TNB Night Owl – Born Of Man And Woman

The Twilight Zone TV introduction. Image by CBS Television

Rumors and accidents sometimes plague film projects. Terry Gilliam’s efforts to get The Man Who Killed Don Quixote made spanned twenty years and inspired a documentary about being stuck in the development phase of a movie. The Exorcist had so many issues (both real and manufactured) that a book was released promising to tell readers “the real story behind the film.”

There are many parts to creating a movie, which helps to explain the difficulties encountered by some films. Books, on the other hand, tend to be simpler things. It would take quite an unusual confluence of events to convince people that a particular title was cursed.

Welcome to “Born of Man and Woman”. It was the author’s first book, and he had a lot of hope invested in it. It was a collection of his short fiction, with the title taken from his first professional sale. It told the story of a young child locked in a basement and abused, from the perspective of the child. Through the course of the short piece, the child is first presented as a pure victim, then dangerous enough to accidentally crush a cat to death, and finally as something monstrous. Short, with unexpected destruction at the end would wind up becoming the destiny of the collection.

The author wasn’t the only one making a debut. The publisher, Chamberlain Press, was just starting out; Born of Man and Woman was their first book. They felt that the author had the capacity to be a breakout success, and produced many thousands of copies of the title… far more than a first book normally receives, especially when that first book consists of short stories. Investing heavily in their gamble Chamberlain Press set the thousands in their warehouse, started shipping them out to stores, and waited for the orders to come in.

The orders did come… but so did water. A freak rainstorm struck the area, resulting in widespread flooding. Among the flooded buildings was the warehouse storing the books.

Most of the production run was destroyed. A few hundred books which had already been distributed were fine, and a few hundred more which had sustained only mild damage were considered viable for sale. Those dampstained books were sent out to stores and individuals who’d placed orders, with heartfelt apologies.

The publisher was left with more than a thousand completely destroyed books and a few thousand with significant damage but which might be considered salvagable.

…That’s when the fire happened. As the publisher was evaluating how to best market the partially damaged books, an electrical system which had been damaged during the flood failed, starting a fire which led to the complete destruction of all remaining copies. About 650 books of the original print run had survived, more than half of them were somewhat water damaged, and the publisher was bankrupt and unable to reprint the book.

The story of the cursed collection might be an obscure footnote in publishing history except that the author made a lasting mark with his first novel which was released later that year… I Am Legend. The author, Richard Matheson, was responsible for scripting and story writing more than a dozen episodes for the original Twilight Zone, wrote the original Kolchak television movies, wrote “Duel” for the directorial debut of Stephen Spielberg, penned novels like The Shrinking Man and What Dreams May Come, and generally became one of the most successful author/screenwriters of the 20th century.

Not a bad result from a fairly ill-omened beginning.

Question of the night: Are there any short story collections or anthologies you’ve particularly enjoyed?

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About AlienMotives 1991 Articles
Ex-Navy Reactor Operator turned bookseller. Father of an amazing girl and husband to an amazing wife. Tired of willful political blindness, but never tired of politics. Hopeful for the future.