Posts tagged ‘New York’

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.

Related Posts:

Robert Sheckley in 1968.

Robert Sheckley in 1968.

Robert Sheckley was a great — and greatly funny — writer of science-fiction short stories. Along with “William Tenn” (aka Phil Klass) and damon knight, he filled the magazines in that thrice-blessed decade of the ’60s with an apparently infinite supply of great little comic stories. When I say there was nothing like them before or after I know whereof I speak, because by the time the ’60s came along, I was a magazine editor desperate to find writers like them that I could publish. Oh, I did find some, including some really good ones, but no masterpiece-a-week humor generators like those.

I had met Sheckley when he was just beginning his run of great comic stories. Harlan Ellison had written about him, saying, “If the Marx Brothers had been writers they would have been Robert Sheckley,” and I had made a point of getting some of his published stories to check it out for myself. When we turned out to be attending the same party I made it a point to get a conversation going with him. We were getting along pretty well, and when I mentioned that my house was on a tidal river he got interested quickly. “You do? Well, I’ve got this boat that I don’t take out much because I don’t know many people who live on the water. Maybe I could come get you and take you out for a spin.”

That sounded like a great idea. It kept on sounding that way until I mentioned that the river had three low bridges between the ocean and my house and he, glumly, announced that his sailboat had an eighteen-foot mast. Then he told me how much he’d liked a book of mine that had just come out, and I told him how some of his stories had made me laugh out loud.

Then, when we started talking business, he asked if I could get him better pay than he had been receiving for his short stories. I assured him I could, and I did. Actually I doubled his monthly income almost at once. It wasn’t hard. I just changed the destination of each new manuscript that came popping out of his typewriter, for, like many new writers, Bob had convinced himself of a crippling fallacy. The fallacy is that beginners would have to work their way up through the low-paying markets — then paying about a penny a word, like Imagination — before they would be able to earn the rates that were double or triple that from Galaxy or the other leaders in the field.

What makes that a fallacy is that submitted stories come in roughly three levels of quality. There are the winners, which almost editor will buy as soon as he shakes it out of its envelope. Then there are the total losers that hardly anybody is desperate enough to buy and, finally, the stories that need a little work, and an editor will generally help the writer work its flaws away. The only sensible procedure in marketing a story is to send it to the highest-paying markets first, and work your way down if you have to.

Some times a higher-paying editor will help a writer along, as Playboy’s fiction editor did for me at a party when he poured me a drink and said, “You know, I would have bought about half of those stories you’ve been running in Galaxy.” To which I said, “Oh,” and quickly changed my ways.

Of course, those weren’t the only sales I made for Bob. I got him into some TV spots, from which he later got himself into better and better ones, and into double-selling reprints of his work to mostly paperback book publishers, and we became friends.

Then for quite a while I pretty much lost touch with Bob. It wasn’t as much of a blow as you might think, because nearly everyone did. He was doing well, but he was wandering the face of the Earth. What brought him back to New York was a job with Omni. When Ben Bova was elevated from Fiction Editor to Editor in Chief he chose Bob to take over the fiction. It was a good job, paid pretty well. And Bob had always wanted to be an editor for a while.

Only, of course, there were problems.

Continue reading ‘Robert Sheckley:
If the Marx Brothers Had Been Writers…’ »

 

Occupy Wall Street

 

The first sign of something called “Occupiers” was in an ad in a little Canadian — that’s right, Canadian — magazine called Adbusters and published in Vancouver, British Columbia. It displayed a picture of the bronze figure of a bull which decorates Wall Street, with a ballet dancer posed on it. The only text said, “What is our one demand? Occupy Wall Street. September 17th, Bring tent.”

And on September 17th, a hundred and fifty people showed, then each day more and more until it peaked at 20,000 physically present on Zuccoti Park in lower Manhattan, and similar demonstrations were spring up all over the country — indeed in other countries, too. What do these crowds do at these meetings? Many of them listen to speeches. Who are the speakers? Anyone who wants to. If you are standing in the crowd for a while and have a sudden urge to support — or opp — something that’s been said, you go to the “stackkeeper,” who adds it to the stack of those who got there before you. When all of them have said their piece, you get to climb up onto whatever they are using for a soapbox.

