Category Archives: AAW History and Affiliates

Hawk & Whippoorwill: Derleth’s Overlooked Imprint

(Part 3)

[Read Part 1 and Part 2]

(Hawk & Whippoorwill: Poems of Man and Nature) is a new little magazine devoted to the subjects suggested in its subtitle. It will be published irregularly, which is to say whenever the editor feels that enough good material has been accepted to fill an issue … the editor will read all work submitted, short or long, and he hopes in time to have a sufficiently large subscription list to enable him to pay for poems.

August Derleth

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A short essay in Oak Leaves, “The Writer and the ‘Little’ Magazine,” was the first indication August Derleth would edit and publish Hawk & Whippoorwill.

Derleth treasured a large fund he had saved of similar magazines, stating, “I find myself dipping into these slender issues from time to time very much in the same way that I refresh myself by looking into Frost and Thoreau and Emerson” in “The Editor’s Post” (Hawk & Whippoorwill, Spring 1960)—to which he would add a title of his own. The announcement at the top, excerpted from a 1960 broadside printed on separate stock, likely shared the same mailing envelope with Oak Leaves.

Derleth would produce Hawk & Whippoorwill for three years. But then he stopped abruptly, admitting later that “the overwhelming mass of poetry submitted was so very bad that editing the magazine soon became a depressing chore, and I was not unhappy to suspend it finally” (“My Life in Poetry”).

At his core Derleth was a businessman, and it was actually the economics that doomed the magazine. Hawk & Whippoorwill failed to attain a semi-pro status, yet Derleth would “pay” contributors two or three copies based on submission length and never required they become subscribers, as was common practice.

I had not, in any event, visualized extended publication, and the economic facts really permitted of no other solution. True, I had 170 sets bound and priced them at $10 the copy—of these perhaps half sold; the other half remain to be sold. The entire venture, exclusive of book publication, lost me a total of $1,706.50, or roughly $170 an issue. (“My Life in Poetry”)

In fact, Derleth’s venture had been beset with economic—not poetic—woes from the get-go:

Of poetry there was no dearth—there never is. The cost of production, however,  proved to be another matter entirely. It is always so with publishing, and particularly when the product makes its appeal to a relatively small if informed audience. It was obvious to me, through my work at Arkham House, that union printing for such a magazine was absolutely out of the question if I meant to hold to a per copy cost of [$]500. But I found that even a non-union printer asked a dollar an issue for a 500-copy magazine. Manifestly, this too, was impossible. So I went to England and paid $200 for the first issue of Hawk & Whippoorwill. Since the first year of the magazine, a twice-yearly publication, had a subscription list of 200, it must be apparent that I lost money from the beginning. Moreover, that loss was compounded by the fact that I seldom found it possible, after the first four issues to hold the magazine to 20 pages. (“My Life in Poetry”)

Derleth indeed “went to England” (though never in person), contracting with Villiers Publications, Ltd., of London. Villiers printed all ten issues of the magazine during its three-year run—the final double-sized—as well as several books under a Hawk & Whippoorwill imprint.

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Which raises the question that has troubled this scholar for years: Why didn’t Derleth include the Hawk & Whippoorwill books in Thirty Years of Arkham House, the bibliography compiled in 1969, purportedly to list every title issued under all of his name-plates? In addition to Arkham House (AH), this did include Mycroft & Moran (M&M) and Stanton & Lee (S&L).

Derleth prepared the bibliography to help mark his “Thirtieth Anniversary!” as publisher, offering it for sale in the 1969 Stock List of Books from Arkham House / Mycroft & Moran. He promoted it as “a comprehensive bibliography of the publications of Arkham House and its subsidiary imprints throughout the 30 years of its existence, together with a brief history.”

Arkham House and Mycroft & Moran are both genre-imprints, but Derleth routinely included Stanton & Lee with both in combined catalogs and bulletins. That’s how he launched the imprint in 1945: “Stanton & Lee will be publishers of general books … books of comic panels, strips … will on occasion reprint books” (Books /Arkham House / Mycroft & Moran / Stanton & Lee / Books). These “reprints” would be comprised of out-of-print Sac Prairie and Wisconsin Saga books, a subtle indicator of Derleth’s high hopes at the time.

Initial success was short-lived, however. Sales for even the best titles were moderate, and Derleth allowed Stanton & Lee to grow especially moribund between 1960 and 1965, the same period he was publishing using the H&W imprint.

Is there a connection? S&L is in the bibliography, H&W is not.

Derleth’s introduction to Thirty Years is no help; catering to his largest category of clients, Derleth speaks mainly of Arkham House, writes little about Mycroft & Moran, inserts two lines about Stanton & Lee—and says not a peep about Hawk & Whippoorwill.

But in 1971, in the “My Life in Poetry” lecture, Derleth does refer to the H&W books, doing so with obvious pride:

Moreover, the magazine won rather speedy recognition. Some of the poems from its pages—by James Weil, William D. Barney, Dodi Schultz, Leah Bodine Drake, and Company—appeared in anthologies and textbooks—and I may add, some of the most excitingly different textbooks of poetry to have been offered to schools in the past decade, like Some Haystacks Don’t Have Needles, and A Gift of Watermelon Pickles & Other Poems, both of which have had wide circulation in hard and paperback. Many more appeared in collections—among them five under my own Stanton & Lee imprint—Jane Stuart’s Eyes of the Mole, Joseph Payne Brennan’s The Wind of Time, Mary Weeden Stiver’s Brief Argument, Grant Code’s This Undying Quest, and Frances May’s Night Letters. (“My Life in Poetry”)

However, by referring to The Wind of Time as a Stanton & Lee title, Derleth conflates the history of the imprints. And yet, what appears to be confusion may actually be warranted for what it reveals about the S&L-H&W relationship—the fact that a definite relationship does exist. Looking at other “cross-over” connections, among all of Derleth’s name-plates, helps uncover this bigger picture.

The first relevant cross-over—Hawk & Whippoorwill with Arkham House—appears in the Autumn 1961 issue of Hawk & Whippoorwill:

Our readers may like to know that Arkham House is publishing in November Fire and Sleet and Candlelight: New Poems of the Macabre ($4.00).

