Friday, March 23, 2018

Tom Howard/John H. Reid Fiction & Essay Contest

Editor's Note: There's still a little bit of time to enter.

Welcome to the 26th annual Tom Howard/John H. Reid Fiction & Essay Contest. Submit published or unpublished work. $5,000 in prizes.


Tom Howard/John H. Reid Fiction & Essay Contest
Dennis Norris II

Tom Howard/John H. Reid Fiction & Essay Contest
Lauren Singer Ledoux

Recent Winners

Tom Howard/John H. Reid Fiction & Essay Contest
Joan Corwin
Length of Days

Tom Howard/John H. Reid Fiction & Essay Contest
Debbie Weingarten
The Mule Deer

Please submit between October 15, 2017 and April 30, 2018.


STORY: First Prize, $2,000
ESSAY: First Prize, $2,000
10 Honorable Mentions will receive $100 each (any category)
Top 12 entries published online

For this contest, a story is any short work of fiction, and an essay is any short work of nonfiction. Judge: Dennis Norris II, assisted by Lauren Singer. Please submit as many entries as you like. All themes accepted. Entries may be published or unpublished. Length limit: 6,000 words. No restrictions on age or country. Please click the Submittable button below for full details. Fee: $20 per entry. The results of our 26th annual contest will be announced on October 15, 2018.

For more information or to submit, click here.

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Literary Pulp -- The Roundtable

Several of my fellow writers have asked to be able to chime in on the discussion about blending literary fiction and pulp fiction, so this new writer roundtable will be that very topic.

Robert B. Parker
Can the two be mixed together, or does a literary story with too much fast-paced action or a pulp story with too much literary technique cease to be the thing it was created to be? Where does one draw the line?

Bill Craig: Why does one have to draw the line? Literary stories can contain mystery and romance and action. Pulp stories can tell literary tales of redemption and self-discovery. The only real difference that I have ever found is in the eyes of the reader. Lord Jim, literary fiction, but it also has elements of pulp to it. Some people refer to the collected works of the late Robert B. Parker as literary fiction where I've always considered them to be hard-boiled pulp mystery fiction.

PJ Lozito: Distinctions are made up. My friend told me in Italy, the common folk go to the opera, know all the words and sing along!

Robby Hilliard: Yes they can be mixed. Does it change what they are? I don't know. I'm sure someone will claim it does.

Stuart Hopen: I think it is mostly an arbitrary distinction. You might want to write the kind of spy novels that appeals more to fans of John LeCarre than those of Ian Fleming, but both authors have a mix of literary and pulpy elements. I mean, Anthony Burgess listed Goldfinger as one of the top 100 novels of the 20th century, along with Finnegans Wake and Gravity's Rainbow. A great deal of really classic literature has pure pulp elements. Poe for certain. Melville. Hawthorne. H.G. Welles. Shakespeare. I mean, what is Macbeth if not a horror story? Yeah, Melville could have picked up the pace by deleting the cetology chapters (many abridged versions do) but then he wouldn't have created a bible of the whaling industry, which was part of his vision as well. You might think of the slogan they used to sell the pulps initially -- all action and no philosophy. But you also can express philosophy in terms of action. Robert E. Howard did. Or you can stop the action and have someone give a speech, but that's also the hallmark of sloppy writing whether you're in the literary aisle or the pulp aisle. But it worked for Ayn Rand, whose work has deep pulp roots.

Ayn Rand
Gordon Dymowski: I think that there's a false dichotomy between "literary" writing and "pulp" writing. Dashiell Hammett is a great example: his prose influenced both Raymond Chandler and Ernest Hemingway. Jim Thompson's novels have as much creativity in its prose as it does "pulpiness". Modern authors like Michael Chabon, Jonathan Kellerman, and Sara Paretsky have as much "pulp" in them as they do "literacy". (And there's something very literary about how Emile C. Teppermann uses the "retrospective-on-alternate-history" approach in his Operator 5 Purple Invasion novels)

Yes, I'll get in trouble with many authors for lumping those three in the same category.

I think the line comes when the writer is focused more on "art" than on writing. There's more literary content in a Mickey Spillane novel (and let's be honest - this was a guy who believed that literature was "anything that sells") than in any flavor-of-the-month literary honor. Every writer has only one job: to be honest in their writing. Tell the story and tell it the best way you can. Don't worry about posterity -- it will take care of itself. Just tell the damn story.

(And remember what Groucho Marx once asked - "What has posterity ever done for me?")

Lucy Blue: I think the line between literary fiction and pulp fiction is getting thinner and more transparent all the time, at least for readers. I mean, the winner of this year's National Book Award for novels, Sing, Unburied, Sing, is an incredibly artful, clear-eyed, brilliant literary novel - which also happens to be one hell of a horror story. The winner the year before, The Underground Railroad, has strong elements of dystopian science fiction. And if you look at contemporary pulp, you find some of the most word-drunk writers alive -- if you're going to stand out and show pulp readers a world they haven't seen before, you have to get poetic and creative while staying focused, and you have to be madly in love with the language--all keystones of real literary fiction. I think all of us, pulp and literary writers and publishers alike, have been hornswoggled into believing that "literary fiction" is the stuff that happens when people with other sources of income get graduate fellowships in fiction and get their MFA thesis published by their mom's college roommate who now heads up Blah Blah Division of Scribner & Random Penguins, Inc. (a division of Big Corporate Everything) and genre/pulp fiction is everything else. And it doesn't have to be that way. It ISN'T that way for anybody but people actually in publishing; readers couldn't care less.

