Tuesday, July 23, 2013


    • ·Dear Mr. G.,
      I am approaching you at the suggestion of Tom Wallace, a friend dating back to my earliest  days in NY publishing; that is, the 60s.
    • The matter  in which I ask whether you can assist is the following.
      In 1966 I signed a contract with Farrar, Straus & Giroux as Scout and editor for books in the German language. The contract called for participation on my part once a book had sold in excess of 5,000 copies of 1 %, and in the event of paperback and book club sales of 2 %.

    • Things went well initially. Two of the first three authors were Nobel Prize winners. Nelly Sachs, whose OH THE CHIMNEYS selection of poetry and one play and introduction by Hans Magnus Enzensberger I put together translating 65 poems myself; and a ten book contract for Hermann Hesse where three of the translations (done previously for the deceased editor Roger Klein at Harper & Row) were ready to be published: Ursule Molinaro's of NARCISS & GOLDMUND, and mine of PETER CAMENZIND & BENEATH THE WHEEL. All of these first ten titles were sold to Bantam Books for handsome advances, NARCISS for $ 500,000. CAMENZIND and BENEATH THE WHEEL for 250,000. however, as it turned out, I received accounting and the agreed royalties only on the first five of the first ten book contract  I discovered only recently.
    •  I recall buying a Napoleon style raincoat in Paris and turning it over to author Peter Handke in 1971 when he was in need and was indeed an early conqueror of sorts and how we (his wife and buddy Kolleritch of SHORT LETTER, LONG FAREWELL fame,  and I) were amused how well the coat suited him and how excellently he struck the emblematic pose).

    • Shortly before leaving Farrar, Straus in 1969 to represent Suhrkamp Verlag through the literary agency of Lantz & Donadio  Roger Straus and I negotiated a second 10 book contract with Suhrkamp.  The selection was mine, especially keen I was on Hesse letters many of which advised those who had approached him to find someone but not him as a leader preferably to become inner-directed (a selection which FSG eventually published). Since I knew of F.S.G.'s reluctance to commit large amounts to advances I managed to get both parties to come together at the sum of $ 5,000 per title on signing, that is, a total of $ 50,000; and this was the one time I had lunch at the Four Seasons - the Suhrkamp New York agent, whom I had no idea I might replace on her resigning the account, was the Berliner Joan Daves, whom I much liked for that 30s stylishness, and whose husband Ashton I would later use as translator for Adorno as senior editor at Continuum Books; but I paid no attention to the tip however chintzy that Roger Straus left - this detail is an allusion that will become clearer upon reading my comments on Roger Straus on the occasion of Jonathan Galasie's review of Boris Kachkas recent biography of Farrar, Straus & Giroux
    • Leaving FSG in 1969 with so many titles I had been instrumental in acquiring still to be published meant leaving as it were mid-pipeline.
    •  One question that was never addressed was the accounting for authors whom I secured for the firm and who subsequently published numerous books through that firm, of which  one, Peter Handke, was especially productive and remunerative.
      Within the year of representing Suhrkamp I had a call from Roger Straus saying I ought not to double-dip the second Hesse contract (which actually was not running over Lantz-Donadio yet though it was expected to do so), and after consulting with Candida Donadio (who agreed with Straus who represented this as an ethical matter), I agreed. Near simultaneously Straus suggested why not take a snap shot of the books on which you are then {that is, in 1970) receiving royalties, and since there was no particular reason to say no to that we signed  a list of that kind to that effect.  piece of paper which, (for all I know I know  since the firm refuses to reply to my queries) I believe was a trick, although I never conceived that someone who was making millions from books I had brought him would actually screw me; a wishful delusion since in fact I had had  two warning signs that all might not be well on that score.
    •  However, the 2nd 10 book Hesse contract then never ran through Lantz-Donadio, and so I did not even manage to dip once. When I called Roger Straus' attention to that state of affairs once I returned from Mexico in mid-90s  he refused to answer, as has his successor Jonathan Galassi or Holzbrinck, the new owner, and John Sargent the head of Macmillan U.S.A. who overeas the U.S part of the conglomerate. 

