Archive for the ‘Writing’ Category

Galaxy, June 1952, with Gravy Planet by Pohl & Kornbluth

 

Cyril Kornbluth and I had collaborated on a few not very good (but sold and published anyway) stories before the war changed everything. He wasn’t doing a lot of writing now, because he had determined to go straight with his life, by which he meant get a college education. Accordingly, he had moved to Chicago with his new wife, Mary, and signed up at the University of Illinois with the financial help of the GI Bill of Rights. He had time to write very little, but what he had written (and I instantly sold for him through the Dirk Wylie agency) was getting better and better.

I thought he could be tempted. As he had just turned up at our house for a visit, it was easy to put that to the test, so I showed him the partial manuscript, and he was hooked. When Cyril went home, he took the fragment with him. He did some tidying up on that first third of the book, then wrote a draft of the next third on his own and came back to show it to me.

I was happy with his draft. We then wrote the final section turn and about, a four-page segment by Cyril followed by four pages by me und so weiter. Then I went over the manuscript myself for one last time. Then I delivered it to Horace and he started it on schedule, after changing the title to Gravy Planet, right after Alfie Bester’s serial ended.

Gravy Planet attracted a lot of interest in the sf community. For a while, it was held responsible for inspiring a whole new species of science fiction called the “when the garbage men take over the world” stories. And when it was finished in the magazine, I made a neat package of the tearsheets in order to sell a hard-cover edition to one book publisher or another. As an agent, I had been selling a ton of sf novels to the newborn and voracious book market for sf. I didn’t anticipate having any trouble getting a book contract.

I could not have been more wrong.

 
To be continued. . . .

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Horace L. Gold

Horace L. Gold

Over the next few years I gave most of my thinking time to other matters. I finally could not make myself stay on at a 9-to-5 job in advertising, so in spite of pleas to stay and the offers of still more money, I left my good friends in advertising and took over the management of my dying friend Dirk Wylie’s literary agency. I did occasionally have a spasm of writing the novel, putting together a few pages of one false start or another, and then ash-canning them when I read them over.

But then I had an idea — slow in coming but full of promise. What I had become reasonably good at, and seemed to be getting slowly better, was science fiction. So why not write a science-fiction novel about advertising?

I experimentally wrote a few pages, on something to which I gave the title Fall Campaign. Then, as time permitted I wrote a few more, and then a few more than that, and after quite a few such episodes I had about a 20,000-word chunk of what was a recognizable science-fiction novel about advertising.

Although I had {through the Wylie agency agency), been selling a reasonable number of short stories, all under pseudonyms, novels were terra incognita to me. I felt the need of an outside opinion. So I took my 20,000 words over to show to Horace Gold, the brilliant, if sometimes maddening, editor of the new magazine Galaxy. My agency did a lot of business with his magazine and we had become friends. He read it over and said, “Fine. I’m running an Alfie Bester serial now. As soon as that finishes I’ll start this one.”

That caught me unawares. I said, “Horace, did you happen to notice that it isn’t finished?”

He said, “Sure. So what do you do about that? You go home and finish it.”

The trouble with that very appealing idea was that running the literary agency did not leave me enough time to do what Horace wanted, at least single-handed. But I quickly saw that I had a possible solution to the problem right up in the third floor guest room of my recently acquired house in Red Bank, New Jersey. The name of the solution was Cyril Kornbluth.

 
To be continued. . . .

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  • The Story of The Space Merchants, Part 1

 

The Space Merchants

 

In 1944, I was an Army Air Corps weatherman attached to the 456th Bomb Group (Heavy) at its base near the tiny town of Stornara, Italy. For years the group had survived with a total weather complement of two, one major and one sergeant, but then at last the weather training school at Chanute Field, Illinois, had been able to put a force of several hundred trained weathermen onto a troop transport headed for Italy. The 456th got eight of that shipment, and one of them was me.

With all those weathermen, none of us had to work very hard. When a mission was on there was a flurry of pre-dawn activity until the B-24s began to rumble and waddle down the runways to get airborne, then not a lot to do until they, or the survivors among them, came (often limping) back. And of course if the weather was bad not even that much happened. Then everybody had most of the day off.

For those reasons I had a lot of free time on my hands. Much of it I spent exploring the nearby Italian towns and the just as nearby Adriatic Sea beaches. But I was also a little homesick for my beloved city of New York, and what I decided to do about that was to write something about it. That something became a novel, not science fiction, set in the city and concerning what seemed to me one of New York’s most interesting manifestations, the advertising business.

