Saturday, 17 October 2020

Bibliography of the Thornley Colton stories

Continued from last week's post on Clinton H. Stagg who the creator of the first blind detective, Thornley Colton.All eight Thornley Colton stories were published in People’s magazine, Street and Smith’s companion to The Popular Magazine , from February 1913 to October 1913. One story per issue except for August 1913. People’s is one of those ultra-rare pulps you don’t hear much about, because most people haven’t seen a copy, let alone read an issue.

Which is why it is fortunate that all the Colton stories and the novel were recently reprinted by Coachwhip Publications. Coachwhip is a small print-on-demand publisher that publishes an eclectic mix of titles on crypto-zoology, mysteries, history and business. Their mystery lineup is worth checking out.

Saturday, 10 October 2020

Clinton H. Stagg - Author, Script Writer, News Reporter

Clinton Holland Stagg, the creator of the first fictional blind detective, was born on 22 November 1888 in Newark, Essex, New Jersey to William E. Stagg and Annie Stagg (neĆ© Holland). There is no record of his father’s profession at the time of his birth. In the 1900 census, Clinton is listed as “At School”, and his father’s occupation is “Machinist”. The family had moved to Bloomfield, less than 10 miles distant from Newark. A younger brother, Horace was 9 years old and attending school.

Clinton H. Stagg - Creator of the first blind fictional detective
Clinton H. Stagg - Creator of the first blind fictional detective

Saturday, 3 October 2020

The first blind detective in modern English fiction

October is Blindness Awareness Month when the National Federation for the Blind (NFB), holds outreach activities to create opportunities for people to meet blind people living in their communities and to realize that blind people are vital contributing members of society.

My small contribution to this is to get you to meet the earliest blind detectives and their authors. Three of them in fact:

Clinton H. Stagg’s Thornley Colton appeared in a series of stories in Street & Smith’s People’s Ideal Fiction Magazine starting in February 1913
Ernest Bramah’s Max Carrados made his debut in the British tabloid, The News of the World on August 17, 1913 and made one appearance in Flynn’s Detective Fiction
Isabel Ostrander’s Damon Gaunt appeared in the Munsey pulps - The Cavalier, The Argosy, first appearance not known to be earlier than February 1914

Thornley Colton appeared in eight stories in People’s Ideal Fiction Magazine from February to October 1913, beating Ernest Bramah’s Max Carrados (first appearance in The Coin of Dionysus, published in News of the World, August 17, 1913) by six months, and Isabel Ostrander’s Damon Gaunt by over a year (first appearance in Eyes that see not, published in The Cavalier, Feb 14, 1914). It’s possible that there could be an even earlier story, yet undiscovered, but until then Stagg and Colton have first place in the pantheon of blind detectives.

Hellen Keller (photo courtesy the Library of Congress)

Why did so many blind detectives appear at around the same time? I think it had to do with Helen Keller. Born in 1880, she overcame many obstacles to become the first deaf-blind graduate of Radcliffe College for women. She graduated summa-cum-laude, and published her autobiography in 1902. The Story of My Life was a best-seller, and by 1913, Keller was on a lecture tour around the United States, going from city to city and giving talks on her experience as a blind person.

By 1913 the world had seen blind people match their sighted brethren in skills and accomplishments. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle had been writing Sherlock Holmes’ stories for over a quarter century, and detective stories were a staple of popular fiction in the all-fiction rough paper magazines and their more sophisticated counterparts. Then, as now, an author of detective fiction needed something different –the setting, the crime, the detective or the criminal - to differentiate his story from the crowd. While Stagg wasn’t unique in picking blindness as his detective’s distinguishing characteristic, he was the first to be published.

Next week: Clinton Stagg and Thornley Colton

Friday, 21 August 2020

Walker Martin: Collecting and Reading Black Mask

[In a recent mail thread with Walker Martin, I was joking about how his set of Black Mask would have kept him safe from the coronavirus, if only he hadn't sold it. He could have read every issue while saying to his family - "See, a Mask a day keeps you safe." 

Because he's a nice guy, he responded to this sick humor with a mail about collecting Black Mask. Sensing an opportunity for a free article on this blog, i asked him a few more questions and he responded to those too. The result is what you have before you today. 

If you want more in this vein, tell Walker that. Leave a note in the comments section - you don't have to have a Google login to do that.] 

Your question about Black Mask has started me thinking about how I collected the set and then read most of it.  In fact, I've often said once you complete a set and then read much of it, the next step in the collecting process is to sell it.

