Two months ago, Lawrence Block and Robert Silverberg met in San Francisco for an epic conversation that spanned nearly every topic imaginable…and far more. Mulholland Books has transcribed the dialogue between these two masters of storytelling and will present it to you in two parts.
Lawrence Block: How did a nice fellow like you get into this business?
Robert Silverberg: When I went to college, I went to Columbia. I lived in Brooklyn and my first year at Columbia, I had to commute to Upper Manhattan to get to college and I saw working people on the subway with me, riding, riding, riding. And I thought if I get into this business, I can stay home when I work. I don’t have to do that.
LB: That does incentivize a person, you know.
RS: And I’ve never worked for anyone else. I worked at home as a professional writer for the last (When did I graduate? 1956) for the last 54 1/2 years and that’s because I didn’t want to be riding the subway. What’s your excuse?
LB: Well, I had the good sense to get tossed out of college, so I didn’t have anything to fall back on. And you know, that’s just as well. Because there were some times when if I had had something to fall back on, I would have.
RS: What college did you get tossed out of?
RS: Oh, very classy.
LB: It’s tough to get tossed out of Antioch.
RS: It’s one of the best to get tossed out of.
LB: What happened was I went down there for two years. And after the second year, they have a work study program there and instead of taking one of the jobs that the school had on offer for that semester, that term I went off and found a job. And the job I found was at Scott Meredith.
RS: You better explain. Tell them who Scott Meredith-
LB: He was a literary agent. Well—
RS: My literary agent.
LB: A sort of literary agent. Um-
RS: He wasn’t very literary, but he sure was an agent.
LB: Yes, yes, he had that part covered. And I got a job there as an editor and my job was to read the manuscripts submitted by hopeful writers who paid a fee to have their manuscript read by Scott personally and get a response from him. And I would write the letter and it would be one-and-a-half single-spaced pages, a long letter they got for their money, and it would come with their manuscript, which was returned, and it would say, essentially, “There were things wrong with this story which cannot be fixed because it is the plot that is at fault, but you are actually a superb writer and we hope you’ll be sending future stories to us, each, of course, accompanied by a fee.” And it was the best school for a young writer that there could possibly be. You can’t learn that much by reading wonderful work. You can learn a tremendous amount by reading things that don’t work. So it was a great education. Aside from that the only honest work I’ve ever done was a couple of years later when I took an editorial job in Wisconsin because I had had a falling out with Scott and a lot my markets suddenly were closed to me.
RS: He did control a lot of markets.
LB: Indeed. But you started out writing science fiction from the very beginning?
Continue reading “A Conversation Between Lawrence Block and Robert Silverberg: Part I”