Tuesday, May 27, 2008

More Letters to the Editor

Most of the pulp magazines had loyal followings - readers who stuck with their tried and true heroes week in and week out. They made it known when they did or did not like a particular character that may have taken up space in their favorite pulp.

Many of the letter writers, using some of the colorful vocabulary in the stories, declared a fervid allegiance to their favorite heroes. Here's one:

Dear Range Boss:
Unbuckle your gun belt, sky your paws, and listen to this letter! Sonny Tabor’s stories shore are humdingers. Kid Wolf, the Oklahoma Kid, and Johnny Forty-five are swell hombres.
George Krumm ought to turn in his badge, join up with bock Foster, and start raising sheep. “Yores truly Buck Foster” is a champion sheep-herder. Yes, sir, he shore knows his woollies!
By heifers, Boss, where did you round up all the gun-slingin waddies who make 3W such a humdinger?
It would be plumb bueno with me if Sonny Tabor was put on the screen, with Bob Steele or John Wane in the leading role. I think the other readin’ hombres would like it too.
Keep the gals out of your magazine—they only spoil things. Tell all the waddies that I said “hello” and that I’m wishing them a lot of luck.
Yours till Sonny Tabor is hanged.

Bud the Kid.
Barton, Ohio

Some letters, especially some that were more pointed in their questions and asked tricky questions, sparked passionate and somewhat bizarre answers. This question from a woman appeared in a 1940 issue:

“….You try to have your stories as realistic as possible, and folks are always writing to tell you how to keep them that way. But how in the world do they expect you to keep them that way, if you don’t include girls and women in them? I should think you’d feel kinda proud to have females in your stories, because our pioneer women did a great deal toward making the West what it is today.”

A 3W admirer – June Haven

Poor June got this diatribe in response:

I’ll certainly agree with you that women played a large a noble part in the conquering of the West, Miss Haven. They had courage and fortitude that put many a man to shame. They were real women – and when you compare some of our pampered, soft-living, coddled modern pets with ‘em it makes you wince. Today a large number of girls seem to think they’re too nice even to stain (?) their hands over a kitchen stove or a dishpan or a washtub. I think in these trying times, when there’s a chance that we’ll have to fight for the preservation of the democratic freedom and liberty which our ancestors – including pioneer women fought so hard to gain for us, that some of us could be tougher and harder than we are. Too much softness can put any nation behind the old eight ball.
Keep that in mind, pards, the next time you hear somebody bellyaching about what a difficult life he or she leads. No matter how difficult it is, its still a heap easier than the battles against bitter cold, storms, scalp-hunting Indians, black-souled renegades and outlaws, thirst, starvation, and desert heat that our pioneer ancestors underwent to carve a great nation for us out of a wilderness.”

Many letters arrived discussing the historical accuracy of the stories. 3W, like many Western magazines, prided itself on its knowledge of the West, and tried to translate that into accuracy in its stories. My grandfather writes in the first chapter of Pulp Writer that the writer of pulps never had to worry about his stories being read - they would not only be read but thoroughly criticized too. "the author must continually watch his step, and an error or even the semblance of an error will be immediately spotted by the clientele...and the writer of the Western story who makes a mistake in the caliber, rotation motion, or trajectory of a Winchester rifle will, before the storm is disapproval has subsided, feel like using one of the bullets on himself."

The Pen Pal column was very popular, usually running three or four pages. “Postmaster” Sam Wills prefaces the column by saying, “Some day you’re going out West yourself—instead of just reading about it—to the Western outdoors, where the adventures in the stories have happened. It will be a nice thing to have friends out West, when that time comes—friends who’ll extend a hand o’ welcome and put you onto things.” Postmaster Wills goes on to instruct readers that “Letters are exchanged only between men and men, and between women and women.”

Each person requesting a pen pal were allowed a few lines to describe themselves. Leota Keeney in the February 14, 1931 issue writes:

Is there room for another seventeen-year-old blonde to tie up her horse to the rail? I live on a big ranch and ride horseback every day and am considered a good rider. I am very fond of anything that takes me outdoors. Now, don’t get the idea that I’m big and freckle-faced, ‘cause I’m not. I’m small, weigh only ninety-four pounds, and have no freckles. Please, girls of my age, write to me. I’d especially like to hear from Texas, Arizona, and other Western states. I promise to answer all letters and hope some of them will be from cowgirls.”

