I am obsessed with Tierra del Fuego. I also love maps and globes. I remember in grade school looking over at the standard public school issue globe on the bookshelves and noticing the southern tip of South America. It was a world away from my home on Long Island. I envisioned what it must be like to have adventures in that far off land. There I would battle whatever horrors lurked at the end of the world. In my teenage years, I still dreamed of these fantastic expeditions and flights of fancy. Puberty had taken control over everything. I usually added beautiful, exotic and slightly dangerous women to the mix. And my mother started making me do my own laundry.
I have visions of a dirigible cutting through the icy Patagonian winds as it approaches the specter of Cape Horn, looming on the horizon like a medieval fortress. Death ray cannons are mounted on the the gondola ready to blast any monster that might crawl out of the frozen grounds, or armada of zombie pirates that are cutting through the cold waters in sloops from the 17th century. Among other necessities, my majestic zeppelin also has a fully stocked bar and the cutest bartenders in any hemisphere. Visions like this were the genesis of Anger At The End Of The World, as well as my poems about the sinister Cape Horn Furnace Company and Boiler City. I always wanted these to feel like some stories you might read in those old horror and fantasy magazines.
Why am I rambling on about this? I fancy myself a writer and would one day like to publish some stories and help pay for my drinking habit. I also want to immerse myself in the classic horror, crime, fantasy stories of pulp fiction.
On a recent jaunt to a remote trading post in some obscure corner of the world, I ran into the mysterious Mr. Pulp. Mr. Pulp is the wizard behind some great websites.
One is eBook-Builders
He is also curator of the fantastic The Pulp Fiction Bookstore
In a roomful of rough looking characters of unknown origin, Mr. Pulp and I drank wonderful elixirs concocted from exotic spices and dined on dishes created from the grilled carcasses of animals believed by everyone to be extinct. Mr. Pulp is a shadowy figure of various underworlds. Nervous chefs make sure his food is cooked to perfection and rambunctious brigands clam up like tax cheats being interrogated by the nefarious IRS when Mr. Pulp walks by. He is also a talented dude who can really help the independent author looking to create an ebook that stands out among the endless choices on the interwebs. If you’re hungry for classic and obscure pulp fiction, Mr. Pulp is your guy. Just don’t ask him too many questions. One can never know what weaponry he is packing under his trench coat. Luckily, I hit the right number and here is what he had to say about what he does. My questions are in italics because it is my website.
Please tell us a little about yourself. Obviously, don’t give away any classified info or anything that will give away your secret identity.
I am the son of my father. He was a Marine Corps officer that served in the Pacific in World War II. I was supposed to live the life that he never could, but I rebelled against that–two hard heads butting together. And that is the closest thing to classified info you’re going to get, bub.
Growing up I read a LOT. Not that I never played sports or had a tree house or raced bikes or anything, but I was a voracious reader. Science fiction, mysteries, and history were my favorites. History, you say? Yes, History. History is just the factualized adventuring of uncommon people doing uncommon things.
I went to college and grad school and got degrees in pandering to effete snobs in a course of studies similar to, but not quite, glorified basket weaving. I lived in New York City( queue cowboy voice-over: “Noo Yowrk City?”) for ten years during the 1980s and glorified in the Punk and New Wave scene. In order to make a living, I turned to computer animation and video post production. Lost my love for that after I endured three 20 hour edit sessions in three days. I can still remember what the first two edit sessions were for, but I couldn’t even remember what the third session was for just days after the event. But meat puppets don’t need to remember, and I was a meat puppet.
I met a girl, fell in love and left Grime on the Hudson for the real world again. Best thing I ever did.
Somewhere along the way I transitioned from video production and computer animation to making web sites and, more recently, phone apps. And also, of course, building ebooks. Which, I guess is why we’re talking?
I would like to talk about eBook-Builders because the ones I have seen that you did are quite beautiful. What brought you to creating ebooks?
First, let me say thank you. I try to make the ebooks that I would want to read. And I can be a picky s.o.b when I want to be.
The real genesis as to why I build ebooks is that, for a period of time, I traveled all over the country and to Europe on business. Lots of long plane flights. So I would take books to read. And as anyone who has traveled a lot will tell you, you want to be as light and unencumbered as possible while traveling. A stack of books does not a light an unencumbered traveler make.
Then one day Steve Jobs made smartphones. Then he came back with tablets. And, all of a sudden, you could put a whole library of books on a digital device and not have to carry a stack of books through the airport. And I did exactly that.
As I said before, I have always loved to read and I found various sites on the web where you could get free ebooks. I went looking for some of the old sci-fi I read as a kid. Then I saw you can find some of the old sci-fi and mystery magazines that were dying out when I was just growing up.
