Cold Light First Appearance: Death Angel’s Shadow, Warner Paperback Library, 1973 Translations: German (1979) Italian (1992) (Warning: Sexual assault and suicide are discussed in this episode.)
In this episode, we continued our Dark Crusade through Death Angel’s Shadow with the Kane story “Cold Light.” Jonathan and I were excited to have screenwriter and author Oliver Brackenbury join us for the discussion.
In addition to his writing, Brackenbury is also the host to two separate podcasts — Unknown Worlds of the Merril Collection and So I’m Writing a Novel . . . The latter podcast features author interviews and details Brackenbury’s journey writing his own Sword and Sorcery novel. Late last year, I had the chance to sit down with Brackenbury on his show and discuss Karl Edward Wagner and Kane. The episode was posted this week on his website, which you can find here.
Next episode we’ll finish our coverage of Death Angel’s Shadow with the vampiric tale “Mirage.”
Hosts: Jordan Douglas Smith and Jonathan Gelatt Guest: Oliver Brackenbury Theme Music: F. N. York
We can all help prevent suicide. The Lifeline provides 24/7, free and confidential support for people in distress, prevention and crisis resources for you or your loved ones, and best practices for professionals in the United States.1-800-273-8255
Three for the Road is a companion piece to my article from last year, “Three People is a Movement.” This time, instead of looking at writings about Karl Edward Wagner, I’ll be looking at Wagner as he appears in fiction. Below are three stories from the past ten years that have contained characters loosely based on, or inspired by, Karl Edward Wagner.
“Sweetums” by John Langan
The first of the stories referencing Wagner is “Sweetums” by John Langan. The story originally appeared in the Joseph S. Pulver edited King in Yellow anthology A Season in Carcosa (Miskatonic River Press*). It later appeared in Langan’s fourth collection, Children of the Fang and Other Genealogies (Word Horde).
The tale depicts the horrific journey of an actress as she shows up on the set of an experimental film. Shortly after she arrives, the lines of reality and film blur. As described by Langan in the author’s notes in Children of the Fang, his influences included both Robert Chambers and David Lynch. At one point, during the actress’s mad dash through the set, she stumbles upon a writer sitting at his desk. Cue one Karl Edward Wagner.
“In front of her, a man sat behind a typewriter supported by a card table that quivered as his thick fingers stabbed its keys. The man’s longish hair was more brown than red, unlike the beard that flared from his cheeks, which was practically orange. His broad face was pink, puffy, the blood vessels broken across it mapping a route signposted with empty siblings of the bottle of Jack Daniel’s stationed at the typewriter’s left.”
He is muttering to himself, dropping references to Robert Chambers, Robert E. Howard, Clark Ashton Smith, H. P. Lovecraft, and probably others, as he types furiously at the typewriter. He is seemingly driven mad through the desire to create, but when the protagonist looks at his discarded papers, they are blank.
This scene is just one of many terrifying experiences the actress stumbles upon as she is pursued through the film set of horrors. His Wagner scene proved a nice nod to those writers who came before.
“D T” by Laird Barron
“D T” also originally appeared in A Season in Carcosa. It has since been translated into Spanish and has appeared in the Laird Barron micro-collection A Little Brown Book of Burials (Borderlands Press). The book was number two of the Borderlands Little Book series. Borderlands Press later featured Wagner in number eleven of the series, A Little Ochre Book of Occult Stories.
A Little Brown Book of Burials has become a bit infamous for excluding the last page of “D T” as well as several other errors. Barron was quick to include the missing material in an errata section on his website and, in my opinion, being a classy guy and going above and beyond, wrote this on his blog,
As a thank you and apology to my fans: this winter I will write an original short story to be distributed exclusively as a PDF to those who purchased A Little Brown Book…
Writer’s blog September 28, 2015
In a nutshell, “D T” relates the story of an editor, E, and the last days of her relationship with a Wagneresque author. Following the theme of The King in Yellow, this tale includes the specter of a maddening manuscript in the background. The inclusion of this manuscript is one of the brilliant aspects of this story. I think the original impulse would be to center the story on the manuscript itself. Barron writes a story about the relationship between the editor, the author, and his failing health and career. We receive almost offhanded references to the manuscript as it worms its way in until it is too late, and E is drawn into the horror.
There are multiple clues throughout the story for real-world analogs. Wagner is the author, his agent is Kirby McCauley, and the editor is Ellen Datlow. Obviously, these are based on aspects of these people and are not biographical versions.
