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A Black (Gat) in the Hand: Will Murray on Dashiell Hammett’s Elusive Glass Key

A Black (Gat) in the Hand: Will Murray on Dashiell Hammett’s Elusive Glass Key

Back in June, Will Murray donned his deerstalker and showed that Dashiell Hammett was not the author of “The Diamond Wager.” He’s back again this week with his magnifying glass out and looking into the origin of the title to Hammett’s novel, The Glass Key. Read on! And if you’ve not read The Glass Key (which is also a terrific movie starring Alan Ladd), you’re missing out on one of the best hardboiled novels written. The game is afoot (again)!

Back in the 1980s, I knew a pulp writer named Charles Spain Verral, who was perhaps best known for writing the Bill Barnes, Air Adventurer Magazine lead novels as George L. Eaton. Chuck told me an illuminating story about Dashiell Hammett that was circulating in the New York City literary scene during the 1930s.

Hammett needed an advance from Black Mask magazine, which editor Joe Shaw was willing to give on the basis of a title alone. Hammett came up with “The Glass Key.” And was stuck with it because in those days the magazine cover was printed a month or more in advance of the interior of the magazine, and The Glass Key was to be the cover story of the next scheduled issue. Compounding the problem, the serial was announced by that title in the issue preceding the one where it was cover-featured. Hammett was to write the novel in installments, with the first one appearing in print before he finished the work.

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Ten Things I Think I Think: October 2023

Ten Things I Think I Think: October 2023

A (Black) Gat in the Hand takes a week off for a somewhat Robert E. Howard-centric installment of Ten Things I Think I Think. Books, television, movies, and even a computer RPG are in the mix today.

1) Jules De Grandin is a new favorite

Being a Robert E. Howard guy, I am familiar with Weird Tales – home to much of his best work, including Conan, Kull, historical fiction, and Solomon Kane, among much more. But not being into horror, I don’t really read anyone else from ‘The Unique Magazine.’

But I recently bought the audiobook for The Horror on the Links. It is Volume One of The Complete Tales of Jules De Grandin. A few stories have been a bit much for me in the macabre category, but Seabury Quinn’s doctor-former Surete policeman is an Occult Detective version of Hercule Poirot. I am absolutely loving the mix. I’m nearing the end of this collection, and I’ll be listening to Volume Two next.

De Grandin is a French transplant to fictional Harrisonville, New Jersey. His Watson is Dr. Trowbridge, and they investigate both cases that have natural, as well as supernatural, solutions. Each audiobook is about 25 hours long, which is a lot of entertainment. Paul Woodson does a great de Grandin. There are over 90  stories – including one serialized novel. As a Poirot fan, I’m totally in on these. I’ve been kicking around the idea of a de Grandin/Nero Wolfe crossover.

 

2) “The Horror from the Mound” is Quite a Story

Sticking with horror, I was hoping to have an essay ready today for Robert E. Howard’s “The Horror from the Mound.” It’s a (then) contemporary Weird Western which also appeared in Weird Tales. I’d read it before, and with one foot in ‘today’ and one firmly in the mid 1600s, may be my favorite REH horror story. Still working on the essay.

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A (Black) Gat in the Hand: James Reasoner on Trail Towns in the Traditional Westerns of REH

A (Black) Gat in the Hand: James Reasoner on Trail Towns in the Traditional Westerns of REH

REHWesterns_Cover
Intro by James Reasoner…

The first big series I did here at Black Gate was Discovering Robert E. Howard. And I was excited to get one of my favorite Westerns writers, the beyond-prolific, James Reasoner, to talk about REH’s Westerns. Continuing on with our recent Westerns theme, here’s James’ essay on trail towns in REH’s traditional Westerns. Saddle up and hit the trail!

