Barry Reese

Pulp Writer Extraordinaire

When I was a kid, I was surrounded by the paperback reprints of the classic pulp heroes: Doc Savage, The Avenger, John Carter, Conan, etc. Those books excited me with their lurid covers and exciting characters, instilling a love for that kind of fiction that remains with me today.

These days, when people ask me what kind of things I write, I sometimes avoid describing it as “pulp” because most people have no clue what that means and I’m too tired of explaining it to bother. Sometimes, I say I write “horror, sci-fi and fantasy” but then folks expect to find elves or something in my books. A bunch of folks (of which I was one) spent a lot of time coming up with a ‘definition’ of pulp that runs like this: “Fast-paced, plot-oriented storytelling of a linear nature with clearly defined, larger than life protagonists and antagonists, creative descriptions, clever use of turns of phrase and other aspects of writing that add to the intensity and pacing of the story.”

Now that’s quite a mouthful so it’s not something I can just spout off at a moment’s notice. It’s a compromise, too, which means that nobody was really happy with it. And there are so many exceptions to the rule that the definition often sparks debate amongst pulp fans.

I understand the desire to want to brand ourselves as “pulp” — we love it and we want to be a part of it, to be seen as the inheritors of the mantle and the ones who continue to carry it forward.

But to the general public, pulp fiction is a movie that starred John Travolta and Samuel L. Jackson.

I don’t have the answer for how to change that. Honestly, I think it will take that brass ring we’re all chasing — the book or character that “breaks out” and becomes popular to the mainstream. But when that happens, will the New Pulp label be brought with it? I don’t know.

In the end, pulp is kind of like pornography… I may not be able to define it, but I know it when I see it. Brendan Fraser’s The Mummy? Pulp. The Time Traveler’s Wife? Not Pulp.

Our art today is by George Sellas and features Leonid Kaslov in a scene from “Kaslov’s Fire,” The Rook Volume Two (re-released later this year).

14 thoughts on “Pulp? Yeah, Pulp.

  1. “In the end, pulp is kind of like pornography… I may not be able to define it, but I know it when I see it.”

    That’s about as good a description as you’re likely to get. When people ask me what I write, I usually just say action.

  2. Action is good — sometimes I say ‘adventure fiction’ and people seem to grasp that. Adventure fiction might become my fall-back answer.

  3. Derrick says:

    When people ask me what i write my default answer is “Action-Adventure” which usually satisfies them. Unless I’m in a mischievous mood and then I answer “Sweaty Men Books” which usually earns me a weird stare.

  4. Mat Nastos says:

    The cool thing is that all three of you have a fanbase built up and now you can start targeting markets beyond the niche new pulp market. The Rook stuff could reach out to Hellboy fans or even try Urban Fantasy fans. Dillon is a natural for men’s adventure and action fans. Once you max out with on audience, you expand into another.

    Don’t worry about growing the niche market since that is generally pretty tough to do (especially for something as ambiguous as “pulp”). Focus on growing your own audience. Just because you launched with new pulp doesn’t mean you have to limit yourself to that readership – build on it and add to it. Refine and re-define your marketing message based on the new markets you want to grab.

    1. I try not to limit myself only to the pulp audience, because as you said, it’s a limited audience (even more limited when you factor out the purists who think New Pulp = fanfiction).

      1. Derrick says:

        I kinda gave up on trying to interest the purists in what I and others involved in New Pulp were doing when I was told on a Pulp-centric Facebook page (of which I am no longer a member) that Classic Pulp fans had no interest in New Pulp and asked to stop posting links to my books and blogs. Apparently since I wasn’t commenting on the same half dozen Shadow paperback covers that they posted over and over again and did not want to participate in repetitive and redundant debates in who should star in a Doc Savage or Tarzan movie, I wasn’t on their wavelength.

  5. Andrew says:

    I tell folks I write Action/Adventure fiction or Historical Action/Thriller fiction. As much as I love New Pulp, you’re right Barry, for the masses Pulp Fiction is a movie and folks think we’re riffing on Tarantino. Sometimes, if someone is truly interested I’ll explain the whole thing but most times I don’t bother anymore.

  6. My personal definition of pulp would go something like this…

    Pulp is a quantitative description of the rational interaction between one or more indirect written archetypes, such as an object and its subjective environment wherein the pulp percentile is proportional to acceleration of the narrative or if stated in mathematical terms, the pulp is the derivative of momentum with respect to plot acceleration and character mass squared.

    Then again maybe not.

  7. Davide says:

    I usually start with “Forget that movie! Think Indiana Jones!”
    It seems to work.
    Then if they are really interested, I give them something to read.
    If they look trustworthy, I lend them some Robert E. Howard, some Oriental Stories reprint.
    If they do not, I just give them something I wrote.

  8. I for one don’t mind having to explain and the biggest reason is that, once I’m past the damn Travolta movie, and I start using other examples, almost every single time, I get questions like ‘Well, how is your writing like EXAMPLE GIVEN?’ or ‘Hey I liked EXAMPLE GIVEN, what’s your story/book about?” Whereas if I say Action/Adventure Fiction, I usually get ‘Oh, ok.” or “Really? Neat.” Now, something like ‘Sweaty Man’ stories would illicit the same discussion probably…well, maybe not exactly the same;)….but I like having the chance to pitch what my story is actually about rather than just leaving them with the category I fall into.

  9. Mat Nastos says:

    “Sweaty Man Books” is awesome!

  10. As long as it’s not mistaken as “Sweaty Man BooBs”!

  11. Mat Nastos says:

    Barry, Percival and Derrick:

    You guys should consider cross-promoting your work more — exchange preview chapters in the back of each other’s books since there is probably quite a bit of crossover potential in audiences. I’m guessing you’d see a lot more interest by sharing fanbases. Right now the only connection is what people see on the NewPulp/AllPulp websites, but the traffic there is so small (and I’m betting new pulp writers/publishers for the most part) that there can’t be much of a bump at all in terms of growth. Banding together with the preview exchanges is a great way to organically build your readership by showing your work off to a predisposed audience.

    I made the offer to a few people with my first novel, but had no takers. I’ll be offering again with book 2 this summer, too. I’m aiming at a hardcore action/adventure readership but seem to be getting a lot of female readers – I hit 10k in e-sales last night, so it might be a good opportunity.

    1. That’s not a bad idea at all, thanks.

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