Saturday 31 March 2018

F.R. Buckley - biographical article

[This article originally appeared in The Editor, April 1, 1922.]


My training as a writer began, at latest, when I was ten. My father was, and still is, a journalist; he was formerly Irish special commissioner for the Birmingham (England) Gazette, and now dean of the English musical critics. It was his idea that, provided the applicant had the goods, no business gave such immediate and permanent rewards as authorship, preferably approached through journalism. He taught me all I know about writing, the text-books being his own and Pope's Essay on Criticism, which contains matter applicable to prose writers as well as to poets. I may say here, without wishing to beckon to the income-tax hounds, that I have found his opinion as to the rewards of the literary business to be singularly just.

In due course I became junior reporter on the Birmingham Gazette; stayed there until the effort to be a reporter and write stories on the side track broke down my health; and then snatched a free sea voyage by becoming secretary to a business man bound for the United States. My health improved, and the war now being on, I tried to get home. But nobody could get to England unless to join the army, for which the medical examiner of the Consulate pronounced me physically unfit. I essayed circumvention, but my eyesight, combined with a ragtime heart left by my illness, marooned me every time. I mention all this because, but for such circumstances, I should probably not have been writing at all. Even had I survived the war, the English editors are much slower to snap up an unknown man than the American. America is without doubt the literary novice’s paradise. In England, Conan Doyle hawked Sherlock Holmes in vain for eighteen months. Out of my experience, I swear he could not have kept the stuff in his hands here eighteen minutes.

Well, left flat in a strange land, I naturally tore my way back into newspaper work —as it happened, in the capacity of reviewer of motion pictures for a New York evening newspaper. I later became editor of a weekly motion picture section of the same paper; then switched to a scenario-staff job with Vitagraph. I cannot emphasize too much the value of this motion picture work. Like most beginners, I had cherished the vague idea that incident in a story was rather crude. The thing was snappy dialogue and lots of style; a Greek quotation every now and then, perhaps, to split the ears of the groundlings, as it were. At Vitagraph, without going to the equally fatal opposite extreme, I was brought to realize that life, which a literary buffer is supposed to portray, in fact consists of incidents, and not of philosophical reflections. I had heretofore sold nothing; I now sold a yarn to the Black Cat Magazine for twenty dollars.

To this extent, I broke my rule against working on the side. When “Getting It” appeared, however, I resigned from my staff job, with about two hundred dollars capital, and started to do the thing in style. I was married; so you see I counted on making my mark pretty quickly.

I didn’t sell anything.

I tore my hair, went out and became an editor again, accumulated more capital, resigned again, and had another slap at the market.

This time I landed a dozen stories with People’s Magazine, which treated me very kindly and wanted more. But I had passed upward and beyond such stuff—I thought. I started a series of intensely emotional, introspective stories which should really be literature—and went bankrupt again.

I had another spell as an editor; and one day, while putting a page to bed, I conceived a momentous idea. It was extremely simple, and absolutely vital. It was simply that a writer is an entertainer of the public, and that it is therefore his job to give the people what will entertain them, and not what will entertain him; and not what will instruct them, elevate them, reform them or give them a permanent wave—unless he is asked for it. Is a grocer, when asked for salt, supposed to force sugar on the customer? And is a writer, in selling his stuff, any less a merchant than a grocer? And is there any difference, in this connection, between stuff which is to be put into the brain and stuff to be put into the stomach?

With this idea, and another chunk of capital, I resigned again and took a flying leap at Western Stories Magazine. I caught on, and have hung on ever since. When I have had an idea which was not suited to this magazine, —a sea story, for instance—I have sold it to some other—Adventure, Short Stories, People’s, The Red Book, The Blue Book, or the movies, thus continually opening up new markets.

I can say with my hand on my heart that, having a holy horror of dictating to people about their personal tastes, I have never— since I realized I was doing that very thing— made the slightest attempt to “uplift the standard of American fiction. ” I have tried to write the type of fiction which is in demand, better than the next fellow, conceiving this to be my duty and to my interest. A grocer is a fool if he does not try to stock a better brand of sugar than his competitor. But better sugar does not mean salt. Nor does better fiction mean material which readers—who pay for it—have stated they do not want.