Raymond Chandler
Nikki Nelson-Hicks: I've been fighting with this very question. I know a woman who only reads novels that have won Pulitzer's. Even if she hates the book, she will spend months reading it. I asked her why? You're 70 years old. You don't have time to wade through shit that doesn't sing for you. Ugh. She is blinded by branded. And I think that's a big problem: Blinded by Branding. A good story is a good story is a good story. And that's what a writer should be focused on. A good story tells an entertaining tale. A great story tells an entertaining tale but also has a deeper meaning IF you are of the mind to find it. But, in the end, the story has to be ENTERTAINING. Look at Aesop. His stories have lasted for millennia. Why? Because they masquerade as children's tales but are actually life lessons for those that can see it. The same goes for Pulp/Literary or whatever you want to call it. Tell a story, make it good, leave branding to damn marketers.

What are your favorite "art" techniques for decorating the bare bones structure of your pulp prose?

Gordon Dymowski: One of my best creative "arty" tools is Oblique Strategies (Google it) - musician Brian Eno would utilize a series of cards to jump-start creativity. I use an online version to give me a sudden flash of inspiration, and that usually helps me take the story in a unique direction.

When I'm writing, I also try to express complicated emotions and situations in a simple, straightforward manner. I think too many writers (myself included) aim for being "clever" rather than being "honest." (See, there's that word again!). It's easy to think that creating stories gives us superhuman powers and authority...but it doesn't. At the end of the day, we're working hard at writing stories that people will read.

(And if you ever need an additional dose of humility -- try copywriting for a living. Cranking out boilerplate, commercial text has helped me not only develop an appreciation for the work, but also the awareness that there's a difference between straightforward prose and trying to tell a story. Plus, cranking out marketing/web copy/blog text that doesn't emotionally engage people? Soul crushing. And that's what I try to do - engage emotionally as well as intellectually).

H.P. Lovecraft
Lucy Blue: For me, I don't know if this counts as an "art" technique, but in writing genre and pulp fiction, I still try to make the story relevant to real time and place and experience, to have something to say beyond a curiosity or freak show or roller coaster ride. And in fiction I intend to be literary, I always make sure to have enough curiosity, freak show, and/or roller coaster to make it a good read -- I've lost all patience for navel-gazing, my own or anybody else's. I want my characters to be real, but I want them to do and experience something beyond exploring their own unique psyches, which is where I think bad literary fiction fails.

Bill Craig: Art techniques, I assume you speak to adding the grit and texture to the story. Make your character human and give them flaws. Nobody wants to read about someone who is perfect because nobody has ever met someone who is perfect. My characters get hurt, they bleed, they cry. I use my words to paint a picture and then give it color and texture by showing what they are feeling, how they react or how they prepare for what is coming at them. Fear is a natural part of life. Everybody fears something.

Robby Hilliard: Characters with complex and conflicting emotional and moral depth. All too often we see simplistic characters in pulp (not a bad thing if that is the goal) when a little more depth might add that "oomph" to a pulp story. Especially if it is something to be serialized. Make the characters complex with tons of issues to deal with over time. How do we do this? We give our characters real backstories, real past traumas, and real human reactions to them. Then we manifest those demons and flaws from the past into current behavior/traits.

Sara Paretsky
What advice do you offer to those who would like to either pick up the pace of their literary stories or increase the artistic content of their pulp stories?

Nikki Nelson-Hicks: Remember the three things a story needs: Scarcity, Danger, Courage.There is something you want, something in the way, and you pull up your Big Girl Panties and go and get it.

Lucy Blue: This is the best advice I could offer anybody; find a balance. Give the reader a strong story to hold on to but don't act it out with stick figures.

Gordon Dymowski: Read, read, read. But read with a critical eye towards "what makes this story work" -- I've read comments by my fellow writers that suggest they only read one type of pulp...or even one type of literature.

Head the library. Renew your library card, if needed. Go shopping for books that you're curious about. And read them. (I've been getting involved with the work of Chester Himes). Because being exposed to different types of literature will help you develop a greater skill set. And read more than just your favorite genre - take a chance and read something you never thought you would. Because the only way to build your writing muscles is to read how others have done it...and then adapt to your own style.

And again, focus on the damn story. Posterity will take care of itself.

Michael Chabon
Robby Hilliard: For literary and pulp, make the characters face realistic moral/emotional/ethical dilemmas. Sorry, but if your character is just running to the store to pick up a jar of mayonnaise and decides on the spur of the moment pick up a hitchhiker AND decides to screw around on spouse, all without some kind of meaningful backstory AND this is supposed to be 'literary', guess what? I don't care about your character's inner journey. Sounds like a piece of sh--,uh, someone I don't like. So why would I care about his or her decisions? (Sorry. Short story from college popped into my head. Yeah, that really was in the story.)

For pulp, sure, stay focused on the action. That's why we read pulp isn't it? Just maybe layer in something that is orally/ethically/emotionally complex as well. Throw in some symbolism if it fits and works with your story. Make it pose a question, one the story doesn't attempt to answer, that will keep your reader pondering your story long after they've finished reading it.

For literary -- Use actions to flavor and imply/show internal state. It's great to have internal monologue, we all have them. But also add in some actual action and some stakes to be won or lost. It's great that you're character experienced change. But was there anything riding on whether or not that change took place?

Bill Craig: Read, read, and read some more. Look at what has been done before and then figure out what you can do to add texture to your characters and stories to make them reach out and grab the reader by the throat and drag them into the story!

