Her Letters To Clark Ashton Smith: C. L. Moore

There is no volume of The Selected Letters of C. L. Moore, and perhaps there never will be. Like many pulp authors that achieved more lasting and commercial success during her life than peers like H. P. Lovecraft and Robert E. Howard, Moore’s longevity has been coupled with a relative paucity of critical interest in her life and letters. Lovecraft and Howard both benefited from scholarly attention, if mostly by fans, while they remained within living memory…but Moore died in 1987, and if any concerted effort was made to interview her relatives, friends, and peers or otherwise document her life, it has not yet come to light.

Which makes Moore difficult to research. While her surviving letters with H. P. Lovecraft have been published by Hippocampus Press as Letters to C. L. Moore and Others (2017), this is almost all of her correspondence that has been published. More letters remain in university archives, and possibly in private hands, but the lack of easy access to these letters limits critical and biographical research into Moore’s life and work. Information on her life is thus slow to emerge into the popular consciousness, and to answer even simple questions often requires collating data from different sources.

For example: did C. L. Moore correspond with Clark Ashton Smith?

Without a collection of Moore’s correspondence, a researcher’s first stop might be The Selected Letters of Clark Ashton Smith (2003, Arkham House)—and they might come away disappointed; not only are there no letters from Smith to Moore in the book, but there are very few references to Moore or her fiction. Continuing on in this line, a researcher might look at the other collections of Smith’s letters to see if there is any further reference to Moore or evidence of a correspondence with her—given that Moore popped onto the Weird Tales scene in 1933 with the publication of “Shambleau,” collections of correspondence before this date like The Shadow of the Unattained: The Letters of George Sterling and Clark Ashton Smith (2005, Hippocampus Press) and Born Under Saturn: The Letters of Samuel Loveman and Clark Ashton Smith (2021, Hippocampus Press) do us no good. Collections of Smith’s correspondence with his Weird Tales peers Dawnward Spire, Lonely Hill: The Letters of H. P. Lovecraft and Clark Ashton Smith (2020, Hippocampus Press) and Eccentric, Impractical Devils: The Letters of August Derleth and Clark Ashton Smith (2020, Hippocampus Press) have some mentions of Moore, but relatively few and nothing about a correspondence.

While there is nothing direct in Smith’s letters about correspondence with Moore, we can infer a few things:

First, Moore and Smith had mutual friends and correspondents in H. P. Lovecraft, Robert E. Howard, Robert H. Barlow, Henry Kuttner, and probably others. This is evident by their surviving letters to or references to correspondence to these mutuals.

Two, the lack of any mention of a correspondence in Smith’s surviving letters suggests that if there was a correspondence between Smith and Moore, it probably wasn’t extensive or involved. This is not a great surprise: both Smith and Moore were known to sometimes have long gaps between answering letters in the 1930s, and if they didn’t hit it off right away one or the other might easily have dropped a correspondence, even one who was friends with other friends. While a short correspondence could be easily lost (as not all letters from Smith, Lovecraft, etc. survive), a longer correspondence is more likely to have been mentioned in letters to their friends.

Third, when Henry Kuttner died unexpectedly of a heart attack in 1958, Smith wrote to Derleth for details—and neither Smith or Derleth ever mention C. L. Moore, who had married Kuttner in 1940 and was still his wife. This suggests that Smith was probably not then corresponding with or closely associated with Moore; if he was, he would either have written to her directly (no need to ask Derleth) or asked after her. Since Smith did not mention Moore at all, it suggests he was unaware of the connection, or at least not in contact with Moore and Kuttner.

As it happens, there is evidence that Moore and Smith corresponded briefly in the 1930s. For this we have to look at the only readily available source of her letters, her correspondence with H. P. Lovecraft:

Also have just written Clark Ashton Smith for a copy of his “Double Shadow, etc.” the advertisement for which you enclosed in your last letter. He is another fantasy writer whose work it is such a pleasure to read, and for almost opposite reasons from those that make R. E. Howard’s writing so good. Exquisite and fantastic enough to lift one clear out of the present. I’m awfully flad of the opportunity to get more of his work to read.

