Posts tagged ‘Edna Budrys’

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.

Continue reading ‘Algis Budrys: The Iron Thorn’ »

Algis Budrys

Algis Budrys

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.)

 
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William Lindsay Gresham

    William L. Gresham

By the third or fourth year of the Ipsy, the great house in Highlands had pupped a fair-sized litter of clones. There was me and my family in Red Bank, the del Reys a quarter of a mile away, George and Dona Smith in Rumson and, at least briefly, the Kornbluths in Long Branch and the Budryses in Oceanport … and, perhaps most important, the Laurence Mannings in Highlands itself, next door to the Ipsy-Wipsy itself.

When Laurence Manning — Fletcher’s long ago collaborator from the days when science-fiction magazines had the square footage of telephone books (no, not in the number of pages, of course!) — and his family came out for a weekend, they loved the location as well as the company. And when Laurence mentioned that he was looking for a house to buy and move to, Fletcher was quick to say that when he and Inga had bought the Ipsy, they’d bought more acres of land than they had any use for, and the Pratts would be happy to hive off a few acres to sell to the Mannings if they’d care to build a house next door. Which they did, and so the Pratts and the Mannings were next-door neighbors.

Actually that seemed like quite a nice arrangement. Although Manning didn’t have much interest in science fiction anymore he still liked the company of writers, and the conviviality of an Ipsy-Wipsy weekend. And we liked the Mannings.

He knew everything about home plantings, which made him a useful resource for those of us who, like myself, had never had to plant a space much bigger than a windowbox before. He was good company and by no means limited to shop talk. So things went swimmingly, with the Mannings’ house guests walking the couple hundred feet of lawn to the great house next door on Saturday nights … until they didn’t.

Remember that I once said that, with all the social drinking that went on of an Ipsy weekend, I had only once seen anyone unpleasantly drunk?

This was the once. The man in question I did not know well, though I had read some of his work. His name was William Lindsay Gresham.

Continue reading ‘Fletcher Pratt, Part 5: Shadow Over the Ipsy’ »

A J

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

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

It was a nice spring day in 1950-something and I was up in my third-floor office in the house in Red Bank, New Jersey, trying to telephone my other office in New York.

I wasn’t having much luck. Every time I picked up the phone my then wife, Carol, was already on it. Finally, I gave up, turned off the typewriter and went downstairs to see if the mail had come yet. It had. I was opening it over a cup of coffee when Carol showed up, off the phone at last. “Long call,” I said. “Who were you talking to?”

“Eddie Duna,” she said. “Oh, and I invited her out for the weekend, all right?”

“Oh,” I said. “Listen, I forgot to tell you. I already invited A J. I don’t think they’ve met.”

She gave me a look, but what she said was, “Fine. We’ve got room.” We did, too — a house that was ancient, decrepit, requiring constant infusions of money to keep it standing, but with twelve or so rooms. (I work at home and I don’t like to be crowded. My current home is about the same size, though less decrepit and needing somewhat fewer infusions.)

“Maybe they’ll like each other,” she added. “Maybe they’ll get married. A J could do a lot worse. Edna’s smart and great looking, and she’s got a good job.”

“Well, so could she,” I said, sticking up for my client. “A J is turning into a hell of a writer. What’s for lunch?”

And, you know, they did like each other and, a few months later, they did get married.

Well, that’s not so strange, is it? Happens all the time. A couple introduces friends to each other and sometimes the friends get married.

Well, sure, but what’s unusual about this particular event, at least among my crowd, is that these two stayed married, through four sons and more than fifty years, until 2008, when a long illness finally carried A J off. Hey, I’m some matchmaker! When I make a match it stays made.

 
Algirdas Jonas Budrys was born in 1931 in Lithuania, but he didn’t stay there long. His father was an official in Lithuania’s diplomatic corps and while A J was still small the family was posted to Konigsberg in the German province of East Prussia. A J, who had just about got a good handle on the Lithuanian language, began to learn German. His adult memories of East Prussia — which, like the rest of Germany, had been Nazified with the accession of Adolf Hitler a few years earlier — were troublesome.

He particularly recalled Hitler himself parading right past the Budrys apartment when he was five, he told Mark Williams in an interview shortly before he died. “After the Hitlerjugend walked through, Hitler came by in an open black Mercedes with his arm propped up.” The crowds made “indescribable” sounds. Men lost control of their bowels and had to race for the bushes or writhed and rolled on the ground.

Not long after that, the Budrys family was redeployed to New York. That was a much better posting, especially for a young boy who was beginning to read American children’s stories, but then everything changed.

The Soviet Union occupied all three of the Baltic countries; the Lithuanian diplomatic service ceased to exist, and so did the salary that had kept them afloat in this new country. A J’s father had to find a new way to support his little family. For a while it was farming, but then the Nazis evicted the Soviets and occupied Lithuania, and the other countries themselves, and the American government tardily decided to underwrite people like the Budryses. It looked as though they would be here for a while, so A J began the study of his third language. At which, most critics would agree, he became quite good.

In fact, while attending college, A J began writing stories of his own in English, and even managed to sell a few. Then one day he turned up at my Fifth Avenue literary-agency office to ask if I would take on his representation.

I did. Unfortunately for A J, though — and not all that nicely for me — he came along at a time when I was getting seriously over-extended and in increasingly deep money trouble. In what may have been A J’s last public talk, at the Heinlein Centennial in 2007, the hundredth anniversary of Robert Heinlein’s birth, A J reminisced about those days. “Fred made some great sales for me,” he said. “He even sold John Campbell a story that Campbell had already rejected when I sent it to him myself. But then when Fred sent me his check for the story, it bounced.”

(I regret to say that that’s a true story, though not one I enjoy. Maybe one day I’ll write about my literary-agent days for this blog, but not right now. They were only fifty or sixty years ago and still too painful.)

I couldn’t go on like that. I took the hard decision and packed the agency in, turned all the writers loose and began working to earn the money to pay back the $30,000 I had lost. Mostly I was doing it by writing but, when Horace Gold’s health made him unable to go on editing Galaxy and If, and Bob Guinn offered me the job, I took it. And, of course, A J was one of my principal contributors.

By then A J and Edna were not only married but in the next year or so expecting their first child. They had moved out of the city and into a small apartment in Red Bank, less than half a mile from my own house. That was convenient for A J. When he finished a story for me he could whip the last page out of the typewriter, walk out his door and in ten or fifteen minutes walk it over to my house for, when necessary, an immediate read followed by my trip to the Galaxy office in New York the next morning to bring back Bob Guinn’s check for the story.

“When necessary,” as it happened, was basically always, because when they moved out of New York, they had moved away from Edna’s job. The Budryses were now living on A J’s writing earnings.

Writing money is not like salary money. Salary money comes in a check every Friday, and you can budget according to what you’ll be able to pay. Writing money comes in indigestible lumps — perhaps not much in January, even less in February, a couple hundred, maybe, in March, and then in April a whopping big check, which makes your average income per month look pretty good. But, of course, the grocer, the landlord and everybody else are on their own timetable which has nothing to do with your monthly averages, and so there are problems.

Still, A J was both prolific and good. After a while, the Budryses had risen to the status of renting a house (in Oceanport, closer to the shore) and buying a car. A J, a true son of the automobile age, was now in his element. He developed a new writing behavior that was all his own. Each night, after dinner, he would kiss Edna and the babies (by then there were two of them) good night and jump into his car, carrying a recorder and a good supply of tape.

Then he would drive around for most of the night, more or less at random, steering with one hand and holding the tape recorder with the other to dictate stories into. When he had filled enough tape to satisfy himself he would drive home, park the car, hand the tape over to Edna to be typed out and hit the sack for a good day’s sleep.

Sometimes he hadn’t quite finished the stories when he turned them in, especially when it came to putting a title on them, so we would wrangle over that before I would concede the story was accepted. Generally, that didn’t take long but there was one story — allusive, subjective, poetic — that gave us particular trouble. After we both had come up empty I asked, “All right, A J, just tell me what the story’s about.”

He said, unhappily, “I can’t. I just know it’s what I wanted to write.”

I was leafing through the manuscript. “All right,” I said at last, “Here in the first couple of pages there are some phrases that I like, One is ‘wall of crystal’ and the other is ‘eye of night.’ How about calling it ‘Wall of Crystal, Eye of Night’?”

He gave me a pop-eyed look. “What does it mean?”

I said, “I don’t know, but I promise you that if we do, no one will ever ask you that question.” And no one ever did.

I have been asked which of A J’s stories were written in this hard-driving way, and I don’t know the answer. He had begun writing novels by then and my guess is that that was the system for two of them, probably Who? and Rogue Moon, but it’s only a guess. I don’t think it was many, perhaps not any, of the pieces I published, with the possible exception of the one of his novels that I ran as a three-part serial, The Iron Thorn.

Which nearly resulted in a homicide.

You know what the first law of editing is? It is this: “Never, ever, announce a story by a particular writer until the completed manuscript is safely in your hands.”

I didn’t just violate that law. I did worse. I wanted to start a new serial in the next issue of If, which was just about to go to the printer, and I didn’t have one. What I did have was Part One of A J’s The Iron Thorn. That was just the kind of story I wanted for that spot, but every warning bell in my mind was clanging away. . . .

I ignored them. I crossed my fingers, sent Part One off to the printers and hoped for the best.

I don’t want to tell you how many deadlines we came a hairsbreadth from missing over the next two issues, but A J, though often coming through at the last moment, and I mean by that the very, very last moment, did unfailingly come through, so I didn’t have to kill him.

But I never did that again.

 
To be continued. . . .

 
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