R. A. Lafferty

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R. A. Lafferty

Postby EKennington on Saturday, 12 March 2011, 2:53 pm

On May 1 the Lafferty Estate tentatively plans to sell the rights to the entire literary output of the science fiction writer, R.A. Lafferty, to the Locus Science Fiction Foundation for $70,000 plus 50% of any future profit from the Lafferty rights in excess of $30,000 in any single year. The sale will proceed unless someone makes a more favorable offer.

If you know of anyone who might be interested in purchasing the Lafferty literary works, please have them contact me at LaffertyEstate@gmail.com or 919-286-9519 and I will provide additional information to help them decide whether they would like to make a better offer before May 1.

This sale will include the rights to approximately 21 published and 13 unpublished novels, approximately 297 published and 96 unpublished short works such as short stories, essays and poems, approximately 8 published and 4 unpublished book-length collections of short works and approximately 24 published trade paperbacks or booklets. The complete description of the rights being offered for sale is contained in my "Letter to Potential Bidders", which I will provide upon request.

Thank you,

Elizabeth Kennington, Executor
The Estate of R.A. Lafferty
1415 Pennsylvania Avenue
Durham, NC 27705
919-286-9519
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Re: R. A. Lafferty

Postby owlcroft on Saturday, 12 March 2011, 7:41 pm

I am not well familiar with the costing of publishing, but my impression is that this would be a tremendous bargain for an sff-oriented publishing house. There's the material for perhaps 50 books or so, so it costs out to maybe a $1500 investment for the rights to each book. Not all will be equally saleable, but this is the era of print-on-demand, and the overhead costs of setting up a book are not great.

This is not to say that the current bidder, which I will not identify, isn't planning to do a bang-up job. But it would be nice to see some group dedicated to publishing a fine, uniform set of all of Lafferty--whom many leading lights of modern sff uniformly call a unique genius--something like what the VIE did for Jack Vance. That is especially so because so much of Lafferty's work has yet to see print for the first time, while so much more is now so rare as to be wildly expensive when available at all.

(If you somehow don't know much about Lafferty, look at his page on this site, and especially at the "Other R. A. Lafferty Resources" section for further pages about him by others.)
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Re: R. A. Lafferty

Postby DavidTate on Sunday, 13 March 2011, 1:13 am

Eric, the email address you posted at SFFworld.com does not match the address Ms. Kennington gave above. Was that a typo, or are there separate email addresses for different aspects of the business?

(If I had any ties in the publishing biz, I'd be all over this.)
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Re: R. A. Lafferty

Postby owlcroft on Sunday, 13 March 2011, 8:43 pm

Good question. I cannot at once see whence I got the address I used there, so I have posted a fix note. From the "shape" of it, it looks like something I cut-and-pasted from somewhere, but, as I say, I can't find the source right away, so anyone reading this should assume that only the address given on this thread by the executor herself--LaffertyEstate@gmail.com--is valid.

Sharp eyes, David! Thank you.
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Re: R. A. Lafferty

Postby Estraa on Tuesday, 15 March 2011, 1:57 pm

I noticed a while back that Wildside Press had stopped selling Lafferty. Further in the past, I asked Betancourt if he could publish more Lafferty, but he wrote it didn't sell well enough. I remember looking at Amazon Laff sales in the past, noticing that only a few collections or novels sold decently (Nine Hundred Grandmothers, Past Master, Fourth Mansions), and almost no one was interested in the rest. So $1500 for a piece seems to me a tad expensive. I suspect that there is, somehow, not fifty people in the world who would buy a copy of everything published by Lafferty. (In truth, not everything he wrote is top-notch stuff.)
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Re: R. A. Lafferty

Postby owlcroft on Tuesday, 15 March 2011, 7:41 pm

There is no doubt that Lafferty is not for every taste. And thought of course--as with any author--some things are better than others, few if any are worse than "good" (at least to someone attuned to Lafferty's style).

My thought is that whoever ends up with the rights would be well-advised to do something like what the VIE did with Vance, which is offer a complete, uniform set by subscription. It need not be a buy-it-all-at-once thing: an advance commitment to buying the entire set would probably work. It would work especially well if run as a non-profit, so that it could legitimately ask for and use volunteers to help transcribe and proof the works.

Do you realize that there has never yet been a complete and correct edition of the keystone novel The Devil Is Dead? Two different parts--an "Interglossia" and a brief final chapter--have been omitted from all editions to date. (The Interglossia appeared in How Many Miles to Babylon? while the final chapter appeared in Episodes of the Argo.) Moreover, there is no reason why several of his works could not be combined into fewer volumes, making them more attractive buys (for example, the novel More Than Melchisedech was published as three books--some now worth a thousand dollars according to BookFinder--for no very good reason, and each is quite slim). Some of the short-story collections could be combined (as with The Early lafferty I and The Early Lafferty II). The many pamphlet-sized works issued by the remarkable Chris Drumm would probably, combined, be no more than one volume. And so on.

