Monday, November 24, 2014

We Didn't Know It Was Impossible, So We Did It.

The impossible feast is served.

Once upon a time, a Lafferty fan named David Cruces created an R. A. Lafferty fan group on Facebook and named the group "East of Laughter." It is a great and active group of fans, with a growing and vocal membership.

One day, sometime in early October of this year the discussion in the group turned to Lafferty stories and essays reprinted in old fanzines. After much discussion of where to find these old 'zines, I piped up saying we should just create our own 'zine. I even offered a sonnet about Lafferty to serve as a first submission. A number of members leapt at the idea, promising new essays and proposing old essays to include.

We proceeded apace, placing a few essays, more poetry, and a half-draft of a story in a shared folder. I had visions of a PDF 'zine circulated among fans, maybe reaching to 50 or even 70 pages--we were getting some good content. We decided on a name, Feast of Laughter, because firstly, it mimics the name of the group. Second, it resonates with Dan Knight’s Introduction to his magazine, "The Boomer Flats Gazette:"
The table was prepared and the bar was stocked for as big a bash as ever was seen. There was something for everyone. A magical feast. Take as much as you want. Stuff your pockets and fill your purse. It would make no difference. There would be just as much when you were done as when you started. This is fish and loaves stuff. (Are not all good stories fish and loaves stuff by their very definition?)
And third, most importantly, laughter is a strong part of Lafferty’s storytelling. Can you read any of his stories without a deep belly-chuckle? Sometimes the more horrifying stories contain the strongest humor, and sometimes, like in “Hog Belly Honey”, every sentence is such a joy to read, you laugh yourself nearly comatose before half finishing the story.

We decided to try to finish our submissions by October 31st, so I would have time to edit, proofread, and format the final file by Lafferty's 100th birthday on November 7th. This left us only three and a half weeks to assemble the content, but a lot had already been written.

Then a couple of near miracles occurred: first, Michael Bishop joyfully, enthusiastically, jubilantly gave us permission to reprint his Lafferty-inspired story, "Of Crystalline Labyrinths and the New Creation" (a life long thanks to John Owen for contacting Michael Bishop and so eloquently requesting the story). Then Lissanne Lake, already famous among us Lafferty fans for her beautiful Lafferty book covers (especially Lafferty in Orbit) and famous to the world at large as a fantasy painter and illustrator, gave us her contribution, a stunning rendition in paint of Lafferty's story "Days of Grass, Days of Straw."

Days of Grass by Lissanne Lake
You can see a higher resolution scan of the painting at www.feastoflaughter.org

Then the content really started rolling in. We figured out how to handle the copyright correctly to reprint "The Six fingers of Time," Andrew Ferguson agreed to give us his essay on "The Six Fingers of Time," more writers agreed to let us reprint seminal Lafferty essays they had published before, and David Morrow, a professional designer in Glasgow, Scotland agreed to design our cover from Lissanne's amazing painting. More essays and fiction were being written and submitted from a truly impressive cadre of fans.

John Owen (again John Owen--somebody give him a gold star (or a gold asteroid, "Golden Trabant" reference anyone?)) had some experience self-publishing with Amazon and agreed to take us through the process with CreateSpace.

Things were falling into place Very Quickly and in Large Volume. I found myself staying up until sunrise on Halloween weekend--hey, if everybody was willing to work that hard, I owed it to them to put in some grand effort assembling their work. Much back and forth, much discussion in the East of Laughter Facebook group--thousands and thousands of comments (I am not exaggerating), Amazing proofreading work from Rich Persaud and John Owen and Noah Wareness among a small army of others. On Lafferty's 100th birthday, November 7, 2014, we had a website up with a complete copy of Feast of Laughter, Issue 1: www.feastoflaughter.org. Within a few days and a bit more midnight oil, we had our first edition available in paperback via Amazon.


Feast of Laughter, Issue 1

To say I was floored by how beautiful the final book came out would be an extreme practice of the art of understatement. I have been unable to contain myself. I keep giggling over it. And the giggling has only increased: by Day 2, we had sold enough copies to be #4 on Amazon's list of the 100 best selling books in the category "Science Fiction History and Criticism," beating out books about Middle Earth and Harry Potter (beating everything but some companion volumes to George R. R. Martin's Song of Ice and Fire books and a book about Hobbits). And then Andrew Ferguson posted a beautiful review on his Tumblr, "Continued on Next Rock." And then Neil Gaiman bought our book and blogged about it!

Feast of Laughter in Amazon's list of Best Sellers in Science Fiction History & Criticism

I am still over the moon over this experience. I could never have imagined such amazing things could have happened from an offhand mention in a Facebook group. It is impossible that it happened so quickly. We radically exceeded our own expectations. There is a small army of Lafferty fans to thank for building this. It was a truly collaborative effort at "Slow Tuesday Night" speed.

The Feast of Laughter is now a living periodical. We will publish two issues a year on November 7, Lafferty's birthday, and March 18, the day he died. Every issue will try to include:
  • Essays about his writing.
  • Reviews.
  • Original fiction and artwork inspired by Lafferty.
  • At least one Lafferty story.
Our mission is to help raise Lafferty's profile and establish his place in American Letters, to bring Lafferty to a wider readership, and to do all of this while being scrupulous about copyright and permissions. That way we can keep working with authors and copyright holders for many years to come. The next four issues are being prepared, and you are invited to contribute. Leave a comment or contact editor@feastoflaughter.org with your ideas. 
  • Feast of Laughter #2: March 18, 2015 - deadline for interest: Jan 31, 2015, deadline for content, February 20, 2015.
  • Feast of Laughter #3: November 7, 2015 - deadline for interest: September 19, 2015, deadline for content, October 11, 2015.
  • Feast of Laughter #4: March 18, 2016 - deadline for interest: Jan 31, 2016, deadline for content, February 20, 2016.
  • Feast of Laughter #5: November 7, 2016 - deadline for interest: September 19, 2016, deadline for content, October 11, 2016.

The next feast is being prepared, and you are invited. But it's a potluck affair. Take as much as you can consume, but bring something to share.

Bon appetit!

2 comments:

  1. Nice, Kev, thanks! You're a legend of an editor! It was a great pleasure and privilege to be a part of it.

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  2. Thank you, Daniel. It is a pleasure and a privilege to work with you and everyone who played a role in preparing this feast. Thank you for sharing your erudition, your enthusiasm, and your excellence (the three 'E's of Lafferty fandom).

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