Saturday, February 28, 2015

Lee Brown Coye in "Sticks"

"Sticks" by Karl Edward Wagner was first published in the small magazine Whispers in March 1974. Described by its author as "shot through with in-jokes and references which the serious fantasy/horror fan will recognize," (1) the story falls, I think, into the category of the roman à clef, that is, a fictionalized version of real people and real events. A roman à clef would seem an impossibility in fantasy fiction, but as long as you can accept that the people and events are really, really fictionalized, you'll be okay. One of the most famous stories of this type in genre fiction is Anthony Boucher's murder mystery Rocket to the Morgue (1942).

The Internet Speculative Fiction Database considers "Sticks" a novelette. I would call it a short story, maybe a long short story, but not so long that you can't read it in half an hour or so. I read "Sticks" in Masters of Horror and the Supernatural: The Great Tales, compiled by Bill Pronzini, Barry N. Malzberg, and Martin H. Greenberg (1981), in which it runs to nineteen pages.

"Sticks" opens along Mann Brook in the spring of 1942. A local artist, Colin Leverett, is on a final fishing trip before being drafted. In hiking down the valley, he finds patterns of stones laid out on the ground and, moments later, strange lattices of sticks everywhere he looks. Leverett comes upon a decrepit house and explores its interior. The walls inside are covered with "diagrams of the mysterious lattice structures," some "like a mad mural," others small, reminding Leverett of "cuneiform glyphics." (p. 307). The suggestion of writing is key to later developments in the story.

Leverett descends into a cellar seemingly too big for the house. It is constructed of "great blocks of gneiss that might support a castle." (p. 308) He wonders if the house was built upon a much older foundation. In the center of the cellar, Leverett discovers "a large tablelike bulk . . . . waist-high, maybe eight feet long and less wide." (p. 308) Feeling in the dark, he detects a groove along the edge of the slab, then "something cold and leathery and unyielding." (p. 308) It is at that point that a hand reaches out of the dark and grabs him. The face of his assailant passes through a beam of light. "It was a lich's face--desiccated flesh tight over its skull. Filthy strands of hair . . . tattered lips . . . broken yellowed teeth . . . and, sunken in their sockets, eyes that should have be dead but were bright with hideous life." (pp. 308-309) (2) Using his only weapon, Leverett strikes at the creature with his small, iron skillet. In so doing, he cleaves the lich's skull. Thus released, the frightened artists flees from the cellar, the sounds of pursuing footsteps lodged forever after in his memory.

"Sticks" goes on for eight more brief chapters, tying Lee Brown Coye's real-life experiences to local history, New England megaliths, colonial-era occultism, the Cthulhu Mythos, Wagner's own universe of Kane, and the small world of weird fiction. Coye is of course fictionalized as Colin Leverett, but August Derleth also shows up as Prescott "Scotty" Brandon, the editor and publisher of Gothic House books. H.P. Lovecraft is represented as well in the person of H. Kenneth Allard. There is a more obscure reference to the real-life local historian and author Andrew E. Rothovius (1923-2009) as the character Dr. Alexander Stefroi. On the whole, "Sticks" is creepy, but more than that, very clever in its construction. Lovecraft would have been proud and probably amused at what Wagner did with him as H. Kenneth Allard, of whom there is more than meets the eye.

* * *

In "Sticks," the fictional Lee Brown Coye is contracted by the fictional August Derleth to illustrate the works of the fictional H.P. Lovecraft. The artist struggles to make his work suitably weird and macabre until he remembers the sketches he made of the stick lattices of a quarter century before. His depiction of those stick lattices is what drives the story to its terrifying conclusion. According to the afterword in Whispers, Lee Brown Coye began drawing stick lattices in his work in the early 1960s. At about the same time, he wrote about his experience in his newspaper column "Chips & Shavings," and he tried to relocate the site of that experience from a quarter century before. But do Lee Brown Coye's stick lattices really date from the early 1960s? And are they really based on what he saw along Mann Brook in 1938? The illustrations below tell a different story.

