The Great Wrong Place: Raymond Chandler’s Los Angeles at 70

They seemed to fit together right from the very beginning. The right town and the right words.

“The lights of the city were an endlessly glittering sheet. Neon signs glowed and flashed. The languid ray of a searchlight prodded about among high faint clouds…. The car went past the oil well that stands in the middle of La Cienega Boulevard, then turned off onto a quiet street fringed with palm trees….” —from “Blackmailers Don’t Shoot”

It was the very first piece of detective fiction written by one of the greatest of all mystery writers, Raymond Chandler. “Blackmailers Don’t Shoot,” published in 1933, appeared in the rough-edged pulp pages of Black Mask magazine.

In the 70 years since he penned that first tale of crime and corruption, Chandler has come to occupy a singular place in the cultural history of his adopted town. Called by S.J. Perleman “the major social historian of Los Angeles,” Chandler used his tough, bourbon-soaked poetry to re-create the city as a character, as real and intense as Chandler’s private eye hero, Philip Marlowe.

With his distinct descriptions of all that was unique about L.A. (“The muzzle of the Luger looked like the mouth of the Second Street tunnel, but I didn’t move.”), Chandler introduced our beautiful and brutal city to more readers than any other author, despite once declaring Los Angeles had “the personality of a paper cup.”

In post-World War II America, Los Angeles was a frontier town, ruled by a crime syndicate that was under the control of a cabal of shady politicians, lawyers and police officials. Chandler turned the greed, cruelty and despair of his crime-infested metropolis into the stuff of fiction. For millions of people around the world, he defined not only a city, but the genre of the hard-boiled detective story and even the style of movie-making that came to be known as film noir. His influence on mystery novelists from Ross Macdonald to Robert B. Parker, and on movies and television shows from Chinatown to The Rockford Files to L.A. Confidential have been well-documented by scholars and critics. Chandler’s path in creating that legacy is in evidence at the Special Collections Division of the UCLA Research Library, which contains the most extensive collection of Chandler’s work in the world.

Manhunt for an Identity

Raymond Thornton Chandler was born in Chicago on July 23, 1888. His alcoholic father frequently abandoned his family for extended periods, a habit that ultimately caused the divorce of Chandler’s parents. Eventually, young Raymond’s father vanished for good.

Chandler’s mother filed for divorce. She saved enough money for a move to England, where she and Raymond lived with relatives. Beginning at age 7, he received a proper British education at a school in London. He won awards for mathematics and was an avid reader of the classics. At 17, he attended London’s Dulwich College and later studied in France and Germany.

After a time, Chandler returned to London and became a naturalized British subject in order to take a civil service exam. He passed and soon acquired a government clerking position. But Chandler grew bored working as a civil servant and left the British government to work as a journalist and essayist for London’s Daily Express and Bristol’s Western Gazette, for whom he wrote articles on European affairs, along with poetry, reviews and literary essays.

Chandler found his way back to the United States in 1912. Searching for his niche, he worked on an apricot ranch, made tennis rackets in a sporting goods firm and, after studying bookkeeping, became a junior accountant. Chandler’s restlessness during this period was at least in part due to a problem with alcohol. It was a problem that would plague him for the rest of his life. “I think a man ought to get drunk at least twice a year,” he once said, “just on principle, so he won’t let himself get snotty about it.”

In 1917, Chandler began a year of service with the Gordon Highlanders of the Canadian Army, just after the start of World War I. As a member of the Royal Air Force he saw action in France. Chandler’s first real brushes with violence and death changed him. As a 30-year-old sergeant, he was ordered into trench warfare, leading his platoon into direct machine-gun fire. After that, he said later, “Nothing is ever the same again.” He was discharged in 1918 after sustaining a concussion in combat.

After the war, Chandler returned to America, this time to California (“The department store state,” he would later write. “The most of everything and the best of nothing.”) He worked as a banker in San Francisco and a reporter for Los Angeles’ Daily Express (he was fired after six weeks for being “lousy”) before finally joining L.A.’s Dabney-Johnson Oil Corporation as a bookkeeper.

By 1924, Chandler married Pearl “Cissy” Pascal and was promoted to auditor for the oil company. Soon, he rose to the rank of vice-president, but over the next several years, his battle with alcohol took its toll. After several self-destructive displays of excessive drinking and erratic behavior, he was fired in 1932 for absenteeism, womanizing and drunkenness.

Raymond Chandler was 44 years old.

The Pulp Jungle

The firing was a wake-up call for Chandler. The Great Depression was on and work was scarce. Chandler stopped his excessive drinking (temporarily), picked up a copy of Black Mask and vowed to dedicate his life to writing. The man who would soon turn Los Angeles into a film noir landscape never looked back.

For a novice writer during the Depression, there was no better place to start than the pulps, those thick, cheaply produced magazines filled with dark and bloody tales of mystery, murder and action, all written in the most purple of prose.

A fan of Dashiell Hammett’s Sam Spade and Erle Stanley Gardner’s Perry Mason, Chandler registered himself as a writer in the Los Angeles City Directory and began his apprenticeship in detective fiction.

Chandler decided to tackle the mystery pulps because he believed that some of them, in spite of their preoccupation with cheap-thrills melodrama, actually possessed an honesty and moral code that appealed to him. Also, he believed that the literary bar was low enough in the pulp fiction trade that he might actually have a good shot of earning even as he learned.

For a full year after his ignoble exit from Dabney Oil, Chandler worked daily at learning the craft of writing detective fiction. At first, he leaned heavily on the styles of Hammett, Gardner and even Ernest Hemingway as models for plot, character, pace and style. It didn’t come easy. That first short story, “Blackmailers Don’t Shoot,” running just under 18,000 words, took him five long months to finish. He submitted the story to tough-minded Joseph Shaw, the editor of Black Mask, the leading hard-boiled detective pulp of the day.

Shaw accepted the story and published it in the December 1933 issue. Chandler’s career as a mystery writer had officially begun. For his months of labor, the author received $180, at the standard pulp rate of a penny a word.

For the next six years, Chandler continued his apprenticeship in the pulp magazines, perfecting his craft and building, story by story, the character of his many-named private detective hero (known in various stories as Mallory, Dalmas, Carmady, Gage and Delaguerra, among others).

Though the detective story was a popular form, it did not pay very well. Never a prolific writer, Chandler struggled to earn even a modest living from his short-story sales. In 1938, his three published novelettes earned him a total of $1,275. Often short of cash, Chandler and his wife moved from furnished apartment to furnished apartment throughout Southern California—sometimes two or three times a year. He later recalled: “I never slept in the park but I came damn close to it. I went five days without anything to eat but soup once.”

Marlowe, P.I.

As the Depression wore on, Chandler continued his education in the pulps. Over the next six years, he sold 10 stories to Black Mask, seven stories to Dime Detective, and one to Detective Fiction Weekly. Chandler learned much from toiling in the pulp jungle, but by 1938 he was ready to move on. In the spring of that year he began writing The Big Sleep, his first novel featuring Philip Marlowe, the romantic and chivalrous private eye with the thoughtful, introspective approach to investigation that would mesmerize audiences in a total of eight novels, all set in steamy and seamy Southern California.

When The Big Sleep was published by Alfred A. Knopf in February 1939, the novel sold 10,000 copies in the United States and paid Chandler $2,000 in royalties. Those figures didn’t make him a best-selling author, but they were remarkably high for a mystery story, particularly for one by a first-time novelist.

Chandler wrote for the pulp magazine market for only a few more years, publishing three stories in 1939, none at all in 1940 and a final one in 1941. For the rest of the decade, Chandler devoted himself to the novel, often cannibalizing plot points, action set-pieces and whole characters from his own short stories. The years during which Farewell, My Lovely (1940), The High Window (1942) and The Lady in the Lake (1943) were published also saw the slow death of the pulp and the rapid rise of the paperback. These small, cheap reprints of hardcover novels were not only in bookstores but in drugstores, newsstands and even railroad stations.

For Chandler, the paperback revolution and the reprinting of his novels resulted in more income and something new: fame. By the beginning of 1945, 750,000 copies of The Big Sleep and Farewell, My Lovely had been sold. Just four years later, a Newsweek report on the crime-fiction business noted that there were more than 3 million copies of Chandler’s mysteries in the hands of readers.

As a writer who saw himself following the path of Dumas, Dickens and Conrad, Chandler devoted his life to the principle that genre writing is writing first and generic second. “My theory,” he once wrote, “was that readers just thought that they cared about nothing but the action; that really although they didn’t know it, they cared very little about the action. The thing they really cared about, and that I cared about, was the creation of emotion through dialogue and description.”

Chandler’s L.A.

Those descriptions included colorful portraits of Los Angeles landmarks and landscapes, like that of downtown’s Angel’s Flight cable car in The High Window: “I parked at the end of the street, where the funicular railway comes struggling up the yellow clay bank from Hill Street, and walked along Court Street to the Florence Apartments.”

The Santa Monica Pier, the San Bernardino Freeway, The Dancer’s Nightclub at La Cienega and Sunset, Beverly Hills (“the best-policed four square miles in California”), The Bradbury Building (renamed The Belfont Building by Chandler and later used as the site of Marlowe’s office in the 1969 James Garner film, Marlowe) all fell under the eyes of Chandler and his private detective. Marlowe’s Hollywood office, Chandler told us, was on the sixth floor (number 615) of “The Cahuenga Building” (in reality, The Security Trust and Savings Bank at the corner of Hollywood and Cahuenga). Once the tallest building on the Boulevard, the six-story structure erected by John and Donald Parkinson, designers of Bullock’s Wilshire and Santa Monica City Hall, became a high-profile home for Hollywood’s best-known private detective.

