Pulp Fiction by Gus Edwards

Pulp Fiction ( the literary term)

by friend and writer Gus Edwards

“Pulp fiction” this phrase or term has become so corrupted and misused that it effectively has no meaning whatsoever except as a general description for virtually every kind of crime fiction published.  Much of this misunderstanding comes from Quentin Tarrantino’s wonderful and very popular film which used the phrase as its title leading nearly everyone to assume that the film’s content ( which was closer to “criminal existentialist angst”)was in fact an example of the classic pulp fiction. It wasn’t.

The term originated in the late 1920s and 1930s as a way of describing the kind of crime / detective stories that were being published on pulp, a kind of paper that could be manufactured quickly and sold cheaply. Many of the magazines that used this kind of paper had names like Black Mask and Detective Stories. The fiction they published was the tabloid type crime stories that reflected the kind of criminal activity that was taking place in the society at that time.  But the writers quickly began transcending the topicality of their subjects and started creating a type of crime fiction that featured desperate characters engaged in felonious activities that would result in murder for profit or romantic/sexual conquest. These were shadowy people doing things in equally shadowy places.  And the detectives who pursued them were equally shadowy characters who had to immerse themselves deep into the muck in order to capture the perpetrators.  The writing was tight, with economically written descriptive passages and sharp, punchy dialogue that made the characters come vividly alive.  A special form of literature evolved from the hundreds of pulp stories and novels that were published and a sort of sub-genre was created: that genre was called Noir.

Pulp fiction is a wonderful, rich form of crime writing that is still being practiced today.  But to preserve its character and integrity as a literary form, we must appreciate and sustain the singularity of its definition and not let it devolve into the general morass of all crime fiction that is published.


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