A lot of writers and readers are saying we have entered a new pulp era, a repeat of those days when hardworking writers pumped out exciting fiction in large quantities while facing very tight deadlines. The old pulp era died long ago, and was replaced with modern traditional publishing. Under that model, writers usually only came out with a book a year, and if they did more than that it was generally under a pseudonym. Traditional houses seem to have been under the impression that “less is more” when it came to a writer’s output.
Readers disagree. They want more from their favorite authors, and they want it now. Those writers who have come to the top of the new indie publishing revolution tend to be those who write a lot, generally in series, and keep up a consistent quality. Some traditionally published writers such as Guy Haley are moving that direction too. In our interview with him, he talked about how he has to write five novels a year if he wants to make a living at his writing.
Even superstars such as James Patterson are getting in on the game. A post at Non-Fiction Novelist talks about how Patterson’s new project “Book Shots” fits perfectly into the pulp mentality. These thrillers and romances are touted as having lots of action and no padding, just like a good pulp story should. They’re all under 150 pages and cost less than $5. Plus there’s a whole lot of them.
I’m seeing a similar trend in online start-up publishers. My own body of indie published work, while doing OK, is not bringing me enough to live on, so I make up the deficiency by ghostwriting. This is a relatively new venture for me as I shift steadily away from nonfiction writing, but the trend I’m seeing is remarkable.
Ghostwriting always involves a strict written agreement not to take credit for a work, so what follows will by necessity be of a general nature.
John C. Bruening makes a smashing debut as a novelist with a hardboiled pulp yarn that is so good, it immediately makes you set the author to one side with a handful of other standouts currently working in the New Pulp field.
The Midnight Guardian: Hour of Darkness frequently put me in mind of Sam Raimi’s underrated 1990 film, Darkman in that it is likewise evocative of The Shadow and Doc Savage and is set in a world familiar to readers of Dashiell Hammett and those who love old Warner Bros. gangster pictures of the 1930s (and Universal horrors and serials of the same decade). While much of The Midnight Guardian is the work of an author well-versed in the vocabulary and mythology of the pop culture of the last century, it is also the creative construct of a first-rate storyteller who has denied himself and his audience for far too long.
Pulp means a lot of things to different people. For purists, it is exclusively the fiction (adventure, crime, thriller, western, romance, war, humor) published in pulp magazines (not slicks) in the 1920s through the 1950s. For others, pulp fiction is any fast-paced, action-packed story with stock characters and situations set in a world decidedly less sophisticated, but much more visceral than our own.
Dick Enos has proven himself one of the most prolific New Pulp writers since he emerged five years ago.
What sets Dick apart from many of his contemporaries is his unwavering vision to create original pulp characters. Until recently, I was only familiar with Rick Steele, the adventurous 1950s test pilot who has appeared in seven novels thus far. Rick is cut very much from the mold of the classic newspaper strip, Steve Canyon and OTR and Golden Age of Television favorite, Sky King.
I was vaguely aware that Dick had launched a second series featuring an original character, a female private eye called Lara Destiny. I immediately thought of Max Allan Collins’ Ms. Tree and Sara Paretsky’s V. I. Warshawski. Female private eyes were a rarity in hardboiled circles thirty years ago, but what could Enos offer in the way of a new twist? The fact that Lara Destiny was born Lawrence Destiny is a good starting point.
I’ll come right out and admit I have mixed feelings about ebooks. I travel considerably for my day job and don’t mind having portable versions of books I own for quick reference, but the idea of owning books that cannot be found in print editions on my shelves at home irks me. That said, I recognize the market for digital-only titles is steadily growing, particularly among small press publishers. This, of course, is having its impact on the “New Pulp” community. Witness Pro Se Press’s decision earlier this year to discontinue their pulp magazine, Pro Se Presents and replace it with their Single Shot Signatures line of short stories available exclusively as ebooks.
My first sampling of the above is the newly published Magee, Volume One – “Knight from Hell” by David White. At first glance, I was struck by the apparent illustration of publisher Tommy Hancock on the cover, but on second glance I determined it was actually author David White wearing one of Tommy’s trademark hats. Of course, I was wrong on both counts since the illustration actually depicts the anti-hero of the piece, Magee.
Magee, it transpires, is actually the fallen angel Malachi who was exiled from Heaven after a fight over a woman with the archangel Michael. We’ll pause right here and note that David White is not a theologian and plays fast and loose with Christian tradition on such celestial matters. Following that disclaimer, we’ll make mention of the fact that Michael likewise banished the archangel Lucifer from Heaven following a similar fight. It seems that God is an absentee deity in these proceedings as He has abandoned Heaven to putter around in the Garden of Eden for several thousand years now.
I’ve known Ed Erdelac from New Pulp circles, but had never read any of his fiction before. Ed is a very talented author who has determined to carve out his own niche in the familiar sub-genre of spaghetti westerns.
If one is to be accurate, spaghetti westerns were westerns of the 1960s and 1970s made by Italian filmmakers in Spain with international casts and international funding. They offered an avant garde spin on westerns which were gritty, realistic, bloody, and notably laconic in contrast to the traditional Hollywood westerns which mythologized America’s past. Since the mid-1960s, Hollywood has occasionally offered up their own imitation spaghetti westerns, right up to Quentin Tarantino’s acclaimed Django Unchained.