“If, as is often said, every city has at least one writer it can claim for a muse,” author and critic David L. Ulin once noted, “Raymond Chandler must be Los Angeles’.” Chandler’s background as both a journalist and a poet made him, said Ulin, “the one Los Angeles writer whose books have as a consistent center—the idea of the city as a living, breathing character–capturing the sights, the smells, the bleak glare of the sunlight, the deceptive smoothness of the surface beneath which nothing is as it seems.”

Ross Macdonald may have put it even better: “Chandler wrote like a slumming angel and invested the sun-blinded streets of Los Angeles with a romantic presence.”

Yet Chandler’s Los Angeles is no City of Angels. It’s an urban swamp filled with darkened back alleys, endless expressways and oppressive architecture. It’s a city of decay and corruption, right down to the foliage. When Chandler, as he does in Farewell, My Lovely, describes “a tough looking palm tree,” it is a tree that could only grow in Los Angeles. When, in the same book, an afternoon breeze makes “the unpruned shoots of last year’s poinsettias tap-tap against the cracked stucco wall,” lovers of Los Angeles—even those who have never lived here–recognize it as home. And when private eye Philip Marlowe makes his lonely drive from The Hobart Arms on Franklin Avenue to Arthur Gwynn Geiger’s House on Laurel Canyon Drive, as he does in The Big Sleep, we travel with him on atmospheric “mean streets” of a town without pity.

Making a Case for Mystery

Despite the income all those paperbacks generated, their lurid covers advertised Chandler’s stories as nothing more than collections of sex and violence. This kind of image angered and depressed Chandler, who considered the mystery story a valid form of literature. He dove deeper than ever into his drinking, coming up only often enough to produce some of the English language’s greatest crime fiction. In a letter to Lucky Luciano in preparation for an interview (at the suggestion of James Bond creator Ian Fleming), Chandler told the gangster: “I suppose we are both sinners in the sight of the Lord.”

In defiance of the sensational images screaming from the paperback racks that did little to promote Chandler as an important or even talented writer, a small number of Chandler supporters were beginning to argue for his literary value, as was Chandler himself. Writing to his overseas literary agent, Helga Green, Chandler said, “To accept a mediocre form and make literature out of it is something of an accomplishment… We are not always nice people, but essentially we have an ideal that transcends ourselves.”

Chandler was lucky enough to start writing novels at a time when Hollywood, based on the success of John Huston’s adaptation of Hammett’s The Maltese Falcon, was turning to the hard-boiled detective genre for stories. In 1941, RKO Pictures bought the rights to Farewell, My Lovely for $2,000, using the novel as source material for The Falcon Takes Over. A year later Twentieth Century Fox paid Chandler $3,500 for The High Window. Chandler wasn’t seduced by the attention, however, claiming, “If my books had been any worse I should not have been invited to Hollywood and if they had been any better I should not have come.”

Like many novelists during Hollywood’s Golden Age, Chandler turned to screenwriting to earn the money his books could not. In 1943, he signed on with Paramount Pictures to collaborate with Billy Wilder on a film version of James M. Cain’s Double Indemnity. He was paid $10,500, more than his entire earnings to date for any single novel. Chandler continued working for the studios for the next four years, earning increasingly higher salaries.

Seldom had a novelist’s work been so successfully or so frequently translated to the big screen. Chandler’s career as a screenwriter peaked in 1946 and 1947 with the release of director Howard Hawks’ film version of The Big Sleep (“The Violence—The Screen’s All-Time Rocker-Shocker!!” screamed the studio advertising), adaptations of The High Window (as The Brasher Doubloon) and The Lady in the Lake, plus Chandler’s Academy Award nomination for The Blue Dahlia (the screenplay for which Chandler crafted under an agreement with Paramount that he be allowed to write at home while drunk). In 1947, he was signed by Universal to create an original screenplay called Playback, but the film was never produced. Chandler tried screenwriting one final time in 1950, adapting the Patricia Highsmith mystery Strangers on a Train for Alfred Hitchcock (“He threw out nearly everything I wrote and brought in another writer.”).

Farewell to Filmland

After that film (the 16th written by or adapted from him), Chandler quit what he called the “Roman Circus” of Hollywood screenwriting to devote his energies to his remaining novels, The Little Sister (1949), The Long Goodbye (1953) and Playback (1958). Hollywood returned his ambivalence. Aside from a truncated television version of The Long Goodbye for the CBS series Climax in 1954, it was nearly 20 years before audiences saw another adaptation of one of Chandler’s books on screen.

Chandler saw no reason to cry: “The motion picture is like a picture of a lady in a half-piece bathing suit. If she wore a few more clothes, you might be intrigued. If she wore no clothes at all, you might be shocked. But the way it is, you are occupied with noticing that her knees are too bony and that her toenails are too large.”

If Hollywood had grown indifferent to Chandler’s work, the same could not be said for his growing legion of readers. As the genre of detective fiction increased in popularity, Chandler was hailed as its most accomplished practitioner. The growth of his reputation in literary circles was based primarily on his first two novels, The Big Sleep and Farewell, My Lovely and on his sixth, The Long Goodbye, but the demand of mystery fans, hungry for the work of a man who had not produced much of it, kept all of his fiction continuously in print.

Chandler once said, “The actual writing is what you live for.” And, indeed, his tight, clean prose, with its rapid rhythm, flawless precision and inspired similes (“He looked as inconspicuous as a tarantula on a slice of angel food.”) seemed the perfect conveyance for the detective story that he, more than anyone else, had elevated from its pulpy roots. The power of Chandler’s language and the emotion of his characters resulted in stories driven by mood and soaked in atmosphere, revealing and perhaps even explaining the darker side of human nature. Said poet W.H. Auden: “Mr. Chandler is interested in writing not detective stories but serious studies of a criminal milieu, the Great Wrong Place, and his powerful, but extremely depressing books should be read and judged not as escape literature, but as works of art.”

The end of Chandler’s own story reveals a personal life filled with difficulties, disappointments and disasters. His epic bouts of heavy drinking cost him his health, his lifestyle, his professional and personal relationships—and even his talent. Eventually, he wrote virtually nothing but letters.

Chandler suffered from depression, once saying that he could no longer look out at the Pacific Ocean because it had too much water and too many men had drowned in it. And he was a victim of self-loathing. Although he agreed to become the president of the Mystery Writers of America, he threw his ballot out because he could not face the prospect of voting for himself.

When his wife Cissy died of fibrosis of the lungs in December 1954, Chandler’s sense of loss turned from devastation to desperation. One boozy night, he loaded a .38 revolver, walked into his bathroom and fired twice. He missed both times. When the police arrived, they found him on the shower floor in the midst of a third attempt. He was taken to a sanitarium. When the news of his botched suicide made headlines, letters of support poured in from all over the country. Chandler dismissed the sentiments as silly.

Finally, in 1959, Chandler was hospitalized for pneumonia, his system weakened by years of alcohol abuse. He died alone at the Scripps Clinic in La Jolla on March 26, just three days before the premiere of Philip Marlowe, a new ABC television series based on his most famous character.

Chandler’s funeral was attended by only 17 people. They included local acquaintances who hadn’t known him well enough to be called friends, representatives of the local Mystery Writers chapter and a devoted collector of first-edition mysteries.


Yet 70 years after penning his first Los Angeles crime tale, Raymond Chandler lives on. His seven novels and 25 short stories are still in print and readily available, as are the movies and television shows made from those works. And Chandler lives as well at the very place where Los Angeles private detective Philip Marlowe once hung his hat, coat and gun.

On August 5, 1994, in honor of the first writer to chronicle Los Angeles and all its vivid eccentricities, the city of Los Angeles designated a familiar Hollywood street corner as a Historic Cultural Monument. Raymond Chandler Square now occupies the corner of Hollywood and Cahuenga boulevards, the site of Marlowe’s office. Journalist Jess Bravin, who first approached the Los Angeles Cultural Heritage Commission with the idea of the tribute, said then: “Of all the artists of the 20th century, perhaps no one shaped the image of Los Angeles more than did Raymond Chandler. His novels, which featured private detective Philip Marlowe, portrayed this city and its people with a depth and texture that both inspires and chills each generation of readers. His style, terse and metaphoric, gritty yet romantic, bridged the worlds of rich and poor, of losers and dreamers, of ‘popular novels’ and literary art.”

To stand at the corner of Hollywood and Cahuenga is to stand in the middle of Raymond Chandler’s Los Angeles. With a little concentration, The City That Is gives way to The City That Was. Soon, words from the author’s essay on detective fiction, “The Simple Art of Murder,” come to mind. It is Chandler’s view of Marlowe, and maybe—finally—of himself:

“Down these mean streets a man must go who is not himself mean, who is neither tarnished nor afraid…. He must be a complete man and a common man and yet an unusual man…. He must be the best man in his world and a good enough man for any world.”


by Raymond Chandler


  • The Big Sleep. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1939.
  • Farewell, My Lovely. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1940.
  • The High Window. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1942.
  • The Lady in the Lake. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1943.
  • The Little Sister. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1949.
  • The Long Goodbye. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1954.
  • Playback. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1958.