These two illustrations are from Lee Brown Coye's first book, The Seventh Ogre. The book was published in 1932--note the date next to Coye's signature in the first illustration. Note also the sticks motif in the background of both images. I'm not the first to point these out. Luis Ortiz made note of them in his biography Arts Unknown (2005). The point is that Coye's illustrations for The Seventh Ogre predate his fishing trip along Mann Brook by six years. In other words, he was drawing stick lattices long before he saw them around a decrepit backwoods house in Chenango County, New York.

Lee Brown Coye's tale of being grabbed by a hand out of the dark is a mystery. That it shall remain.

(2) Lich is an old and very fine word for a corpse. It has been adapted to use in weird fiction and heroic fantasy, perhaps originating in the work of the "Big Three," Robert E. Howard, Clark Ashton Smith, and H.P. Lovecraft, all of whom were fond of archaic words.

Text copyright 2015 Terence E. Hanley

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Lee Brown Coye (1907-1981)-Part Seven

Karl Edward Wagner remembered:
The story ["Sticks"] is really Lee Brown Coye’s and is about Lee Brown Coye, as the Afterword [in Whispers #3] explains. Coye had described the events upon which “Sticks” was based to me, and when Stuart David Schiff decided to bring out a special Lee Brown Coye issue of Whispers, I stole time from my final few months of medical school to write a story inspired by Coye’s experiences. “Sticks” is shot through with in-jokes and references which the serious fantasy/horror fan will recognize. I wrote the story as a favour (1) and tribute to Lee, and I never expected it to be read by anyone beyond the thousand or so fans who read Whispers. To my surprise, “Sticks” became one of my best known and best liked stories. It won the British Fantasy Award and was a runner-up in the World Fantasy Award for best short fiction. The story has been anthologized numerous times and translated into several languages. It was broadcast on National Public Radio on Hallowe’en 1982 and was to have been produced for the short lived television series, Darkroom. Not bad for an in-joke. (2)
Not long after the Lee Brown Coye issue of Whispers was published (in March 1974), Karl Edward Wagner and David Drake made the thirteen-hour drive from North Carolina to Hamilton, New York, to visit with Coye in his studio. Wagner described the sixty-six-year-old artist: "Coye [looked] like one of his own creations, long-bodied; cadaverously thin; brush of age-bleached hair that still showed traces of red; bright, lively eyes . . . ." (3) Eleven years before, in June 1963, Coye and two friends, John Vetter and Art Meggett, had gone looking for the Mann Brook site. In this June of 1974, Coye made a second expedition with Wagner and Drake. According to Coye's biographer, the trio of explorers found that the site had been "completely replaced with fresh forest and was now strewn with 'no trespassing for any purposes' signs." (4) The men turned back, instead visiting a local cemetery.

* * *

Coye received his copy of Worse Things Waiting, the first book published under Wagner and Drake's Carcosa imprint, towards the end of the year. At the first World Fantasy Awards (5), Wagner, Coye, Manly Wade Wellman, and Stuart David Schiff won a triple crown:

  • Worse Things Waiting by Manly Wade Wellman, illustrated by Lee Brown Coye, and published by Carcosa, won for best anthology/collection;
  • Lee Brown Coye won for best artist; and
  • Whispers, edited and published by Stuart David Schiff, won the special award in the "non-professional" category, no doubt in part for its Lee Brown Coye issue of March 1974.

In addition, "Sticks," written by Karl Edward Wagner, based on Coye's experience, and published in Whispers, was nominated for best short fiction. (The award went to "Pages from a Young Girl's Journal" by Robert Aikman.)

* * *

Then in his sixties, Lee Brown Coye continued creating illustrations for small press, fanzines, and Whispers. In 1976, Scribner's issued Dying of Fright: Masterpieces of the Macabre. Coye provided the illustrations for this oversized anthology, edited by Les Daniels. One of Coye's drawings for Weird Tales also appeared in Daniels' book Living in Fear: A History of Horror in the Mass Media (Scribner's, 1975).

In January 1977, Coye had a stroke and fell into a coma. Over the course of a year, he rallied and was able to draw again. In summer, Carcosa came out with Murgunstrumm & Others by Hugh B. Cave. That book won the award for best anthology/collection at the 1978 World Fantasy Awards. Once again, Lee Brown Coye was named best artist. Karl Edward Wagner was among the judges that year.

