The Double Shadow: A Clark Ashton Smith Podcast

Transcription of Interlude #3: Transcription, Letters, and Parsecs!

Show notes for Interlude #3.

R: Hello, and welcome to The Double Shadow, a podcast exploring the Weird fiction of Clark Ashton Smith. I’m Ruth, and putting in a bit of an interlude while Tim works on some unexpected editing.

We’ve got an exciting pair of episodes coming up for you, two parts of “The Seven Geases” with Jason Thompson. Tim is currently working on an entry for the Parsec Awards, for which we’ve been nominated. We’ll keep y’all updated on that, and we’re quite excited to be nominated.

In the meantime, I’ve got some exciting news for the podcast going forward. We’ve begun transcribing episodes. There’s a list of transcribed episodes up on the site, so you can check our progress. As I’m recording this, Episodes 1, 2, and 5 have been transcribed,a as well as this one because I could just pre-write it. We hope to have the whole transcribed well before the end of 2013. Then, as we go forward, new episodes will be transcribed right away.

It is our hope that this will open up our podcast to people with hearing loss. Even if it doesn’t feel like an important podcast, many of you seem to enjoy it and we don’t want to shut people out…or to keep shutting them out, at any rate.

If you’d like to volunteer and help us out with transcribing, just shoot me an email. Our contact info and a contact form are on the site’s contact page. We’re up to 29 episodes released, 3 transcribed, 2 more currently being transcribed, and 25 more which are entirely available… *hint hint* Shout-outs to Mike McGee and Genus Unknown for doing our first two guest transcriptions.

Meanwhile, for your entertainment today, I’m going to read a few interesting excerpts from Smith’s letters which are unlikely to be brought up on the show because most aren’t directly story-related.

We can’t say what he did or didn’t do later in his life without more information, but on July 10th, 1920, Smith added this postscript on a letter to George Sterling:

P.S. Don’t worry about my tampering with hashish. Life is enough of a nightmare without drugs, and I feel content to take the effects of h. on hearsay.

As for his work life, a letter of June 25th, 1922, again to George Sterling, notes that he’s been earning $3.50 per day picking cherries (a box of which he’d squirreled away and mailed to Sterling). He considered the work boring, but “preferable to most other forms of wage-slavery.” Plums were next on the agenda, and he believed he’d be paid more for them. A consolation he found for his boredom while working was overhearing the stories of two ex-bartenders who were among the “force.”

Besides notes on his work, one of the best parts of his letters is the exchange of story ideas which he carried on with Lovecraft. In a letter from November of 1930, he asks Lovecraft to verify something for him in the Necronomicon, then launches into an “influx of ghastly and gruesome ideas” which he’s had, which appear in some of his less-known short fiction. The first is “about a man who dies in two different places at the same moment and leaves two corpses! One will have to work in some emotional motive, I suppose—a desire on the part of the man to be in both places.” It will be “The Supernumerary Corpse.”

The second idea he lists is actually a reasonably long and good work, “The Return of the Sorcerer,” which we will cover later on so I shan’t spoil it here. Despite the title, it’s a fairly modern work. The third is a much shorter story of his, published in Strange Stories, which we will almost definitely do in tandem with another short piece.. It…

is about two undertakers, business partners, whom (for temporary convenience) we might call Jake and John. John has a very poor opinion of Jake’s professional abilities, especially as an embalmer, and tells him one day that if he (John) should die before Jake does, and has to be subjected to the latter’s mercies, he will rise up from the dead … Well— John eventually dies, and his partner is about to begin operations on the corpse when John suddenly sits up. Jake drops dead from heart-failure at the shock. …Next morning, two corpses are found laid out in the undertaking establishment; and it is discovered that the corpse of Jake has been perfectly embalmed…

CAS’s reputation as a “sexer” has been established on this podcast—mostly by Phil, I believe, so I thought I would include a few quotes from his letters to women:

To Genevieve K. Sully in 1932:

More meteors last night—perfectly gorgeous ones, which should have punctuated a philosophical conversation between us twain, rather than the voidness of the air. A beautiful meteor would rather emphasize the point that one was making, would it not? And t’would afford a sufficiently brilliant illumination for things not meant to endure the garish glare of day. Well, I hope there will be some suitable evenings for astronomical study when you return. I’d like to be out by the reservoir—or under the magnolia with you to-night—and can at least indulge the luxury of picturing to myself what it would be like, with the young crescent passing early from the sky, and leaving the great arch of the galaxy and all the stars above us in a blamy heaven. Does the picture appeal to thee, by any chance?