That is the freest of free speech, but there are handicaps. The police won’t allow electronic microphones. Therefore, when you speak you have the same range as the famous orators of Athens and Rome, and not an inch more. What the Occupiers do when technology is forbidden and the crowd stretches more than a couple of yards away is to use the same technology as was available to Marc Antony eulogizing Caesar. That is, the human voice. Those nearest the speaker turn around and repeat what he said, then the job is repeated by those farther away. It isn’t perfect. People in the fringes are unlikely to get a reliable understanding of what some of the speeches are about. But it is certainly democratic and the police can’t take it away.

The tents and sleeping bags were hauled away in a midnight raid, so that technically the NYPD is not violating the Bill of Rights’ Constitutional guarantees of freedom of speech and assembly, though clearly the police are going out of their way to make it tough. Still, New York police have been markedly less hostile than those of, say, Berkley, California, where one policeman was filmed strolling down a long line of seated and unresisting Occupiers and methodically directing his pepper spray into their eyes and faces.

(Simultaneously, though not connected, FBI agents in Connecticut moved in and arrested four local police, allegedly for discriminating against Latin-Americans. The policemen were described as “bullies with badges.” Some police certainly deserve that name.)

(Most of this data was gleaned from reports published in the monthly newsletter The Washington Spectator. Each issue features a different subject. $18 for a year’s subscription, at The Public Concern Foundation, P.O. Box 241, Oregon IL 61061.)

King of the Comics and Agent, Editor, Faaan

Julius Scwartz, 1945.

Julius Scwartz, 1945.

The thing about Julius Schwartz is that, while I myself did many things in that Early Paleozoic Era when there were no jet aircraft or nuclear submarines and people didn’t even have TV sets yet, Julie Schwartz was doing the same things even earlier than I did.

For instance, I joined my first science-fiction fan club, the Brooklyn Science Fiction League, in 1932, but Julie had joined the first science-fiction fan club that ever existed, the New York Scienceers, years before that. I edited my first fanzine (we didn’t call them that yet, just “fan magazine”) when I was twelve. So did Julie. But he was twelve before I was, due to his unfair advantage of having been born four or five years earlier.

And both of us had set ourselves up as literary agents, specializing in trying to sell other writers’ stories to the science-fiction magazines, and both of us coasted from that to actual full-time jobs editing —

Hey, wait! I was going to say that we then coasted into full-time jobs as professional magazine editors. And that did happen for both of us, but I’m getting the facts wrong, because that was the one time that I led the way for Julie.

I broke in in 1939, when I lucked into the job of editing two science-fiction magazines, Astonishing Stories and Super Science Stories, for Harry Steeger’s giant pulp house of Popular Publications. Julie not only was still making his rounds as a literary agent at that time, I actually bought a number of stories from him for my magazines. He didn’t get the chance to make the jump to an editorial job, with an actual salary, until 1944. Then he was hired as an editor by a company that published comics magazines which ultimately mutated into the mighty DC Comics.

Oh, and there was another significant difference in our careers. By 1944, I wasn’t working for Popular Publications anymore, anyway. A war had come along and it required me to get into uniform so I could give it my full attention. I never did go back to working for Popular Publications, either.

Julie, on the other hand, knew a good thing when he had it. He stayed with DC Comics, in all of its convolutions and growth problems, until the day when — by then as its editor in chief! — he retired.

That was in 1986. However, you mustn’t think that his retirement from editorial duties took Julie off the payroll. Although he didn’t have to worry about deadlines or sales figures any more, but now he was reborn as DC Comics’ “goodwill ambassador to the world of comics and science-fiction fandom.” That meant he was given a fat expense account and charged with showing the DC Comics flag at as many cons and other events as he could find the strength to go to.

Was that what you would call a dream job? For a grown-up faaan who still loved cons and fandom in general, you bet it was! But it wasn’t unwarranted. More than any other single human being, Julie was responsible for returning DC Comics, and indeed the whole comics industry, to the money-making powerhouse status it achieved in the mid-1950s. in what was called “the Silver Age Revolution.”

Continue reading ‘Julie Schwartz’ »

Illustration by Hannes Bok.

I commissioned this illustration from Hannes Bok after seeing his work in 1939.

The Futurians had any number of members who won awards for writing, but we only had one who earned his Hugo by the beauty of the things he drew and painted. That was Wayne Woodard, as his parents called him when he was born in 1914, though he became better known to fans and to art-lovers all over the world by the name he chose for himself when he needed something to sign to his artwork, Hannes Bok.

