Algis and Edna Budrys, 1985 (Photo by William Shunn).

Everything, you see, was going beautifully. So then, guess what AJ did next.

I’ll tell you what he did next. Basically, he quit writing.

 
I haven’t played quite fair with you because, actually, those last four or five sentences covered that many years, and he did do some writing, part of the time. In Budrys-units the time involved amounted to one new Budrys son every year for four years. That added up to four sons, one a year. The first was born in New Jersey, and I had the honor of driving his wife, Edna, to the Monmouth Community Hospital to deliver him, AJ having gone off to reconnoiter the city of Chicago in search of a well-paying job in marketing.

He found what he was looking for, more or less, although the money and the permanence weren’t quite what he had envisioned. Still, it gave him the opportunity to dress up as Mr. Pickle for one client — and gave him, too, the capital to import Edna and Son No. 1 to the house in Evanston that he occupied (along with Edna and Sons 1 through 4 until his death in 2008).

But public relations, glamorous though it was said to be, was not just what he wanted to devote his life to. Over the next few years he worked at various jobs, including a couple of years as Book Editor for the magazine Playboy, with occasional stints of writing.

Then he met the Scientologists.

I don’t know how AJ first hooked up with the Scientologists. He had formed the habit of roaming around the country in his car — coast to coast, Mexico to the Canadian line, dropping in on assorted clubs, cons and individuals. Perhaps he dictated stories as he went. He never mentioned it, and I never asked. But, as it happened, theScientologists headquarters building in Hollywood, California was one of his ports of call. And they urgently needed to buy something and AJ had it to sell.

The Scientologists had decided to exalt the name of their founder, L. Ron Hubbard, by getting as many as possible of the books he had written long ago back into print, and also to fund an annual award for the best new writers who were as yet unpublished in the fields of science fiction and fantasy.

That was a sensible move, but there was one thing wrong with it. Nobody around Scientology Central knew anything about publishing, or running an annual award, or how to get any part of it off the ground.

AJ, dropping in from his wanderings, must have seemed like a heavenly answer to all those problems, He had had several editorial jobs (one of them assisting Horace Gold for a time), and he had always made it his business to learn the nuts and bolts of everything. If he didn’t have all the answers to every question the Scientologists would face to get their project moving, he certainly could extemporize whatever was needed.

I knew nothing of any of this until my phone rang one morning, and it was AJ: “Fred, the Scientologists are starting an annual award for the best new writer, and I wanted to ask — ”

“No,” I said.

That made him stutter. “B-but I just wanted to offer you — ”

“No, thanks,” I said, “I don’t want to be involved in any kind of annual award, and I don’t want to do anything with the Scientologists.” I should say that I didn’t know much about Scientology except for things John Campbell had bragged about it in the old days, but I knew that a lot of people thought they were evil.

He was silent for a moment. “But they’ll pay you for your time, and — ”

“Oh, that’s different,” I said agreeably. “Say a hundred dollars an hour including travel time if I have to go out there.”

”Oh, Fred,” he said, and then was silent for a moment. Then, “Well, all right. You just don’t want to do it, do you?”

“No, I don’t,” I said. “But how’re Eddie and the kids?” And he told me they were all fine, and hung up.

I’ve always prided myself on my ability to make quick decisions and that, I thought, was one of my best. So it was … until a few months later, when that confounded phone rang again, and again on the other end was AJ, and his first words were, “Ted Sturgeon’s dying.”

“Well. sorry to hear it—” I began but I still wasn’t letting him finish.

“When you turned me down,” he went on, not missing a beat, “I got Ted to take the job, and so now there are eight or ten manuscripts sitting next to his hospital bed right now, with the authors getting antsy because our judge is to sick to read them. Aren’t you sorry for those authors?”

He caught me off balance. “Well. that’s too bad, but—”

“All I’m asking you to do,” he said, “is judge those few stories, so we can give out the awards.”

Well, I didn’t say I would do that, but I didn’t say I wouldn’t, either, and next thing I knew the Fed Ex man was dumping a manila envelope with the stories at my door, and then — Well, and then — Well, and then I guess I just forgot to quit, because twenty years later I was still judging.

I will say that they didn’t demand that I praise Elron for any virtues beyond the ability to sometimes tell a rattling good sf or fantasy adventure story. When I told one of their workshops that the actual writing tips they had exhumed from ancient issues of Writers Digest should not be taken as serious advice on how to write, because I was morally certain that Ron hadn’t meant them as pedagogy, just an easy way for him to write a jocular piece that he would get paid maybe $25 for one afternoon when he didn’t feel like doing any serious work. They shuddered, but they didn’t argue. Although, come to think of it, they didn’t argue when I said I didn’t want to be an instructor at any subsequent workshops, either.

AJ became a permanent fixture at the Writers of the Future headquarters on Hollywood Boulevard and its various outlying buildings.. How much he was paid for his services I don’t know. The Scientologists had, and have, large reserves of money, but they are not known for distributin it with an open hand. Still, it appears to have been enough to keep him and his family fed and happy.

How completely did AJ himself buy into the principles of Scientology? I don’t know. More than once he would point out, or tell me about, one of the busy, smiling functionaries that had some assigned job in Scientology’s chain of command that kept them at headquarters and make some remark like, “She was a total wreck when she came in, but they’ve got her really functioning smoothly and happily now.”

The money, though, was real. There was in fact enough of it for AJ to realize an ancient dream.

After all those decades of having to wait for hours — or days, or sometimes weeks — for some editor to decide whether or not to write him a check so he could get on with supporting his family AJ wanted to eliminate that roadblock. He wanted to himself be the person who decided whether or not a story should be published. In fact, since even editors generally could be overruled by their publishers, what he really wanted to be was an all-in-one editor-publisher. It wasn’t a hopelessly ridiculous idea. Once a magazine has concluded arrangements for someone to print the magazine and for some other one to distribute the printed copies to dealers around the country there is only one thing a publisher absolutely needs to do. That is to make sure that his editor is putting together a package that readers will want to buy. AJ was confident that his own background in all those areas was as respectable as half a dozen people who, at one time or another, were known to have successfully combined both positions.

So he crossed his fingers, emptied out his bank account and started his own science-fiction magazine.

More to follow, sometime.

 
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2 Comments

  1. TAD says:

    Looking forward to where this goes next. I received a couple of rejection slips from Algis — one of which made a pretty good point about the story in question — and always loved his book reviews….

  2. Walt G says:

    I saw Mr. Budrys give a talk on building a story at one Norwescon.
    He described a very simple situation, about a violin student, stopping along the way to show structure and necessary elements and when he reached the end I actually got a little choked up.
    Now that is a story teller.