Monday, July 30, 2012

An Intervew With Joseph Rosenberger

First off, a big thanks to James Reasoner and Mike Madonna -- when I read a while back that the Spring 1981 issue of the obscure mystery magazine Skullduggery featured an actual interview with the elusive Joseph Rosenberger, I mentioned it to Mike Madonna in our email correspondence. I had a hard time finding a copy of the issue in question, and told Mike that, given that James Reasoner had a story published in the issue, James might happen to still have his copy.

Mike asked James, who not only had the issue but also scanned the Rosenberger interview and sent it to Mike, who then sent it to me. After talking with both of them I'm going to take the liberty to put the interview here on the blog.

I've retyped it, as the interview appears in the magazine as a blurry Xerox-esque burst of typescript. And no, it does not feature a photo of Rosenberger! Be forewarned though that this isn't the most indepth interview you'll ever read, barely coming in at two pages. But it's something, at least, and as far as I know this is the only Rosenberger interview out there.

The interview is titled Sherlock Tomes, and it's conducted by Carl Shaner. So, here it is, copyright the Spring 1981 issue of Skullduggery:

Back in 1969, a fledgling publisher, Pinnacle Books, brought out War Against the Mafia, by an unknown author named Don Pendleton. It was packaged as Book #1 in the Executioner series and, although series characters were not new to the paperback field, The Executioner was different. So different, sales soared and, as they soured, Pinnacle and others launched literally scores of imitators. Over ten years later, most of the new breed of men's action series have died off. Not so Joseph Rosenberger's Death Merchant. Richard Camellion, the master of death, deception, and disguise, who works secretly for the CIA, has starred in over forty books, with no end in sight. He is a heard-headed pragmatist, and so is his creator, Joseph Rosenberger, as the following Skullduggery interview demonstrates.

Shaner: First of all, tell us about yourself.

Rosenberger: I'll be 56 in May. I began writing at about age 17. To date, I've sold more than 2,000 articles and short stories and, roughly, maybe 300 paperbacks under my own and a variety of names: Rosenfeld, Lee Chang, Harry Adames [sp], etc. Maybe 50 or 60 were non-fiction -- ghost jobs, mostly on Psi/paranormal. For almost seven years I roamed the world as a photo-journalist and finally settled down about 20 years ago as a one-location writer. To me, writing is a business.

Shaner: The Death Merchant is apparently designed to appeal to a different audience than The Executioner or The Destroyer, as Camellion is neither a crusader nor a superman. How much of this was your idea?

Rosenberger: The Death Merchant was entirely my own creation. The editors at Pinnacle didn't have a thing to do with it.

Shaner: Do your editors provide you with much direction?

Rosenberger: None. The editors do not provide any ideas. There is only one rule: Camellion takes on only the incredible tasks, missions that, if not successful, would result in loss of freedom in the Western world.

Shaner: The first novel, The Death Merchant, was a "war against the Mafia" story, and the impossible missions vein did not begin until later. Was this a natural development?

Rosenberger: That was the plan all along.

Shaner: Camellion claims to dislike the "Death Merchant" title. How do you feel about it?

Rosenberger: So-so, but I'm not crazy about "Death Merchant."

Shaner: Does Camellion have any real-life or literary inspirations?

Rosenberger: None.

Shaner: After ten years and over forty books, do you still enjoy writing the character?

Rosenberger: I enjoy the money.

Shaner: Have you ever used ghost writers on the series?

Rosenberger: No. I never will. I don't think any writer can take over another writer's series and do a good job, with the exception of the "comic" Nick Carter novels.

Shaner: What are your favorite Death Merchant books?

Rosenberger: I don't have any favorites. I try to make each book as good as possible, and feel, after the book is finished, that it was the "best." It's the mind-set by which I operate.

Shaner: Do you have any favorites among your other books?

Rosenberger: None. It's all commercial writing. Paperbacks, as a rule, are nothing but pulps in a different form.

Shaner: How do you rate other series characters?

Rosenberger: Some are good; others stink, in that the writers don't do their homework.

Shaner: How do you approach writing a typical Death Merchant novel?

Rosenberger: I sleep on it for months in advance, letting the "Overmind" work out the details. From an outline as I actually begin to write. Plenty of research.

Shaner: What other series books have you written?

Rosenberger: The first Kung Fu fiction series in print (Manor Books) -- until Manor tried to screw me. Result: a lawsuit that I won. I now own the series, even though Kung Fu is as dead as yesterday's cigarette. Titles: Year of the Tiger by Lee Chang, etc. There were four or five books altogether; then when I told Manor where it could go, Manor got another writer to do the series. The series fell apart after, I think, two books.

I also evolved The Murder Master for Manor -- three books. I told Manor this series would not work -- a black dude hopping in bed with chicks, secret Fed, all that kind of nonsense.

I have done one Nick Carter book, Thunderstrike In Syria -- only one, because the advances are low, because I don't have the time, and, mainly, because there isn't a byline.

Shaner: Who reads your books, do you know?

Rosenberger: All kinds of people, judging from letters, from priests to prostitutes, from scientists to truck drivers. People read fiction to relax and, on a subconscious level, to work out their own anxieties, but mostly to relax and enjoy the book.

Shaner: Finally, with the Death Merchant entering its second decade, where do you see Richard Camellion and Joseph Rosenberger going from here?

Rosenberger: Rosenberger? Who knows? I can always sell series. I've turned down five this year. Camellion will live as long as the books at Pinnacle show a profit. The bottom line in publishing is money.


Jack Badelaire said...