Walter Mosley
Stuart Hopen: I would submit that excellence in pulp or literary fiction depend on the simple formula of maintaining all the elements in balance, recognizing their interdependence. Plot is driven by players being confronted with hard choices, with outcomes based on the exercise of will in making those choices, and style shaping perception of the characters and conveying the way they perceive the world, and they way in which their perceptions are transformed by the unfolding of events, all of which relate to theme. Unity of all elements is the simple basic formula, whether you're dealing with a style as ornate as Norvel Page, H.P. Lovecraft, William Faulkner, or James Joyce, or as simple as Mickey Spillane or Ernest Hemingway. Unity and balance -- that's the simple formula. Only it is the hardest thing in the world. What I learned from pursuing a vision of literary pulp while holding myself to rigorous standards imposed by a merciless muse is that what made the most sense for me is not to depend on it for a livelihood.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Nugget #125 -- Biggy Smalls

By CharlesAPhillips63 - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,

There's an art to writing small and there's 
an art to writing big. It's not an either/or. 

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

[Link] Two Tips for Copyediting Dialogue

by Amy Schneider

Accurately representing dialogue in fiction can be tricky business for both authors and editors. In its most basic form, words spoken aloud by a character, you can’t go wrong with the good old journalistic style of “comma quote name said”: “Just do it this way,” Amy said. But there are so many more ways that characters express themselves, and the editor’s job is to help such expression be true to the character while being understandable to the reader. In this article we’ll touch on the two most common issues I see.

Read the full article:

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Ringo Awards 2018 Nominations Now Open

BALTIMORE, MARYLAND - March 15, 2018 - The Mike Wieringo Comic Book Industry Awards is an annual celebration of the creativity, skill, and fun of comics. The awards return for their second year on Saturday, September 29, 2018 as part of the fan- and pro-favorite convention, The Baltimore Comic-Con.

Unlike other professional industry awards, the Ringo Awards include fan participation in the nomination process along with an esteemed jury of comics professionals.

More than 20 categories will be celebrated with top honors being given at an awards ceremony.

Fan and Pro Nominations

Fan (including non-jury comic industry professionals) and pro-jury voting are tallied independently, and the combined nomination ballot is compiled by the Ringo Awards Committee. The top two fan choices become nominees, and the jury's selections fill the remaining three slots for five total nominees per category. Ties may result in more than five nominees in a single category. Nominees will be listed on the ballot alphabetically. Nomination ballot voting will be open to the public (fans and pros) between March 15, 2018 and May 30, 2018.

Publisher Submissions

New to the Ringo Awards nomination process in 2018, we are enabling publishers to submit works for consideration to the Ringo Jurors. Publishers can submit up to five submissions per "Fan and Pro Nomination" and "Jury-Only Nomination" category that they feel are worthy of consideration. To participate in this process, publishers are asked to have a single representative send an email to for further information.

Final Ballot Voting

After processing by the Ringo Awards Committee and Jury, the Final Ballot is targeted to be available to comic creative professionals for voting on June 25, 2018 and will be due by August 31, 2018 for final tallying. Presentation of the winners will occur at the Baltimore Comic-Con on the evening of Saturday, September 29, 2018.

Nomination Eligibility

Eligibility for creators and creative works is determined by publication in the preceding calendar year - print publication date takes precedence over electronic publication date. For electronic works, the date of publication is time-stamped with most publications and at least 3 episodes/installments of continuing works must have appeared during the eligibility period.

New Categories

New in 2018, we have added two categories based on juror feedback from our inaugural year:

Open to Fans and Pros, we are now including "Best Kids Comic or Graphic Novel". This category recognizes publications that are tailored to the evolving generation of comic readers, and one that Mike Wieringo would have been behind 100%.

In Fan-Only Favorites, we have added "Favorite Publisher" to the list, allowing readers to nominate the publisher they thought created the best works in the previous year. Will it be one of the big comics houses? An online company? Perhaps a book publisher? Did an indie publisher knock it out of the park? Your vote counts!

Fan and Pro Nomination Categories

* Best Cartoonist (Writer/Artist)
* Best Writer
* Best Artist or Penciller
* Best Inker
* Best Letterer
* Best Colorist
* Best Cover Artist
* Best Series
* Best Single Issue or Story
* Best Original Graphic Novel
* Best Anthology
* Best Humor Comic
* Best Comic Strip or Panel
* Best Webcomic
* Best Non-fiction Comic Work
* Best Kids Comic or Graphic Novel
* Best Presentation in Design

Jury-Only Nomination (with three bonus jurors)

* The Mike Wieringo Spirit Award

Fan-Only Favorite Categories

* Favorite Hero
* Favorite Villain
* Favorite New Series
* Favorite New Talent
* Favorite Publisher

Hero Initiative Award (selected by the Hero Initiative)

* The Hero Initiative Lifetime Achievement Award
* The Dick Giordano Humanitarian Award

Saturday, March 17, 2018


Airship 27 Productions is thrilled to present in the 11th volume in its best selling mystery series, “Sherlock Holmes – Consulting Detective.” All of them new and never published before.

“Our Sherlock Holmes fans have made this series so popular,” says Airship 27 Productions’ Managing Editor, Ron Fortier, “that the second we release one volume, they start asking when the next is coming out. I’m really not kidding.”

A woman’s remains are found in the newly excavated foundation of what will become the New Scotland Yard. The missing painting of a dead woman leads to unraveling a devious conspiracy. A U.S. Deputy Marshal is in London chasing a vicious and elusive criminal. A sadistic serial killer leaves the authorities puzzles before each of his killings.

