In Defense of New Pulp

Tony Davis, editor of The Pulpster, recently said the following about the New Pulp movement:

The “new pulp fiction” has been active in recent years, and more and more self-published novels and collections appear on PulpFest dealer tables and mail-order lists.

This used to be known as “fan fiction,” and science-fiction fans have been producing such material since organized fandom reared its head in the 1930s and ’40s. Today’s publications are more professional looking than those produced on old mimeograph machines or with carbon copies on a Smith Corona manual typewriter.

There’s both good and bad with the new pulp fiction. On the “good” side, pulp fans are encouraged to express their love of the pulps and pulp heroes by creating new tales. And as the years go by and we get further and further removed from the pulp era, it’s nice to know that the pulps are living on in one form or another. Publishers of the new pulp fiction also take out advertising space in pulp fanzines — that can only be “good” for business.

On the “bad” side, one could question the quality of some of these modern attempts at writing pulp fiction by non-professional scribes. Sure, you could argue, there were badly written stories during the heyday of the pulps. However, the pulp publishers had editors and other staff who read submissions and ensured that they at least met the standards of the pulp magazine (even for a Spicy title). Some stories were returned to aspiring authors for a rewrite, sometimes including critical suggestions for improvement. Other stories ended up on slush piles as fillers. But at least they were subject to review.

Another concern is that newcomers to the pulps might mistakenly think the glossy trade paperback they are looking at was originally written in 1933, not 2011. Newcomers should remember that “new pulp” is reflective of fan fiction today and not the pulp era of the late 1890s through the early 1950s.

As a writer who is part of the New Pulp movement, I felt I should write my own response to this and it can be summed up very simply: Tony Davis doesn’t know what he’s talking about.

Let’s start with the idea that all New Pulp is fanfiction. So first, let’s define the term fanfiction. According to Dictionary.com,  it’s defined as “a fictional account written by a fan of a show, movie, book or video game to explore themes and ideas that will not or cannot be explored via the originating medium.”

My novels do not fit that definition. My characters came from my imagination. Oh sure, they were inspired by others, but if we’re going to stretch the definition of to those lengths, then Batman and Indiana Jones are nothing more than the Shadow and Doc Savage fanfiction.

But let’s forget about Mr. Davis’ misunderstanding of the term fanfiction for a moment and instead, let’s focus on the crux of his argument—New Pulp is amateur because it features no quality control. The stuff is just slapped together and thrown out on the websites.

My last two novels were published by Pulpwork Press, which is POD and thus self-published. I’ve also recently completed an eight-page comic story for Airship 27, another POD self-publisher. And I’m in the development stages of a project over at Pro Se Productions, yet another POD self-publisher.

According to Mr. Davis, none of these three publishers utilize editors or any sort of a review process. I’m now tempted to ask Josh Reynolds, Derrick Ferguson, Ron Fortier and Tommy Hancock just what they’ve been doing with my work after I’ve sent it to them. Because Mr. Davis now tells me all the hard work they’ve done editing my stories doesn’t qualify as “editing.” And why? Because they’re POD.

Wow. That’s ignorance on a massive scale and it shows Mr. Davis has done absolutely no research on the New Pulp publishers before he wrote this article.

And the idea that newcomers will mistakenly believe that New Pulp was created during the initial pulp era? I’m sorry, that’s absolutely ridiculous. Every work I’ve created is clearly marked with its year of creation. Not year of publication, that’s different—year of creation. Every New Pulp book I’ve read is also marked with this. And if anyone thinks my work, clearly set in the twenty-first century, was written in 1933, then I have to question their intelligence.

What this argument boils down to is purism—the idea that nothing outside of that initial era qualifies as pulp. And that too is ridiculous. Pulp isn’t restricted to one era (the late 1890s were as different from the early 1950s as the early 1950s are to the early twenty-first century). Pulp is a style of fiction. And if we’re going to adopt a purist mentality towards pulp, then we’re being extremely exclusionary to newcomers.

Now let’s get into the quality argument. Mr. Davis does make a good point—the downside to POD is that anyone can be published. But the idea that traditional publishing is more selective of quality? This is another ridiculous notion, the idea that because there were fewer venues for creators, the material produced was of a higher quality. This is an idea even more ridiculous than the purist mentality. Look in any medium, in any era, and you’ll find a sea of crap. POD hasn’t changed that, because the “real” publishers aren’t exactly putting out winners (just look at Stephanie Meyer or Dan Brown to see what “real” publishers consider high quality material). “Real” publishers don’t choose what they will and won’t publish based on the quality of the material, because quality is extremely subjective. I mentioned Stephanie Meyer above as being proof of low quality, yet I know many people who think the Twilight books are absolutely incredible (and these are well-read individuals). Publishers don’t select works based on quality, they select based on marketability—both how well they can market the book and how well the author (or in most cases, the author’s agent) can market the book to them. Quality doesn’t even begin to factor into the equation.

And the New Pulp movement that Mr. Davis dismisses with a not-so-subtle hint of snobbery? It’s keeping pulp alive. It’s bringing pulp to new audiences. No one in the New Pulp movement has said that “real” pulp is bad. Quite the opposite, we’re very candid about our love of the classics and we encourage people to read those classics for themselves if they haven’t. That’s free promotion right there. It drives up demand for the classics, which keeps them in print. And guess what? That keeps The Pulpster in print as well. Because if we regard pulp with the kind of dismissive, purist mentality that Mr. Davis seems to adopt, then the market for pulp fiction will shrink, which will lower demand.

And where would The Pulpster be if that happens?

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