Oh, what a simpler time. Kids' priorities were certainly different, that's for sure.

Because publishers were so dependent on the whims of their reading public, of course, they were anxious to know who their reading public was. In this respect, columns were most beneficial. Another way was to tally responses received from the advertisers in mail-in orders. Some historians mentioned that some advertisers had codes printed on the coupons, which told them from what magazine it came. In 1931, Wild West Weekly wasn’t that sophisticated and relied on the graces of their readers by asking at the bottom of each advertisement “Please mention this magazine when answering advertisements.” No one knows how reliable this system of trust was.

Hope you're enjoying this diversion - most people are interested in the stories that were in the pulps, but not a lot has been written about the columns and the people that wrote to the editors.
This image is the cover for the last Wild West Weekly issue, from November 1943. By that time it wasn't even a weekly anymore, having been changed to a monthly magazine and the name changed simply to "Wild West." My grandfather's character Johnny .45 was featured in the issue, along with another story written by him: "Hog Legs for Range Hogs."

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Pulp Fiction Magazines - Letters to the Editors

Man, it's been so long since I posted a blog that at first I couldn't remember my own blog address! Sheesh...

When I was researching the history of Wild West Weekly for the Prologue for Pulp Writer, I really enjoyed reading the columns that were regularly in the pulp fiction magazines. So much so that I even wrote some about them that was going to be in the original Pulp Writer, but it didn't get into the final cut. Today when I was digging around for some topics for the blog, I thought, boy, I really enjoyed reading these columns, and especially the letters to the editor. There were several regulars, and my own father even wrote in a few times - disguised as a "WWW fan". They were really the lifeline between a magazine and its readership in the days before email, or even phone - I bet a lot of these people didn't have phones. Good ol' U.S. Mail was the best way to communicate.

With that said, I think I'm going to reprint a little of what didn't get into the book. I'll spread it out over a few posts. Now, these ruminations are solely based on my reading Wild West Weekly, so if any of you readers out there have any information on other pulp magazines and the columns they ran, feel free to comment.

Most pulp magazines had several columns, such as Letters to the Editor, a Pen Pal club, an opportunity for readers to submit their own poems and short stories, and offers to join “clubs” related to the characters in the magazine. Letters to the Editor were always important, because many times they were the only clue the publisher had as to the nature of the magazine’s readership. They also helped the editor gage what the readers wanted in their stories and how they wanted their heroes to behave. Just like ordering a sandwich in a deli, once a reader asked for more stories about a certain hero, it was the editor’s and writer’s duty to serve it up. Once my grandfather created a character and wrote a story about Freckles Malone, and after the story was written, he promptly forgot about the character and moved on with his work. But readers asked for more, and so the call was out. The editor of Wild West Weekly, Ronald Oliphant, had to remind Paul of who the character was and what his circumstances were. After that, Freckles Malone would be a mainstay for several years. This is the cover of what I believe is the first Freckles Malone story.

For new magazines, sometimes it took several issues for the readers to warm up and start writing. Harold Hersey writes in Pulpwood Editor of their strategy: “We print a few letters to the editor that have been written in the office to start the ball rolling. Just as a sidewalk merchant needs a “shill” to encourage the timid soul to buy, so does a new magazine need to print sample letters in order to break down reader timidity.”

Western Story ran a heartbreaking column called “Missing,” for almost its entire run. Mothers, children, old army buddies, schoolmates, siblings trying to reach long-lost brothers and sisters could place an ad asking for information of their whereabouts, such as this that ran in 1924:

Honey Boy: Please come home. Mother is so worried about you. Don’t worry about the money. You can pay it anytime. Only come home. Mother.