C. L. Moore to H. P. Lovecraft, 24 Apr 1935, Letters to C. L. Moore and Others 31

The Double Shadow and Other Fantasies (1933, Auburn Journal) was a privately-printed chapbook that was one of Smith’s efforts at remunerative self-publication, with copies to Robert E. Howard, R. H. Barlow, and others sold by mail—Lovecraft helped distribute the advertising flyers among his group of correspondents. This would be a natural start to their brief correspondence, and we know Smith wrote her back:

I am expecting the CAS “Double Shadow, etc.” any day now. I had a note from him Saturday saying it was on the way. Yes, Barlow has lent me “Ebony and Crystal” and the “Hashish-Eater” is haunting me still. I am so sorry for people who don’t like that sort of thing—they miss such an awful lot! There must be very few people who can produce prose, poetry and drawings of such superlative quality.

C. L. Moore to H. P. Lovecraft, 7 May 1935, Letters to C. L. Moore and Others 35

Ebony and Crystal (1922, Auburn Journal) was an early collection of Smith’s fantastic poetry, which included the epic poem “The Hashish Eater -or- the Apocalypse of Evil,” whose opening line gave Smith one of his epithets: “Bow down: I am the emperor of dreams;” according to further letters to Lovecraft, Moore received her copy of The Double Shadow in May, and finished it before the 27th (Letters to C. L. Moore and Others 41-42).

Moore does not mention anything further about correspondence with Smith for some months, and it may be the two fantasists did not continue to write one another after the sale was complete. Smith, for his part, was increasingly occupied with his mother’s failing health during this period and went weeks or months without answering letters. This would seem to be supported by the final reference in her letters to Lovecraft, written when he informed Moore of the death of Fanny Gaylord Smith, Clark’s mother, on 9 September 1935:

I was sorry to hear about Mr. Smith’s mother. I had a debate with myself whether to write, since we have exchanged a note or two, but decided not to both because our correspondence has been so brief and formal, and because in his place I think I’d rather not hear from anyone or be reminded at all of such a bereavement.

C. L. Moore to H. P. Lovecraft, 16 Oct 1935, Letters to C. L. Moore and Others 69

Which is, as far as can be ascertained at this point, the end of it. We might conjecture whys and wherefores Smith and Moore did not renew their correspondence—with Robert E. Howard’s death in 1936 and H. P. Lovecraft’s death in 1937 their major correspondent in common would probably have been R. H. Barlow, and after Lovecraft’s death Smith and Barlow would have a falling-out—but we don’t know. Perhaps they did write to one another sometime in the 40s or 50s, and the letters simply haven’t come to light yet; but for the most part, even though Moore’s marriage with Kuttner would bring her to California where Smith was, the orbits of their careers seem to have shifted.

As far as we know, all of their correspondence was limited to a couple of notes in 1935, and we are fortunate to be able to say that much, given the limited materials on C. L. Moore currently available.

Bobby Derie is the author of Weird Talers: Essays on Robert E. Howard & Others (2019) and Sex and the Cthulhu Mythos (2014).

Her Letters To Clark Ashton Smith: Ina Donna Coolbrith

THROUGH rifts of cloud the moon’s soft silver slips;
A little rain has fallen with the night,
Which from the emerald under-sky still drips
Where the magnolias open, broad and white.

So near my window I might reach my hand
And touch these milky stars, that to and fro
Wave, odorous. . . . Yet ’twas in another land —

How long ago, my love, how long ago!

Ina Coolbrith, “A Memory”

She was born Josephine (sometimes Josephina) Donna Smith in 1841, the niece of that Joseph Smith who was founder and prophet of the Church of Latter-Day Saints. After her father’s death a few months after she was born, her mother Agnes Moulton Coolbrith became the sixth of Joseph Smith’s wives. After Joseph Smith’s murder in 1844, Agnes fled with her children to California under her maiden name, and hid their past association with the Latter-Day Saints for fear of discrimination.

