Amongst The New Pulpeteers (Or, “What The Good Goddamn Is ‘New Pulp,’ Anyway?”)

I don’t know what New Pulp is.

But I think I’m it.

Or, in it. Or, part of it. Maybe I’m soaking in it?

Whatever.

A brief hop-skip-and-a-jump history:

The Guardian shouts out the idea of “New Pulp,” shouts out me and Adam Christopher as part of it.

Then, article author Damien G. Walter takes a look at New Pulp at his blog. (There you’ll find a bevy of links and definitions attempting to figure out just what the hell it even is.)

Yesterday, Do Some Damage talked up the notion of New Pulp.

And here we are.

So, just what is New Pulp? By my meager definition, at least?

New Pulp Cares Not For Your Mortal “Genres”

I’ve long admired writers who bend genres to their whims instead of being bent to the strictures of genre — a guy like Joe Lansdale is all over the fucking map in terms of what he writes. Everything from crime thrillers to sci-fi to satire to Southern Gothic to Weird Westerns to whatever the hell wants to come out of his head at any given moment. Sometimes this turbid genre muddiness is found in a single book. Hell, look at Stephen King’s Gunslinger series. What is that? Horror? A little. Fantasy? A little. Western? A little. It’s its own thing, that series. You might describe it using one of my favorite non-words: “unpindownable.”

A New Pulp writer doesn’t know what to call himself. He can’t say, “I’m a thriller writer,” or, “I write crime.”

He just writes. Whatever crazy-ass shit enters his head goes to the page one way or another.

It isn’t just psychic dinosaurs. Or noir tales of moral doom. Or sex, or heroism, or Batman, or serial killers, or steampunk assassins or any of that stuff. It isn’t about what’s written. It’s about what can be written.

New Pulp says, “Fuck genre.” Then it clubs genre on the head like a sailor clubbing an unruly tuna.

New Pulp Has A Hot Flush Of Literary Injection

For all the wars about “genre” versus “literary” (a bullshit line in the sand if ever there was one), I like to think that New Pulp plays a little loosey-goosey with language and story — I sense a faint poetic throughline in New Pulp. In the sense that jazz is a kind of ordered chaos, New Pulp brings a level of noise to the signal — a little messy, a little unkempt, a little wild-eyed with the metaphors and the structure.

I don’t know that the art or poetry is in there on purpose or whether it shows up unbidden.

But I think it’s in there just the same. Unsummoned but present.

New Pulp Is Jackrabbit Fast

New Pulp moves fast. Production. Creation. Fresh fast content. I hate to call it “fast food” — that’s a metaphor that for me doesn’t hold up. Fast food is notoriously shitty: low quality, high churn, “cheap” instead of “inexpensive.”

Better metaphor: food trucks. New Pulp is food trucks. Still fast food, just not in the traditional sense.

It’s street food, but street food produced fast and reliably and with a little of that… sense of poetry and playfulness I mentioned. It’s cheap art. Beautiful trash. And it comes out lickity-quick.

New Pulp Is About Writers Writing

New Pulp is as much about the writer as about what’s written. And the writers of New Pulp are, I suspect, workers. Meaning, it’s nose to the grindstone time — these are authors who aren’t writing only to be read but who are producing in order to pay bills, feed families, keep the goddamn lights on. They’re here to get shit done. A blue collar ethos is on the table in terms of New Pulp, I think.

Which means that New Pulp is a whole lot about the attitude.

New Pulp Refuses Rules, Defies Definition

As much as I’m trying to define it, it keeps squirming out of my grip like a python lubed with Astroglide.

The very nature of New Pulp is that it doesn’t want to be kept in any one box, and maybe that’s its most telling definition of all — that is has no definition. And I like that. I like that a whole lot.

I like when people ask me about Joe Lansdale, I can find something they like which lets me recommend him honestly. I like that when they ask me about Blackbirds I can find something they dig — horror, fantasy, female protagonist, whatever — that maybe gets them interested.