Short Stories & Anthologies

  • “Blackmailers Don’t Shoot.” Black Mask. December, 1933.
  • The Simple Art of Murder. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1950.
  • Trouble Is My Business. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1950.
  • Raymond Chandler Speaking. Ed. Dorothy Gardiner and Katherine Sorley Walker. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1962.
  • Collected Stories (Everyman’s Library). New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2002.

on Raymond Chandler


  • Baker, Robert A. and Niestzel, Michael T. Private Eyes: 101 Knights. Bowling Green: Popular, 1985.
  • Clark, Al. Raymond Chandler in Hollywood. New York: Proteus, 1982.
  • Geherin, David. The American Private Eye. New York: Ungar, 1985.
  • Goulart, Ron. The Dime Detectives. New York: Mysterious, 1988.
  • Luhr, William. Raymond Chandler and Film. New York: Ungar, 1982.
  • Nolan, William F. The Black Mask Boys. New York: Mysterious, 1985.
  • O’Brien, Geoffrey. Hardboiled America. New York: Van Nostrand Renhold, 1981.
  • Ward, Elizabeth and Silver, Alain. Raymond Chandler’s Los Angeles. Woodstock: Overlook, 1987.
  • Wolfe, Peter. Something More Than Night. Bowling Green: Popular, 1985.

Authored by Mike Valerio.

The Black Mask Collector

This is a first attempt at indexing every story that has ever been reprinted in book form from this legendary magazine. Due to the scarcity of copies of this pulp I started digging into reprinted works just to get a taste of this magazine, haven’t looked back since. First I’ll cover anthologies, then single author collections. Also a preliminary attempt at a bibliography of the articles and materials written about the magazine. Any and all contributions of missing items and corrections to this list would be greatly appreciated.


Great American Detective Stories, edited by Anthony Boucher, The World Publishing Co., 1945

  • Frank Gruber: “Ask Me Another” (June 1937)

The Hard-Boiled Omnibus, edited by Joseph T. Shaw, Simon & Schuster, 1946. (The first and greatest anthology. Essential. Released as a paperback years many years later, but missing some stories.)

  • Joseph T. Shaw: Introduction
  • J.J. Des Ormeaux (Forrest Rosaire): “The Devil Suit” (July 1932)
  • Reuben Jennings Shay: “Taking His Time” (January 1931)
  • Dashiell Hammett: “Fly Paper” (August 1929)
  • Ramon Decolta (Raoul Whitfield): “Death in the Pasig” (March 1930)
  • Raymond Chandler: “The Man Who Liked Dogs” (March 1936)
  • Norbert Davis: “Red Goose” (February 1934)
  • George Harmon Coxe: “Murder Mixup” (May 1936)
  • Paul Cain (Peter Ruric): “Red 71” (December 1932)
  • Raoul Whitfield: “Inside Job” (February 1932)
  • Lester Dent: “Sail” (October 1936)
  • Charles G. Booth: “Sister Act” (February 1933)
  • Thomas Walsh: “Best Man” (October 1934)
  • Ed Lybeck: “Kick-Back” (January 1932)
  • Roger Torrey: “Clean Sweep” (February 1934)
  • Theodore Tinsley: “South Wind” (November 1932)

The Sleeping and the Dead, edited by August Derleth, Pellegrini & Cudahy, 1947

  • Howard Wandrei: “The Last Pin” (February 1940)

As Tough as They Come, edited by Will Oursler, Perma Books paperback, Doubleday & Co., 1951 (While containing only one specific Black Mask story it is 370 pages of great hard-boiled detective fiction.)

  • Dashiell Hammett: “Corkscrew” (September 1925)

The Hardboiled Dicks, edited by Ron Goulart, Sherbourne Press, 1965

  • Nebel, Frederick, “Winter Kill.” November 1935
  • Decolta, Ramon (Whitfield, Raoul), “China Man.” March 1932
  • Gruber, Frank, “Death on Eagles Crag.” December 1937
  • Dent, Lester, “Angelfish.” December 1936

The Hard-Boiled Detective, edited by Herbert Ruhm, Vintage Books paperback, 1977

  • Herbert Ruhm: Introduction
  • Carroll John Daly: “The False Burton Combs” (December 1922)
  • Peter Collinson (Dashiell Hammett): “The Road Home” (December 1922)
  • Dashiell Hammett: “The Gutting of Couffignal” (December 1925)
  • Norbert Davis: “Kansas City Flash” (March 1933)
  • Frederick Nebel: “Take It and Like It” (June 1934)
  • Raymond Chandler: “Goldfish” (June 1936)
  • Lester Dent: “Angelfish” (December 1936)
  • Erle Stanley Gardner: ” Leg Man” (February 1938)
  • George Harmon Coxe: “Once Around the Clock” (May 1941)
  • Merle Constiner: “The Turkey Buzzard Blues” (July 1943)
  • William E.Brandon: “It’s So Peaceful in the Country” (November 1934)
  • Kurt Hamlin: “Killer Come Home” (March 1948)
  • Paul W. Fairman: “Big-time Operator” (July 1948)
  • Bruno Fischer: “Five O’clock Menace” (May 1949)

The Arbor House Treasury of Detective & Mystery Stories from the Great Pulps, compiled by Bill Pronzini, 1983, hardcover, tradepaper.

  • Peter Collinson (Dashiell Hammett): “Arson Plus” (October 1, 1923)
  • Horace McCoy: “The Mopper-Up” (November 1931)
  • Frederick Nebel: “Red Pavement” (December 1932)
  • Carroll John Daly: “Knights of the Open Palm” (June 1, 1923)
  • Paul Cain: “Parlor Trick” (July 1932)

The Black Mask Boys, edited by William F. Nolan, William Morrow & Co., 1985, hardcover. Mysterious Press, 1985, hardcover, tradepaper (Absolutely essential and relatively easy collection to find. If you want a good start on learning about this magazine, this is where it needs to happen. Every author gets a writeup before each story adding icing to the cake. A tip of the hat to Mr. Nolan.)

  • William F. Nolan: Introduction
  • Carroll John Daly: “Three Gun Terry” (May 15, 1923)
  • Dashiell Hammett: “Bodies Piled Up” (December 1, 1923)
  • Erle Stanley Gardner: “Hell’s Kettle” (June 1930)
  • Raoul Whitfield: “Sal the Dude” (October 1929)
  • Frederick Nebel: “Rough Justice” (November 1930)
  • Horace McCoy: “Frost Rides Alone” (March 1930)
  • Paul Cain: “Murder Done in Blue” (June 1933)
  • RaymondChandler: “Blackmailers Don’t Shoot” (December 1933)

Tough Guys & Dangerous Dames, edited byRobert Weinberg, Stefan Dziemianowicz, and Martin H. Greenberg, Barnes & Noble Books, 1993

  • Ramon DeColta (Raoul Whitfield): “The Magician Murder” (November 1932)
  • Paul Cain: “Black” (May 1932)
  • Lester Dent: “Sail” (October 1936)

Single Author Collections:

Ballard, W.T., Say Yes to Murder. Putnam, 1942. Novel, about Bill Lennox, not reprinted from Black Mask but is a character from this magazine.

Ballard, W.T., Murder Can’t Stop. McKay 1946. Graphic paperback 1950, 1953. Novel, about Bill Lennox, not reprinted from Black Mask but is a character from this magazine.

Ballard, W.T., Dealing Out Death. McKay 1947. Graphic paperback 1948. Novel, about Bill Lennox, not reprinted from Black Mask but is a character from this magazine.

Ballard, W.T., Hollywood Troubleshooter, W.T. Ballard’s Bill Lennox Stories. Ed. James L. Traylor. Bowling Green University Popular Press, 1985. Hardcover, variant in wrappers
photographically reproduced from Black Mask:

  • “A Little Different” (September 1933)
  • “A Million-Dollar Tramp” (October 1933)
  • “Gamblers Don’t Win” (April 1935)
  • “Scars of Murder” (November 1939)
  • “Lights, Action–Killer” (May 1942)

Booth, Charles G. Murder Strikes Thrice. Anson Bond, A Bonded mystery 1946?

  • “Stag Party” (November 1933)

Brand, Max [pseud. of Frederick Faust]. Max Brand’s Best Stories. Ed. Robert Easton. Dodd, Mead & Company, 1967. Mixed collection.

  • “The Silent Witness” (March 1938)

Brand, Max. The Collected Stories of Max Brand. Ed. Robert and Jane Easton. University of Nebraska Press, 1994. Mixed collection.

  • “The Silent Witness” (March 1938)

Cain, Paul. Fast One. Shaw Press, 1933, paperback. Doubleday, Doran & Co., 1933. Avon 1952, paperback, Black Lizard, 1987, paperback. No Exit Press, 1991. Numerous other editions. Originally done as separate stories instead of a continuous serial novel.

  • “Fast One” (March 1932)
  • “Lead Party” (April 1932)
  • “Velvet” (June 1932)
  • “The Heat” (August 1932)
  • “The Dark” (September 1932)

Cain, Paul. Seven Slayers. Saint Enterprises Inc. (Chartered 21), 1946. Black Lizard, 1987. Numerous other editions.

