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Tuesday, August 19, 2008

L Sprague de Camp (1950)

Fanscient No. 13,14 1950

In the last couple of years, a host of new friends have joined his many old ones to rejoice in the return to the fantasy field of L Sprague de Camp, author of many of the most enjoyable stories in the science-fiction realm.

One of the mainstays of Unknown Worlds in its heyday, he has else appeared .notably in ASF {Astounding Science Fiction} and a number of other magazines with a number of their most memorable stories and articles. Few who have read them will forget such stories as “None but Lucifer” (on which he collaborated with H. L. Gold) and “The Undesired Princess” or such articles as “Language for Time Travelers”.

In addition to his fantasy writing, Mr. de Camp has aided in popularizing various branches of science thru his articles in some two dozen different magazines, both popular and scholarly. He. has also sold many book reviews and radio scripts, has done ghost writing and is the author of two textbooks, “Inventions and Their Management” (with Alfred K. Berle, International Textbook Co., Scranton. 1937) and “The Evolution of Naval Weapons.” (U. S. Government, 1947). Mr. de Camp also lectures professionally.

Mr. de Camp is best known for his humorous stories. Many of the more recent ones are set in a background that includes the
planet Krishna, site of his .recent ASF serial, "The Hand of Zei". As for his plans for the future, we’ll let Mr. de Camp tell you about
them. —The Editor

I was born in New York City forty-odd years ago and educated in various parts of the country, but more in Southern California than anywhere else. In 1933 I found myself with degrees in aeronautical engineering and in economics in a time when engineers were still being fired faster than they were being hired. I had worked at various odd jobs in between— saw-mill hand, chainman on a surveying crow, and draftsman, for instance— and had travelled in North America, Europe and Asia. So when a man offered me a job as editor and (I suppose you’d call it) consulting patent engineer I grabbed it.
For the next five years I held several such jobs with publishing and educational institutions. For a year I was principal of the School of Inventing and Patenting of the International Correspondence Schools. In addition to the publicity, textbook and trade-journal writing that comprised part of my jobs I started on fiction in 1936.

My first efforts were a short story, “The Hairless Ones Come”, (which appeared in a now defunct magazine of historical adventure stories, GOLDEN FLEECE) and a novel, “Genus Homo”, in collaboration with P. Schuyler Miller and recently published in book form.

When I saw that first check, my reaction was: This certainly beats working; why hasn’t somebody told as about it before. Hence in 1938 I quit editing for full-time freelance writing, and except for the war years have been at it ever since.. With the sale of “The Command” (the first Johnny Black story) I found I could make money being funny, which neither I nor my friends would have suspected, as in private life I'm a ratter serious gent. In fact my admirers have called as a stuffed shirt, and not altogether without reason.

During World War II I was first a civilian engineer for the U.S. Navy and then an officer (Lt., Lt. Comdr.) in the Naval Reserve. My work was what in romantic moments I call being a mad scientist inventing secret weapons, which gives no idea ef the paperwork and frustration involved in the process. Bob Heinlein and Isaac Asimov worked in the sane place as technical civil—service employees, though it is not true (as a writer for the late Philadelphia Record asserted) that we three were put to work on a space-suit project and made a hash of it. The nearest any of us get to space-suits was that at various times I had charge of the laboratory's cold-room end altitude chamber in which pressure suits were sometimes tested.

Since then I’ve gone back to turning out copy at an average rate of a quarter-million words a year, nearly all or which I sell. In 1939 I married a beautiful blonde named Catherine Crooke. Eleven years later we’re still married and have a red-haired nine— year-old son who shows every sign of becoming a science-fiction fan. We own a house in Wallingford, Pennsylvania (a Philadelphia suburb between Swarthmore and Media) and cope with crab-grass, contractors and cocktail parties like other bourgeois suburbanites.

I wouldn’t say that I had any special hobbies, but I have betimes gone in for many games, sports and hobies, not so much as ends in themselves as to expand my own experiences to use in my writing. Thus one year I say be taking up Spanish, the next shorthand and the next square-dancing, As a result I can do quite a let of things more or less badly; fencing, archery, horseback riding, home photography and sign-painting, for instance. In case anybody is planning a pass at Catherine. I’m a passably good shot with almost any kind of hand firearm. I'm active in several clubs and societies, mostly of a literary nature; and travel when I get the change. Right now I'm polishing my French for a hoped-for visit to Europe en famille next year.