The issue is, to some extent, marketing. When you have a highly original--arguably unique--author, you can't just post his works to a list and expect people to find them. You need to reach out and publicize how and why this man is special. It doesn't hurt that one can roll up remarkable emcomia from authors such as Gene Wolf, Michael Swanwick, and Neil Gaiman (to name just some). There is little or no middle ground on Lafferty: one either doesn't at all like his work, or one thinks it genius. The latter group is small, but not so small that it can't be reached for sales purposes.

There is also the attraction of previously unpublished work. Careful mixing of such work into volumes with other work would, I imagine, help considerably with sales. Even published works or rarity would help (there are at least a half dozen Lafferty books that I would love to have copies of but cannot find even an expensive copy offered anywhere).
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Re: R. A. Lafferty

Postby Estraa on Saturday, 19 March 2011, 11:21 am

Producing some sort of beautiful Lafferty Integral Edition and selling it as a set might be the best way to please old fans who have cash aplenty while making more money than selling single volumes would allow, as whoever would want to buy something he was missing would be forced to buy the whole set. On the other hand, if the idea is to make Lafferty better known, the way to go would be to digitize his works and sell them for $3 a piece at places like Amazon with millions of Kindle users who aren't too careful about what they buy as long as it's not expensive. That might also bring in more money in the end. There are stories of self-published authors making millions by selling low-price ebooks. If them, why not Lafferty's ghost?

Of course, the rights holder could very well do both. Personally though, I'm not a great fan of buying complete sets, and probably wouldn't buy one, so my vote in that matter would be "just sell single volumes so that people who don't have much money could get the ones they want or need." That would be my piece of advice regardless of the ebook situation, as I'm not much of a fan of ebooks and would like to have physical copies of the works I don't have yet.

As for Lafferty that isn't necessarily good enough to be read, I would nominate East of Laughter, which is a novel I have nevertheless read completely, although I suspect that these days I wouldn't get past the first fifty pages. It's Laffertian enough that Lafferty was only competing against himself by writing it, and in this competition against a dozen other novels he lost 0 - 12. It's some sort of a suspense story, but it's not suspenseful. It's strange but not strange enough, or tangibly so, to leave much of an impression. That is a difficult point and I'm not sure I understand it myself; but it feels about right. In any case, the book also has moments that approach "usual Lafferty humor" but it's not, ultimately, funny. (The only thing I remember warmly was the talk with Charles Fort's ghost.)

Another novel, Half A Sky, is a rather similar case. I don't remember enough about it to say whether it was bad. I only remember that I never got past page 142, and even getting that far took a long time. I remember that it's not an interesting book to read, overall.

I remember the beginning of one short story is flat out bad, so bad I didn't finish the story, but I don't remember what the story was called. It is found in Iron Tears. I suppose Lafferty's novels are never truly bad, but I'm almost certain that at least one of his short stories is.
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Re: R. A. Lafferty

Postby owlcroft on Saturday, 19 March 2011, 7:14 pm

The thing with Lafferty is best put this way (as I believe I have said before somewhere): the story you are reading is never the story he is telling. The first, simplest, and worst mistake a reader can make with Lafferty is to take any of his tales as the story it appears to be on the surface. As one especially obvious example, the Argo--which shows up in so many of his stories--represent the Roman Catholic Church. Lafferty rarely descends into allegory, but everything and everyone is his stories is a symbol, typically at many levels. Even his early work Space Chantey, which appears to be simply a humorous re-telling of The Odyssey, is in truth rather more.
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Re: R. A. Lafferty

Postby Estraa on Tuesday, 31 May 2011, 3:02 pm

I think it's often more pleasurable to simply read Lafferty literally. And it's not as mindless an activity as you may think. After all, humans have, throughout most of their long history, believed in apparently crazy things, such as magic, with the certainty that many of us now reserve for the tenets of materialism. I used to be a materialist, so I used to read Fourth Mansions as an allegory: after all, a character in the story more or less says that the story is an allegory, and explains it. But later I started to read it mainly as a literal tale about a telepathic group trying to ascend to the next level of humanity, about an open-minded journalist, about a possibly reincarnated Khar-ibn-Mod (Carmody Overlark), and about whatever else is in the story. What if Lafferty really did believe in telepathy? More relevant, what if telepathy is real? You don't have to believe in a lot of paranormal stuff, only some (telepathy, reincarnation), for the novel to start making a surprisingly lot of sense as a literal story. Of course, it could be that, rather than an argument for open-mindedness, the story is an argument against open-mindedness, that Lafferty is making the Christian point that when you keep your mind too open, monsters (wrong ideas, evil thoughts) will find their way in and make it their home. But I like it as a literal story.

