by Paul S. Powers, Edited and with Introduction by Laurie Powers
University of Nebraska Press © 2007
trade paper – autobiography of a pulp writer
I didn’t know what to expect of this when I ordered it. I knew that the introductory material was written by Paul Powers’ granddaughter Laurie, information I got from visits to Laurie’s Wild West blog. I also knew that Powers was a pulp writer of mostly western short fiction primarily published in Wild West Weekly and that the book was material cobbled together from diaries and some other sources. What I didn’t know was that I would read two stories, and they both would be fascinating.
The introductory material written by Ms. Powers comprises nearly fifty pages and narrates the initial discovery of her grandfather’s nearly life-long occupation and materials relating to it. It’s a tale of rediscovering relatives, searching for facts and finally discovering a long-set-aside trunk full of papers. To say more would be to spoil it for you. Also written by Ms. Powers is also a 27 page concluding chapter and afterword in which she wraps up the story and life of her grandfather, and of her own searching and discoveries. Ms. Powers narrates all this will style and communicates her curiosity, desire for information, love of family and need to understand more, and read the works of, her grandfather.
Between those sections it’s all Paul Powers. He wrote just about anything that was asked for, but most of it was western fiction, and he had a talent for it. He describes the pulp business during the time he was writing, before and during the Depression, years many say are the apex of the pulp magazines. He continued writing after the Depression and through the war and post-war years, though markets were drying up. Powers wrote under several pseudonyms and had a handful of series characters that were for many years fan favorites. The book is filled with the anecdotal and often revealing ups and downs of a pulp writer in this period.
Paul S. Powers began adulthood with aspirations to be a literary writer, or if not that, then a respected journalist. Neither happened. As is so often the case, life interfered with those plans. The book follows his travels, relationships, marriages, and jobs across the Midwest, West (he was in Colorado until his late teens. Spending time in and around the old ghost towns there influenced his later writing) and in the Southwest, the setting for the majority of his fiction.
When Powers hit upon writing for the pulps, it was immediately clear that with a little work he could develop the knack he had for it. Pulp writing paid pretty well, compared to some other jobs he could have had, but the money wasn’t steady and he fought financial ups and downs all his life. Meanwhile he wrote some great pulp stories with characters Sonny Tabor and others, as well as writing the novel Doc Dillahay.
This is a fascinating book and anyone interested in western fiction, pulp fiction or history should find it a treat to read.
Those with an interest in pulp fiction, Paul Powers or the co-author and editor of this book, visit Laurie’s Wild West blog. Always something of interest there, highly recommended, as is this book.