Perry Knowlton

Perry Knowlton

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.


  1. Gregory Benford says:

    Fred, I think getting a young cowriter is the right way.

    I’d LOVE to see a mystery from you.

  2. Ken says:

    The other day I found a five year old Twinkie in the back of the glovebox. I sort of wanted to eat it, but I also sort of didn’t. So I put it back and there it remains.

  3. Robert Nowall says:

    Well, if you don’t want to finish and / or sell them anywhere, how ’bout putting them up here at your site? Amuse the multitudes…

  4. Dan Gollub says:

    Regarding the topic of writing as one gets older, it’s unclear to me to what extent aging plays a part. Writing is difficult at any age. I try to take good care of my brain cells, and a realistic goal for me while writing fiction is to produce 125 words or so an hour when I’m trying for quality and coherence. I’ll add the following, somewhat off topic. I was reading advice about producing poetry, and the author said at times you, the poet, attain a singularity in which the poem becomes smarter than you are. So far that hasn’t happened to me.

  5. David Greybeard says:

    That’s so wonderful you’ve found lost work.
    If you remember how you wanted them to end; why not outline the endings?

  6. Keith West says:

    Even if you don’t rewrite them, it would be interesting to see the work you did on these books. Maybe put them up electronically for sale to those interested. I don’t like the idea of farming them out to friends to finish either.

  7. Robert Nowall says:

    Should’a noticed before…if you were writing for Horace L. Gold, wouldn’t the time frame for that be the 1950s, not the 1970s?

  8. Denis says:

    Mr. Pohl

    I am a fan. You are a wonderful treasured writer. Go ahead and finish the book. You encouraged van Vogt to write again after a hiatus. This was a great thing you did, as he managed to come up with some interesting work after that.

    I would forever be open to read what you write.

    Denis Dube
    London, Ontario

  9. Jason says:

    Well, if you don’t want to finsih them you could put them in an inexpensive ebook with some other stuff you don’t want to finish.

  10. John Armstrong says:

    I second putting them up electronically as your The Last Tycoon(s) – add in whatever your remember of the circumstances and the era as an afterword. Consider them archeological fragments –

    too bad they weren’t for Horace – he would have happily rewritten and finished them off, from what I’ve heard of his editing technique. I was just reading the Heinlein letters book and there’s quite a section with him ranting at Lurton Blasingame about Gold’s tendency to futz with copy. All same Asimov in his memoirs.

    That would have driven me mad