the Avram Davidson electronic newsletter

Vol. IV No. 4-5
November 1999-January 2000
ISSN 1089-764X

Henry Wessells, Editor.
Cooper Wessells, Honorary Secretary.

Published bimonthly by whim and fancy for the Avram Davidson
Society.  Contents copyright 2000 The Nutmeg Point District Mail
and assigned to individual contributors.  All rights reserved.

All correspondence to:
Post Office Box 43072, Upper Montclair, NJ 07043-0072


Use this electronym for requests to be added to or dropped
from the mailing list.

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Memories of "AD" as American Author Abroad
                                        by Hugh Leddy

    I met Avram in San Francisco the year after he bought my first sale to Fantasy & Science Fiction. I worked on the Examiner at the time, and we first met in the reporters' bar around the corner at 3rd and Mission. He was a welcome change from everything I was used to . . . drab streets, hurrying pedestrians, angry traffic.  Even though he'd come from the East after leaving his job as the editor of F&SF, he brought with him an air of the exotic, of farflung places and spice-laden voyages sailed from uncharted lands.
    It was his conversation, you see.
    With a few well chosen words he could transport you completely out of the Twentieth Century and back to other places and times. As Richard A. Lupoff put it, in a comment on AD in The Investigations of Avram Davidson:

    "With a mere handful of syllables he could transport a reader to
the deck of an ancient sailing vessel as it plied the waves of the
sun-dappled Mediterranean, to a musty and mysterious little shop
in a shadowy byway of Victorian London, to the Spartan
executive offices or the clattering production line of a modern
corporation.  [...] Avram Davidson transcended the usual
boundaries of categories, and simply told Avram Davidson stories."
    And he told amusing stories besides.
    As it happened, my first wife, Chris, and I, and Grania and Avram all lived in separate residences in the Haight Ashbury and used to get together for story conferences. My daughter, Justine, attended the alternative school where Grania taught and was a playmate of Avram and Grania's son, Ethan.
(That was the year Justine announced she wanted to be Jewish because Ethan at Hannukah got a present every day for eight whole days, and not just one at Christmas!)
    Avram was an undisputed genius when it came to writing luminous prose and doing deft characterization. His plotting skills sometimes deserted him when he was plotting out a novel. Hence the story sessions -- and though he didn't follow any suggestion I ever made, it was still fun to see him discard all our ideas and put together some line that was better in response. Oh, yes -- I also found myself, on picking up one of Avram's latest stories, depicted as a character in the story.
    My alternate persona appeared in F&SF as "Hue" and was described as someone with the "burning eyes of a fanatic." I thought it was funny, even faintly flattering. When I asked, he explained he'd put umlauts over the vowels in that story's cast, but the printer had dropped all of them. I stalked about Grant Avenue in North Beach practicing my burning fanatical look for months after that. Hardly anyone who knew me at that time ever noticed. Chris, who was (and is) the scientist in our motley crew, came up with the one memorable suggestion I still think should have been used somewhere: Plot situation is the usual alternate universe switch, and somehow the central character has to find out he isn't in his old universe; how does he do it? Well, if he knows his basic math and remembers the value of "e" in natural logarithms, he will find he is someplace where that basic value is different. Which, since it is the natural number sequence of our universe, means wherever he is, he ain't here!
    Avram understood the idea but rejected it as too complicated for his average reader to pick up on. I liked it because it was elegant and simple, at least as an idea. Getting it across that way might present some hurdles.
    My next encounter with Avram didn't come until I went down to British Honduras (now Belize) on a visit. He and Dr. Alan Nourse had formed Nourse-Davidson Associates and were doing business at No. 7 Gabourel Lane in Belize (the city) as the Bay of Honduras Trading Co. Avram was the soul of hospitality and loaned my daughter and myself extra rooms at No. 7 to stay while we looked around. I had some half-baked ideas of forming a small business of my own, but basically I was looking for a quiet place to write.
