Ah, the days of pulp fiction. When writers would crank out story after story for a penny a word.
On the DVD, Dreams with Sharp Teeth, which is a documentary about Harlan Ellison (one of the great genre writers of our time), he talks about starting out as a writer in the 50s, writing a 3,000 word story in a night for a penny a word for the pulps, getting $30 for it and being able to eat for that week. It was a factory back then, writing for those pulps.
Oh, and I recommend checking out Dreams with Sharp Teeth. Harlan Ellison is very abrasive (he curses a lot and he admits to mailing a dead gopher to a publisher), and he’d probably tell you that himself, that he’s abrasive, but if you’re a writer it’s an interesting DVD to watch. If you’re a Harlan Ellison fan, like me, definitely a must.
Ellison wrote one of my favorite all-time Outer Limits episode “Demon with a Glass Hand” which stars Robert Culp. If you’ve never seen it I don’t want to reveal any spoilers but it’s worth checking out if you can find it. Harlan also wrote one of the best-loved Star Trek episodes ever. “City on the Edge of Forever”. And his story “I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream”. Just hearing that title still gives me chills.
He goes on a funny but, in my opinion, totally justified rant in the DVD about writers who write stuff for nothing. He adamantly believes that writers should get paid for their work because writing is hard. I hear that!
Now, speaking of pulp fiction, I once had a creative writing teacher in grad school (who happens to be relatively well-known literary writer) tell me that my story about a woman who discovers she’s a werewolf and winds up killing the man who tries to rape her in a park was the kind of story you’d find at airports and/or drugstores (e.g Wal-Mart).
She meant it as a put-down. A put-down that she verbalized in front of the whole class.
Oh, yeah. She did. In front of the whole class.
You see, I was supposed to write about how horrible my childhood was or maybe about my parents divorcing and how it traumatized me or about boozing academics having affairs or something if that ilk.
However, I took what she said as a compliment. I was a pulp fiction writer. Meaning my story was possibly a story ordinary people would want to read!
Yes! Thank you, superior, snooty, grad school creative writing instructor. 🙂
Below is a link to an article in the Wall Street Journal about how plot is starting to reappear in “literary” novels. That writers are kissing Modernism goodbye. Well, if some writers are doing that, it’s probably because they know, as we all do, that, unfortunately, people are just not reading as much as they used to. So you either write what the ordinary person can at least understand (without having some academic standing over their shoulders and explaining what it all means) or you starve.
As you can see by two of the pulp fiction covers in this post, a lot of what came out in pulp magazines, like “I, Robot” by Issac Asimov and “The Big Sleep” by Raymond Chandler, are now considered classics of their respective genres.
Seriously, I consider myself a pulp fiction writer, or a trashy writer, or whatever derogatory appellation some snob wants to categorize my writing in. I even had someone say that to me. That I write trash. To my face!
Okay, no problem. I know I’m not some genius writer. I know I’ll never be canonized in the halls of literary achievement. I know for a fact that I won’t win any awards and, heck, I probably won’t even be able to make a decent living at this.
But I love writing and if one person, just one person, reads something I wrote and is able to get outside of his or her head for an hour or so and forget about whatever problems they may have, have a good time doing it and want to come back for more, I’ll be happy.
Yes, very, very happy! 🙂