Posts tagged ‘Lester del Rey’

Ian Ballantine

Ian Ballantine

One by one, I showed the tearsheets of Gravy Planet, to every publisher in America who had ever published a science-fiction book or given any sign that some day he might. One by one, they turned it down cold. These publishers, remember, were firms to whom I had been regularly selling scores of science-fiction books, more than any other agency — indeed, to the most important markets frequently more than all other sources combined. With many of the editors, they and I had come to look on each other as personal friends.

That didn’t mean they would buy our book. As one of the better-paying editors said, “Since we’re friends, Fred, I can be candid with you.. This manuscript is simply not of professional caliber. What you need is to find a professional writer to pull it all together.”

What I have sometimes said about that since is that we couldn’t find a professional writer to help us, we found an amateur publisher, Ian Ballantine, who had just started his own company of Ballantine Books and didn’t know that our book wasn’t publishable. So he went ahead and published it, and made a good profit doing so.

That joke is unfair to Ian. He had had a good many years of experience running other book publishing companies before starting his own. But it’s true that he knew nothing about science fiction.

He did, however, know me, and had for some time.. He decided to trust my judgment, and that turned out generally well for him, not just on The Space Merchants (as two of his editors retitled the book), but in the many years thereafter that I served as an unofficial advisor and trouble-shooter for the firm. (Over those years, Ian himself lost control of his publishing company, but not because of taking on the sf program.)

The Space Merchants began showing off its legs in other ways, not just in the sales at Ballantine Books but in unexpected other income. We began to get requests for foreign editions and translations, first England and France and then, over the years, in more than twenty other languages, perhaps double that. And we very quickly sold the film rights for what seemed like all the money in the world: fifty thousand 1950s dollars, equal to perhaps half a million in today’s limp currency. And it became a steady seller on Ballantine’s backlist for many years after that, with a sizeable check coming our way every royalty period, right up to the time when Judy-Lynn del Rey agreed to revert it to me so I could accept a multi-book offer involving it.

That was a mistake After a few brief weeks of sales, the novel rapidly disappeared from sight into the dungeons of the backlist of St. Martin’s Press. Although from time to time I pleaded with them to revert it so we could let one of the other publishers bring it back to life, all I ever got from Tom Dunne, the editor in charge, was a polite little note saying no, and so the book stayed there, invisibly, and unprofitably, until a couple years ago, when the 21st Century edition. came out.

And sold out almost immediately.

 
To be continued. . . .

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The Best of Frederik Pohl ebook

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Order any ebook on the Baen list by tapping this link! Choose the famous Lester del Rey collection, The Best of Frederik Pohl, or any other of nearly two dozen additional Pohl books, as well as books by many others of your favorite authors.

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The Best of Frederik Pohl ebook

Buy me.

I said I was going to put advertising in the blog, and I am doing it. Only I think I’ll limit it to advertising my own books — and so here is the first ad!

Now Available as an Ebook!

The Best of Frederik Pohl
The Famous Anthology Edited by Lester del Rey

The Stories

“The Tunnel under the World,” “Punch,” ‘Three Portraits and a Prayer,” “Howard Chandler Christie: The Lovely Young Girl,” “A Time cover attributed to Artzybasheff,” “Gilbert Stuart: His Late Period,” “Day Million,” “Happy Birthday, Dear Jesus,” “We Never Mention Aunt Nora,” “The Day the Martians Came,” “The Midas Plague,” “The Snowmen,” “How to Count on Your Fingers,” “Grandy Devil,” “Speed Trap,” “The Richest Man in Levittown,” “The Day the Icicle Works Closed,” “The Hated,” “The Martian in the Attic,” “The Census Takers” and “The Children of Night.”

Comments by the Author:

When we first talked about a collection of my “best” stories I dove right into something like catatonia. It isn’t easy to pick out the best of your life’s work. That is almost like asking me to pick out which two of my children were to appear in a “best of the family” household anthology. In fact, it is exactly like that because. although like most writers I try to maintain a pose of public professionalism, also like most writers I bleed and die with every story I write.

So when Ballantine books suggested that someone else make the selections for me, I was ecstatic with relief. And I could not have picked a better man than Lester del Rey.

