The WEIRD FICTION roots of TRUE DETECTIVE, season 2, Frank’s story

August 17, 2015 by · Leave a Comment
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True Detective

Frank Semyon, the criminal businessman from season 2 of True Detective, has a fantastic character arc.

And, like season 1 of True Detective, season 2 is also connected to a weird fiction story by Ambrose Bierce.

For season 1 it was An Inhabitant Of Carcosa (read my post on it HERE).

In season 2 it was An Occurrence At Owl Creek Bridge (we’ve done a podcast about this one).

So, do you remember the story that Frank (played by Vince Vaughn) tells his wife, Jordan, at the beginning of season 2’s second episode?

Here’s the scene:

Frank and Jordan are lying next to each other in bed.

FRANK: How’d a water stain get there?

Camera cuts up to two brown stains on the ceiling above Frank.

FRANK: It rained maybe twice this last year. It’s like everything’s papier-mache.

JORDAN: Stop thinking.

FRANK: I don’t like being on a ledge.

FRANK: My old man back in Chicago, when I was a kid… (laughs) he used to lock me in the basement when he’d go on a bender. Usually last the night. Let me out the next day. Thought he was keeping me safe, I guess. This one time, I was six – he puts me down there. I wake up and it’s locked. It had happened before. Anyways, so I guess he ended up arrested, I guess.

JORDAN: God, baby.

FRANK: Well, by the second morning I was out of food. The third day the light bulb burnt out. Pitch black in there. That’s when the rats started coming out. I dozed off and I felt a thing nibbling my finger. I woke up, it was, you know, chewing my finger.

JORDAN: What did you do?

FRANK: I grabbed it in the dark with my hands, I started smashing. And I just kept smashing it until it was nothing but goo in my hands. Two more days I was in there. In the dark. ‘Til my dad comes home.

JORDAN: Sometimes I wonder how many things you have like that. That I don’t know about.

FRANK: Ever since, I wondered: what if he never comes home? What if I’m still in that basement in the dark? What if I died there? That’s what that reminds me of.

JORDAN: What?

FRANK: The water stain. Something’s trying to tell me that it’s all papier-mache. Something’s telling me to wake up, like… like I’m not real. Like I’m only dreaming.

True Detective - Season 2, Episode2

Then in the final episode of season 2, episode 8, in his last scene, Frank hears Jordan’s voice, then sees her standing there, in that white dress – the one he had her promise she would wear – and him, standing before her, wearing a white shirt soaked in blood (like the “red rose” he had promised her that he would wear).

And the lines:

[FRANK IS BLEEDING, LIMPING THROUGH THE DESERT]

JORDAN: Hey there handsome.

FRANK: You made it! You okay?

JORDAN: Did. Fine. I’m safe.

FRANK: I’m coming, hold up.

JORDAN: Whats a guy like you doing in a place like this?

FRANK: [WALKING EASIER NOW] Just making my way baby. I told ya, Id make it.

FRANK: You did. You made it. You can rest now.

FRANK: No rest. Never stop moving.

JORDAN: Babe, oh babe – you stopped moving way back there.

True Detective - Season 2, Episode 8

Earlier in episode eight, do you remember where Frank said he’d meet Jordan?

Yeah. And though we never see them meet there Frank was very specific, saying they’d meet in a park called “Obelisco” in “Barquisimeto” (Venezuela).

Here’s what “Obelisco” in Barquisimeto looks like:

Obelisco de Barquisimeto

Frank’s story is the story of An Occurrence At Owl Creek Bridge!

Posted by Jesse Willis

“Spoilers” spoil my life

August 15, 2015 by · 5 Comments
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Spoilers…. this post will point out how fucking stupid spoilers are.

See that yellow line at the end? That’s the spoilers I’m talking about. That’s the one I don’t give a shit about – and that’s the one that seems to have infected the minds of practically every conversation about books in the last 10 years. It’s pretty fucking sad to me that the only place one can really go to find out anything about a book is Wikipedia. Wikipedia, the one place that has a rule about not allowing argument about a book, the only place I can seemingly go to find out whether I’ll want to read a book.

