Posts tagged ‘Science Fiction League’

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’ »

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.

 
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Donald Wollheim, 1937.

Donald Wollheim, 1937.

When Don Wollheim and Johnny Michel came to convert the Brooklyn SFL to the cause of annihilating Hugo Gernsback, Donald was all of seventeen years old. I was twelve, and to a twelve-year old seventeen looks nearly indistinguishable from grownup. He acted and talked that way, too.

He and Johnny, in fact, were at that BSFL meeting on the very grownup mission of trying to persuade us to join them in punishing Hugo for the cardinal sin of not paying his authors, of which Donald and Johnny were, sort of, two. Gernsback had published Donald’s first story, “The Man from Ariel,” concerning an alien whose home world was so puny that you could pretty nearly jump right off it into space; Gernsback had promised to pay $25 for the right to publish, and had in fact come through with part of it, but was dodging Donald’s attempts to collect the balance.

It wasn’t the case that Donald was hurting for the money. The Depression still lingered, but Donald’s father was a very successful heart doctor with a large and comfortable apartment in the expensive part of West End Avenue. But, though he didn’t actively need the few dollars involved, Donald had the right to collect them and Gernsback was definitely in the wrong.

As we got to know Donald better, I came to have a lot of respect for the frequency with which he generated ideas. He was definitely a leader. I was happy to follow his ever-changing leads … at first.

Later on we sometimes became competitors. But we always remained friends, sometimes off on ventures that excluded even Johnny Michel, to whom Donald otherwise often seemed spot-welded at the spinal column.

 
More when I get around to writing it. . . .

Will Sykora, left, and Willy Ley.

Will Sykora, left, and Willy Ley at the Queens Science Fiction League, 1948.

Will Sykora, along with James Taurasi and Sam Moskowitz, were the leaders of the anti-Futurian wing of New York fandom. They had way more members than we, so on votes they had no trouble cutting us off from even things that originally had been our ideas, like the 1939 Worldcon No. 1.

Willy Ley in his natal Germany was a member of the circle of early German rocket enthusiasts, including Wernher von Braun, which were largely responsible for encouraging the research which produced the V1 and V2 flying bombs. By then, however, Ley, a confirmed anti-Nazi, had escaped to America where he became a writer on that and related subjects.

Sykora had no particular connection with Ley. They just both happened to sit at the same table, and there was somebody with a camera.

* * *

The Early PohlThe Early Asimov

 
The funny story about The Early Pohl:

It was the idea of some of the Doubleday editors to publish a book of the first (and generally the worst) stories ever published by a number of sf writers, including Isaac Asimov and me. As it happened, two of Isaac’s earliest stories had been collaborations with me, and he wanted to include them in The Early Asimov. So to pay me for my contribution to the work, I received a 5-percent share of the income from Isaac’s book.

The funny, if embarrassing to me, part of it:

We kept on getting royalties on these books for some time, and in every royalty period the money from my 5-percent share of Isaac’s royalties was always more than my 100-percent share of my own.

* * *

By the way and P.S:

Did you notice how trivial were the dreadful effects of technology that I was trying to worry the reader with? From jet planes, I warned of sonic boom; from cars, the corroding of stonework.

How ignorant we were even when we thought we were cutting-edge smart!

 
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The Brooklyn Science Fiction League met in the basement of its chairman, George Gordon Clark. He was an energetic fellow. When Wonder Stories announced the formation of the SFL Clark did not waste time, he sent in his coupon at once and consequently became Member No. 1. When the SFL announced it was willing to charter local chapters, he acted instantly again, and so the BSFL was Chapter No. 1, too.

We outgrew Clark’s basement pretty quickly; there was only room for about four of us, in with his collection of sf magazines. We moved to a classroom in a nearby public school. What I mostly remember about those meetings is surprise that I couldn’t fit into the grammar-school desks anymore — after all, it was only a couple of years since I had been occupying desks just like them every school day. I remember we talked a lot about how to interpret Robert’s Rules of Order and spent quite a lot of time reading minutes of the previous meeting. If anything else substantive took place, I have forgotten it entirely.

But, ah, the Meeting After the Meeting! That was the fun part. That was when we would adjourn to the nearest open soda fountain, order our sodas and sundaes and sit around until they threw us out, talking about science fiction.

It was always a soda fountain. Not always the same one; over the years we fans must have staked out and claimed dozens of them, all over the city. But we were addicted to ice cream concoctions, so much so that a few years later, in a different borough of the city, after the meetings of a different club, we finally designed our own sundae, which we called the Science Fiction Special, and persuaded the proprietor of the store to put it on his menu.

We were a young bunch, as you can see. Except for Clark, who must have been in his early twenties, the old man of the group was Donald Wollheim, pushing nineteen. John B. Michel came with Donald; and a little later, down from Connecticut, Robert W. Lowndes; the four of us made a quadrumvirate that held together for — oh, forever, it seems like — it must have been all of three or four years, during which time we started clubs and dispersed them, published fan magazines, fought all comers for supremacy in fandom and wound up battling among ourselves.

The fan feud is not quite coeval with fandom itself, but it comes close. None of the clubs seemed to live very long. The BSFL held out for a year, then we moved on to the East New York Science Fiction League, a rival chapter of the parent organization, which seceded and renamed itself the Independent League for Science Fiction. That kept us engaged for another year, then it was the turn of the International Scientific Association (also known as the International Cosmos-Science Club). The ISA was not particularly scientific, and it certainly wasn’t all that international; we met in the basement of Will Sykora’s house in Astoria, Queens. (The ENYSFL-ILSF had met in a basement, too, the one belonging to its chairman, Harold W. Kirshenblith. I do not know what science-fiction fandom would have done in, say, Florida, where the houses didn’t have basements.)

It didn’t much matter what the name of the club was, or where we met. We did about the same things. We held meetings once a month, mostly devoted to arguments over whether a motion to adjourn took precedence over a point of personal privilege. We got together between times to publish mimeographed magazines, where we practiced our fledgling talents — for writing, and also for invective.

The fan mags (now they are called “fanzines,” but the term hadn’t been coined then) were sometimes club efforts, sometimes individual. I managed to wind up as editor of the club mags a lot of the time, but that wasn’t enough; I published some of my own. The one I liked best was a minimal eight-page mimeographed job measuring 4 ¼ by 5 ½ inches — a standard 8 ½-by-11-inch mimeo sheet folded twice — called Mind of Man. Since it was my own, I could publish anything I liked in it. What I liked best to publish was my own poetry, which at that time was highly sense-free, influenced in equal parts by Lewis Carroll’s “Jabberwocky” and some of the crazier exhibits in transition.

 
To be continued. . . .

 
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