Posts tagged ‘Mary Kornbluth’

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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Cyril Begins to Blossom

His Share of Glory by C.M. Kornbluth

When Cyril’s bad luck dumped him into the Infantry just when Hitler caught the American Army with their pants down in the Battle of the Bulge, he became a machine-gunner. What happened with him in that worrisome period before Patton, plus thousands of fresh reserves, kicked Hitler’s troops back into Germany I don’t know, because Cyril refused to talk about it. The end result, though, was that he got two things from that period of service. One was a Bronze Star. The other was a bad case of what they called severe essential hypertension, which was Army talk for heart trouble.

For a time after the war Cyril dealt with that situation by ignoring it. At some point he had married Mary G. Byers, the Ohio femmefan he had smuggled into New York City over the efforts of the uncle who, as her guardian, had done everything he could to prevent it. When Cyril’s draft number came up (I believe from things Cyril said), they were married.

While Cyril was serving in Europe, Mary was (again, I understand) alone, and not doing well. I believe that was when her drinking problem first surfaced; but when Cyril came home, he entered the University of Chicago on the G.I. Bill and, at least for a time, things went well for both of them, especially after he took on a part-time job working for the newswire service, Transradio Press.

That job he got by invitation of our mutual old Futurian friend, Dick Wilson, who got there a little earlier than Cyril and had already become head of Transradio’s Chicago Bureau. (I must write something about Transradio some time, because it loved hiring Futurians, including, occasionally, me. But not now.)

Cyril had stopped by New York before moving on to Chicago, and he and I had kept in contact. I was then operating the Dirk Wylie Literary Agency, helping Dirk to make it a career (his own war injuries having made it impossible for him to hold a normal job.) When Cyril began writing, and selling, an occasional postwar sf story again, I coaxed him to do more.

He ultimately gave in, quit Transradio (and quit the university too) and moved back east. I think, again from things Cyril said, that part of the reason for leaving Chicago was because Mary was involved in some drinking there. I know (from Mary herself) that Cyril tried really hard to help her quit, including some pretty harsh measures.

He and Mary set up housekeeping near where I was living with my family in Red Bank, New Jersey. For the next few years Cyril-the-writer was not only vastly productive but getting better and better at it, almost by the day. That’s when he was producing such winners as “The Luckiest Man in Denv,” “The Silly Season,” “The Little Black Bag” and many more. Cyril had a nearly in-born gift for graceful writing and excellent spot-on characterization. His only real weakness was in plotting. By then he had taught himself — maybe with a little help from those Futurian writing orgies — plot structure for short stories and, soon thereafter, novelettes and novellas. Some of his work from that period I would match against almost anybody’s best stories ever, including “The Marching Morons,” “Two Dooms” and a good many others. (The intelligent folks at NESFA have put all those stories in a single volume, entitled His Share of Glory: The Complete Short Science Fiction of C.M. Kornbluth.) None of them won any Hugos or Nebulae. The reason was just some of Cyril’s bad luck. The awards hadn’t been invented yet.

Apart from the writing, Cyril’s life was unusually ordinary — that is to say, mostly quite apparently happy in those years. He and Mary shared many interests, not least the two sons, John and David, that Mary gave him in those years. Fatherhood, I must say, revealed a side of Cyril that I had not suspected to exist. He was an archetypal proud papa, he worried seriously when John developed some problems that none of their doctors seemed able to cope with (but which, apparently, the boy ultimately outgrew). From outside, even a quite close outside, the ultimate cynic seemed to have transmuted himself into a perfectly normal young married.

There was one small puzzle. One time when he and I were in my car, on the way to the Ipsy-Wipsy Institute, our conversation got much more than usually personal. And when, leaping from earlier remarks between us, I asked Cyril what he would most like to change about himself, he clenched his teeth and, “I wish I were less cruel.”

I didn’t ask him any questions about that remark, but I did give it a lot of thought for a long time.

More coming along as soon as I find time to write it.

 
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Michael Walsh, a reader whose aunt lived in Long Branch, New Jersey, has heard that Cyril Kornbluth did at one time, too, and would like to know exactly where.

I’m afraid I don’t know the street address any more — this was back in the ’50s — but it was within a few blocks of the Monmouth Medical Center, where Mary went to have her first two sons. They were only there for a couple of years, then moved to a different part of Long Branch, actually right across the street from Monmouth College’s then main building (the one that played the part of Daddy Warbucks’ parlor in the Annie movie). But they didn’t stay there either.

Then upstate New York, then Long Island, and that’s where Cyril had his heart attack and died.

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’ »

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’ »

After Cyril’s cremation, I hung around a day or two longer, because there were a couple more things I could do for the Kornbluths. Cyril had left a few unsalable and unfinished fragments, which Mary pulled out for me. I could see where he had given up on them, but I was a more resourceful plotter than Cyril had been. Besides, most of them had that wonderful total command of the medium that Cyril had begun to develop.

I told Mary that I could find ways of turning most of them into actual stories, and if she liked I would do so and sell them, and we would split the money. She said she liked, and so I took them home. (One of them, “The Meeting,” won a Hugo Award, the only Hugo Cyril ever got.)

But I had another, somewhat larger idea. “How,” I asked Mary, “would you like to start a new career as an anthologist?”

That one she liked a lot. It was something that she might perhaps be really good at, because she read a lot and seemed to have definite opinions — all you needed to become a successful anthologist, provided, that is, that you could find a publisher to buy your book.

But that was my job. I paid a call on that most decent of editors, Walter I Bradbury at Doubleday. “It should have a pretty good shot,” I told him. “All of the reviewers know her name, and every one of them liked her husband’s work. There should at least be some sympathy sale, and — ” But I stopped talking there, because Brad had actually been saying “yes” and “all right” as soon as he heard the name.

The book, Science Fiction Showcase, happened as planned. Mary made her choices, I helped her clear the rights. It came out in 1959. It sold some copies. And it disappeared into old-anthology heaven, because what it didn’t have enough personality to make readers want more. I should have worked on that with Mary. I didn’t, though.

There was one unexpected complication. I had been planning to ask the contributors to donate their stories for free, so she would get to keep more of the advance. Mary wouldn’t allow that, though: “No charity. I Will pay what every other anthologist pays.” And so it was.

She sent out checks to all the contributors or their agents. Since a big chunk of the stories she liked came from my agency, she sent the biggest check to me. I hope I had the decency to waive commissions when I gave the writers their share.

 
Most of the more dangerous brushfires that surrounded the Kornbluths now safely extinguished, I went back to my own home and my own work and the long haul.

(And, yes, the long haul is what comes next, after I write it.)

 
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