I may have told you this story before and some of it I wrote online for Mystery File back when I started the Collecting Pulps: A Memoir series but it all started when I was drafted into the army in 1966.  The Vietnam war was heating up and I was headed for an infantry company when the army discovered I knew how to type thus possibly saving my life. I now had plenty of time to read and while in the PX I noticed Ron Goulart's The Hardboiled Dicks.

US Army PX - inset image of Ron Goulart's The Hardboiled Dicks
US Army PX - inset image of Ron Goulart's The Hardboiled Dicks

Saturday, 18 July 2020

REVIEW: Queen of the Pulps: The Reign of Daisy Bacon and Love Story Magazine

Daisy Bacon at work in her office in the Street and Smith Building
Daisy Bacon at work in her office in the Street and Smith Building

Among the pulp genres, the love pulps are the ones with the highest circulations and the least discussion. This has been true for a long time. The early pulp fanzines I've seen were from the 1930s, Fantasy Fan and Phantagraph among them, and they focused on science fiction/fantasy. Later pulp fanzines covered the works of Edgar Rice Burroughs, The Burroughs Bulletin being the most prominent among them; the hero pulps, of which Bronze Shadows might have been the first; and a few focused on Frederick Faust/Max Brand. In the 1970s and 1980sThe Pulp Era, Xenophile and Echoes were also slanted toward science fiction/fantasy and the hero pulps. Detective and mystery fandom had their own zines, but discussion of the pulp era stories was limited. Very few people actively collected, and even fewer read the pulps - Black Mask, Dime Detective, Clues - that we now collect avidly.
Love, adventure, westerns, sports, aviation - the pulps that actually sold the most, were the least discussed. And while the rest had at least some discussion, there was nothing I'm aware of written on the love pulps other than Daisy Bacon's guide to writing for the love pulps - Love Story Writer. When i read it a few years ago, I was struck by how similar her guidelines were to those I've seen for the other pulps targeted at adults, regardless of genre. But enough of my musings. Why should you read this book? Laurie tells it better than i could:
Because the woman in question, Daisy Sarah Bacon, was an editor whose magazine, Love Story Magazine, probably touched more women during her twenty-year career than any other woman of her generation. Her influence was felt far and wide by a group of readers who suffered silently through the Great Depression, who had very little leisure time on their hands, and whose only source of entertainment was the family radio, an occasional movie, and reading pulp fiction magazines that sold for a dime or fifteen cents.
Daisy was the defender of the "modern girl." She told them it was okay to work and be married. She presented the possibility that they could even make more money than their husband. She told them that they could have it all but, in no uncertain words, they needed to buck up and not wait for a man to hand it to them. She was what one journalist called a "violent, vociferous feminist," decades before the term "feminist" even became part of the common lexicon.
Queen of the Pulps: The Reign of Daisy Bacon and Love Story Magazine is the story of Daisy as the editor of that magazine from 1928 until 1947. Under her management, Love Story Magazine hit a rumored circulation of 600,000 copies a week in the late 1920S and early 193os, a record never surpassed by any other pulp fiction magazine. Under her guidance, Love Story became the go-to magazine for hundreds of thousands of readers every single week for almost twenty years. Love Story's success ushered in a wave of imitators that fueled the red-hot romance magazine industry that began in the 192os and didn't die away until the 195os.
Daisy wasn't the editor of just Love Story Magazine. Over her twenty-three career at Street & Smith, she was manager of seven other periodicals, some of which were the most storied icons to emerge from the pulp fiction phenomenon. Some were under her management for their entire runs: Real Love, Ainslee's Smart Love Stories, and Pocket Love. For others, she replaced their previous editors: Romantic Range, Detective Story Magazine, The Shadow, and Doc Savage magazines during their last years as pulp fiction magazines.
In telling Daisy's story, Laurie has done a superb job. I am in awe of how much research must have gone into this book. Lucid writing and excellent photos tell a family history that's funny and poignant by turns. With the contextualization of place and time (Street and Smith's offices, the linotype machines) it all comes together into a beautiful journey through a successful and eventually embittered, semi-monastic life.
Don't run out and buy this book; it's much easier and safer to order it online from Amazon or Barnes and Noble. And while i enjoyed the book, it didn't turn me into a love pulp collector. But it did turn me into a Laurie Powers collector. We will have our own convention someday :-)