Another Rejection Letter Story, More Or Less
How Barry Malzberg Got His F&SF Special Issue

By Daniel Dern: First, a disclaimer: This isn’t quite the anecdotal story I intended to write… because it wasn’t until after finishing what would otherwise have been a clean draft that got the relevant folder from its file cabinet drawer, and discovered that my memory of one key bit was inaccurate. (To further add to the mystery, Bobbi corroborates the version I remember.) Anyhoo, what follows reflects the adjusted-for-what-seems-to-be-the-actual-fact(s).

Accumulating rejection slips is part of becoming/being a writer. I have my fair share — I’d have more if I was more on top of sending ’em out again quickly — some boilerplate, some personal.

That said, when I submitted “For Malzberg It Was They Came” to F&SF, I was ready to add another F&SF rejection to my files.

I’d written the story based on the classic/cliched advice-for-writers, “Write what you know”

o  I grew up in New Jersey (Englewood, to be specific). Before I reached driving age, including bicycling modest distances (1-3 miles) on my three-speed to libraries in my and several nearby towns to plunder their sf holdings. (And a few visits to Fred Lerner, who I must have met through fannish activity, back when he still lived in Bergan County.) Check.

o  While visiting my parents, post-college (before they moved elsewhere) (or possibly this was a decade or so later, and I was passing through staying with friends), I discovered that Barry Malzberg, one of my favorite sf authors, lived one town away. (I believe I discovered that while looking around in a new-to-me bookstore in my old home town, and chatting with a woman who turned out to be his wife.) I ended up being invited to visit Barry at his house, which I did, a few times over the following years, and also got to briefly chat with him at several ReaderCons. Check.

So, in early 2002, it wasn’t a huge leap from “I know about New Jersey, down to the street and store level in some places” and “I can describe some of Maison Malzberg” and “hey, I’m trying to write science fiction here” to “how about aliens come looking for Barry Malzberg?”

Which led to a (very) short story, “For Malzberg It Was They Came.”

My sf sales already included Analog (two, to Ben Bova), but I was still trying to crack F&SF and Asimov’s, so off it went to F&SF, in mid-May 2002.

I was prepared to add another rejection slip to my files… but when it came, I was more than slightly surprised by the reason that Gordon Van Gelder (the editor back then) had included:

Many thanks for submitting “For Malzberg It Was They Came,” but I’m going to pass on this one. Curiously enough, this story is the third Barry Malzberg pastiche I’ve seen in the last two years, [but…], I’m afraid that the story didn’t quite win me over, alas.

Interestingly, oddly, curiously, etc-ly, for years now, I’d been telling people that the F&SF rejection slip instead said:

I’m sorry, but I just bought a story about Barry Malzberg.

which would indeed have put it in the running for Most Unexpected and Frustrating Story Rejection Letter Ever. The actual letter is more like, “Sigh.”

Ah, well. I can’t go back and redo my previous tellings.

Happily, this doesn’t change the remainder of the tale.

Undaunted, I immediately shipped it off to Asimov’s, attention Gardner Dozois.

A month after F&SF’s rejection letter, Gordon Van Gelder wrote me a followup:

If you haven’t already sold “For Malzberg It Was They Came,” could I get another look at it? I’m not promising anything, but I might be able to use it in F&SF after all.

I replied that that would be fine with me — except that I’d already sent it to Asimov’s… and wasn’t sure how to go about “unsubmitting”… perhaps Gordon could sort this out directly with Gardner (who was still editor at that point)?

And that’s what happened. Here’s part of an email message from Gordon:

So I spoke with Gardner Dozois last week about your story “For Malzberg It Was They Came” and he said that if I wanted it for F&SF, Gardner would consider it withdrawn without prejudice from ASIMOV’S.

This led to Gordon shooting for a special Malzberg issue of F&SF. (F&SF had done many similar special issues over the decades, for notables including Theodore Sturgeon, Ray Bradbury, Fritz Leiber, Stephen King, Kate Wilhelm, and, most recently, David Gerrold (list courtesy a mix of my memory and Wikipedia).)

Gordon let Barry Malzberg know, and commissioned an essay from him, “Tripping With The Alchemist” (about Barry’s time at the Scott Meredith Agency). It all came together in the May 2003 F&SF which also included:

  • John Kessel’s story that included Barry Malzberg, “Of New Arrivals, Many Johns, and the Music of the Spheres” (I’m guessing this was the second of the stories about/involving Barry Malzberg that Gordon had originally been referring to.)

and two reprints:

  • Barry N. Malzberg. “A Short Religious Novel,” from F&SF, September 1972
  • Bill Pronzini and Barry N. Malzberg. “A Clone At Last,” from F&SF, 1978.

