pausing to take note of history

Little, Big 40th Anniversary Edition

As you can see, I have received my long-awaited 40th Anniversary Edition of John Crowley’s Little, Big. When I originally placed the order for it back in 2005, it was known as the 25th Anniversary Edition, but then, complications ensued, and for a while it was touch-and-go as to whether it would ever materialize.

It was worth the wait. The finished book is a work of art that my Android phone photos can’t hope to do justice to. For a closer look at the interior, there’s a pdf of the first chapter on the Little, Big website, here. The illustrations are by Peter Milton, whose website and portfolio can be found here.

If you’d like to get a copy for yourself, you’re in luck—though the lettered and numbered editions sold out long ago, unsigned trade editions are still available here.

And even if you have no interest in a collector’s edition, I would absolutely recommend checking out the novel, in whatever format you can get your hands on. Crowley is an enormously gifted storyteller who has been a huge influence on my own writing, and Little, Big, the book that introduced me to him, remains one of his finest works.

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2023: last word

Thirty-three years ago, I began writing what would become my second published novel, Sewer, Gas & Electric, a science-fiction satire of Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged set in 2023.

At the time, 2023 seemed ridiculously far in the future—but not so far that I couldn’t reasonably expect to live to see it. Indeed, that was part of the fun, imagining Older Me comparing SG&E’s fictional future with the future that actually came to pass. And while one of the many things Younger Me failed to anticipate was the invention of blogging, if he had known about it, Younger Me would absolutely have said, “Yes—when the milestone year finally arrives, Older Me will reread the novel and write a comprehensive blog post about it!”

…and, well, I really did mean to do that, but as happens more and more frequently these days, time got away from me.

So before 2023 becomes history, let me at least mark the milestone by giving a shout-out to Younger Me way back there in 1990. You were right, man: It was an altogether different year.

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In which I cross a very old item off my bucket list

The black comedy Arnold, directed by Georg Fenady, was released in 1973, when I was just eight years old. I still vividly recall the TV commercials for it. They featured a number of the film’s more gruesome murders and put Arnold on the list of ’70s horror flicks whose advertising campaigns made me afraid to close my eyes at night—a list that also included Suspiria, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Phantasm, and The House That Dripped Blood (whose title alone was enough to inspire nightmares).

Once I’d gotten a little older and become a full-fledged horror fan, I of course made a point of going back and watching all those movies. The sole exception was Arnold. Though it did get a VHS release, I never came it across it in a video store, and it’s one of the many films of that era that didn’t make the leap to streaming. But recently I discovered that someone had uploaded a copy of the full movie to YouTube, and last week I finally crossed it off my bucket list.

The Arnold of the title is Lord Arnold Dwellyn (Norman Stuart), recently deceased. The movie opens not with a funeral, but a wedding. As his lawyer helpfully explains, Arnold’s death has made his wife (Shani Wallis) a widow, thus freeing the dead man to marry his mistress, Karen (Stella Stevens). The ceremony is held in the chapel of the Dwellyn family cemetery, with the minister (Victor Buono) drinking his way through the vows to help cope with his shame at being a part of this.

After the “I do’s,” the members of the wedding party return to Dwellyn manor for the reading of the will. Arnold has left a recording of the text, which is played back on the tape machine installed in the side of his casket. The widow gets to keep her title and her Rolls Royce, but not much else. Arnold’s devoted sister (Elsa Lanchester) gets a small monthly pension, while his ne’er-do-well brother (Roddy McDowall) gets nothing. The bulk of the estate, including “an enormous hoard of cash… the location of which I shall reveal in the near future,” goes to Karen, on condition that she “keep me with you, always, just as you see me now, for as long as you shall live.”

Nobody is happy with this—least of all Karen, who has no intention of spending the rest of her days shacked up with a corpse. But Arnold is (or was) a master at predicting other people’s behavior, and as Karen and the rest of the cast hunt for the aforementioned hoard of cash, they start getting killed off, their deaths accompanied by Arnold’s pre-recorded taunts.

It’s an enjoyably demented mix of comedy and suspense, and while the horror elements are tame by my current standards, I can see how my younger self would have been creeped out. But the real reason I’m glad I waited to see Arnold is that the adult nature of the humor would have gone completely over my head back then.

If you’d like to check out Arnold for yourself, but don’t feel like wading through dozens of Schwarzenegger videos on YouTube to find it, there’s good news: I just found out that a new Blu-ray edition of the film is being released on Halloween. Fingers crossed that a digital release won’t be far behind.

