Milwaukee Fictioneers and Allied Authors
The Milwaukee Fictioneers (est. 1931) and Allied Authors of Wisconsin (est. 1937) never officially merged. Instead they maintained separate and distinct identities well into the 1980s (even into the 1990s), when members belonging to both of the groups comprised a majority. Today the two clubs are one, though long-time members are unable to recall the details of this happening. What we do know is that history shared between the two is tangled and confused, making it impossible to chronicle one apart from the other. In addition, Fictioneers and Allied Authors fostered close ties with other Wisconsin writers’ groups, including the Wisconsin Regional Writer’s Association (est. 1948), the Raconteurs of Wisconsin (est. 1956) and Council for Wisconsin Writers (est. 1963).
There were differences between the two groups from the beginning. Fictioneers collected no dues, recorded no minutes, elected no officers; Allied Authors did all of these things. Fictioneers explored writing techniques, brainstorming hypotheticals, but never read from members’ manuscripts; Allied Authors parsed work underway, offered immediate feedback, criticisms tempered with the knowledge all participating members were themselves experienced, published authors—it was the rule.
World War II and the Korean War played a part bringing the Fictioneers and Allied Authors together when both clubs were losing (at least for the time being) members called upon to serve. Both had “male-only” membership restrictions, but as the war years stretched on, women writers (and spouses) inevitably infiltrated their ranks. But after the wars, when the number of members in both groups might otherwise have swelled, writers still longing for the old status quo would break away to establish male-only clubs, including, for example, Raconteurs of Milwaukee (soon to be Raconteurs, Inc.). But this would not last; today’s “Racs” boast about the literary accomplishments of their male and female members alike.
Fictioneers and Allied Authors finally merged sometime in the 1990s, though not by any overt act. Today’s combination forgoes dues and offices, but the group continues to carefully critique works-in-progress, which usually are read aloud. Meetings include a formal round of sharing member updates, “minutes” of these kept with care, and scheduled breaks for informal socializing.
Chronology of Events:
- In May of 1930, Ray Palmer and Walter Dennis issue The Comet, the very first SF fanzine which represents the birth of organized science fiction fandom. Soon Palmer serves as literary editor of the well-produced Fantasy Magazine, alongside future luminaries Julius Schwartz and Forrest J Ackerman.
- Milwaukee Fictioneers is established as a writer’s club (not “SF fan group,” as the initial roster might imply). Members alternate hosting meetings at one another’s homes, where they “talk over their vocation as writers.” Following the first meeting in January 1931, they meet twice a month on Thursdays.
- The two originators are Al P. Nelson (westerns and mystery) and Bernard Wirth (creative writing instructor at Marquette University). Other founding members include Lawrence Keating (former newspaper man and western author) and Leo Schmidt (accounting textbooks and short fiction). Keating sells to True Gang Life, Alibi, Gang World, Soldier Stories, Racketeer and Gangland Stories and Underworld Romances. Schmidt brings in fellow Marquette staffers David Costello and Jim Lounsbury.
- Fredric Brown (destined to become famous for his crime, mystery and science fiction) is already a member. He will also join Allied Authors when it is a separate group.
- Other early members include SF and fantasy writers Roger Sherman Hoar (a.k.a. Ralph Milne Farley), Raymond A. Palmer, Arthur R. Tofte and Stanley G. Weinbaum. Hoar, affectionately referred to as “Farley” by everyone, is mathematician, inventor, Wisconsin state senator and author of the “Radio Man” series.
- Ray Palmer begins publishing the work of fellow Fictioneers—notably Farley—in Fantasy Magazine.
- Robert Bloch sells his first pulp story to Weird Tales in 1934. He writes more, which also sell. Only 18-years old in 1935, Bloch is featured in the Milwaukee Journal “Green Sheet”—a week later he is invited to join the Fictioneers. Later, his close friend Harold Gauer will also join.
- Donald McDonald, another early member, is selling to Detective Story Weekly.
- In 1935, Stanley Weinbaum dies of cancer at age 33.
- Julius Schwartz, now Weinbaum’s agent in New York, edits and helps design the memorial volume Dawn of Flame and Other Stories following Weinbaum’s premature death in 1935.