Coye's health continued to deteriorate. He had a heart attack in February and again in September 1981. The second one proved fatal, thus Lee Brown Coye died on September 5, 1981, at age seventy-four. His last original art was published in the fanzine Sorcerer's Apprentice in the year of his death. Karl Edward Wagner survived him, but was probably on a downward trajectory by then. His appetites caught up with him in the end, which came on October 14, 1994. Wagner was just forty-eight years old.

Next: Lee Brown Coye in "Sticks"

(1) Note Wagner's use of the British spelling, à la H.P. Lovecraft.
(3) Quoted in Arts Unknown: The Life and Art of Lee Brown Coye by Luis Ortiz (2005), p. 149.
(4) Ditto.
(5) Held in Providence, Rhode Island, October 31-November 2, 1975. Providence was, of course, H.P. Lovecraft's native city.

The World Fantasy Award, since 1975, presented annually at the World Fantasy Convention. Lee Brown Coye won two of these awards near the end of his life, for best artist in 1975 and 1978. Designed by the cartoonist (and last Weird Tales artist) Gahan Wilson, it of course depicts H.P. Lovecraft. Some have called it hideous. They sound like Lovecraft's mother, who helped ruin her son by calling him "ugly" (thereby providing the rest of us with nearly a century of entertainment in his work). I have read some of the suggestions for replacing Lovecraft's visage: a dragon, the One Ring, a wizard's hat, a unicorn. If it's a unicorn, I hope it's one with soft, big, brown, eyes and a long flowing mane and tail, preferably pink or purple, that you can comb. And a rainbow in the background!

The objection to the World Fantasy Award isn't really to the ugliness of the statuette. It's to the man whom it represents. I wrote last year about the idea that science fiction could be dying, if it isn't already dead. One possible cause for the moribund state of the genre is a plague of political correctness, a disease that always proves fatal. It's one thing for political correctness to infect science fiction. After all, science fiction, being about the future, and, at its extremes, about a perfectly ordered future, has a hard time separating itself from things political. But now the disease of political correctness appears to have passed to fantasy, a genre that is ordinarily far less political, and very often not political at all. Moreover, fantasy is often about freedom, the antithesis of the dystopia that the politically correct wish to impose upon all of us.

The controversy over the Lovecraft statuette has to do with the author's supposed racism. There is no question that Lovecraft wrote some pretty disagreeable things in his stories. There can't be any excusing those things. But the people who object so strongly to him and his work should look a little more deeply into the human psyche before spouting off. H.P. Lovecraft was a recluse and a pauper. His father more or less abandoned him. His mother called him ugly and in her neurosis clung to him. If he was not mentally ill, Lovecraft was deeply troubled, emotionally and psychologically (though his mental state improved later in life). He very seldom held a real job and was barely able to function in the real world. Although he married, he also abandoned his marriage and died childless, essentially of malnutrition. In short, Lovecraft was a man who lived in a kind of desperation; he was a man without power. I
n their desperation, people who are abandoned or improperly loved by their parents--who are unable to function in the world--who feel powerless, angry, fearful, or lonely--often lash out. Being or feeling powerless themselves, they tend to pick on those who are either far more powerful than they are (believing those people to be the cause of their problems) or who are weaker than they are, the way some people abuse or mistreat children, animals, and waitresses. H.P. Lovecraft may or may not have been racist. But to impute the power of the racist to him is silly. To believe that he was animated or motivated by racism is to misinterpret his life to the point of incompetence.*

One author has called Lovecraft "a malevolent clown." Well, that "clown" helped create and was the leading theorist of a genre--weird fiction--that is perhaps more popular now than ever. That "clown" created something August Derleth fashioned into "the Cthulhu Mythos," one of the most successful works of the imagination to come out of twentieth-century literature. That "clown" is acknowledged as second only to Edgar Allan Poe in his field. He has countless fans, admirers, and followers. His work has been taken up by prominent and successful authors. His stories have been adapted to movies, television, radio, spoken-word records, comic books, and games. And he has 
a major award (in the words of Ralphie Parker's Old Man) cast in his image. Scores of writers, artists, editors, and publishers have accepted that award over the past forty years without protest. I doubt that so many people are so willing to overlook the sins of a racist or of racism in general. In any case, S.T. Joshi has addressed the controversy far more cogently than I on his blog, called, accurately enough, S.T. Joshi's Blog, at the following URL:

My hope is that the disease of political correctness infecting not just literature but all of society recedes so that we might all enjoy once again a healthier condition.


