Nearly three years ago I had the fun of spending a month driving across country in the U.S. with my girlfriend and her son. We started off in North Carolina, then made our way to Atlanta, through Alabama and down to New Orleans before heading further west to Houston and Austin before spending four days in Cross Plains, Texas, for Robert E. Howard Days 2018. From there we drove to Roswell, New Mexico, popped down to Tombstone, Arizona, for a few days and then went on our way to San Diego. From there we visited the Grand Canyon, spent some time in Las Vegas, and headed back through the beautiful state of Utah before spending a day in St. Louis. Then it was back through my home state of Kentucky and back to North Carolina through Tennessee.
In many ways this was a trip of a lifetime, and along the way I re-discovered a few things about myself. First of all, this trip brought back to me just how much I love book stores, especially used bookstores, antiquity bookstores, and regional bookstores that offer the unique. There’s nothing more I love than spending hours scouring through shelves upon shelves in hunt of the unknown. Often enough I had no particular books in mind on this trip, but allowed myself the joy of discovering books I had forgotten about or had not even known existed, or even books I had known about but were out of print and I had never expected to find one during my lifetime. The search was the thing, even if I wasn’t searching for anything in particular.
Secondly, this trip reminded me just how much I love heroes, for in many ways this trip was more than a vacation. It was a journey, an epic adventure to discover heroes, mostly heroes known to me, some heroes forgotten and recalled. Originally I didn’t set out on this trip to discover heroes, but the longer I was on the road, the more heroes I came across.
In the days before television, movies, or even pulp magazines, readers who wanted exciting fantastic fare read dime novels. This style of popular literature lasted from about 1860 to 1930, before the pulps finally killed them off. In those 70 years, countless series and titles were published — mysteries, Westerns, historical dramas, romances, and even steampunk.
Yes, steampunk goes right back to the age of steam. I recently read one of the most popular titles, the 1883 edition of The Steam Man of the Plains, published by the Five Cent Wide-Awake Library, a series directed specifically at adolescent boys. You can read it online at Northern Illinois University’s excellent online collection of dime novels.
I manage 1,000 words a day at the start and an average of 3,000 words a day once I’m underway. Sprinting – 5,000 to 7,000 words a day; that’s for the last half.
Many newbie writers would screech in horror and say no one can write that fast, while most MFA snobs would turn up their noses and say it’s impossible to write anything of worth at that rate, that writing must be an agonizing process of constant revision and polishing. They’re both wrong, as Page’s own writing attests.
The fact is, however, Page’s speed is rather modest. Mine is about the same, so I’m not knocking him. I know how hard it is to keep up a good momentum while maintaining your responsibilities to family, not to mention the distractions of the Internet and local pub. I’m fortunate enough that writing is my day job, so at least I don’t have a separate career getting in the way of my productivity.
Page and I may both have a bunch of books to our name, but we are mere henchmen, mere spear carriers to the great Deities and Demigods of publishing — the truly prolific. Dean Wesley Smith, who has written well over 100 novels and about 500 short stories and only seems to be picking up speed, recently shared a link to an interesting blog post titled 17 Most Prolific Writers in History. I have a lot of quibbles with this list, as I’m sure you will too, but while it isn’t authoritative or entirely accurate, it’s certainly inspiring and daunting in equal measure.
My local produce seller, a farmer from one of the villages in the Rif
When the writing gets tough, the tough writers go to Tangier…
One of the advantages of living in Europe is that you have North Africa right at your doorstep. Sadly that region, with all its diverse cultures and beautiful landscape and ancient sites, has largely become a no-go area. Algeria and Libya are war zones and Tunisia and Egypt are highly unstable as well. That leaves Morocco, a safe and stable country that’s drawn me back several times to use as a writing retreat.
As I mentioned in a previous post about Living in a Moroccan Medina, I regularly go to the northern port of Tangier to get away from email and editors and take some time to do some serious writing. Not only does the city resonate with literary giants of the past like Paul Bowles, William S. Burroughs, and Mohamed Chukri, it also provides inspiration in the form of a large traditional medina, fine views over the Strait of Gibraltar, and a growing arts scene.
So what does a Canadian writer living in Madrid work on when he’s in Morocco? Read on. . .
The 1930s through 1950s are generally seen as Hollywood’s Golden Age. It was a time when major studios had glamorous stars and made blockbuster pictures with casts of thousands.
It was also a time when cheap production companies ground out quickie films on a shoestring budget, and sometimes, just sometimes, created something worth watching.
