Razored Zen Interview: Charles Nuetzel is the author of numerous books and stories, including a number of Heroic Fantasy novels like Warriors of Noomas, Raiders of Noomas, and Swordmen of Vistar. His The Slaves of Lomooro, another Heroic Fantasy, was published under the byline Albert Augustus, Jr. Mr. Nuetzel wrote under other pen names as well, as many as thirty of them, and says that he has turned out "more or less" a hundred books--depending on how you count major rewrites and/or altered reprints. His career officially started in and around 1960 and ended sometime between 1970+ to 1980 (or never), though most of his published material saw print between 1960-1971. His agent was Forrest--Forry --Ackerman, who was, perhaps, best known for Famous Monsters of Filmland. This interview was conducted over the internet, using e-mail, and will be published in two parts. The first part will deal more with personal issues, and the second will look at Mr. Nuetzel's professional relationship with Powell Publications and similar topics. I greatly appreciate Mr. Nuetzel's time in answering my questions, which are indicated by RZ for Razored Zen. Mr. Nuetzel's answers are signaled by CAN. Any editorial comments or added words are surrounded by brackets .
CHARLES NUETZEL INTERVIEW: PART ONE--
RZ: Mr. Nuetzel. Authors are often asked in interviews about their influences. Well, here the question is again. What writers would you say had the strongest influence on what you wrote and how you wrote?
CAN: Gosh and golly, I'm going to appear very narrow and limited. EDGAR RICE BURROUGHS. ERB, ERB and ERB. But then there was Ray Bradbury, though not so much on the literary level as on another level. He is the first writer I ever met. He approached me in a book store asking if I'd read anything by Ray Bradbury. Apparently he noticed I was interested in Sci-Fi. I was a Sci-Fi virgin and Ray "intercoursed" me about Forry Ackerman and science fiction fandom, and about the LASFAS--the Los Angeles Science Fiction and Fantasy Society. I thus met Forry. There are other writers from the real world of literature, but I don't think they count. Plus, there aren't many. W. Somerset Maugham's The Summing Up and Call it Experience by Erskine Caldwall influenced my thinking about writing and writers. They had a very strong effect on my general thinking. But as to style of writing, I was more attracted to the commercial hacks rather than the grand literary giants. I don't suggest that this is to my credit; it is just the way things were. Being a Grand and Wonderful Literary author of the Great American Novels, or whatever, never entered my mind. All I wanted to do was write a lot of books and have a bookshelf full of them. I admired the ERBs and the Earl Stanley Gardners. I would have been happy with half their success. The commercial "hacks" were my personal "idols." But ERB, Bradbury and Forry Ackerman had the most immediate effect over my writing career.
RZ: As opposed to the techniques of actually putting words down on paper?
CAN: Yes. That came from other places.
RZ: Such as?
CAN: Outside of wanting to write. Outside of actually putting words to paper, like all would-be writers. Outside of dreaming and wishing. And reading books on writing, like the ones already mentioned. Beyond that, most writers end up being helped by some person who is already a professional. For me it was a man named E. Everett Evans, who was a professional writer who became a personal friend. It was casual until I bought the manuscript of his first book, Man of Many Minds, at my first Sci-Fi convention. There were a few pages missing so I called him and he said come on over. He hunt and pecked the three pages out right then and there for me. It was the beginning. Ev (he was known as that, though I always called him Mr. Evans--I was under 21) would give me his working drafts to read and make any written comments on that I wanted to. He also read my first serious story, "Terror by Night," which was something like 12,000 words long. He made comments like "it doesn't have a subplot," and helped me rewrite and rewrite and rewrite the damn thing. It was, naturally, never published. Nor meant to be. It was part of the normal "learning" period of writing. Of course, Forry Ackerman helped. He really worked with me once I had reached a level where an agent could consider struggling to develop a writer from beginner to professional. Boy, did he help. That first year he had to read through some 100 manuscripts. But I learned a lot of the basics from the Palmer Institute of Authorship. It was a blatantly commercial hack course on writing that taught plot and narrative hooks and such. It was cheap and two years by mail. I took it because the ads for it said A. E. Van Vogt had taken it. This was good as a way to train oneself. One of the instructors, a Sci-Fi writer who I had requested (and who stayed on for only a short time), told me privately that: while one should not take the course "too seriously" it could be helpful in developing writing skills and understanding the raw basics. He was merely admitting what seemed obvious enough: this course made more money for the "school" than it did for the "students." But it worked so well for me that I was selling long before I finished the last assignments.
RZ: What about your reading habits during your "formative" years?
CAN: I actually went through a very long period of reading nothing but Edgar Rice Burroughs. I'm what is known as a compulsive. I dive in and completely submerge myself in whatever catches my interest. With ERB, after I'd read through all the books I could get my hands on, I started over because there just weren't any more new ones around at that time. This is the period before the 1960's pocket book boom in his works. There were less than 30 of his books in print. I have two autographed books by Burroughs, both signed by the author and by his illustrator son--John Coleman Burroughs. M. Jenson, ERB's secretary for many years, told me that the books I had were the last ERB signed. He did them in the hospital when he was ill, not long before dying. I never met the man. A book store dealer got them for me. So, I started as a serious ERB fan and finally, before I stopped writing, managed to put out a few of those types of novels. They might have served as the beginning of several series, but I retired before any of that came about.
RZ: Yes, you mentioned in private exchanges with me about being retired, but also said you were working now on an article concerning the use of pen names. What do you mean by retired?
CAN: Retiring from writing is somewhat of a problem. The ability to write is always there, haunting you daily. So I carry a card in my wallet to remind me, which says: "Author-Retired." It actually works almost all the time.
RZ: Your agent during much of your writing career was Forrest Ackerman. You already mentioned meeting him through the Los Angeles Science Fiction Fan Club, but can you tell us a little about your relationship with Mr. Ackerman?
CAN: He is one of those truly nice fellows. And thousands or more people know him, and he treats them as if he remembers who they are. Obviously, you gotta work really hard to be in Forry's inner circle. I'm one of the lucky ones who has been there. But then, I wouldn't know my wife without the Forry connection. His wife, Wendy, was German. So is Brigitte. Though they met through Forry. My father did a lot of art work for Forry's art collection; plus, he has much of the stuff dad did for Sci-Fi mags. Forry was noted for being a Sci-Fi agent, collector, writer, editor. He started as a pre-teenage reader in the 20's and developed into a major early fan and collector. After World War II he decided to turn his interest and knowledge and experience into a means of making a living. Thus, the Ackerman Agency. Everything else, (i.e., Famous Monsters of Filmland and such) is aftermath, only to become a major career direction for him. As you know, he invented the term Sci-Fi, a play on the popular hi-fi. But he never really retired the Ackerman Agency during all this period. That first year as my agent he sold 24 short manuscripts from the some 100 I wrote. In the following years he sold most of the other stuff. In fact, for many years almost 99 percent of my written material was published. You certainly know the story about Ray Bradbury and his first 2 million words. He might have hated "Firemen" in his book on the subject, but he set fire to his first 2 million words so that when he was famous and dead somebody wouldn't find and publish them. I weren't so smart. I let the fools publish my stuff. If I had burned my first 2 million words I would have only had a little over that many published.
RZ: You mentioned having a twin brother, who died soon after birth. And you used his name, Albert Augustus Jr., as a pen name. How did that come about?
