Interviews With The Fantastic
InterGalactic Interview With Richard A. Lupoff
by Darrell Schweitzer
Richard Lupoff has had a distinguished and varied career since the early 1960s,
when he and his wife Pat co-edited the Hugo-winning fanzine Xero and he was an
editor for Canaveral Press, overseeing the republication of much of the work of
Edgar Rice Burroughs. His first book was a non-fiction study, Edgar Rice
Burroughs, Master of Adventure (1965; revised 1975). His first fiction was the
1967 novel One Million Centuries (revised, 1981), after which he ranged from the
satirical The Sacred Locomotive Flies (1971) to the experimental Space War Blues
(1978) to a fantasy based on Japanese mythology, Sword of the Demon (1977).
Other SF, fantasy, or related novels by Lupoff include The Triune Man, The Crack
in the Sky, Circumpolar! and Countersolar! (both of which anticipate Steampunk
by decades, Sun's End, Galaxy's End, Into the Aether, Lovecraft's Book
(unabridged reissue as Marblehead), The Forever City, and The Comic Book
Killer. He has also had a distinguished career in mystery fiction.
SCHWEITZER: To the best of my knowledge, for all you've had a long and
illustrious career in science fiction, you haven't gotten rich at it any more than I
have. That must mean that either we are paragons of selfless virtue, or that
ultimately, the SF writer has to be in it for something other than the money. Would
you agree? Do you find that the same enthusiasm you must have felt as a young fan
can still sustain you after all this time?
LUPOFF: I'm not sure that we ever fully understand our own motives for life
choices. My enthusiasm for science fiction has deep roots in my childhood. We'd
experienced a number of family tragedies and my brother and I found ourselves
shipped off to a truly dreadful military/boarding school. If you've ever seen one of
those horror movies about this environment, let me tell you that they're essentially
truthful depictions, except that conditions are far worse than you can imagine.
Talk about tyranny and oppression! This was during World War II and the early
years of the Cold War, we were supposedly fighting for freedom and democracy
and here was an environment that was based on the very opposite of those
principles. Any parents out there contemplating educational "opportunities" for
your offspring -- listen to me: do not -- do not! -- do this to your children!
I'd always enjoyed fantastic fiction in all media -- children's books, comics,
motion pictures, radio. Television wasn't a factor in those days. Trapped in those
nasty surroundings, I found in the alternate realities of the far future, of distant
planets, of alternate time lines important solace. This was escape reading of the
My heroes were the authors and editors who filled the pages of Galaxy, F&SF,
Thrilling Wonder Stories, and the early inexpensive anthologies like Judith
Merrill's Shot in the Dark, Groff Conklin's The Science Fiction Galaxy and the
anonymously edited Avon Ghost Reader. It seemed the most natural course to want
to emulate my idols, and I was submitting short stories to our school paper and to
my favorite professional magazines by the time I was in my teens. The paper
accepted my offerings, as I was the editor. The prozines turned me down, but I
received wonderful, encouraging personal letters from Anthony Boucher and Mick
McComas. God bless their beautiful souls!
Well, sixty years later I can't honestly say that I have the same degree of
enthusiasm that I had back when Harry Truman was President, but something of it
survives, and I hope always will. Every time I open a jiffy bag and get my first
look at a book of my own, or at a magazine or anthology in which I have a story, I
do turn into a teenaged fan again, at least for a little while.
SCHWEITZER: Would you describe the beginnings of your career, how you
made the transition from fan to pro?
LUPOFF: Those early unsuccessful attempts to sell short stories were pretty
discouraging, but I never gave up the dream. I even started a novel while I was in
high school, but only got a couple of pages written before I realized that I was in
over my head.
Every few years after that I'd take another shot at selling, always with the same
But in the early 1960s I was lucky enough to land a job as an editor at the fondly
remembered Canaveral Press. With that job as my credential, I found myself
hobnobbing with other editors and writers -- lunching with Larry Shaw of Lancer
Books one day, with Don Wollheim and Terry Carr of Ace Books another. Talking
about problem authors and artists like the great Roy Krenkel. Roy was delightful
person as well as a brilliant artist, but he refused to install a telephone in his home
and he lived out in the suburbs. There was no email in those days, of course, so if
you wanted to talk with Roy, procedure was to send him a dime via snail mail.