These magazines had some of the stories that I found referenced when authors and critics were talking about the origins and influences of this or that story or author, but I had never read them because they were out of print. I checked them out and much more often than not the pdf scans were godawful because they came from xerox copies of the originals. And the microfiche scans? Ugh. The ebooks made from them were just unreadable gibberish. (This is not to slight the early scanners; I greatly appreciate what they did to preserve these magnificent old magazines. You work with what you have, right?) I wondered why anyone would try to read this for relaxation and entertainment when you couldn’t get two lines into a story before having to guess what the author actually wrote. Working through a whole novel wouldn’t be worth the effort, no matter how great the story.
First, I thought, “what a shame, what a waste.” Then I thought, ” I can do better than this.” And so eBook-Builders was born. eBook-Builders is the production house part of this whole mess. All of the ebooks in the Pulp Fiction Book Store are built by eBook-Builders.
What services do you offer that might set you apart from other ebook creators out there?
There are a couple of different ways that an ebook can get made. The first, and worst, is the black box method. (Untouched by human hands…) An author feeds a manuscript to a black box process on the web and gets a result as output. The black box is filled with a bunch of default choices and you get what you get on the other side. Usually, this is unsatisfactory, but the process is usually cheap or free so…..
Just to be clear, I don’t do this black box method. Ever. In fact, many times, I have taken an obviously black box rendered ebook and cleaned it up.
The second method is more human assisted. I have to believe the Big Five publishers use a human assisted process where the manuscript is taken and just set up as a basic ebook. Little to no formatting, poor to no ability to work with images. But they fit the mold for what an ebook “should”‘ be. I’m sure that one big concern of the big publishers is that their ebooks read on as many ebook devices and software programs as possible. I think they aim for the least common denominator or most basic set of rules as possible. I find those ebooks difficult to read because of the minimal formatting and “wall or words” effect they sometimes portray.
I handcraft ebooks. From proofreading to formatting to preparing pictures and illustrations for their best display. I try to make sure an ebook is of the quality I would want to read and never looks like it went through a black box process. I make sure the ebook files never exceed memory limits. I make sure that ebook files are always properly structured for the various ebook standards. Ok, so that last is the computer nerd in me talking. But you’d be surprised how many Big Five published ebooks are improperly formatted or structured. Just sayin.
What is pulp fiction?
If you look around the web you’ll see that pulp fiction magazines are technically considered to be those published between the 1900s through the 1950s. They were printed on wood pulp paper and were considered cheap and not in any way “literature”. Not worthy of “serious” people. This is, of course, in distinction to the “slicks” such as Look, Life, Collier’s, Vanity Fair and others that were printed on much higher quality paper and contained more “serious” writing. The pulps were mass produced and expected to be thrown away.
The pulp magazine covers were sometimes lurid and visually arresting, especially during the 30s and 40s. Many people today collect the magazines for the covers and some collect the original paintings the covers were made from. These will set you back big time.
However, the real answer to the question, “What is Pulp Fiction?” is that it was cheap entertainment for the common people. This was a period of time that saw the Great Depression, the Dust Bowl, Prohibition, and two World Wars. This was a time that saw the birth of radio and the movies. The major form of entertainment for most people was reading. The pulps had big audiences because they were inexpensive and could be passed around and read by more than one person. At the height of their popularity during the 1930s there were some 150 different titles in all kinds of genres. The most successful pulps could sell a million copies per issue.
Then World War II came along. The magazine market suffered from wartime paper shortages. The pulps were especially hard hit. However, what really killed off the pulps was the coming of television in the 1950s. As television became more ubiquitous, people read less and got the bulk of their entertainment from the TV. That, of course, has progressed to where we binge watch episodes of a streaming show for hours at a time. The corollary to this is that many of the pulp writers shifted over to screenwriting for film and television. The magazines went under left and right. By the end of the 50s all that were left were a handful of science fiction and mystery titles. And if you think about it, most TV is pretty lurid and pulpy. There is always a need for a plot twist or story arc to sustain the interests of viewers. The formulae that worked so well for the magazines got massaged into TV program timeframes and lives on in episodes of our favorite programs.
What do you have going down at the Pulp Fiction Book Store?
Well, as it says on the index page.
….you’ll find some of the greatest Mystery, Science Fiction, Fantasy, Horror, Adventure and Western stories from the Golden Age of the Pulp Fiction Magazines.
You’ll find stories from some of the greatest Pulp Fiction authors including : Edgar Rice Burroughs, H.P. Lovecraft, Hapsburg Liebe, Robert E. Howard, Johnston McCulley, Edmond Hamilton, Walt Coburn, Harold Q. Masur, E.E. ‘Doc’ Smith, Eando Binder, Clark Ashton Smith and many more.
We convert these great stories into eBooks, complete with all of the original illustrations, for you to read on your phone, tablet or eReader. All of our eBooks are in both .epub and .mobi formats for all eReaders.
