Posts tagged ‘Pulps’

super_science_stories-1

 

If you’re among that large and growing fraction of our blog readerrs who never miss anything in the blog and never forget anything you haven’t missed, you may recall an occasional musing from me about how much fun (and also how much labor) editing Galaxy and If was. Pay was putrid, work was unending, but it was the best job I ever had, and if someone made me a comparable offer today I’d have a really hard time turning it down.

Well, no one has, but something is stirring in that general area. Lately I’ve been going over the problems involved in starting a new magazine. It would be called Super Science Stories, which is the name I christened one of the two magazines I created for the giant pulp house of Popular Publications when they gave the kid me his first editorial job.

It would use all reprints, swiping the idea from Famous Fantastic Mysteries, the magazine Mary Gnaedinger piloted for the Munsey group in the ’40s. Pulp paper. 4-color cover. 128 pages. Price somewhere around $1.95. Lettercol and, in every issue, a truculent J.W. Campbell-like editorial. Sound like fun? It does to me — with, of course, some other distinguishing traits I don’t want to talk about right now.

Retrome, Satanas!

I know I shouldn’t give it a thought, but if an offer got real, how could I say no?

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’ »

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.

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’ »

Part 2 of Review of the Campbell-Swisher Letters

John W. Campbell in 1957 (from efanzines.com)

John W. Campbell in 1957 (from efanzines.com)

Fantasy Commentator
Sam Moskowitz and A. Langley Searles Memorial Issue, Special Double Issue, Nos. 59 & 60.

 
On October 5, 1937, John W. Campbell’s world changed. The powers at Street & Smith, on F. Orlin Tremaine’s advice, appointed him to replace Tremaine as editor of Astounding Stories. That must have been a shock to Campbell, who’d been worriedly wondering who would get the job, as well as a solution to the worst of his money worries.

I had guessed elsewhere the his weekly paycheck was probably $35, but I was wrong. Actually it was $30. Yet that was a sum the young Campbells had only dreamed of having — was enough, indeed, to permit him to buy a Ford (presumably on the installment plan), and thus to manage, among other things, that long desired trip back to New England to visit old friends. But that didn’t happen right away. Getting used to his new job kept him jumping

He would have liked to start afresh, with a lineup of stories that he had chosen in the first place, and edited to make them more like the stories he himself wrote, in the second. He didn’t have that luxury. Tremaine had bought a number of stories, which now sat in the magazine’s inventory and had to be published. This appeared to have filled the magazine through its January 1938 issue; Campbell’s first editorial, in the December 1937 number said February would be a “mutant” issue. It didn’t say what part of the magazine would get mutated. It turned out to be the stories.

The magazine did not show the effect of a new hand at the tiller very quickly. That wasn’t John’s fault. No magazine can show the full effects of a new editorial policy overnight. Not only are there the inventory of stories bought under the old policies to work off, but it takes a while to let the contributors know what the new policies are.

What John did with the submissions that kept coming in was first to give each one a fair reading (sometimes this may not be much more than the first page; you can tell), and then divide them into two parts. The ones he didn’t have any interest in got a printed rejection slip. The ones that had something good about them got a typed note from John saying what he liked about the story and what about the story kept him from buying it. Those went back, too. But sometimes they came back again revised to the Campbell prescription and then got bought, and more frequently the next stories Campbell got from that writer were closer to his wishes. (How do I know so much about John’s reading habits? Because he described them to me, and they were so eminently sensible that, when I became a pro editor myself, I adopted them as my own.)

 
There are two points in the letters where John talks about dealings with me. Both of them are wrong. In the first one, he says I bragged to him that my Astonishing Stories sold more copies than his Astounding. That’s incorrect, though. I didn’t know about the difference in sales figures or I certainly would have bragged about it all over town.

The other is in the discussion about putting a non-Jewish pen name on the stories by Milt Rothman that I sold him as Milt’s agent. In the letters, John says he thought it better not to tell me about his reasoning because it might cause misunderstandings. But he did tell me. That led to my advising Milt to do what he said, in fact. On that one, I do have a theory to explain it. I think when he wrote the letter he hadn’t told me his reasoning, but then changed his mind and on a later occasion did tell me.

Well, this got longer and more detailed than a review should. I apologize for that, and in general for taking so long, when all I really wanted to say was if (1) you want to be an editor, or (2) if you’re interested in Campbell as a person, or (3) if you just like a good read on a science-fiction subject — why, then, this is a book for you.

 
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Fantasy Commentator 59-60

Fantasy Commentator
Sam Moskowitz and A. Langley Searles Memorial Issue, Special Double Issue, Nos. 59 & 60.
 

When John W. Campbell, Jr., washed out of MIT by failing to pass their German course, he didn’t stay in Massachusetts. Instead, he returned to his mother’s home in Orange, New Jersey. He had left some close friendships behind, though, and one of the first things he did after relocating was to write a letter to his Massachusetts friend Robert D. Swisher, a pharmaceutical chemist working for the Monsanto Corporation.

That was the first letter of many, and they were all carefully preserved, misspellings, factual errors and all, by Swisher, and then by his widow. Now they are published, under the guise of an article in the late A. Langley Searles’ fanzine Fantasy Commentator, published as a memorial tribute by Searles’ widow, Alice Becker, M.D. The issue contains nothing but the letters. Its length — 156 large pages — is within accepted book publishing standards. So let’s call it a book, the two of us, all right?

This book, then, contains all the letters John wrote to Swisher over a period of more than twenty years, from John’s early attempts at writing science-fiction stories of his own through his triumphal masterminding of the world’s best science-fiction magazine and his intoxication with L. Ron Hubbard’s invention of Dianetics, followed by his final rejection of that cause — though not of the validity of many of its principles which, called by one name or another, he apparently subscribed to until his death.

As a document bearing on these matters, this is not merely a good, readable book. It is an invaluable one, and the credit for the clarity and completeness that make it such a pleasure to read belongs in no small part to its editor, the late Sam Moskowitz. The source material Sam had to work with was a clutch of actual letters, many of them handwritten and some not easy to decipher, and a considerable fraction of them comprising little more than technical descriptions of the cameras, lenses and films for which the two correspondents shared an affection. All of that photography material Moskowitz skillfully redacted away. What remains is the next best thing to a detailed personal diary of the life of a stand-out major figure in the field of science fiction.

Continue reading ‘The Campbell Letters’ »