Showing posts with label pulps. Show all posts
Showing posts with label pulps. Show all posts

Sunday, March 26, 2017


Don't you love the way the best magazine writers used to begin their stories? How do you like this opening:

"The floor beneath Conners' feet dropped like a gallows trap. What had been solid, shining mahogany was suddenly a gaping black void. The man shot through space. Down, down, into the darkness below. 

The native servants stood blandly silent. From the opening in the floor came a thump then, after a moment, a horrible scream of terror, that echoed ominously through the room like a banshee's wail.

'For God's sake take me out of here! What is this thing? God, it's coming close to me!"  It's----' "

Very nice. I'll bet nobody ever stopped reading after an opening like that.

How 'bout this one:

"Night, black and rain-swept, shrouded the Kirty Institute for the insane. Gusts of howling wind attacked the ugly gray buildings like seas pounding some bleak, rocky coast. There was the same impression of desolation, of a savagely forbidding place that humans shunned."

"A small car lurched to a stop in front of the guardhouse at the gate. Two men got out, collars upturned, hats pulled low."

Nice. Very nice.

Of course you could argue that the best openings were the most brief.  Here (below) the writer grabbed our interest with just a few words:

"Sally, take that child away. Don't put it down in the dirt."

Huh? The dirt!? Yikes! What the heck was that story about? I found it excerpted in, of all things, a book about grammar, so I have no idea what the context was.

Ah, giants walked the Earth in those days!

Thursday, March 16, 2017


My name is Mildred and this is my autobiography.

I grew up on a farm where I had a certain reputation...deserved, I suppose.

But it was kinda boring there.

All the boys in my town just liked to drink and fight. I thought, geez, there has to more to life than I hitched a ride to the big city. 

Now THAT was a change!

Haw! I only succeeded in holding down one normal job.

After that I got "connected." I took some serious risks and made some serious money. 

You wouldn't believe the situations I got into.

I had a few laughs, took a few hard knocks.

Maybe some guys trusted me who shouldn't have.

That last caper put the fear into me. I almost got nabbed! One day I came across a "marriage wanted" ad in the paper and I went for it.  It was a chance to lay low for a while.

Okay, the guy wasn't the handsomest man in the world. 

Anyway, it didn't work out. I just didn't feel right around my husband's creepy friends.

And he experimented on me! Really! It was horrible!

One day I couldn't take it anymore and I pushed him into a vat of acid. As his smoldering skeleton slipped beneath the liquid he made one last grab and pulled me in.

As you can imagine I thought that was the end, but amazingly I found myself in the sky, winging my way Heavenward. 

I couldn't believe my eyes! I found myself in the afterlife, surrounded by all my old, if you can call them that.  Everybody I used to know! I didn't know they let people like us into classy places like this! Wow! What a kicker!

And there on a rock was a harp, just waiting for me to pick it up and play! It was all too good to be true! 

"Hmmm," I wondered out loud, "I wonder if Heaven has any pawn shops? That harp must be worth something."

HUSBAND (VO): "No Dear Wife, but you won't need the harp."

THE HUSBAND: "After my next experiment you won't have anything to play it with!"

Friday, October 03, 2014


I've been reading some pulp-type stories and I thought it might be fun to discuss the first paragraph of one of them. I liked it so much that I whipped out an index card and quickly wrote my own bad version of it so I'd have something to compare it to. I say "quickly" because if I'd taken time to think about it I'd likely have repeated what I'd just read. I wanted to see how my own brain spontaneously organized the same facts the pro had to work with.

So here's (below) my clunky version.....

"Jane startled to wakefulness when she heard sounds on the staircase outside the bedroom door. 'Bill! Wake up! Someone's in the house,' she exclaimed, but her husband wasn't there. Could it be him making the sounds? Hesitatingly she got out of bed and pressed her ear to the bedroom door." 

I know, I sounds like an accountant wrote it. Okay, here's (below) the pro version....

"Laura Standish blurted out her husband's name before she was fully awake. "Frank!" But there was no answer. Even before she realized just what it was that had awakened her, a chill little quiver of dread brushed her spine."

That's it...simple and elegant! So what are the differences? Exactly how did the pro make me look so stupid?

Well, for one thing he gave the woman a likable, dignified name that made me care about her. For another the pro had her utter only one word: "Frank." There was no need to go on about somebody being in the house. It was implied.

There's also no need to have her reason out that Frank might have made the sounds. It's too early for that. Her first thought after calling for her husband and getting no answer would be one of animal terror. Besides, terror creates a better mental picture than sleuthing does.

Last but not least, is the issue of euphony or whatever you want to call it. I had the woman "exclaim." The pro had her "blurt out." I also like the sound of "little quiver of dread that brushed her spine." This writer is alternately lean and ornate. It's a combination that works. And "brushed her spine"...what an interesting image!

Hmmm...did I leave anything out? If so, let me know.

Sunday, October 06, 2013


Talk about a's hard to imagine anyone reading this putting it down and making a sandwich. I wish I could remember where I got it. It's all dialogue so maybe it was a screenplay. Anyway, the author had the knack, no doubt about it. See what you think.


