Pulp Writing Dreams and the Man at the Bar
By Gus Edwards
From the time I was a kid I liked telling stories. But more important than that I liked writing them down. I did all the time in this little copy book that I had. But I never showed them to anyone. They were my private stash, my little world of escape from homework and church going and all the little things you have to do as a kid. I saw a lot of movies too and wondered about the people who wrote all those words that the actors were saying. I knew there was someone who did because it would say on the screen “Screen play by____________________.” And I had also read books that were then turned into movies and the credits would say: “Based on the novel by____________________. Screen play by____________. So I knew there were people involved in this endeavor. But how did they get the job? How did they even train for it? By this time I was around 16 and tall for my age. I was working as a pool side bartender at our local Hilton Hotel. There was no age restriction for serving liquor in the Caribbean at that time so I worked at the little pool bar serving drinks to the waiters who took them to the tourists that were sitting around in lounge chairs. The rest of the time was spent looking at the beautiful women in their bikinis and wondering how one could get to know any of them intimately. They all seemed so ready and available, offering themselves up to the sun as they were.
One afternoon a guy came and sat on one of the four stools I had at the bar and ordered a drink. I served it and he told me his name and said to run a tab he was staying at the hotel. I recognized his name from several paperback novels I had read and wondered if this was the same person. So I asked and he said yes. Then I told him that I had read practically all the books he had written that were available. He was impressed and clearly pleased by that. One book was about three attractive but sexually restless young couples living in the suburbs who wound up swapping mates one drunken weekend. Another was about four good looking young women trying to break into Hollywood and the movies. And yet a third one was about some ambitious young men in the Ad business on Madison Avenue in New York. The ruthless way they fought to get to the top and the callous way they treated the women who loved them. They were all fast paced, sexy and very well written to my young eyes. The fact they were in print proved that as far as I was concerned.
This writer whom I will call Harry was waiting for his wife. He was in his early forties I would guess and his hair was almost all grey which meant he was old in my book. When his wife arrived she was a shapely young thing in a bikini who couldnt’ve been more than thirty or thirty one. She kissed him, took a sip of his drink then ran off to the pool. He elected to sit at the bar and talk to me. There was no one else there. My only interruption was the waiters calling for drinks every so often. I asked him about his profession and how he got into it. I told him that was my dream as well. I wanted to know all about his background and he seemed more than pleased by my interest. I guess he recognized it as genuine. And that’s how our talks began. He was on the island for a week and made it his business to sit at the bar with me almost every day while his wife took the sun and splashed around in the pool. He gave me some advice about learning the craft and reading a lot. And he told me that it was all about discipline. The discipline of getting a certain amount of work done every day and seeing everything through to the end. “Even when you think it’s not working, finish it. The worst habit you can get into is letting things sit around unfinished. A professional finishes everything he starts and sells everything he writes for money.” He told me that before he turned to writing paperback novels he had been a reporter and then a contract screenwriter in Hollywood. That excited me so I asked him about it.
“I did a lot of rewrites and was required to come up with original screenplays as well. Some they gave me synopsis notes for, others I came up with the idea and passed it by them. On the average I would come up with one every three weeks or so. The first thing I would do is break up my story into three acts like a play. Then I would go into each of those acts and break them up into scenes and crises with little climaxes that would lead to something else until I got to the big climax at the end. I never worried about the characters so much because movies are about plots. You always have to keep the plot moving. Once that was done I’d take a couple of days off and then write the scripts. Once I turned them in and they were approved a few other writers would work on them like I did on others but essentially it was my story, my words so I would get the credit on screen.”
Another day he told me: “I got out of that racket because things were falling apart in Hollywood. The studios were going bankrupt and the writers weren’t getting contracts anymore. It was catch as catch can. I knew this editor at a paperback company so I wrote a novel on spec for him. He liked it and I’ve been writing novels ever since. The money isn’t as good but the work is steady.” And again he told me his work formula. “I always do one chapter (15 to 18 pages) a day for 18 days and that’s my book. When it’s finished I take a week off to kind of forget it. Then I come back and revise it carefully. That usually takes about a week and then I’m done. I send it off to the publisher, take another week off then start something new. At that pace I get five sometimes six novels done a year. Some they publish under my own name, others they make up a name for. Especially the sexy stuff.”
I didn’t ask about money but clearly this guy was making a bundle. After all he was staying at this hotel which I knew wasn’t cheap, he was drinking a lot of liquor and didn’t even look at the bill when he signed for them and he had a young wife which I figured had to be an expensive proposition too. The more I thought about it the more I realized that this was what I wanted to do as a living. Before I was dreaming and fantasizing but now based on what he had said to me I came to the solid conclusion that this was the profession I wanted to pursue. I don’t know what motivated him to spend the time talking to me but I’m sure glad he did. And I didn’t even have to pay for it. In fact it was just the opposite. He always left a generous tip when he left the bar to join his wife at the pool. I never wrote down any of the things he told me because I somehow knew that they would always stick with me and they have. In fact talking with him and reading W. Somerset Maugham are the closest I’ve ever gotten to taking writing lessons in my life.