Friday, August 23, 2013

Wyatt's, Lovecraft, and Me

In an email response to my recent piece about my discovery of H.P. Lovecraft's works, my bestest buddy Charles Rutledge dropped me an email that said, "Wait a minute. A store in downtown Rome Georgia had Selected Letters of H.P. Lovecraft? How the heck did that happen?"

That's a good question, Charles!

Wyatt's was an amazing store for its time: a locally owned department store that took pride in each and every department, from clothing to furniture to its stationery, art, and book departments. (The art department was the source of my first crowquill pen and bottle of waterproof India ink, in fact, and I bought many other pens and nibs there, as well as Strathmore illustration paper and real Bristol board.) Not only did I buy Conan novels, Doc Savage adventures, and Robert A. Heinlein books there, but I also found the occasional treasure such as an Arkham House volume--including the Selected Letters of H.P. Lovecraft.

The 1960s bookselling marketplace was dominated by local bookstores, and Rome had two locally owned department stores that had impressive book departments: Fahy's and Wyatt's. Both stores took such pride in their book departments that when they hired new book managers, they actually advertised it in the local newspaper, the Rome News-Tribune!

Fahy's didn't get a lot of my business in the 1960s, because their book department seemed to emphasize local history, Americana, and best-seller fiction. Apparently, Wyatt's had a book department manager who took pride in a more diverse selection of reading material, since I often found science fiction and fantasy there, including hardcovers (while I could find SF and fantasy at other stores, including Liberty Hatworks and Newsstand on Broad Street, hardcover SF and fantasy was a rarity in Rome... I don't think I saw it anywhere other than the library and Wyatt's).

I suspect that some of the credit for that should go to Roger D. Aycock. Roger (from the time I first got to know him in the late 1960s, he always said, "call me Roger," so I will continue to do so, even though my initial tendency is to refer to him as "Mr. Aycock," as my parents taught me to address an elder in such a way) was a writer for the Rome News-Tribune, where (among other things) he wrote "Rome and Community: Fifty Years Ago This Week. " However, Roger also wrote two novels and more than a hundred stories under the name "Roger Dee"—and about 90% of those works were science fiction.

Of course, this was a time when science fiction got less mainstream respect than it does now, so Roger didn't promote his pseudonymous SF writing career. However, the book department manager at Wyatt's knew Roger, he explained to me at one point, and knew that he was an avid reader of science fiction as well as a writer; Roger told me that he had bought many SF novels from Wyatt's over the years, including a number of small press books that they ordered at his request.

My guess is that, from time to time, the book department manager would be swayed by Aycock's enthusiasm and would thus order an extra copy of two of a title that he had requested. There also could have been publisher minimums involved: it's possible that Arkham House had a ten-book wholesale minimum in the 1970s, just as they did in the 1970s when I ordered from them, so the bookstore manager probably added an extra copy of two.

I'd like to think, though, that she (while I can't find her name right now, I do know that the Wyatt's bookstore manager was a woman, and I recall her tolerance of my questions and her willingness to hold books for me for a week or two while I saved my allowance) might also have read some of these books herself and decided that it would be worth having a few Lovecraft volumes in stock. And a Selected Letters of H.P. Lovecraft volume would certainly appeal to her tastes, since Wyatt's also had literary anthologies and literary nonfiction, including selected letters and other nonfiction.

Whether it was intentional small press support or a need to make publisher minimums, Wyatt's had several Arkham volumes over the years, which is yet another reason I was so sad when they chose to close down their book department in the 1970s. Three decades later, in 2002, Wyatt's went out of business after almost nine decades as a Broad Street anchor store and a wonderful part of my personal history faded away...

As for Roger Aycock--well, there are other stories to be told about that remarkable gentleman, including the fact that he was involved in writing for and publishing fanzines in the 1950s as well, and was a font of information about fandom in the 50s. For someone like me, a fan who felt rather isolated in the Southeast when most of the writers I admired seemed to be located in the Northeast or on the West Coast, it was almost inspirational to talk to a man who had played such an active role in both professional SF writing and in fandom while living many hundreds of miles away from most other SF writers.

1 comment:

Charles R. Rutledge said...

Thanks for the well thought out and fascinating response. I knew there had to be a story there.