Some of the passages that tie the author to Wagner include a six-book fantasy series (Kane), pulp detective stories (Curtiss Stryker), a long-running anthology series as an editor (Year’s Best Horror Stories), and possibly suffering from Lyme disease. He is described as a “Viking biker” and later as “an intimidating mass of muscle beneath the soft pink and gray excess of middle age, a person who was in most ways steadily vanishing from the Earth even as he expanded.”
Barron also nods to several of Wagner’s stories including, “Sticks” (author jokes about a megalith falling on his agent), “Beyond Any Measure” (the problem of doppelgangers), “Neither Brute Nor Human” (fans sucking one’s energy), and “The Last Wolf” (the general state of his career).
References to Ellen Datlow Include the editor’s familiarity with Lovecraft, a love for photography, being the editor of a science/sci-fi magazine owned by a gentleman’s magazine (OMNI and Penthouse), and referring to her as E. I believe the actual relationship between the two is entirely fictional. I once asked Datlow if she knew Wagner, and she responded that she didn’t know him well but remembered seeing him at conventions.
It seems obvious this story is a nod of the cap to Karl Edward Wagner. But what about that title? D T points to Delirium Tremens, a withdrawal from alcohol resulting in shakes and hallucinations. Very fitting for this story. However, D T is also editor slang for Dedicated To. It could be an homage to Datlow, who Barron has frequently worked with as well as Wagner, one of the greatest King in Yellow storytellers and an admitted influence for Barron.
“The Smoke Lodge” by Michael Griffin
The third story, partially influenced by “D T,” is Michael Griffin’s “The Smoke Lodge.” First appearing in Autumn Cthulhu (Lovecraft eZine Press). It was later reprinted in Griffin’s collection The Human Alchemy (Word Horde).
“The Smoke Lodge” is a bittersweet ghost tale of sorts. It tells the story of a group of colleagues and their loved ones who have gathered after a horror convention. After reminiscing about their lost friend Karlring, they decide on a pilgrimage to the secluded smoke lodge.
Thematically the story examines remembrance and the chain of influence we are each a part of. Particular attention is paid to Karlring’s influence on the group, as he was influenced by those who came before. A burned-out beachside restaurant at the beginning reminds us that people and places “might vanish before its [or their] time.”
Karlring, the depiction of Wagner in this story, is a much looser version of Wagner than in the others. The character has more of the mythic feel of Wagner than tying it into physical descriptions or biographical similarities. I reached out to Griffin for confirmation and some insight into the story.
KEW is definitely an inspiration for The Smoke Lodge. In fact the name Edward Karlring is meant to refer to him pretty directly, with “ring” being a reference to the composer Wagner’s famous “Ring cycle.” . . . Where this came about was from a reading at an earlier Necronomicon, where Laird and Joe Pulver were reading together. . . Laird read from “D T” which made an impression on me, and I talked about it afterward with Joe. Joe said something like, “Some day I’ll be gone and at these conventions people will talk about how they knew me, or about my legendary exploits, like they do about KEW now.” I didn’t want to a write a story where Joe was dead, exactly, so I made Joe another character in the story, and made the late, remembered writer friend more like KEW than Joe himself.
Personal correspondence with the author August 24, 2021
It is fitting there is a little of Wagner and Pulver in Karlring. Pulver, who passed in 2020, is a big reason I’m a Wagner fan today. There was good foresight on Pulver’s part. To me, Pulver is forever linked with The King in Yellow mythos. Though I only knew him as a fan, I was able to see him at several conventions, and he always seemed larger than life. Much like Wagner, I think folks will be telling stories about him for years to come.
I wanted to say thanks to Justin Steele for introducing me to the story “D T” all those years ago. I’d also like to thank Michael Griffin for taking the time to answer my questions about his story “The Smoke Lodge.”
Keep your ears peeled for episode 3.5 coming soon! Jonathan and I were joined by screenwriter, author, and podcaster Oliver Brackenbury for a rousing discussion of Wagner’s Kane tale “Cold Light.”
Reflections for the Winter of My Soul First Appearance: Death Angel’s Shadow, Warner Paperback Library, 1973 Translations: German (1979) Italian (1992)
(EPISODE CONTAINS SPOILERS!)
It has been a long time coming, and it is good to be back. This episode is from the vaults, recorded over a year ago! We’ll be bringing you more podcasts and blog posts soon at a sporadic but higher frequency.
