Posts tagged ‘Scott Meredith’

The Battle of the Bulge left Dirk Wylie unable to hold a regular job, so we made him — and ultimately, me — into a literary agent.

The Battle of the Bulge left Dirk Wylie unable to hold a regular job, so we made him — and ultimately, me — into a literary agent.

After World War II had grabbed most of us Futurians by the scruff of the necks and flung us to various odd destinations in all sorts of unexpected parts of this planet of ours, it did, somehow get itself ended and there we were, civilians again, and back in New York. I had had a relatively undemanding war, ending up with doing public relations at the Mediterranean Theater of Operations in Caserta, Italy (with my spare time spent in a resort hotel on the slopes of Mount Vesuvius). Dirk Wylie, however, hadn’t had anywhere nearly as nice a war as I did.

Dirk’s war hit bottom in the early winter of 1944–45. That was when Hitler’s Wehrmacht made one last attempt to take back control of the western front in the Battle of the Bulge. It was a vicious and protracted fight, and Dirk, then an MP sergeant, was in the middle of it. This cost him. At one point, he jumped hastily out of a truck and landed in a very wrong way, doing something seriously bad to his spine.

That was the end of the war for Dirk, and the beginning of years of hospital stays and unremitting pain.

By the late 1940s, he was discharged from the New York-area Veterans Administration hospitals — not because he was cured but because there was nothing more they could do for him. Now Dirk was a civilian again, with one unanswerable question: What was he to do with the rest of his life? A normal nine-to-five job of any kind was pure fantasy. The only good part of the situation was that he didn’t need to make much money. The Veterans Administration had recognized their obligation to him and awarded him a substantial pension. But a living wage wasn’t the whole of Dirk’s needs. He was just barely out of his twenties, and didn’t like the prospect of doing nothing for the rest of his life.

I spent a lot of time with Dirk and his wife, Roz, discussing that question, and we came up with an idea that seemed worth pursuing. He could become a literary agent.

 
There are all kinds of literary agents. Some of them can do very good things for their clients, making sales for them that the writers would not have made by themselves and sometimes acting as story coaches to help their clients write more salable material. Others (as my mother used to say when totally exasperated) are not worth the powder to blow them to Hell.

So what made the difference between the saviors and the total wastes? One, a good agent needed to know the market. Two, s/he needed to know good work from bad. Three, s/he needed to be able to let clients know how to tell the difference between good and bad, too, and how to encourage them to get better.

Of course, Dirk didn’t have personal knowledge of all these things, although, as a Futurian, he had been exposed to a fair amount of shop talk over the years and had made a few sales himself. But what he did have was me.

Continue reading ‘How I Lost My Oldest Friend
(and Gained a Literary Agency)’ »

I have one more little story that I want to tell you about our Custody Wars, and then we can leave that unpleasant subject forever. It concerns the way in which Judy was able to make people who should have been neutral declare loyalty to her.

I was working in my Fifth Avenue literary agency one day when the door opened and a man named Sam walked in. (His name wasn’t actually Sam, but I see no reason to tell you what his real name was, although there are quite a few people around who would have no trouble guessing it.) Sam said the reason he had come was that he had been working for the Scott Meredith agency, Scott had fired him and he needed a job. Would I like to hire him?

Such a thought had never occurred to me but, you know, it wasn’t a totally bad idea. To some extent the earnings of the agency depended on how much time I devoted to making sales. I didn’t trust anybody but myself with the major sales, but there were all those routine ones that required no more than putting a manuscript in an envelope with a friendly covering letter, and getting it onto the desk of somebody who might buy it.

I wasn’t deep in financial miseries yet, although I was beginning to get close, so I said, “All right, you’re hired for a trial month. Here’s a building pass and an office key, and come in tomorrow and start familiarizing yourself with the work.” Big executive, right? Shrewd judge of men. Quick to seize a random opportunity.

So the next day came along, and Sam began to familiarize himself with the locator cards, and which Western could go to, say, Mike Tilden’s Western pulps but by no means to those of the Thrilling group, and all that stuff. And then, just a few days later, one of my favorite writers came in, looking seriously annoyed. “Hey, Fred,” he said, “Horace bought that novelette of mine two weeks ago. Why haven’t you sent me a check?”

