Friday, March 30, 2012

Julian Kilman

Julian Kilman (b. Drummondsville, Ontario, 26 March 1878; d. Gulfport, Florida, 3 April 1954)

Julian Kilman was the pen-name of Leroy Noble Kilman, the elder of the two children of Alva Hamilton Kilman (1853-1916) and his wife Ida M. Kilman (1859-1920s?), née Noble.  His sister was Zella May Kilman (1880-1955).

Kilman immigrated to the United States around 1897, afterwards becoming a U.S. citizen.  He studied at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, and received an A.B. in 1905 and a LL.B. in 1906, after which he was admitted to the bar.  Settling in Buffalo, he was from 1908-1914 an assistant government attorney for the Western District of New York, moving over to the Bureau of Naturalization in 1914 and becoming the District Director of Naturalization in 1925, a position he held until his retirement. 

On 26 July 1910, at Milan, Michigan, he married Cecile Lily Gauntlett (1883-1962). They had two children, Katherine (born circa 1913) and Julian (1915-1990).  Soon after his marriage he began to contribute short stories to magazines, and the bulk of them so far discovered appeared between 1921 and 1930, all with the byline “Julian” Kilman. With his proficiency at the short story, he at times lectured on story writing at the University of Buffalo.

Kilman published six stories in The Black Mask, beginning with “The Peculiar Affair at the Axminster” in the first issue dated April 1920.  More significantly, he published five stories in Weird Tales, also beginning in its very first issue dated March 1923, with “The Mystery of Black Jean”.  Kilman’s stories appeared in the first four issues, and in the sixth, all published in 1923.  The longest tale, “The Golden Caverns” (May 1923), is a lost treasure story set in Brazil, while “The Affair of the Man in Scarlet” concerns an execution in thirteenth century France.  The three other stories are all about murders and crimes.  Marvin Kaye, in The Best of Weird Tales 1923 (1997), considered three of Kilman’s five Weird Tales stories to be among the top works of fiction published in the first year of that magazine’s existence.  However, as well-written and executed as these stories are, the simple truth is that there is very little of the fantastic in them, and as little horror. It seems probable that as Weird Tales found its own niche, Kilman drifted away from being a contributor simply because his work was never a good fit in the first place and because his interests lay elsewhere. 

Over fifty short stories by Kilman are known, but he never published a collection, nor indeed any books at all.  Magazines he contributed to include Midnight Mystery Stories, The Smart Set, Action Stories, Mystery Magazine, Detective Tales, Tropical Adventures, Real Detective Tales, People’s Story Magazine, Brief Stories, The Double Dealer, The American Short Story, 10 Story Book, and others. After 1930 Kilman’s output ceased, save perhaps for a couple of nonfiction pieces in Argosy in 1946 that are bylined “L.N. Kilman”.  Kilman was known also to be an ardent amateur lepidopterist.  He died in Florida, but was buried in Milan, Michigan.  

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

John Guinan

John Guinan (b. Ballindown, near Birr, County Offaly, Ireland, 20 May 1874; d. Sutton, Dublin, Ireland, 7 March 1945)

John Guinan was an Irish playwright and civil servant who wrote four plays for the Abbey Theatre, “The Cuckoo's Nest” (1913), “The Plough Lifters” (1916), “Black Oliver” (1927), and “The Rune of Healing” (1931). He also wrote short stories for Irish newspapers, but these were never collected.  His story "The Watcher o' the Dead" (Cornhill Magazine, June 1929), concerning a curious custom associated with the cemetery Gort na Marbh, was reprinted by Montague Summers in The Supernatural Omnibus (1931), and thus Guinan rates mention here. One other folklorish and borderline weird story is “The Scythe Bearer” (Blackwood’s Magazine, November 1933).  His books include his first play, The Cuckoo’s Nest: A Comedy in Three Acts (1933), an Irish edition of “Black Oliver” as Oilibhéar Dubh: Cluiche aon Ghníomh (1935), and the posthumous The Wonderful Wedding: A  Play in Three Acts (written between 1906 and 1908, but not published until 1978), written in collaboration with George Fitzmaurice (1877-1963). 