Among the contributors were these H&W poets: Jesse Stuart, Raymond Roseliep, Joseph Payne Brennan, Grant Code, Leah Bodine Drake, Francis Angevine Gray, Joseph Joel Keith, Anne Marx, Edna Meudt, Jocelyn Macy Sloan, and James Weil.

(Francis May, a poet with a poem in the Autumn issue, apparently entered the scene too late to be included in Fire and Sleet and Candlelight, but she would have a short story published in Dark Things, the 1971 anthology of weird tales Derleth edited for Arkham House.)

3

Also in the Autumn issue, this pertinent announcement:

We are inaugurating this year, in November, a book publishing program. Our first book will be The Wind of Time, by Joseph Payne Brennan. It will be priced at $3.50 … we will publish one collection each year until we decide to end our publishing venture.

4

This title was not the first Brennan book Derleth published. As recently as 1958, Arkham House issued Nine Horrors and a Dream, a collection of Brennan’s weird tales. The Wind of Time, however, would garner the distinction of being the first book Villiers printed and bound for Derleth—all previous Arkham House, Mycroft & Moran, and Stanton & Lee titles having been made in the United States by George Banta Company, Inc., of Menasha, Wisconsin.  

When Derleth retired Hawk & Whippoorwill magazine, he had the second H&W book already in progress. “Though this is the final number of Hawk & Whippoorwill, the imprint of the H&W Press will appear sometime within the next year on one other book—Brief Argument, by Mary Weeden Stiver.” Brief Argument duly appeared in 1964, printed by Villiers.

In 1966, Derleth resurrected the Stanton & Lee imprint, going local again with Banta, for Wisconsin Harvest, a book of short stories he agreed to edit for the Wisconsin Regional Writers Association, the first of what he hoped might become a series of Wisconsin authored books. Not only did S&L’s history with Wisconsin themes make sense of this, but “Stanton & Lee” must’ve sounded more appropriate to Derleth for this series than poetry-light “Hawk & Whippoorwill.”

However, the next Stanton & Lee offering would be another H&W-styled poetry book: Eyes of the Mole, a 1967 collection of verse by Jane Stuart, the daughter of Derleth’s close friend and fellow writer Jesse Stuart. It became the first S&L book Derleth used Villiers to print and bind.

Derleth turned to Banta again for the next S&L, New Poetry Out of Wisconsin, a 1969 follow-up to Poetry Out of Wisconsin, the anthology Derleth co-edited in 1937 for a different publisher. Of course, this was a collection of Wisconsin writers, not H&W poets.

But then came Le Sueur’s Corn Village: A Selection in 1970 (Villiers), Code’s This Undying Quest in 1971 (Banta), and May’s Night Letters in 1971 (Villiers).

Which all conspire to deepen our little mystery. Not only are three H&W books missing from Derleth’s bibliography, so are the Villiers-printed S&L’s. Fortunately, we now are able to reconstruct—with educated guesswork—much of what happened.

In 1960, Derleth deemed the name Stanton & Lee inappropriate for a Little Review filled with poems about man and nature. Moreover, he banked on Hawk & Whippoorwill quickly becoming self-funded—all the more reason to keep separate the new imprint from the old.

Three years later Derleth retired the magazine, but not the imprint—not the idea of abetting a line of books. As late as 1968, a couple of years after using S&L for Wisconsin Harvest, H&W (according to a Prairie Press blurb) was still in the mix:

[Derleth] lives in his home, Place of Hawks … where he also conducts the affairs of Arkham House: Publishers, with its associated imprints—Mycroft & Moran, Stanton & Lee, and the Hawk & Whippoorwill Press.” (Walden Pond: Homage to Thoreau)

Only then, during the next year, did something change. Perhaps Derleth simply deduced he would no longer need four imprints, but sometime before finalizing Thirty Years of Arkham House, in which he states unequivocally, “All Arkham House books—together with those under the Mycroft & Moran and Stanton & Lee imprints—have been printed by the George Banta Company, with the exception of The Arkham Sampler….”

The simple explanation for this statement would have Derleth unwittingly reusing the original passage on which it is based, which appears word-for-word in the Thirty Years of Arkham House predecessor, Arkham House: The First Twenty Years.

Otherwise the Banta-assertion is troubling, not just in light of the H&W omissions or even the missing Villiers-S&L books, but for two Arkham House books Derleth does include: Nightmare Need, a new 1964 collection of Brennan’s supernatural verse, and Something Breathing, a 1965 collection of macabre verse by Stanley McNail.

What’s possible is that both of these books were originally conceived as H&W books.

What’s undeniably true is that both were printed by Villiers in London.

But, here again, the big picture manifests only after studying the cross-over aspects. Whereas Arkham House would seem the logical imprint for two supernatural poetry volumes (and that’s ultimately what happened), the connection to H&W (and therefore Villiers) was stronger. Despite Derleth’s earliest H&W objectives, it was only natural, given his abiding interest in macabre fiction and poetry, that as the little review began to fade he would gravitate especially to Brennan and McNail.

Besides writing verse, both poets were publishing “little reviews” of their own. Brennan had two, Essence and Macabre, and McNail had The Galley Sail Review. Derleth himself was a catalyst for rejuvenating interest in supernatural poetry, the result of editing (with the help of his friend Donald Wandrei) and publishing in 1947 the massive anthology Dark of the Moon. Thus, in “August Derleth: Friend of Fantasy Poetry” (August Harvest, Magico, 1994), Steve Eng writes:

 A mainstream poet and horror-story writer, Brennan edited the verse magazine Essence (1950-1977), and Macabre (1957-1973) which used poetry. Brennan’s own modern style mostly escapes the perils of free verse due to its severe brevity and the poet’s genuine ear. Pessimism of the blackest hue is omnipresent, with refreshingly little melodrama. Much lighter was Stanley McNail’s … terse poems merging humor and horror. Craftsmanship in the verses perhaps reflects McNail’s studies under Lawrence Hart, mentor of the “Activist” school of imagist poetry in San Francisco in the fifties. McNail also edited The Galley Sail Review (1958-1971) and the macabre poetry journal Night Shade (1966-1968).