CAN: My father died in 1969. The Slaves of Lomooro was published after his death. I dedicated the book to my mother and used my brother's byline as a kind of double tribute. The dedication went this way: "To my mother, Betty, this first science fiction book is lovingly dedicated." It was the first Sci-Fi novel I ever wrote. I had a typical ERB ending, which got my people through their first adventures on the planet where they would be stuck forever. Because it was my first Sci-Fi book and I wasn't quite sure how I felt about it, I gave it to my "elder" brother, and thus created another pen name that I used a few more times on pocket books.
RZ: I understand that because you were making your living at writing you often had to write fast and to some very tough deadlines. What do you mean by writing fast? A novel a month? A week?
CAN: I'm gonna have fun with this question! You have hit on the very heart of the way I worked. While some people are very talented (like Ray Bradbury), who rewrite and rewrite, even after something has been published and is about to be reprinted (I actually did rewriting this way too), then there are guys like me who write under the pressure of deadlines and "hack it out as fast as possible." So, here's the basic method I used during my writing career. I suggest new writers consider this approach in some manner or other. It worked for me, and for others I know. Get ten reams of paper. (In case people have forgotten, that's about 5,000 sheets.) Start by opening ream number 1 and taking a sheet of paper and slipping it into the typewriter. Then type: Page 1 on the upper left hand corner. Then type some title like WARRIORS OF NOOMAS, drop down several double spaces and then center CHAPTER ONE, and drop down a few lines and write something. Anything that pops into your head. And then develop it into a narrative hook. After that, just keep typing away as fast as possible without looking back. Rewriting can come later, if necessary. When I started out I had a manual typewriter and managed around 4 pages an hour. When I turned to an electric with no automatic carriage return I leaped forward to around 6 pages an hour. When I went full electric with auto return I was doing something like 6-8 pages an hour, depending on how inspired I was and how the storyline was developing. I did learn to crank out the writing as fast as possible. First draft and never looked back. In some ways this wasn't too good for my reputation. It is sloppy writing, sometimes. But, on the other hand, the ability to grind out a book on deadline, giving the editors something to publish, even if they had to correct grammar and typos and stuff like that, gave me another kind of reputation that worked. Plus, editors (with a small "e" as opposed to a big "E") have to do something to learn their living. I mean, aren't editors supposed to edit? And, anyway, it gives them something to complain about. Plus, every editor is going to change copy one way or another. Makes them feel grand and important. (And, quite frankly, authors can learn a lot from their editors; many of whom are highly talented and more than willing to help beginning--and even high established--authors polish or fix or improve their "literary" output.) But first come the words, as fast as possible, onto the page. And as many pages as possible.
RZ: So, 4-8 pages an hour comes out to be...what? In words a day? Or pages a year?
CAN: Well, I could hardly put out 4-8 pages an hour, 8 hours a day, 40 days a week, could I? I never said I spent 24 hours a day writing, or 365 days a year. Writing fast means, to me, being able, when called upon, to do a 45,000-50,000 word book in a week, at about 10,000 words a day, first draft, no retyping, and as little editing as possible. It means hitting the deadline, no matter what. But it does not mean doing a book each and every week of the year. It means knowing very realistically how long it takes to write a book and not promising anything to the buyer or to yourself that you can't deliver. Then you deliver. Or you don't eat. As simple and direct as that. The long and the short is that I averaged around ten novels a year. When I finally learned something about my realistic output, I made a chart which assigned me 5 pages a day, each and every day of the year, minus two weeks for that ol' vacation time. That meant, of course, 1255 pages a year, or 7-8 books. Each day I would give myself credit for every 5 pages I did. If I wrote 30 pages then it was six days of writing, thus giving me five days off. Over the long haul of the year, I ended up doing 7.5 pages a day. That gave me something like ten books a year.
RZ: What process did you use to discipline yourself to write each day?
CAN: Whips and chains. Of course. Mike Knerr (a fellow "hack" writer who was one of Forry's clients, too) pointed out, that "we used to chain ourselves to the typewriter." Sometimes, though, it was necessary to use the whip. Other times it was necessary to simply say: Sit there and write anything that pops into your head and then continue along those lines, following one word with another, one paragraph with another. And finish what you start--no matter how difficult, no matter how terrible the results. Sometimes my huge waste basket would be filled with balled up pieces of paper. But that was, you have to remember, a loss of profits. And you gotta eat. And, like every guy and gal you gotta sit right down and do your job. The job of writing is writing. When you don't write you aren't working. That is evil. And since you don't want to be evil you force yourself to write at all costs; no matter how difficult. Rule #1: WRITERS WRITE. (And what that means for me is they write for publishers who pay cold hard cash.) When you break that rule you aren't a writer anymore. But first of all you always meet agreed upon deadlines. No matter what. The publisher doesn't care how you do it; just so you deliver.
RZ: What is about the fastest that you ever wrote a book?
CAN: David Zenter called me one Friday and asked if I might have a book to give him by Monday morning. I had started a book that day. I had learned long before with David that he was flexible about the "when" of deadlines, but in so far as making them he was unbendingly rigid. If you promised to deliver, you delivered. So I gulped and said: "Not Monday, but Tuesday." Well, by the time I had finished the first 40 pages I had written myself into a blind alley. I could not find a way out and quite obviously didn't have time to write a new forty pages. So I rushed to my friendly agent man, Forry, and screamed at the top of my voice: Help! He read the pages and suggested a new direction. That saved the day. I typed away and delivered the book. I think it was published as Passionate Trio by John Davidson. The writing of a book in one week isn't all that difficult if you kind of lock yourself in a room long enough each day to get the right amount of pages run through the typewriter. Of course, you gotta have a very clear and focused idea of where you are going. There was a four week period where I wrote four books. All of which were quickly bought. I started a fifth and when I got about halfway through it I almost picked up the typewriter and tossed it against the wall. I had had it. I had to go off to a friendly hotel and hide away with a bit of "hard" unwinding drinking. In those days I enjoyed booze, but not while writing. I had a very hard rule about that. No drinking in any way while writing. But when the writing was over for the day, that was another matter. Haven't touched the stuff for some 21 years.
RZ: But you drank quite a bit during the years that you were writing those hundred or so books. How did you keep the drinking and the writing separate?
CAN: Early on my style developed, insofar as hard writing and "hard" drinking, when I got a "pad" of my own. I stocked up on enough booze, wine, beer, and hard liquor, to cover the next six months or so. I had a VA pension check coming in monthly which supplied just enough money to deal with the bare basic expenses. What I brought in from writing would offer the "goodies." But booze was something one needed to survive; and mostly, at night, to "turn off" the mind. This was my schedule: Get up and write. Write until it was too hot to continue, then have some drinks while listening to Dave Brubeck or Sinatra. I would continue to "unwind" until sleep slipped over consciousness. Then I'd get up the next morning and start all over again. This took place daily, seven days a week. And it meant something like 10,000 words a day. Much of my stuff, I now realize, was done on what one could consider a hangover, which was seldom felt. Once a week I had some buddies come over for an evening of drinks and conversation. For the most part this drinking was "controlled" and managed to not go much beyond "high." Or so I believed. To some degree, this pattern of using booze to unwind, turn off my mind, was a very active part of my professional writing career. I managed to manage the drinking, and kept it sectioned off to [non-writing] hours. Though this might sound like I was walking around half stoned, that just ain't the facts. I smoked more than I drank: 3 packs a day. And, of course, while I didn't drink all the time I smoked, I certainly smoked while I was drinking. The point about drinking is that the roller coaster ride that writing demands, the total dedication, the total obsessive focus, the exhaustive use of everything, makes it necessary to turn yourself off at night. Actually, I did a pretty good job; never got into any real trouble; was a "safe" driver. But then, I never left the garage, either. Well, that ain't quite so. But I'd learned not to drive drunk. A tiny bit high, now and then, but, heck, fellows, you gotta give a good guy a break. And, anyway, this ain't no "drunk a log." Enough to say that not everybody that drinks finds it necessary, sometime along the way, to stop. For the "normal" drinker the issue of "controlling" their drinking doesn't even exist. But for compulsives, like me, there comes a time where you stop or end up brain dead or really dead. I didn't want to kill any more brain cells than was necessary. There came a time where I had to stop the downhill slide before it really got out of control. But that's another million stories.