So for a while. on days when I was not otherwise occupied. I would carry the lavender Remington No. 5 portable typewriter that my mother had given me on my twelfth birthday (and that I lugged with me throughout World War II) to the Enlisted Men’s Club, where I added a few more pages to a novel entitled For Some We Loved. (The title comes from The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, to which I had been addicted as a teenager.) And I did, in fact, after some couple of hundred pages, type “The End” on the last page and pack it into the bottom of my duffel bag to await better times.

Then time passed. The war ended. Better times did come, and I was a civilian again with a neat little apartment and attached roof garden at 28 Grove Street in the heart of Greenwich Village. And one of the first things I did after moving in was to pull that manuscript out and read it over.

It was not a joyous experience. I quickly realized that the story had an incapacitating flaw. It was about the advertising business, which was a subject I knew nothing about. It showed.

After some thought, however, I could see a possible way of remedying that. I picked up a copy of the Sunday Times, turned to the Help Wanted pages and found three ads for advertising copywriters. I answered all three. One of them was the tiny Mad Ave. advertising agency of Thwing and Altman. They specialized in book accounts, including the Merriam-Webster dictionaries and Doubleday’s Dollar Book Clubs, and when I showed them the house ads I had written as an editor at Popular Publications, they took me on.

And that was the beginning of a few prosperous years spent in the advertising biz. (Not very much of that period was spent at T & A, however. They didn’t pay much. On months with only four Fridays my take-home pay was not quite enough to cover the month’s rent on that nice Village apartment, and I felt that I’d really like to have a few more dollars coming in to spend on food, clothes, cigarettes and science-fiction magazines. So when I decided to stay on for a while with this advertising racket, I went looking for, and found, a better job, which was on the payroll of the advertising and editorial departments of the Popular Science Publishing Company.

At some time a couple of years into my new career, I had rented a summer place high up over the great Ashokan Reservoir, maybe a hundred miles out of New York. One of the things I liked best about the large house that came with it was the big flagstone fireplace on its second floor.

And there, one Saturday evening, I once more pulled out that manuscript from my 456th Bomb Group days and read it over. As I read it, I perceived that it had another flaw I had not previously noted. Considered on its merits as a novel it was — what’s the word I should use? — well, lousy.

So as I read the manuscript, I fed it page by page into the fire. And when I was through, there I was, now with some notions about advertising that just begged to be put into a novel, and no novel to put them into.

I did have some sketchy notions, however, and so I wrote a few pages of an opening, but didn’t like it very much.

 
To be continued. . . .

 

Messy files art - public domain

 

Thank you for bearing with us. It’s a little hard to believe that it’s been over three months since Fred died. As you might imagine, we’ve had much to do since then.

Elizabeth Anne Hull and Frederik Pohl

Elizabeth Anne Hull and Frederik Pohl

The blog team — which is to say Betty, Cathy, Dick and Leah — have been regrouping, sorting and pondering where to go from here.

Fred will remain a very real part of this blog for some time to come.

Going through his files, Leah found literally hundreds of pieces of writing that he intended for the blog. Some of them were old articles — written with a typewriter on paper — that he meant to give new life here. Others were written on purpose for the blog, but were never posted.

We’d like to give you a look behind the scenes of “The Way the Future Blogs,” so you can see how that happened, and how Fred will still live in his blog.

When his editor Jim Frenkel coaxed Fred to start a blog (“like that new young guy”), Fred was nearly 90 years old. He’d started his writing life on manual typewriters. He adapted to computers, but slowly. Although he had a lifelong fascination with science and technology, Fred, like a surprising number of science-fiction writers, was a late adopter for his personal use.

Right up until the exigencies of collaborating with Arthur C. Clarke on The Last Theorem demanded a switch to a more modern word processor, Fred was still using the antiquated WordStar with Dick’s expert legacy support to get contemporary computers to run it. Up till then, Fred resisted e-mail as well as new software, not to mention the web.

Collaborating with someone in Sri Lanka changed all that, and Fred finally embraced 21st-century connectivity … to a point.

He didn’t want to learn about all the bells and whistles of blogging, and since he had the use of only one hand, his typing wasn’t internet-ready. That’s where Leah came in. A professional journalist and blogger, she took on the task of blogifying Fred.

We settled on a system: Fred would write a blog post and e-mail it to Leah. She’d copyedit, fact check, format it for WordPress, add links and images and post it. At least, that’s how it was supposed to work.

Filing, even in the dead-tree days, was never Fred’s forté. He’d write things and then lose them in his computer. He rarely used folders, putting everything — blog posts, fiction, correspondence, et al. — in “My Documents.” He’d allow Microsoft Word to name his files and then forget their filenames.

Once Fred wrote something, he was done with it, and he went on to think about the next thing. Sometimes he wrote blog posts but never passed them along. Did he think they needed further polishing? Did he forget about them? Did he think he had sent them when he actually hadn’t? We’ll never know.

