Monday, December 21, 2020

"Strange Creatures" Fifty Years Later


I struggled through 2019 without celebrating the 100th anniversary of Charles Fort's Book of the Damned, and before this infinitely worse year of 2020 passes I want to make mention of the 50th anniversary of John A. Keel's Strange Creatures from Time and Space [SCFTAS for short]. To quote an old web-page I devoted to the subject:

"The present writer has always been fascinated by monsters, of the movies, the comics, literature, mythology, folklore and even (maybe) reality. By age eleven I thought I knew all there was to know about ghosts, monsters and bizarre creatures in general.

"Then one night my father took my brother and me to the bowling alley. We were expected to entertain ourselves while he bowled for the Warren Petroleum Company league. I slipped over to a nearby drugstore and scanned the bookracks. Nothing. For some unknown reason, I dug past the front layer of books on one rack and found a neat paperback with the compelling title Strange Creatures from Time and Space in canary yellow on a somber violet-blue background. A Fawcett Gold Medal book written by someone named John A. Keel, it featured a fantastic cover painting by Frank Frazetta. I plunked down my six bits and spent the evening reading.

I had never heard of the Mothman of West Virginia, or of the Beast of Bungay, or of the Men-in-Black who harassed UFO witnesses. I had never heard of the Burning Man of Germany, or of Thomas, the Winged Cat, or of the Bigfoot-type creatures reported from such unlikely places as New Jersey and Florida. Far from being knowledgeable about Strange Creatures, I was merely a novice."


In the years following I collected news clippings, magazines, books, articles and newsletters of cryptids, UFOs and other matters, mostly because I was a geeky Fortean, but with an agenda hidden in my subconscious.

I remember I dream I had in the late 1970s, in which I found a copy of "the expanded, updated, annotated Strange Creatures from Time and Space." I even remember the cover illustration of this dream-book: A nineteenth-century steam train is chugging over a canyon-spanning trestle in some desert area [probably the American West]. A Godzilla-sized Tyrannosaurus rex is menacing the train, a creature so tall its head is level with the cars even though it is standing in the canyon. (There is no story like that in SCFTAS, of course.) Since then I've worked on my own Expanded Edition (very occasionally, not constantly, or I'd have been finished long ago).

As I wrote, this much-maligned year of 2020 marks the fiftieth anniversary of the publication of SCFTAS, and for years I hoped I'd have the Expanded and Updated Edition ready in time. Circumstances -- and the ever-increasing number of cases I wanted to include -- precluded that. Instead, I concentrated on a few key subjects, simply to get an idea of what the whole mess might look like. For instance, I took a page-long reference to what are now known as "phantom panthers" or "alien big cats" and blew that up into a forty-two page, twenty-three thousand word mini-book in itself. I'm not going to publish it anywhere, because that would entail up numerous copyright violations. An outline of the contents, however, runs:

-- A quote from Ambrose Bierce's story "Eyes of the Panther"

-- The original excerpt from SCFTAS (a mere 233 words)

-- The trilogy of articles from FATE Magazine that jelled the concept of phantom panthers, those being

-- "Mystery Animals Invade Illinois" by Loren Coleman (March 1971)

-- "On the Trail of Pumas, Panthers and ULAs (Unidentified Leaping Animals) Part I" by Jerome Clark and Loren Coleman (June 1972)

--"On the Trail of Pumas, Panthers and ULAs (Unidentified Leaping Animals) Part II" (July 1972)

-- "Mystery Animals" by Charles Bowen (Flying Saucer Review, Nov.-Dec. 1964)

-- "The Surrey Puma," an excerpt from Janet and Colin Bord's Alien Animals (1981)

-- "Ozark Country Panthers," from Vance Randolph's We Always Lie to Strangers (1951)

-- "The Wampus," from Ronald L. Baker's Hoosier Folk Legends (1982)

-- "The Manimal," from Creatures of the Outer Edge by Jerome Clark and Loren Coleman (1978) [COTOE for short]

-- "Another Upright Panther" from Herbert Ravenel Sass's “The Panther Prowls the East Again!”, Saturday Evening Post (Vol. 226, no. 37), March 13, 1954

-- "And Another Upright Panther" from Bruce S. Wright's The Eastern Panther (Toronto: Clarke, Irwin and Co., 1972)

-- "Invasion of the Lion People" also from COTOE

-- "At Last, the Final Secret of the Phantom Panthers!" an excerpt from Merrily Harpur's Mystery Big Cats (Loughborough, UK: Heart of Albion Press, 2006)

-- "Pennsylvania Panther" from Stan Gordon's Astonishing Encounters: Pennsylvania’s Unknown Creatures, Casebook Three (Greensburg, PA: Stan Gordon, 2016).