*Much of the evidence for Lovecraft's supposed racism rests on his story "The Horror at Red Hook," composed when Lovecraft was living in Brooklyn. There is real ugliness in the story to be sure, but it's clear to me that "The Horror at Red Hook" is an expression of extreme desperation and probably also of loneliness, fear, anger, and homesickness.

Text and captions copyright 2015 Terence E. Hanley

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Lee Brown Coye (1907-1981)-Part Six

All things come to an end, and generations pass, one to the next.

H.P. Lovecraft died in 1937. Two years later, August Derleth and Donald Wandrei founded Arkham House so that his stories might remain in print. Derleth himself passed away in 1971, and though Arkham House went on, other men--a new generation--stepped into the gap. Karl Edward Wagner, David Drake, and Jim Groce started Carcosa in 1972 to continue Derleth's work publishing weird fiction in hardback. Stuart David Schiff, a fan and collector, created Whispers of Arkham, a magazine to continue Derleth's own title, The Arkham Collector. The lawyers handling Derleth's estate didn't like the "Arkham" part, so the title was shortened to just Whispers. Inside the inaugural issue of July 1973, readers could find an illustration by Lee Brown Coye. (1)

Stuart David Schiff was and is a writer, editor, publisher, fan, and collector. In the early seventies, he was a dentist in the U.S. Army and stationed in North Carolina, where he had occasion to meet David Drake and Manly Wade Wellman. Schiff enlisted Drake's help in reading submissions for Whispers. In ten years on the job, Drake (also an Army veteran) read hundreds of manuscripts from the slush pile. In 2006, he wrote: "I’m glad to have helped Stuart keep short fantasy fiction alive during the ’70s when there was little or no other place for it." (2) Whispers and its editor have won universal praise and accolades, including a World Fantasy Award in 1975 for a "non-professional" magazine. Schiff published Whispers in twenty-four issues from 1973 to 1987.

Four years before Whispers #1 came out, Stuart Schiff had visited Lee Brown Coye in his studio in Hamilton, New York, and came away with a few pieces of artwork and an appreciation for the artist. "Soon after starting the magazine," wrote Coye's biographer, Luis Ortiz, "Schiff decided to do a Coye issue." Cartoonist Gahan Wilson would write an appreciation of his fellow Weird Tales artist (despite not knowing much about him), while Karl Edward Wagner would finally be the writer to turn Coye's Mann Brook experience of 1938 into a piece of fiction. At a penny per word, Wagner would earn a whopping $81 for his effort, not enough, according to Drake, to "cover rent and groceries for the time it took [him] to write [it]." (3) Wagner asked his editor to send half that payment to Lee Brown Coye, without whom the story would never have been written.

Whispers #3, the Lee Brown Coye issue, came out in March 1974. Coye provided a cover and seventeen interior illustrations going back to 1932 and his work for The Seventh Ogre. Gahan Wilson came through with an appreciation, as did Stuart Schiff. David Drake contributed a short story, "The Shortest Way," as did G.E. Symonds. Filling out the last quarter of the magazine is Karl Edward Wagner's "Sticks," a story that immediately broke out of Schiff's small magazine to win the British Fantasy Award and a nomination for the World Fantasy Award, both in 1975. "Sticks" has been reprinted more than two dozen times in the last forty years. It has also been adapted to other media, including, of course, the movie The Blair Witch Project (1999).

To be continued . . .

(1) That illustration is not listed in Luis Ortiz's biography of Coye but in The Internet Speculative Fiction Database.
(2) "Whispers Magazine" by David Drake, Nov. 22, 2006, on his website, here.
(3) From "The Truth Insofar As I Know It" by David Drake in Exorcisms and Ecstasies (1997), available online on a poorly designed website.

Whispers #3, the Lee Brown Coye issue, published in March 1974 with cover art by Coye showing more sticks, which aren't very much different from the emblematic stick motifs in The Blair Witch Project.

