Friday, October 28, 2011

Midnight

Jack Snow (1907–1956)
From American Fantastic Tales: Terror and the Uncanny from the 1940s to Now

During a remarkable career, L. Frank Baum wrote a total of fourteen Oz books. After his death, Baum’s publisher, Reilly & Lee, continued to publish books in the series, adding some two dozen titles by several authors (mostly by Ruth Plumly Thompson). These writers became known as “Royal Historians of Oz.” And there is actually a current Royal Historian, the best-selling writer Sherwood Smith, who has published two new Oz entries in the last decade and is working on a third.

One of the Oz Historians was John Frederick Snow, who as a teenager was initially rebuffed by the publisher when he offered to step into Baum’s shoes and write a few sequels. His persistence paid off, however, and in the 1940s Jack Snow published two books in the series,
The Magical Mimics in Oz and The Shaggy Man of Oz. In 1954 he also compiled Who’s Who in Oz, which contains capsule biographies of 630 characters in the forty Oz books that had been published to date.

In addition to his lifelong dedication to the legacy of L. Frank Baum, Snow worked for WNBC in New York for many years. At one point, in 1944, Snow persuaded NBC executives to consider developing a series of radio programs based on stories by a young and relatively unknown science-fiction writer named Ray Bradbury, although the series was never produced. Both Bradbury and Snow wrote stories that were published in the groundbreaking pulp magazine
Weird Tales and in 1947 Snow prepared a collection of his short fiction for publication as a book.

Initially, Snow wanted to include only the best twelve selections, including one of his more sinister tales, “Midnight,” which had appeared in the May 1946 issue of
Weird Tales with Bradbury’s story “The Smiling People.” But the publisher insisted on fattening the book by adding a number of early unpolished apprentice pieces, written when Snow was in his teens and early twenties. Bradbury, only twenty-six years old at the time, had agreed to write a foreword for Snow’s collection—but he reneged when he read the material added to the volume, considering the early stories “patently unpublishable.” As a result, the jackets for all copies of Jack Snow’s book, Dark Music and Other Spectral Tales, had to be overstamped with a bar of ink, to block out Bradbury’s name. As Jonathan R. Eller recounts in Becoming Ray Bradbury, Snow’s response to Bradbury was relatively gracious but pointed: “You are a literary craftsman with ambitions to become a skilled and recognized artist in the field. I have no such ambitions. I want to write because I enjoy it.”

Between the hour of eleven and midnight John Ware made ready to perform the ceremony that would climax the years of homage he had paid to the dark powers of evil. Tonight he would become a part of that essence of dread that roams the night hours. . . . If you don't see the full story below, click here (PDF) or click here (Google Docs) to read it—free!

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Friday, October 21, 2011

The Day I Sprouted Wings

J. Herman Banning (1899–1933)
From Into the Blue: American Writers on Aviation and Spaceflight

In 1926 James Herman Banning became the first African American in the United States to earn a pilot’s license when the Department of Commerce awarded him license #1,324. He gave up his career as an auto mechanic and over the next eight years made ends meet as a barnstormer, working at many airshows and logging over 800 flight hours. In 1932 he and Thomas Allen, short of funds but hoping to be the first African Americans to fly cross-country, formed the “Flying Hoboes,” so called because they made frequent stops to earn enough money to finish the trip.

As they made their way from Los Angeles, they gained an increasing amount of press coverage and when they reach Pittsburgh, Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s presidential campaign arranged to pay for the rest of the flight. In exchange, the Flying Hoboes dropped 15,000 campaign flyers en route in Philadelphia and other Pennsylvania cities. They finally finished their 3,613-mile trip, landing at Curtiss Airport in Valley Stream, Long Island. New York City mayor Jimmy Walker gave them the traditional keys to the city, a parade in their honor was held in Harlem, and the Democratic Party footed the bill for rebuilding their ramshackle, flight-worn plane.

Soon after Banning completed the trip, he wrote two articles for the Pittsburgh Courier. His second piece, “The Day I Sprouted Wings,” describes the unusual circumstances of his very first solo flight, made in a plane he had assembled himself. Only six weeks after he wrote this article, back in California for an airshow on February 5, 1933, the thirty-three-year-old pilot was killed in a plane crash—while flying as a passenger.

Source: Distinguished African Americans in Aviation and Space Science, by Betty Kaplan Gubert, Miriam Sawyer, and Caroline M. Fannin (2002).

*   *   *
It has often been said truth is stranger than fiction. From an aeronautical standpoint, the above assertion ceases to be a mere saying and becomes an indisputable fact. . . . If you don't see the full story below, click here (PDF) or click here (Google Docs) to read it—free!

