Norman Spinrad: Autobiography, by Norman Spinrad

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Norman Spinrad: Autobiography, by Norman Spinrad

Postby admin » Thu Jul 04, 2019 2:10 am

Part 1 of 2

Norman Spinrad: Autobiography
by Norman Spinrad



Although it presents certain technical difficulties, maybe you shouldn't write an autobiography until you are dead.

The story of a life, even if your own, published for the benefit of readers, becomes, well, a story. And true or not, a good story requires, if not necessarily a traditional beginning, middle and end, then at least certainly some sort of structure leading to a sense of satisfying resolution at the end of the reading experience.

But since I'm 53 years old as I write this, not exactly on the brink of retirement, I can hardly be expected to bring this story to a successful thematic closure in any of the usual manners.

Then too, while "write what you know about" may be the hoariest of literary maxims and autobiography seemingly the ideal exemplar thereof, upon a moment's uncomfortable reflection, maybe not.

Sure, you know the sequence of events better than you know anything else, but it's no easy task to negotiate the treacherous literary waters between the Scylla of the extended brag and the Charybdis of a deadly dull recitation of the complete bibliography and nothing more.

So what I've opted for here is a rather experimental form, itself perhaps a bit of autobiographical characterization, since fairly early on in my career I came to the realization that form should be chosen by the requirements of content. And this particular content certainly seems to call for something rather schizoid -- a montage of split points of view, persons, that is, in more than the usual technical sense.

So this autobiography is divided into three clearly-labeled tracks.

"Continuity" is, as Sergeant Friday would have it, just the facts, Ma'am, written in third person as if "Norman Spinrad" were someone other than the author thereof.

"Flashbacks" are little novelistic bits and pieces designed to illumine some of the events of "Continuity" with some more intimate visions of what the character in question was thinking and feeling at the time.

"Frame" is what you are reading now -- the author and the subject, the novelist and the literary critic, speaking to you and maybe myself as directly as I can manage under the circumstances, and trying to extract some overall meaning from it all.


Norman Spinrad was born in New York City, on September 15, 1940, the son of Morris and Ray Spinrad. Except for a brief period in Kingston, New York, he spent his entire childhood and adolescence residing with his parents and his sister Helene in various locations in the Bronx, where he attended Public School 87, Junior High Schools 113 and 22, and the Bronx High School of Science.

In 1957, he entered the College of the City of New York, from which he graduated in 1961 with a Bachelor of Science degree as a pre-law major.


I was a subway commuter as a college student, living in the family apartment in the Bronx, hanging out in Greenwich Village on the weekends. My father, eldest son of a family of five, had never finished high school, having left to earn family bread, and only after serving as a medical corpsman in the Navy during World War II, did he realize that medicine would have been his calling, and by then it was much too late. Like many such children of the Great Depression, he wanted nothing more or less for his son than a secure professional career, ideally the one he wished he had been able to have.

So I was always under pressure, not just to perform academically, but to follow a path towards the bankable sciences. I passed the stiff entrance test for the Bronx High School of Science, graduated in 1957 at the age of 16, and, at the behest of my father, seeing as how medicine obviously actively turned me off, entered City College as an engineering major.

This lasted about a term and a half, terminated by my confrontation with the horrors of pre-electronic-calculator calculus. Okay, said my dad, what about chemistry? You don't need so much math for that. So I became a chemistry major long enough to convince me that I had no genius for the subject and less interest in it as a life's work.

Okay, said my dad, with less enthusiasm, what about, uh, psychology? He seemed to view the vector from medicine to hard engineering through stinky liquids into the murk of the social sciences as a kind of intellectual slippery slope.

What did I want to do with my life at this point?

Hey, come on, I was about 19 years old!

Although it's common enough for one's parents and guidance counselors to demand that one get serious and make a commitment, it's both cruel and naive to suppose that a 19 year old kid is intellectually or emotionally equipped to decide what he's going to do with the rest of his life.

What did I want at this point?

I didn't really want to be in college at all. I didn't want to be living en famille in the Bronx until I graduated. What I wanted was la vie boheme in the Village.


What is included here and what is left out: Unless you've lived an extraordinarily dull and uneventful life under a bell jar with your typewriter, and I haven't, you will have broken hearts, had your own broken, and engaged in any number of acts sexual and otherwise, that were politically incorrect at the time or in hindsight, illegal, or even the sort of thing your older and wiser self may now find immoral.

Then too, my life has intersected, in various degrees of intimacy, the lives of many people of more than passing literary interests -- Philip K. Dick, Timothy Leary, Theodore Sturgeon, Harlan Ellison, J.G. Ballard, William Burroughs, Frank Herbert, Michael Moorcock, to name a random sample of a long, long list.

Some of these luminaries were or are real friends, others acquaintances of one degree or another, I've written about many of them extensively in various places already, and so you must take my word for it that it's length limitations rather than ego that limits mention of them in this compass to the effect they may have had on my life or career.

I have been commissioned to write a short literary autobiography, and as I interpret that commission, this is supposed to be the story of Norman Spinrad the writer, not a juicy expose of my private life, nor of the private lives of people who may have been involved with it.


However, are times when such matters do impinge on what gets written, and I am trying to tell the true story to the best of my ability, so when they do, I guess I'm going to have to try to bite the bullet....


The Village, circa 1959, pre-Beatles, the Beat Era. Coffee houses. Craft shops. Folk music. I remember seeing a fat-faced kid from Minnesota performing for free at a Monday amateur night at Gerdes' Folk City. Name of Bob Dylan. A hot act was the Holy Modal Rounders, a bluegrass group which later metamorphosed into the Fugs. One of its members was Peter Stampfel, who is now a science fiction editor at Daw Books. Another was Ed Sanders, who was to cover the Manson Family trial in Los Angeles for the Free Press while I was writing for the same paper.

But in 1959, I never knew Sanders, and Stampfel, who I did party with upon occasion, would not remember the me of that era. They were culture heroes, and I was just another day-tripping college kid.

Another culture hero of sorts in this space-time was Bruce Britton, proprietor of the Britton Leather Shop. Bruce was a famous sandalmaker. Bruce Britton was a charismatic party animal, and the Britton Leather Shop was a major party scene. When work was done, (and sometimes when it wasn't), it became an open house, and also a place where you found out where the other parties were.

The Britton Leather Shop became my central week-end hangout, and Bruce became my friend, an older role-model of sorts, and later one of the earliest patrons of my writing career.

But I didn't aspire to a writing career at that point. Truth be told, and my father not, I didn't aspire to a career at all. From his point of view, what I aspired to was quite appalling, namely to spend all my time the way I spent my weekends -- as, well, a beatnik in Greenwich Village.


Beatniks, even teenage wannabee beatniks living with their parents in the Bronx, did drugs. Mostly pot, which was readily available but I was introduced to consciousness-altering chemicals with rather stronger stuff, namely peyote, and which I had experienced before I so much as puffed on a joint.

Ah yes, we've all committed our youthful indiscretions, why even President Clinton has copped to tasting the Devil's Weed, though since he didn't inhale, he didn't enjoy it. I, however, did inhale, and therefore did get off. Often. And to my creative advantage. Nor do I regret it.

If there's one gaping void in the story of American literary history in the second half of the 20th century as currently promulgated, it's the influence of grass and psychedelic drugs, not only on the lives of writers, but on the content of what's been written, and on the form and style too. It's hard to be critically or biographically courageous when so much creative work was done under the influences of jailable offenses.

In the Beat Era, however, the literary culture heroes of bohemia -- William Burroughs, Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, & Co. -- were not only entirely up front about it, but openly advocated the chemical enhancement of consciousness as a literary, spiritual, and cultural virtue. And wrote much stylistically mighty work under the influence to prove it.

Even a mainstream literary lion like Norman Mailer wrote a famous essay called "The White Negro" extolling the Hip world of sex, dope, and transcendence over the "Square" workaday world of the Lonely Crowd, though elsewhere he was to correctly opine that writing final draft stoned was maybe not such a terrific idea.

I raise this issue now because I would be lying shamelessly if I denied that I was a devotee of this tradition or renounced herein my belief that on the whole a bit of grass and a more significant trip now and again is beneficial to the creative juices. Nor could the story of the sort of writer I became make much sense in the absence of its consideration.

For most writers of science fiction, at least prior to the New Wave of the 1960s, emerged as writers from a formative adolescence immersed in the hermetic subculture of "science fiction fandom," reading science fiction obsessive, attending science fiction conventions, writing letters and articles in science fiction fanzines. SF fans even have an acronym for it, FIAWOL -- Fandom Is A Way Of Life.

Not my teenage planet, Monkey Boy. I didn't even know that this subculture existed until after I had published about a dozen stories and a novel. Yes, I read a lot of sf -- Sturgeon, Bester, Dick, Bradbury, being early obsessions -- but I was just as deeply into Mailer, Kerouac, William Burroughs, and their precursor, Henry Miller.

And theirs was the subculture I wanted to grow up to live in before I even had any serious thoughts about a writing career -- the Hip world of free love, pot, psychedelics, literary and personal transcendence -- all that which, with the addition and via the medium of rock and roll, was to call into being the Counterculture half a decade later.


This was something I could hardly admit to my parents, the guidance counselor, or even quite to myself at the time. And at least being a psych major was something I found far more congenial than my previous provisional career choices.

