. He was bull-headed, opinionated ─ sometimes he was just damned pushy. Not all of his publishers understood his compulsive need to be in control. I would often infuriate him by not jumping at his advice. He was involved with all aspects of production, from cover designs to page layouts, and we frequently locked horns over these issues.
Essentially the propensities that led to the break with Scribner’s, which caused Derleth to begin his own Stanton & Lee label. This time he was moving more cautiously, but on May 11, 1966 he wrote Ruber:
I haven’t broken with Duell. They are still publishing for me, but primarily the junior novels; they have nothing major of mine coming and are not likely to have, though they continue to want to see the serious adult work I do; I don’t feel committed to them, though.
Nothing more need be said.
The New York Times hailed The Candlelight Press “interesting,” and the Chicago Tribune labeled Candlelight the “exciting … new-comer in publishing”; from 1963 on, for the remainder of Derleth’s life, new Candlelight titles (nearly all of them by Derleth) emerge to fit seamlessly the S&L / H&W legacy:
Hawk & Whippoorwill 1960-1963 (H&W 1963)
Three Literary Men (CL 1963)
Brief Argument (H&W 1964)
Restless is the River (S&L 1965)
The Adventure of the Orient Express (CL 1965)
Praed Street Papers (CL 1965)
Wisconsin Country (CL 1965)
Intent on Earth (CL 1965)
A Wisconsin Harvest (S&L 1966)
The House on the Mound (S&L 1966)
Eyes of the Mole (S&L 1967)
Collected Poems (CL 1967)
New Poetry Out of Wisconsin (S&L 1969)
A House Above Cuzco (CL 1969)
The Wind Leans West (CL1969)
Three Straw Men (CL 1970)
Return to Walden West (CL 1970)
Corn Village: A Selection (S&L 1970)
This Undying Quest (S&L 1971)
Night Letters, S&L 1971: first edition Frances May poems [Villiers]
Love Letters to Caitlin (CL 1971)
Indeed, one book on this list proves Derleth’s behind-the-scenes Candlelight involvement — Intent on Earth by Marcia Lee Masters, which has (typical of the other four imprints) a jacket by the Wisconsin artist Frank Utpatel, and this colophon:
Five hundred copies of this book have been printed
from Linotype Caledonia, by the Collegiate Press, The
George Banta Company, Inc., Menasha, Wisconsin. The
paper is Old Style Wove, and the cloth is Bancroft Devon.
Although a poet of merit herself, how does one overlook Marcia’s father being the celebrated Spoon River poet and how, because of that fact, she met — and for a period of time had been engaged to marry — August Derleth?
In Derleth: Hawk…and Dove, Dorothy Litersky not only notes Marcia’s collection of poetry, long underway, but a relationship renewed: “In late 1962 … their romance … sparked back to life briefly.” She adds:
Marcia and August kept in touch, meeting for lunch when Derleth was in Chicago … and when Derleth initiated the establishment of a vanity publishing house to provide a New York outlet for his reprints, Marcia’s poetry volume, Intent on Earth [was] published….
The reference above — Derleth’s vanity publishing house — was not a slip. Nor was the following comment made by Derleth’s close friend Donald Wandrei, in a August 25, 1975 letter to the Wisconsin State Historical Society: “All of the Derleth imprints were privately owned: Stanton & Lee, Arkham House, Mycroft & Moran, Arkham House Publishers, Candlelight Press, etc.”
The Candlelight Press!
These days, because of everything above, The Candlelight Press should interest not only S&L / H&W completests for the books, but also Arkham House collectors for two pieces of Derleth-related publisher’s ephemera: the first, a 1963 Candlelight brochure announcing his Three Literary Men and The Last Bookman.
Also in this brochure, a Sherlock Holmes statue sculpted by Luques Whitmore and four titles as forthcoming, though never published by Candlelight: John Jasper’s Devotion by Nathan Bengis (published elsewhere 1974–75); Fulminations of a Nocturnal Bookman by Russell Kirk (unpublished, apart from excerpts); Two Sonnet Sequences by Jacob C. Solovay (published by Luther Norris in 1969); and The Dog that Spoke French by Vincent Starrett.