Most magazine illustrators get their start with the magazines by visiting their offices, a bunch of samples under their arms, and showing them to whoever on the masthead would look at them until somebody showed up who liked the samples well enough to use a few in their magazines. That wasn’t possible for Hannes. He was a West Coast kid and he had no possibility of affording a bus ticket to where the magazines were. But he had a stroke of luck.

When he moved to Los Angeles — which he did early in 1939 — he met a kid fan named Raymond Bradbury — “Ray,” for short — who was almost as badly off as himself. The kid wasn’t aiming to be an artist; his dream was to become a writer, but he was as unsuccessful at it as Hannes was with his art. However. he belonged to a group of people who, like Hannes, were interested in science fiction and fantasy. The group, the Los Angeles Science Fiction League, would later become the Los Angeles Science Fantasy Society. They met in an upper room of a place called Clifton’s Cafeteria.

LASFS was a welcoming group for Hannes. Among the people he met there was a writer named Emil Petaja, who did get some of his stories published in the prozines and became Hannes’ best and lifelong friend. Another was a fan, or actually a kind of superfan who knew everybody involved in making of sf films, named Forrest J (No Period!) Ackerman.

The big news in science fiction, at least as far as the LASFS was concerned, was what was going to happen in New York that summer. The city was planning a huge show called the New York World’s Fair, and the fans in New York had uncharacteristically abandoned their blood feuding to work together to create a wonderful new project, a World Science Fiction Convention. It was the chance of a lifetime, they reasoned, because they could take advantage of all the foreigners who would come to New York for the Fair. Some fraction of them, they calculated, were sure to be fans who would be likely to stay for this Worldcon.

It was every last LASFS member’s dearest dream to be among them, but for most they knew it was only a dream. The Depression was dwindling fast, but its effects were not altogether over. And LASFS was made up mainly of teenagers with few resources to draw on.

But one resource was Forry Ackerman. A small inheritance had left him with money in the bank, so he was going to the Worldcon himself. So was a female fan named Myrtle R. Jones — or, as you would say it in Forry’s favorite second tongue, Esperanto, “Morojo.” And, when Forry had had a couple weeks of exposure to the woebegone expression on Ray’s face, he figured out a way of solving one problem. He could lend Ray Bradbury the bus fare. So he tapped the bank account a little harder, and pulled out enough cash to lend Ray Bradbury the price of a ticket to New York.

That was not a risk-free investment on Forry’s part, because the only source of income Ray had to pay him back was what he earned as a newsboy, selling papers on the streets of Los Angeles. But it wasn’t just a kindness to Ray. To Forry’s generosity, Ray added on a kindness of his own. He was going to do his best to meet every sf editor in the world, or at least every one who made it to the Worldcon, and while he was introducing them to himself there was no reason — assuming Hannes would lend him some samples to take along — why he couldn’t introduce them to the work of Hannes Bok at the same time.

 
And that is how it all fell out. Ray wheeled and dealt with such good effect at the Worldcon that, if I’m not mistaken, some of Hannes’ samples were actually bought and published by an editor, and several other editors asked him to do work for them.

One of this latter class was me. I met Ray Bradbury, and heard of Hannes Bok, for the first time at (or, more accurately, near — but that’s another story) the Worldcon, and shortly thereafter commissioned a set of illustrations for a story of my own from Hannes. (I still have one of the drawings on the wall of my office at home.)

That expedition worked so well for Hannes that it gave him the funds to make the move to New York, and that too worked pretty well. Well enough, at least, for Hannes to enjoy some years of relative affluence — affluence enough, that is, for him to pay the rent and have enough left over to eat regular meals.

I think he must have been a pleasant person to be around then. Unfortunately, I wasn’t around him for most of that period, because I had received an employment offer — the kind of an offer that you just can’t say no to — from the Armed Services of the United States of America.

 
Watch for Part 2, covering how all this worked out, coming soon — provided “soon” is when I write it.

 
Related post:

If you live in Brooklyn, or go there now and then, please be advised that there’s going to be a giant Book Festival there on September 18th.

And the organizers are going to be distributing some 40,000 bookmarks all around town containing my picture and some biographical notes to explain why I am a true son of Brooklyn — born and bred there for the first twenty years of my life — although I haven’t lived there since 1942. Not only that, if you visit Brooklyn’s gorgeous Botanic Garden there’s supposed to be a lane, walk or ramble in the Garden named after me.

What a pity that I can’t visit it myself!