Tag Archives: weird tales

Joseph Payne Brennan

Joseph Payne Brennan (December 20, 1918 – January 28, 1990), was an American writer of westerns, horror, and poetry. He graduated from Hillhouse High School in New Haven and lived most of his life in Connecticut. He attended the Junior College of Commerce, but his father became ill and passed away during his sophomore year, so he left school to support his mother and sister. He served three years in the Army during World War II. A guide to his papers at the John Hay Library at Brown University include military documents from 1943 to 1946 showing he was transferred to Europe and received commendations from General George Patton. He received four battle stars, one of them for his participation in the Battle of the Bulge, the last major German offensive on the Western Front during December 1944 and January 1945.

He worked at the Yale University Library before and after the war, where he remained employed until his retirement in 1985. His first professional sale was a poem to the Christian Science Monitor Home Forum in 1940. He had focused primarily on poetry up to that point, but soon branched out into the world of fiction. Brennan wrote 26 western stories for the pulps before he changed gears and came into his own as an author of supernatural horror in the early 1950s. He sold his first horror story “The Green Parrot” to Dorothy McIlwraith at Weird Tales in 1952. He followed up with one of his most celebrated stories, a novelette entitled “Slime,” which appeared in the March 1953 issue, featuring his story on the cover with art by Virgil Finlay. He appeared in Weird Tales regularly until that incarnation of the magazine ceased publication in 1954.

Brennan published his own magazines beginning in 1955, Essence and Macabre, the latter geared toward keeping the spirit of Weird Tales alive. He published 23 issues of Macabre over a span of almost 20 years. At the time, Brennan regularly corresponded with August Derleth of Arkham House fame, an author in his own right. Derleth published the first collection of Brennan’s horror stories, Nine Horrors and a Dream in 1958. That collection was later published in paperback by Ballantine Books in 1962. The Arkham House edition of the book is expensive; the paperback edition is scarce. It is a jewel of my collection. I keep holding out hope that someone will reissue the title so I can read the stories in the middle of the book without cracking the spine.

Brennan was a prolific author of short stories and poetry. According to the Grant edition of The Borders Just Beyond, he wrote several thousand poems and approximately 500 short stories. His stories appeared in over 100 anthologies, including the iconic Pan Book of Horror Stories, the Fontana Book of Great Ghost Stories, Whispers, Night Visions, Charles L. Grant’s Shadows series, Dennis Etchison’s Masters of Darkness series, and Ramsey Campbell’s Fine Frights, to name just a few. His work also appeared in such esteemed publications as The New York Times, Esquire, The Chicago Review, and The Yale Literary Magazine. Brennan’s 1980 collection, The Shapes of Midnight collected many of his classic tales with an introduction by Stephen King.

Brennan’s stories were adapted for both radio and television, and he was recognized by fans and contemporaries as an important author at a time when horror fiction evolved from the pulp years into the modern era. The television series Thriller, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, and Tales from the Darkside ran episodes based on his work. Brennan appeared at the 1982 World Fantasy Convention as guest of honor, where he was given a special convention award for lifetime achievement. He also achieved great success as a poet, receiving the Hartshorne award, the Leonora Speyer Memorial Award, and the International Clark Ashton Smith Poetry award. In all, as far as I can tell, nearly twenty collections of Brennan’s work were published in his lifetime.

More information about Brennan can be found in the Brown University’s “Guide to the Joseph Payne Brennan papers,” stored online here.

To browse the list of Joseph Payne Brennan titles currently available on Amazon, click here.

These cover scans are from the library of author Christopher Fulbright. The featured image for this post is from The Shapes of Midnight cover art by Kirk Reinert.

