Pulp Writer – Twenty Years in the American Grub Street

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.

About Richard Robinson

Enjoying life in Portland, OR
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19 Responses to Pulp Writer – Twenty Years in the American Grub Street

  1. It’s sitting on my shelf. A must read.

  2. Chris says:

    Sitting on my shelf as well. Definitely need to bump it up in the queue. Laurie Powers writes one of my favorite blogs I read every day.

  3. Richard says:

    I let this sit for a couple of months or more before reading it, and wished I’d not waited. A lot of insight into the life of a pulp writer, the business and markets of the time and a good solid biography too.

  4. I felt like I was back there, during that golden era, as I read Pulp Writer.

    And I had the distinct honor (thanks Laurie!) to publish Powers’s “The Killing on Sutter Street” at BEAT to a PULP. If you get a chance, I’m sure you will enjoy it.

  5. Evan Lewis says:

    Do not fail to seek out Doc Dillahay, Richard (aka Six Gun Doctor. You won’t be sorry!

  6. Thanks Rick for such a fantastic review! And thanks everyone for your comments, too, and for the mentions of my grandfather’s other works. The portfolio continues to grow, too – as yet another story will show up on A Twist of Noir this Friday.

  7. Barry Traylor says:

    An excellent review of a very interesting book. Laurie Powers did a real service for the fans of the pulp magazine. I have read every book regarding writing for the pulps so this one was and is a welcome addition to my book shelf.

  8. randy Johnson says:

    Appears to be one I need to get. One I can reccommend if you haven’t tried it is The Pulp Jungle by Frank Gruber. I wrote a bit about it here:

    http://randall120.wordpress.com/2009/07/26/reading-forgotten-books-the-pulp-jungle-frank-gruber

  9. Richard says:

    BARRY – thank you, and I agree she did a service to fans of pulps.

    I’m discovering – and this may be the topic of a future post – that I have been accumulating pulp fiction here and there over the years without consciously thinking of it in that way, such as the two volumes I have of “Maxwell Grant” Norgil the Magician stories, which have been on the shelf for many years.

    RANDY – I think there may be two books with that same title (I may have the wrong title, but memory says it’s the same), one a survey of U.K. pulps and the other the Gruber book. I’ve read the UK one, but not the Gruber.

  10. I’ll have to track this book down and read it. Sounds great!

  11. Richard says:

    EVAN – I’ll be looking for it.

  12. Richard says:

    Amazon has it, George.

  13. Cap'n Bob says:

    Also look for DESERT JUSTICE, by Paul S. Powers. A bunch of novelettes from WWW and another long and interesting intro by Laurie.

  14. Evan Lewis says:

    Yep, I enjoyed Desert Justice too, but it’s a whole different thing than Doc Dillahay. Desert Justice is kids’ stuff (and I LIKE kids’ stuff) aimed at Wild West Weekly’s 15-year old readers, while Doc Dillahay is a novel for grown-ups.

  15. Jeff Meyerson says:

    OK – I ordered it. Thanks for the review, Rick.

  16. Richard says:

    That’s an intriguing statement, Evan. I am trying to find Doc Dillahay.

    Jeff – hope you enjoy it.

  17. Van Light says:

    You have done it again. Incredible writing!

  18. Cap'n Bob says:

    Kid’s Stuff? I thought I was reading way above my level. Gee willikers.

  19. Richard R. says:

    I meant compared to the fine novels YOU write, Bob.

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