Willie: You're laughing at me again! You're always laughing at me. But you won't feel so funny with this knife in you.

Cecily: Sit down Willie, and don't threaten me. You don't frighten me at all. But you might scare the servants and give them more to gossip about.

Willie: My God! she has no higher thought than that! Even now, when death stares her in the face! Why aren't you saying your prayers, you fool?

Cecily: Put down that knife! Put it down, I say! I could save myself by raising my voice, but you know I'd rather die than bring the servants in on a scene like this!

Willie: A scene! Why woman, I'm going to kill you. Don't you understand anything? You've only got a minute to live. Say your prayers! Damn you! Say your prayers!

Cecily: Calm down, Willie; calm down, I beg you. You must control yourself. Please! -- as a favor to me.

Willie: You dare to ask me for favors? Go ask for them from the man you've given favors to! The man? The men!

Cecily: You dirty little weasel!

(Willie stabs her deep in the heart, and she screams involuntarily)
Servant: Beg pardon, ma'am, but did you call?

Cecily:, yes, I -- I am ill -- a little -- suddenly. Telephone for Doctor --Doctor --the nearest doctor. You'd better run.

Servant: But ma'am, you are bleeding!

Cecily: I spilled some wine on my dress. The doctor! Why are you still here?

(The servant runs out)

illie: What have I done? What have I done?

Cecily: You've killed me, that's all. It was such a funny thing for you to do, so old fashioned.

Willie: You are too beautiful to die! I won't let you die!

Cecily: It's growing very dark, Willie -- very dark! and I'm drifting, I wonder where? Can you hear my voice way off there? Better throw me a kiss, and wish me bon voyage.

Thursday, January 03, 2013


I love gambits in storytelling, the way the better writers hook you in right away with an interesting beginning. Lesser writers liked to start with something blunt and stylized like, "Bang! The roscoe barked kerchow and lead creased my thinktank," or a keep 'em guessing/Who's Wally-type ploy like, "The caper went off without a hitch except that Wally got plugged."

James M. Cain was more subtle. He starts "Cigarette Girl" with: "I'd never so much as laid eyes on her before going into the Here's How, a night-club on Route one..." I wouldn't say that beginning is good enough to memorize, but I do like it. It starts with the promise of a love story, which is the kind of adventure most people can relate to, then ups the ante with "...the Here's How, a night-club on route one." The club has a primal name and is located in an island of light on a dark highway. You get the feeling that destiny is waiting for you in a place like that. 

Actually the opening takes a whole two pages to unravel. Read them (below) and see what you think.

I love the idea that she declines to take the tip, not "refuses" mind you, just declines. This girl has class. So does the guy who's hot for her. The bartender gets in his way and our guy respects that. After all, the bartender's just trying to protect her. He doesn't order horny guy out, but asks questions about his background. Everybody in this intro seems to be a nice guy, doing his duty.

 The villain hasn't entered yet, but we feel his presence and we already fear him. The people we've met are people with backbone, who wouldn't cave in to an ordinary bully. Whoever this mean guy is, he must be something special, something unusual. 

Cain sets up his good vs. evil theme with hints. He provokes you to use your intuition. The atmosphere becomes magical in the sense that mysterious forces we've never encountered before seem to be converging on this place. 

Interesting, huh?

Tuesday, October 23, 2012


Did pulps die a natural death or were they murdered to make room for something else? I don't know the answer, I just don't believe the explanation that's out there, i.e., that the War provided so many real horrors that the pulps just couldn't compete. If that were true how come noirs were so popular after the war? How come horror films were so popular after WWI?

Milt claims that humorous 50s rock (like the kind of thing The Coasters did) never died a natural was killed by radio execs while it was still exhuberant and healthy. The public loved it. He says the radio people were so certain that funny music wouldn't last long that they decided to kill it off near the height of its popularity and phase in something new to replace it.

Could something like this have have happened to the pulps?

I find it hard to believe that magazines with this much appeal (above) could have slipped away so quickly.

Yikes! Getting sliced up by a giant paper gruesome! Yet it must have sold well.

I wonder if the paperback revolution killed the pulps.

Maybe cheap sci-fi paperbacks replaced the pulp magazines. Maybe paperbacks were perceived to offer a whole novel for the same price as short stories in the pulps. Maybe...I wish I knew!

Thursday, June 07, 2012


Vintage paperback books had some great covers. I imagine they did a lot to sell the story to potential buyers. But...a good cover isn't enough. To really clinch the sale you need.... need a good back cover. The buyer wants to know if the writer can live up to the promise made on the front. In this case the front is pure poetry:

Fran's filmy attire made it necessary for her to remain behind the door until I had entered and she had closed it, secluding us for the night.

That's a great sentence. In lesser hands it might have started with the prosaic, "Fran remained behind the door...", but this writer knew what the reader wanted. He opened with the infinitely more atmospheric, "Fran's filmy attire..." Instantly we're brought to the thrilling moment when a girl who cares about us opens the door. 