Ina Coolbrith was a poet from childhood, and published her first poem in 1856. A brief marriage at age 17 saw her the victim of spousal abuse, the death of an infant son, and finally a sensational divorce in 1861. The family moved to San Francisco, where Ina found herself in the leading literary circle, associating with luminaries such as Bret Harte, Ambrose Bierce, and Charles Warren Stoddard. She was lauded for her poetry, but struggled financially, and in time took a position as the first librarian of the Oakland Public Library, where she mentored a young Jack London. Coolbrith faced discrimination in her career because she was a woman, and eventually was replaced by her own nephew.

In 1906 Coolbrith’s home was destroyed by fire in the great San Francisco earthquake; friends managed to scrape together funds to build her a new house, including Mark Twain, who provided autographed photographs of himself to be sold for that purpose. She continued to gain fame and honors as California’s premier poet, and in 1915 was named California’s poet laureate…the first poet laureate of any American state.

Clark Ashton Smith probably read Coolbrith’s poems in the Overland Monthly, or if not there, was probably introduced to her work by his mentor George Sterling: in 1917 he had offered Smith a copy of the Poems of Charles Warren Stoddard (1917), which Coolbrith had edited (SU 152). Both Smith and Coolbrith appeared in Golden Songs of the Golden State (1917) and Literary California (1918), so they could hardly have missed each other’s work. Coolbrith had apparently heard of Smith, then a teenage prodigy, no later than 1918 (SU 164). They were not apparently in direct correspondence at this time, but through Sterling the young poet was hooked into Lovecraft’s Bohemian literary circle, and through these connections Sterling, Coolbrith, and Smith all benefited from the generosity of philanthropists like Albert M. Bender (SU 247).

It is possible they met during one of Smith’s infrequent trips to visit Sterling and San Francisco, but if so, no record has come to light…and Coolbrith would have been increasingly housebound due to arthritis in the 1920s, though Smith reported second-hand:

[Andrew] Dewing has returned from S.F. He met Sterling and Ina COolbrith during his visit. He describes Miss Coolbrith as being bright and sprightly in defiance of her seventy (or is it eighty?) odd years. He even takes an interest in her free verse, and has her opinion on everything from Bolshevism to Amy Lowell!

Clark Ashton Smith to Samuel Loveman, 20 Apr 1919, Born under Saturn 161

It would have been natural enough for the two California poets to correspond; while they were of two different generations they shared friends and literary interests in common. However, only a single letter has been published; how many other letters there might have been are unknown, though Coolbrith certainly sent at least one to Smith. This letter does, however, give the flavor of the things they discussed:

Dear Miss Coolbrith:

Thank you for your kind letter, which I had meant to acknowledge long before this. Diffidence more than anything else, has restrained me: But I would have written a little sooner, if I had known that you had a birthday in March I was delighted by the account in the San Francisco papers: it is good to know that one true poet, at least, is “not without honour.” Surely you deserve it—and more.

Miss [Mary Eileen] Ahern tells me that you are having difficulty in finding a publisher. Truly, I am fitted to sympathize, since I am engaged in the same elusive and exasperating search. The publication of my last book was due to the generosity of a local printer who, I am afraid, has barely cleared expenses… In your case, surely the difficulty is due to the present day confusion of poetic values—or (one is tempted to say) the almost total lack of them. “Bedlam [is] loose, and the bars are down.” But perhaps there will be a lucid interval, some day.

I am very much on the shelf at present, with a lame foot (a truly Byronic impediment!) but some day I mean to send you a few of the local wild-flowers, if you will accept them.

With thanks for your appreciation, and all best wishes, I am, dear Miss Coolbrith,

Your admirer,

Clark Ashton Smith

Clark Ashton Smith to Ina Coolbrith, 12 Mar 1925, Selected Letters of Clark Ashton Smith 73

The letter was almost certainly occasioned by Ina Coolbrith’s birthday on March 10th, which was marked by great festivities and reported on in many papers. Smith had published a collection of poetry titled Ebony and Crystal (1922) through the Auburn Journal (the local newspaper), and prepared a second book titled Sandalwood (1925) to be published later that same year, and neither was particularly profitable. To help make up his bill, Smith worked part-time at the newspaper, providing poems, columns, and editing.