Spoilers

So this is a pretty hard topic to research. Those colours, on the “use over time” above, are mine. I’m guessing with them, going with my sense of the predominate usage of “spoiler” – I think I once read that Spider Robinson coined the modern genre usage back in the late 1970s, in a column or something. Roger Ebert seems to be attributed it for movies. But what I’m certainly not talking about third party political candidate phenomenon (the idea is that they ruin elections), nor am I talking about the wings mounted on the backs of sports cars (which reduce aerodynamic lift) – I’m talking about the “spoilers” that dominate and limit book talk today – the ‘who dies at the end’ of a movie or TV show kind of “spoiler!” [said with glee], the ‘who’s whose secret sister to whom’ – or some such inane detail that someone thinks is crucial to appreciate something.

That person, actually, its you – its you – you are the person who uses the term “spoilers” – you’re well, you’re just really really wrong.

I understand, these trendy terms and turns-of-phrase are inevitable, unstoppable. One may as well fight against the tide as fight against them.

If you look to the past, as I am always doing, you will see how oblivious to the stupidity people are – check out this list of ridiculous 1980s phrases and euphemisms and you’ll see just how stupid people were in the 1980s were.

I know it is pointless to fight but I’m going to anyway, I’ve staked my claim on the beach, anchored myself to the bedrock beneath the shifting sand, and I’m beating against the endless wash of “spoilers” as hard as I can – my lone and lonely voice against “spoilers” is a valiant fight, and it is a fight I’ve long been losing – but that’s the point I’m trying to make – we all lose, whenever a conversation about any book somebody is discussing is truncated because they think some fact could “spoil” a book.

Even the word is stupid. “Spoilers” even if they have an effect won’t utterly ruin anything that is truly good” – but I understand, hyperbole is effective, the words “enjoyment lessener” or “surprise reducer” and thus would be unsurprisingly less enjoyable to use.

I really think it all just boils down to one point. I know it is doomed to failure, but I just have to say it – if you could just grasp it – if you could only grok it, deep down in your bones, in your genes – you’d stop having that word come out of your mouth when it comes to books.

I can almost understand it when it comes to a very narrow subset of movies, like The Crying Game, or Chinatown, or The Sixth Sense (the only thing The Sixth Sense has is the twist/surprise/point of the whole 1 hour and 47 minute exercise).

But books aren’t like that. And honestly, if you think about it, TV shows aren’t either.

Spartacus dies, I knew that going in, the fact enhanced my pleasure.

Whether Walter White gets away with his crimes or not isn’t the point of me watching Breaking Bad. I enjoyed the journey (except for that one episode where nothing happens).

In terms of TV shows it all comes down to this, do the people who make the show know where they‘re going? Do they know how it ends? If they do, great. If not, you’re fucking LOST.

Now books are a completely different deal, and here’s why. Books are long, and they are many. Being long and being many means we can’t read all of them, not even all the ones we want. And ultimately I think this explains why the term “spoiler” crops up in practically every conversation about book these days. If you don’t understand this one point, a small matter you think you know (but don’t really accept) if you just could accept this concept, really take it on board, namely that we are all going to fucking die, your saying “spoilers!” would rapidly diminish.

You who say “spoilers” act as if we had an infinite amount of time to read all the books.

This is stupid.

There are now more books published every year than we could read in all our lifetimes. So if you tell me that some point or other “spoils” a book then what you’re essentially saying is that you think I’d be less inclined to read the book if I knew some fact about the book. But this misses the point, I’M NOT GOING TO READ THAT FUCKING BOOK.

So, to sum up, please stop the self-censoring. I’m not going to read that book you don’t want to spoil for me, not unless you tell me something about it, something interesting.