RZ: I understand that you knew Robert Bloch, of Psycho fame.
CAN: Actually Dad came to know him casually, at first. The editors of Amazing Stories and Fantastic Stories managed a couple of collaborations between Dad and Bloch. They assigned Robert Bloch the job of creating stories around a couple of Dad's covers. I remember how the two of them had their picture taken together at one of Forry's parties. But for me, I think the most interesting event that took place with Bloch was at the 20th Century Plaza, at a party that Galaxy magazine was giving for writers. They had finger food and plenty of champagne, and a little social fun. Well, the champagne flowed. There was the general mix of beginning and established Sci-Fi writers, and the stars like Ray Bradbury and Robert Bloch who told a story about Ray which was really funny. The event they talked about was when Ray was a young fan and Bob a famous writer. So here they were at a party at Bloch's home and Ray apparently managed to really feel his drinks a bit more than he should have. His host felt he should stay overnight. So what'd they do? They put him to bed. But there was a catch. He woke the next morning to find himself with a major hangover. In a strange bedroom. In a strange bed. In a bed with a woman. And the woman was Bob Bloch's wife. One can only imagine what went through this young fan's mind. Or the scream of open horror as he leaped out of that there bed. Ray and Bob told this story with glee and delight. Of course, Robert Bloch was famous for his dry humor.
RZ: Did you ever talk to Robert Bloch about writing?
CAN: Well, at one point I was sitting on the floor with him and some other writers. And we were talking about, guess what, writing. I don't know how it came about, but I related how I had written a book in three days and the price I paid for it. Bloch pointed out that the problem was: when you do a book in three days you think you have to do a book every three days. That point stuck with me.
RZ: You mentioned something to me once about a tale of "seven titles; seven stories," involving you and Forry. Could you retell that tale here?
CAN: I had been at a party one Saturday evening. Forry was there. As a gag, he took a small cocktail napkin (by the way he never drinks booze, never has) and wrote down seven pun titles like "Suddenly Lust Summer" and handed them to me as story ideas. I left the party that night and flippantly said: "Seven titles, seven stories. See you Monday morning." And as a "gag" I beat the typewriter until I had seven stories to deliver and there I was Monday morning at his doorstep, envelope crammed with the required number of completed manuscripts. That really impressed him. It was a great gag. And he actually sold most of them, if not all. As a result of all this, a month or so later Forry called me saying: "Publisher Dave Zenter needs a book rapid fast. And considering those seven titles, seven stories, I thought you might want to try your hand on a novel. He would need to see 20,000 words in one week. Interested?" I pointed out rather bluntly that I'd never done a book before. He suggested I try it. Well, it worked this way. I ran 34-45 pages through the typewriter each day, hand delivered the unread first draft to Forry and called the next morning to say: "How's it going." "Just fine, keep up the good work," says he. I had the total first draft finished in that week. Later I had to do a second draft, but heck-a-roo, what do you want? It was, after all, my first novel. But it sold. It was published as Hot Cargo by John Davidson (before the singer).
RZ: You were saying that your father was an illustrator, and did some covers for science fiction magazines and pocket books. Was he a Sci-Fi fan?
No. A commercial
artist who got talked into doing covers as a favor
to his son. I did an article about Dad, titled "Dreamer of Tomorrow,"
in the first issue of the "all slick" Vertex. While I titled it
of Tomorrow," it was a slant job because he wasn't really all that
in science fiction or fantasy. He did the first covers [for me] because
I wanted a Sci-Fi cover and couldn't afford to buy one. I did the
of it and sold it to Ray Palmer who used it on Science Stories. Palmer
asked for an autobiography and I was the one who wrote it, as if it
by Dad. Later, when the editors of Vertex learned that I was Dad's son,
and a writer, they asked for an article about him. They published black
and white reproductions of his cover art, using as the opening his
to my Images of Tomorrow. Seldom does a son get the chance to do
like that for his father. Dad, sadly, was not alive at that time. He
a couple of weeks before man landed on the moon. Dad was not a cover
by nature. What he did in this field was in many cases collaborations
me, right from the start. We learned the cover business together. I
several of his covers that went on Amazing Stories and Fantastic
Many, of course, he came up with all by himself. But he wasn't a Sci-Fi
fan. He was a very professional artist who could do what was necessary
to meet requirements. He'd been working in the motion picture business
for most of his life. Dad always said that you should be commercial; he
had contempt for the artist that lived in an attic painting for
"Arty Poo stuff" was not his style. He was very fast and quite good.
In any case, the story of my father and me is a story about love. He
a quiet man who expressed himself with a paint brush. We worked
in the cover work; we loved one another. And I got the chance to write
RZ: At first as a professional you wrote mostly short stories--that first 100 manuscripts--then suddenly turned to novels and sold the very first one. On assignment, too. How did you make that transition so easily?
CAN: Well, as noted, I had learned how to deal with short manuscripts. With this first novel I had to come up with a method that would work--somehow. In fact it worked so good I continued using it, in various ways, for most of my books. Of course, like all "tricks" it implies less than it really is. The trick was to simplify the method into an easy to understand plan of operation. Instead of following the rule of starting a story and finishing it in something like 12 pages, I now went about writing incomplete stories, one after another. I called these "Chapters," which led to the final climax: a completed "short story." In other words, I developed a "trick" way of writing books: Write a series of incidents that lead up to a "short story." I've told this to other professional writers, only to be shot down, or at best answered with: "an interesting idea." But, quite frankly, most novel writers think this is too simple, not complete, misleading and "nice" words to that effect. And, of course, they are right. One has to consider subplots and multiple storylines and themes that all must come together by the end to be tied up into a neat little package offering all the answers to all the questions. A novel gives the writer more space to move around in; more areas to explore; and more places to say more things of importance to the writer. But, no matter what, the basic concept is to write incomplete stories and call them "Chapters." Each Chapter has a storyline arc and the questions normally raised in a story, without the final "answer" that a story would have. The Chapters, in turn, form peaks and valleys along the plot line that brings the reader, finally, to a concluding climax that can, for our purposes, be considered a "complete" short story that ties everything, finally and at last, together.
RZ: Do you have a favorite book from among your own works? In other words: What book or books of your's do you remember most fondly?