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Everything fits when we overlay Derleth’s abiding H&W rationale, which was to publish contemporary poetry written by poets he could appreciate, whatever the genre. Whereas deceased or long-moribund poets—H. P. Lovecraft, Clark Ashton Smith, Donald Wandrei—would always be Arkham poets, it’s a safe bet the new Brennan and McNail collections were conceived as H&W books, and would’ve been had the imprint lasted. Rather than give these up, Derleth adhered to the tried-and-true (and less expensive) H&W formula, using Villiers to print the books but issuing them to his remaining (and much larger) base of clients as Arkham House books.

The theory pans out with a post-bibliography Arkham House verse collection published in 1970, L. Sprague de Camp’s Demons and Dinosaurs—though this fact is not found in the book itself, Arkham historian Sheldon Jaffery is on record (in Horrors and Unpleasantries) alleging Villiers did this one, too.

All minor points in the big picture—but nothing Derleth wished to call out.

Could there have been a simpler explanation?

I’ve never been convinced the meticulous Derleth would mistakenly or deliberately exclude titles that properly belonged in any of his bibliographies—not after studying once more the proper names of these imprints:

Arkham House: Publisher

Stanton & Lee: Publisher

Hawk & Whippoorwill Press

There in plain sight (my italics) is what I now believe to be the answer. The omissions hinge on how Derleth viewed his books. Those in the bibliography are the books he published—those he actively commissioned, edited, copyrighted, and promoted.

The Villiers titles, on the other hand, were merely passed to the London press for printing (some subsidized). In this regard, the non-Arkham Villiers books in his mind differed little, or not at all, from poetry collections of his own, those issued by Ritten House, James A. Decker, Prairie, or other small presses.

Everything now adds up, assuming Derleth did more with the Arkham-Villiers titles and, therefore, included them (though, as with the other Villiers books, they were not copyrighted).

Except for the curve Derleth threw in 1963: Arkham’s Autobiography: Some Notes on a Nonentity by H. P. Lovecraft was printed by Villiers. Certainly cost was a factor, but I continue to search, believing there’s more to be said. In 1963, Derleth was in the early stages of reissuing all of Lovecraft’s fiction. Perhaps he used Villiers because he originally meant to issue these unadorned booklets unofficially, at no cost, to promote Lovecraft…

And now there is the problem these titles present for imprint completists, for whom they reside irrevocably among the books they need to ferret out.

For their sake, here is the first complete list of the non-magazine titles printed in London by Villiers for each imprint:

 

Hawk & Whippoorwill Press

The Wind of Time, Joseph Payne Brennan (1961)

Hawk & Whippoorwill 1960-1963 (1963), bound, ten-issue run.

Brief Argument, Mary Stiver Welder (1964)

 

Arkham House: Publishers

Autobiography: Some Notes on a Nonentity, H. P. Lovecraft (1963)

Nightmare Need, Joseph Payne Brennan (1964)

Something Breathing, by Stanley McNail (1965)

Demons and Dinosaurs, by L. Sprague de Camp (1970)

 

Stanton & Lee: Publishers

Eyes of the Mole, Jane Stuart (1967)

Corn Village: A Selection, Meridel Le Sueur (1970)

Night Letters, Frances May (1971)

 

John D. Haefele contributed this article.
© 2016. All rights reserved.


Hawk & Whippoorwill: Derleth’s Little Review

(Part 2)

[Read Part 1 here.]


Perhaps it was natural that I should eventually gravitate to editing a little review of poetry. I had been reading such little reviews from the 1920’s onward, and I wanted to learn for myself what editing and publishing such a little review entailed. I began
Hawk & Whippoorwill in 1960 and ended it in 1963 after 10 issues. At the outset I hoped to publish a little magazine, limited to verse—“of man and nature,” as I announced it—along similar lines to Fred Lape’s Trails, one of the best such magazines of the 1930’s.

(1971: Lecture, “My Life in Poetry”)

The first hint that publishing a review was on August Derleth’s mind appeared in the January-February 1960 issue of Oak Leaves: A Magazine of Poetry. In the short essay “The Writer and the ‘Little’ Magazine,” Derleth reminded readers that the “principal function of the little magazine for the writer is to afford him an audience—very often his first audience.”

Portentously he adds: “not to be overlooked” are the publishers, “who are usually the editors,” and are “as much in the service of literature as the writer, and often at considerably more cost.”

Derleth was himself an editor and publisher, with three imprints of his own: Arkham House: Publisher, Mycroft & Moran, and Stanton & Lee. Personal experience had taught him that small publishers fill an important role by offering “encouragement or advice” to aspiring writers. He also knew the “mortality rate” among small publishers to be “very high.”

I had previously been associated with a rather costly little review, The Midwestern, published by a university student who had money enough to support it for two or three issues, really rather more a dilettante venture than a bona fide little magazine. And I had edited and published The Arkham Sampler, a trade quarterly specifically for the patrons of Arkham House, with the circulation of which I had no particular problem. Hawk & Whippoorwill, however, had no waiting audience, and, in contrast to the Sampler, which had no competition whatsoever, Hawk & Whippoorwill was but one of many such little reviews in the field. I planned a magazine of 20 pages, chiefly poems, with a modicum of reviews, and for the first issue I had poems from poets like Fred Lape, Jesse Stuart, Raymond Roseliep, Edna Meudt, Joseph Payne Brennan, Joseph Joel Keith and others—all bylines familiar to readers of contemporary poetry. (“My Life in Poetry”)

Derleth produced The Arkham Sampler only two years, 1948 and 1949, but for many years he edited the Arkham House advertising bulletins as if they themselves were Little Reviews, including prose, poems, appraisals and publishing news of interest to his customers. In an unpublished essay, “American Regional Poetry,” Derleth makes this observation: “Regional poets in the first forty years of this century had many outlets in scores of regional little reviews and in the national literary quarterlies. Today there are very few regional little magazines left.”

Cover of Hawk & Whippoorwill, Volume 1, Issue 1

Derleth decided to set an example.

