My apologies for not being around lately. But I promise I'll be around more over the next few weeks with a lot of Christmas posts. Pulp covers, news about Paul Powers stories, pulp fiction news and more. Starting tomorrow!
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.
Just under the wire, here are some wonderful Thanksgiving covers. Thanksgiving wasn't a theme that a lot of pulp publishers chose to feature on their covers. Don't know why that is. But then, how many ways can you paint a dead turkey? WILD WEST WEEKLY was an exception. They did many Thanksgiving covers, and many of them were to feature Sonny Tabor and Kid Wolf stories.
Thanks to Barry Traylor who sent me some of these covers. Forgive me for not noting the dates or artists; I'm exhausted.
Happy Thanksgiving to all of you. Please travel safe and enjoy the holiday.
The other day I got a package in the mail. A BIG box. I hadn't ordered anything so it was a surprise to me. Imagine my shock when I opened up the box and found this:
I guess I've won the 2013 ECHOES AWARD!! I am totally honored and humbled to share this prestigous award with Steve Miller this year.
Here's the background on the award:
The Echoes Award was created in 1992, the second award to honor members of the pulp community, the first being the Lamont. From 1992 until 1997, the Award consisted of both plaque and paper certificate. Between 1998 and 2004, only the paper certificate was given out, then the Award ceased until 2009, at which time it was resurrected. The Award is not voted on, but the determination of who is doing the most to promote the pulps and pulp fandom is selected by Tom & Ginger Johnson.
Here's what the award certificate says:
Laurie Powers burst onto the pulp fandom scene with the publication of PULP WRITER, the autobiography of her grandfather, the prolific pulp writer Paul S. Powers. Published in 2007, it spurred Laurie to research her grandfather's work even deeper, and her digging soon unearthed a cache of unpublished stories by Paul, many of which eventually saw print in RIDING THE PULP TRAIL and HIDDEN GHOSTS. Laurie has also been a prolific blogger, and her primary blog, LAURIE'S WILD WEST, has shared great pulp information with thousands of readers online. And her latest project, a biography of famed pulp editor Daisy Bacon, expectes to be an important piece of pulp scholarship." Tom and Ginger Johnson.
No words can express how appreciative I am. Thank you, Tom and Ginger!
If you want to learn more about the Echoes Award, go to their blog Pulp Den.
Right now I’m reading SASHA AND EMMA: THE ANARCHIST ODYSSEY OF ALEXANDER BERKMAN AND EMMA GOLDMAN by Paul and Karen Avrich. I never thought I’d be reading the biography of two early 20th century anarchists, but there is a twist: one of their closest friends in the early years was Modest Stein, who was one of the finest of pulp artists and "the" cover artist for LOVE STORY MAGAZINE.
David Saunder's web site Field Guide to Wild American Pulp Artists was the first place where I learned of Stein's background. SASHA AND EMMA has more information on Modest than any other source that I have found to date. It's also an excellent biography of Goldman and Berkman. The book was started by famous anarchist biographer Paul Avrich, but he passed away before he could finish. Before he died, he asked his daughter Karen to finish the work, and she has done a stellar job of it.
Stein, whose birth name was Modska Aronstam, was Sasha Berkman’s cousin. Prior to 1900, the three of them lived together and, for a time, Stein and Goldman were lovers. Emma, who was a champion of liberated sex to say the least, had more lovers than I could keep track of, so whether or not she and Modska had a significant relationship is doubtful. Still, she "liked his wavy brown hair, fair complexion, neat mustache, and eyes that held a 'dreamy expression.'" She continued to be intimate with Sasha as well.
Modska was part of Berkman's very elaborate plan to assassinate Carnegie Steel's Chairman of the Board Henry Clay Frick in 1892. Frick, who was known for his brutal tactics in breaking a strike at a steel plant in Homestead, had become the poster child of unfettered power and opression to Berkman. The plan was for Berkman to travel to Pittsburgh and shoot Frick in his office. If his plan failed, Modska would follow the next day and blow up Frick's house with dynamite. It took about six weeks of planning and raising the money to do the job, but Berkman, who was a determined and severe young man, was set on cleaning the planet of what he considered to be the scum of the capitalist world.
Berkman managed to enter Frick's office. There the steel magnate was sitting with a subordinate, a Mr. Leishman. Berkman fired two shots, the first grazing Frick's ear lobe and lodged under his right shoulder blade. The second hit him on the right side of the neck and embedded itself below his left shoulder. (Apparently Berkman's preparations for the act did not include target practice.) Frick collapsed, but Leishman grabbed Berkman and tried to wrestle him to the floor. Then Frick, amazingly, got up and tackled Berkman and brought all of them to the floor in a heap. Frick continued to fight, even after Berkman pulled a dagger and began to stab him. Finally, the commotion drew people into the office, and Berkman was subdued and arrested. Frick survived.
Modska dutifully arrived in Pittsburg two days later to finish the job. Unbeknownst to him, the police had been investigating, tracing Berkman's steps and through connections, learning the name of Modska Aronstam. They found out he was on his way to finish the job. And of course the press picked up the story, but screwed up the name of the suspect perpretrator-to-be. Upon his arrival in Pittsburg, Modska saw a headline:
"WAS NOT ALONE. BERKMANN HAD ACCOMPLICES IN HIS MISSION OF MURDER. IS AARON STAMM HERE?"
Modska, startled and panicked, immediately discarded his dynamite in a nearby outhouse, and fled the city.
In an interview with Paul Avrich, Modska's grandson recalled: "Years later, he told me that if I should ever visit Pittsburgh, I should watch out where I took a shit, because somewhere there was twenty pounds of dynamite under a toilet."
Berkman served fourteen years in prison, much of it in solitary confinement. Most of those in the anarchist movement disapproved of Berkman's actions. Many of them were against violence in any form, and Berkman's actions, along with being against their principles, shredded whatever good will they had in the public's mind, which wasn't much to begin with.
Aronstam eventually drifted away from the anarchist movement. Art had always been his first and most important passion; he lived to draw and paint. I think it's safe to say that once he distanced himself from the movement and focused on his art, his career really took off. He was so careful about keeping himself out of the papers that he eventually changed his name to Modest Stein. He did go to Europe in 1935 and met with his former colleagues, and continued to support Emma in various ways, but as for complete support, he was finished.
This photo is from 1942, with Daisy dropping in on Modest as he works on a cover.
SASHA AND EMMA has some terrific photos of Modest as a young man, but they belong to the Avrich's collection and unless I get permission to use them, I won't.
I can only say I'm glad that Modest stopped to read a newspaper headline that day in 1892.
If you want more examples of Stein's work, go to my earlier post here.
Off-Trail Publications, which has published some of my favorite collections of pulp stories, finally has its own website. You can go to their home pagehere.
John Locke, who is the main editor behind these collections, writes most of the introductions which are usually short biographies of the writers in the collection. Frankly, many times I've bought the books strictly based on the fact that I know he wrote the introduction. His collections are some of the more obscure writers and subject matters.
If you're looking for off-beat genres from the pulp era or looking for stories from writers who have been long forgotten, you can't go wrong with Off-Trail.
...for a post related to pulp fiction, some posts are categorized according to the genre. So look under "pulp fiction," but also look under "pulp fiction - westerns" or "pulp fiction - detective," for example. Topics under "pulp covers" also have abbreviated historical information as well.