Extra Pulp, Please

by Rob Gregory Browne


I grew up reading popular fiction. One of the first books I ever bought on my own was called The Living Shadow, and was a Bantam reprint of an old pulp novel by Walter Gibson (writing as Maxwell Grant) about The Shadow, a famous character from radio, but quite different in print. The writing in these books is serviceable at best, but I found myself drawn in immediately and hungrily bought every book in the series that was released.

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Around the same time, I discovered the comedy mysteries of Donald Westlake and, later, his Richard Stark books. I was particularly in love with Stark’s Grofield character — who played second banana to Parker — and snatched up as many of the Grofield standalones as I could find.


I also loved reading Mickey Spillane and John MacDonald and many others of the era, most of them courtesy of a guy named Roscoe Fawcett.


Roscoe Fawcett was something of an innovator. Back in the fifties, he noticed how well paperback reprints of hardcover titles were selling, so he came up with an idea: what if he hired writers to create paperback originals? Shoot right past hardcover and take stories straight to the masses at a fraction of the cost, making a small fortune in the process.


Thus, Gold Medal Books was born.


This sounds like a no-brainer today, but Fawcett’s idea was unheard of back then and he pretty much revolutionized the publishing industry. And the writers he hired over the years to write for Gold Medal turned out to be some of the cream of the crop of mystery and thriller writers, including the aforementioned John MacDonald, as well as Westlake, Elmore Leonard, Donald Hamilton and Richard Prather.



Gold Medal books always had slightly lurid covers. A half-dressed woman with a tough guy hovering over her was fairly standard. But inside, many of those books were short masterpieces of fiction. 


I sometimes think I was born in the wrong era. How wonderful to be able to write these 40 – 50,000 word stories and see the public gobble them up like candy. I doubt if the monetary rewards were great, but I have a feeling these writers made a pretty decent living, many of them writing under multiple pen names. I think the closest thing we have today are the Harlequin Intrigue romances that are also a lot of fun to read. Crime stories with a romantic slant.


(Edit:  Brett so kindly reminded me of Hard Case Crime, which has taken up the tradition and reprinted many of the old Gold Medal greats, as well as taking on new writers.  My apologies to my friends who write for them!)


Recently, I began reading a Gold Medal author that I’ve seen over the years but never got around to reading. A guy by the name of Edward S. Aarons, who wrote forty or so books about a CIA operative named Sam Durrell. Think of Durrell as a more realistic version of James Bond.



Though few people have heard of him today, Aarons was very popular in his time and I can fully understand why. His books are really well written. He was a meat and potatoes stylist, but it’s some of the best meat and potatoes you’re likely to find.


Because I grew up reading these kinds of books, and still enjoy reading them, I find myself wanting to write them as well. I write popular fiction and make no apologies for that — although some people undoubtedly think I should. I think I mentioned before how a friend of mine wondered when I was going to start writing “serious” books, and I had to wonder, what about my books isn’t serious?


The literary fiction vs. popular fiction debate is a deep, dark hole, but I’ve found a blog post by Michael Blowhard (a very long blog post) from a few years ago that I think sums up my own feelings about the debate. I urge you to take a look at it:


Taking Jackie Collins Seriously


I am amazed by people who look down on popular writing. I’m not quite sure what their reasoning is. The subject matter is too disposable for them? The work isn’t worthy because too many people like to read it? Surely whatever the masses likes has to be mediocre at best.


Coverbrowser.comNo matter. I know what I like to read and I know what I like to write. And those old mass-produced Gold Medal authors — and many who have followed in their footsteps  — have given me untold hours of pleasure. And if I can do the same for someone else, that’s all I ask.


So, again, no apologies. But please don’t ask me when I’m going to start writing serious novels. I’m very serious about what I do already.


Today’s question: Do you have an author you just love that your friends or family might consider a guilty pleasure? Who is he or she?


25 thoughts on “Extra Pulp, Please

  1. Zoë Sharp

    Hi Rob

    Entertaining blog. We’re back to a good story, well told, aren’t we?

    I love elaborate sushi, but equally there are days when I just want a bowl of canned chicken soup.

    There’s a place for everything. (And, as I should have said, both are equally satisfying. It depends what you’re in the mood for.)

  2. Paul D Brazill

    Good post. I loved the Mack Bolan books by Don Pendleton. Wonder if I still would?

    I have no guilty pleasures – ok maybe Ian McEwan – but I read The Da Vinci Code a few months back and enjoyed its take on the 39 Steps. It moved me from chapter to chapter as quick as a flash which, I think, was its point.

  3. Anthony Izzo

    I write mass market horror novels. Among my friends and family I’m the "guy who writes trashy novels." I’m perfectly okay with that. Not sure why people are so down on popular or commercial fiction.

  4. PK the Bookeemonster

    I read lots of crime fiction; about the only subgenre I don’t venture into very far is noir. I’ve stated previously that one of my favorites is historical mysteries which can feel like the unwanted second cousin at the table. Guilty pleasure though is probably reading almost anything by Nora Roberts. She is a talented writer, usually best at dialogue which seems natural and sitcom-smart at the same time and you just like her characters and wish one could hang out in their world.

  5. Eika

    I write YA. And, even though I’m nearing twenty, it’s what I read. But people have learned to ignore that.