CAN: I think the short answer to your question is probably: Images of Tomorrow and the Noomas books [Warriors of Noomas & Raiders of Noomas] and Swordmen of Vistar and Whodunit? Hollywood Style. Probably in that order. Images of Tomorrow was a selection of my "better" Sci-Fi short stories; and the short novel The Ersatz was included. It had my father's last cover for one of my own books. And it was probably his best. "The Nova Incident" and "The World the Womb Made" were also in this collection. The first was a poke in the eye at hardline Presidents, war, and politics, and I got exactly the effect I wanted. "Womb" is, perhaps, my favorite story in that I really did a number on the people who follow the rule books. WOMB meant "World Operational Mechanical Brain," and it knew EVERYTHING about everybody so that it could supply all your needs even before you knew you needed something. WOMB did everything for you. Only, our hero was a man who wanted to make his own decisions, even if they were wrong. As to others. There are books I like for strange reasons: Jungle Nymph because that was an updated ERB type female "Tarzan" story. There was Sex Queen, which was done in three days. And, of course, the Noomas books. And Swordmen of Vistar. I really wanted to continue with the adventures of Torlo Hannis [from the Noomas books]. And I wanted to continue with the Thoris series [the character from Swordmen]. Then there is the unpublished book The Wall Book. Completely uncommercial. But a personal kick in the head. If I ever get it polished, and/or in some shape, I'd love to find a small publisher and a good illustrator who wanted to publish a "small" fairy-tale satire for adults. But, of course, that won't happen.
RZ: You mentioned reading a lot of ERB when you were younger, and that as soon as you finished all of his books that were in print you started reading them over again. Makes it sound like you were a compulsive reader. Is that the case?
CAN: Yes, then, I was a compulsive reader who wanted to be a writer, and became a compulsive writer who drove himself. But things do change.
RZ: In what way?
CAN: After I started writing full time I read other writer's fiction only as required in order to know what the publisher wanted. I didn't have the time to read for pleasure. Plus, I was exhausted after a day of struggling with the typewriter and staring at the wall. You know, those bloody terrible periods between typing sessions which are, in effect, both the most active creative period, and also the deadest. Typewriter time is just placing ideas and words to paper; first you have to develop the ideas. That's what I call staring at the wall. By evening I wanted to escape in booze, TV, or Jazz. Even Robert Bloch told me that he didn't read fiction any more, only fact. By the end of my writing professionally I started reading about the history of the universe. I figured it was time to get a better education. I began with the Big Bang and worked my way forward though time. All that ancient history was quite exciting. But the closer I came to written "history" the less interested I was. It becomes sad when you know too much about ancient civilizations. The less you knew about the details the more your imagination can fill in the blanks. Then, around the opening of the Christian Era I simply burned out on that, too. Another cold hard point: The more I wrote the more I understood what the writer was doing or where the story was going. If the writer was very, very good, I didn't want to be exposed to it and be depressed to the point that I would never write again because I weren't no damn good! Today, reading is something I am relearning. But it is on the Internet. And not fiction. If I turned to enjoying the fiction experience it would be for professional purposes, not pleasure. That's part of the price tag [of being a writer]. Right now I get my "fictional" experience through movies and TV. I know. Horrible. I know, a book of fiction has more to say. And in fiction the writer can offer deeper insights. So? Oh, hell, I've been through that. I know how it works. I realize the writer is not God, just some jerk like me trying to make a fast buck. No matter how educated and literary. The fact of the matter is that we're all human; we all, so to speak, have to put our legs into our pants one at a time. We all love, eat, have sex. We all exist and we all dream. And die. Sure some minds are better than others, some talents greater than others. But, in the end, it is ego or money or mere necessity of one kind or another that drives the writer to put words on paper. And as for the writers with great and true talent, I don't wanna know about them. That hurts too much. I'm sticking my tongue through my cheek a bit here, but I won't tell where it actually protrudes and where it is all illusion.
RZ: Why did you quit writing?
CAN: Well, to be truthful, when it comes to writing I take it too seriously to lie. But I do have a viewpoint, and a bias. And the experience. This all drove me to the point where I decided that if I had anything more to say--in print--it will be on my terms or not at all. I've not been writing for some years; I have not been published for some years. But then, I don't drink Martinis and edit manuscripts that make me wanna vomit. Either. When I got to the point where booze was necessary to edit some of my stuff, where it weren't no fun to add just one more book to a shelf-full of books, where the payoff in thrills and whatever reached the point of diminishing returns...I simply stopped! I stopped drinking, stopped smoking. I decided I'd never write anything that I didn't want to write. If I couldn't sell it my way, forget it. Thus the rumor that Charles Nuetzel had died came about. And in some strange way that was, kinda, a half-truth.. Clearly, I had burned out at one level and was not willing to pay the price to make another giant step upwards. And, of course, markets change. But my attitude changed at this point. The facts are: I simply didn't care enough to work that hard, simply to continue repeating what I had already done. I really was burned out. But only after a five million words run. I got to the point where I couldn't look at the typewriter without having problems--I learned to hate the monster, as I thought of it. I simply hung up the typewriter. Better than throwing it against the wall, which had been a temptation many a day. You call it a day before the day calls you into the grave.
RZ: So, would you say that the "process" by which you wrote broke down?
CAN: That's exactly the right word. The process of writing broke down over a period of years. It is difficult to tell the difference between a dry spell and a dried up period, or the end is near kind of thing. As I continued NOT writing and learned how to hate the typewriter and consider it a monster, I suddenly realized I was breaking rule #1: WRITERS WRITE. That is why, by the way, on my "card" I have author retired. Not "writer" retired. An author is somebody who has "authored" a book; a writer is somebody who is active in writing. When I started writing to please myself rather than please the paying market I stopped being commercially viable. I stopped being a professional. But there were other things going on in my life. Mid-life crisis, perhaps. I think I had about said everything there was to say on the level and subject I had been covering for so many years. Perhaps, for the period, I was finished. But it took a long time to realize this truth and even longer to accept it. Writing is like filling one's self full of a vast and wonderful feast, then burning it up in energy and getting rid of the waste product--in this case on the printed page. Then you have to refill yourself. Once you have emptied your guts, you gotta load them up again. Sometimes it takes time to find the "food" and convert it into new, interesting, exciting ideas. You gotta catch your breath. Sometimes the "catching" takes longer than you expected. Sometimes you can pick up the chain and lock yourself to the typewriter. Sometimes you gotta get away. And you finally learn that you have reached the end. That's what happened I think. For then.
RZ: Do you think you'll ever take up the typewriter seriously again?
CAN: And toss it against wall? No. I have a computer, now, anyway.
RZ: Well, put another way: is there more writing in Charles Nuetzel's future?
bloody computer contraption with its multiple
word processors, such a question is difficult to answer completely in
negative. Maybe the long dry spell might be ending now; perhaps I'll
playing with a few words here and there. If I'm lucky something useful
will magically arrange itself on the word processor and I'll find it
not to submit it for publication somewhere. But such an idea isn't as
as it once was, in the beginning. I would have to do it for fun. I am
certain how much fun it is. Perhaps I'll find out in the near future.
Razored Zen Interview: Here's part two of the interview that I started
last time. This deals more with the publishing rather than the
RZ: Can you tell us about your involvement with Powell Publications, which printed many of your Science Fiction and Fantasy books under its Powell Sci-Fi imprint? Powell was also a publisher of various adult works. Did you do much writing for their adult line?
