David W. Wixon on Editing The Complete Short Fiction of Clifford D. Simak
Two months ago I was thrilled to announce the impending publication of the first six volumes of The Complete Short Fiction of Clifford D. Simak, edited by David W. Wixon, the Executor of the Literary Estate and a close friend of Simak’s. The lack of a complete collection of Simak’s short stories has been an aggravation to serious fans, so this massive project from Open Road Media — a comprehensive collection of all of Simak’s short stories, including his science fiction, fantasy, and westerns — was cause for celebration. Over the last few months there’s been a lot of excitement in the industry about the project, and Paul Di Filippo asked if “The Simak Renaissance was finally here.”
Wixon stopped by Black Gate yesterday, and he was gracious enough to answer some of the questions we posed in our first article, particularly on the digital pricing (the announced prices are a little wonky: $14.99 for volume 1, $7.99 for volumes 2 and 3, and $9.99 for volumes 4-6. As I said in the article, even $9.99 seems a little high for 8-10 stories/volume. ) Wixon commented:
I’m not sure of the policy behind Open Road’s pricing, but they assure me that they will deal with the issues you’ve raised.
On exactly how many volumes are in the series:
There will be 14 volumes of the complete Simak short fiction.
He also elaborated in more detail on how he selected and sorted the contents for each volume.
Well, I wanted to avoid doing them chronologically or by themes, and I wanted to be sure that there were a couple of really good stories in every volume — and after that, I had to adjust it a bit to fit within Open Road’s length restriction. (Feel free to ask if you want to explore this a bit more — but I assure you, the fact that there are 14 collections, and 14 Western stories by CDS, so that there can be a single Western in each collection — that’s just coincidence. Honest!)
When I invited him to explore the topic in more detail, he said:
I haven’t really thought much about how I would say more about grouping the stories — would it work for you if you asked me some questions, that might start me off?
(Caveat: I’m still working on doing the introductions to the remaining Simak collections, and those have to take priority — three more due by the end of the month — but if you’d like to raise some questions, I’d be happy to think about them while doing the other work; hopefully, you’d be willing to give me a little time?)
I thought our readers — who include more than a few die-hard Simak fans — might appreciate the opportunity to put questions to Wixon directly. So if you’ve got any questions about the contents or the creation of the massive Complete Short Fiction of Clifford D. Simak, go ahead and leave them in the comments, and I’ll make sure to pass them along and publish the responses here!
The first three volumes went on sale October 20:
I Am Crying All Inside and Other Stories (Volume One) — 332 pages, $15.99 in trade paperback, $14.99 digital
The Big Front Yard And Other Stories (Volume Two) — 307 pages, $7.99 in digital format
The Ghost of a Model T And Other Stories (Volume Three) — 301 pages, $7.99 in digital format
The next three will be published on March 1, 2016:
Grotto of the Dancing Deer And Other Stories (Volume Four) — $9.99 in digital format
No Life of Their Own And Other Stories (Volume Five) — $9.99 in digital format
New Folks’ Home And Other Stories (Volume Six) — $9.99 in digital format
See all of our recent coverage of the best in upcoming fantasy here.
Congratulations and thanks to David Wixon for bringing out this tremendous project. I’ve been hoping for years, if not decades, that someone would do this service for Simak, and I know I’m not the only one who feels this way.
Questions! Here are some.
Is there a story behind that never-before-published story in vol. 1?
And: I didn’t know that Simak wrote westerns. Was that an early thing in career, because the markets were there, or a lifelong interest?
And: Are there other pulp genres besides sf/f and westerns that Simak wrote it?
Great questions! Thanks James!
Good morning, Mr. Enge — no, wait! Let me start over.
Thank you, though, for your questions; it’s heart-warming to see that interest in Cliff’s work is still alive.
I’ll try to answer all of your questions in depth, but forgive me if I don’t get to all of them at once — I’m trying to slip this response in between other duties. But here’s a start:
The story, as you put it, behind “I Have No Head and My Eyes Are Floating Way Up in the Air” is this: in about 1967 Harlan Ellison published an anthology of original SF stories that was entitled DANGEROUS VISIONS. It was a smash hit, with a goodly number of the included stories winning various awards; so Harlan did a second one (maybe in ’73?), entitled AGAIN, DANGEROUS VISIONS, featuring (if my memory holds up…) only authors who had not appeared in the first volume. That, too, was a great success; and so he determined to do a third such anthology, again seeking out only original stories — stories that were supposed to be “pushing the envelope,” as we say — from authors who had not appeared in the first two volumes. He approached Cliff Simak for such a story, and Cliff wrote a new story for him. But the volume, amidst much controversay, was never published, for a variety of reasons.
When Cliff died, and his kids asked me to handle his literary estate, I determined, after speaking with Harlan, to honor Cliff’s commitment to Harlan’s project. But the years went by without publication; until, finally, when I reached agreement with Open Road Media to put out the 14-volume collection that was intended to include every known piece of Cliff’s professionally-published short fiction — it became crunch time.
So, I asked Harlan to release the story to me (and also the story Gordy Dickson had done for Harlan — I also represent the Dickson literary estate).
Harlan, very graciously, did so; I appreciate him no end.
One final piece of minutiae: I’ve seen people speculating that the title on Cliff’s story was wordplay by Cliff, a kind of parody of some of Harlan’s titles. But that’s not so — Harlan tells me that it was in fact he who created that title (and that fits with Cliff’s own tendencies: he would not engage in such tweaking of a fellow writer, and he really cared very little about titles).
Let me say at this point that I have now tried three times to say more in response to Mr. Enge’s questions, only to have my response wiped out with a cryptic message about a “CAPTCHA error.” If anyone knows what I might be doing wrong, please advise — is there some limit on the length of comments, that I don’t know about?