That was an unexpected embarrassing moment — truly unexpected and seriously embarrassingly embarrassing — and then there was another like it, and then I figured out what was going on. Sam, who is dead now, was using his office key to come back at night, after everyone else had gone home, and make a careful study of my deposit slips and check stubs. And then he passed it all to Judy. Who passed it on to my clients. With the result that now everybody knew as much as I did about my most private juggling of the funds that were keeping me going.

Was I pretty close to theft there? I was. The only thing that was different was that every last human being who had money coming was getting it in full, just a few days or weeks late. But no, I had no right to do it.

Just an overpowering need.

 
Of course I fired Sam five minutes after I found out what damage he had done, but of course the damage was already very serious. What Judy knew, if she chose to spread it, was enough to threaten the relation of trust I had with some of my favorite clients.

She did choose to do that, and it did have that effect, for a few clients. But it didn’t put me out of business.

And what about old Sam, here? How would you describe him? Stinking, treacherous, backbiting piece of human excrement? Something like that, maybe, or at least those were the kind of words that crossed my own mind.

But do you really think that that’s the way Sam thought of himself? No. I don’t think that for one second.

Remember what I said about Judy’s phenomenal ability to attract loyalty from others. I think he considered himself an indispensably good friend to someone who urgently needed his help in her righteous struggle with me. And that is why, for the purpose of these writings, his name will remain as just Sam.

To be continued.

 
Related posts:
Judith Merril, Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7, Part 9

Judith Merril

   Judith Merril

For the first couple of years after World War II, I was living in Greenwich Village, as a civilian, along with my second wife, Dorothy Louise LesTina (about whom see The Way the Future Was.). We had a pretty busy life, the two of us, and although I had heard that there was a whole new science-fiction fandom in the city I was overfull of self-affairs (as the Bard put it) and myself did lose it.

Anyway, then Tina, visiting her parents in California filed for divorce. (There, too, check my writing about Tina for details.) In any case, I suddenly wasn’t married any more, and so I had time to get around to seeing if I and this new NYC fan community had any reason to get together.

It turned out that we did. I began making friends with young Robert Silverberg and young Charles Brown (yes, the Locus man, although all that was still very far away) and a bunch of other people who became close, long-time friends. And there was one really interesting thing, unprecedented in pre-war fannish history, and that was that quite a few of these new New York fans were female.

That was an unexpected but very, very welcome development. I soon became friendly with some of this new breed of femmefans, as they were (briefly) termed, and with one in particular. That one’s name was Judy Zissman. She was divorced and with an enchanting little girl whom she had named Merril. Judy wanted to be a writer and the two of us got along just fine.

Before I tell you some of the things that happened next, there is one thing you need to know about Judy right now, and that is the nature of her beliefs about sexual conduct. One of them was that females had as much right to sleep around as males do, and that that right was considerable..

That was one of the things I didn’t really want to discuss when I was writing The Way the Future Was. The good news is that now I don’t have to discuss it at all. In the last years of her life, Judy was writing her own memoir, and in it she was quite open about her views and her experiences.

Judy died before she could finish the memoir, but the two of us had begun having some of our children’s children growing up and taking over some things. One of them was our well-beloved granddaughter Emily Pohl-Weary, who, having herself become a writer, finished the book for her. (It was published as Better to Have Loved: The Life of Judith Merril. And listen, our kids and grandkids don’t fool around. It won a Hugo Award.)

So by all means, read all you like about Judy’s private business. Only read about it from her.

 
Before long, Judy and I had settled down to cohabitating in her gigantic New York apartment on East 4th Street.

I don’t want to give the wrong impression. The place certainly was gigantic, at least four big bedrooms, but it was also on the basement level of the apartment building To get to it, you took the elevator down one flight. It had been designed, and built, with the expectation that it would be occupied by the building’s janitor and his family. In America’s postwar boom, though, your average janitor didn’t care to be treated like an inferior. The present incumbent and family lived in modest prosperity, rent-free, in a perfectly rentable apartment above-ground. Judy had discovered the situation and grabbed the underground space for a pitiful rent, which I think may have been less than $25 a month.

