Steven's bookshelf: read

The Big Kiss-Off
4 of 5 stars
Cade Cain has spent the last two years as a POW in Korea when the war ends and he returns to his home town in Bay Parrish Louisiana that he hasn't been back to in 12 years. His wife divorced him while he was a POW and is affiliated with ...
More Good Old Stuff
3 of 5 stars
A companion to The Good Old Stuff and the last of the stories JDM deemed worth of rescuing from the pulp magazine archives. All vintage 1946-1949, and with equal parts brilliance and warts, as you'd expect from a writer first learning hi...
The Cheaters
3 of 5 stars
The Sleaze-Noir label is kind of funny, but I like it, and this is a fun sleazy read about a guy who buys a bar to get rich running a string of hookers and also to get his hands on the 40DDs of the wife of the guy he bought the bar from....
Damned to Fame: The Life of Samuel Beckett
3 of 5 stars
At 800 pages and 8 pounds (is that a tree?) this book is physically imposing, not to mention it has Beckett's grizzled mug on the cover. If the personal biographical details are your thing, you'll find plenty here (Becket fought in the r...
Raymond Carver: An Oral Biography
4 of 5 stars
Aside from the expected juicy biographical details from his "Bad Raymond" days, there are some amazing insights into his writing from a bunch of his writer friends: Richard Ford, Tobias and Geoffrey Wolff, Stephen Dobyns, Jay McInerny, e...
The Red Hot Typewriter: The Life and Times of John D. MacDonald
5 of 5 stars
Hadn't expected to blaze through this in an afternoon but it was compelling. Because MacDonald's writing career began in the pulp magazines - when starting out he wrote 800,000 words in the first four months and received over 1,000 rejec...
Switch Bitch
3 of 5 stars
Kind of funny to read all the reviews from people who grew up with Dahl's children's books and then read this book. His rakish characters and writing style in this one reminds me quite a bit of George MacDonald Fraser's Flashman series, ...
Hard-Boiled Sentimentality: The Secret History of American Crime Stories
5 of 5 stars
I've been reading and re-reading this book for a month now and think it is a quite important work, not just on crime fiction, but of literary criticism in general. At the beginning I was skeptical about the connection between hard-boiled...
What If? : Writing Exercises for Fiction Writers
5 of 5 stars
Used this when I taught creative writing courses. Much more approachable for beginners than Gardner.
Wild Wives
4 of 5 stars
This is a fast-paced archetypal noir. Reads more like a treatment for screenplay and I'm surprised this one was never made into a movie, because it has all the classic 1950s noir elements. The opening scene, though, with the girl with th...

Paperback Writer

The Beatles nailed the sentiment with their song Paperback Writer: “It’s a dirty story of a dirty man . . . but I need a break and I want to be a paperback writer.” Ah, the dream to write pulp fiction at a penny a word!

One of the things I find most amazing about that era of pulp fiction writing is the speed with which those writers wrote those novels. Robert Silverberg, for example, says:

Each book took me exactly six days. One chapter of 16-18 pages before lunch, one of 16-18 pages after lunch, 12 chapters and 212 pages in all.

 And then here’s Donald Westlake on his process:

This typewriter uses the smaller size type, elite type; and five thousand words in elite type runs 15 pages. My manuscripts are exactly one hundred fifty pages long. My chapters exactly fifteen pages long. I do one chapter a day for ten consecutive days and there’s another book. So I work an average of four hours a day when doing a book.

That’s 1,250 words an hour. Nothing to it. But how about Gil Brewer, who frequently wrote his 60,000 word novels in five days! That’s 12,000 words a day. A thousand words an hour for 12 hours. And then there’s John D. MacDonald who in the first four months after he started writing for the pulps cranked out 800,000 words. A paltry 6,000 words per day! He wrote from 8 to 5 every day, with a lunch break. Orrie Hitt, who blitzed out 150 pulp novels, wrote from 7 to 4 every day with a twenty-minute break for lunch.

Penny a word, or less, as some of the novels were sold for $300 initially. And perhaps harder to imagine in our computer age, with easy cut and paste revision, is that these guys pounded out their books on manual typewriters! (Guess we must have two generations of writers now who’ve never had that experience of writing on manual typewriter). One can suppose that once the manuscripts were delivered to the publisher there was some editing and proofreading, but a pulp publisher wouldn’t put up with too much of that as it cut into the profit margins. So the kings of the pulps were the writers who learned how to write both fast and well.

How did they do that? What techniques must you master to produce 5,000 words of high quality prose a day, prose that does not require revising, prose that is ready to go as you type the words? What would your writing process have to be like to write like that? It’s something I’m working on.


Best of the Web 2010

Dzanc Books has announced the selections for Best of the Web 2010 and I'm excited my story When A Furnace Is All That Remains is among the selections. Thanks to Necessary Fiction editor Steve Himmer for publishing the story, and to Best of the Web series editor Matt Bell and this year's editor Kathy Fish for all their great work assembling this year's anthology and all the work they do to promote online literature. Congratulations also to the four STORYGLOSSIA contributors who also have stories selected for Best of the Web 2010:

Ravi Mangla - Arggh Luxury Cruises: An Authentic Pirate Adventure

Angi Becker Stevens - Ghosts and Monsters

Anne Valente - To A Place Where We Take Flight

Angela Woodward - A Companion Text to Modernity and Self Identity