“So you just write pulp stuff, huh?"
He who posed that question to me clearly meant it as at least a mild insult. The inclusion of the word ‘just’ proved that. And I was a trifle annoyed by its implication that I was indulging in some sort of literary slumming.
I have since concluded, however, that 1) the statement was true and 2) I’m perfectly okay with that. Yeah, I write pulp fiction – noir fiction specifically, stories filled with dark characters and deeds with no guarantee that good will triumph in the end, stories about flawed people in desperate situations resorting to acts society claims to frown upon, but winks at when it suits society’s purpose.
And I’m in damn good company. Dashiell Hammet, Jim Thompson, Raymond Chandler, H.P. Lovecraft, Ray Bradbury, Max Brand, Michael Crichton, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Robert Heinlein, John Grisham – pulp writers all. They cross just about every literary border – hard-boiled crime, fantasy and sci-fi, horror, Westerns, and every style from terse and earthy, (Thompson) to poetically elegant (Bradbury).
What a pulp author aspires to is readability – a yarn well told. That means interesting characters, brisk pacing and an exciting, if not always plausible, plot. Sure, if a real John Carter were suddenly transported, naked, to Mars, he wouldn’t meet the beautiful Dejah Thoris. He’d meet an agonizing death in a handful of minutes. Not much grounds for a story in that. So Burroughs made up his own Mars – a much more interesting place.
Pulp fiction isn’t about reality. For the most part, it’s about providing readers a means by which to escape reality, at least for little while. And that is a perfectly honorable thing to provide.
I’m not disparaging serious, literary writing. But it’s frequently no great fun to read and, in my experience, no fun at all to write.
I have an honors degree in Philosophy, so I’m very well acquainted with works that are deep, difficult and tedious. I even set out to write a ‘serious’ novel. The manuscript stops in the middle of a scene at page 292 because I simply got sick and tired of it. If writing it was boring the hell out of me, why would anyone want to read it?
In reality, Old West gunfights were usually ambushes, private eyes rarely, if ever, solve murders, Cthullu (mercifully) doesn’t exist, and the average cop never fires his weapon at a bad guy over the course of a lifetime career.
Life is more often about things that don’t happen than those that do. So we are all Walter Mitty, imagining worlds that, for us, will never exist – worlds most commonly found on today’s digital equivalent of cheap paper between cardboard covers.
Yeah, I just write the pulp stuff. Hope you enjoy it.