Tuesday, December 3, 2013

An Appreciation of PULP FICTIONEERS

PULP FICTIONEERS: Adventures in the Storytelling Business
John Locke, editor
Adventure House; 2004

John Locke is known for his anthologies of off-beat stories published in the pulp magazines of the early 20th century. Collections of stories from gangster pulps, Ghost Stories, Wade Hammond, Hobo stories, the Amazon, and The Ocean are just a few of anthologies. PULP FICTIONEERS is one of the first collections of articles written by pulp writers for magazines such as WRITER'S DIGEST, THE AUTHOR & JOURNALIST, THE WRITER, THE EDITOR, and other periodicals from that period devoted to the craft. There are several pieces by well known writers such as H. Bedford Jones, Hugh Cave, Erle Stanley Gardner, Walter Gibson, and Allan Bosworth, but there are many by lesser known writers (at least to me) that provide valuable insight into the industry and what life was life for those toiling in the trenches. Chuck Martin, a writer of westerns and a bona fide character himself, has a couple of articles, including a priceless one on his visit to New York. There are several pieces on authors visiting New York City to meet their editors.

There are some brilliant pieces in here, one of which I want to share an excerpt with you. Joel Townsley Rogers' essay "War and the Escape Writer" approaches the question of why should anyone pursue writing pulp fiction stories during war time, when so many other, more "valuable" work needed to be done:

"It does seem silly, brothers. It does seem quite empty and valueless, and something of a disgrace to our hides and the sex God made us. Yet I suspect that even in wartime the escape story, the story of gallant actions and heroic success, is not so completely futile as we all think.

For it has been said, by a great soldier, that war is a few moments of fierce action, interspersed with long periods of endless boredon. And in those long periods of boredom a man can't just sit and polish his rifle, or twiddle his toes and watch them wriggle. He must have diversion, he must have change of scene, he must get out of himself and the immediate moment, as men must in all other walks of life. And that is how storytellers were born.

Here you are in May of 1940, looking down from a cloud upon a scene in Flanders. The great German tank attack has broken through. In a swirl of mud and blood and sleepless fury the British armies have been driven back. They have left their treasures on the field, as well as many of them their lives. It has been one of the great battles of the world. The scene of destruction now that the battle has passed away would surpass that of any of Attila's bloody fields, or of the Avars or Ghengis Khan. There are broken bodies, guns, war gear, the most prized personal possessions of dead and fled soldiers trampled in the mud. And what are those priced treasures in the bloody mud of Flanders which only a great and terrible defeat could have caused these men to abandon? There are gold watches, cigarette cases, fine boots, pictures of wives and sweethearts, playing cards, money - and torn, dog-eared copies of Western Story, Action Stories, Argosy, and Thrilling Tales. Even there, waiting for that great battle to burst, with the roar of the guns growing nearer, and death in the next dawn, men under arms lay or crouched in their mud holes and had their hearts strengthened, their minds relieved, by reading tales spun by writers far away."

This essay was written by a true professional pulp writer. Melodramatic? Maybe. But there is more than a kernel of truth in this excerpt. And I bet you were captivated by the excerpt all the way to the end. And that's why pulp fiction was so incredibly popular, and also why so many of these stories are seeing the light of day again in collections such as those printed by Off-Trail.

If you're interested in any of Off-Trail's publications, go to their website here. Their books can also be found on amazon.com and adventurehouse.com.

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Walker Martin said...

The same question came up about major league baseball during WW II. There were discussion about suspending the game until the end of the war but they finally decided the game should continue because people still needed entertainment. It also helped morale.

Cap'n Bob said...

I know that when I was in Nam it was always a joyous occasion when the latest Playboy arrived. Sure I ogled the photos, but I also read it cover to cover.

Barry Traylor said...

John has done excellent work documenting the Pulp Era. All his efforts are well worth reading and having a place on my shelves.