  • “Black” (May 1932)
  • “Red 71” (December 1932)
  • “Parlor Trick” (July 1932)
  • “One, Two, Three” (May 1933)
  • “Murder in Blue” [“Murder Done in Blue”] (June 1933)
  • “Pigeon Blood” (November 1933)
  • “Pineapple” (March 1936)

Cave, Hugh B. Long Live the Dead. Crippen & Landru, 2000, hardcover and tradepaper

  • “Too Many Women” (May 1934)
  • “Dead Dog” (March 1937)
  • “Shadow” (April 1937)
  • “Curtain Call” (November 1938)
  • “Long Live the Dead” (December 1938)
  • “Smoke Gets in your eyes” (December 1938)
  • “Lost—And Found” (April 1940)
  • “The Missing Mr. Lee” (November 1940)
  • “Front Page Frame-Up” (February 1941)
  • “Stranger in Town” (April 1941)

Chandler, Raymond. Black Mask stories have been reprinted in countless places. Get this book for all of them in one spot, finally:

Collected Stories. Knopf, 2002, (Everyman’s Library).

  • “Blackmailers Don’t Shoot” (December 1933)
  • “Smart-Aleck Kill” (July 1934)
  • “Finger Man” (October 1934)
  • “Killer in the Rain” (January 1935)
  • “Nevada Gas” (June 1935)
  • “Spanish Blood” (November 1935)
  • “Guns at Cyrano’s” (January 1936)
  • “The Man Who Liked Dogs” (March 1936)
  • “Goldfish” (June 1936)
  • “The Curtain” (September 1936)
  • “Try The Girl” (January 1937)

Charteris, Leslie. Follow the Saint. Doubleday Crime Club, 1938; Hodder & Stoughton, 1939

  • “The Invisible Millionaire” (June 1938)

Charteris, Leslie. The Saint on Guard. Doubleday Crime Club, 1944; Hodder & Stoughton

  • “The Black Market” [“Murder Goes to Market”] (March 1944)

Coxe, George Harmon. Silent are the Dead. Knopf, 1942, paperback. (Flash Casey novel not from Black Mask)

Coxe, George Harmon. Flash-Casey—Detective. Avon Murder Mystery Monthly #39, 1946, Avon #143, 1948, paperback

  • “Women are Trouble” (April 1935)
  • “Too Many Women” (September 1936)
  • “Casey—Detective” (February 1935)
  • “Once Around the Clock” (May 1941)

Coxe, George Harmon. Silent are the Dead. 1942, paperback?

  • originally serial novel “Killers are Camera Shy” (September–November 1941)

Coxe, George Harmon. Murder for Two. Dell, 1943, paperback

  • originally serial novel “Blood on the Lens” (January–March 1943)

Daly, Carroll John. The Snarl of the Beast. Clode, 1927 hardcover, HarperPerennial, 1992, trade paperback.

  • originally a serial from June–September 1927

Daly, Carroll John. The Hidden Hand. Clode, 1929. HarperPerennial, 1992, trade paperback.

Loosely organized five-part serial:

  • “The Hidden Hand” (June 1928)
  • “Wanted For Murder” (July 1928)
  • “Rough Stuff” (August 1928)
  • “The Last Chance” (September 1928)
  • “The Last Shot” (October 1928)

Gardner, Erle Stanley. Dead Men’s Letters and Other Short Novels. Carroll & Graf, 1990, hardcover

  • “Dead Men’s Letters” (December 1926)
  • “Laugh That Off” (September 1926)
  • “The Cat-Woman” (February 1927)
  • “This Way Out” (March 1927)
  • “Come and Get It” (April 1927)
  • “In Full of Account” (May 1927)

Gardner, Erle Stanley. The Blonde in Lower Six. New York: Carroll & Graf, 1990.

  • “The Wax Dragon” (November 1927)
  • “Grinning Gods” (December 1927)
  • “Yellow Shadows” (February 1928)

Gardner, Erle Stanley. Honest Money and Other Short Novels. New York: Carroll & Graf, 1991.

  • “Honest Money” (November 1932)
  • “The Top Comes Off” (December 1932)
  • “Close Call” (January 1933)
  • “Making the Breaks” (June 1933)
  • “Devil’s Fire” (July 1933)
  • “Blackmail with Lead” (August 1933)

Gruber, Frank. Brass Knuckles. Sherbourne Press, 1966, hardcover

  • “Ask Me Another” (June 1937)
  • “Dog Show Murder” (March 1938)
  • “Funny Man” (May 1939)
  • “Oliver Quade at the Races” (November 1939)
  • “Forced Landing” (October 1938)
  • “Death Sits Down” (May 1938)
  • “Words and Music” (March 1940)
  • “State Fair Murder” (February 1939)
  • “Rain, the Killer” (September 1937)

Some brief commentary about Hammett: many of the stories that appeared in book form are different than the original pulp magazine appearance. I don’t know the extent of their change, but the Library of America hardcover reprints unchanged, original text. Of the novels, they really remain “unreprinted” as they were extensively edited for book publication: The Continental Op, The Maltese Falcon, Red Harvest, The Dain Curse, The Glass Key, The Big Knockover.

Hammett, Dashiell. The Adventures of Sam Spade and Other Stories. Ed. Ellery Queen. Lawrence E. Spivak (Bestseller Mystery B50), 1944. Reprinted as They Can Only Hang You Once. Mercury, 1949. Partially reprinted as A Man Called Spade, Dell, 1945.

  • “The Assistant Murderer” (February 1926)
  • “The Judge Laughed Last” [“The New Racket”] (February 15, 1924)

Hammett, Dashiell. The Continental Op. Ed. Ellery Queen. Lawrence E. Spivak (Bestseller Mystery B62), 1945.

  • “Death on Pine Street” [“Women, Politics and Murder”] (September 1924)
  • “The Farewell Murder” (February 1930)
  • “Fly Paper” (August 1929)
  • “Zigzags of Treachery” (March 1, 1924)

Hammett, Dashiell. The Creeping Siamese. Ed. Ellery Queen. New York: Lawrence E. Spivak (Jonathan Press J48), 1950.

  • “The Creeping Siamese” (March 1926)
  • “The Man Who Killed Dan Odams” (January 15, 1924)
  • “The Nails in Mr. Cayterer” (January 1926)
  • “Tom, Dick or Harry” [“Mike, Alec or Rufus”] (January 1925)

Hammett, Dashiell. Crime Stories & Other Writings. The Library of America, 2001, hardcover

  • “Arson Plus” (October 1, 1923)
  • “Slippery Fingers” (October 15, 1923)
  • “Crooked Souls” (October 15, 1923)
  • “The Tenth Clew” (January 1, 1924)
  • “Zigzags of Treachery” (March 1, 1924)
  • “The House in Turk Street” (April 15, 1924)
  • “The Girl with the Silver Eyes” (June 1924)
  • “Women, Politics and Murder” (September 1924)
  • “The Golden Horseshoe” (November 1924)
  • “The Whosis Kid” (March 1925)
  • “The Scorched Face” (May 1925)
  • “Dead Yellow Women” (November 1925)
  • “The Gutting of Couffignal” (December 1925)
  • “The Assistant Murderer” (February 1926)
  • “Creeping Siamese” (March 1926)
  • “The Big Knock-Over” (February 1927)
  • “$106,000 Blood Money” (May 1927)
  • “The Main Death” (June 1927)
  • “Fly Paper” (August 1929)
  • “The Farewell Murder” (February 1930)

Hammett, Dashiell. Dead Yellow Women. Ed. Ellery Queen. Lawrence E. Spivak (Jonathan Press J29), 1947.

  • “Dead Yellow Women” (November 1925)
  • “The Golden Horseshoe” (November 1924)
  • “House Dick” [“Bodies Piled Up”] (December 1, 1923)

Hammett, Dashiell. Hammett Homicides. Ed. Ellery Queen. Lawrence E. Spivak (Bestseller Mystery B81), 1946.

  • “The Girl with the Silver Eyes” (June 1924)
  • “The House in Turk Street” (April 15, 1924)
  • “The Main Death” (June 1927)
  • “Night Shots” (February 1, 1924)

Hammett, Dashiell. A Man Named Thin and Other Stories. Ed. Ellery Queen. Joseph W. Ferman (Mercury Mystery 233), 1962.

  • “The Gatewood Caper” [“Crooked Souls”] (October 15, 1923)
  • “The Second-Story Angel” (November 15, 1923)

Hammett, Dashiell. Nightmare Town. Ed. Ellery Queen. New York: The American Mercury, Lawrence E. Spivak, 1948.

  • “Corkscrew” (September 1925)
  • “The Scorched Face” (May 1925)

Hammett, Dashiell. Nightmare Town. Knopf, 1999

  • “The Second-Story Angel” (November 15, 1923)
  • “The Man Who Killed Dan Odams” (January 15, 1924)
  • “Night Shots” (February 1, 1924)
  • “Afraid of a Gun” (March 1, 1924)
  • “Zigzags of Treachery” (March 1, 1924)
  • “One Hour” (April 1, 1924)
  • “The Assistant Murderer” (February 1926)

Hammett, Dashiell. The Return of the Continental Op. Intro. and edited by Ellery Queen Lawrence E. Spivak (Jonathan Press J17), 1945.

  • “Death and Company” (November 1930)
  • “The Gutting of Couffignal” (December 1925)
  • “One Hour” (April 1, 1924)
  • “The Tenth Clue” (January 1, 1924)
  • “The Whosis Kid” (March 1925)

Hammett, Dashiell. Woman in the Dark. Ed. Ellery Queen. Lawrence E. Spivak (Jonathan Press J59), 1951.