Posted by Jesse Willis

Update: here’s a Google N-gram for the phrase “spoiler alert”

3 Philip K. Dick stories that could have inspired THE TERMINATOR

July 30, 2015 by · 1 Comment
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I think The Terminator may be the best Science Fiction film ever made. And I think that no one person, credited or uncredited, can take all the credit for it.

In the video below, edited from an episode of Prisoners Of Gravity, Harlan Ellison explains how he got his screen credit in The Terminator:

Soldier is the first episode of Season 2 of The Outer Limits (the original series). It’s plot features a futuristic time traveling soldier who, after a thunder crack, appears in a then modern urban alley. The soldier is nearly indestructible, and is incredibly strong. Later, he breaks into a gun shop. In the ultimate scene he confronts his (also) futuristic enemy and they are both destroyed. Those are the basic plot commonalities between Soldier and The Terminator. There are many, many differences. Visually though, there are some striking similarities. These are nicely documented here and here.

That all said, Soldier‘s story plays out very differently from The Terminator, you can see a lot more connections, if you squint really hard.

For example, the solider is scarred like Kyle Reese and is sometimes unintelligible like Schwarzenegger’s T-800 – but ultimately the two, the TV episode and the feature film, are radically different in both scale and scope.

Interestingly, Demon With A Glass Hand the fifth episode of the second season of the original The Outer Limits television series, also written by Ellison, has similarities to both The Terminator and another film.

Like Soldier and The Terminator, Demon With A Glass Hand features a protagonist sent from the future into the past. But in this case, unlike in the title character in Soldier, the time travel was done quite deliberately – and done by humans in order to save mankind – more like The Terminator right?

Also similar, our hero in Demon With A Glass Hand, is nearly indestructible, can survive being shot over and over, feels no need to sleep, is being hunted by enemies also sent from the future, and he is programmed! Those are the basic plot commonalities between Soldier and The Terminator. More on that other movie a little later.

In the Starlog article (December 1984) there is no mention of The Outer Limits or Ellison. But, in it James Cameron does say: “I read all the classics, all the old Ace paperback novels.”

Starlog, December 1984

I do not expect that Cameron read all of the following stories. In fact I don’t think it is even necessary to know, and it isn’t crucial to my argument. Indeed, only one of the following stories was actually published in an “old Ace paperback”, (Second Variety was published in The Variable Man and Other Stories, Ace D-261).

My argument is that the story ideas and story points, even more than visuals, from the The Terminator, came very much out of 1950s science fiction.

Now before we get to the meat of my argument I’ll do a little sidestep towards another film, just to make it all the more confusing… its actually laying the groundwork for something, trust me.

Look at these images:

Kyben from Demon With A Glass Hand and Pris from Blade Runner

Demon With A Glass Hand and Blade Runner in the Bradbury

As you can see Demon With A Glass Hand shares something in common with Blade Runner, as much Id say as Soldier does with The Terminator.

The baddies in Demon With A Glass Hand, seen above, have racoon style eye makeup, like Blade Runner‘s Pris. Our hero in Demon With A Glass Hand, as it turns out, is an android that didn’t know he was one, just like in Blade Runner (and Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep?). Blade Runner was also shot in the same stylish office building in Los Angeles (the Bradbury Building*). And, the final fight of both stories ends in the same way, out the window and onto the roof of the Bradbury!

The “cybernetic organism” of The Terminator is in essence an android, a robot that looks like a human being, specifically a male human being if you want to get all technical.

Now even more than Ellison, who does have an android in Trent, the hero of Demon In A Glass Hand it is Philip K. Dick who is best known for his androids. Though robots that look like, think they are, or can pass for human aren’t unique or original to Dick, they are something he kind of specialized in. Stories like Imposter and The Electric Ant have androids and of course there is Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep?.

Now practically everyone knows that Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep? was adapted into a 1982 film called Blade Runner.

But do these folks know that the title of the Blade Runner was licensed from a book by a different author and entirely unrelated to Dick’s?

It was!

Ridley Scott acquired the rights to the title of a script based on an unrelated 1974 Science Fiction novel entitled The Bladerunner.