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RIP TweetDeck (2008-2023)

Yesterday afternoon I was messing around on TweetDeck when the screen refreshed and the dashboard was replaced by an invitation to subscribe to Twitter’s Premium service. TweetDeck, rebranded as “X Pro,” is now paywalled.

It wasn’t a huge surprise. Elon Musk announced last month that he was going to do this, but I had hoped that, as with his long-promised Mars colony, the deadline might get pushed back. I guess he needs the money.

The irony here is that TweetDeck is something I actually would have been willing to pay for, once upon a time. The ability to monitor multiple Twitter streams simultaneously is very useful, especially when I’ve got a new book out. But if I’m going to pay for something I’m used to getting for free, at a bare minimum I want it to work as well as it always has, and ideally the paid version would come with significant improvements. Instead TweetDeck, like Twitter generally, has gotten worse since Musk took over, and I see no reason to believe that that will change. It’s like being offered a chance to upgrade my cabin on the Hindenburg.

Oh well. It’s Musk’s site, he can do what he wants with it, and I remain morbidly fascinated by the ongoing apocalypse that was Twitter. But I will miss TweetDeck. RIP.

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Twenty-five years

It’s hard to believe, but today is our twenty-fifth wedding anniversary.

Our wedding day was hilariously inauspicious. Lisa and I both had terrible sinus infections that made it hard to sleep the night before, and just to make things more interesting, my mother-in-law, who was more stressed about the event than we were, decided to work out her anxiety by vacuuming the house at 5 AM.

The weather was also against us. We got married in Bradley Beach, NJ, and the ceremony was supposed to take place on the actual beach, but it was raining heavily when we got there and the wind was driving the rain sideways, so the gazebo we’d reserved for the wedding didn’t offer any shelter. We scouted the town for alternate venues, and came up with two possibilities: the Bradley Beach laundromat, and the train station.

We opted for the train station. It was an open platform, but the roof was broad enough to keep the rain off us while we said our vows. Then, while I was kissing the bride, a commuter train arrived, horn blasting.

Even at the time, I recognized that in hindsight, this would make a much better wedding story than if everything had gone off without a hitch—and I also knew that, in the one way that truly mattered, it was the luckiest day of my life.

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RIP James Turner

Yesterday I received the sad news that Dr. James Turner, the founding director of Cornell University’s Africana Studies and Research Center, has died.

I had the good fortune to be Professor Turner’s student when I was at Cornell in the 1980s. He was a warm, wise, and engaging teacher who changed the way I thought about the world, and our classroom discussions would, a quarter century later, help inform the writing of Lovecraft Country.

Over the years, I’ve met other former students of Dr. Turner—like Victor LaValle, the author of The Ballad of Black Tom—and they all had the same impression I did. Everyone has a list of of teachers and mentors who made a real difference in their life, and if you were lucky enough to know James Turner, he was on that list. My sadness at his passing is tempered by the knowledge that this is a man who truly made good use of his time on earth.

Godspeed, Professor Turner. Thanks for the lessons.

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James William Loewen (1942-2021)

Professor James W. Loewen, the author of Sundown Towns, has died at the age of 79.

I was introduced to Loewen’s work through his 1995 bestseller Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong. But it was Sundown Towns, Loewen’s history of whites-only communities in America, that had the biggest personal impact on me, serving as both an inspiration and an important research source for Lovecraft Country. A new edition of Sundown Towns was released in 2018, and if you haven’t already done so, I highly recommend checking it out.

You can read more about Professor Loewen’s life and work in his New York Times obituary.

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I’m not sure how I got invited to this party

To celebrate Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry’s 100th birthday, Roddenberry Entertainment invited a hundred former and current cast members, other celebrities, and “notable fans” to record themselves quoting Gene Roddenberry. While I definitely qualify as a fan, I would not have thought of myself as “notable”—but there I am, somehow, in the same lineup as Gloria Gaynor, Tim Russ, Whoopi freaking Goldberg, Julie Benz, Ronny Cox, and Paul Sorvino.

The full gallery of party guests is here. You can watch me recite my quote here. (The quote was chosen for me by Roddenberry’s people, but assuming Lovecraft Country is the reason I ended up on the guest list, I can see why they picked it.)

Happy Birthday, Gene!

