My first and most influential book, The Cult of Alien Gods: H. P. Lovecraft and Extraterrestrial Pop Culture, was published fifteen years ago this week. In the crush of work on my two new books, I nearly neglected to mark this important anniversary. When I published the book back in 2005, I received heavy criticism both from those interested in H. P. Lovecraft and those interested in space aliens. Both groups felt I had done a disservice to them by explaining how the modern ancient astronaut theory grew out of the influence of Lovecraft's Cthulhu Mythos on the authors of one of the hypothesis's key texts, Morning of the Magicians. But now, after all this time, this conclusion is so widely accepted that some who discuss it no longer credit it to me, for it has passed into the realm of fact. It is an honor, I suppose.
The Cult of Alien Gods is not perfect, nor is it the book I would write today. I was only twenty-three when I wrote the book, twenty-four when it was published. Despite selling thousands of copies, I have never seen a dime of profit from that book. (I earned some initial royalties which did not cover the costs incurred writing the book, and since then the magic of accounting has kept the book perpetually shy of the threshold for receiving a check.) Nevertheless, it both made my reputation and locked me into a niche from which I only now have a chance to grow beyond.
I have mixed feelings about this anniversary. For the realm of the mind and for the historical record, it is good that I wrote the book. Without it, I would never have discovered so many secrets about history and culture. But I do wonder if I had held off whether I might have been able to grow my career in a more mainstream direction. I can remember how proud I was of having a published book when I applied for jobs in publishing back in 2005, 2006, and 2007, only to have editors turn up their noses. They published literature, you see, and I wrote about déclassé aliens. They couldn't have me on their staff lest I corrupt their Olympian literary taste. Yeah, but you can Google my name and see how many people have built on what I've done. No one knows who any of those editors are.
My recent book The Mound Builder Myth is now available in audio book format, narrated by Charles Henderson Norman. The audio edition runs eleven hours and eight minutes. The publisher did not share the audio version with me, so I have only heard the brief sample available through Audible.com. Not being an aficionado of audio books, I cannot say whether this is typical of the narration of others. I would have preferred a more emotional reading with a greater range of vocal intonation, to match the dramatic rhythm with which I wrote. But that is just me.
In other news, I completed my review of the edited manuscript of Legends of the Pyramids and returned it to the publisher for typesetting. I also wrote a new overview for my James Dean/flying saucer book proposal and am waiting for my agent's office to finish their review to see if I hit the mark for a more personal and passionate case for the book. I hope to hear back on final changes this weekend.
Since I am working on my books and not blogging this week, I am cross-posting my newsletter news items for those who do not subscribe.
I will not be posting this week unless something important happens because I am currently swamped under an astonishing pile of book work. The copyedited manuscript for Legends of the Pyramids needs corrections, markups, and review, and the notes for improvements to my book proposal for my James Dean / flying saucer nonfiction novel are going to be coming in tonight. Fortunately, my prose for Legends of the Pyramids is pretty clean, so there are relatively few thorny issues to address. However, it's still a massive amount of work to fit into the ten days allotted. (By contrast, the copyeditor got three months.) The new editor overseeing the project is less enamored of my occasional humorous forays into low language than the previous and, according to the document tracking, had a back-and-forth with the copyeditor about which adjectives were acceptable for describing the quality of the Egyptian god Min's tumescence. It is all quite silly, especially when the ancient Greeks were a heck of a lot cruder. Anyway, I am buried under book work and apparently will be for at least a week. I am not sure how this year turned into my most productive literary year ever--three nonfiction books in some stage of the path to publication in one calendar year, and a novel sitting in storage--but I can't keep this pace up forever. I'm tired!
I am pleased to announce that my new nonfiction novel exploring midcentury moral panics through flying saucers and the life of movie star James Dean has been picked up by a New York literary agent, who will be representing it to publishers. My agent also represents an Oprah Book Club selection and several award winners. In the coming weeks, we will be working together to sharpen the book proposal for submission to some of the larger publishing houses. Of course, this means that I actually have to stick the landing on this one and bring the story to a satisfying conclusion. Up until now, that was a theoretical concern.
As I’ve been working on my book, I’ve noticed that the theme has slowly drifted away from my original plan. My outline had such a nice, rigid structure with a tripartite division among the three moral panics that originated in 1947, the Red Scare, the Lavender Scare, and the UFO scare, with discussion of how these panics resulted from defining groups of outsiders against a conformist mainstream culture. But as I wrote, the separation between the parts started to break down, in large measure because the social aspects of all three moral panics rather quickly subordinated themselves to a broader concern about redefining masculinity after the crisis of the war years. Hence, the Red Scare devolved into panic over gays, gay panic plunged into disputes over effeminacy and weakness, and from the very first day of the UFO flap, everyone measured witnesses’ credibility by their masculinity. The very first flying saucer articles even talked about Kenneth Arnold’s high school football salad days and how muscular and tall he was, as though masculinity equaled credibility.
I’ve been making great progress on my new book, and I’ve nearly hit 40,000 words. The bigger challenge is trying to interest anyone in it. It’s rather rude, really, that literary agents can’t be bothered with even a pro-forma rejection but instead expect me to wait out response windows for silence to speak for them. But on the plus side, I’ve had an opportunity to explore some areas of historical research I hadn’t had the opportunity to look into before. Honestly, it was a little weird.
I had intended to write a full blog post today, but this week turned into a series of bad news leading to worse. The COVID-19 pandemic has taken its toll on my household's employment and finances, and a literal midnight email about mandatory pay cuts and furloughs will only make it worse. I was not in the mood to blog. However, I did feel up to working on the proposal for a new book I have decided to write, based on my recent article about Rebel without a Cause and the three 1947 national panics over communists, gays, and UFOs that turned out to be deeply interconnected.
For the past ten years, I have written this blog anywhere between five and seven days per week. For almost ten years before that, I produced regular content for the predecessor site to this one. When this blog was at its peak in 2013, I had 100,000 readers, regular appearances in media coverage, a number of TV opportunities, a literary agent, and a growing writing career in both fiction and nonfiction. None of that is the case today, and I don’t see a way to justify continuing to devote so much effort to this endeavor. Several recent posts had readership so low that I could have just emailed all of you a few bullet points and saved myself the trouble.
I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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