Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Jim Causey and Bill Blackbeard-Part 1

Sometime in the early 1980s, Weird Tales researcher Randal Everts wrote to the author James O. Causey requesting an account of his career. Causey's undated reply follows:

Dear Alain [Randal Everts' middle name],

     Sorry about the lapse. Thought you had everything you needed. Thanks for sending a copy of Hammer of Cain. Very kind of you. My sketchy biography follows. Also a few data points on Bill Blackbeard.

     Born 1924, a typical depression child, omniverous [sic] devourer of pulp magazines during the thirties and early forties. Liked heroic fantasy, read every Burroughs novel I could get my hands on, also the stf and fantasy mags, particularly WT [Weird Tales], Astounding, Wonder and Amazing. Later, Unknown, Bluebook, Argosy, Adventure, etc. Met Bill when I was 18, in a second hand bookstore. He was a year younger, a dedicated stf and comics fan and already had an impressive collection which included the old Big Little comic books, vintage Batman and Superman issues and other tomes destined to be rare and costly some day. Even then, Bill was an indefatiguable [sic] collector. I recall the day he discovered an ancient volume of Flaubert's Salambo! with horrific border illustrations by Beardsley. A first edition, which would be worth a packet today. Also Clark Ashton Smith's Ebony and Crystal, which Bill calmly expropriated from the library by the simple expedient of walking out with it under his coat. He had that ruthless verve possessed by all great bibliophiles, his youth notwithstanding.

     "Tut," he waved aside my remonstrations. "Some vile book merchant will steal it eventually. Better an appreciative chap like myself who will gloat over it by lamplight."

     Anyway, he knew I had sold a couple of shorts to WT and it turned out he was working on a story for WT called Hammer of Cain. It hit me right between the eyes and I immediately outlined a plot. He didn't see it that way. We kicked it around, could not agree on the same plot line and finally decided to each write our own version. Did so, and swore a blood oath that no matter whose tale sold, the story would forever be known to the world as a collaboration job.

     When I got drafted the following year, gave Bill my entire collection of Weirds, Unknowns and Stf. Felt I was grown up and it was time to put away the things of childhood. Besides, I had just sold a novelette to Daisy Bacon's Detective Story. She paid me two cents a word on acceptance, whereas WT paid only a cent a word on publication. I had also recently read Steve Fisher's Literary Roller Coaster which appeared in the 1941 Writer's Digest Yearbook and which must have inspired every pulp writer alive. I was determined to go to NY when I got out of the Army and be a full-time free-lance pulpateer. I was young and ambitious and full of plots and stuff and couldn't wait to attack the great pulp market. The few sales I had in the army only served to whet my appetite further.

     Joined the paratroops, but did not see combat duty. Remained stateside for the duration. Got out of the army in early '47, went to New York and dug in. Found a little pad in the upper Bronx, got a typewriter and began writing my guts out. My timing couldn't have been worse. Although I sold a few mystery yarns that year, the pulps were dying. Only a few of the most talented writers made it during this period, guys like Roy Huggins and John D. MacDonald.

Continued in the next entry.

A photograph of Jim Causey, date unknown, but probably from the early to mid 1970s. From the collection of Randal Everts.
Thanks for Randal Everts for providing a copy of the letter and the photograph.

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