Saturday, November 22, 2014

Joseph Rosenberger: The Man, The Myth -- Part II

A big thanks to Donald “Dr. Rock” Schnell, who wrote me out of the blue last week, telling me that he knew Joseph Rosenberger back in the early ‘80s. Dr. Rock, who can be found at the Young For Life site and has published the books Fitonics For Life and Young For Life, has kindly offered to share his memories of Rosenberger with the rest of us.

The interesting details provided below go a long way toward fleshing out the mysterious character who was Joseph Rosenberger, especially when combined with the interview and letter which are also here on the blog.

Anyway, here’s Dr. Rock!


I met Joseph Rosenberger in the 1980s. He assisted me with starting my writing career.

In no particular order, I will present my recollection of Joe. Thats what he wanted me to call him.

I was about 25 years old and Joe was in his mid-fifties. This was approximately 1982-83. I met him at his home in Mesa, Arizona. I was living in Mesa at the time while attending Arizona State University and teaching full time in the Tempe School District. I was taking a course in fiction writing with Writer’s Digest at the time.

I was interested in writing Action Adventure. I was working on a series, called “The Cobra.”  It was similar to the Remo Williams stories. The main character was trained in an ancient martial art, the cobra style. At that time I was studying the works of Don Pendleton and Joseph Rosenberger for ideas on how to develop my stories and characters.

As improbable as it may sound, I believe I looked his name “Joseph R. Rosenberger” up in my local phone book. Sure enough, there was a listing in Mesa, Arizona. I took a chance and called and explained who I was and why Id like to meet with him.

Joe lived in what you could describe as a non-descript perfectly plain middle class neighborhood. It would be the type of home a spy might select if they were choosing to blend in and go unnoticed.

He met me at the front door. The front door was heavily screened with a super heavy metal door. The door was a solid barrier to any unauthorized entrance. I would later discover the back door was similarly covered by a security door. Both the front door and rear door had extra heavy duty locks and chains. The windows of the house were also protected from easy entry or burglary.

It seemed that Joe was either a very cautious man or “paranoid” about intruders. It may have been another way that he lived to truly identify with his character so that he could write about the Death Merchant. Most of the homes in that neighborhood did not have that type of heavy duty security. I think that may have been one of the secrets to his creative success with the series. He lived the part and immersed himself into his character.

Joe wore a military shirt and pants with black boots. The shirt was long sleeved and had epaulets. His clothes were Khaki colored. It was as if he wore a military uniform without any rank or medals. He wore this same outfit every time I saw him. Joe was about 6 feet. He was lean and had dark hair. He projected the air of a man of no nonsense.

Joe reminded me of stories Id read of Hemmingway and other professional writers. He was a paradox in terms of appearance because he looked like and dressed like a soldier who was ready for combat. Perhaps he dressed this way to be able to identify with his main character, Richard Carmellion of the Death Merchant.

After basic introductions, he took me to his writers studio. It was one of the bedrooms of the home. The office contained a desk with a typewriter. Joe didn't use a computer. The room was filled with National Geographic magazines and copies of his Death Merchant series.

Joe explained to me that writing was “hard” work. At the time he had a contract with a company that purchased his Death Merchant series. I believe he was producing about one book every three months, but it may have been more frequent.

He showed me articles he'd written in the 1960s for dozens of mens magazines from Argosy, Fate, and others that were more suited for Playboy type magazines. He also wrote erotic fiction. I dont think that was where he made the bulk of his money. Essentially, in Joe's words, “if a publisher paid by the word, he would write for them.” Joe worked to make a living as a writer.

He had a formula for producing the Death Merchant and other similar action adventure novels. He showed me his formula. I can only recall at this time that he had what I believed was a 10 chapter formula. Each chapter contained approximately 20 pages. Each of those 10 chapters had a purpose to them for the story to properly develop. Once he finished each chapter he would staple that chapter together, and then move onto the next chapter. When he was finished he would stack all ten chapters, place rubber bands around them and place them in a box to mail to his publisher. He was very organized and systematic. I believe his success was due to his organization.

Joe said his readers were tough on him to be accurate with details. He used National Geographic to describe scenes for the Death Merchant. This way he could be sure he was using the right descriptions to describe geographical locations. His office was also filled with street maps of all 50 states. He would use these to describe routes driven by the Death Merchant. He strove for accuracy. He also had a collection of guns and ammo magazines. He would use these to describe different weapons and their effects.