I like that New Pulp doesn’t want to wear any one hat and thinks it looks good in all of them, goddamnit.

Of course, what the hell do I know?

You tell me. What’s New Pulp to you? What should it be? What can it be?

55 comments

  • Blue collar ethos wrapped in unintentional poetry of language, mixed with gritty thrilling hard-core genrelessness — that’s what New Pulp feels like to me.

    And you’re totally riding the first wave, Chuck. ;)

  • New Pulp, to me, sounds like whatever the writers make it out to be. It’s not limited by genre rules or writing rules or the “norm”. It’s what you make of it.

    Interesting concept, and I’m glad to read it, but I also wanted to point you in the direction of a review. I finished reading Blackbirds less than a week ago and wanted to review, so this be the part where I point you to a review! http://writerpie.tumblr.com/post/27421418039/review-of-blackbirds-by-chuck-wendig

  • There is a lot to the punk analogy of Bronson O’Quinn, above — New Pulp is three chords and a cloud of dust.

    In the same way that punk was the reaction to the overproduced, bombastic pretentiousness of what rock had become in the 70s, I see New Pulp as a conscious effort to reconnect to the seat-of-the-pants storytelling *energy* of the “disposable fiction” of the pulp fiction era — where the need to keep an audience entertained, thrilled, enraptured and inspired, to give them respite from the darkness of the world around them, was what put food on the writer’s table.

    The world is plenty dark now. And we certainly have our fair share of ponderous tomes full of “deeper meaning.” Unleash the stories and let the New Pulp ride!

    • @Gareth/Bronson –

      Aye, dig the punk metaphor. Getting down to bare bones. And, if you take in the “indie” vibe (certainly New Pulp has infected indie authoring and self/small-publishing), it fits, too.

      My only niggle is the thought that pulp — new or old — must be inspired, hopeful, and pushing back darkness. New Pulp is, to my mind, capably dark — and perhaps infected by the “plenty-dark world” you talk about. Further, I think deeper meaning is still in there — but the deeper meaning is tangled in with all the rest of the stuff (entertaining, thrilling, etc).

      – c.

  • There was plenty of dark in the old pulps too — from the unrelentingly baroque grotesqueries of Lovecraft to the post-war hardboiled crime fiction of Chandler, et. al.

    So, no — I don’t think the fiction itself needs to be hopeful. But offering entertainment for the sake of entertaining? I think that’s a big part of it. Giving people escapism — even if that escapism is dark, or might also have vegetables mixed in with the meat — is, I think, a noble goal, and a hallmark of the form.

  • People love their labels, don’t they?

    First, what was the old pulp? It was a term derived entire by the material on which the books were printed. This actually still goes on. Penguin often prints on garbage paper. Back when Borders was bleeding valuable coupons every week, I would often identify a really sophisticated book on writing on the web. Then when had a copy in-hand at my local Borders, I was astonished to see that it was printed on paper of a lower quality than newsprint.

    Anyway, pulp, as a metaphor is a derogatory term about the disposable nature of the writing. It’s fun, fast, and utterly forgettable. Of course, many pulp authors became classics of their genres, so obviously a lot of the material transcended the medium.

    So, what’s ‘new pulp?’ Well, in terms of the printing methods, direct to e-book would be the obvious choice. Heck, digital books aren’t printed on even newspaper stock. But if the term is related to the content, I would have to say it could be fairly applied to anything written that uses lingo, situations, tropes that are particularly relevant to the here and now. It’s great today but destined to be dated tomorrow.

    In my opinion, the New Pulp is TV shows like they have on the USA Network. Flashy, accessible, and completely disposable. It doesn’t matter how many episodes of Burn Notice you miss, every episode makes perfect sense, and you aren’t really any less entertained that you would be if you saw them all.