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Friday, October 14, 2011

Shiftless Little Loafers

Susan Orlean (b. 1955)
From The 50 Funniest American Writers: An Anthology of Humor from Mark Twain to The Onion

This past week The Library of America published its latest anthology, The 50 Funniest Writers, edited by Andy Borowitz. Previously on Story of the Week we presented one of the book’s selections, “The Ransom of Red Chief,” which was written during the first decade of the twentieth century; this week we present a story from the final decade. It’s merely a coincidence that both selections feature the youngest members of our species; while O. Henry describes a ten-year-old who terrorizes his kidnappers, Susan Orlean offers her post-Swiftian take on the problem of babies and what to do with them.

Susan Orlean was born in Cleveland, “back when the Indians were still a lousy team, and before they became a really good team and then again became a somewhat lousy team.” She has been a staff writer for
The New Yorker for two decades, a tenure which followed gigs at Rolling Stone and Vogue. Among her several books is The Orchid Thief, (1998), a narrative about orchid poachers in Florida and the inspiration for the movie Adaptation, written by Charlie Kaufman and directed by Spike Jonze. About her latest book, Rin Tin Tin: The Life and the Legend, she writes, “After digging through hundreds of pages of archives and files and photographs, I came to understand that this was not just a story about a dog, or even the many different dogs who make up the Rin Tin Tin legacy; this is a story about a beloved icon who has played a role in decades of American popular culture.”

You can read more of Susan Orlean's writing on
Free Range (her blog for The New Yorker) or follow her on Twitter.

QUESTION: Why don’t more babies work? Excuse me, did I say more? I meant, why don’t any babies work? After all, there are millions of babies around, and most of them appear to be extremely underemployed. . . . If you don't see the full story below, click here (PDF) or click here (Google Docs) to read it—free!

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Friday, October 7, 2011

Tomorrow

Eugene O’Neill (1888–1953)
From Eugene O’Neill: Complete Plays 1932–1943

In November 1916 the journalist Louise Bryant married John Reed (author of Ten Days That Shook the World) in what each of them regarded as an “open” relationship. Shortly before the marriage, Bryant began an affair with Eugene O’Neill, a liaison that would continue until she and Reed left for Russia the following year. O’Neill’s association with Bryant and her circle of friends would in many ways help to jump-start his career. Bryant recommended his writing to Waldo Frank, editor of The Seven Arts, and O’Neill used the introduction to send him a story, which was accepted for $50 and published in June.

“Tomorrow” is O’Neill’s only published short story, although it was originally meant to be, as he wrote to Frank, “the first of a series of Tommy the Priest’s yarns in which the story-teller [is] a sort of Conrad’s Marlow” (the narrator of several works by Joseph Conrad, whose influence is apparent in the piece). Fans of O’Neill’s plays—and especially of
The Iceman Cometh—will recognize several of the characters and themes in the story, some of which is autobiographical. Tommy the Priest is based on James Condon, who owned a Manhattan saloon and flophouse called Jimmy the Priest’s and who would be immortalized more than two decades later as Harry Hope in Iceman. “I learned at Jimmy the Priest’s not to sit on judgment on people,” O’Neill would say in interviews. It was “a waterfront dive with a backroom where you could sleep with your head on the table if you bought a schooner of beer.”

In 1911, during the year of his “down-and-outness,” O’Neill rented a room at Jimmy’s for three dollars a month, and it was there that he attempted suicide with an overdose of a sleeping drug—and was saved by his roommate James Byth, a skid-row alcoholic who had once been a press agent for O’Neill’s father. Byth himself appears in the story as Jimmy Anderson and would be re-imagined in
Iceman as James Cameron, or “Jimmy Tomorrow,” the leader of the Tomorrow Movement. Byth’s actual fate was much the same as that described in the story. (The building in which Jimmy’s was located would eventually be torn down to make way for the World Trade Center.)

When O’Neill donated the original manuscript for the story to be auctioned off for the Fourth War Loan Bond Drive in 1944, he wrote a brief assessment to critic and poet Mark Van Doren: “As a short story—well, let’s not go into that, but I though it was pretty devastating stuff at the time, and so evidently did Van Wyck Brooks, Waldo Frank, etc., although I doubt if they were as overwhelmed by its hideous beauty as I was.”


Source: The Unknown O’Neill: Unpublished or Unfamiliar Writings, ed. Travis Bogard

It was back in my sailor days, in the winter of my great down-and-outness, that all this happened. In those years of wandering, to be broke and “on the beach” in some seaport or other of the world was no new experience; but this had been an unusually long period of inaction even for me. . . . If you don't see the full story below, click here (PDF) or click here (Google Docs) to read it—free!

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