Pulp Non-Fiction

This afternoon, I spent several hours at the Ramada Plaza on Sinclair Rd. at the 40th annual Pulpfest, moving from vendor table to vendor table in the hotel ground floor.  I’ve become much more choosy at events such as these, and gone are the days when I could blow an entire paycheck at something like my beloved Old-Time Radio and Nostalgia Convention in Cincinnati.  It would have been impossible for me to scrutinize every book, DVD, poster, and pulp magazine for sale, but I am pretty sure I got a pretty representative picture of what’s available.

There was a we’ll-look-back-on-this-and-laugh moment during the convention.  A seller from Michigan specializes in manuscripts, first editions, and signed copies.  On his table, he displayed a two-page handwritten letter (circa 1928) from H.P. Lovecraft, creator of the Cthulhu Mythos.  I asked how much it cost.  “Twenty-five,” he said.

My friend Steve wrote his master’s thesis on Lovecraft’s body of work, so I went outside and texted him immediately.  (Cell service is nonexistent in the ground floor of this hotel.)  I texted, 2pp Lovecraft letter (handwritten) on sale for $25!.  He texted back, Wow.  Authenticated?  He was wise to ask this, because I went down and spoke to the dealer, and this brief discussion brought me back down to earth.  I went back upstairs to where there was cell reception, and sent another text message, Never mind.  It’s $2500!”  Steve texted back, That sounds more like it. 😀.  Lovecraft died in 1937, and any of his papers, hand- or typewritten, appreciate more and more annually.

I was able to keep my spending reasonable.  When I was going to St. Mary’s Middle School, I gave a speech in my forensics class (a classy way of saying “public speaking”) on my growing book collection.  Among other gems (nothing particularly valuable or collectible), I showed a double novel, They Buried a Man.  The husband and wife who own and operate Hooked on Books in Bolingbrook, Ill. had the book.  (My copy disappeared in the many moves from Marietta to Boston, Cincinnati, Athens, etc. over the years.)  So, for a mere $5, I now own They Buried a Man once again.  Ace Books published an entire series of “Ace Giant Double Novels.”  They’re the size of a typical paperback of the period (1955), selling for $.50.  Mildred Davis was the author of both They Buried a Man and the other novel, The Dark Place (G-543).  When you finish reading one novel, you would turn the next page, and the final page of the other book would be there upside down.  Two covers, two complete books, two for the price of one.

I learned about Pulpfest from mystery writer, law professor, and attorney Francis M. (“Mike”) Nevins, Jr., whom I met several years ago at the Old-Time Radio and Nostalgia Convention in Cincinnati.  The convention came to Columbus in 2009.  It had previously been in Dayton, so I never attended until it came to the Ramada Plaza.  I am not surprised at the overlap between the old-time radio crowd and the pulp enthusiasts’ crowd.  I saw some of the same faces, and some of the same merchandise was available.  (There were very few audio recordings for sale, but several vendors sold DVDs of movie serials, 1950s TV shows, and B movies.)

Very interesting choice of music right now.  I’ve programmed my laptop to shuffle the music files stored there. Here I am writing about a convention for pulp fiction and genre enthusiasts–the theme is the 80th anniversary of The Shadow–and the song that came up just now was “Spooky,” by the Classics IV.  (When I was in high school, the Atlanta Rhythm Section’s cover was quite popular, but I admit I like the Classics IV version better.)

And now for a double whammy music-wise.  The next song that came up was  “Read ‘Em and Weep,” by Barry Manilow.  Besides admitting for all the world to read that I have a Barry Manilow album ripped to my laptop, I’ll ‘fess up the reason why this song hits me in the gut.  Steph and I were married 15 years ago tonight at Highbanks Metro Park in Powell.  In the eyes of the law, we are still married, but tonight we are over a thousand miles apart.  And now, it’s a thousand statute miles apart–we have been thousands of miles apart spiritually, mentally, and emotionally for much longer.  I know it’s best that we’re apart, and I think I’ve adapted well to single fatherhood (and this month of full bachelorhood), but that doesn’t make this date any easier.  Anyone who has suffered the bitter end of a relationship can appreciate the lyrics of this song.