Mary Eileen Ahern was a librarian in Oakland. Coolbrith may have been looking for a publisher for Retrospect: Los Angeles (1925), a large folded broadside containing the poem of the same name, or possibly the collection of her later poems that would become Wings of Sunset (1929), which was published a year after her death in 1928.

Smith was “on the shelf” because of an accident during woodcutting, where he’d dropped a block of wood on his toe and apparently had broken it badly: he reported to Sterling that the injury happened ~13 January 1925, and couldn’t walk into town until the end of June (SU 247-253). The injury impacted Smith’s ability to do outdoor work such as picking fruit, which may have influenced his shift toward fantasy fiction: “The Abominations of Yondo” was written in 1925, and would be published in the Overland Monthly (which Coolbrith had co-edited) in April 1926.

It is a short and a sweet letter, from one California poet to another. While much of Smith’s latter-day fame rests on his weird fiction and fantastic poetry, it is important to remember that he was working within a tradition of California poets and interacting with their literary society—at least, as well as he could from Auburn, which was far from the literary centers of the Golden State. Smith’s admiration for her poetry appears to have been reciprocated: we know, for example, that only a year before her death she held or was present at a reading of Smith’s work:

One can imagine all the women writers gathered together, as the white-haired eighty-six-year-old woman painstakingly pried open a thin volume…perhaps with a dried wildflower between the pages to mark the place…and what would she read, from the young man who had been a friend of her friends, to who she had written and who had written her back?

Bobby Derie is the author of Weird Talers: Essays on Robert E. Howard and Others and Sex and the Cthulhu Mythos.

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Her Letters To Clark Ashton Smith: Margaret St. Clair

Margaret St. Clair, of Berkeley, California, writes: “I’ve been a good quiet uncomplainng reader of WEIRD TALES for about ten years—but the prospect of another story by Edmond Hamilton moves me to hysterical outcry. He makes me want to scream and bite my nails—’captured thirty-six suns’ indeed! His style is nothing but exclamation marks; his idea of drama is something involving a fantastic number of light-speeds; he is, in the words of one of my favorite comic strip characters, flies in my soup. He is science-fiction at its worst: all WEIRD TALES needs to make the science-fiction atmosphere perfect is a letter from Forrest J. Ackerman and a story by Hamilton. Oh, and another gripe—I dislike the blurbs you are printing at the first of the stories. They are just a waste of space. I hate vampire and werewolf stories—my blood refuses to congeal for any number of undead clammily hooting about. There was a time when I could be made to shiver by the mention of garlic, but now it’s just something to put in salad. Things like Shambleau are what I like. As long as WT prints stories by Clark Ashton Smith, however, I’ll keep on reading it. His tales have a rounded jewel-like self-containedness that is, artistically, a delight. … And Smith’s drawings are, I think, by far the best in the magazine. … In conclusion, Jules de Grandin is a pain in the neck.”
—WEIRD TALES, June 1934

Eva Margaret Neeley was born in 1911; if she was reading Weird Tales for about a decade, then she had begun reading the Unique Magazine from almost the beginning, probably picking up her first issue as a teenager of 13 or 14. She would have read the fantasies of H. P. Lovecraft, C. L. Moore, and Clark Ashton Smith—and in time she would become a prolific pulp writer and novelist herself, one of the last lights of Weird Tales during its waning years in the 1950s under editor Dorothy McIlwraith. Yet Smith is the only one she would come into correspondence with…and therein lies a problem.

Few enough writers get the treatment of even a single book of selected letters, or of a full book-length biography. Lovecraft’s double handful of biographies, from the slight Lovecraft: A Short Biography to the comprehensive I Am Providence, and the dozens of volumes of his letters are a testament to his ongoing popularity and the dedication of fans and scholars. Robert E. Howard has likewise received multiple biographies, and many of his letters were preserved and all of those that survived published in the three volumes of the Collected Letters of Robert E. Howard. Other Weird Talers were not so lucky: there is no Collected Letters for Seabury Quinn or Robert Bloch, no book-length biographies of C. L. Moore or Margaret St. Clair.

