Edgar Rice Burroughs and making pulp fiction classic

Classic is a subjective term. Tarzan of the Apes is included in some classic libraries and excluded from others. None of the 100+ other Edgar Rice Burroughs novels is mentioned in any discussion of classics.

But they are classics to me. Even as a child, I recognized their flaws, but I didn’t care. Burroughs took me to Africa and Mars. Even more, he helped me learn to love to read. To me that makes him a classic writer.

ERB’s books followed common plot arcs: Hero meets Damsel. They are indifferent toward each other. Damsel, unmindful of what meeting the hero in the beginning of an adventure story portends, is careless in her personal security. She is kidnapped by slave traders, or some other impolite group.

Hero flies to Damsel’s aid, not out of any personal regard for her, but because a hero wants employment for his skills. Hero rescues Damsel. They talk a bit more and each comes to the unwilling conclusion that the other has cute dimples or some such endearing trait. Things seem to have turned in a good direction.

Edgar Rice Burroughs - the first author I couldn't put down.

Edgar Rice Burroughs – the first author I couldn’t put down.

Yet, there is trouble brewing. The villains have not yet been brought to justice (i.e. killed in self-defense) and we are only halfway through the book. Tragedy strikes when Hero says something innocuous that is misinterpreted as an insult by Damsel. She storms off, leading Hero to conclude such a mercurial woman isn’t worth his affections, her cute dimples notwithstanding.

This emotional rollercoastering causes Hero to lose focus, allowing the slave traders to capture both. The bad guys intend to croak Hero, while proceeding to auction Damsel to the highest bidder, if the rogue leader can keep his grotesque hands off of her until then. He’s noticed her dimples too, and realizing how mercurial she is, he’s really hot for her.

Hero and Damsel are taken in different directions — he to a gruesome death, she to be ogled by a horrid specimen of humanity, who somehow can’t actually bring himself to touch her, but is upon the point of doing so at every moment. Her torture is magnified by knowing Hero is probably dead by now, and realizing she didn’t actually hate him that much when he was alive. In fact, had it not been for his uncouth behavior . . .

Her hopeless eyes are a big turn-on to the villain. They give him the juice he needs to finally come at her with his filthy, greasy hands. His bulbous nose and his brown teeth, together with the smell of animal fat on his unwashed body, cause Damsel to scream exactly once before closing out the chapter by fainting dead away.

While all this foreplay is going on, Hero is brought to the apparatus necessary for the imaginative killing of heroes that is ever being conceived, yet never actually executed, by bad dudes in the arts. Hero quickly assesses and demonstrates the flaws of the lethal apparatus to his captors by killing them all with its safety defects.

Hero flies to the succor (again) of the insufferable Damsel. Though he may give a passing thought to her dimples, he races to her aid for reasons truly noble. It is, after all, more heroic to rescue somebody he doesn’t like, dimples or not.

Hero interrupts the impending outrage just as things are about to progress to where they cannot be allowed to go in the early 20th century. Though Hero takes no pleasure in dispensing death, the lust-crazed fiend will accept no resolution less than giving complete satisfaction to the incensed reader. But he will not die before advising Damsel that she has misinterpreted Hero’s words toward her.

Content at providing closure, the villain breathes his last. Hero and Damsel realize the foolishness of letting a misunderstanding come between them, and they kiss, with no tongues.

I eagerly followed this plot every time. Maybe I was just young and callow, but that doesn’t matter. I was entertained and my imagination was sparked. It kept me reading. That’s what matters.

It depends on your definition of Horror

I haven’t written about my Work In Progress in a while. And since I’ve got some time to kill while I wait for my last book to become a Best Seller, this might be a good time for an update.

My WIP is a collection of three novellas. It’s probably more accurate to call them two novelettes and a novella, but that takes more words to say, and who’s counting anyway? The genre is horror, kind of. It’s more psychological horror than anything revolving around chain saws and slack-jawed yokels. There’s really not much bloodshed in it at all, which is why I put the “kind of” after horror. I might call the novellas psychological thrillers, except I always think of spies or mobsters when I think psychological thriller, and there are neither of those, so I’m back to horror, kind of.

Poe. Not really his style of horror story.

Not really Poe’s style of horror story.

Then again, genre confusion is nothing new for me.

Whatever they are, I’ve finished the first drafts of all of them.


Okay, party’s over; let’s get serious.

I had my first chance to read through them.

The two shorter pieces are entertaining, I think. They are not earth-shattering additions to the genre, whichever genre they happen to be, but I can see readers enjoying them as quick reads.

Definitely not Lovecraft's kind of horror.

Definitely not Lovecraft’s kind of horror story.

When it comes to the longer story, the feature presentation, if you will, I feel as if I’ve provided myself with good news and bad news. The good news is there are parts I think are quite good. The bad news is good parts are not enough to make a good story.

It’s not that the story is bad. It’s not, but as is, it’s not good enough.

What’s wrong with it? Well, for one thing, it’s probably too confusing. Confusing your readers is never good, unless you are an established post-modernist or something like that. In that case, confusing everyone just makes you a greater genius.

But I am neither a post-modernist nor a genius. At best, I am an adventuresome writer, playing with supernatural subject matter for the first time, and I may have gotten the Play-Doh colors all mixed up.

