the Avram Davidson electronic newsletter

Vol. IX No. 1

8 May 2004

ISSN 1089-764X

Published more or less bimonthly by whim and fancy for the Avram Davidson Society.
Contents copyright 2004 The Nutmeg Point District Mail and assigned
to individual contributors. All rights reserved.

Henry Wessells, Editor.
Cooper Wessells, Honorary Secretary.

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. Back issues are archived at the Avram Davidson Website,


+ + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + +


RELEASE DATE : 8 May 2004

Avram Davidson's final Vergil Magus novel, THE SCARLET FIG;
will be published
in November 2004 by the Rose Press.

The novel continues the adventures of the wandering mage through an alternate
ancient world filled with exotic landscapes, populated by creatures of myth
and legend. Filled with Davidson's sparkling wit, arcane erudition, and
vivid imagination, THE SCARLET FIG is the capstone to Davidson's
acclaimed sequence of novels (The Phoenix and the Mirror
and Vergil in Averno), short stories (including "Vergil and the Dukos: Hic
Inclusus Vitam Perdit, or The Imitations of the King"), and
The Notebooks of Vergil Magus.

The manuscript has been edited by Grania Davis and Henry Wessells and will
include afterwords by the editors, an appendix including facsimiles of cards
from the Encyclopaedia of Vergil Magus that Avram Davidson compiled
during the three decades he worked on the Vergil cycle, and More.

The Rose Press is a specialist publisher of fine science fiction and imaginative
literature in finely crafted limited editions. THE SCARLET FIG will
be limited to 550 individually numbered copies with quality hardcover
binding and pictorial endpapers. Copies can be reserved in advance by email

Further details will be published in the District Mail as they become

+ + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + +


LIMEKILLER by Avram Davidson, collects all six of the Jack Limekiller
stories, was published at World Fantasy Convention 2003 by OLD EARTH

Limekiller, edited by Grania Davis and Henry Wessells, with
introductions by Lucius Shepard and Peter S. Beagle, is a long-awaited
wonder and, in Jonathan Strahan's words, "THE book event of the year."

"It's been a sadder world since Avram left. But the publication of a new
Davidson collection turns the sun on for awhile. The Limekiller stuff is
prime Avram"
      --  Harlan Ellison

"Avram Davidson's 'Limekiller' stories, filled with high-intensity language
and a rainbow imagination, show him at his exotic best. If this is a
rediscovery, we hope for more like it."
      --  Lloyd Alexander

"What I myself love most about Davidson is his prose, conversational,
digressive, stippled with archaisms and odd learning. Yet this restless
voice -- a style with a kind of attention deficit disorder -- can also mimic
every sort of speech. In "Bloody Man", for instance, Davidson dazzles by
offering a half-dozen different registers of English, from the high-tone
British university diction of an archbishop to the Caribbean inflected slang
of the black Baymen -- and he gets them all down perfectly in a strange tale
about a wounded ghost in need of benediction. There are five other stories
here, equally idiosyncratic and unforgettable, including the spooky,
wonderfully titled "Manatee Gal, Won't You Come Out Tonight?"
      --  Michael Dirda, Washington Post Book World, 7 December 2003

"The strange adventures of Jack Limekiller . . . must rank among the best short
fantasies written by anyone in the last ten to fifteen years."
-- Gardner Dozois

Contents :
Introductions by Lucius Shepard and Peter S. Beagle
"Bloody Man"
"There Beneath the Silky Tree and Whelmed in Deeper Gulphs Than Me"
"Manatee Gal, Won't You Come Out Tonight"
"Sleep Well of Nights"
"Limekiller at Large"
"A Far Countrie"

Also included is "Along the Lower Moho (The Iguana Church),"a selection from
Dragons in the Trees, Davidson's narrative of his travels in British
Honduras, and memoirs by Grania Davis and Ethan Davidson.

The tropical paradise where Avram Davidson lived and wrote in the 1960s no
longer exists in our world, but, as Lucius Shepard writes in his introduction,
"That place and time resides here in this little book,complete with dialects,
recipes, shanties, magic, duppies, pirates, drunkards, tapirs, manatees,
pretty girls, a hero or two, and, of course, ghosts. Open its covers and and
a mist will boil forth, swirling, many-colored, to surround you -- a mist
rife with a myriad distinct voices, bursts of idiosyncratic speech,
fragments of all-but-forgotten lore, a strange druggy perfume compounded of
the smells of shandygaff, jacaranda, brine, palm oil, gasoline fumes,
creosote, orange grove . . ."

Also reviewed in the print edition of Rain Taxi (Vol. 8 No. 4, Winter
2003/2004); by Paul Di Filippo in SFWeekly no. 348; and by Jonathan Strahan in
Locus magazine (November 2003).

