Posts tagged ‘Judith Merril’

 

 

 
By Elizabeth Anne Hull

Elizabeth Anne Hull

Elizabeth Anne Hull

Nearly a year before Fred died, I wrote to a young friend who had recently become engaged in a same-sex relationship. It was in response to finding out (for the first time; I previously had no idea) that my friend was a lesbian. She told me of the difficulties she and her fiancée expected waiting for the then as-yet unannounced Supreme Court ruling on the unconstitutionality of the California law which had been sanctioned by an expensive referendum (financed in large part by the Mormons, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints).

Before I wrote my response, I discussed the news with Fred, knowing of his interest in same-sex relationships, a situation casually thrown into Gateway which had evoked a continuing fan response that always surprised him.

My message follows:

Congratulations on finding someone to love, and I hope you are able to get married without a big hassle.

However, having to wait may not be such a bad thing, anyway. How long will it take you to finish your education? Most people get married too quickly, without really knowing what they are committing to. It takes time to reveal multiple facts of a personality, and that process usually can’t be hurried. We always want to show our best faces to those we admire and care about, and hide any shameful habits or character flaws.

There are questions that we don’t know we need the answers to right away. Like, for example: what’s your own family life like? How do you get along with siblings, cousins, co-workers, neighbors, etc. What religion (or lack thereof) do you embrace? What is your political philosophy? (Fred and I dated steadily for seven years and traveled together for periods of time, but I didn’t learn till after we were already married that he favors the death penalty, while I definitely do not. It just never came up till later, while we were watching a trial on TV unfolding.)

Do you enjoy vicarious violence — say, like football? What’s your idea of the perfect vacation (do you like to keep going back to one spot or prefer to see some exotic place if possible? Do you like fine food, and/or pretentious dining? Do you like roughing it or camping? Are you adventurous in tying new experiences? Meeting new people?

And people will change over time. Young people can sometimes change faster than older people, but we all do develop. Quirks that were charming at one time can become very annoying later.

So keep in touch, and let me know if and when and where the wedding will happen.

With some apprehension, because he nearly always found something to dislike about my writing, I showed Fred my note. But this time, he just said, “Good letter.” And later, “I notice you never even mentioned the same-sex hurdles. Do you want to write something like this for my blog?”

I wrote it that way because I believe any marriage has its challenges. In fact, just living with anyone can have similar problems.

Long before Fred and I were married, Judy Merril once told me, “Everbody’s crazy in one way or another. We can’t see our own craziness, but we need to look closely at our love object. The most important thing to find out is, in what way is this person crazy? And then to decide whether or not we can, or want to, live with that craziness.”

Walter M. Miller, Jr.

Walter M. Miller, Jr.

In the 1950s, a story bearing the name of a brand-new author, Walter M. Miller, Jr., showed up in John Campbell’s magazine, now known as Analog. It was quite a good story and was soon followed by another written by the same hand and just as good. And then another.

They didn’t all appear in Analog. A few weren’t even science fiction, but they were coming out in considerable volume and the science-fiction world had begun to take notice that an unheralded major new writer had appeared.

At lunch one day, the man who became Miller’s principal editor, John Campbell, talked about him with mock embarrassment: “He keeps sending them in one after another,” he said, “and I just can’t stop buying them.”

They weren’t merely good, either Some among them were immediately hailed as great — A Canticle for Leibowitz, for instance. Before long it was evident that a strong new force had emerged in American science fiction, and its name was Walter Miller, Jr.

 
All right, friends. Now we come to the hard part, because I’m doing my best to tell the sometimes unpleasant truth. Miller wasn’t just a writer I respected He was also the man my estranged wife Judy Merril had taken up with.

At first we all acted pretty civilized about it. Then, when Judy and I got into our endless Annie Wars over the custody of that very nice little baby, Ann Pohl, that the two of us had jointly brought into the world, Miller totally took her side.

I don’t mean just in verbal encounters. I mean that once when I went to the house Miller and Judy had rented — my daughter Ann living with them because we were all trying to make a system of taking turns in having Ann live with us work — and went to their house to pick Annie up because it was my turn, the two of them refused to give her up.

What happened then was just about what you would expect to happen: disagreement, followed by yelling. But then Miller got tired of talk. He went into their bedroom, and when he came out he was carrying a rifle pointed at my face. He ordered me to leave.

Continue reading ‘Walter M. Miller Jr.: My last fist fight’ »

Carol Poh

Carol Pohl

When I realized how much I had told this Dr. Hull of the sort of things I had made a point of keeping quiet about, I couldn’t help wondering why she hadn’t at least smelled my breath before letting me talk about all the things I hadn’t been willing to tell anyone else about the deal Carol and I had made.

Or, I should say, The Deal, because talking about terminating our marriage certainly was a big enough thing in our lives to be worth capital letters. Almost twenty-five years. Four kids — very parent-conscious ones, too, because they were accustomed to a (singular) Mom and a (singular) Dad, never mind that the biological facts of life were really more complicated than that for at least the first two of them.

