Saturday 14 November 2020

Georges Surdez - Turnstile (from Everybody's Magazine, March 1929)

It's been a while since i posted some action/adventure fiction on this blog. This story originally appeared in the March 1929 issue of Everybody’s magazine. In the last couple of years it was published, Everybody’s became a pulp magazine.  This was a bit surprising as the publishers, The Ridgway Company, already had one pulp magazine in their stable – Adventure. Everybody’s was in the same genre (general action/adventure), used the same authors and illustrators and even the same editor, William Corcoran – the designated successor to Adventure’s Arthur S. Hoffman. So why not just put out more issues of Adventure every month?

Maybe they wanted to clear inventory. At the time, Adventure was being revamped into a more slick-ish magazine of the outdoors. The fiction had to be slanted differently, and finding their inventory of pulp stories surplus to their needs, they recycled it in Everybody’s.

 No matter why it happened, I am glad of that policy as it resulted in more quality action/adventure fiction to read. And here is a cracking example from Surdez, one of Adventure’s most prolific authors. He specialized in French Foreign Legion stories, a genre that has died out today. Most of these involved tough men in tough situations, facing moral choices that resonate even today.

 I won’t spoil the story by telling you more.

Saturday 7 November 2020

Ernest Bramah's Max Carrados

Here we are the end of this series of posts about blind detectives. I’ve already written about Bramah, so this article focuses on Max Carrados. And there is no better way to appreciate Carrados than to sample his stories. I’ve read all three collections of the Carrados stories: Max Carrados, The Eyes of Max Carrados and Max Carrados Mysteries

From these, I've picked my favorites and added a quote so that you can get a flavor of Bramah’s writing. All these stories and a few others are collected in the Dover reprint, The best Max Carrados mystery stories, which includes a great introduction by E.F. Bleiler.

The best Max Carrados detective stories

Saturday 31 October 2020

A Damon Gaunt mystery - Eyes that saw not

Continued from last week's post on Isabel Ostrander, the creator of the blind detective Damon Gaunt

Unlike Thornley Colton, who displayed his skills in a number of novella length tales before getting into a novel-length adventure, Damon Gaunt's first appearance is in a serialized novel. Because of the bigger  scope of the novel, he doesn't have to show off his skills till about thirty paragraphs in. His first deduction is that the person who has brought him the case of Garrett Appleton, murdered at his home, is a cocaine addict. He bases this on the constant sniffing and rubbing of his nose.

Saturday 24 October 2020

Isabel Ostrander - Author

Isabel Ostrander was a prolific writer in the early twentieth century, contributing more than thirty serials using three pseudonyms, and perhaps more under other names, to the Munsey and Street and Smith pulps in little over a decade before her untimely death. Many of these serials were later reprinted as novels, some with changed titles.

Her inclusion in this series of articles is due to her creation of Damon Gaunt, the second blind detective to feature in American fiction. The first was Thornley Colton, created by Clinton H. Stagg. Damon Gaunt is however, closer to the British school of detective fiction epitomized by Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot. How? We’ll see later.

Isabel Ostrander c. 1907
Isabel Ostrander c. 1907

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 (neé 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 :-)

Saturday 9 May 2020

Three interviews with pulpsters - Richard Matheson, Leigh Brackett and Curt Siodmak

Three interviews with pulpsters who would go on to write great movies. These interviews are taken from the University of California Press' Back Stories series.
Leigh Brackett: Journeyman Plumber
Interview by Steve Swires

She wrote that [The Big Sleep] like a man. She writes good.
Howard Hawks, quoted in Hawks on Hawks

Leigh Brackett with director Howard Hawks at work on Rio Bravo
Leigh Brackett with director Howard Hawks at work on Rio Bravo

Leigh Brackett wrote scripts for Hawks' The Big Sleep (1946), Rio Bravo (1959), Hatari! (1962), El Dorado (1967), and Rio Lobo (1970), as well as for Robert Altman's The Long Goodbye (1973). Besides being one of the few successful women screenwriters, she was one of the earliest successful women science-fiction writers, having entered the field professionally in 1939. Her best-known character is the larger-than-life swashbuckling hero Eric John Stark, who first appeared in the pages of Planet Stories in the 1940s and who returned in a series of novels she wrote for Ballantine Books.

(This interview was conducted several years before her death and the posthumous release of The Empire Strikes Back, her final screen credit.)

Tuesday 5 May 2020

Pulp Round-Up May 2020 (Coronavirus edition 1)

Here are a few things to keep your mind off the current circumstances for a while:
Ohio man donates a collection of comics, paperbacks, pulps and magazines to University of South Carolina. They needed two 26 foot trucks to move it.

