Sunday, 8 April 2012

Hugh Pendexter

[I was reading a story by Hugh Pendexter in the July 1, 1933 issue of Adventure (the story is "Compound Interest" and a very funny story it is, too). As is my habit, i started searching for more information on the author and found very little about him. So i thought i'd put up what information i found. Hope it's useful.]

Hugh Pendexter was born in Pittsfield, Maine, January 15, 1875, the son of G. Jefferson and Clara B. (Watson) Pendexter.

He attended Lewiston high school and Nichols Latin school of Lewiston. After teaching Latin and Greek at Norway High he entered the employ of the Post Express at Rochester, N. Y., in 1900, and remained with that paper until 1911.

After that, he returned to Norway, Maine, where he married Helen M. Faunce in 1897, and devoted his entire time to fiction writing. He started his literary life as a humorist, two of his short stories being selected by Mark Twain for his Library of Wit and Humor.

He was the author of 40 historical novels which were published in serial form in Adventure Magazine. Eleven of these novels were published in book form in the United States and all appeared as books in England. He was the recipient of an honorary degree of master of arts from Bates College In 1933. 

He had two children, Hugh and Faunce Pendexter. He suffered a heart attack while visiting a brother-In-law, B. F. Faunce, on June 11, 1940, and succumbed as he rested in bed listening to his wife reading.

Article on his writing methods from the Boston Globe

Hugh Pendexter, the Maine story-writer has some individual methods of literary work. Having decided the theme of his story, Mr. Pendexter reads everything in his own library bearing upon the subject, then every  pamphlet and newspaper clipping on the subject which he can secure from the public library, and then he buys and reads more books which he has reason to suppose will provide him with information. He saturates himself with the facts and atmosphere of the time and people of which he is to write.
This reading is all done at the typewriter in his work room. As he reads he makes notes. These are made with the typewriter on exceedingly long sheets of paper. They consist of a word-for-word copy of the facts he desires to preserve. Each note is numbered.
The writing is single-spaced, so that each sheet contains a vast amount of information. Usually, when he is ready to start writing, Mr. Pendexter will have two hundred or more of these typewritten sheets of notes. This work of preparation for a story will require weeks of hard work.
As I make these notes,” explains Mr. Pendexter, the plan of my story has grown. When the last of the reference works is read and the last note typed I can see my story from start to finish, it is just like looking down a long road. In the foreground is the opening chapter, a bit further on are some of the earlier incidents and away off in the distance is the end, rather shadowy, to be sure, but nevertheless in sight. I am ready to write.”
“As I write the various events necessary to the development of the plot come into sight, are written, and then comes the day when the end is clear, the long road has narrowed up, no further action is to be seen. and so I bring the story to a close.”
“Do you not find it hard to locate a particular note in that pile of typewritten material?”
There was a shake of his head, as with a smile, the story-writer said : ‘ Not in the least ; I never look at them while writing a story.”
This was a surprise. but Mr. Pendexter’s memory is so well trained that once he has read so great a mass of material and typed the notes, he carries in his head all the information he will desire for a novel and rare, indeed, is it that it is necessary for him to consult the notes. At such times, however, this same memory will quickly take him to the desired sheet. This faculty is no doubt attributable to his early training as a news paper reporter.
When writing the first draft of a story Mr.Pendexter uses common wrapping paper. This is cut to a size of 17x22 inches. By folding one of these sheets he has two 8½  x22 inches, or the equal of four manuscript-size sheets. The advantage of this is that he does not have to change paper so often and that the written pages can be much more quickly assembled.
He writes very rapidly, and is seldom troubled for the exact word to express his meaning. His average daily stunt, when working on a story, is 6,ooo words. When the total of this daily grist is sufficient to make one hundred printed pages of the book he stops composing and edits and rewrites. Here again Mr. Pendexter’s methods differ from those of most writers. He does not sit down, pencil in hand, to hack and hew and change the manuscript. Instead, he inserts some regular manuscript paper into the type writer and starts retyping. He edits as be copies.
At this he works much slower than when composing in the original. The daily stint is now much smaller in point of words, though, the hours devoted to it are no less. When the retyping of this first hundred pages has been completed he returns to original composition, repeating with each hundred pages until the story is ended. The finished manuscript is then carefully read and such pen corrections as are necessary are made.
“I find this plan of editing and copying very satisfactory,” explains Mr. Pendexter. “It serves as a rest from composition and keeps me in closer touch with my story; that is, I can, by working in this manner, carry the entire thread of my story more easily than were I to wait until it was completed, and- then do my editing.”

Excerpts from an interview in the Lewiston Evening Journal

Story begets a Plot
"Very frequently, when I am writing a story an idea for another story will come to me. At such times I stop writing the story out and proceed to write out the plot of that idea, file it away for future use and then return to the first story."

How a Plot Spreads Out

"After I get set down to the machine," he explained, "I begin to write. I always have an idea of the story as it is going to be, but find it changes as I write, so the result is that when the story is completed it conforms but little to the plot, so that I still have the plot intact, available for use in another yarn."

Where Plots Come From
"How do you get your plots?"

"The plot comes first from an idea. From the idea I build up the plot of the story.   Ideas come out of all things and all sorts of places."
And then he illustrated:
One day he was walking down a village street and met a boy who was very tall—over six foot—who had a peculiar voice; the voice of a lark, Pendexter describes it. It did not sit well his six foot and odd inches or the rest of his muscular body. "Why not a western story, thought Hugh, "with a man of great physique and such a voice. With all his prowess and courage, the voice makes him a Joker and he moves from place to place, always a failure because of the voice.” Of course, to make it a good story, the man had to become possessed of a real voice matching his build and make good. This was brought about by having a bullet from a desperado's revolver lodge in his throat, affecting the nerves and chords so that the voice became harsh. It was called "Spurs of the Lark."

Make Stories Probable.

Always make your stories probable, says Pendexter. The fact that a thing actually took place in real life—is true— is not always sufficient to make it sound probable when used as the plot of a fiction story. This is another way of saying that, while truth is stranger than fiction, fiction must always adhere to the average plane of the possible.

Writes According to Mood

Beyond the fact that he writes every day, usually in the morning hours, Mr. Pendexter has no definite plan of work; that is he does not plan out days in advance what particular story he will write on a certain day. He writes the particular story which he feels in the mood to do.

He composes directly upon the typewriter, just as he did in the days when he was making newspaper copy in Rochester, N. Y. His usual daily stint is about 4,600 words. This he does in a three hour session at the typewriter in the morning. His average is about 1500 words an hour. Sometimes it falls under this, but rarely exceeds that figure. In the afternoon he polishes up the morning's work, which is another way of saying that he edits it and then copies the edited manuscript for transmission to the publishers, the finished copy being, of course, free from pen or pencil editing marks.


  1. I collect ADVENTURE magazine, so Pendexter is one of my favorites. I've read all of the approximately 40 serials and novels that appeared in that pulp. An excellent beginning for your blog.

    1. Kind words indeed, Walker. Coming as they do from you, a person with a complete set of Adventure (I really envy you for that, BTW), it makes my day.