Hmmm. 233 words ended up expanding into 23k-plus words. A hundredfold increase. That implies that the fully-done expansion will weigh in at about ten million words. I'll check in again at the 60th anniversary . . .

Wednesday, November 11, 2020

Little Stapled-On Flag

 I've moved numerous times over the years.  As a writer, my biggest carbon footprint comes from the boxes, crates and plastic bags full of books, magazines, comics, manuscripts, notebooks, Xerox copies and scribbled notes I haul one carful at a time to my new digs.  Then comes the piles of shirts, pants, underwear, socks, towels, gloves and sweaters, half of which I don't wear anymore.  Number-wise, dishes, eating utensils, glasses, pots and pans come next in their clattering, banging masses.  And then there's furniture.

One item among my myriad possessions just does not behave.  It always pokes out and ends up by itself in some corner of the back seat or trunk.  It is a tiny little American flag, purchased at some forgotten flea market, held to a long dowel stick with only five or six staples.  Long enough that it will not fit into any of my boxes or crates, and it rips through plastic trash bags.  I have to roll it up and just set it somewhere loose.  I remember having to do this every time I've moved since well before 2000.

Even when I'm ensconced somewhere, it sits in the closet most of the time.  I dig it out on Independence Day and find some ledge or window sill in which to wedge it.  Ever since I was a kid, I loved the idea of there being "Flag Day," June 14, a lesser known holiday which was basically an excuse to put up the little flag again.  On 9/11/2001 it came out and waved for several days.

I just now got in my car, two weeks post-moving, and I realized the little stapled-on flag is still rolled up in the back seat.  Seeing as today is November 11 (Veteran's Day), looks like it should finally come out.

Sunday, October 18, 2020

A Kingdom of Children

 "When are you going to send new novels in to agents and publishers?" asks a friend of mine.  I'm afraid I've used up all my viable pieces on Kindle.  Such efforts, though more-or-less self-published, count as published to the book industry (as does uploading stories onto your own blog or web-site).  Therefore the world must wait until I churn out more novel-length works.

A Kingdom of Children, a fantasy tale that starts with the Children's Crusade of the Thirteenth Century then flies off the map into my own world of "Aanuu", is the nearest to completion.  Just yesterday I found the last notebook containing my notes and scribbles for the last section of the book.  This also means, however, that I must bridge a few chapter-length gaps with brand new material before I can safely type "The End."  Then comes the reviewing and rewriting.

The last of my written works were hidden in a small (7" x 5") spiral notebook.  I'm a bit surprised, because I don't like writing in notebooks that small or smaller.  Just as I get up a head of steam, I have to stop and flip the page.  Also, the smaller the book, the easier it is to lose, or just become one of a pile of near-identical booklets.

On the other hand, I don't like college/school sized notebooks either.  It seemingly takes forever to write across a single line, and it feels like longer than forever to finish a page and turn to a fresh new sheet.  Ever since I started writing seriously, I've used mostly Mead 9-1/2" x 6" Spiral Notebooks (or the nearest equivalent), the more pages the better.  Originally they had 200 sheets, but I haven't seen more than 180 per notebook in quite some time, and many are a paltry 150 or even 100 sheets.

Some of you might ask, "Why not compose straight onto the computer?"  Well, I've tried doing that for over twenty years; it ain't happening.  I'll always be faster with pen and paper.  Also, I can pull out a notebook and pen almost anywhere, and I'm limited to my tower PC computer-wise.

This device they call a Tablet certainly looks interesting, however . . .

