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.