Arrive at Easterwine is also interesting as a literal story. It has a computer in it that is becoming a sort of God, all-knowing. It's an interesting idea, because I'm certain that it will be attempted in the real world at some point, when persons can be turned into digital bytes and so on, or when some other manner of information storage and manipulation is invented that opens the door to such an accomplishment. Lafferty gave his machine the mission to find true leadership, true love, and the true shape of the universe. The real-world machine might be given the job of creating a virtual world for virtual people, and to be their God. It would put new meaning into the phrase, "humans invented God". In a virtual world, miracles would be possible. (Perhaps this is a virtual world? How would you know?) Anyway, simply the idea about the precis machine, with human persons being made parts of the machine's databases, is so good and prophetic and real and apparently not very common that, as science fiction, the book beats most other sci-fi, traditional or not, 10 to 0, in my opinion. Building such a machine is just the kind of thing that one would expect humans to be doing if they get the chance. Yet almost no other writer has thought of it. There are super intelligent machines and computers but nothing like the precis machine. It's brilliant. Who needs to take it as a symbol for anything?

Well, those are the two Lafferty novels I have reread recently.
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Re: R. A. Lafferty

Postby epiktistes on Wednesday, 01 June 2011, 7:17 pm

Hello. I meant to start this thread many months ago when these forums were first opened, and never did.

Wanted to say thanks, Eric, for linking to my Lafferty essay, and also more generally for writing and maintaining the page. The piece has served me well as inspiration, and also as occasional reminder that the vast project I was undertaking was, in fact, worth devoting much of my life to. (For me the advanced studies in English are an interesting sidelight to the Lafferty research, and one that earns me a paycheck besides.)

When I first started researching Lafferty material, the general lack of quality writing on the man was disheartening--most of those commenting on him either skimmed the surface, or missed the lake entirely. Your essay, however, went straight to the heart of his work. I've been quoting from you ever since in conference presentations and soon, I hope, in journal articles and a monograph. I'm also pulling together a collection of essays, and would like to ask you a couple questions in relation to that--is your webmaster address the best for that? Or you could email me direct: ferguson.aj at gmail.com

A few notes: The Wildside Press editions were pulled from publication when the estate was formally listed for sale; the idea being that the new owner of that estate (almost certainly now the Locus Foundation, though the announcement isn't formal yet) could resume print-on-demand publication or, more likely, bring out all-new editions. Certainly there would be a "Best Of" volume compiled and published very early on.

The unpublished and underpublished works pose their own problems, but I am determined to see them all available in some form or another; a digital edition is more likely at present than a Vance-style Integral series, but I'm holding out hope for both. It's 36 novels in all though, and 260+ short stories, so even combining volumes where possible it would be a massive project.

Estraa—obviously I'm going to be a bit biased on this, but I think East of Laughter is well worth another look. The dramatis personae alone contains one of my favorite Laffertyisms, when after rattling off the primary persons of the book, he notes, "These Fifteen persons are known as the Group of Twelve. Some of them are spares." Very few authors are capable of such audacious gambits; fewer still would take the risk.

Half a Sky, likewise, resonates much more strongly once the you hear the Argo overtones, though it is in its own right a rollicking adventure, with more than a little Borges in the mix. Plus it has Scheherezade Jokkebrok, another of those maddening Lafferty demiurges, like Enniscorthy Sweeny or Melchisedech Duffey, constantly on the verge of flipping the story-world inside out so that it contains our own. I'd very much like to see the third and fourth Coscuin books in print; they're high on the wishlist.

I liked your takes on Fourth Mansions and Easterwine, however. If you haven't read it, try digging up Sheryl Smith's essay on the latter, "Some Arrant Roadmapping"—one of the best explications of a Lafferty novel you'll ever find.

--Andrew
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Re: R. A. Lafferty

Postby Estraa on Thursday, 02 June 2011, 6:25 am

It looks like I live on the wrong side of the planet if I want to get my hands on that essay. Perhaps you could summarise its main arguments?

I don't think I have any great insights into Lafferty's works, except that, having experienced paranormal events myself, and having opened my mind to the possibility that science may be capable of much more than people think (and that there may not be any difference between psychical and physical), I like to read them more literally now than the typical well-educated modern man or woman would.

