My mother was a writer – pretty much a failed writer; I think she sold half a dozen stories and fifteen or twenty articles in her life, and had a novel that never saw print – and I was encouraged early on to think of writing as an honorable and enjoyable profession.
My fate was sealed in the early 1950s when it became obvious that I was going to be too big to boot Native Dancer and Swaps home in their classic races – horse racing has always been one of my passions – and I started writing in earnest, two hours every night from the day I entered high school. I sold both articles and stories in high school, and pretty much wrote my way through college.
But while it was satisfying and even prestigious to be selling that young, it was all nickel-and-dime stuff. Then I met Carol at the University of Chicago, we were married when we were both 19, she got pregnant a few months later, and suddenly I needed a job.
I got a mundane one that I loathed for a couple of years, kept writing every night and selling bits and pieces here and there, and then found the only editorial job available in Chicago at the time – as the assistant editor for a tabloid called The National Tattler, which was like the Inquirer, only worse. I graduated from that to editing The National Insider plus a trio of men’s magazines, which at least paid the bills and gave us a little left over. And since my company didn’t publish any “adult novels”, there was no conflict of interest in my writing them for other houses. And over the next decade, I wrote and sold more than 200 of them. Never took more than 4 days to write one, on the assumption that my brain would turn to putty and seep out my ears if I worked an entire week on one.
You know what? A lot of us learned our trade turning out “the kind of novels men like”. There was a period when Greenleaf Classics, the notorious sex book publisher, was edited by Hugo winner and Worldcon chairman Earl Kemp. You know who was writing for him at the very same time? Robert Silverberg (5 Hugos, Worldcon Guest of Honor), Lawrence Block (4 Edgars, Mystery Grandmaster), me (5 Hugos, Worldcon Guest of Honor), and Donald E. Westlake (3 Edgars, Mystery Grandmaster). And we weren’t the only ones who graduated to better things. You wouldn’t believe how much talent was grinding out this dreck back in the 1960s and 1970s.
In 1966 I wrote a science fiction novel, an Edgar Rice Burroughs pastiche, and sold it. It was published in hardcover in 1967, a sequel came out in 1968, and a Robert E. Howard type of barbarian hero followed in 1969. Then I took a good look at them, decided they were fine Burroughs and Howard books but absolutely antithetical to (all my as-yet-unwritten) Resnick books, and stayed out of the science fiction field for eleven years to give people time to forget.
(They didn’t. Those three books come back to haunt me at every autographing session.)
By 1975 I told Carol that if I had to write one more 4-day book or 6-hour script (I was writing screenplays for Herschell Gordon Lewis, producer/director of “2000 Maniacs”, “Blood Feast”, and similar) I’d go crazy and I had to get out of the field. I don’t regret my time in it to this day; after all, it was paying me six figures a year in my mid-twenties at a time when the average American was making in the high four figures. But enough was enough.
At the time we were breeding and exhibiting show collies. (We had 23 champions in the dozen years we were in the game, and most of them were named after science fiction books and characters.) And we figured, well, if the two of us can care for from 12 to 15 collies and still make a living, think of what a staff could do. So we spent a year looking for the perfect venue, and finally we found it inCincinnati: the Briarwood Pet Motel, the country’s second-largest boarding and grooming kennel. We worked our tails off for four years, but by 1980 it was running smoothly, with a staff of 20 caring for an average of more than 200 dogs and 50 cats a day (and grooming another 40 or so), and I was finally able to slow down and do the kind of writing I always wanted to do, that I’d been preparing myself to do since I was a toddler. (When the writing outearned the kennel 5 years in a row, we sold the kennel in 1993, but decided we liked Cincinnati and have remained here in a house built to our specs – only 2 bedrooms, but 3 libraries and an office.)
My first novel in this “new” literary career was The Soul Eater, which came out in 1981. Barry Malzberg promptly announced that I would be the most important writer to emerge from science fiction during the 1980s, Analog declared it a work of art, and I was on my way. I wrote a pair of 4-book series for the same publisher (Signet), one set in a starfaring carnival and the other in an orbiting brothel, plus the rather blasphemous The Branch, and three others, one of which – Adventures – created the character I am still writing about and who has been my favorite from the day I first set him to paper, Lucifer Jones.
