My writing life has been a blast. With all the fallout, fragmentation, frustration and free falls known to man I've careened around on heights I never dreamed of, and simmered in pits I wouldn't wish on my worst enemy, and survived. Maybe it's just that I forget quickly and forgive easily.
Looking back, I find it perhaps less than total extravaganza. It all seemed so great at the time: Doing what I wanted to do, living as I wanted to live, having the time of my life and being paid for it. I worked hard; nobody ever wrote and sold 150-odd novels in 20 years without working hard, but I loved what I was doing. I gave my level best on absolutely every piece of my published work, for one simple reason: I knew of no other way to sell what I wrote.
I've known some wonderful people in the writing racket. For some years, I lived in a loose-knit community of real, hard working writers – Day Keene, Gil Brewer, Bill Brannon, Talmage Powell, Robert Turner, Fred C. Davis. Out in Hollywood, Sid Fleischman and Mauri Grashin are friends, as were Fred C. Fox, Elwood Ullman. And via mail, Frank Gruber, Carl Hodges, Milt Ozaki. Death flailed that company of gallants – Gruber, Fox, Hodges, Ullman, Keene, Gil Brewer, Brannon, Fred Davis – all gone. Talmage Powell's inimitable stories appear in anthologies and magazines and, as of this writing, as I did in the wild and wonderful fifties when we all were young and pretty, I persist.
The fifties. The magic. Time of change. Crisis. The end of the pulps and the birth of the "original" paperbacks. In recent years critic-writers, Bill Pronzini, Christopher Geist, Michael Barson and Bill Crider have kindly referred to me as king of the paperback pioneers. I didn't realize at the time I was a pioneer and I certainly didn't set out to be "king" of anything. I needed a fast-reporting, fast-paying market; the paperbacks provided this. I wrote 8, 10, 12 hours a day. Paperback editors bought and paid swiftly. We were good for each other.
The reason why I wrote and sold more than almost everybody else was that I was living on the edge of ruin, and I was naive.
James Cagney once said, "It's the naive people who become the true artists. First, they have to be naive enough to believe in themselves. Then, they must be naive enough to keep on going, using their talent, in spite of any kind of discouragement or doublecross. Pay no attention to setbacks, not even know a setback when it smites. Money doesn't concern them."
Money concerned me. I'd never have dared become a full-time writer if I'd known in the forties that the critically acclaimed "authors" I admired from afar were college professors, ad men, lawyers, reporters, dogcatchers or politicians by day. Fewer than 500 people in the U.S. make their living from full-time freelance writing. Since 1948, I've been precariously, one of fortune's 500. I persist.
Because, in 1948, 1 didn't know any better, I quit my government job of 16 years and leaped in, fully clothed, where only fools treaded water. I had a wife, two children and gimlet-eyed creditors standing at my shoulder. I had to write and I had to sell.
At that precise moment, the publishing world was being turned upside down by the Fawcett Publishing Company. When they lost a huge reprint paperback distribution client, they decided to do the unheard of, the insane. They published original novels at $.25 a copy. Print order on each title: 250,000. They paid writers not by royalty but on print order. Foreign, movie and TV rights remained with the writer. They were insane. They were my kind of people. Bill Lengel, Dick Carroll and later, Walter Fultz. Elegant men. One hell of a publishing company.
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