Thursday, December 1, 2011

So… Why Pulp?

Welcome to my little corner of the writing world. Pull up a seat, grab something to drink, and help yourself to whatever snacks are lying around. You’re always invited to stop by and visit for a while. I’m never so busy that I don’t have time to chat about what I’m doing, and why.

I guess I should start with what this column is going to be about, and what it’s not.

It’s not a column discussing what is and isn’t pulp, because like everything else, the definition is conditional and subjective. That debate has been hashed over enough times already. Most of us know pulp when we read it, view it, and enjoy it. It’s entirely possible that idea might crop up at times in this column, but that’s not the main focus here. I’m not going to tell you what I think pulp should be. That’s not my place. You know what you like. And if you don’t, look around this blog, because there’s plenty of good material to choose from!

There’s an awful lot of helpful information out there dealing with the ways to write pulp well and how and where to market it. You don’t need me to tell you that, though we might touch on those subjects now and then as well. But I’m not setting out to do a ‘how-to-write pulp properly’ column per se. I’m far from an authority, having come in as a mainstream writer to be embraced and accepted by the pulp community at large. I had to learn on my own how to change a story around to make it fit into a faster paced and less verbose plot. We might talk about that a bit though, because there is a vast difference between mainstream genre market writing and the pulps—which still exist because of the love of the community that has gathered itself around them. And yeah really, this is a community; a brotherhood and sisterhood of people who worship the high action, quick and gritty style of heroic stories we tend to define as pulp. I’m proud to have become one of the gang. I thoroughly enjoy what I do, and I get up every morning looking forward to another day of writing.

So you see, that’s what this column is about. Why we love this stuff. What motivates us to sit here hour after hour, pounding the keyboard, working out plots, pegging the eyelids open late at night trying to hit that deadline, or get all those raging streams of ideas out of the head and onto the page before they disappear into the ether. And it’s not just about writers either, because there are so many people that go into putting a pulp magazine or book together. So at times we might be talking with artists, set-up wizards, editors, publishers, avid readers and collectors, convention promoters, etc, about how they got involved with pulp, and what keeps them coming back. What makes pulp so attractive that it has maintained a steady stream of die hard fans over the decades? What makes people want to create new stories in this time-tested style? Why does it still have such a loyal fan base? What is it about these New Pulp stories being produced today that makes them so appealing? And why do people who have more lucrative day jobs still desire to moonlight as pulp writers, artists, editors, and all that?

There’s a heart and soul to this phenomenon—a passion to tell a specific tale a certain way—that makes people get involved with this independent movement to bring back action adventure entertainment to the masses. I want to reveal the underlying pathos that makes us do what we do, while losing sleep and pulling hair in the process. There’s a deep and abiding love here. Nobody I know is getting wealthy off of pulp, but our lives are definitely richer for being involved with it.

So I guess we can start with me. I’m primarily a fantasy fiction writer, and have been trying to get published for the last twenty-something years. I also do some poetry, journaling and blogging, I’ve written songs, and have moderated a couple of bulletin boards online—one about gardening and landscaping for a major software company, and the other was on books and writing for the now sadly defunct Prodigy Internet Communities. All involve copious amounts of writing. I’m a voracious reader, and I have a lot of hobbies and interests too, so my diverse background knowledge plays well into my stories. And I’m more than a bit of a maverick in that I don’t like jumping through multiple flaming hoops just to get near to having an audience for what I do.

I think most pulp writers have had similar frustrating experiences with the convoluted machinery of the big publishing houses, where you have to have a marketable reputation to get published, but you can’t get that kind of notoriety without first being published. That’s a real Catch-22 situation. It’s what happened to me because I spent a good part of my time revising things to send out to the next editor on the list, only to wait weeks if not months for a form rejection letter. I have no idea if my work ever even made it out of the slush pile long enough to have more than my return envelope pulled. So I was ready to give up for the umpteenth time, when serendipity struck.

I took a dear friend and very talented writer, who is a real comic book maven, to a free gallery show for his birthday. That show featured original pulp art, many of the recovered paintings hung with the magazines they had graced the covers of. We thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. And then, about three weeks later, he was invited to join a start-up pulp company called Pro Se Productions. I wish you could have seen me jumping up and down behind him as he sent off his samples, begging that if they ask for more writers, tell them about me!

They did and he did. And that started the whole thing rolling, like the first snowball of an avalanche.

For the last year and a half, I have been a staff writer and editor with Pro Se Press. I had to audition a couple pieces, and fortunately both wound up in their magazines. Not bad for someone who’s only real experience with classic pulp was through Robert E. Howard Conan stories—which I had always loved—and that one gallery art show. It didn’t take me long to hit my stride though, because now I actually had an audience to write to. And so all that frustrated creativity that had log jammed over the years got channeled into pulling things out of mothballs, revamping and retrofitting them to satisfy an audience who enjoys pulp. My gosh… I actually had people reading what I wrote! I would have stood on my head juggling bowling balls while singing sea chanteys to do that!

I love writing; it’s a passion for me. I have to write--it’s an itch that begs to be scratched over and over. I love talking about it too, analyzing it, discussing where the ideas come from and how to make them work on the page. It doesn’t take much to get me going. One question will do it. LOL

I get almost the same query every time someone finds out that I write fiction.

“What kind of stories do you write?”

It can be tough to answer, because while I’m primarily a ‘sword & sorcery’ style fantasy writer, not everybody understands what that means. I love reading and writing anything that has a magical, mystical, quasi-medieval background with the usual quests, and heroic battles against the forces of evil and rampaging monsters. And now that I write those tales in the New Pulp style, it gets even trickier to explain well without going into a long-winded discussion. In my experience, pulp is mostly about pacing, while mainstream fantasy tends to be ponderous and filled with detailed lists of people, languages, and lands that you need a glossary and map to grasp. So I find I wind up qualifying the answer with examples and buzzwords.

If their eyes don’t glaze over after the first few minutes, then I can go deeper into the heart of things, and talk about why it is that I do what I do. Those of you who work in the field already know, like an aggressive symbiotic implant, writing pulp and the wonderland of talent and fandom that whirls around it tends to take over your life. And we wouldn’t want it any other way either. That’s a bit hard for the uninitiated to wrap their brains around while we’re off in some corner, muttering to ourselves as we furiously scribble down notes on a cocktail napkin with a purloined crayon. We actually enjoy being that bothered by something that is more than a vocation or a hobby… it’s akin to an alternate dimension we step into on a regular basis.

So that is exactly what I plan on doing here. I want to talk about why we create and gush over this thing called pulp. I know I’m not the only pulpster who has a deep and abiding love for the breathless, breakneck action and adventure tales that quicken the pulse and make you want to turn that next page. I’m not the only one drooling over cover art that is colorful and evocative of danger and deeds of derring-do in exotic locales, peppered with clearly defined heroes and villains. Believe me, I’m also lying awake at 2 AM, staring at the ceiling frustrated over multiple deadlines and thinking of how to do something different with cowboys, zombies, an evil axis, or dragons in 15,000 words or less. And yeah, I understand fully the angst on all sides over making that cover scene look like what’s in the story and yet getting it done on time and within budget. If you’re in that madcap class too, stay tuned folks, because we’re in for one heck of a wild rollercoaster ride together. And then we’ll get off, wake up tomorrow, and do it all over again.

Because it’s pulp, that’s why we do it! We don’t need any other reason!


  1. I've lost count, but I think we are at the fourth or fifth "Pulp" revival since the original ones died out in the early 50's.

  2. Right, Tim and most of those can be connected to a few factors, economic downturn definitely being one of them. I'm beginning to think that this isn't as much a Revival, though, as it is Pulp finally just coming into its own....either way, It's a Great Time to be a Pulp Writer!

  3. You know, I don't think pulp ever really died out. It's varied in format and presentation, but it's always out there. People love to be entertained by something with lots of action and adventure. If you look at some of the movies and TV programs that have become popular since the printed mags went belly up, we just shifted mediums.

  4. E-Readers are perfect to really enable this new wave of inexpensive adventure entertainment...

    Let's go pulp!

  5. Nice work Nancy. finally got a chance to read this, and now that I have I have to start reading the rest.

    You need to give me some dark chocolate.


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