Joe had an interest in the “psychic” world and ESP. He wasn't a “New Age” type. He was intrigued by these subjects from the research of JB Rhine. His interest was in the possibility of using these techniques for warfare. I shared with him my experiences while at the Defense Intelligence Agency. The DIA and CIA were in fact using the Rand Corporation to study these same topics during the mid 70s and maybe into the 80s.

Joe was a bright man, a hard worker and a dedicated writer. He loved to entertain his readers. My perception of Joe was that he was very much like his main character. He lived a very quiet private life. His hours were spent researching and writing.

He seemed to be a loner. He didn't live alone. He shared his home with a woman who agreed to cook and clean for them in exchange for room and board. They werent married. But, in spite of the fact that he shared the home, it seemed to be that he was a loner. I never heard him talk about family. That may have been because he respected their privacy. But, I also don't recall any family photos in his office. It seemed that everything in his office was there to facilitate his writing. His office was all business.

We only had about a 1/2 dozen meetings. I moved onto other things, including leaving Arizona and going to Palmer College of Chiropractic.

I believe I learned from Joe that to be a professional writer you have to put in serious time every day. It was a business. It was a business that required research and preparation. Joe was goal oriented and knew each day how many pages he needed to write and what he needed to accomplish in that days work.

I had great respect for Joe as a writer. I still do. I will always appreciate the fact that he met me and was willing to show me the nuts and bolts of the craft as best he could.

One last thing, Joe did mention me in one of his books in the Death Merchant series.  “Schnell” was one of the guys that Richard Carmellion had to take out. It was a minor role, LOL.

12/1/14 UPDATE:

Dr. Rock strikes again -- after reading the above post, Dr. Rock sent me a few more details about Rosenberger, which he gave me permission to post here:


I saw you had a link to a letter and photograph. I went to check it out. Yes, the woman, “Virginia,” was the same woman that he introduced me to. He didn’t say that it was his wife, however. He may have been protecting her privacy. Also, notice the shirt he’s wearing has epaulets!!! The home is the same one that I saw him in.

I read through that letter and another fact was pointed out to me. The letter was written in 1985. Joe was upset because he was being paid $2,500 a book and they wanted 6 books a year! That is one book every two months. As a writer, I can tell you that is hard, hard work.

Now, let’s look at the pay: I was a teacher in 1985 and I was making about $24,000 a year. It is well known that teachers aren’t paid well. Starting salaries in my district were about $18,000. Joe was therefore earning half as much as a teacher, and 1/3 less than a new teacher.

When I realized that, I had even more respect for him. He was literally working himself to death to support himself and Virginia on the money he made from writing. That is all the more reason I wish him well and wish to honor him.

He was definitely an opinionated individual, but that is what made his writing sharp. Joe was a bright man.

15 comments:

allan said...

Great stuff. I've been reading the DM books and am likewise fascinated by Rosenberger and his decidedly unique writing style. It's a shame there is next-to-nothing about him online.

englishteacherx said...

It's awesome that this blog can serve as a way to keep the memory of Jospeh R. alive. The Cosmic Lord of Death may have taken him, but he lives on here.

Jack Badelaire said...

Great article. Despite his very distinct and sometimes difficult-to-read writing style, Rosenberger filled his books with an amazing amount of detail. I remember reading a few set in the Middle East, and so many tiny details, from the food to the clothing to various customs, served well to bring the story a great deal of authenticity.

I would definitely like to hear more about his ten-chapter method, if such information ever comes to light. I'm always fascinated with the idea that these very prolific authors work off of a formula of sorts, and how it is laid out.

A million years ago, when I started the first Post Modern Pulps website, there was absolutely zilch about Rosenberger online. Many kudos to you, Joe, for your tireless research!

allan said...

Does a 10-chapter method make sense when talking about books that are usually 15-17 chapters?

I also wonder if a person could figure out which issues of National Geographics he used for his Death Merchant backdrops.

Joe Kenney said...

Thanks for the comments, everyone. Dr. Rock just sent me a few more words about JR, so I've updated the post.

allan said...

I don't know how many copies each DM book was selling, but Rosenberger getting only $2,500 a pop sounds dirt cheap. I guess the idea of holding out for more dough wasn't an option?

