Thursday, September 8, 2011

Introduction to Riding the Pulp Trail by Laurie Powers

My grandfather, Paul S. Powers (1905-1971) was a prolific and successful pulp fiction writer from the mid 1920s until the late 1940s. The majority of his work was published in WILD WEST WEEKLY, a Street & Smith magazine, where his popular characters Sonny Tabor and Kid Wolf appeared regularly for fifteen years. But he was also an accomplished writer of horror, detective, noir and romance tales. Some of his first works were published in WEIRD TALES, known as the publisher of the finest horror and fantasy fiction of the 20th century. Powers’ proudest achievement, however, was his novel DOC DILLAHAY, a novel based on the life of his father as a pioneer physician, which was published by Macmillan in 1949.

This collection, however, is a collection of westerns that are quite different from my grandfather’s work with WILD WEST WEEKLY. To explain, I need to give you a little background.

I didn’t know of my grandfather’s pulp fiction career until 1999, when I ran an Internet search on the only pen name I knew of, Ward M. Stevens. Over the next six months, I discovered that he had written hundreds of stories for WILD WEST WEEKLY. But my search did end there. I also found my grandfather’s other children – my aunt and uncle - that I hadn’t seen in 35 years. When I reunited with my aunt Pat in June of 1999, she gave me two large boxes filled with my grandfather’s personal papers that had been stored in her attic since Paul’s death in 1971. In there, among many other things, was Paul’s unpublished memoir, PULP WRITER: TWENTY YEARS IN THE AMERICAN GRUB STREET that he had written in 1943. In 2007, 64 years after it was written, PULP WRITER was published by the University of Nebraska Press.

In 2001, my aunt handed me another box. It was a small box, something that would be used to store documents. She said it was unpublished manuscripts; I thought she said they were rejects from WILD WEST WEEKLY. I’m embarrassed to say that I didn’t look at the stories until eight years later and it wasn’t until a friend, David Cranmer, casually asked mentioned in an email that “wouldn’t it be great if we could find some of your grandfather’s unpublished works and get them published now.” My thoughts immediately went to that little box that had been stored in my closet.

When I opened it up and began to read them, I was shocked to discover that these stories weren’t rejects from WILD WEST WEEKLY. Rather, there were many stories that were written after WILD WEST WEEKLY had shut down. In addition, there were many stories that weren’t westerns at all. There were almost 30 stories in that little box. Five of them appear in this collection. The sixth new story, “By the Neck Until Dead,” is a Sonny Tabor story that was intended to be published in WILD WEST WEEKLY in 1943, but never appeared because of the magazine’s suspension.

The remaining six stories in this collection were published in magazines such as THRILLING WESTERN, TEXAS RANGERS, EXCITING WESTERN, RIO KID WESTERN, and THRILLING RANCH STORIES in the late 1940s. Paul did write many other stories for other magazines, such as for WESTERN STORY MAGAZINE, but these six reflect a good variety of themes and represent some of his best post-WWW work.

Two of the published stories, “A Pard for Navajo Jack,” and “Judgment Day on Whisky Trail,” appeared in THRILLING WESTERN in 1947 and 1948. “Hangnoose for a Prodigal” appeared in THRILLING RANCH STORIES in March 1948. “Buzzards Hate Bullets” was published in EXCITING WESTERN in November 1947. All of these aforementioned magazines were under Leo Margulies’ editorial care at Standard Publications. The two other stories, “Boothill is My Destination,” that appeared in TEXAS RANGERS in December 1947, and “Death is Where You Find It” in RIO KID WESTERN in August 1949, were imprints of Better Publications.

All of the stories in this collection reflect a new style that my grandfather had to adopt in the early 1940s. His earlier, WILD WEST WEEKLY style was developed and honed over the 15 years he wrote for the magazine. It was geared towards adolescents that read WWW and was full of the “blood and thunder” indicative of the westerns that were churned out during that period. It was a highly lucrative trade for my grandfather; but it also put him at an extreme disadvantage when he had to change course and relearn his craft when the old style was no longer popular. No longer were heroes to be the semi-super human cowboys who survived hundreds of bullet wounds and shoot targets with jaw dropping speed and accuracy. They were now to be more mature and sometimes with a darker look on life. Heroes that for years were clean-cut, highly moral and almost puritan in their habits were replaced by lead characters who drank, smoked, and swore.

Still, Paul managed to adapt. The editor that most often corresponded with Paul was Marguiles. While there were several rejection letters in the box, once I studied the pattern of published stories during that period, I found that Margulies published as many stories during that time as he rejected.

Paul’s output in the late 1940s was merely a fraction of the amount that he wrote for WILD WEST WEEKLY, but it was for a good reason. While he was writing these stories, he was also writing DOC DILLAHAY. When the time came in 1943 to finally start on that book, nothing was going to stop him, not even the lucrative money he knew he could make writing for WESTERN STORY, EXCITING WESTERNS and THRILLING RANCH STORIES. I like to think that despite the drastic drop in income he experienced during this period, he probably relished the change of pace in writing these new stories and the freedom from the pressure of turning out Sonny Tabor, Kid Wolf, Freckles Malone, and Johnny Forty-five stories every single week.

Before turning you loose on this wonderful collection, I’d like to thank a few people. First off, a deep gratitude to my aunt, Pat Binkley, who has entrusted me not only with the personal papers but also with the privilege of sharing her father’s life story through this book and other publications. I can only hope that I am doing it justice. Thanks also to David Cranmer who, as I mentioned before, started this whole ball rolling in getting these new stories in print. His support has always kept me going. Matt Moring of Altus Press has been an enthusiastic and patient partner in the process of getting these stories out of my closet and into the public’s hands.

I want to thank my friends in the pulp fiction community and those who have followed my blog,, many of whom expressed interest and support in getting these stories published. Many of them are leading historians and collectors of pulp fiction magazines. They are also some of the nicest people I have ever met. In particular I’d like to thank Ed Hulse, Walker Martin, Barry Traylor, Jack Irwin, Steve Kennedy, Jack Cullers, John Locke, and Will Murray for their generosity in sharing their extensive knowledge.

And finally I’d like to thank Gary Dobbs, a fine Western writer in his own right, who came up with the great title for this collection. I couldn’t think of a more fitting title for this collection than RIDING THE PULP TRAIL.

Check out Laurie's Wild West.


pattinase (abbott) said...

Your story is almost as exciting as his must be. So wonderful you pursued him story.

G said...

Sounds like a good book to put on my Christmas wish list.

Charles Gramlich said...

Definitely a story itself in this intro.

Dave King said...

I started to read this when I came over yesterday, didn't have time to finish it. What a great story!