Wild West Weekly’s columns were on the sunnier side. The magazine always included several short continual features: “Western Quiz (Quien Sabe?),” a “Fact Story,” pen pals, and “Wrangler’s Corner,” which also ran as “A Chat with the Range Boss,” a colorful version of Letters to the Editor. In this column, various characters that appeared steadily in the magazine ran a running “dialogue” with each other and the editor, who is thinly disguised as the “range boss.” Heroes such as Shorty Masters, the Whistlin’ Kid and Buck Foster verbally spar with each other, comment on the mail they received from readers, answer questions the readers may have, and select certain poems from readers for the column, all under the watchful eye of the “range boss.” Here, we drop in on a conversation already started by Kid Wolf, Bud Jones, and the Whistlin’ Kid:

“We’re jest openin’ up the mail sack when two more hombres blow in. They’re Dogie Cantwell, the young owner o’ Bar 6, an’ his veteran foreman an’ pard, Tex Mellen.
“How’s the ranchin’ game goin’, Dogie?” asks the Whistlin’ Kid. “Any rustlin’ goin’ on up yore way?”
Dogie shakes his head. “Not recent, Kid,” he answers. “Reckon the long-loopin gents has got plumb discouraged—or somethin’.”
Kid Wolf grins. “I should think they would, amigo!” he chuckles. “After seein’ yo’ an’ Tex an’ yoah waddies handle yoah six-guns, any rustlah would get plumb discouraged.”
Dogie looks plumb embarrassed—an’ likewise pleased—at thet. Comin’ from Kid Wolf—who kin handle a smoke-wagon some himself—sech words means somethin.”
An’ now it’s time ter git down ter business an’ start readin’ the mail from the readin’ hombres. We dumps the bag on the table and hauls out the first one—which same is this:

Dear Range Boss: I should like to salute Paul S. Powers for being one of the best authors ever to write for any magazine. The other authors in 3W are not so bad, the best—after Powers—being Ward S. Stevens and Austin Gridley….”

It was nice to see that my grandfather had his own fan base.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Where's Sonny Tabor when you need him?

the blog has been dark lately because I have been focusing on other parts of my life lately. My sister Linda and her husband came down and visited two weeks ago, and of course, like anytime I have company, I spend the entire week before cleaning. I've also been enjoying my gardens and I'm contemplating picking up the camera again, after a very long hiatus. And then last Friday I went to a Dodger game, the first of the season for me (but hopefully not the last). Great game, although very loooong. We left in the 7th inning, but not because it was boring or that they were losing. It was 11 o'clock! As it was, they played for 13 innings.

One of the best things I have done lately is to join some online chat groups that are focused on the history of pulps, pulp Westerns, and Westerns in general. I hadn't joined this for a long time, only because I tend to be way behind the curve when it comes to joining anything that requires technological stretching of the brain. I'm just lazy that way. Don't want to learn anything new.

But then Matthew Mayo, a Western writer wrote me one day to tell me he was reading Pulp Writer, and mentioned that he was in a online group called Black Horse Westerns. They are a group of Western writers from all walks of life, and many of the writers are based in England and Wales. The group is called Black Horse Westerns because that is the imprint under which many are published; Black Horse Westerns are Westerns published by the Robert Hale Company in the U.K.

Anyway, Matthew said come on and join, so I did. And I have to say that I've never been "involved" with a nicer group of people who support each other in their writing efforts, are always there to help you with questions. There is no "one upmanship."

I recently read one of Matthew's books, "Winters' War" a Western based in Wyoming. Admittedly it's the first Western I've read in a long time due to burn out. Winters' War is one of the most enjoyable Westerns I've ever read. Nice change from the usual nonfiction or historical accounts I've been reading more of lately.

The easiest way to find Black Horse Westerns is to go to amoazon.com, or better yet, amazon.co.uk. they can be found in libraries as well, and I have found a few copies on eBay as well. Enjoy!

Two other groups I've joined are PulpMags and Western Pulps. PulpMags has a large membership, and I am in complete awe of the wealth of knowledge in that group. After a few weeks I learned to just keep quiet and lurk in the background rather than reveal how little I know. Western Pulps is another great group; most of the members are also members of PulpMags, so it doesn't get as much traffic as the latter group. But both groups made me feel so welcome when I joined on, and even posted copy of one of my grandfather's Sonny Tabor Wild West Weekly covers on their home page.