That the contents of Hawk & Whippoorwill were on the whole appreciably superior to those of most of its contemporaries was not, of course, an accident. Most of the best poems were solicited from poets who had been friends for years. Jesse Stuart was a friend of almost 25 years’ standing; I had been the judge in the Kaleidograph book publication contest in the year that Edsel Ford’s initial book placed first; I had published Joseph Payne Brennan under my Arkham House imprint; I had shared programs with Helga Sandburg; some of the poets had contributed to Poetry Out of Wisconsin a quarter of a century before; and so on. Occasional excellent poems came in unsolicited, and in two cases my admiration for their work overcame a natural reluctance to approach poets I did not personally know and ask for work—and these were Gene Baro and William Stafford. (“My Life in Poetry”)

Derleth’s high standards extended behind the scenes:

I did have offers of funding; those same generous patrons whose names had appeared on the roster of patrons for many another little review offered support. I felt I could not accept such support; I wanted the magazine to make its own way or to cease publication. I intended to keep up a relatively high average in its contents, and to that end subsequent issues featured poems by, in addition to the poets already mentioned, Wendell Anderson, Felix Pollak, William D. Barney, Gene Baro, John Beecher, Lorna Beers, Grant Code, Carleton Drewry, John Engels, James T. Farrell, Edsel Ford, James Hearst, John Judson, Raymond E. F. Larsson, David Lytle, Barriss Mills, Sydney King Russell, Arthur Sampley, Helga Sandburg, Daniel Smythe, William Stafford, Felix Stefanile, Jane Stuart, James L. Weil, Norma Farber—whose long Frostian takeoff, “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening,” was, I think, the most memorable poem to appear in the magazine—and by many other poets, whose names would be almost as well known to this audience, as these.

Though Derleth wrote verse prolifically throughout his career, only four of his poems appeared in the ten issues of Hawk & Whippoorwill—each issue 35 to 40 pages long, with the final issue twice that length. But he did contribute eight brief reviews of other writers’ books, prepare detailed notes for all ten installments of “The Editor’s Post,” and compile for the final issue a complete index of all ten.

In the Autumn 1963 issue, Derleth bid farewell to Hawk & Whippoorwill, in the short essay “On Publishing a Little Magazine,” which begins: “I undertook the publication of Hawk & Whippoorwill, determined to bring out at least ten issues….” He goes on to explain: “Four years of Hawk & Whippoorwill have persuaded me to conclude that there is very little room for such a magazine on a self-sustaining basis, for there is not a sufficiently large or interested public devoted.” To illustrate his point, he adds:

Subscribers to the first year of Hawk & Whippoorwill numbered approximately two hundred; subscribers to the last numbered less than half that number … It should be made clear at once, however, that no very great effort was ever expended to gain subscribers for the magazine; the press of my many obligations forbade it and left me no time in which to do more than assemble the magazine, proof it, and mail it to subscribers when it came from the printer….

But this scheduled, separate appearance of Hawk & Whippoorwill was not quite the end. After its mailing, Derleth calculated the number of complete sets of all issues that could be assembled from his file of unsold copies—and bound in cloth. Later that same year, he offered 170 of these in pale green.

Spine of the Hawk & Whippoorwill Anthology

Nor was that monument the end.

In 1973, two years after Derleth died, a new Little Review appeared, “edited, published and presented by the Wisconsin Fellowship of Poets.” This first issue of Hawk & Whippoorwill Recalled was entirely “devoted to the memory of August Derleth” and the “high literary standards of the original magazine” it emulated.

Cover of "Hawk & Whippoorwill Recalled"

The cost of this project was “jointly supported by a grant from the Wisconsin Arts Council and the National Endowment for the Arts in Washington, D.C.”

[Read Part 3.]

John D. Haefele submitted this article.
© 2016. All rights reserved.


Hawk & Whippoorwill: The Little Reviews

(Part 1)

In Writing Fiction (The Writer, 1946), August Derleth — Wisconsin’s famous writer, teacher, and bookman — described a pivotal experience in his career, contributing to the small press magazines known as “little reviews”:

Within the first year of my initial publication in such little reviews … I had letters of inquiry about book-length work from the editors of such well-known houses as Simon & Schuster, Houghton Mifflin, Charles Scribner’s Sons, and Harper’s. Within the same period I had inquiries about short stories from magazines of national circulation which included Collier’s and McCall’s.

Cover of "Writing Fiction" by August Derleth

Britannica defines a “little review” as “any of various small periodicals devoted to serious literary writings, usually avant-garde and noncommercial.” They flourished after 1880 and throughout most of the 20th century, having much in common with contemporary journals distributed through amateur press associations and the burgeoning phenomenon of (especially science fiction-oriented) fanzines.

Today the bulk of this activity has moved to the Internet in the form of informal blogging and the posting of electronic reviews — for example, here at the Allied Authors website and at Amazon or Goodreads.

Derleth had shared his experiences years earlier in “A Salute to the Little Reviews,” appearing in the August 1941 edition of American Author. There he recalls that he once shocked a budding author with the advice that “he must expect to give a great deal of his work away.” He also emphasizes that avant-garde or other seemingly unsalable material “commercial outlets would not dare publish” is often “cheerfully printed by the little magazines.”

Derleth’s larger point is as follows: “Editors of all the best publishing houses watch the little reviews with care, and I do not think that there exists a first-rate beginner who has not received a letter from at least one publishing house after his appearance in a little magazine.”

He concludes with this prediction: “Contributions to the little reviews are like bread cast upon the waters; postulating only talent, and the ability to work and take criticism, they are certain to come back in loaves.”

IMG_20160819_0001

Many years later, in the lecture-essay “On Being an All-Round Bookman” (1971), Derleth validates all he had been saying with this recollection of his own earliest experiences as a professional editor:

Editing at Fawcett Publications involved considerably more than simply passing on manuscripts and conducting a column; it meant working with writers, revising manuscripts, writing something publishable when not enough material was at hand … I discovered that editing a little review — The Midwestern, published here in Madison in 1931, for all the difference between the professional and the amateur, involved pretty much the same kind of work, with the added task of improving circulation and helping to meet expenses.

Coming next: “Hawk & Whippoorwill: Derleth’s Little Review” (Part 2)

John D. Haefele contributed this article.
© 2016. All rights reserved.


