Deja Vu All Over Again

Faulkner-Wall-NotesSome thoughts triggered by the Nightshade Books edition of the collected letters/correspondence between H.P. Lovecraft and Donald Wandrei, and something aside from HPL’s questionable attitudes for the moment. Rather, this is about something we share as writers.  Now, it’s true that modern sf/f/mystery writers sometimes lament the passing of the old “glory days” of the pulps. We imagine a sort of golden age when people read instead of playing video games or zoning in front of the television, and there were literally hundreds of potential markets. We conjure by those ancient tomes: Weird Tales, Argosy, Amazing Stories, Black Cat, et many a cetera. While the pay wasn’t great except in the slicks, a person with a good work ethic could make a decent living writing short stories and novel serials and little else. And, I admit it, I’ve been guilty of looking backward with rose-tinted glasses myself, even though I know making that living required soul-crushing hackdom and turning out product by the ream. It’s nostalgia for a time I never knew and thus tends to ignore all the horrific truths of living in that time; it’s not supposed to be accurate.

Still, sometimes a little reality is a good thing, and while reading these letters now the thing that strikes me most–at least so far as it concerns the writing life–is how little short story publishing has really changed since 1927. Back then they were wondering why the editor bought this story instead of that one, bemoaning the absence of editorial judgment, bitching about late payments and the lack of good markets, and wondering if that last rejected story really did get all the way to the editor or was bounced by some nameless and clueless summer intern. Heck, I see the same conversation on writers forums every week. If anything is different it’s the ease and ubiquity of self-publishing, and the fact that doing it yourself sometimes even makes sense. Not always, no, but sometimes.  Yet back then there were likewise arguments for it, but it was a lot harder to do and a great deal more expensive. So in that way, perhaps, things really have changed. Everything else? Not so much.

It’s Not About HPL or the Award. It’s About Us








In sf/f there’s always one or more teapot tempests at simmer, waiting to come to a boil when the previous one, so to speak, runs out of steam. Every now and then, however, the tempest turns out to be a typhoon too big for that metaphorical pot, and it’s time to sort out where one stands.

Why? Greater or lesser, don’t these things always blow over eventually?

Sure they do. The question is, how much wrack and damage do they leave behind? How many reputations tarnished, friendships weakened or destroyed? How completely does our sense of sf/f as our “tribe” fail in the face of the latest reality check? None of these are good things, and standing idly by while it all happens is to share in the blame, whatever does happen. Certainly, it’s one thing to throw gas on the fire, but it’s not so very different to pretend that the fire doesn’t exist. Either way, the house burns down.

So here I am contemplating a lapel pin I received at World Fantasy Con in Washington, D.C., way back in 2003. It’s a copy of the World Fantasy Award in miniature handed out to the nominees and based, as is the WFA itself, on Gahan Wilson’s caricature of Howard Phillips Lovecraft. It’s the public face of the award and has been so as long as I can remember. And, as others have pointed out, H.P. Lovecraft was a virulent racist. Continue reading