However two unpleasant academic satoris were to convince me that this was not to be my planet either.

I was fortunate enough to be assigned to a section in Motivational Psychology taught by Dr. Kenneth Clark, who, among other things, had written part of the brief in Brown versus Board of Education. There were no tests. You discussed texts that had been assigned for consideration in class and you wrote three papers, and Clark marked you on that.

At the beginning of the term you were handed a list of the books and papers that would be discussed. In addition to the expected scientific treatises, there was a five-foot shelf of novels, plays, and assorted literary works. How could anyone be expected to read through all that in a term? They couldn't. Clark believed that any college upper classman who hadn't already read most of this stuff didn't belong in a class on this level in the first place.

I loved this class. It was worth the price of admission. Clark was brilliant and witty and brought out the best in his students. The class was educational, but it was also a kind of high intellectual entertainment.

All during the term Clark complained of the conventionality of the papers students were turning in. Can't you give me something original?

I admired Clark greatly and for my final paper I determined to write something that would pay him back intellectually and knock him out of his socks in the bargain.

I had read my way through all Kerouac, Ginsberg, and through that on into Herman Hesse, Alan Watts and D.T. Suzuki, a common intellectual vector in my Village extracurricular circles, and so I knew quite a bit about Buddhism.

So I wrote a paper comparing Buddhism and Freudian theory as systems of psychology.

This is brilliant, fascinating, Dr. Clark told me after he had read it. I glowed.

"But I can only give you an A-."

"Huh? Why?"

He shrugged. Because I don't know enough about Buddhism to judge whether you really know what you're talking about, he admitted.

And had not been willing make the intellectual effort to acquire the necessary background.

Another required course that I had to do a term paper for was Abnormal Psychology. I suggested to the professor that I do it on the mental states induced by consumption of peyote. He seemed quite interested.

"But as far as I know, there's not much source material in the literature," he added dubiously.

"Don't need it," I assured him. "Not only do I have plenty of primary experimental subjects to interview, I have first-hand experience myself."

Did he gape at me as if I was some kind of crazed dope fiend?


That wasn't what made him refuse to consider the subject appropriate for a term paper in his course. If I could have rehashed secondary sources and studded the paper with appropriate footnotes, no problem. But original research in the form of direct reportage of the mental states in question was not academically acceptable.


In his senior year at CCNY, he took two courses in short story writing and made his first submissions to magazines. Having secured entry to Fordham University law school, he spent the summer of 1961 traveling in Mexico with friends.


By my senior year, all I really wanted was out -- out of college, out of my parents' apartment, out from under their pressures, influences, out of the Square world and into the Hip.

But I still had it in my head that I had to get a degree to please my parents. By this time, I had changed my major so many times that the only way to graduate was to lump together what I had already taken with a few more random courses, call it a "Pre-Law Major," and bullshit it past the guidance counselors by being admitted to law school.

One course I took, in short story writing, was formative. It was taught by a writer named Irwin Stark who had sold fiction to magazines and had not lost the habit of submitting. Stark, like Clark, bitched about the conventionality of what the students were writing, and I took another shot at taking a teacher at his word.

I wrote a story called Not With A Bang, in which a couple finds true love screwing in a bathtub full of chocolate syrup during a nuclear apocalypse, good enough to eventually sell to a low-grade men's magazine about a decade later.

The look that Stark gave me when he handed back that week's assignment was choice.

"I can't have you read a thing like that in class," he told me in his office later.


"Why don't you submit it to Playboy?"


"Yeah, it's a long shot, but they're the top market, and if you start at the top and work down, can take you the first offer you get for a story and know it's the best you can do."

And he told me how to submit stories to magazines, stick them in an envelope with a self- addressed stamped return envelope and a cover letter, and drop 'em in a mailbox. If you get a check, cash it before it bounces. If you get a rejection, submit it to the next best market.

I submitted Not With A Bang to Playboy. They didn't buy it, so I sent it elsewhere. And elsewhere. And wrote some more stories. And started submitting them.

And that's how I became a writer. Not yet a published writer, that was about three years in the future, but by the time I graduated from CCNY, I knew what I wanted to do with my life, and how one went about doing it. You write 'em, you drop 'em in the mail, you wait.

Best advice I ever had. Best advice any would-be writer can ever get. It's ultimately all you need to know. The Big Secret is that there is no Big Secret. It drives me crazy how many wannabee writers just won't believe it.


Upon returning to New York, he decided not to attend law school but pursue a writing career instead. He rented a cheap apartment in the East Village, secured part-time employment in a friend's leather shop, wrote a first novel which has never been published and about a dozen short stories, finally making his first sale to Analog in 1962. The story, THE LAST OF THE ROMANY, was published in 1963.


Actually the thought of entering law school in the fall of 1961 was filling me with nauseous dread before I even graduated. By this time I knew I wanted to be a writer, but what I lacked was any notion of how to support myself while doing it, plus the courage to make such a beatnik move sure to outrage my parents. The road trip to Mexico in a rotten old car (never buy a car from a relative!) with two college friends, Marty Mach and Bob Denberg, was part temporary escape from this dilemma, part personal vision quest, part hopeful emulation of Huck Finn and Kerouac.

When we finally managed to coax the wretched clunker back to New York after an exhaustive education in automotive Spanish, the Greenwich Village outdoor Arts and Craft Show was in full swing. One weekend afternoon, I took over the Britton Leather Shop's table as relief for an hour and moved $200 worth of goods, about what they had done all week.

Bingo! I had a part-time job. Bruce Britton, and later, his partner and successor at the leather shop, Ken Martin, supported my writing ambition, and more or less let me make my own hours. And my own wage, since what they were paying me was a commission on sales.

I found a foul little apartment in the East Village that I could rent for $36 a month. meaning, what with food, and utilities, I could survive on about $120 a month, and in a good week I could make $40 at the leathershop working 20 hours.

I could survive, more or less, as a would-be writer.


My naivete was total. I knew no other writers, I hadn't published a thing, and my brilliant notion was that I would support myself writing short stories while working on my first novel. I wrote an unpublishable novel, which, years later, I was to some extent to cannibalize in the writing of BUG JACK BARRON. I wrote stories and sent them off to magazines, mostly science fiction magazines.

When I finished the novel, I knew nothing better to do with it than pay my $35 to have it "evaluated for the market" by the Scott Meredith Literary Agency, who advertised this service in various magazines. They rejected it, as they did 99% of such fee submissions, as I was soon to learn in another incarnation, but the "agent" who wrote the rejection letter over Scott Meredith's signature met me in secret, praised my talent, and wised me up to the SMLA fee-reading scam, strongly suggesting that I not waste my money on it again.

Nor had I sold anything. And the final turn of the screw was that Analog had been sitting on "The Last of the Romany" for an unconscionable six months.

What I didn't know was that the reason for the delay was that John W. Campbell, Jr., the legendary editor thereof, had discovered the lion's share of the major science fiction writers of the lastquarter century or so by the tedious and time-consuming process of reading his entire slushpile himself.

Needless to say, when his acceptance letter arrived in the mail all was forgiven.


He sold several more short stories during the next year or so, on the strength of which he secured a professional agent, the Scott Meredith Literary Agency.


I had been dead broke before I sold a novelette to Campbell for the princely sum of $450, so broke that I had taken a job as a Welfare Investigator in Bedford-Stuyvesant for a month to keep me going.

When I made my third magazine sale, I wrote a letter to Scott Meredith, the only agent I knew, and was accepted as a client on a professional basis.

Meanwhile, an ulcer I had developed under the pressure of adolescent angst and no doubt exacerbated by eating all that cheap hot stuff in Mexico landed me in a hospital for an operation. The operation was successful, but the patient should have died. They screwed up bad and infected me with something called toxic hepatitis, supposedly universally fatal. I ran a fever of about 106o for days. I lost about 25 pounds. I survived. Still running a fever and looking like death warmed over but not by much, I took a cab directly to the Draft Board and got myself re- classified 4-F so it wouldn't be a total loss.


A prolonged ultra-high fever, aside from usually being fatal, makes a 1000 mike acid trip seem like a warm glass of 3.2 beer. I was not only hallucinating, I had ... Powers.

Laboring under the hallucinatory delusion that I was being tortured for secret rocket fuel information by spies, I had the hysterical strength to snap the bandages tying me to my deathbed, yank out the IVs, and hold off a squad of interns while I used another Power on the bedside telephone.

It was the wee hours of the morning. The hospital staff must've thought I was raving into a dead phone, understandable considering what they were hearing on my end.

Somehow I had fixated on the name of what turned out to be a real Air Force general. I got an outside line. I got a long distance operator. I made a collect long distance call to said general at the Pentagon. He had long since gone home to bed. I did ... a thing. I ordered the Pentagon switchboard to patch me through to his home phone, validating it with a blather of letters and numbers that was my Top Secret command override code. They did it. A bleary general's voice came on the line.

I start babbling about spies, rocket fuels, send a rescue squad to --

"Huh--? What the--?"

At which point, the interns jumped me from behind and hung up the phone on the sucker.

By the next morning, my fever had broken.

And the hospital had some tall explaining to do when the Pentagon traced the call back.