 

When Robert E. Howard was growing up in Cross Plains in the 1920s, it was entirely possible that some of the older men in town might have gone on cattle drives in their youth, as the great trails from Texas to the railheads in Kansas opened up after the Civil War and changed the focus of the Lone Star State’s economy. Whether a young Bob Howard ever listened to these old cowboys spin yarns about those days, we don’t know, but he certainly might have.

J. Marvin Hunter’s classic book Trail Drivers of Texas appeared in 1927, and this volume might well have caught Howard’s interest, too, although we have no record of him ever reading it.

What we do know, however, is that Howard wrote several Western stories in which the trail towns which served as destination points for those great herds of Longhorns play an important part, beginning with “Gunman’s Debt”, which went unpublished during Howard’s lifetime but is one of his best Westerns. It’s set in the small Kansas settlement of San Juan, and although Howard tells us that the rails and the trail herds haven’t reached it yet, it’s clear that they’re on the way. San Juan is new and raw and more than a little squalid:

Three saloons, one of which included a dance hall and another a gambling dive, stables, a jail, a store or so, a double row of unpainted board houses, a livery stable, corrals, that made up the village men now called San Juan.

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Vintage Treasures: Lin Carter’s Weird Tales, Part II

Vintage Treasures: Lin Carter’s Weird Tales, Part II

Table of Contents for Weird Tales 1, edited by Lin Carter (Zebra Books, December 1980)

For yesterday’s Vintage Treasures post, I finally had the chance to discuss Lin Carter’s early-80s attempt to resuscitate the Magazine that Never Dies, the long-running weird fiction pulp Weird Tales.

Since I examined all four paperbacks, there wasn’t room in that article to look back at some of the fascinating discussions they’ve triggered over the last four decades, including lengthy commentary from Carter himself — especially his (largely unfulfilled) plans for the future volumes — or reviews of the stories within from modern readers. So I took the time to do that today.

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Vintage Treasures: Lin Carter’s Weird Tales

Vintage Treasures: Lin Carter’s Weird Tales


Weird Tales , Volumes 1 -4 (Zebra Books, December 1980
– August 1983). Covers by Tom Barber (#1-3) and Doug Beekman (#4)

Lin Carter was one of the finest genre editors of the 20th Century, and Weird Tales magazine was the most important fantasy magazine of the last century, publishing the career-defining work of Robert E. Howard, H.P. Lovecraft, Clark Ashton Smith, and hundreds of other writers. In December 1980 Zebra Books published the equivalent of a genre superhero Team-Up, the first two volumes of a paperback relaunch of Weird Tales helmed by Lin Carter.

The ambitious effort had several things in common with the original pulp incarnation. Namely, it was criminally underfunded, published sporadically, and doomed.

But it also had a hugely talented and hardworking editor, and in three short years it published a total of four volumes containing ‘lost’ stories by Robert E. Howard and H.P. Lovecraft, an original John the Balladeer story by Manly Wade Wellman, reprints of classic tales from the pages of Weird Tales, and original fiction by Ramsey Campbell, Carl Jacobi, Tanith Lee, Mary Elizabeth Counselman, Steve Rasnic Tem, Hannes Bok, Joseph Payne Brennan, Evangeline Walton, Charles Sheffield, Frank Belknap Long, Lin Carter, and a lot more.

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A (Black) Gat in the Hand Turns 100!: Erle Stanley Gardner’s ‘Getting Away With Murder’

A (Black) Gat in the Hand Turns 100!: Erle Stanley Gardner’s ‘Getting Away With Murder’

“You’re the second guy I’ve met within hours who seems to think a gat in the hand means a world by the tail.” – Phillip Marlowe in Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep

(Gat — Prohibition Era term for a gun. Shortened version of Gatling Gun)

And A (Black) Gat in the Hand turns 100 today. With help from some friends, this column has managed to offer a hundred essays on the fascinating world of Pulp. April 8, 1949 was the day the Pulps died (I think that American Pie is one of the greatest songs of all time – couldn’t pass up the reference – with a tip of the fedora to William Lampkin for the phrase). On that day, Street & Smith announced they were quitting the Pulps. My favorite, Dime Detective, straggled on into 1952. But the days of the Pulps were effectively over.