    • And, as I discovered recently on checking the Hesse bibliography and what accounting I did receive, I did not receive an accounting or the payments due on the second half of the first ten book contract either. Moreover, FSG is now halving the 1 per cent on some titles, and the person who makes out these statements, Victor Wernicki, has not replied to my queries either.
    • Victor Wernicki
    • Nor have I received accounting ever on Nossack's THE IMPOSSIBLE PROOF, which went into a second printing, nor on the Nelly Sachs OH THE CHIMNEYS   which sold in excess of 7,500 copies and had book club sales, nor on Christa Wolf's THINKING ABOUT CHRISTA T. , which had paperback sales, nor on Handke's RIDE ACROSS LAKE CONSTANCE & OTHER PLAYS, which though in the works in 1970 was not published until the mid-70s, and consists entirely of my translations. Nor of any of the Peter Handke titles, even though many of them were sold to paperback in many editions,
    • I myself left the Lantz-Donadi agency and the representation in 1971, chiefly because Dr. Unseld, the head of Suhrkamp, had made himself unrepresentable by seeking to breach the agreed upon terms for mass paperback splits between Suhrkamp and Farrar, Straus of the first Hesse contract; and that was the main reason the 2nd Hesse contract had not been finalized, and so I did not get to dip a single time on that; and the contract then ran I believe over my successor, the now deceased Kurt Bernheim, a matter easily ascertained by contacting the person who handles rights at Suhrkamp Verlag, Dr. Petra Hardt.
    • Hardt, Petra
    • So much for the background. 
      One problem, caused by an act of God, is that all my contracts were inundated during the 2006 autumn storm that hit Seattle and flooded my basement room. Thus you would be flying blind but for the copies of  statements I receive bi-annually unless you could obtain a copy of the underlying agreement from Farrar, Straus, although I imagine they would have to produce them. There exist of course the Suhrkamp contractual records  I believe the Lantz-Donadio records fell victim to a warehouse fire. I don't know the status of the files of Kurt Bernheim's records, the now deceased fondly recalled agent who succeeded me in representing Suhrkamp. and through whom the second ten book contract then finally ran.
    • The other problem is that I am living on appr. $ 1,000 a month - a small legacy disappeared while I was in Mexico in 1994 and if I had it I probably would not bother, even though I am obviously out hundreds of thousands of dollars going back to the 70s.
    • Thus all I can offer you is that you sue for all you feel you can sue for, plus compound interest and penalties, and Saudi Arabian lashes! and if there is anything left over give me half and the other half to the P.E.N. USA. They were designated already in my now disparu legacy upon my demise.
      I have a number of books to sell and complete, and film scripts, and berate myself for not pursuing placement of one especially feasible screenplay while I was in the Los Angeles  in the early 90s.
      If I were in New York I would bring suit myself; and have the hunch that a judge would be more sympathetic to my case if I brought it per se. i mean I brought huge riches to that firm and lack the finances to repair my teeth. I would pillory that firm and its current editor in chief, Jonathan Galassi, like me a translator and scholar and poet, for failing to make good on my contract.
    •  Even if I were in New York I would have to pay $ 10 K to bring suit in Federal Court, a sum I have not had in my account for more than ten years; although NY State court would be the way to go since the contract was drawn and executed there. 
    •  I quite understand about time and that the proposition might just be too iffy, in which case you might be so kind as to provide one or the other suggestion if you have any.
      Very truly yours,
      Michael Roloff