  • “Afraid of a Gun” (March 1, 1924)
  • “Arson Plus” (October 1, 1923)
  • “The Black Hat That Wasn’t There” [“It”] (November 1, 1923)
  • “The Man Who Stood in the Way” [“The Vicious Circle”] (June 15, 1923)
  • “Slippery Fingers” (October 15, 1923)

Nebel, Frederick. Six Deadly Dames. Avon #264, 1950. Gregg Press, Boston, 1980.

  • “The Red-Hots” (December 1930)
  • “Get a Load of This” (February 1931)
  • “Spare the Rod” (August 1931)
  • “Pearls Are Tears” (September 1931)
  • “Death’s Not Enough” (October 1931)
  • “Save Your Tears” (June 1933)

Reeves, Robert. No Love Lost. 1941, Holt

  • Condensed version in Black Mask as “Dog Eat Dog” (September–November 1940)

Wandrei, Howard. The Last Pin. Fedogan & Bremer, 1996

  • “The Last Pin”, February 1940

Contained with the limited edition and as a promo booklet is the story “Saith the Lord” with is the original unedited version of “The Last Pin.” Also contained in the booklet is much to interest the fan of Black Mask (and Howard Wandrei, of course).

Whitfield, Raoul. Green Ice. Knopf, 1930. Grosset & Dunlap 1930. No Exit Press, 1988, tradepaper. Other editions. Presented as separate stories as “The Crime Breeders.”

  • “Outside” (December 1929)
  • “Red Smoke” (January 1930)
  • “Green Ice” (February 1930)
  • “Oval face” (March 1930)
  • “Killers Show” (April 1930)

Whitfield, Raoul. Death in a Bowl. Knopf, 1931, No Exit Press, 1988, tradepaper. Other editions. September–November 1930. Originally titled “The Maestro Murder” in first hardcover?

Whitfield, Raoul. Jo Gar’s Casebook. Crippen & Landru, 2002, hardcover and tradepaper

  • “West of Guam” (February 1930)
  • “Death in the Pasig” (March 1930)
  • “Red Hemp” (April 1930)
  • “Signals of Storm” (June 1930)
  • “Enough Rope” (July 1930)
  • “The Caleso Murders” (December 1930)
  • “Silence House” (January 1931)
  • “Shooting Gallery” (October 1931)
  • “The Javanese Mask” (December 1931)
  • “The Black Sampan” (January 1932)
  • “China Man” (March 1932)
  • “The Siamese Cat” (April 1932)
  • “Climbing Death” (July 1932)
  • “The Magician Murders” (November 1932)
  • “The Man from Shanghai” (April 1933)
  • “The Amber Fan” (July 1933)
    (book also contains two stories from Hearst’s International-Cosmopolitan.)

Woolrich, Cornell: no single collection that I’m aware of by this author has collected all or numerous Black Mask stories under one title. See Francis M. Nevins, Jr. Cornell Woolrich: First You Dream, Then You Die biography for detailed lit of anthology reprints.

Books on Black Mask, or Containing Material Related to Black Mask:

Apostolou, John. “The Short Career of Robert Reeves.” The Armchair Detective, Vol. 18, No. 2, 185–8, Spring, 1985.

Barson, Michael S: on Daly & Race Williams. Clues: A Journal of Detection

Cave, Hugh B. “Magazines I Remember.” Tattered Pages Press, 1993

Raymond Chandler Speaking edited by Dorothy Gardiner and Katherine Sorley Walker, 1962, reprint 1997 by University of California Press, Berkeley

Chandler, Raymond. Selected Letters of Raymond Chandler, edited by Frank MacShane, Delta, 1987 (a lot of great material related to Black Mask contained herein, besides being great commentary of detective fiction and excellent letters to boot)

Cook, Michael L. Mystery, Detective, And Espionage Magazines. Greenwood, 1983. Contains a 6 page entry on Black Mask by E.R. Hagemann

Gruber, Frank. The Pulp Jungle. Sherbourne Press, 1967 (An essential read, informative and to my knowledge the longest book written by a detective pulp author about the pulps and detective pulps, Black Mask included.)

Hagemann, E.R. “Cap Shaw and His Great and Regular Fellows: The Making of The Hard-boiled Omnibus.Clues: A Journal of Detection, Fall/Winter 1981.

Lewis, Dave: “The Backbone of Black Mask.Clues: A Journal of Detection, Vol. 2, No. 2, Fall/Winter 1981.

Tough Guy Writers of the Thirties, edited by David Madden, Southern Illinois University Press, 1968, softcover and hardcover editions, reprinted a few times.

Mertz, Stephen “W.T. Ballard: An Interview.” The Armchair Detective, Winter 1979.

Murray, Will, “Lester Dent, The Last of Joe Shaw’s Black Mask Boys.” Clues: A Journal of Detection, Vol. 2, No. 2, Fall/Winter 1981.

Nevins, Francis M. The Mystery Writer’s Art. Bowling Green Pop Press ,1970.

Smith, Erin A. Hard-Boiled, Working-Class Readers and Pulp Magazines. Temple University Press, 2000.

Wilt, David. Hardboiled in Hollywood. Bowling Green Popular Press, 1991, softcover and hardcover editions. Contains enough information on five Black Mask authors to keep you interested even if you are not a film enthusiast.

Authored by Rob Preston.

The 17 Detective Magazines

The still raging fad for mystery stories has quadrupled the number of magazines on the newsstands catering to this type of fiction. Before us are seventeen different magazines which we have just purchased off the newsstand. They each cover a distinct section of the mystery field. Eleven of the magazines are the standard pulp paper size of seven by ten inches while the other six of the larger standard smooth paper size of eight and a half by eleven. All are making a bid for mass circulation with flaming covers chuck full of action and drama.

Like any business based on a fad, most of the mystery fiction magazines come and go with such rapidity that it is hardly possible to give the style rules and editorial requirements of one of them without having to receive several hundred letters the following month from irate subscribers who begin their letters with “You poor saps—don’t you even know that Who Killed Cock Robin? was discontinued last week?”

On the other hand a magazine may continue, but the editorial policy does a complete back flip as executed recently by the crime magazines who now whoop it up loud and long for the Law while heretofore they thumbed countless pulp paper noses at the police. Having thus hopefully strung up an alibi about this article we cautiously proceed to enumerate the present mystery magazines.

Complete Detective Novel published at 381 Fourth Ave., uses one long novel, and several shorts based on factual accounts of crime dutifully embellished with life and drama. The stories are not the last word in literature but make facile reading coupled with action, robbery, and pretty girls. Few newsstand buyers can resist such a triumvirate.

Black Mask, 578 Madison Ave. The last time we saw it, Black Mask was trying to make up its mind whether or not to go mystery story whole hog or none. A page ad signed by Joseph T. Shaw, the editor, asked the readers to signify their favorite stories. At present they use western, detective, and adventure stories with an approximate length of twenty pages or 12,000 to 40,000 words. Mr. Shaw has a penchant for character interest, and a general convincing tone to a story. Most of the stories do not stress murder. Killings are incidental. “What I want first and last is a real story,” says the editor.

Clues, at 80 Lafayette St., New York, is a Clayton magazine, as is All Star Detective Stories. Both of these are discussed by W.M. Clayton their publisher in another part of Writer’s Digest.

Dragnet, at 67 West 44th St., New York, is one of the Magazine Publishers Inc. group. They use the good old time detective and crook stories. You must be modern, however, and know the most recent uses and ramifications of tear gas et al.

Fiction House, Inc., has two in this group, namely Detective Book and Detective Classics, both at 271 Madison Ave., New York. Here are some instant summaries of stories in the former; “Sinister as sin are the Dark Eyes—blind masters of Crime House. When the night is dark and the shadows deep, they cast their murder net.” … “A country village tasted terror when the killer of James Rowand walked its shadowed lanes unseen,” … “He staked his life against gangster lead—to track the hidden factory of bogus wealth.”

Fiction House has a reputation to keep up. They want good material, pay good rates, and cater to beginner or professional as long as the story is all there. Detective Classics contains one novel about ninety-five pages long, several shorts based on fact, and one short mystery.

Detective Story Magazine is a Street & Smith publication at 79 Seventh Ave., New York. It carries two novelettes, one serial, five short stories, and three or four miscellaneous items about crime such as “Women Smugglers Fined,” and “Prison Made Articles.” There is also one poem with a galloping lilt and plenty of slang.

Weird Tales, 2457 E. Washington Street, Indianapolis, Ind., carries the most ungodly stories a starved writer in a garret could concoct even if inspired by stale cheese and rye bread with no beer. Here are some of the summaries for May:

A strange tale about Nycea, the lamia who had her dwelling-place beneath the ruins of the Castle of Faussesflammes—a weirdly beautiful story.

A thrilling novelette about a race of people living in the interior of a gigantic sun—a startling weird-scientific story of a tremendous doom threatening the universe.

Back from the gates of hell came Jerry’s grandfather—a grim story of black magic and evil rites.

A strange fantasy, a bizarre extravaganza about a weird and wonderful country, and the terrible beings that beset it.