CAN: Bill Trotter [founder of Powell Books] was an elderly man, small, nice fellow. He'd been in the distribution business for years, connected to, among others, Playboy. He had developed personal contacts with wholesalers across the nation. He came out west and made a deal with a guy we will call Richard, which was his first name. They created Venice Books, which did adult books of a "factual" nature. Richard did the publishing/packaging side and Bill set up the distribution. Richard bought the books, the art, and put it all together for the printer. He also paid his authors immediately on delivery. In fact, I developed a deal where he sent me a check a week, each and every week, and I'd walk into the office to deliver a book before the last check was due. I did some twenty books [for them] under the Carson Davis byline. They were supposed to be "true case histories" concerning men's and women's sexual experiences and problems. Well, in any case, I went to the offices of Venice and it was here I met Bill Trotter, who, being a very social fellow, invited me into his private office. This was around 1968, and by now I knew something about the editorial end of publishing. I had sold Dad's cover, and had ended up packaging, in 1964, the Scorpion books (the books with a sting), eight in all, two a month. I had done a book called If This Goes On, in which I collected stories from Richard Matheson, Isaac Asimov, Fredric Brown, Fritz Leiber, Willy Ley, Donald Wollheim, and A. E. Van Vogt. With an introduction by Forry Ackerman. Also, a long story by Marion Zimmer Bradley. And a story by Ray Bradbury which the publishers "screwed" up by not including it inside the book, though it was mentioned on the cover. Well, back to Bill Trotter, pre-Powell Books. We talked and he revealed plans for forming a company of his own. In the very near future. So I casually said I'd be interested and made a point of mentioning my past experience. Especially the book packaging stuff and the Sci-Fi anthology. So he took my name and phone number, saying he'd be in contact soon. Sure, said I, hopefully, fingers crossed. I forgot about it. Around six months later he called and said he was now publishing, and did I have anything for him. I believe we met that very day and talked a deal. I ended up walking out with total control of the "packages." I'd deliver the manuscripts and art and coverlines to the printer. I'd get paid on delivery (though later that worked out to a check a week on account). The first time around I showed him everything in advance, as a kind of "sales pitch" to reassure him that everything would meet his approval. After that he never saw anything until it was already printed and bound. The deal was two books a month, reprints which at first I sexed up to meet current market demands.
RZ: How did you start selling Powell your science fiction/fantasy work?
CAN: The deal with Bill was, among other things, the following: When he started doing quality books I'd be given total control of the Sci-Fi line. After all, I could offer named authors, via Forry Ackerman's personal connections and through his agency. If This Goes On proved my ability to deliver the names. So. Bingo! I came up with the Powell Sci-Fi title/line. My approach was this: since he wasn't paying that much money (and certainly not the going market rate) I would have to "con" the writers into giving me some half-way good stuff. I had to come up with a package that offered more than fast bucks. And there the partnership with dad would be a real double payoff. I wanted to get big name writers, so this was the deal. They were consulted on the cover and got the original art to have and hold till death do them part. For this they give Powell a one year exclusive on a book. I got A.E. Van Vogt, Donald Wollheim. I would have added L. Ron Hubbard given time. In order to afford to make this deal with Powell work I tossed in some of my original, newly written, books at the going price. Thus, Swordmen of Vistar came into being, as well as Images of Tomorrow, and the Noomas and Lomooro books. And then there was a man name Forrest J Ackerman. I added things like Science Fiction Worlds of Forrest J. Ackerman & Friends, which was an original collection, which we planned on following up with sequels. Plus a line of books that would be called FORREST J ACKERMAN PRESENTS... The first being Invasion of Mars, a "sequel" to the H.G. Wells book War Of the Worlds. I did the first twelve Powell Sci-Fi books. In 1969 I was a busy guy, and I think some forty-five books came out. Some of these were, of course, books I wrote for other publishers (like the Carson Davis books). The Powell Sci-Fi line was, bluntly put, a closed market. Period! Even Forry would not make a deal with them without me. It was all rather neat. I had Powell tied up from their end; I had Forry to supply me with anything and any connections I needed. That meant getting stuff from authors he didn't even represent. About this time I was handed another packaging deal from a different publisher that lasted for four books; this deal meant buying sex books from writers like Pete Crowcroft and Philip Jose Farmer, along with one by Stu Byrne. All, of course, under bylines. Farmer's manuscript wasn't released by me, but resold to another "adult" publisher.
RZ: Talking about "adult" fiction, how did it change during this period? The 1960s was a turning point, wasn't it? Since you were "there" so to speak, and part of the forces behind the scenes, could you tell us something concerning your experiences?
CAN: Hardly a force. But certainly I was there to see how things changed. And I had a great inside viewpoint.
RZ: Could you tell us something about those changes?
CAN: Well, when I started writing seriously, in 1960, Forry, you see, had told me where the "new pulp" markets were [after the original pulps died]. The girlie magazines. This market, as it turned out, especially at the beginning, was a neat way to get published while learning your craft. Just put in the required sexual teases and you were in. Then you could spout off on any subject that fit. Especially at book length. You could write about anything you wanted, do a mystery, adventure, western, contemporary, or Sci-Fi novel. I did only one Sci-Fi sex book. This was published as Lovers: 2075 by Charles English. It was expanded from a story entitled "The Ersatz"--finally reprinted in Images of Tomorrow. Fred Pohl, then editor of Galaxy Science Fiction and the Hugo Award winning IF, had made some very nice editorial comments on the original story, saying he had almost bought it. But an "almost" is just another way of saying: no sale, for now. (Some years later I sold him a story which he had rejected in a much longer form--"A Day for Dying.") So, under the pressure of deadlines I expanded the 17,000 or so word novella into a novel length work for Scorpion Books. Even in this form, Lovers: 2075 was so tame I let it be released in Europe under my own name. The "sex" market in the early days was just about as daring as them thar romantic books for female teenagers. The romantic books for more mature women are porno compared to what we wrote in the early 60's. The books we did had to have the proper sexual tease. You had to offer the required sex scene very so many pages...like every 20 pages the curtain had to be dropped on two lovers. You could use lines like "They were lifted upwards into the heaven in a thrust of fiery passion... etc." Colorful stuff but not very graphic. But things change. And we were told to keep the focus on sexual content throughout the book as much as possible. Then later, much later, the four letter words started creeping in until they finally took over. Then it became the orgasm on the first page and you built from there across 200 pages to a climax. Just typing the stuff was crappy enough. That's when martini time arrived. When I got to the point where I was proofing/editing first draft books with a martini instead of a cup of coffee, I figured it was time to stop drinking or stop writing in a sex market that had changed from "spicy" anything to just the orgasms all the way. I had never been a compulsive reader of the "adult" fiction; it was something I had to write for a living. And over the years things had changed to the point where it was even difficult to monitor the news stands for copies of my own current book.
CAN: Well, yes. Even in the beginning with the girlie mags I felt a little timid haunting that section of the news stands every delivery day. I kept thinking people were staring at me a bit strangely. What are you supposed to say to somebody giving you the "evil" eye? "Hey, I don't read this stuff, I only write it. I just wanna make sure the damn publisher isn't trying to slip one over without paying me for it." Fact of the matter is: When dealing with even the better publishers you didn't always get copies of your book, so you bought them from the news stands with whatever spending money you might have in your pockets. And you never knew when a publisher might simply go out of business. Even people like Bill Trotter, who was very up front and fast at paying, had to fold the tent.
RZ: When did Powell Publications fold their tent?
CAN: Around 1970-71, thereabouts. There was a recession which cut into the trucking industry, and I do believe their "strike" country wide was enough to buckle Powell Publication's back. They [Powell] were under the pressure of getting the books out so they could get the money in to pay the bills. If the books didn't get sold then the checks didn't come in. If memory serves, it breaks down to something like this: About a third (based on total number of copies agreed on) of the payment from the bookstores comes in when things start, then another third after a period of months, then the final payment something like six months later. If the books don't sell something like 60 percent (which is, I think, the break even point), then you end up owing the other guy. If the books sell well, then you get what is considered the publisher's profits. In other words, the final payment will determine profit or loss. And if you are working on a "string of shoes" you is in big trouble. The time between delivery of books and the final payment can break the back of a tight budget. Electric companies and phone companies don't care about your problems concerning cash flow. And if the books are not being delivered by the truckers any certain month, that delay can cripple a short cash flow. Many a publisher hit the printing dust in this manner. Powell Publications, all things considered, had a pretty good run. And if that trucker strike hadn't happened...
