Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Now Available: Wordslingers - Will Murray



“Wordslingers is a must-read for anyone interested in the pulps or in Western fiction, and it's one of the best books I've read in a long, long time.”

––James Reasoner

Countless books have been written on the Western
fiction genre. Almost all trace the development of the genre
from its dime-novel roots through Owen Wister’s The Virginian
and Zane Grey—the two most influential early frontier
novelists—to the present. Many others focus on the Hollywood

Almost completely overlooked is the Western pulp
magazine. From about 1920 to 1955, almost every important
writer and development in the genre took place in the pages of
Western Story Magazine, Dime Western, Cowboy Stories, Wild
West Weekly, and scores of others.

Wordslingers is an oral history of the Western pulp
fiction magazines, told in the narrative style of a Ken Burns
documentary by the writers, editors and agents who fought and
struggled to keep the Western myth alive in the face of changing
tastes, cultural shifts, Hollywood competition, and a boom-and-
bust genre cycle that forced them to reformulate the Western story
every five years or so.

Westerns boomed in the early 20s, but the genre virtually
collapsed in 1927 when Lindbergh’s transatlantic flight catapulted
the airman hero into prominence. Many editors pronounced the
Western doomed as a genre. A Hollywood Western revival brought
the cowboy hero back to life—until the Depression drove all but
the most hardy Western magazines out of business. The cowboy
hero rode high, wide and handsome until 1940, when the reading
public simply got sick of him. Editors and writers desperately
searched for a different kind of Western hero to take his place.
They found scores of them in the ordinary blacksmith, frontier
doctor and rancher, and the genre was once again redeemed. And
so it went until television and the paperback absconded with the
Western genre in the 1950s, killing the pulp magazine industry

In the middle of this movement is the unending feud
between the realists, cowboy-authors like Arizonan Walt Coburn,
who were of the West and burned to write authentic historical
fiction, and the fabulists, Eastern writers like Frederick Faust (Max
Brand) who lived in an Italian villa and couldn’t care less about
authenticity, both schools perpetuating a Western never-never land
its prolific practitioners often didn’t believe in themselves.

Then there are the pulp magazine editors. Men like
overworked and darkly humorous Frank Blackwell, who edited the
pioneer Western Story Magazine, which for its first twenty years
was published every week! Action proponent Jack Byrne, who
pronounced the Western story dead in 1927—only the eat his
words. And visionary genius Rogers Terrill, who single-handedly
salvaged the pulp Western from oblivion during the Depression
when he launched the revolutionary and cliché-shattering Dime
Western. Easterners all, torn by the constant struggle to keep
Western fans happy, while simultaneously wrangling writers
who had to be retrained every few years as reading tastes
changed—all trapped by a romantic myth they helped create and
didn’t dare shatter lest the Western go completely bust.

Although author Will Murray traces the genre’s development
from its historical origins, through Owen Wister’s landmark works
to the early Paperback Revolution, Wordslingers focuses almost
entirely on the pulp magazines because no previous study has
examined this area in depth. The quotes he’s mined from
period writer’s magazines and other obscure sources—people
ranging from Walt Coburn to Louis L’Amour—make for
fascinating reading and a dramatic immediacy. 

Wordslingers explains how this slice of Americana stayed
so popular for so long, and why it has declined so steeply without
completely fading away. And why the Western may or may not
come back.

No one has ever written a book like this, nor investigated
the sources used to compile it. Will Murray is the first writer to
seriously document this era.

“But this is not really my book,” Murray notes. “It belongs to
the many authentic voices who drive the narrative—funny, salty,
iconoclastic, inspiring voices who, in telling their personal stories,
illuminate a larger one.”

Murray’s more nearly forty years researching and writing
about the pulp magazine era gives him a unique background to
write this book from a deep knowledge of the field. Photos of
prominent authors will put faces to the voices who tell the tale of
their times. Wordslingers is a landmark on the history of popular
literature. It may be a Pulp masterpiece.

(No "may be" about it. WORDSLINGERS is a pulp masterpiece, and it gets my highest recommendation.)


Matthew P. Mayo said...

This looks fantastic--I hope it comes out as an ebook soon.

Juri Nummelin said...

Who's the publisher? I remember I did a short interview with Will almost ten years ago on this, glad to hear it's out now!

James Reasoner said...

The publisher is Altus Press.

Walker Martin said...

Altus Press! I've said it before but it bears repeating. Altus Press and Matt Moring are doing excellent work not only reprinting pulp magazine fiction but publishing original pulp research such as this book. A must buy!