Saturday, 27 June 2015

From the pulps to the slicks - A letter to the Saturday Evening Post from the Argosy magazine's editor

Many authors made sales to the pulp markets before appearing in the slicks. Usually neither they nor the magazine editors paid much attention to their prior work and did not trouble to call them out. The letter below must have spoken for many pulp magazine editors, surely.

This letter originally appeared in the letters column (KEEPING POSTED) of the Saturday Evening Post dated 24 May 1941. I liked both the sting in the tail of this letter and the attitude of the Post in publishing this without comment.

Letter of the Week
HERE is an open letter to Keeping Posted from the editor of Argosy, reprinted from that magazine :
We were both proud and happy to notice the recent debut (with Blood on the Moon, K. P.) in your magazine, The Saturday Evening Post, of one Luke Short, a writer of Western stories.
Our delight in this undertaking, however, was somewhat soured when we turned to your always edifying Keeping Posted page. There, in an introduction to biography of Mr. Short, we discovered the following discouraging query: "Where, we asked ourselves," you asked yourselves, had this Luke Short been hiding himself, his cayuse and his six-guns?" For your information, Mr. Short, up to the very moment of your dazzling recognition of his hidden talents, had been hiding in precisely the same place that has harbored so many of your other writers—men like Richard Sale, Borden Chase, Allan R. Bosworth, Albert Richard Wetjen, Richard Howells Watkins, Karl Detzer, L. G. Blochman, and considerable company. Not to mention C. S. Forester. (Surely you must have heard of Captain Hornblower.) The place we refer to is the pages of the Argosy.
Mr. Short, for instance, has sold us two serials and a great many short stories. A substantial number of readers admired and praised his work. Among them are conceivably several thousand who read both your magazine and ours. How do you think they are going to like your thesis that until they came upon Mr. Short in your book neither he nor they had any existence? But that, of course, is your problem.
Assuming for the moment that, until Mr. Short's manuscript arrived like an unheralded bombshell on your busy desk, you had never been aware of his previously published work, still we find you a little ungrateful. Perhaps it is mere egotism on our part, but we like to think that the Argosy played a part in the development of the writers we have mentioned. It might be quite possible that the work they did for us helped them to be worthy of you.
But this was intended to be congratulatory, not reproving, so we rejoice in Mr. Short's new eminence.
And we hope you will cherish him as we do. We even hope you got as good a Short story as the ones we printed.
Your ever-loving, if nonexistent, co-worker,

Monday, 22 June 2015

Gone North by Charles Alden Seltzer

Altus Press just released the Argosy Library Series 1 - 10 books that originally appeared in Argosy magazine. I picked up a few of them, and added them to the to be read pile in my ebook library.

Then I went over to James Reasoner's blog, where he wrote a review of Charles Alden Seltzer's book. Gone North. After reading the review, I pulled it out of the to be read pile and read it in a couple of sittings. It was a light, exciting read. One passage in particular says it all:

Fallon was pleased. This expedition was not to be a search for a dead man; it was to be a battle for a life and a fortune—for two lives, his own and Lin Underhill’s. Arrayed against him were two unscrupulous white men and all the lawless red men that could be bought or bribed. It might be that even the somewhat mythical Randall would develop into an enemy.

Fallon was headed into a mysterious country. A few hundred feet in front of him was a faithless guide, behind him were two men who had already revealed their murderous purpose, and upon all sides as he pushed further into the wilderness would be the hazards of the silent coverts from which might be sped the winged arrow of the white men’s forest confederates.

A fun summer read.

Saturday, 13 June 2015

Interview with Matthew White Jr. - Editor of the Argosy

This interview originally appeared in the magazine, THE EDITOR, dated October 1904.

Interviews with Editors.





SOME TIMES we feel in a somewhat light and flippant mood when we go on these little interviewing expeditions. Not that we are not always keenly alive to our readers' interests, but just a little light-hearted, you know. In such a frame of complacency I entered the office in the Munsey suite that is labeled " Dramatic Editor," for it must be known that Mr. White is not only the editor of The Argosy, but is also the dramatic editor and critic of Munsey's. But the full effect of my jaunty entrance was lost, for Mr. White was not in. I seized this opportunity, however, to con the rare photographs and antique programmes that lined the walls in passe partout neatness. and to get myself into more repressible demeanor.

I had not long to wait, for Mr. White soon came in.

The editor of The Argosy is one whose iron-grayness becomes, and the general note of warmth and good-feeling puts one immediately at ease. He greeted me with his cordial little smile and asked : " And what can I do for you. sir? “

" Mr. White. THE EDITOR would like to quote to its readers the Argosy market, its likes and dislikes; kind of stories do you favor? “

' Stories that are stories." answered he, smiling, this time at the triteness. " That is," he hastened to add, " stories with a snap and go; stories that rivet the attention.”

" Adventure? “ I tested.

" Yes; adventure plays quite a role in The Argosy, of course, as you know. Fantastic tales I like. Stories of unusual development in plot, even bordering upon the extravagant.”

