Manly and Me

It’s Manly Wade Wellman’s birthday, and I want to talk about him.

Have you ever read Manly Wade Wellman? You’d remember if you had. His stories ran the gamut from science-fiction to horror, and the latter were, as the man said, a bit Johnny Cash meets the Cthulhu Mythos. He wrote about Sherlock Holmes and Professor Challenger fighting the Martians and about warrior-queens in Sub-Saharan Africa. Mostly, he wrote about the mountains, and the people who lived in them. And he did it well.  

He influenced authors like Karl Edward Wagner and David Drake, as well as artistsmusicians and a host of others, including film-makers. He influenced me, too. The first stories I ever wrote were Manly Wade Wellman pastiches. A lot of writers in the speculative fiction game start off with Lovecraft or even Howard, but I went straight at the big dog. The guy who wrote like I talked. He wasn’t some big-mouth Texan with a Celt fixation or the crazy-racist Yankee with a thing about fish and geometry.

No, he was a stand-up guy. Prolific, too. In those first few months of discovering him, it seemed like I could read and read and never run out of stories about John ThunstoneJudge Pursuivant and John the Balladeer. But I did. Luckily, there were enough that I could start over fresh when the time came and re-read them.

Everyone’s got that one writer that they can go to when they’re in need of inspiration or comfort. That one writer that seems to say everything that needs to be said about whatever is ailing you when you pick up their book. That, for me, is Manly Wade Wellman. I think “The Third Cry to Legba” is the perfect occult detective story, and that “Nine Yards of Other Cloth” is as fine a tale of romance, ravenous horrors and redemption as you’ll find.

‘Pray for Hosea Palmer’. That chokes me up every damn time. If you know what I’m talking about, you’re probably tearing up a little too, because…yeah. If you don’t, you need to educate yourself, because you’re missing out.

Manly Wade Wellman taught me more about writing than any English teacher or creative-writing professor. He taught me that stories had to have a rhythm, like songs, even if that rhythm is weird and wonky and sounds like Tom Waits on his twelfth coffin nail of a twenty-smoke set. That cadence is better than dialect, because you can never reproduce dialect without it looking silly, but cadence will carry the sound right where you want it to go in the reader’s imagination. He taught me about Gardinels and Shonokins.

I wish I could have met him.

Anyway, today’s his birthday, so I thought I’d just mention it.

Happy birthday, Mr. Wellman.