Why did he do this?

He didn’t have to, nobody has the legal right to claim exclusivity on book and movie titles – but as a matter of smart practice, when millions and millions of dollars are at stake, they often do such crazy things.

Now back to Philip K. Dick. He could, had he been alive in 1984, argued that his stories could have inspired The Terminator or even Demon With A Glass Hand!

Ellisons 1958 script for Demon With A Glass Hand has a “time mirror” – a device related to time travel – and so does a Philip K. Dick story.

For example, Dick uses what he calls a “time scoop” and a “time mirror” in a story called Paycheck (Imagination, June 1953). A time “Dip” turns up in a story named Meddler and in his novel Dr. Futurity (itself an expansion of a novella, Time Pawn) has a time “dredge.”

Here’s a snippet from Paycheck:

“It’s developed a time scoop.”

“What?”

“A time scoop. It’s been theoretically possible for several years. But it’s illegal to experiment with time scoops and mirrors. It’s a felony, and if you’re caught, all your equipment and data becomes the property of the Government.” Jennings smiled crookedly. “No wonder the Government’s interested. If they can catch Rethrick with the goods –”

“A time scoop. It’s hard to believe.”

But Dick didn’t invent the idea either, a story from Amazing Stories, December 1942, has the same tech, its actually in the title!

The Time Mirror by Dwight V. Swain

Another story that could have inspired The Terminator is The Skull. This 1952 story was published in If: Worlds Of Science Fiction. In it the protagonist is sent back in time in order to kill a man who can’t be allowed to live. He doesn’t know the man’s identity, but the clue lies within his own head, kind of like The Terminator.

The Skull by Philip K. Dick

Now to get out of time travel, let me ask you, where is Skynet, the evil A.I. in either of those Ellison stories? They are absent. But, he has evil computers, ones that want to destroy humanity even, for example there’s AM, the evil A.I. from I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream. But that story is from 1967, and is not Skynet, exactly…

Well, let me tell you about The Great C, first published in Cosmos Science Fiction and Fantasy Magazine, September 1953. This story is set in a Fallout-style post apocalyptic wasteland. Straight away we learn that a band of humans have survived underground after a global nuclear war. The plot consists of following:

One of their number as he sets off with three questions to visit what the reader infers to be a great oracle. The oracle is the titular “Great C” with “C” being short for “Computer”. But unlike the Colossus supercomputer (from Colossus: The Forbin Project) that merely threatens nuclear war, this supercomputer pulled a full-Skynet and actually used the offensive nuclear capability on it’s creators, man.

See?

The Great C by Philip K. Dick

Now Second Variety, first appeared in Space Science Fiction, May 1953. And it was later adapted to film as Screamers. It is set in a post-WWIII world where killer robots, known as “Claws”, are developing newer and newer models of killer robot for human infiltration.

Check out these two illustrations from the story:

Second Variety by Philip K. Dick - illustration by Ebel

Second Variety by Philip K. Dick - illustrated by Ebel

So, why did Cameron’s The Terminator have to give credit to Harlan Ellison if Scott didn’t have to give it to Blade Runner?

I suspect it all happened pretty much as Ellison said it did. That in the unpublished interview notes for that Starlog interview Cameron actually said that he “ripped-off a couple of Outer Limits segments” and perhaps even “a couple of Harlan Ellison stories.”

But it doesn’t matter to me. Credits or dollars, the only thing I really care at all about the story, and I think that The Terminator builds on great SF stories by the likes of Philip K. Dick and Harlan Ellison and Isaac Asimov and H.G. Wells, and some Outer Limits TV episodes, and maybe some other movies too.

Humans do this and it is a good thing. I’m glad so many humans had a hand in making it.

By listening to stories, and by retelling them we continue the process of story refinement. The Terminator wasn’t a “rip-off” it was a tribute, it stands alone, and it stands tall and proud next to the great SF stories that came before it, in 1950s TV, 1950s books and 1950s magazines and probably to the decades before it too.

