Thursday, April 9, 2020

Nightchills



Despite not being much of a horror guy when growing up, I've been trying to turn that around n recent years. In becoming a pulp writer one should learn the ins and outs of all the sub-genres that float around action and adventure, after all. Horror is always relevant.

However, it didn't quite give most of us a window in when I was growing up. The days of Weird Tales were long gone and forgotten by then.

When I was a kid in the early '90s, Splatterpunk was the horror of choice. There wasn't much else at the time as horror was on the way out. If you wanted to get into it your options were limited.

Sure I enjoyed some things for my age-set such as Goosebumps or Are You Afraid of the Dark?, but an early watch of Alien had almost convinced me the genre wasn't for me. I didn't quite get the point. It didn't also help that horror was more or less being written out of the old publishing world by the mid-90s when Goosebumps really hit its peak popularity. Getting into horror wasn't straightforward. Like most things in life, I had to find a way into it myself.

Starting with reading Paperbacks From Hell, I've been trying to get into some of the horror I missed before Splatterpunk, and then Thrillers, completely usurped the genre. There is no shortage of fascinating books in Paperbacks From Hell's pages. One of the books that gained my interest was Nightblood by T. Chris Martindale, a vampire book from 1990. I wrote a bit about this in my previous horror post, but I hadn't yet read the book when writing about it. But now I have.

The reason I read this was because it was described as 'Salem's Lot with more Uzis, and was just recently put back into print thanks to Valancourt Books. They have been re-releasing books mentioned in Paperbacks From Hell under that banner, keeping the old cover-art and leaving everything else untouched. So I decided to go for it. Since we're all about the Pulp Revolution over here at Wasteland & Sky, I'm going to try and see how it fits in with what we know about modern horror, as well as what it was like when this was written.

Things were very different in 1990 than they are 30 years later.

To start with, the description of "'Salem's Lot with Uzis" tells only half the story. For one, the book is about half the length of Stephen King's famous vampire novel, has protagonists that aren't dull as dishwater, it doesn't take forever to get going, and there is a clear divide between good and evil. There is only one blemish that is inherited by a stupid trope King injected into vampire mythos, but I do not believe Martindale put it there for any reason other than everyone else did it at the time. I'll go into that later. For now, let us discuss what it does right. Because there is a quite a bit.

What is important to say is that this is a horror book. It has chills, it's eerie, and disturbing things happen. If you are expecting this book to not have those things then you probably don't want to be reading horror. What is important is execution, and Nightblood sticks the landing with aplomb.

It's split into three parts. The first deals with the introduction of the characters and the build up to the vampires. This part establishes the atmosphere of Isherwood, which is a typical small Midwestern town from the 1980s. Our hero, a Vietnam vet named Chris Stiles shows up in town looking for a clue to his brother's death. He slowly meets the residents and scours the town. At the same time, two boys end up staying overnight in a haunted mansion on a dare and end up meeting a real life vampire! They have no idea what insanity is about to be unleashed on Isherwood.

The second part focuses on the vampires taking over the town, much like in 'Salem's Lot, though in this one the main character fights back and Martindale does linger forever on those saps being turned. He gets straight into it without wasting time. This is when things go from seven to ten. Stakes are laid on the table and everything falls apart.

In the last part, Stiles and the survivors reach the morning and decide what to do to survive the next night. He comes up with a plan, and the night ends up being way more eventful than anything Stephen King thought up in his famous novel. And unlike that book, there is an actual satisfying ending here instead of the literary equivalent of a wet fart.

Where King's books was very 1970s: horribly depressing, no hope, and a lot of meandering ultimately leading to nothing, Martindale's book is very 1980s.

Perhaps I should explain.

For one the kids are typical of Gen Y, pop culture savvy and ignorant of spiritual concerns. The adults are Boomers oblivious to deeper issues yet well-meaning types. The Gen X teens are cynical yet not completely without merit. The elderly Greatest Generation are a bit creaky yet still very knowledgeable. The people are exactly how you would remember life in 1990.

Then there's the setting. The music is hair metal, there are reruns of old sitcoms on the TV, comic books and horror magazines hidden from Mom, and hanging out after dark to sneak around. It's like stepping back in time to a whole other era--one that no longer exists.

And it is clear that Martindale actually likes this world and the people in it. They all have hopes, dreams, likes, and dislikes, and they all have clear reasons for doing what they want to do. The good people are good, and the bad people are bad. The main character, Stiles, is a Vietnam vet who uses his experiences to help others instead of playing the "crazed loner" part that First Blood made so popular. Even the villain, a soulless master vampire, feels like a complete character. Every time they show up on page you want to know what it is they are going to do next.

There are no potshots over politics, religion, or a "certain type" the author clearly dislikes, in Nightblood. Isherwood is portrayed as a normal small Midwest town populated with normal people, and Martindale's views of normal people is refreshingly anti-modern. Some are decent, some are not, but they aren't one-note. These are people you want to see get through this unbridled mayhem.

It also doesn't hurt that the book basicallt becomes a 1980s action movie in its back half. And I mean that in all the best ways. Explosions, traps, gunplay . . . even some martial arts. And it doesn't weaken the horror. It actually makes the horrors worse when you need to be Arnold Schwarzenegger in Commando to even stand half a chance. And just barely, at that.

The action is brisk, hard-hitting, and very pulp. It gets straight to the point. There s very clear morality here: vampires are bad, evil. They only live to devour and nothing else. Some people break under pressure, other step up, some die, some live, but the book never feels nasty or spiteful about it. That's just what would happen in such a situation. Then there s romance in the book between our main character and a widowed mom. It works well in unexpected ways. In Nightblood, neighbors, love, and home, are all worth fighting for.

This is very anti-Stephen King, in all the best ways. Morality is necessary, and is treated as if it matters.




Now, when I speak about morality, I bring it up because morality is the most important part of a good horror story. The dichotomy between what is good and what is evil drives it. This contrast is what makes the evil all the more jarring when it shows up. In his book, the two are so opposed that they are exact polar opposites which makes their interaction all the better for readers. The back and forth between hero and villain is one of the best parts of the book.

The villain also fulfills the horror mandate of someone breaking the rules and unleashing chaos on the innocent. It is his decisions the spur on the ensuing madness our protagonist must deal with in the events of Nightblood. The only way to put everything right again is to stop him. The stakes are clear, as is the general morality of the story. Humans worth saving, vampires worth shooting. It's very straightforward.

However, despite all this there is one thing about the book I didn't like, though it is more of a general issue of the era it was written in. It was a silly trope everyone who wrote a vampire story at the time used. If you've seen Fright Night (also mentioned in the book) or read 'Salem's Lot then you might know what this is getting at.

The usual things work against vampires in Nightblood. There is no Anne Rice subversion that just won't seem to go away after decades of tired use. Stakes, silver (you'll see), fire, and sunlight. They all harm and can even kill them. They can also not enter houses unless invited in. hey are very traditional, for the most part.

However, this book lets one rule slip in that King introduced in his book which is just as nonsensical here as it is in any other work. I live for the day this hoary idea is put to pasture.

The "Crucifix only works if you have faith" trope is in this book. It barely features, and I'm sure it was only put in because it was all the rage at the time, but it doesn't change the fact that it makes no sense. It is a misunderstanding of the monster itself. "Faith" has nothing to do with why a Crucifix repels vampires.

The reason the Crucifix.frightens vampires is because Jesus Christ is the Living God who has conquered Death. He is the Blood of Life. He represents the complete opposite of what vampires are, just as Bram Stoker intended, and that is why they cannot stand the sight of what they are not. It is a reminder that they are a mockery of what they wish to be.

It is the same reason they cannot enter any Church: the Church is God's house, it is not the clergy's. They cannot invite vampires in, even if they have weak faith. It isn't up to them. God will never let demons into His House, and can't be tricked like we can. Ironically, this second one is something King got right while everyone up to Joss Whedon keep messing up on even years later.

Nothing in that explanation has anything to do with "Faith", it's about reality. The vampires cannot face the reality of what they are.

This trope is just something tacked to modern stories on because writers wanted to be multicultural and "inclusive", and King wanted to make a statement on the waning faith of the modern world. Those are cute ideas, but that's not as meaningful as the original strength of the Crucifix. If belief is enough to repel vampires then the bullets Stiles believes in should kill every vampire he shoots with it because he believes in his bullets. But they don't. Because this notion doesn't make any sense on a metaphysical level.