- Produced in 1936 by pioneer specialty publisher Conrad Ruppert, Dawn of Flame will be the only book published under the aegis of the Fictioneers or Allied Authors. Palmer’s introduction is deemed too personal by Weinbaum’s widow and is replaced in all but a few of the 250 originally bound copies (a few more would follow) by Keating’s intro.
- Ray Gallun, Wisconsin author of SF short fiction, attends the winter 1937 meeting of Fictioneers.
- August Derleth and Raymond E. F. Larsson publish Poetry out of Wisconsin, a ground-breaking anthology that triggers interest in Wisconsin’s regional-rural writers.
- Allied Authors is organized sometime in 1937 by four authors selling to the newspaper syndicates and pulp magazines: Larry Lawrence, William Kruger, Franz Serdaly and William Campbell Gault. Gault authors more than 50 books, mostly mysteries and juveniles.
- A possibly spurious legend is told of the incident that brought these authors together: One of them or another writer friend owned property along Lake Michigan. During a particularly heavy storm, his boat apparently broke loose and was partially washed up on shore. Too large for one person to handle, the man contacted several writer friends to give him a hand with it. While doing so, and again later as they enjoyed drinks, they chatted about their assorted projects and writing in general, and the idea of getting together on a regular basis to share information and for mutual support was born. Unlike the original Fictioneers, the Allied Authors tradition of lifting a glass quite possibly attests to this origin and persists yet today.
- Larry Sternig, another founding member of Allied Authors, who is still also a member of Fictioneers (and who had been writing his own fiction since 1933), is persuaded by Bloch to become a literary agent. Sternig manages this career change admirably, eventually representing members from all Wisconsin writing groups.
- Farley helps Palmer land a job in Chicago as pulp editor of Amazing Stories. Palmer moves there in 1938 and eventually takes the reins of Fantastic Adventures, Mammoth Western, Mammoth Adventures, and Mammoth Detective.
- Numerous Fictioneers are now counted among Palmer’s stable of authors; in 1938, he buys the story that gives Tofte his “start” in SF.
- In 1938, Weird Tales author Henry Kuttner visits Bloch and Harold Gauer in Milwaukee, and they all drive out to meet August Derleth in Sauk City. The next year, Gauer enhances the photo to be used on the dust-jacket of H. P. Lovecraft’s The Outsider and Others, the first book under Derleth’s Arkham House imprint, and possibly the most famous fantasy book ever published.
- Other Allied Authors include Jim Kjellgaard (author of Big Red), Webster Kuswa (who sold to Black Mask, Detective Fiction Weekly, Detective Stories, Mammoth Detective Stories), Morry Zenoff (sports writer for Milwaukee Journal), Dudley Brooks (professor of creative writing at the U. of Wis.) and Gus Marx (owner of the advertising agency where Bloch is working). Other members are Robert W. Wells, James Dalton, Dudley Reed, Emil Blacky, Earnest Eisenberg, Robert Silbar, Howard Peck, Carl Mulch, George Sullivan, Gordon Warnke, John Lorenzo, and Harold Brunner.
- Ray Bradbury swings through Milwaukee as he returns home from New York, but is unable to connect with Bloch or take the time to drive to Sauk City: “Maybe next summer,” he writes Derleth on December 1, 1939, adding, “Kuttner has shown me pictures of most of the Wisconsin gang and I think you look harmless … Your novel, by the way, Wind Over Wisconsin, is very, very good.”
- In 1940, writer Louis Sampliner and Palmer swing through Milwaukee for Bloch, while making a pilgrimage to visit Derleth in Sauk City.
- Donn Brazier, publisher of Frontier and organizer of the Frontier Society (“borderlines of science”) joins Fictioneers; but there are perhaps no more than ten members at this time.
- Harold Gauer writes on March 20, 1945: “The Fictioneers continue to meet every third week….”
- In 1945, Derleth publishes The Opener of the Way, first hardcover collection of Bloch, and tenth book for his Arkham House imprint.
- On January 27, 1947, the Allied Authors vote to admit women. Anne Powers Schwartz (author of historical novels, including The Gallant Years, and now married to Harold), Hope Jordon and Esther Olsen join almost immediately; other women join, including Edna Goeden, Marion Pehowski, Loretta Strehlow, Helen Weber Long, Lucille Oliver, Mary Walfort, Jane Rietveld, Janet Ervin and Rosemarian Staudacher.