As for the James Cameron Harlan Ellison dispute, well, Cameron may have had a “huge ego”, as Harlan Ellison put it, or maybe he didn’t – who knows – Ellison had “never met the man” – it may just have been a self-deprecating statement. We can all use a little of that, and a lot more Philip K. Dick.

Posted by Jesse Willis

*The “Bradbury” in the Bradbury Building is no relation to Ray Bradbury … or is it?

Providence by Alan Moore and Jacen Burrows

May 28, 2015 by · Leave a Comment
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Providence 01 - Dreamscape Wrap

Yesterday I read the first publication of the first issue of a planned twelve issue comic book series entitled Providence.

Written by Alan Moore, and with art by Jacen Burrows, this is capital L literature in comic book form.

This is the Shakespeare of comics – with depths of horror and pathos virtually unparalleled, and exquisitely rendered.

Unlike great prose or even the magic of great poetry, comics allow for visual symbols, that, like the iconic images of film, can wordlessly move you, haunt you.

You will die soon. Your being is fragile. You have a very tenuous grip on this mote of dust, itself in orbit around a very dim candle, in an abandoned cathedral of stars spinning meaninglessly meaninglessly alone, and yet amongst all these billions of others alone in a vast universe of darkness, and though our ever-weakening grip on an existence that we, deep down, know will not last, there is a certain pleasure in seeing that doomed life reflected in great fiction.

I count myself lucky to live in a time when the great works of literature are as accessible as they are. And despite all the grey dross we must wade through to find that which we seek, there is something wonderful that happens when a work of such depth of quality is published within one’s own lifetime.

I urge you – do not miss the opportunity to experience Providence for yourself.

Below you will see that I have compiled a series of images from the first issue of Providence. In so doing I am picking up just one visual pairings that, when I noticed it, multiplied my depth of appreciation for this work of art.

There are many many others.

From PROVIDENCE, Issue 1, by Alan Moore and Jacen Burrows

Posted by Jesse Willis

Commentary: Appendix N: Inspirational And Educational Reading by Gary Gygax (from AD&D’s original Dungeon Masters Guide)

December 11, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
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Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Dungeon Master's Guide by Gary GygaxGary Gygax, co-creator of Advanced Dungeons & Dragons added, on page 224 of the 1979 Dungeon Masters Guide, a list of “Inspirational And Educational Reading.”

Long out of print, but still incredibly relevant, this list of inspirations for the phenomenon that is Dungeons & Dragons, and role-playing games in general, deserves to be better known. There is a Wikipedia entry for the “sources and influences on the development of Dungeons & Dragons”, but there’s nothing like looking at the real thing.

So, here it is in it’s entirety, following it you will find hypertext links to the Wikipedia entries for the specifically mentioned novels and collections (when available).

Appendix N: Inspirational And Educational Reading by Gary Gygax

Appendix N lists the following authors and works:

Poul AndersonTHREE HEARTS AND THREE LIONS; THE HIGH CRUSADE; THE BROKEN SWORD
John BellairsTHE FACE IN THE FROST
Leigh Brackett
Fredric Brown
Edgar Rice Burroughs – “Pellucidar” Series; Mars Series; Venus Series
Lin Carter – “World’s End” Series
L. Sprague de CampLEST DARKNESS FALL; FALLIBLE FIEND; et al.
[L. Sprague] de Camp & [Fletcher] Pratt. “Harold Shea” Series; CARNELIAN CUBE
August Derleth
Lord Dunsany
P. J. [Philip Jose] Farmer – “The World of the Tiers” Series; et al.
Gardner [F.] Fox – “Kothar” Series; “Kyrik” Series; et al.
R.E. [Robert E.] Howard – “Conan” Series
Sterling LanierHIERO’S JOURNEY
Fritz Leiber – “Fafhrd & Gray Mouser” Series; et al.
H.P. Lovecraft
A. MerrittCREEP, SHADOW, CREEP; [The] MOON POOL; DWELLERS IN THE MIRAGE; et al.
Michael MoorcockSTORMBRINGER; STEALER OF SOULS; “Hawkmoon” Series (esp. the first three books)
Andre Norton
Andrew J. Offutt – editor SWORDS AGAINST DARKNESS III
Fletcher PrattBLUE STAR; et al.
Fred SaberhagenCHANGELING EARTH; et al.
Margaret St. ClairTHE SHADOW PEOPLE; SIGN OF THE LABRYS
J.R.R. TolkienTHE HOBBIT; “Ring Trilogy” [aka The Lord Of The Rings]
Jack VanceTHE EYES OF THE OVERWORLD; THE DYING EARTH; et al.
Stanley [G.] Weinbaum
Manly Wade Wellman
Jack Williamson
Roger ZelaznyJACK OF SHADOWS; “Amber” Series; et al.