The Mystery of the Milwaukee – Chicago – Sauk City Connection

Anything in Latin sounds imposing. For example, let’s take the name ‘Solar Pons’ itself. That’s Latin, you know. I looked it up. ‘Solar,’ meaning of, or pertaining to, the sun. And ‘Pons,’ meaning bridge. See what I mean? Doesn’t ‘Solar Pons’ sound a lot better than just calling someone a sun of a bridge?

—Robert Bloch, speaking on the occasion of the first annual Praed Street Irregulars Awards

Ray Palmer, a founding member of the Milwaukee Fictioneers (an antecedent of the Allied Authors of Wisconsin), was also a literary editor for Fantasy Magazine. Palmer wrote an article about the Sauk City Wisconsin writer August Derleth, which appeared in the March 1936 issue.

What exactly led to this event, I haven’t been able to determine. Even though both men made their careers writing, editing, and publishing (with especial interest in fantasy and science fiction), there is no record of correspondence in the “August Derleth Papers” housed at the State Historical Society of Wisconsin.

But Palmer’s article raises another topic of mutual interest: mystery fiction. Titled “August Derleth” (which already was a broad topic), Palmer covers primarily Judge Peck, a detective character Derleth features in a series of early novels—and mixed in is the hint of something else:

Late in 1936 will appear a book of [Derleth’s] poems, Hawk on the Wind. This will be followed by Still Is the Summer Night, a long serious novel, and Solar Pons of Praed Street, a book of short detective tales.

Praed Street’s Solar Pons and Dr. Parker are also detectives, Derleth’s version of the Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson team. His earliest stories with Pons and Parker are juvenilia—Derleth was a teenager in 1928 when he began—but he sold them to Dragnet Magazine and then to Detective Trails, Gangster Stories, and others. After this early spate, Derleth moved on to other types of writing.

And yet in 1934, he began to casually mention two Solar Pons novels he believed Loring & Mussey (who did issue three Peck novels) would publish. And perhaps one of these by 1936 had become the “book of detective tales” Palmer wrote; only L&M went out of business that year.

Derleth, unlike the unlucky publisher, was just starting; whenever the mood hit, he added stories to the Solar Pons series. Jack Chalker, in the “Fellow Travelers” section of The Science-Fantasy Publishers, nails what he did with:

Good fun if you like Holmes. Derleth was adamant these were pastiches, not parodies; a detective who took up when Holmes retired and imitated him precisely.

Many readers heard about Solar Pons for the first time in 1945 in Books from Arkham House, Derleth’s catalog of the Arkham House books he was publishing. That’s where Derleth first announced a new imprint:

The House of Mycroft & Moran has been organized to produce one book per year in a field in itself as unique as that of Arkham House—the genre of the off-trail detective story.

M&M’s first title would be In Re: Sherlock Holmes: The Adventures of Solar Pons.

August Derleth's "In re: Sherlock Holmes"

As author, editor and publisher, Derleth joyfully set the stage. He intimated that procuring these stories somehow involved Mycroft Holmes, the brother of Doyle’s own Great Detective, and Colonel Sebastian Moran, “the second most dangerous man [after Moriarty] in London”: thus, Mycroft & Moran.

Mycroft and Moran colophonPerhaps they were who approved the deerstalker colophon that artist Ronald Clyne provided.

And the “Baskerville” linotype used throughout…

The M&M books would be sturdy and cloth-bound—each to be introduced by reputable mystery-experts, drawing-room bookmen, including Vincent Starrett, Ellery Queen, Anthony Boucher, and Edgar W. Smith.

Year-after-year, it was all great fun!

Mycroft and Moran letter

What the Pontine canon would mean was revealed in publisher’s ephemerae I doubt that even maestro Don Herron has seen: The centennial Best Wishes from Pons to Holmes, notarized by Derleth himself as well as Mr. Mycroft and Mr. Moran–we can only guess at the number of copies sent out to amuse fans and friends.

But more was going on than could (at first) meet the eye. It was easy to miss how Derleth did more than pastiche Holmes precisely; he was also copying Sir Arthur Conan Doyle—precisely!

All was owned up to when announcing (in yet another undocumented piece of the publisher’s elusive ephemerae) the fifth collection of Pons stories:

Publication June 17 of August Derleth’s The Casebook of Solar Pons will round out what is perhaps the most ambitious venture in pastiche in the history of literature. For almost four decades the dean of Wisconsin writers … has amused himself writing fond imitations of the Sherlock Holmes tales, pastiching not only the tales, but the collections. The Casebook of Solar Pons brings to 56 the number of Pontine tales in print—the precise number of the Sherlock Holmes stories in short length.

More would follow. Watson hinted about Holmes adventures that Doyle never wrote. Derleth, on the other hand, completed more Pons stories that Parker knew of.

Derleth published his first Pons novel in 1968, the well-received Mr. Fairlie’s Final Journey. Doyle wrote four of his own about Holmes, so Derleth promised four. And we might’ve gotten all of them, had the world’s most prolific pastiche-writer not also been writing versions of Thoreau…

And Sinclair Lewis and Sherwood Anderson…

Also Edgar Lee Masters…

Robert Frost…

Plus little-known H. P. Lovecraft. (Aficionados were delighted when they learned Pons’ résumé includes this treatise: An Examination of the Cthulhu Cult and Others.)

In addition, Derleth did “serious” writing (even while publishing)—carrying on the Sac Prairie Saga and chronicling the history of Wisconsin. He passed away July 4, 1971, but posthumous publication of The Chronicles of Solar Pons raised his short-story total to 68.

Solar Pons acquired his own “Baker Street Irregulars,” fans based in California who organized as the “Praed Street Irregulars” (PSI), held meetings, and published newsletters. When the PSI held its first annual dinner award ceremony in 1968, Milwaukee Fictioneers alumnus Robert Bloch delivered the address. Bloch had moved to Hollywood from Wisconsin, the same year his famous novel Psycho was published.

Luther Norris and the group’s inner-sanctum “pontifical council” produced eight issues of The Pontine Dossier during the 1960s and more throughout the 1970s. In 1969 membership hit 600. In 1970 Derleth reported on a London, England branch of the PSI.

Derleth continued stoking interest. Besides the official Pontine canon (six collections and the 1968 novel), he published ancillary materials including A Praed Street Dossier in 1968—containing a brief essay “The Beginnings of Solar Pons.”