However, I don't think it was done this way in Nightblood as any sort of slight. There is no hatred of Christianity or Christians in this book. There is quite a bit of talk about the importance of faith and a purpose in life. One character even quotes scripture before using a Crucifix to burn a vampire's hands off in an important moment. It's just a relic of the sign of the times when one rule was completely misunderstood by the wider culture.

All this aside, I should say that I loved reading this book. It was fast-paced, exciting, and the horrors were harsh. It's everything you hope for from a modern vampire story. This was the sort of book that would have gotten me into horror had I read it back in 1990.

And, I'll just say it: this is better than 'Salem's Lot. On a pacing level alone it is more enjoyable, and that is without going into the characters, the action, or the ending. It trumps King's book in every way and is a far more enjoyable read overall.

If you want a good horror read from a time when that meant more than mindless carnage then you'll enjoy Nightblood. There is plenty of action and violence, but no glorification of evil in its pages. It's a thrill ride and a time capsule of a whole other era.

Now if only Valancourt could get the rest of Mr. Martindale's books back in print. I definitely want to read more of what he wrote. It is only a shame he stopped so soon, but that is just how it goes when dealing with Oldpub and their fascination with ending support of writers at the drop of a hat. Their loss is our gain, I suppose.

Nonetheless, this is a modern horror classic and is highly recommended. Seek it out.

You will most definitely not regret it.





Saturday, April 4, 2020

Signal Boost ~ StoryHack Issue Six!

Find it Here!

As if there wasn't enough good fiction released recently, StoryHack once again unleashed a new issue of its action adventure tales upon the world!

I am not in this one (I was in issue #5!) but there are some great writers in this issue. This is what you are in for with issue #6:

The latest issue of StoryHack brings you supernatural horror, futuristic detectives, pirates and more! Each issue is jam-packed with short stories calculated to excite. This issue includes: 
Rakes and the Pirates of Malabar by Mike Adamson 
1837: Trouble draws a man like a magnet draws steel, and Rakes, veteran of the East India Company, can’t stay out of the fight. Compelled to serve a rogue princess who has taken command of the pirates of India’s western sea, he finds himself in a desperate mission to penetrate the stronghold of a cruel Raja and steal back the symbol of a conquered people. 
The Boss's Tale by Jon Mollison 
The proprietor of a mafia-controlled speakeasy has to find a way out of the business, without getting killed. 
The Girl Who Sang in the Country of Morning by Cynthia Ward 
When drought forces a young woman to take up hunting, she runs afoul of bandits. Taken captive, Felissa only has one option, though the forbidden magic may damn her soul. 
Due a Hanging by David Skinner 
She was probably on the yacht in the Martian Canal. And he wasn't the only one looking for her. 
Our Friend In The Cellar by Matt Spencer 
Supernatural sleuth Frederick Hawthorne infiltrates the home of a corrupt Victorian gentleman, while investigating the disappearances of several children. Once inside the house, Frederick discovers an infernal family secret., and must use brawn, ruthless cunning, and a few magic tricks of his own if he is to survive the night. 
The Life Price by John D. Payne 
They got away clean, or so they thought. But when three adventurers try to sell off their prize, things start to go wrong. Dead wrong. What price will they pay for an innocent life taken? 
Southwest Monsoon by Luke Foster 
National Park Ranger Abby Baxter leads a rescue party into the Grand Canyon to find a kidnapped child during the worst southwest monsoon in memory. 
Waterways by Lindsey Duncan 
Kel has no interest in rebellion or anything except trying to get along, but when her priestess mother forces her under the sacred pool, the Reflected gifts surface within her. Will she cling to her stubborn ways, even if it means execution? Or will she throw in with the rebels, and possibly be killed in battle?

That is quite the bang for the buck. StoryHack is the best currently running magazine of action and adventure, and this issue is no different. 8 more stories of thrilling adventure? What more could you want? It doesn't get much better than this.

With material like this, StoryHack has a bright future ahead.

Check it out today!




Thursday, April 2, 2020

The Importance of Pockets

Not mine. I don't own this book.

Aesthetics are important and you should judge books by their covers. That is a simple truth.

I realize this goes against conventional wisdom, but physical formats exist because customers want to hold and own objects. As much triumphalism as independent artists muster about their glorious digital future there is a reason their audience still ask for physical editions of everything they make. They always will. It is as inevitable as taxes and death. A part of us need the physical touch as well as the emotional surge of holding a product.

It is the full package that counts. Tangibility is underrated: you have all five senses for a reason!

Now, I'm not much of a collector. I don't go out of my way for special editions, or limited run boxsets, or those quirky boxes that include weird things like key-chains or statues and the like. That's too excessive for my like.

But I do have a physical copy of most every video game, movie, and TV show I have ever purchased, when available. It isn't the extra trinkets or shiny packaging I care about; I care about being able to hold it in my hands. It's about touch.

For instance, I own every issue of Cirsova and StoryHack (even the ones I'm not in) and even with my own work I try to make the physical edition look as good as possible. It's important to me that readers would want to pick up and read what I've written. If they wish to add my works to their own library? Well, few things are more flattering as that.

The only things I don't own physically are those that don't offer the option or overcharge on a physical version. I don't suspect it'll change anytime soon. I'd sooner stop buying if it meant I had no option to hold it.


Not my picture, but I wish I was there!

As for the reason I care? That is a bit harder to go into aside from saying that touch is probably the most neglected of the five (or is it six?) senses when it comes to art and entertainment.

Food needs to be tasted, music needs to be heard, visual mediums need to be looked at, smell has a whole set of uses in real life, but touch and tactile feeling are not quite as well focused upon.  Especially not in the arts. There are not very many arts that require touching to experience. Usually the audience is meant to sit back and enjoy what the artists has already touched. There isn't much in the way of physical participation to be had--it is about absorbing.

This means I am a big proponent of physical copies of art. It isn't about being a Luddite, but about offering just that little bit extra, that one sensation, to give the customer more than they might otherwise hope for. And since I'm a writer that means I am on the side of physical editions of every book that's ever been written.

If you have ever been in a used book store then you know what it's like to dig. The feel of the pages between your fingers as you flip to see that page quality, the familiar smell of paper, the yellow coloring to show just how long this copy has been passed around . . . there is a whole host of interesting experiences when holding a book in your hands. It is not the same as looking at lines on a screen. In fact, I would say searching through used video games, movies, and music, is much the same experience. It is part of the appeal. You feel as if you are part of a bigger whole, and not as disconnected as simply downloading copies of files.

However, when it comes to books I am a bit of a fanatic of one style in particular. I am speaking of the mass market paperback format, also known as the pocket paperback.

It took the newest kickstarter by Cirsova for me to realize I never properly spoke about it here, so let me correct that with this post. The best format for carrying fiction is the mass market (or "pocket") paperback both for ease and for aesthetic. I realize that sounds odd to enjoy such a "cheap" format so much that others look down on, so allow me to expand on why it is the superior format over clunky hardcovers and awkward trade paperbacks.

Cirsova has me pinned just right. Just as Paperbacks From Hell lamented the loss of these quirky covers and contents since replaced by boring thrillers, so to did the adventure story suffer from the loss of this format. This is what I wish to go into.

Check out Cirsova's kickstarter for Jim Breyfogle's Mongoose and Meerkat sword & sorcery stories for yourself, but I wanted to highlight one part of the campaign page. No, it isn't just because I was mentioned, but because I want to use this to spring off of.


Yes, I was the first backer of the pocket paperback edition.


This allows us to quite easily go over each format in the publishing world.

Digital is self-explanatory. It's a digital file that works with digital readers such as Amazon's Kindle. There is a large audience for digital. It's not my preferred format, but every author needs to offer it regardless. You want to reach as many readers as possible, after all. But there isn't anything to it other than choosing between epub, mobi, and/or pdf files. It depends on what the customer prefers. But there is no way to stand out with digital files. They all blur together.

Trade paperback is standard for places like amazon. It goes between 5 x 8 and 6 x 9, needing quite a bit of shelf space. It's also my least favorite format.

They are over-sized and not easy to carry. This is why I tend to go with 5 x 8 with my books on amazon. It is the smallest size possible without losing expanded distribution options. Being over-sized also means they aren't very portable, and without a hardback cover they flop around in your grip. To me, this is the worst of both worlds, but I will put up with it if it is my only option to publish a book. I'm not convinced amazon only offers this format in order to give physical readers the finger. They're not comics--you don't need that much space in a physical edition. Words don't need that much breathing room and empty real estate on the page.