Comments by the Editor:

Nothing is easy to categorize about the life and works of Frederik Pohl. His stories vary more in length, attitude, type and treatment than those of any other writer I know. About the only point of similarity is the high level of excellence in everything from his short-shorts to his novels.

Ebook edition only $5. To order, go back to the picture of the book and give the guy whose image is on the cover a poke on the nose. I promise he’ll forgive you.

trapdoor spider

Keith P. Graham asks if I will do a post on The Trap Door Spiders, a New York City luncheon club for sf writers and people like them, but I have to recuse myself. Although Wikipedia appears to think I was a member, I never was.

The TDS was started by Fletcher Pratt in 1945, that being a time when he and I were not much more than recent acquaintances. Wikipedia says the club was formed because Fletcher and other male friends of John D. “Doc” Clark couldn’t stand Doc’s new wife, Mildred, and hit upon the idea of a men’s-only luncheon club so they could spend time with Doc without Mildred.

That sounds plausible. I didn’t know Mildred well, but she obviously didn’t care much for Doc’s old drinking. buddies. Two of the TDS stalwarts were among my closest friends, Lester del Rey and Isaac Asimov, but neither they nor anyone else ever invited me to join. The fact that I had said in public that that sort of thing didn’t interest me may have something to do with it. Or maybe not; I don’t know.

Isaac wrote a bunch of mysteries about a club modeled after the TDS, which I think give a good idea of what it was like.

How I Came to Edit Frederik Pohl
Guest post by James Frenkel

James Frenkel (Photo by Joshua Frenkel)

James Frenkel (Photo by Joshua Frenkel)

For years I wanted to edit the works of Frederik Pohl. I loved his fiction, and not just the novels, but a lot of his stories as well. I also thought he was a terrific editor, because I read Galaxy and Worlds of If magazines in the 1960s, and when Fred was the editor they published a lot of great science fiction. So when I starting to work in book publishing and then began to edit science fiction for Dell Books, I thought it would be extremely cool to get Fred to write for Dell.

But I didn’t have a chance. The first time I ever really talked with him, at, I think, the Secondary Universe Conference at Queensborough Community College in New York City in 1969, he was polite, but I was not even close to being an editor yet. I was still in college, and meeting a bunch of big-name science fiction people all at once, and overwhelmed by the experience. It seemed to me that everywhere I looked was someone whose books or stories I had read: Poul Anderson, Ben Bova, Lester Del Rey, Gordon R. Dickson, Frederik Pohl … and lots of others, including Ivor Rogers, who wasn’t an SF writer, but did write the occasional article for Time Magazine. and was a fascinating participant.

So years later, when I was now editing SF for Dell, I knew who Fred was, and I knew that he was hot — Gateway had just been published, and if he hadn’t been famous enough before, for all of his previous accomplishments, Gateway made him nothing short of the hottest SF writer on the planet. He was published by Del Rey Books, which was arguably the best sf and fantasy publisher in the world at that moment. It took enormous courage for me to even introduce myself to him, but I managed to do it — I think it was during Lunacon, New York’s annual SF convention. And then I asked him if he’d like to have lunch sometime and maybe talk about publishing a book with Dell.

I have the feeling that he humored me because he knew that an editor for a major publisher could afford to take him out for a very nice lunch at a fine New York restaurant. I don’t know for sure, but he did agree to lunch with me, and we did so, at a nice place on the East Side in Kips Bay … I remember it was Italian food, and I was really nervous. And when I asked him what he was working on — a classic opening line for an editor to dangle the bait of publication to an author — he readily told me that he had just finished the sequel to Gateway … and Del Rey was going to publish it, of course.

And before I could ask much more about future books, he let me know that he was very happy wit Del Rey. They were paying him well, advertising and promoting his books well, and he had more books under contract to them.

Basically he was telling me that it would be a cold day in Hell before I had any chance at all of getting to buy the right to publish one of his books. So why, I thought, was I buying him lunch?

Continue reading ‘Bearding the Wild Pohl’ »

Part 5 of “Alfred Bester and Frederik Pohl — The Conversation,” recorded 26 June 1978 at The Tyneside Cinema, Newcastle upon Tyne, UK.
 