Compared to Lovecraft and Howard, Clark Ashton Smith runs a bit of a distant third in terms of scholarship. While bibliographies of his work had been published, and efforts have been made to preserve his fiction, poetry, and translations in print, and even a documentary titled Clark Ashton Smith: The Emperor of Dreams, there is as yet no full biography of the longest-lived of the “Three Muskateers” of Weird Tales, and the volumes of his letters that have been published are relatively few, covering his correspondence with his mentor, the poet George Sterling; the poet and bookman Samuel Loveman who introduced him to Lovecraft; fellow Weird Talers H. P. Lovecraft and August Derleth; a slim pamphlet dedicated to his letters with Weird Tales artist Virgil Finlay; and a volume of Selected Letters from Arkham House.

While those six volumes represent a considerable work of scholarship, it does mean there are gaps in Clark Ashton Smith’s life and letters that are difficult if not impossible to fill in compared to Lovecraft or Howard. One of those gaps is his correspondence with Margaret St. Clair. We know they did correspond because four of Smith’s letters addressed to Margaret St. Clair and her husband were published in the Selected Letters; but seeing as this covers a period of 7 years from 1933 to 1940, and that both Smith and Margaret St. Clair lived far past the final letter we have, suggests at least the possibility of longer and richer correspondence which has either been lost or simply not published yet. None of Margaret St. Clair’s letters to Clark Ashton Smith have been published.

The first letter is dated 23 May 1933, and opens:

My dear Margaret and Ray:

Your letter was indeed interesting, and I had meant to write before this, but have been swamped by housecleaning and various other duties.

I have never read Thorndyke’s book on magic, but am listing it as a future purchase if I should ever have any more money to spend for books. In reality, I have read very little daling with the occult science, and, in writing about such things, have merely turned my imagination loose. One of my most prized possessions is Montague Summers’ erudite and curious monograph on The Vampire, which contains much that is récherché. [sic] Summers actually seems to believe in the existence of vampires.
Selected Letters of Clark Ashton Smith 207

Margaret Neeley had graduated from the University of California, Berkeley in 1932, and on May 25th of that year she married Raymond Earl St. Clair—who would publish children’s stories under the name Eric St. Clair. The Great Depression was in full swing, but 1932-1933 was a period of great productivity for Smith; he would have stories in eighteen out of twenty-four issues of Weird Tales in those two years, in addition to stories in other pulps and The Fantasy Fan. From Smith’s letter, we can tell that Margaret and her husband were interested in his fantasy and science fiction, and eager for a collection of his work. Smith commented on his upcoming stories, and noted with a touch of bitterness:

Wonder Stories has nothing more of mine at present, and they have been so dilatory in payment that I hesitate to submit anything more. Since I have given Gernsback some of my finest work, I really think he could make an effort to pay at least a small part of his indebtedness.
Selected Letters of Clark Ashton Smith 208

1933 was also marked by Smith’s self-publication of a pamphlet titled The Double Shadow and Other Fantasies, which was advertised in Weird Tales and The Fantasy Fan, and based on comments in the letter they had purchased or received a copy from Smith and praised it. Smith also mentioned the appearance of his work in the British Not At Night anthologies edited by Christine Campbell Thomson. The end of the St. Clairs’ letter must have shifted to personal news, because Smith wrote:

I think you are wise to purchase your own house, particularly at a time when monetary values and realty are down to rock-bottom. I know the Cragmont district well, and congratulate you on your selection. My best thanks for the invitation which, sooner or later, I hope to accept.
Clark Ashton
Selected Letters of Clark Ashton Smith 208

The Cragmont is a district in Berkeley, where Margaret St. Clair was doing her graduate studies. She would obtain her master’s degree in Greek Classics in 1934.

