Photo from Tom Rogers
The Joel Townsley Rogers Project
Ever since the U.S. Congress, in their wisdom—and obedience to the corporate thugs that share their bed—decided that copyrights on written works should extend back for longer than a normal person’s lifetime, there has been a lethargy in reviving books by the grand old authors of the 20th century. Why bother? Unless you’re one of the publishing cartels who can afford to hire detectives to track down copyrights and the grandchildren who own them—and in most cases don’t know about it—it’s not worth the cost. After all, we can’t expect people under the age of thirty to be interested in anything without special-effects graphics, and the rest of us need to save our shekels for medicine. The market for old literature is definitely a “niche” and no capitalist in his right mind would touch it.
But every once in a while an author is rediscovered and miraculously there is an active web site maintained by a loving son or daughter. Such is the case of Joel Townsley Rogers (1896-1984), a prolific short-story and mystery novelist. His son Tom has an excellent web site devoted to his family and I was able to converse with him without paying Jim Rockford $10,000.
Thanks to Tom, I was able to research his father’s novels and stories to find that he wrote five novels, Once In A Red Moon (1923), The Red Right Hand (1945), Lady With The Dice (1946), The Stopped Clock (1958) and a revision of Clock, re-titled Never Leave My Bed (1963). His short stories and articles number in the hundreds and are listed on the web site.
The Red Right Hand is considered Rogers’ masterpiece, and deservedly so. It’s a classic scary story told from the first-person and has been reprinted several times. Anyone interested in reliving some of the suspense and terror that the grand masters of crime fiction, like Cornell Woolrich, Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler and John Dickson Carr wrote, must read The Red Right Hand. It’s fairly easy to find.
But not so for the other novels. They have not been reprinted and are very difficult to obtain—until now. Ramble House went on an editing rampage in mid-2004 and is very proud to announce that all four of Joel Townsley Rogers’ other novels are now available for a reasonable price.
The author was born in Sedalia MO and married Winifred Whitehouse, an artist, in 1923. They lived in a tiny house in Georgetown where they raised their family and Joel wrote his stories. Tom’s web site is full of interesting and sincere stories about his family and I recommend it to all.
I first read about The Red Right Hand in Richard Polt’s excellent newsletter, Keeler News, and once I read it I knew that I wanted to read more by this author. First I found Tom’s site, then I was able to obtain copies of the other four novels by various hooks and crooks. But the main thing that encouraged me to proceed with what I called “The JTR Project” was the friendly e-mails I received from Tom about his father’s works.
I told him that Ramble House was a microscopic publisher and that there was no money to be made by him or me. But we could make his father’s novels available to modern readers once again. Tom, who is an author himself, was very helpful and encouraging. A few months later, after I scanned, OCRed, edited and bound proofing copies of the four novels, Gavin O’Keefe provided beautiful dust jacket art for them and the JTR Project was a reality.
The first novel I obtained, Once In A Red Moon, was a straightforward job. It’s a long, atmospheric thriller in the original Bretanos hardback but I was able to format it to fit Ramble House’s style in 377 pages. Dixie Whitted, a supremely competent typist/editor who has helped immensely with Ramble House’s Harry Stephen Keeler project, did the lion’s share of the editing. The same with Lady With The Dice, provided by Berkeley’s Barry Warren, which was a 20 cent paperback from Handi-Books and is now a 170-page Ramble Houser. Never Leave My Bed was also rather easy to do, and not too difficult to obtain, as a salacious-looking paperback from Beacon Signal books.
I knew that Never Leave My Bed was a revision of The Stopped Clock and so I planned on just publishing the revision, thinking that the versions would be quite similar. However, Dixie told me that there was a vast difference in the two versions. And more importantly, she provided me with a copy of the original The Stopped Clock. After editing it I found that The Stopped Clock is much larger than Never Leave My Bed, in fact it’s so large that I had to make it into a two-volume Ramble House book, each volume over 220 pages.
NOTE: This text was written before I started using LuluPress to create trade paperback editions of all of the multi-volume Ramble House books, like THE STOPPED CLOCK. Now that title is available in TPB for $16. Eventually all of the Ramble House titles will be in trade paperback format but the first ones I'm producing are the ones that required two or more Ramble house volumes.
LATER NOTE: This article was written before Barry Warren edited a collection of short stories called NIGHT OF HORROR and Alfred Jan a collection called KILLING TIME. If you really want to see what Joel Townsley Rogers was capable of, read these books!
Once the four—or five, depending how you count them—books were edited and proofed, I sent them to Gavin L. O’Keefe, a hard-working artist in Bendigo, Australia. He provided the superb dust jackets that grace the new editions, as well as pointed out a few little OCR errors that slipped by me.
So you can now read all of Joel Townsley Rogers’ novels and not have to fork over $100 or more for beat-up, ex-library copies—if you can find them. My gratitude goes out to Barry Warren, Alfred Jan, Dixie Whitted, Gavin O’Keefe, and mostly, Tom Rogers for making the JTR Project possible. This shows what a small, gonzo press can do with cooperation and good will. No one gets rich, but everybody is enriched by reading the words penned so long ago by the real worker, Joel Townsley Rogers.
Fender Tucker, Publisher