I had a pretty mediocre agent. I fired her and lucked out by getting the magnificent Eleanor Wood, who has been my agent for 29 years now and is absolutely forbidden to retire or die before I do. She put the first book I gave her up for auction, Tor was the high bidder, and the book – Santiago – was a bestseller that almost unbelievably remained in print for an unbroken 25 years.
One of the things about those of us who learned our trade in that Other Field is that we learned to write fast. No one publisher could ever handle my output – or Larry Block’s, or Barry Malzberg’s, or any other graduate of the adult field. So while Tor was my primary publisher in the 1990s, I also sold the Oracle trilogy to Ace, the Widowmaker trilogy to Bantam, a pair of Lucifer Jones books to Warrner’s, and Kirinyaga to del Rey. And it’s remained much that way into the new century: since 2000, I have sold multiple books to Tor, Watson-Guptill, Pyr, Subterranean, Baen, and others. I think what it boils down to is that most writers hate writing but love having written; me, I love writing.
I never enjoyed short stories much. I thought you needed 75,000 words or more to say anything mildly important or interesting. From 1975 to 1988 I wrote and sold 9 stories. Then, in 1988, I wrote “Kirinyaga”, which won me the first of my Hugos, and I decided I liked short fiction after all. From that day to this, I’ve written and sold over 250 short stories, novelettes and novellas to go with the novels. I did a couple of screenplays too – on commission; you never spec a screenplay – but while I was (very) well-paid for them, neither has been made.
The awards were a total surprise to me. My first Worldcon was in 1963. I was 21, my child-bride (who just celebrated her 50th year of letting me hang around) was 20, and we were in awe of all the field’s giants. I still remember the Hugo ceremony: Isaac Asimov was handing them out, and people like Phil Dick and Jack Vance were winning them, and I decided if I worked very hard every day and honed my craft for years, maybe someday someone would let me touch one before they gave it out to the eventual winner.
That was 5 wins and a record 35 nominations ago – and inside I’m still that 21-year-old kid who is in awe of all the field’s giants. When Locus announced that I was the all-time award winner for short fiction – right; the fiction I disdained for years – you could have knocked me over with a feather.
So what’s on tap?
Well, there will be seven books out this summer. (No, that’s not an exaggeration, and no, it’s not a remarkable achievement. They are six collections and a fix-up novel cobbled together from four novellas and a short story – which is to say, not a new word in any of them.) There’ll be a collaborative novel (with Jack McDevitt) coming from Ace in November, a Weird West/Steampunk novel – the third in the series – coming from Pyr in December, I’ve already signed for another Pyr book and two books in a new category from a new imprint that I can’t be specific about until they counter-sign the contract. (Should be about 2 or 3 weeks as these things go.) Eric Flint and I have a collaborative novel under contract to Baen, Subterranean will be bringing out the 5th Lucifer Jones book in late 2013, and as I sit here I am committed to write 4 stories, a novelette, and two novellas before Worldcon.
I’m also editing the Stellar Guild line of books for Arc Manor. I got the idea because of the many newcomers I’ve helped get into print over the years, a group that Maureen McHugh calls “Mike’s Writer Children”. When Arc Manor asked me to suggest a line I could edit, I decided I couldn’t be the only one with Writer Children, so I created the Stellar Guild line, which consists of a major writer creating a novella and then having a protégé of the writer’s choosing do a novelette set in the same universe. I’m friends with all these writers, and I know that they are incredibly busy, contracted far ahead – but when I explained that they could get their protégés into print and share cover honors with them, every single one I approached said Yes. The first two books, by Kevin J. Anderson and Mercedes Lackey, are out; and we have Larry Niven, Harry Turtledove, Robert Silverberg, Eric Flint and myself under contract.
So that’s how I got from there to here. I’m writing this on February 29. In 6 more days I will blow out 70 candles on my birthday cake, and I’m still going strong, the happiest science fiction writer you’ll ever meet.
– Mike Resnick