Working on behalf of the estate in the 1990s, Peter Ruber discovered unpublished Pons material, including what is most likely the early L&M novel! George Vanderburgh published these in 1998 as The Final Adventures of Solar Pons.    

So where does Ray Palmer fit in?

Though they worked in Chicago, Milwaukee, and Sauk City, Palmer, Derleth, and the other Fictioneers would stay in touch. Palmer especially had reason to: in 1938 he landed a job in Chicago as the editor of a handful of pulp magazines, including Amazing Stories and Mammoth Detective.

Derleth wrote a new Pons story, “The Adventure of the Norcross Riddle,” which was accepted by Ellery Queen’s Frederic Dannay, who was compiling The Misadventures of Sherlock Holmes, published by Little, Brown & Company in 1944.

Just the little things that few people ever know about, that change history…

Aspects of the deal involved the Chicago connection. Derleth’s “The Beginnings of Solar Pons” reveals the key role Ray Palmer played:    

Yet Solar Pons might have been forgotten, had it not been for another fortuitous circumstance … while discussing with Ray Palmer, then with Ziff-Davis in Chicago, the idea of a horror story anthology (later successfully published by Rinehart as Sleep No More!), I mentioned the possibility of a Solar Pons collection. Palmer urged me to put it together and, without committing Ziff-Davis to it, asked to see such a book with a view to publication.

With that added incentive and the promise from Vincent Starrett to write an introduction to the book, I went home and got to work to assemble a collection to be titled “In Re: Sherlock Holmes”: The Adventures of Solar Pons … I got to work and wrote new stories, while revising the old.

By this time, however … I was no longer so willing to trust any publisher with Solar Pons and, since I already had a publishing venture of my own … Solar Pons made his bow….

John D. Haefele contributed this article.
© John D. Haefele. All rights reserved.


H. P. Lovecraft’s letters to Robert Bloch: End of era begins another

In the history of fantasy writing and publishing, Milwaukee was for a brief time the “center of the craft,” but by then the end was already in sight.

Robert Bloch (1917-1994) was an American writer of fantasy, horror, and crime — the famous author of Psycho — who began his career in Wisconsin. As a teenager, he absorbed the fiction of H. P. Lovecraft (1890-1937), the author of supernatural horror and weird tales (perhaps the most significant of all time), affectionately referred to as HPL.

HPL: Portrait by Lucius B. Truesdell

HPL: Portrait by Lucius B. Truesdell

Bloch turned 16 years old on April 5, 1933. He decided to write a letter to Lovecraft in care of the pulp magazine Weird Tales, where most of Lovecraft’s work was appearing. Probably the magazine’s editor, Farnsworth Wright, forwarded his message to Lovecraft, who was then living in Providence, Rhode Island.

On April 22, HPL wrote back to Bloch, “Your very flattering note has just been forwarded to me by Weird Tales…,inaugurating an especially interesting, albeit brief, correspondence between the two. HPL generously answered Bloch’s frequent letters with lengthy missives of his own, in which he mentored the budding author and apprised him of literary news.

Lovecraft’s side of this cycle was published in 1993 by Necronomicon Press as H. P. Lovecraft Letters to Robert Bloch, edited by David E. Schultz and S. T. Joshi. Bloch’s side of this exchange probably no longer exists.

Excerpts from these Lovecraft letters will interest members of Allied Authors of Wisconsin because they shed light on the group’s earliest incarnation as the Milwaukee Fictioneers and should interest the fans of fantasy at large because they also reveal the sad dovetailing of events which brought to a close possibly the greatest era in the history of American fantastic writing.

Due in part to Lovecraft’s tutelage and encouragement, Bloch’s skills developed quickly, and he experienced early success selling short stories, including several published by Weird Tales. In 1935, now 18 years old, Bloch was subject of a feature article in Wisconsin’s largest newspaper, the Milwaukee Journal, in the nationally famous Green Sheet section. HPL wrote Bloch, “Let me congratulate you all over again on the vivid writeup…! It certainly presents you very strikingly & interestingly, & I don’t wonder at the messages & invitations it has brought you.”

One of these invitations is of especial interest because a week after appearing in the Green Sheet, Bloch was invited to join the Milwaukee Fictioneers.

Bloch may already have had other literary affiliations. HPL lauded the benefits of joining such groups, so his comments dated tentatively December 22, 1934 may not apply specifically to the Fictioneers, though they are revealing, nevertheless:

Your Tuesday evening discussion group sounds admirably interesting & stimulating. In a way — except for the nearly uniform ages, & the possibly greater systemization of topics — it reminds me of my old gang … We used to meet around at the different members’ houses & argue about everything under the sun… And did we have some swell intellectual free-for-alls on various aesthetic & philosophical subjects? I’ll tell the cockeyed world!

But there’s no question about reference in the following aside, written early in June of 1935:

The Fictioneers must be a highly interesting group — & the Farley meeting seems to have formed a decidedly red letter occasion. I would have enjoyed the caricature of Satrap Pharnabazus — though I will admit that the latter isn’t as consistently fatuous & conventional in his editorial policy as most of the stuffed shirts at the helms of the various pulp rags. The guest of honour, with his wide experience in adventurous quarters, was doubtless a particular hit with those who follow the ‘action’ ideal.

“Satrap Pharnabazus” (perhaps loosely based on the historical Pharnabazus, a Persian governor or “satrap” of Phrygia circa 413 B.C.) is the humorous appellation HPL used when referring to Farnsworth Wright, whose editing principles he usually deplored.

“Farley” refers to Fictioneer Roger Sherman Hoar, the mathematician, inventor, and state senator, who also authored “The Radio Man” series under the pseudonym Ralph Milne Farley.

The next mention of Fictioneers in a Lovecraft letter written to Bloch occurs circa July 1935:

Glad the Fictioneers continue on their triumphant course — the recent rural meeting must have been a festive event indeed! I’m greatly interested to hear of your meeting with Stanley G. Weinbaum, whose interplanetary tales were first pointed out to me this year. He is probably the only one of the pulp other-planeteers to escape the worst clichés of his province … Congratulations on your collaborative victory with him in the horseshoe tournament — over such learned & capable opponents!

Of course, the members of Allied Authors today recall Weinbaum as another of the predominately science fiction-oriented, early member of Fictioneers.