Saturday, September 26, 2020

Monster Museum

 Between my web page, FaceBook, this blog, Patreon and just writing in general, I'm needing material to write, so here's something a bit random:

I remember it was the 1960s . . . kids at school passed around a rumor that there was a book in the school library about monsters -- not some silly "101 Monster Jokes" book, or a Scholastics paperback 40 pages long, but an actually heavy, hardback book about MONSTERS!  But adult books weren't ever about fun things like that!  I kept trying to check it out, but somebody always got it before  I did.  Finally I got this weird title:  Alfred Hitchcock's Monster Museum!  And the rest was history.

It was my introduction to Silver John with "Desrick on Yandro."  The next was "O Ugly Bird" in Red Skelton's Favorite Ghost Stories.  Finally, I went to college, and found Who Fears the Devil? -- the original Arkham House version -- in the library.

And -- why not? -- a link to one of my own Silver John stories:  "Away Down the Road a Piece"

Monday, August 24, 2020

Fantasy World Project -- Patreon Edition/Bradbury's 100th birthday

 For good or ill, I've created a Patreon page, The Fantasy World Project.  Between that, this blog, my website, and my stories and novels, I've got to start producing copy!


The 20th of August was Ray Bradbury's 100th Birthday, so I have to write something Bradburian!

I almost missed my only opportunity to see Ray in person when he gave a talk at the main public library in Tulsa, OK, about 1996. I was watching a goofy cartoon version of "Tales from the Crypt" ("Tales from the Crypt-Keeper"), and I wanted to see how the running feud between Crypty, the Vault-Keeper, and the Old Witch turned out. Sad, isn't it? But I finally zipped up to the library, where Ray greeted his audience with, "YOU PEOPLE DON'T KNOW WHAT DEATH IS!", which was not quite how I thought he'd start out. He talked about life during and after the flu epidemic, and how high child mortality rates were, and how families had multiple children to make sure there would be a new generation. Finally, however, he started on the more familiar Mr. Electrico and the like.
Anyway, he signed my copy of WONDER Magazine #8, the all-Bradbury issue.

Tuesday, August 18, 2020

The Empty Warehouse

 As I've written -- on blog, FaceBook or somewhere -- I've been a reader all my life, but frequently I had next to nothing to read.  Before starting college I was proud owner of maybe 50 paperback books, which filled a whole shelf of my made-in-shop-class bookcase.

When I started at Oklahoma State University, however, I was exposed to the McFarlin Library, two million volumes plus thousands of journals, maps, newspaper archives and the like.

They say you can't miss what you never had -- but seeing the OSU library after being used to a shelf of paperbacks -- suddenly my brain felt like an empty warehouse, with my meager collection sitting off in a cobwebby corner.  I had worlds to learn about!  I think I would have had a good education had I simply spent those four years in McFarlin.

Fast Forward to the past few years of (mostly) unemployment.  I was too worried, too nervous to read much.  Heck, I'd start a novel -- fade out halfway through -- and put it back on the shelf.  How could I waste time reading when I should be looking for a job?

This week, however, I realized:  there's that feeling again.  My brain is an empty warehouse.  Mix in with that an added metaphorical sensation of utter starvation, and all I could say was:

"Gaaah!  I can't take it any more!"

I'm reading, ya hear me?  I'm reading Castles by Sidney Toy, the best survey of castles, fortifications, battlements, keeps and siege warfare ever!  I'm reading Lands Beyond by SF great L. Sprague de Camp and science writer Willy Ley, an early history of places that never were, a great resource for fantasy writers.  I'm reading Churchill by Roy Jenkins -- I have 50 or 60 books on World War II, and I have to start somewhere.  I'm reading Popular Science and Scientific American for -- science!

Yes, I'll work on stories, novels and resumes; I'll wash the dishes and clothes; I'll vacuum and scrub the toilet.  But from now on I'm hijacking  chunks of time to fill the empty warehouse.

Sunday, August 2, 2020

20,000 Leagues Launch Party

On Thursday, August 6th, 8:00 to 9:30 PM EDT (7:00 to 8:30 Central), Pole to Pole Publishing is holding a FaceBook Launch Party for the paperback version of "20,000 Leagues Remembered!" Here's hoping everyone will be there!

Each author has five minutes to interact with the reading public and answer all their questions (not to mention self-promote). I hope I can figure out this FaceBook Party thing before then!