Thursday, March 29, 2007

Elliot Chaze

Bill Pronzini has written an excellent overview of novelist Elliot Chaze's literary career. You'll find it on Mystery*File available here

Chaze is known in pulp circles for his flawless novel Black Wings Hath My Angel, which many people feel is the single best novel Gold Medal published during its heyday. As Bill details, Chaze also wrote several other novels, a few of which are also fine books.

As I was reading the Chaze piece last night, I started remembering the two or thre phone calls I had with him. At that time the original Black Lizard Publising Company seemed to be flourishing. Both Barry Gifford, the line's editor, and I wanted to get Angel back into print. I agreed that I'd try and track Chaze down. Took awhile but I finally got a phone number.

He seemed almost amused that anybody remembered Angel with such respect and interest. He talked first about a few of his other books. My interpretation--and I may be wrong here--is that he felt hardbacks published by major houses should be of more interest than a paperback original.

But as we talked, I kept bringing up scenes from Angel. And finally he began speaking enthusiastically about it. That is, until I told him what we could pay him for it. He then went into a low key but bitter story about how "New York" screwed writers at every turn. They didn't pay much, they didn't promote, they cheated you on royalties. While these were all standard writer complaints, he delivered them with singular ferocity.

He assured me several times that he liked me, that he just might have to look up one of my books, that he'd appreciate seeing some Black Lizard novels to look over. He obviously didn't want to end on a bitter note. He even invited me to call him again, which I did. The next call we mostly talked books and movies we liked. And toward the end about his career as a journalist in the South during the most turbulent decades since the Civil War.

He was a bright, gifted man. We never did reprint Angel because the line was sold suddenly. But I sure wish we had. I can see it with one of those great Kerwan covers on that shiny stock the Lizards used. Chaze would have been right at home with the other hardboiled greats, Fredric Brown, Peter Rabe, Jim Thompson, Charles Willeford and many others--Barry had developed, for my taste, the best reprint line of American hardboiled fiction ever offered anywhere.


Anonymous said...

Bill Crider wrote admiringly about BLACK WINGS many years ago in MYSTERY READER'S NEWSLETTER. Sounds like a Stark House edition of this and Chaze's other crime novels is in order.

Ed Gorman said...

Hi Fred--

There seems to be a trade edition of Black Wings available, which wuld preclude Stark House from doing it. I can't speak for other publishers. Nuts. We could've done Black Wings and one of his other novels--if we could have made a deal. Ed G

Juri said...

I seem to remember from discussion on the Rara-Avis list that the book is now in public domain and the publisher of the trade paperback is one specializing in public domain books. Charles Ardai of Hard Case Crime said that they don't do public domain books, so they won't reprint BLACK WINGS. Maybe they could do one of Chaze's other novels - or Stark House.

Anonymous said...

I was working in a bookstore back when Black Lizard was producing their best stuff, and watched with dismay as they shut themselves down right when they were at their peak.

I still have the catalog they issued just before they sold out to Random House. It's full of books that never appeared, by authors like Chaze and Brackett and Rabe and Brewer.

I used the catalog as a want-list and managed to pick up virtually every title Black Lizard intended to reprint.

Of course Random House, once they owned Black Lizard, published not one of the books projected by the catalog.