    British Honduras at that time was the right place to do it. Food and shelter were ridiculously cheap. (Later, up in Corazol District which is Spanish-speaking and Mayan, I rented a little nipa palm hut for ten dollars a month with three meals a day thrown in -- and was told by those who knew that I was being outrageously overcharged because I was a "rich American".)
    Belize was and still is, I suspect, a very curious place.
    My first take on it was coming across on the bus from Merida and entering the border through the customs gate. In the midst of the thick Central American "bush" (which means jungle!), one is confronted by veddy British accents diluted at times by an Anglo-Creole twist and one finds oneself scrutinized because you are standing under the serene but imposing portrait of Her Royal Majesty Elizabeth II.
    What a start. For so tiny a country, roughly a hundred and fifty miles long by at most eighty miles wide, it is gigantic inside.
    . . . Curiouser and curiouser, said Alice.
    This is not an illusion, but a direct result of time-distance traveled ratios.
    Getting down to Placencia from Belize via "de ferry" took as long as it would take me to fly today from San Francisco to Alaska, with the stop at Stann Creek taking the place of the half-hour to forty minute layover in Vancouver.
    All in all, it is NOT a place to be in a hurry!
    This relaxes some. Others, the anxious type A personalities, can find it extraordinarily frustrating.
    And the history of how it came to be an outpost of Empire is doubly fascinating, since this very staid and starchy little place was founded by English buccaneers and runaway Negro slaves who combined forces to defeat a Mexican armada sent down to clean them out once and for all --
    It all happened at the last battle of St. George's Cay in 1798. And it must qualify as the wildest naval engagement ever. Since Belize has the world's second largest barrier reef, the deep hulled frigates and men o' war sent by the governor of Yucatan, Arturo O'Neil, could not come in to make effective use of their cannons. Therefore the three thousand marines placed on the flotilla manned long boats and, with muskets strapped to their backs, proceeded to row for shore.
    Not a single boat ever got there.
    Instead they were met by the shallow drafted, nimble boats of the privateers who were lighter gunned but quite capable of blowing rowboats to smithereens. One of the most mobile elements were the flat rafts poled by escaped Blacks. Mounted with a light brass cannon, the raft driven by strong men pushing against the shallow bottom with long poles would get within range and -- BOOM! -- one less longboat.
    The escaped slaves had no love for their former overseers. And they were fighting, not for revenge, but for freedom itself. They had been promised full citizenship for joining in the fight against the Spaniards. The only condition of course was that they and the buccaneers had to win!
    They did . . . And the defeat was so overwhelming that no more military expeditions were ever sent again.
    Since then, Belize has always had a tradition of democratic government under colonial British rule. The question was, could she survive as a very small independent nation?
    With the foresight science fiction authors are famous for, both Nourse and Avram saw that what the new, emerging and eventually fully independent nation would need was a reliable transport system. They started out on a path that eventually would provide it. They purchased a fleet of well boats. Twenty foot, single masted sloops with no deck and most often no motors, either.  They were used everywhere along the coast and on the cayes (small coral islands) to bring in breadfruit and coconuts and bananas and mangoes to market at Belize. And they made good fishing boats as well.
    The sloops were freed from their dependency on favorable winds when they were equipped with props and gas-powered marine engines by the new company's port engineer, an American drifter who owned his own sailboat, a bedroll and a dog. His name was Stringfellow.
    The idea was the boats would bring in produce on a regular basis, more cheaply perhaps and certainly far more reliably than the individual fishermen and farmers who operated on a very-much hit-or-miss, this week maybe, Mon, but next week oh, for sure! schedule.
    The port captain was Captain Johnson, a local ship's master. And believe me, he knew his business!