  • Just as I reach the part in a postscript to my most peculiar self-analytic novel memoir IDYLLIC YEARS AND NOT - that incepts at the toddlers competition at the Berlin Olympics 1936 (#1) and ends at my momentous ABC OF READING-inspired decision at a McCabe & Mrs. Miller night in 1960 on Chena Ridge, Fairbanks, to enter the literary fray - and in that postscript describe the moment that I first set eyes on Roger Straus's "brutal pockmarked face" and his "twelve-ply suits" I  come on Jonathan Gallassi's take on Boris Kaschka's biography in Vulture
  • and want to state that my apprehensions, my gut instincts, a greenhorn's, could not have been better founded: Roger Straus was indeed chintzy and the more surprisingly so in light of his origins in the world of great all around wealth, not just chintzy but, as chintz foretells, a chiseler, even of those who bring his firm Nobel Prizes and millions (# 2), the kind of person whom no number of Nobel prizes will ennoble, so that, therefore, Robert Giroux's statement that he could never write a history of the firm at the thought of Roger (see & then makes the best of retrospective grim sense to someone who, sitting in-between, kept wondering during his  years with the firm why Giroux didn't take his stable of high class breeds to a more propitious stable -  the answer of course being that even a major mother hen like Bob Giroux had really no other hen house  - the spirit suffers as it is at least suffered - and I just a small cuckoo laying a few good eggs wherever I might find a nest.                   However, it is that discrepancy, between Runyanesque flamboyance - that lives off and in the reflection from what brightness emanates from the forever dimming spirit - and the difficult caring to ensure the reception of these communications from sometimes so far off seeming stars - that indicates the superfluousness of Roger Straus's twelve ply suits and ostentation.                      Straus was not a writer's editor as you find so many publishers on the continent and as Joathan Galassie appears to be.  E.G. Straus completely fucked up the publication of Peter Handke's work in this country, his personal responsibility, not that of some hapless editor, all it took was to keep your eye on the ball, and not as easy as publishing Tom Wolfe’s comic strips that can connect with the country’s forever superficial nerve.
  • Straus never developed the Cecil Hemley-founded Noonday Press into the kind of quality paperback line that characterizes the great development in the post WW II democratization of American publishing. He ran through no end of editors in chief, he was a cherry picker (but picked, best as I can tell, a good one in Galassi) and then neglected them, bought up all kinds of small firms and didn't integrate them. In the great and some lesser political controversies of his time, McCarthyism, the Vietnam War, etc.he was m.i.a. – they might spill some egg on his fine suits. The firm might acquire credibility, he himself never did.
  • Galassie mentions Straus' friendship with the equally flamboyant but serious Susan Sontag, who, oddly, looked like his twin sister at her death, but I don't think ever did any of the many interests she championed, money losers of course most of them! Smart would have been to give someone with such ranging interest her own line of books. The apparent need to be in a position to pay huge sums to satisfy grandiose egos redounds to the detriment of the many fine others, and thus to that of the culture as a whole. You can decide not to play that game.   
  • Jonathan Gallasie, perforce of his position, has little choice but to traffic in muted truths, yet I am surprised that his enumeration of the ups and down omits the twenty Hesse titles I brought to the firm in the late sixties; those half million dollar Bantam paperback sales certainly helped the alleged living at the edge while having a country estate and Mercedes and all that. And fails to list among current author the furriners among them!
  • # 1) Where six month olds from all participating countries lined up at the starting gate, looking at the Hitler-penned banner  "and who of you will survive the horrors I am about to wreak?" before toddling off in their pampers once around the track!

  • # 2) In my instance, arbitrary  abrogation of contractual obligation, utterly dishonorable actions, Straus was no gentleman or of his word, and this has real consequences, say for my teet, and where you have instance of that kind it has been my experience the tiger does not change his stripes.  

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MICHAEL ROLOFF exMember Seattle Psychoanalytic Institute and Society this LYNX will LEAP you to all my HANDKE project sites and BLOGS: "MAY THE FOGGY DEW BEDIAMONDIZE YOUR HOOSPRINGS!" {J. Joyce} "Sryde Lyde Myde Vorworde Vorhorde Vorborde" [von Alvensleben] contact via my website


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