Hardcovers are self-explanatory, being that they have always been the most recognizable form for books. Their over-sized nature matters less because the cover is sturdy and allows for an easy grip. Hardbacks also feel good to the touch and allows a bit of sturdy weight. They almost always look great, too. For me, this is the second best format, and the most useful for collections or longer works. It's also the best for non-fiction as it allows the reader to sit back and concentrate without having to awkwardly manage the over-sized pages. Were it not for the next format, this would be the best. Though it still is the best if you want a format that will last the longest outside of digital. These bad boys can weather any storm.

Now we come to my favorite format, the one J.R.R. Tolkien hated the most. It is the pocket paperback format. Tolkien declared pocket paperbacks stodgy, low class, and trashy, not worthy of holding the stories printed to them. It is a shabby form is a sign of publishers too cheap to offer readers more. They are a shabby format that degrade stories. They get beaten down, bent, and warped, which make them disrespectful to the art of storytelling.

In other words, the form doesn't do literature justice.

However, just because I disagree with his assessment does not mean I misunderstand why he wouldn't like them. The fact that they are so easy to hold, read, and store, makes them my preferred book format. What he sees as negatives are positives, to me.


From Black Gate. Not mine!

Pocket paperbacks are so good because they give stories to anyone to read anywhere at anytime. You can carry them on a break in the office. You can take them out while painting a house. You can pass it around to your pals during recess. You can put them anywhere, and they can be found anywhere just as easily. Pocket paperbacks are like having a whole universe of imagination with you that you can dive into at any time. Anyone can have them and they can fit in anything. They are the most universal form of book.

They were sold everywhere from drug stores to racks in magazine shops. They could get beaten, weather-worn, and bent, but they would take much to break. They were the ultimate form for books, and in many ways, still are. They could be again.

Spinner racks of pocket paperbacks were everywhere, even in stores that didn't specialize in books. This allowed them to be everywhere they wouldn't otherwise be. Comic books used to do this, too. This is what allowed these industries a reach they have since abandoned for a smaller number of fanatics who would sell a kidney in order to get glossier paper from their beloved megacorps instead. In other words, the common Joe was abandoned for fandom.

Unfortunately for them, pocket paperbacks is the key to reaching the largest possible audience. This was part of the secret to the form's success. Pocket paperbacks were meant for normal people who needed a quick and dirty read in the middle of their daily grind. Anyone could find them, anyone could carry them, and anyone could read them.

That said, they work better for shorter works. This is why pulp writing was so important to the success of the book industry, even after the magazines disappeared. Pocket paperbacks are essentially the modern pulps.

Part of the reason they have fallen so far out of favor (and why fewer read these days) is because pulp-length works were abandoned by Oldpub. Once again, this loss was an unequivocal disaster for big publishing, limiting customer options. Mass market paperbacks still exist, but barely, and they are never sold outside dying chain bookstores anymore. They might as well be trades. It was just one change among many that was yet another self-inflicted wound from Oldpub. Abandoning the masses is never a smart idea.

But that is what happened.

And it's a shame. No more imaginative painted covers, no more exciting title fonts and book descriptions, and no more ease of availability. Pocket paperbacks were built on all these things. They are the closest thing to mass appeal since the pulps, and losing them meant losing mass appeal. Nothing can replace them.

Now all that is left are the bland trade formats, tepid book descriptions, and nonsense post-modern covers on the shelves of dying bookstores. They have been neutered and abandoned by those who were supposed to take care of them.


Don't see these too much anymore.

Pocket paperbacks epitomize what reading is all about. Reading offers imagination to take you to a whole new world of excitement and wonder. That only sands to reason that the best way to offer that to readers is by giving them a format where they can do that in anyway they please and as often as they want. You don't need anything but a pocket and a hand to flip through it. This is why the pocket paperback is the best format.

We have pockets to carry the little things. Change, pens, phones, keys, wallets, and the little things we keep on hand for when we need them. These books allow us to add whole universes and worlds to that list. This is how the Game Boy became as big as it did, and it is why phones are so popular. Having a useful source of escapism on hand is invaluable. Pockets were made to carry, and these books were made for pockets.

Reading exists to employ the imagination and to take readers on journeys to whole other worlds. There is a reason the form has survived beyond the death of radio and television, and will last long after we are gone. It's how simple it is to use. There is no barrier to entry aside from your own imagination. That is how it should be.

There is a simplicity and straightforwardness to books that other entertainment mediums don't have. You don't need a console or PC like video games. You don't need a music player. You don't need a radio. You don't need a TV. You don't need a monitor. You don't need actors or a stage. It's just you and the book you hold in your hands. That's it. Making them so that they can be put into as many hands and into as many places as possible? That is how it should be.

As I said, aesthetics are important. They are the selling point of all books. The cover needs to attract eyes, the description needs to connect with potential readers, and the form needs to be as accessible as possible so anyone can pick it up. The content is a whole other story, but it won't matter if you cannot get eyes on said book to begin with. In this age of the new where standing out is harder than ever it is a non-negotiable. Aiming for the right audience is more important than it's ever been, which makes aesthetic invaluable.

You were sold on pulp being bad for you, mass market books being shabby junk, and imagination as a distant second in importance to social engineering. This isn't what makes kids want to read; it's what chases teenagers away from ever reading again.

You were taught an anti-pulp, anti-reader thought process that is currently killing the companies that were once the big dogs in this field. Eventually their backwards approach will have them put down. Turning an industry into a boutique solely for high-rollers at the expense of the common Joe is always a bad idea. It never ends well for anyone, and we can see it happening right now. The anti-pulp attitude is what is killing entire industries today.

That isn't for normal people, though. The spinner rack might have been abolished for dusty bookshelves in shuttering megacorps book chains, but the spirit is still alive.

That pulp spirit of wonder and imagination is still here. It is everything reading is meant to be. No form represents this spark better than the pocket paperback format, and that is why it is the best form for fiction. That is why it should be looked upon better than it currently is.

One day it will return to its rightful place as king. That day will be glorious, and will be more than due.

Now, if you can convince amazon into offering the pocket paperback format for writers, I will be forever indebted to you.

My pockets deserve more books to carry.





Friday, March 27, 2020

Hack Some Stories!


Quick post!

StoryHack #5, featuring my story Black Dog Bend, is free on amazon! It's going to be this price only until Sunday, so you better jump on it quick. You've got stories by Jon Mollison, Dominika Lein, and many other great authors in this issue, too! It's a good time. 

You can get it here. And after you've read it, you can check my post on the blog about this very story! If you sign up for StoryHack's newsletter you can get issue #0 for free, too. That's quite a bit of free adventure to go around. Now is the best time to exercise that imagination of yours-- good times are coming back. It won't be like this forever.

Go into the weekend in style. The adventure goes on forever.

See you next time, and be safe!





Of course, our #1 anthology is still available for free, too. Spread the love, and enjoy 200,000 words of free fiction!


Thursday, March 26, 2020

Rules for the Lawless

The Revolution is Here!


Due to the recent success of the Pulp Revolution's free anthology officially making #1, it is time to look back at just how far we've come [The anthology is also available in print for dirt cheap here]. It's been a long road.

But it's not over yet.

It has been two years since I made this post on the Pulp Revolution, and I wanted to do a bit of an update. Two years is enough time to take a bit of a look back and gain perspective on where we are now. What has changed in that time, and what have we learned?

First, I want to reestablish some of the first ideas that came out of the early rumblings of the Pulp Revolution. That's right, we're going back to the glory days of 2016 and 2017, even further back than my post. It's easy to forget just how much energy there was at that time to try and understand just what was being discovered. Late 2016/Early 2017 was about the time the idea got solidified, and the writers soon began furiously typing their tales of adventure and the unknown.

It's time to take you back to the past.

At the end of 2016, the first to hit at a formula as to what gives pulp its identity was author Misha Burnett with his Five Pillars of Pulp. We will sum them up below:

Action: The focus of the storytelling is on what happens. 
Impact: These actions have consequences. 
Moral Peril: Consequences are more than just material. 
Romance: Pulp heroes are motivated by love. 
Mystery: There are many potential unknowns—the setting, the true identities of other characters, the events that led up to the current crises. Something is going on and neither the protagonists nor the reader should be quite sure what.

You can read his full explanations in the above post, but we will talk about them as a whole. These pillars allowed much discussion to take place very early in the movement's life, and gave much to think about.

Allow me to go over them briefly to describe why they are important.

The first pillar is self-explanatory. Action, movement itself, is essential to a pulp tale. The story must get in, get out, and say everything it can in as few words as possible. Because pulp writers had to hook the audience quickly they had to pack as much as they could into magazine guidelines. Even though they paid by the word, if a writer didn't cut the flab editors would just print another story in its place. Sharpness is essential; sluggishness is death.

