An Introduction to WRITER, Volume 4

by Richard A. Lupoff



You may already know this story, but just in case you don’t, please bear with me.

Seems there was a professor who was fascinated by the behavior of bumble bees. Apparently he’d had an encounter with one of the critters when he was a boy, and developed a fascination—I’d almost say an obsession—with them. In fact he spent a lifetime studying them. He became a professional entomologist and devoted his career to studying bugs.

He was particularly intrigued by the ability of bees to fly. He studied them for many years, wrote learned papers on their biology and mechanics, and eventually produced a book that became the standard reference work on bumble bees in particular.

He studied their dimensions, their physical structure, their nutritional systems, their social organization, and their means of communication. Was it their “dancing” or the sounds that they made that carried their messages from one to another?  Anything that anyone knew about bumble bees, the professor knew. But as he would have been the first to admit, he didn’t know everything about bumble bees. The great puzzle for him was the secret of their flight.

As anyone who has ever looked closely at a bumble bee is aware, they are rotund creatures. Their body is suggestive of a barrel. Their weight is proportionate to their size and shape. Their wings are thin, almost transparent. The professor compared the weight, mass, and physical volume of the typical bumble bee with the weight and volume of air that the bee’s volume occupied. He measured the surface area, the muscular “hinges” with which the wings were attached to the bee’s body, and the number of times per second that a bee’s wings were moved while in flight.

The professor’s calculations were applauded as a great contribution to the field of entomology. In fact he received the annual Lifetime Achievement Award of the International Association of Bumble Bee Enthusiasts. The award was represented by a gold-plated bumble bee, enlarged to make every feature visible, which the professor received at the annual conference of the IABBE, and thereafter proudly displayed in a place of honor in his office.

There was only one problem left in the professor’s life: How did the bumble bee fly? The professor’s prize-winning measurements and calculations had proved beyond all doubt that it was impossible for the bumble bee to fly. It was simply too heavy and too voluminous for its gossamer wings to support.

Yes, the professor had proved beyond challenge that it was impossible for the bumble bee to fly.

One day, as the professor had just reached the dramatic point of his carefully prepared lecture, a student of the professor’s—a notorious jokester—sitting in the front row of the professor’s classroom, removed a glass jar from his backpack and unscrewed its lid. Happily freed from its imprisonment, the largest bumble bee that the professor or any of his students had ever seen, emerged from the jar. It flew unerringly toward the professor, stung him on the tip of his nose, and flew away, out an open window, never to be seen again.

The professor, nursing a bright red swelling on his nose, virtually collapsed behind his desk, shaking his head sadly.

The malefactor who had released the gigantic insect from its jar raised his hand. Receiving a grudging nod from the professor, the student asked, “Golly, professor, I guess that bee never read your learned paper on the subject of the inability of bees to fly.”

The professor thereupon invited the student to withdraw from his class.


* * * * *


And now we come to a bright morning several years ago. The scene is the home of my longtime friend Michael Kurland in Petaluma, California. I had dropped in to visit Michael, whom I found merrily perusing his morning’s mail. He had just opened a circular which announced the creation of a new publishing firm.

The firm was to be called Ramble House. It was the creation of two book-lovers, Fender Tucker and Jim Weiler. Messrs. Tucker and Weiler had invented a new way to publishing books. Or so they claimed. With little or no capital and even less experience in the process of book production, of editing, typography, proofreading, book design and binding, marketing, distribution, and finance—these two partners—virtual babes in the woods when it came to running a publishing operation—planned to create books with the assistance of a desktop computer, word-processing software, and a portable printer. Once they had produced the pages for a book, they would then bind them on an ironing board.

An ironing board?


The first project planned for Ramble House would be a uniform set of the complete works of the late Harry Stephen Keeler. Not only would Ramble House print a new edition of each of Keeler’s books ever published in the United States. It happened that, late in Keeler’s career, he had been dropped by his publishers in the US but his Spanish publisher had continued to issue his new works. In Spanish, of course. And eventually, Tucker and Weiler discovered that there still remained Keeler books that had never been published anywhere in the world. They managed to obtain publication rights to these books, and added them to their list of forthcoming titles.



But like the giant bumble bee that had never read the professor’s works proving that it could never fly—Tucker and Weiler remained unaware that their planned publishing program was impossible.

Michael Kurland and I had a good laugh at the planned program of Ramble House. Then we went out for lunch and forgot the whole matter. Or I did, anyway. Michael will have to speak for himself.

We now fast-forward a few months to a bright spring morning. The scene is a parking lot outside a convention center in Southern California. An annual book show and sale catering chiefly to paperback collectors had ended the night before. As I walked across the parking lot I ran into my friend Greg Ketter, a knowledgeable, honest and friendly book dealer from Minnesota. I stopped to chat while Greg packed up his excess stock. As he worked and I watched (an arrangement that I thoroughly endorse) I noticed an odd little paperback book sticking out of one carton. It wasn’t much bigger than a deck of playing cards.