Now with regards to the audio availability of the works and authors on this list I have composed the following set of notes:

Too few of the novels and collections specifically mentioned above are or ever have been audiobooks. But, there are several that have: the two Jack Vance books, the Tolkien books, of course, and Poul Anderson’s The Broken Sword is available from Downpour.com (narrated by Bronson Pinchot). Unfortunately very few of the remaining bolded titles are in the public domain. One of the interesting exceptions is The Moon Pool by A. Merritt, which is available from LibriVox and narrated by veteran narrator Mark Douglas Nelson.

Of the series, those are the ones mentioned in quotes, I recommend Edgar Rice Burroughs’s first Pellucidar novel, At the Earth’s Core which is available from narrator David Stifel’s site – we also have a podcast discussion of that book HERE. And we did a show on A Princess Of Mars, which is the first audiobook in what Gygax calls the “Mars series.” The audiobook is HERE and the podcast is HERE.

Andre Norton’s work is actually well represented on LibriVox.org, have a look HERE.

Several of Fritz Leiber’s “Fafhrd & Gray Mouser” collections were produced by Audible, HERE. But several of the stories are also public domain and are available on our PDF Page, for turning into audiobooks or podcasts!

Roger Zelazny’s first Amber series book was once available with Roger Zelazny’s narration, today Audible.com has the original ten book series as narrated by Allesandro Juliani.

As for H.P. Lovecraft, Robert E. Howard, and Lord Dunsany, we have done several audiobooks of their stories for The SFFaudio Podcast, available on Podcast Page, so that’s a good place to start.

Further recommendations would have me point you towards the excellent small press audiobook publisher Audio Realms, which has the majority of the great Wayne June’s readings of H.P. Lovecraft. They also have two volumes of Robert E. Howard’s “Weird Works.” Even more Robert E. Howard is available from Tantor Media.

I should also point out that most of the authors listed in Appendix N are now represented somewhere on our PDF Page, a page made up of U.S. public domain stories, poems, plays, novels, essays and comics. Please make some audiobooks, audio dramas, or podcasts from them! We will all be all the richer for it.

Posted by Jesse Willis

Commentary: The Story Of A Story – a 1917 editorial about the publication of Jack London’s first story (1899)

November 13, 2014 by · Leave a Comment
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Jack London - - - - The Story Of A Story

Below you’ll find the complete editorial introduction to the January 1917 issue of The Black Cat. Published very shortly after Jack London’s death, November 22, 1916, it serves as an introduction to the republication of London’s first published story, A Thousand Deaths (which appeared in the May 1899 issue of The Black Cat).

A Thousand Deaths is a SCIENCE FICTION story and it was the beginning of Jack London’s career. London would return again and again to SCIENCE FICTION, see our podcasts on Goliah, The Red One, The Star Rover (audiobook and discussion), and The Iron Heel (audiobook and discussion).

The complete text of A Thousand Deaths is here |PDF|, and we’ve done a podcast on it as well.