Many of these writers and their stories are long forgotten. That’s too bad because a lot of the stories are really good. As I work on these stories, I am constantly surprised by how well written they are; how a turn of phrase can capture my attention. But most of all I am captured by what great adventures they are. And I am astounded by the sheer number of “classic” stories that were first published in the pulp magazines. The Tarzan stories, the Zorro stories, The Call of Cthulu, The Skylark of Space; these and many others debuted in pulp magazines before they became mainstream. And a large number of stories became the basis for many classic films. Why? Because these were writers with the imagination to bring in audiences to the theater seats.
The thing that is so great about many of these stories is that they are not politically correct in any way. Even if they don’t have any curse words, the language can be harsh and it contains some nasty and lurid acts. Is there a good market for these stories considering our society is so pathetically tame?
Is there a good market? My short answer is that I don’t know. Insofar as they are good entertainment, I think these stories will have their audiences. However, you’re right that there are a lot of people who will be squeamish about various aspects of the pulp stories we publish. A case in point is The Insidious Fu-Manchu, which we recently published. I looked around on the web and saw some people give horrible reviews of the Fu-Manchu series because they thought that the premise was racist–the evil Chinese connoisseur of death. All I can say is that in these tales somebody has to be the bad guy. And the Fu-Manchu stories are a lot of fun to read.
If you read the westerns, about 90% of them have white bad guys. Cattle rustlers, outlaws, gunfighters, gamblers. I’ve seen very few evil Indians portrayed. Yet and still, there was an actual drawn out war in the West.War is savage. The war in the West was terribly savage. None of the war pulps I’ve read downplayed the savagery and some readers may interpret that as being jingoistic and, ultimately, racist. That’s your interpretation.
However, many of the pulp writers were looking to put some kind of exotica into their stories. Some chose exotic locales. Some chose exotic discoveries. Some chose vampires, or werewolves. Some chose giant ants. Some chose Atlantis. Some chose voodoo. Some chose heroes with capes, masks and tights. Check out the Marvel Comics empire. Those heroes and villains are the direct thematic heirs of some of the great pulp heroes and villains. Capes, masks and tights. And the CGI destruction of whole planets. Nasty and lurid? You tell me.
Who are some of your favorite pulp authors and do you have them at Pulp Fiction Bookstore
First, let me say that as I edit new books I’m discovering new authors all the time. There are a lot of names I’ve never run across before. Some of the authors I’ve come to really enjoy are Bruno Fischer, C.L. Moore, Clark Ashton Smith, Edmond Hamilton, Ernest Haycox, Georges Surdez, Gunnison Steele, H.P. Lovecraft, Jane Rice, John D. MacDonald, Leigh Brackett, Norman A. Daniels, Robert E. Howard, Robert Leslie Bellem, Roger Torrey, Thomas P. Kelley, Vera Caspary, and Walt Coburn. And, yes, that laundry list was in alphabetical order by first name.
These are writers in all genres in the store, both men and women, early and later pulp. The one thing that links them is talent. They all can turn a phrase and tell a story that keeps you locked in.
Can you briefly take us through how you create one of these ebooks for the Pulp Fiction Bookstore?
Sure. First I do a quick search on the copyright status of a story I’m interested in. If it checks out to be Public Domain then I will look for other stories by the same author to fill a book sized project. The project may be a full novel, a couple of novelettes, or a handful of stories. Then I lay the text in place. Proofreading and formatting are extraordinarily important at this time. After that, all of the interior pictures and illustrations get prepared and put into place. The War of the Worlds had the largest number of interior illustrations so far, with 66, but it’s not uncommon for a book to have ten or more illustrations. Then comes the cover design, the Introduction and then, finally, the metadata for the book. After a final proofread, the book is ready to be put online. Turnaround time on a book is usually about a week once the decisions on which stories to use have been made.
You create these beautiful ebooks. Do you also write?
Thank you for that, but I’m a reader not a writer.
Finally, what are your thoughts on dirigibles with cannons for death rays mounted on them?
I want one. Where can I get one? I have always despised traffic congestion and used to always want a Panzer tank to make my commutes easier. Dirigibles with death ray cannons sounds like a much more elegant and effective solution.
End of Communique Transmission
Dirigibles are the best way for me to get to my fortress on a craggy atoll in the frigid waters in the shadows of Cape Horn. And the death rays help with those pesky Patagonian Spider Vampires that tend to swallow up livestock and any unlucky tourists that wander around in a savage, harsh and beautiful landscape. Anyway, I hope you found this secretive transmission between Mr. Pulp and I to be enlightening and entertaining? If you’re an indie writer looking to get an ebook on the web, give eBook-Builders a look. The FAQ on that site is vital for the indie author. If you like the pulp magazine stories, take a ride over to the Pulp Fiction Bookstore and fill your devices with vast adventures and lurid, sexy tales. I will be reviewing some of these stories from time to time and will provide links. Links are just links. No one has to click ’em. Although, we hope you do.