Joe: In your post of the Rosenberger letter, you mentioned you had been thinking of posting an essay on JRR. Any possibility of that in the future?

Joe Kenney said...

Allan, thanks for the comments -- I don't think Death Merchant was a big seller. Just to put it in perspective, the ads in the back of the DM volumes from 1979-80 or so proclaim that the DM series had "over 3.5 million copies in print," whereas the ads for the Destroyer series state that it has "over 14 million copies in print." That's a pretty big difference. I'm too lazy to look up a book that has an Executioner ad in it, but doubtless that series had even more copies in print than the Destroyer.

Also, as for a Rosenberger essay, I should've clarified in my post that I meant the person who sent me the letter was originally going to write an essay about his memories of Rosenberger, but instead he just decided to send me an actual letter from the man himself.

allan said...

Grabbed two old books off eBay on the chance they were written by JRR. They are both by "Joseph R. Rosenberger, Ph.D.", published in 1969 by Pendulum Books. Various tidbits online suggest it's the same guy.

1. The Demon Lovers: A Psychosexual Study of Witchcraft and Demonology
(by the author of The Animal Lovers)
Back cover: "Scalding study of the sexuality of witchcraft and its prevalence in the modern world")

2. A Walk Into Hell!, by Colonel Karl W. von Reisner as told to JRR Ph.D.
(Fiery Tale Of Sexual Debauchery, Violence, And Perversion In Hitler's Germany)
Back cover: "Depraved, vicious men using the greatest power the world has ever known for the gratification of their warped, twisted, perverse lust ... where normal sex was queer and only perversion seemed normal."

Both are stamped "Positively Adults Only" on the cover.

Joe Kenney said...

Allan, those sound great, especially the one about WWII. Looking forward to your comments on them. One warning, though -- one of the Rosenberger sleaze books I have also carries the "positively adults only" tag, but reading through the book, I can only assume they meant "adult" as in "dry, boring, and pseudo-scholarly." There's no sleaze at all.

But then, he did another (The Young Deviates) which carried the same tag, and that one is pretty explicit throughout...anyway, looking forward to reading your thoughts on these two gems!

allan said...

Having done some research online, I'm now positive that the Rosenberger who wrote the sex books is our man. I have a list of two dozen books he wrote in the late 60s/early 70s under several variations of his name, including a woman's name: "Rose N. Berg"!

The Ph.D. is fake, of course. I found a news article which stated that in a court case re a book store selling obscene material, Rosenberger testified he had only an eighth-grade education.

allan said...

Which books do you have, Joe?

In addition to the 2 I mentioned, I also have The Perverted Generation, Volume II.

Joe Kenney said...

I've got The Young Deviates, Sex Behind the Iron Curtain (as by "Joseph R. Rosenfeld,") Sex Kicks of the Watchers, and most importantly Woman of Victorian Days, as by (the fictional) Edith Hope Lytton, with "Foreword by JR Rosenfeld." This one is my favorite of all because I have a copy that was once owned by Rosenberger himself -- he gave it to the person who sent me that whacked-out 1985 letter of JR's I posted here the other year; this person gave me the book along with the letter. Probably one of the best packages I've ever received in the mail!!

allan said...

JRR's copy? Wow! ... I wish we knew what some of his other aliases were, besides slight variations on his actual name. If he really wrote a couple hundred books, there must be dozens.

Tim Mayer said...

Thinking a lot about guys like Rosenberg and Orrie Hit these days. It still amazes me they were able to crank out the wordage they did with a typewriter and a set of encyclopedias for reference. I make my living ghost writing fiction these days and I'm only too familiar with the drive to get a set amount of words out to pay the bills. Nobody seems to know why Hitt quite writing when he did, but I suspect burn-out had a lot to do with it. Rosenberg seems to have been consumed with rage from all the years he slammed the keys, but at least he got his name on the books he wrote.

Mike Fent said...

I used to deliver the mail to his Mesa address and he would meet me at the mailbox quite often. He used to receive a lot of manuscripts that he would read and as I recall he said he was kind of an agent (or maybe an adviser) to hopeful writers. Until I read the comments above I didn't know he had written any books and I don't recall him saying he was a author. I do remember that he shared some choice words about Hollywood but he never told me why lol.