Archive for Barry Malzberg

Instant Sex by Mel Johnson (Barry Malzberg), Midwood Books

Posted in Barry N. Malzberg, Midbook Books, Vintage Sleaze Paperbacks with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 4, 2009 by vintagesleazepaperbacks

I just realized I have been neglecting Barry Malzberg’s sleaze novels as Mel Johnson, Gerrold Watkins, and himself, which half this blog (along with Robert Silverberg’s pen names) is supposed to focus on (and now I have added in March Hastings, Joan Ellis, and Andrew Shaw).

I have been trying to track down Malzberg’s Mel Johnson Midwoods for years with little success, and if I do find them, they are priced outrageously.  I have no idea why these Midwoods — even the doubles and triples Johnson is in — are scarce and priced so high, when other late 1960s Midwoods are not.

A kind Malzberg fan, Jim Mix, contacted me and said he had a couple extra beat up Johnsons and one Watkins and sent them to me, in the interest to advnace my overdue Mazberg monograph, Beyond Science Fiction (let’s say early 2010 from Borgo Press at this point).

One of them was Instant Sex, that has a nifty Paul Rader cover:

Instant Sex A

Not even Lynn Monroe had this one in his Rader catalog, and he lists it as wanted. When I sent him this scan from Jim, he was surprised he had never seen it — I mean, he’s one of the top authorities and collectors of vintage paperbacks in the country.  Before my telling him, he had no idea Malzberg had written as Mel Johnson, and the Johnsons were not in his catalogues.  This makes the Mel Johnson scarcity more mysterious…the Gerrold Wakins books are hard to find because Olympia only printed 1000-1500 copies and maybe sold half the run.  But Midwood printed in the 25-50,000 unit range…

Does this great cover art depict the storyline inside the pages?  Not really. But when do they ever?

In an email conversation aboutl, Barry Malzberg told me that the novel

was written with real ambition under the working title FIRE.  I was trying, in 9/68, to write the first Vietnam veteran‘s novel, to make a major statement.  I reread it just a few years ago, tried to anyway, thought it was all right.  Better than all right.  I don’t know what was crazier: a) writing a novel of that ambition for Midwood Books’ $900, b) thinking that I had a chance at some “literary” recognition.  Cough cough.  This way to the egress, ladies and germs.

Here is a true or at least represented-as-true story told me by my Midwood editor and good friend Robert Devaney: Malzberg-Barry_thumbthe novel was delivered, Harry Shorten paid for it, Devaney put it on top of the small pile of delivered manuscripts heading for copyediting.  Harry Shorten came into his office.  “I had a dream,” Harry said, “I had a dream last night.  Here is the dream: it is that I published a novel and it was called INSTANT SEX.  I awoke and thought ‘that is a really good idea, I want to call a novel INSTANT SEX.'”  He pointed to the pile of manuscripts.  “Take that one on the top,” he said.  “Call it INSTANT SEX.”

This goes along the lines of other Harry Shorten tales.  In an interview with Gil Fox (Paul Russo, Kimberly Kemp, Dallas Mayo), Gil Fox  says to Muroe:

Harry Shorten had no knowledge of books whatsoever. He had some money from his cartoons, wanted to start a business, used the money to start Midwood. I don’t think Harry ever read a book in his whole life. He did not recognize intelligent writing in books. He would slap a hot cover on anything. For some reason Harry loved me. He would hit me on the back and call me “his most prolific Mayo - When the Lights Are Lowauthor.” How Harry operated: one day we came back from lunch and Harry picks the title WHEN LIGHTS ARE LOW out of the air and says “Your next book for Midwood will be WHEN LIGHTS ARE LOW.” That was it, no meaning at all, no story. So, you know, I went home and wrote WHEN LIGHTS ARE LOW.

In another interview, Joan Ellis says:

One time I walked into Harry’s office and he held up a painting of a blonde eating an ice cream cone and he said, “I now own this cover art. Write me a book to go with it.” So I did. (ed. note: the book is TALK OF THE TOWN, Midwood 32-396).