Interesting, but not unexpected. I've read a number of interviews with several "old breed" paperback and pulp fiction authors, and it is almost shocking how dismissive of their own creations they are. To a lot of these guys, that's all writing is - a means to a paycheck. Not that more "modern" writers don't care about money, but you never hear a lot of these older guys talking about "the craft" of writing. Whatever sold, they wrote. Whatever didn't sell, they dropped like a hot potato. Also interesting to see what a vast amount of his work was done under pen names or as a ghost author, something that I think has largely disappeared from professional writing these days.

Anyhow, Joe, you are my friggin' hero for landing this!

Tom Johnson said...

The interviewer, Carl Shaner, is Will Murray.

Jack Badelaire said...

Hah, so even the interviewer is writing under a pen name.

Tim Mayer said...

Fascinating piece! Reminds me of the "Go away and leave me the F alone" intro Roberta Findley did to a DVD reissue of one of her films.

Joe Kenney said...

Glad all of you enjoyed the interview. Again, a big thanks to Mike and James for making it possible.

As irony would have it, this Saturday I came upon 6 more volumes of the Death Merchant, five of them from the #40s, as well as #51. Unfortunately it looks like the majority of them are "realistic," at least so far as the series goes (though #48 IS titled "The Psionics War"). They are now sitting with all of the other unread Death Merchants I own...

And to add a footnote to Rosenberger's comments on the "Mace: Kung Fu" series...when Rosenberger left, Len Levinson wrote one volume, also as "Lee Chang" (#6: Year of the Boar), before Bruce Cassiday came on as "CK Fong" and wrote the final two volumes. I've got the full run of Marvel's awesome '70s mag "Deadly Hands of Kung-Fu," and periodically in that series a guy named David Anthony Kraft would review a bunch of pulp kung-fu novels and whatnot. Simply put, the dude HATED the Mace series, going on about how stupid and overdone they were -- and of course, in each instance he would be referring to one of the volumes turned out by Rosenberger (not that Kraft knew it was Rosenberger...though he did assume that "Lee Chang" was a psuedonym).

Tex said...

"Rosenberger: I'll be 56 in May."

Working backwards from 1981, that makes him another member of what my late Mom called her "Class of 1925."

If you're out there, Mr. Rosenberger, happy belated 87th birthday!

(who'd happily buy new Death Merchant novels, should you chose to write them)

Brian Drake said...

I understand writing for money, but I can't believe Rosenberger's attitude was entirely serious. He wrote a tough-guy series; he wanted to sound like a tough-guy writer. Spillane did the same thing but under the "I like the money" lines was a serious writer.

But contrast this interview with ones given by Pendleton or the one I did with Jerry Ahern on my blog, and you see the other side. The craft was important to them, not just the sale. I'd rather read about them than Rosenberger and I never liked the Death Merchant anyway.

tim gueguen said...

Fun to see an actual interview with Rosenberger, even if he's a rather tedious interview subject over just short pages.

He supposedly died in 1993.

I own more Death Merchant books than is healthy for a person. In other words I own more than one.

Jon Roig said...

Thanks for sharing this... randomly stumbled on it, looking for info about Rosenberger. I also probably have a good little collection of the Death Merchant Books. I guess it's nice to know I'm not the only person who thinks this are... uh... special.

Karlos said...

Hi Joe

Great to finally read an interview with the man himself.

He comes across much as I thought he would - enigmatic, matter of fact and terse.

Thanks for posting it.

Speaking of Rosenberger, I've just got my hands on book one of his short-lived Shadow Warrior series, The Hong Kong Massacre.

It's essentially Mace redux, so I don't think you'd dig it, with the same JR traits found in those: lots of methodical research, looong, ultra-detailed fight scenes, odd POV moments and general un-PC elements (our hero is also a master of disguise and turns himself Chinese at one point).

So, yeah, business as usual. I'll naturally be tracking all 4 books down.

Also, if you've read the Deadly Hands of KF mag, did you ever read the Master of KF comic? If not, I
Hugely recommend it.

Joe Kenney said...

Karlos, good to hear from you, glad you enjoyed the interview. Just wanted to let you (and everyone else who enjoyed this) know that in a few months I hope to post some BIG Rosenberger, "photos of the man himself" big! But I've already said too much!!

Thanks for the info on the Shadow Warrior series, I've been interested in that one...I mean, an '80s ninja series by Rosenberger! But I've always figured it would just be more of the same.

And I'll certainly check out the Master of KF!

Karlos said...

Hi Joe

Whoa! More Rosenberger news?! Count me in for that! Can't wait!

Yes, the Master of Kung Fu comic is truly something special, Joe. You'll love it. Pure pulp goodness!


Unknown said...

I collected and read all 71 Death Merchant books as a teen through college (my alma mater is the same as Vallie West's), this was in the 1980's. It was good escapism at the time. I ultimately sold the entire collection to a used bookstore when I moved out of state in the early 1990s.

Joe Kenney said...

ikonos, thanks for the comment -- cool to hear from someone who read the series as it was being published. I was aware of the series toward the end of its run, in the mid-'80s, but never really got into it, though I know I picked up a few of the '70s volumes at the local used bookstore. However, I was never able to get through one of them!

Unknown said...

I actually looked forward to new volumes at the time, and bought each as soon as it came out. I never read any of the other series though, so I have nothing to compare "The Death Merchant" series to. Interestingly I had a friend who read "The Executioner" series, but for some reason we never traded books so I never read "The Executioner" and he never read "The Death Merchant"...for the life of me I cannot remember why. I did try a "The Destroyer" book after the "Remo Williams" movie came out, but decided at the time that it would not be economically feasible to take up another series. The movie was fun though, and as far as I know "The Destroyer" is the only one of these series to be turned into a movie.

Sorry for duplicating my previous post in another thread by the way, I came across this one first and posted but was not sure if it was still being checked so I found and posted in the most recent thread about a Death Merchant book.