Silverberg, Houston, Texas, and an Interview

Old sign, from trail behind the building.

New interview up here.

While I was in Houston for my reading at Brazos Bookstore, I went to my old neighborhood. The house I grew up in was demolished and replaced with a big ugly thing sometime in the last ten years. I knew that, so no shock. Fortunately, Three Brothers Bakery is still where it has been since 1960, on the banks of Braes Bayou in Southwest Houston.

Front.

The brothers (Sigmund, Sol, and Max) survived the Holocaust and opened their bakery in 1949, in a different location. At their current building, they have survived multiple floods, fire, covid lockdowns, and losing their Kosher license.

Bathroom wall history.

An article about how they’re doing appeared in the Houston Chronicle a few days before my trip. I only had time for one visit and a coconut custard danish. I had meant to go back the next morning but ran out of time.

Arthur Machen’s The Chronicle of Clemendy

“Rubrican’s First Tale,” facsimile edition of 35 numbered and signed prints. 11.5” x 8.25” on heavy, acid-free paper, available from Yard Dog, along with other prints from the edition.

Tomorrow (August 23, 2022) is the official release day of The Silverberg Business. Today, I’m writing about some of the book’s interconnected underpinnings.

My main character is a Jewish detective named Shannon (family name originally Chanun, Americanized by immigration). He’s from Galveston, Texas and lives and works in Chicago, Illinois. Most of the book takes place in Texas.

Allan Pinkerton founded the Pinkerton National Detective Agency in Chicago in the 1850s. I chose Chicago as Shannon’s home and made Shannon’s boss a former Pinkerton agent.

The writer Dashiell Hammet worked for a time as a Pinkerton agent; I used Hammet’s Continental Op character as a base when I began formulating Shannon.

I love the weird fiction writing of Welsh author Arthur Llewellyn Jones, who wrote as Arthur Machen. I decided to name Shannon’s boss Arthur Llewellyn.

Scottish-born Pinkerton was a Chartist. Before reading about Pinkerton, I hadn’t known about Chartism, which was a working-class political reform movement in Britain from around 1838 to 1857. In 1839, the Newport Rising occurred, in Newport, Wales. Police arrested Chartists, protests followed, soldiers shot miners. (This is an oversimplification; for more information on the Newport Rising, please look elsewhere, including the book listed a few paragraphs down.)

I decided that my Llewellyn was a former Chartist who moved to the U.S. after the uprising. As fellow Chartists, it would make sense for him to have worked with Pinkerton.

Jon Langford is Welsh, from Newport, and lives in Chicago. His skull-head art was one of the formative elements for the novel and he created the Silverberg cover art.

Bringing more elements together, Three Impostors, a small publisher based in Newport, Wales, has been publishing special illustrated editions of Arthur Machen’s work. In March 2022, they released The Chronicle of Clemendy, first published in 1888, with ten illustrations by Langford.

Lovely editions of many Machen books are also available from Tartarus Press.

Three Imposters also published a book, Render the Chartists Defenceless: John Frost’s Voyage with Dr McKechnie to Van Diemen’s Land in 1840, by Les James, about the transportation to Tasmania of the leaders of the 1839 Newport Rising.

Is it coincidence that The Chronicle of Clemendy came out the year that The Silverberg Business is set? I doubt it.

Featured

Reading Schedule

Here are the happenings for The Silverberg Business, Ohio, Texas, and Illinois.

Audio of me, reading with Victor LaValle at KGB, NYC, April 20, 2022.

Novel Gets a Name

I figured out the title early on, borrowing from Dashiell Hammett’s story “This King Business.” But who’s business would it be? The answer to that came from the story, and the name of the character for whom Shannon is searching.

Gary K. Wolfe, who reviewed The Silverberg Business in the August issue of Locus magazine said: “Probably the first thing SFF readers need to know about Robert Freeman Wexler’s The Silverberg Business is that it has nothing to do with any legendary grand masters of the field.” This is true, in that the content of the novel has nothing to do with Robert Silverberg. However, it also does.

During my senior year of high school we had to take various placement tests for college; apparently I did well enough to place out of my first college English class. The first semester of my freshman year, I took the class required for students who had placed out of first semester English. The only thing I remember from the class was the week that the teaching assistant took over. He assigned us a paper/story in which we introduce a new character.

At the time, I was reading Robert Silverberg’s novel, Lord Valentine’s Castle, serialized in Fantasy and Science Fiction magazine. In the current issue (probably the one shown here, from December 1979), Silverberg introduced a new character. I realized I could study how he did it to help me write my piece for the class. This was when I discovered that writers learn from studying (and copying) other writers. I’ve been copying ever since.

I don’t remember the name of the teaching assistant. He must have been a creative writing graduate student (as a freshman, I didn’t know there was such a thing). Whoever you are, thanks for the assignment. I didn’t know how important it would be.

Music

I came across a great interview with Steven R. Smith at Foxy Digitalis. I listen to his music a lot while writing. He works mostly solo, using a variety of instruments and project names. He talks about the meanings of the names and why he uses them.

“So by saying, for example, Ulaan Janthina is going to be focusing heavily on keyboards and the rhythms will be generated by my homemade instruments, there’s going to be no guitar–we’re already starting to see what this can be and that’s before writing any music at all–and then because the Janthina name implies the sea and ocean, instruments like organs and electric pianos that are kind of watery…this all helps it take shape.”

Much of his music is available at Worstword Recordings Bandcamp page.