Thu 29 Mar 2007
After the review was posted, I continued trying to find out more about Knerr, eventually coming across several Internet postings about him by John F. Carr. Carr is a science fiction writer and editor with a long list of credits on the Internet Speculative Fiction Data Base.
Carr’s recent endeavors have largely been in conjunction with the SF (and occasional mystery) writer, H. Beam Piper, keeping his work in print and writing several stories and novels in Piper’s “Lord Kalvan”ť series. He recently finished a biography, H. Beam Piper: A Biography for McFarland & Company, which will be published next year. There’s a connection between Piper and Knerr, which Carr addresses in his reply to me, after I was able to get in touch with him:
You came to the right person, as I knew Michael – not very well, but better than probably any other writer left alive. Michael’s middle initial was E., and while I’m not familiar with Travis, according to his son, it’s Mike’s book. He wrote a number of books for Monarch and Pinnacle in the late 50’s and early 60’s. In 1962 he went to Southern California, where he wrote a number of soft-core porn books for various outfits, like Uptown Books – all pretty harmless in today’s vernacular! I have a copy of The Sex Life of the Gods, and it’s pretty typical hackwork… Better than some, but not up to the stuff Sturgeon and Farmer were doing a few years later.
Mike was in many way Beam’s protege, and his closest friend during his last few years in Williamsport, Pennsylvania before Piper shot himself on November 9, 1964. They met at a local Williamsport writers’ group in 1959 and they spent a lot of time together talking about writing and drinking. Mike was absolutely devastated by Beam’s suicide. In fact, he blamed himself for not realizing that Beam needed help. The truth was that Mike was married, with two young sons and working full time as a reporter, and had neglected, for these very good reasons, his friend Beam Piper.
I’m sure Piper understood, and his problems were far deeper than any small loan would have addressed. Piper was a very private man and would have never burdened a friend with his personal or financial problems. He took what he thought was the only sensible way out of what he saw was a closed box — a stalled career, the recent death of his friend and long-time agent Kenneth White, a bad case of writer’s block and no money. He was too proud and self-sufficient to ever go on relief!
I first heard about Mike Knerr through the offices of Ace Books and my then editor Beth Meacham, when Mike called her, extremely irate over my factual errors about his “best friend, H. Beam Piper” in my introduction to the Piper short story collection, Federation. I told Beth to have Mike call me direct and we had a good conversation; I told him that I was only writing what other people had told me that Piper had said about his ex-wife and other factual errors. After Mike calmed down, he admitted that Piper “told a lot of bullshit about his past” and we ended the conversation on a good note. We corresponded and he provided me some information on Beam’s life and quotes from his diaries, which he had in his possession.
After our talk Mike discovered the “lost” Fuzzy novel (Fuzzies and Other People) in one of the trunks that he’d taken from Piper’s apartment mislabeled in a box as “second pages.” In lieu of payment (Ace Books offered him several thousand dollars — Mike called it “blood money”) for the “lost” Fuzzy book — Mike stuck a deal whereby he would write a biography of Beam based on his first-hand knowledge and Piper’s diaries which ran from 1955 to his death. Ace agreed and he sat down and over the next several years wrote the book Piper. Unfortunately, when he turned the book in Ace reneged and told him they were no longer interested. He was about to destroy it when I called to obtain his permission to quote his letters for the article, “The Last Cavalier: H. Beam Piper,” I was writing for Analog Science Fiction–Fact magazine.
Mike was mad as hell, and I managed to calm him down a bit and told him it would be a crime if he destroyed Beam’s legacy in a fit of pique, since he had the only copy of the diaries. Instead, I suggested that he send me a copy of his Piper biography for safe keeping. You could have knocked me over with a paper clip when three months later it arrived in my P.O. Box! He sent me the original manuscript; I know that because it was backed with several other manuscripts (a lot of old timers did this to save on paper). I am certain that I have the only copy in existence…
I lost contact with Mike in 1992, when he was living in Sausalito with his third or fourth wife. He was a good looking guy, and a great man for the ladies. He moved around a lot, and did the typical writer’s gigs, worked at Sylvania, a local newspaper, etc.
See the attached photos. In person, he had a raspy voice and a violent demeanor, like one of his own anti-hero protagonists! He wasn’t someone you’d mess around with.
His books, like The Violent Lady (Monarch, 1963), were pretty good for the time and the outfits he wrote them for. He really wanted to write historical novels based in Central Pennsylvania, but couldn’t sell them. His agent was Kenneth White, who died in 1964, which is when Mike decided to cut back his writing to hobby status, although he would have never put it that way!
I talked to his son recently and he told me his father was born on May 31, 1936 in Williamsport, PA (where Piper was based in the early 60’s, which is my connection). He was a hunter, civil war re-enactor, horseman, built flintlock rifles, and loved boats and sailing.
Mike was a former newspaper man (the Shamokin newspaper) and in 1973 moved permanently (except for a short time in Woolrich, PA) to Southern California, specifically Alameda, Sausalito and L.A.
Here’s the list of titles his son gave me of Knerr’s works: The Violent Lady, 3 Willing Females, The Sex Lives of the Gods, Heavy Weather, Sasquach, Suicide in Guyana, Brazen Broads, Operation: Lust, and Travis. He isn’t sure if this list is complete, probably not since many were written under pseudonyms and/or were lost in his many moves…
Mike Knerr died in 1999. I don’t have the actual date, just a note from his son that he died at age 64.
This is about the sum total of my knowledge of Mike, except that I liked him even though he was a rough cob – I sure as hell wouldn’t have wanted him as an enemy!
NOTE: A chapter excerpted from The Last Cavalier, John’s biography of H. Beam Piper, has been uploaded to the original Mystery*File website. Entitled “California Dreamin’” and largely in Mike Knerr’s own words, it describes his experiences writing soft-core porn in California before returning to Pennsylvania, and the time he spent with H. Beam Piper in Williamsport before the latter took his own life.