Stephen Marlowe on Ed McBain

Ed Gorman hosts a wonderful retrospective on McBain’s work from a noted contemporary of his, Stephen Marlowe:

In the early 1950s, when we first met, he was still Sal Lombino and I

was still Milt Lesser. Sal, a Navy veteran and sometime schoolteacher,

was working the phones for a wholesaler of lobsters in New York, taking

orders from restaurants, and I was working as chief editor–at the grand

old age of 23–of a large literary agency, having been hired straight

out of college because the agent, Scott Meredith, didn’t like to

advance editors through the ranks and dreaded resorting to a classified

ad in the New York Times, knowing it would result in a couple hundred

wannabes storming his office. I’d got the job on a tip from sci-fi

writer Damon Knight the day before Meredith would have placed his ad,

and I worked a year or so before deciding to give up the munificent

salary of 40 bucks a week (raise to 50, if I stayed!) to freelance

full-time–this on the basis of a couple of sci-fi stories I’d sold to

Howard Browne at Amazing Stories.

I well knew the problem of

those wannabes storming the gates, because interviewing for staff

positions had become one of my jobs at the Meredith office. How to

winnow the applicants? Well, I wrote a short story called “Rattlesnake

Cave,” intentionally the worst short story ever written, though on the

surface it seemed plausible. Applicants for the job, before being

interviewed, wrote a critique of the story, and it swiftly cut the

number from hundreds to a handful.

The wholesale lobster

salesman, Sal Lombino, showed an immediate and instinctive grasp of all

I’d intentionally done wrong in the story–and maybe a few things I

hadn’t realized I’d done wrong. He wryly observed that this story

hadn’t come in over the transom, as I’d claimed, but had been concocted

for the purpose, and dared me to deny it. I didn’t. Milt Lesser became

the freelance writer and Sal Lombino the editor who wrote nights.

Read the rest — it’s all worth it.