The next letter from Clark Ashton Smith to Ray and Margaret St. Clair would be dated 20 January 1937, in response to a present received around New Years. At this point, Smith was selling original sculptures and castings of the same that he carved by hand from the local rock around his cabin in Auburn, California, and the St. Clairs had bought some:

I am glad the several casts and carving arrived intact, and trust that you achieved satisfactory results from the New Year’s Eve ceremony of interrogation. Perhaps I should have told you that if one drink doesn’t draw a reply, the ibation should be repeated. Perseverance is invariably rewarded by such words of golden wisdom as may well serve to illustrate the old adage, in vino veritas. But no doubt you discovered this.

Re your questy as to the order in which the four carvings were done: do the best of my recollection, The Dog of Commoriom was the oldest, the Sorcerer next, and The Mermaid’s Butler third, with Tsathoggua the most recent. Tsathoggua was done in a curious fibroid form of serpentine; and the casts, as a consequence, tend to look like wood-carvings if tinted with colors appropriate to wood. You will note the fibrous structure if you look closely.
Selected Letters of Clark Ashton Smith 280-281

Smith carved several hundred figures. An advertisement in The Science Fiction Critic fanzine for March 1937 lists casts for sale with prices, among them “Tsathogguarelief…40¢,” “The Dog of Commoriomrelief…30¢,” and “The Sorcerer Eibonhead…60¢.” Photos of some of these exist:


The Dog of Commoriom

A decade later, Smith would publish “Checklist: The Carvings of Clark Ashton Smith” in The Arkham Sampler (Winter, 1948), where he describes “The Mermaid’s Butler” as “Head in porphyry. Semi-human, with gills and fish-like side-whiskers.”

Much of the rest of the letter is given over to responses to specific points in the St. Clair’s letter; some are impossible to understand without context (“Your Nazir Indian must have been rather good”), but it is clear elsewhere that they had asked to visit Smith at Auburn, and recommended he try to place some of his art in San Francisco art stores. The tone is more personal and casual than in the previous letter, as might be expected from a longer acquaintance.

The third letter is to Margaret St. Clair alone, and dated 22 February 1940:

Dear Margaret:

I wonder if I can be forgiven the long interim—at last I fear that it is long according to temporal notation—since I last wrote you? But I believe you would forgive if you could know all the circumstances. First, there was my father’s death (I am quite alone now), and since that, a strange and fantastic history of happenings, some of which, I am convinced, have taken place in the realms of fable and socery. So many letters I had meant to write, and should have written, have gone to the bourn of other “good intentions.”

I hope all is well with you and Ray, and that the bulb-gardens (of which you wrote and sent me a fascinating catalogue are flourishing. I can’t think of a better avocation or occupation than gardening.
Selected Letters of Clark Ashton Smith 328

Timeus Smith had died on 26 December 1937; that would mean Smith’s later letter to the St. Clairs would have been at least a bit more than two years ago. The bulb-garden that Smith mentions is the St. Clair Rare Bulb Garden, and he would no doubt be referring to the 1937 catalog or 1938 catalog. Smith was himself an avid gardener, which he would take up as an occupation in later life. The St. Clairs would operate the Rare Bulb Garden until 1941; possibly the onset of WW2 made it difficult to source plants from overseas.

A major point of the letter involved the change in editorship at Weird Tales; Farnsworth Wright had been fired and was replaced with Dorothy McIlwraith. There was some hard feelings among the older guard of writers about Wright’s treatment, and Wright himself apparently floated the idea of forming a competing weird magazinebut this would not come to pass, and Wright himself would pass away on 12 June 1940. On a lighter note, Smith also noted that the Convent of the Sisters of Mercy had been established not far away from his cabin. In a postscript to the letter, Smith wrote jocularly:

Can’t we start some sort of coven in opposition to that nunnery?
Selected Letters of Clark Ashton Smith 329

Smith had a penchant for joking references to sorcery, witchcraft, and necromancy in his letters to Lovecraft et al., and perhaps the jokes in his letters to the St. Clairs is no more than that sort of harmless fun. Yet the St. Clairs apparently did have at least some more-than-typical interest in subjects of magic and witchcraft. Some decades later, according to “Letters from Hardscrabble Creek: Chasing Margaret,” the St. Clairs were initiated into Wicca. While they aren’t known to have started a coven, Smith might have been accidentally prescient in suggesting they might.

