Efter jeg læste Davis Drakes lille essay (se sidste indlæg) om hans oplevelse af den første World Fantasy Convention i Providence i 1975, slog det mig, at det ville være spændende at høre hans tanker om dette essay i dag. Jeg spurgte derfor Dave, om han ikke ville genlæse teksten og måske fortælle lidt om tiden og hans syn på oplevelserne set med nutidens briller. Det sagde han heldigvis ja til, og det er der kommet en ganske fascinerende beretning ud af. Et stykke underholdende personhistorie, som jeg er ganske sikker på, at I vil sætte pris på. Jeg sluger i hvert fald den slags fortællinger råt. Jeg giver derfor her ordet videre til fantasy/SF/horror-forfatteren og redaktøren David Drake, som tager os ved hånden og fører os med tilbage til Providence anno ’75.
[David Drake] I hadn’t read that essay in forty years, to the best of my knowledge. I did a better job than I was afraid I’d find that I had.
First, this [The World Fantasy Convention] was my second convention and my first, the 1974 Worldcon (DisCon II) had been a very difficult time for me. I would not have come to another convention except that my agent, Kirby McCauley, wrote that he was starting a completely different sort of con and I had to come. Second, I returned from Viet Nam and the army in 1971. I had resumed and graduated from Duke law school, but I was very screwed up in 1975 as well as being a newbie writer. All this colored my perceptions.
[Martin] Very screwed up?
Ah. I was drafted out of law school and sent to Viet Nam (and Cambodia, as it chanced) as an interrogator with a crack armored unit, the 11th Armored Cavalry. I was extremely angry at the world (and myself) when I returned. America wasn’t kind to Nam vets, which added insult to injury. I wasn’t on drugs or booze. I wasn’t doing anything that would reduce my self control. But I was dangerously angry and occasionally carried a gun. (Not at WFC.)
What was your situation as a writer at that stage?
I was a hobbyist as a writer. I expected to continue working as a lawyer for the rest of my life.
Had you met any of the young or old authors before going to the con?
Manly Wade Wellman, whom I’d read since I was 13, and Karl Wagner lived in the NC
Triangle. The three of us had become friends and were Kirby’s clients. Both were going to WFC. Karl was trying to make it as a full-time writer; Manly was a former Weird Tales mainstay and professional writer who was edging back from mainstream into the fantasy market, at least partly because Karl and I were working in it.
I’d been a correspondent of Ramsey Campbell ever since I sent him a fan letter (Aerogram back then) when I read his Demons by Daylight. He was visiting the Triangle ahead of WFC. My wife and I drove him from the Triangle to Providence (and he crashed the last night in our room).
I should mention that none of us had much money. It was a hell of a long drive, and Ramsey had to have the passenger side seat of our 1965 Mustang because he got carsick. The back seat didn’t have much room at all.
What moments from the con spring to mind when thinking back on the event today?
I remember with particular vividness two incidents:
The first night of the con my wife and I had gone down into the lobby, wondering what we would do for dinner (and remember what I said about not having much money). We saw the Wellmans, Manly and Frances, in the same state. And as we were discussing possibilities, another group exited the elevators and the Wellmans saw the deCamps for the first time in over 20 years. They greeted one another with enthusiasm and decided that whatever they’d fought about decades before was dead and buried now.
The deCamps were with a group including Forry Ackerman and had a table in the hotel restaurant. They invited us to join them for a delightful, social dinner.
The one aspect of the wide-ranging discussions that I remember was that another of the folks in the deCamp group (I don’t think I ever knew his name) mentioned seeing a porn novel under something fairly close to Sprague’s name. Sprague shrugged and said it wasn’t him; there was general discussion with a consensus among the pros that it was probably by Sam Merwin. At the end of the dinner, however, Forry offered Sprague a list of his books slightly modified to become porn titles. They were hilarious, but I don’t remember a single one.
The other vivid recollection occurred the next night. I mentioned two conventions in the hotel. There was actually a third, of severely handicapped people. I was standing on the mezzanine balcony overlooking the lobby–I believe Charlie Grant was with me–when a group of handicapped people entered from outside in a long conga line (I believe the European term is ‘crocodile’). Literally, the halt leading the blind–staggering, and holding on to one another to avoid being lost. This was a genuinely spooky experience.
Have you read Joseph Payne Brennan’s and Donald M. Grant’s Act of Providence from 1979? The action in this novel takes place during the World Fantasy Convention and, though with comic exaggeration, gives a certain sense of the ’70-ish looseness of the whole thing. How would you describe the atmosphere?
I haven’t read Act of Providence, but looseness and all-round collegiality is certainly the impression I recall. There weren’t many people–a few hundred I believe, but I don’t think I ever saw official attendance figures. Fantasy wasn’t big business then and horror certainly wasn’t. Kirby got Stephen King as a client at about that time and it was very much off to the races for the whole field.
Seen from today the Con seems to have been driven by a whole lot of pioneer spirit. I guess this feeling has been lost over the years where things have become much more professional. How would you describe the changes in the convention culture from then to now? … A big question, sorry!
The change isn’t bad–I’ve been a full-time writer since 1981 and I’m very pleased with my writing income–but there was good stuff before the money came. I frequently miss things that the field had back then.
But partly what I miss is the opportunity to interact with people who were alive forty years ago. Now I’m an old timer, which flabbergasts me. I recall Ed Price (in 1973; he wasn’t at WFC) saying, “This is the hand that shook the hand of HP Lovecraft!” and shaking my hand.
I knew Ed and Manly and Sprague and lots of other people. I learned a lot from them, but they were friends rather than mentors: at the time I knew them, I wasn’t a serious writer and I didn’t know nearly as much about the pulp world as I’ve learned since. I could have learned much more when they were alive–and didn’t. I didn’t take the opportunity to chat with H. Warner Munn when I saw him walking around with a young woman, because I knew him only from two grand guignol stories–excellent but not to my taste–and not his remarkably imaginative King of the World’s Edge.
So I regret lost opportunities, but that was my own fault rather than the change to regimented professionalism. I will say that the guy I was in 1975 couldn’t have afforded to go to a con of the sort that WFC has become; and I would have been poorer by many memories.
Since then you have done quite a lot of work and made a name for yourself as an author and editor. Did any contacts at the con further your career?
I didn’t go to the con to make contacts–remember, I wasn’t a professional writer. The folks who were there and became important to my early career (Kirby and Stu Schiff in particular) were people I already knew and were instrumental in my coming to the con. It was a wonderful experience for a fantasy reader, though.
What are you working on at the moment? What to expect next from your hand?
Right now I’m finish the rough draft of an attempt to turn the Matter of Britain (that is, King Arthur) into a space opera for Tor. This is challenging; but if you don’t push yourself, you rot.
Thanks for sharing these stories with us Dave and the best of luck with your future endeavors. Never rot!