Que pasa? I've contemplated that question ever since, my best take on being the story CARCINOMA ANGELES, a literary breakthrough for me which I wrote about three years later, and which, long after that, seems to have been picked up by a doctor in Texas as a treatment for cancer.

As on an acid trip, only more so, I think the fever warped me into a metaphorical reality in which the disease ravaging my body was transmogrified into a paranoid image-system overlayed on actual real-world events. By giving that story the ending I wanted, by actually waking up the general, I somehow was able to triumph over the infection for which the whole thing was metaphor.

Unless you've got a better explanation.

The facts are that I survived a fatal disease, that this experience, whatever it was, later was the impetus for the story that was the real take-off point for the writer that I was to become, and I don't think I was the same person afterward.


SMLA made no sales for him during the six months, and he was economically constrained to seek full-time employment.

He answered an ad in the New York Times offering an entry level position as an editor. When he took the test for the job at the employment agency, he realized that the prospective employer was his own literary agent, Scott Meredith. Armed with this knowledge, he did very well on the test and was tentatively offered the position by the employment agency.


As I client, I had never even met Scott Meredith. When I showed up in the office as a job applicant, he was non-plussed. Many writers who later became clients had worked for him, and many people who had worked for him later became clients, but Scott had never hired one of his own writers through the employment agency cattle-call and didn't want to do it.

"What do you mean, you won't hire me?" I demanded. "The only reason I need this damn job in the first place is that you haven't sold a thing for me in six months!"

Having never confronted this argument either, Scott relented. Voila, the 24 year old kid whose own stuff wasn't selling had a job anonymously representing a list of something like a hundred established writers, some of them, like Philip K. Dick, Philip Jose, Frank Herbert, John Brunner, and Jack Vance, among others, literary idols of mine at the time, and people who were later to become my friends.


The pro desk at SMLA was an excruciating experience. Scott Meredith was a genius at squeezing work out of his peons by force of paranoid pressure, and after a full day's work writing letters under his name to authors, sometimes typing them over and over again until he was satisfied, you had to read manuscripts on your own time at home. It was like being back in school. It was nearly impossible to get anything of my own written. And there I was, agenting stories and novels anonymously for the very writers whose illustrious company I longed to join myself!

On the other hand, it was a crash-course in the realities of publishing from the inside out, and the bottom up. By the time I was 25 I had more publishing street smarts than venerable greats twice my age, and before I was 30, found myself playing the strange role of career advisor, father-figure even, to my own literary idols, like Theodore Sturgeon and Philip K. Dick.


While working at SMLA in various capacities in 1964-66, he continued to write stories, some of which sold, and completed THE SOLARIANS, his first published novel, which appeared in 1966.


I have always been a lousy typist, and in the end, I simply couldn't keep up with the workload on an SMLA pro desk. Scott fired me. He then rehired me for a part-time job supervising the fee- reading operation, where piece-work editors wrote letters of criticism on submissions from amateurs for a fee.

Somewhat morally ambiguous maybe, but I had time and energy to write my own stuff again. Stories sold, including one to Playboy, "Deathwatch." I wrote a space opera, THE SOLARIANS, which SMLA sold to Paperback Library for $1250.

After I left the Meredith Agency for good, I never held another job, and for better or worse, sometimes much worse, have survived on my writing ever since.

And though I seriously suspect that years later Scott Meredith was responsible for the non- publication of THE CHILDREN OF HAMELIN, about which later, I doubt whether I would be saying that now, if it wasn't for the education I got in his rough school of hard publishing knocks.


In 1966, he decided to move to San Francisco. He gave up his East Village apartment and his by- then part-time work at the Meredith agency, bought a $300 Rambler, loaded his worldly goods in it, and set out for California.


Bruce Britton and his wife Marilyn had moved to San Francisco in the train of their psychotherapy guru, a story that was to be an inspiration for a part of THE CHILDREN OF HAMELIN, a curtain coming down on part of my life, but also friends in a state where I otherwise knew.

And California, San Francisco in particular, for me, like so many others, was the mythical Golden West towards which Young Men were supposed to go, the land with no winter, North Beach, the Sunset end of the Road, the object of a thousand and one vision quests, the Future itself, somehow, the glorious leap into the Great Unknown.

Appropriately enough, Frank Herbert and about 300 mg of mescaline sent me on my way.


Walking west through the Village night on 4th Street, peaking on mescaline after reading the final installment of the magazine serialization of DUNE, a powerful meditation on space-time, precognition, and destiny soon to launch a hundred thousand trips, I had a flash-forward of my own.

I would be a famous science fiction writer, I would publish many stories and novels, and many of the people who were my literary idols, inspirations, and role-models, and former clients, people I had never met, would come to accept me as their equal, as their ally, as their allies, as their friend.

And my life's mission, would be to take this commercial science fiction genre and turn it into something else somehow, write works that transcended its commercial parameters, works that could aspire to the literary company of Burroughs and Mailer and Kerouac, that would help to open a new Way....

This is what you're here for. This is why you passed through the fever's fire and didn't die in that hospital bed. This is what you must do. You must go West to meet your future.

The mescaline talking? An overdose of 25-year-old ego? A stoned out ego-tripping wish- fulfillment fantasy?

Call it what you will.

Everything I saw in that timeless Einsteinian moment would come to pass.


On the way to San Francisco, he attended the Milford Science Fiction Writers' Conference in Milford Pennsylvania, to which he had been invited by the organizer, Damon Knight.


Damon Knight had invited me on the basis of "The Equalizer," a story I published in Analog. The only other science fiction writers I had met before had been Terry Carr and Barry Maltzberg, fellow SMLA wage-slaves, and suddenly there I was in Damon's huge crumbling Victorian manse for 10 days of workshopping and socializing with a couple dozen of them, a few who I had actually agented anonymously, though considering what had habitually come down, I wasn't about to mention that.

Damon's motto was "No Chiefs, no Indians." This was a professional workshop and everyone invited was by definition a professional, hence an equal, whether they were Damon, Gordon Dickson, James Blish, Judith Merril, or one of the selected new guys like me.

What's more, I was indeed accepted as an equal colleague on a certain level, and the sense of awed isolation I felt when I first stepped into the house's big kitchen and met all these people who were names on book jackets lasted maybe an hour and a half.

You can say a lot of critical things about the community of science fiction writers, and down through the years I certainly have, but it really is a community that not only tends to protect and nurture its own but actually welcomes newcomers into the fold. Like all gatherings of writers, the sf community engages in bragging, backbiting, vicious gossip, and cruel games, but nowhere else in my experience are established writers so genuinely openhearted to the new kids on the block.


He became fast friends with Harlan Ellison, who was at Milford, and was strongly attracted to Dona Sadock, who was there with Ellison, and with whom he was to live many years later.


Harlan arrived in Milford in a flash of Hollywood street punk ectoplasm with the tiny elfin Dona in tow. It was just one of those weird chemical things. He hadn't been in Damon's kitchen for twenty minutes before we were talking as if we were already old buddies picking up a conversation that had been going on for years.

Harlan at that time was about 30, dressing and bullshitting like the Hollywood star writer. Dona was this tiny little 20 year old groupie, or so it seemed until she opened her mouth and out came this preternaturally powerful voice redolent of 50 year old sophistication and speaking for someone who seemed about a thousand years older than that.

Instant fascination. Unrequited love that would go on for years.

The beginning of the two longest friendships of my life.


Instead of driving directly to San Francisco after Milford, he passed through Los Angeles and looked up Ellison, who put him up at his house for a week or so, persuaded him to try Los Angeles instead, and found him an affordable studio apartment.


I hadn't intended to stay more than a few days in Los Angeles. I took a random exit on the Hollywood Freeway and called Harlan, the only person I knew in LA. He invited me to crash in his little house up in Beverly Glen. Before I quite knew what was happening, he was persuading me to give LA a try, and finding me an apartment. All in a week.

It couldn't have been a week after that when he asked to borrow $2000, about half my net worth, this from a guy who was knocking down a thousand a week on contract to Paramount. Just for ten days, he assured me. How could I say no to a guy who had been so generous to me?

Thus began a weird pecuniary relationship that went on for years. Harlan would borrow large sums from me for a week or two, pay them back, borrow the bread again a week later. The same few grand got recycled over and over. No matter how much money he made, Harlan had the creative need to ride the edge of insolvency. No matter how much he borrowed, he always paid it back.


He stayed in Los Angeles for about six months, where he wrote, among other stories, the now- much-reprinted "Carcinoma Angels", the very first story purchased for Harlan Ellison's landmark anthology DANGEROUS VISIONS. A previous attempt at a story for DANGEROUS VISIONS turned into an outline for the novel THE MEN IN THE JUNGLE. Doubleday gave him a contract and a modest advance, and he moved to San Francisco to write it.


Why did I leave Los Angeles after six months?

Why did I stay that long?

The Summer of Love, the Counterculture, might be two years in the future on a mass level, but the tension between the Hip and the Square from which it was to emerge was a very real identity crisis for a young writer from Bohemia.

I had made one life-long friend in Los Angeles, I had made the stylistic breakthrough of "Carcinoma Angels" there, and the attempt to write THE MEN IN THE JUNGLE, my take on Vietnam and professional revolutionaries, as a novelette for DANGEROUS VISIONS had led to my first hardcover contract, so I can't say the atmosphere wasn't creative, but there didn't seem to be any there there. No street life. No scene like the Village.