The second and third are intertwined with each other. If the story is brief and quick, the stakes need to match this fast pace and give readers a quick and dirty reason why they should care. The fastest way to do this is by targeting the protagonist--the character the audience must care about no matter what. There are two layers of conflict, one that assails the protagonist on the inside and one on the outside. They don't need to be perfectly congruent in intensity, but it is enough to show that the character is alive and full of the red blood needed to carry an adventure. He is human, and that is a good thing.

This ties into point four which is about love. What Mr. Burnett is referring to is not simply romantic love. That is the go-to, but it is not the only kind of love there is. While the action is hot, and the impact is high, the main character needs a motivation on par with the blitzkrieg occurring around him. What other motive is pure enough than love of the world around them? Girlfriend, buddy, town, planet. The world is a place worth saving, which means it's a place worth loving.

Heroes should be worthy of respect. If the audience can't respect them then there is nothing in the story for them, is there?


She persisted!

This also means that the antagonist must represent the opposite of this love. In some capacity they must want to destroy.

Since the antagonist should be the opposite of the protagonist he should be taken to the farthest end of the scale that is possible. He should be unlike the hero in every respect that counts.

When you have a villain, he naturally needs to be the worst that the story can offer. He needs to oppose the protagonist, and in every way that counts must be his complete opposite. This dichotomy naturally leads to black and white morality. Neither character has to be a perfect representation of either, but they each must represent one side to the best of their abilities. This means the villain must represent a hatred towards the world, and the hero must represent some good in the world. In other words, the hero must love the world and those in it, and wants to preserve the place he lives.

Romance is the celebration of all that is good. When a villain tells the hero how much alike they are they reader should roll their eyes and know that it is a blatant falsehood. Antagonists don't understand romance: they loathe the world worth saving.

In an action story you have to be fast. Action works best when it is sharp, dynamic, and over in a flash. It takes the audience by surprise and leaves them wanting more. We've dealt with how that is important, but not how to make it important on a larger level. This goes with the last pillar on the list. Beyond motivation and setting, how do you create a sense of scale?

Mystery is an ingredient we need more than ever for the simple reason that mainstream fiction has little of it left. One hesitates to even be able to find an example of it done well in modern mainstream fiction. Everything must be explained, or explained away, and no reader is tasked with exercising their imagination to do any sort of heavy-lifting. It's all spoon fed. While fiction shouldn't make the reader do anything, the form's advantage over visual mediums is that it relies on imagination in order to deliver its full effect. Writers that don't take advantage are blunting the impact of their stories. It's the best weapon they have!

And imagination is frowned upon in the Oldpub world. It's about checking the right boxes. The best fiction is about imagination first--not pleasing the right people.

This hatred of imagination goes hand in hand with the walling off of genres to neuter and take the fangs out of fantastical fiction. Everything needs to fill a correct checklist to be considered part of specific genre, depending on who decides to stock the shelves on whichever store they wish to be put in. No other genre has this issue, because no other genre has tried to fit wonder into neat little boxes t get headpats from self-appointed masters of fandom or their corporate overlords. You can see how wonder has died many times over the 20th century. It's expected, at this point.

Mr. Burnett brushes into this a bit in part of his post:

I have deliberately avoided any references to genre in what follows. This is because I don’t think it is significant to the Pulp Aesthetic. The guidelines can apply to Detective Fiction and Westerns just as readily as to Science Fiction or Fantasy. The Pulp era made no such hard distinctions, while some magazines specialized in a particular form of genre fiction, most were open to anything thrilling and exciting. Pirates rubbed elbows with cowboys and spacemen and barbarians from the bygone past in the pages of adventure magazines.

The Pulp Archivist himself sums it up here. We're already living in a pulp world--we just don't realize it. It's just the natural state of things. You can currently only do some things, you once could do anything, so why don't you do everything?

No one is blocking you, anymore. So how do you remember what it was like to be free? You have to look to the past where Oldpub had it more than they do today.

Pulp has no limits, and it has no rules. The above pillars are not so much a rule-set as they are a natural consequence of writing a pure adventure. Those are things that are just going to happen, whether the writer intends it or not. If you want to write an exciting story those things are just going to come natural to them.

It's just the way it is.

Corona-Chan's peak

It's not so much a formula as it is simply the way it works out. Story craft came to this point because your ancestors perfected it and knew how to appeal to the most amount of people without having to pander. It exists because it works.

In order to fool with the formula you would have to either be taught subversive rules against it, or deliberately attempt to overturn them yourself. You would have to put your ego first. There was no "pulp formula" in the days of the pulps because every writer instinctively knew these truths to be self-evident. Readers didn't want subversion, and they weren't yet taught to hate their past, so they just enjoyed the adventure.

This falls in line with what editors of the past have used for their own guidelines:

“Primarily there must be real emotion in our stories; in addition to the physical conflict, they should have emotional drama. A story, for example, on which conflicting forces are at work, in which the hero has strongly conflicting desires, where he must make a choice that will reflect his true character, his most vital interests and desires require one course of action, but a debt of honor demands sacrifice of his own free will. And while he is sorely tempted to protect his own interests, his better nature triumphs.”

Is it really revolutionary to use common sense? When writer's workshops clamor for failed formulas and ideas that the common reader has no interest it, then yes. Yes, being normal is a revolution. Relating to your neighbor is taboo.

It's not about the pulp format or paper style, but what it implies to choose to be pulp. Back in the day you were pulp or you were slick; you were for the majority, or you were for the chosen few. There was a choice for those who wanted to write. The publishing world has since chosen to be slick, and has abandoned the pulp. Half of the target, and the majority of the audience, has been abandoned. Because of this few people have cause to read anymore. This is what the revolution was actually about. It's a revolution of common sense.

But Mr. Burnett wasn't the only one to discuss what made pulp what it was. There was also the human sunbeam, Jesse Lucas--one of the editors behind the PulpRev Sampler. He constructed his own seven traits of pulp. Here they are, listed below:

1. Pulp Revolution is not New Pulp
2. Pulp Revolution is not a Puppy movement
3. Pulp Revolution is a Superversive movement
4. Pulp Revolution does not care what you write
5. Pulp Revolution is trying to rehash the good parts of the pulp era
6. Pulp Revolution seeks to polish forgotten gems as well as produce our own
7. Pulp Revolution rejects sycophantism and triumphalism

Check the link if you want a more in depth explanation of each. I will instead try to sum up the entire point of his seven traits.

To go with above, the Pulp Revolution is about rediscovery and reapplication. It's not about writing to formula, market, or to litfic professors. It's about taking what worked, can work, and will work again. It's about rejecting what replaced the good and true and chased normal folks away. It's about putting ego in the backseat behind story craft and writing for people instead of cliques. It's about going back and taking it all forward.

This is about asserting the Good and True exists, is worth fighting for, and is far beyond our petty day to day squabbles. It's about wonder.

One can look over the trends of the 20th century to see how everything slowly rotted away by bad caretakers who cared more about the here and now than what would come after them. This very blog is full of such stories-- even linked a cavalcade of them above.

The "Don't Trust Anyone Over 30" movement of the 1960s was just one part of it--the 1970s was the decade of hedonistic death. Anything left of what we were given was forcibly choked out by the time disco ruled the radio. It was about you and your worst vices, not about you in relation to everyone else. It was not about connections, but about my, myself, and I.

Not only did wonder take a backseat to pleasure, but so too did amoral posturing take the place of heroism. If you want to know why that Brand X space opera that came out in 1977 was such a surprise megahit it is because such things were long thought dead and gone. Big publishing and Hollywood decided heroism was over. We'd evolved past it--now it was time to live in the "real" world of hateful and hopeless misery. No one was allowed to be a hero anymore. It was kid stuff. The world was dead, it was only a matter of time before you were, and you just needed to accept it. This era is with us again today.

Funny to see that this exact poisonous attitude is what ended up killing said Brand X space opera's new movies in recent years. It is as if they were deliberately sabotaged in order to send a message. Heroism isn't real, and every hero you thought you had was a phony because that's life! It's a meaningless series of random events and then you're dead. So stop having hope, stop having an imagination, and keep your head out of the clouds.

There's nothing worth fighting for beyond political policies of the Good Guy Party, so there are no heroes. There are only revolutionaries for the status quo. This is all backwards and inverted, but that is how it goes when you upturn your roots for ego.

The love for heroism is just one thing lost in the morass of the 1970s. It was a hopeless time, and has justifiably been forgotten today.

