Thursday, March 8, 2012

MAGAZINES I REMEMBER, by Hugh Cave: An Appreciation

In 1930, a young pulp writer, Carl Jacobi, wrote a letter to another writer, Hugh Cave, expressing his admiration for a Short Stories story that Cave had written. Thus began a 62 year correspondence between these two writers, who both had remarkable careers as fiction writers. MAGAZINES I REMEMBER is a collection of some of those letters.

Hugh Barnett Cave (1910-2004) was one of the most prolific pulp fiction writers; in his early career he contributed to such pulp magazines as Astounding, Black Mask, and Weird Tales. By his own estimate, in the 1930s alone, he published roughly 800 short stories in nearly 100 periodicals under a number of pseudonyms. Many of Cave's stories, especially those for the spicy pulps, were published under the pen name Justin Case. Cave, shown below, was also one of the most successful contributors to the weird menace or "shudder pulps" of the 1930s.

MAGAZINES is subtitled "Some Pulps, Their Editors and What It Was Like to Write For Them," is primarily a collection of letters between Cave and Jacobi. Jacobi, (1908-1997, pictured below), wrote stories that appeared in such magazines as Short Stories, Railroad Magazine, Wonder Stories, Ghost Stories, Strange Stories, Thrilling Mystery, Startling Stories, Complete Stories, Top-Notch and of course, Weird Tales, which he and Cave often discussed in their letters.

One might assume by the title of this book that this Cave's memoir of writing for the pulps. But it is not a memoir in the true sense of the word. But both Jacobi and Cave wrote such finely detailed letters about their day-to-day activities as writers and dealing with publishers that in many ways it's better than a memoir.

Sadly, many letters from Jacobi to Cave from the early 1930s were lost in a fire, so there is a gap in the correspondence from Jacobi's side and most, if not all, of the letters from the 1930s are from Cave to Jacobi, making the reading feel a bit one sided. Letters from Jacobi to Cave started in 1972 managed to survive and are in the book. So the book begins with Cave's letters to Jacobi in the 1930s, then there are a few chapters of Cave's recollections, and then the letters between Cave and Jacobi from 1972 until 1992, five years before Jacobi's death, finish the book. Cave was not only a friend to Jacobi, he was a mentor as well, and encouraged Jacobi many times when he was discouraged by rejections.

Cave to Jacobi, 10 December 1932: This fiction factory is in the doldrums and, between you and me and the storm clouds, is getting desperate. A checkup on the year's work reveals 54 stories written so far, including a dozen long novelettes and a dozen slick-paper attempts. The slick stories were a downright gamble, so I can't legitimately call those stories a part of the routine year's work. That leaves just about 40 yarns written this year which should have sold--allowing, of course, for a few duds which creep into the best of families. Well, so what?

The files show a record of 32 stories sold. Of those, I've been paid for 19. Only in a few cases have I received more than a cent a word, and in two instances I received less than that. I'm getting low on reserve funds and yet have more than $1,500 owing to me. Did you ever see such conditions before in the fiction business?"

What is remarkable about the collection as well is that it spans the period from the golden age of the pulps, to when the pulps collapsed after World War II, to the years when nobody was interested, and the resurgence of interest in them in the 1980s and 90s. It is indeed a collection that is probably one of a kind.

One personal note. I have to brag. In a letter to Cave, Jacobi mentions my grandfather twice. "Paul S. Powers, an English professor who wrote one story for WEIRD TALES, "Monster of the Pit," that made a great impression on me." I don't know where he got the English professor part, as my grandfather didn't even graduate from high school, but I was thrilled over seeing that. He mentions him and the same story later again.

This book, from what I can tell, is out of print. But there are copies available on Amazon as well as Abebooks.

I think it's time that this book be reprinted. It should be more accessible than it is, and in today's world of self-publishing in which anyone can produce high-quality, attractive books, this book is definitely a candidate. Besides, it needs a new cover.

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Barry Traylor said...

I agree with you that this is a wonderful book and well worth having. Fascinating read for anyone interested in the pulp magazine era. Might I also recommend Pulp Man's Odyessy-The Hugh B. Cave Story (Starmont House 1988) and the ultimate book about Cave has to be Cave of a Thousand Tales (Arkham House 2004).
I was fortunate enough to meet Mr. Cave at Pulpcon years ago and as nice a man as you would ever hope to meet.

Barry Traylor said...

Almost forgot to add that Hugh B. Cave was such a prolific writer that he used over a dozen pseudonyms. In the English "Twenty Story Magazine" he had four stories in one issue under the names Jack D'Arcy, Maxwell Smith, Geoffrey Vace and Hugh Cave.