    Belize (the country now) has, as I said, the world's second largest barrier reef. Out past it, the coast line shelves off steeply enough to justify the "Honduras" in the former colony's name. It is Spanish and means "the depths." Inside the barrier reef, it was  another matter -- average depth is twelve feet. And it is a cookie cutter route of a pattern that changes with the weather; every storm brings silt down on the rivers; wave action eats new channels and the only people that really understand local navigation are those who've done it all their lives.
    Nobody I saw relied on navigational maps, they steered correctly because they knew the waters like the backs of their hands. And most didn't use gas because it was far too expensive.  Anyone who sailed regularly considered maps worse than useless because the waters hadn't been properly charted in decades.  All of which may give the reader  some idea of what Nourse-Davidson Associates was up against. To add another complicating factor, the local populace was scared silly of becoming independent -- with good reason. Guatemala was next door and was making anticipatory salivating noises. It had a huge military machine that needed exercise, and Guatemala, landlocked on the Caribbean side, hankered for a new eastern shoreline.
    Now of course the situation has changed radically for the better. Guatemala has plenty enough troubles internally to pay any attention to little Belize. The British reassured everyone they would still pay close attention to the welfare of their old colony, and would if needed send in troops. Purely as a military exercise, don't you know.
    And the biggest shot in the arm has been the new growth of eco-tours, where tourists pay handsomely to forego all the standard conveniences so they can be close to nature.
    In sum, the two entrepreneurs were quite correct in their future estimate of what Belize would become. They just were slightly off on their calendars. (Another thing science fiction writers have become famous for.)  Instead of three to eight years, it has taken about thirty-plus years to prove
they were right.
    The company went into local sand hauling for cement makers with their converted boats, operating reliably on gas-driven engines.
    It looked at last like they were going to turn a profit --
    Until a young woman named Joy made her appearance. Avram had more than a passing interest in her. But Stringfellow managed to get her off alone with a short cruise on his boat. When they returned, Stringfellow announced he was no longer the company's port engineer, and he and the
young woman named Joy were planning to go off and do some serious traveling together!
    Nobody else at that time was even semiskilled at keeping Bay of Honduras fleet's marine engines running. It proved insurmountable, not because it was itself so serious (someone qualified could have been found and hired eventually) but because it was the final straw in a long dismal string of disappointments.
    It was selfish of Stringfellow to disappear when he was so badly needed. But then, I recalled Capt. Johnson had warned me privately in an outburst of what I mistook at the time as personal animosity, but most certainly was not, when he said:
    "Stringfellow, now, don't you trust him, you be careful alongside dot man, Mistah Hugh -- He be waitin' to humbug people. Dat Stringfellow, he be sly!"
    Oh, yes . . . The punch line to this story?
    The next time I saw the name "Stringfellow" it was as one of the names of the Boss in the Wall -- who is always depicted as sly.
    As Grania Davidson said recently to me, "This is a terrific bit of literary archaeology!"
    The impact of Avram's experiences on his writing is obvious in the Limekiller series. But also, before I left No. 7 Gabourel Lane, he showed me a new manuscript he'd worked on during the course of his last business trip up to the States. (I have always thought he wanted desperately by then to forget the unfamiliar weight of business cares and concentrate on something he really knew how to do well -- in other words, he wanted to get back full time into writing.)
    What I read was utterly and wildly unlike anything any other writer or writers was/were  doing back then. The first chapter was all he wanted to show me. In it, an improbably named character, Vergil, was dodging manticores who lurked in the catacombs under Rome. He was on an urgent mission, and it was imperative he not be observed -- hence the need to travel underground to a place where he was urgently needed!
    I was immediately hooked, of course.
    So, perhaps for us, his readers, Avram's misfortunes with Bay of Honduras Trading Co. were fortunate in the long run after all.

