Posts tagged ‘G.G. Clark’

Amazing-June 1936

 

The development of a professional writer is marked by a number of stages, each identified by a particular event. My own development was accelerated by the fact that by the time I was 14 or so I had come to know people — Johnny Michel and Don Wollheim — who had actually sold works to professional science-fiction magazines.

(Well, “sold” is putting it a bit strong, since neither of them had really been paid for their work. In fact, that’ s why they had come to Geegee Clark’s Brooklyn Science Fiction League in the first place; to put pressure on Hugo Gernsback to pay the writers for his Wonder Stories by denouncing him to his most loyal fans, the ones who had joined his club.)

Anyway, I listened to them reverently, and in fact learned a great deal. One of things I learned was that, surprisingly, the editors of science-fiction magazines were in some ways indistinguishable from ordinary human beings. They went to offices to work — well, I knew that because I had discovered on my own the existence of writers’ magazines that actually gave addresses for those offices. I had even experimentally tried mailing one or two of my early stories to one or two of those sf markets. What I learned additionally from Donald and Johnny was that you could go in person to some of those offices, and that some of those editors, sometimes, would actually talk to you.

That particular nugget of information was worth actual cash to me. As I had learned from my study of Writers Digest, I could mail in my stories — and had done so. The catch to that was that I was required to enclose postage for the return trip in the (likely) event of rejection. That had amounted, in the last story I had submitted by mail, to 9¢ in stamps each way, total 18¢. While the cost, if I delivered them in person, would be only a nickel each way for the subway. (Plus, of course, whatever price could be put on my time for the 45 minutes each way it would take for me to do it — but, then, nobody else was offering to buy any of my time at any price.)

That represented a nearly 50-percent reduction in my cost of doing business, or even more — much, much more! — if I had enough stories to submit to make a continuing process out of it. I could, say, take the subway to editor A’s office to pick up rejected story X and at the same time submit new story Y, then walk (no cost for walking) to the office of editor B to try story X on him. And there was no reason for me to limit myself to a single story each way at each office.

The only thing that could prevent me from working at that much greater volume was that I hadn’ t written enough stories to make such economies of scale pay off, and that, boys and girls, is how I became a literary agent.

 
Continue reading ‘Early Editors’ »

The Brooklyn Science Fiction League met in the basement of its chairman, George Gordon Clark. He was an energetic fellow. When Wonder Stories announced the formation of the SFL Clark did not waste time, he sent in his coupon at once and consequently became Member No. 1. When the SFL announced it was willing to charter local chapters, he acted instantly again, and so the BSFL was Chapter No. 1, too.

We outgrew Clark’s basement pretty quickly; there was only room for about four of us, in with his collection of sf magazines. We moved to a classroom in a nearby public school. What I mostly remember about those meetings is surprise that I couldn’t fit into the grammar-school desks anymore — after all, it was only a couple of years since I had been occupying desks just like them every school day. I remember we talked a lot about how to interpret Robert’s Rules of Order and spent quite a lot of time reading minutes of the previous meeting. If anything else substantive took place, I have forgotten it entirely.

But, ah, the Meeting After the Meeting! That was the fun part. That was when we would adjourn to the nearest open soda fountain, order our sodas and sundaes and sit around until they threw us out, talking about science fiction.

It was always a soda fountain. Not always the same one; over the years we fans must have staked out and claimed dozens of them, all over the city. But we were addicted to ice cream concoctions, so much so that a few years later, in a different borough of the city, after the meetings of a different club, we finally designed our own sundae, which we called the Science Fiction Special, and persuaded the proprietor of the store to put it on his menu.

We were a young bunch, as you can see. Except for Clark, who must have been in his early twenties, the old man of the group was Donald Wollheim, pushing nineteen. John B. Michel came with Donald; and a little later, down from Connecticut, Robert W. Lowndes; the four of us made a quadrumvirate that held together for — oh, forever, it seems like — it must have been all of three or four years, during which time we started clubs and dispersed them, published fan magazines, fought all comers for supremacy in fandom and wound up battling among ourselves.

