Thursday, November 06, 2008

Still on Norman Mailer and pulps

Some days ago I posted a brief item about Norman Mailer writing a story for the horror pulp magazine, Weird Tales. The discussion over Mailer on the PulpMags e-mail list continued and I got the permission to post some stuff from there to here. (This discussion is probably pretty meaningless to someone who has no knowledge about the old pulp mags.)

Someone said that if Mailer's story was rejected, it must've been pretty bad, since Weird Tales published so much terrible stories. Pulp and adventure fan Morgan Holmes wrote (and I asked his permission to post his response here):

I wouldn't assume that Mailer's story submitted to WEIRD TALES was terrible. [The Weird Tales editor] Farnsworth Wright was a mediocre editor who was lucky. Take the Lovecraft circle out of the equation and what do you have left? Wright ran lots bad stories while rejecting Lovecraft's "At the Mountains of Madness" which Lovecraft worked on to make into a two-part serial. Wright rejected it saying "not convincing."

Lovecraft didn't submit anything directly to Wright for about six years. We probably lost at least six stories from Lovecraft because of Wright. Wright also rejected Clark Ashton Smith's "Abominations of Yondo" in 1925. Smith's fiction writing career could have started five years earlier.

Wright rejected two stories by Henry Kuttner about King Alfred saying they were "delectibly weird" but gave no reason for rejection. Kuttner pounded out the first Elak story, "Thunder in the Dawn" as a satire in response. He wrote a letter to Clark Ashton Smith wondering if any of the readers would catch the satirical elements in it.

Cap Shaw turned BLACK MASK around, F. Orlin Tremaine took ASTOUNDING STORIES to the next level. WEIRD TALES could have been more successful if there had been an editor willing to take risks and not second guess some of the readers. Mailer might have sent something in that might have needed some polish. Wright probably just rejected it instead of making suggested improvements. I have noted some interesting writers in the late 1920s that had one or two stories and then disappeared. A good editor would have been working with those neophytes. If you take Robert E. Howard, Clark Ashton Smith, and C. L. Moore out of the 1930s "Golden Age," you don't have much left.

There was also some discussion over when Mailer wrote the said story. The original contributor said Mailer had said to him that he wrote it in "his middle teens, or maybe younger". So it could've been before 1940 - Mailer was born in 1923. (And then, said someone, he would've sent the story to another editor that Farnsworth Wright, namely Dorothy McIlwraith.)
The image above is from 1942, when Mailer could've been writing his story for the magazine. I don't know the cover illustrator, maybe Boris Dolgov? (I'm not really good in pulp illustrators, I'm sorry to say. Maybe someone can tell.)


Todd Mason said...

Hannes Bok, actually, who had a somewhat similar style.

Serials/Complete Novels:
Herbert West: Reanimator: I. From the Dark..........H. P. Lovecraft
Hell on Earth..........Robert Bloch
Tibetan Vengeance..........Stafford Aylmer

Short Stories:
Child's Play..........Alice Mary Schnirring
Death of the Kraken..........David H. Keller, M.D.
Here, Daemos!..........August Derleth
The March of the Trees..........Frank Owen
The Rat Master..........Greye La Spina
The Superfluous Phantom..........Malcolm Jameson
The Treasure of Red-Ash Desert..........Stanton A. Coblentz

Garden at Lu..........Gerald Chan Sieg
Hunger..........Page Cooper
The Wood-Wife..........Leah Bodine Drake

Todd Mason said...

I've thought for some time that McIlwraith was the superior editor of the first run of WT. It perhaps helped that the major competition, STRANGE TALES, UNKNOWN, even STRANGE STORIES (not so very major, that last) couldn't keep going, and WT remained an open if low-paying market.

Juri said...

Thanks, Todd! Seems to be a pretty good issue.

Word up: "Boyoka" is one of the ancient African entities Modd Tason wrote in his series with One-Eyed John, situated in the island of Madagascar and published in the short-run early digest Weirdo Stories.

Juri said...

"Wrote about".

Todd Mason said...

ENNERVATING TALES. The Canadian reprint edition, published by a more opportunist publisher, decided to go with WEIRDO STORIES (more of the Canadian edition made their way to Britain and to the rest of Europe). Oddly enough, the British Reprint Edition was published in alternating months as OH, WHISTLE... and STARTLING GHASTLY GRUE, to lengthen the newsstand exposure and to see which approach sold better. Neither did.

Now that I've been returned to my true era, I suppose I should revive One Eyed John, and maybe give up on my devilishly clever pseudonym.

Todd Mason said...

"Damned lemurs!" One-Eyed John shouted again, perturbing them not at all, as they gracefully capered above. They couldn't help their lack of anal sphincter, he reflected, but did they need to be so consistently overhead in the Madagascar forests?

Brushing off his shoulder, he squinted with his good right eye at the faded sketch on the tattered rawhide, the map that men had died for over two generations. Atil Kha's fortune awaited anyone so bold, or so foolish, as to seek and find it. A job for a one-eyed man unafraid of lemur excrement, or very much else. [...]

--From page 48, "The Tombs of Atil Kha," ENERVATING TALES, January 1946

Juri said...

Damned lemurs, indeed, Todd! This was great, thanks!

Word up: Modd Tason took the name for One-Eyed John's sidekick, Stavis, from a little-known rhythm'n'blues singer of the late fourties, Stavis Maple.

Todd Mason said...

It just occurred to me that another story in the series would begin with,

"Damned monotremes!" One-Eyed John spat, as the platypus scurried back to the river. Of course, he reflected, he'd had it in for the odd little cusses since one had used its poison-filled hind-leg spur to take his left eye [...]

Stavis Maple, whose agenda is never fully exposed (not nearly as much as her figure was on ENERVATING and particularly STARTLING GG covers (they gave GG Art a whole new meaning), can through gospel singing divine the necessary rescue for every other person she's in the presence of...but not herself.

Juri said...

Todd, now you'll have to write these.