I am not long back from dinner with Steve and Mike Nevins at Noodles and Company (I highly recommend their Wisconsin macaroni and cheese with meatballs, by the way), and later tonight I will make the three-mile trek to Grandview for the Return of Nite Owl Theater.  The film tonight is Teenagers from Outer Space.  I have never seen this, nor have I heard it before it appeared on Fritz’ Website.

I bought two DVDs at the convention at $10 apiece.  One was Barfly, a movie that had me in stitches when I first saw it in the early 1990s.  The only Charles Bukowski book I had read at the time was Post Office, a novel I loved but did not fully appreciate until I went to work at the main post office in Cincinnati in May 1992.  Barfly‘s setting reminded me very much of the 600 block of East Main Street in downtown Cincinnati, where I spent many afternoons and early evenings with Robert Lowry, the once-famous Cincinnati novelist who died broke and out of print in 1994.  I was a bit of a snob about where I drank, and I considered Lowry’s hangout, the Bay Horse Café, to be beneath my station–I was used to college bars, and thought they were a step up from Skid Row establishments such as The Saloon and the Bay Horse.  (The college bars were, after all, college bars, even if you had to step through a minefield of spilled beer, broken glass, and vomit to get from the bar to your seat.)

The other was Kill Me If You Can, a 1977 made-for-TV movie starring Alan Alda as Caryl Chessman, a career criminal executed in the gas chamber at San Quentin in 1960 for rape and kidnapping.  I was in junior high when I saw the movie for the first time, and it turned me into an opponent of the death penalty, and it led me to read the four books Chessman wrote while on Death Row, including his autobiography, Cell 2455, Death Row and his only novel, The Kid Was a Killer, published two or three months before his execution.  I have not watched the movie in its entirety, and I won’t tonight, but I am glad to finally have a copy.

Many of the vendors organized their products by genre, author name, or publisher, and many issues of Argosy, The Phantom Detective, and Dime Mystery Book were in chronological order.  That was good,  because I was on a mission to find a specific 1955 issue of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction for a friend.  (I came away with two “I have it, but not here”s, but I collected email and snail addresses from both vendors, and will contact them in the next day or so.)  At the same time, serendipity can be your friend as well.  I have lost track of how many books I now own by discovering them completely by accident while in search of something else.  I have prowled bookstores and a misfiled book just happens to me one I’ve tried to find for years.

Some typical PulpFest fare.

These books were considered the epitome of risque fiction in the 1950s.  I did not see much gay or lesbian pulp fiction, but I am sure many of the vendors had it for sale.  Gotta love it: “It was a beautiful honeymoon–for four!”

I first became aware of Mike Nevins when I read his massive biography of mystery and suspense novelist Cornell Woolrich Cornell Woolrich: First You Dream, Then You Die.  I did not meet him for several years afterwards, and he was pleasantly surprised that I knew of his book about Woolrich.  Tonight at dinner, he signed the introductions he wrote for Woolrich’s posthumously published Tonight, Somewhere in New York and the Ballantine reprint of The Black Path of Fear.

One dealer was selling a $100 copy of Woolrich’s 75-page novella Marihuana (originally on sale in 1944 for a dime!), and alongside it was a title I found much more intriguing.  This was Frederic Brown’s The Case of the Dancing Sandwiches, both published by Dell.  The title did not intrigue me enough to fork over the price he wanted.  Just coincidentally, it was the same price as my electric bill, and I think Susie would like to come back to a house with electricity.

If I knew for sure it worked, I would have bought a big outdoor dial thermometer that advertised Blue Coal (“America’s finest anthracite”).  When I’ve streamed episodes of Suspense from Archive.org or listened to the disks and tapes I’ve bought over the years, Blue Coal came up quite often as a sponsor, as did Roma Wines and Autolite Spark Plugs.


It’s miserable out tonight, and the relative humidity is sky-high, as it has been for much of July, yet I will soon be lighting out for Grandview.  Susie and I wanted to go last month, but the post-Comfest traffic snarled all buses headed away from Goodale Park and the Short North, so we didn’t get to go.  (Susie didn’t want to walk, as I usually do, and as we did when we saw Dementia 13 in May.)

Next stop: Grandview.


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