EDIT: Here is a book, of more varied content than the title might suggest, that was partly responsible for making me see some of Lafferty in a different light. To say it's a survey and analysis of the evidence for paranormal phenomena, and to say it happens to make a convincing case for their reality is probably understating the shock it will cause to any intelligent reader who is new to this subject. I would rather wish it weren't so (there's a lot of comfort in "knowing" that this mundane life is all we have, so proceed with this warning in mind).
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Re: R. A. Lafferty

Postby owlcroft on Thursday, 02 June 2011, 6:07 pm

Andrew, thank you very much for the kind words. As to email, you can use either webmaster at greatsfandf dot com or my main mailbox, email at owlcroft dot com.

I will be deeply interested in seeing how the handling of the estate's rights finally plays out. I have often wished for something closely analogous to the Vance Integral Edition project to be undertaken for Lafferty's work, though most regrettably the author himself is no longer available for consultation. But a well-edited uniform set would be a wonder and a marvel. (And a companion volume of essays a choice extension.)
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Re: R. A. Lafferty

Postby Estraa on Wednesday, 29 June 2011, 12:48 pm

The more I come to understand our world, the more I begin to grasp what a profound writer Lafferty was. Seeing him as just another writer telling you it's important to have values is far from doing justice to his profundity and importance. Take away the magic, so to speak, and mundane bullshit is what you're left with. (It's true that his works have an effect anyway, it will simply be a subconscious effect. I guess it's impossible to appreciate them consciously, in the way that Lafferty meant, unless one has come to that point in his life, if he ever does.)
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Re: R. A. Lafferty

Postby epiktistes on Thursday, 21 July 2011, 12:29 pm

By the way, so far as I know the sale of the Lafferty estate to Locus was completed on Monday. Further details though will have to await all the involved parties sitting down to formulate a publication strategy, which will be a month or more yet.
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Re: R. A. Lafferty

Postby owlcroft on Thursday, 21 July 2011, 4:23 pm

Among the items of good news here is that they seem to have located complete manuscripts for both of the unpublished books of the Coscuin cycle (or sub-cycle), those being Sardinian Summer and First and Last Island; the first is (I believe) confirmed and the second reported. They seem to have an intellignet idea of how to publish--I think they wil not just cherry-pick the better-known works. Devotees await further news with bated breath.
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Re: R. A. Lafferty

Postby epiktistes on Friday, 22 July 2011, 2:19 pm

Mss. are extant in carbon copy for both of those, though Sardinian Summer is complete only in the U. Iowa holdings, as the Tulsa ms. is lacking (I believe) two chapters. First and Last Island is complete in Tulsa though. Pretty sure however that the original typescripts have been held all this time by Greg Ketter, formerly of Corroborree Press, now of DreamHaven Books.

There is some very good unpublished Lafferty even apart from finishing the Coscuin books and In a Green Tree; Esteban would be first on my list with Fair Hills of Ocean, Oh! and Iron Tongue of Midnight not far behind. If the aim is, as I believe, to mix together a Best Of anthology, some reprints, and some releases from the vault, there is much to be excited about.
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Re: R. A. Lafferty

Postby milum on Saturday, 31 March 2012, 5:18 pm

Hello all, I am a Lafferty admirer from Alabama. My collection of Lafferty books shrinks annually because I like to share his flippant genius with others. Yet only a few actually read them and even fewer return them so as you might guess I lost a cheap and quick source for restocking when the Wildside Press stopped publishing many of his books. Does anyone have an update on any new issue of his books? Thank you, - Milum
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Re: R. A. Lafferty

Postby owlcroft on Saturday, 31 March 2012, 5:36 pm

This is just a guess, but I'd reckon Wildside stopped because the sum rights to the entire Lafferty oeuvre were sold off, oh, I think around May of last year. I'd assume, then, that the purchasers (the Locus Science Fiction Foundation) will be reissuing his works before long. One would hope that they do so in a nice, standardized editions set. There's a bit more on Michael Swanwick's blog from April 2011.
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Re: R. A. Lafferty

Postby milum on Monday, 02 April 2012, 5:40 am

Thank you, Owlcroft. I'll try to contact the Locus group and/or the University of Oklahoma this week. Maybeso I'll get an update on what to expect for any re-publications (or ebook offerings) of Lafferty in the future. I'll report back. Thanks again.
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Re: R. A. Lafferty

Postby epiktistes on Wednesday, 25 July 2012, 6:02 am

Hi Milum—

I can confirm that Lafferty reprints are underway though no schedule is set yet. The estate is in good hands but there are a few hurdles that still must be cleared (one of which is finding at time when all the principals on the project can get together and work out details).

Once things do happen, the first stage will be a few reissues, with the possibility of at least one unpublished novel coming out right off the bat; and also even before that a big fat "Best Of" short story collection.

So don't worry! Good news is on the way; in the meantime keep picking up Lafferty volumes as you find them and share them around!
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