Tuesday, June 2, 2015

When Fandoms Collide

This may come as a surprise (though it shouldn't), but I am a fan of many different authors. R. A. Lafferty is at the top of my list, but I am also rather ardent (and therefore perhaps dangerously boring in conversation) about Howard Waldrop, Ursula Le Guin, Barry Hughart, Tony Hillerman, Edward Abbey, Kurt Vonnegut, Richard Brautigan, etc. Depending on what I am reminded of in conversation, you may find me forcing a book by any of those authors into your hands.

Notice that I mentioned Waldrop and Le Guin first after Lafferty in that second sentence.

In a way Lafferty is a great unifier. His fans span the literary gamut from those of us who possess remarkably little talent but love to read to those who are Literary Giants. And yet, we all enjoy sharing our love of Lafferty, without acknowledging any kind of hierarchy.

As an ardent Lafferty fan, I have stumbled into being the editor of Feast of Laughter, our semiannual Lafferty fanzine ("bookzine" as Michael Swanwick called it). While this is the result of countless hours of dedicated work by some really talented and devoted people, of which I am only one contributor, I still get to claim the title. This has led to some truly neat things happening, and sometimes not happening but in really neat ways:

The other day, some months ago, I asked Lawrence Person if he could contact Howard Waldrop on my behalf asking permission to reprint "Willow Beeman," a deliberately Lafferty-esque collaboration by Steven Utley and Howard Waldrop. He gave me Howard's phone number.

Understand, I have loved Howard Waldrop's writing for decades, ever since encountering "The Ugly Chickens" in a copy of Best Science Fiction Stories of the Year: Tenth Annual Collection in the UNM Library sometime around 1984 or '85. He is very high up in my pantheon of literary gods. So it was with some trepidation that I called him the next morning. I was afraid I would be too much a smitten fan boy to sound like a professional editor. Yet when I started talking to Howard, he is such a genuinely kind person he immediately put me at ease. He was happy to spend an hour on the phone chatting about what Lafferty had meant to him, how Lafferty's writing had inspired him, telling me stories about Lafferty at conventions, and telling me the story of how he and Steven Utley had decided to write their Lafferty story. I have since had numerous phone conversations with him. He is always gracious, kind, and excited about helping preserve R. A. Lafferty's place in the literature of Science Fiction. And yes, we did publish "Willow Beeman" in Feast of Laughter #2 this spring.

On another day a couple of weeks ago, I sent an impassioned rambling letter to Ursula K. Le Guin professing my love of her work and asking her to contribute something to Feast of Laughter. While this contact didn't work out anywhere near as amazingly as did my contact with Howard Waldrop, I did receive in the mail last night a very gracious hand written letter from her saying she was honored by our request and that she applauds our efforts to preserve Lafferty's writing. She doubts she will be able to write anything for us, but will keep it in mind. If you are going to turn someone down, that is the way to do it--with kindness, graciousness, and class.

That Lafferty's writing can unite so many talented, intelligent people shows the power of literature to eliminate barriers and bring us all together.


  1. Too bad about Le Guin, but at least she applauded your ongoing efforts to promote Lafferty's work. Perhaps after FoL # 3 is out you can send her copies of all three issues; once she sees what FoL looks like she may change her mind. At the very least we could get a nice blurb from Le Guin for future issues.

  2. Thanks for posting this, Kevin. It's lovely to read your enthusiasm and pleasure in all of this and also a good reminder to me to renew my own efforts. I half-heartedly tried to get in touch with Fred Chappell, a writer who I am fond of for both his "genre" and "non-genre" work, with no success. I will renew my efforts in the hopes of at least receiving a wonderful refusal.

    "If you are going to turn someone down, that is the way to do it--with kindness, graciousness, and class."

    Yes, this is wonderful, especially when contrasted with others who I'll refrain from naming who have given the silent treatment, a loud and frustrating non-response. But now I'm afraid that I'm veering away from kindness, graciousness, and class myself.

  3. Nice post, Kev. It has indeed been surprising, delightful, and humbling to be in touch with various giants just because you're an active Lafferty fan (my gracious encounters on that front have involved Michael Bishop - same for many here - and Jeff VanderMeer and Neil Gaiman). Lafferty brings out that non-hierarchical thing you're talking about. I mean, most of these authors are gracious and down to earth, personally interacting with fans regularly through social media anyway. But that they're willing to respond, contribute, sometimes even reach out, for Lafferty, seems to say a lot. I'm so pleased our little Laff community has managed to remain so friendly and peaceable. Even our very few behind-the-scenes spats have been mild compared to crazy stuff I've witnessed or heard about in other fandom, and have usually actually been kind of friendly spats or at least turned out on a reasonably peaceful note.

  4. The question is: Does anyone know how to get in touch with Donald Fagan and Walter Becker of Steely Dan? I'd love to ask them to write something for Feast of Laughter, especially if Lafferty has inspired any of their songs.