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Grania Davis reports:
    Marco Polo and the Sleeping Beauty by AD and GD is now
available as a Palm Pilot electronic book from
    Boss in the Wall by AD and GD was selected for Best New
Horror 10, edited by Stephen Jones, to be published in the UK and US.
    "The Hills Behind Hollywood High" by AD and GD, was selected for the
Mammoth Book of Seriously Comic Fantasy, edited by Mike Ashley,
to be published in the UK and US.
    "Bumberboom" and "Basilisk" will be published online by Alexandria
Digital Literature at
    "The Ikon of Elijah" will be published by Hayakawa in Japan.

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    Friends, scholars and fans of Avram gathered for a lively hour of discussion and reflection on Sunday 7 November 1999 under the auspices of the 25th World Fantasy Convention. Michael Kandel, the witty and urbane translator and editor, was moderator of a panel that included Jacob Weisman, publisher of Tachyon Publications; critic Gregory Feeley; Henry Wessells; and biographer Eileen Gunn as a welcome write-in addition to the panel. Grania and Steve Davis were among the audience. With a quorum of board members of the Avram Davidson Society on hand, the panel was officially designated the third meeting of the society, the largest to date.
    Michael Kandel introduced two useful metaphors for considering Avram's writings: Krazy Kat and jazz, both of which employ frequent variations on stock elements or well-known idioms; Kandel also noted the importance of Davidson's Jewishness in viewing his work, a theme that was touched upon by Eileen Gunn in her remarks and by Fred Lerner in the audience. The panel discussion covered aspects of Davidson's life and published writings, and also included remarks on the major unpublished items: The Scarlet Fig, the third Vergil novel; and Dragons in the Trees.

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    Mark your calendars for the fourth meeting of the Avram Davidson
Society, tentatively scheduled for Friday 21 April 2000 in New York
City. A new Society publication is planned for the luncheon.
    Further details will be announced in the March District Mail.

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    A short, previously unknown Vergil Magus piece has come to light.
Mike Berro reports purchasing the six-page typescript of "THE NINE
ROSES OF ROME" by Avram Davidson, dated "nov 14/88" at auction.
This item, which begins in lore and legend and then relates what may be
described as a Roman shaggy dog story, is of particular interest because
of its references to Vergil's friend Quint, who figures so prominently in
"Vergil and the Dukos." Also of note are the discussions of the types and
natures of fire, themes that resonate with the two published Vergil novels.

    Your editor has recently acquired a copy of Incest Street, a scarce and
previously unrecorded work of erotica written by Avram Davidson under
the pseudonym Carlton G. Miller. Clifford Scheiner, the specialist bookseller
who located it after several months search, indicated that few of his
colleagues had even heard of Incest Street. Grania Davis acknowledged
Davidson's authorship, remarking, "Avram was no prude. Like many other
science fiction authors at the time, he wrote this piece of erotica because he
needed to pay the rent."
    The title page reads:


All characters and situations
in this story are fictitious


    The title page verso indicates: Copyright 1970 by Publisher's Export
Co., Inc., 6055 Fairmont Ave., San Diego, Calif. 92120.  Paperback,
with spine marked PEC 2.25 Incest Street by Carlton Miller N-187.
    A brief epigram from Dwight D. Eisenhower opens the novel; one other
passage may be quoted here:
If Mae had not discovered a crack in the left hind leg of her
writing table at eight o'clock that Saturday morning; if Jacky at
eight-fifteen had not decided to take up the hem of her
brown-and-yellow hopsacking skirt; if Anne Tomlins had not
come to the conclusion about half-past eight that she had to get
the hell out of the house; if Jeremy had not wanted a glass of
orange juice at nine, then the whole history of the world would
have been different. (52)
    Your editor will leave it to some other Davidson scholar to catalogue
the variations on a theme that this novel presents in the course of its pages.
                                                    -- Henry Wessells

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The URL of the Avram Davidson Website is:

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With the next issue, to be published in March, The Nutmeg Point
District Mail will resume regular bimonthly frequency. Your editor
invites contributions on any topic pertaining to the life and work of
Avram Davidson.

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