The fan feud is not quite coeval with fandom itself, but it comes close. None of the clubs seemed to live very long. The BSFL held out for a year, then we moved on to the East New York Science Fiction League, a rival chapter of the parent organization, which seceded and renamed itself the Independent League for Science Fiction. That kept us engaged for another year, then it was the turn of the International Scientific Association (also known as the International Cosmos-Science Club). The ISA was not particularly scientific, and it certainly wasn’t all that international; we met in the basement of Will Sykora’s house in Astoria, Queens. (The ENYSFL-ILSF had met in a basement, too, the one belonging to its chairman, Harold W. Kirshenblith. I do not know what science-fiction fandom would have done in, say, Florida, where the houses didn’t have basements.)

It didn’t much matter what the name of the club was, or where we met. We did about the same things. We held meetings once a month, mostly devoted to arguments over whether a motion to adjourn took precedence over a point of personal privilege. We got together between times to publish mimeographed magazines, where we practiced our fledgling talents — for writing, and also for invective.

The fan mags (now they are called “fanzines,” but the term hadn’t been coined then) were sometimes club efforts, sometimes individual. I managed to wind up as editor of the club mags a lot of the time, but that wasn’t enough; I published some of my own. The one I liked best was a minimal eight-page mimeographed job measuring 4 ¼ by 5 ½ inches — a standard 8 ½-by-11-inch mimeo sheet folded twice — called Mind of Man. Since it was my own, I could publish anything I liked in it. What I liked best to publish was my own poetry, which at that time was highly sense-free, influenced in equal parts by Lewis Carroll’s “Jabberwocky” and some of the crazier exhibits in transition.

 
To be continued. . . .

 
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From left, Donald A. Wollheim, Milton A. Rothman, me, John B. Michel, Will Sykora, 1936.

From left, Donald A. Wollheim, Milton A. Rothman, me, John B. Michel and Will Sykora in 1936.

After a while two Real Pro Writers did in fact come to our Science Fiction League meetings.

They weren’t top pros; in fact, I had never heard of either of them until they showed up. And they weren’t there to help promote Wonder Stories, either … oh, my, no. Their names were John B. Michel and Donald A. Wollheim.

To fourteen-year-old me they were immensely impressive high-powered types. Not physically. Neither were most of the rest of us fans; to some extent, Damon Knight’s toad theory is descriptive enough.

I started out lucky enough, but somewhere just before I got into science fiction I went swimming one day at the St. George Pool, a huge indoor saltwater marvel, and went off the high board, meaning to see how close I could come to the tiled bottom. I came real close. When I got out of the water and looked in the bronze wall mirrors, I found I had knocked off a front tooth; and so, for the next couple of decades until a dentist shamed me into doing something about it, when I smiled I smiled gold. So did Bob Lowndes. (I also had pimples, not many, but prominently located, usually on the end of my nose and big enough to be visible as soon as I was. Donald used to call that one my “auxiliary nose,” bless his darling heart.)

G.G. Clark was sort of belligerently defensive-looking most of the time. Cyril Kornbluth, when he came along, was short and pudgy. Jack Gillespie looked like an Irish jockey. Walter Kubilius was incredibly tall and wraithy, six-feet-eight or thereabouts, and maybe all of a hundred pounds. All of us came to understand early on that it was not on our looks that we would make our way in the world.

Both Wollheim and Michel had really bad complexions, and Donald had mannerisms that I suppose had origins within his own head, but gave the appearance of skeptical contempt for everything around him. Donald always carried a rolled-up umbrella. He rarely looked directly at the person he was talking to, but stared forty-five degrees to starboard, wry half-smile on his face, in moments of concentration a finger at his nose. Johnny was a self-taught cynic, and talked that way. Donald’s voice was gruff and abrupt. They were both smart as hell.