Limekiller by Avram Davidson, edited by Grania Davis and Henry Wessells.
8vo, xx, 290 pp., $30.00. ISBN 1-882968-28-3. Old Earth Books (P.O. Box
19951, Baltimore, MD 21211-0951,

Order from OLD EARTH BOOKS' fullfilment company, Pathway Book Service,

+ + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + +



by Gregory Feeley

A first glance at the record suggests an easy answer: Avram Davidson published
seven novels between 1964 and 1966 (plus contributing to two Ellery Queen
mysteries), then none for the next three years. The 1969 appearance of
The Phoenix and the Mirror, manifestly the product of more considered
and exacting labor than even the liveliest of Davidson's science-fiction
adventures, represents work of a different order. Although Davidson has
spoken of the work's long gestation (James Blish recalls Davidson speaking
of the novel at a Milford conference in 1960, and when I asked Davidson in
1971 how long he had spent writing the novel, he replied, "About ten
years"), it seems natural to conclude that Davidson composed the greater
part of the novel in the period after his brief heyday as a commercial genre

The 1966 magazine publication of The Phoenix and the Mirror, however,
presents an insurmountable objection to this tidy assumption. Published in
a single issue of Amazing Stories (May 1966), "The Phoenix and the
Mirror" is not a fragment of the novel but a condensation of it, based not
on an early draft but upon the text as Doubleday published it three years
later. Looking at the magazine version, it is impossible not to conclude
that Davidson's novel was complete when the magazine went to press.

Amazing Stories was not a major SF market in the mid-sixties; any story
published there (let alone one by a well-known writer) would almost
certainly have been offered first to F&SF and Galaxy,
especially in the case of Davidson (who had published regularly in both).
Allowing time for those editors to have been offered the manuscript pushes
its likely completion date well back into 1965.

Had Davidson completed The Phoenix and the Mirror in the first half of
the sixties? This conclusion raises a number of questions: Why did
Doubleday publish it only in 1969? When did Davidson (who published three
books in 1962, as well as editing F&SF between 1962 and 1964) write
the novel? And what drove him, after completing a work of such literary
polish (not to mention artistic power) to proceed to write a series of
novels for Pyramid, Berkeley, and Ace whose glib facility seems to run
against the grain of his talent?

A good answer exists for the first question: there exists a good deal of
documentary evidence that Doubleday had such a backlog of science fiction
novels in inventory in the late 1960s that many of them waited several years
for publication. Poul Anderson's 1970 Doubleday novel Tau Zero had
been serialized in Galaxy in 1967; Roger Zelazny's 1970 Nine Princes in
seems to have been largely complete by 1967; James Blish's novel
. . .And All the Stars a Stage, though published by Doubleday in 1971,
had been completed years earlier (a magazine serial appeared as early
as 1960) and was evidently been bought in a multi-book deal that included
the 1967 A Torrent of Faces. Lawrence Sutin's biography of Philip K.
Dick makes clear that such Doubleday novels as Ubik (1969) and A
Maze of Death
(1970) had been written (and presumably sold) years prior
to publication.

The final page of The Phoenix and the Mirror lists its places of
composition: Milford, Pennsylvania; Amecameca, Mexico; Belize, British
Honduras. According to biographical sources (see Eileen Gunn, "Avram
Davidson: Water from a Deep Well" and Henry Wessells, "Something Rich and
Strange"), Davidson moved to Milford around the end of 1962, took his family
to Mexico in mid-1963, and visited Honduras in December 1965, where he spent
most of the following year, later returning for a few months in mid-1968.
In a personal communication (inscription in GF's copy of The Phoenix
and the Mirror,
December 4, 1987), he described reading the galleys for
Phoenix, urgently required by Doubleday, during his last days in
Belize, which is consistent with the book going into production in 1968.

These data converge to offer a coherent picture: Davidson conceiving his series
about Vergil Magus at the beginning of the sixties, and composing The
Phoenix and the Mirror
between 1963 and 1965. This coincides, very
surprisingly, with the period in which he was writing his paperback novels,
ghost-writing for Ellery Queen, and editing F&SF. It seems a
tremendous workload for a man whose wife had recently given birth to their
son and who was often traveling. But to push the completion date for the
novel into those temptingly empty-looking years that immediately followed
(during which Davidson published no novels but was evidently working on
Dragons in the Trees and Dear Annie Vandergale) is to run
aground on other problems.

Davidson scholars have always been vague on the composition of The Phoenix
and the Mirror
; Gunn describes Phoenix as "begun in the early
1960s," while Wessells claims that Davidson embarked on the Vergil Magus
project "in the middle 1960s." Documentation (such as, say, agent's records
regarding payment of the Doubleday advance) may establish a firm terminus
ad quem
for the novel. In the meantime, we shall have to be content
with the conclusion, surprising as it seems, that Davidson wrote most of the
novel in Mexico, during what was already the busiest period of his
professional life.

Biographer EILEEN GUNN looks into Davidson archives :

As with many things Avramesque, an apparently simple question such as
"When did Avram write The Phoenix and the Mirror?" leads to subterranean
caverns and unanticipated terrors.

As Greg theorizes, the book was probably finished by 1965, in order to have
been condensed for magazine publication in 1966. From correspondence
between agent Virginia Kidd and Avram, dated July 27, 1967, it seems clear
that the Scott Meredith Literary Agency (Avram's agent before
Virginia) had previously sold The Phoenix and the Mirror to Berkeley,
and that, for reasons not evident from that letter, Doubleday had offered
to buy the rights from Berkeley. (Avram was seeking to cut all ties with
SMLA, and that was his motivation, but I am not completely clear on
Doubleday's motivation. Doubleday did very much want the book, and was
willing to loan Avram the money to buy it back from Berkeley.)