This loss of perspective is best shown in this exchange from Clint Eastwood's Magnum Force, a movie which tries to show the difference between an anti-hero (IE a selfish do-gooder) and a real hero. This came after Harry Callaghan was accused of being a villain in Dirty Harry by critics. Why is he taking justice into his own hands?

It turns out he took justice into his own hands because everyone else forgot what justice was. And though the movie ended in typical grim '70s fashion, the overall point was fairly clear. Audiences loved it and it led to a boom in action movies not long later. Critics, however, didn't want to be reminded that justice is real.

Clint Eastwood then starred in Magnum Force, the sequel. This movie is intended to show the difference between an anti-hero (what the critics thought Harry was) and a hero who upholds justice (what Harry actually is), and it does this extremely well.

The following exchange explains it clearly.




God is dead, heroism is dead, society is a free-for-all, and yet Justice remains? No, I'm afraid it doesn't work that way. An anti-hero is no hero. He's just using it as excuse to feed his own ego. It is pure 1970s wankery, and is a concept that has far outlived its usefulness. There's nothing clever or fresh about the concept of anti-heroes, they're nearly half a century old, at this point. And yet we're still told to this day how great and original they are.

As explained above, Magnum Force was a response to Clint Eastwood's previous Dirty Harry in which he was accused of being a fascist character. Even back then "fascist" was a word that had lost all meaning. What Harry represents is the last stand of heroes in a world that has forgotten the good and the true, and merely operates on the momentum of dead men whose influence is scrubbed away more and more every day.

And this is the same with every other form of fiction. If you don't have clear good and evil then it only comes down to who has the bigger gun in the end. And if your definition of good and evil are mere caricatures of what you learned in public school, cobbled together out of nowhere not based on any real standard, then it's not going to ring true. As sales for modern books can attest: they don't ring true. Because they aren't true.

This path is a dead end. Chain bookstores are on the way out as it is. No one reads anymore, and less are reading every day.

What's the solution? It's to go back. It's to assure everyone that reading isn't what they were taught it was because of the miserable books they were forced to read in government mandated prison campsschool. It's to show them that there's a whole world out there they've been missing. Wonder brightens anyone's day.

To do this, we have to go back. We have to go so far back that we have to find the last time reading appealed to a mass of people on a wide scale. And wouldn't you know it? It's the golden age of pulp fiction: the very fiction that inspired all their favorite movies, TV shows, and video games. But because so many have been "educated" to write fiction as anti-pulp and anti-consumerist as possible, it requires a louder approach to get attention. It requires a revolution.

So how has this revolution been working out? Very well! Every writer who fell into the Pulp Revolution years ago and are still coming into it now has gathered steam, is seeing increasing success with every release, and is reaching more and more readers every day. The road less traveled turned out to be the one everyone wants to wander down. It's only a matter of time before the revolution becomes what it should be: standard.

This is a long way to show that the Pulp Revolution still marches on years later. It's not about tooting our own horn, but to show that this is the way forward. The old ways are better, and will lead us to a better future. The future is bright, and the clouds are parting.

Onward we move, and we can only do but one more thing.

Friday, March 20, 2020

Grey Skies in the Wasteland

Find it Here!


I apologize for the lateness of this week's post. It's been touch and go recently, and I have been scrambling to keep up.

Things have been a bit sticky out there. I don't think I need to explain why that is. You know. However, things are not all bad, and there is a break in the clouds coming. Sit tight and the grey skies will soon break. Until then, those of us in the pulp revolution have something for you.

Spearheaded by author David V Stewart, a bunch of us writers have gotten together to create a free anthology for you to read during these trying times. Over 200,000 words of fiction awaits you in this new anthology from 17 different authors.

It's called Corona-Chan: Spreading the Love: Infectious Tales of Fantasy & Suspense Designed to Spread the Pulpdemic. Yes, that's the real title. Humor is big with this group, especially of the off-kilter kind. But the stories are serious. Well, most of them.

As the title might say, this is a bit of a wacky project. There is no overall theme, no set length for the stories, and no unifying genre. You have flash fiction, short stories, novelettes, and even a full novel inside! What brings them together is the focus on entertaining you, the reader. There are new stories, obscure stories, and reprints of overlooked stories. It's a true grab-bag of goodies.

A bunch of the authors got together on Wednesday night to discuss the project, among other things.

You can watch it here:


My included story is Someone is Aiming for You, the first in my recent book of the same name. If you haven't jumped in yet, enjoy this preview of the full length work. I wanted to get this out to as may folks as possible. It's a noir action story about a man named The Seeker who is up against insidious forces hiding in the city of Summerside. Did I mention there is magic? But this isn't your Mom's Urban Fantasy. What lurks in the corners of the dark city isn't of wands and pixie dust, but far blacker stuff. Read it for free today!

However, the author list is quite impressive going even beyond my entry. This is how you know the book is high quality. We all made sure to put in top notch stories for the readers. There is no skimping due to the price.

The description:

Corona-Chan: Spreading the Love is here to rescue you from the existential horror of indoor life, by offering you a glimpse into other worlds of wonder, whimsy, and warped humor. 
Tales of high adventure, escapist fantasies, and thrilling stories of suspense await within, from some of the keenest and most rebellious minds in pulp fiction, with a foreword by the infamous Daddy Warpig. 
With 200,000 words of exciting fiction, most never before published, including two full books and two full novellas, Corona-Chan is serious about spreading the disease LOVE!
Read it today! 
The complete catalog of collected chronicles:


“Quarantine” by artist Jesse White

"Anacyclosis" by Brian Niemeier

“A Song of I.C.E. and Fire” by Jon Del Arroz

"In the Forest of Wast" by Alexander Hellene

“Exiled in the Desert” by John Daker

“Iron and Steel” by KP Kalvaitis

“Someone is Aiming for You” by JD Cowan

"Immortal Thunder" by Matt Wellman

“Bringing down the Mountain” by Nathan Dabney

“At the Feet of Neptune’s Queen” by Abraham Strongjohn

“Going Native” and “Warrior Soul” by J. Manfred Weichsel

"The Battle of the Turasa Nebula" by Yakov Merkin

“An Eye for Eligos” by Alexandru Constantin

"Adventure Constant" (full novel) by Jon Mollison

“Star Support” by Val Hull

“The Age of Petty States” by Rawle Nyanzi

And

"The Crown of Sight" by David V. Stewart


Check it out today! It should be on amazon for free soon and I will update this post with the link when it is. [UPDATE: it is live! For now it is for free at book funnel. So please get it for free there

In other news, I can now officially announce something else new. I have officially become part of yet another anthology!

Preorder Here!

Remember the Planetary Anthology? My story, The Cold Heart of Ouranos, is in the Uranus volume, and can be found here. But that won't be the only story I have in the series!

For the next five months, Tuscany Bay will be re-releasing the old Superversive Press editions of the old anthologies (Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, and Jupiter), some with new stories, before coming back around for the final three volumes. Out last will be Sol, Neptune, and Saturn.

I can now announce that my story, Judgement Sun, will be in the upcoming Sol Planetary Anthology from Tuscany Bay! This one won't be out until the end of the year, but preorders are out now for it and some of the authors in it are names you will get excited for. 

My tale is one I worked hard on. I can't wait for you to read this story. It is one of my favorites that I've written and I was hoping it could come out in this anthology. Thanks go to Richard Paolinelli and Tuscany Bay for resurrecting this series!

As said before, much praise should go to author Richard Paolinelli for rescuing the project and bringing it to fruition. Both authors and readers have really enjoyed these projects are are happy to see them continue, I am merely one voice in a crowd. By 2021, this years in the making project will finally have been completed at 11 volumes. I look forward to seeing what the final list of contributors will look like when it is finished. Guaranteed it will be surprisingly large!

But that isn't everything.

The newsletter treat I promised at the start of the year is on the way! My editor returned edits to me and I am about halfway through the notes. The cover art I commissioned is being made as we speak. By April I should have news for subscribers on what it is and when it'll be out. The best news? It will be free! My readers only deserve the best, and I wanted to give them a treat for sticking with me for so long now.

This going to be a doozy, so sign up ahead of time!

That is all for this week. I apologize for not having a larger more involved post, and for being a bit late, but my mind has been preoccupied with current happenings and personal issues unfolding from said happenings. Next week should be back to normal for the blog. Until then, enjoy this free book with a swath of excellent stories.

There's still plenty of adventure to be had out there, and more is on the way! The grey skies are going to break, just wait it out.

What's coming will be better than you can imagine!