Four unique and original case to challenge Sherlock Holmes and his loyal companion, Dr. Watson as delivered by writers I.A. Watson, Lee Houston Jr., Peter Basile and Greg Hatcher. Denver artist Laura Givens provides the outstanding cover and Art Director Rob Davis the twelve black and white interior illustrations. Once again the streets of London are hidden behind the fog of crime and villainy. Yes, indeed, the game is once again, afoot!


Available from Amazon in both paperback and on Kindle.

Friday, March 16, 2018

Michael Fleisher, Longtime Jonah Hex Writer, Passed Away

Longtime DC Comics writer, Michael Fleisher, who wrote a number of comics for the company in the 1970s and 1980s, especially a long run on Jonah Hex and an acclaimed run on Spectre with artist Jim Aparo in Adventure Comics, passed away in February at the age of 75 years old.

Read the full article:

Thank you so much!

A big thank you to everyone who took time to vote in the Pulp Factory Awards. And especially to those who voted for me or The Ruby Files. Very appreciated. As soon as I find out the winners, win or lose, I'll post them here to congratulate the winners and nominees because there are no losers on that ballot.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Literary Pulp—Why It Makes Sense and How To Write It

by Sean Taylor, with a little help from my friends

Classic pulp is as much known for its black and white, all or nothing characterizations and crammed-to-the-top-with-action plotlines as it is for the cheap paper from which it gets its name—maybe even more so nowadays. So, with that in mind, how does someone like me, who got his start in literary fiction and the three most important words in fiction writing (character, character, and character, of course), grow into the kind of writer who embraces the pulp style of storytelling?

That’s a good question.

But, perhaps the better question is how can someone else do the same?

Because, trust me, there’s a lot of gold to be mined in the odd, little marriage between literary fiction and pulp fiction.

Author Derrick Ferguson sums up the discussion between art and non-art quite well.

“Before I step up on my soapbox and start the pontificating, let me start of by saying that I don’t consider ‘throwaway writing’ to be a bad thing. Robert Heinlein is famous for saying that 90 percent of everything is crap. I think that 90 percent of entertainment is throwaway and disposable. Most people are really just looking for something to entertain and/or distract them from whatever is giving them the grumbles in their life. Of course, the creators of that entertainment hope and pray that it will live on after them. But I find it difficult to believe that the creators of Gomer Pyle, USMC expected or hoped that people would still be watching the show 50 years later.

“And the ability to entertain is not to be taken lightly. I don’t get emails of thanks often, but every so often I will get one from somebody who will thank me because they read something I wrote that transported them away from their problems for a couple of hours, and for me, that’s one of the highest compliments that I can be given.”

Barry Reece
Let’s Get Two Things Straight First

Before we go any further, we should probably lay down the two ground rules that govern this whole shebang in my understanding of it.

#1—Literature doesn’t trump genre.

There are those out there in the market who think that literary means better written and that genre means written for the average idiot. As far as I’m concerned, neither of those thoughts hold any validity. Rather, I believe that the two are simply two different ways of approaching writing that both can learn from each other and help each other out from time to time.

“Great literature isn't great because of its genre or its pace," says author Percival Constantine. "Shakespeare wrote plays for mass consumption, for crying out loud. I defy you to read anything by Vonnegut and call it slow or meandering. There is nothing in any definition of pulp I've ever seen that says the characters must be flat, the prose must be clunky, and the plots must be simple.”

#2—There’s no such reader as the average dum-dum.

Are there smart readers? Yes. Dumb readers? Of course. Average readers? Absolutely.

However, the straw man that some critics and reviewers have created to build a chasm of difference between a Joe Everybody reader and an Artiste McHighbrow reader is pure garbage. I come from a background in Literature, and I’ve been all over the United States as a writer hitting various conventions, and let me tell you what I’ve learned: Readers are readers. They don’t divide themselves into camps based on a perceived difference in brainpower. A lot of the same folks who read Oprah’s Book Club recommendations also read both James Patterson and Zora Neale Hurston. Many of the same folks who read Mickey Spillane on their Kindles also read Ambrose Bierce and Flannery O’Connor on them as well.

They Go Together Better Than Macs and PCs
(or even Marvels and DCs)

If you’re my age, you remember those commercials where one guy was a Mac and another was a PC and they argued about who was better (which were later parodied for Marvel and DC). Well, I’ve had that same experience, but with pulp and literature. Literally. I’ve had some editors and writers tell me there’s no room for literary techniques in pulp, that pulp should merely be fast and free of any style or technique.

I daresay, those folks seem to have forgotten H.P. Lovecraft, Raymond Chandler, and Ray Bradbury. They crossed and re-crossed the great literary divide, and their stories live on not in spite of their craft and technique but because of them.

“I think you have to look at other genres that have often been seen as the opposite of art—science fiction, fantasy, superheroes, etc. All of these at one time or another have been considered trash fiction. But then you've had people who have elevated those genres to new heights—people like Ursula K. LeGuin, Kurt Vonnegut, Philip K. Dick, Isaac Asimov, J.R.R. Tolkien, Frank Herbert, Grant Morrison, Warren Ellis, etc.” says Constantine.