OK, maybe the problem is indeed about length; so I’ll try to respond to Mr. Enge’s questions in serial fashion, and see if that works…
Yes, Mr. Enge, Cliff Simak wrote Westerns — so far as I know, he wrote 14 Western short stories that got published.
Cliff started submitting science fiction to magazines in 1930, and his SF began to appear in the SF magazines in 1931 — but his journals show that he first submitted a Western story to a magazine in 1933 (I’m not aware that it was published; Cliff was rather sporadic about keeping up his records, and there are a number of stories from that era of which it is only recorded that they were written and submitted — often, a final outcome was listed. But not always.
I rather suspect that Cliff was quite familiar with the Western genre from an early age — he was a voracious reader growing up in a rural area, so…
It’s true that during the thirties the SF magazine market was in trouble, with magazines either going out of business or finding themselves unable to pay their authors; that could have had a lot to do with Cliff trying to branch out…
(to be continued “on next rock”)
By “branching out,” I mean that Cliff appears to have submitted stories in other genres than SF and Westerns — some titles listed in his records seem to have been mysteries, for instance (the manuscript of a World War II era mystery entitled “The Stone Hatchet Murders” survives, for one). There were stories that might have been adventure stories or weird fantasies — most haven’t survived in any form, and so I have only their titles to go on…and I don’t know how to categorize a title like “So Riley’s Fired Again!”
By 1938, Cliff was back into SF (beginning with “Rule 18”) — and yet, somehow, with the coming of the World War II era, he seems to have suddenly exploded into the Western genre (pun intended).
Cliff’s records seem to show that he sold 14 Western stories, and 14 is the number than I found. But it’s entirely possible that other Simak Westerns were published that I simply haven’t found — any experts in the Western field are implored to check their collections for Simak stories…and get back to me, please.
(One of the things that makes this difficult to figure out is the fact that most of the time, it appears that the title under which Cliff sold a Western story was changed by the publisher; and I’m not always able to identify which is which…)
My suspicion is that Cliff got into Westerns before the United States was drawn into WWII — because the market for them exploded (pun intended) — the US was ramping up the size of its armed forces, and veterans know that soldiers and sailors often spend large amounts of time waiting for the next thing to happen. So they have to be entertained, and Westerns, I think, helped fill that void.
Of course, with the US ramping up its forces, there was suddenly a large audience for Westerns — guys liked them, and various volunteer groups provided them (among other things) to the “boys.”
My hunch is that the Westerns paid a good deal better than SF, during that era (but Cliff kept his hand in with SF — this was also the era in which he began to create the stories that would become his great work, CITY).
The other thing that WWII called out was the “air war” story — stories of air combat, of course. Cliff’s records show that he wrote and submitted five of them (two, apparently written in the period before the US entered the war, featured American pilots serving as volunteers with British forces). But Cliff did not stay with that genre — my guess is that (1) he quickly found that formula for those stories just too boring, and (2) they paid a pittance.
Before I forget: another market that Cliff tried out in the ’30’s was non-fiction (at least, that’s what I suspect they were; no copies of any of them seem to survive…) — he seems to have submitted an article to a journalism publication, and at least two to outdoor magazines (I’m not exactly an expert on the field, but I suspect a story entitled “In the Wisconsin Bush” and submitted to FIELD AND STREAM magazine was non-fiction…)
Back to the Westerns for a moment: another thing that puzzles me is that Cliff’s records suggest that he never wrote another Western after about 1946 or ’47 — and yet “Gunsmoke Interlude,” the last known of his Westerns (and the one that I placed in the first of the Simak collections) was published in 1952. Does that mean someone held onto it for years? Or does it mean that Cliff wrote more than were shown in his (admittedly sporadic) records?
There are several SF stories listed in Cliff’s records as having been sold, but for which I can find no indication of actual publication — such as a third “Mr. Meek” story…it tantalizes me to think that more Simak stories might be out there, somewhere…
Finally, I’ll note that Cliff also seems to have worked sporadically on one (at least) large mainstream novel — fragments exist in his records, but there’s no indication that he ever came near completing it (or them).
There! Thanks for asking, Mr. Enge — and thank, too, to the proprietors of Black Gate. I’m happy to have had this opportunity to run off at the mouth…
Dave – marvelous! Many thanks for the lengthy and thoughtful answers!
Thanks for the replies, and thanks ten times over for the detail. Fascinating stuff!
It’s too bad that THE LAST DANGEROUS VISIONS never appeared, but I’m glad the stories written for it are coming into the open.
Simple question here: Will the subsequent volumes get print versions or is the first volume the only one that will ever see print? I’d love to have the whole set on my physical shelves.
I know I’m late in joining this conversation, so I was wondering if I could contact David Wixon; I’m doing research on Simak and would like to ask him some questions. Thank you.
Thanks for the comment! Glad to hear you’re researching Simak. I’ve sent you a private message.
I too was hoping to be able to contact Mr. Wixon. I am attempting to contact him about the rights to Mr. Simak’s works. Would you be able to connect me with him?
Thanks for your time,
When I was a teenager I read CD Simak’s 1965 book “All Flesh is Grass.” All of the books of his I’d read impressed me deeply, but “Grass” was like a waking dream. In 2007 Stephen King published “Under the Dome,” which to my mind uses the same setting, similar characters and incidents. That has always bothered me. I’m not sure what constitutes plagiarism or if it’s just a coincidence, but I’ve never heard anyone comment on it. Maybe it’s a case of “Stairway to Heaven” vs. “Taurus.” There does have to be a line drawn somewhere otherwise Kaavya Viswanathan’s book “How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild and Got a Life” wouldn’t have gotten pulled from shelves. King doesn’t even tip his hat to Simak.