Phil Gelatt joined us for this episode and talks all things structure and werewolf. We also have a great reading from Malcolm Mills to get the episode started. Show notes below.
Hosts: Jordan Douglas Smith and Jonathan Gelatt Guest: Phil Gelatt Reader: Malcolm Mills Theme Music: F. N. York
I wanted to bring folks attention to three publications that have come out in the last year that feature articles discussing Karl Edward Wagner. The articles range from memoirs to research and grace the pages of a deluxe periodical, a non-fiction collection by an industry legend, and a souvenir book; all three sources are worth checking out.
Weird Fiction Review No. 10 — “Collecting the Modern Macabre: Karl Edward Wagner’s Carcosa” by Ron Clinton
Wagnerds, do yourself a favor and buy this issue from Centipede Press immediately before it sells out. Oh, wait… All of us Wagner fans already know the pain of Centipede Press selling out of an edition and Weird Fiction Review No. 10 is no exception. The article describes the origin of the press (hey, did you know it’s just called Carcosa and not Carcosa Press?), how each of the four published books came together, and also the reasons the publisher closed shop. Though not flattering to Wagner, Clinton backs up his information about the closing with an interview with David Drake as well as the financial records of Carcosa. Additionally, Clinton sprinkles information throughout on pricing, the different editions, and all you need to know to become a Carcosa collector.
For me, the photos in the article are by themselves worth the price of admission. They feature photos of Wagner working on Carcosa books from his home, and photos of the authors and his partners David Drake and Jim Groce.
This article is a part of Ron Clinton’s “Collecting the Macabre” a column that was previously running in Deadlights Magazine. “Karl Edward Wagner’s Carcosa” marks the first appearance of the column as it moves over to Centipede Press and it’s Weird Fiction Review. Clinton states the purpose of the column is to examine the “post-1975 history of the small-press horror-fiction scene and the influence and enduring values of […] its key players and limited-edition collectibles.” I am eagerly awaiting the next issue to get my hands on his next column.
Providence After Dark and Other Writings by T. E. D. Klein — “The Festival”
“The Festival” was originally published in the Science-Fantasy Correspondent One (1975) edited by Willis Conover and published by Carrollton Clark. The essay was recently reprinted in Providence After Dark (2019) a collection of Klein’s non-fiction writing published within the last year by Hippocampus Press. (Full disclosure, I worked on this book for Hippocampus!)
“The Festival” is a remembrance by Klein of The First World Fantasy Convention held in 1975 at the Holiday Inn in Providence, Rhode Island. That year included Robert Bloch as the guest of honor. Notable for the Dark Crusade audience, Lee Brown Coye received the award for Best Artist; Manly Wade Wellman received the award for Best Collection, Worse Things Waiting (Carcosa, 1973); Stuart David Schiff received the award for best Non-Pro Magazine for Whispers; and Wagner himself was nominated for his short story “Sticks” (Schiff, 1974).
The piece is not about Karl Wagner specifically, but he appears prominently in Klein’s section covering the “New Voices in Fantasy” panel. We get several choice quotes and tidbits from, and about, Wagner, including what inspired his first novel submission and his early influences.
Dominating the microphone with his awshucks, down-home North Carolina delivery, he spoke of his boyhood obsession with The Vault of Horror and similar comics, the reading of which, his parents warned, would warp his mind. “And it did warp my mind!” he reported happily.
Klein p. 90
All told there is perhaps two pages of Wagner material in this essay but if you have any interest in the history of the genre or Lovecraft it’s a great read. Klein mentions listening to recordings of some of the panels he missed. I hope I’m able to track those down someday and get my hands on that audio!
Necronomicon Providence 2019 Souvenir Book— “Literary Journeys with Karl Edward Wagner” by Jordan Douglas Smith
A bit of self promotion, a piece I wrote about Wagner was published in the Necronomicon Providence 2019 Souvenir Book. The unofficial theme of the year was lost treasures, and my piece focused on my personal journey finding the work of Wagner and how reading his work has opened the doors for me to all the writers that he loved and championed.
If you’ve read my columns on his Year’s Best Horror and Echoes of Valor series you’ll recognize a lot of the themes that show up in the piece. It is a call to action to not let great writers disappear and to always keep your doors open to the new generation.
