Wednesday, 26 August 2015

Book Review: Pulp Writer: Twenty Years in the American Grub Street

Pulp Writer: Twenty Years in the American Grub StreetPulp Writer: Twenty Years in the American Grub Street by Paul S. Powers
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

As a writer, I've always been interested in the pulp magazine era. It was a time when writers could make a living on short stories by writing for the myriad of pulp titles available on the newsstands. Some writers were massively prolific, often churning out millions of words a year.
Paul Powers, the author of this memoir, was one of those writers. He wrote hundreds of short stories and novellas and lived through the golden age of the pulps.
His tale is a sad one, however. He wrote almost exclusively for the Western magazines, a genre that was dwindling as early as the 1930s. Yet Powers forged on well into the 1950s, making less and less money as he succumbed to exhaustion, lack of inspiration, and alcoholism. This provdes a doubly cautionary tale for writers--don't be a one-trick pony and don't get sucked into the bottle.
Besides this important bit of wisdom, the book is less than useful for someone interested in the writing of the period. Much of the memoir is about Powers' various moves throughout the West, and is padded out with a long intorduction and conculsion by his granddaughter, who discovered the manuscript, researched Powers, and finally got it published. A large amount of her writing is only of personal interest to members of the family and I found myself skimming these parts.
If you're going to read only one book on the era, I would suggest The Pulp Jungle by Frank Gruber, which is far more informative about the lives of writers and editors and the business of pulp magazine publishing. I've reviewed it here. If you want some more detail about the Western pulps, and the sad tale of how the pulp era ground down writers, give the Powers memoir a try.

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