    I don’t think the term ‘new pulp’ has anything particularly interesting to offer in terms of genre. All the old pulp was very genre based. Genres are well established now, regardless of quality labels. Cross-genre writing is widely accepted, and is easier to organize in with the internet concept tags, as opposed to the bookstore concept of shelves. So, maybe, just maybe, the label ‘new pulp’ is just as derisive as plain old pulp was back then.

    If somebody calls you ‘new pulp,’ think about it for five minutes, then punch ‘em in the eye.

  • Why is it that every time something like this is discussed, there’s gotta be a hipster standing nearby to go “pfft…labels, man. I’m, like, so over it.”

    No you fucking aren’t. Don’t kid yourself. Go to a bookstore and see how many good books you find in the “Bro, we don’t believe in labels” section. Probably not many.

  • New Improved “Tide”, gets ‘em whiter and brighter.
    Gotta love marketing.
    “New” is always better than old. Its the consumer way.

    Hey, hey, we’re the Monkees… and we’ve got something to say.

  • New Pulp to me is a triumphant declaration of the power of the story. Genre? Screw it. Truth that comes from the bones and the heart of the storyteller? Game on. Fast production? Well, as any who’s ever tried to come up with a convincing cover story can tell you, it takes a lot longer to work out a good lie than it does to blurt out what really happened.
    Not slamming anyone, or anything, or any story. Other ways are valid and good. Just talking strengths of the New Pulp.

  • There are people that are too cool for labels.
    Then there are labels that are too cool for the people.
    I’m not either of those. I’ll take my New Pulp membership card now, please.

  • New Pulp is definitely alive and well and can be broadly defined. It even has a podcast… http://www.pulped.libsyn.com, PULPED! The Official New Pulp Podcast…. also there’s this group out there called The New Pulp Movement, have a logo and everything that multiple writers and publishers share http://www.newpulpfiction.com. Most of us are small press …really small press types…but we’re always interested in anyone wanting to jump on the bandwagon so to speak…. I’m the lead host on Pulped! if there’s anyone who feels they’re New Pulp and want to be on the show!

    Tommy Hancock

    • Why is it that every time something like this is discussed, there’s gotta be a hipster standing nearby to go “pfft…labels, man. I’m, like, so over it.”
      No you fucking aren’t. Don’t kid yourself. Go to a bookstore and see how many good books you find in the “Bro, we don’t believe in labels” section. Probably not many.

      That made me laugh.

      – c.

  • After I posted above, I thought about it and would like to offer anyone who actually wants to come on and discuss what New Pulp is on the podcast in a round robin type forum….I’d welcome that…. email me and let me know if this interests anyone.

  • Personally I’ve loved the idea of the “New Pulp” since I first read that Guardian article. People are always going to use labels and people are always going to argue about labels and people are always going to say there shouldn’t be labels. Personally I like them as starting off points; they are a useful shorthand. Just so long as they don’t become limiting little boxes. If that happens then people need to start kicking down the walls. Also, I’m liking both the jazz and punk-rock comparisons. So call me a fan of the New Pulp.

  • I thought this was “Pulp-Lit” rather than “New Pulp”. I must keep up with my generics!

    Clever kibble strapped between binding and a spine.

  • Excellent. I have a new label to pin on myself. Where shall I put it? I think it will look shiny between the ‘I’m an idiot’ badge and the ‘Fer chrissakes don’t argue with her when she’s drunk, she’ll chin you’ warning label/forehead tattoo.

    Seriously? Labels help us find stuff wot we like, but they don’t need to *define* us, or what we do. Like Jeff said. Besides, New Pulp sounds just my thang. I’m all about the down and dirty…..

  • New pulp is old pulp, really. People think it went away. It didn’t.

    It was just being snotty at the back of the class. Now it’s getting the proper attention it deserves.