San Francisco, on the other hand, the chosen object of my odyssey in the first place, was still mythical country, Kerouac's North Beach, the Village West, the California capital of Hip. Harlan's and Los Angeles' distant disdain for the misty metropolis to the contrary, I had to at least check it out myself, now didn't I?


When I hit San Francisco, the first place I went was to Bruce Britton's apartment, since I knew no one else in town. Bruce being Bruce, and as luck would have it, he and his wife were going to what would be one of the historic parties of the decade that very night.

Yes, I spent my first night in San Francisco at Ken Kesey's very first Acid Test blowout in the Seaman's hall, an event often considered the birth of the Counterculture. Thousands of stoned people, loud music, acid in the punch, general frenzy, the whole tie- dyed ball of wax.

What a homecoming to the Hipster community!

And yet....


Fabulous North Beach proved to be an expensive bummer. The Beat Scene having turned it into a primo tourist attraction, the authorities in their infinite wisdom figured all they had to do to make it perfect was to get rid of the dirty beatniks who had made it famous in the first place.

The result was a depressing mixture of high rent apartments, plastic coffee houses and topless bars, and a Hip scene that had followed the low rents elsewhere.

Namely to the Haight.


In San Francisco, Spinrad lived on a street close by Buena Vista park, bordering on the Haight- Ashbury. There he wrote both THE MEN IN THE JUNGLE and afterward AGENT OF CHAOS in the space of less than a year.


The bohemian communities of Greenwich Village and North Beach had had economic bases in the arts, the crafts, the tourist industry, but Haight-Ashbury in 1966, the year before the Summer of Love, had no such legitimate economic base at all. People like me, actually making a living in an artistic endeavor, were rare, people with straight nine-to-fivers even rarer.

The unfortunate result being that the economy of the hippie community there (so named by Time in 1967) could only be based on the drug trade. At street level, indigent connections collected money for nickel bags of grass or crystal meth or individual tabs of LSD from high school kids or day-trippers, and scored ounces or lids from the lowest true dealers, their cut amounting to $10 or so or a nickel for their own stash. The low-level dealers bought from wholesalers in maybe kilo quantities, and so on up the food-chain, which in those days did not extend to Drug Lords, narcoterrorists, or the Maf.

Not my planet either, not what ON THE ROAD had advertised as the hip scene in San Francisco at all, though there seemed to be no other. In the process of cleaning up North Beach, the powers that be had created Dope City in the Haight.

Call it street smarts, or call it luck, I found myself a nice little garden apartment on a hill just above this scene, where I could write THE MEN IN THE JUNGLE and later AGENT OF CHAOS during the day, and boogie in the Haight at night and weekends.

No doubt some of the nastiness in THE MEN IN THE JUNGLE owed as much to the environment of the Haight as to the Viet Nam war which was beginning at the time. For sure, the three-sided conflict between Establishment, Revolution, and Forces of Chaos in AGENT OF CHAOS owed even more to my identity crisis at the time.

I was a hipster, right, a Beat, a bohemian, these were my people, weren't they? Weren't they? The Square world sucked, didn't it, official reality was boring and oppressive for sure, and hey, it was the Establishment itself that created the Haight by driving the Beats out of North Beach. Surely I didn't want to be part of that.

But I saw things in the Haight....

I saw people smoking coffee grounds because they had nothing better. I saw people smoking match-heads to get off on the sulfur fumes. I saw needle-freaks shooting up with hot water just for "the Surge." A guy said to me, "I'd eat shit if I thought it'd get me high," and he wasn't joking.

And there were people who regarded me as a Square because I wouldn't get involved in dealing.

I spent a long time looking for a third way. So did the country. And maybe we're all searching for it still.


A certain deterioration of the cultural milieu in the Haight persuaded Spinrad to return to Los Angeles.


One day two girls from Texas I knew pleaded with me to come over to their apartment and rescue them from a couple of dealers for whom their kid brother was a connection, and who were refusing to leave.

I put on my White Knight suit and drove over.

Given the level of paranoia in the Haight, ejecting them was easier than it might seem. All I had to do was glower at them enigmatically until they started giving me paranoid looks.

"Whattsa matter, you guys think I'm a narc or something?" I snarled defensively.

"Oh, no, man, nothing like --"

"Yeah, I think you do! Whatsa matter, I look like a cop to you?"

"Oh, no, man --"

"You think I'm a fuckin' narc, don't you?"

Sinister these schmucks were, but they were schmucks, and after about a half an hour of this, they slithered out the door. But not before telling a story that they found highly amusing.

They were big-time acid dealers, or so they claimed. Peace, Love, Higher Consciousness in hundred tab lots.

"An' two out of every hundred hits are cyanide, some people are in for a really heavy trip, haw! haw! haw!"

I left the Haight for LA the next week.


I spent about a month living in Harlan Ellison's large new house with Harlan and one of my main literary heroes, Theodore Sturgeon. Both Sturgeon and I were chasing unsuccessfully after Dona Sadock, who had arrived in LA, and it got kind of weird.

I was still trying to digest the results of what I had seen in the Haight. The Counterculture hadn't even been born yet, but I was already thinking 20 years ahead to what would emerge out the other side, Ted and Harlan were both working on tv scripts, and I was thinking about what immortality would mean as an item of commerce too, BUG JACK BARRON was somehow coming together in my mind....


Spinrad drove to New York, where he secured a contract from Doubleday to write BUG JACK BARRON, and then to Cleveland, where he attended his first science fiction convention.


The elusive Dona had fled from Sturgeon and myself back to New York, and I did another transcontinental run, in pursuit of her and a book contract from Doubleday. Didn't catch her, but I did cadge the contract for BUG JACK BARRON, at a rather wet lunch with Larry Ashmead, who had been my editor on THE MEN IN THE IN JUNGLE, then about to be published.

Ashmead grandly assured me that there were no taboos, that I was free to follow my literary star in writing this novel of immortality, television, and American Presidential politics.


Harlan was also in New York, on his way to be Guest of Honor at the World Science Fiction Convention in Cleveland. "You gotta go to the Worldcon," he told me.

"Worldcon? What's that?"

"Two thousand fans of writers like us, half of them women. Need I say more?"

I had failed to connect up with Dona once more, so he didn't.

I pictured a thousand literary groupies of the sort one might in one's dreams encounter in a Village coffee house avid for intellectual discourse and fornication with science fiction writers.

Instead, I had my first encounter with the subculture of science fiction fandom -- dominantly male, adolescent, overweight, and literarily jejeune to say the least. An unsettling experience for writers who come to science fiction from elsewhere for strictly literary reasons. J.G. Ballard didn't write for a year after his first and last convention. When I encountered Keith Laumer after his first convention, he was in a state of gibbering shock.

Not my planet either, but being the venue of much publishing wheeling and dealing, as well as places to meet your friends and colleagues, sf conventions, I was to find, are rather seductive to science fiction writers, bad for the head, but hard to avoid.


Upon returning to Los Angeles, Spinrad rented an apartment in Laurel Canyon, where, in 1967- 8, he wrote BUG JACK BARRON, as well as short stories, journalism, and two scripts for Star Trek, one of which was produced as "The Doomsday Machine."
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Re: Norman Spinrad: Autobiography, by Norman Spinrad

Postby admin » Thu Jul 04, 2019 3:44 am

Part 2 of 2


Los Angeles seemed a lot more like home the second time around, or rather Laurel Canyon did, wild overgrown hills five minutes off the Sunset Strip, inhabited by wild overgrown people, and I've never lived anywhere else in LA ever since.

Harlan introduced me to Jared Rutter, editor of Knight magazine, and I wrote a piece about science fiction fandom for him which led to a monthly column chronicling the times as we passed through them, collected in 1970 in FRAGMENTS OF AMERICA.

This was to be published by something called Now Library Press, another line of a large porn publisher, who at this time was doing the Essex House line of literary porn novels under the aegis of Brian Kirby. The writers who wrote the novels -- and there were some formidable ones like Theodore Sturgeon, Philip Jose Farmer, David Meltzer, Michael Perkins -- got $1500. I got $300 to read them and write six pages afterwards justifying their redeeming social significance.

Thanks to another Harlan Ellison connection, I wrote a piece for Cinema magazine, and thanks to a favorable mention of his pilot for the show therein, I was invited to write a Star Trek by Gene Roddenberry, and then a second.

Thanks to all of the above, I managed to survive economically for the eight months or so it took me to write BUG JACK BARRON on the first half of a $1500 advance from Doubleday.

This was, in retrospect, the apogee of the countercultural revolution, when everything seemed possible, when the world was being made anew, when even Time could do a naively positive cover story on the Summer of Love.

I was writing commentary on it all every month. I had been invited to write Star Trek. My first hardcover had come out. I was riding as high as the times.

So I took Ashmead at his word, sat down with my copy of UNDERSTANDING MEDIA, a lid or two of grass, and the blithe assumption that science fiction could also be made anew, that is, that all the commercial, political, stylistic, and linguistic strictures no longer applied, and I let the muse, the evolutionary imperative of the time take me where it would.

Where it took me was into a highly political tale of love, sex, immortality, suicide, drugs, idealism lost and ultimately regained, informed by a sexual explicitness the science fiction genre had never seen before, though, in 1990s retrospect, relentlessly heterosexual, and almost naively free of anything that would today be called "perverse."

