About Me

A blog wherein a literary agent will sometimes discuss his business, sometimes discuss the movies he sees, the tennis he watches, or the world around him. In which he will often wish he could say more, but will be obliged by business necessity and basic politeness and simple civility to hold his tongue. Rankings are done on a scale of one to five Slithy Toads, where a 0 is a complete waste of time, a 2 is a completely innocuous way to spend your time, and a 4 is intended as a geas compelling you to make the time.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Ralph

Ralph Vicinanza was one of the leading agents in sf/fantasy/horror and a leading agent for foreign rights. Like me -- and like many other leading agents in the genre -- he was an alumnus of the Scott Meredith Literary Agency. He passed away quite unexpectedly of a brain aneurysm in late September. I did not have time to properly salute him at that time. A memorial service was held in New York this past week to celebrate his life and accomplishments, and this is a second chance I will take. 

If you want to know who Ralph was...

Stephen King came down from Maine for the occasion and spoke.  Ralph handled King's foreign rights for some thirty years and credited Ralph for the idea of serializing The Green Mile. 

John Crowley spoke.  The author of the wonderful Little Big, a dear fantasy novel to me and a novel whose closing lines have long comforted me when I think of loss.  John was grateful to Ralph, because he always felt that he was, in Ralph's eyes, every bit the important author that Stephen King was. 

Malcolm Edwards, the head of the UK's Orion Publishing Group, came over to speak.

Robert Silverberg worked with Ralph longer than just about anyone, from Ralph's earliest days on the Scott Meredith foreign desk, and was out from Oakland and his usual eloquent self. 

Other speakers included: clients Steve Baxter and Diana Finch; Ralph's longtime colleagues Chris Lotts and Chris Schelling, who was one of the first editors to buy a book from me; longtime publisher of Ace, Susan Allison; and a couple who met while working for Ralph.  And Connie Willis sent remarks. 

It's quite humbling, really. 

The stars weren't all on stage. George RR Martin was in the front row a few seats over from Ellen Datlow. People from Orbit, Del Rey/Spectra, Tor were in the crowd. Ralph's Hollywood partner Vince Gerardis with the writer Christopher Lofting. Peter Fritz, whose German agency has represented my clients for my entire near 25-year career. Many agents, including John Silbersack, Ellen Levine, Matt Bialer and Eleanor Wood, fellow SMLA alums Russ Galen and Richard Curtis. Several of Ralph's proteges. I shouldn't name names because I haven't the space to name them all.  Current Asimov's editor Sheila Williams and former Asimov's editor (& current Realms of Fantasy editor) Shawna McCarthy.  Longtime SF Book Club editor Ellen Asher. Around 120 people in all. 

Very, very humbling. 

We found out over the course of the evening that Ralph entered publishing after deciding that he wasn't going to make a good Jesuit priest. He worked handling foreign rights at Scott Meredith for several years, and after realizing his efforts were insufficiently appreciated, he left to become the head of foreign rights at Blassingame, McCauley and Wood.  [An old agenting hand Lurton Blassingame was the agency's patriarch. Kirby McCauley and his sister Kay were the second part, Eleanor Wood the third.] That broke up when Kirby had some problems; everyone at the memorial knew the problems were drug-related, nobody actually stated the "d" word or the "c" word; Silverberg described a dinner with he, Ralph and the McCauleys where Ralph decided he would break off on his own. Silverberg's support of the move was important to getting the new agency started. Ralph further developed his prowess in foreign rights, thriving on the Frankfurt Book Fair stage and letting the London Book Fair come to him at Clairidges, his hotel of choice. Many of his closest acquaintanceships were formed over Scrabble, in person and online.  The impact he had in the field personally and professionally is seen in the people who spoke and all who came Tuesday night.

Things not said:  Scott Meredith was not at all happy when Ralph left, and at least talked about suing him. I have some correspondence between Scott and his attorney on the subject, as well as of a letter Robert Silverberg wrote resigning  the Meredith agency.  In the late 1980s Ralph got a boost when another agent, Patrick Delahunt, left the field and ceded a client list which included Kim Stanley Robinson and Connie Willis to Ralph. I confess, I was jealous. But the thing of it was that Ralph was able to close the deal and keep the talent. For several years Ralph and Eleanor Wood shared office space in the Port Authority Building at 111 8th Ave., which Google is now buying. He was wise. He might have left Scott Meredith, but he continued for his entire career to work with the best of the cooperating agents overseas that Scott worked with, like Peter Fritz in Germany and the Lencluds in France. The Icelandic ash cloud hovered over the final months of his life. I know it was an unpleasant experience for me, there in London with two thirds of the appointments cancelled and no idea when or how I would get home until the 6th night of a weeklong trip, but I was sharing the experience at the Fair. The disadvantage of having the Fair come to him at Clairidges was that it made for a lonelier experience, and I was told after the Memorial that a man who was described by multiple speakers as thriving in Book Fair settings came to question them during and after the ashy strangeness of this year's London Book Fair. 

When Scott Meredith passed, hardly anyone made it to the funeral. Norman Mailer made the journey from Brooklyn to Great Neck. I would have skipped Scott's funeral if not for the fact that the VPs would have looked askance. 15 people, maybe, a third of those there for motives similar to mine. People traveled on short notice for Ralph's in September, and came from LA, the UK, Germany for this memorial. 

Scott never learned, never adjusted. Ten years after Ralph left, Scott still hated to pay for people to go to WorldCon lest they use it as a venue to plot their departures with Scott's clients. And the agency's foreign rights were still being undersold when I left the agency fifteen years and an owner or two later, and like Ralph I have had this vision of doing better, way way better, out of Scott's nest than could have been done in.  

Humbling.  We hope we can leave a mark like Ralph's in our trade, we fear we will be Scott. 

It was less humbling to have Ralph alive and competing with me, than not and looking down on me. 

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