First off, a big thanks to James Reasoner and Mike Madonna — when I read a while back that the Spring 1981 issue of the obscure mystery magazine Skullduggery featured an actual interview with the elusive Joseph Rosenberger, I mentioned it to Mike Madonna in our email correspondence. I had a hard time finding a copy of the issue in question, and told Mike that, given that James Reasoner had a story published in the issue, James might happen to still have his copy.
Mike asked James, who not only had the issue but also scanned the Rosenberger interview and sent it to Mike, who then sent it to me. After talking with both of them I’m going to take the liberty to put the interview here on the blog.
I’ve retyped it, as the interview appears in the magazine as a blurry Xerox-esque burst of typescript. And no, it does not feature a photo of Rosenberger! Be forewarned though that this isn’t the most indepth interview you’ll ever read, barely coming in at two pages. But it’s something, at least, and as far as I know this is the only Rosenberger interview out there.
The interview is titled Sherlock Tomes, and it’s conducted by Carl Shaner. So, here it is, copyright the Spring 1981 issue of Skullduggery:
Back in 1969, a fledgling publisher, Pinnacle Books, brought out War Against the Mafia, by an unknown author named Don Pendleton. It was packaged as Book #1 in the Executioner series and, although series characters were not new to the paperback field, The Executioner was different. So different, sales soared and, as they soured, Pinnacle and others launched literally scores of imitators. Over ten years later, most of the new breed of men’s action series have died off. Not so Joseph Rosenberger’s Death Merchant. Richard Camellion, the master of death, deception, and disguise, who works secretly for the CIA, has starred in over forty books, with no end in sight. He is a heard-headed pragmatist, and so is his creator, Joseph Rosenberger, as the following Skullduggery interview demonstrates.
Shaner: First of all, tell us about yourself.
Rosenberger: I’ll be 56 in May. I began writing at about age 17. To date, I’ve sold more than 2,000 articles and short stories and, roughly, maybe 300 paperbacks under my own and a variety of names: Rosenfeld, Lee Chang, Harry Adames [sp], etc. Maybe 50 or 60 were non-fiction — ghost jobs, mostly on Psi/paranormal. For almost seven years I roamed the world as a photo-journalist and finally settled down about 20 years ago as a one-location writer. To me, writing is a business.
Shaner: The Death Merchant is apparently designed to appeal to a different audience than The Executioner or The Destroyer, as Camellion is neither a crusader nor a superman. How much of this was your idea?
Rosenberger: The Death Merchant was entirely my own creation. The editors at Pinnacle didn’t have a thing to do with it.
Shaner: Do your editors provide you with much direction?
Rosenberger: None. The editors do not provide any ideas. There is only one rule: Camellion takes on only the incredible tasks, missions that, if not successful, would result in loss of freedom in the Western world.
Shaner: The first novel, The Death Merchant, was a “war against the Mafia” story, and the impossible missions vein did not begin until later. Was this a natural development?
Rosenberger: That was the plan all along.
Shaner: Camellion claims to dislike the “Death Merchant” title. How do you feel about it?
Rosenberger: So-so, but I’m not crazy about “Death Merchant.”
Shaner: Does Camellion have any real-life or literary inspirations?
Shaner: After ten years and over forty books, do you still enjoy writing the character?
Rosenberger: I enjoy the money.
Shaner: Have you ever used ghost writers on the series?
Rosenberger: No. I never will. I don’t think any writer can take over another writer’s series and do a good job, with the exception of the “comic” Nick Carter novels.
Shaner: What are your favorite Death Merchant books?
Rosenberger: I don’t have any favorites. I try to make each book as good as possible, and feel, after the book is finished, that it was the “best.” It’s the mind-set by which I operate.
Shaner: Do you have any favorites among your other books?
Rosenberger: None. It’s all commercial writing. Paperbacks, as a rule, are nothing but pulps in a different form.
Shaner: How do you rate other series characters?
Rosenberger: Some are good; others stink, in that the writers don’t do their homework.
Shaner: How do you approach writing a typical Death Merchant novel?
Rosenberger: I sleep on it for months in advance, letting the “Overmind” work out the details. From an outline as I actually begin to write. Plenty of research.
Shaner: What other series books have you written?
Rosenberger: The first Kung Fu fiction series in print (Manor Books) — until Manor tried to screw me. Result: a lawsuit that I won. I now own the series, even though Kung Fu is as dead as yesterday’s cigarette. Titles: Year of the Tiger by Lee Chang, etc. There were four or five books altogether; then when I told Manor where it could go, Manor got another writer to do the series. The series fell apart after, I think, two books.
I also evolved The Murder Master for Manor — three books. I told Manor this series would not work — a black dude hopping in bed with chicks, secret Fed, all that kind of nonsense.
I have done one Nick Carter book, Thunderstrike In Syria — only one, because the advances are low, because I don’t have the time, and, mainly, because there isn’t a byline.
Shaner: Who reads your books, do you know?
Rosenberger: All kinds of people, judging from letters, from priests to prostitutes, from scientists to truck drivers. People read fiction to relax and, on a subconscious level, to work out their own anxieties, but mostly to relax and enjoy the book.
Shaner: Finally, with the Death Merchant entering its second decade, where do you see Richard Camellion and Joseph Rosenberger going from here?
Rosenberger: Rosenberger? Who knows? I can always sell series. I’ve turned down five this year. Camellion will live as long as the books at Pinnacle show a profit. The bottom line in publishing is money.