More in line with du Maurier's type of horror . . . but not really.

More in line with du Maurier’s type of horror story . . . but not really.

The fun thing in writing about unknown forces is that you get to make your own rules for what’s possible. Nothing is bound by the laws of physics we know. The trouble can be in remembering your new rules and applying them consistently. Plus, you’ve got to let the reader know the rules; they can be difficult to convey, without explicitly explaining them, when they are counter-intuitive to commonly known laws of nature.

Can this book be saved? I don’t know. I may be going too hard on myself, or too easy. I’ll have to get a second opinion, and then a few more after that.

All I know for sure is that I won’t even consider publishing it until I’m confident it’s a good quality, entertaining book, all the way through. How I get there from here will be my own horror story.

Cold feet and self-publishing

These are probably the cold feet I should have had before my wedding. But I was fairly secure in what I was getting into that day. I was more worried about something embarrassing happening at the ceremony than any of the ever after part.

The cold feet I avoided at my wedding have come to me over a book. This month, I will be releasing my third self-published book, A Housefly in Autumn. You’d think I would worry less about my third than my first two, but I don’t. I worry more.

Why doesn’t it get easier? It probably would get easier if I could stick to one genre. If I wrote the same kind of book every time and knew what to expect from the audience of that single genre, I’d likely feel more comfortable. But I’m trying something different. This is the first non-humor novel I’ve published. It’s not the first one I’ve written, but nothing hits the fan until you publish.

One of the benefits of self-publishing is you get to take risks. Nobody in a corner office is going to stop you from pissing away the firm’s money, because there is no firm, and more to the point, there is no money. It’s only your own blood, sweat, and tears you are potentially pissing away, and you can make more soon enough. Even so, risk can be daunting when it has your name attached to it.

the corner office

Some early self-publishers enjoying the freedom to take risks. Or maybe they’re just some guys building a corporate corner office.

Switching genres is a risk. The bigger risk is living between genres. This new book falls somewhere between Young Adult and General Fiction. Some books have succeeded very well in this gray area. Many more have failed.

There are some other little risks built into the story and the telling of it, but the little risks wouldn’t be extraordinarily frightening if not coupled with aforementioned, larger risks. In combination, each little risk has the potential to break the camel’s back.

Still, any worthwhile undertaking should be daunting. There comes a time when you have to damn the torpedoes, in spite of the risk. Yeah, I’ll fret over the release of this book, because that’s the nature turning your art toward the public eye. But I will also find confidence in recalling how much time and hard work went into producing it. Time and hard work might not be enough to claim success, but it’s enough to take a shot at it.

I’m taking this shot, regardless of my slightly chilly feet. My feet and I will do our best to make a success of this book while brewing up some new blood, sweat, and tears for the next one, which will be of yet another new genre. I guess it’s a good thing I don’t have any corner offices, or corporate money, to stop me from taking risks. All I’ve got is a pair of light blue feet, and having stood firm before the altar, they can stand behind a little old book.

Read more about A Housefly in Autumn here.

The Third Novella: a horror story about writing a Horror story

Writing a book is a solitary sport. Publishing a book is anything but solitary. You need a lot of people to help you. Even when you are lucky to have diligent people helping you, everything takes time, which means you will wait through various periods for them to do their work before you can get the thing published.

About 18 months ago, while I was waiting for some beta readers to go through A Housefly in Autumn, I decided that starting a new book would be more productive of my time than twiddling my thumbs.

I envisioned a book consisting of three novellas of a genre very different from A Housefly in Autumn. These stories would be contemporary and not suited to young adults. They are my nightmares, the ground where parenthood meets horror.

Though not horror in a gory sense, they are dark enough to put them into a genre in which I have not written since high school. Back then, I was completing creative writing assignments, not contemplating an eventual published book.

I finished the first two novellas in accordance with the vague plan in my head. The third came third because it was less well-developed in my mind, so I let it marinate while I finished drafts of the other two. When the third’s turn came, I had sat on it long enough to know that it would not develop further until I started to write it.

As I waited to get the cover art for Housefly, I began the third novella. Little by little, it picked its way through the forest of words until it found its trail of plot. It began to come together, the story itself inspiring new elements to fill in its missing pieces.

The ending still floated on the mist, but as I got closer, I began to see outlines of solid shapes in that mist. I was fitting it all together in my mind.

Then I got some really fantastic artwork for Housefly. It was time to start laying out the actual book that had always just been a manuscript. The new project got pushed to the back burner. When you have three little boys at home and a full-time day job, the back burner is off.

The third novella stopped cold. What time I could muster was applied to getting Housefly through the next steps.

I don’t outline. This works for me, except when it doesn’t.

Waiting for help on the last proofing of Housefly, I went back to that third novella. After six months, I didn’t recall which i was undotted and which t uncrossed.

I’d have to go back and read it. I didn’t like to because I prefer to get through the first draft before I read, and I was afraid of what I would find in my first mature attempt to write horror, even watered-down horror.

So far, I’ve read through about one-third of it. It’s not as bad as I feared. Now if I can only re-figure out how it ends, I might actually start to like it. Horror doesn’t scare me so much anymore.

the third novella

The Third Novella. That could be the title of a horror story. Anyway, this third novella is waiting to be finished.