    It’s retro. And riddled with slap-facery. :D

  • I agree with Francis. Labels are a way to pigeonhole content. However, content is bigger and messier and more unruly than the labels. Kinda like life: father, husband, writer, unicorn-wrangler: which one is Chuck Wendig? First comes the work, then the ways to describe it, some more useful than others.

    • Well, what I ultimately like about the “New Pulp” label is that it’s largely non-restrictive. It’s blown wide like the elastic in a pair of old undies — it’s very, very roomy.

      – c.

  • I think most genre labels are pretty roomy anyway. Take fantasy. It could mean anything from farm boys with unexplained swords/regal parentage to walking through a door into John Malkovitch’s head, from sparkly unicorns to exploding brains and random body parts being fed through a magic mincer. That’s part of what I like about it. Most other genres have a similar amount of room.

    Still, the very sound of New Pulp appeals to my trashy nature, so I’m willing to go with it. :D

    Ultimately it’s not authors who say what their work is – it is what readers think it is.

  • The new pulp is Micky Spillane’s ghost looking at your wordcount and sneering while you pound out a 3K story for some obscure literary eZine because if you don’t get paid, the bill collectors are coming for your thumbs.

  • More new terms – I need to start writing this stuff down or something, heh.

    I sort of had you pegged as ‘urban fantasy’, which is another new term for me – I don’t (well, didn’t before you, heh) read a lot of modern literature, so I’m pretty much unfamiliar with all the terms outside the standard Fantasy, Sci-Fi, Horror, etc. I basically just went, ‘Hey, my favorite author used to be Neil Gaiman before I discovered Chuck Wendig – what do they have in common? Lots of stuff set in modern day with mystical stuff happening? Guess I like Urban Fantasy.’

    …Yeah, I don’t put too much thought into genre, heh. Multigenre, my catch-all term. I used to think I just liked it when people mixed Sci-Fi and Fantasy, but it turns out I just like when everything is thrown into a grinder and seasoned to taste. Mmm, New Pulp. This is tasty shit right here.

  • @Jeff Xilon, @Oldestgenxer. Amen! Genre shouldn’t be a prison, but rather, a big bouncy funhouse guarded by permissive hippies that dare you to tip it over.

    Granted, the metaphor needs work.

  • @Dawn: Personally, I’m not sure why it needs to fit — Splatterpunk was a movement in the late 80s/early 90s and The New Weird is a product of the late 90s.

    It’s 2012 now. Trying to see where movement labels “fit” with other categories from 15-20 years earlier seems an odd exercise.

  • What I like about this is that it’s essentially a label for the label-less. Genres have been so sliced and diced and mashed together that unless they’re very clearly only one thing the label is next to meaningless.

    This is a nice shorthand to apply less to a particular work, I think, than to a particular writer. I write crime and urban fantasy and old style pulp and science fiction, porn and westerns.

    All of those are distinct genres (more or less) but as a writer I don’t fit conveniently into any of them. Saying I’m one kind of writer over another doesn’t really fit.

  • I think Mr. Blackmoore hits on a really good point. As someone else here mentioned, “Pulp” was never really a genre. Pulp was a label given to the medium of magazines printed on cheap pulp paper. Many different distinct genres were represented in the pulps. They may have shared some sensibilities but the westerns, horrors, adventures, crime, SF, fantasy, etc. were each their own genre under the pulp umbrella.

    So Old Pulp was about the medium. New Pulp is about the writers.

  • Hmm. Once I heard about a chef who never prepared the same dish twice. I think New Pulp is like that, with each author a chef. ‘Course, some of us can’t cook; make what you will of that.

  • Regarding the stated attitude of supposed ‘new pulp’ writers toward genres: I can’t help but think this is an idea that might rapidly find itself dashed upon the rocks of publishing reality. An author can indeed vary one’s output and combine different genres, but unless one has multiple publishers at hand, the majority of professional writers are expected to hew fairly closely to their previous output so as not to lose an audience sometimes built up over years that has very definite expectations. As far as I understand it, publishers like to build a writer’s career so they can earn through their backlist as well as current and regular releases. If that author then decides to write something sufficiently different from their previous work, it’s not impossible they might find themselves out of a deal.