The Black Cat’s Editorial Page

Jack London – – – – The Story of a Story

Vagabond, explorer and oyster pirate; fisherman, gold prospector and toiler down among men; sociologist, student of metaphysics, and country gentleman,- Jack London was all of them – Jack London who died the other day. Perhaps his varied activities would fall into three classifications. First and always, he was the adventurer, following many trails and working at many trades; then the country gentleman, living in a more refined, if less invigorating atmosphere; and finally, the professional man of letters, doing his daily stint of a thousand words year in and year out, and making all other pursuits subservient to this one.

It is said of writers that they need not tramp over half the world in order to write great books. But it is quite probable that the man who does see half the world or all of it, for that matter, will sit down to write with a sub-conscious mind overflowing into note books, will in the actual labor of composition command a style of more than ordinary vigor. Jack London died at forty-one, at an age when many men are just starting out to test the broadening effects of travel. Seventeen years before his stories had begun to appear in print, and even at this time, he was drawing upon personal experiences and, first-hand knowledge for the raw material which goes into stories. And
at that time he had been seeing life in its broader aspects for nearly ten years, dating back to the end of his grammar school days and his entrance to man’s estate as a longshoreman.

Thus from the first he experienced none of that writer’s sterility which comes from lack of ideas. His struggle was not with matter, but with form. His years of apprenticeship were wholly dedicated to the mastery of technique and the cultivation of style; while other writers who lived less strenuously, butchered the former and worried along with a hybrid form of the latter as they put all of their energy into the pursuit of an idea that would be sure to take with the editors.

More than seventeen years ago, in May 1899, Jack London’s first story, “A Thousand Deaths,” was published in THE BLACK CAT. Doubtless many of our readers are already familiar with the facts concerning its publication as they are here set forth.

In Martin Eden, the book which more than any other of his is autobiography, London tells the old story of an author’s struggle for recognition. Martin Eden is about to go back to coal heaving, despairing of fame as a writer, when a letter from “The White Mouse” informs him of the acceptance of his story, ”The Whirlpool.’ That is the story in fictional form.

Here is the way London tells of his first acceptance by THE BLACK CAT, written as an introduction to “The Red Hot Dollar,” a collection of tales ‘by the founder of the
magazine, the late Mr. H. D, Umbstaetter.

“As I say, I was at the end of my tether, beaten out, staved, ready to go back to coal-shoveling or ahead to suicide. And then one morning I received a short. thin letter from a magazine.” (Mentioned as The Transcontinental in Martin Eden.) “This magazine had a national reputation. It had been founded by Bret Harte. It sold for twenty-five cents a copy. It held a four thousand word story of mine, ‘To the End of the Trail.’ I was modest. As I tore the envelope across the end, I expected to find a check for no more than forty dollars. Instead, I was coldly informed (by the Assistant Sub-scissors, I imagine) that my story was ‘available’ and that on publication I would be paid for it the sum of five dollars.

“The end was in sight, I was finished – finished as only a “very young, very sick and very hungry young man could be. And then, that same day, that very afternoon, the mail brought a short thin letter from Mr. Umbstaetter of THE BLACK CAT. He told me that the four thousand word story submitted to him was more lengthy than strengthy, but that if I would give permission to cut it in half. he would immediately send me
a check for forty dollars.

“I told Mr. Umbstaetter he could cut it down two halves if he would only send the money along. He did, by return mail. And that is precisely why I stayed in the writing game. Literally and literally I was saved by THE BLACK CAT short story.

“To many a writer with a national reputation THE BLACK CAT has been the steppingstone. The marvelous, unthinkable thing Mr. Umbstaetter did. was to judge a story on its merits and to pay for it on its merits. Also, and only a hungry writer can apprcciate it, he paid immediately upon acceptance.”

That is the story, of the story which marked the genesis of Jack London’s career as one of America’s most robust writers. We republish “A Thousand Deaths” as the first story this month and dedicate this number to the mememory of Jack London, the author, and to the memory of H. D. Umbstaetter, the editor who gave him a hand.

Posted by Jesse Willis

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