The Futurians by Damon Knight

Audience: Could you elaborate on how you co-write with someone?

Pohl: With Cyril Kornbluth? Well, it’s different with different people. It’s like being married! Incidentally, Alfie, have you ever collaborated on fiction?

Bester: Never. I’ve never collaborated in my life. I’ve strictly been a loner always.

Pohl: I’m afraid I’ve been much more promiscuous than you have!

Bester: I’m curious, too, Fred. What was it like working with Cyril?

Pohl: Well, Cyril Kornbluth and I grew up together. We began writing together when I was about 18 or 19 and Cyril maybe 15. We belonged to a thing called the Futurians; it was a science-fiction fan club in New York in the late ’30s and early ’40s. There’s a book by Damon Knight called The Futurians, which I think is in print here now, full of all sorts of libelous, slanderous gossip about all of us. Much of which is true, but he shouldn’t have said it anyhow! People like Isaac Asimov and Don Wollheim and others would have paid him well not to publish the book.

But we all belonged to this club and we all wanted to write and we all tried. Cyril and I began working together and as we were just beginning to write we developed a lot of each other’s writing habits. We started much the same way, we were used to each other. Then the war came along. He went one way and I went another. And then we got together again on The Space Merchants. And with Cyril, because we had this background of common experience and common attitudes, writing was almost painless on most of what we wrote. We published altogether I think, seven novels and maybe 30 or 40 short stories.

Bester: Did you collaborate line by line?

Pohl: Mostly what we did was talk to each other for a while. He’d come out to my home in Red Bank, where we kept a room for him with his own typewriter, and we’d sit around and drink for a while, and when the booze ran out we’d start to talk seriously about what sort of book we’d plan to write. And we’d think about a situation and talk about a few characters and what might happen to them, and as long as the conversation was flowing we’d keep on talking. We didn’t put anything on paper.

And then when we were beginning to flag, and it felt like it was ready to write, we’d flip a coin and the loser would go up to the third floor — Cyril’s typewriter was in one room there and mine was another — and he would write the first four pages. And then at the end of those four pages, which would stop in the middle of a line or a word sometimes, he’d come down or I’d come down, and say, “You’re on.”

We called it the “Hot-Typewriter System” — just keep the thing going day and night — and we did in fact usually work straight through.

Bester: Now it’s you that’s on, right? You go upstairs, you read the first four pages. Now, did it ever happen that you came down and said, “Cyril, you’re out of your mind. They can’t do it that way?”

Pohl: Not once. A couple of times when we were towards the end of a novel and getting a little giddy we’d play tricks on each other. There was this scene at the end of one novel when, at the bottom of the last page I had somebody look through a microscope and the next line was, “What did he see?” and I said it was Charlie Chaplin in a bowler hat. Then I went down and said, “Take it from there.”

But he fooled me — he just crossed out that line. Usually we didn’t even cross out a line, we just drove from line to line. Page 5 to 8 would be Cyril’s and page 9 to 12 would be mine; we just kept on going until we came to the end of the book. This was rough draft and it always got rewritten all the way through, by one of us, almost always by myself except for the case of one novel, Wolfbane, which was the last writing Cyril did before he died, and there was quite a lot of revision involved in the rewriting. But basically, when we were finished, the novel was there, and it would sometimes only take five or six days to do a whole novel, because we’d work straight through for 24 hours a day.

Bester: I’ve another question! Timewise, sometimes the four pages would take four minutes, four hours, four days, what?

Pohl: Well, there’s a great incentive to speed when you know that the other guy is down there having a great time, and you want to break it up as quickly as possible, so usually it only took a couple of hours. You know that the other guy is waiting, and if you don’t get down there pretty soon he’ll be off to a bar somewhere. So we worked pretty fast. It’s a good way to write a book with two people who are close enough in their ways of work that they don’t kill each other.

I wrote a novel with Lester del Rey once and we almost did kill each other. He was one of my closest friends up until that point. Now we’ll never write another word together.

Continue reading ‘Me and Alfie, Part 5: Collaboration and the Futurians’ »