Tuesday, February 18, 2003
Dear Neil,
You mentioned mentioned three of your published short stories that "remain uncollected to this day. And probably will remain so forever," and I wonder how strongly you feel about this and why, because I'm inclined to feel the opposite. I empathize more with your dissatisfaction at all Douglas Adams unfinished stuff being printed ( I have mixed feelings there too... I've not yet sat down to read Salmon of Doubt, I'm sure I will) but when it comes to early published stuff and even unpublished stuff that doesn't meet your high standards, don't you think there's value for fans and aspiring writers to see something of the evolution of your style and process?
Additionally, for some writers (although this is less applicable to you) who have a distinctive voice and style that is a large part of their appeal, early work, though less refined, often contains even more of that personal and subjective element that is so integral to the writer's appeal; I'm thinking in particular here of Neal Stephenson's The Big U, a book which he fought having reprinted for many years, but I for one am tremendously glad he gave in. Literature is an artform, and writers can and should work on refining themselves as artists and their work as art, but for the most part that refinement comes at some cost to certain more primitive elements of their writing. As the creator, you have the right to control the reproduction of your work, but especially given how you admitted you feel about even recent works, do you feel your in the best position to judge what fans might enjoy or get out of earlier works that you'd rather put behind you? If republishing them seems too much like a stamp of approval, why not make them available electronically for free, so we could judge for ourselves? Thanks for ALL your stories,

You have a point, although I'm still not going to collect any of those early stories in a book.

The online approach is more or less what we're doing -- although the problem with that is that those old stories were written before computers. Typed laboriously by hand, they were, by someone who doesn't like typing. But at least one of them will go up on the site sooner or later -- Michael Karpas from the site typed up a story and a letter I had published in a fanzine called DAGON in the early 80s (I think the story may have been the first thing I wrote to be published, and dates back to a time when I was trying on other people's voices -- in this case author and poet Robert Nye's -- and other people's characters. The letter contains the history of the P.G. Wodehouse -H.P. Lovecraft musical collaboration, and includes some lyrics from Cthulhu Springtime including the female lead's...

They say I'm just a bird in a gilded cage
A captive like a parakeet or dove
But when a maiden meets a giant lipophage
Her heart gets chewed and broken, like that old adage...
I'm just a fool who
Thought that Cthulhu
Could fall in love

"Manuscript Found in a Milkbottle" is pretty awful though. It was an idea in search of a story, and won't be posted. "Featherquest", my first published story, was cut in half -- from 8,000 words to 4,000 on first publication, so I'd have to find the original, but it was just a sort of shaggy dog story with a few good jokes, or not-so-good, probably won't be published. "How to Sell the Ponti Bridge," the third of them, may have been okay. I'll dig it out and find out.