    My REAL guilty pleasure is Highlights Magazine. I’ve started getting scoldings when I make a beeline for them at the doctors and dentists offices. I am ‘too old’.

    Fie, I say. Fie!

  6. Rob Gregory Browne

    I realize I probably should have worded my question differently. Rather than ask about authors in particular (we wouldn’t want to offend anyone by calling them a guilty pleasure — although I’m not sure I’d be offended by such a label), I probably should simply have asked about guilty pleasures in general…

    Anthony, you had me at "mass market horror novels." I’m going to check out some of your books.

    Eika, I love YA fiction. I particularly like the work of the late Joan Lowery Nixon, who wrote some great thrillers and also wrote one of the scary books I’ve ever read — an easy reader (?) called The House on Hackman’s Hill.

    PK, Nora Roberts is a marvel. She is consistently good and writes about a billion books a year.

  7. pari noskin taichert

    Authors? I read a bunch of bestsellers for my Master Class and really enjoyed almost all of them — especially Nora Roberts and Meg Cabott’s the Princess Diaries (Wow! What a fun read!).

    A guilty nonfood pleasure is People Magazine; I read it at the doctor’s office but want to put it in a different cover — maybe the Economist or the New Yorker — because it’s just so silly and fatuous AND I really get a kick out of it.

  8. Becky LeJeune

    Great post! I think for the most part my friends don’t really look down on what I read — they’re all reading the same stuff! And actually, they’re all reading exactly what I am because they all take their recommendations from me! Haha! I can influence them any way that I like!

    Seriously, though, my reading friends consist of my boyfriend (I buy a lot of his books), my friend back home who gets sent all of the thrillers/horror/mysteries that I think she absolutely must read, my other friends who gets all the historical romance that I can’t finish, and my sisters with whom I share all of my urban fantasy/paranormal romance/YA reads.

  9. Becky LeJeune

    Oh, but I do have a handful of "friends" who belong to the more "literary" set and look down their noses at everything that I read. I don’t think they actually understand the concept of reading for entertainment.

    I find it hard to converse with people (mind you they want to work in the industry and I think it’s important to know what’s big even if it’s not something you are interested in reading) who have no idea what Twilight is and have only heard of Harry Potter but don’t really know what it is.

  10. Louise Ure

    I was an early fan of McDonald and Aarons, too. At the time they were my guilty pleasures.

    These days it’s more prosaic. Dear Abby columns and the Police Blotter from small town newspapers.

  11. toni mcgee causey

    "Guilty pleasure" with regard to reading assumes that somewhere, someone has arbitrated what is acceptable and what is not, and that if we enjoy what is "not," then we should feel guilty about it.

    I don’t accept that. My pleasure is mine. As long as I’m not hurting anyone else, I really don’t give a damn what anyone else thinks, arbitrates, or implies, regarding "tastes." "Taste" is subjective, anyway. Who put them in charge of the world that I should care? or listen? No one. They only have the power for their side of the argument if we choose to listen and keep referring to something we read as a guilty pleasure.

    (I am practicing for my crotchety old age. How am I doin’?)

  12. Brandee

    Well said, Toni. You can stop practicing now. No guilty pleasures here. I will read just about anything and do it openly. YA novels, gruesome horror stories, graphic novels, manga, Charles Dickens, whatever I feel like. Perks of the profession. 🙂 Just wish that darn "all librarians do is sit around and read all day" thing would go away. Then I could actually get to more of these great books I am surrounded by.

  13. JD Rhoades

    I’m with Toni. I don’t feel guilty about my pleasures :-).

    And I’m a huge fan of those old paperbacks. Some great hardboiled action (and the covers were a blast).

  14. Tammee

    I’m with Toni. Have zero guilt about anything I read. But I’m always amazed when I go to my writing class and the choices of books that the rest of the class read are so abstract and strange, I marvel. I used to only share the books I thought they would think were "respectable", but as of tonight I’m going to tell them to kiss my ass and proudly raise my hand and tell them I’m starting on the new Stephen King and finshing up re-reading the fifth Harry Potter book. They’ll just die 🙂

  15. BCB

    I know you all already think I’m weird so I guess it’s okay to admit this. Maybe.

    My guilty pleasure is reading complicated in-depth scholarly-type articles — you know, the scandalous ones that use multiple words of more than one syllable — about political analysis and things of historical/political significance. On both sides of all issues, though I do have a rather marked preference of opinion. I spend a good part of every Sunday doing that. If I find articles during the week, I bookmark them and gorge on Sunday until my brain is sated.

    The rest of the week I indulge in all sorts of fiction just like the rest of you. 😉

  16. BCB

    I have slightly higher standards than that when it comes to fiction.

    [Funny how biting your tongue has no effect whatsoever on your fingers. How odd. This is why people "unfollow" me on twitter, I’m sure.]

  17. knaack

    We should be painstaking and fussy in all the par�nesis we give. We should be especially painstaking in giving information that we would not about of following ourselves. Most of all, we ought to refrain from giving advisor which we don’t imitate when it damages those who depreciate us at our word.

  18. Marry

    In everyone's sustenance, at some occasion, our inner fire goes out. It is then bust into enthusiasm at near an encounter with another magnanimous being. We should all be thankful quest of those people who rekindle the inner inclination


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