- Frederic Brown’s The Fabulous Clipjoint wins an Edgar in 1947. Brown accompanies Derleth to the Milwaukee Press Club, where the latter is inducted as a Knight of the Golden Quill, the Club’s first such member.
- In June of 1948, the Wisconsin Rural Writers’ Association is constituted. Modeled after Wisconsin Rural Artists, the mission is to bring writing opportunities to the rural areas of the state.
- A short-lived writer’s club named Neoterics (after a Ted Sturgeon short story) forms at one “Bob Stein’s” home, further diminishing the Fictioneer’s roster. This club lasts only long enough to draw a small conference to Milwaukee the same year.
- In 1947, local author, musician and composer Charles A. Peterson joins and notes the “feminine contingent” existing among the membership.
- In 1948, author Fritz Leiber (also a star of stage and radio) visits Bloch in Milwaukee on Labor Day weekend, where after joining Gauer they also spend an evening at the Belmont Hotel. A year earlier Derleth’s Arkham House published Leiber’s first book, Night’s Black Agents.
- In 1949, Fredric Brown moves to Mexico; William Gault also leaves the group.
- Al P. Nelson begins what will become a long tenure editing Creative Wisconsin for Wisconsin Rural Writers Association, now renamed Wisconsin Regional Writers Association.
- In 1953, Bloch moves to upstate Wisconsin.
- In 1956, five more writers leave to establish the all-male Raconteurs of Milwaukee, a cooperative that will specialize for writers in mechanics, networking and marketing.
- In 1957, Derleth and Bloch visit Gauer and others in Milwaukee.
- Sternig, who now agents for SF great Andre Norton, also represents Curt Pechtel, Dorothy Kenehan and Betty Ren (Frederiksen) Wright locally. Betty Ren, who ultimately will log 29 years editing at Western Publishing, is writing freelance for mystery and women’s magazines.
- Thomas P. Ramirez (a grade-6 teacher and part-time writer) and his wife Fern join Allied Authors in 1955. Between 1961 and 1979, Tom will turn out in excess of 150 novels for Greenleaf, Midwood and Monarch, including the half-dozen mainstream PBOs, while also freelancing for various periodicals. Fern would write pieces for Parish Press.
- Jack Ritchie (John George Reitci) and his wife Rita join Allied Authors at almost the same time; Ritchie’s mystery fiction is destined to become very popular.
- In 1959, shortly before publication of Psycho, but for other career-related reasons, Bloch moves to Hollywood, California.
- In 1960, Ramirez lands a job writing an adult-erotic book a month for a mysterious company that operates out of Chicago with connections in Wisconsin, which will eventually move to San Diego, California in an effort to leave behind the FBI. Nevertheless, a triumvirate of Hamling, Kemp and Meredith allows Tom to continue producing books like a later-day pulp-smith.
- In 1961, working for DC Comics, Julius Schwartz revives a golden-age comic book super hero, The Atom, giving (with permission) his “alter-ego” the name of Ray Palmer (adding over time other Palmer homages).
- In 1964, with Larry Sternig a founding member, Council for Wisconsin Writers, Inc., develops from a Raconteur committee. The purpose of the Council is to enhance local, state and national awareness of Wisconsin’s great literary heritage, and to encourage excellence among Wisconsin writers.
- In 1966, Tom Ramirez agrees to testify in Houston on behalf of his publisher in an “obscenity” trial about freedoms and rights conducted by the FBI.
- In 1967, Donald Emerson wins the State Historical Society of Wisconsin’s Award of Merit for teen novel Span Across a River.
- Mel Ellis’s Run, Rainey Run and Wild Goose, Brother Goose is published by Holt, Rinehart and Winston in 1967 and 1969 respectively.
- Members in the 1970s and ’80s include Donald Emerson (head of English at UW-Milwaukee), Harold Schwartz (vice-president of a combined Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel and husband of Anne), and James Auer (journalist and art-editor of the Journal-Sentinel and husband of Marilyn). James Auer’s respected career writing about movies, theater, history and even obituaries began in 1972 when he joined the Journal as art editor. Other members are Ray Puechner, Gene DeWeese, Robert Anderson, Daisy Tucker, Jeff Mapes and Beverly Butler, who is blind but writes colorful juvenile fiction.
- Ramirez, selling routinely now to National Enquirer, also wins a regional short fiction award for “A Secret Place,” appearing in A Boy’s Life.