The "New Pulp" Openness

In the interest of keeping us all on the same page (as the saying goes), let’s first clarify what New Pulp is. According to Pro Se Press, one of the leading publishers of the genre (or style, depending on who you ask), new pulp is “fiction written with the same sensibilities, beats of storytelling, patterns of conflict, and creative use of words and phrases of original pulp, but crafted by modern writers, artists, and publishers. New stories with either completely original characters or new tales of established characters from Pulp past. It’s really that simple. New pulp is pulp written today.”

There are several schools of thought within the New Pulp movement. One looks to do little more than telling new stories of classic characters. Another looks to create new characters that are primarily reminders or pastiches of those classic characters. Still others seek to take the tropes and style of classic pulp and bring those types of stories kicking and screaming into contemporary fiction (regardless of the time period and settings of the tales themselves). I’m not going to say any of those is better than the others, but I will admit to being firmly entrenched in that third group.

Where do we stand now? Percival Constantine again hits the nail on its proverbial head. “I'm not going to stand here and say that all pulp is filled with complex characters, intricate plots, and well-crafted prose because that would be a lie. In fact, probably a majority of the classic pulps are pretty bad. The plots are simplistic, and the characters are flat or stereotypical (especially where women and minorities are concerned). But you know what?” he continues. “That's true of pretty much any genre. Have a look at the literary fiction section the next time you're on Amazon or in a bookstore and flip through some of the books. There's a lot of stuff that tries to use pretension to cover up for ham-fisted dialog, extremely purple prose, and a lot of navel-gazing.”

Within that new generation of pulp writers there are numerous characters and settings being created that may or may not stand the test of time like Phillip Marlowe or The Shadow, but folks like Derrick Ferguson, Barry Reese, and Percival Constantine are still doing their damndest to make that happen and fill the world of pulp fiction with something different—but not too different, unless, of course, you're talking about the caliber of writing.

So, I asked them a bit about how they create New Pulp held to a higher standard. Here’s what I was able to glean from them.

The Facts, Ma’am, Just the Facts

No more ideological stuff. You want the how-to. Well, thanks to some of the modern masters… here it is.

1. Don’t try so hard.

“The best advice I can give for looking to create some kind of lasting art?” says Ferguson. “Don’t even try.”

Barry Reese echoes the sentiment: “I don’t really spend a lot of time thinking about such things. I write what I want to read, and a lot of times, that’s escapist entertainment.”

True art hides itself. That’s what I’ve been taught my whole life as a storyteller. You may have heard that same idea translated this way: The author should seek to hide himself or herself so he or she doesn’t distract the reader. In the best art, that intentional invisibility will refuse to be hidden. One needs no more than to look at Monet’s paintings or Michelangelo's David to see that. Or perhaps to read The Great Gatsby or the poetry of Langston Hughes. The difference is that the art comes after, not before. The work comes first.

But be careful, cautions Ferguson. “That doesn’t mean I’m saying don’t try to produce the best art that you are capable of producing. You should always strive to tell the best story you can in the best way you can. What I am saying is that there’s madness in sitting down at your keyboard and pronouncing to the world ‘I am going to create art!’”

2. Be true to your characters. 

Derrick Ferguson
One of the tenets of both literature and genre fiction that adherents can agree on over the chasm is this: Character is king. Without the consistent personalities behind them, protagonists like The Spider and Doc Savage wouldn’t have become so important to so many fans in the same way that without a well developed personality, Hemmingway’s existentialist heroes wouldn’t have influenced decades of readers, writers, and filmmakers.

The difference comes in how literature and genre decide illustrate and create characterizations.

Constantine says, “Pulp is, in its simplest distillation, fast-paced, action-oriented fiction. That doesn't mean you can't have characterization in there as well.”

Characterization comes from what your characters do and say in pulp fiction, not in what they think and pontificate about, according to Ferguson: “As so often happens in fiction and especially pulp, you gotta figure out what works for you and how you can best convey characterization while your heroes are running around trying to stop the big bad from blowing up the world.”

3. Say something about the world around you.

Here’s something folks don’t always think about in their writing. It gets down to that amorphous notion called “theme.” Like in the first point (Don’t try so hard.), theme is one of those things that most often is distilled through the writer’s views and ideals without really thinking about it. That said, however, it never hurts to look at (or back at) your work to see what you are saying beyond just Character A punched Character B.

In my own work, it is not just important to me, but vital to the understanding of Rick Ruby that the multi-colored, but still race-embroiled, world in The Ruby Files be communicated in the stories. I’m not using a Phillip Marlow pastiche to try to make a point about racism, but I’m determined to show the world as it was and let readers figure things out for themselves.

Likewise, Ferguson’s Dillon can at first be seen as a black version of Doc Savage, but the comparison stops at the surface. What the author says through the adventures of Dillon is what’s important, and goes far beyond the idea of “Wouldn’t it be cool to have a black Doc Savage?”

“Great literature not only features developed characters and skillful prose but is also a commentary on the society it was written in,” says Constantine. “That doesn't mean you hammer readers over the head with it, but you have to look at the world in which you're living, think about what you want to say in regards to it, and find a subtle way to relay that message through your fiction.”

He cites the recent Black Panther movie, with its “really serious and complex themes about colonialism and globalism” as an example.

4. But don’t be so obvious about it.

Remember that bit about art hiding itself? It’s worth repeating, particularly in pulp fiction. Find ways to write complex characters and themes in simple, subtle ways.

Ferguson has a method that works for him—using the movement between settings to get to know anything about his characters the action might not show.