Would Fire have been a better title than Instant Sex?

Malzberg states he wrote this novel in Sept. 1968, and it’s pub. date is 1968 — Midwood must have had a quick turnaround from accpetance-copy-editing-production.

As for the story…

Instant Sex B

Coleman got into some trouble in Saigon — he was arrested for being with a Vietnamese prostitute and he assaulted a superor officer (tones of “Final War,” Malzberg’s novella written as K.M. O’Donnell).  After some time in the stockade, he returns Stateside despondent and impotent.  The letters from his fiancee were distant, and when he tries to re-connect with her, he knows the marriage is off.

He goes to New York in search of himself, hell, and meaning of his experiences in Vietnam. He wanders into the world of prostitutes, since it was a hooker who ruined his army career.

(I am left wondering if William T. Vollmann [whom I have published two books on, with the recent one out now] read this book, because there are some parts that remind me of Vollmann’s short novel, Whores for Gloria.)

Coleman meets the cliched “whore with a heart of gold” — Cynthia, a skinny girl in Harlem, that he picks up on the street.  He goes limp while they have sex.  She feels bad, like she has not satisfied a custimer, and offers to give him half his money back.

Coleman is an angry Nam Vet.  He goes into a bar and looks for a fight. He wants to go back to jail.  Cynthia has followed him.  When he gets into a brawl and the cops start to take him away, Cynthia comes to his rescue and says she’s his girlfriend and he’s a war hero, blah blah…she takes him back to her apartment and he sleeps in bed with her, and attemepts a half-ass (no pun?) act of anal sex with her.

He wakes up with Cynthia’s pimp, a man named Creature, in his face.  He leaves, although he feels he shouldn’t and Cynthia gives him some looks…he decides to go back, just as Creature is about to stab Cynthia (why do all the charcters have names that start with C?)…Coleman fights Creature and beats Creature up…feeling like the winner, like a man, he takes Cynthia on the floor and, yes, has instant sex. Violence becomes the pure for his impotency.

This book surprised me — it’s a good novel, but the style is different than most Malzberg’s: it’s not in present tense or first person, and Coleman is not as insane as many Malzberg protagonists tend to be.  This also has a “happy” ending.  As a “Vietnam novel,” it does comment on PTSD and what soliders coming back home from an unpopular war have to endure. The sex, as in many Malzbergian fictions, is not “hot” or enticing for the label “one-hand book” but realistic, horrifying, sad, nuerotic.

It’s an early Mazberg, a novel written before he was publishing under his own name, and before his stint at Olympia Press, and was just starting to write as “K.M. O’Donnell” in the science-fiction field.  It reminded me  somewhat of Larry Heinemann’s Paco’s Story.

As for the cover art — that isn’t Coleman and his  skinny teenage Harlen hooker…it could be Coleman pre-Vietnam, with the girl he was to marry…

Some day I will find and read all the Mel Johnsons…next is A Way With All Maidens, from Midwood’s short-lived Oracle Books imprint. Then The Box and The Sadist.  I really want to find Campus Doll and Nynpho Nurse.

Sin Servant by Don Elliott (Robert Silverberg)

Posted in Vintage Sleaze Paperbacks with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 27, 2009 by vintagesleazepaperbacks

Sin Servant

One of the best of the Don Elliotts, IMHO, at least this far as I read them.

Consider the opening of Sin Servant (Nightstand Books #3651, 1962): “I don’t know why it is I like to hurt people. I just do. Especially women.  It’s the kind of guy I am, that’s all, and I don’t try to make excuses for it.”

The novel chronicles Jimmy Robinson’s journey into the world of S/M and rough sex, from age sixteen to his 20s.  He loses his virginity to an experienced girl in high school who laughs at his lack of sexual know-how.  He then meets a 26-year-old divorcee who shows him how some women like to be man-handled and roughed around.