For us it was perfect. Plenty of room for us each to have space to live and write, and space for little Merril and for the child’s pet dog, Taxi Driver, and even for Judy to rent out one of the extra rooms to the occasional single woman who needed a cheap place to stay. One was Gerry Schuster, rehearsal pianist for the New York Ballet. Another, at a different time, described herself as “the white New York girlfriend” of a famous musician — and proved it by getting us all comped seats to his Carnegie Hall appearance, and a visit to his dressing room after.

And, in particular, the one thing that the place was perfect for was parties. We had a lot of them.

We were quite prosperous at that time, you see. I was book editor and advertising copywriter for the rich Popular Science Publishing Company at a steadily increasing salary. While Judy had got herself an editorial job with Bantam Books, working for Ian Ballantine, who at that time ran it.. Between us we earned quite a lot, we didn’t really spend all that much, and God was good. Not only that. Bantam gave Judy the chance to edit her first very own science-fiction anthology (but entitled Shot in the Dark to disguise the fact that it was sf as much as possible).

And even that wasn’t the very best of it. There was the fact that Judy had, without warning and all by herself, had unexpectedly written a story of her own that just knocked the socks off everyone who read it.

Continue reading ‘Judith Merril, Part 1: ‘That Only a Mother’’ »

I took the writers who had been getting $75 checks from Thrilling Wonder and worked with them to begin selling to Galaxy at twice the rate.

I took the writers who had been getting $75 checks from Thrilling Wonder and worked with them to begin selling to Galaxy at twice the rate.

Let’s talk for a bit about my career as an agent.

Mark Rich has a lot to say about my failings, especially my financial woes, which were considerable. A J Budrys told a funny story about them in one of the last speeches he gave, at the Heinlein Centennial, a year or two before he died. He had discovered what a great agent I was, he said, when I sold John Campbell a story of A J’s that Campbell had turned down cold before A J became my client. And then when he got my check, it bounced.

Funny story? Sadly, also a true one.

But the interesting thing there is that A J didn’t quit the agency. He remained my client until the waters finally closed over my head. And almost all of my other clients, Isaac Asimov and Hal Clement and John Wyndham and Fritz Leiber and all the other household names and the lesser names that I was bringing along gave me an amazing amount of patience, and most of them didn’t want to give up until I did.

And, most interesting of all, most of them were my good friends for the rest of my life.

Do you wonder why?

I’ll tell you why. It was because I was a hell of a good agent.

First, I took the writers who had been getting $75 checks from Thrilling Wonder and worked with them to begin selling to Galaxy at twice the rate, and then I worked with the — magazine writers to turn them into book authors, and I kept looking for new and better markets they could sell to. A few I managed to get into television deals, even into syndicated newspaper cartoon strips. Some I managed to promote from the pulps to the slicks, at many times the rate.

In short, I did everything a good agent did for his clients. (I would like to say that, even today, not all agents are quite that good.) But I did something rather more than that.

I spent a lot of time trying to figure out what made a good writer — almost any of my dozens of good writers — sometimes be productive and profitable and sometimes be unable to get anything written for days or weeks at a time. I tried several different ways of, first, encouraging the writers to write, and, second, to do so at the top of their form. I finally invented one that worked.

I made a promise to eight or ten of my best (but not always solvent) writers that any time they brought in a new story I would hand them a check for that much wordage.. My rate was low for these incentive checks, at a half cent a word, but then when the story actually sold to a publisher the writer would be credited at the publisher’s scale, not that of my advances.

As a result, if you look at the stories published in the last year or so of my agency’s existence you will find that there were a larger number than usual of really good stories by Budrys, James Blish, Damon Knight and a dozen or so other clients who took me up on that offer. It worked. It got the writers writing more, and sometimes better. It even increased my sales to those markets, a little. And if I were unfortunate enough to become an agent again, I would at once start up something like that for at least a few clients.

But it also represented one more outflow of capital, and there wasn’t enough capital left to flow. Most of my clients didn’t want to leave, but finally, I gave up and folded the agency, and started paying everybody back.

Interestingly, maybe I should say ironically, then two unexpected new lifesavers were thrown to me.

Continue reading ‘What My Clients Thought’ »