Tuesday, May 17, 2011

The Only Woman to Write for BLACK MASK: a Mystery Herself?

Last night I read "Bracelets," by Katherine Brocklebank in the BLACK LIZARD BIG BOOK OF BLACK MASK STORIES.

The story features a female protagonist, Tex of the Border Patrol, who goes to "Tia juana" to go undercover to investigate the murder of a wealthy San Francisco merchant and the disappearance of his son. What I loved about the story is that from the very first sentence you are drawn into the sleazy atmosphere of a Tia Juana bar that is full of grimy characters. Listen as Brocklebank brings us into the bar where Tex is watching a young girl who is clearly in distress:

The girl seemed so young, so incongruous in the blatanly obvious setting. She was like a flower from an old-fashioned garden and yet there she was in the ribald atmosphere of the Blue Fox - where Pancho, the shifty-eyed Mexican proprietor, rubbed his palms together and smiled his oily smile to his patrons; where Eddie swung his bamboo cane to the syncopated time of his moaning Hopa-Holi orchestra - Eddie who wore a chocolate brown suit to match his complexion, a screaming orange tie and a straw hat, who sang the latest popular ballads in a voice - untrained, crooning - as insidious as the ether-doped drinks that the silken-voiced bartenders slid across the bars of Old Town, that were now world-famous, polished to a dull red glow by the elbows of many nationalities.

Brocklebank doesn't even get into any backstory explaining Tex's reasons for being in the bar until about a thousand words - or more - into the story, but you don't even notice due to her gift for keeping you in the moment.

The introduction says: “Katherine Brocklebank was unique in the history of Black Mask magazine, and a rara avis in the detective pulp fiction world in general. In the first place, she was a woman and, unless cloaked behind initials or a male pseudonym, the only one identified in the thirty-two-year history of Black Mask, even when it was under the control of a female editor, Fanny Ellsworth, from 1936 to 1940. Second, she created a female series character, Tex of the Border Service, who appeared in four stories late in the 1920s. Readers of Black Mask, as was true of all the detective pulps, demonstrated in their letters to the editor that they didn’t particularly care for either female protagonists or authors.”

Other sources show that Brocklebank wrote seven stories total for BLACK MASK. Of those, four were stories featuring Tex of the Border Patrol. "Bracelets" appeared in the December 1928 issue. The other three were "White Talons" (January 1929), "The Canine Tooth" (June 1929), and "The Silver Horseshoe" (July 1929).

But as far as I can find in my limited search, the trail ends there. Granted, I haven't had a lot of time to do an in depth search, but Brocklebank doesn't even have a listing in the Fiction Mags Index. Does anyone else know more about this intriguing enigma known as Katherine Brocklebank? Being female and knowing what it's like to be in the minority in the pulp world, I'd like to know.

Bookmark and Share


Walker Martin said...

Laurie, Otto Penzler is mistaken when he says Brocklebank was the only woman in BLACK MASK. I've come up with several names:

Madeline Bartlett--9/23,6/24.
Meredith Beyers--12/21
Agatha Christie--7/51
Valma Clark--4/25
Virginia Dale--9/37
Wyona Dashwood--6/15/23
Meredith Davis--6/15/23,3/15/23,9/22
Mary Brown Donoho--10/22
Marjory Douglas--serial in Mar-Apr 1924
Elizabeth Dudley--4 stories in 1921-22
Dorothy Dunn--5/50
Marie Eisenbrandt, Gertrude Hamilton,Eliza Mae Harvey,Helen Holley, Margaret Johansen, Lillian Keenan, Genevieve Neegard,Florence Pettee,Beulah Poynter,Edith Ragsdale,Ruth Scherer,Elizabeth Smith,Juliette Van,Sarah Weaver,Cynthia Woolford,Sally Dixon Wright, also had stories.

Otto must have really received bad information to be this far off base. I feel bad raining on your post but I'm sure some of your friends will give me a sound thrashing at Pulpfest.

Laurie Powers said...

Thanks, Walker. No this is exactly why I do these posts so we can get the information out there, and to correct anything. I really appreciate your doing this!

Otto does say in the intro, and it's in my post, that "unless they were cloaked by initials or a male pseudonym...."

Do you know if any of these women's stories were printed under their own names, or did they use initials or use pseudonyms?

Walker Martin said...

These are the actual women's names as printed on the content's page. True, some may be using pseudonyms but not all of them. Several of these ladies have stories in other detective pulps, like DETECTIVE FICTION WEEKLY and DETECTIVE STORY. So I'm willing to bet most of the names are real. I think Otto just received the wrong information from someone. He had to depend on several sources and collectors because he really did not collect the magazine.

Deka Black said...

Wow! just wow, is good to see this ^^

Ed Hulse said...

Coincidentally, the Brocklebank story happens to be the one I've read most recently from Otto's anthology. I found it quite entertaining.

Cap'n Bob said...

I checked Hubin and there were no novels under that name.

Barry Traylor said...

To the best of my knowledge Leigh Brackett never had a story in Black Mask. She would have been at home there because she could write hard-boiled fiction with the best of them.

Walker Martin said...

Barry is right about Leigh Brackett. She never appeared in BLACK MASK but she could write excellent hardboiled fiction. Her detective novel NO GOOD FROM A CORPSE shows the influence of Chandler.

She did sell stories to Popular Publications when it was publishing BLACK MASK but the stories appeared in NEW DETECTIVE, FLYNN'S, etc. Most of these hardboiled tales have been collected recently in a book titled, NO GOOD FROM A CORPSE, which reprints the novel and several pulp detective stories.

I met her at an early Pulpcon in the 1970's shortly before her death and she was amused at my interest in her detective stories. She told me that questions were always asked about her SF but never the detective work.