A bit of autobiography comes into play — Jimmy decides to become a writer. maybe all the sex is true too, who knows.  Jimmy sells a couople stories, but then stops when he finds a more lucrative business: becoming live-in a gigalo for various rich older women. (His first is 37, so that is not really “older” even for a 23-year-old.)  One of his sugar mommas likes to hire call girls for threesomes — high class call girls who come from good stock, and lo and behold, in all irony, one night Leatrice, the girl who had shot him down when he was 16, walks in, to find that the teenage boy she rejected has become a master lover.

It’s an insightful commentary on the psychological make-up of the sadist, and how one is trained to become one by women who desire such things, and how this man seeks out women who get off on pain. This one goes into more detail than your usual “soft-core” and is well-written.

Genre writers (science fiction, fantasy, mystery, western) wrote soft-core to make money when the genre market for magazinesand books dwindled in the late 1950s-early 1960s.  Silverberg wrote an article in 1992 for Penthouse Letters entitled “My Life as a Pornographer” about the scene at the time, recounting:

I was 24 years old when I stumbled, much to my surprise, into a career of writing sex  novels. In l958, as a result of a behind-the-scenes convulsion in the magazine-distribution business, the whole SF publishing world went belly up. A dozen or so magazines for which I had been writing regularly ceased publication overnight; and as for the tiny market for SF novels […] it suddenly became so tight that unless you were one of the first-magnitude stars like Robert Heinlein or Isaac Asimov you were out of luck.

Silverberg claims he could write a soft-core for Greenleaf/Nightsand/Cornith/William Hamling or Midwood Books and  others in four days, working in the morning to produce 2-4 chapters, taking a lunch break, and then working till evening, where he would switch to writing sf for the rest of the night.  The erotica was paying for his true love, science-fiction that did not pay as much as the market had vanished. It was also paying his rent and dinners at Love Addictfine restaurants and summer trips to Europe.  Producing 2-3 titles a month, starting with William Hamling paying him $600 for the first Nightsstand tittel, Love Addict, and as the books sold well and made profit,  $1200-2000 each. (Hamling paid Scott Meredith $2000 for each pen name/blinded manuscript, and later found out that Meredith was taking more than a standard 10-15% cut, but more like 40-50%, paying writers $1000-1200.” This was  good money for a writer in the late 1950s-ealy 1960s. Silverberg purchased his first house with this revenue — not just a house, but a 10 room mansion once owned by Mr. La Guardia!  $80,000 back then, translated to a couple million now.  When Silverberg was contracted by Hamling to write a certain amount of stories each month for Imagination Science Fiction at $500/month, that was damn good money for a writer in New York in the mid to late 50s:  most writers could live comfortably on $100-200 month, depending what part of the city they lived and if they had modest or upper crust pedacllos.  Silverberg, with his wife, rented a 4-room upscale apartment in Manhattan for $150 a month.  Imagine that!  But $150 in 1950s money was probbaly around $1000-1500, and a four room apartment in New York City today will run $5000 or more a month, with tiny 200 sq. feet holes in the walls going for $1200 or so a month.  Harlan Ellison, he has n oted, paid $10 a week for a room/apartment.

Imn his essay, Silberbeg claims he made about $1000/week on average, not only from checks from Hamling’s many shell accounts used for the books and magazines, but lesbian novels for Midwood as oren Beauchamop and straight sex as David Challon, non-fiction “sex studies”  for Monarch as L.T. Woodward, and science and archeology books geared for the juvenile market for bigger houses, and the science-fiction too.  He burned out on the sleaze in the mid 1960s, but the SF book market had expanded and he wanted to focus more on that.

Silverberg states that the 150 books he wrote for Hamling, and the others (400 in all) not only helped to hone the  carft of plot and dialougue, but put him in a professional mindset that aided the writing of future books — his doens of novels, stories, and anthologies attest to this.

Much more about all this can be read at Earl Kemp’s online zine, el.

Going back to Sin Servant, it is a well-crafted, well-told story with fairly belivable characters. I can see this as a movie.  Who knows, maybe I will adapt it, as I want to make a screeplay out of Barry Malzberg’s A Bed of Money (next review).