 
Backflash: When it began to look as though my custody differences with Judy (my daughter Annie’s original mother, remember?), would only get official if we argued them out in a court of law, and in that event if Carol and I married we would have a pretty good-sized legal argument if only because we had a stable home life — that is, not flitting per whim all over the place. You follow my argument? Carol and I, plaintiffs, legally married, Judy and What’s-His-Name — Walter Miller — the writer she was roaming the country with, openly unmarried but acting as though they were.

So I had asked Carol, “Care for getting married one day soon?” and she said sure. With quite a few added reservations and qualifications, it is true, of the “Like this” or “Like that” kind, but acceptable ones. For instance, if she inadvertently became pregnant we had to rethink the whole thing, which I agreed to at once. And what it all added up to, it seemed to me, — finally — was a quite nice life for at least the next year.

And the year after that. That life Carol and I had shared for more than twenty years, only she didn’t — or at least very likely she didn’t — want to share it with me any more.

 
All clear? Well, no.

 
To be continued.

 
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The Man Who Gave Me His Wife

Carol Metcalf Ulf Stanton Pohl, 1966.

Carol Metcalf Ulf
Stanton Pohl, 1966.

During World War II, Jay Stanton signed on as radioman with several convoys on the Murmansk run. This was one of the most dangerous jobs there were but Stanton survived. After the war he settled for some years in the largely sf community in Manhattan.

I didn’t really discriminate Jay from others in the community until he married a tall, blonde, very good-looking woman named Carol Metcalf Ulf. (At the time I admit I thought Jay might be running a little luckier than he deserved.) The two settled down in a small apartment in Chelsea. Jay took a job as an assistant to John Campbell on the stumbling science magazine Air Trails and Science Frontiers, and began showing up in evening sessions with his guitar, accompanying anybody who wanted to be accompanied in anything they wanted to sing.

Often his wife, Carol, was singing with him; she had an untrained but quite good soprano voice. However, what she preferred to do, most evenings, was walk over to the Village and sit in one of the bars for a few hours, listening to music and chatting with the musicians.

The most outstanding character of Jay Stanton, you need to realize at once, is that in some ways he was an almost pathologically kind and generous man. Many a husband would prefer to have his bride stay home at night instead of inhabiting Greenwich gin mills without him. Jay apparently accepted it with calm. If this woman he wanted to make happy preferred the gin mills he let it be so. Of course, most people would begin to suspect that this sort of thing was warning of a marriage in trouble.

Most people would be right, too. I wasn’t very surprised when one night I came home to Red Bank — Judy hadn’t thrown me out of the house yet — and discovered 386 West Front Street had a new boarder. Apparently Carol had applied to Judy for shelter and Judy had been generous. It did have one, I believe, unanticipated result, though. Carol and I became friends. It started, if I remember, one morning when Judy wasn’t around and I was out on that grand porch singing to the river, and the next thing I knew we were singing duets. Singing them pretty well, too.

And it went on from there. It went on sufficiently well that, a few months later, when Judy did at last kick me out and I moved into a tiny flat in New York’s East Village, Carol moved with me.

That was not the most amazing thing, though. The most amazing thing was that Jay accepted the changed circumstances with good grace, and, actually, tangible help in moving into and furnishing the flat.

Does that strike you as odd?

Most people would say yes, for abandoned husbands do not commonly behave as amiably and kindly as Jay was wont to do, But Jay was a far kinder organism than the rest of homo sapiens. If there were any areas of greed, or rage, or regret anywhere in his soul I never saw them betray themselves in acts.

Harry Harrison in 1969.

Harry Harrison in 1969.

Harry Harrison was a good friend for over sixty years, a fact I’m sure of because I remember when we met. It was way back in the 1950s, when my then wife and I lived in a huge basement apartment in the East Village. We made the best use of it, too, hosting pretty large and sometimes a bit noisy parties, mostly for the local science-fiction community and blessed by the fact that basement doings were inaudible above ground. I can’t pin down the exact date, but at one of those parties two young people knocked on the door whom I had never seen before. “We’re the Harrisons, I’m Harry and she’s Evelyn. Jay Stanton said we could come,” the man said, sounding unsure of himself.

I said, “Of course you can. Coats go in the first bedroom, food and drinks are where the noise is coming from. I just heard the elevator door so I’d better stay here a bit, but you go and mingle.”

So that made two historic events for that evening — one being the first time I saw Harry Harrison, the other being the last time I observed him being diffident. By the time I got back to the party he had three or four people around him, all clamoring to be taught how to say dirty words in Esperanto.

We became friends quickly — in fact, a particular kind of friends, something akin to a double-dating foursome except that we were all married, Harry to his then wife Evelyn, me to my own then wife Judy Merril. We seemed to have a lot of interests in common, and Harry in particular liked to talk about the art and business of writing. He wasn’t himself a writer but instead an artist, mostly of comics. I supposed that was simply the normal fannish interest, with a touch of wanting to do illustrations for the magazines.

