Craig Lockwood, a Laguna Beach author and journalist along with Rick Rietveld, a Newport Beach artist and illustrator are starting several all-fiction magazines. The first, Hard-boiled Surf Pulp Fiction, and all the rest are based on the authentic retro-look and feel of a 1950s pulp magazine.
How did you get interested in pulp fiction?
As a kid I was enthralled with the old pulp magazines. My dad was a journalist and had written for the pulps occasionally, and knew Raoul Whitfield and Dashiell Hammett two renowned first-rate hard-boiled detective fiction writers.
When did you start writing?
My first efforts were when I was about 14. I submitted stories to the pulp science fiction magazines, Astounding, Amazing, and Galaxy.
I liked the detective mags, but they were too hard to write for. I wasn’t old enough to have the experience to know how an adult thought.
Were any ever accepted?
Unfortunately, or maybe fortunately, I never made it into print before the pulps went out of print, but I did collect my first youthful rejection slips.
But you kept writing?
Of course. Writing short fiction, good, serious crime, mystery, or adventure fiction—pulp fiction of the kind that had started the careers of Dashiell Hammett, MacKinlay Kantor, Raymond Chandler, Ross McDonald or Ray Bradbury—in those days, was something to which some young writers aspired. And like others of that time I aimed my education towards writing and used my first newspaper job covering the police beat and doing occasional crime reportage, toward that end.
Did you publish any fiction?
I did. I was a surfer and published occasional short fiction in the surfing magazines I wrote for as a free-lance journalist. But in the last twenty years—and this includes the surfing magazines—there are fewer and fewer venues and no longer a substantive “fiction industry” —as had existed in the 1920s, ’30s, ’40s, and ’50s. That seems to be changing now.
What were the kinds of stories you wrote?
Attracted to adventure, I’ve led a pretty adventurous life, so my fiction angled in that direction.
Did you try other kinds of fiction?
No. The few magazines publishing fiction in the last twenty years seemed fixated on what they and much of American literature classified as “serious” fiction. Instead I wrote the libretto for the first surfing musical.
Not centered on action or mystery themes?
No. The kind of fiction that generally receives critical attention centers around predominantly urban themes dealing with emotional issues such as failing relationships, angst, neurosis, gender-related issues, sexual identity, dysfunction, minority, racial and ethnic or political conflict or mixtures of all the above.
Not your kind of fiction?
My interest centered in action, mystery and adventure. My fiction featured guys—primarily white guys, but not only—flying planes, sailing boats, paddling boards, trekking into and hacking their ways through jungles with machetes not computers, avoiding, joining, or fighting failed revolutionary movements, engaging in combat, acquiring and smuggling various forms of contraband and catching tropical diseases or enduring various forms of punishment by those inclined to thwart their efforts.
Not exactly the New Yorker style?
In terms of fiction, probably not. But the New Yorker does occasionally run journalism that touches on those themes. And they have over the years published a very wide range of short fiction.
Isn’t there a “New Yorker” style?
I think there’s certainly a New Yorker quality.
You’d mentioned earlier that one magazine editor whom you didn’t name told you that any of the above were no longer “…of interest to the majority of their readership.”
Yeah, well. Let it remain unnamed.
Describe her reaction.
She looked offended. She said that guys like myself and I believe her subtext was “white guys” who wanted to undergo the experiences that would allow them to write authentically about such bourgeois and unsavory activities, who went into places and did the abovementioned sorts of things and wrote about it, weren’t “contributing because today’s readers are beyond “…that sort of thing.” She said “…those subjects you’re writing about are so passe´, so Hemingwayesque.”
She insisted that today’s audiences want insight into failing relationships, ecology, art, cultural struggles, class oppression. “They don’t care about airplanes and boats and guns and fishing and fighting and all that yucky stuff in the woods and jungles. Honestly, just nobody reads that sort of thing.”
I think she forgot the thriller market, which often includes these or mixtures of these kinds of themes. They only sell in the millions, so my guess is that I’m not their only reader.
So, fast forward. What really started this process?
Well, in shopping e-Bay few years back looking for a copy of Black Mask, it was obvious the old pulp mags had become collector’s items. You know how it is: one site links to another. Serious critical academic attention was being given to the place pulps and the part pulp fiction had played in American literature. There were conferences, conventions, collector organizations and websites at every level, local, regional and national. Reprints, and old pulp magazine cover art was selling for six figures.
Comic books also formed a major market.
Comic books were back, and attracting large audiences. R. Crumb really put it well when he said: “I love the old, cheap comic-book format so much because the format itself is a statement. It keeps you from becoming too pretentious. … Keep it cheap and low-grade, keep it accessible and then you’re not required to be overly artistic or have a deep, profound meaning.”
And that spoke to me for the pulps as well. They didn’t have to be great literature. But they did have to be great story telling. And by keeping them unpretentious, by giving the readers a great read, at say .10¢ a page how can you go wrong? There will always be an audience.
And you knew the audience, having written true crime before?
My King of the Sunset Strip: Hangin’ With Mickey Cohen and the Hollywood Mob published in 2006 was essentially a pulp or noir biography of Steve Stevens first-person experiences as a young actor involved with Cohen’s ongoing Hollywood criminal enterprise.
Were there any neo-pulps?