Fred found the process of attaching files and emailing them tedious, so he’d save them up in batches, and later get Cathy to email them in bulk. Sometimes she couldn’t find files because they had different filenames than Fred had told her. Cathy’s resourceful at searching, but some documents she never found. Sometimes Dick was called upon to use specialized tools to retrieve files Fred had lost or accidentally deleted.

Since Fred’s death, Leah’s been combing through his computer and sorting the files, a process that required opening and reading every single one. Along with published and unpublished fiction, insertions for an expanded version of Fred’s biography, The Way the Future Was, and the material Fred had written for its forthcoming sequel, she found many unposted blog entries, and those will start being posted here soon.

In the last months before he died, Fred and Leah went through his trunk files, work he’d written years ago — some previously published and some not. He set aside a big stack of articles that he wanted to share on the blog. Since they’re on paper and must be scanned, OCRed and edited, getting them online will take a while, but you’ll see those here, too.

Meanwhile, Betty’s decided to get back into writing for this blog, so you’ll see regular posts from her, as well. Leah will continue editing and blogifying and may weigh in from time to time. Dick will be behind the scenes making sure all our computers stay online and running, and Cathy will keep everybody in communication. So the gang’s all here, even — virtually — Fred.

We hope you’ll keep reading!

The blog team

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.

 

When the great world of non-English-speaking science fiction fans began to flex their young muscles and develop their own brand-new sorts of clubs and cons there was o way to slow them down. So it was no surprise to us Americans that, when there sprang into life an annual science fiction film festival, it was on the other side of an ocean, in a city called Trieste.

When some fan asked what country it was in, some wise guy — it may have been me — asked, “What country was it in when?” Because in the memory of living people — -that is, of people who were living in the 1960s — Trieste had alternately been Austro-Hungarian, Yugoslavian or Italian. And that doesn’t count those periods when the wars that changed things were over, but the old men with the chalk in their hands hadn’t quite finished drawing those map lines that dictated who would live where, and what they. would call themselves.

By the time Trieste hosted Il Festivale di Fantascienza, though, it was irrevocably (they said) Italian, and that’s what got us there. We were sitting on our porch in Red Bank, New Jersey, my then wife Carol and I, me reading the final pages of my latest collaboration with Jack Williamson, the Old Master himself, and Carol studying a map of eastern Europe.

I had just finished the final pages, having made only a handful of penciled improvements, none that required retyping whole pages, which meant all I had to do just then was put it in the mail for a final lookover by Jack. Unless he found something he wanted me to do over, which he almost never did, the next thing I would have to do with that one would be to deposit the check for the on-delivery half of my part of the advance when it turned up in the day’s mail.

That’s when Carol said, “Ðubrovnik” pronouncing the name as though enjoying the flavor of it.

What I said then was. “What?” I don’t know exactly what thoughts had been floating around my easily distracted mind at that time, but I was sure that they had nothing to do with towns with funny names..

She filled me in. “I said, ‘Dubrovnik,’ because I always said I wanted to visit some place that had a name I couldn’t pronounce.”

I reminded her that she had just pronounced it, and she shook her head at me. “How do I know I pronounced it right? Anyway, that’s not the important part. Look on the map here. Here’s this Dubrovnik place, and it’s right down the coast from that sci-fi film thing you said you wanted to go to, the one in Treesty.”

“There isn’t any such place as Treesty,” I informed, “The Film Festival is in Tree-esty. And all I said was maybe one of these years we might take a look — ”

“Well, what’s wrong with this year? You said you wanted to go there.. And just the other day, Mother was asking if we were going to want her to mind the kids while we went somewhere. I told her I’d ask you, so now I’m asking.”

I said, “Hum.” That was my coded expression for meaning, Let me mull this over in my mind, because Carol had a point. Back in those wartime days when my personal travel agent had been the U.S. Air Force, they had shipped me all over the map of Italy, except for two areas they somehow missed. One of them was Sicily, way down at the farthest south. The other, in the farthest north, was that spur of land at the top of the Adriatic Sea that held Trieste. The opportunity to see more of a country I had come to love simply couldn’t be passed up. So we made our plans, Carol and I, and we checked to see that our passports were up to date and that Carol’s mother, Carolie Ulf, was still cheerful about supervising the youngest children for two or three weeks, the two older ones being off at school,.

And next thing you know, our Alitalia jet was touching down at Milan’s airport and we were shifting our not inconsiderable baggage into the trunk of a Hertz car and heading east.

Continue reading ‘Under Three (or Maybe More) Flags, Part 1’ »