That was my bad guess. The truth came out considerably later, when he turned up one day with a manuscript in his hands. “Want to read it?” he asked. I said, “Sure,” although I didn’t really. (It is no fun to have to tell a friend in what ways his story sucks.) That problem didn’t come up, though. The story had a good premise — something about machines that traveled underground as well as submarines did underwater. What’s more, I was only a couple pages into it when I realized it was actually quite a good enough story to make me wish I was still an editor myself so I could accept it on the spot.

I told him how much I liked it and asked if he wanted suggestions on who to send it to. “No,” he said. “I showed it to Damon and he bought it for his new magazine.”

“Huh,” I said, and added, “I thought you were going after a career in illustrating, not writing, for the magazines.”

He gave me a smile. “I was, but you talked me out of it.” I must have looked puzzled, because he explained, “Remember those times when you were talking about your average budget for the old Astonishing Stories? You said you paid around fifty dollars per story, average, and when I asked what you paid for an illustration you said. ‘About five.’ Right then is when I started trying to write.”

 

It was a decision made in heaven, because look at what came out of that man’s typewriter over the next years. Just the novels were fine, starting with Deathworld, and going on forever. And not only science fiction, because along came Stonehenge (with Leon Stover), a historical novel, and a fine one.

I lost touch with Harry from time to time over the next years, owing largely to his experimenting with living in other countries, starting with Mexico, then moving across the Atlantic. He did show up in New York now and then for a visit, but when he and his second wife Joan (and their recently acquired two small children, Moira and Todd) wound up in Denmark, they stayed for years, coming back to America only when they discovered that their children were learning Danish faster, and better, than English.

That didn’t last, though. By the time Todd and Moira were beginning to get good in their native tongue, Harry had another yearning. He really hated to pay income tax. What’s more, he and I had from time to time discussed the very attractive standing offer the Republic of Ireland had made to any foreign-born but part Irish person, which was instant citizenship and the chance to take advantage of Ireland’s grant of waiver of all income tax for professional artists, including writers. Each of us having the required minimum of at least one Irish grandfather, we were both eligible.

For me those chats were fantasy, because America was the only country I was willing to call mine. Harry, though, was made of sterner stuff With a little help from Anne McCaffrey, who had taken the offer years earlier, and after some talks with Irish embassy people, all of a sudden Harry was miraculously transmuted to Irish and, wife and kids included, was living in a little town outside of Dublin. And Irish he profitably remained for the rest of his life.

Part 2 to come.

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Ben Bova

Ben Bova

In the beginning of his career, young Ben Bova had a good job writing about the hardware his employer, Avco-Everett Research Laboratory, dealt with, but a yearning to write something less confining, particularly science fiction. When he began trying his hand at that he got a welcome from John Campbell, arguably the top editor in the field, who was fond of nuts-and-bolts science fiction anyway. But even that wasn’t quite satisfying.

In Milford, Pennsylvania, three established writers — James Blish, damon knight and Judy Merril — had just banded together to start the first in the long subsequent series of Milford Science-Fiction Writers Conferences. Ben signed up and became one of their early graduates.

For those unfamiliar with writers’ conferences, it often seems that even the best of them appear to be almost as much encounter groups as writers’ tutorials. Enrollees are expected to spend one or more weeks in shared housing, to each write a new story of some kind at regular intervals, and then to sit in a circle setup to have other participants discuss his or her story, sometimes to the point of exploring what hidden emotions had caused him or her to write it. It is a pressure-cooker environment and it was my personal observation that many writers who had gone through the experience — Cyril Kornbluth and Algis Budrys — for example, went through post-Milford periods of writing little or nothing for a time.

I still think that is a danger for those attending writers’ conferences, but as far as Ben Bova was concerned I could not have been more wrong. Whether because of Milford or simply because some of the synapses in his brain re-hooked themselves into new patterns, beginning around that period, his fiction began to show deeper insights into his characters, and thus were better books.

Or it simply may have been that he went through an even more demanding tutorial when John Campbell unexpectedly died, and Street & Smith hired Ben to replace him. I have long held that being an editor of other people’s stories is one of the best ways to improve your own writing. (I’m pretty sure it helped for me.)

Anyway, Ben was a great disappointment to Street & Smith. Not as an editor; he kept up the standing of the magazine. May even have improved it, as when Ben manumitted the writers from the I-hate-smut fervor of John Campbell’s (and also Ben Bova’s) associate editor, Kay Tarrant, who had made it her calling to expunge anything that hinted at the possibility of excretion or intercourse from every story, a step which added some parle to the magazine. No, what disappointed the elder gods was just tenure. They had hoped for an editor who would stay on the job for thirty or forty years, like Campbell, and through all that period continue to act as the small but welcome cash cow Astounding/Analog had always been for them. That didn’t happen. Bob Guccione came along with an offer Ben couldn’t refuse to become fiction editor (later managing editor) of Omni, where he stayed until the magazine itself died

Which was probably a good thing for Ben’s writing career, because it freed him to put in his time writing the more than 100 successful books that now grace his shelves.