IN quite undramatic fashion, I began by being born. Place, Los Angeles, California. Date, December 7, so few years ago that darned little has had time to happen. Ancestry, Scots-English. I weighed ten pounds, had black hair, and a strident personality, especially during the wee sma’ hours.
The next few years are somewhat hazy, except that I was very naughty and had an uncanny faculty for imitating dialect. The family was never quite sure whether it had hatched out a Chinese cook or an Italian fruit man.
At an early age I discovered books. It was a sad day for the family.
It’s a mournful tradition with us that if you want to get me out of a book, you’ve got to use a good-sized percussion cap.
Presently I was put into a small school in Santa Monica. I may say, with a pardonable blush, that I was the second worst brat on the campus. The worst one had a head start—she was a year older.
This I call my beachcombing period. I lived at the shore, acquired an indelible tan and a mop of straw-colored hair — the black fuzz I started out with having apparently made a mistake. I didn’t grow scales and gills, but the fish all called me by my first name.
By this time several alarming characteristics had appeared in me. I was crazy over dogs. I’d have had a dozen or so, if the family hadn’t sternly refused to cooperate. I had a nice taste in Elizabethan oaths, garnered from pirate stories. I wavered between four desperate alternatives: whether to be a smuggler like Jim Davis, a pirate like Blackbeard, an all-round daredevil like Douglas Fairbanks, who was my idol, or just to settle for cowboys’n’Indians.
And I discovered “imaginative fiction.”
There was apprehensive shaking of heads among the female relations. Attempts were made to save me. But it was too late. I devoured Burroughs, Haggard, Balmer and Wylie, Doyle’s unforgettable “Maracott Deep,” Jules Verne. Yes, boys and girls. I was hooked. Completely and utterly.
In the meantime, I flunked Latin and algebra, acted in some school plays, fought the neighbor’s boy, and made several unsuccessful attempts to go to Mars a la John Carter.
Then we went East, and the Fateful Day arrived.
It dawned quite simply. The sun shone, the little birds were doing their stuff, all was quiet and serene. I got out of bed . . .
There was a muffled thunder of psychic drums. Boston quaked to its foundations. And I said to myself: “Brackett, you’re thirteen. Time you thought about things. The days of piracy are over, smuggling has degenerated into boot-legging, and cowboy-ing seems to have lost its siren charm. What’s it to be, the Life Work?”
Brackett struggled with this for a long time — five minutes at least. And then,
“I have it! You get good marks in Eng. Lit. You read incessantly. Composition Is a snap. Writing is easy. In fact, it’s so easy it’ll be almost a pity to take money for it.
“Brackett, your future is assured. You will be a writer.”
Uh huh. Gruesome, isn’t it? My only excuse is that I was young, and no one had ever kicked me very hard.
I wrote a novel, an intensely dramatic problem piece. I wrote short stories. Then two more novels.
They made a horrible stench, burning. My one consolation is that I wrote them in longhand, which in my case is practically illegible, and I think the editors simply stuck rejection slips on them, of necessity, without reading.
We came West again. I entered school, and took a course in writing on the side. It did some good, but not much. Besides, I was bitten by the acting bug about this time and spent most of my waking hours in the school auditorium.
This eventually resulted in my placing second for dramatic reading in the Festival of Arts and Sciences, and teaching speech and dramatics for a year at an up-coast school.
I taught swimming as well during the summers, and had an idea I might be a physical instructor. But writing had become chronic. I couldn’t shake it. I turned out incredibly bad stories in every spare moment.
Now we come to the tragic, soul-searing period inevitable in the life of every struggling artist, the time when he’s sure his Muse has deserted him for good. If. indeed, the gal was ever around. In nine years I hadn’t sold a word. I was beating my head against a wall, with no way over or around. Writing was easy. Ha!
Then, just as I was poised on the edge of a cliff, with a rope around my neck, a bottle of poison in one hand and a gun in the other, Fate stepped in. I found a teacher, heaven bless him. I found a writer willing to help. I found an agent, ditto. I decided life wasn’t so bad after all.
Behold me now, laboring in my garret, which overlooks the city of Los Angeles. I’ve sold a dozen stories. Not much, but a beginning. And some day, maybe . . .
That just about finishes this uneventful chronicle. If physical statistics are of interest, I’m tallish, fairish, and mildly insane on the subject of beach volley-ball. I still read. I like eating and sleeping, dislike hats and cats, and dream of globe-trotting.
There’s just one more thing—a very important thing. I hope you enjoy “No Man’s Land . . It’s the first story I’ve sold to AMAZING STORIES, but I hope, I do sincerely hope, that it will not be the last.—Leigh Brackett.
From Meet the Authors, Amazing Stories, July 1941.
Leigh Brackett’s stories can be found HERE