This sounds self-evident; but I am at present endeavoring to impress it on several acolytes, with surprisingly poor success!

As for “Gold Mounted Guns, ” which appeared in The Red Book for March, I can tell less about that, technically speaking, than any of my stories. I had been writing thirty thousand word stuff, and wanted to do a miniature to show myself I could. I was lying in bed that night, thinking about nothing in particular, when “Gold Mounted Guns'* flashed into my mind complete—beginning, middle, end, title, and everything. I got up, made a note of the last words, which are the whole story; and wrote it the next morning.

Seems to me that’s all I have to say.

Saturday 24 March 2018

Beautiful covers #3 - N.C Wyeth in the Popular Magazine

One of N.C. Wyeth's cover paintings for The Popular Magazine is up for sale. Root around the sofa cushions, you'll need your spare change for this one - estimated sale price is from $100,000 - $150,000. You won't be getting Wyeth's signature on this one, though, it's signed Pearson Barnes; the explanation from the catalog is interesting:

Christine Podmaniczky explains the inscription on A Hindu Mystic (Seated Arab): "The name Pierson (note variant spelling) Barnes occurs in both the 1900 and the 1920 census of Birmingham Township, and Barnes' presence in Chadds Ford around 1911 is documented in several letters written by historian Chris Sanderson to his mother (Thomas R. Thompson, Chris, Philadelphia, 1973, pp. 180, 182). Barnes worked as a day laborer and boarded with Lydia Archie, an African-American preacher who established a church in a section of Chadds Ford known as 'Little Africa.' According to Andrew Wyeth, his father 'borrowed' the name Barnes as a joke when he encountered a rule at The Popular Magazine that an artist was not permitted two consecutive covers" (N.C. Wyeth: A Catalogue RaisonnĂ©, Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania, 2008, vol. I, p. 264).

N.C. Wyeth cover painting titled "A Hindu Mystic (Seated Arab) (sic)" from Sotheby's catalog
N.C. Wyeth cover painting titled "A Hindu Mystic (Seated Arab) (sic)" from Sotheby's catalog

N.C. Wyeth cover for The Popular Magazine issue dated January 1, 1913, courtesy the FictionMags Index
N.C. Wyeth cover for The Popular Magazine issue dated January 1, 1913, courtesy the FictionMags Index

The previous cover which the catalog refers to is this one, the December 15, 1912 issue:

N.C. Wyeth cover for The Popular Magazine issue dated December 15, 1912, courtesy the FictionMags Index
N.C. Wyeth cover for The Popular Magazine issue dated December 15, 1912, courtesy the FictionMags Index

And to round these off, his final pulp cover painting for, you guessed it, The Popular Magazine, March 20, 1926.

N.C. Wyeth cover for The Popular Magazine issue dated March 20, 1926, courtesy the FictionMags Index
N.C. Wyeth cover for The Popular Magazine issue dated March 20, 1926, courtesy the FictionMags Index

George Allan England article on running his personal fiction factory

[Article originally appeared in The Independent magazine, Mar 27, 1913 issue. By this time, England was a popular author who appeared regularly in slicks and pulps. He is remembered today for his contributions to the beginnings of modern American science-fiction.]

The Fiction Factory
How a Man Writes and Sells Over Half a Million Words a Year

By George Allan England

[The most remarkable characteristic of modern literature is the rising flood of fiction. In the United States alone about a hundred novels and two thousand short stories are publisht every month to say nothing of those not thought worth printing. Yet the demand is still greater than the supply as is proved by the great rise in prices paid for fiction in the past few years, and by the number of young men of education and ability who have in consequence been drawn into this field. The fertility of invention and facility of composition shown by some of the writers for the story magazines is a constant marvel to the uninitiated. We asked one of the most popular of them “how he did it” and he responded with this article which explains so clearly his method that doubtless any reader can do the same if he wishes to. Among Mr. England’s best known serials are The House of Transmutation, The Elixir of Hate, Darkness and Dawn and The Golden Blight. Of his hundreds of short stories many have been translated into Italian and Danish. 

