Thoughts . . . by Mark Rich

. . . scribbled . . . scrawled . . . trimmed . . . typewritten . . . grubbed up . . . squeezed from circumstance . . .

Friday, February 12, 2010

The Sweepstakes: Malzberg & Rich Trade Thoughts

Rick Bowes asked about the exchange with Barry Malzberg, mentioned here a few days ago. I asked Barry about making it public; and he thought it would be fine to do so.

I wrote to Barry on Monday, February eighth, about having posted my short piece about Klass on this blog, and added, "I've never blogged before ... but I'd been thinking about it ... and now I figure it's so out-of-fashion that it's sure to do me no good: so I have to strike while the iron's dead cold." (I used those ellipses: and I do so below. They represent nothing but themselves.)

"The in memorium is very good," Barry wrote, the next day. "Recapitulates some of our discussion. SF became a different thing after the fifties and his exit was both cause and effect.

"For reasons we can parse at another time I don't think that Phil was as heroic or tragic as you think but he was an important writer and certainly a wounded soul. As are we all."

I wrote back, "I'm not sure I think Phil is either heroic or tragic, although I suppose there are elements in my perception of him that must give my words some coloring of that sort. Come to think of it, though: the fact that he was saying these things aloud (and fortunately managed to get interviewed saying these things aloud) that no one else was saying ...

"What is alive in my mind is the image of 1946-47: Klass, Merril, and Sturgeon wandering down Manhattan streets, joking, drinking, and arguing about the nature of science fiction. It's just me -- but that seems one of the powerful scenes, within my limited understanding of all that went on."

Barry wrote back, still on the ninth, with this: "He was indeed saying what very few were, certainly none of the others for the record. But Phil was a (shall we say) alterer of the truth; he was its custodian, the truth was not his. There are some enormously revelatory passages in that 104-page Solstein interview in which he explains that his mother, a really skilled and crafty figure, taught him everything he knows about lying and taught him well.

"He was wounded all right. But I know wounds and you know wounds and let me assure you that I was at dinner with my spouse not an hour ago discussing three writers who clearly went far beyond him in the wounded and inequity sweepstakes: Horace McCoy, Cornell Woolrich and Walter Tevis."

Responding, I wrote: "I would agree (even not knowing the stories behind the writers you mention) that many writers would surpass Klass for being wounded; when I wrote that line, I was thinking of the war experience. And that is an experience I do not pretend to be able to comprehend in anything like a full sense. The ones who went through it had trouble comprehending it -- which is why they wouldn't speak of it.

"I personally don't know what I would do, mentally, with the experience of seeing the concentration camps.

"There's a book title for you, in your last line: The Wounded and Inequity Sweepstakes. I know you'd do a bang-up job! On the cover: 'WHICH of these FAMOUS WRITERS will be the WINNER?'"

On February tenth, Barry wrote, "Yes, you are right, suffering battle injuries (or psychic brutalization) goes beyond a lifetime of battling the three cent a word markets. I accept that. Most combat veterans don't want to talk about it and we know why. I went through nothing - basic training in 1960 in Eisenhower's sleepy peacetime Army -- and I don't want to talk about even that. [ ... ]

"It's a hard, sad business, this 'professional writing' and looking out at a vigorous snowfall just starting and predicted to continue for 24 hours (and leave us over a foot, maybe a foot and a half) doesn't ease the corpus."

That snowfall had already passed through Wisconsin by this time.

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