More discussion of Phoenix turned up in later letters from 1968 -- Avram
did a revise while in British Honduras (1967-68), in order (variously) to
have a clean manuscript (as it apparently was in poor condition after
bouncing around several publishers), to add 20,000 words, and to change a
hunting scene and some other aspects that he and Virginia and possibly
even Doubleday deemed too similar to T. H. White's The Once and Future
. I haven't found any actual letter in which changes are requested by
Larry Ashmead at Doubleday, but Avram was enthusiastic about making the changes.

As far as what Avram decided at that time to do with his writing, he said,
in a letter to Virginia Kidd dated June 3, 1967, that the previous six
months had been the worst time (for rejection slips) that he had
experienced since he'd emerged as a professional writer. Quoting Phil
Klass, he said that no longer going was going to "Starve for Art in the
Pulps." Avram planned to concentrate on SF novellas on, as he put
it, "Archetypal Themes with Archetypal Characters, -- the old time religion,
in other words." He says specifically that this is because Ultimate
Publications, which owned Amazing, wanted that kind of material and
treated him with courtesy. In that letter, he acknowledged, somewhat
obliquely, that his troubles could at least partly be attributed to his own
personal difficulties and to conflicts between himself and "several agents
and publishers." And from that sentence, the tentacles reach forward and
backward in time. . . .

Note: I am very grateful to the Estate of Virginia Kidd, and to the late
Jim Allen, for access to Virginia's correspondence with Avram.

+ + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + +


If ever a man deserved to live out his years in the shade of a
Great Library, that man was Avram Davidson. What did he find instead?
Bremerton, WA (Samuel Butler sang, famously, "O God! O Montreal!" Had
he but seen Bremerton!), and a series of V.A. facilities -- if that
last word does not make the phrase something like the ultimate
oxymoron. Well, I look about me here in Beautiful Downtown Richard
(LA), and in truth there is nothing like a Great Library here either.
There is the tomb of an uncanonized saint, Charlene Richard (her mother
won't let them dig up the remains for canonization -- "What if the body
should be corrupt? All those good people would be so disappointed."
This does not discourage the pilgrims who come from all over the world
for healing: they know a saint when they find one!), a fire station, a
machine shop, a few crawfish ponds. No crime, though. I haven't locked
my door in more than a year.

A decade further along, I too have the congestive heart failure
from which Avram and his old friend Alan Nourse alike suffered. No
diabetes, though, and no strokes. But I begin to grasp why, in the end,
he lost his interest in living. Too much that is still permitted me is
still fun as yet, but I have been close enough to the dividing line
that Crossing The Bar affords me no fears.

Henry Wessells tells me he is devoting a few lines to the subject
of Avram and Walking. When we met, finally, the man's walks were
restricted to those which could be undertaken with a walker: typically
-- and with terrifying slowness -- across a down-town Bellingham
street to the Greek restaurant which was our destination. (He
pronounced the avgholimono soup too salty. I did not think so then, but
I should undoubtedly now, when, for me, essentially no salt is

This note started with the notion of a Great Library. What Avram
had instead was a remarkable memory, copious notes -- for which he
never quite devised a totally satisfactory filing system -- and such
books as chanced to float in on the tide. This left him often with such
faults as a man can incur when his sources of information are
secondary, insufficient or corrupt.

"Senso morale 95 % all writing : author wants $$$" said Ezra Pound
in 1957. This was Avram's problem as an author: had he not depended
upon his writing to furnish him a living -- a damned meagre one, too --
he might have been able to direct his efforts toward that c™terie
audience which was beginning to coalesce about him in his very last
years, as the names of Guy Davenport and the poet David Gordon will
attest, and thus secured such esteem as might have served him better in
the end than a bibliography full of pot-boilers. Maybe not, though.
Without the spur of necessity he might not have written those things
for which we now honour his name: or more importantly, learned HOW to
write them. It is an impossible call. But it seems too horrifying to
think that no matter how he ordered his life he was fated to the
suffering which came his way.

+ + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + +

At this writing, the editor of the District Mail must perforce abandon
any attempt to apologize for the long silence between issues. Only the
recent appearance of Limekiller and the forthcoming Scarlet
can offer mitigating testimony on his behalf. And also the
collection of short stories, Another green world, now available from
Temporary Culture, P.O. Box 43072, Upper Montclair, NJ 07043, For additional details, go to

The District Mail will remain an (irregular) bimonthly, and its editor
will strive to uphold that intended frequency. The promised article,
"DISORIENTATION & UNDERSTANDING : Walking, Labyrinths, and
Place in the Writings of Avram Davidson," will appear in a future issue.

Please note : Volume VIII (for 2003-2004) was not published.

+ + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + +

Next Issue Date : July 2004

The editor of The Nutmeg Point District Mail invites contributions on any
topic pertaining to the life and work of Avram Davidson.

+ + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + +