By Silvia Moreno-Garcia
There are two authors in this edition of “Summer of Unknown Writers”, where Innsmouth Free Press explores those books, stories and writers that time forgot and you should find.
Born in 1900, Margaret Rogers Straub, under the pseudonym ‘Dorothy Quick’, contributed 15 stories and 25 poems to Weird Tales during the 30s and 40s. She was also a frequent contributor to Unknown. Her first story sold to Oriental Stories in 1932 (collected in Oriental Stories in 1975). Her first Weird Tales story was “The Horror in the Studio” (1935); the last, “More Than Shadow” (1954).
Dorothy also wrote a non-fiction book called Mark Twain and Me, which was adapted into a TV movie. Dorothy met Twain when they were both traveling from Europe back to the United States. She was 11 and he was 72. They became friends, and corresponded often.
“Strange Orchids” (Weird Tales, 1937) made the cover of the magazine, with a nice illustration by Margaret Brundage (she of the cheesecake fame). It offers a different take on the evil plant. A man implants an orchid inside a woman’s body. It absorbs her essence, culminating with the flower blooming. It makes sense in a bizarre way because, as pretty as they are, orchids are parasitic.
“The Lost Door” is available at Project Gutenberg. It is not a wholly satisfying read, and it’s not really scary, although it was several creepy elements. I liked the set-up: heir to a young fortune is called back to ancient manor, which has been kept exactly like it was in the times of the Medici. Nothing modern is allowed inside the home and everyone dresses and behaves as though they were in another time period. The protagonist and his friend spot a pretty young woman on a staircase. She is a ghost who has placed a curse upon the manor. All these ideas don’t gel together, and the “alluring and deadly horror” lacks a punch. But hey, at least it’s free and available online.
Allison V. Harding
Hardly anything is known about the most prolific Weird Tales female writer, Allison V. Harding, who published 36 stories from 1934 to 1954. Her real name was ‘Jean Mulligan’, and she was a New Yorker and lawyer. This is probably the toughest writer to find of the ones I’ve mentioned so far. Aside from the lack of biographical data, there’s the lack of stories.
How did I stumble upon Harding? Well, once, I said that the Necronomicon is hiding in Mexico City. It probably is. My parents, having more books than money and more love for literature than common sense, collected all kinds of bizarre texts and gave me free rein to look for literary curiosities (Whole streets filled with old books in downtown Mexico City! Though that may have changed now). That’s how I met “The Damp Man”. “The Damp Man” was published in Weird Tales in 1949 and was followed by two sequels. The man in question is an uber-rich fellow who, after a failed experiment, becomes a bloated, watery (a metabolic issue makes him retain water, which makes him look so huge) madman bent on creating a new race of creatures like him. In the first story, he stalks a champion swimmer, thinking he might be able to mate with her and have babies. Ewww. You’ll be thinking, “Innsmouth” (breeding, water) when you read this puppy. Where can you find this pulpish tale? Try Weird Tales: The Magazine That Never Dies (1988), which collects 44 stories that originally appeared in Weird Tales.
Alas, as for any other Harding stories, “The Marmot” shows up in 100 Creepy Little Creatures (1994). Otherwise, the lady has vanished.