Years and years ago—I would say maybe about the 1970s—I happened to think of a mystery novel I would like to write. So whenever I got tired of working on the current piece I was writing for Horace L. Gold to print in Galaxy and needed a break I would write a chapter or so on the mystery, and when I had at least a rough draft maybe three-quarters done I packed it up and shipped it to my agent, Perry Knowlton, who not only ran the Curtis Brown agency but was the president of the Society of Authors’ Representatives and a person deemed to have the magic touch at sorting out great works from yuck.
I waited eagerly for The Word, and then it came. “I don’t see this as a better bet than your new serial for Gold,” said Perry. I had stopped writing on page 303. I never wrote page 304.
Then, some years later, when I was in a quite different place, I began to write compulsively, tirelessly on the tangled lives of some harried people. It was called The Lies We Live By, and I thought I was in touch with some important truths. So I sent it, too, off to Perry, and when it had been over a month since I sent it I called him.
“Oh, right, that,” he said. “I made a good start on it but then a lot of complicated things came up. I’ll try to get back to it as soon as I can.”
So that too went into my bottom desk drawer, and then funny things began to happen. Perry sold something of mine to two different publishers, and I had to calm them myself — and then one day his son Tim came into my office, looking more dejected than I had ever seen him.
“It’s Perry,” he said. “It’s Alzheimers, and it’s progressing fast. He’s going to have to retire.”
And so it happened. I never got back to either of them. I thought they were lost in the wastes of unwanted mss. in the agency’s unclaimed files, but just the other day both of them turned up.
Only what do I do now? I don’t want to read them over, because I’ve got too much on my plate already. (And, remember, I’m not 19 years old anymore. What Arthur Clarke did when he found himself lumbered with commitments for books he no longer knew how to write was get a few friends to write them for him. (Including me, for The Last.) I don’t like that idea, either.