The style that seemed to move through me in a great Kerouacian gush was curiously similar in spirit to that of Norman Mailer's WHY ARE WE IN VIET NAM?, Brian Aldiss's BAREFOOT IN THE HEAD, and even Robert A. Heinlein's THE MOON IS A HARSH MISTRESS, all of which had to have been written at roughly the same time, and none of which could have influenced any of the others. None of the four of us had written anything like that sort of thing before, and none of us really ever did again.

It may sound arch in 1993 to suggest that the spirit of the times must have been speaking through us. But not in Psychedelic Sixty-Seven.


Doubleday rejected the finished manuscript of BUG JACK BARRON. Spinrad spent the next year or so trying to sell it to major hardcover houses without success.


1968-1969, on the other hand, were, as I called them in the title of one of my Knight pieces, "Year of Lightning, Year of Dread."

Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy were assassinated, Russian tanks crushed the Prague Spring, Richard Nixon emerged as President after Lyndon Johnson was driven from office, and Doubleday bounced BUG JACK BARRON.

Not to suggest that these were events of similar magnitude, but the nature of the clashing forces were the same in the microcosm as in the macrocosm.

"Take out all the sex, drugs, and politics, and we'll publish the book," Doubleday told me.

"All that would be left would be a novelette," I pointed out.

Multiply this by ten million such incidents, small and large, and you have the transformation of the cultural awakening of 1967 into the cultural war of 1968-72. Hip versus Square. Counterculture versus Power Structure. Revolution versus Establishment. Sex, Drugs, and Rock and Roll versus the Judeo-Christian Tradition. Me versus You. Us versus Them.

BUG JACK BARRON bounced around New York from publisher to publisher, rejection to rejection. The mainstream publishers rejected it because it was too much like science fiction. And I resisted the easy out of publishing it as a genre book. As in the macrocosm, so in the microcosm.


During this period, he took the manuscript with him to Milford, where he met Michael Moorcock, British fiction writer, literary theoretician, and editor of the experimental magazine New Worlds.


In the microcosm of science fiction, the countercultural literary trend against was called the "New Wave."

So dubbed by critic Judith Merril to describe a recondite stylistic revolution within the genre taking place primarily in Britain under the theoretical aegis of Mike Moorcock. But by 1968, the term had come to include anything that its proponents considered taboo-breaking or conservatives believed polluted the vital bodily fluids of the science fiction genre, as exemplified by the stories in Harlan Ellison's landmark DANGEROUS VISIONS anthology.

And of course by BUG JACK BARRON, "New Wave" by all three definitions, and a novel that had become notorious before it even found a publisher.

It was already notorious in part because I had already gone public on the subject in articles in science fiction fanzine, in appearances at science fiction conventions, even on the radio. I definitely did not want BUG JACK BARRON published as just another genre sf paperback, but things being what they were, I used my voice wherever I could make it heard.

And took the manuscript with me to the Milford Conference.


Moorcock was very enthusiastic about BUG JACK BARRON, and serialized it in New Worlds in six monthly installments. The magazine had a grant from the British Arts Council, and when the W.H. Smith bookstore chain refused to stock it because of their objections to BUG JACK BARRON and the Arts Council successfully pressured them to rescind the ban, questions were raised in Parliament, where Spinrad was called a "degenerate."

Meanwhile, Spinrad was finally persuaded to sell the American book rights to BUG JACK BARRON to Avon Books as a science fiction paperback original.


Mike Moorcock was not the only one at Milford who was enthusiastic about the notorious BUG JACK BARRON when they got to read a piece of it. The encouraging reception it got from writers on both sides of the so-called New Wave controversy pulled me out of a personal pit and dropped me in the middle of a paradox with which I have wrestled ever since.

Ever since BUG JACK BARRON, it has always seemed to me that what I was writing, like much else that got published as "sf," did not belong in the sf marketing category, genre sf being commercially targeted at an audience of literarily and politically unsophisticated male adolescents, and what I wrote, judging from reader response, appealing to a demographic slice that was older, more female, more interested in literary and political matters than in the "action adventure" formula dominant in the sf genre.

A more general audience, conditioned by decades of sf genre packaging not to seek out such fiction within such covers, where in fact, paradoxically, much of the best of it is fact to be found, precisely because the writers thereof have been ghettoized therein by the mainstream publishing apparatus, itself conditioned by the very prejudices its own sf lines have done so much to promulgate.

Like other science fiction writers of my generation and our older soul-mates of similar literary ambition--Ellison, Moorcock, Thomas M. Disch, Barry Maltzberg, Robert Silverberg, Samuel R. Delaney, Philip K. Dick, Brian Aldiss, Leiber, Alfred Bester, Theodore Sturgeon, to name a few--I have fought to break my work out of this literary ghetto.

The paradox being that there has always been more comprehension for this desire to break the bounds of the genre, more emotional and intellectual support for literarily adventurous speculative fiction, within the walls of the very ghetto from which it seeks to escape than from without.

This being the short form of the long analyses in my teaching anthology MODERN SCIENCE FICTION and my critical overview of the literature and its place in society SCIENCE FICTION IN THE REAL WORLD, both published quite later.


A year or so of trying to sell BUG JACK BARRON as a major mainstream novel finally convinced me that I was banging my brains out against a stone wall. And indeed, as soon as I gave up and unhappily agreed to let Scott Meredith try the sf publishers, the book was involved in a kind of half-assed auction. And after I reluctantly sold the novel to Avon as a paperback original, I managed to secure a simultaneous hardcover edition from Walker Books.

Still, I wanted out. Or rather, in. To larger literary realms. And the only way to do it seemed to be to write a novel that was not science fiction, and to do it without a contract.

This, after having had a contracted novel rejected and bounce around for a year without selling, was scary. Though, upon reflection, maybe not. After all, the $3000 I had finally gotten for BUG JACK BARRON via competitive bidding was still less than what I had made in two weeks writing a Star Trek script. And my Knight column covered the rent.

And I had a story to tell, or rather several of them that fit together thematically. I take a look backwards for a change, and would write THE CHILDREN OF HAMELIN, relating the karmic connections between the roots the Counterculture in the old Village bohemia, drug dealing, psychotherapy cults, and the fee-reading operation at a literary agency not entirely unlike Scott Meredith's.


About this time, he met Terry Champagne, with whom he was to live for the next year or so.

After he finished THE CHILDREN OF HAMELIN and persuaded Meredith to agent it, he and Terry Champagne moved to London in 1969.


Yes, Theresa Louisa Champagne was her real name, and in retrospect it was a relationship that was not so much doomed as destined to be a limited run for a certain season.

Terry was still married to a friend of mine while she was chasing chased after me, and I was too square to let her catch me until she had resolved her situation. Terry was not into monogamy except perhaps of the short-term serial variety. Terry was not looking for a permanent relationship, and I was.

Or was I?

For by the time she moved into my Laurel Canyon apartment, I was committed to moving out. All the way to London.

The American publication of BUG JACK BARRON was set, and I was in the process of finishing THE CHILDREN OF HAMELIN. I had become something of a minor countercultural hero in Swinging London in absentia. Who could resist? Why should I?

Hooking up with Terry didn't change my plans. Terry was an archetypal child of the Sixties. a stone willing to roll what and wherever. An artist, a topless dancer, a jeweler, a dealer, and when, through me, she got to take a shot at writing stories and doing journalism, she succeeded at that too, albeit, on her usual terms. "It's all the same shit," she used to say to me, to my consternation. If I had ever thought of myself as a hippie, living with Terry Champagne disabused me of any such notion.

After finishing THE CHILDREN OF HAMELIN, I somehow managed to bullshit the Scott Meredith Literary Agency into marketing it despite, uh, certain aspects, and off we went, in March of 1969, via a flood in LA, a blizzard in New York, and a five day barfing seasick crossing on the SS United States, to London, to a Europe that neither of us had ever seen.


Neither Terry nor I had been outside of North America before, and now here we were in London, and at first, it was all an adventure, the scene around New Worlds, the fringes of the Countercultural underground, Mid-Summer's Eve at Stonehenge, it was all new, even the smell of everything was subtly different.

But after we had sublet at apartment in Bayswater and started actually living in London, it all settled into a sort of normal routine, something like living in New York for me, but more alien for a California girl like Terry.

Which is to say that London in the end was more interesting to me than to her. She was writing about as much as I was, and good stuff too, but she was never as serious about the literary scene as I was, or for that matter, about much of anything else.

Nor was I getting much done writing done waiting for BUG JACK BARRON to be published, waiting for THE CHILDREN OF HAMELIN to sell as it bounced from publisher to publisher, talking literary theory with Mike Moorcock and colleagues, playing the minor underground literary celebrity....


After J.G. Ballard and Mike Moorcock backed out, Christopher Priest and I were invited as the token science fiction writers to the Harrogate Festival of Literature and Science by the noted publisher and literary figure, John Calder. Off we went by train, Chris and his wife, Terry and I, Chris nervous about mingling with all the awesome literary luminaries.

Calder, quiet frantic, met the train with his humongous Jaguar saloon, the four of us and two Indian professors stuffed ourselves into it, and Calder started to drive out of the parking lot--

"Oh no, man!" I shouted. "You're gonna--"

Too late. Calder had already driven the Jag halfway down a flight of stone steps, where it hung quivering on its belly-pan. Calder, freaking, had no idea what to do next.

