Friday, August 14, 2009

Paul S. Powers, King of the Wild West

Way back whenever, I read the chapter on Wild West Weekly in John A. Dinan’s Borgo Press book The Pulp Western, and wanted to see what all the fuss was about. But even then, WWWs were hard to come by, and I let the feeling slide.

Then Laurie Powers popped up on the Black Horse Westerns Yahoo group, mentioning her grandfather’s memoir, Pulp Writer: Twenty Years in the American Grub Street by Paul S. Powers, to which she’d written an introduction/conclusion, and the two collections of stories currently in print, Desert Justice and Kid Wolf of Texas.

So I read all three books. And wasn’t sorry.

By way of intro, Paul S. Powers was one of WWW’s most prolific writers. Under the pen name Ward M. Stevens, he created Kid Wolf and Sonny Tabor, who remained two of the magazine’s most popular characters for nearly fifteen years. Under a variety of other names, he had series featuring Johnny Forty-Five, King Kolt, Freckles Malone, Poet Pete, and others, in addition to non-series stories. By 1949 he estimated he’d written over 10 million words.

Pulp Writer is two books in one. About a third of it is sort of a combination detective tale and coming-of-age story about how Laurie came to discover who her grandfather was and what he’d written. In the beginning, all she knew was that he’d written for obscure western magazines and had authored two books: Doc Dillahay (reprinted by Bantam as Six-Gun Doctor) and a “Little Big Book” (a Big Little Book wannabe) called Spook Riders of the Overland. As Laurie begins to investigate, meeting lost relatives and others, she visits the Street & Smith archives and is astounded to discover he wrote as many as 80 stories for WWW. Imagine her shock as she eventually learns the number was at least 440, with sales to other mags as well.

Laurie’s intro is a good story, well told. It’s quite personal, and after reading it I almost feel I know her. An illusion, no doubt, but a pleasant one. Laurie now gives lectures on pulp westerns and has a great blog called, quite appropriately, Laurie’s Wild West.

Still another of Laurie’s surprising discoveries was the manuscript for her grandfather’s unpublished memoir, which forms the rest of the book.

The memoir is a change of pace, diving immediately into the wise-guy style of a pulp pro. Powers broke into magazines by writing jokes, and it shows. His style is breezy and fun. All the trials of an aspiring writer are there, and his tales of pulp writing are fascinating. To those of us who view the great Pulp Era as a magical time, this is like getting a peek behind the legend. On reaching the end, I couldn’t wait to sample his fiction. So I didn’t.

Thrilling reviews of the thrilling Desert Justice and Kid Wolf of Texas will be coming soon.


Laurie Powers said...

Wow - I am at a loss for words. Thank you for your kind review. I'm sure my grandfather would have been thrilled, and also very excited about the resurgence of interest in the Western, thanks to great blogs like yours. I look forward to being an avid follower.

Evan Lewis said...

I wish you lived next door, so I could pop over and peruse your pulp collection. I want to read more adventures of Kid Wolf and Sonny Tabor.