Then if the weather was nice he would walk to a phone booth and call you up!
Around this time I remember James Blish sitting in my living room one afternoon,
listening to me bitch about not being able to sell a short story. "You should write a
novel, then," he told me. "Novels are easier than short stories."
I found that hard to believe, but I decided to give it a try -- writing a novel, that is
-- and turned out three chapters and an outline of a book called One Million
Centuries -- and it sold! Thank you, Mr. Blish!
SCHWEITZER: It was a very different time, wasn't it? It was a time when any
science fiction paperback sold a safe amount of copies, almost regardless of what
was in it. There was a stable short-story market. Wasn't it an easier time to get
started and get noticed in science fiction than today?
LUPOFF: Oh, yes, it was a very different time in the publishing world. Anthony
Boucher had written an essay about publishing science fiction, in which he
compared this to publishing mystery fiction. At that time -- early 1950s -- science
fiction was still predominantly a magazine field, while mystery fiction had
switched over in large part to books several decades earlier.
Boucher said that any genre book, clearly labeled with the right icons -- smoking
gat, tough guy in fedora, sexy babe in slit skirt for mysteries; spaceship, tentacled
alien for science fiction -- if attractively packaged and distributed, was virtually
guaranteed a successful sale. But there was also a ceiling above which it would not
Omit the icons, Boucher said, publish the book as just "a novel," and you forfeit
the guaranteed loyal reader base -- the fans. But you also remove the ceiling and
the sky's the limit. You could blow to the top of the best-seller list, or you could
Time has proved Boucher 100% right.
Incidentally, just a few years after Boucher wrote his essay, Don Wollheim told me
that every Ace Book sold 25,000 copies. Didn't matter who the author was. Some
might sell faster and others slower, but Ace printed 25,000 copies of every title and
every title sold out. Isn't that amazing!
I don't know whether it was actually an easier time to get started, though. Of
course there were many more science fiction magazines, something like thirty of
them at the peak of the early '50s boom, so there was a huge market for science
fiction, especially for short stories and novelettes. The market for novels was much
smaller, although the leading magazines often ran short novels "complete in one
issue" or longer ones as two, three, or four-part serials.
There aren't many science fiction magazines left today, but there are plenty of
science fiction book publishers. In fact, more than ever if you include the low-end
independents that rely on computerized, print-on-demand production. They don't
pay very well but they make it easier than ever, I think, to get your foot in the door.
SCHWEITZER: So, did you get noticed?
LUPOFF: I guess I did. The fan-turned-pro phenomenon was quite prevalent in
those days. The whole science fiction community was pretty small, and when a
fan's byline started appearing on magazine contents pages or on the spines of
books, there was often a "welcome to the club" type of response. Marion Zimmer
Bradley told me that when she sold her first novel a lot of her fellow aficionados
took the attitude that she was "just a fan who got lucky," while the established
professionals accepted her without reservation.
As for my personal experience, I think it was fairly atypical. As a fan I'd been in a
very active circle of New Yorkers who included a thoroughly mixed group of fans,
pros, and fans-turned-pros. Larry Shaw, Don Wollhein, Terry Carr, Ted White,
Dave van Arnam, James Blish, Algis Budrys, Lee Hoffman, Lin Carter -- the wall
of separation between fan and pro was very thin and permeable. I had one foot in
each camp for several years before I felt the need to choose, and I chose to be a
SCHWEITZER: Where does Edgar Rice Burroughs figure into all this? You
were working for Canaveral Press, a publisher of both reprints and previously
unpublished ERB material. You wrote a book about him, Edgar Rice Burroughs:
Master of Adventure. May we safely assume that ERB was a major enthusiasm and
influence for you at this time?