Thursday, March 12, 2020

Horror Heaven


Today I would like to talk a bit about horror fiction. It isn't brought up much on this blog because my knowledge on the subject isn't too vast, but I have been reading a bit about it recently and would like to share some observations. This is because horror, like just about everything else, isn't doing so hot these days. Though I suppose that isn't much of a surprise.

Horror used to be a force to be reckoned with back in the day. Even before it was a staple of the pulps it went back far into Gothic and Poe and into the classic fairy tales. But it was in the 20th century with its heavy reliance on visuals and the newly emerging cinema scene that it truly became a behemoth. When the horrors can be seen it tends to add a layer of realism to the proceedings. No wonder that it grew so large in such a relatively short time.

Throughout the '70s and '80s, and into the early '90s, the genre which had once been a staple of the Gothic flavored Weird Tales, and other such creepy places, had blown up thanks to the advent of books and movies such as The Exorcist, Rosemary's Baby, and The Omen. Evil was here, it is visceral, and it was going to get you! Considering the '70s were such a time of despair, it makes all too much sense that this sort of horror would appeal to the audiences. These movies helped show there was a sinister force in the dark hoping to make you miserable. It gave context for what made no sense on the outside. Anyone back then could relate to them and how they were filtered through the strange times around them.

I never grew up caring for horror. It might have been because the most popular form of horror when I was a kid was the slasher movie, which is a subgenre I still don't like all too much. Horror that focuses on gore is almost as bad as an adventure story that focuses on graphics sex: it's hardly the point of telling a story to begin with. I want to be unsettled at a world gone wrong that needs to be righted, not read long passages intimately describing torn flesh and broken bones before having an ending where everyone dies pointlessly.

That's all just gore and senseless violence. Horror is more than that.

What a good horror tale should do is a serve as a warning. The best of these stories focus on a character (hero or villain) breaking a taboo or rule and the consequences that spring from it. Everything is no longer as it should be because of this disturbance. The genre serves as a way to show what happens when what works and what is right is thrown away from that which doesn't, and results that spin out from that decision a character makes. It's about the importance of rules in a strong society, and how breaking them leads to destruction. All the best horror does this in at least some fashion, even if not obvious.

Horror needs heart. That is what gives it its power to shock and surprise.

As a result this makes it less of a genre and more of a theme. Horror can invade an adventure, it can appear in a mystery, and it can show itself in a romance. It can be any length from flash fiction to tome. It can come and go at the author's discretion. In other words, it is very flexible.

In fact, it was once tied together with what is called science fiction and fantasy in a mega-genre mashup where the author could emphasize any part of this behemoth they wished in order to tell their stories. The purest form of genre fiction bounces between elements of each to tell their tales of wonder. Not to mention there are the dark fantasies of fairy tales and myths from centuries upon centuries ago. But I've already gone over this before.

Fairy tales and legends also relied on rock solid morality. How can it not? It relies on the audience sharing an understanding of right and wrong that transcends what happens on the page or screen. Morality is what makes the difference between good and bad horror, and it is why so much of it no longer hits the mark. Author Misha Burnett once said the author's look on good and evil is what ends up changing the entire work. I agree with him.

He says:

"The main problem that I see with Stephen King in particular and modern horror in general is an inability to write a Good that deserves to conquer Evil. 
"The modern horror protagonist is, at best, less bad than the monsters. In the more splatterpunk side of the genre, the protagonist is not even that–he’s just the one who ends up with the bigger gun at the end of the day. 
"This is not to say that a horror hero must be a saint, but simply that the things for which the hero is fighting–the security of his home and family, the safety of the population in general, or even just his own life–should be acknowledged to be not just his own preferences, but objectively worthwhile. 
"Moral relativism nerfs horror. If Joe is trying to stay alive and Blargdor is trying to kill him, the author should take a stand and say, “Joe is right to want to live and Blardor is wrong to want to kill him.” 
"Instead, modern horror writers rely on increasingly gruesome depictions of violence and cruelty to try to awaken the reader’s sense of moral outrage. 
"It is from that sense of moral outrage that the horror genre gets its power. A hurricane can kill people and destroy property on a great scale, but a hurricane is not a monster. (Granted, you can write a ripping yarn about people trapped in the path of a hurricane and struggling to survive, but it’s not horror.) 
"To be monstrous, the antagonist must be not merely hazardous, but also wrong. Wrong in an objective sense–Something That Should Not Be. 
"It is in the deliberate fostering of a sense of injustice that a writer invokes true horror.
"Killing a monster has to more than personal survival, it must be in itself a morally positive act. 
"Injustice, however, requires an objective standard of justice to be measured against, and that is something that few modern horror writers are willing to portray."

This is why those stories of the 1970s broke out so big. It also had to do with the rising knowledge of satanic cults (believe it or not, they exist) and hangover from the tumultuous 1960s. People wanted to know what it was that was under the floorboards and hiding in their backyard. Who were the ones disturbing things and destroying the status quo? Why had things gotten so crazy?

These are questions horror can answer, and they can do it with imagination and wonder. You can fond solace in the unsettling.

Due to the success and rise of horror, pulp storytelling began to make a comeback in the 1970s. Much has been written about the sword and sorcery boom (horror is all over those) and even darker sf (the new wave was still on and had its own horror bent), but outside of the horror aficionados no one else really talks about horror's big boom. That might have to do with how little of it sticks with mainstream audiences these days, and hasn't for a while.

I know horror built itself a reputation as being about blood, guts, and dismemberment, something it was never really focused on before the 20th century, but that is only surface level. The best horror is about more than that. It must have been big if it lasted up until the early '90s (hmm) while fantasy and science fiction had died out sooner, and the classics fell out of print during this same period (more on this later). How did horror last so long?

'80s Horror is still looked back on as fondly as action movies from that time. Clearly there was a renaissance that stuck with audiences.

But then, like everything else, it flatlined in the '90s. Now horror is relegated to specialized indie publishers and random short story anthologies. You won't find much from Oldpub these days. They are all in on thrillers, and have been for over a quarter of a century. But for awhile horror was the cock of the walk.

One book that went into this explosion was Paperbacks from Hell by author Grady Hendrix. This is a work covering that strange period of horror fiction between the '70s and the early '90s up to when Oldpub began to die and flushed out its classic genres and midlist. It's a highly engaging book, and well worth reading, if you can find it.

I personally read the kindle version. Either way you find it, it is worth the read.


The book in question

I have to say I was surprised with the scope of this book! The author does not skimp on details. Himself a fan of obscure paperbacks from the time period, Mr. Hendrix didn't really know much about them before beginning the book in question.

"The books I love were published during the horror paperback boom that started in the late ’60s, after Rosemary’s Baby hit the big time. Their reign of terror ended in the early ’90s, after the success of Silence of the Lambs convinced marketing departments to scrape the word horror off spines and glue on the word thriller instead. Like The Little People, these books had their flaws, but they offered such wonders. When’s the last time you read about Jewish monster brides, sex witches from the fourth dimension, flesh-eating moths, homicidal mimes, or golems stalking Long Island? Divorced from current trends in publishing, these out-of-print paperbacks feel like a breath of fresh air."

What Mr. Hendrix experienced is called "wonder", and it was a staple of the pulp-inspired fiction he was reading. It is about more than a mentally ill nihilist stabbing innocent people in back alleys and empty apartments. You don't get this sort of thing out of your common thriller.

You can see the same love of over-sized and large ideas from the pulps in his description, not unlike Jeffro Johnson writing about Appendix N in his own work. In today's stale Oldpub market of checkbox fiction, looking to the past is like being transported to a whole new dimension. It is a window into a world that literally does not exist anymore.

It is an intriguing development seeing so many people eager to look to the past to understand the decrepit state what they love is currently in. There has been quite the change over the last few years, and I don't suspect it will change any time soon.

Myself being one that grew up scrounging for anything good to read, it is always an annoyance reading these sorts of genre history books. If Mr. Johnson and Mr. Hendrix had been around when I was younger I might have been a much more voracious reader in my youth. I simply never found anything like these books when I was a boy which added a distaste for reading I never wanted. It is curious how many others were chased from reading due to these same issues.

But at least we can take these lessons forward now.

"The book you’re holding is a road map to the horror Narnia I found hidden in the darkest recesses of remote bookstores—a weird, wild, wonderful world that feels totally alien today, and not just because of the trainloads of killer clowns."