Somehow, this grand entrance into the literary high life ended any trepidation I might have felt about being a 28 year old sf punk amidst my intellectual betters.

"You stay behind the wheel and gun the engine when I tell to you to," I told him, "and the rest of us get out and lift the rear end."

And that's how we did it, bouncing the car down the steps in stages. It managed to get us to the hotel before all the oil leaked out, but the repair bill was enormous.

So it goes, as Kurt Vonnegut would say. So it went.

The theme of the conference was the interface between science and technology and literature, but they had one microphone to be passed among twenty panelists, like an exaggeration of a typical science fiction conventions. My experience therewith served me well, and I sort of began to ooze front and center.

Then, Erich Fried, a German Marxist writer, and his attendant groupies decided to organize a revolution. This was 1969, I was the author of the notorious BUG JACK BARRON, and thought my heart was surely in the right revolutionary place, so I attended his evening strategy session in the auditorium as invited.

Fried's thesis was that the relationship between the speakers up on the platform, and the audience down here in rows of seats facing them, was hierarchical, therefore fascist. He would demand that the seats be rearranged in a circle with the audience surrounding the speakers on the same equal level. Much more democratic.


But when I looked down, I observed that the chair I was sitting on, like every other seat in the auditorium, was quite thoroughly nailed to the floor. It would take a team of carpenters days to move them all.

When I pointed this out to Fried, he scowled at me with bemused contempt. "Hardly the point!" he sniffed.


The next day, Fried stood up in the audience and made his demand backed up by many shouts of "Right On!" from his supporters. There then ensued half an hour of tedious argument about seating arrangements to the discomfort of the paying customers, and the total befuddlement of Nigel Calder, the chairman, who had completely lost control.

After a half hour of listening to this totally pointless argument, I had finally had enough. I snatched the one free microphone, and gave Fried what he wanted.

I observed none too gently that, the seats being nailed to the floor, the argument was moot, the audience was bored with it, and it was time to get on with the program.

"You, sir," Fried shouted righteously on cue, "are a fascist swine and a bastard!" And stormed out of the audience at the head of his troops, as he had obviously planned to do all along.

It was the major media event of the conference. It made all the papers. That's how I got called a fascist swine and a bastard in every major newspaper in Britain.

Well, not precisely. Because John Calder had spelled my name wrong in the press kit, the fascist bastard was "Norman Spinard."


BUG JACK BARRON had been published, THE CHILDREN OF HAMELIN hadn't sold, I was still writing my monthly column for Knight, but had no other significant source of income, Terry was getting homesick for California, the sublet on the London apartment was up, so, somewhat reluctantly on my part, perhaps, after a month staggering about the continent after the car we had borrowed from Mike Moorcock expired in Germany, we returned to Richard Nixon's America in the fall of 1969 and rented a house in Laurel Canyon.


Coda to Harrogate:

We took the train back to London in the company of, among others, William Burroughs. We had to change at York. Burroughs went to a newsstand after reading matter for the trip and returned with a handful of sleazy British tabloids.

"Look at this stuff!" he chortled. "Juicy!"

They were all full of this lurid Hollywood murder story. Pregnant actress Sharon Tate, wife of Roman Polanski, famous hair stylist to the stars Jay Sebring, and several others had been gorily murdered by a tribe of drug-crazed hippies in thrall to some weirdo named Charles Manson. I never paid attention crap like that, and marveled at how someone like Burroughs could.

Little did I know how close I was to get to the Manson Family.

Too close for comfort. And soon.


There Spinrad, in 1970-71, wrote THE IRON DREAM, his satire of science fiction, Nazism, and Adolf Hitler, which had emerged as a concept from a conversation in London with Moorcock, during the writing of which his relationship with Terry Champagne ended.

During this period, he was also writing political journalism, film criticism, and the occasional book review for the Los Angeles Free Press, America's best-selling weekly underground newspaper.


A crazy time.

My relationship with Terry was breaking up. I was writing a novel that amounted to channeling the consciousness of Hitler in order to exorcise the demon of Nazism. And I had become a main man of the Underground Press on the side.

Arthur Kunkin, founder of the Free Press, had hired Brian Kirby as managing editor, and I was one of the writers he brought in. The money was next to nothing, but as a film critic I was on all the freebie review lists, as a political columnist, I developed a certain following, and I loved the instant feedback of weekly journalism, a welcome relief from getting inside the head of Hitler while my relationship was falling apart.

But what I, and everyone else at the paper, could have done without was the Mansonoids.

Kirby had brought in poet and former Fug Ed Sanders from New York to cover the murder trial of Charlie Manson. As soon as he hit the tarmac at LAX, Ed was writing stuff about how the Establishment was railroading this innocent hippie tribe in order to crush the Counterculture.

Charlie and his Family loved the coverage. They loved the paper. They loved Ed. There were more of them on the loose than anybody not at the Freep realized. And as the trial progressed, every stoned-out nut in California seemed to want to join the Manson Family too...

The Mansonoids trusted Ed. They trusted him so much that they told him about all these other neat snuffs they had done that only their good buddies at the Free Press now knew about, hee, hee, hee....

So early on we all knew that Manson & Co. were indeed the crazed killers the wicked Establishment claimed they were, but Kirby had to keep on their good side, such as it was, the Freep had to hew to the Mansonsoid line, print Charlie's poems and manifestos, or the murderous creeps hanging around the paper might not like us any more....

Years later, I met Ed Sanders in New York.

He told me that even there, even then, he still slept with the lights on.

One good thing did come of it, though: one of the best front page headlines ever.

Remember when Richard Nixon butted into the trial? "MANSON GUILTY, NIXON DECLARES," screamed the headlines in the Establishment papers.

The next issue of the Free Press carried a piece by Charlie himself about the then-unfolding Watergate scandal.

"NIXON GUILTY, MANSON DECLARES," said Brian Kirby's headline.

How right they both were!


THE CHILDREN OF HAMELIN still hadn't found a book publisher, and Brian Kirby, editor of the Free Press, began an unprecedented weekly serialization of the novel in the paper.



Ernsberger was later fired by Minton, and when the paperback of PASSING THROUGH THE FLAME was published, the dedication to Ernsberger, which had appeared in the hardcover, was removed. During this period, MCA bought Putnam, and eased out Walter Minton, and Spinrad changed agents again, signing on with the Jane Rotrosen Agency.


By the time the paperback came out, Dona and I had moved back to New York, and I saw the first copy in the Putnam office. In the absence of Minton, I raved on about how I was going to talk to certain people in Hollywood who would see to it that he would be gone ere the year was out.

It was admittedly a cheap thrill. Putnam had already been bought by MCA, and from the experience of my friends Betty and Ian Ballantine, I knew all too well what happened to owners who sold their companies to such conglomerates believing they could cash the fat check and still retain effective control.

Then too, Minton was not exactly a hero to his troops. He once fired a couple dozen people at the office Christmas party, to give you an idea. I was at a big publishing party when it came down. A whole bunch of people from the Putnam office arrived, drunk as skunks, and lugging champagne, which they proceeded to pour for me.

MCA just axed Walter Minton, they told me. How did you do it?

I just smiled enigmatically over the rim of my glass and toasted his demise.


In another attempt to secure major mainstream hardcover publication, Spinrad wrote THE MIND GAME without a contract. Though the completed book seemed on the verge of being accepted by major hardcover houses several times, something always seemed to happen between the editorial and legal end.


Was Scientology or the fear thereof responsible? They had certainly complained when their street-solicitor minions appeared in my comic short story in Playboy, "Holy War on 34th Street," and had tried unsuccessfully to get Anchor Books to edit my comments on Hubbard out of MODERN SCIENCE FICTION.

And while THE MIND GAME was bouncing around, we did have this rather peculiar burglary. The apartment was ransacked, but nothing was taken. Not the stereo, not the tv, not Dona's mink coat which was hanging in plain view, not even cash.

A search for a manuscript?

A not-so-friendly warning?

The cops said it was probably crazed dopers.

I could hardly tell them that the burglars hadn't taken my grass either.


Whatever the cause, THE MIND GAME wasn't selling, so I decided it was time to write another science fiction novel, and wrote an outline for A WORLD BETWEEN, my meditation on sex roles, feminism, media, and electronic democracy.

My friend David Hartwell wanted to buy it, and I had been instrumental in securing him his position, but unfortunately that position was sf editor at Putnam-Berkley. I had recommended him to Ernsberger, but at this time, George was already gone and Walter Minton was still in power.

So Jane Rotrosen auctioned the outline, and the winner was Jove Books, the hot new paperback line just started by Harcourt Brace Jovanovich. And they made a deal to do new editions of THE IRON DREAM and BUG JACK BARRON. And bought THE MIND GAME too.

For the first time in my career, I had some significant capital.


Jove published THE IRON DREAM, but before any of Spinrad's other books there could be published, corporate upheavals at Harcourt Brace Jovanovich intervened. The Jove science fiction program expired, and Jove itself was sold to Putnam-Berkley, under which corporate aegis it finally published THE MIND GAME in 1980.