LUPOFF: As I was growing up, I associated Burroughs with low-budget Tarzan
movies featuring an overweight, over-the-hill Johnny Weissmuller, and crudely
drawn comic books. When I started reading science fiction pulps, I kept coming
across letters from fans mourning the lack of new Burroughs stories. That was my
first inkling that he'd even written science fiction. But Burroughs had died in 1950,
so that question was moot. Or so it seemed to be.
Then when I became a new husband in 1958, my bride happened to read Tarzan of
the Apes and told me that there was more to Burroughs than I'd realized. I started
reading his books and realized that she was right. This led to the whole Canaveral
Press experience, which I dearly loved. It was the best job I've had in my life. And
I even got to read -- and publish! -- some previously unpublished Burroughs
My first novel, One Million Centuries, was a sort of Tarzan story turned inside out.
Instead of a white man plunged into a world of blacks, my hero was a black man
who had grown up in a white-dominated world, plunged into -- a world of blacks.
As an author I realized that I was much more interested in the psychology and the
sociology of my characters and their relationships, than I was in describing
Without being over-analytical, I think that's been true of my work throughout my
career. I'm not an ideologue; I'm a story-teller. But I think my stories are driven by
characters and relationships far more often than by events. I've worked in many
fields: science fiction, fantasy, horror, mystery, and mainstream fiction. I've even
written a couple of westerns. But as Ed Gorman said in a recent essay, whatever
genre I'm working in, what I really write are "Lupoffs." Other commentators have
said very much the same thing, and I find it a highly flattering evaluation.
On the other hand, my onetime agent resigned -- maybe I should say, "fired me,"
but I won't -- over this issue. He insisted that I did action scenes well and wanted
me to play to that strength. He wanted me to write what I call "helicopters strafing
the White House" books. Stories packed with action, set on a large stage and for
heavy stakes. I wanted to write smaller, more intimate stories. Stories about
ordinary people living more-or-less ordinary lives. Yes, even if they led those lives
on other planets or in the year 600,000 CE. The kind of thing that Philip K. Dick
used to do so well.
As you can see, there wasn't much future in that relationship, although my "ex"
and I are still good friends and even get together on a project now and then.
SCHWEITZER: Might it be that the problem with SF publishing today is that
we've lost the protection of genre? You and I can remember when such things as
R. A. Lafferty novels or collections of Avram Davidson stories, or a book as odd as
David Bunch's Moderan could be routinely published in mass-market paperback
-- a fantastic notion today. It must have been that any science fiction book sold an
adequate number of copies then, regardless of content. This no longer seems to be
true, and all too much is as a result no longer publishable, except in very small
presses. Have you any idea why this is so?
LUPOFF: I think we can look at that problem in both a "narrow-band" and a
"broad-band" view. In the former case, I refer you back to Anthony Boucher.
When science fiction was a cottage industry with its own limited but fanatically
loyal following, virtually any science fiction book had both a floor beneath it and a
ceiling above it. With any kind of decent packaging and distribution, it was almost
impossible for a genre book to fail, but its success was also limited.
Editors could publish quirky books -- you mention Lafferty and Davidson, two
wonderfully talented, very distinctive writers -- and get away with it. Both Don
Bensen and David Hartwell told me at different times that they published populist
adventure novels -- they specifically mentioned the works of Lin Carter -- in
order to subsidize a book like A Double Shadow. That was several decades ago, the
author was Fred Turner.
It was a very odd novel. I believe it was the author's only published science fiction.
The idea was that a terraformed Mars a thousand years or so in the future would
support a culture in which a science fiction writer would produce a novel set in that
future's future. You see how daring this was. I thought the book was a brilliant
success, its publication was one of the few times that the term tour de force is
really justified, but it made hardly a ripple at the time.
Do you think it could be published today? I doubt it -- unless one of those
miniature publishers you refer to took it on as a labor of love.
The shelves at Dark Carnival, the science fiction bookstore near my home, are
covered with images of future wars and space operas and other strictly low-end or
entry-level science fiction. Most of it is inspired by TV shows or big screen
productions. What we like to think of as mature science fiction is strictly alien to
readers who think Han Solo Meets Lieutenant Uhura is great literature.