Unfortunately the meandering blurb on the back doesn't live up to the front. 

Here's (above) a case where the back copy is better than the front:

Completely nude, she posed for the scandalous painting. Her affairs were the talk of the Congo.

It's hard to imagine the whole Congo being scandalized by anything in a painting, but who cares? You imagine drums spreading the message to every corner of the jungle that some crazy white woman with a cat posed buck naked for a picture. The author casts a spell that makes it all seem plausible.

 I think the same author did this teaser (above) for another book. Man, he had the knack!

The author didn't intend it, but I prefer to think of Forbidden Nectar (above) as the blonde's name. We're assured that when a man gets the taste of Forbidden Nectar, there's no turning back. 

Boy, the writer likes purple prose. Forbidden Nectar was on her way into the bubbling pit of destructive passion, while Forbidden Nectar's man was being sucked down into the whirlpool of destructive lusts. Imagine what it would be like if ordinary people talked like that in the street.

Geez, some of the words are beautiful but the plot sounds unfocused.

I've heard that college professors moonlighted as freelance writers for lurid books, and  these blurbs (above) seem to confirm that. Imagine the savage passion summoned up by academic rhetoric like:

Fearing community disgrace, she's chosen him for her consort, one to whom she could go for necessary affection.

Here's (above) a story full of Thrust about Maria, whose middle name was trouble, a real tropical hussy. The book promises to tell how hussies like Maria are made...what they do to people. It all sounds very steamy and sexy...but wait a minute...Maria turns out to be a hurricane, and the story is about The San Francisco Weather Bureau! Haw!

I like the title. It indicates that the story is not about something as prosaic as a storm, rather it's about the infinitely weird and menacing "StorM."

Thursday, February 16, 2012


I'm a huge fan of 30s pulps (random covers above and below), and my favorite part of those stories is usually the beginning. I just can't believe how quickly pulp writers could establish a mood and get the reader involved. Fans wanted their thrills as quickly as possible, and publishers were eager to comply. I thought you might like to see a few examples, sooo.........

What do you think of this opening from "Return of the Death Master" by Curtis Steele?

"The subway moved through the ground like a snake in a tunnel. It slid smoothly across the tracks, its single nose light stabbing outwards like a glowing Cyclops eye. It was the only light anywhere in the train. Inside, everything was dark."

Wow...a Cyclops of a train speeding through the night time subway tunnels...and the inside is dark. Why? Is it a runaway train? Is it controlled by a madman? Four short sentences and you're sucked in.

Here's (below) the opening of another train story, 'Corpse Cargo' by Grant Stockbridge. This one starts a little slower:

"Within the train all was peace and quiet. The overhead lights were dim and the green curtains hung heavy and dark, swaying now and then to the rhythm of the speeding Island Limited. The gray-haired conductor walked slowly through the dimness, stopped a moment in the doorway of the men's smoker and glanced in at the white-coated porter busily shining shoes. 

The conductor pushed on along into the car proper and looked weary-eyed along the swaying aisle. Somewhere a baby, awake in the night, gurgled. A mother murmered soft, lulling words---as on the hill the woman gripped Bolo's arm and hissed, 'Now! Now!'

The conductor was smiling, his ears filled with the mother's soft humming when, like the fury of hell, the green fire struck! It struck like lightning, like a bolt from blue, cloudless skies. The dim, sleeping aisle of the pullman glittered suddenly with liquid light. Green-white chains of flame that struck like vicious snakes stabbed out from every metal thing upon the train, from the steel sides of the coaches.

 The old conductor's face twitched convulsively and the chained lightning of the killers danced in fiendish glee. In the smoker the negro porter writhed upon the floor. In their berths, men and women and children tossed and jerked in the torturing grip of incredibly powerful voltage. And everywhere through the train the green, horrible light wavered and danced."

Nice, very nice.

What do you think of this one (below)?

"Night, black and rain-swept, shrouded the Kirty Institute for the insane. Gusts of howling wind attacked the ugly gray buildings like seas pounding some bleak, rocky coast. There was the same impression of desolation, of a savagely forbidding place that humans shunned.

A small car lurched to a stop in front of the guardhouse at the gate. Two men got out, collars upturned, hats pulled low."

Geez, this (above) set the mood in the very first sentense!

I'll end with a story that starts in the middle, so as not to waste a single moment of the reader's time.

"A faint, almost imperceptible, click sounded in the room. The floor beneath Conners' feet dropped like a gallows trap. What had been solid, shining mahogoney was suddenly a gaping black void. The white man stumbled forward. His gun fell from his grasp as his arms shot upward, then he shot through space. Down, down, into the darkness below. 

The native servants stood blandly silent. The vagaries of their master were not new to them. From the opening in the floor there came a horrible scream of terror, that echoed ominously through the room like a banshee's wail.

'For God's sake take me out of here! What is this thing? God, it's coming close to me!"  It's----' "

Nifty, eh?