I read a lot, sometimes for fun and sometimes in connection with my work. In the last year I’ve read a let of hard-cover science- fiction and fantasy stories; a few detective stories; about twenty lost-continent novels (by Ashton, Birkmaier, Bond, Cox &c.); some prophetic l9th century science-fiction novels (by Donnelly, Bellamy, Wells, &c.); in Classical literature, parts of Aristophanes, Pausanias, Plutarch, Polybius, Thucydides, and Xenophon; and thirty-odd other non-fiction books such as Abu'1 Fida's "Geographie d’Aboulfeda"; Bok, "The Milky Way"; Bonestell & Ley, "The Conquest of Space"; Brown, "The Story of Maps"; Butler, "The Myth of the Magus"; Chatterton, "Sailing Ships"; Davis, "A Day in Old Athens"; Dixon, "The Building of Cultures"; Duncan, "Astronomy"; Durant, "The Life of Greece"; Pratt, "The Third King"; Thevenin, "Les Pays Legendaires"; Thompson, "Studies in the Odyssey"; &c., &c. At the moment I'm deep in Perkins’ "Elements of Police Science”. I also read regularly about 26 magazines (half of them science-fiction) and two newspapers.

I work about 60 hours a week and belong to the careful, systematic school of writers who meticulously outline everything before starting and rewrite it at least once after it’s done. It takes me anywhere up to six weeks to plot a novel, but on final draft I turn out thirty or more pages a day. One of my little tricks is that when I lay a story in an imaginary setting (like Krishna) I invent a language for it with logical grammar and phonetics. Being a pretty good amateur phonetician, I base the phonetics of my language on that of a real language. Hence, Gozashtandou is a kind of pig-Persian, and Avtinyk (in “Rogue Queen”) a kind of pig-Welsh. I have made very little use of pseudonyms because my own name sounds more like a literary pseudonym than most pseudonyms do.

I keep branching out, trying new things, trying to break into new markets, trying to learn more about writing technique, on the theory that competition. is getting tougher all the time and a writer who stands still will find himself stranded. Sometimes my experiments work and sometimes they don’t. My writing has been influenced by too many people to list, but I might mention Burroughs, Dunsany, Addison, Thorne Smith and Wodehoose. I also learned a lot from the Bread Loaf Conference, where I was a fellow in 1941 and which I have revisited since.

My attitude toward ay profession is frankly commercial. I write primarily to make a living and secondarily because I like writing and like to be self-employed and to work by myself. I don’t mean that I am an unprincipled scoundrel who will do anything for money; but I know of no reason why writers haven't as much right to eat as other people. On the other hand I wouldn’t advise anybody to go into the field unless he has a pretty strong urge; it’s a tough racket, and while it has great compensations it also entails great frustrations and disappointments. 1've had my share of both sucesses and failures, and at that I've gotten off easily compared to some people.

Perhaps you’d like to know what I have in the works. Any time now the Fantasy Publishing Co. should bring out my old novel, “The Undesired Princess”. then about January Prime Press will publish my non-fiction book, “Lost Continents: The Atlantis Theme in History, Science and Literature”. This is 90,000 words of text and 20,000 of appendices and other end matter, and excerpts have appeared in my recent articles in ASF and GSF {Galaxy Science Fiction}. After that, Doubleday will publish another novel, ‘Rogue Queen”, which is told from the viewpoint of a female e. t. and is all about 1ove.. Willy Ley and I are collaborating on a non-fiction book about geographical legends (Sinbad, Prester John, &c.),and I'm. working on stories of various lengths including two book-length novels (at least one of which will probably be published in 1951) and one collaboration with Fletcher Pratt. I'm also revising Berle’s and my old textbook on inventions and patents for its third edition. While I don't know if there will be anymore Krishna magazine serials, I may, if sufficiently encouraged by readers, write more. Krishna novels as book originals; I should like to make an endless series of these a la Tarzan.

So, you see, I keep busy, which is how I like it.

-L. Sprague de Camp.

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