Enter: Ed Erdelac. Ed wasn’t the first author to translate spaghetti westerns to the printed page. Sergio Leone’s Dollarstrilogy inspired a Man with No Name literary series in the 1960s. However, he is, to my knowledge, the first author to put a Jewish spin on this very stylish sub-genre. While there was a tongue-in-cheek Jewish spy series in the 1960s, Erdelac isn’t interested in writing a kitsch genre spoof like Sol Weinstein’s Agent Oy-Oy Seven series. The Merkabah Rider series is as deadly serious as it is eccentric and the dramatic tone makes all the difference to the book’s success.
As Tartary Burns is the debut novel by Riley Hogan and is newly published by Airship 27. Calling the novel pulp fiction isn’t completely accurate. Hogan finds himself in the same position as the standout talents of the pulp world of the 1920s and 1930s who were published in the pulps, but whose prose was more polished and literate than most of their peers to the degree that it seems an oversight they were passed up by the slicks. Many of those talents today are recognized as having lasting literary value. So it is with As Tartary Burns, an ambitious fast-paced historical adventure that presents an alternate history of the Cossacks, Ottomans, and Crimeans.
Hogan’s book has been likened to Robert E. Howard and Harold Lamb. One reviewer suggests comparison to the film Braveheart. I felt it read like a stream-lined Game of Thrones with the explicit sex and language excised. Hogan is possessed not only of an obvious passion for history, but a pride in the culture, folklore, and religion of these people to the degree that one wonders if it is his own heritage. His reshaping of world events makes one curious if he plans not so much a conventional follow-up, but rather an expanding alternate history of the world set in different epochs.
Jim Beard made quite a splash in the New Pulp community when he introduced an original occult detective character in Sgt. Janus, Spirit-Breaker in 2012. There has been a rich history of Holmesian occult detectives, but Beard appeared to have been the first to hit upon the brilliant concept of having each short story in the volume narrated by a different client of the detective. It was a simple, but highly effective means of giving eight different perspectives on the character.
Beard also took the unexpected decision to kill off his character at the end of the last story in the collection. Imagine if A Study in Scarlet had concluded with Holmes plunging to his death at the Reichenbach Falls and you have a clear notion of what a bold and unexpected move it was to make for an author who had already managed to raise the bar in a genre that many believed had been exhausted of fresh ideas.
Last year was my introduction to author Dick Enos and his Rick Steeleadventure series. I suspect this year will be the one where both author and character make real headway among fans of New Pulp.
The fourth Rick Steele adventure, The Yesterday Men, was just published. If you’ve read the first three titles in the series, then you know Enos loves to confound reader expectations by delivering widely varying pulp adventures from alien invasion to the preternatural to lost civilization adventures. The Yesterday Men is both more of the same and something completely different. Rick Steele, for those unfamiliar with the character, is a hard-nosed Korean War veteran turned test pilot who somehow can’t avoid dragging himself and his supporting cast into adventures. Rick is a likable, but imperfect hero.
So another season of pulp conventions has come and gone. As in the past, part of the fun of being able to attend conventions and meet people that share your passions and appreciate your work is meeting other authors you might otherwise have never chanced upon. Such was the case with Dick Enos at this year’s PulpFest in Columbus, Ohio.
Mr. Enos is the author of the Rick Steeleadventure series, published by Mirror Publishing. Enos lists his principal influences as the long-running newspaper adventure strip, Steve Canyon; the Old Time Radio show and Golden Age television series, Sky King; and Mickey Spillane’s venerable hard-boiled detective character, Mike Hammer.
Steele is a hard-living Korean War veteran turned test pilot who can’t seem to avoid adventures. He is aided by his loyal war buddy, Joey Campbell; his love interest, the very capable Dr. Kate Gallagher; and Kate’s polyglot assistant, Thelma McCally. My introduction to these characters was in Enos’s latest novel, The Lost City of Azgara. The book is an old-fashioned jungle adventure set in Africa, involving a Nazi war criminal and occultist who has uncovered a map to a lost city of gold with which he hopes to finance the rise of the Fourth Reich.
Waters of Darkness is the new novel from David C. Smith and Joe Bonadonna, published by Damnation Books. Longtime readers of my column will recognize Bonadonna as the author of the well-received sword & sorcery title, Mad Shadows and the recent space fantasy, Three Against the Stars. David C. Smith will be familiar to Robert E. Howard fans for his series of Red Sonja novels in the 1980s.
The shade of Robert E. Howard lingers over every page of Waters of Darkness, the first collaboration by these two talented authors to see print.
The principal characters, Crimson Kate O’Toole and Bloody Red Buchanan, would have fit in nicely had this 17th Century swashbuckler first seen print in the pages of Weird Tales in the 1930s. A quest for fabled treasure sets these two buccaneers sailing for the Isle of Shadow in the far distant Eastern Seas.
They find themselves combating an evil priest of Dagon and the sorcerer in his thrall along the way and most of the crew of the Raven pays the cost for their having crossed paths.