Algis Budrys became my client within a matter of just months before, crippled by money troubles, I closed my literary agency’s door forever. I hadn’t really had enough time to position him in the kind of publications he deserved, but I had made a pretty good start. I had sold almost all of his backlog of science-fiction short stories and novelettes. I got him contracts for paperbound novels — not the genteel old-line kind of publishing house I had envisioned for him, but at least a step in a better direction. And then I turned him loose.
By then A J had begun to have a certain reputation. He negotiated a few contracts on his own, he got a film offer for one of them and successfully saw it through all the log-jams that lie between an expression of interest and an actual movie that people buy tickets to and then watch in a real motion-picture theater. It wasn’t big money, but it was a sign of success denied to almost all of his colleagues.
He didn’t abandon science fiction, because one of his best friends — me, that is — having jettisoned his literary agency, had become the editor of the Galaxy group of magazines. And, for the next couple of years almost every issue of my magazines had at least one Budrys story in it.
I should describe A J’s work habits, because they were a bit unusual. Every evening, after supper and perhaps an hour or so of television, AJ would fill a thermos with hot coffee, check his tape recorder to make sure the batteries were healthy and there was plenty of tape, kiss his wife, Edna, good night and then get into his car and drive away. Drive where? That didn’t matter because he wasn’t sightseeing. What he was doing, Scheherazade-like, was dictating a new story each night, though instead of into the impatient ears of a threatening sultan it went no farther than a spool of magnetic tape — at least, not until AJ got home sometime in that early morning, dumped the filled tape spools next to Edna’s typewriter and went cheerfully off to sleep. Edna was an excellent typist, so by the time A J shambled into the kitchen for breakfast around early afternoon, the manuscript was ready to be shown to an editor.
You must understand that by the words “an editor,” what I mean is me. The Budrys house in Monmouth County. New Jersey, was no more than a twenty-minute drive from mine, and on “story days,” the ones on which typing had produced a salable manuscript, A J, having phoned to make sure I was going into the office the next day, would bring in the story and sit in my third-floor office while I read it.
Truthfully, the act of reading A J’s stories was little more than a formality. I never rejected one. I had no reason to do so; AJ was hot. And the next morning I would pop the manuscript into my briefcase, along with anything else I wanted to buy and their purchase orders, take the Jersey Central train to New York and my little fraction of the offices of Bob Guinn, the man who owned Galaxy.
I had long ago convinced Bob that writers weren’t like printing-supply vendors. Each one had his own peculiar ways, and A J’s weird trait was punctuality. That is, he would give me first look at everything he wrote as long as he could get the check to pay for it the next day. So that’s what he got, By the time I got home for dinner AJ would be sitting in Carol’s kitchen, with a cup of her coffee in his hand, the other hand poised to accept the check.
It was, for both of us, a pretty smooth-running machine, most of the time.
(More to come.)