Not only that. They were far more mature than the rest of us, including Clark. Johnny was a year or two older than I, and Donald a year or two older than that. (He had to be all of nineteen.) But the real clincher, the thing that elevated both of them to at least veneration, if not actual sanctity, was that they both had actually been paid for work published in a professional science-fiction magazine. Johnny had earned his letter by winning some sort of contest, in which he supplied a plot that some other writer — I think it was Clifford D. Simak — wrote a story around. Donald had done even better than that. A story entirely of his own creation, “The Man from Ariel,” had been published.

And, it turned out, that was why they were with us. They were mad.

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Science Fiction League membership card

Get your own membership card at Wanderings.

 

When G.G. Clark started the Brooklyn Science Fiction League, I do not think he knew what he was getting into.

Clark was a grown-up adult human being, in his late twenties or thereabouts. He had a job, and he had a Collection that made even Dirk Wylie’s look sick. (Mine was sick to begin with. I had a fair number of books and magazines, but no place to put them, except for what space I could make by pushing the dishes and cans of soup off some kitchen shelves. That strikes me as odd. There were not many books in my house when I was a kid, except my own. My father read nothing but Westerns, which he kept on the top shelf of his bedroom closet. My mother did not seem to read much at all, which is strange: she was a pretty literate person, could recite poetry at great length, had been valedictorian of her graduating class, even once held a minor editorial job with St. Nicholas Magazine for a brief time. A happy one for me; she used to bring home the review copies of children’s books. But I was fifteen before I lived in a house with a real bookcase.)

Clark not only had every issue of every science-fiction magazine ever published, but they had that fresh- from-the-mint look of having been bought new from the corner candy store, rather than being picked up second-hand. He even had a few variorum editions, such as a copy of Amazing Stories on which the red plate of the three-color cover had failed to print, so that it was all ghostly blues and greens. He also had more sf books than I had ever seen in one place before, and he even had science-fiction fan magazines, of which I had never previously even heard.

I think Clark must have been less than delighted with us scruffy adolescents who turned up in response to his postcard. Not one of us was within ten years of his age. At least one — Arthur Selikowitz, a tall, skinny polymath who entered Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute not long after at the age of thirteen — could not then have been quite eleven.

At our first meeting, the first thing we did was to elect Clark chairman. There was no alternative. Not only did he rank us all (Member 1), but it was his hall. We met some of the time in his cellar library (allowed to touch The Collection only one at a time, and with Clark hovering vigilantly by), sometimes in a rented classroom of a nearby public school. The term “nearby,” of course, refers to its proximity to Clark. All the rest of us had to travel miles.

It is hard for me to remember what we did at these meetings, and I think the probable reason for that is that we did very little. There was a certain amount of reading the minutes and passing amendments to the bylaws, and not much else. After a while we decided to publish a mimeographed fan magazine of our own. I became its editor (largely, I think, because I owned my own typewriter), and it may have been the first place in which words of mine were actually published.

I haven’t seen a copy of The Brooklyn Reporter in many years and doubt that there was much in it worth reading, but it was marvelously exciting to me then. My words were going out to readers all over the country! (Not very many readers, no. But quite geographically dispersed.) People I never saw were writing letters to comment on what I had done.

It was through The Brooklyn Reporter that I first met Robert Lowndes — only as a pen pal at first, because he lived in faraway Connecticut, and neither of us could see any way of bridging that near-hundred-mile distance. But we became good friends by correspondence, quickly found interests in common (we both were addicted to popular songs), and shared others: he initiated me into Baudelaire, Mallarmé and J.K. Huvsmans, and I introduced him to James Branch Cabell.

You see, what we science-fiction fans mostly wanted to do with each other’s company was to talk — about science fiction, and about the world. Robert’s Rules of Order didn’t seem to provide for much of that, so we formed the habit of The Meeting After the Meeting. After enduring an hour or so of parliamentary rules, we troops would bid farewell to our leader and walk in a body to the nearest station of the El.

On the way, we would stop off at a soda fountain. This had three very good features: it gave us an informal atmosphere for talk, it supplied us with ice-cream sodas, and it got rid of G.G. Clark, so that we kids could be ourselves. The only bad part of it was that we had to adjourn the regular meetings pretty early, since none of us were old enough to stay out very late. But, considering what was happening at the regular meetings, that was no sacrifice.

I really don’t know why the meetings had to be so dull. I wonder why it never occurred to any of us to invite some real-live science-fiction writer to come and bask in our worship. That would have been a thrill past orgasm for every one of us, maybe even for Clark. It wouldn’t have mattered who the author was, and I’m sure some would have come. For one thing, if anyone had ever suggested it to Hugo Gernsback, he would surely have flogged any number of them into our arms to boost sales.

I know why it didn’t occur to me. I was simply too naive. I wasn’t aware that writers lived in places where they could be met. I don’t know where I thought they did live. I may have thought they were mostly dead — that seemed to be the case with Mark Twain and Voltaire and a lot of my other favorites. If they were alive, I suppose I assumed they occupied some tree-lined, gardened, pillared suburb of something like heaven.

But still, why didn’t the idea occur to someone more sophisticated than I?

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Air Wonder Stories, Dec. 1929

The Depression had settled in, but Franklin Delano Roosevelt was inaugurated a week or two after Dirk Wylie and I met, and there was talk of a New Deal. Society seemed to be evolving into something new before our eyes.

So was science. We heard about things like relativity and the expanding universe — not just in the sf magazines, but even on the radio. The world seemed to be into science fiction almost as much as Dirk and I were, at least in a nuts-and-bolts way. Airplanes were almost common in the sky, whereas a few years earlier it had been reason enough for housewives to leave the dishes in the sink and run outside to gawk at a plane. There were dirigibles, and the new Empire State Building, almost a quarter mile of masonry stretching up to scrape the sky, was topped with a mooring mast for blimps (or for King Kong to cling to).

There was a kid in our classes at Brooklyn Tech who actually flew — yes, had a real pilot’s license, spun the prop, took off, landed, was full of stories about how you could walk into an unseen spinning propeller and be chopped into ground round before you knew it, about hairy landings in the fog and storms aloft. I had fantasies about getting a plane of my own, preferably one of the swallow-tailed or heart-shaped or magnetically driven jobs out of Wonder Stories, challenging my friend to a race and beating his ass off. I knew that that was fantasy. But what but fantasy was it that he was doing, every Saturday at Floyd Bennett Field?

In a way that had never happened before in the history of the human race, the world was looking into the future. Most especially Dirk and I. Most particularly through science fiction. When the Science Fiction League came along, we both sent our applications off at once, and almost by return mail I got a postcard from a man who identified himself as one George Gordon Clark. He was, he announced, Member 1 of the Science Fiction League. Not only that, he had been authorized to form Chapter 1; and I was invited to attend Meeting 1.

It was at night, and most of an hour away by subway, but I would not have missed it for rubies.

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The Futurians, 1938

Some of the Futurians at my apartment in 1938. From left, front row: Joseph Harold Dockweiler aka Dirk Wylie, John B. Michel, Isaac Asimov, Donald A. Wollheim; center row: Chester Cohen, Walter Kubilius, me, Richard Wilson; top row: Cyril Kornbluth, Jack Gillespie, Jack Robins.

The “Quadrumvirate,” for most of its existence, ran the Futurians. We accreted to the club and to each other by adhesion to other clubs; the first was G.G. Clark’s Brooklyn Science Fiction League, which Donald Wollheim and Johnny Michel had left a shambles after they had kidnapped most of its members, one of them being me; then we began sending radar signals to individuals to seemed to be our kind of people, by which we mostly meant the kind of fan who desperately wanted to become a pro.

We found one of these in Connecticut in a person who was then a member of FDR’s Civilian Conservation Corps, because the CCC not only gave him three hots and a cot for planting trees and doing other things for the environment, it also sent some money back to his family who could use it (remember, this was the time of the Great Depression). That was Robert A.W. Lowndes. Before long, he was able to change jobs, becoming a hospital orderly (thus his nickname of “Doc”) and then he made it to New York and the Futurians.

Continue reading ‘The Quadrumvirate’ »