“Plenty of time characterization is done as my heroes are traveling in vehicles from Point A to Point B,” he says. “Let me provide you with an example from a popular movie: there’s a scene in the movie Silver Streak where Gene Wilder and Richard Pryor are in a stolen fire-engine red Jaguar racing to save Jill Clayburgh from Patrick McGoohan, and they’re exchanging what is some pretty meaningful dialog about their relationship, the situation they’re in and how they’re going to save Jill Clayburgh. It’s a nice scene with characterization but it’s done in a moving car that is taking them from one action scene to the next. The movie slows down to provide us with characterization but the actual plot doesn’t slow down and carries the promise that we’re going to see more action once to get to where we’re going.”

5. Keep it moving while you do all that.

Hot on the heels of the previous point, it’s important to keep pulp fiction movie moving along at a good pace and speed. There’s little room (none, some might say) to admire the mountains between Hobbiton and Mordor in pulp fiction. Nor is there time to lie down in the grass and dreamily point out cloud animals. Something needs to be happening. (Notice the tense of that sentence. I didn’t say “Something needs to happen.” I said: “Something needs to be happening.” Ongoing. It doesn’t really stop.)

Reese says it’s all based in the definition of pulp, as he sees it. “Pulp, to me, is about fast-paced adventure. I can deliver that while also giving you three-dimensional characters. Indiana Jones is a good example of what can be done with new pulp. He’s nuanced, but his adventures are thrilling to watch (and read—some of the licensed novels are excellent).”

Ferguson agrees:

“Writers of pulp knew the secret of having genuine characterization in their work long ago. You can do characterization and have sparkling, meaningful dialog and solid supporting casts and all those things that literary fiction prides itself on in the most action-packed of stories. Here’s the catch: Don’t stop the action to do all that stuff. 
“Let me clarify. Action doesn’t mean that you have to have constant fist-fights, explosions, cliffhangers, the heroes continually escaping fates worse than death or chases and captures. Although if you are writing pulp, I would certainly hope that you do have all that stuff in there. After all, what’s the point of writing pulp if you don’t? It’s like making a ham sandwich without the ham. But in pulp, the plot always has to be going forward. You simply cannot stop the thrust of the plot to indulge in a three page introspective passage when your heroine is supposed to be saving the world.”

To put it in terms those who have attended one too many writer’s conventions can appreciate, don’t let the writer chew the scenery.

6. Realize that not all “art” is as good as some writers and critics think it is.

Percival Constantine
This one gets back to the heart of our two things to get straight. (You haven’t forgotten them already, have you?)

#1—Literature doesn’t trump genre.
#2—There’s no such reader as the average dum-dum.

Just because a section in the bookstore is called literary fiction doesn’t mean the books there are better than everything (or even anything) else in the rest of the store. Nor does it mean it’s intrinsically good at all. Literary fiction is based on a set of rules for storytelling just like genre fiction is based on a set of rules for storytelling just like comic book writing is based on a set of rules for storytelling just like… Well, you get the point.

“The problem with the ‘literary debate’ is that you're not actually having the right conversation,” says Constantine. “Not all great literature is literary fiction. And I come at this from both sides, because not only am I a pulp writer, but I also teach literature.”

“One thing I’ve noticed with most writers whose work has stood the test of time and transcended whatever genre it was created for,” Ferguson adds, “is that most of them did not set out to create art. They simply wanted to tell a good story, maybe make a couple of bucks on the side and entertain themselves. A good deal can be said for writers simply relaxing and having some fun with writing. And it can be a whole lot of fun if you let it be.”

As the vernacular goes these days, “You do you.”

7. Literary techniques and genre techniques are the same techniques.

Never thought you’d hear that, huh? When it comes to writer’s toolboxes, there isn’t a fancy mauve one for literary writers and a beat-up, tried and true rust bucket for genre writers. (Unless you paint your own, of course. In which case you can mauve your heart out.) And if you open either toolbox, you’ll find the same tools in each. You’re no doubt familiar with them already:

  • Dialog
  • Pacing
  • Characterization
  • Point of View
  • Grammar
  • Breaking Grammar
  • Research
  • Setting
  • Word sounds
  • World building
  • Connotation and Denotation
  • Figures of speech
  • Spelling
  • Intentional Misspelling
  • And so on…

When it comes to pounding in a nail, a hammer is a hammer is a hammer. Whether you’re building a shed or a mansion, the tool remains the same.

Conclusion—It Either Works for You or It Doesn’t

So, where does this leave us? Are you ready to take your action stories into the world of literary approaches? Or do you prefer to just sit in your office and make Character A punch Character B in the face? Then do it.

Are you tired of critics or other writers trying to tell you your genre writing is something less than their highbrow art? Ignore them.

Are you tired of reading poorer quality stories in your chosen genres? Move past them and write something better.

The genre doesn’t matter. It just “comes down to writers willing to go that extra mile to elevate the genre,” says Constantine.


For more information about Barry Reese, Derrick Ferguson, and Percival Constantine, please visit their websites.  

If you want more about Literary Pulp, go read the companion piece to this article. 

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Nugget #124 -- Fight Like a Dancer

Watch your pacing. 
Let a fight have a 
dance and flow. Let 
a moment of passion 
vary from slow to fast. 
Let the scent of baked 
macaroni and cheese 
linger in the reader’s 
nose then chop off 
into short wisps of 
scent with sentence 
fragments. Let form 
meet function.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

[Link] 10 Mind-Blowing Tips on How to Stop Procrastinating

by Jack Milgram
Ever asked yourself if there’s a way to learn how to stop procrastinating? Tired of anxiety and panic because of looming deadlines? Have you already tried many time management techniques and found only one effective way to stay productive—to tie yourself to the chair?