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Virginia Swain

Virginia Swain (b. Kansas City, Missouri, 13 February 1899; d. New Milford, Connecticut, 7 April 1968) 

Virginia Maude Swain was the only child of Raymond Swain (b. 1870), a cattle salesman, and his wife, Laura Belle Rodgers (b. 1875), who were married around 1895. She was born and raised in Kansas City, Missouri, where she attended the Central High School. Virginia Swain was briefly married to a man surnamed Jewell, but they were divorced in 1920. She studied journalism at the University of Missouri, achieving a bachelor’s degree in 1923.

From 1923-1925 she work as a reporter and feature writer on The Des Moines Register.  There she met Phil Stong (1899-1957), who was on the editorial staff.  They were married in Cleveland, Ohio, on 8 November 1925.  They had no children. The couple soon moved to New York, where beginning in 1927 Virginia worked on the staff of McClure’s Magazine, writing a number of features. Later she worked in the editorial department of The Saturday Evening Post
Her first novel was Linda (1928), a murder mystery about a young girl at college.  This was followed by a second novel, Foolish Fire (1929), and a quiz book, compiled with Harold Matson, Name Your 10—and Count your Points:  Match Yourself against Experts (1932). 

The success of her husband’s first published novel, State Farm (1932), and the popular film of it released the next year, allowed the Stongs to buy three hundred and twenty acres of the Iowa farm that had formerly belonged to Phil Stong’s grandfather.  The couple settled in Washington, Connecticut, but managed the Iowa farm from Connecticut

Swain’s next novel was a fantasy. It was accepted by the publisher Farrar & Rinehart, who held a contest to find a title for the book, issuing some galleys that called special attention to the $25 prize money for the best title.  The novel was published in February 1938 as The Hollow Skin, the winning title submitted by Ruth Bernhard.  The Hollow Skin is a bizarre story, lightly written but with very deft touches of characterization and an engaging narrative.  It tells the story of a young Albany medical doctor, Lex Drummond, who after being spurned by his lover and suffering from bronchitis seeks recuperation by means of a visit to his uncle, Dr. Simeon Stuart, in the Bahamas.  (Swain did visit the Bahamas at least twice, in 1928 and 1930, and these visits doubtless contributed local color to her novel’s setting.)  Here Drummond becomes enamored with a young woman named Valentine, who arrived on the same boat as Drummond and who is the ward of the mysterious and unpleasant Percy Isher.  Strange deaths happen at the Isher residence, and before reaching its end (I do not wish here to spoil the strange dénouement concerning Percy Isher) the novel turns from being one primarily of romance and detection to being one of horror. 

Swain published infrequent short stories, one a weird tale, “Aunt Cassie”, which appeared in her husband’s idiosyncratic anthology of weird and fantastic fiction, The Other Worlds (1941).  While her husband praised the story as being original, it is one of those clichéd stories wherein the reader figures out the inevitable ending long before the characters in the story reach it.  

Swain’s final novel, and her final book The Dollar Gold Piece (1942), was first serialized in abridged form in The Woman’s Home Companion (August through October 1942) before appearing in full in hardcover.  It is a novel of the pioneers of Kansas City in the boom year of 1887.  

As Swain’s own literary career stalled, her husband’s success continued.  In addition to many successful novels (some of which, like State Fair, were made into films), Stong published a large number of popular children’s books.  In 1957 he died suddenly of a heart attack in the workroom of their home in Connecticut.  Swain took over the long-distance management of her late husband’s Iowa farm, outliving him by eleven years. She died in a Connecticut hospital at the age of 69, leaving behind the nearly-complete manuscript of her final work, The Farm House Cook Book, which remained unpublished. 