Text and captions copyright 2015 Terence E. Hanley

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Lee Brown Coye (1907-1981)-Part Five

In his introduction to Thirty Years of Arkham House, 1939-1969 (1970), August Derleth predicted that the coming decade would be the last for the firm that he had co-founded in 1939. He didn't give any reason as to why he thought Arkham House was near its end. Maybe he was looking forward to retirement. Maybe he had experienced a premonition of his own imminent passing, then only a year or so into the future. In any case, Arkham House turned thirty in 1969. Derleth was then twice that age. Today we would consider a man of sixty to be relatively young. In the years leading up to his death, however, August Derleth had struggled with his weight and other health problems. (1) The end came suddenly. On July 4, 1971, after having walked home from the post office, the Wisconsin author suffered a heart attack that proved fatal before the arrival of midday. Although they had never met, Lee Brown Coye later wrote: "His death was a real shock to me . . . because he was a dear and personal friend." (2)

One of Derleth's final planned projects was a collection called Worse Things Waiting written by Manly Wade Wellman and illustrated by Lee Brown Coye. That book was not to be, at least under the Arkham House imprint. Instead, with the settling of Derleth's estate, the project was cancelled and Coye received a $100 kill fee. "It sort of took the starch out of me," Coye wrote after Derleth was gone. "Since those days, things have changed, and it is becoming increasingly more difficult to make a living in my field for an artist with a modest reputation." (3) With the future of Arkham House in doubt, Lee Brown Coye, at age sixty-five, had reason to question his own viability as an artist of the fantastic.

Enter Karl Edward Wagner.

Born on December 12, 1945 (4), in Knoxville, Tennessee, Karl Edward Wagner was a bright flame that burned out quickly. Trained as a psychiatrist, he looked like a cross between a Teutonic warrior and a bouncer at a biker bar. His appetites were prodigious and eventually did him in. But in 1972, he was still young and still preparing for a career in medicine (more or less). He was also a fan of fantasy and weird fiction. As a student in and out of the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, he, along with David Drake and Jim Groce, founded Carcosa, a small publishing house meant to take up where Arkham House seemed to be leaving off. (5) Lee Brown Coye's association with Karl Edward Wagner began in late 1972 when Wagner wrote to the artist, asking if he would create a dust jacket design for Worse Things Waiting. Coye responded with an offer to illustrate the whole book, and so, in 1973, Carcosa published Wellman's collection, complete with nearly three dozen stories and poems and illustrated throughout by Coye. It was the first of only four books issued by Carcosa. (6) All were edited by Karl Edward Wagner. 

Wagner recalled how his story "Sticks" came about:
In working with Lee Brown Coye on Wellman’s Worse Things Waiting, I finally asked him why his drawings so frequently included sticks in their design. Lee’s work is well known to me, but I had noticed that the “sticks” only began to appear in his work for Ziff-Davis in the early 60s. Lee finally sent me a folder of clippings and letters, far more eerie than this story–and factual.
The folder included Coye's "Chips & Shavings" columns. In a letter to Wagner, perhaps accompanying the same folder, Coye offered some background:
Derleth never did get around to write a story about [the sticks]. He had the same material you have, and was interested enough to outline [a story] and was going to write it up, but it went by the boards. [. . .] Believe me, what I wrote personally in the columns is the truth. It was weird stuff and had a big influence on my drawings. (7)
In one way or another, Wagner had inherited Worse Things Waiting from August Derleth. He seems to have inherited the tale of the stick lattices as well. A man of youth and vigor, he did something with them both, and so "Sticks" was written and published and sent out into the wide world at last.

To be continued . . . 

(1) Born on February 24, 1909, August William Derleth would have been 106 years old today. Happy Birthday, Comte d'Erlette.
(2) Quoted in Arts Unknown: The Life and Art of Lee Brown Coye by Luis Ortiz (2005), p. 146.
(3) Ditto.
(4) Exactly a week after Flight 19 disappeared off the Florida coast.
(5) David Drake (b. 1945) is a prolific author of science fiction and fantasy. Jim Groce is a psychiatrist. "It was entirely Karl’s baby," Mr. Drake wrote of the founding of Carcosa, "though the initial capital came from Jim and me." From "The Truth Insofar As I Know It" by David Drake, in Exorcisms and Ecstasies (1997).
(6) The others were: Far Lands Other Days by E. Hoffman Price and illustrated by George Evans (1975); Murgunstrumm and Others by Hugh B. Cave and illustrated by Lee Brown Coye (1977); and Lonely Vigils by Manly Wade Wellman and illustrated by George Evans (1981).
(7) Quoted in Ortiz, p. 148. The brackets are Mr. Ortiz's.