How the couple felt about hearing from their friend after such a long silence can only be imagined.

The fourth and final letter was dated 21 April 1940, and begins:

Dear Margaret and Ray:

I had meant to write before this but have been dreadfully busy with the attempted perpetration of hackwork fiction. A very small income, which I have had for many years, dried up at the source some months ago, and I am now absolutely dependent on writing if I am to eat, let alone drink. None of the present fantasy markets (Unknown is the best, I guess) appeal greatly to me; so I am having to compromise more and more with my own tastes and learn new tricks. My latest yarn is a filthy mixture of sex and pseudo science, aimed at one of the “spicy” markets, which won’t appear under my own name but under that of a friend, a very successful pulp writer, who had more commissions on hand han he could get through with.

It was good to hear from you. I have never forgotten you at any time during my cyclic silence. But, for a long time, I wrote no letters at all, except business ones and billets doux.
Selected Letters of Clark Ashton Smith 330

Smith had struggled throughout his life with poverty; his poetic genius had never managed to translate itself into any sort of ongoing employment or financial success, and periodic handouts from patrons of the arts kept him a bit above living hand-to-mouth, but to survive he was forced into seasonal labor, piecework, and pulp magazineseach of which carried their own issues. The “spicy” story was probably either “Dawn of Discord” (Spicy Mystery Stories Oct 1940) or “The Old Gods Eat” (Spicy Mystery Stories Feb 1941), which bore the byline of his friend E. Hoffmann Price, who sold successfully to the spicy magazines. Despite Smith’s disparagement of his writing, the spicies were not pornographic: all sizzle and no steak.

The severity of Smith’s financial woes is apparent when he admits that he is looking to sell his plot of land, and even offers to sell some of his books as he considers the possible necessity of moving. The letter would end:

As to those nuns, I guess I really wouldn’t need a dachshund to protect me. And I don’t know what seducing a nun would be like, never having had any experience. Balzac says, somewhere, something to the effect that the pleasure is never so great as when the soul is believed to be in danger of damnation. I fear that my notions of damnation are hardly the orthodox ones. The pleasure would be one-sided in that regard. However…even that…
Clark Ashton
Selected Letters of Clark Ashton Smith 331

The reference to dachshunds may seem a non sequitur, but among her other interests Margaret St. Clair is known to have bred dachshund puppies for sale, so she probably did offer one (seriously or not).

That is the rather unsatisfactory end; it would be five years before Margaret St. Clair would publish her first pulp magazine story in what would become a prolific career (as she said once: “You just have to keep turning out the paragraphs.”), and there are no mentions of her in the later letters of Smith that have been published. Whether they had a falling-out, or if Smith lapsed once more into a “cyclical silence” from which he never emerged, we don’t know. The finding aid for Margaret St. Clair’s papers at the University of California-Riverside is not especially promising, but perhaps might hold some clue for future researchers into this little mystery.

What we do know is that for those years at least, Clark Ashton Smith and Margaret St. Clair shared a connection, however brief, that matured over the years and letters. We might never know how much or how little Smith influenced St. Clair’s own pulp career and writingbut certainly she doesn’t seem to have ever tried to pastiche Smith in the way some have tried to do with Lovecraft or Robert E. Howard. Margaret St. Clair found her own voice, one that fitted the pulp era she found herself inoften lighter and more comedic than Smith’s own sardonic humor. One has to wonder what the author of “The Vaults of Yoh-Vombis” (Weird Tales May 1932) would have thought of “Flowering Evil” (Planet Stories Summer 1950)…but we may never know.

For more details on the life of Margaret St. Clair, see “Wight in Space: An Autobiographical Sketch” in Fantastic Lives: Autobiographical Essays by Notable Science Fiction Writers.

Bobby Derie is the author of Weird Talers: Essays on Robert E. Howard and Others and Sex and the Cthulhu Mythos.

Deep Cuts in a Lovecraftian Vein uses Amazon Associate links. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.