Letter to L. Sprague de Camp

From Clark Ashton Smith

Auburn. Calif.,
Oct. 21, 1952.

Dear Sprague:

I have your letter of Oct. 17th, and feel a little embarrassed in answering by the paucity of autobiographical detail that would be suited to your purpose.(I'm not nearly old enough yet to write my Confessions!)

As for my education, that's easy enough to answer, since it has been mainly self-conducted, highly irregular, and largely a matter of following my own vagrant and varying inclinations. I did graduate from grammar school and register for entry into high school. But my real education began with the reading of Robinson Crusoe (unabridged), Gulliver's Travels, the fairy tales of Andersen and the Countless D'Aulnoy, The Arabian Nights and (at the age of 13) Poe's Poems. Poe seems to have confirmed me in a more or less permanent slant. which led later to Baudelaire and the French Romantic School. Beckford's Vathek, read at the age of 15, was another early influence. I did a lot of boyhood scribbling, imitations of Omar, lurid Oriental romances, etc.; and at l7 sold several pseudo-Orientales to the Black Cat and The Overland Monthly. Curiously enough, after that I wrote little but poetry for a number of years, and dabbled a lot in painting and drawing, the pictures being mainly grotesques and fantastic exotic landscapes. I think it was mainly Lovecraft's interest and encouragement (I began to correspond with him in 1922) which led me to experiment with weird fiction. My first genuinely weird tale, "The Abominations of Yondo", was written in 1925 and appeared in. The Overland Monthly, evoking, I was told, many protests from the readers. In the fall of 1929 I began in intensive campaign of fiction-writing, both weird and pseudo-science, for which, I am going to confess frankly, the influence and coercement of a woman- friend was largely responsible. The bulk of my published tales were written between that time and 1935. I might add that out of my total fictional output (probably around 110 completed stories) very little has remained unsold. and this little is mediocre which, I fear, applies to some of the published yarns also.

As for other occupations, these have been largely seasonal or part-time jobs, such as orchard work and garden work—fruit-picking, thinning, pruning, etc. I have done a little mining but dislike working underground. And I did take a flier in journalism for awhile: etc contributing of a column of epigrams, verse, etc., to a local newspaper. The epigrams were a little too sophisticated for their audience and I was no doubt lucky to escape incarceration in the county jail. Also I have dabbled a lot in small grotesque sculptures and, to my surprise, I have sold nearly my entire output. But I am giving up such work for the present because of the heavy eyestrain entailed and, for the first time in years, have gone back to fiction- writing. Two shorts, written since the middle of September, are in the mails, and I am going ahead on a third. The tales are quite varied—one, "Schizoid Creator". being a fantastic satire that mixes black magic with psychiatric shock- treatment (the patient being a demon!) and the second, "Morthylla", a tale of Zothique, concerning a pseudo-lamia who was really a normal woman trying to please the tastes of her eccentric poet-lover. The one that I am. writing at present, "The Theft of the Thirty-Nine Girdles", is told by the Hyperborean thief Satampra Zeiros whom you may remember if you have read Lost Worlds. The theme is the stealing of the golden and jeweled chastity girdles worn by the virgins (!) of a Hyperborean temple. Satampra has taken on a moll, an ex-virgin of the temple, who is really quite a help to him in this delicate enterprise.

Re your other questions. I never met Lovecraft, and have never been very far east of the Sierras. However, I corresponded with Lovecraft till within six weeks of his death. I've met a few other fellow-practitioners Price, Wandrei, Williamson, Fritz Leiber Jr., and Edmond Hamilton; and every so often one or two or three or four "fans" drift into Auburn. I enclose a rather good snap of myself taken some years back by a couple of the latter. The youth in the middle is Laney, who edited The Acolyte. I look about the same now (a pretty healthy object on the whole) which he addition of a small imperiale.

No, I don't run. and hardly expect to run, a motel. On the other hand, I am not the recluse that certain current fables have represented me as being. I do not live in a remote part of the Sierras; and I do not keep "a pack of savage dogs to ensure my privacy". In fact, I've kept nothing but cats for a number of years. The last one, a tom, disappeared some time back; and I haven't tried to replace him, since I do too much catting around myself to make a good master for cats, who find it increasingly hard to live on the land in this game-depopulated section.

That unfinished novel must have been The Infernal Star, which I began a number of years back as a prospective three-part serial for W.T. I drafted the first part (around 2,000 words) but somehow never went on with it. The hero was an innocent bibliophile who, through an amulet found behind the cracked binding of a volume of Jane Austen, was drawn into a series of wild and sorcerous adventures leading to a world of the star Yamil Zacra, the center from which all cosmic evil, sorcery, witchcraft, etc., emanate. I'll try to finish it if I can sell enough shorts to finance myself for awhile. A better idea, though, is The Scarlet Succubus, a projected short novel of Zothique, which I'm carrying in my head. The conception takes a hint from Balzac's yarn, "The Succubus", In The Droll Stories, and will exploit the imaginative and mystic possibilities of sex—an angle that seems rather neglected in this day of raw and mundane realism.

As to reading I do not read any set number of books a year and would hate to undertake such a feat. In fact, I have a way of passing up what most of the world is reading. I buy an occasional fantasy or science fiction magazine to get a general idea of the current trend, or trends. Of books that I have read at all recently, I might instance The Spear in the Sand, by Raoul Faure, and The Adventures of King Pausole by Pierre Louys as being among those that have most impressed me. Among living writers, probably I admire Aldous Huxley and Walter de la Mare as much as any. But my tastes are fairly ecelectic, running as they do from Lovecraft to John Collier, from Maupassant and Flaubert to Fritz Leiber Jr.

Among other dabblings that I have neglected to mention is the translating of French and Spanish poetry, and also a few attempts to write verse of my own in the aforesaid languages. Among my few unpublished masterpieces is a short play in blank verse, The Dead Will Cuckold You, which could easily be turned into a prose yarn of Zothique for Weird Tales.

I might add chat I write slowly and painstakingly, with much recasting and revision. Much of my old work strikes me as being hasty, over-verbose and sometimes hackish. I have a number of ideas, also many written synopses, which I hope to work out. But I believe that my tendency will be away from horror of the Zothique or Lovecraftian type, toward fantastic satire, drollery and what-have-you. Also, there should be room for some good interplanetaries that would avoid the current glibness, dryness and matter-of-factness.

I have enjoyed the fantastic humor of your own tales, and must buy The Rogue Queen, which sounds most alluring. And I'll look forward to The Tritonian Ring. Will gladly autograph any copies of my own books that you send on. Hope this medley will be of a little use. I'll look forward to seeing you when you reach California . Don't forget!


I enclose an astoundingly complete bibliography of my published fiction, compiled by a New Zealand admirer.

From: Klarkash-Ton: The Journal of Smith Studies #1, 1988, Cryptic Publications.

Printed from: www.eldritchdark.com/writings/correspondence/78
Printed on: October 19, 2018