Friday, July 18, 2014

Giants among us

I was recently hunting down more vintage paperbacks (not an unusual thing for me) and musing on how great it would have been to rub shoulders with the men and women of the classic pulp age (also not unusual). I'd leave Chandler in the bar and go talk ink ribbons and broken underwood keys with the likes of William Ard, Harry Whittington, Day Keene, Margaret Millar, William P. McGivern, Lionel White, W.R. Burnett, Dorothy B. Hughes. The list goes on.

Then a thought struck me - modern day giants walk among us. Writers who have been publishing for decades and came up in an age when those paperback heroes were beginning their rides off into the sunset. They crossed paths, met and mingled, learned tricks of the trade from the originals. There are links to this black and white world who still write, still pump out words by the thousands. I don't want to make them feel too long in the tooth, but I felt like I was spending too much of my adulation and appreciation on writers who were dead and gone. Yes, the words live on, but how many of these pulp hacks ever got the recognition they deserved in their day? Maybe some, probably not enough.

It would be a shame to let the next generation suffer the same fate. So I say reach out and praise these prolific links to the past, these masters of their craft, and do it today before it's too late. (And before their books go for triple digits on ebay)

Right now - today, people! - you can find authors like Bill Crider still slinging out the pages. Crider already has a back catalog as long as both my arms and a leg, but he still churns them out with every word in exactly the right place. He may have started on an IBM selectric rather than an Underwood (but who knows? maybe?) but let's take time now to appreciate the output.

And what of Bill Pronzini? His nameless detective series is, I believe, now the longest running series in crime fiction history. And he's still going! He's not a museum piece. I picked up a signed copy of Femme just last year.

Ed Gorman continues to educate us in the classics through his excellent anthologies and blogging, but let's acknowledge his place alongside the greats. Again, still crankin' them out. Not a fossil, a vibrant and entertaining writer we could all learn a thing or two from, I'd bet.

I've been catching up on my Max Allan Collins lately. What better example of a writer who bridges the gap between the old school and today. The man was best buddies with Mickey Freakin' Spillane for cripes sake. And hot damn he's one of my favorite authors, and his stuff from the 1970s is just as good as his stuff from today. In my fantasy world we'd get to be friends like him and Spillane and he'd let me take over Quarry after he's gone. Hey, I said it was a fantasy. I'd take Nolan too if Quarry is too personal. We're both Iowa boys so maybe? Ok, you're right. I'll stop.

Lawrence Block. Holy crap, Lawrence Block. The man uses social media as prolifically as a high schooler but you can still pick up copies of his early output that is 100% pure pulp goodness. Find me a darker shade of noir than Mona (AKA Grifter's Game) and that was first published in 1961! And there he is, still kicking, still typing, still going strong and teaching the young punks how to do it.

Robert Randisi, Wayne Dundee, James Reasoner. These are links to our past and guys who probably don't really love being portrayed as old as I'm making them sound. My point is, these are writers who were slinging ink before there was any debate over ebook vs. print. These are guys who haven't been triple platinum sellers for the most part. But they kept on writing. Tradesmen. No, craftsmen. Constantly working, constantly honing their art, never giving up in the face of a changing publishing world.

These are today's pulp wordsmiths. They write because it's who they are to the core. They won't last forever and someday another up and comer will lament never being able to know these artisans of wordcraft. But we don't have to let it be that way. They're out there, and thanks to social media, they are often only a click away. It might not be the same as sharing a stool at the bar with Gil Brewer or Chester Himes, but it's better than missing out.

Make them feel appreciated. I know I wouldn't be here without them, and many others I forgot or don't know yet. There are giants still out there. And we are standing in their shadow.


Craig Zablo said...

What a great post! You are so right.

Bill Crider said...

Thanks for the kind words, but I'm not sure I belong in the company of the other writers you mentioned. Those are some real giants. I did start on an Underwood, by the way. I moved on to an IBM (not a Selectric) after that one, however.

James Reasoner said...

That's a great bunch of writers, and I'm happy to be included with them. I had a manual typewriter starting out, but the first drafts of my first two novels were written with a fountain pen in spiral notebooks. Today I wrote 6000 words on a laptop. I'm glad for the experience of those early days, but I wouldn't go back to 'em.

Anonymous-9 said...

Nice homage, Eric. Thank you. Anonymous-9

Anonymous said...

You haven't updated in a while. Is everything going okay? Working on something good?