We can relate to these questions, as many of us have asked ourselves the same things. Procrastination seems an enemy to all of us—something that makes us feel lazy, guilty, and stressed out.

But want to know the best part?

Perhaps, procrastination can be to your advantage; instead of a flaw.

How does it work? Firstly, what does procrastination mean?

Here’s a typical procrastination definition: an act of postponing or delaying some tasks often connected with work or studies.

It doesn’t mean you forget to complete some assignments or get fired because of your laziness. More often, the real problem is due to the anxiety and stress you feel before a deadline.

In other words, procrastinators usually do as much work as non-procrastinators—the difference between them is how many hours they spend on actually completing the tasks.

Read the full article:

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Darrell Award Winner -- Best Short Story!

Best Midsouth Short Story
Winner - From Hair to Eternity by Phyllis Appleby

The amazing storytellers of Malice in Memphis specialize in taking historical locations and fictionally embellishing them with new characters, mysteries, and murder. They have now taken on Memphis' finest and oldest active burial ground, the famous Elmwood Cemetery.

Founded in 1852, it is the final resting place of over 75,000 residents. From the common to the infamous, from the powerful to the famous, they are all here. The tapestry of life and death in the Mid-South is laid out in a beautiful garden cemetery with sweeping vistas, massive ancient trees, and spectacular monuments from the Victorian age to modern sculptures.

Malice in Memphis is now adding their special touch to the myriad of stories drifting among the mausoleums.

The Tales:
A Love Story by Mary Balsamo
An Elmwood Misadventure by Juanita D. Houston
A Part to Die For by Richard Powell
Bloodline, by Angelyn Sherrod
Date Night by Larry Hoy
Forget Me Nots by Elaine Meece
From Hair to Eternity by Phyllis Appleby
Grave Robbers by Kristi Bradley
Graveyard Grace by Barbara Christopher
Headshrinker by Susan Wooten
Hold Please by Lynn Maples
One Dare Too Many by Annette Miller
Public Death Private Murder by Carolyn McSparren
The 21st Battalion Will March at Dawn by Dutch Warren
The Furnace Room by James C. Paavola
The Yellow Fever Revenge by Jackie Ross Flaum
Unsolved Forever by Thomas Kienzle
A Very Worthy Human Being by Richard Powell
Returning to Russwood Park by Barbara Christopher
One Big Foot in the Grave by Phyllis Appleby
Rainbow Lake by Kristi Bradley
Fort Pillow Escape by Juanita D. Houston
Holding On To You by Angelyn Sherrod

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Casting Rick Ruby 2018! (Sean plays director)

In honor of Rick Ruby being nominated for the Pulp Ark Awards, let's have some fun and cast the Rick Ruby movie. (and if you haven't voted yet, here's the link:

My choices using contemporary actors:

Rick Ruby
Damien Lewis

Evelyn Johnson
Gugu Mbatha-Raw

May Belle Williams
Christine Adams

"Broom Stick" Strickland
Clarke Peters 

"Mac" McGinnis
Bruce Greenwood

Donna Dixon
Anna Lynne McCord

Edie Rose Adams
Typhaine Daviot

Carla St. Clair
Elizabeth Henstridge

Robert Perry
David Boreanez

Making this a movie in the 50s, 60, or even 70s would have been a lot easier to pick actors for me, but using contemporary actors was a lot harder. I tend to follow the older ones or still think of the 30-something ones as "Disney kids." *grins*

Friday, March 9, 2018



Award winning best selling author Robert J. Randisi returns to one of his most beloved mystery series. Set in the glitz and glamour of Las Vegas in the days when Sinatra was king, The Rat Pack Mysteries have taken Randisi’s Eddie G. on many a dangerous path where he’s met both the famous and the infamous. The eleventh in the series is no different and is packed with all the action and mystery readers expect. I ONLY HAVE LIES FOR YOU: A RAT PACK MYSTERY is available from Pro Se Productions in paperback, digital, and hardcover.

By 1965, Eddie Giannelli has a rep as a “go-to” guy in Vegas...but Frank Sinatra takes Eddie away from home on a trip to Miami. When that happens, Eddie G not only pals around with Dean Martin and Sammy Davis, Jr., but gets the chance to meet “The Great One”, Jackie Gleason.

Word of Eddie’s skill for helping people out of tough jams makes the trip to Florida too as he’s asked to help out a woman Gleason’s involved with. Before you can say “And Away We Go!”, Eddie finds himself caught up in a tale of murder, bourbon, and Brooklyn…

Take a trip to sunny, deadly Miami in this latest tale of the Rat Pack by Robert J. Randisi, called “the last of the true pulp writers” by Booklist.

Featuring an atmospheric cover by Larry Nadolsky, logo and cover design by Casey W. Cowan, and print formatting by Marzia Marina and Antonino Lo Iacono, I ONLY HAVE LIES FOR YOU is available now in paperback at and Pro Se’s own store at for 17.99. The book is also available in hardcover for $40.00 at

Randisi’s eleventh Rat Pack Mystery is also available as an Ebook, designed and formatted by Lo Iacono and Marina for only $5.99 for the Kindle at This book is available on Kindle Unlimited, which means Kindle Unlimited Members can read for free.

