by Ted White
I believe I first met Gordon Eklund in 1961, at the Seattle World Science Fiction Convention. He was then, like many SF fans of that era, a kid in his mid-teens—the same age I’d been when I found SF fandom only a few years earlier.
1961 was a very different era. There were more than a half dozen SF magazines, some of which alerted their readers to the existence of an organized SF fandom, which supported a thriving number of amateur publications—fanzines—to which many if not most fans contributed letters, articles and artwork. But rarely actual stories. The feeling was that if it was good enough to print and read, it should be sold to a professional SF magazine—a prozine. And no one wanted to read it if it wasn’t good enough to sell.
Gordon Eklund was active in SF fandom during the ’60s. He contributed to a variety of fanzines (including some of mine) with articles and letters. But I don’t recall seeing any stories by him during that era.
So it was a surprise when, as the editor of Amazing Stories and Fantastic—prozines—at the end of that decade, I opened an envelope and pulled out a story by Gordon. I hadn’t been expecting a submission from him. I hadn’t any idea that he even wanted to write professionally.
The story was “Dear Aunt Annie.” I read it with growing amazement and pleasure. This story was good. It made one hell of a professional debut for Gordon when I published it in Fantastic. I wondered a little at first if he would be a one-hit wonder, someone with only one good story in him, but his subsequent submissions, all of which I bought and published, disabused me of that thought. Like any number of SF fans before him, Gordon Eklund had made a successful transition to professional writing—and impressed a lot of people in the SF field while doing it.
I should explain at this point that when I became the editor of Amazing and Fantastic they were at the bottom of the field, with the worst reputations among the remaining SF magazines, and they published mostly reprints. I had a number of editorial challenges, the first being to jettison the reprints, and the second being to discover new writers to take their place, while paying the lowest rates in the field. My third, implicit, challenge was to raise the overall quality of the magazines, to restore their reputations.
So Gordon, who was one of my first “discoveries,” happened at an important time. Subsequently my magazines would win Hugo Award nominations (and later, when the category was changed to “Best Editor” I would be nominated), but Gordon happened first. He helped me turn the magazines around. His stories were invaluable to me.
Then one day I received a letter from Gordon. He was married and working for the Postal Service, and he wanted to quit his day job and become a full-time writer. But it was a scary leap for a man with family responsibilities. Should he—could he—do it? Did I have any thoughts or advice? (I’d been a full-time professional writer for years before becoming an editor.)
I thought about it. I liked Gordon. More important, I liked his writing. I wanted to help him, and I wanted to help my magazines. I decided to make him a simple guarantee.
The scariest part of becoming a full-time free-lance writer is the question of where the next check will come from. For any young writer the fear is that stories might pile up rejection slips rather than selling.
So I told Gordon that I would be his editorial backstop. I knew he wanted to get the best rates for his stories and I encouraged him to try the best-paying markets first. But there were only six SF magazines left, and only four editors—three besides myself. It was inevitable that not all of his stories would sell to the better-paying magazines. So I guaranteed that I would buy them. Sight unseen, “If you think it’s a good story, I’ll guarantee to buy it.” No story would go unsold.
That’s enormously reassuring to a young writer, knowing all his stories will sell, even if not all for the best rates.
So Gordon quit the Postal Service and became a full-time writer. And, over the ensuing years, he occasionally sent me stories, all of which I bought, all of which I liked and appreciated publishing. And Gordon’s name cropped up in the other magazines, like If and The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, as well as prestigious anthologies of new stories like New Dimensions.
I also worked with Gordon on his early novel, Beyond the Resurrection, which I published as a serial. I tried to help his career as a writer both because we were friends and because I appreciate and like to encourage talent wherever I find it. In Gordon’s case, it found me.