- In 1971, August Derleth dies unexpectedly on July 4, only 62 years old.
- Dorothy Austin wins Milwaukee Press Club Award for a career of outstanding service to journalism.
- In 1975, Tofte’s Walls Within Walls wins one of “best three novels by Wisconsin Writers.”
- In 1976, Butler marries T. V. Olsen, a western novelist who also knew Derleth. Olsen soon would begin writing a historical survey of Derleth’s work.
- In 1979, Allied Authors celebrates its 500th meeting milestone.
- In 1981, Ritchie wins the Edgar for best short mystery with “The Absence of Emily.”
- In 1981, Betty Ren Wright sells her first juvenile novel; she will sell dozens more, including Princess for a Week and The Dollhouse Murders, winner of the prestigious Mark Twain Award.
- Between 1982 and 84, Ramirez pens four volumes in the popular (now highly collectible) Phoenix Force series of action novels, under house-name “Gar Wilson”; soon Tom will begin writing three soap opera-styled novels for Ballantine.
- In 1988, Harold Schwartz is given the first Benjamin Franklin Award for his lifelong commitment to the Milwaukee Public Library, literacy and learning.
- Members in the 1990s include Jack Byrne (soon to be Sternig’s business partner), Frank Cetin, James Corona, Jill Johnson, Harry Sonneborn and Maureen Mertens, a SE Wisconsin police reporter.
- Attrition (including the deaths of some longtime members) reduces Fictioneers to no more than a half-dozen members; Allied Authors meet the second Friday each month, Fictioneers the fourth, and since most remaining Fictioneers already belonged to both groups, a merger “happens”; the combined group retains for its name “Allied Authors.”
- Harold Schwartz, Emerson, Gauer, Wright, Tofte, and Sternig (followed by Byrne) are awarded “life” memberships to Council for Wisconsin Writers, Inc.
- Wade Mosby, editor of the Milwaukee Journal’s famous “Green Sheet” and author of short stories (“Death Rides the 12:15” had been dramatized in 1957 for the Jane Wyman Show) joins; so does Tom Bontly (English professor and creative writing program coordinator at UW-Milwaukee, who writes for McCall’s, Esquire, Redbook and others). Sharon Hart Addy (author of children’s books) joins briefly, before moving to Wisconsin Dells; Doug Armstrong (mystery and detective genre) joins.
- In 1999, Addy’s “The Breakwater” is the only story by a woman writer to appear in the locally acclaimed Wisconsin Seasons anthology.
- Patricia Lorenz, inspirational speaker and writer (columnist, thirteen original books, “Chicken Soup” compilations and more) joins the group, participating four or five years before moving to Florida in 2004.
- Maureen Mertens, who early produced local TV and radio commercials, having twin twenty-year careers teaching English & Creative Writing and reporting freelance, now devotes much of her time writing (and regaling the group) with official police-reporting
- The 2012 active roster includes Marilyn Auer (freelance), Dorothy Austin (referenced above); Bill and Jody-Wallace Binder (freelance); Jack Byrne (Sternig & Byrne Literary Agency); Betty Ren (Frederiksen) Wright (above); John D. Haefele (freelance); Filomena Lea (freelance); Maureen Mertens (education and reporting); Alexia Natkin (technical), Tom and Fern Ramerez (referenced above); Roberta Bard Ruby (freelance); Dorothy Tofte (freelance), Peggy Tode (freelance); David and Stephanie Williams (editorials and fiction), and Rob McCarty (online).
- In 2013, John D. Haefele’s A Look Behind the Derleth Mythos: Origins of the Cthulhu Mythos—a controversial exploration of Derleth’s publishing and writing in the Lovecraft tradition, received numerous positive reviews, but also a scathing review by the leading Lovecraft scholar S. T. Joshi.
- David Williams publishes The Renegade Chronicles, comprised of three full-length, sword-and-sorcery fantasy novels: Rebels and Fools, Heroes and Liars, Martyrs and Monsters.
The full roster of known members is posted above, under “About Allied Authors / Members (Past & Present).” This overview of Milwaukee Fictioneers and Allied Authors of Wisconsin is not complete; it is a work-in-progress. Please use this link to contact Allied Authors with corrections or additions: Denysbarry@aol.com
John D. Haefele contributed this article.