Betty Ballentine: A Few Chosen Words About (and not at all easy to find the right ones!)
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A Few Chosen Words About (and not at all easy to find the right ones!) by Anne McCaffrey
With certain trepidation and a sense of daunt, I approach the task fo writing suitable remarks for this Convention Book on the subject of Betty Ballantine!
To get in the right mood, I put on my Flanders & Swann recording. I felt that appropriate. You see, Elizabeth Norah Jones started out as a good Anglo-Brit, getting herself born in Fyzabad, Innnnja.
You must admit she went out of her way to start her life off as bazaarly <sic> as possible. To compound such an original and prestigious beginning, her family sent her (as Anglo-British families did in those days) to finish her education at the Jersey (I'm talking about the Channel Island Jersey, not the soi-distant Garden State in which Ms. Ballantine has had the good sense not to live - I did once so I can only applaud her resolution not to.)
I do believe, and this is telling tales out of school of course (because I'd hate to tell <and that's really talking out of turn> you just what nth reunion she'd be attending at the Jersey Ladies College these days), that some of her antics nearly finished that educational institution.
The one I now tell - because it is relevant, I feel, to what she was going to do with the rest of her life - is the time that she and her classmates rigged up various pieces of equipment in the classroom with black thread.
By simple manipulation, these inanimate objects moved.
Since the perfectly behaved young ladies observed the effect on their teacher, maintaining the polite look which finishing schools inculate into their graduates, the woman did not know what was occurring and was certain she was going round the bend. Can you imagine Elizabeth Nora Jones having anything to do with something so clearly smacking of sorcery and the supernatural?
No, of course, you can't. Because the Betty Ballantine we all know, respect, revere and honour wouldn't descend to such pranks, now would she?
However, I do think that such finishment as the Jersey Ladies College provided has probably come to her aid in many instances since. I don't say she's rigged anything at this Convention, but why do you think I don't dare attend?
She never did tell me where she met the man she married, nor what she saw in him, except that he would grow eyebrows like a wayward elf and allow her to develop the talents her finishing school had so brightly burnished.
How she got into books, publishing, editing, the soothing and placating of authors lacking in self-confidence, spelling, grammar, syntax and ideas, is also glossed over with what I feel to be suspicious haste.
She did, however, pick up a Penguin. If you don't understand the reference, that's too bad. It's a very British one which I can indulge in because I've also picked up a Penguin (milk chocolate biscuit bar to you lot.) She also put all the Penguins she picked onto the shelves in the eeyrie inhabited by Ballantines in Bearsfille. In fact, every single book she and Ian have ever published are shelved in that house. Amazing! I've been there and to see that many books and know that your hostess not only read them all, but was instrumental in their publication, is daunting.
In 1940 she also published a son, Richard. (He isn't on the shelves.) I've met him - he's a very nice edition. So I can absolutely assure those in doubt that you can be a mother and have a career. But only if you are very organized, dedicated, willing to work extraordinary hours and race the two blocks between your office and your home to feed your bouncing baby boy while also contriving to do a spot of housework and/or cooking.
Thank goodness the American public required cover illustrations on their paperbacks, because that totally irrational requirement decided the Ballantines to leave Penguin, who thought the typographical covers were quite sufficient for an intelligent, informed reading public. Then Ian broke his ankle skiing and, somehow, Ballantine Books seemed to be the inevitable outcome of his convalescence. You may ask why. How would I know? Ian and Betty have the most unusual capacity for instant and serendipitous decisions.
Of course, the Ballantines diversified in order to get their embryo publishing house - run out of their six-room New York apartment - in a competitive position. But they also had the wisdom, far-sightedness, instinct, intuition and common sense to realize that the genre-to-come would be science fiction and fantasy!
I can't say that the incident I mentioned - the one about rigging the waste-basket and the blackboard eraser and the other inanimate objects that inhabit the ordinary classroom, even on the Channel Island of Jersey - had anything at all to do with Elizabeth Norah's serendipitous preference for fantasy and science fiction. But it might have, you know. Adolescent influences do have far-reaching results!
In those benighted days (the '50s and '60s) science fiction and fantasy were ill-considered by those writing contemporary Lit'rachure! To overcome this glitch, Betty not only cultivated and encouraged the writers of such original and creative works but also the artists whose cover art would tempt people into buying and reading the enticingly adorned books with the BB logo. In that wise, she did the entire field a double service, for science fiction and fantasy started to move out of the pulp category which had kept it in limbo long enough. (I wore ou a lot of brown paper bags reading Amazing, Fantastic, Galaxy, IF, and Astounding magazines. Ballantine Books I could proudly read with their covers showing.)
Half the extant luminaries in the field gathered at the Ballentine apartment in the 50's: names who conjured magic, sorceries, futures - Fred Pohl, James Blish, Cyril Kornbluth, Lester del Rey, Robert Sheckley, Arthur Clarke, Isaac Asimov, Theodore Sturgeon, Henry Kuttner.
But that's only the tip of the Ballantine iceberg because Betty's love affair with science fiction reinforced a conviction that Earth ought to be resurrected out of the grave modern science was digging for it. From this concern came books such as Diet for a Small Planet and The Population Bomb. Many of Ballantine's non-fiction books, their joint encouragement of the Sierra Club and its projects, are as important as the fictional side of their publishing and may help give us back Spaceship Earth.
Along with the prolific Ballantine Books, Betty also had Rufus Press going...Rufus being Betty's long-time canine companion. (He signed company checks with a pawprint.) Not having near enough imprints to publish the scope of their interests, Peacock Press came into being, which brought the bemused reading public Gnomes, Fairies, (and I'll plug my favourite), Brian Froud, the Sharley MacLaine epics, Debbie Harri's fantasies, Chuck Yeager's series of air and space books, and most recently Dinotopia, a publishing success of unprecedented popularity. (The Ballantines plugged dragons long enough: they felt obliged to give dinosaurs equal time!)
Betty's been a skier, a horseback rider, a guitarist and a song-writer - her husband's favorite is "A Hard Working Woman and A Shiftless Man." Now she's about to learn scuba-diving. The string attached to that discipline is that it's necessary to the fantasy she's planning on The Secret Oceans, that fragile, threatened integument that holds our world together.
That's the barest glimpse of the fifty-four years of publishing this remarkable woman has achieved so far; enough for several lifetimes. She has plans for the rest of her life, too. So you can see why I experienced a frisson of daunt in trying to encapsulate some of her achievements, and drive you to at least have a few words with an amazing personality while you have the chance at Norwescon.
And don't hang back. She's never bitten anyone in the nearly thirty years I've known her. Go up and bathe in the sheer good humour and gentle wisdom of this extraordinary personality: respond to the warm smile she gives when meeting anyone new. I can assure you that the most significant moment in my life was they day she decided to buy a first novel from an obscure Long Island housewife. But then, she appreciated that Restoree was taking the mickey out of the way women were being written in science fiction. And now more of us are writing the kind of science fiction Betty Ballantine gave us a chance to write.
So g'wan now. Go up to Betty Ballantine and say 'hi!' to a woman who is a legend in her own time. You don't meet many of those - ever!
Copyright ©1993 by Anne McCaffrey