Startling Detective Adventures is a Fawcett Publication at Robbinsdale, Minn. They are making a play for true mystery stories illustrated with actual photographs from life. Doubtless Captain Billy who was recently off shooting in the tropics has seen another mirage cast up by the golden True Stories, and aims to rival it in the crime field. The April issue contains eight true features about crime including “My Seventeen Years Among Prison Rioters,” “How I Captured Topeka’s Girl Bandit,” and “The Clueless Crime.” Looks like a fine opportunity for a shrewd writer to interview some successful detectives and go in for collaboration. (In such cases, unless one of the two collaborators is unusually famous, the split is 60-40 with the writer getting the major receipts.) Startling Detective Adventures also contains two serials, and two detective adventure stories. All yarns must lend themselves adequately to illustration.

Macfadden is by no means left behind in the rush for public favor in mystery magazines. He has two, and both are good. True Detective Mysteries is as Macfadden as its glorious sister True Stories and also just as moral. Here are some of the summaries for April stories.

Beautiful Edith May Thompson—who has not heard of her—social favorite at the White House during the McKinley Administration? But—how many know the inside story of her brutal murder at a lovely spot near St. Michael’s, Maryland, that was cloaked in such deep mystery? Don’t miss The Man With the Twisted Foot, next month. It will tell the real story of this notorious case!

In the realm of astounding impostors who have been accepted publicly in the United States and Europe as well-known persons, George Gabor, alias “Baron Von Krupp,” stands out pre-eminently as the most absorbing story of this master dupester by the detective who caught him!—a story that, if it were told in fiction, you would say: “It could never happen!”

A well-known minister in Illinois fell by the wayside in sin. The story we have of this case is sensational in its details—but the facts justify its publication as a lesson to us all!

The Master Detective, the second Macfadden publication at 1926 Broadway, New York, is sensational and exploits every opportunity to use dramatic pictures and big names. Looks like it would be best to query the editor before sending in material. The mere mention of “skyline” in a story sends this particular editor off in a spasm of illustrations of all the famous skylines in the world. The magazine is probably aimed at those newsstand buyers who grab anything that has enough pictures of New York, Fifth Avenue, Greta Garbo, Houdini, Jack Johnson, Harry Thaw, and other equally famous sources of interest. At any odds take our advice, query the editor before sending in material.

Prize Detective Magazine is published at 1133 Broadway, New York. Production costs have possibly cast dismal shadows across their audit books and the paper used is not exactly of the Conde Nast grade, although the half-tones show up well. The cover states that “amazing mysteries” are carried.

Scientific Detective Stories is published by Hugo Gernsback who tells in this issue the type of material he wants. The address is 98 Park Place, New York.

The publisher of College Humor has taken a voyage in the mystery field with his Real Detective Tales. The April issue has a knockout cover, and the inside is almost as good. There are two novels, several long short stories, and a number of features, true articles, and short stories about crime. Office at 1050 N. LaSalle st., Chicago, Ill.

Detective Fiction Weekly at 280 Broadway was formerly Flynn’s and still has a good following. It is a weekly with the emphasis on plot and contains four short stories, a serial, two true stories, and some feature and fact articles. Established years ago, Detective Fiction Weekly will, no doubt, outlive its present lusty contemporaries and once again be supreme in its weekly field. As with all magazines that have stability and expect to do business next decade as well as this one, Detective Fiction Weekly has a good reputation among writers.

Scotland Yard is a new one, and published by Dell at 100 Fifth Avenue, New York. In the issue we have, pages 63 to 78 got tangled up in the bindery and are topsy turvy. The magazine deals with international crime as its title suggests. The title, by the way, is a keen one. The editor uses one short novel, one long short story, and about six short stories.

Whatever you do, thoroughly inspect a copy of one of these publications before writing for it.

Generally speaking, none of the publishers except Macfadden have put out a good-looking book, although Lansinger has managed to put some good covers on Real Detective Tales. The inside paper of most of the group is pretty lousy, and black and white drawings look like they must have cost at least five dollars apiece. The only good art work in any of the entire group is on the cover where, of course, it counts most as far as the sales go. The stories are pretty poor, although every magazine manages to have at least one good one. Writers have consistently stressed plot, and generally neglected character interest, while humor might be an undiscovered metal as far as its use goes in this group. It is difficult to predict which ones will last but Writer’s Digest puts its two dollars on True Detective to lead the pack at the end of three years.

Rates run from three cents a word to three quarters of a cent with the majority paying on acceptance. Naturally the most prosperous and professional looking of the lot pay the best rates. As seven-eighths of the mystery stories on the market today are sponsored by important publishing companies, writers need have no fear concerning payment. If you have a rattling good detective story with a fast peppy plot, plenty of horror, and a ton of action, all you need to sell it is a two-cent stamped envelope.

Authored by the Editor; from Writer’s Digest (April 1930).

Ten Detective Aces: The Variety Magazine of Detective Stories

A.A. Wyn

A.A. Wyn

“The most important thing that I am anxious to convey to Writer’s Digest readers is that Ten Detective Aces is the most elastic detective story magazine on the market today,” Mr. A.A. Wyn, editor, told me as the waiter placed our luncheon before us. “We have no iron-bound policy or preference for any particular type of detective story; we are endeavoring to make our magazine the outstanding publication in its field through the wide variety of fiction we offer to our readers. There are only three types that we steer away from—the straight story of the bootlegger gang-mob, the story of the dope ring showing the effects of drugs on the characters or the white-slavery yarn, and the straight deductive story.

“The one feature on which we do insist is that all of our stories must be fast-moving and develop plenty of suspense. The menace-action type story is one of the best for us, but it has unlimited possibilities of variety, and variety is what we are seeking. For example, in Ten Detective Aces we use stories showing the human side of life; stories of the hard-boiled detective presenting life in stark reality; horror stories, stories from the murderer’s point of view, stories with or without romance or woman interest. Our detective stories are usually against an American background, but occasionally a good yarn featuring an American hero against a foreign setting will also fit into our scheme. And we use an occasional humorous detective yarn. In fact, our policy is so elastic that even a good action-detective story against an underworld background or in which underworld characters are featured, has a chance with us although we emphatically do not want the straight gang-mob yarn. The typical straight deductive story has no place in our lineup—but in a short-short, for example, if it has enough suspense and a really clever surprise twist, we might make an exception. Or in a story where deduction plays an important part but which is worked out through action.

“We prefer the third person presentation, but here again our policy is elastic, for a good first person story will not be turned down.”

The August issue of Ten Detective Aces which Mr. Wyn later handed to me to check in preparing this article, contains the wide variety of which he speaks. The lead novelette, “Brotherhood of Death” by Carl McK. Saunders features a series character, Captain Murdock, rounding up the perpetrators of a reign of horror in Central City that follows a wholesale jailbreak engineered by a crooked warden, a corrupt detective, a politically prominent attorney, a radio announcer and a notorious gangster. Desperate, case-hardened and diabolically clever, this quintet, and a tough case for Captain Murdock to crack because of the positions of trust and power these men hold. A fast-moving, exciting story, typical of the hard-boiled realistic type Mr. Wyn mentioned.

The secondary novelette of this issue entitled “Calling Car 13!” by Frederick C. Davis also features a series character—the moon man—a modern Robin Hood, son of the police chief and engaged to the daughter of Gil McEwen, ace sleuth of the plainclothes division. Steve Thatcher, who assumes the identity of The Moon Man when occasion demands, preys upon the unscrupulous rich, is always “on the spot.” In this story we have an example of the human, emotional detective through the personal relations of the leading characters.

A strong suspensive situation is developed in this story, where, in order to save an innocent man’s life, it becomes necessary for The Moon Man to torture his own Sweetheart, and the author brings out a strong human-interest angle through the sacrifice of personal interest and the girl’s loyalty.

In connection with stories featuring a “series” character like these two novelettes, Mr. Wyn remarked:

“Almost every author wants to do a series around one character. These come under two heads:

  1. The character series which is in advance planned in detail, each story complete in itself, but depending to some extent on the action and relations of the characters built up in the individual stories as the series progresses. We have found this “Moon Man” series which is developed in this way, very popular with our readers.
  2. A character series which just “happen”—the chief character resurrected in individual plots that do not depend in any way upon background developed in the preceding stories of the series. The Captain Murdock stories by Carl McK. Saunders fall into this class; among others we have used of this type recently are the short stories featuring the Russian detective character Renouf, by Norman A. Daniels.

“The best way for an author to break in with a series character is not to submit three or four stories of the series at the start, as so many do, but rather to allow the editor to discover the series—particularly if the writer is a new contributor. Frankly, in the majority of cases, series stories are purchased from writers who have demonstrated their ability to consistently please our readers by fairly frequent appearance in our magazines with individual stories first. But as you well know,” Mr. Wyn told me, “we have purchased series stories from absolutely new contributors to our magazines, and even from writers who had never previously sold fiction elsewhere. But the wisest way for a new contributor who hopes to sell a series to go about it, is to simply submit a single story in which he develops a strongly-characterized and likable hero. If we buy that story, and see a chance of developing a series around the character, we will suggest to the author that we would be glad to consider other yarns featuring that character. Or, after we have used a first yarn, even if we haven’t suggested a series to the author, we might be intrigued by an outstanding second story concerning the same character, and before the author realizes it, he will have a series underway.

“About the same thing applies to our novelette lengths. We seldom buy these from new contributors to our pages—it is best to first sell us several shorts before offering us a ten or fifteen thousand word novelette. In the first place our needs for short stories is greater. Secondly we naturally prefer a writer who has proven himself to our readers in our featured novelette lengths. But this certainly is no iron-clad rule—if an outstanding novelette by a writer we’ve never heard of comes in the mail we’re only too glad to discover a worthy new contributor. And as you also know, we have published the first stories of many new writers in Ten Detective Aces as well as in our other magazines.”