I asked Greg what the book was and he showed it to me. It was a novel by Harry Stephen Keeler. It had been published by Ramble House.

Ramble House!

Tucker and Weiler and a Harry Stephen Keeler novel?

Obviously, like the professor’s bumble bee, Tucker and Weiler had never learned that what they were attempting was impossible. They had actually created Ramble House. They were publishing books with a desktop computer, a portable printer, and an ironing board!

As best I can remember, that incident occurred in the blessed year 1999.

Ramble House has been publishing books for a couple of decades now. I don’t know how many titles are in their ever-growing catalog. Must be well over 500, and they keep on coming. You can look at the back of the book you’re holding now and you’ll see the list.

After I’d read the book I bought from Greg Ketter—as I recall, it was Keller’s novel The Man Who Changed His Skin—I sent a congratulatory letter to Fender Tucker. He sent a gracious reply. Turned out that he’d actually heard of me, and no less even had copies of a couple of my books. We wound up corresponding, and eventually I found myself doing a little freelance editing for Ramble House. That arrangement worked out so well that Fender asked if I would create a private label under the Ramble house umbrella. I talked the idea over with my wife and she encouraged me to proceed.

All we needed was a name for our enterprise. I didn’t have the ego to call it Lupoff Books. And somebody else—I think a guy named Nixon—had already laid claim to “Dick and Pat.” So we put the decision on hold, climbed into our Volvo station wagon, and took our youngest offspring for an outing to the Steinhart Aquarium in San Francisco.

While there Pat and I admired a friendly dugong happily munching on a head of cabbage, and a splendid, gigantic orange octopus (which our youngster insisted on calling, “Pretty, Pretty”). But then we stood before a display case in which a creature unlike anything we had previously encountered basked drowsily beneath a warming spotlight. We couldn’t decide which of its two outstanding qualities was more noteworthy: its laziness or its ugliness. I still can’t make up my mind.

A placard announced that it was a Surinam turtle.

I turned to Pat and Pat turned to me and we nodded in unspoken agreement. This was the totem of our publishing enterprise. Thus was christened the Surinam Turtle Press.

It’s been a long while now. Ramble House has outgrown its desktop-and-ironing-board roots, but thanks to modern print-on-demand publishing technology it’s still pretty much its original miniature enterprise. It has spread its tentacles around the world. Fender Tucker is more of a business manager now, working from his home in Mississippi. Most of the design and production work is in the talented hands of Gavin O’Keefe in Australia. Veteran bookman John Pelan is one of our editors, and I’m still involved with Surinam Turtle Press, although I’m afraid I’ve slowed down more than a little in recent years.

I’ve been proud of the selection of titles that we’ve issued via Surinam Turtle Press. The present volume is something of a retrospective compilation of introductory essays that I’ve contributed to STP books over the years. I hope you’ll enjoy reading them. This small-scale publishing business has grown dramatically in recent years, and the bonuses that we offer on many of our titles—biographical and critical essays, new cover designs—add to their appeal.  At least, I hope so.

In the meanwhile, Ramble House continues to grow. John Pelan is one of the world’s leading authorities on so-called dark fantasies of both the pulp and pre-pulp eras. He also has a background as a publisher. He has been responsible for bringing dozens of scarce and expensive works back into print—to the delight of fans, readers, and collectors. You’ll find titles from his private imprint, Dancing Tuatara Press, intermixed with Ramble House’s own releases.

You’ll also find an array of first-rate mysteries by Francis M. Nevins in the Ramble House library. When Mr. Nevins doffs his hat as a talented author you may find him wearing his attorney’s garb as Ramble House’s legal advisor, for he’s a law school professor emeritus and one of the nation’s leading authorities on the tangled web of copyright law.

And if I may offer a tip of the Lupoff chapeau to Chris Mikul, Gavin O’Keefe’s fellow Australian and a Ramble House author. Later in the present volume you’ll find an essay devoted to the late Tiffany Thayer, in which I lament my inability to turn up a copy of Thayer’s novel Dr. Arnoldi. Ah, but books are where you find them, and Mr. Mikul turned up a copy of the Thayer opus where I’d been stymied. You’ll find it now in the Ramble House catalog, along with a superb introduction by Chris.

If any of the books that you’ll read about in the present volume—plus its three predecessors—whet your appetite, I’m sure that they’re available from Ramble House. Just look at the last pages of this book and see what catches your attention.

Running Surinam Turtle Press has been a lot of fun. My thanks to Fender and Jim, to Gavin and John, and to our brilliant legal advisor Mike Nevins, for taking me on a great ride. Pick up a handful of our books. I’m sure you’ll get a kick out of them!


Richard Lupoff

Oakland, California



Return to Ramble House main page