Seeing things more broadly, the whole publishing industry -- in fact, the whole
media world -- is in the midst of a revolution. You can sit on a commuter train and
watch a movie on your smartphone, you can download music or videos on your
desktop or laptop or your Dick Tracy Wrist Radio. An author can turn a raw
manuscript into a professional-looking pdf and email it to a POD publisher and
have finished copies of his book in a few days.
Electronic readers have been kicking around for at least twenty years but after a
long struggle to establish a place for themselves, they have finally caught on.
Instead of loading your suitcase with a dozen fat volumes before you head to the
airport you can load 'em onto your Kindle or iPad or some other reader and you're
ready for that big business meeting in Chicago or the beach chair under the palm
tree in St. Thomas.
What's next? Where will all this lead?
It's easier than ever to get published, thanks to POD. And harder than ever to make
a living at it!
SCHWEITZER: I wonder what you make of the entry about you in The
Encyclopedia of Science Fiction (Clute and Nichols) which seems to suggest
you've done all these pastiches and never found your true voice. Do you feel any
sense of frustrated ambition? Or is it that when you borrow tropes from Edgar Rice
Burroughs or whomever this is more in the form of a metafictional commentary?
We have, after all, Ed Gorman's testimony that you write unique "Lupoffs" in
whatever genre you venture into.
LUPOFF: Ed Gorman said that in his introduction to my collection of mystery
stories, Killer's Dozen. I was very pleased with Gorman's insight, and in fact a
number of readers and critics have been making the same point lately. About time,
It's true that I've written a certain amount of parody and pastiche, much of it
collected in The Compleat Ova Hamlet. This is done usually as homage to writers
whom I admire and whose works I enjoy -- Fritz Leiber, J.G. Ballard, Arthur
Conan Doyle, H.P. Lovecraft, Rex Stout, Jules Verne. There's even a website that
insists that "Jack Kerouac" is a pseudonym of mine, or maybe that Richard Lupoff
is a pseudonym of Kerouac's. Some fun!
But in fact this amounts to just a small fraction of my total writing. With all due
respect to Messrs. Clute and Nichols, I know damned well that I've found my
voice. Somehow they haven't heard it, which I regret, but that's not my problem,
Anyone who thinks I'm an elusive writer who hides behind masks of others can
find the real me easily enough. Read Marblehead, a massive mainstream novel that
I wrote in 1976. It got entangled in a snarl of publishers, editors, and agents,
disappeared for thirty years, then resurfaced in 2006. One of those new POD-oriented micropublishers, Ramble House, finally brought it out and it got rave
reviews everywhere from Locus to Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine even thought it
isn't science fiction at all and isn't really a detective novel.
If you want to read a "real" Lupoff science fiction novel, pick up a copy of Sacred
Locomotive Flies or Sun's End or Galaxy's End. Those latter two were intended as
the opening and middle volumes of a science fiction trilogy. The first of them was
a big success -- multiple mass paperback printings, great reviews -- but the
second was packaged so horrendously that when I saw an advance proof of the
cover I pleaded with my editor to have the book redesigned. I warned her that, as
planned, it was going to die the death.
She refused, and the book flopped, and my punishment for being right was the
cancellation of my contract for the third volume!
One more suggestion: read my mystery novels about Hobart Lindsey and Marvia
Plum -- The Comic Book Killer or The Emerald Cat Killer or any of the six novels
that came between those.
If you can't figure out who I am by the time you've read those books you'd better
demand a refund from the Famous Detectives School.
SCHWEITZER: I am sure that the Frederick Turner book would not be possible
from a major publisher today, and was only possible then because a dedicated and
idealistic editor pushed for it, and very possibly pulled the wool over his boss's
eyes a little bit. These things do happen. I was astonished to see Greer Ilene
Gilman's Moonwise published by a major publisher, for example. It happens
because somebody believes that the book is more important than just the next sales
report. Possibly nowadays, with sales tracked by computers and the buyers for the
big bookstore chains being all-powerful, this sort of thing is going to happen less
and less often. What can this result in but the impoverishment of the field, and of
the culture generally?
