Posts tagged ‘Prozines’

Perry Knowlton

Perry Knowlton

Years and years ago—I would say maybe about the 1970s—I happened to think of a mystery novel I would like to write. So whenever I got tired of working on the current piece I was writing for Horace L. Gold to print in Galaxy and needed a break I would write a chapter or so on the mystery, and when I had at least a rough draft maybe three-quarters done I packed it up and shipped it to my agent, Perry Knowlton, who not only ran the Curtis Brown agency but was the president of the Society of Authors’ Representatives and a person deemed to have the magic touch at sorting out great works from yuck.

I waited eagerly for The Word, and then it came. “I don’t see this as a better bet than your new serial for Gold,” said Perry. I had stopped writing on page 303. I never wrote page 304.

Then, some years later, when I was in a quite different place, I began to write compulsively, tirelessly on the tangled lives of some harried people. It was called The Lies We Live By, and I thought I was in touch with some important truths. So I sent it, too, off to Perry, and when it had been over a month since I sent it I called him.

“Oh, right, that,” he said. “I made a good start on it but then a lot of complicated things came up. I’ll try to get back to it as soon as I can.”

So that too went into my bottom desk drawer, and then funny things began to happen. Perry sold something of mine to two different publishers, and I had to calm them myself — and then one day his son Tim came into my office, looking more dejected than I had ever seen him.

“It’s Perry,” he said. “It’s Alzheimers, and it’s progressing fast. He’s going to have to retire.”

And so it happened. I never got back to either of them. I thought they were lost in the wastes of unwanted mss. in the agency’s unclaimed files, but just the other day both of them turned up.

Only what do I do now? I don’t want to read them over, because I’ve got too much on my plate already. (And, remember, I’m not 19 years old anymore. What Arthur Clarke did when he found himself lumbered with commitments for books he no longer knew how to write was get a few friends to write them for him. (Including me, for The Last.) I don’t like that idea, either.

Robert A. Heinlein at MidAmeriCon, 1976. (Photo by David Dyer-Bennet.)

Robert A. Heinlein at MidAmeriCon, 1976. (Photo by David Dyer-Bennet.)

Marty Greenberg and a couple of the others who were clustered in the Kansas City hotel lobby were coaxing me to stay, and one of those (apparent) teen-age graduate students nailed me down with a comment that was clearly intended to lead to a series of questions, “I understand you know Mr. Heinlein quite well, and I’ve just finished reading his Stranger in a Strange Land,” the apparent teen-ager informed me.

And Marty, eager to put temptation in my way, said, “Tell her the story about the Budrys review.”

Everybody seemed to be listening pretty attentively. Robert A. Heinlein being the Guest of Honor at MidAmeriCon, nobody wanted to go home without a few new Heinlein stories to spread around. The one Marty wanted me to tell was a favorite. I had at the time just recently taken on the job of editing Galaxy when Horace L. Gold got too sick to continue, and I had also just made AJ Budrys the book reviewer for the magazine when Stranger popped up. I handed it over to AJ as his first assignment.

I had told him he had a week to do the review, but at the end of the week, and a few extra days, there was no sign of the review. When I got him on the phone he told me that it was a big book and he would need at least another week or ten days to do it justice. That wasn’t really a surprise, or, indeed, much of a problem. I had confidence in AJ’s writing and was pretty sure the review would be worth waiting for. So I pulled a 5,000-word short story out of inventory to replace it, and rescheduled AJ’s first column for the next issue. And when at last he did deliver the review I saw that, ah, yes, no matter what I had expected, there certainly was going to be a problem.

AJ had given Heinlein’s science-fiction novel the sort of close-focused attention that I suppose Bishop Challoner must have given the Vulgate texts when he was preparing the Rheims Bible. It was a splendid review, both erudite and entertaining.

It described all the influences that must have been whirling around in Robert’s head as he was creating the book, as well as everything that could be said about Robert’s background and private life. Among the liberties AJ had allowed himself in writing the review was the privilege of speculating how much of Heinlein’s Naval Academy experience — the discipline, the hazing of first-year men, the prohibitions of marriage and various other distractions affecting young men and so on — had caused Heinlein’s obviously troubled feelings about patriotism, authority and proper behavior.

I was absolutely certain that the readers would love both the book and the review … but even more convinced that I couldn’t allow Robert’s first glimpse of the review to be when, all unsuspecting of what was in store for him, he opened up his subscription copy of the magazine that contained it.

So I pondered the problem for a while, and then I took out a little insurance policy. There were no such things as Xeroxes in our little office so I had my assistant of the moment — I think by then it was Judy-Lynn Not-Yet-del-Rey — type out a copy of the review, which I mailed off to Heinlein, with a note explaining that, due to the importance of this novel, I would like to hear any comments he might have about the review before scheduling it.

And time passed.

Continue reading ‘Arrival, Part 2: Heinlein Stories’ »

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’ »

Who Bashed People With His Wit, Then His Cane

Keith Laumer

Keith Laumer

The first manuscript by Keith Laumer that I remember seeing was about an interstellar diplomat named Retief, which caused me to stop reading manuscripts that day to write the author a letter, telling him I was buying the story and adding, “Please write me more stories, lots more stories, about this guy, because I love him.” And Keith did it, too, becoming, I’m pretty sure, one of the three reasons why If, the magazine I published them in, won the Best Prozine Hugo for three years in a row. (The other two reasons? Fred Saberhagen’s Berserker stories, and Robert Heinlein’s serials.)

I felt pretty proud of myself for recognizing their worth so quickly, but I later learned that he had intended them as a series all along, but planned for the series to run in Cele Goldsmith’s Amazing (and I can’t imagine why Cele, bright as she was, let them go). The thing about Laumer is, first, that he was great at satirizing people he had had a bellyful of, particularly Americans in the diplomatic service. (Keith had served a tour in Burma, which gave him much grist for his mill.) Second, that he had a keen sense of comedy, and, third, that he wrote quickly and well.

Not all of Keith’s sf was part of a series. He wrote stand-alone stories when the spirit moved him, some of them really good. There was one in particular — I’ve forgotten its name — which had to do with a time traveler who, leaving his family behind, travels a century or so into the future, where he finds a dreary, post-catastrophe world where his only companion is a nearly out of it centenarian who, when the time traveler mentions his name, sobs, “Daddy.” Corny, maybe, but it took me unawares to the point of actually bringing a tear to my eyes — something which rarely happens.

I left the Galaxy group shortly before Keith suffered the massive stroke that pretty much ended his successful writing career, but I did see him from time to time. Sadly, the wreck of his brain made him the legendary even-tempered man: mad all the time. It was a terrible fate for one as talented as he and, though he lived for twenty-some years after the stroke, he never regained the art of writing a Laumer story, and almost never managed to carry on a conversation without breaking into rage.

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.

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…’ »