Learning from a pulp master

There are all sorts of writing courses, seminars, presentations and lessons out there.  Most appear to be offered by those who haven’t sold many (if any) books, and don’t rank among popular authors, yet present themselves as authorities in the field.  Others are post-graduate university programs that speak in grandiloquent terms about the art of writing, but seldom appear to lead to career success.  I’ve never understood why some of them appear to have so much credibility among students, but there it is.

However, I was recently reminded of one of the modern giants of pulp fiction, the late Warren Murphy, co-author of the “Destroyer” series of books and others.  They were ubiquitous on military bases when I wore uniform, along with others of their kind, as I noted recently on my own blog.  The “Destroyer” series gave rise to a pulp movie, if I could call it that, in the 1980’s.  It was a hoot.



On Mr. Murphy’s Web site, which is fortunately maintained to this day, he offered a writing class consisting of a dozen online lessons.  Considering that more than 50 million of his books have been sold, I’d say he has very solid credentials indeed for the pulp fiction market!  He wasn’t a literary giant, by any stretch of the imagination, but he never claimed to be.  He just sold a metric anatomically-incorrect-load of books.  Since I daresay most of us aspire to do likewise, I suggest we could do worse than try his lessons for ourselves.  I’m working my way through them, and learning a lot, even though I’ve never aspired to write pulp fiction.  Recommended as a new perspective on our craft.


27 thoughts on “Learning from a pulp master

  1. Sapir and Murphy. Mickey Spillane. Alan Geoffrey Yates. Donald E. Westlake. Ed McBain. Louis L’Amour.

    Which is more important? Literary accolates, or “and then you get paid”?

    1. If you’re getting paid, then you’re selling. If you’re selling, then people like your stuff well enough to pay for it. Frankly, “Best Seller for X weeks” sounds better than “Hugo Award Winner” to me.

  2. Many years ago I was in a community theater presentation of The Taming of the Shrew ( played Tranio). In this production before the play proper opened we had a person come out, taking the role of William Shakespeare, and give a brief introduction to the play. One of the things he said was (loosely paraphrased from memory): I did not write this play for English Professors, for the Literati, or for little old lady schoolteachers. Especially not for little old lady schoolteachers. No, I wrote it for you, for the drunken, slovenly masses. In short, I wrote it to make money. To eat or not to eat, that was the question.” I have heard suggestions that Shakespeare himself was considered more or less a “pulp author” in his day.

    Star Trek IV, The Voyage Home riffed on that idea a bit.
    Kirk (regarding his use of profanity): “You’ll find it in all the literature of the period. The collected works of Jacqueline Suzanne. The novels of Harold Robbins.”
    Spock: “Ah, the giants.”

    One can certainly aspire to worse than to reach a large number of people and enthrall, engage, or otherwise brighten their day and relieve for them, if only a little bit, the ennui they often feel (justly or otherwise) that they are trapped in.

    And being paid for it is a very nice benefit.

    1. If you’re up for a bit of heavy lifting, there’s an interesting passage in Barzun’s From Dawn to Decadence describing how it was actually German scholars at the start of the nineteenth century who “rescued” Shakespeare from critical disdain. Which was apparently so rampant in the Anglosphere this could not have happened where English was the first language.

      1. That can be overstated. Tolstoy blamed Shakespeare’s reputation on the German scholars, but as Orwell pointed out, Shakespeare was still being performed and published two centuries after his death but before they got into the act.

  3. Chiun is awesome. I read at least 25 terrific tales of Sinanju badassery. At thirteen they did not seem very much over the top.
    Compares favorably to Mack Bolan.

    1. How suitable are they for inspiring ‘just barely beyond humanly possible’ feats for an RPG system?

      For example, Ars Magica’s Ireland region book, “The Contested Isle,” has a system for learning various heroic feats: Running faster than humanly possible, jumping several dozen feet, lifting with the strength of several men, improvised rope-running, body-contortion in battle for evasion and unexpected attacks, throwing nine javelins at once, etc. (I don’t like the mechanics they use, but taste and all that.)

      Is Sinanju similarly within shouting distance of plausible, or is it more akin to Naruto weaboo silliness?


      1. Definitely borders on the superhuman. Side note: some martial arts poseurs sometimes claim to know Sinanju.

        Quite a feat, since it’s entirely fictional.

        1. Sinanju is thousands of years old and the sun source from which all other martial arts derive, so the writers stole from everything and then amped it up. Also includes the secret of bringing women ecstasy without even touching them, which kinda ruins sex for Remo. (Temporarily.)

      2. Well, there was this time when Chiun told Remo to go catch a bullet. Remo went to a rough neigbourhood and caught a bullet exiting someone. I don’t really remember all the details but some little old lady with a machinegun on a balcony started firing on Chiun who caught and stacked the bullets in neat pyramids, and then berated Remo for only catching one soggy bullet.

        1. Sound like it’s closer to Superman than Batman+. Oh well, I can still draw inspiration from it. (Sounds like Gary Gygax may have read a Destroyer book or two, given various monk abilities and how the highest titles refer to the Sun.)

          Is there anywhere on the ‘net that compiles the described and observed feats of Sinanju?


  4. Ah, the days when men’s action-adventure paperback series ruled the bookstands. It’s over now, even Gold Eagle has closed shop. But I think someone could revive the concept in e-book format. With a stable of reliable authors and an editor to keep an eye on things they might rise again.

    BTW, the Glorious Trash blog does great write-ups on the men’s adventure and other paperback sleaze. He’s also branched out into the pulps, doing The Spider (a precursor to the men’s adventure genre) and Leigh Brackett.


    (possibly not safe for work)

  5. If you are interested in the books these three are free on Amazon.

    The Day Remo Died
    Created, The Destroyer
    Brain Drain

  6. Nicely complementary to Swain. Perhaps better for my purposes, since this seems a better fit for my need to plot. It’s also funny what a couple three years does with the Trump reference in 5.

  7. Part of the appeal of the Destroyer series was seeing Remo change and evolve.
    I enjoyed Doc Savage and his team, but they never changed nor evolved.

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