Unfortunately it wasn’t long after this letter that the first ominous hints of bad things happening turned up, gleaned from the line or two in which HPL acknowledged Bloch’s club activities. On September 19 of that same year, he wrote:

Sorry to hear that Weinbaum has been under the weather, & hope he may soon be fully on his feet again. Pleased to know that he likes some of my stuff.

And then on December 28:

I was surely sorry to learn of Weinbaum’s death — only a few brief months after I was first introduced to his refreshingly original work. I had become an especial fan of his … & now there will be no more stories of ‘Tweel’ & kindred marvels! … The fatal illness seems to have been very unusual, since cancer is certainly rare at thirty-three.

Tweel is the unforgettable alien creature from the classic “A Martian Odyssey” and “Valley of Dreams.”

But it is HPL’s observation about cancer that is particularly foreboding, for it is possible that he was himself, intermittingly and unknowingly, experiencing the earliest effects of his own cancer.

Weinbaum’s death was mourned by the SF community, and the Fictioneers quickly laid plans to honor him. On March 14, 1936, HPL wrote:

Hope the Weinbaum memorial volume will be a success — & that it will contain a good amount of his best work. I shall get a copy … it is surely a manifold pity that he couldn’t have lived longer.”

Unfortunately, the SF community would suffer another significant loss. In June, HPL wrote:

Since I began this bulletin I’ve had the most depressing & staggering message — a postcard with the report that good old Two-Gun has committed suicide! I seems incredible — I had a long normal letter from him dated May 13. He was worried about his mother’s health, but otherwise seemed quite all right. If the news is indeed true, it forms weird fiction’s worst blow since the passing of Whitehead in 1932.

And, sadly, it was true.

“Two-Gun” was Lovecraft’s appellation for Robert E. Howard, who was only 30 years old when he died but already hugely popular and influential as the author we regard today as the originator of the “sword and sorcery” subgenre of fantasy. Lovecraft and Howard’s six years of correspondence, published in 2009, fills 900 closely typed pages in two huge volumes.

Henry S. Whitehead was a fellow writer and another personal friend of Lovecraft, who had also passed away unexpectedly, shortly after he turned 50 years old.

The letters between HPL and Bloch continued, but the Fictioneers were mentioned only one more time, when on October 15, 1936, Lovecraft wrote perceptively:

Glad to hear of your recent sessions with fellow-writers. Milwaukee seems to be evolving into quite a centre of the craft. I’ve heard of Gallun — & believe I read something of his once which was rather good.

Ray Gallun, yet another Wisconsin author of SF, was an honored guest at one or more of the meetings held by the Fictioneers.

During these final exchanges, HPL mentions the only book of his own that would be published in his lifetime; it would feature a single, hitherto unpublished and somewhat lengthy “short story.” The Shadow Over Innsmouth, error-ridden and cheaply made, was a disappointment. And, even though 400 copies of the page-sheets were printed, the publisher could only afford binding 200, which he finally did sometime late in 1936. The rest were lost or destroyed.

HPL’s final letter to Bloch has been tentatively dated to January 25, 1937. Lovecraft died of cancer, only 47 years old, in March 1937.

Fifty-six years later, in his autobiography, Bloch wrote, “There were no words to adequately express my grief then and there are none now.”

Dawn of Flame

Ironically, the Weinbaum memorial volume Dawn of Flame, a collection of his best work, had also just been published. It would share a fate similar to the Lovecraft book. Jack Chalker and Mark Owings, the authors of The Science-Fantasy Publishers: A Critical and Bibliographic History, attest “500 copies printed but only 250 were ever bound and the balance of the sheets were lost.”

Chalker adds this anecdote: “August Derleth recalled that he received his copy of this book and The Shadow Over Innsmouth within thirty days of each other, and they were still on his desk when, a few months later, word came of Lovecraft’s death.”

Derleth was another Wisconsin writer who corresponded with HPL and Bloch. Perhaps inspired by Milwaukee Fictioneers’ Dawn of Flame, he also published a “collected best” memorial volume in 1939 — arguably the most famous fantasy collection ever! — under the Arkham House imprint.

The OutsiderIt was The Outsider and Others, by H. P. Lovecraft.

Nor would it be long before Arkham published Bloch’s first collection of supernatural stories, 1945’s The Opener of the Way.

A new era was beginning.

Science fiction would emerge a full-fledged literary genre in the coming decades, with myriad subgenres of its own, supported by socially active fans. Not to be outdone in the annals, fantasy would benefit immensely (albeit after a slow start), following publication of J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit or There and Back Again, in September of 1937.

Despite writing full-time himself, Derleth’s decision to continue Arkham House publishing created the world’s most important specialty publisher of fantasy right here in Wisconsin, a template dozens of others would follow. And the Milwaukee Fictioneers-Allied Authors of Wisconsin would continue its SF bent, not only with Bloch, but with Ray Palmer, Fredric Brown and Art Tofte. Today’s active roster represents a majority of SF and fantasy writers.

Perhaps another new era is beginning…

John D. Haefele contributed this article.
© John D. Haefele. All rights reserved.

 


Derleth’s lurid book a rare mystery

August Derleth (1909-1971), the admired and prolific Wisconsin writer and publisher, has produced a fabulous number of celebrated and highly collectible books, many of which are also quite rare.

But is it possible that the rarest one of all isn’t even on most collectors’ radar?

Among Derleth’s famous books is the omnibus collection of H. P. Lovecraft’s weird tales, The Outsider and Others, issued in 1939 by his publishing company Arkham House — often considered the cornerstone volume in any serious fantasy collector’s library, a book which in fine condition routinely trades for thousands of dollars.

Less well-known, and perhaps truly rare in the required condition, is Consider Your Verdict: Ten Coroners Cases for You to Solve, released in 1937 by New York’s Stackpole Sons. The author, mystery writer Tally Mason, is a pseudonym for August Derleth.

The answers to the ten puzzles presented are in the back of book, on pages fastened with a red seal. Finding a nice copy of this book with this seal still unbroken is a Holy Grail for Derleth collectors. Finding one for less than several hundreds of dollars is nearly impossible.

