How the Baroness series got started
- Below is an excerpt of the personal letter Don Moffitt wrote to me. Here, Don confirmed that he was the only writer for all the 8 published Baroness titles. Also, "Diamonds Are For Dying" was actually written first (but published as #2 in the series). Some of you may recall (or not) that one astute member of this group suspected that DAFD might have been written before Ecstasy Connection, due to some references mentioned in EC about events that occurred in DAFD (such as Baroness gun being left in Brazil). Now it's confirmed.
December 8, 2011
I should set the record straight about the misconception that I started the Baroness series in the 1960's. I apologize for the confusion. That was simply an error that I didn't catch when I proofread the website copy. It conflates the 3 novels and roughly 100 pulp stories I wrote in the 1950's and 1960's with the Baroness novels I began in the '70's. (The first Baroness, "The Ecstasy Connection," was written in 4 weeks in August 1973 and came out in February 1974. Actually it was preceded by "Diamonds are for Dying," which I'd written in 3 weeks in July, but Pocket Books decided to publish "The Ecstasy Connection" first.) I'll have the error corrected after the web site's shakedown cruise.
My contract with Lyle said I was to produce a book every other month. That was a leisurely pace in Lyle's book factory; some of the writers in his stable had to write a book a month. In those pre-computer days, a good pulp writer could write about as fast as he could type. There was no question of a rewrite or a second draft. There wasn't time. Whatever came out of the typewriter was what got printed. Copy editing was limited to giving the manuscript a quick scan and correcting obvious typos and misspelled words, which a good linotype operator could do as a part of his job. Grammar be damned.
It took me about 4 weeks to turn out a Baroness about half my time. I spent the other half on projects of my own. Once I had to go to London to work with the actors who were doing the voice-overs on a script I'd written (a film biography of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, with Sir Michael Redgrave as The Ancient Mariner), but I got back in time to meet the deadline for the next Baroness.
I hope this scotches any rumors that more than one writer was involved in writing the first 8 books and the next 2 unpublished ones, because the books were written in such a short time span. What killed the series was a health problem that put me in the hospital for a few months. I missed a Baroness deadline a cardinal sin for Pocket Books and other publishers and I guess they decided not to resume the series after the hiatus. I gather that Lyle tried a couple of other writers, but the sample chapters they produced didn't satisfy him that they'd captured the flavor of then Baroness. When I was on my feet again, he commissioned 2 more books from me, but by that time Pocket Books had written off the series.
Which raises an interesting question. Bob Vardeman's book seems to have satisfied Lyle as to flavor, and obviously was allowed to proceed to completion, only to hit the Pocket Books brick wall. (Vardeman has a good reputation as a long-time pro, and I'd love to get a chance to read his book some day.) So I wonder if the Vardeman book was actually supposed to be Baroness #9 and my two to be #10 and #11, rather than the other way around. It's all moot now, but if by some miracle The Baroness is ever revived, Vardeman ought to be included and get the credit for his contribution.
As to the origins of the Baroness, all I know is that after we shook hands on the deal, Lyle handed me a 3-page proposal that he probably already had sold to Pocket Books. Until then, he'd only said in the most general terms that the series was supposed to be about a "glamorous female superspy," which could have meant anything. The age of female spies hadn't quite dawned yet. There was Modesty Blaise, a British comic strip that became several novels and a couple of movies, but editors generally shunned the idea. Spies were supposed to be male, with a male audience.
His 3-page proposal was quite sketchy. I found for the first time that she was supposed to be called "The Baroness" because she was an Italian nobleman's widow I think that notion came from a popular Ava Gardner movie of the time called "The Barefoot Contessa." She was to have a large team too large in my opinion. Each had to be provided with a background and given something to do in the plot. There were to be lots of high-tech
gadgets and bizarre supervillains in the James Bond mode. (Book contracts can be pretty bizarre themselves; I once signed a contract for a historical novel which, in the midst of all the legalese, specified: "It is understood that there will be a strong woman's interest and a certain amount of swashbuckling.")
So I had to flesh out the 3-pager with an actual chapter outline with a background for Penelope and all her crew, and an actual plot. I invented a plot and a supervillain (Hitler's illegitimate son Horst, which inevitably led to the jungles of Brazil for the setting.) I also had to provide abbreviated outlines, complete with appropriate supervillains, for the next 5 books, so that Pocket Books would have some assurance that it could keep the series going.
I did it all in a marathon weekend, handed it to Lyle on the steps of his office building the next afternoon just as he was leaving, and went home for a well-deserved martini. I heard from Lyle a few days later. Pocket Books liked it, and the rest was history. Of a sort.
I then took an early vacation and holed up in my summer home in Maine to finish the book (Remember, it was "Diamonds Are for Dying," not "The Ecstasy Connection" at that point), soothed my neglected PR clients, and when the first check arrived, quit my job, sublet my New York apartment, and returned to Maine in time to meet the deadline on the next Baroness. It came to an end at the eighth book, as we all know. I did some more work for Lyle, including a family saga of the 1930's called "Inheritors of the Storm" under the name "Victor Sondheim," and the bible for a 12-book series called "The Australians," which was quite successful. In 1977 Lyle and I parted ways amicably, and I started writing science fiction.
- This is great background! It's interesting that Diamonds Are For Dying was actually the first, because it does have a different tone than the other books. I think he settled into the style by The Ecstasy Connection.
It's amazing that he was able to knock these out in a month. There's quite a lot of technical detail in each one, and it's not utterly made up, so he's either got mad improv skills or great consultants or access to a great library.
The web site he mentions is this: http://www.donaldmoffitt.com/donaldmoffitt.com.html. I think this is the first public acknowledgement of his authorship of the B novels. They're not really that seemly for a mainline SF author, so I'm not surprised that he's kept them quiet.
Now, what you've quoted here is just an excerpt. What we're all dying to know is the status of the unpublished books! Any word on those? Thanks for bringing all the rest of this to light!