MY FIRST NOVEL: ROBERT J. RANDISI
This is the story of how my first 4-book series became my first novel.
I joined the Mystery Writers of America in 1975. I was 24 years old, had met some authors in ’73 in Boston at my first Bouchercon, before I published my first story. My second Bouchercon was Chicago in '75, where I met Max Allan Collins, Percy Parker, Robert Edward Eckels and a few others. By then I had sold my first short story, but had not yet joined MWA. For some reason I had decided not to join on the strength of a single short story sale, but the writers at that ’75 Bouchercon all advised me otherwise. So when I got back home, I joined.
From that point on I rubbed shoulders with other writers twice a month, at a cocktail party and a dinner. But the thing about those gatherings is that they didn’t only attract writers. There were also agents and editors.
I was shy back then, believe it or not. Stand-in-the-corner-with-a-drink-in-my-hand shy. But to overcome that shyness I decided to tend bar at the cocktail parties. That way, everybody in the room had to come to me. I tended bar up there for a few years of those parties, and that’s where I met my first editor.
We became friends. We had lunch in the city. We had drinks together. We both did some work in The Mysterious Bookshop when Otto Penzler first opened, to help out. It was the kind of networking that doesn’t happen in publishing today. Who needs to wine-and-dine an editor—or vice-versa—when you can use your disposable income to publish your own books. (But that’s a rant for another time).
And then I showed him a proposal for a series about a private eye who works for the (fictional) New York State Thoroughbred Racing Club. He wanted to buy 4 books. That was the plan. Up to that point I had published 6 short stories in Alfred Hitchcock and Mike Shayne’s Mystery Magazines, and some lesser reputable but better paying work in Beaver Magazine. I was excited. A 4-book private eye series about horse racing. Hell, I was gonna be the American Dick Francis!
But there’s always a monkey wrench in the works, isn’t there?
I was about to get a contract when the editor called to tell me the publisher had frozen his buying. “We just have to wait about six months,” he said.
And then six more.
Finally, we struck a plan. He’d buy one book. Then another, then a third, and so forth. That way, the publisher would never catch on.
So I signed a contract to write THE DISAPPEARANCE OF PENNY, the first Henry Po book.
But before I signed it, since I didn’t have an agent, the editor told me to close the door to his office, and he went through the contract with me, page-by-page. It was the first and last time an editor ever did that for me.
THE DISAPPEARANCE OF PENNY was based on a short story of the same title that appeared in Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine in 1976. In the story the P.I.,’s name was “Frank Tucker.” For the book he became “Henry Po.” The book was published in Sept. 1980. There was never another Po book. There were, however, about half a dozen short stories over the years. But that 4-book series never materialized. I did, however, get a contract to write and create a western series, which became THE GUNSMITH.
But that’s another genre, and a story for another time.
I have a few of Robert J. Randisi's westerns on my shelf and the next time I look at them or read them, I'll remember what it took him to be where he is today. Thanks for sharing his story.
You, me, Crider, Mertz, Lansdale, probably others I'm not remembering, all with first novels within a year or so of each other. It was a good time.
And we all cut our teeth on the digests, and read each other. It was fun, damn it, and we ain't done yet!
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