In reply to our request for some autobiographical data for an introductory note he sent us the following, which the editor, with unusual modesty, thinks is better than anything he could say himself and so quotes verbatim from Mr. England’s letter: “Here’s who I am: Age 36, son of an army officer, born in Nebraska, Harvard A. M. Got Bowdoin prize for my English Petrarchism, a study of the influence of Petrarch on Elizabethan sonnet-sequences. (No publishers have ever been willing to print this. ) First heard of in 1900, when I won the 500 franc prize of the New York Herald, with my translation, in verse, of La Course des Grands Masques. Have been a Socialist 8 years. In 1908 ran for Congress; 1912, for Governor of Maine, on the ticket. Both times defeated by largest pluralities ever given in State. Overwhelmingly the most unpopular man in the country, politically. Intend to keep on, and be elected school committeeman of Pinpoint Corners in 1948. I guess that's about all I can think of. Oh, one more point: Publisht Underneath the Bough, a book of verses, in 1902, and lost only about $250 on it, A real triumph. ”—Editor. ]

George Allan England, author, c. 1913
George Allan England, author, c. 1913

Saturday 17 March 2018

Beautiful covers #2 - Walter Baumhofer - Western Story

Walter Baumhofer, one of the best cover artists for the pulps, got his start with Street and Smith in an interesting manner.

In 1930, Baumhofer married another artist Alureda, whose nickname was "Pete". Their income dropped precipitously due to reductions in advertising budgets during the Great Depression and by 1932, the Baumhofers were running out of money. They had one month's rent left in savings.

"Like any sensible young squirt, instead of paying the landlord, I took a chance and invested $30 to hire a model and paint a rather more detailed speculative cover for [pulp fiction publishers] Street & Smith. They were crazy about it. The general reaction from the top brass was overwhelming, and they hired me to paint covers of Doc Savage and Pete Rice. That pretty much ended the Depression for me."

This is that famous cover that launched his career; it was on the September 3, 1932 issue despite having been the first one accepted. Maybe they waited till they had a story they considered worthy of the cover.

Western Story, September 3, 1932 cover by Walter M. Baumhofer
Western Story, September 3, 1932 cover by Walter M. Baumhofer

Great cover, and he followed it up with some more amazing covers for Western Story, a couple of which i have below:

Western Story, December 12, 1931 cover by Walter M. Baumhofer
Western Story, December 12, 1931 cover by Walter M. Baumhofer

Western Story, September 19, 1931 cover by Walter M. Baumhofer
Western Story, September 19, 1931 cover by Walter M. Baumhofer
Notes in my copy of the Sep 3, 1932 issue. Guess who the author is...Walker Martin
Notes in my copy of the Sep 3, 1932 issue. Guess who the author is...

Saturday 10 March 2018

Cherry Wilson - Western Author

“Cherry” Wilson was one of the marquee authors of Western Story Magazine, getting listed on the cover every time she appeared. She wrote more than a hundred stories in 20 years from 1921 to 1943; more than 5 of her novels in print during her lifetime, and six of her stories were made into movies. She has no entry in Wikipedia, her IMDb entry doesn’t have a shred of biographical information. She and her stories don’t deserve this obscurity.

Cherry Wilson c. 1921
Cherry Wilson c. 1921

Saturday 3 March 2018

H. C. Witwer - Autobiographical article from the American Magazine

H(arry) C(harles) Witwer was an author of sports stories in the Popular Magazine. His writing style was simple and direct, similar in his use of slang to Damon Runyon. I've enjoyed the stories i read by him, and went looking for some information on him. I found this autobiographical article in The American Magazine, October 1918.

H.C. Witwer and family c. 1918 in The American Magazine
H.C. Witwer and family c. 1918