Worse Things Waiting by Manly Wade Wellman and illustrated by Lee Brown Coye (Carcosa, 1973). Note the stick lattice.

Far Lands Other Days by E. Hoffman Price and illustrated by George Evans (Carcosa, 1975).

Murgunstrumm and Others by Hugh B. Cave and illustrated by Lee Brown Coye (Carcosa, 1977). More sticks.

Lonely Vigils by Manly Wade Wellman and illustrated by George Evans (Carcosa, 1981).

Original text copyright 2015 Terence E. Hanley

Monday, February 23, 2015

Lee Brown Coye (1907-1981)-Part Four

Like that mysterious, long-ago denizen of the Chenango County backwoods, I am collecting scattered sticks and tying them into patterns.

After The Blair Witch Project came out in 1999, some viewers who were familiar with weird fiction noticed a similarity between the plot of the movie and that of Karl Edward Wagner's story "Sticks," from 1974. Similarity I think is too mild of a word in this case. My guess is that the makers of The Blair Witch Project knew of "Sticks" and were at the very least inspired by the story. It might be more accurate to say that The Blair Witch Project is essentially an adaptation of "Sticks," a free adaptation perhaps, but an adaptation nonetheless. That's not to take anything away from The Blair Witch Project. By itself, the movie is a fine work of the imagination, not so much in the story as in the way it is told. Moreover, we should remember that "Sticks" itself is an adaptation of a tale told by Lee Brown Coye about a supposedly real experience he had in the spring of 1938 along Mann Brook in central New York State. Coye's experience is not so remote from Wagner's composition of "Sticks," however, for Coye apparently didn't write down or publish an account of it until 1963, after a quarter century had passed. Karl Edward Wagner fictionalized Coye's tale a little more than a decade later.

In the early 1960s (1), Lee Brown Coye began writing a newspaper column called "Chips & Shavings" in The Mid-York Weekly, then published in Hamilton, New York. (2) According to his biographer, Coye wrote about "folklore, unusual bits of history, and people" in his column. (3) In a series of five columns from August 22 to September 26, 1963, Coye recounted his experience along Mann Brook a quarter century before, of patterns of stones and stick lattices around an abandoned house in the scrub woods of Chenango County, and of a hand that had reached out of the dark and grasped the startled artist, who, like a Lovecraftian protagonist, fled the cellar of the house for his safety and sanity. (4)

Coye had tried to relocate the house along Mann Brook in June 1963. His companions on that trip (or those trips) were John Vetter, a Virginia bookseller and a collector of Lovecraftiana, and Art Meggett, a friend of Coye and a member of the Hamilton planning commission. The men came up empty. Later in the year, Coye wrote in a letter to August Derleth, "[T]he Mann Brook site that I saw has been washed out completely and my recent trip there produced nothing but a body [presumably his own] completely covered with black fly bites." (5) In the same letter, Coye wrote that "an old fishing friend of mine who is a bit addicted to whiskey and can't remember too well, has a recollection of seeing the same contraption [the stick lattices] about 1947 on a nearby stream." (6) Absent any evidence, the veracity of Coye's tale rests on his own telling of it as a real event.

The story of how Coye's tale became "Sticks" and The Blair Witch Project probably hinges on the intervention of John Vetter, Coye's companion on the Mann Brook expedition(s) of 1963. A fan and collector of the works of H.P. Lovecraft, Vetter first contacted Coye in early 1962 looking to acquire his illustrations for "The Shunned House" and "The Colour Out of Space." (7) Although Coye had created those and other illustrations for three anthologies edited by August Derleth in the 1940s, Coye and Derleth had never met. Vetter, on the other hand, was in contact with Derleth and persuaded Coye to write to him. (8) With his enthusiasm "raised to a high pitch," Coye did so on May 29, 1962. (9) In early 1963, Derleth invited Coye to create the dust jacket designs for Who Fears the Devil by Manly Wade Wellman and The Dunwich Horror and Others by H.P. Lovecraft, both for Derleth's own Arkham House. They were Coye's first work for Derleth, and he received the grand sum of fifty dollars apiece for them. Over the next seven years, Coye drew cover or interior illustrations for ten more books published by Arkham House. You can see them in part three of this series, here.

