RARA-AVIS: Gold Medal Month

From: abc@wt.net
Date: 31 Jul 2002

I know it doesn't start until tomorrow, but I wanted to go ahead and run this in. It's the interview with Bruno Fischer that I mentioned a while back. In it, he talks a about some of his experiences with Gold Medal, so it fits right in. The interview was in Paperback Quarterly in 1976.

Bill Crider

A PQ Interview with Bruno Fischer:

Q: More Deaths Than One says that it was originally published, in "Mammoth Detective Magazine." Did you begin your career in writing with the pulps? How long did you write for them?

A: What I began with the pulps was my mystery writing career. This was in the midst of the Great Depression, in the middle 1930s. At the time I was a newspaperman, which paid little, and a writer of short stories for literary magazines, which paid less. I had recently been married, and in order to pay the rent I wrote a terror-type short story and sent it off to one of the more popular pulps. Two weeks later I received a check for $60?enough to pay two month?s rent in those days. I wrote a longer story and sold it for higher rates, and I was hooked.

I wrote for all the pulps till their gradual demise after the war, killed by paperbacks which by that time brought me most of my income.

By the way, I didn?t write More Deaths than One for the pulps. Like the seven full-length novels I?d written previous to that one, it was written for my hardcover publisher and a year later was issued as a paperback reprint by Pocket Books. (The New York Times Reviewer called it
?outstanding for its middle-class realism?for its full-length, three-dimensional characterization.?) But because I was well-known to pulp readers, several magazines were willing to buy first serial rights and devote a good part of an issue to my unpublished novels before their book publication. This happened with all but one of my novels as long as the pulp magazines were around.

Q: You published a number of hardcover books before writing a series of paperback originals for Gold Medal. Were the requirements of GM any different from your hardcover publishers (that is, did GM ask for more action, sex, dialogue, etc?)?

A: Sex. Or what passed for sex in the 1950s, which was mild stuff by today?s standards. I, for one, welcomed this liberation from the traditional stuffiness of mystery stories. As for the rest, I wrote in my usual manner, movement and suspense with very little violence, about ordinary people in extraordinary situations, and nobody at Gold Medal asked for anything else, especially as the books sold well.

Q: Did you feel that paperback publishing had any advantages over hardcover publishing? If so, what were the advantages? If not, what were the limitations?

A: Before I entered into my first contract with Gold Medal
[in 1950] to do a paperback original, I weighed the pros and cons.

First, the cons. I would, of course, bypass the income and prestige of hardcover publication. The book clubs wouldn?t touch a paperback original and many reviewers (by no means all) would not deign to notice it.

As for the pros. I had by then written thirteen mystery novels. They had not sold badly for mystery novels, which meant not very well. After their hardcover publication, they had been reissued by major paperback houses?and it was from my paperback sales that the bulk of my income came. Since practically all contracts with hardcover publishers stipulate a fifty-fifty split on all paperback earnings, my hardcover was receiving as his cut a good deal more than he was paying me in royalties. If I went into original paperback publication I would get to keep all of that income.

More important, the contract Gold Medal offered was far superior to any hardcover publisher?s. A book publisher tries to get as large a share as possible of the author?s earnings form other sources, known as subsidiary rights?reprints, book club, movies, television, foreign. Gold Medal was interested only in its profits on its sales; everything else went to the author. This was especially attractive to me because my books were selling well in translation in a number of countries.

I signed with Gold Medal, and my first book with them, House of Flesh, sold some two million copies. Which made everyone happy. None of the other nine novels I wrote for them in the 1950s did as well, but almost all had satisfactory sales.

Q: Did you ever write paperback originals under a pseudonym?
 If so, could you tell us what it was? The GM "original" of The Lustful Ape was actually published some years earlier as by "Russell Gray." What's the story on this?

A: The Lustful Ape was the only novel I ever wrote under a pseudonym. Russell Gray was a name I had sometimes used during my pulp-writing days.

As I vaguely recall, I met the editor-in-chief of a modest paperback house called Lion Books at a meeting of Mystery Writers of America. He wanted me to do an original for him and offered a fair advance. I may have been in the writing doldrums at the time and thought this a chance of grabbing a quick buck while still writing myself out of them. I dashed off the 60,000 word novel in some four weeks, shattering by far all records for me?and the book sounds it.

Nine years later the editors at Gold Medal came across it and offered to publish it if I would let them do it under my own name. I hesitated for perhaps a day; it wouldn?t do my reputation any good. I reread it and it didn?t seem quite that bad, maybe because the advance Gold Medal offered was attractive. It came out twice almost a decade apart under two different names as the author. Abroad it?s always been published under my real name.

If the book still embarrasses me a bit, I do love that title!

Q: Your most recent book (at least that I've seen) is The Evil Days, reprinted in paper by Ballantine. Are you working on anything at the present? If so, what can you tell us about it?

A: Yes. But I?m one of those fiction writers who never discusses a story or a novel in progress with anybody?not with my agent, not even with my wife. When the story comes out of me, it comes out on paper. So I?ll have to pass this one by.

Q: If you had. to choose one of your books as your favorite, which would it be? Why?

A: The Silent Dust. And if I?m permitted two favorites, my most recent, The Evil Days.

Because they are the most satisfying to me. Because in them I I came closest to doing what I set out to do: tell a good story, achieve a cogent mystery, create flesh and blood characters. Or so it seems to me.

Q: Can you recall any particular cover of a paperback edition of your work that especially pleased you? If so, would you tell us what made it appealing?

A: I?m afraid there are few of my paperback covers I really care for. Mostly they are too garish, too slick, too women?s-magazine coverish, too obscure.

If I have to pick a favorite cover, it?s the one on The Pigskin Bag, reprinted by Dell in 1955 (some years before, there had been a Mercury paperback edition). It?s clear, dramatic, understandable, and quite readable from a distance.

Q: Do you feel that your work was influenced by any particular writers? Who were they?

William Faulkner, Raymond Chandler. (And of course every mystery writer was influenced by Edgar Allan Poe.)

Q: Do you have any favorite mystery writer(s)? Who?

A: Raymond Chandler, John Dickson Carr, Wilkie Collins

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