" How about the love element. sir? “

" Not at all necessary. On the contrary. I reallv don't care much for love stories in The Argosy. Of course, love enters into more or less all the stories, but the tendency is to repress it.

" You see," he continued, " our readers are, in most part men—architects, mechanics, business men, who read it for relaxation; and that leads me to another point—the stories must be clear, easy reading; none of the 'clever,' ' smart stuff that sometimes graces the magazines. Mr. Munsey has a term for such. He calls it ' fine writing.' " That, as I say, I don't want. Things must drift in perfect sequence, and the reader must be carried on without any effort on his part.”

" Has the humorous story a chance? “

" Do you know a magazine where it hasn't “

We thought a little and shook our head.

" But any humorous story that casts a slur upon, or ridicules any class of readers, is not wanted. You see, we can't offend.”

" How about the matter of length ? “

" As to that, there is abundant scope. I should say that anything from one thousand words up. You see, there are about 700 words to an Argosy page, and we would want, therefore, hardly less than a thousand. Now, in Munsey's the storiettes can't be too short.”

“Serials ?"

" Yes; but these are usually written by our regular writers.”

" Oh ! so you have your regular contributors ? “

" Yes, indeed; there are men who have been writing for me for years, but that doesn't at all shut out others. Indeed, I am always on the lookout for new blood in- the magazine.”

This statement Mr. White did not have to substantiate, for we know a veritable little army of those who have sold him their first story—mirror associates included.

" Although I like serials," he offered, "I don't like the kind of stories that runs in a series, you know. Let it be all one story, not a vaguely connected string.”

" How do your regular writers get all these fantastic ideas for stories, Mr. White ? “

" Oh, we rather work together, you know," he answered modesty. " You see, since I've given up writing so much myself, the ideas for stories seem to come to me more than ever; so we just make a little family affair of it, and sit and have fun talking out the plots.

" Now, as an example of how one of our stories is suggested we'll look at one of our back numbers.”

Here Mr. White thumbed the recent issues that backed his desk in straight-stacked precision. Selecting one with seeming abandon, he opened it to the " complete novel " and passed it over to me: " There's a story that was made up of a regular incident, and a small one at that. One day while walking along Broadway, about Forty-second Street, I think, someone in the crowd pushed me roughly against a plate-glass window. Nothing happened, and the window didn't even break, but I began to think of the train of incidents that might well follow such an occurrence.

" I gave the idea for what it was worth to one of my men, thinking that maybe he could make a short story of it. But, after working at it a little, he began to see more and more in it, and as a result we see that he even evolved such a plot that he protracted it to 40,000 words, and that is how we have ' The Turn of the Wheel.' “

He tossed the magazine down.

" Then you like stories founded on fact, Mr. White? “

" I must know how you use the term," he replied, " before I can answer that.”

" Well, I mean ' true stories.' “

" Ah! there's the difference ! " said the genial little man with the warmth of enthusiasm that cannot grow old. " Stories that are founded on fact are far removed from ‘true’ stories as the term is generally used. Truth is stranger than fiction, and for that very reason makes poor fiction.

" My idea is that the basis of a story can be founded on fact, and such a fact that the writer can weave a plot around and about. Let him give his fancy play, bring in as much of the fanciful and fantastic as he likes, but make it all in harmony with the controlling motive of the story.”

Mr. White was warming into his theme, but I was chary of taking too much of his time, so I said : " Well, Mr. White, if you give your writers as much time, even, as you do such sorry questioners as myself, I can never doubt their warm feelings toward their chief.”

Here Mr. White tucked his head with the same pleasant little smile, and somehow I rather wanted to join the little family that he had mentioned.

" There are a few little technical points that I favor that maybe would be of interest to you. The title of a story is very important, and preferably should arouse curiosity. That's old, of course, as well as saying that a snappy first sentence is almost essential; but they can't be dwelt too much upon.

" Another thing, as Argosy is not illustrated, it makes a better page, and one more relieving to the eye, to have no more than two sentences to the paragraphs.

" Circulation? Oh, we're above the 350,000 mark now.”

" Do you pay upon acceptance, Mr. White? “

" Always.”

I tried to think of something else to ask him, but not a subject came to mind and do you know? the only height to which my inanity could attain, after thanking him for his courtesy, was the expression of a fervent wish that it would not rain on the morrow.

Saturday, 6 June 2015

Collector's nightmare

Imagine collecting this magazine, just this issue alone would take a lifetime.

Matthew White Jr. - Author, Editor of the Argosy magazine

A profile of the editor of Argosy magazine from 1886-1928

Matthew White Jr., Editor of the Argosy magazine
Matthew White Jr., Editor of the Argosy magazine

Matthew White Jr. was born on September 21, 1857 in Greenwich village, the son of Matthew and Sybilla McMinn White. He studied for two years in France and Germany and then began his career as an author and drama critic before becoming an editor. He was a drama critic initially and joined Munsey’s Magazine as a dramatic editor. In 1885, he established a publication for boys called Boy’s World. He became the editor of Argosy in 1886. He presided over the transformation of the magazine.

