Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Pulp Writer: Twenty Years in the American Grub Street by Paul S. Powers (edited by Laurie Powers)

Among all the famous writers who started in the pulp era, the name of Paul Powers is one that is not well known. This is likely because most of the stories he wrote for Wild West Weekly (and others) were published under pseudonyms and house names. Also because his one novel, Doc Dillahay (also known as Six-Gun Doctor), was not a big seller, and it is a rare author who achieves fame and fortune by writing only short works — short stories are easily forgotten, whereas novels last much longer in the memory.

Pulp Writer: Twenty Years in the American Grub Street is Paul Powers's memoir of his years in the pulp machine, producing thousands of words a week, primarily for publisher Street & Smith's cadre of genre magazines, and most recognizably under the name "Ward Stevens." His most popular characters were Sonny Tabor and Kid Wolf, and Tabor's adventures were even adapted for a short time on radio.

Equally as interesting is the history behind the publication of Pulp Writer. Written around 1943, Powers tried to get it published but was rejected. He then placed it in a trunk where it stayed until his granddaughter Laurie Powers, who had done her thesis on Doc Dillahay, began asking family members for information about her grandfather. Amazingly enough, one relative had boxes of Powers's old papers, including this manuscript.

She tells this story in the introduction of Pulp Writer, and she also uses the other papers to piece together some facts about the remainder of her grandfather's life after the writing of the memoir. Altogether, this gives a much fuller picture of the life of a very interesting (and productive — it is estimated he wrote over ten million words in twenty years) writer whose name is little-known even among pulp-era aficionados.

And Powers is not shy about revealing how he succeeded during this era. Because of his persistence (he started out writing short, two-line jokes), and his ability to gear his stories to their markets, he states that the Depression hardly affected his income. Powers also goes into the process of getting published, working with editors, and how important it is to be flexible in a constantly changing marketplace. This is information straight from the man who used it, making Pulp Writer vital for anyone interested in being a published writer, or just interested in the process.

Powers writes his story just like you'd expect a pulp writer to: smoothly and with very little dressing. His plain, clear language makes it easy to go right along with him as he tells his tales of writing and publishing and struggling for the next paycheck while trying to make ends meet with a family depending on him. It's a really great read, and one of the best books I've read all year.

And after you read about Powers's life, make sure to pick up some of his fiction. A collection of four Sonny Tabor novellas called Desert Justice was reprinted in 2005 by Leisure Books as an affordable paperback. Others are available in hardcover and large-print formats, and they're a lot of fun: filled with action and engaging characters, especially Tabor himself. In addition, they allow the modern reader to essentially go back in time, if not to the real Wild West, at least to the period when they brought a lot of joy to readers looking for an escape during a rough period.

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