We also find collections of Derleth’s poems filling many of those impeccably designed, limited-edition, hand-made books of the Prairie Press in Iowa City, Iowa.

But the book that might be the rarest — the book the collectors should want to acquire if they only knew more about it — may turn out to be the very last book published with Derleth’s byline in his lifetime: Love Letters to Caitlin.

Cover to the rare book Love Letters to Caitlin

A May-December romance in Derleth’s life (with a lover scandalously younger than he) had become the impetus for two final heart-felt Prairie Press collections, Caitlin (1969) and The Landscape of the Heart (1970), and for that last little goodie, Love Letters to Caitlin, issued under the auspices of Peter Ruber (1940-2014) and his Candlelight Press of New York, only a short time before Derleth himself would pass away on July 4, 1971.

Ruber had been working closely with Derleth to publish the author’s non-genre work under the Candlelight imprint since the early 1960s. Though Prairie’s Caitlin and Landscape, at 400 and 450 copies respectively, had gathered Derleth’s recent love and sex poems, he had just presented Ruber with something better. Ruber announced Love Letters to Caitlin in a catalog that appeared ca. 1970-71:

Readers who remember Derleth’s clandestine masterpiece of love lyrics called Psyche and the Caitlin love poems, have an unusual literary treat in store for them. Here are excerpts from love letters written over a period of two years, revealing an affair with all its passion, tenderness and candor. It is not a book for the puritanical reader, and we urgently recommend that only fully mature readers add this book to their shelves. This is a large and exquisite limited edition, handset type, printed and bound by hand with imported papers by the famed Prairie Press.

Ruber knew fans would remember Derleth’s Psyche, one of his earliest Prairie Press releases.

Sadly, subsequent events conspired to derail plans for Love Letters to Caitlin. In fact, many years swept by before Paul Spencer, in 1981, would unwittingly renew interest in the title, describing to readers of that year’s first issue of the August Derleth Society Newsletter a “curious item, somewhere on the border between published and unpublished.”

Spencer apparently contacted Ruber and could detail the book “produced completely by hand, in an edition of 750 copies, by Carroll Coleman’s Prairie Press,” but added how “Coleman was stricken with a heart attack after delivering less than 100 copies to Derleth in 1971 as part of his advance on royalties.”

But then more years passed until Ruber himself in a letter dated November 26, 1988, which was excerpted in a 1989 issue of the Newsletter, tells a somewhat different story:

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…

Derleth’s attorney — according to August’s daughter April, who wrote to me personally — enjoys a checkered record for “putting away” Derleth items for safekeeping. Of course it is quite possible he merely believed the subject of Love Letters to Caitlin could damage the author’s reputation.

In 1994, Ruber was back in the picture, working with the heirs in the author’s beloved Wisconsin village of Sauk City, with the goal of returning Derleth to print. Ruber’s visits to Wisconsin at the time may explain how Richard H. Fawcett, a Derleth Society board member, could recount these tantalizing bits in that year’s publications:

Love Letters to Caitlin came out two weeks before Derleth died. He had given out only 12 copies. All others were boxed and disappeared, under the supervision of his attorney. Someone might have to die before this will become available.

Two more decades have since passed, but the questions remain: how many copies are (or were) there of Love Letters to Caitlin? Just those three or four used to illustrate the suggested binding that were delivered along with unbound sets of pages that could number anywhere between 100 to 750?  Or were 12 copies bound, as Fawcett may have discovered?   

During these two decades, there is only this to report: a bookseller in Greensboro, NC, apparently turned one up and subsequently listed it for sale on AbeBooks in 2010; the ad there states, “Two hundred were supposed to have been printed, but it was never officially released and many copies were destroyed. It is estimated that only 20 or so copies survived.”

(What did the bookseller ask for the book? Merely $3,500.00!)

And this: the story of a second copy turning up in Wisconsin and listed on sale for only $200.00, which sold immediately to another bookman who knew the score and then sold it himself for the equivalent of $1,500.

I knew this dealer and asked him about Love Letters to Caitlin. He said,

It looks like Coleman at Prairie Press was hired to do the printing for Ruber at Candlelight Press — not unusual for a small printer/publisher to take on job work for other publishers, most of whom were not printers. There is no evidence of the title/copyright page being a cancel or having been altered. Furthermore, the book proves that copies went out to the trade — there is a label from Kroch’s & Brentano’s on the rear jacket panel. It’s possible that the print run was quite small, possibly only one or two hundred — the Prairie Press poetry collections were only 200-500 or so each….

So, might Love Letters to Caitlin turn out to be rarest of all the books August Derleth one way or the other helped produce?

Only time will tell.

But the book, if you want a copy — to select a proverbial comparison that is darn appropriate for Wisconsin — is less common than hen’s teeth.

John D. Haefele contributed this article.


Bibliography of Betty Ren Wright’s books now posted!

Betty Ren Wright (seated in the middle) surrounded by fellow members of Allied Authors at a recent meeting she hosted.

Betty Ren Wright (seated in the middle) surrounded by fellow members of Allied Authors at a recent meeting she hosted.

Betty Ren Wright, currently mulling over ideas for her next novel for young readers, dreamed about writing stories and books almost as soon as she was old enough to read them.

For many years she was a children’s book editor with Western Publishing; during that time she wrote the texts for a number of picture-storybooks. She also published adult short fiction in a wide variety of magazines. Soon after her marriage to Wisconsin artist George Frederiksen in 1976, she left editing to concentrate on writing novels for boys and girls.

Her third and quite possibly best known book, The Dollhouse Murders, remains a popular ghost story and has never been out of print since its 1983 publication; it’s won numerous awards, been published in dozens of languages, and a dramatic version was released a number of years ago.

Delighted to find that so many readers like ghost stories as much as she does, she has continued to write them, interspersed with other kinds of suspense and adventure stories. Betty Ren lives in Racine, Wisconsin and remains a long-time member of the respected writers group Allied Authors of Wisconsin.

The bibliography is a work-in-progress. We hope to add short fiction and nonfiction in the future. Additions, corrections and comments are welcome and can be sent to allied-authors@hotmail.com or Denysbarry@aol.com.

Betty Ren Wright’s Books

Jack Byrne submitted this article.

John D. Haefele compiled this bibliography.


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