I don’t know, maybe it still is. The adventure, detective, western, and fantasy dime novels and magazines of the early 1900s were always passed over by myself when perusing the thrift shop or antique store as a child; instead, I reached for a thick sci-fi “best of” compilation or the bright flashy comic books of the 90s that my cousins were always reading. Weird Tales? No thanks. Spawn? I’ll buy that (which, let's be honest, is also pretty much pulp, rightly defined). And that’s only when I didn’t have a Michael Crichton novel in my hands, mind you. But I’ve started reading Pulp in earnest lately; mostly Sword & Sorcery, some Westerns, the occasional Sci-Fi romp.
Pulp fiction’s (the genre, not the movie) focus on visceral action and laundry list of clichés has in the past been put to me as “ameatuerish” or “simple” by professors and fellow writers. The focus is on not backstory, but instead action: the rolling introductions and development doled out selectively as characters meet challenge after challenge head on. It’s engaging and punchy– more so than the first 70 pages of the novel I set down and stopped reading last week.
After relating that experience, a friend asked me: “Then what makes you keep reading a book, not put it down?” I answered, “It has to make me smile.” And that’s it– I want to read something, anything, that puts such a mind-boggling image in my head I can’t help but physically react to it. And I can get that from anywhere: from Aristotle, from Crichton; from a comic book, from a drabble, from a haiku.
The same goes for movies, right? Don’t get me wrong, I love a film that makes you think– that you could analyze for hours. But when I think about some of my favorite films (the box office would tend to agree), I think of Hot Fuzz, Princess Bride, Lord of the Rings, Three Amigos, etc. Entertainment that has big moments that stay with you: leaves you with a setting or a character or an image that you will remember for the rest of your days. A little something that becomes a piece of the fabric of who you are creatively. That’s what authors endeavor to write; and it’s what I receive quite often from “Pulp” stories.
Obviously there’s a huge crossover between writing as art and writing as entertainment; the best stuff falling in that sweet spot in the very middle. But the more Pulp I read and write, the more I believe it is not a dirty word. It is writers and artists attempting to hone their craft through extensive imagery and strive for a more inclusive sensibility; to write something that will resonate with any audience who encounters the piece and hopefully, leave them with that “big moment” they will think about long after the story has ended.