On The Joys Of Pulp Writing
by Nicolas Wilson
I love the over-the-top writing. I read probably too much Hunter Thompson during my formative years, and I have a literary man-crush on Tarantino, despite his less than stellar recent record. I own as many “Attack of the Killer Tomatoes Meets The Clowns From Outer Space While Sexy Nazi’s Watch From The Tower In The Women’s Prison They’re Oppressing” b-movies as I can find, and my favorite scene from the old Ferrigno/Bixby Hulk TV show is when the Hulk picks up a bear (a bear!) and hucks it mightily across the landscape. There’s a reality+5 aesthetic that captures my mind on a primal level.
And it’s a lot of fun to write, too, pushing boundaries and playing with expectations. I like to think I have good, plot-relevant reasons for using taboo, absurd, or disparate elements, and mostly, I think that’s true. My subconscious seems a little more up on things, than the rest of me. One of my novels features two characters whose mental illness and disdain for strangers manifests as an incestuous relationship. My initial thought process focused on the horrendous visuals, and I played it as almost comedic, much the same as watching your relatives get handsy at a holiday dinner (unless maybe that’s just my family, in which case I may need a social worker). It wasn’t until several drafts later that I realized it was a manifestation of their monstrous attitudes; they preferred incest to possibly having to share their vast fortune. And when I mentioned this epiphany to my wife/editor, she commented that it reminded her of European royalty, refusing to dilute their “assets”, be they money, or blood. She’s totally right.
But I’m still not sure I write pulp. I love the aesthetic of Tales From The Crypt (the HBO series, the original EC Comics were a bit before my time), filled with strange, odd, damaged people doing strange, odd, damaging things. And there’s a… cheapness to it that I’m not sure I echo in my work. Pulp, to me has this feeling of disposability to it, like the writers and artists were aware that there was a decent chance their story would be read once then reused as kindling. And that extends to the characters, as well- they’re completely disposable, because there’s not going to be a sequel, out two summers from now- so the body counts are just about always higher. That latter aesthetic is one I hew closer to- but, at least philosophically, I think I build stories like Tarantino, playing in a pulpy sandbox, but taking time to make it a good, lasting product with that tone.
The reason I’m so enamored with that pulpy affect is that life is boring. Mine certainly is. And the whole point of writing is to have fun, and reading, too. We don’t read to visit normal people doing normal things. We read to see the fantasy and the unlikely in the world. It’s also the reason I was drawn to self-publishing, because not being beholden to a publisher trying to get me to chase the latest fad allows me to explore the weird and interesting, and for readers to enjoy a greater diversity. I stumbled on this quote in my twitter feed(thank you @Gabriele_Corno), that sums it up perfectly, I think:”Imperfection is beauty; madness is genius and it’s better to be absolutely ridiculous than absolutely boring.” – Marilyn Monroe
There’s a few modern writers, comic writers in particular, who’ve mastered working the dark, the absurd, or the taboo into their work on a regular basis, but the list is still pretty small. Traditional publishers recognize that these themes may push them into a niche audience, and restrict sales. Indie authors, not having the usual separation between them and their audience, are subject to a more personal kind of criticism, but I hope some day I’ll be able to add a bevvy of Indie authors to this list, as well.
Here’s a few of my favorites:
Garth Ennis: Preacher is another favorite of mine. It’s a little philosophical, but that’s buried between layers of politically incorrect jokes, and bizarre mutilations.
Warren Ellis: Spider Jerusalem (from his Transmetropolitan series) is a futuristic Hunter Thompson. Filthy, violent, riddled with obscenity spouting diseases.
Chuck Palahnuik: Obvious reasons. He’s one of the better known ones. Still classic, though.
And of course, how could I avoid mentioning Hunter Thompson himself? His social conscience inspired me as a writer, but his bizarre work captured me as a reader. I’m dying to start The Curse Of Lono, one of his less-known novels- once I find out where it got displaced in the move.
And I’m planning check out John Dies At The End, by David Wong, as well- I’ve heard good things.
Who are your favorite new, weird/Bizarro authors? Have you ever encountered an author who was just too out there for you?
Nicolas Wilson is a published journalist, graphic and non-graphic novelist. He lives in the rainy wastes of Portland, Oregon with his wife, two cats and a dog.Nic has written eight novels. Whores: not intended to be a factual account of the gender war, and Dag are currently available for e-reader, and will soon be available in paperback. Nexus, The Necromancer's Gambit, Banksters, Homeless, The Singularity, and Lunacy are all due for publication in the next two years, as are as several short story collections. Nic's work spans a variety of genres, from political thriller to science fiction and urban fantasy. For information on Nic's books, and behind-the-scenes looks at his writing, visit nicolaswilson.com.