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by Richard A. Lupoff
Introduction by Fender Tucker
Marblehead — The Director’s Cut
For the title of this introduction I couldn’t resist using one the most popular Hollywood catchphrases for “the version that wasn’t ruined by the studio heads”. But this huge novel of what may have happened in 1927 is not strictly a “director’s cut”. Richard Lupoff wrote it completely and had complete authorial control at all times. It’s just that this version of the novel was never published—until now.
The germ of the idea of the book infected Dick Lupoff in 1975 when he read Joe Gores’ Hammett. And what a germ! A fictional mainstream book with lots of action and adventure with a real, beloved author as the hero. Lupoff even had dinner with Gores to see if he’d mind if he wrote a vaguely similar book about his favorite horror writer, H.P. Lovecraft. Joe gave his blessing.
So, in 1976 Lupoff spent several weeks visiting Lovecraft sites in the Providence, Boston and Salem areas, including Marblehead. He interviewed everyone he could find who knew or remembered Lovecraft: Julius Schwartz (his onetime agent), Donald Wollheim (onetime editor/publisher), Kenneth Sterling (onetime collaborator/revision client), Charles Hornig (onetime editor and friend), E. Hoffmann Price (friend and sometime collaborator) and especially Frank Belknap Long (HPL’s protégé and probably his closest and longest-enduring friend).
In September of 1976 Lupoff began writing and one year and 556 pages later he delivered a major mainstream novel to his publisher at the time, Putnam. They said it’s too long and needed to be cut in half. My, how times have changed. So Dick, after a few fitful attempts to emasculate the text, gave up and rewrote the novel from scratch. And in 1980, after Putnam said they wanted it to be more of a genre novel, an adventure novel with car chases and gunfights, the long-suffering author took it to Arkham House, where editor Jim Turner welcomed it—with a few revisions—and Lovecraft’s Book was published to substantial fanfare, with excellent reviews and sales. It was published in the UK, Spain and Portugal, too.
But what about the original 160,000 word manuscript that was almost spayed? Where was it? Lupoff didn’t have a copy and assumed it was lost forever but then in 2000 a friend, Charles Brown, reminded him that back in 1976 Dick had loaned Charles a carbon copy of the text to show his father in Florida, who was dying. The copy was still in Brown’s basement! Dick was ecstatic and envisioned the eventual publication of the mainstream novel he had worked on for more than a year.
But what publisher would be crazy enough to publish it?
Flashforward to 2006 when print-on-demand technology makes limited edition works eminently feasible and Lupoff’s and my meeting in Petaluma CA at the house of mystery writer Bill Pronzini changed everything. “We can do this thing,” I said. “We have the technology.”
Brushing off my puerile dependency on bad TV clichés, Dick Lupoff saw that his dream of telling the complete, original story of Lovecraft’s 1927 odyssey was indeed feasible. All he had to do was send me the 556 pages to scan and OCR, and the original manuscript—which always had his favorite title of MARBLEHEAD—would then be in digital format, ready for publication. He sent me the poorly photocopied pile of papers, and the result of our partnership is in your hands. A mainstream novel of 1927, sort of in the mold of John Dos Passos’ USA, full of action, ideas, manners and personalities.
Car chases were rare in 1927 but read on and you’ll find that solo airplane trips across the Atlantic, personal submarine excursions in Cape Cod Bay, underwater hijinks by Houdini’s brother and cement overshoes worn by Mafiosa henchmen fill the excitement bill. Not to mention sordid antics by Ku Klux Klansmen, proto-Nazis, rumrunners and even wild west cowboys totin’ shootin’ arns. And come to think of it, there is a sort of car chase from Providence to Salem in a classic 320-horsepower SJ Duesenberg at the nerve-wracking speed of 35 mph!
But the biggest treat for modern booklovers is not the action, but the incredibly vivid panoply of ideas that energized the pre-depression world. Hitler had barely revealed his plans for the future and with the help of the amazing character, George Sylvester Viereck, Americans were dealing with seductive philosophies that to us now are no-brainers—our current vice-president’s notwithstanding. But not so in 1927.
The cast of characters in MARBLEHEAD is immense and colorful and the descriptions of the eastern seaboard from New York City to Portsmouth are as vivid as if they had been written in 1927. Take a look at Gavin O’Keefe’s beautiful mapback of the area and imagine you’re in a time machine because this book is the next best thing to one. And the food! How can a novel that claims to portray a slice of time and space not tell us what each character eats at every meal at those fantastic old restaurants that are sadly gone forever. Even though I share H. P. Lovecraft’s distaste for seafood, I couldn’t help salivating every time the literary characters interrupted their philosophizing and motoring to get something grand to eat. No McDonald’s or Taco Bells in 1927 Marblehead!
If you’re asking yourself whether having read LOVECRAFT’S BOOK will spoil MARBLEHEAD, take it from one who has read both, one after the other: LOVECRAFT’S BOOK is like a succulent appetizer at Lock-Ober’s; MARBLEHEAD is having the appetizer, an entrée and finishing it all off with homemade vanilla ice cream smothered with a tureen of hot fudge—with Viereck, Vince Starrett and Sonia Lovecraft as table companions.
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