Reviews for the Rat Pack Mystery Series:

“Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin never knew how much trouble they were in until Robert Randisi stepped onto the scene. A gem of a read!”
-Sue Grafton

“Randisi does a bang-up job capturing Sinatra, Martin, Davis Jr., and their fellow Kings of Cool in all their Vegas glory . . . With a likeable but savvy protagonist, a deep understanding of Vegas culture and 60’s style, and an obvious love of the Rat Pack, Randisi delivers a stylish, memorable winner.”

For more information on this title, interviews with the author, or digital copies to review this book, contact Pro Se Productions at To learn more about Pro Se Productions, go to Like Pro Se on Facebook at

Thursday, March 8, 2018

The Ruby Files Vol. 2 Sweeps the Nominations forThe Pulp Ark Awards 2018!

The Pulp Factory Award nominations were announced on March 2, 2018 and the The Ruby Files Team is honored to announce that The Ruby Files Vol. 2 has racked up multiple nominations, including:

Best Pulp Short Story: "Takedown" by Bobby Nash
Best Pulp Short Story: "A Tree Falls in the Forest" by Sean Taylor
Best Pulp Cover: Mark Wheatley
Best Pulp Interior Illustrations: Nik Poliwko
Best Pulp Anthology: The Ruby Files Vol. 2, Ron Fortier (editor, Airship 27 Productions)

Here is the press release and official ballot. Voting is open to the public. Voting ends March 12, 2018. Winners will be announced at the Windy City Pulp and Paper Con held April 6-8 in Lombard, IL.

Congratulations to all of the nominees from the eight different publishers in the running. Also, a big thank you to those who nominated The Ruby Files vol. 2 and to those who will hopefully vote for it. Ha! Ha!

Now get out there and vote for your favorites!

Lombard, Illinois – March 2, 2018

With April’s Windy City Pulp and Paper approaching fast, the ballot for the Tenth Annual Pulp Factory Awards – to be handed out at the conference – has just opened up for voting by the reading public.

The ballot can be found online at

Voters have until midnight on Monday, March 12 to select one nominee in several categories. All votes must be received via the electronic ballot via Google forms.

Note the deadline is earlier than usual due to Windy City Pulp Con beginning on April 6.
Shortlisted nominees in each category are as follows:

Blackthorn: Spires of Mars - I A Watson  (White Rocket Books)
Captain Action: Cry of the Jungle Lord - Jim Beard & Barry Reese (Airship 27)
The Eye of Quang Chi - Fred Adams, Jr.  (Airship 27)
Holmes and Houdini - I A Watson  (Airship 27)
Pulp Heroes: Sanctuary Falls - Wayne Reinagel  (Knightraven Studios)
Sentinels vol 9: Vendetta - Van Allen Plexico  (White Rocket Books)
Snow Drive - Bobby Nash  (BEN Books)
Tales of the Golden Dragon - Barbara Doran (Airship 27)

Bass Reeves: Frontier Marshal vol 2 - Marco Turini (Airship 27)
Holmes & Houdini - Chad Hardin (Airship 27)
Jezebel Johnson: Queen of Anarchy - Rob Davis (Airship 27)
Jezebel Johnson: Sea Witch - Laura Givens (Airship 27)
Queensberry Justice: The Fight Card Sherlock Holmes Omnibus - Mike Fyles (Fight Card)
The Ruby Files vol 2 - Mark Wheatley (Airship 27)
Sentinels vol 9: Vendetta - Chris Kohler (White Rocket Books)
Six Gun Terrors vol 3: The Slithering Terror - Ted Hammond (Airship 27)

"The Adventure of the Failing Light" - I A Watson - Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective v 9 (Airship 27)
"Takedown" - Bobby Nash - The Ruby Files vol 2 (Airship 27)
"A Tree Falls in the Forest" - Sean Taylor - The Ruby Files vol 2 (Airship 27)

Rob Davis - Sherlock Holmes: Consulting Detective vol 9  (Airship 27)
Rob Davis - Sherlock Holmes: Consulting Detective vol 10  (Airship 27)
Rob Davis - Holmes and Houdini  (Airship 27)
Morgan Fitzsimmons - The Eye of Quang Chi  (Airship 27)
Gary Kato - Tales of the Golden Dragon  (Airship 27)
Javier Lugo - C.O. Jones vol 2: Skinners  (Airship 27)
Nik Poliwko - The Ruby Files, vol 2  (Airship 27)

Haunted Blades: Tales of the Black Musketeers - Connor MacDonald & Amanda Berthault, Eds (Pro Se)
Queensberry Justice: The Fight Card Sherlock Holmes Omnibus - Paul Bishop, Ed (Fight Card)
The Ruby Files, vol 2 - Ron Fortier, Ed (Airship 27)
Restless: An Anthology of Mummy Horror - Jim Beard & John Bruening, Eds (Flinch)
Sherlock Holmes: Consulting Detective, vol 9 - Ron Fortier, Ed (Airship 27)
Sherlock Holmes: Consulting Detective, vol 10 - Ron Fortier, Ed (Airship 27)
The Song of Heroes - Nancy Hansen, Ed (Pro Se)


After March 12, the committee will tally all of the electronic votes and the winners will be announced at the Windy City Pulp and Paper Convention on Friday, April 6, 2018.

Questions and concerns should be directed to This will insure a more prompt response than reaching out to individual committee members.

Thank you for your interest, and looking forward to your votes!

Vote online at:

Please spread the word.

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

The Golden Amazon hits the books!

The fiercest pulp hero: The Golden Amazon, in her own book of new tales by Howard Hopkins and Sean Taylor. Available now!

 Hardcover from Moonstone:

Softcover from Moonstone: