Thursday, February 28, 2013

So Why Pulp: What if Pulp Is Next?




What If Pulp Is Next?


This has been one of the hardest columns I’ve ever had to write. Still, it is a timely and important issue, and so I struggled getting my thoughts down on the page.

With the recent spate of multiple murder scenarios in the world garnering so much attention lately, it’s hard not to have some sort of visceral, knee jerk reaction. The facts are just so sickly riveting; I don’t think any of us hasn’t been shocked to the core. We listen to the details and then turn away with a shudder; sick at heart for the victims, families, and survivors. I can’t imagine what it would be like to deal with such a horrific situation first hand.

As is customary with the media, you will hear about tragedies repeatedly in excruciating detail and analyzed to the Nth degree. The conversations will follow you wherever you go, and the social sites and comments sections will be lighting up with opinions being bandied back and forth. This is all very normal, because we all wonder the same thing…

Why?

I don’t think there is a definitive answer. Sometimes people just snap. Other times longstanding problems push them over the edge.

What generally comes next is the backlash. Nothing polarizes people more than when some group with an opposing viewpoint and an agenda becomes very vocal about where changes do or don’t need to be made to avert such calamities. I’ve been seeing bitter discussions all over the place about how to fix this broken world. Some of them are truly thoughtful, but most are reactionary emotional responses that won’t do more than assuage our guilt as a society for somehow missing the signals that a percentage of our fellow humans are struggling with issues that we just don’t understand.

I am not trying in any way to detract from the terrible, completely unneeded loss of life, but if anything is broken in this world; it’s how we only seem to handle these situations after the fact. All too often there were plenty of warning signs missed or ignored along the way that some individual or group was going in a malevolent, antisocial direction. Addressing the problems early would eliminate a lot of these catastrophes without broadly tromping broadly on human rights and making many innocent people bear the brunt of punishment for the actions of a destructive few. A lot of the debate seems to center around firearms, and who should be allowed to own and use what.

Now this column is not about gun control, because the scope of this situation goes well beyond the second amendment rights here in the United States. For the record though, I am a responsible gun owner and happen to enjoy shooting, so I’m not going to stop enjoying it because some people have chosen to use guns as weapons of mass destruction. The damage firearms can do to others is stomach-churning horrific, but they don’t have to be used that way, no more than a car is designed to kill accident victims, even if it can speed through red lights.

Guns are far from the only things that can kill large numbers of people. Warfare and genocide, bombs made of fertilizer components, flu epidemics, planes driven into buildings, train wrecks, tsunamis, or miniscule amounts of botulism toxin in the food supply can end many lives fairly quickly. It’s a dangerous world out there, and it always has been. The bigger issue here is what kind of preconceived attitude do we bring to these discussions, and are we being realistic, or just punitive to everyone who might have a different opinion?

I’m also a New Pulp writer. That means I deal with explaining various acts of violence in considerable detail every time I sit down at the keyboard. So the ongoing debates about ramping down the level of violence out there interest me greatly. Outside of the gun control issue, a lot of emphasis has been on just what might influence certain people to have such a marked disregard for life. One of the things getting kicked around in discussion groups is the role of entertainment violence in encouraging callous attitudes toward wholesale death and destruction. I’ve recently seen movies, television, and video games singled out and vilified as possible causes that need to be regulated, and I have to wonder, how long before the V-chip squad comes after the New Pulp community?

Take a gander at some of our covers with the eyes of an outsider, and you’d begin to think that all we write about is senseless mayhem perpetrated on innocent people, resolved by even more acts of brutality. Read what’s inside and you’re going to get that impression too, because this is pulp; where extreme force used against merciless enemies is a story norm. Pulp deals in high action and adventure situations with a significant amount of personal danger, and you can’t get much more dangerous than threatening wholesale bodily harm. Pulp has always been thrill-seeking fiction, and every hair-raising, blood-tingling moment allows the reader to follow the exploits of a larger-than-life valiant character facing off against an equally exaggerated antagonist. It makes for a page-turning read, and that’s what keeps those of us who love this sort of thing coming back for more. We’re action/adventure junkies, and there’s really nothing wrong with that.

Is there something intrinsically detrimental with creating or reading such an unrestrained work of fiction? Of course not! It’s a safe form of exploring first hand what it would be like to be strong, heroic, fearless, and capable under extreme duress. Despite the blood and guts action, the emphasis of pulp tales has always been on finding courage and fortitude in the face of certain danger. Sure, someone who is unstable might obsess over the story details of what was done to whom in what way, and maybe even act out that obsession, but does that give us due cause to condemn all pulp stories as instigating violence? No. What we need to do is isolate and treat that individual for having skewed thinking so that the rest of us can continue to enjoy life in our own way and read what we chose to.

To me that’s a no-brainer. While you can’t predict every time someone teetering on the edge of sanity and discouragement will flip, I don’t see any point in eliminating what is for most a harmless source of entertainment. I don’t believe pulp stories add anywhere near as much impetus to the decision to take lives in some heinous way as do the constant, repetitive news coverage of those who have. Replaying those images over and over immortalizes the perpetrator as much as it does the horrible deed; something that people who feel left out of or let down by society crave. If anything, pulp stories emphasize that not only do violent acts not solve anything, but punishment will be swift and certain. They may not be for everyone, but no one is forcing you to read pulp if you don’t care for it.

Pulp has been read and enjoyed by generations of people who go on to have normal, everyday lives without causing anyone intentional harm. People prone to killing others likely do gravitate toward more violent entertainment, but I don’t see how we in the pulp community are responsible for that, not when the destructive tendency is already firmly implanted. What those very sick folks need is an intervention, and as a society we’ve dropped the ball terribly on that, turning our backs on the ugly and unpleasant truth, trusting that somehow that person will muddle through and things will sort themselves out. Once there is a tragedy, suddenly you have this great hue and cry to remove all potential sources of violent inspiration, whether it’s weaponry or entertainment. Must the rest of us be penalized because a few angry, bitter, deranged individuals have surrendered self-control to delusions and have done the unspeakable?

It doesn’t have to be that way. Let’s not just talk about this, but let’s actually listen to each other for a change.

I’m not being unsympathetic to the people who have lost so much in those situations, because I can’t even imagine the inconsolable grief in waking up to face that appalling reality every day. I totally understand the urge to control something so that no one else has to face such a horrendous catastrophe. I’m just saying that by treating the rest of the world as potential murderers with no self-control, you’re not going to stop the spiral of violence in susceptible individuals.

In most cases of mass casualties, the perpetrator(s) had longstanding issues and had premeditated their actions for some time. All too often, family, coworkers, or friends had some inkling that this person was coming unglued. Sometimes the people who should be most alarmed live in denial. Sometimes people don’t want to get involved, and far too often getting someone into treatment where they can be monitored and restrained if necessary is next to impossible. No one should have to live in fear of what someone else might do to them, nor should those of us with innocent pursuits feel responsible for encouraging that type of behavior. No young child should have to learn firsthand at such a tender age that people around them can go into rages and brutally murder others. We adults know that truth, but children should not have to learn it so young. Yet they do.

None of us are ready to deal with that in the real world. How do you explain to a child that people can be so vicious that there’s no 100% safety anywhere?

You can’t. Nor can we keep anyone as safe as we’d like to think we can. We can only hold ourselves to higher ideals and hang onto what we know is good in life.

As Mister (Fred) Rogers has been paraphrased as saying, at times when there is an overwhelming tragedy, “look to the helpers”. Focus on the good deeds, the heroic acts, and the ways that people come together to triumph over evil. That, my friends, is the essence of a good pulp tale too. For all the nastiness being portrayed on those pages, there is always hope, so that in the end it should leave you feeling hopeful too.

I can see how some people would think of my work as glorifying savagery and bloodshed. Until you’ve read far enough in, you’re not going to see past the lurid scenes of death and destruction down into the underlying humanity, and to get that, you have to understand that horrible things do sometimes bring out the best and worst in people. This is why the edgiest pulp is strictly adult fare, and that’s how it should remain. That doesn’t mean the books should not be readily available, but maybe we need to create some parameters of our own before someone else decides to do it for us. Labeling books MATURE because of content I would have no issue with. I am both a mother and a grandmother, so I understand custodial adults needing some general guidelines. Some of my work is definitely inappropriate for young readers. I have other stories that are suitable for all but the most sensitive child or adult. I would assume most people could look at a pulp cover or read the synopsis blurbs and make an educated guess as to what might be best avoided, but not everyone is that attentive. While it needs to be left up to parents or guardians what children should read, I’d rather we took the bull by the horns and not allow some outside regulatory agency to decide for everyone. In lieu of round-the-clock parental supervision, a label would at least give buyers and sellers something to go on.

It’s getting tougher nowadays to know where to draw the line between freedom and regulation, and we in the New Pulp community don’t want or need someone else doing it for us. Maybe it’s time to be thinking about what is in our books, how we sell them, and to whom. Let’s take charge of the situation, before someone else gets to decide what we should be selling, when, and where.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

The Runemaster: Spell of Blood pt II NOW AVAILABLE...


Runemaster Press is proud to announce the second installment of THE RUNEMASTER: SPELL OF BLOOD exclusively on Amazon. 





Betrayed by his clansman, Skarl Kirwall returns home to clear his name, only to discover his ancient enemies, the Yslings, have destroyed his village, murdered his clan and abducted his one true love.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

NEW PULP SUNDAY IS HERE!


WINDY CITY LAUNCHES NEW PULP SUNDAY

For the first time since its inception, the Windy City Pulp & Paper Convention will be devoting a five hour block to the ever popular New Pulp Movement in what they have labeled New Pulp Sunday.

"Given the number of New Pulp creators and publishers that attend our convention, we felt devoting a day of programming to the energetic world of New Pulp was natural and would be fun for attendees.  Hopefully it will introduce some folks to the wide variety of material being published today under the New Pulp banner."  Doug Ellis, co-founder and promoter of the Windy City Paper & Pulp Convention.

To that end Ellis reached to out to several of his New Pulp contacts, amongst them Ron Fortier, Managing Editor of Airship 27 Productions and Tommy Hancock, Managing Editor of Pro Se Productions.  With a list of their colleagues planning on attending this year’s convention, Fortier and Hancock put together a program schedule that would include three panels and eight authors’ readings.  Joining them in these events are noted New Pulp Creators Chris Bell, Rob Davis, Joe Bonadonna, David C. Smith, Wayne Reinagel, William Patrick Maynard, David White and Terrence McCauley.

For the past four years the Windy City Convention has hosted the Pulp Factory Awards, given out by one of several New Pulp groups that celebrate the best in new pulp fiction and artwork.  “The creation of New Pulp Sunday is a logical expansion of the con’s support for all things pulp related,” said Fortier.  “We are thrilled at this recognition of New Pulp and promise all attendees a five hour block of truly wonderful readings and panels that clearly demonstrate the continued evolution of pulp fiction from the old to the new.”

Hancock added, “Everyone involved in the New Pulp Movement knows where the roots of what we do lie, exactly in the fiction that the Windy City Pulp And Paper Convention has helped preserve and promote since its inception.   It’s an honor for those of us who feel like we’re walking in the shadows of giants to be welcomed into the Convention program in such a way.  It’s also an opportunity to let fans of Pulp of all kinds know that the sort of stories they enjoy in the classic Pulps are still being written today.”

The complete, detailed New Pulp Sunday schedule will appear in the convention’s program booklet.

Windy City Pulp and Paper Convention
April 12 – 14
Westin Lombard Yorktown Center
70 Yorktown Center
Lombard, IL 60148

Thursday, February 14, 2013

So Why Pulp? - For The Love of Pulp




For The Love Of Pulp


You know, your average pulpster can pull a story out of just about anything. You need some sort of big adventure backdrop, a hero, a villain, and a cause to triumph for. Pulp is a very straightforward and uncomplicated way of telling a tale, which is what makes it so universally appealing. Pulp spins a rousing good yarn where you can easily tell the good guys and the bad dudes apart, and even though things look grim and the battle becomes an uphill struggle to survive, the swashbuckling champion eventually triumphs over the foe, no matter the cost. It’s the stuff legends are made of, and the reason pulp stories and their very colorful characters remain so near and dear to our hearts. People love a good story.

Oh but sweethearts and love—tis the season for such things! Today is Valentine’s Day, the traditional holiday celebrating all things romantic via gifts of lacey cards full of syrupy sentiment, expensive flowers, big boxes of chocolate, little candy hearts with snappy sayings, and all sorts of amorous notions. Yes, I know; it’s a holiday theme that is cloying to the point of nausea, trite and very over-commercialized. Yet before the diamonds and roses industries latched onto the term ‘romance’ to sell you overpriced jewelry and hothouse flowers, that word once referred to heroic deeds of derring-do in big, bold exploits filled with excitement. Yeah, so romance is actually pretty darn pulpy!