1886 - 1888
1888 – 1891
1891 - 1894
1894 - 1896
1896 - 1943
8-16 pages
16 pages
16 pages
96-128 pages
144-192 pages
11 x 17 in (Tabloid)
7.5 x 9.75 in
9.75 x 12.5 in
6.5 x 9.75 in
8.5 x 11 in (Pulp)

In 1896, Argosy became an all fiction magazine . As editor for the Argosy in its early years, Matthew White set the editorial direction and ensured that the magazine had a diverse mix of genres covering adventure, westerns, mystery, humor and science fiction while sticking to the Munsey formula of serials as a driver of repeat purchases. The typical issue of Argosy had a serial ending in it, another starting in it and a couple of episodes of an ongoing serial. This was in addition to the short stories that were about half the content.

 “We'll let you into a little secret," says Mr. Matthew White, Jr., editor of The Argosy, ' 'of how our stories all manage so cleverly to grip the reader's interest at the outset and hold it to the finish. And we can best do this by quoting from a letter sent to one of the New York daily papers a year or two ago by a man who had evidently never been fortunate enough to come across a copy of The Argosy; for the sort of thing he sighs for in stories is the very thing The Argosy supplies. To quote: 'Editors and publishers say of stories: "Give us plot and climax," while we, the people, protest against the machine-made stuff of that class.' Well, The Argosy never has a story written backwards—that is to say, the editor never hits on some frenzied position for the hero and calls on an author to write a story around it. That would be machine-made stuff.' Stories for The Argosy are chosen on an entirely different plan. What phase of life is likely to be most interesting to the big majority of readers? This being settled upon, the author is told to carry his hero along in a series of experiences that would be liable to happen to any one under such conditions. You all know if Sam Chase, from next door, dashes into your house and tells you that your neighbor on the other side, Robert Waite, has received a letter announcing that he has inherited a million from a man he has met but once, you are eager to have Sam tell you the whys and wherefores.

Pique the reader's curiosity and then gratify it. This is the secret of The Argosy's success. This, and the human touch in all its stories, even in those with the fantastic tinge. But to quote again from the kicking correspondent of the New York newspaper: People complain of the long-drawn-out stories of the magazines, with their wordiness that means nothing and that comes to no end, but breaks off anywhere in the middle, as if ideas or ink, or both, had given out, and we are angry to think we have wasted time in reading such stuff. There is not one person in a thousand who wants to use his own brain to finish unfinished stories, when the writers have been paid for doing it. Such stories are like a half- finished meal when one is hungry.' This is another thing The Argosy does not do—print stories which wander off at the end into hazy nothingness that some writers are pleased to call 'artistic finish,' but which, as a matter of hard, cold fact, is neither finish nor art.

In its short stories, The Argosy will continue to head the procession, as it does in its long fiction. Contributors complain that it is very difficult to write The Argosy kind of story; nevertheless the editor goes on demanding the goods—the brand experience has proven to him the big mass of readers want, for with The Argosy they waste no time in wading through a tame introduction to get at the kernel of the narrative. Stories must capture interest at the outset. Authors, keep this motto before you, if you want to break into The Argosy.'

He took a break from editing the magazine in 1913, when he moved to London as literary representative of the Munsey group. He was looking for suitable British authors and stories to reprint in the Munsey magazines, but that doesn’t seem to have worked out.

“The most striking difference is the element of surprise. the average novel or story published here convinces me that the English public wants to know most at the outset how the story will end. In America that would bc quite fatal. We do not want to know how it will 'come out' until it has 'come out.' The greater the surprise and the more novel the 'twist,' the greater chance the story has of being a great American success. Next I should place the English writer's attitude towards women. We place women on a pedestal. This characteristic finds its way into everything we do, and this is especially true of our literature. It is not for me to say what the attitude towards women should be. I can only say what it is in America and what it appears to me to be here. And here it seems to me that the women invariably get the worst of it. Price Collier says, 'England is a man's country.' The reflection of this in manuscripts is a barrier to their use in America, because many of our readers are women, and because the American man's instinct is to suffer, if by his suffering he can make woman the gainer."

I don’t know how long he was away, and who the editor of Argosy was during this time. Perhaps someone with access to the issues of Argosy published at that time can look at the table of contents pages and tell us. But he did return to America and resumed his position as editor of the Argosy.

Frank Munsey died in 1925, and the ownership of Argosy, along with the other Munsey magazines,  passed on to William DeWart, the company general manager. White must have thought that at 70 years he was done with magazine editing, and in 1928 he retired from his position as the editor. After him, there was a steady procession of seven editors till September 1943, when Argosy stopped being a pulp magazine.  These successors also stuck to the formula established by White, however, the amount of science fiction in the magazine dropped considerably.

Matthew White Jr. died on 17 September, 1940 at the age of 82. He doesn’t seem to have married and was survived by his sister, Sybella White Tithington.