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It is not difficult to imagine Sherlock Holmes, that great eschewer of the supernatural, firing his clay pipe into the fireplace at 221B were he made aware of the cottage literary movement birthed by his adventures. People tend to forget that the detective and his dogged, Boswellian biographer Doctor Watson, investigated through the first quarter of the 20th century, existing as surely in the age of Babe Ruth as they had in the Victorian era of Wilkie Collins. There were, of course, hundreds of Holmes knock-offs and pastiches throughout the detective’s run, as there are now, but what some writers, at least, had the good sense to realize was that simply recasting the model of the genius deducer and his very human foil/partner was not going to achieve any more than serve up some Sherlock-lite. A new wrinkle was needed. Enter, then, the ghosts, and the duos who investigate them.

In the summer of 1914, when the wife and husband duo of Alice and Claude Askew published the eight stories that comprise the collected adventures of Aylmer Vance, “ghost-seer” — there’s something for a business card for you — supernatural fiction was going through a crucial change. The ghost story, long dominant in England, from where the Askews hailed, and which made up a goodly chunk of the best literature yet written in the States, had started to morph into the weird tale, the stuff that would dominate the pulps in the 1930s and 1940s, giving rise to those limited edition book runs at places like Arkham House, which recast horror writing much as Hawthorne, Poe, and M.R. James once had. Humans, now, were often the agencies of the macabre, or else elemental forces from the beyond divorced of human form, but borne of human crisis and strain. The dead girl in the glowing white dress, less so.
More… “The Ghost Shift”

Colin Fleming’s fiction appears in Harper’s, Commentary, Virginia Quarterly Review, AGNI, and Boulevard, with other work running in The Atlantic, Salon, Rolling Stone, The New York Times, and JazzTimes. He is a regular guest on NPR’s Weekend Edition and Downtown with Rich Kimball, in addition to various radio programs and podcasts. His last book was The Anglerfish Comedy Troupe: Stories from the Abyss, and he has two books forthcoming in 2018: Buried on the Beaches: Cape Stories for Hooked Hearts and Driftwood Souls, and a volume examining the 1951 movie Scrooge as a horror film for the ages. Find him on the web at colinfleminglit.com.

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When I was a kid, one of my greatest pleasures was staying up super late, when I thought everyone else was long in bed, reading Three Investigators books and getting spooked out of my mind in this easy-going, chummy kind of way. It was like I was in the company of good friends, and we were all in for some scares that we knew, collectively, we’d see our way through. I’d bargain with myself, saying, “okay, one more chapter, and then we really need to get to bed,” and on I’d read until two, three in the morning, always adding yet another chapter to my ongoing haggling until at last I gave in when I thought the sun was all set to find me out.

What appealed most to me, I now realize, was this idea of a compact between book and reader, like you were in on something together,… More…

He was a writer, first and foremost, and he spent a lot of time thinking about writing. He was a good writer. He could turn a phrase. He could move a story along. Still, it was difficult to make any money at the thing. He spent some time in Greenwich Village in the 1930s, hanging out with the other writers and artists, thinking about what it means to spend a life with the written word, to pay the bills working as a writer. He found his answer in the pulp fiction scene of the ’30s and ’40s. Magazines and book publishers were looking for fast-paced writing that told fast-paced stories of adventure, mystery, and intrigue. He could do that. He could do that as well as anyone.

 

His name was L. Ron Hubbard. This year, 2011, happens to… More…