RZ: While packaging for Powell Books, I understand, you actually put out a book by Harlan Ellison. How was that as an experience?
CAN: Actually pretty nice. He was very professional. I wanted a picture of him for the cover, since the book dealt with some of his experiences with LA gangs. This was Memos From Purgatory. I don't know the details of how I went about making the first contact. Though I had met him in the oddest places. Like outside of Forry's Ackermansion. Like conventions, or banquets, or the local magazine stand in Sherman Oaks, which I had been going to for years. He didn't live very far from it. Though the professional contact was probably by phone. He is very approachable. Nice fellow, really. [He] has some problems with Forry Ackerman, for reasons I do not understand. But that's Harlan. Great writer. RZ: I understand that you almost published his Gentleman Junkie. Can you tell us about that?
CAN: Sure. That was a large collection of stories. I could only offer so much money per book and decided to suggest splitting the book into two volumes. I was at his home/office while he did the Introduction for the 2nd edition of Memos From Purgatory for me, at my request/suggestion. I made my offer for Gentleman Junkie as he walked through the living room where I waited. I suggested a slightly reduced rate, which was greater than doing it in one volume, and which would have given me a little profit for my time. I was doing Memos at a "loss"--no profit--for quality credit. Well Harlan, being the sweet guy he is, simply countered with the full price, without so much as a pause in his rush through the room.
RZ: During this time you almost published a book about Boris Karloff that never came off. What happened?
CAN: The day that Karloff died I immediately called Forry, He was doing Famous Monsters of Filmland and was the perfect person to do a book on Karloff. I wanted to put one out, instantly, a high quality one at high speed, and I called Forry. He said: "yes." Then I called Bill Trotter. He said he'd check it out. I figure we'd do a great cover with a close up of Karloff's head and probably call the book "Karloff." We were talking about putting a book out in a week, writing-wise, written by a guy who could wing it, rapid fire, on somebody he loved and admired. I wanted a serious book on the man, the kind Forry would want to do. Illustrated with photos and such. Bill Trotter came back with the fact that the wholesalers didn't know who Karloff was, other than a "has-been" actor. The book died, for me, there. Later, Forry sold it to Ace (FORREST J ACKERMAN presents... Boris Karloff the Frankenscience Monster) and it was dedicated to quite a list of people, including me and Bill Trotter. My personal copy is signed: "For Charlie Nuetzel--without whose encouragement & efforts this book might very well have remained in the realm of unwrought things. Thanks Forry."
RZ: Did you ever have any difficulties getting copies of your own books from Powell?CAN: Well, not from the publisher. And I could find copies all over the place on news stands in Southern California. And this was, apparently, true for most of the nation. But not in Ventura County and my own town of Thousand Oaks, California.
RZ: You mean people couldn't buy copies of your books in your own county and own home town? How did that happen?
CAN: That's what I wondered. Here we were with national distribution and I couldn't find anything in my own county. In the counties to the north and south, yes. But not in Ventura. So I went to Powell Publications in Los Angles county, around half an hour drive south. I mentioned [the problem] to Bill Trotter and he immediately got the wholesaler in Ventura County on the line and talked for some time. The problem was that the first books he had sent, a few months back, hadn't sold well enough and the distributor wasn't interested in putting more Powell Books on the stands. The wholesaler has that power of God over publisher and author. The damage was done. So, for any ego-boo I had to go outside of my county to see my books on the stands.
RZ: Speaking of ego boosts. Didn't you at one point have a book that outsold the Powell Book by A. E. Van Vogt?
CAN: Swordmen of Vistar, the first Powell Sci-Fi release, outsold the Van Vogt and E. Mayne Hull (Van Vogt's wife) book Out of the Unknown. In fact, Powell considered Swordmen a winner and planned on re-releasing it as "Thoris from 30,000 BC," and have me do sequels. They had Bill Hughes do the cover which was printed up and sent out as PR. I was lucky enough to get a copy.
RZ: The Sci-Fi anthology you edited had the rather intriguing title of If This Goes On. Can you tell us a little about this anthology? How'd it come about and how did you get the idea for it?
CAN: Well, this starts back to a time before I was even a professional writer. It involves the story "The Test" by Richard Matheson, when it originally appeared in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction. I was so impressed with the story that not only did I remember it over the years, I came up with an idea for a TV series because of it. This went no further than a storyboard my father designed for me, and the concept. The storyboard is somewhere in the garage, I imagine, but I used the concept for the collection. My idea was to take a trend of today and have it extrapolated into a story of the future. If This Goes On was "designed" to sell Sci-Fi to the non-believer. I wanted people like my family to find the stories and ideas reasonably sound, making a social comment and hitting home in a way that even non Sci-Fi readers would be emotionally moved, and intellectually challenged. I wanted the book to sell Sci-Fi as sound, interesting, and serious fiction, but with a social bite. That's why I actually turned down more stories than I used. I simply would not pick a story that didn't make a social point in a particular manner which would appeal to the general reader, rather than the fan. There were quite a few I might have picked for a more sophisticated Sci-Fi audience. "The Test" was truly a starting point and that's why I put it up front, first story.
RZ: I understand that Ray Bradbury was willing to let you have one of his stories for the collection almost as a gift. Considering what he could have commanded on the open market, how did this come about?
CAN: It had to do with the movie King of Kings. It had to do with my father, Albert Augustus Nuetzel, who as a commercial artist worked for the company that did the screen credits and optical effects for this--and many another--film. It had to do with Bradbury, who was hired to do a rewrite on the script of King of Kings. It goes this way. In visiting Dad at work I saw or was shown the glass title on which was lettered a screen credit to the effect that Ray Bradbury had done some rewrite work on the script. For whatever reasons, the writer of the original script had the power to nix author's credits on the screen and Bradbury's name was yanked off the titles. I quickly said to Dad: "Think that you could get this for Bradbury?" Dad checked it out with his boss, Larry Glickman, and it was a go. I called Forry, who is a lifelong personal friend of Bradbury's. I told him the facts and asked if he thought Ray would be interested. Forry checked and found out he was. So, the glass title was delivered to Forry, who delivered it to Bradbury. Shortly, Dad and I received copies of Bradbury pocket books autographed by Ray. Well, just jump a few years and I wanted a story by Ray Bradbury for my collection, and wrote him. I got the following answer--it is dated Nov. 4, 1964. "Dear Charlie: Of course I remember you! And I have the nice clear huge pane of glass on display in my home basement office with the King of Kings screenplay credit to prove it." He went on to suggest several possible stories I might use. The deal was made, in which he didn't in the least question the rate of pay I was offering, which was--I have very good reason to believe--well below his going price. We ended up with a pocket book with Ray Bradbury's name on the cover but no story by him inside.
RZ: How in the world did that happen?