Welcome to Poverty Row, the result of the world’s insatiable appetite for film. In the days before television, many people went to the movies every day. Not only did they get a movie, but they also got a newsreel, cartoon, and a shorter “B” movie. Neighborhood theaters often showed B-movies as features since they were cheaper to rent and the audience of local kids didn’t care about great production quality, they just wanted to see some cowboys shooting it up. And that’s where Poverty Row came in.
Today we’re talking to Jack Badelaire, author of numerous action books in the tradition of the 70s “Men’s Adventure” genre. His best known work is his Commandoseries of WWII action novels. Jack reflects on indie publishing and the state of the genre.
Full Disclosure: Jack is a critique partner of mine. He’s also a fellow member of the secret commando group Sicko Slaughterers (“SS,” we really need a new acronym), which goes after terrorists and human traffickers. So far I’ve killed 1,487 sickos, while wimpy little Jack has only killed 1,059. He gets props for killing that ISIS commander in Raqqa with a blender, though.
Anyway, on with the interview.
The Men’s Adventure fiction of the 60s and 70s is obviously a huge influence on your work. You’ve mentioned that you think there’s a lot more going on in these books than many people think. Could you expand on that?
This genre of fiction was brewed up during an especially turbulent period of history. The Cold War, Vietnam, rejuvenated organized crime syndicates, the rise of international terrorist organizations, the War on Drugs… and those are just the chart-toppers. These post-modern pulps of the period were a direct reflection of, if we want to get Freudian for a moment, society’s collective Id. The Executioner went out and slaughtered Mafiosi because we wished someone would, and Phoenix Force obliterated terrorists because we wished someone would. Even today, the modern successors to these stories feature ex-SEALs and former Delta Force operators hunting terrorists and organized crime syndicates, stories little different than those written thirty or forty years ago.
When movies first became popular at the beginning of the twentieth century, the world was already captivated with tales of the Wild West. Dime novels, plays, and traveling shows entertained millions in the U.S. and abroad. Movie directors were quick to pick up on this and Westerns were a popular film genre right from the start.
The first years of film overlapped with the last years of the Wild West. The last corners of the frontier were being settled, and some towns still had the shoot-em-up reputation movie viewers craved. Directors often went on location and hired real cowboys to do their stuff in front of the camera. One of them, Tom Mix, became one of the genre’s enduring stars.
But movie directors wanted bad men too, and they didn’t have to look far. Several real Western outlaws reenacted their crimes on camera.
Most mainstream readers who were familiar with the phrase “pulp fiction” prior to Quentin Tarantino’s critically and commercially acclaimed film associated it with hard-boiled detective fiction. While this association only captured part of the eclectic spectrum of genres represented in pulp magazines in the first half of the last century, it must be noted that the documented evolution of the western gunfighter into the hardboiled detective hero was crucial to the proliferation of twentieth century popular culture.
Dashiell Hammett’s seminal hardboiled thriller Red Harvest could just as easily have been transferred from a mining town to a western setting. This flexibility is what allowed the story to be adapted so effectively decades after the fact by Akira Kurosawa as Yojimbo and by Sergio Leone as A Fistful of Dollars with equally trendsetting results.
Most people today best understand the ethos of pulp fiction from the 1981 blockbuster hit Raiders of the Lost Ark. George Lucas and Steven Spielberg perfectly encapsulated the archetypal pulp hero in the form of Indiana Jones, an original character who revived the cheap thrills and spills of pulp magazines and Saturday matinee serials and transformed them into box office gold.
When I first started blogging officially here at Black Gate, I wondered what would constitute “on topic.” Obviously, writing about new crop developments in Iowa would be “off topic” (and I don’t know anything about that anyway) but would writing about Godzilla (about which I know far too much for my own good) be considered “on topic” because I could count on at least half the site’s readership thinking it was interesting? I still wrestle with these questions, and perhaps that’s why I don’t sleep as well at night as other people.
One thing that I’m certain now is “on topic” is anything that has to do with pulp magazines. I’ve written about Norvell Page’s Spider novels (and will do so again soon) and mystery and suspense author Cornell Woolrich, and nobody’s taken me to task for either. So now I throw caution to the four winds and write about Frederick Faust because somebody has got to do it. If I’m going to write about pulp magazines, I have an obligation to write a post about Frederick Faust. You have no obligation to read it, but I strongly urge you to look below the cut because … this fellow is seriously interesting and you should give him a glance some time.