Welcome, dear failures, to the penultimate #AuthorFail…super-hero edition.
My Schnide-y sense is tingling, and it says this column will soon go the way of the dodo. Until then, let us revel in our ineptitude.
The Shadow. The Spider. G-8. I thought of these pulp heroes on seeing the first Burton Batman movie, and as I regularly walked to work in 1989-1990 I wondered if an audience, keen on the revamped Batman, would be interested in the Spider once more. The violent stories about him often contained traces of masochism and sadomasochism, as well as insane opponents. (He could be a bit mad also.) The 1970s paperbacks of those three figures were around the house when I was growing up, and later I read Phillip José Farmer’s ‘biography’ of Doc Savage. These memories combined with the re-visioning of Batman to give me the idea for an adventure story primarily set in India and Tibet that would link G-8 (mad from his war battles) and his twin half-brothers, who eventually would become the Shadow and the Spider. The pre-story explained a bit of what they’d done in WWI, what happened to them in the 1920s, and how two of them emerged, 45s blazing, on the side of justice (though not always the law) in the 1930s. (G-8 didn’t get out of the 1920s alive.) In 1993 I finished writing Pulpseed, and sent it off.
There were the usual responses from publishers—silence, negatives. But one replied that if I obtained copyright permission, then they’d look at the book. Funny, I thought legal departments could do that. I wrote Condé Nast, owner of the Shadow copyright, and someone else who owned the copyrights to the Spider and G-8. No answer from either. Without permission, I couldn’t go any further. The book sat there, completed, and not publishable. Failure #1.
In 1994 The Shadow movie opened. It had a dorky story, an abysmal villain, and Margo Lane (she wasn’t in the early comics, but was on the radio show); there were also some good effects, a bit of humour, and nice touches. I wanted it to be so much better. Its unfulfilled possibilities tormented me. Okay, that sounds melodramatic, but at the time I felt a keen disappointment. Soon after seeing it I got up in the middle of the night and wrote notes that later became the first eight chapters of a contemporary Shadow-Spider novel. They dealt with the grateful dying of the very elderly Lamont Cranston and Richard Wentworth (the aliases of the Shadow and Spider, respectively), and the passing on, through a mystical process, of their mental powers to chosen successors: in the Shadow’s case, a tall African-American woman; for the Spider, a Korean-American male. The scene had been set.
But I couldn’t figure out a plot. An adventure story of this type can’t get by without one. Failure #2.
In 2010 my first published novel came out, and I thought, ahead of time: —All right, now I’ll have more profile, more credibility. I wrote Condé Nast’s lawyers again. Nothing. The other copyright owner said his help hinged on what Condé Nast’s lawyers said.
Three times I tried writing or getting published something about my chosen three pulp heroes. There have been three failures. Is there a connection in a mystical numerological way? Maybe only the Shadow could say.
Jeff Bursey is a Canadian author born in St. John’s, Newfoundland. He received his MA on Henry Miller. His plays have been performed in Newfoundland and Prince Edward Island, and his short stories have appeared in print and online. His literary criticism has been published in a variety of journals in Canada, England and the United States. His academic articles have appeared in Nexus: The International Henry Miller Journal, The Review of Contemporary Fiction, and in a collection on William Gaddis, Paper Empire: William Gaddis and the World System (a co-authored paper). In 2004, Peter Owen reissued Blaise Cendrars’s The Astonished Man with a Preface by Bursey. His first book, Verbatim: A Novel (Enfield & Wizenty), a parliamentary satire told in lists, letters between bureaucrats, and political debates set out in dual columns, came out in October 2010. He now lives in Charlottetown, PEI.
Last week: #AuthorFail 14: Greg Olear
Next week: #AuthorFail 15: Wendy Walker. This is the big closer, folks!
Davis Schneiderman is a multimedia artist and writer and the author or editor of eight print and audio works, including the novels Drain, Abecedarium, and Blank; the co-edited collections Retaking the Universe: William S. Burroughs in the Age of Globalization and The Exquisite Corpse: Chance and Collaboration in Surrealism’s Parlor Game; as well as the audio-collage Memorials to Future Catastrophes. His first short story collection, there is no appropriate #emoji—with collaborations from Lance Olsen, Cris Mazza, Kelly Haramis, Stacy Levine, Tim Guthrie, Andi Olsen, and Megan Milks—will be released in Fall 2019.
His work has also appeared in numerous publications, including Fiction International, The Chicago Tribune, The Iowa Review, and TriQuarterly.
He is Krebs Provost and Dean of the Faculty at Lake Forest College.