Being written before the politically correct '90s will do that. You simply aren't "allowed" to do that anymore. Even the worst fiction from that time is at least interesting due to avoiding needless rules that were tacked on by those who wished to control discourse and the flow of language by dismissing opponents with empty buzzwords instead of arguing or discussing anything. And because the work was so popular, editorial interference did not appear to affect it to the same level as, say, men's adventure. It was free to do what it wanted.

But now they all share the same shelves in used book stores. That is, if the shop carries them at all. And books outside of their designated shops? No chance of that. The drugstore paperback rack no longer exists.

"Though they may be consigned to dusty dollar boxes, these stories are timeless in the way that truly matters: they will not bore you. Thrown into the rough-and-tumble marketplace, the writers learned they had to earn every reader’s attention. And so they delivered books that move, hit hard, take risks, go for broke. It’s not just the covers that hook your eyeballs. It’s the writing, which respects no rules except one: always be interesting."

Welcome to the pulp revolution. This is what we want. I do not presume that Mr. Hendrix would want to be part of such a thing, but his excitement in discovering lost treasure is what started that very movement to begin with. We all wish to recover this strange energy lost to time in trying to please everyone and thereby ultimately satisfying no one.

We want it all, and we're going to make and take it!

However, while genre fiction was beginning to split into narrow categories and dwindling sales, horror remained rather locked in to where it needed to be. There was no John W. Campbell or his cronies trying to tamper and place rules on something that had none.

Mr. Hendrix shares an interesting tidbit about 1960s horror:

"But if horror movies and television shows were stuck in the ’50s, horror publishing was trapped in the ’30s. While mainstream publishers were on fire with books like Truman Capote’s chilling true-crime shocker In Cold Blood, Jacqueline Susann’s titillating Valley of the Dolls, and Joseph Heller’s Catch-22, the horror genre was taking its cues from the pulps of yesteryear. These books rarely even used the word horror on covers, instead offering “eerie adventure,” “chilling adventure,” “tales of the unexpected,” and “stories of the weird.” Even the work of Shirley Jackson, the empress of American horror fiction, was sold with covers that made her books look like gothic romances.
"It’s not that people weren’t buying books. After crashing in the 1950s, the paperback market surged back less than a decade later when college students turned Ballantine’s paperback editions of The Lord of the Rings into a zeitgeist-sized hit. Bantam Books reprinted pulp adventures of Doc Savage from the ’30s and ’40s, adding lush, photorealistic, fully painted covers by James Bama. And there was an early-’60s “Burroughs Boom” when publishers discovered that twenty-eight of Edgar Rice Burroughs’s books had fallen into the public domain. Suddenly, thirty-year-old Tarzan and John Carter of Mars novels were hitting stands, with new covers painted by Frank Frazetta and Richard Powers, alongside Conan reprints.
"Yet for all that activity, horror appeared nowhere on best-seller lists. Horror was for children. It was pulp. If it was any good, it couldn’t possibly be horror and so was rebranded as a “thrilling tale.” Horror seemed to have no future because it was trapped in the past. That was all about to change, and already there were signs that something was stirring. They were found in the romance section of the bookstore."

So you're telling me Weird Tales was still so popular even more than a decade after its shuttering? That is odd. I was told it had little to no effect on genre fiction by those writing genre fiction history books, if they felt it worth mentioning it at all. But this is quite an interesting nugget of information. Just as nothing was sold as "science fiction" or "fantasy", nothing was sold as "horror" either. It was all "adventure" and "weird" fiction.

Nonetheless, these books had Gothic covers because Gothic was an invaluable part of the horror experience for centuries, and it still is. The danger of the soul crossing invisible, but existing and real, boundaries is simply more in depth than simply being killed. This is the "weird" that makes weird fiction so very interesting. This is how Gothic romance stayed alive so long after Weird Menace quite nearly killed horror for good.

It is easy to forget, but as Ron Goulart mentioned in his History of the Pulps, Weird Menace was an embarrassment. It stripped the mystery and wonder of horror to focus on violence and debauchery instead. It didn't last. Much like Splatterpunk itself didn't, though that came along much later.

Remember that the original Splatterpulps, Weird Menace, were such a flash in the pan and so hated that almost none of it was reprinted even now over half a century since the death of the pulps. Even horror aficionados have never gone on record wanting it back or begging for reprints. This is the sort of junk that kept horror held back as being looked at as "for kids" for a long time. Just as the pulps were looked at as kid stuff, even when a quick read of any would reveal that was not the case, horror suffered the same fate.

When scolds tell you what you like is amoral junk with nothing of value beneath the surface there is little point in setting about to prove them right. It never ends well, but it is simply a lesson we have to learn again and again.


Still, the stigma stuck for decades.

With the death of the pulps in the 1950s, paperbacks had to be the ones to carry these wonder stories over into this new era. It only stands to reason that this form would continue well into the 1970s. Weird Menace was dead, but Gothic chills remained. How do you carry that to a new audience raised on an even steadier diet of visual media? You have to work on the image. This decade is when horror showed it could be a cultural force.

One last point on Gothic romance before I move on. I once said that the pulps tied together modern genre fiction with classic writings. Mr Hendrix agrees:

"Between 1960 and 1974, thousands of these covers appeared on paperback racks as gothic romances became the missing link between the gothic literature of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries and the paperback horror of the ’70s and ’80s."

Just remember the next time someone mentions the pulps were an aberration that needed its influence wiped out. They were anything but an anomaly.

This is a tradition that stretches back before the hopeless and empty modernism of today's fiction. The roots are deeper. It is far more classical focused, and obsessed with higher things. It all links together to form a much bigger picture.

This is where wonder comes from.

"Gothic romances seeded readers’ imaginations for the horror boom that was on the horizon. Brooding, shadowy mysteries were relocated to the domestic sphere, turning every home into a haunted castle and every potential bride into a potential victim. The blood of the resilient gothic heroine would flow in the veins of ’70s and ’80s heroines fighting to save their souls from Satan, or were-sharks. And were-sharks were coming. Because over on the other side of the bookrack, pulp fiction was getting interested in the occult."

The occult obsession in pop culture is not one dwelt on much, for obvious reasons. It's uncomfortable. But starting in the 1960s, interest in satanism (whether ironic or not, it really doesn't matter) grew to a fever pitch. Cult activity began to be a reality from Charles Manson and the strange happenings in Laurel Canyon up to the forming of the Church of Satan. The hippie movement's government ties and secret experiments provided fodder for stories from those just trying to figure out what was going on in this wacky decade.

There was more to it than the Beatles and what the television allowed you to see, and the public was starting to understand as much.

The 1970s carried this fear forward in an awkward way. Drug use and urban decay only exacerbated and the kooky cult activity began to be seeing eerie results from the Son of Sam and the Carr brothers that continued all the way up to the 1980s with the Chicago Ripper Crew and even the 1990s with The Kroth. There are more real stories than these including the Night Stalker Richard Ramirez and the seemingly random matriarchal murder by Jonathan Cantero. 27 members of the Order of the Solar Temple were found dead within hours of each other. There are many such examples that sprung from the 1960s to the current day. These were real things that were happening, no matter what the sex perverts with CIA ties who formed the False Memory Foundation told you. Things were happening that made no sense, and people wanted to make sense of it.

This rise in disturbing activity meant the populace needed answers. Where did all this evil come from? How do you make sense of it?

Enter horror.


Horror is a good place to help make sense of it all. We can use the disturbances of the supernatural to allow us a lens to see this odd world around us. Things might be bad, but there are forces at work higher (and lower) than you understand. Somehow, despite the strange chaos, there is a point to it all. But are you brave enough to see it through?

This is what made horror so big. At least, it worked that way for awhile.

As society became more and more disheveled and broken down, horror became more interested in evil for evil's sake. Movies that exist solely for showing dumb people dying, books that go into graphic detail about cooked human flesh and over-descriptive blood drinking, and stories where the villain gets everything they want and wins in the end with no consequences became more and more common. That's not horror, that's just a bunch of things happening for no reason ending with nothing mattering at all. That is the opposite of giving purpose, and it is what lead to the genre's downfall.

Horror eventually succumbed to cultural rot just like everything else did. It was not for anything but the glory of death and the hatred of hope.

By the '90s publishers switched over to thrillers because they no longer needed the supernatural. If you require mindless murdering and spilled guts then why do you need mythical monsters and ancient evils to perform it? Much easier to cut out the middleman and entice Hollywood studios to buy your book to make movies with lower budgets. You can also write an easier formula if you don't have to be creative in thinking up kooky monsters or events. Just stick it in the flaccid "real world" that the boring types love so much.

What do you need horror for anymore?

