Tor Memories: Traveling with Ralph Arnote

By Beth Meacham, Executive Editor

Ralph was Tor’s first ID Sales director. He was one of the Old Guys—traveling book salesmen who knew everyone and had been everywhere. He had joined Tom at the beginning of Tor—Ralph did wholesale, and Tom did direct sales. Having two super salesmen at the core of a new publishing house was, I think, the key to Tor’s success.

Ralph Arnote was tall and handsome with a bluff western face. Even in business suit, he looked like he should be wearing a Stetson. Before I started at Tor, I was warned by some people at Ace that he was a bit difficult to work with, but it only took a week for me to figure out that Ralph had an extremely dry sense of humor and a habit of asking questions designed to infuriate and draw out people’s real opinions. He could always crack me up with his dramatic readings of Marmaduke cartoons, which he did when things got too tense around the office.

I went out on sales calls with Ralph quite a few times. At first, he thought it would be funny to take an editor into the wholesale warehouses, where I could watch them buy off the cover flats and see the furnaces where they burned the stripped books to heat the warehouse. But I’d worked in a bookstore before I became an editor and I already knew what a sales call was like. I think I surprised him by being able to chat up the magazine guys and throw in quick sales pitches that had nothing to do with the literary values of my books. He took me along a lot after that. It was Ralph who taught me that in sales terms, a good book was a book that sold well.

The first time I went to Arizona, it was for a sales conference with our wholesale distributor, in Phoenix. I think I have to partly blame Ralph for my love of the Southwest. He really enjoyed driving around, looking at the desert, and he took me with him, allegedly to visit the local wholesaler. Ralph was a geologist, and he loved looking at the naked rocks and telling me about what they were and how they were formed. But he knew nothing about plants, as I finally realized when he identified the third different flowering bush as “oleander”. He’d been so serious and assured the first two times that I’d believed him, and was puzzling out how such different looking shrubs could be the same thing. And then he just turned his head and grinned at me and said. “they’re all oleander”.

Ralph could tell you the best restaurant in every city in the US—I almost wrote the Continental US, but I remember him telling me about restaurants in Hawaii and Alaska, too. He could also tell you where to get the best chili in each of those places. But there was one very special place: New Orleans. Ralph had been stationed there when he was in the Navy. He ended up staying there, ashore, the whole two years he was in, he said, because during his first month he wrecked a ship by running it into a pier. So he spent that time getting to know every restaurant, every bar, every club, everything worth doing in New Orleans. And he loved sharing it. I heard about the little problem in the Navy while drinking coffee and eating beignets at Café du Monde as the sun came up, after a night of jazz and sazeracs. I was young then, and doing a day on the floor of ABA, followed by a night of carousing, followed by another day on the floor was not impossible. But Ralph was older then than I am now, and he did it too.

I told him more than once that he should write a book called Ralph’s Guide to the Best Chili in America, but he never did. He did write a few thrillers after he retired—they were pretty darned good books. In both senses of the word. Knowing him was one of the best parts of the early days of Tor.

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