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Lovecraft Country earns 18 Emmy nominations

Per the official Emmys website (complete nominations list):

Outstanding Drama Series — Lovecraft Country

Outstanding Writing for a Drama Series — Misha Green for episode 1, “Sundown”

Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series — Jonathan Majors as Atticus Freeman

Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series — Jurnee Smollett as Letitia “Leti” Lewis

Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series — Michael K. Williams as Montrose Freeman

Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series — Aunjanue Ellis as Hippolyta Freeman

Outstanding Guest Actor in a Drama Series — Courtney B. Vance as George Freeman for episode 2, “Whitey’s on the Moon”

Outstanding Casting for a Drama Series — Kim Taylor Coleman & Meagan Lewis

Outstanding Cinematography for a Single-Camera Series (One Hour) — Tat Radcliffe for episode 1, “Sundown”

Outstanding Fantasy/Sci-Fi Costumes — Dayna Pink, Zachary Sheets & Terry Anderson for episode 7, “I Am.”

Outstanding Main Title Design — Patrick Clair, Raoul Marks & Ken Taylor

Outstanding Prosthetic Makeup — J. Anthony Kosar & Anna Cali for episode 1, “Sundown”

Outstanding Music Composition for a Series (Original Dramatic Score) — Laura Karpman & Raphael Saadiq for episode 9, “Rewind 1921”

Outstanding Music Supervision — Liza Richardson for episode 5, “Strange Case”

Outstanding Sound Editing for a Comedy or Drama Series (One Hour) — Tim Kimmel, John Matter, Paula Fairfield, Bradley Katona, Brett Voss, Jeff Lingle, Jason Lingle, Jeffrey Wilhoit & Dylan Tuomy-Wilhoit for episode 1, “Sundown”

Outstanding Sound Mixing for a Comedy or Drama Series (One Hour) — Marc Fishman, Mathew Waters & Amanda Beggs for episode 1, “Sundown”

Outstanding Special Visual Effects in a Season or a Movie — Kevin Blank, Robin Griffin, François Dumoulin, Pietro Ponti, Grant Walker, J.D. Schwalm, Robert C. Rhodes, Kevin McAllister & Paige Prokop

Outstanding Stunt Performance — Janeshia Adams-Ginyard for episode 7, “I Am.”

* * *

Congratulations all around, and best of luck on awards night!

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One hundred years ago today

Today marks the hundredth anniversary of the invasion and burning of the Greenwood neighborhood of Tulsa, Oklahoma by an army of white citizens who had been frustrated in their attempt to lynch a black man the night before. By the time state troops arrived to quell the violence, hundreds of people were dead or wounded, and 35 square blocks of the formerly prosperous black neighborhood had been destroyed by arson.

I have a more detailed description of what is now known as the Tulsa Massacre in my Lovecraft Country readers’ guide. The “for further reading” section of the guide lists additional sources of information about the massacre, including this official 2001 report commissioned by the Oklahoma state legislature.

I also want to recommend, yet again, James W. Loewen’s book Sundown Towns, which makes the important point that the Tulsa Massacre was just one incident among many:

In town after town in the United States, especially between 1890 and the 1930s, whites forced out their African American neighbors violently, as they had the Chinese in the West. Decatur, in northeastern Indiana, went sundown in 1902… Adams County, of which Decatur is the county seat, wound up without a single black household; a century later, it still had only five. Decatur exemplifies a widespread phenomenon: little riots, most of which have never been written about, even by local historians… Towns with successful riots wound up all-white, of course, or almost so, and therefore had an ideological interest in suppressing any memory of a black population in the first place, let alone of an unseemly riot that drove them out.

Whites also tried to “cleanse” at least fifteen larger cities of their more substantial nonwhite populations: Denver (of Chinese) in 1880; Seattle (of Chinese) in 1886; Akron in 1900; Evansville, Indiana, and Joplin, Missouri, in 1903; Springfield, Ohio, in 1904, 1906, and again in 1908; Springfield, Missouri, in 1906; Springfield, Illinois, in 1908; Youngstown, Ohio, and East St. Louis, Illinois, in 1917; Omaha and Knoxville in 1919; Tulsa in 1921; Johnstown, Pennsylvania, in 1923; and Lincoln, Nebraska, in 1929… Some of these larger riots have received some attention, including books and historical markers. Since they were unsuccessful—in that they failed to drive out all African Americans—they have left fuller records of the process… But most of the little riots have gone entirely overlooked, and as a result, the pattern of widespread “ethnic cleansings,” of which these failed larger attempts represent the tip of the iceberg, is not generally understood.

Collectively, these incidents of violence helped shape America’s demographic landscape, where even today, there are large portions of the country where you don’t expect to see anyone who isn’t white. If you grew up not knowing the history, this can seem totally natural. But it isn’t.

Viola Ford Fletcher, 107, the oldest living survivor of the Tulsa Massacre

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