And there was no answer for this. If horror is just about mindless carnage then why can't the supernatural be stripped out of it? You can get just as much savagery with a crazed loon like Ted Bundy than a demon witch summoned from the fourth dimension to steal a hated sister's baby. If all you want is spilled blood then you don't need wonder any more. And they didn't.

That this change happened so quick and so easily that no one noticed for decades afterwards should prove how off the rails horror had gotten so suddenly. I was as if they turned around and realized that the horror shelves were now barren. Where did it go?

What made the occult terrifying wasn't that it would murder you: it was that it sought to subvert and destroy normality by spinning everything backwards on on its head and infecting the innocent in its wake. In a climate where normality was slowly dying, no one could tell the difference between the good and the bad, and therefore horror lost its bearings. See how many modern horror stories are about "tortured outsiders" or horror nerds instead of normal people facing disturbing and outlandish events in their lives. "Normal" people are regularly spat on instead. It no longer became about appreciating the rules that kept the normal as it was, or about celebrating the common man, it became about hating normality and looking up to the disturbed instead.

The point of the Weird Tale had long since been forgotten, and in its place was a wacky, cartoonish inversion.

Horror isn't supposed to hate people: it's supposed to love them. That is what makes conquering that which threatens them exciting. We want things to be set right again, and we want the horrible monster to fail. That is why horror loves rules so much: it wants people to follow them. If you don't? This is the mess you get in its place. You lose everything, and it's so much worse than merely losing your life.

This is partially why horror started from a religious POV. Higher things, rules, and clear defined stakes. Horror needs a structured playpen where it can then be free to play within its walls to its heart's content. Since it's about rules it only stands to reason that it needs them to function properly. Everything does.

When it lost the rules, everything else followed.

As a result of this nonsensical change, by the '90s publishers had begun to dump aspiring authors, cutting off careers before they could even get off the ground and began pushing into thriller territory instead. They no longer needed horror, because horror had written its own self out of the picture. And nothing has changed on that end since the early '90s.

This change was exacerbated by the fact that the big boys in Oldpub bought up every independent throughout the 1980s. Per Mr. Hendrix's book:

"Small horror imprints had flourished in the ’70s, but in the ’80s the big publishers gobbled them up. Penguin acquired Grosset & Dunlap and Playboy Press, setting off a trend that snowballed into an extinction-level event by decade’s end. Once they had eaten the little guys, big publishers flooded the market with their own paperback original imprints, like Spectra, Onyx, Pinnacle, and Overlook."

When they decided horror was dead that meant it was dead. There was nothing you could do about it. The supernatural and the weird was "over", and now it was time for "realism" to shine. It has been "shining" since.

But there was more to it. A sledgehammer was taken to the industry that ended up irreparably harming books as a whole. The midlist, and potential industry growth in the process, was hobbled over night. The industry would never be the same again.

The Thor Power Tool Co. case is responsible for this change. Here is a description of the case from the book for those who might not be familiar with it.

"There was nothing the ’80s respected more than blockbuster success, and only brand names—V.C. Andrews, Anne Rice, Stephen King—would survive the decade. Blockbuster books permanently changed the publishing landscape, and it was all thanks to power tools.
"The Thor Power Tool Co. case of 1979 radically changed how books were sold. This U.S. Supreme Court decision upheld the Internal Revenue Service’s rule that companies could no longer “write down,” or lower the value of, unsold inventory. Previously, publishers pulped about 45 percent of their annual inventory, but that still left them with warehouses full of midlist novels that had steady but unspectacular sales. The pressure to sell quickly was off because publishers could list the value of the unsold inventory far below the books’ cover price. After the Thor decision, these books were valued at full cover price, eliminating the tax write-off. Suddenly, the day of the midlist novel was over. Paperbacks were given six weeks on the racks to find an audience, then it was off to the shredder. A successful book now had to sell blockbuster numbers. And manufacturing blockbusters took a team, starting with the blurb writer, who created the breathlessly enthusiastic marketing copy for the back cover. Then the marketing department came up with flashy gimmicks to help each book stand out in a crowded field. Publishers gave out porcelain roses, perfume, and garters bearing the names of their latest romances."

Bye, bye, midlist. Now it was all about chasing the dragon of cheap cost for maximum profit in a short time frame. It was time to focus on being safe and finding hidden algorithms in public taste. Eventually that meant softening content to cast a wider net. Nothing is safer and more predictable than the thriller genre.

In case you haven't realized, Oldpub is still focused on thrillers to this day as their bread and butter. They have never shifted gears since. Nothing has changed in over 25 years.

And that is why we are where we are.

This loss of identity is one horror readers have been lamenting for some time. Here is a recent video from In Praise of Shadows talking about this loss of identity in something that used to have a very obvious one. It's not a very long video, so please give it a watch before continuing. There are many good points he brings up.




Apparently more authors and smaller publishers are noticing this dearth of content in the older horror vein. Newer authors have begun deliberately going back to the classic horror well. Companies like Valancourt Books have begun even offering special reprints of mass market paperbacks using Paperbacks from Hell as a brand.

This series takes old pulp horror novels from the above time period and reprints them using either the old covers, or covers not too dissimilar from what would be printed back then. As a result, they have created a classics line of obscure books highlighting exactly what the modern fiction world has been missing for some time. It's a mini-revolution.

This is a masterful move that gives focus to a neglected era of book publishing. Perhaps more readers can now see what they missed out on. The line is currently in its second wave with more to follow. There is some interesting material in there.

One such novel from this series is Nightblood by T. Chris Martindale, a writer who got his start on a choose your own adventure style series before getting the chance to write his own. This was an author with potential who worked his way up. He wanted to write the same sort of horror stories he and his brothers grew up on, and for his first big book pulled out all the stops.

The result s a story that would never see print today outside of Newpub:


From the book

Martindale's story of being an author is heartbreaking, as it is one of an author in the wrong place at the wrong time. He did his job, but that wouldn't be enough. He would never get the support he deserved to reach an audience he should have had.

Because Nightblood was published in 1990, he had a rough go of it and the same happened with the other three of his four standalone horror books. Horror was being faded out, even in 1990. He had a two book deal, including Nightblood, but never had the chance to write a sequel for it. His next novel was dumped on store shelves without promotion, and that was that. He was on his own.

Thankfully he had another two book deal with another publisher, but they were no better. The books were given bad covers and quietly released without any push in 1993 and '94. He was left floating in a stream without any paddle. He wrote the best books he could, but it was too late to matter. They decided horror was done. Publishers wouldn't do their jobs.

By 1994 no one wanted to do horror anymore, and he had nowhere left to go. He quit being an author and moved on to other things in frustration. What else could he do? There were no other options at the time if the publishers decided you weren't writing the correct books. So a promising career was cut short by editors and money men who decided to throw out the baby with the bathwater. The 20th century sure was the century of the editor above all else when it came to writing.

The men in charge decided that horror was out, so it was out. Who were you to disagree? The genre was dismantled almost overnight and those who like horror, and those who wanted to write it, simply didn't matter anymore. Stories of wonder, light against dark, and wild ideas of the supernatural, were out. Now it was about sterilized fear and rewrites of true crime fiction instead. Those wild and free ideas were finished.

The 1990s had decreed that imagination was outdated.


The re-release looks just like the original

Now even heavyweights such as Stephen King and Dean Koontz primarily write in the thriller vein and are given promotion as such. No one else will ever reach their level, no matter what they write. That door has been shut, locked, and the key thrown away. Whatever is left from when the genre was at peak popularity is all but gone from the old publishing world now.

Should there be a horror revolution, it's going to need to return to its roots and start from there. The age of Oldpub is over, and now it is the age of those with a PulpRev spirit: those who will break genre boundaries and bring back the focus and purpose that has been lost over the years. In other words, horror needs an attempt to move past the dead end state of fiction by returning to where it went wrong and taking a right turn instead. Lean into the wonder and the imagination. What else do you have to lose?

It's not about pretending the last however-many years didn't happen, it is about keeping that bad path in mind while forging ahead on better paths instead. This is how you move on: you learn from the past to move towards a better future.

Horror points to heaven, where the horrible and the unjust show where the good and the wondrous lie instead. It isn't meant to be about navel-gazing or mindless self-indulgence, but about connecting with readers and showing shared standards we can all believe in. Evil is evil, good is good, and one is definitely preferred over the other.

We're on the right track. The slow death of Oldpub and the explosive growth of Newpub shows just as much. Things are changing, and it's about time.

The '20s are going to be an interesting decade, and we're only just getting started! The revolution is here, and it isn't stopping anytime soon.