How to Get Out of the Slushpile

All good books are alike in that they are truer than if they had really happened and after you are finished reading one you will feel that a that happened to you and afterwards it all belongs to you; the goo and the bad, the ecstasy, the remorse and sorrow, the people and the places and how the weather was. If you can get so that you can give that to people, then you are a writer.

—Ernest Hemingway

All my life I have been a writer.

Well, almost. As far back as I can remember I was writing stories or telling them to friends and family When I was in junior high school I created a comic strip— strictly for myself; I had no thought of trying to publish it. And I enjoyed reading, enjoyed it immensely. Back in those days, when I was borrowing all the books I was allowed to from the South Philadelphia branch of the Free Library of Philadelphia, I had no way of knowing that every career in writing begin with a love of reading.

It was in South Philadelphia High School for Boys (back in those sexually segregated days) that I encountered Mr. George Paravicini, the tenth-grade English teacher and faculty advisor for the school newspaper, The Southron. Under his patient guidance, I worked on the paper and began to write fiction, as well.

Upon graduation from high school in 1949, the group of us who had produced the school paper for three years and published a spiffy yearbook for our graduating class decided that we would go into the magazine business. We created the nation s first magazine for teenagers, Campus Town. It was a huge success and a total failure. We published three issues, they were all immediate sellouts, yet somehow we went broke. That convinced us that we probably needed to know more than we did, and we went our separate ways to college.

While I was a staff editor of Campus Town I had my first fiction published. I wrote a short story for each of those three issues. I also had a story accepted by another Philadelphia magazine, for the princely payment of five dollars, but the magazine went bankrupt before they could publish it.

I worked my way through Temple University, getting a degree in journalism in 1954, then took a reporter's job on a suburban Philadelphia weekly newspaper, The Upper Darby News.

I was still writing fiction, but without much success. Like most fledgling writers, I had to work at a nine-to-five job to buy groceries and pay the rent. I moved from newspapers to aerospace and actually worked on the first U.S. space project, Vanguard, two years before the creation of NASA. Eventually, I became manager of marketing for a high-powered research lab in Massachusetts, the Avco Everett Research Laboratory. In that role I set up the first top-secret meeting in the Pentagon to inform the Department of Defense that we had invented high-power lasers. That was in 1966, and it was the beginning of what is now called the Strategic Defense Initiative, or Star Wars.

My first novel was published in 1959, and I began to have some success as a writer, although still not enough success to leave Avco and become a full-time writer. By then I had a wife and two children.

I became an editor by accident. John W. Campbell, the most powerful and influential editor in the science fiction field, died unexpectedly. I was asked to take his place as editor of Analog Science Fiction-Science Fact magazine, at that time (1971) the top magazine in the SF field. I spent the next eleven years in New York City, as editor of Analog and, later, Omni magazine.

In 1982 I left magazine editing. I have been a full-time writer and occasional lecturer ever since. I have written more than eighty fiction and nonfiction books, a hatful of short stories, and hundreds of articles, reviews and opinion pieces.

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