Wednesday, February 06, 2013

Dr. Spectros, the cowboy-magician

My friend, Clark Dissmeyer, is a true original. He’s a man I’ve known since he was a teenager in the 1980s, when we collaborated on some cartoon projects. Clark lives and works in Nebraska, where he is also a book collector.

Clark is not a computer person. He does not own a computer, and when he needs one he uses one at the library. I do not hold it against him. Clark normally uses the Postal Service. He mails out photocopies of his cartoons and his thoughts. I recently got this interesting mailer, called Cadsheet #2, about finding an obscure occult Western novel. I asked Clark if I could transcribe it. Clark not only does not like computers, he does not like typewriters, so he hand letters his missives. Clark doesn’t need a lot of editing, although I have trimmed his editorial here and there, but am otherwise presenting it as Clark wrote it:



By Clark A. Dissmeyer
Copyright © 2013 Clark A. Dissmeyer

I have 800 Westerns in the back of my car.

Ed is closing Bookends [a local used bookstore]. For the last couple months he’s had boxes of shabby old Westerns up front, on sale at the bargain price of 25¢ or 5/$1.00. I’d been picking up some now and then, but when I told Pat about it, her eyes lit up. “Ask him how much he’d take for all of them!”

I asked him, and he said 10¢ apiece. When I told her that, and asked if I should get them all, she didn’t think twice before saying yes! I figured there were 4 or 5 hundred.

Turns out there were 800.

I managed to leave them alone in the backseat and trunk of the car, figuring I’d just leave them there ‘til I could transfer them to Pat’s in Riverton, for a whole day; until taking a break from David Copperfield I could stand it no more! and felt compelled to go out and start hauling them in, to organize them according to author, series, etc., About half of them were more modern series books that didn’t interest me much  the Stage Coach Station series, say, or this guy J. T. Edson  and the other half was older, cooler stuff  some vintage ‘40s pocket books, another half dozen by Peter Fields (aka Davis Dresser and Brett Halliday), Luke Short, a ton of miscellaneous, and amidst the chaos of boxes and stacks covering my floor, I discovered THIS gem:

Just when you think you’ve seen everything:

As someone who spends an unhealthy amount of time at used bookstores, thrift stores, library sales, etc., there’s hardly a variety of paperback I haven’t run across at one time or another, in whatever genre, but this was a new one to me, a horror-Western about a gunfighter-sorcerer?

The back cover has an amazingly concise, detailed catalog of the wonders in store for us inside:

Note the sidekicks  very much in the tradition of Doc Savage and Captain Future!

Our hero, Dr. Spectros, was a cowboy  I should say gunslinger  shanghaied and washed up on the shores of India, where he learns to become a magician, a la Dr. Strange or another pulp hero, the Green Lama. He does this in his quest to save the woman he loves.

But let’s let Mr. Winters’ [Logan Winters, author] prose speak for itself:

It’s actually pretty well plotted, and it has everything: cowboys, Indians, damsels in distress (several), shape-changing sorcerers, inscrutable ethnic types from distant continents…

What’s sort of odd for a pulpish adventure is how much “backstory” is only hinted at. We know that Spectros seeks out a “master” to teach him magic, but that part is not elaborated  presumably saved for future flashbacks in future novels. This, the first novel, begins with Spectros already having pursued Blackschuster for who know how long  we take up the pursuit in the setting of the old West. Who knows how long he trained to be a magician? Where did they chase him before they ended up in the West? Again, questions presumably answered in future flashbacks. For now, we only know Blackschuster has kept her in in a hermetically sealed glass coffin, as the villain moons over her in another florid, morbid romantic passage I can’t resist reproducing:
*I would also note that at a time when Westerns were becoming more and more sexy and sleazy, Spectros is remarkably chaste. It could almost have been written in the ‘40s.

I have no idea what the editors at the shabby, marginal paperback publisher Tower Books were thinking. Did they really think it had a chance of success? Well, for an outfit like Tower they were probably hoping at best for something more like subsistence-level sales. Whatever spawned this one wonders, too, did “Logan Winters” approach an editor with the idea, or did an editor come up with it and farm it out?  one can only be glad that it did.

Of course I googled (Yahoo’d, actually) Logan Winters. No biography that I could find, no Wikipedia entry. Doubtless it is a pseudonym, but couldn’t someone say so? (I did find another Logan Winters  a happy-go-lucky 18-year-old. It couldn’t be him  unless Spectros was also a master of time travel.)

I found Western writers woefully under-represented online as compared with science fiction writers, even, say, Lee Floren, who wrote dozens, has no Wikipedia entry. Who are these people? I’ll have to try to find a book about Western writers. Bill Pronzini has to have written one, don’t you think?

There are at least three more in the Spectros series, and those are available online. I want them all! I’ll get them, one way or another.

Part of the point here is that it’s doubtful I’d ever had heard of this book  or hundreds of others  if I’d relied on the Internet. Never having heard of it in the first place, I’m not going to google “Logan Winters” or “Spectros” or “occult Westerns.” That is the wonderful thing about used bookstore browsing  not only do you not know what you might find, you frequently don’t know you were looking for it in the first place.

[Despite the closing of the local used bookstore] . . . I think there will always be used bookstores  there will always be “antique” stores  but more and more they will be limited to larger cities, and will be devoted more to a wealthier clientele who are looking for “good,” pricier, snob appeal books. Goodwill and the Salvation Army and garage sales will increasingly become the refuge of the rest of us (and I haven’t seen too many good garage sales lately, most of the old people of taste being already dead or in homes).

And there will never come a day “everything,” every book ever printed, is available for download online. Only what someone else has decided is worth making available. And like it or not, that someone won’t have heard of “Spectros.”

Above is a picture of CAD.

Postino here: In a follow-up letter, Clark told me since writing the above he found out Logan Winters is veteran writer Paul J. Lederer.


DEMiller said...

Clark is a unique individual with a taste for literature that floats below and above the level that most of us see. Although I have never met him, I have had contact and consider him a friend. Thanks for posting this.

Postino said...

Dave, I agree with you, Clark is a unique individual.

Since Westerns really aren't my taste, I was surprised when googling about this series to find so many blogs and articles about Westerns and their writers. And those are the books and series about traditional Western themes, not gunslinger-magicians "shanghaied and washed up in India" as Dr. Spectros was, according to CAD.