Monday, November 14, 2011

NaNoWriMo: Gettin' pulpy with it


As many of you might already know, November is National Novel Writing Month.  NaNoWriMo as it is affectionately known in shorthand to writers.  It's a contest of sorts but you're not competing for a prize of any kind other than achievement and there's a reason for that.
You see, we writers are a funny lot.  Many of us claim to love to write...and we do...but you'd be surprised how adept we can become at avoiding it.  Often times, we need an impetus such as an impending deadline or other such mandate to force us to knuckle down and just do it.  NaNoWriMo is just that, the challenge to write 50,000 words towards a novel between November 1st. and 30th.

I thought I had it all figured out.  I knew what my NaNoWriMo book would be this year.  It would be a serious, psychological, statement-filled novel about the second coming of Christ and exploring contemporary America through that lens.  I had already begun to chisel out characters when another idea tugged at me.  It was garish, gaudy, sexy, action-packed, and basically the literary equivalent to a bowl of Cap'n Crunch.  I could write it easily, but who the hell would publish it?  Or want to read it?  Astounded as I was, I legitimately found myself torn between the two concepts during the last week of October.

"Have you ever written just for fun?" my wife asked me.
"I don't follow you," I replied, genuinely bewildered.
"Have you ever written something with no thought to if it could be published, if it follows all the advice from the gurus in Writers Digest, or if it would be accepted in the fiction writing classes in your Masters program?" she asked.

Honestly, I have not written like that in probably 22 years.
My germinal idea was a pulp story.  Pulp stories were mass market novels and magazines published primarily in the 1930s.  They were called "pulps" because they were printed on cheap, rough paper and sold for five or ten cents a copy while most other publications ran around a quarter per.  The stories were crafted...and yes I do mean "crafted"...to both titillate and to entertain.  The subject matter was often lurid by the standards of the day and even exploitative, crossing into every imaginable genre.  
As for a strict definition of "pulp," good luck.  Like most terms in art, definitions are slippery, wily things to pin down.  One of the best descriptions of pulps that I've heard came from a quasi-fictional source.  In Paul Malmont's The Chinatown Death Cloud Peril, one of the characters is real-life pulp writer, Lester Dent.  On page 16, Dent says of pulp:
"Of course there's blood, cruelty, fear, mystery, vengeance, heroes, and villains.  That's just a good foundation.  To make true pulp, really great stomach-churning, white-knuckle, turn-your-hair-white pulp, you have to fill it with a pack of outright lies.  Secret identities and disguises...Superweapons, global schemes, hideous deaths, Cliff-hanging escapes.  These are the packs of lies you won't find in any slick or glossy literary hardcover bestseller.  Horrors from beyond the grave.  Lost lands.  Overwhelming odds.  Impossible heroics.  Unflagging courage."

Yep.  Pretty much everything that contemporary literary types and postmodernists condemn, keeping aback from the yellowed, printed pages as if the text carried bubonic plague.  But take a look at the names of a few famous characters who came from these fascicles: The Shadow, Doc Savage, Tarzan, Conan the Barbarian, and more hardboiled detectives than you could shake a lit cigarette at.  What's more, the pulps never went away.  They're still with us in characters such as Indiana Jones and The Rocketeer.  They're still being written today with Christa Faust being probably the greatest writer of the bunch.  There are still people writing to entertain.

There's that word I've been conditioned to have an artistic aversion to: entertainment.  It somehow has become synonymous with 1980s glam metal, complete with Aqua Net hair, Spandex, and copious amounts of pyro.
That is how I'm writing this November.  And it has made all the difference.

It's an especially tough time at the day job right now.  We're all working overtime and 18 hours days are not uncommon with 16 hours additional on the weekend.  Thankfully, I get to go home, boot my computer, and play.  That's right, play.  I use the blank page as my playroom and I get out all the toys I want to play with: ninjas, secret societies, cowboys, Batman-like technology, military aircraft, action, guns, fire, hard cases out for revenge, car crashes, and women who are hot on a pornstar level.  

Sophomoric?  Juvenile?  Oh you bet.  But it's fun.  And should anyone read this pulp one day, that is what I hope for...that they have fun.
Somehow, I think that's all the original pulp writers really wanted as well.
Well, that and a paycheck.


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