There were. And most of the graphic novels are wonderfully pulpy. What they lacked, however, is the “feel,” the dimensionality. The pulpishness, for lack of a better term.
How would you characterize that?
There was a certain cohesive integrity, a tough, literary strength about those earlier magazines. It was entertainment based in imagination but set in contemporary settings. And Rick Rietveld and I wanted to capture it. We liked the two-column format, the newsprint, the well and sharply drawn pen-and-ink illustrations, the hard-edged humor. We liked the fact that they didn’t need to be superheroes.
Not all were well-written, were they?
No. We’re talking about a publishing industry. There were something like a hundred titles on the newsstands. Writers were mass producing fiction. Some of them were not well-written, and the situations were sometimes exaggerated, but most of the time the better magazines offered good, strong, readable fiction. Remember, writers were in competition with each other, and the editors were sharp. They were often professionals who’d come off city and copy desks on newspapers.
What gave you the idea of starting a contemporary pulp?
It was the Cohen book. With today’s mixed-media publication, e-books, e-mags, and the traditional p-mags (print) it suddenly seemed more than possible. Also I had the contacts, the kind of experienced writers who could and would jump off the deep end into something they knew well and could write and edit from that kind of experience.
How did you enlist Rick Rietveld?
In late 2009, I’d done a book signing event for my just-released surfing-culture book, “Peanuts” Exploring Legend, Myth, and Archetype in California Surf Culture, published by the Croul Foundation.
Rick’s one of the surfing world’s most acclaimed illustrators and a gifted representational artist, and we were at the same event. He was creating a painting for Surfing Heritage Foundation. Rick has had a long and ongoing interest in the kind of illustrative art that characterized the pulps in the 1920s, ’30, ‘40s and ‘50s. He could really capture the drama epitomized on pulp magazine covers. I mentioned my idea and he expressed an interest.
What was your next step?
In July 2010 we began creating the first issue. I had a few dollars to invest and sweet-talked Rick into doing a dummy cover and some illustrations for a novella I’d written 12 years before, where I‘d created a character called Sam Sand.
Sand is an unabashed homage to Dashiell Hammett’s Sam Spade and Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe, and Robert B. Parker’s Spenser. Hammett, Chandler and Parker have long been my favorite hard-boiled mystery writers.
Sand is a marginal, blister-lipped, wise-cracking cynical anti-hero, a surfer who’d earlier been an L.A. County deputy sheriff, hated it, and ater being fired becomes a PI. His specialty? Surf-related crime—unfortunately, aside from stolen boards, there just isn’t a lot of major surf crime. So he goes hungry or has to take regular PI jobs.
Where did you locate him?
Sand runs his one-man office out the former storage room behind a gay bar in Santa Monica canyon across from the beach. He drives a 1948 Mercury station wagon, a “woody.” It’s the only good thing he owns, beside a few surfboards and a battered .45 Colt automatic.
He sounds like he’d rather surf than work.
Yeah, well, there’s that. Sand’s always short on dough and long on bad luck. But he’s a good looking guy with a fondness for good whiskey, attractive women and lost weekends.
What’s the first story’s plot?
He takes on an impossible job: find out why the surf’s been missing for three months and get it back.
What are the other stories like?
That took up about 30 pages and we wanted 96 so
I started calling up all the writers I knew to be contributors. I’d worked in the literary end of surfing so I knew plenty of writers. We couldn’t pay much, but we could and would pay for both the stories and the illustrations, and as our subscription base increased so would our payments and royalties.
Where do you see this going?
Short fiction today is not the wide-open field it was. Publishing fiction today is primarily limited to the “legitimate” big name publishing houses. And it’s focused almost entirely on books, except for the expanding graphic novel niche.
But that’s changing, and the quality of fiction that comes out of the Thuglit anthologies published by Kensington Books is remarkably good. It’s real writing.
Big name authors get all the play?
Big houses give big authors big print runs and wide distribution with big advertising budgets and big public relations efforts. It’s all corporate. Agents serve as the gatekeepers. And they don’t take chances or seek much new talent. Their objective is funneling their “proven” authors into profitable movie or TV contracts.
And you think the Internet is changing how people are finding short fiction?
I believe firmly that it will. With few contemporary non-elite print outlets for short fiction in the U.S. outside of the old, prestigious, and very-difficult-to-get-into literary reviews where do you find short fiction? Anthologies? Evergreen? Paris Review? Greensboro? Now, of course, ther are more, but Google up the list and what you see is wholly reflective of American Academia, and the literary elite and the first thing you’re hit with are “diversity,” and “cross cultural,” “cultural studies” “critical analysis” and all the rest of that politically correct ordure.
Surely, there are some very fine fiction magazines, and journals but their circulation is limited. They don’t serve large audiences.
I’m a relatively successful author, with an agent, but I’d long ago given up the idea of any of my novels seeing print, or even placing a short in Evergreen.
As Rick and I began delving deeper into the possibility of creating a neo-pulp, it occurred to us that if we could do one, we could do others — almost simultaneously. So now we’re working on four more, each with a specific reader interest but all based on the old hard-boiled, action-oriented, kind of gutsy pulp themes.
Where can interested readers find your magazine?
Our website’s http://www.pacificnoirpulp.wordpress.com