 

Clark Ashton Smith

Clark Ashton Smith (January 13, 1893 – August 14, 1961) was an American author of horror, dark fantasy, and science fiction. He rose to prominence during the golden age of the pulp era, and was part of the famous Weird Tales triumvirate along with H.P. Lovecraft and Robert E. Howard. He was widely published not only in Weird Tales but literary journals and other pulps as well, including Wonder Stories, Astounding, Strange Tales of Mystery and Terror, Stirring Science Stories, The Magic Carpet, The Black Cat, and others. Smith was author of approximately 250 short stories and over 900 poems. He wrote only one full length novel, The Black Diamonds, which owes a lot to his fondness for the Arabian Nights. The novel was 90,000 words, written at the age of 14.

Those who’ve read Smith’s work but who know little about the man himself might be surprised to learn he never attended high school. Possibly due to “psychological disorders including a fear of crowds” (Wikipedia), Smith’s education was finished at home, where he read voraciously and studied a variety of subjects. Smith’s vocabulary is wide in scope and gave his fiction a singularly otherworldly feel that, in my opinion, wove a spell around the reader unlike any other prose written by the peers of his time. His dark fantasy and horror was dark indeed. Sorcerers of the black arts from Smith’s stories are deeply disturbed individuals with gruesome keepsakes and a clear penchant for diabolic evil.

Smith’s prose certainly isn’t for everyone. I have had discussions with pulp fans who either love or strongly dislike his work. Some find him unnecessarily verbose. Those like myself, who enjoy his work, find his vast vocabulary and amazing use of language the clear differentiation between his and other writers’ dark fiction. Among his admirers are Ray Bradbury, who cited Smith’s story “The City of the Singing Flame” as a standout favorite.

Smith’s careful employment of uncommon language and cadence in his prose is due in part to his history as an artist; Smith spent ten years as a poet before he attempted to sell any fiction. One of his earliest publication credits was a booklet called The Star-Treader and Other Poems in 1912. He began publishing short stories in the mid-1920s. He increased his fiction output as The Great Depression settled over America. He wrote the bulk of his fiction between 1929 and 1935. Throughout the mid to late-1930s, a series of tragedies left him deeply affected to the point that he stopped writing fiction completely. His mother died in 1935, Robert E. Howard committed suicide in 1936, and H.P. Lovecraft died of cancer in 1937, which was the same year that Smith’s father died. The deaths of his contemporaries, with whom he had forged meaningful relationships through letters over the years, coupled with the deaths of his parents, “left him exhausted.” Ultimately, Smith turned to sculpting, art, and resumed writing poetry.

In the early 1940s, August Derleth started Arkham House and published many of the first collected works of Smith’s fiction. Despite Derleth’s encouragement, Smith never took up writing fiction again. He left behind a relatively large number of unpublished pieces of fiction, many if not all of which were published posthumously.

Smith lived the majority of his life in Auburn, California. He passed away at the age of 61 in Pacific Grove, California. His remains were cremated and his ashes were buried near the site of his boyhood home in Auburn, which was destroyed by fire in 1957. The burial site had no marker until recent years, when the site was commemorated by a plaque in what is now a small park near the Placer County Law Library. For those interested in learning more about Clark Ashton Smith, I recommend a comprehensive website called The Eldritch Dark. Smith has received his rightful share of scholarly attention, as the site clearly shows. He also achieved literary canonization in a Penguin Classics collection of his work in 2014.

Clark Ashton Smith’s work has been published in many collectible editions over the years. My personal collection includes an Arkham House hardcover, A Rendezvous in Averoigne, with cover art by Jeffrey K. Potter, which is one of only a handful of things that I still own from my teenage years and holds a great deal of sentimental value for me. I do have one of the Neville Spearman hardcover editions of Lost Words, but other than that, the rest of my CAS collection in is paperback — some seriously beautiful paperbacks with amazing wraparound art. Ballantine’s adult fantasy series features art by George Barr, Gervasio Gallardo, and Bill Martin. Panther Books in the UK released paperback editions of Neville Spearman’s Arkham House reprints with more amazing cover art. Some of the art was done by B. Pennington, but the other artwork, including that on the Out of Space and Time volumes which I have featured here, is uncredited.

To browse the list of related titles currently available on Amazon, click here.

These cover scans are from the library of author Christopher Fulbright.