Arkham House subscribers saw their first hint of Candlelight Press in 1964, items 62–64 on Don Herron’s “A Checklist of the Classic Years” ephemera; without citing Candlelight by name, Derleth’s blurb promotes “The Adventure of the Orient Express.” But in 1965 Books by August Derleth, in his typical Stock List format, with the Order Blank addressed to “Arkham House” — item 75 on Herron’s list — we find six Derleth books: one Mycroft & Moran, one Duell, Sloan & Pearce, one Prairie Press, and three, Candlelight!
As for Candlelight’s full slate of books, the press slowed in 1967–68 to only one book by Derleth and a cloth reissue of The Last Bookman, which suggests that funding separate advertising of its own had become prohibitive. For his part, in “Other Books from Arkham House / H&W Press Books” — a brochure mailed with early issues of The Arkham Collector — Derleth called out his Collected Poems: “A Candlelight Press Book. Coming September 1967.” A year later, in the subsequent “New and Forthcoming Books by August Derleth,” he described four new Candlelight releases, including A House Above Cuzco. In 1971, there were another six, including the new Return to Walden West…
In 1970 Candlelight was on the move again. Ruber managed even to publish a handful of items of personal interest, including Letter to an American by Kenneth Paul Shorey (not seen), and a new Candlelight brochure — the second ephemera piece of note; under the category “New” books, Derleth’s Return to Walden West, Love Letters to Caitlin, and The Three Straw Men. Also Marcia Master’s Intent on Earth. And The Office — A Facility Based on Change by Robert Prost. “Recent” books, Derleth’s A House Above Cuzco and The Wind Leans West. Also, the new The Last Bookman and Pictures from Hell, a poetry book by Luke M. Grande. “Forthcoming Books” included Master’s Grandparp, “Announced previously as When the Butterflies Talked,” Starrett’s Death Watch, and Derleth’s “revised and enlarged” Literary Papers — intriguing, for whose names he may have added, probably Jesse Stuart, H. P. Lovecraft, Maxwell Perkins and possibly Farnsworth Wright, even William T. Evjue.
Undoubtedly, it would be the final book in a Candlelight bibliography. Questions surround Love Letters to Caitlin. On November 26, 1988, in a letter to the August Derleth Society, a fan-based group, Ruber explained the sudden demise of his press:
The Caitlin book was never released. At the time of his death, all the pages had been printed, and three or four copies had been hard-bound by the Prairie Press to illustrate the finished product. Derleth’s lawyer suppressed the publication …. I recall being quite annoyed by his unilateral action, and angry words were exchanged. As a result, I closed down Candlelight Press, and a half-dozen important Derleth novels and short story collections that Derleth and I planned to bring out never saw the light of day….
To the best of my knowledge the list of titles below fully represents the six-year run of The Candlelight Press — all books plus two advertising brochures — an equal link in a chain that includes Mycroft & Moran, Stanton & Lee, and Hawk & Whippoorwill.
An angel, an android and an alien walk into a book…
Ghost Mode & Other Strange Stories, a new collection by speculative fiction author David Michael Williams, contains 13 short stories spanning such genres as fantasy, science fiction, paranormal and dreampunk.
From ambitious extraterrestrials to a denizen of the darkweb to a mighty spellcaster with the mind of a child, every story includes an element of the supernatural. Each tale also challenges the traditional notions of what defines a hero or a villain by spotlighting complex characters caught up in complicated circumstances.
Ghost Mode & Other Strange Stories is the first short fiction collection by the Wisconsin novelist.
“Longform storytelling has always been my preferred medium for fiction, but I had amassed many ideas for shorter, self-contained tales while writing books and series over the years,” Williams said. “Creatively speaking, this collection is a confident step out of my comfort zone while exploring genres, themes and characters that have been waiting in the wings for far too long.”
While each story stands on its own, several of them tie into Williams’ existing works of fiction, including The Renegade Chronicles, The Soul Sleep Cycle, and The Lost Tale of Sir Larpsalot, a YA portal fantasy released in 2020.
“Several of these stories started as ideas, writing exercises and rough drafts as far back as a decade ago, and others resulted from my personal challenge to compose eight tales in eight weeks late last year,” Williams said.
“And even though the collection celebrates the strange and supernatural, each story attempts to define what it means to be human.”
One Million Words, Williams’ indie publishing company, published Ghost Mode & Other Strange Stories on June 22. The paperback and e-book are available at Amazon.com.