Northern Illinois University to digitize ~4000 dime novels and story papers from Street and Smith. The project will provide images and full texts of the works, catalog records for the volumes and indexed entries for every story, series and author, to augment an existing online bibliography of dime novels that can be found at NIU will partner with academic libraries at Villanova University, Stanford University, Bowling Green State University and Oberlin College on this effort.

A profile of illustrator and painter H. D. Bugbee, who painted pulp covers for Cowboy Stories, Wild West Weekly, Western Story and Ranch Romances, among others.

Here's a recent profile of Black Mask writer Fred Nebel. Altus Press has reprinted quite a few volumes of his stories from Black Mask. Street Wolf, which collects most of his non-series stories, is a good introduction to his style with a mix of different types of stories. Tough As Nails is a great introduction to the hard-boiled school of Black Mask fiction, as written by Nebel. And if you like that, you have to get the four volumes of his MacBride and Kennedy stories: Raw Law, Shake-down, Too Young to Die and Winter Kill.

Something I've long been irritated by is the dismissal of genre writing as unworthy of critical appraisal. Here's someone with a background in movies, talking about this

No time to read at home? Busy with chores? Let HorrorBabble do the reading for you. They produce professionally read short weird stories from a variety of authors including H.P. Lovecraft, Robert E. Howard, Allison V. Harding, Manly Wade Wellman, Clark Ashton Smith, Henry Kuttner and many other excellent authors and stories.

Saturday 2 May 2020

Early SF story: The Human Brick by Mary C. Francis

It's been a while since i posted some fiction on this blog. So here's a story i read about when i was glancing through The Moons of Mars: A History and Anthology of The Scientific Romance in the Munsey Magazines 1912 - 1920, by Sam Moskowitz.

The author, Mary Cornelia Francis, was born in Ohio, started a career in journalism in the Cincinatti newspapers in 1889 and moved to New York by 1895. She visited Cuba, carrying the American flag 400 miles on horseback to present it to Bartolomé Masó, then the Cuban president. She was also an active suffragist and a supporter of William Taft. She worked on his re-election campaign. Taft lost to Woodrow Wilson.

Mary C. Francis, from the collection of the Library of Congress
Mary C. Francis, from the collection of the Library of Congress

During this active life, she also found time to write 10 stories for magazines (9 appeared in the Munsey magazines - All-Story, Cavalier, The Scrap Book and Munsey's Magazine) and four novels. This may have been her only speculative fiction story.



My name is James Randall, and I am the “Human Brick." I am a man built into a wall in a house in New York City, where I have been for the past ten years, and I know all that goes on about me, for, with brief exceptions, I have never lost consciousness.

Sunday 1 March 2020

Photos of Walt Coburn's house in Tucson, Arizona

Walt Coburn was a famous western author in the pulps. He started his career as a writer when his lifetime goal of being a cowboy was ended after an accident. With a little encouragement from author Robert J. Horton, who had heard Coburn's stories earlier and realized his talent for storytelling, Coburn parlayed his start with a vignette in the July 8, 1922 issue of Argosy into  a thirty year, multi-million word career in the pulps.

Author Walt Coburn riding a horse near his house in Tucson, Arizona
Author Walt Coburn riding a horse near his house in Tucson, Arizona

Sunday 16 February 2020

What is a pulp?

Recently had a disagreement about what constitutes a pulp magazine. Thought you might find the discussion interesting. For the canonical definition, I'm going to refer you to David Saunders' PulpArtists website. Follow this link, and come back once you clicked through all the next links there.

Saturday 25 January 2020

Sunday 19 January 2020

The Shadow, The Spider and Doc Savage in a title match

I was looking at some Spider pulps on EBay and ran into three titles with Satan in them. I decided to take a quick look at the most common words in the titles, then went on to do the same with Doc Savage and The Spider. Thought you might like to know the results.

The Spider

The Shadow

Doc Savage

Conclusions? All tongue in cheek, of course
  1. Doc Savage never advertised himself in the title, the Spider and Shadow often felt the need. Maybe that was because Doc travelled around the world, whereas the Spider and the Shadow always had to get supervillains to come fight them. How else were the supervillains to know who to fight?
  2. The Spider often struggled against Satan, Hell, slaves and Death in some City.
  3. The Shadow fought against Crime, Murder and Death. Impressive.
  4. Doc Savage on the other hand, fought Death, Terror and the Devil, with a few ghosts and goblins thrown in for good measure.
  5. Put them together and you have the ultimate A-Team. One that can fight Crime, Death, Terror, Satan and the Devil himself in cities and islands, even down to Hell. That adventure would be called The A-Team versus The Black Death from Hell.

Put together your favorite titles that you’d like to read for each hero from the tag clouds above and leave a note in the comments. Longest title wins 😊