Below is my review published in the last issue of Phantasmagoria magazine.
ECCENTRIC, IMPRACTICAL DEVILS: THE LETTERS OF AUGUST DERLETH AND CLARK ASHTON SMITH
Edited by Dave E. Schultz and S. T. Joshi; Hippocampus Press, New York, 2020
Every struggling writer should read this book as many of the exchanges are about writing stories, revising them (including their endings) and selling them to the markets available at the time, including all the rejections. For those of us who look back on writers like Clark Ashton Smith with awe it's enlightening to see how he too struggled with the same problems that beset the rest of us today.
These letters cover the period from 1931, when Smith was at the height of his powers as a writer, turning out the vast bulk of his meticulously written tales, till his death in 1961. They are a wonderful insight into the friendship between Smith, Derleth, Lovecraft, Wandrei and others, all of whom regularly exchanged carbon copies of their finished stories or works in progress for frank and honest criticism. Smith comes over as someone who was fully aware of his weaknesses as a writer and more than prepared to take in and act upon any suggestions Derleth made to him. Both men spent a great deal of time reading and evaluating the pros and cons of what the other had written and were never afraid to detail these in the numerous letters they sent to each other.
The last section of letters are those exchanged between Smith’s wife, Carol and August Derleth, often discussing the publication of Smith’s poetry and collections of his short stories by Arkham House. Derleth’s letters are illuminating on the problems he had to face over printing costs and the slow sales of the books Arkham House published.
The sheer honesty of these letters, from all participants, on the problems they had to face, their health issues, and, importantly, their thoughts on the creative process make for fascinating reading. They are a window into a lost world and, for me at least, are thoroughly absorbing.
The book also has a detailed Appendix, a section of reviews, a Bibliography, and an Index. There is even a list of Smith’s royalty earnings from Arkham House with a detailed analysis.
At 600 pages this is a must for anyone with a serious interest in Clark Ashton Smith and a revealing insight into August Derleth as well. Hippocampus Press are to be congratulated on publishing yet another important, well-researched book.
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