CAN: In short: Book Company of America was going under and keeping it secret from everybody. Their cash flow was creating problems. Apparently. Normally they would give you the proofs to read. On If This Goes On, after I delivered the editorial copy, they kept delaying. What was happening behind the scenes was the book was set up, printed and released before everybody was paid. I didn't know about this until I saw the book on the stands. I blew up. I went directly to their offices in Beverly Hills. The irony of the whole story is that the publishers knew nothing about science fiction. But they did know the Bradbury name and basically said: "If you can get him, we have a deal." The book, as every dedicated Nuetzel fan must know, had names like A. E. Van Vogt, Fritz Leiber, Fredric Brown, Isaac Asimov. But no Ray Bradbury. If I had been given the proofs I'd have caught the mishap. By their playing a sneeky cheapy, trying to put something over on me, they shot themselves in the head. I got my Bradbury story in the French edition of If This Goes On, so things worked out OK for me.
RZ: What about some of the other stories that made it into the If This Goes On collection? Any other interesting tales?
CAN: There was one titled "No Land of No" by Sherwood Springer. The concept was startling: What happens to the human race if the last two people on Earth are brother and sister? I asked Forry to get the story for me, but upon rereading it I discovered it was out of date. Times had changed. So I asked Forry if the author could update it. This was simply a matter of changing a few lines. What surprised and actually kind of thrilled me was Forry's instructions to go ahead and fix it myself. Here I was being told to "revise" a story written and published when I was a teenage fan. Years later when I met Sherwood Springer, we talked about the "changes" and I learned he was quite pleased with what I'd done. Another interesting sidebar concerned Van Vogt's "The Earth Killers." I wanted the Van Vogt name, but the story didn't quite fit my rigid rules of acceptance. I asked Forry if Van Vogt could fix it to fit the anthology's theme. The result was my getting a tear sheet copy into which had been cut and pasted the revisions that gave the story the social impact to fit my book. Only a true professional would handle matters this way. Van Vogt was one of the Big Five in Sci-Fi. Yet, he was willing to make the changes. And he was doing me more of a favor than the other way around; quite obviously.
RZ: Did you turn down any big name writers for that anthology?
CAN: I had a very hardline attitude about dialect. If it was difficult to read I didn't want it. One of the stories Forry offered had this problem. Too much dialect. So I simply tossed it merrily aside, considering it "not very professional." When I told Forry about rejecting it as being a bit amateurish, he laughed and asked: "Do you know whose pen name this is?" I, naturally, had no idea. It was Donald A. Wollheim. It was this kind of editorial bias and slant and policy restrictions that also kept out an otherwise fine and dandy Harlan Ellison story. The only one that the publishers, for their own reasons, nixed that I wanted to include was one by Edmond Hamilton.
RZ: You've talked about your work in adult line books, but did you ever write any "adult" sword and sorcery or sword and planet stories? Do you know of any books like that ever coming out? Or who might have written them?
CAN: When I started out writing in 1960 I had a theory that sex and Sci-Fi didn't mix. That doesn't mean they can't. Simply, from a commercial point of view, people who read Sci-Fi didn't, then, read sex books, and the reverse was true, too. (I broke my rule only that once, as mentioned before. Other than a few Sci-Fi stories for the girlie magazines, including one for Adam, which I included in Images of Tomorrow--"Planet of the Love Feast.") Now as to Sword and Sorcery and sex. I think the same rules existed at the time I was fully active. Plus, I wouldn't have wasted my talents in doing such a book in a throwaway market when I could aim at the real market and use my own name. But the short answer to your question would be "No." I don't know any books that were published in the field. But that don't mean nothin'. I didn't have the time to read the stuff; even if I had wanted to.
RZ: Do you have any opinion on the field of modern fantasy? I'm talking about such writers as Robert Jordan, Charles de Lint, Tad Williams, and Mercedes Lackey. Or is it something you read very often?
CAN: Not really. But then I haven't read any of them. As to opinions on the field of modern fantasy, or what it should be--that is a different matter. I at one point actually started what would have become a really hardline Sword and Sci-Fi series, ERB type, brought up to date, and where the hero had sex. There wasn't any really graphic stuff. But it was a matter of giving real balls to a super hero. I created a hero who was raised in a tribe of desert nomads, where survival was very difficult. And sex was a normal part of growing up. In the first book (which should have been considered merely background covering his childhood bio) I was detailing the hero's harsh life as a child and young warrior. With this kind of background it was obvious that when our hero got captured by city state royalty and pushed into arenas or the arms of a beautiful, passionate maiden, he would conquer and take. [As for modern fantasy,] I think we could take a Tarzan and John Carter type and make them more sexually realistic. When ERB wrote these books they reflected the "public" morality of the times. But public morality has never reflected reality in any way. So the attitudes of the then Tarzan and John Carter, were, for their time, okay. But now, I believe, it is realistic that when the evil queen spreads out a delicious menu of sexual goodies before the noble savage hero, he should be, at least, tempted, or in some cases highly involved in feasting on them (though not necessarily in graphic detail). Just, at least, please, a human, normal response beyond the crushing to the chest of his "mate." Those guys were real chest crushers. One wonders how they ended up having kids. I think the modern field has updated the sexual responses of the heroes. Which is all for the good.
RZ: You did do some ghost writing too, didn't you? Can you tell us about that?
CAN: I wrote a book for a rich guy who wanted an idea of his turned into a book by "him." I got paid well. I told him up front there was no promise of publication. Forry, who is perhaps the most moral and ethical guy I know, in and out of the business, said to go ahead and do the book. There are really a lot of great lines in the book. And it has one of the best scenes I have ever written: it is twelve pages or so that says something I wanted to say about has-been movie actresses and the price of a comeback. There are other things I really liked about the book. One cannot put that many words on paper without something good appearing out of the blue. But...alas, it was not really a commercial idea. I don't know what he did with it. I got a nice bit of money, half on starting, half on finishing. I wanted to cut the book in half, but the client wanted a long book and was happy with just a few changes. For many reasons it was a very difficult book to write. What should have taken no more than, say, 4-6 months, at most, took a year. He wanted 500+ pages and got them. I was also called by a woman who Forry sent my way, and offered hard cash to write a book she wanted written. She had plenty of money. I simply, nicely, turned her down. I didn't have the stomach to take the money and run.
RZ: Why did you say no to her project when you had ghosted a book before?
CAN: I could claim I just didn't feel comfortable "ghosting" something that probably wouldn't have a chance in hell of getting published, simply because the "concept" was not commercial. But I believe more powerful issues were dominate. The most important problem, though I failed to see it as this at the time, was: I'd reached total burnout. It took some years to accept that. What's the difference between a "dry spell," a "dead period," and a completely washed out, finished, done and over with point of no return? They all feel the same. But now I considered the typewriter a monster that sat on my desk, taunting and torturing me. Put another way: a friend suggested, one afternoon, that "burn out" was when somebody would rather go fishing. I hated fishing; I had, in fact, never really gone fishing. I didn't even like eating fish. Let alone catching them, just for the "fun" of it. Yet, when the idea of going fishing was more exciting than writing...I somehow got the point. Only then did I decide to "retire," and I found that decision, though to some degree an illusion, workable. It got me past the point where I didn't have to argue with myself.
RZ: You mentioned that some of your work has been published in foreign editions. Can you tell us anything about that?
CAN: There were fifty or sixty. I don't remember how many, and feel too lazy to count them. The most important ones to me were translations of If This Goes On, Lovers: 2070, and Whodunit Hollywood Style, the last published in hardcover editions in Dutch and French; along with a couple of my early sex books which were about the Hollywood scene, under my own name. Then there was the Carson Davis Report On Sexuality. I liked this project for many reasons; especially since it kind of capped the Carson Davis books off in a nice way. A rather pointed story about how deals are sometimes made.
