Silverberg Speaks of His Pulp Days
from this site:
Mistress of the Tentacled Oblivion: Please tell my Octopulps readers a bit about your work as a staff writer for Amazing Stories.
Robert Silverberg: I was a staff writer for Amazing, turning in two or three space operas a month. The editor of Amazing at that time was either Howard Browne or Paul Fairman—Browne quit somewhere in early 1957 to return to freelance writing, and turned the magazine over to his assistant editor, Fairman. I was taken onto the staff in the summer of 1955, when I was still in college, and proceeded to sell Browne a lot of stories that he had previously rejected from me as a freelancer (he never read unsolicited stories; everything was staff written and the outside stories went back instantly with nice rejection slips) as well as a lot of stuff written to order. I was just a kid and delighted to be part of it: you brought your week’s work in on Monday morning and your agent had the check the next day. In any case when Cele Goldsmith replaced Fairman around 1959 she did away with the staff system entirely.
MOTTO: So, what did that Amazing office look like?
RS: Ziff-Davis, the publisher of Amz, published a lot of big slick mags like Modern Bride, and their office was in a midtown Manhattan skyscraper, very large and glossy, frosted glass door, receptionist, the whole deal. The editorial staff was four or five people, editor, assistant editor, art director, couple of others, and they worked daily, and the huge Ziff-Davis organization processed and sent out the checks like clockwork.
MOTTO: How did you first encounter the pulps in all their glory? What made you decide you wanted to write for the pulps?
RS: They were sold on every corner newsstand. I hope you know what those were. I began buying them when I was in the eighth grade—Weird Tales, Amazing, etc.—and immediately figured I could write stories for them and get them published and make a lot of money and get famous. I was 13 at the time. It turned out I was right about all that, but it took another few years before those checks came rolling in.
MOTTO: Do you happen to have any sense of how art was selected for Amazing and other pulp magazines? Were there staff artists? Or just starving people they accosted on the street and forced to paint nightmarish visions?
RS: Big office, professional publishing company, very corporate. The art director had artists coming in all the time with portfolios. Not my department and I didn’t watch what went on, but, yes, there were staff artists. All the SF mags had them.
MOTTO: Give us a sense of a day (or week) in the life of Robert Silverberg in the pulp era. How did pulp writing fit into your everyday routine?
RS: Back in my pulp-mag days I worked from about 8:30 to noon, took an hour off for lunch, and worked again from one to three, for a work day of five and a half hours or so. I wrote 20 to 30 pages of copy in that time, doing it all first draft, so that I was able to produce a short story of 5000-7500 words in a single day. If I had 3000-worders to do, I usually wrote one before lunch and one after lunch. At three o’clock I poured myself a shot of rum or mixed a martini, put a record on, and sat down to relax until dinnertime, reading and perhaps sketching out the next day’s work on a scrap of paper. This was the Tuesday-to-Friday routine. I never worked on Saturday or Sunday.
On Monday I made the rounds of the editorial offices to visit some mix of John Campbell, Howard Browne, Larry Shaw, W.W. Scott, and Bob Lowndes—editors of Astounding, Amazing, Infinity/Science Fiction Adventures, Super Science Fiction, and the various Lowndes titles—to deliver the previous week’s work. Sometimes I stopped off at my agent’s Fifth Avenue office to pick up checks, also. (I took the subway downtown from my apartment on West End Avenue in Manhattan.)
In weeks when I was writing a novel, I followed a five-day schedule, doing about thirty pages a day, so a typical Ace novel would take me six or seven days to write. I produced a lot of copy that way—a million words a year, or more—and since nearly all of it was contracted in advance, I didn’t have to worry about rejections very much. (Now and then I would aim a story at Campbell or Gold or Boucher, where nothing was guaranteed in advance, and if they turned it down I delivered it to one of the lesser magazines, which bought it. Nothing went unsold for long.)
MOTTO: Thanks so much for taking the time to help us visualize this world. And one goofy question to close: Did you notice the prevalence of tentacle-ish covers at the time? Any feeling about the use/misuse of octopuses and other marine monsters in the pulps?
RS: There were plenty of tentacles. Tentacles were very important. We were always kind to squiggly creatures and never abused them.