Short stories of 2-5,000 words in length are the greatest manuscript need at Ten Detective Aces and offer the best chances of crashing this market. To give you a better idea of the variety of types they use, let us look over several in the August issue:

“Murder on the Scorecard” by Bert Stanley has a big league baseball background. An underworld gambler attempts to bribe three players of the team to throw the World Series game. When they refuse, two of them are mysteriously killed while running to first base. This story is told from the viewpoint of Hack Crowley, the remaining ballplayer and Mr. Wyn suggested that I point out that Ten Detective Aces is particularly looking for some good, writing menace-action mystery yarns from viewpoint other than that of the conventional detective.

“Who Killed Cocky Robbins?” by Joe Archibald is a humorous detective yarn concerning two newspaper reporters who get themselves into plenty of trouble by interfering in a murder investigation, yet are instrumental in apprehending the vicious villain.

“Ghoul of Longwood Cemetery” by Laurence D. Smith is a horror-menace action detective story with a strong romance interest. I asked Mr. Wyn on this point of woman interest, and here is his reply:

“A woman angle is welcome in any of our stories, but women should not be dragged in if there is no place for them. By woman interest we of course mean clean romance, not sex. After-marriage complications that logically motivate the plot are all right, too—if the sex angle is not emphasized. In novelettes of 9-10,000 which length we most frequently need, woman interest is in fact preferred; also in our 15,000 word feature novels.”

“Can you point out some of the most frequent mistakes writers make that necessitate the rejection of their manuscripts?” I prompted Mr. Wyn. “Mentioning some of them in this article will undoubtedly help many writers to avoid these errors.”

“I could give you enough material to write a book on that subject!” Mr. Wyn smiled. “But I believe the most frequent mistakes new writers make is to murder their stories rather than their victims! They read in some trade journal or other that a certain Big Name turns out so many thousand words per day on his electric typewriter, or some other Big Name slams off so many hundred thousand words per month on his little dictaphone. And they get the big idea that the main thing in writing is production. Which assumption is true—but nevertheless before anyone can run, they must be able to walk. The new writer fails to take into consideration that these Big Names are writers who have had years and years of hard struggle behind them—that they didn’t start off with such quantity production.

“When a new writer gets this production idea they usually murder their stories by failing to make them clear or convincing; their characters are wooden sticks walking around and talking like books instead of like human beings. The new writers who take plenty of time to get their stories into professional shape at the start are likely to succeed much faster than the fellows who are too anxious to get a number of stories going the rounds of editorial offices. Many new writers have ruined their chances of selling in many editorial offices by the submission of too much mediocre material.”

To which statement of Mr. Wyn’s, the interviewer adds his own unqualified and fervent “Amen!”

“But what about the most frequent mistakes new writers make in technique?” I suggested.

“We are tired of seeing the detective hero hit over the head by the villain just as the detective is about to discover something—this has become an office taboo”, Mr. Wyn replied. “It is bad business, too, for the author to pin the crimes on a crazy person not mentally responsible for his acts—in such cases there is more pity developed in the reader for the villain than a desire to see him punished. On the other hand, it is all right in some cases to have a villain just a bit ‘cracked’ on one subject—provided he is sane enough to provide a worthy antagonist for the hero, and the action of the story is based upon a logical, sane motivation—greed, revenge, ambition, etc.

“Another mistake writers make far too frequently is to have the hero captured by the villain at the climax, and allow the villain who intends to do away with the hero, gloatingly confess the full details of his crimes. Or the variations of the same device–the hidden dictaphone or stenographer, or the villain very accommodatingly going into a long, detailed confession, supplying all the details the detective has been unable to discover, after the detective has cornered him. This is of course unsound human nature. And it is very annoying when the author throws suspicion upon the detective, and everyone knows very well that he is innocent.

“The most discouraging mistake that an editor has to contend with from writers, is when the editor has gone out of his way to explain to an author to steer away from certain kinds of stories, plots or situations—and the author insists on sending back the same material time and time again in slightly different forms. Editors are after all only human—and this procedure naturally results in the author putting himself in line for the printed rejection slip.”

Ten Detective Aces, 67 W. 44th St., New York is a wide-open market for all types of good action-detective stories particularly in the 2-5,000 word lengths, and for outstanding novelettes 9-10,000 and 15,000.

Authored by August Lenniger; from Writer’s Digest (October 1934).

The Policies of Popular Publications

The Policies of Battle Aces, Gang World, Detective Action Stories and Western Rangers Outlined in an Interview with Harry Steeger

Harry Steeger

Harry Steeger

The new magazine group started by Harry Steeger, former editor of the Dell magazines’ War Birds and Sky Riders, and Harold S. Goldsmith, former managing editor of the Magazine Publishers group, has brought forth four new titles which are now on the newsstands.

“Battle Aces, our air book, will run mostly war stuff,” Mr. Steeger explains. “The air market is flooded with the usual type of story; we want something with an original idea. The very much overworked plots about the yellow flier turning hero, dog-fights in which squadrons of planes meet squadrons of the enemy, are out. The motive of the story should have something to do with the air; something that makes it essentially and definitely a flying story. In other words, that there would be no story without aviation. But, on the other hand, it is not necessary for the action to take place predominantly in the air.”

The feature story of the first issue is “The Squadron of the Living Dead” by Steuart M. Emery. This gets away from the ordinary by an intricate plot in which the Germans are planning to invade Allied territory by going underneath the Vosges Mountains by drying out a lost river, an action in which their air forces are to play a very prominent part. Two Yank heroes of the Tombstone Squadron are instrumental in wrecking the German scheme.

“One Green Flare,” by O.B. Myers, concerns a Yank who gets shot down behind the German lines and has one green flare which he fires to let his comrades know he is safe. He lands on a secret German drome and the Germans think he fired the flare to let the Yanks know the location of the drome. The Germans bind him to the tarmac, in the dramatic climax of the story, where he is all but killed by his own people’s bombs—but Mr. Myers manages to get his hero safely out of the predicament. The principal feature of this story is in the suspense created by the situation of the hero being almost killed by his own comrades.

“Gang World will feature a general type of story dealing with tough and ready characters in conflict with each other and the law,” announced Mr. Steeger. “Its stories will be realistic, packed with strong action, gun fighting, moll-interest and having a punch that will give this magazine the stamp of originality.”

“Death to Double Crossers,” by William H. Steuber, is the feature novelette of the first issue. A man in prison writes to a gang leader that another fellow in jail with him has the dope on money hidden away. He wants the gang leader to get him out of jail and split the profits. Intrigue and doublecrossing as to who will get him out follow. Finally the gang set the jail on fire, and dressed as firemen get him out during the confusion.

“Lead Command,” by Don Kehoe, a writer who occasionally appears in The Saturday Evening Post, has a revenge motive. One brother is a ventriloquist and knife thrower in vaudeville; the other brother a gangster in love with a gang leader’s “moll.” The gang leader has the second brother killed. The ventriloquist steals the girl and goes single-handed after the gang. He gets into many tight corners but always manages to work out through ventriloquism.

“The feature story of the first issue, ‘The Key to Room 537,’ by Erle Stanley Gardner, is an excellent criterion of what we want for our Detective Action,” said Mr. Steeger. “It is a true mystery and action type. A young man is coming home late at night, gives a girl a lift. He finds jewels and a labeled key to an office in his car after she leaves; fear that he will get into trouble through their possession causes him to attempt their return. He enters the room and finds a corpse at a desk with a bullet hole through the head. He leaves hurriedly, forgetting the jewels. A ticket has been put on his car for parking. He telephones the police and says his car was stolen; for a couple of days the police believe him. Then he gets a telegram stating ‘I will call for jewels.’ When he sees the girl she demands, ‘What do you mean by stealing the confession and jewels?’ Gangsters come in; there is gun fighting; both the girl and he are tied and gagged and taken to a car. She escapes from the car and he gets taken to the police, where he finally proves that the deceased was a suicide.

“It is a very intricate story, and can not be made entirely clear in such a brief outline,” Mr. Steeger smiled, “but what I want to lay stress upon is the unusual situation of this entirely innocent young man getting himself deeper and deeper into this mystery, where something is happening every minute, in his efforts to extricate himself.

“As our title suggests, we will feature this action type of detective story, although we occasionally will use the deductive type as exemplified by ‘Mystery of the Strange Explosions,’ by Frank V.W. Mason, in which the president of a steel company is found murdered on a lonely country road in an automobile. The solution follows the lines of the conventional detective story.”

“In Western Rangers,” Mr. Steeger continued, “we will use stories featuring gun fighting, battles from ambush, bandits running wild, action stories that will make the blood tingle and the imagination run wild.”

The lead story of the first issue is “The Red Ranger,” by J. Allan Dunn, featuring a Texas Ranger who runs up against a bunch of Mexican smugglers and eventually saves the captured American girl from their clutches.

Western Rangers will permit a certain amount of woman interest, provided the action story is not overshadowed by it; it should be incidental rather than essential to the plot.

As these magazines are all monthlies, serials will not be used, but novelettes of around 15,000 words, and shorts from 3,000 to 5,000 words are in demand. Rates are to be approximately one cent a word and up on acceptance. The Popular Publications, Inc., are located in the News Building, 220 East 42nd Street, New York.

Authored by August Lenniger; from Writer’s Digest (September 1930).