RZ: Do you want to tell us about that?
CAN: Well, I learned that the Dutch/French hardcover publisher of Whodunit was going to publish a "sex" line. I said to the Dutch agent: "Wait. Do I have a deal for you." Or something like that. I'd had most of the Carson Davis books published by now and could draw on around a million words. "How about a three volume Best of Carson Davis," [I asked]. He thought that was a great idea and submitted it to the publisher. Shortly, I received a counter offer: "How about a six volume Best of Carson Davis." And they suggested the titles of each volume. Well, I signed on the dotted line and started ripping and stripping from copies of Carson Davis books. I was supposed to soften the sex stuff, which meant just a little pen work. They published it in both Dutch and French editions.
RZ: If someone wanted to pick up more of Charles Nuetzel's books in the heroic fantasy field, where might they look, or who might they contact? Any idea?
CAN: Under a rock, in a book store, in a library, in the 4th or 6th dimensions, for all I know. There's a book signing each year in the San Fernando Valley, about 10-15 miles from ERB, INC., where one can get some copies of my books, simply because the author is there to sign the dern things. What surprised me about that show was that people were coming up with copies of things like my hardcover Last Call To The Stars, which even I couldn't find. I finally got a copy via the Internet, in Evanston, Ill. I'm amazed you discovered the two Noomas books. You're probably more of an expert at that than I am.
RZ: To end with another commonly asked question, what advice would you give to a new writer just starting out in the business?
CAN: Don't become a writer. If you refuse to take that advice: Learn everything about Grammar, English, Literature. Be a compulsive reader. Learn to be friendly to everybody, social, so you'll have a vast mental file of people to draw upon. Enjoy being alone and confined in a small room, before a typewriter, sheet of blank paper, or computer. Learn about writing. The hardnosed facts like: what plot is and what it isn't. Finish what you start, and remember that quality comes with quantity. Use the Bradbury method of writing a story a week for 52 weeks in the belief that even you can't write 52 bad stories. Don't try novels until you have learned the structure of a story/plot/ writing, etc. Then learn about the complications of subplots. Try to always run through the first draft without rewriting. Keep the editing and revising for the final drafts. Don't let anybody read your stuff until it is finished, or at least in a finished form worthy of being picked apart in an intelligent way. Don't believe anything anybody says about your writing other than a paying editor, or helpful agent. And take editors as seriously as they deserve to be taken. They can help because they have an objective viewpoint backed by experience. But every one of them will have a different series of changes necessary to get your stuff published. If your work ain't published it is just so many words written on empty air. The idea of writing is communicating to the public. Being a writer means you are a published writer. I probably should add: paid, published writer. Get the damn thing out on paper. All else is, in the long run, nothing more than getting the final story into the hands of a check paying editor who will publish it. Like one writer I know, Mike Knerr said: "If I want to see my name in print I'll look in the phone book." Point made. The best advice is to have another job. Because chances are you'll never make it into the published field of writing. Those who make it will do so no matter how they approach the path. Most of all, you have to want to write more than anything else in the world. You have to be willing to pay the blood price, which can be heavy. Many a writer has ended up in the self-destruct ward, or dead. Talent has little or no effect on the end results. Right connections, willingness to learn, willingness to bend enough to get help from pros and finally published. Luck, contact, hard work, and so much damn determination that it hurts. One last point: learn when the copy is publishable and then go on to the next project. Nothing will be made perfect; everything is changeable. A professional learns when to stop and say: This is good enough.
RZ: Thank you, Charles Nuetzel.
OF MAIN INTERVIEW*********************
EPILOG: CONCERNING ROBERT E. HOWARD
E: Howard (End
Here's a question that I asked Charles Nuetzel that I didn't include in the regular interview. I think you'll see why. For those of you who can't, here's a hint. We were goofing off considerably. And for those of you who know me, you know that this must all be Charles Nuetzel's fault. I personally have no sense of humor.
RZ: Were you at all familiar with Robert E. Howard's work during your reading years, or after you became a professional writer? I know there probably wasn't much of his material available before you started writing, except in old pulps, and you indicated that you didn't do much reading while writing, which would have occurred at the same time as the "Howard Boom" in paperbacks.
CAN: I am familiar with Robert E. Howard. (With a twinkle in his eye, unseen by RZ, of course.)
CAN: I heard something about him when I was a real active Sci-Fi fan and was collecting old pulps. Rather popular, wasn't he?
RZ: Yes. Even more so today. Then, we could say that you are at least a bit familiar with REH.
CAN: Well...perhaps. A little bit. On the other hand I could say: "Anybody who has seen a copy of Swordmen of Vistar would have automatically known the answer to that question. But that would be outright snotty of me. Now wouldn't it?
RZ: Well, that's just the sort of lovable guy you are.
CAN: Then, perhaps, it is enough to quote from the cover-lines of that book. "For readers who thrill to the adventures of John Carter [and] Conan the Barbarian, Thoris of Haldolen and his beautiful princess are destined to become popular heroes of fantasy-adventure." So much for cover blurbs and their power to predict the future. But as you can see, Conan was right there to catch REH readers by the tips of their loincloths and drag them into the depths of Haldolen and into the power of Xalla the wizard. Or into the seductive, haunting, desirable arms of the passionate Opal, his daughter, who was determined to have her way with any and all men that caught her eyes. Of course, I recognize Conan as one of those highly successful, commercial literary works of pop art that REH originally developed for the pulps. It is rather sad that he died before continuing these adventures. I followed, with great interest, the publishing success of the series Conan. It was developed beautifully by such folks as L. Sprague de Camp (one of my favorite writers). One must wonder what Howard would have thought concerning the development of his Conan. Would he have approved? I think so. At least for the most part. de Camp, if memory serves me right, was one of the prime (if not Prime) writers to bring Conan to a broader audience during the 1950s. While I've been actually having a bit of fun, at your expense, here--
RZ: What! You mean you have not been completely serious. You Cad!
CAN: As I was saying before I was so crudely interrupted, the fact is that as a Sci-Fi fan and collector (starting around the time Galaxy magazine released its first issue) I actually spent much of my free time haunting second hand bookstores. But, as with many collectors, I collected more stuff that I could have possibly read. My late teenage years were filled with collecting science fiction. I read what caught my attention, filed the rest away for future reading. REH, for the most part, was lost among a ton of stories, magazines, authors and books. Collecting was all part of my pre-author years, the years that later served as the ground work upon which I launched my own writing platform. [Editorial intrusion: Note the Science fictional metaphor here, "launched" my own writing "platform"]. I simply couldn't read everything. So, sad to say, I must admit that the only personal experience I've had with Howard's Conan was looking at a few bits of one or more of the stories. The impression I came away with was: here's a more brutal and primitive, and perhaps, realistic warrior of old. Conan was, in the original form, a classic creation. What happened to Conan after REH was long gone was a story of taking a very good idea, an exciting and interesting "universe" and developing it into a highly commercial and popular product. I saw the movies. And I believe that for the most part they were, perhaps, as loyal to Conan as the Tarzan films were loyal to the "true" Tarzan of ERB fame. The Conan movies were good for what they were. Highly popular commercial Hollywood fantasy adventure films. In other words, good fun. But, of course, the original Conan, as devised by its creator, was by far better.
RZ: Insert humorous final question here.
CAN: Insert humorous final answer here.