Tuesday 19 August 2014

Book Review: The Pulp Jungle

The Pulp JungleThe Pulp Jungle by Frank Gruber
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Publishing is changing. Advances are going down, it's getting harder to push through the traditional publishing bottleneck, and more people are choosing indie publishing. Going it alone means having to do all your own marketing and even more importantly, being prolific in order to boost your visibility.

It's for this reason that I've been studying the old pulp days, when writers often got paid only half a cent a word and had to write reams of tales in order to make ends meet. Many starved, while others made a decent living and a few made it big.

Frank Gruber was one of the lucky few. He wrote for all the best pulp magazines (sometimes earning up to two cents a word!) and ended up writing novels and for Hollywood too.

The Pulp Jungle gives a fast-paced, fun account of Gruber's struggle to make it as a writer during the Depression and is filled with anecdotes of those long-gone days. For example, when he was really down in the dumps he'd go to the Automat--a coin-operated, self-serve restaurant--and get a free meal. It turned out that hot water was free, as was ketchup, so presto! Tomato soup.

The story follows Gruber as he works his way up from poverty to middle-class comfort through grindingly hard work, cultivating contacts in the industry, and sheer optimism and persistence. The book is filled with portraits of other writers, such as one who was hosting a party and announced around midnight that he had a 12,000 word story due the following morning. Gruber assumed the party was over, but instead the host went to a corner with his typewriter, banged out 12,000 words, and then poured himself a gin and rejoined the party!

As Gruber says, "They don't make them like that any more!"

Anyone who is a writer will find this book inspiring. Readers interested in classic pulp fiction will find this book to be a fascinating glimpse into how those stories were made.

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