NB: John Norris has also written on The Hollow Skin at his Pretty Sinister Books blog.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Paul K. Johnstone

Paul K. Johnstone (b. St. Louis, Missouri, 27 February 1910; d. St. Louis, Missouri, August 1985)

Apparently born Paul Johnson (with his mother’s first name Brigetta), Paul Karlsson Johnstone claimed later in life that his great-uncle was the famous mountain man of the American west, known as “Liver-Eating” Johnson (c. 1824-1901). Little is known of Johnstone’s early life, beyond the details he gave in a jaunty autobiographical sketch when his first short story appeared in Blue Book Magazine in May 1948. Here Johnstone noted that he left Missouri at an early age and “had the inestimable benefit of growing up in Oklahoma, where there was plenty of room for it (6 feet 4 and 240 pounds at latest returns).  Met Indians, oil-men, hijackers, and pistol-packin’ mamas—it was a lively land. At twelve, I had been under fire three times.”  With his mother (his father seems to have been out of the picture by the 1920 Census and dead by the 1930 Census), Johnstone moved back to St. Louis just before the onset of the Depression.  He worked at a number of jobs:  “wheelbarrow chauffeur, ball-player (I never made the pro grade—good hit, but no field), wrestling referee, door-to-door salesman, florist, art student.” His eyesight (“myopic peepers, souvenirs of a childhood bout with typhoid”) prevented him from serving in World War II, but he did work as a guard at a war plant.  He gave his hobbies as “boxing, baseball, and collating Dark Age genealogies, traditions and place-names.” It was this latter interest that would underlay all of his publications.  Years later he would correlate his interests in the fringe of the American Wild West with the older Völkerwanderung of the Germanic tribes in Europe in the fifth and sixth centuries.

His first known publication is a letter in Weird Tales in the April 1927 issue. He began publishing more seriously (as “P.K. Johnstone”) with some letters on “The Victories of Arthur” in 1934 in Notes and Queries.  These were followed in 1938 by the first of more than a dozen contributions to the scholarly journal Antiquities. These include shorter considerations like “Caw of Pictland” (September 1938) and “The Date of Camlann” (March 1950), to longer ones like “Cerdric and His Ancestors” (March 1946) and a book review of The Races of Europe (1939) by Carleton Stevens Cox, under the title “Racial Contexts of Prehistory” (September 1946). His most significant scholarly piece is doubtless “A Consular Chronology of Dark Age Britain”, a summing up of the results of two decades of work (June 1962).  It was intended to form the basis of a projected study of the Brittonic Heroic Age, but the project was never completed.  A short biographical note appeared with the article, certainly to distinguish the American Johnstone from the South African-born British television producer and authority on the archaeology of ships and prehistoric sea-craft, Paul Johnstone (1920-1976), who was then coming to prominence. 

In 1948, the first two of Johnstone’s eight contributions to Blue Book Magazine appeared.  These are the short stories “The Rusted Blade” (May 1948) and “Free Swordsman” (October 1948). They were followed by two further stories in 1949 and one novella in 1950: “The Wall of the Eternal” (May 1949); “High Kindred” (December 1949); and “Up, Red Dragon!” (March 1950).  Johnstone’s final three contributions to Blue Book Magazine were all nonfiction: “Winner Take All” (April 1950); “The Far Land”, about St. Brendan (November 1950); and “Robin Was a Hood” (February 1951), a “true story”.

Johnstone’s career as a fiction-writer culminated with the publication of his only book, the short novel Escape from Attila (New York: Criterion Books, 1969), illustrated by Joseph A. Phelan. It was published (perhaps mistakenly) as a children’s book, probably  because of its heroic and mythological nature.  It tells the story of the escape of two Frankish prisoners, Walter and Hildegundis, from Attila’s army in the middle of the fifth century, and their desperate journey to warn their people of Attila’s planned invasion.  Johnstone combines legendary materials from many sources (and discusses them in a “Historical Note” at the end of the book). His prose is at times weighed down by historical detail, but the tale is enjoyable. 

Late in life Johnstone continued publishing articles on specialist topics. Several appeared in Stonehenge Viewpoint, a kind of new-age newspaper that began as a mail-order catalog but evolved into a small press magazine.  Johnstone’s articles include pieces on “What Language Was Spoken at Stonehenge” (no. 16, First Quarter 1977); “King Arthur’s Silverware” (no. 19, later 1977); and an unfinished posthumously-published two-part piece on “Merlin”  (no. 69, January-February 1986; and no. 70, March-April 1986).   Johnstone also found an audience among role-playing gamers, contributing two articles to Dragon Magazine:  “The Return of Conan Maol” (no. 24, April 1979) and “Origins of the Norse Pantheon” (no. 29, September 1979).