As a personal note, I would certainly take Smith up on any offers of late-night stargazing in Auburn in the 1930s. I can only imagine how beautiful it would have been. As for the rest, well…. [cough]

On Lovecraft’s death, Smith wrote this angry paragraph to R.H. Barlow:

What hurts me more than anything else about HPL’s death, is the feeling that he might have lived for many more years with proper recognition, financial recompense, and the nourashing food that his condition must have made doubly imperative. Truly, as you suggest, America has killed her finest artists. And when she hasn’t killed them, she has driven them into exile, as in the cases of Hearn and Bierce. Personally, I am goddamned sick of the killing process (I seem to die hard) and have fully and absolutely made up my mind to quit the hell-bedunged and heaven-bespitted country when my present responsibilities are over. I haven’t any definite plans but will probably gravitate toward the orient. Anyway, I shall remove myself from Auburn, California, and the U.S.A., even if I have to stow away on a tramp steamer.

In a post-script to this letter, he adds that he believes he and Howard would have gotten along quite well, if he hadn’t been “misinformed” as to some of the Texan’s views, which he doesn’t specify. He notes their shared interest in barbarism and inability to live in the city.

Of course, even when his parents died, Smith did not leave the cabin, and, indeed, never left California even after his marriage. But he did stop writing so much and selling his stories. Instead, he devoted himself more to sculpture, everything from ashtrays to idols.

In this last excerpt from his letters, Smith talks in 1949 about the strange way in which sculpture came to be one of his passions.

I began it almost by accident. In 1934, I enjoyed a visit from E. Hoffman Price, who wished to secure some mineral specimens for a museum curator in the East. So Price and I paid a visit to an old copper mine of which my uncle was then part owner. We came back with an auto-load of various rocks, ores and minerals; and from among these I kept a few specimens for myself. After the stuff had been lying around the cabin for a year, it suddenly occurred to me that I might carve something from a lump of it; the result being the head of a hybrid grotesque something between a hyena and a horned toad. I don’t know just how many carvings I have done since; but the total must be climbing toward the 2 hundred mark. I don’t seem able to keep many for myself, since the pieces now sell about as fast as I can make them, or sometimes faster. Some have been shipped as far afield as Hawaii, England, and South Africa.

My sculptures are nearly all cut from solid materials; though I have done some experimental casting (not too successful) in plaster and clay; and have recently modeled one piece, a fountain-figure of Dagon, from potter’s clay. Some of my materials are in the nature of fossils, or technically to be classified as such: that is to say, they are part of a “cast” of mineral matters which still retains the form of an herbiforous dinosaur! The creature was buried in ancient days by volcanic mud, and was exposed long since by the excavation of a local railroad cut. Whatever bones there were have long since been removed. I supposed what is left could be classed as dinosaur steak. Anyway, it winds diagonally upward for 18 or 20 feet in the wall of the cut. Climbing for hunks of it is a rather tricky business, since most of the wall is rotten shale, but recently I secured a fresh supply with the help of some friends. Incidentally, the bowl and mouthpiece of your pipe were cut from these materials, and I shall make your ash-tray from a piece of the same.

All of these letter excerpts come from Arkham House’s Selected Letters collection, which I’ve been using alongside the podcast episodes. This isn’t a paid pitch, but if you’ve found yourself wondering more about Smith’s life as you’ve listened, I recommend it.

Next week, we hope to have a new episode up, as well as our edited clip submission for the Parsec Awards. In other exciting news, we’ll all be at the Necronomicon in Providence at the end of August. No plans to do a live show (yet) but we may be able to set up some sort of Smithian hangout. Once again, if anyone is interested in transcribing even one episode, please let me know! There aren’t a ton, but my hands don’t allow me to do more than 2/week.

For The Double Shadow, this has been Ruth.

Show notes for Interlude #3.