May 17th, 2007

preliminary announcement

The Inferior Four Plus One is pleased to annouce that their first Plus One will be Katherine Dunn, the author of Geek Love, boxing journalist, and generally cool person. Katherine will be around to talk and answer questions the week of June 11. For future details, watch this space.
  • pgdf

Sixties Novels, Part 15


THE SECRET, James Drought, Skylight Press, 1962

As we continue to trawl the forgotten undersea abysses of Sixties literature, we uncover more and more melancholy tales. Ah, but this is a sobering business....

Just consider the case of James Drought.

First, he died too young, at only age 52. Second, all his work is out of print, his name generally forgotten and unspoken. As the software agent at LibraryThing, the intriguing site where people catalog their collections, reports: "There are 0 conversations about James Drought's books."

http://www.librarything.com/

But I suppose we need not mourn overmuch, since he seems to have accomplished a lot while he lived.

Our first stop is a very minimalist homepage:

http://drought.com/

Obviously, someone still cares enough for JD, 25 years after his death, to maintain this site. Here, you'll read his brief biography and be able to download some of his work, including THE SECRET.

We learn through other research that Drought self-published his own work under the Skylight Press house name, before landing lots of appearances with the familiar firms of the New York publishing scene. Score one for self-publishing and the small presses. But perhaps his biggest coup came when his book THE GYPSY MOTHS was made into a major film:

http://imdb.com/title/tt0064397/

Famed UK critic and novelist Colin Wilson even wrote a monograph on JD, which you can also download at the homepage.

Apparently, JD was an author who really resonated with his readers, as these testimonies, with formatting and misspellings preserved, from Amazon prove:

Where is James Drought, May 18, 2002
By Alan Jones
I first read James Drought's self-published works in the Sixites. There was no biographical information so I didn't know who he is...His books were not like anyone else's. He wrote about how to live in America was to live in a culture that was totally given
over to commercialism. I remember especialy one book about a young man with a family who was selling vacuum cleaners for a living and trying to figure out if there wasn't more to life than this - looking for honorable work which meant something.
Since I was just getting out of college and was trying to find something useful to dedicate my life to, his desperation struck me very forcefully. Since Jim was writing in the 60's, his thoughts were probably formed in the 50's before the counter culture emerged to offer some alternatives. Many of those alternatives, for those of us who have lived them, led to the blank walls of relativism and "do what you want" as guides to life. It forced me to return to a traditional way of life, but
one with real meaning, not the sterility of 50's American consumerism. But that is another story.
I would love to read some of James Drought's books...

Remembering James Drought, February 12, 2002
By Hal Higdon (Ponte Vedra Beach, FL)
Jim Drought: A name from my past. I am giving a lecture tonight for the Friends of the Ponte Vedra Beach Library about my writing career. I knew Jim Drought as an editor at This Week magazine and Saga magazine, who sometimes bought my articles, including profiles on Lenny Bruce, Hugh Hefner and other interesting people from the 1960s. But I had blanked out on his last name, thinking it Drenth or something similar. Fortunately, I remembered he had written "The Gypsy Moths," so went into Amazon.com to do a search for that and any other titles of his that might remain in print.
Though a magazine editor, Jim was a frustrated novelist--except he kept getting rejected by the major publishers. So he decided to publish his own books. This was at a time when writing for Vanity Presses had about as much status as fighting for the Taliban has today. But he was reasonably successful, selling his books while lecturing to universities and the like. And "The Gypsy Moths," which he wrote out of his own experiences as a parachutist, eventually got made into a movie starring Bert Lancaster, if I'm not mistaken.
But that was about the extent of it. To the best of my knowledge, Jim Drought disappeared from my radar screen some time in the 1970s. And there is no evidence on Amazon.com, at least, that he ever published any more books other than those early ones.
In self-publishing, he was a man ahead of his time. Although I have had my books published by many of the Biggies from Putnam's to Random House to Rodale Press, I too have had success self-publishing a few offbeat titles, such as the book my wife and I wrote tracing her family history through Italy to Albania in the 15th century: "Falconara: A Family Odyssey."
I wonder what ever happened to my old friend, Jim Drought. If anybody digs this deeply into Amazon.com for this "book," which was rated 2-millionth in sales today, and knows, you can contact me ....

Back to your host now!

Here's the opening sentence of THE SECRET, to give some idea of what might have been JD's appeal: "It is no small discovery, this one, this hard center of a smoldering gamey life, earth, world, universe, God; and I dedicate it to no mean personalities, just a splendid son, a winsome wife and a perfect daughter, all who live under my leaky umbrella in this most inclement of climates, this Year of Our Lord, 1960."

Yes, I can see the allure....

One last thing about the Avon paperback depicted above. That rounding of the corners is not an artifact of Photoshop. The book is actually trimmed to be oval on its side opposite the spine. Ah, those wacky Sixties!

Miscellany

So I watched an excellent Japanese contemporary movie tonight, Nobody Knows. It opens with a youngish, attractive mother arrives in her new apartment with her 12 year old son, Akira, and a lot of luggage, from which three smaller children emerge. She appears to be trying to make them feel better about the move, but soon it becomes clear that she only wants them to cooperate with her and not cause trouble. The children are all the progeny of different fathers; the mother tells them they must be quiet and never go outside (excepting Akira from this rule)—if they are seen, they’ll be evicted. Mom is a self-absorbed nightmare with a voice like Jimminy Cricket and soon abandons the children, leaving them some cash (which Akira compulsively counts and recounts as the money dwindles). Akira assumes the position of head of the family and succeeds I keeping the family together over a period of months. That’s the story, more or less. It’s not much, you might think, to occupy the movie’s 140 minute running time, and perhaps the film could stand to lose a few minutes; but this is fantastic movie reminding me in its measured pacing and of the films of Sayajit Ray and given focus by a truly remarkable lead performance by Yuya Yagira as Akira (he won best actor at Cannes in 2004), a performance that it hurts to watch, combining dignity and desperation and, ultimately, resignation, as Akira labors to maintain a sense of normalcy for his brother and sisters in an increasingly forbidding world. Director Hirokazi Kore-eda’s camera is superficially naturalistic and unemphatic—he seems to be merely observing—but he incorporates stylized shots that instill a feeling of classic humanism. For patient moviewatchers, Nobody Knows will have great rewards.

Signs of the Apocalypse –

http://www.wired.com/science/discoveries/news/2006/12/72134

On another note, my novella Stars Seen Through Stone is in the July F&SF. It’s a fairly upbeat story—I must have been on new meds.