    That’s not to say I think things *should* be that way, but when you see an author who successfully attempts different forms, like Joe Lansdale, this (I’m guessing) is more an indication that they already sell in sufficiently large quantities, regardless of what they write, that their publisher is willing to tolerate a variety of styles.

    It’s been said that if your first novel is (say) a Victorian horror novel, you’d better really like writing Victorian horror stories, since that’s essentially what you’re going to be producing for the rest of your career. That’s not necessarily because the writer desires only to write stories set within those narrow brackets, but because the publishers demand it for financial and marketing reasons. I’m all for breaking loose, but I don’t think it’s nearly as easy as it’s sometimes made to sound.

  • @Gary – I agree with what you’re saying. And what I’m about to say isn’t meant to be a criticism of your opinion, but rather an attack on the situation you mention.

    I would rather be dashed on the rocks of publishing reality than have to churn out the same stuff, ad nauseum, to make a buck. It’s probably arrogant to say that. Maybe it’s because I already have a day job that pays the bills, or because I’ve never been published.

    The way I see it, sooner or later there will be a whole bunch of dead authors dashed on those rocks. Our corpses will begin poisoning the reservoir. Change will become necessary then.

    We’ll have them right where we want them.

  • @Gary– You might not have noticed, but the age when a writer is constrained by what “their publisher is willing to tolerate” is rapidly coming to an end. There are just too many options out there — other publishers, Amazon, self-publishing, etc. — smart publishers are realizing this and being a helluva lot less draconian in their content demands as a result, because they know that the power-dynamic is dramatically shifting, that they’re not really in a position to dictate as much any more because authors have other places to go.

    Look at our esteemed host as an example. Working with multiple publishers as well as self-publishing, not limiting himself to a single method. A lot of eggs in a lot of baskets, rather than just one.

    • Word to that. That to me is the real joy of self-publishing (and one too few use to their advantage) — I can write whatever the fuck I want. Publisher doesn’t like it, I still have a place for it. Publisher doesn’t like that I partake of that option, I can still reach my audience. It’s a really fantastic time to do what we do.

      – c.

  • When I was finishing my literature & creative writing undergraduate degree, I was working on an independent study course with an indie publisher/editor. I kept telling him I wanted to infuse the interiority of literary fiction into the stories I loved to write, which fell mostly into speculative fiction (but crossed over into fantasy, sci fi, and the weird). He kept telling me it couldn’t be done. It would be one or the other. He did finally come to a point of acquiescence when I pointed out other authors that were doing it. Then he simply said, “You could try.”

    I wish I had been able to give him the label he so desperately seemed to need then and said, “I’m writing New Pulp.” So many people need a label to understand. I hate labels, but I’ll use them to communicate and to get my stories out there. Hell yeah.

    Given that PKD is one of my favorite authors, it’s not depressing to me to perhaps one day be labeled as following in his footsteps and be in the ranks of the Wendig and Lansdale crew.

    I cannot ever see myself writing the same stuff. Over and over again. That, to me, is the essence of New Pulp, sprinkled with rocket speed. It’s writers writing what the frack they want and pushing themselves and the readers. It kicks ass and takes readers by their literary throats. New Pulp is a ninja in the way that it’s literary without making you feel you have to own a yacht and talk without moving your bottom lip. And it’s real and relatable to every red-blooded, blue-collar, angry gerbil of a human being out there. It gives them no false hopes, just stories to fill them up and make them feel like they just ate a seven-course meal at the Estoria. But no one kicked them out of the bookstore for wearing denim.

    New Pulp is about bringing storytelling back to the reader. It wears its label with pride but at the same time tells the reader (and the industry) — don’t try to box me in.

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