Saturday, October 15, 2011
New Collection of Rare Fredric Brown Items!
by Jack Seabrook
Fredric Brown fans, rejoice! Phil Stephensen-Payne, master of the invaluable Galactic Central website, has published The Proofreaders' Page and other Uncollected Items by Fredric Brown!
This brand new book, available on line for only $20, collects all of Brown's "Proofreaders' Page" columns from The American Printer, written and published on an almost monthly basis from 1937 to 1946. Living in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, with his wife and two sons during the Great Depression, Brown worked as a proofreader, first for the Fowle Printing Co. and then for Cuneo Printing Co. Beginning in 1937, he also proofread for the Milwaukee Journal, a job he would continue on and off until 1945.
Brown's expertise as a proofreader led to a job as columnist for the trade magazine The American Printer, and his columns, written in a question and answer format, provide advice to readers about proofreading and editing, often in a humorous fashion. Brown knew his stuff, both grammatically and from the standpoint of one who had spent plenty of time in a press room. The columns are worth reading both for the advice, which still holds true today, and for the excellent writing.
Only a very small sample of these columns has ever been reprinted before, in Dennis McMillan's limited edition collection, The Gibbering Night (1991). While the Proofreaders' Page columns take up nearly 300 pages of this new volume, including a helpful index to topics and column titles, there is a lot more included. The Proofreaders' Page also features about 70 pages of Brown's Colonel Cluck columns, reprinted from trade magazines that Brown wrote for in the late 1930s. These columns are pure humor, with made-up questions that set up funny, often punning replies. It's easy to see Brown beginning to grow as a writer in this early work, and the funny side of his fiction would last to the end of his career.
A few of the Colonel Cluck columns were reprinted in the McMillan collection, The Pickled Punks (1991), but Stephensen-Payne has done Brown completists a favor by collecting and reprinting all of the columns that have survived.
One might think that nearly 400 pages of columns from The American Printer and Colonel Cluck would be enough for a single volume, but that's not even close to all that readers will find here! Also included is the first reprint of "Fatal Facsimile," a lost short story featuring Henry Smith, Brown's intrepid insurance salesman who had appeared in six previous stories in the 1940s. Bibliographers to date (including me) had missed this story due to its title's similarity to another story, "Fatal Error"). A discussion of this lost story can be found here; read the story for yourself in the new volume!
Stephensen-Payne's dedicated research has uncovered items by Fredric Brown that no one has ever seen before, including three stories from Feedstuffs featuring the character of Ernie. A number of other Ernie stories were collected in The Water-Walker (1990), but the ones reprinted in this new volume had been lost for over 70 years.
Finally, Stephensen-Payne uncovered two stories that Fredric Brown wrote in high school in the 1920s, and they're not bad! There is also poetry reprinted from children's magazines and Brown's high school magazine, children's games (I dare you to solve them!), and various introductions and short pieces Fredric Brown wrote for anthology volumes.
To complete this essential volume, Stephensen-Payne has provided an essay on items that still remain missing, and there is even an article by yours truly that discusses Brown's novels and their magazine versions, comparing them and telling the reader where they can be found and what's worth seeking out.
The book is almost 450 pages long and can be ordered for the bargain price of $20 (paperback) or $32 (hardcover) directly from Lulu. It's a must-have for fans of Fredric Brown.