LUPOFF: You raise a pretty dismal prospect, and I'm afraid you're right. But I
wouldn't give in to total despair. There are still dedicated editors in the business
and one would hope that the next time a Double Shadow or a Moonwise comes
along, one of those editors will decide to take a chance on it, and will not only
publish the book but will get behind it and -- pardon my crass terminology --
support the product. Alternately, an editor might use some commercially-oriented
space operas or future war novels or teenage vampire or zombie stories to
subsidize a piece of real literature.
Incidentally, to the best of my knowledge A Double Shadow did die the death, alas,
and I've never heard peep from its author since that splendid book was published.
But Moonwise won all sorts of prizes and I hope this means we'll see more books
from Ms. Gilman.
SCHWEITZER: Or, to really rub it in, consider the following eccentric (but
masterful) writers: Avram Davidson, R.A. Lafferty, David Lindsay, Clark Ashton
Smith, Austin Tappan Wright, and David R. Bunch. If these writers were new,
starting out now, do you think any of them would be able to have careers?
LUPOFF: That depends on how you define the word "career." I'm sure they
could all get published today. Well, maybe not Wright, simply because Islandia is
such a huge book. They might have to go to small presses but they could certainly
get published. But could they make a living?
Darrell, remember that there was a time when I was a starry-eyed fan whose
fondest ambition was to become a professional science fiction writer. The same is
probably true of you. Let's pause to tug thoughtfully at our long white beards and
wipe away a nostalgic tear.
Okay, back to the issue at hand.
Time was, seriously, when the idea of anyone's being a real, full-time, professional
science fiction writer was quite beyond the pale. You can pick up old copies of
Imagination or Thrilling Wonder Stories and read author biographies in them, and
they all contain sentences like, "When not writing science fiction, Herman
MacGruder earns his living as a sanitation engineer for the City of Detroit."
I invented ol' Herman there, but consider: H. Beam Piper was a track walker for
the Pennsylvania Railroad. Hal Clement was a high school science teacher. Isaac
Asimov was a college chemistry professor. Clifford Simak was a newspaper editor.
Rog Phillips was a night watchman. Bertram Chandler was a steamboat captain.
James Blish was a public relations flack. Fletcher Pratt was a respected military
historian. Eric Vinicoff was (presumably, still is) a federal bureaucrat. Elizabeth A.
Lynn is both a tax preparer and a martial arts instructor. With a little research we
could extend that list indefinitely.
Somewhere along the way -- I think it would be in the late 1960s or '70s --
science fiction started to hit the big time. I suspect that it was the film 2001: A
Space Odyssey that was largely responsible for this. Prices started rising and
almost overnight it became possible to earn a living writing science fiction. But
that seems to have been a bubble, and like the housing boom of the 1980s, it has
burst and left a lot of people sitting in the wreckage of their careers, wondering
what went wrong. It's tragic, but you pick up the pieces and move on, there's
nothing else you can do.
And of course there are a few of us who are still making a living from science
fiction. Maybe they're really that much better than everyone else, or maybe they're
just lucky, or -- well, it's not for me to say. But for the overwhelming majority of
science fiction writers, it's back to the future all over again. You either have a day
job doing -- well, just about anything! -- or spread your writing across multiple
genres -- science fiction, fantasy, horror, mysteries, thrillers, you name it.
SCHWEITZER: You're involved with editing a small press yourself. Could you
say something about that? You mention that small, POD presses make it possible
to get anything into print rather easily. Yes, but has anyone solved the promotion
problem? If there is no promotion, and no one knows to seek out these books, how
are they to reach more than a few dozen readers?
LUPOFF: A few years ago I came across an odd little book by Harry Stephen
Keeler published by a little press called Ramble House. I was so taken with the
book that I sent a note to the publisher, a man named Fender Tucker. One thing led
to another and Ramble House wound up publishing my novel Marblehead, which
became a bestseller by the very modest standards of the small press world.
Eventually I did a little volunteer editing for Ramble House, and Fender was so
pleased with my work that he asked me to take on an imprint of my own. That was
an offer I couldn't refuse. I asked Pat to partner with me on it, and after a search
for a name for the imprint we settled on Surinam Turtle Press -- in honor of a
creature whose ugliness is rivaled only by its laziness.