But the love of Pulps lived on. Back in May of 2018, I kicked off my weekly Black Gate column as follows:

“Working from Otto Penzler’s massive The Black Lizard Big Book of Pulps, we’re going to be exploring some pulp era writers and stories from the twenties through the forties. There will also be many references to its companion book, The Black Lizard Big Book of Black Mask Stories. I really received my education in the hardboiled genre from the Black Lizard/Vintage line. I discovered Chester Himes, Steve Fisher, Paul Cain, Thompson and more.

With first, the advent of small press imprints, then the explosion of digital publishing, Pulp-era fiction has undergone a renaissance. Authors from Frederick Nebel to Raoul Whitfield; from Carroll John Daly to Paul Cain (that’s 27 letters – we went all the way back around the alphabet – get it?) are accessible again. Out of print and difficult-to-find stories and novels have made their way back to avid readers.”

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Science Fiction History Considered As a Series of Images of Newsstand Displays

Science Fiction History Considered As a Series of Images of Newsstand Displays

Science Fiction magazines likely displayed on the stands at ten year intervals, 1933 to 2013

Many readers here no doubt lack the experience of having personally cruised news stands, tobacco shops and underground hole-in-the-wall used book stores, through no fault of their own. Unless you can fault someone for not having been born in a particular year, which I think would be a silly thing to do.

I, on the other hand, managed to arrive on this planet at a time conducive to such things. Following a brief orientation period lasting a handful of years, during which I learned how to navigate within a 1G gravitational field and picked up a few useful tips, such as becoming proficient in one of the native languages and where food came from, not to mention the necessity of wearing clothing when out and about, I was introduced to a small, yet extremely powerful concept called “Science Fiction”.

In short order I became enraptured and the rest, as they say, is personal history.

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A (Black) Gat in the Hand: William Patrick Murray on Cross-Genre Confusion, and Supernatural Westerns

A (Black) Gat in the Hand: William Patrick Murray on Cross-Genre Confusion, and Supernatural Westerns

“You’re the second guy I’ve met within hours who seems to think a gat in the hand means a world by the tail.” – Phillip Marlowe in Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep

(Gat — Prohibition Era term for a gun. Shortened version of Gatling Gun)

Last week was part two of  fellow Robert E Howard Foundation Award-winner John Bullard’s look at Robert E. Howard’s humorous Westerns. Earlier this summer, Pulp maven (and fellow Sherlock Holmes afficionado) William Murray revealed right here in this column, that Dashiell Hammett did not actually write “The Diamond Wager/” Will, who has written about Doc Savage, and The Spider, for A (Black) Gat in the Hand, is back at it again. 

Will – who has written THE look at Western pulps – Wordslingers: An Epitaph for the Western – takes us into the world of Weird Westerns. It’s no surprise that Pulp editors were leery of ‘crossing the streams’ for these types of stories. Read on!

Cross Genre Confusion

In the beginning, the pulp magazine was an undifferentiated product.

Starting with the first of its type, The Argosy, it was essentially a colorful cornucopia of fiction, much of it belonging to no particular category. Stories of city, farm, and tenement life were common. Yarns set in the half-tamed West were not always gunsmoke sagas, but simply narratives set in the contemporary West. Historical tales were also common. As were simple homespun comedies. Many were quasi-adventure stories of men at their work. Thus we often discover coal mining episodes, off-field yarns, and Mountie exploits.