In addition to the short story collection, Williams is the author of eight novels, including a sword-and-sorcery series and a dreampunk trilogy. A 1999 graduate of UW-Fond du Lac and a 2001 graduate of UW-Milwaukee’s creative writing program, his fiction also appears in various anthologies. He has been a member of the Allied Authors of Wisconsin, one of the state’s oldest writing collectives, for the past 15 years.
To all my friends and acquaintances … the last card I shall send out.
Years ago on this Allied Authors website in “A Derleth Christmas Card,” I touted an unexpected find I made in a local antique store: a series of unique Christmas cards issued by Wisconsin’s famous author — and close friend of Allied Authors — August Derleth.
Unexpected, because even in his home state, Derleth’s proverbial backyard, such finds are fewer and farther between, with his fame continuing to grow.
Admittedly, the title of that brief notice — intimating one card only — may have misled the reader who failed to canvas the entire page, which described the distinct family of cards I found — each exhibiting a new poem by Derleth and each a new illustration by Derleth’s friend, Wisconsin artist Frank Utpatel.
Reproduced from woodcuts, Utpatel’s panoramas are hallmark. Black and white country views, shadowy, textured, stamped onto white paper backgrounds — each delineating the “silent nights” of a typical Wisconsin winter.
Regarding the expressive poems, I hazarded how for a period of years…
Derleth chose one he newly favored for inspiration, composed a new Christmas/New Year poem, and then stamped these onto heavy stock paper to give as a holiday greeting. Derleth personalized each by signing them individually and adding a few warm patches of yellow [or orange] moonlight.
To be accurate, not every card has a crayon or marker highlight on Utpatel’s illustration. It is missing from two that I found, but the other three, it always seemed to me, were made more seasonally appropriate because of this added touch of warmth.
Above the illustration, Derleth’s personal year-end greeting. Below, the holiday stanzas, suited to both premise and scene. “Cabinet”-sized for stand-up display, approximately 5-3/8″ x 4-1/4″, printed one-sided only. The two lacking Derleth’s highlight were landscape oriented; the others, portrait.
And near the bottom, added to every card, Derleth’s carefully executed signature.
I knew immediately that the Derleth-Utpatel cards were rare — components of some little-known subset of the many item-categories associated with August Derleth, all assiduously collected. And only discovered because I had been searching for the author’s publishing ephemera, including the professionally printed catalogs, brochures, and stock lists Derleth distributed free to the patrons of Arkham House, Mycroft & Moran, Stanton & Lee, and Hawk & Whippoorwill.
Knowledgeable fans of Derleth believed the cards were products of the ’60s, even as I stubbornly insisted the signatures looked more like those from early in his career, as in the older books on my shelves. No one knew how many years he did these, but I was sure that one day we would discover the number of different cards there were (not something a recipient would be apt to casually toss out), as well as how many of each had been printed, the true indicator of how rare one or another of the cards might be.
Recently, a new card did turn up, though printed on thin paper and measuring 6-5/8″ x 10-5/8.” And yet, in its important aspects, it was the same ilk, from the same series, a remarkable card that provided, circumstantially, what I needed to piece together their history.
Six cards, I deduced, comprise the entire series — a safe conclusion, despite similar cards Derleth created, especially during the heady early days of his career. The author’s Christmas card for 1935, as example (pictured occasionally in the August Derleth Society Newsletter, the official organ of the fanbase today), featured the frontispiece from Place of Hawks, Derleth’s newest book that year.
Derleth’s plan for the new card I found — and the reason for the thin paper — allowed him to mail them all folded, in a separate envelope. The heavier paper used for the other five, a blank side available for address and postage, made them suitable for traveling the U.S. Mail system, as a postcard for only a 1-cent stamp.
Why, then, would Derleth pay 3 cents apiece to envelope all of No. 6? Because he used the blank side for the personal message that began ominously, “To all My Friends … the last card I shall send out.”
Four paragraphs to explain: “From one hundred cards a few years ago to many hundreds this year … at this rate, ten years from now, the Christmas card problem, would occupy all my time from early November to the end of the year.” And, in conclusion, to offer friends and acquaintances “good wishes not only for this annual holiday season, but for all the year ’round, and for every year of their lives.”
Obviously, card No. 6 was the last in the series (the reason I have always referred to it as No. 6, even though the order of the other five had yet to be decided), which also intimated that Derleth himself viewed the group as distinct.
From card No. 6, we also learn this important fact: there were 100 copies of card No 1.
Unfortunately, as with the others, I had nothing that gave up the year card No. 6 went out.