Spinrad, meanwhile, had moved A WORLD BETWEEN to Simon & Schuster/Pocketbooks, where David Hartwell had started a new line of books, Timescape. Hartwell published A WORLD BETWEEN as a paperback original, but published Spinrad's next two novels, SONGS FROM THE STARS and THE VOID CAPTAIN'S TALE in hardcover.


SONGS FROM THE STARS was a post-apocalypse alien-contact story, among other things, and I wanted the "narration" of the alien data- packets to be, well, songs, poetry, that is. Could I pull this off? Fortunately, David Hartwell was an experiences poetry editor whom I could count upon to tell me whether I was making a fool of myself.

David thought the verse worked, with some tinkering, but felt that the 40 pages or so of description around it should be in metric prose.

"Metric prose? What's that?"

David proceeded to teach me, as we went over 40 pages of manuscript, syllable by syllable, phoneme by phoneme.

Somehow, this learning experience, combined with a scene that had been kicking around in my head for years without leading anywhere, synergized into THE VOID CAPTAIN'S TALE, a (non)-love-story of the far future written in a kind of "world-speak" called Lingo, my first piece of book-length fiction in experimental prose since BUG JACK BARRON, although in a style light-years apart.

I had written three novels since the publication of PASSING THROUGH THE FLAME in 1975, but owing to all these publishing upheavals, none of them were published until 1979-1980, when all three of them were published in a space of 18 months. First it looked as if I had had a four year writing block, then as if I had written three major novels in less than two years!


In 1976, soon after the writing of A WORLD BETWEEN, Spinrad's relationship with Dona Sadock ended, though the two remained good friends. In 1980-1982, Spinrad was twice elected President of the Science Fiction Writers of America. During this period he also began a quarterly column of criticism for ISAAC ASIMOV'S SCIENCE FICTION MAGAZINE, which, at this writing, still continues. In 1982, Universal Pictures, which had previously had the book under option, bought the film rights to BUG JACK BARRON for $75,000, the film to be written by Harlan Ellison and directed by Costa-Gavras.


Universal was trying to get me to sell them another cheap option, I knew that I could force them to pay me the pick-up money only because Costa-Gavras wanted Harlan to write it. It was a high-stakes game of chicken.

Finally, I got my long awaited $75,000 phone call. I had about two hours to enjoy it. Then I got another phone call telling me that Phil Dick had had a massive stroke and had lapsed into a terminal coma.

Universal still owns the film rights to BUG JACK BARRON. To this date, they have pissed away maybe $2 million on the project, and the film has not been made.


During this period, he began visiting France, the first time as guest of honor at the Metz Science Fiction Festival. On this trip, in Paris, he recorded two tracks on Richard Pinhas' album East-West as a cyborged vocalist.


"Me sing on a record album, Richard? Are you nuts? I can't even carry a tune with a fork lift!"

Not to worry, he told me, just write some words to this music, chant them into the microphone, and I, the vocoder, and the computer will do the rest.

So we go into the studio, and I put on the earphones, and start just chanting these simple lyrics, we do some takes like this, and then....

And then Richard tries something. He lets me hear my own voice being processed through the vocoder circuitry in real-time and something happens.... I'm supplying analog input to the electronic augmentation circuitry, I'm in a positive feedback loop with the vocoder, I'm collaborating with it, with whatever Richard is doing, manipulating it as it's augmenting me, and out the other end something is singing.... me, maybe, but not quite not-me either, and then....

And then, unbeknownst to me, Richard cuts the vocoder out of the circuit like Daddy surreptitiously removing the training wheels from a kid's bicycle.

And plays the result back to me.

"That's you," he tells me, "au naturel." And so it was. And so it is. For better or worse, you can hear it on the album, re-released on CD in 1992.

I wrote a piece on the experience for a magazine. And started playing with the first little electronic keyboards. And got to thinking....

Electronic circuitry can replace human drummers, even do whole rhythm tracks untouched by human hands....

And if electronic circuitry can make a singer out of me, it can make a rock star out of anyone....

And if out of anyone, why not out of no one, why not virtual rock stars who aren't there to not show up for concerts, or get busted for drugs, or command all that money...?

If the music industry could do this, they sure would, now wouldn't they?

And that was to be the genesis of LITTLE HEROES.


But LITTLE HEROES was one book in the future. I had never done a sequel to anything before, or since, but I wanted to do a sequel to THE VOID CAPTAIN'S TALE. Sort of.

THE VOID CAPTAIN'S TALE, narrated in his own "sprach of Lingo," that is, his private melange of human languages, by the Captain in question, takes place entirely on a single space ship, and is written in a rather hermetic Germanic sprach.

I didn't want to keep the characters, or the setting, or even the style. I wanted to write a wider-screen, more up-beat, joyous bildungsroman from a female point of view, and in a more Latinate, baroque, wise-cracking sprach of Lingo.....


After the hardcover publication of THE VOID CAPTAIN'S TALE by Timescape in 1983, David Hartwell had made a deal for a new thematically-and stylistically related novel, CHILD OF FORTUNE, and Spinrad once more returned to Los Angeles and rented yet another house in Laurel Canyon in which to write it.


The breakup with Dona left me emotionally devastated, New York was filled with memories, bad karma, high rents, I was getting homesick for California, and CHILD OF FORTUNE, with its long sequence in an alien forest of flowers seemed like a California book....

But I had friends in New York, I had plenty of money from various books and the movie deal. So I decided to give New York one more try. I'd make a fresh start, I'd move into a nice new apartment. After all, I could now afford twice the rent I was presently playing for my crappy little three room railroad flat on Perry Street.

I looked, and looked, and was finally about to give up when I saw an ad for an apartment that seemed perfect. Double my current rent, but I was prepared to pay it.

"Large beautiful four room apt. on tree-lined Village street, eat-in kitchen, sunny garden view...."

Only wasn't there something familiar about the phone number...?

Indeed there was, as it turned out when I called it.

It was the number of my current landlord.

The wonderful apartment I could move into for twice the rent I was paying was a clone of my own in the same building two floors down.


Before contracts for CHILD OF FORTUNE could be drawn up, the Timescape line got caught up in a power-struggle between Richard Snyder, head of Simon & Schuster, and Ron Busch, head of its Pocket Books subsidiary. Snyder canceled the Timescape line and caused Busch to fire Hartwell, simultaneously making a deal with Scott Meredith for his literary agency to package a new line of science fiction for the company.


David Hartwell used to throw Friday afternoon parties in his office. Dick Snyder's office had a private dining room and attached kitchen. One Friday, after Snyder had left, Dave snuck up to his office to cop some ice from the machine in his private kitchen.

He returned with a bucket of ice cubes and a dazed expression.

Snyder's ice machine had embossed the cubes with his monogram.


Which will give you some idea of the egos involved. But it was corporate hardball too. Busch, not Snyder, had hired Hartwell to start the Timescape line, and now Timescape was doing Pocket Books hardcovers, which Snyder chose to see as infringement by Busch on his turf. So canceling Busch's sf line, and making a deal with his good buddy and my ex-agent Scott Meredith to package a replacement was a ploy in a larger power struggle.

Making Busch take the public heat for a move that was directed against himself was pure Dick Snyder.


The Science Fiction Writers of America, under President Marta Randall, strenuously objected to this obvious conflict of interest. Randall had been Spinrad's Vice President and his choice to succeed him, a task she had accepted only on condition that Spinrad make himself available if called upon by her in an emergency. During the period when this crisis broke, Marta Randall found herself teaching a writers' workshop on an isolated island with only a payphone as her contact to the outside world.


So I found myself representing the SFWA in a loud national four- cornered media battle against, my former agent and employer, and two competing powers within the publisher of my own last three novels!

They never had a chance.

For an agency to package a line of books featuring work by its own writers was a blatant conflict of interest that stank like a codfish in the media moonlight. And to make my job even easier, when Busch canceled Timescape and fired Hartwell, he had told the press that he had done it because the literary quality of Hartwell's product was too high. Meredith would do a much better job of providing cynical schlock.

Guess whose side Publisher's Weekly was on? Guess how it looked in the New York Times and the Washington Post? Guess how happy Gulf & Western, who owned Simon & Schuster, was with Snyder and Busch as they devoured their own feet in public print?

For about ten days, I found myself dribbling Busch, Snyder, and Meredith in the press like a basketball, not that you had to be a media Magic Johnson to do it.

hen they finally capitulated, Busch actually complained to the New York Times that the SFWA had thrown its weight around unfairly, that we had bullied poor Pocket Books, Simon & Schuster, and Gulf & Western, that I was guilty of practicing "Gunboat Diplomacy.


The winners, paradoxically enough, were the SFWA and Dick Snyder. For the first time in American publishing history, a writers' organization used the public press to overturn a high-level corporate decision at a major publisher. On the other hand, while Snyder was unable to consummate his deal with Scott Meredith, he won the power- struggle with Busch, eventually forcing him out of the company.

Timescape, however, was still canceled, Hartwell was still fired, and Spinrad was understandably less than confident in his future at Simon & Schuster/Pocketbooks.

He moved CHILD OF FORTUNE to Bantam, who published it in 1985.

In 1984-86, while writing LITTLE HEROES under contract to Bantam, Spinrad taught the novel at the Clarion West Science Fiction Writer's Workshop in Seattle, where, in 1985, he met Nancy Lee Wood, who writes under the name N. Lee Wood, and was there as a student. In 1986, she moved into his house in Laurel Canyon.


