RARA-AVIS: Re: crossover appearances

From: Richard Moore ( moorich@aol.com)
Date: 02 Nov 2007

--- In rara-avis-l@yahoogroups.com, "capnbob@..." <capnbob@...> wrote:
> Didn't William Campbell Gault have two of his series characters
appear in the same book? Joe Puma
> and Brock Callahan?
> Robert S. Napier, author

Yes, it was THE CANA DIVERSION (1982) which I will never forget because Gault got me booed at a Bouchercon over it. Both Gault and I had sold novels to the Raven House line published by Worldwide/Harlequin around 1980. The publishers thought they could establish a subscription service for these novels as they did their Romances. The fact that they failed to do this in science fiction with Laser Books did not discourage them.

The books would also be published for news stand/book store sales. The publisher was committed to a certain date for the subscription deliveries but some market research indicated designs would die lousy in the street on the news stand. So the company published a subscription edition but held off on distribution to the book racks until a redesign could be accomplished.

So Gault and I had copies of our books but no one other than the trusting fools who subscribed early had ever seen the novels. Gault had sold them a trunk novel (THE BAD SAMARITAN) but had written THE CANA DIVERSION fresh, and I think it was the best of his later day novels. He and I shared an editor and ended up being penpals because the editor asked me to write Gault. I had been very enthusiastic when I heard Gault was among the authors and she asked me to write him because he felt he was completely forgotten by the mystery world, which he had left more than 15 years before. Believe it or not, she thought he needed encouragement.

So we began to correspond quite a bit via snail mail and I urged him to attend the 1981 (or was it 1982) Milwaukee Bouchercon. Milwaukee had been his hometown and it was a natural place to celebrate his return to mysteries. Neither of us had ever been to a mystery convention before but figured we could pal together no matter who else showed up.

Back in those early days the Bouchercons were small groups--350 folks is my guess for Milwaukee--with the mix being die-hard mystery fans and collectors and a few local walk-ins. Later on an old pulpster like Gault could appear and be littled noted by 80% of the attendees (Dorothy B. Hughes attended several conventions without notice or tribute) but in 1981 (or 1982) in Milwaukee most of the attendees knew exactly who he was. As happened with all the old writers in the early days of Bouchercon, they were shocked and flattered at anyone knowing them and dumbfounded at meeting people who knew their career in depth. Such a contrast to today when some first book writers bitch about not getting a better panel.

So Gault arrives in Milwaukee and there is an event put on by the Milwaukee Press Club and Gault is given a special award. When Bill graduated from high school, he managed about a year in college and then went to work in a shoe factory. He worked in that shoe factory until his story sales made that check unnecessary. The press club gave him an award that featured the sole of a shoe. Tough old Bill was blown away. That and the detailed knowledge of his work by so many fans touched him deeply.

Back in 1981 (or was it 1982) publishers didn't know Bouchercon or mystery conventions from beans and most of the writers who showed up were fans themselves, in the area, or had been courted by the organizers. At the Milwaukee convetion, the big name was Mickey Spillane, who came because he wanted to come and because Miller Lite paid his way as a promotional appearance.

Gault had expressed mixed feelings to me about Spillane because Mickey had always claimed to have been a pulp writer and none of the old pulp writers believed the claim. He had written one and two pagers for comic books, which met some requirement or other for mailing privileges, and this was a sharp drop from the prestige of the pulps (at least in the view of the old pulp writers).

But Mickey, bless his heart, knew exactly who Gault was and was very generous with the comments. Both had been published by Dutton. It turned out Mickey was a big fan of Fred Brown, another Dutton writer, who was a long-time poker pal and mentor of Gault's. I have to say that regardless of anyone's view of Mickey's achievements as a writer, he was a standup guy and in every way a class act.

One other writer in Milwaukee was Helen McCloy, who was the guest of honor. McCloy is not much remembered today but she was the first woman to serve as president of the Mystery Writers of America
(1950). When McCloy spoke to the convention I was seated next to Gault. Most of her talk dealt with her ex-husband the late Davis Dresser, better known as Brett Halliday. The same Raven House line about to publish novels by Gault and myself also was republishing the first Michael Shayne novel DIVIDEND ON DEATH with the promise of bringing them all back into print. This never happened and I am not certain that the one Shayne novel was ever published beyond the small printing for the subscribers.

It is true that McCloy and Dresser had been a mystery genre power couple for years doing joint book reviews, founding Torquil Books and a literary agency but it is also true that they divorced in the early 1960s and Dresser remarried.

Gault had known Dresser after he moved to Santa Barbara (and after the divorce). He had also complained to me that Dresser had approached him at one point about leaving his current publisher for Dresser's Torquil (distributed by Dodd, Mead) and when he said no, Dresser as a reviewer panned every Gault novel after that.

So as we listened to Helen McCloy ignore her own accomplishments
(for which she was being honored) to praise her ex-husband, Gault leaned over to me and whispered "Do you think she's forgotten about the divorce?" It was all I could do not to burst into laughter.

Ah, but I am forgetting what started me on this journey of recollection. So we reach the point in the convention when William Campbell Gault is on the stage after talking briefly about his career and asks for questions. As is often the case, no one jumps out with an immediate question and for friends I like to jump into the silence and give them something that will stimulate conversation.

So I helpfully asked Gault: "Could you talk about your latest novel where Brock the Rock Callahan investigates the murder of your other private eye Joe Puma?"

Now let me point out here that Puma is dead before THE CANA DIVERSION is more than four or five pages old and the death is mentioned on the novel's blurb. Any reviewer would mention Puma's death without worrrying about a spoiler alert--and when the novel finally appeared on the stands this proved to be true. But at the time of this convention the only two people who had seen the novel beyond the line's subscribers were Gault and myself.

So my comment was to the audience (dominated by die-hard mystery fans) a very shocking statement as many of them preferred the Joe Puma novels to those featuring Callahan. All of this possibility escaped me as I made my hopefully helpful question. I only realized what I had done when I heard the gasps from the audience as I said the words "...the murder of your other private eye Joe Puma."

As the gasp went through the room, Gault looked at me with a knowing, evil glint in his eye and put his finger to his lips as he went "Shssss..."

And at that moment I was booed and hissed like I have never been before or since. And there was no opportunity to explain. I was a bum who violated the spoiler rules. Gault got a huge kick out of it.

Richard Moore

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