Johnstone’s final scholarly publication, “The Languages of Pictland”, appeared in ESOP: The Epigraphic Society Occasional Publications, volume 13 (1985).  He died in St. Louis in August 1985. 

NB: Thanks to Morgan Holmes for sharing information with me.  

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Phil Stong

Phil Stong (b. Keosauqua, Iowa, 27 January 1899; d. Washington, Connecticut, 26 April 1957)

Philip Duffield Stong was the oldest of three sons of Benjamin J. Stong (1870-1936) and Ada Evesta Duffield (1877-1967), who were married in 1897. Stong’s maternal grandfather had settled, in 1857, in southeastern Iowa near the bend of the Des Moines River around Keosauqua, buying his farm with money he had earned prospecting gold in California. Some elements in Stong’s later novels had their origins in the stories told by his grandfather.

Phil Stong, as he bylined himself, was educated in Des Moines at Drake University (A.B. 1919), and after graduation he taught debating and journalism at an Iowa high school for a few years before entering journalism himself in 1923, first as an editorial writer on the Des Moines Register, afterwards joining the Associated Press in New York in 1925. Through his work at the Des Moines Register, he met Virginia Swain (1899-1968), a young reporter who had graduated from the University of Missouri. They were married on 8 November 1925 in Ohio. They had no children.

Stong worked in New York in various capacities at the North American Newspaper Alliance (1926-27), Liberty Magazine (1928), Editor and Publisher (1929), and The New York World (1929-31), after which time he devoted himself to his creative writing. Stong wrote some twelve novels before he had one accepted for publication. This first-published novel, State Fair (1932), a tale of romance at the Iowa State Fair, was a great success; it has been filmed three times, first in 1933 (starring Janet Gaynor and Will Rogers), secondly as a Rodgers and Hammerstein musical in 1945, and again in 1962 as a musical with Pat Boone, Bobby Darin and Pamela Tiffin.  With Hollywood money, Stong bought some three hundred and twenty acres of his grandfather’s former farm, which had been sold off years earlier.  Though he resided in New York (and later in Connecticut), Stong managed the raising of cattle and crops at the Iowa farm until his death.

Others of Stong’s novels were also made into films, most notably Career (1935), filmed twice, in 1939 and again in 1959, the latter version starring Dean Martin and Shirley MacLaine.  In addition to his many novels for adults, including a sequel to State Fair entitled Return in August (1953), Stong also wrote many popular children’s books, including Honk: the Moose (1935), No-Sitch: the Hound (1936), Captain Kidd’s Cow (1941) and Hirum, the Hillbilly (1951).  These, and others, were illustrated by Kurt Weise (1887-1974), the award-winning German-book children’s book illustrator and writer. 

Stong’s one publication which relates to the fantasy field is an anthology, The Other Worlds (New York:  Wilfred Funk, 1941), significant not in the least for being one of the first books to reprint magazine science fiction.  The book is best known in its book club edition, published by Garden City Publishing Company in 1942, whose cover makes it appear that the book’s title is: 25 Modern Stories of Mystery and Imagination. This has given rise to some bibliographical confusion. Stong has a lengthy sixteen page foreword, and has divided the stories into three groupings: I. Strange Ideas (which Stong defines as “short story notions involving the fantastic that I had never heard of before”), II. Fresh Variants (as the name implies, more familiar tropes “pleasantly and ingeniously diverted into new channels and conclusions”), and III. Horrors (more conventionally styled stories in their “best new presentations”); with nine stories in the first section and eight in each of the remaining two.  Stong added introductory “Notes” to the second and third sections.  On the dust-wrapper of the original edition, the publisher advertised the book as “the best modern stories of free imagination since Dracula and Frankenstein”.
The 1942 edition