Barry was, to say the least, very pleased by all this.

And so was I, by finally appearing in F&SF.

And, after the fact, having this reasonably unusual anecdote (which, admittedly, isn’t quite the story I’d been remembering, ah well).

One closing note, re my story, hopefully not a spoiler: While the aliens do coming looking for Malzberg, despite what some reviewers have said, at no point does the man who answers the door, nor the story’s author (yours truly), claim/acknowledge that’s who he is.

That said, if somebody is planning to do an anthology of “Science Fiction Stories About, Or At Least Including, Science Fiction Authors,” or even, “Great Science Fiction About Or Including Barry Malzberg,” I’m more than happy to have my story there.

14 thoughts on “Another Rejection Letter Story, More Or Less
How Barry Malzberg Got His F&SF Special Issue

  1. I don’t have a story about Barry, but he did once play second violin in one of my compositions, “Starscapes”, in 1979. Afterwards he said I was like Ozawa. I think the hair fooled him …


  2. Somtow disremembers. I played second violin in the world premiere of the magnificent STARSCAPES (at the second Symposium on the Fantastic at Florida Atlantic University) in 1981, not 1979 and when I told him that he looked like Ozawa on the podium I was not referring to his hair but his genius.


    Barry N. Malzberg

  3. #Barry Malzburg, Got to say, I loved the “Lone Wolf” series you wrote in the 1970s. Burt Wulff, or was in Martin Wulff, or was it Burton Martin Wullf, and the valise filled with heroin, and everything else, from New York and Boston to Peru to California and finally in Philadelphia. Great series.

  4. Malzberg’s essays (inlcuding those in ‘Breakfast in the Ruins’, ‘Engines of the Night’ and ‘Tripping with the Alchemist’) are all savagely funny, sour, poignant. The stuff on Scott Meredith is great, because you can really feel the reality of it all… the sheer exploitation that amounted to ‘literary agencies’ and yet, somehow, was involved in launching or supporting various careers. Spinrad, Malzberg, Silverberg were are embedded in that agency in various ways… glad they all survived!
    Meanwhile, I’ve been re-reading some Malberg books this year: Falling Astronauts, Scop, Herovit’s World, and one I never had read previously: The Remaking of Sigmund Freud. That last one was amazing.
    Mazeltov, Barry!
    I recall having the honor and pleasure of chatting with Malzberg over dinner at some event sponsored by CUSFS at Columbia in 1979 or 80. I believe that someone in the club interviewed him for our zine CUSFuSsing (must have been Charlie Seelig or Bil Lancaster). Those were the days! Baird Searles ran the SF Shop downtown, Chip Delany lived around the corner from Zabar’s, Spinrad was writing Void Captain’s Tale at his apartment on Perry Street, and John Shirley would thrash around on stage at CBGBs. Fun times!

  5. My thanks to John M. Cowan and to the pseudononymous “Lex”. My heart leaps up. Barthelme wrote long ago “Publishing short stories in the USA is like dropping feathers in a well”. (And his work was flourishing in the NEW YORKER!) This is even more true than it was four decades ago but now and then a feather whisks past making a small stab at radiance. I gave THE LONE WOLF everything I had. Glad someone remembered.

  6. Can anyone give an art credit and author ID’s for the F&SF Malzberg cover illustrating this post? I’m pretty sure on Asimov, Silverberg, and Heinlein, but would then be reduced to guessing.

  7. Steve Leavell: Can anyone give an art credit and author ID’s for the F&SF Malzberg cover illustrating this post? I’m pretty sure on Asimov, Silverberg, and Heinlein, but would then be reduced to guessing.

    ISFDB credits it to Walter Velez. All the authors pictured, with the exception of Malzberg, were deceased by that time. I think that the guy with the white beard (not God, the other one) is Damon Knight, and the guy with the curly hair is Kurt Vonnegut.

  8. Thanks, JJ! (And I must say most of my “guesses” were correct, but I was looking more for genre rather than mainstream authors.)

  9. All the authors pictured, with the exception of Malzberg, were deceased by that time. Wikipedia confirms my recollections: Vonnegut died in 2007 (although his last novel was years before this cover) and Updike in 2009 (he published The Widows of Eastwick not long before, but I found it so bitter I quit a few dozen pages in). Silverberg is still around; I just read a new collection containing his first-person shorts, with ~new commentary on each.

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