Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Virginia Kidd to Anne McCaffrey

This correspondence is from early in Anne McCaffrey's writing career. Her first novel, Restoree was published in 1967 by Ballantine Books. The letter predates the publication of her first Dragonriders of Pern story, "Wyer Search" (Analog, October 1967). The manuscript mentioned in the final paragraph, "DaD" being considered by Betty Ballantine, is likely Decision at Doona, published in 1969 by Ballantine Books.

Virginia Kidd (1921-2003) was at one time the literary agent for Ursula K. LeGuin, R.A. Lafferty, and Gene Wolfe, among others. Kidd was married to author James Blish from 1947 to 1963.

Transcript follows. The image is from the Univerity of California, Riverside, Special Collections and Archives.

 Image from UCR Special Collections and Archives. Click to enlarge.


Virginia Kidd Blish
BOX 278 MILFORD, PA. 18337

8 August, 1967


Hate to do it, but I’m returning THE FALLEN ANGEL to you. [Hand written marginalia:] (Original only, in case you want to confer, using the carbon, come conference time.)

As you have probably heard one time and another, the reason the slicks pay such fabulous amounts is because their stories are fine-honed, incredibly carefully shaped to the market’s specific demands and taboos. Many slick stories may well not have been worth the writing. Most. Who knows. But the thing is, an enormous amount of care is expended to achieve the exact effect and nothing else.

THE FALLEN ANGEL (while a perfectly effective slick story is concealed within it) (and a charming story, besides) gives the effect of haste and a great deal of unnecessary wordage.

First page struck me as awkward. Why did it alert her? Did he not always arrive that way? Was it the wrong time of day for him to come home? “I gasped to myself” a heavy locution. Neither one of those hypotheses belongs to be in quotes in the first place. “. . . for I had more or less decided” is lumpy as old oatmeal. A simple “I had decided” is sufficient.

Second page (just a couple of for instances:) “My mind whirled with random considerations including:” (over-explicit. . . just let her gahdam mind whirl. . . give the considerations, not a sentence about there being considerations.) And: why not “He has this irresistible urge to succour things--not cats or dogs or housewives--but things. Will adopts inanimate objects and restores them to their pristine glories with loving care and a good deal of solid cash we invariably cannot spare that month.” “To wit:” (Whatcha mean, to whit?)

And so on. All the way through. Wordy and lumpy. I canno’ market it as is, sweetie. I don’t know whether it needs to shed 1000 words or 3000, but it’s all in the overwriting, what’s wrong with it. (I don’t mean the story is purple, just unpruned.)

Hope to see it again, much shorn and polished to the proper level of amused inconsequence and utter charm. (Which may imply that I’d like to see a little less venom expended against Amy. And every word considered. Vide midpage, page 2: “I don’t” is not true. By the end of the story, she does. It should be  “I didn’t.” No?)


Still await further word from Betty Ballantine, as to my brash suggestion, or else the contracts. (I told you, I think, she has DaD, and didn’t want to consider the Gothic?) Helen was unable to draw her into conversation, though. Busy busy.


Related link:
UC Riverside Special Collections and Archives: Anne McCaffrey papers

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