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A (Black) Gat in the Hand: John Bullard on REH’s Rough and Ready Clowns of the West – Part II

A (Black) Gat in the Hand: John Bullard on REH’s Rough and Ready Clowns of the West – Part II

“You’re the second guy I’ve met within hours who seems to think a gat in the hand means a world by the tail.” – Phillip Marlowe in Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep

(Gat — Prohibition Era term for a gun. Shortened version of Gatling Gun)

Last week, fellow Robert E Howard Foundation Award-winner John Bullard wrote about Breckenridge Elkins. At the end of his life, it wasn’t Conan and fantasy that REH was earning a living with – it was Westerns with humor. So, here’s Part II, covering more funny Westerns. Next week, another Pulp (and Sherlock  Holmes) buddy, William Patrick Murray, will delve into REH’s Weird Westerns. Read on! 

Rough and Ready Clowns of the West:  Robert E. Howard’s Humorous Western Characters Part II

Last week, we looked at Robert E. Howard’s attempts to break into other pulps besides his humorous boxing tales, and fantasy, and horror stories. His creation in the summer of 1933, of Breckinridge Elkins, a recurring funny Western character series for the Action Stories pulp, became very popular and lucrative. His success with it had Howard try to create more funny Western characters to sell to increase his earnings, just as he had done with his funny boxing characters. He created three characters that were each based off Breckinridge Elkins to varying degrees. He was able to sell all three to the pulps, with two starting on the road to becoming recurring characters that only ended with Howard’s death.

Bearfield Elston, the Psychotic Breckinridge Elkins

There was one rejected Breckinridge Elkins story, “A Elkins Never Surrenders”, that Howard rewrote to star his new character of Bearfield Elston. Under its “newish” title, “A Elston Never Surrenders”, Howard sent it to his agent, Otis Kline. Kline eventually sold it to the Star Western pulp in May, 1936, where it was published in the September 1936 issue under its new title of “The Curly Wolf of Sawtooth”. In comparing the two stories, Howard generally just changed the name of Breckinridge to Bearfield Elston.

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A (Black) Gat in the Hand: John Bullard on REH’s Rough and Ready Clowns of the West – Part I

A (Black) Gat in the Hand: John Bullard on REH’s Rough and Ready Clowns of the West – Part I

“You’re the second guy I’ve met within hours who seems to think a gat in the hand means a world by the tail.” – Phillip Marlowe in Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep

(Gat — Prohibition Era term for a gun. Shortened version of Gatling Gun)

A (Black) Gat in the Hand was primarily about hardboiled Pulp stuff when it began, because that’s what I mostly what I was interested in, and knew about. And I was the one writing it. But over our six year run here, I’ve gotten some friends to help me out. Some wrote about hardboiled, but others have filled in the Pulp gap with interesting essays on other areas. I’m really pleased that the scope has been expanded. And the next few weks, we’re gonna explore the Western genre (Duane Spurlock started us off with a 2019 essay on one of my favorites – T T Flynn).

I’ve gotten to know a bunch of neat folks through my love of Robert E. Howard. And I met fellow REH Foundation Award winner John Bullard at the 2022 Howard Days. We have several common interest areas. One is Robert E. Howard. One is NOT Howard’s Breckenridge Elkins (though we both like Sailor Steve Costigan). John joins A (Black) Gat with a deep dive into Howard’s successful character. Next week he’ll be back for a look into Howard’s other humorous Western characters. 

Rough and Ready Clowns of the West: Robert E. Howard’s Humorous Western Characters, Part I

Since Bob invited me to contribute something on Robert E. Howard and his voluminous writings for his continuing A (Black) Gat in the Hand series, I thought I would write on Howard’s humorous pulp Western characters. They are not particular favorites of Bob’s (shocking!), so he probably won’t be writing about them for this series any time too soon. Also, this summer is the 90th anniversary of the creation of Breckinridge Elkins, one of Howard’s best-selling characters during his life. Because Elkins was such a success, Howard created three more humorous Western characters using Elkins as a starting point: Bearfield Elston, Buckner J. Grimes, and Pike Bearfield. That should be enough reasons for a look at Howard’s rough and ready clowns of the West.

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