Valentine’s Day itself also has pulp in its background, if you understand the story behind it. There are several versions; which is really no surprise, since a lot of this comes down through the same storytelling traditions that lead to the pulp we’re reading and writing today. So rather than taking everything historical as absolute fact, see it as a grand accounting of a bygone era passed along and embellished through the ages. With some skillful writing, a lot of the backdrop for Valentine’s Day would make some incredibly pulpy tales. So please, read on…

In the era when the Roman Empire and Christianity were solidly in conflict, an Emperor named Claudius decided that young men bound to the army were better off remaining single. I would think the idea behind that was that men without familial ties would more readily throw themselves into bitter conflicts and dangerous situations, and be willing to overlook the inhumanity toward innocents that always accompanies warfare. The story has it a single priest named Valentinus defied the decree and continued marrying willing young couples. He also refused to stop ministering to his flock, and was eventually imprisoned, where he continued his subversive activities by holding services and helping his brethren escape. There in the dungeons of hell-on-earth he endeared himself to a freeborn young lady—who reportedly may have been the jailor’s own daughter—by healing her, and they fell in love. When his execution time came, he wrote her a goodbye note and signed it, “From your Valentine.” The priest was martyred, and the church gained a new saint, but who can say how many other romantic heroes he inspired? Now what parts of this are fact or fiction I can’t say, but it sure puts a brand new dynamic spin on all the schmaltzy commercialization of the holiday of love.

Can you see a rousing good pulp story in all that? I sure can.

How about the timing of the holiday? While some claim it was set in mid-February to memorialize Valentinus’ martyrdom, there is some overlap with the Roman feast of Lupercalia, which also is fertile ground (pun intended) for some pulpy finagling. The premise behind Lupercalia seems to have been twofold—a celebration of Faunus, the god of agriculture; and recognition of Romulus and Remus, the founders of Rome, who were raised by a she-wolf. The story goes that animals were sacrificed at the mouth of the sacred cave where the orphaned boys once lived with their lupine foster mother, and afterward strips of hide dipped in blood anointed women and the fields to bless them with fertility. There is some speculation that names may have been drawn at random for couples pairing off in hopes those encounters would result in children later in the year.

Interesting, huh? I don’t know about you, but my inventive little brain is running overtime on how to turn that legend on its ear and into another pulp story. So what if this unnamed ‘she wolf’ was the reason Romulus and Remus actually became the first werewolves, and the ongoing yearly sacrificial offering was to continue placating them with a tithe of local protein? In that case it would be a maiden drawn by lottery (the one who gets the ‘be mine’ card or inscribed heart loses) and she now has to be given to the beasts to play with, sating them for yet another season that their people love them well enough to give up one of their own. Her blood would anoint others so that the wandering undead beings of the night would pass over Rome and into the countryside. Someone might object strongly to said sacrifice of this particular young woman; perhaps an enterprising hero and warrior priest named Valentine, who by interfering, now has to defeat the bestial founders of Rome before they sally forth to take back the land for their kind. Kind of a Solomon Kane feel to this one, isn’t there?

You see how easy this is? A little imagination applied to an existing mythos goes a long way toward laying out another pulpy story to share. Valentine’s Day in history really isn’t all sentimentally sweet, though loving sacrifice is certainly at its core. Hmm, that’s pretty much one of pulp’s favorite stomping grounds!

Geoffrey Chaucer, the author of the rather ‘ripe for the picking’ Canterbury Tales, is credited with popularizing Valentine’s Day as a holiday of love in one of his poems. Whether that linkage is a bit stretched or not, Chaucer’s storytelling has quite a pulpy slant to it, and his idea of bringing pilgrims together on a journey and having them telling stories as part of a contest is a rather unique ‘tale within a tale’. So, what if in that New Pulp tradition of bringing authors directly into their own adventures, we set Master Chaucer off on a pilgrimage of his own, and have him encounter all kinds of interesting folks living out their tales in his travels? You could have entire anthologies filled with Chaucer & Company. Certainly there’d be a few love stories amongst the action scenes.

The Medieval era right through the Victorian period witnessed a great surging in the idea of courtly love, which goes hand in hand with things like feuds, duels, murder as a crime of passion, and despairing suicides leaving lonely ghosts of highwaymen and maids of sorrow haunting hills and moors. Love that is either unrequited or happily-ever-after consummated, and used as the basis of a heroic adventure, is a great underpinning for many a rousing good tale. Don’t overlook it as inspiration for one of yours.

So while you’re sitting there staring at the blinking cursor, wondering what to write and trying to get that kitschy little holiday built around hearts and flowers out of your head, give some thought to the actual background of Valentine’s Day. Then push the button to give it a big spin in the tale blender, add in a huge heaping helping of high adventure, a hearty glug of heroic acts, and several pinches of some old style romance; shake well, and pour it onto the page. I don’t know any finer way to celebrate a day of romantic notions by doing something you truly love—writing a good old pulpy story.

I suppose a little dark chocolate wouldn’t hurt though…