Stong’s commentary is rather breezy and colloquial, and it doesn’t stand the test of time well. Oddly, he claims that the first requirement of a good fantastic story is "that it should not be remotely possible”. Additionally, he expressed a preference for supernatural tales and a disdain for interplanetary ones (“there are not a dozen such stories with even mild originality or amusement value”), which disappointed readers devoted to science fiction. Furthermore, he ruled out ghost stories that rely “on their merits as ghost stories”, and vampire stories (“it is precisely because Bram Stoker did the excellent novel Dracula on this subject that no maundering imitations of his interesting bloodsuckers are worth the paper on which they are printed”), as well as stories of were-wolves or of any were-creatures.  Stong humorously supplies endings for any ghost, vampire, or werewolf stories that readers may care to make up for themselves.  Here is Stong’s take on the vampire tale and some of its many clichés:
    With trembling hands we threw back the lid of the coffin inhabited by the extremely late—say two hundred years or so—Countess Grimova Lapitupsky. (Italics, please.)  The body was as fresh and flushed with the warm hues of life as if the Countess were merely sleeping.  I stood spellbound by her beauty—two hundred years is nothing for a beautiful vampire, but clothes are not vampires and play out in a century or so. I stood spellbound—
    The old priest (preferably Greek Orthodox) looked at me severely.  “We have out duty, my son.”
    He passed me the sharpened ash (the woods vary) stake.
    “No, no,” I murmured, hesitating, as I poised the cruel point over the lovely ivory bosom. (The technicians call this last touch Lech Appeal and there is too much of it in vampire stories to be quite healthy.)
    The ponderous mallet fell, driving the needle-tipped ashlar and my thumb-nail into the beautiful demon’s heart. A terrible scream and a great spate (it had better be a spate in a vampire story) of fresh blood gushed from wound and mouth alike.
    “Gospadar e tvorets,” said Papa solemnly.
    And then as I turned sadly away, a beautiful smile of peace rested for an instant on the lovely face before the Countess fell into dust. 
 The accuracy of his humor notwithstanding, Stong compiled his volume utilizing strange criteria. 

In the middle of the foreword, Stong offhandedly mentions that August Derleth had given him assistance on this book, and that helps to explain some of Stong’s selections, which includes Lovecraft’s “In the Vaults” as well as Derleth’s own “The Panelled Room” and Derleth’s collaboration with Mark Schorer “The Return of Andrew Bentley”, all to be found in the section devoted to Horrors. Derleth’s “assistance” might also explain the inclusion of other stories from Weird Tales, including “The Graveyard Rats” by Henry Kuttner, another by Seabury Quinn, one by “John Flanders” (correctly identified as Jean Ray), and two stories by Manley Wade Wellman.  In fact of the nine stories in the Horrors section, only Derleth’s “The Panelled Room” did not originally appear in Weird Tales

In the first section, Strange Ideas, stories are included by notable science fiction authors such as Lester del Rey and Ralph Milne Farley. Mainstream writer Michael Fessier, author of Fully Dressed and in His Right Mind (1935), has one quirky tale, “The Man in the Black Hat”. And there is one original story, “Aunt Cassie” by Stong’s wife, Virginia Swain. Other contributors include Thorp McClusky, Mindret Lord, Paul Ernst, John Jessel, and Walker G. Everett.

The second section, Fresh Variants, opens with “A God in the Garden” by Theodore Sturgeon—an early appearance for his work in a hardcover anthology.  Other science fiction writers included are Eando Binder, Murray Leinster, Harry Bates, and Henry Kuttner (under the pseudonym “Kelvin Kent” but identified as Kuttner in parentheses in the table of contents.  A second story original to this anthology appears in this section, “A Problem for Biographers” by Mindret Lord. 

Overall The Other Worlds is moderately interesting anthology for its time, limited in several ways, but one that doesn’t live up to its billing.  As Basil Davenport noted in his review of the book, Stong doesn’t follow his own stated standards of originality.  “If you are well-read in the field,” Davenport wrote, “you will certainly miss your favorites; and as you read through the volume you will find that Mr. Stong is much too easily pleased, and that he often abandons his own expressed or implicit standards. . . . He insists on the value he sets on originality of idea or treatment; but too many of these stories have well-worn themes that are hardly redeemed by their treatment.” (The Saturday Review, 27 September 1941).

In 1957 Phil Stong died of a heart attack in the workroom of his home in Washington, Connecticut, where he and his wife had lived since the 1930s.