Saturday, 11 January 2014

T.T. Flynn - Sailor, Railroadman, Author

Pulp Magazine Covers with stories from T.T. Flynn
Theodore Thomas Flynn (better known as T.T. Flynn, western and detective fiction author) is nowadays remembered for his book, The Man from Laramie, which was made into a successful movie. He also wrote a series of stories about Mr. Maddox, a bookie detective, in Dime Detective; another series about a P.I. couple – Trixie and Mike in Detective Fiction Weekly; and wrote western stories for Adventure, Short Stories, Star Western, and Argosy.

I first came across T.T. Flynn when i read the novella, Satan's Deputy, the first story in the Star Western collection edited by Jon Tuska. Flynn kept the trouble piling up on the hero. In the first three pages, the hero comes out of prison after a two year sentence for a crime he didn't commit and rides off into a stagecoach holdup that goes wrong; the posse that comes to the rescue arrests him as a suspect. In the final shootout, the bad guys set the house in which the hero is hiding on fire. Good triumphs, but not before sailing through a sea of troubles.

T.T. Flynn c. 1936
T.T. Flynn c. 1936

T.T. Flynn was born on 8 August, 1902 in Indianapolis, Indiana. He graduated from Indianapolis Technical High School, and decided to skip college for a life of adventure. At the age of fourteen he joined the merchant navy, and worked his way across the world in various jobs like fireman, oiler, mess boy, steersman and ship’s carpenter. “The way to see the world is by the sea, shipping as a laborer, as I did.
I could not find much documentation about his life, and Flynn seems to have been a very private person, never going into detail about his past or his family. I could not find any records of his first marriage, which took place in 1924 according to Jon Tuska (A Western Story Treasury).
He went to work for the railroad, first as a brakeman, then in a roundhouse (a place where locomotives were parked, repaired or shunted). 

Railway Roundhouse
Railway Roundhouse

It was at this time that he started to write fiction, but after being fired from his job, he took up writing full time. Flynn realized the need to cater to the needs of the market, and wrote sea stories based on his own experiences and the stories he’d heard. “Sea stories were the big thing in the early 30’s (probably meant 20’s here). I wrote only of the sea for many years.
In 1925, he became a client of Marguerite E. Harper. In 1928, he moved to Albuquerque, New Mexico. His wife suffered from tuberculosis and in those days, the only treatment was for patients to rest and breathe in clean air. (See for more about tuberculosis and New Mexico.)
Six months later, he moved to Santa Fe, and also got himself a trailer home. “I can’t stay in one place for very long. When a writer grows roots, he’s dead.” He dictated all his stories and then had them typed out. Flynn would work all night long, drive to a neighboring town to get a coffee, and then sleep for 8 hours from 6 AM to 2 PM,
As a writer, he lived in constant fear of running dry of ideas and sought new experiences through travel and adventure. “I need new information and experiences for this writing. Every story I write tells a new tale. It’s like pouring water out of a bucket. You can pour indefinitely. But you have to keep refilling.
 In 1927, Lindbergh’s flight across the Atlantic set off a pulp explosion of aviation stories and magazines. As a professional writer, Flynn believed that to survive the changing moods of the reading masses, he must change his approach to please his audience. And so, in 1928, he took a flying course at the Franklin-Speakman airfield near Albuquerque to get a feel for aviation. His efforts seem to have paid off, with at least a couple of appearances in Air Stories, the premier aviation pulp. 
In 1929, his wife passed away, and he remarried in 1930. His second marriage ended in divorce, and he married a third time. This marriage lasted till he died, and he had two sons from this marriage.
In the early 1930s, Flynn focused on detective fiction, with many appearances in Clues, Detective Fiction Weekly (series characters Mike and Trixie) and Dime Detective (series character Mr. Maddox, the racetrack detective). Mike Grost has some information on Flynn’s detective fiction on his excellent site. Given how hard-boiled some of his later western stories felt, I was surprised that he never sold a story to Black Mask.
When Dime Western was launched, the editor, Rogers Terrill, asked Flynn to write a story for him. In 1933, the first issue of Star Western featured a T.T. Flynn story. Flynn started regularly writing western stories from then onwards. In 1938, he also became a regular contributor to Street and Smith’s Western Story Magazine.
With the pulps hit by the World War 2 paper shortage, and paperbacks competing with pulps for the reader’s attention, Flynn hedged his bets by turning out westerns for the paperback market. This kept his stories selling even as the pulp market collapsed in the 1940s.
In 1954, he made his only sale to the Saturday Evening Post. The Man from Laramie appeared as a serial in eight issues from 2nd January to 20th February. In 1955, this was made into a hit movie with Jimmy Stewart. Hollywood also optioned another novel, Two Faces West, but nothing seems to have come of it.
In the 1960s, he stopped writing as more of his time was spent on racetracks, following the horses from race to race. In January, 1978, he and his wife, Helen, moved to Baton Rouge, where he passed away on 8th January 1979.
I’ve not read much of his detective fiction, but I’ve enjoyed his western stories. If you know more about his detective fiction, leave a note in the comments.
Luckily, many of his books are still in print, including many story collections. Sample Links below:

1 comment:

  1. There have been over a dozen books collecting some of Flynn's western novelets. Many of them with interesting notes by Jon Tuska about payment rates, etc. But my favorite stories by Flynn remain the Mr Maddox series that he did for DIME DETECTIVE during a 10 year period in the late 1930's through the 1940's.

    Mr. Maddox was a race track bookie who always got involved in murder cases. He was a big guy and often referred to as "The bland Buddha of the Bang-tail Circuit". There were over 30 long novelets that often approached the 20,000 word mark, so these were detailed and complicated cases. Every story also starred his sidekick, Joey.

    Mr. Maddox is one of my favorite series in DIME DETECTIVE and Altus Press will soon be publishing the novelets in a collection. I understand that they also have plans to publish the Mike and Trixie series from DETECTIVE FICTION WEEKLY.