Not long before Coye received his first offer from August Derleth, in November 1962, John Vetter approached Amazing Stories and Fantastic editor Cele Goldsmith with the idea of a short story based on Coye's Mann Brook experience. Miss Goldsmith expressed interest in such a story for Fantastic. Vetter offered that Derleth might be the one to write it. He offered further that he had already told the tale to Derleth, who had "showed some initial enthusiasm." (10) Vetter had even suggested a title for the story, "Sticks and Stones." According to the afterword of Karl Edward Wagner's "Sticks," published in March 1974, "Derleth intended to write Coye’s adventure as a Lovecraft novelette, but never did so." (11) Instead, Derleth and Coye stayed busy turning out books and illustrations for Arkham House, and the story remained unwritten. August Derleth met his end on July 4, 1971. If the story of Lee Brown Coye's sticks was going to be told, it would have to wait for another writer. That writer was of course Karl Edward Wagner.

To be continued . . .

(1) The date is unclear by all accounts I have found, but it appears to have been in early or mid 1963, almost certainly before the July centennial celebration of the Battle of Gettysburg, about which Coye wrote in "Chips & Shavings."
(2) The previous author of "Chips & Shavings" was Reed Alvord, a man who ought to have a biographical sketch written about him somewhere on the Internet. The Mid-York Weekly is now published in Utica, New York.
(3) Arts Unknown: The Life and Art of Lee Brown Coye by Luis Ortiz (2005), p. 134.
(4) Mann Brook arises in Madison County and flows to the southeast and into Chenango County. The location of the house is unknown, but it seems likely to me that it was in Chenango County rather than in Madison County. Update (Oct. 3, 2015): The hand reaching out of the dark was not in fact in the columns Coye wrote in the Mid-York Weekly. In that, Luis Ortiz was mistaken. After looking at the murals on the interior of the house, Coye simply fished Mann Brook back upstream. He asked a local farmer who might have made the sticks and the murals, but he came away without any answers. It makes a better story that Coye was grabbed as in "Sticks," but it simply wasn't true.
(5) Quoted in Ortiz, p. 134.
(6) Ditto.
(7) Coye had illustrated "The Shunned House" for Who Knocks? Twenty Masterpieces of the Spectral for the Connoisseur, edited by August Derleth and issued in 1946. Coye's illustration for "The Colour Out of Space" appeared in The Night Side: Masterpieces of the Strange and Terrible, also edited by August Derleth and issued in 1947 as a kind of sequel to Who Knocks?.
(8) Vetter also persuaded Coye to make the rounds of the New York publishers of science fiction. So on a Friday the Thirteenth--July 13, 1962--Vetter and Coye set off for the offices of Amazing Stories and Fantastic, The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, Ace Books, Ballantine Books, and Avon Publications. Thus was Lee Brown Coye's career as an artist of fantasy and science fiction revived, a decade after his last illustration for Weird Tales was published.
(9) A quote from Coye's letter in Ortiz, p. 127.
(10) According to Ortiz, p. 130.
(11) Quoted in "The Terror of the Absurd: Karl Edward Wagner's 'Sticks'" by Al Harron, on the website The Cimmerian, October 13, 2009, accessible by clicking here. The Speculative Fiction Database does not list an "afterword" in its table of contents for the issue of Whispers in which "Sticks" was first published (Mar. 1974). It isn't clear to me from the website of The Cimmerian just who was the author of that afterword, and I don't have any copies of Whispers. Presumably it was Wagner himself.

I am greatly indebted to Luis Ortiz and his book Arts Unknown: The Life and Art of Lee Brown Coye by Luis Ortiz (2005) for the facts in this article.

Lee Brown Coye's drawing of the stick lattices he saw on Mann Brook in 1938, from his "Chips & Shavings" column in The Mid-York Weekly, August 22, 1963. Scanned from Arts Unknown: The Life and Art of Lee Brown Coye by Luis Ortiz (2005), p. 50.

Text and captions copyright 2015 Terence E. Hanley