Unfortunately we don't have any budget with which to buy properties, so we've
had to rely on a good many excellent but forgotten works by authors like Gelett
Burgess. When Burgess is remembered at all it's for his light poetry and children's
books -- he created the famous limerick about the purple cow -- but in fact he was
a first-rate novelist and his books hold up remarkably well after a century. We've
done seven or eight of his books, and every one has real merit.
I've also been able to issue or reissue a number of books, either through Surinam
Turtle Press or its parent company, Ramble House, that might otherwise languish.
For instance, Jim Harmon was a rising young science fiction writer of the 1960s
who contributed short stories to many of the magazines of the era. He was also one
of my mentors, a brilliant teacher of fiction technique.
But early on he switched gears and became a distinguished cultural historian. But
he'd left behind an unpublished science fiction novel, The Contested Earth. I was
delighted to publish that book. There was Fox B. Holden, a '40s and '50s pulp
writer whose one novel, The Time Armada, was serialized in Imagination but never
had a book edition. I was able to secure rights from surviving members of the
Holden family and we published the book through Surinam Turtle Press.
There was Mack Reynolds' very first novel, The Case of the Little Green Men.
This book is a wonderful romp through the fan community circa 1950, leading up
to a murder at a science fiction convention. Thanks to Mack's old friend Earl
Kemp and Mack's son, I was able to get rights to issue this book, which had been
out of print for almost sixty years. And there was Sideslip, a fine little science
fiction -- hardboiled hybrid by Ted White and Dave Van Arnam. I got rights to
this book from Ted and from Dave's widow, and we reissued it.
Then there's Jon L. Breen, regular book reviewer for Ellery Queen Mystery
Magazine. No way I could persuade Jon to write a book for me, for no advance.
But he was willing to compile a volume of his past essays and reviews that we
published as A Shot Rang Out. It's a marvelous book.
I do wish I had the budget and the staff and the know-how that it would take to get
these books onto the shelves of a thousand bookstores and into the hands of a
million readers. We're making some progress in that direction, getting into some
retail stores, distributing through on-line book dealers and getting listed on sites
like Amazon.com and B&N.com, but we've barely scratched the surface and it is a
very tough job.
SCHWEITZER: So, what are you writing these days? Are you still able to get
anything out from the major publishers?
LUPOFF: My most recent books have all been collections and they've all been
from small companies: Visions (from Mythos Books), Quintet: The Cases of Chase
and Delacroix (from Crippen & Landru), and Killer's Dozen (from Wildside
My next book -- it may be on sale by the time this interview sees pixels, it's
already listed for sale on several websites -- will be back to the big publishers. It's
a mystery novel, The Emerald Cat Killer, from St. Martin's Press.
Beyond that I've got enough projects lined up to keep me busy for many months, if
not years. Rookie Blues -- a cop novel that's about 80% complete, that I put aside
a long time ago and want seriously to get back to . . . Villaggio Sogno, a fantasy
novel based on a short story that I wrote for a Mike Ashley anthology . . . Beneath
the Karst, an adventure novel with vaguely Lovecraftian overtones . . .
Transtemporal!, the long-delayed wrap-up of a trilogy including Circumpolar! and
Countersolar! . . . and Dreams, the concluding volume of my three-decker
including Terrors and Visions.
I've also accumulated a lot of shorter nonfiction pieces that ran in magazines
ranging from the old Ramparts to F&SF to Locus to Andy Porter's Algol/Starship,
and more recently in online periodicals like Arnie Katz's VFW and Earl Kemp's eI.
A couple of publishers have approached me about putting these together as a sort
of critical compendium crossed with an episodic autobiography. It's a monstrous
chore, but I would like to do it if I can.
A lot of these projects are by way of tying up loose ends that have been dangling
for years or even decades, but somehow when I shave in the morning that fellow
who peers back at me from the mirror isn't the energetic twenty-something who
started all these enterprises. I may not get them all finished in my lifetime, but I
want to complete as many as possible.
SCHWEITZER: Thanks, Dick.