It was a great honor for me to have it included in the book. I’ve been attending the bi-yearly NecronomiCon in Providence, RI since it was relaunched under the leadership of Niels Hobbs in 2013. It’s a wonderful convention and has been a huge influence on me as well as introducing me to tons of amazing writers, readers, and artists. If you have a chance to make it out to the convention in 2021 I highly recommend it.
Back in the saddle again! We’re offering you the conclusion of our coverage of Dark Crusade. Dear listeners, it pains me that I sat on the raw audio of this episode for roughly two months before I had a chance to sit down and assemble everything. Needless to say, we are all doing our best with unforeseen changes nationally and globally. Please, Wagnerds, do not let the nonmaskers know about Wagner’s “The Fourth Seal.” Agreed?
Personally, things are settling to a certain degree and I find myself living within walking distance of Wagner’s papers. As soon as things begin to safely open, I look forward to continuing the work I started researching Karl Edward Wagner at the John Hay Library. In the meantime Jonathan and I expect to be bringing you episodes once a month again through Death Angel’s Shadow.
Everyone please take in the glory of Tom Kidd’s marvelous painting of Kane in battle. For all you sticklers don’t forget Kane was fighting with both hands! This painting wonderfully captures the chaos and brutality of Kane’s fight. If any Wagnerds are thinking about a present to get for their dear podcaster to hang in his Dark Crusade offices the above painting is for sale. Check out the link below.
First published: 1976 Warner Books (“In the Lair of Yslsl” first published in Midnight Sun 1, 1974 edited by Gary Hoppenstand) Nominated: 1977 World Fantasy Award for Best Novel
This month we are bringing you Part 1 of our coverage of Karl Edward Wagner’s Kane novel Dark Crusade. I recently read Fantasy Newsletter numbers 38 and 39, from July and August 1981, that feature a two-issue interview with Wagner. It is a lengthy interview that covers a lot of Wagner’s thoughts on how his career started and his character Kane. Highly recommended.
I can’t state enough how awesome the painting ‘Dark Kingdom’ by Frank Frazetta is. Earlier, Frazetta had painted a cover for the Kane novel Bloodstone and Wagner claims the sales from that book, which allowed him to publish Dark Crusade, were due solely to the cover art. (I would disagree.) Do yourself a favor and look at a high quality version of ‘Dark Kingdom’ here. I love the detail of his crazed eyes looking down at the skeleton below him. It can’t be fear of the dead, is it fear of what he’s wrought? Brilliant.
Thanks for joining us for another episode as Season 3 ramps up. Next month we’ll be coming back with Part 2 of our coverage of Dark Crusade. Till then, stay safe, healthy, and keep those axes sharp!
Hosts: Jordan Douglas Smith and Jonathan Gelatt Theme music: F. N. York
Raven’s Eyrie First Appearance: Chacal #2, Spring 1977 eds. Pat Cadigan and Arnie Fenner
(Warning: Sexual Assault is discussed in this episode)
We are back for season three of The Dark Crusade podcast. Once again I’ll be joined by Jonathan Gelatt as co-host as we delve into the second third of Karl Edward Wagner’s Kane stories. Below are links to some of the things mentioned in this episode. And another special thank you to Charles Edward Williams Jr., Rick McCollum, and Rusty Burke for sharing their story about working on Raven’s Eyrie. Check out the cover and pages 1& 9 below.
As far as different iterations of the story go, we forgot to mention the 1993 abridged audio recording by Sunset Productions read by Roger Zelazny. Yes, THAT Zelazny.
Victor LaValle is the author of seven works of fiction and one comic book. His most recent novel, The Changeling, received the World Fantasy Award, the British World Fantasy Award and the Dragon Award for Best Horror novel, among others. His novella, The Ballad of Black Tom, won the Shirley Jackson Award and was a finalist for the Nubula, Hugo, Bram Stoker and World Fantasy Award among others. It has been translated into nine languages. He lives in New York City with his wife and kids. He teaches at Columbia University.
Molly Tanzer Molly Tanzer is the author of Creatures of Will and Temper, Creatures of Want and Ruin, and the forthcoming Creatures of Charm and Hunger. She is also the author of the weird western Vermilion, which was an io9 and NPR “Best Book” of 2015, and the British Fantasy Award-nominated collection, A Pretty Mouth. Her Mythos fiction exists within those dark absences in Lovecraft’s own work, whether she’s writing about the Asenath Waite as a cheerleader or a Nepali sherpa struck mute by the colour out of space. She lives in Longmont, CO.