But, like the card itself, the answer to that key question popped up unexpectedly, serendipitously, in an old booklet I was glancing through: Catalog 6, Modern Literature, issued ca. 1972 by bookseller Roy A. Squires.
For sale, a copy of Derleth’s poetry collection, Rind of the Earth, with an added bonus:
Laid in is a folded leaflet, Derleth’s Christmas card, with an Utpatel illustration, a poem (which appears in the book), and a message including the statement that this “…is the last card I shall send out.” Signed in ink; in original envelope, postmarked Dec. 16, 1941.
Card No. 6, Christmas 1941!
A recent collection of Derleth’s verse, a poem selected for the greeting, another of the author’s early signatures; all fell sensibly into place. Comparing Derleth’s earlier poetry collections to the other five cards confirmed how each had heralded a recent, or forthcoming, volume of his poetry. With 1935 out of the running, the 1936–41 span fit perfectly — six cards over six years — listed here for the first time, poem and collection, numbered in order:
December 1936 introduced the poem titled “Time Being Winter,” collected in Hawk on the Wind (1938).
December 1937 introduced “Lonely Place,” collected in Man Track Here (1939).
December 1938 introduced “Winter Moon,” collected in Man Track Here (1939).
December 1939 introduced “Roofs,” collected in Here on a Darkling Plain (1940).
December 1940 introduced “Two Variations on a Theme” but included only the first of these studies subtitled “Christmas,” collected in Rind of Earth (1942).
December 1941 introduced “Tree in the Window,” the second variation from the same collection
Odd clues I had previously logged now fit the pattern like pieces in a puzzle. A 1937 reference in Derleth’s correspondence to cards printed at the News, where the author routinely purchased stationery items, the latest American Mercury, and the local newspaper by proprietor Bert Giegerich. Back then his ad ran:
Founded in 1876 — “Eight Big Pages Every Week” — The Sauk County News in Prairie du Sac
Besides the News, Bert promoted “quality job printing and new or used office equipment.”
Another clue I found in a 1993 August Derleth Society Newsletter back-issue, a prepublication announcement for a six-card set of Derleth Christmas card reprints, for $5.00 plus $2.00 shipping & handling.
An offer never repeated, the set probably never printed.
Still, new evidence could turn up to alter my conclusions above. Dating of the woodcuts, for example, might throw off the timeline. Although it is logical to assume Derleth fashioned a different card for each of the six years, it is possible he issued two in the Christmas seasons where the same collection was sourced; however, the more logical explanation is that happened only when a newer collection had not been published.
There is also a letter dated December 17, 1942, a correspondent telling Derleth: “I picked up one of your Utpatel-Derleth cards at Moseley’s to send to a friend.” What does it mean, I wonder, if the cards had also been sold at a bookstore located at 10 East Mifflin Street in Madison? Did Derleth have a commercial angle? And if he printed extras to sell locally that never caught on, never became lucrative, was that the reason he pulled the plug?
Or did Derleth simply change his writing emphasis? Other than homages to Thoreau, 1943 and 1944 came and went without new poetry collections.
Even with the mystery solved, these niggling questions remain…
Booklovers received two gifts this February with a pair of publications penned by Allied Authors.
Christopher Whitmore published his third novel, Charming, on Feb. 4. The standalone adventure is a temporary step away from his ongoing post-apocalyptic fantasy series.
Charming spins fairytale tropes on their heads and features larger-than-life characters caught up in a madcap misadventure. The back-cover blurb teases a story unlike any readers have ever encountered:
Leo Fairchild’s life has been in freefall since high school. His parents died abruptly during his senior year, his football scholarship fizzled when he blew his knee out, and now, he’s crashing on his best friend’s couch because he can’t seem to hold down a job for more than five minutes.
What Leo doesn’t realize is that there’s a reason for his streak of awful, awful luck — and her name is Vesper.
In order to uncover the truth behind his multiple misfortunes, Leo and his best friend David must travel to an astonishing new world, a brilliant reflection of our own modern society, where a marriage of magic and technology are able to solve most any problem… or so it seems…
It is there that Leo will discover his strange destiny and just what it means to be a Charming.
But will his fantastic new life be worth the price that must be paid?
Whitmore is also the author of Saviour and Children of the Saviour, which combine complex religious themes, thrilling action, and a generous measure of comedy to keep readers turning pages. His books are available in paperback and Kindle editions on Amazon.com.
After years of painstaking toil, John D. Haefele released his literary-criticism masterpiece Lovecraft: The Great Tales on Feb. 9.
According to Publishers Weekly, “Haefele’s interpretations are sure to spark debate among scholars of this influential author. Lovecraftians won’t want to miss this one.” Excerpts from the synopsis shed additional light on this comprehensive — and potentially controversial — book:
Tracing the development of HPL’s fictional universe, John D. Haefele ranges from childhood readings of the Arabian Nights to the seismic encounter with the works of Edgar Allan Poe.
After a lifetime of studying and appreciating Lovecraft, John D. Haefele finally sits down and does an unprecedented excavation of the texts, revealing years of startling discoveries, smashing the tame boilerplate criticism of recent decades.
Haefele’s revolutionary ways of looking at HPL’s work defy generations of critical orthodoxy. New ideas — but when you check the stories, suddenly evident and logical.
You won’t find a more masterful handling of the case of Howard Phillips Lovecraft.
Haefele is a well-known figure in Lovecraft and Derleth literary circles. In addition to contributing numerous nonfiction articles in blogs, reviews, and periodicals, he is the author of A Look Behind the Derleth Mythos.
His books are available in paperback on Amazon.com.
St. Martin’s Press has released details about Hannah Morrissey’s debut novel, including the cover for the compelling new crime thriller.
Hello, Transcriber features a police transcriber who goes beyond her daily duties to help solve a harrowing case. A teaser posted at criminalelement.com reveals more about the plot:
“Every night, while the street lamps shed the only light on Wisconsin’s most crime-ridden city, police transcriber Hazel Greenlee listens as detectives divulge Black Harbor’s gruesome secrets. As an aspiring writer, Hazel believes that writing a novel could be her only ticket out of this frozen hellscape.
“And then her neighbor confesses to hiding the body of an overdose victim in a dumpster.
“The suspicious death is linked to Candy Man, a notorious drug dealer. Now Hazel has a first-row seat to the investigation and becomes captivated by the lead detective, Nikolai Kole. Intrigued by the prospects of gathering eyewitness intel for her book, Hazel joins Kole in exploring Black Harbor’s darkest side.
“As the investigation unfolds, Hazel will learn just how far she’ll go for a good story–even if it means destroying her marriage and luring the killer to her as she plunges deeper into the city she’s desperate to claw her way out of.”
Hello, Transcriber will be available in paperback and e-book editions on Nov. 30, 2021, courtesy of Minotaur Books, an imprint of St. Martin’s Press and premier publisher in the bestselling category of crime fiction.
Morrissey joined the Allied Authors in 2019. She is currently working on her follow-up novel, Widowmaker,which also takes place in the apocryphal city of Black Harbor.
Those were the first words he spoke to me. My newlywed wife, Stephanie, and I were having a rummage sale in the summer of 2005, and a man old enough to be my grandfather asked the question while holding up the outdated copy of Writer’s Market we’d hoped to sell for a quarter.
We quickly learned a few things about Tom Ramirez:
He was a local author with more than a hundred paperbacks to his name (and pen names).
He was a former journalist, even as I was getting my feet wet at the local newspaper.
He and his wife, Fern, had grown up here in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, and lived in nearby St. Peter.
At some point in the conversation, we exchanged contact information, and it wasn’t long before the Ramirezes invited Steph—whom Tom quickly dubbed “Steffers”—and I to dinner at their beautiful home. Somehow Fern was even friendlier than Tom. In addition to learning more about their fascinating lives and sharing a bit about our own backgrounds, we were taught how to play Mexican Train.
A month or so later, we had them over for dinner at our place.
Early on, I shared some of my writing with Tom, and while he was the furthest thing to a fantasy fan, he must have seen some promise in my work because he invited Steph and I to accompany him and Fern to an Allied Authors meeting in the Milwaukee area. We eagerly took them up on the offer.
I remember feeling like a fish out of water—or maybe a better metaphor would be a goldfish swimming among monolithic ocean dwellers. We were so young, and here we were in the company of published authors and writers who had accomplished so much!
It was a lot to aspire to, but Tom was about as down-to-earth as a man could get. A child of the Great Depression, he had a knack for telling it like it is, praise and criticism alike, which made his feedback on my fiction tough but fair. Meanwhile, Fern was the perfect counterbalance, always ready with a cache of compliments due to her passion for reading.
Steph and I often carpooled with the Ramirezes for these monthly Allied Authors meetings. In the beginning, she and I worried we’d run out of things to talk about with the elderly couple. That never happened. Not even close.
Was it because Tom and Fern were so young at heart? Were Steph and I old souls? Or was the truth, perhaps, somewhere in the middle?
Whatever the case, the trips to and from Milwaukee never devolved into awkward silence. Indeed, the rides were always at least as fun as the meetings themselves, despite the half-century difference in our ages.
My friendship with Tom stretched across 15 years—through the birth of both my children, a couple of career changes, and the publication of my first novels. When it came time for him to self-publish his memoirs, I passed along to my mentor what I had gleaned from my own experiences, assisting him with proofing, layout, the back-cover blurb, and the publishing itself. In some ways, it seemed like a role-reversal, but, really, it was just one good friend helping another.
Up until Tom’s death, we were talking about the possibility of publishing a novel he’d been working on for the past few years, a horror novel that was outside his wheelhouse but of which he was quite proud. I was proud, too—not only because he was writing well into his 90s, but because he wasn’t afraid to tackle something new and unfamiliar.
A recurring theme in a life both long and lush.
If Tom Ramirez hadn’t shown up at our rummage sale, I doubt I would have crossed paths with the Allied Authors, let alone joined the group. My own writing journey would have suffered for that as well as the absence of his stalwart encouragement. Aside from Steph, he was my staunchest supporter, always predicting I had what it took to make it.
“Who’s the writer?”
I am—and I’m a much better one for having known you, Tom. Moreover, you made my life richer beyond the page. I’m blessed to have known you and Fern and to have played some small part in the incredible story that was your life.
Enjoy your epilogue, old friend.
Thomas P. Ramirez passed away on December 18, 2020 at the age of 94. The former teacher, reporter, and author of more than 150 novels and 250 short stories joined the Allied Authors of Wisconsin in 1955. His most recent book was That Wonderful Mexican Band, a memoir about growing up a poor member of a minority group in Fond du Lac during the Great Depression, which was published in 2017.
Wizards and wannabes star in new novel geared toward gamers
Fans of fantasy roleplaying games (RPGs) can learn what not to do when exploring a new world, thanks to David Michael Williams’ latest novel.
The Lost Tale of Sir Larpsalot features a handful of would-be heroes who find themselves woefully unprepared for the adventure they always hoped for.
“It’s what’s called a portal fantasy,” Williams said. “Five Midwestern teens are pulled into another world by a sorceress who confuses them for actual champions. They have to complete her perilous quest in order to get back home.”
“In some ways, it’s every gamer’s dream come true and nightmare rolled into one,” he added.
The Wisconsin author describes his new novel as Galaxy Quest meets Dungeons & Dragons. The characters are all live-action roleplaying gamers—aka LARPers—and include Sir Larpsalot, the party leader; musical storyteller Elvish Presley; Brutus the Bullheaded, a surly minotaur; know-it-all Master Prospero; and Tom Foolery, the team’s not-so-stealthy sneak.
While the coming-of-age tale is classified as YA fiction, the book was written to appeal to fantasy aficionados both young and old as well as anyone who enjoys fun-filled, action-heavy adventures—such as teen gamers who aren’t typically drawn to reading.
Unlike Williams’ earlier sword-and-sorcery novels, which all took place in the magical world of Altaerra, The Lost Tale of Sir Larpsalot straddles the real world, the fictional setting that the LARPers invented for their game and a brand-new realm filled with creatures they have never encountered, not even in their imaginations.
“The teens have to decide which fantasy clichés can help them overcome obstacles and which could get them killed,” Williams said. “Every chapter starts with a snippet of gaming slang, which somehow fits into the next segment of their crazy quest.”
“This book is my tongue-in-cheek love letter to the fantasy RPGs I grew up playing and continue playing to this day,” he said.
One Million Words, Williams’ indie publishing company, published The Lost Tale of Sir Larpsalot on Oct. 1. The paperback and e-book are available at Amazon.com. He plans to narrate and produce the audiobook edition in 2021.
Williams is also the author of four other fantasy novels, including Magic’s Daughter, which was released in paperback, e-book, and audiobook editions earlier this year, as well as The Soul Sleep Cycle, a dreampunk series that explores life, death and eternity. He joined the Allied Authors of Wisconsin in 2005.