Science fiction writing workshops had proliferated, and I had often expressed my dubious opinion thereof, much preferring Damon Knight's old "No Chiefs, No Indians" formula to the hierarchical structure of teachers and students, established writers and wannabees.

"Don't knock it till you try it," I was told, particularly by Harlan Ellison. So finally, when I was invited to teach a week at the six week Clarion West Conference, on conditions that I teach the novel, which no one else had tried to do, the idea being to teach novelistic structure by having the students turn an idea into an outline.

Somewhat to my own surprise, it worked well enough to persuade me to do it three years in a row, which had never been my intention.

Lee, a resident of Portland at the time, was one of my students in the middle year, and showed up in Los Angeles a few months later. We met at various events and venues in between Portland and Los Angeles, during the next year, I went to visit her in Portland, and she finally moved into my house in Los Angeles.

Terry Champagne had written and published while living with me, but this was the first time I had lived with someone who had been a writer before I had met her, and who was as serious about it as I was.

And we've actually been able to work consistently while living together. I've written two long major novels, 100,000 or so words of short fiction, and much else as of 1993. And Lee has written two and three half novels and quite a bit of short fiction during the same period.

If you don't think this is rare, you don't know that many writing couples. Which is exactly the point--a writer has a hard enough time living with anyone and working at the same time. For two of them to do it sharing the same space-time, believe me, ain't smooth and easy!


In 1987, Spinrad and Wood traveled together to Europe for the first time, to England, and then to Paris. The conjunction of their mutual love for the city, and the political changes occurring in Europe, caused Spinrad to conceive RUSSIAN SPRING in New York on the way back to Los Angeles, and secure a contract to write it from Bantam.


By this time, I had been to Paris by myself several times, most of my books had been published there, I was popular in France, I had a circle of friends in Paris, I had always fantasized living there at some time, but never gotten up the nerve to do it alone.

What I had done, years earlier, while still living in New York, was write the beginning of something I called "La Vie Continue" in which my future self was living as a political refugee in Paris, in which the Soviet Union had undergone a "Russian Spring" analogous to the "Prague Spring" of 1968.... About 12 pages into it, I realized I had the beginning of a much longer work than I had bargained for, and it aside.

Now, years later, in Los Angeles, I owed Bantam a long novella for OTHER AMERICAS, a collection they were going to publish, which seemed just the right length for "La Vie Continue," so I sat down and wrote the first draft in LA.

That's right, I wrote "La Vie Continue" before I moved to Paris. Call it prescience. Call it a flashforward. Call it a self- fulfilling prophecy.


One anglophone writer living alone in a francophone culture had always been a scary creative prospect to me, but Lee fell in love with Paris on this first visit, and together I felt we could live in France successfully for a protracted period, even though she spoke no French at the time, and my French was what I had learned on my previous visits.

Then too, I was between drafts on "La Vie Continue," scouting locations for the rewrite, going around Paris contemplating the life of this American exile who was myself living in the very same city, while at the same time, thanks to Gorbachev, the future I had envisioned for Europe years earlier in New York was beginning to unfold here in real-time.....

The setting of RUSSIAN SPRING, the characters, the context, all began to come together, and so too the adventure of writing it. This would be a novel dealing with the future of Europe, the Soviet Union, and the United States, would be primarily set in Paris, and so we had an excellent excuse to live there for a year or so while I wrote it.


In the summer of 1988, Spinrad and Wood moved to Paris, and soon thereafter Spinrad was elected President of World SF at a meeting in Budapest, an international organization of which N. Lee Wood was later to be elected General Secretary.

Shortly thereafter, Spinrad began writing RUSSIAN SPRING, and after finishing the first draft, he and N. Lee Wood traveled to Moscow in the winter of 1989 as guests of the Soviet Writer's Union to do further research for the book, which was not finally finished until about three months before the August 1991 coup attempt, and which was published in the United States the month afterwards.


At the World SF meeting in Budapest in 1988, we had met Vitaly Babenko, then a depressed Russian writer having a hard time getting anything published. When we visited Moscow in 1989, he felt he had to sneak into the Peking hotel where we were staying courtesy of the Writer's Union, and I felt I had to be circumspect about seeing him.

By 1992, he was the President of TexT, the second biggest private publisher in Russia, and he had brought us there for the publication of the Russian edition of RUSSIAN SPRING. Mad, mad Moscow!

He paid me my advance in the form of a huge bag of rubles. Spend it all before it disappears! we were told by one and all.

It wasn't easy, but we did. Like everyone else in Moscow, we became obsessive shoppers. It was a crash course in the psychology of inflation, believe me.

And how right they were. When I was handed the money, the ruble was 135 to the dollar. Less than a year later it was to be about 1000 to the dollar.

Moscow is a tough, crazy town, but one of the most exciting places I've ever been at this mad moment in history, and as we stood atop the Lenin Hills with some Russian friends the day of our departure, one of them gave me a strange look.

"You like it here, don't you?" she said in some bemusement. "You could live here...."

Maybe she was right. Maybe I could.


Spinrad and Wood decided not to return to the United States as residents, though they returned for visits, and were married on one of them in Florida in 1990.

Norman Spinrad's latest novel, PICTURES AT 11, though set in Los Angeles, was written in Paris where he still resides, and deals partially with the strains of German reunification. Completed in the middle of 1993 under contract to Bantam, it has at this writing not yet been scheduled for publication.


This close to the real-time of me sitting in my Paris apartment writing this attempt at the closure of a story that is not yet finished, they all finally merge.

The story of how two American writers came to Paris for a year or so and ended up staying is certainly material for a whole novel, several of which have probably already been written.

The historical context in which it took place is a novel I have already written, namely RUSSIAN SPRING, conceived on a one month-visit to Paris, developed in New York, treatment written in Los Angeles, first draft written in Paris before Wall came down, before our first trip to Moscow at the time of the death of Sakharov, and finally published in Russia itself in 1992, in a society not that much unlike what is described in the book, but which didn't exist before it was written.

So why is Norman Spinrad still living in Paris?

The answer is not to be found in "La Vie Continue." The Norman Spinrad in that novella is ten years older than the present writer, and the present writer does not consider himself an American exile, political or otherwise.

I'm not living in Paris because I don't can't bear to live in the United States.

I'm living in Paris because I want to live in Europe.

We've been here five years now. We've braved the Russian winter. We've walked through the Berlin Wall in the very process of its demolition. We've both been officers in an international writer's organization. We've made friends in France, Russia, the (former) two Germanies, (former) Yugoslavia, (former) Czechoslovakia, Italy, Holland, points between. We've been part of their lives and they've been part of ours, and at a time of rapid-fire evolution that is transforming this supposedly tired old Continent into the cutting edge of the 21st Century.

And I'm doing another cut on one of Richard's albums via the very instrumentalities I predicted in LITTLE HEROES.

Why would an American writer of speculative fiction choose to live in Europe?

Why not?

Or, as I usually say when asked this question, hey, to an American science fiction writer, Europe isn't merely another planet, it's a whole other solar system!

Planet France, Planet Germany, Planet Russia, Planet Italy, and other major bodies, plus untold scores of ethnic asteroids! And each of them a world entire!

I'm 53 now, improbable as it seems to me. I've lived by my words for 30 years. I've witnessed three decades of history in many places, and been part of some of it. I've been rich and poor. I've been flush and broke. I've fought the good fights, and I've won and lost. I've achieved a certain amount of literary recognition, but not, of course, what I consider my just share. I've had my ups and downs. I have my good moments and my bad.

And when I'm really feeling down, I remember a 25-year-old kid stoned on mescaline, walking across 4th Street to the Village, high on DUNE, and dreaming those crazy prescient dreams....

He was going to be a famous science fiction writer, he would publish many stories and novels, and the many of the people who were his literary idols, inspirations, and role-models would accept him as their equal, would become his allies, his friends.

And his life's mission would be to take this commercial science fiction genre and turn it into something else somehow, write works that transcended its commercial parameters works that could aspire to the literary company of Burroughs and Mailer and Kerouac, that would open a new Way....

This is what you're here for.

And so I was. And so I am.

When I look into the mirror and am appalled to see this middle- aged guy looking back, when my latest novel fails to make the best- seller lists, when the bills start coming in faster than the checks, and I bemoan all that I haven't done, all the just desserts that haven't been piled up on my plate, all I long to be and haven't achieved....

Then that 25-year-old kid grins back at me and gives my 53 year old self a swift kick in the psychic ass. At my age now, maybe I know much too much to feel the same, but he's certainly got cause to feel entirely satisfied with the story so far.

Everything he saw in that timeless Einsteinian moment has come to pass.

Everything he wanted to be, I have become.

I look out my window onto my Paris garden. And when I finish this, I will walk out into the summer streets of Paris, a minor princeling of the City of Light.

Beyond the wild dreams of that 25-year-old kid!

I've become what he wanted to grow up to be and so much more.

I should be satisfied, right?


I've spent my whole life looking forward not back. Sure, this 53-year-old has got what that 25 year old wanted.

But I'm not him, and it's not enough, and I'm old and wise enough now to know that it never will be.

If I live to be a hundred with a Nobel on the mantelpiece, I'll probably say the same thing.

I'll probably even believe it.

This story doesn't end here.

It begins tomorrow.

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