The Detective Fiction Market by Lurton Blassingame

When Eve stole the apple, she set the cardinal editorial principle of today’s numerous detective magazines: Crime Does Not Pay.

Public sentiment has always followed this principle excepting those times when strong efforts were made to enforce laws distasteful to a large proportion of the country’s citizens. In Merrie England when it was unlawful for a commoner to kill a deer, Robin Hood was an admired gangster. During the days of Prohibition, detective magazines were chiefly devoted to the exploits of gangsters. Repeal, whether or not beneficial to the rest of the country, has certainly raised the moral tone of the detective magazines. The cop and the lawmaker no longer get it in the neck.

The detective story, largely popularized and created by writers in this country first made headway in 1840-45 when Poe wrote “Murders in Rue Morgue,” “The Purloined Letter,” and “The Mystery of Mary Roget.” France helped this new literary genre with the work of Gaboriau. Then Wilkie Collins wrote The Moonstone, still a classic. In 1887 Conan Doyle wrote A Study in Scarlet and Sherlock Holmes started something which the American public wants kept alive.

No one needs to be ashamed of writing detective stories. The market for them is so wide that editors are continually hunting for new writers who have the ability to puzzle and to thrill the readers. There are today thirty-one pulp magazines using crime fiction exclusively and another is being started; the smooth-paper magazines and some of the general interest pulps use detective stories: and there are nine fact detective magazines devoted to the publication of stories of actual crimes.

The detective magazines are as modern as tomorrow’s newspaper. Secret poisons and locked rooms are passe. Criminals use the automobile, the airplane, submachine and trick photography in committing their crimes. Sherlock Holmes would look at a watch and tell you the life history of its owner; but it is suspected that his evidence would not stand up in court. Today G-men examine an abandoned car, name the men who rode in it through the identification of fingerprints; tell you by the mud under the fenders that it has crossed two state lines in the past twenty-four hours; and by examining the sediment in the oil case announce definitely that the car was chiefly used in a particular section of a state a thousand miles away!

You do not have to live in a city to write detective stories. There is a market for stories in which the town constable is the hero; or you can use a state trooper, a county sheriff, a parole officer, a prison guard, or any other law officer connected with the Government, a state, or a city. And there is still a market for stories of the private detective hero.

Know your subject. Talk with the type of law officer you plan to use; if this is difficult, read factual books about crime detection. Modern Criminal Investigation is a good one. Several detectives have published autobiographies; there are good books out on modern scientific crime detection; information about firearms is available in almost any library. You should know how many times a submachine gun fires at one loading, that a silencer cannot be used on an automatic pistol, that a city detective’s work is largely limited by the city limits. And much more. Bad technical mistakes bring rejections.

There are two distinctive types of crime stories. By far the most popular is the hero pattern in which the story is told from the viewpoint of the hero out to solve the murder and capture the villain. A simple “who did it” puzzle is not enough: Detective story readers are masochistic; they like to be tortured! To sell, you must create a hero who is sympathetic, you must make your readers want terribly for him to escape the dangers which threaten him and solve the case, and you must make it seem that the villain is so dangerously clever that the hero cannot win. Then, when your readers are ready to scream with suspense, the hero must pull the solution out of his clever mind, through the proper interpretation of clues, back his proof with gun play if necessary, and emerge victorious.

The hero pattern story has mystery, menace to the hero, and interesting character work. The proportion of these elements vary from magazine to magazine.

The other general type of crime fiction is the villain viewpoint yarn. And here, too, you must torture your readers. You must make your villain such a damnable louse that the reader will hate him, want him caught. But you let us see him plan and execute his crime with such fiendish cleverness that it looks as if he is going to get away with it. Then, at the last, he is caught through some minor flaw in his perfect plan, probably by the very thing he’d counted upon to bring him success. Thus justice is fulfilled. Too late he learns that crime does not pay.

Any grouping of detective story magazines must be tentative. There are too many ways by which the magazines may be grouped. Some want only stories about law officers employed by the Federal Government, and yet the emotional tone of the stories, and the amount of action demanded differ from magazine to magazine. The following classification is largely by emotional tone, a delicate thing to capture. I cannot emphasize too strongly the necessity of reading the magazine for yourself, not only one issue but many issues of the ones for which you intend to write. (All addresses, unless otherwise given, are New York City.)

Group 1. The Crime Thrillers

In many of the stories the hero is out to defeat some underworld character or gang.

In some stories in this group there is a mystery as to who committed the crime, but in many the villain is known or suspected from the first and suspense is maintained by the seeming impossibility of the hero overcoming the villain and securing evidence which will convict. These magazines appeal to the juvenile minds and the action pace is extremely fast. A few of these magazines will permit a girl interest, but for most of them the girls should be left out, particularly in short stories.

The Shadow, John L. Nanovic, 79 Seventh Avenue. The heroes for this magazine should be law officers of a town, city, county or state. Avoid woman interest. Villains are usually gangsters and in about half the stories their identity is known or suspected from the beginning. Here is a plot of a typical story—“One for the Record”—by Alan Hathway, one of the favorite writers for this magazine.

Detective Bill Clancy, whose brother is Chief of Detectives, knows that his father was killed either by Nig Colimo or Killer Bogert. A small-time gangster, when arrested, tells Bill the shooting was done by Colimo, that Bogert is dead. Bill hunts Colimo. He is attacked in the dark, fights fiercely but is captured, taken on board a boat. And there he finds Killer Bogert. Bogert explains that Colimo has been killed and he, Bogert, has been carrying on crimes under Colimo’s name, letting it be believed that Bogert was dead.

Bogert is afraid that the little crook who is being held at police headquarters, if kept away from dope, will spill the news that Bogert is alive. He demands that Bill have his brother release this crook. If he doesn’t, Bill’s brother will be gunned and Bill will be dropped into a vat of acid. Bill refuses, is left in the little cabin of the boat while he is taken toward the headquarters of the gang where they have the vat of acid. Bill manages to wreck the boat. But he’s recaptured because his hands are still tied. Bill is taken to the gang hideout, left in the cellar by the vat of acid. Bill uses the acid to burn the ropes from his wrists, puts a penny back of the fuse for the electric light in the basement fuse box.

Taken upstairs, while still pretending to be tied, Bill agrees to send a message to his brother, dictates it on a victrola record which contains the fingerprints of the dead Nig Golimo and he adds a few sentences to—supposedly—make sure that his brother recognizes the message as coming from him.

When the gangsters are out of the room for a moment, Bill puts another penny back of a light bulb in a table lamp. Result—the house catches on fire from the short circuit made.

The gangsters try to put Bill into the acid vat before the firemen arrive, but he puts up a hell of a fight. And almost immediately his brother and policemen break in. Bill’s innocently worded message to his brother had given the approximate location of the house and the fact that there would be a fire! The killer of Bill’s father is thus brought to justice.

The important point to note about this story is its rapid pace, the amount of action crammed into 5,000 words, and the surprise twist at the end.

Short stories of 1,500 to 6,000 words used here.

The Whisperer, John L. Nanovic, Editor, 79 Seventh Avenue, New York. The same type of story is used here as is used in The Shadow.

The Feds, John L. Nanovic, Editor, 79 Seventh Avenue, New York. This magazine is devoted to stories of Government officers—G-men, Secret Service men, Army Intelligence, Navy Intelligence, Postal Inspectors, Customs Officers, Immigration Officers, etc. With this exception, the stories have the same pace and tone as those in The Shadow, but some woman interest is permitted, particularly in the novelettes.

Short stories, 2,000 to 6,000 words; novelettes 8,000 to 12,000 words.

Secret Agent X, Harry Widmer, Editor, 67 W. 44th Street. This magazine wants stories of all types of Government lawmen. The pace should be about as swift as it is in The Feds, but woman interest is desired and a more emotional tone is used in the writing.

The Phantom Detective, Leo Margulies, Editor, 22 W. 48th Street. This magazine uses a wide variety of short stories—both hero and crook pattern—up to 6,000 words. In all of them story excitement should begin with the first sentence and move steadily toward a smashing climax. Avoid mechanical plot construction and steer clear of super-sensational murder methods such as death rays, unknown poisons and Rube Goldbergish murder devices. In the detective story it is better to keep your criminal hidden until the end if you are using the hero pattern; and the clues by which he is finally identified should be convincing.

Operator #5, Rogers Terrill, Editor, 205 E. 42nd Street, uses only short stories up to 6,000 words and the heroes should be Army or Navy Intelligence officers working to thwart some threat against the United States Government. Woman interest is desired.

Group 2. The Semi-Smooth Paper Detective Magazines

A number of the contributors to this group have written for, or hope to write for, the smooth paper magazines. While some of this group’s sales are to juvenile readers, the magazines also are read by intelligent adults. They demand, therefore, good writing and convincing character work and situations. The stories must maintain reader interest at all times; any letdown is fatal; but this interest can be maintained by good situations and interesting characters and it is not necessary for the hero to shoot his way from the beginning to the end.

Detective Fiction Weekly, William Kostka, Editor, 280 Broadway. This magazine runs a variety of crime fiction. It uses humor and an occasional—very occasional—semi-tragic story; it uses crook pattern stories and stories told from the viewpoint of the hero. It uses stories of a hero against the underworld and stories of the hero against the villain who is a respected member of society who has committed his first crime. A synopsis of a single story would give you no idea of the variety of fiction used here, but the opening paragraphs of William Edward Hayes’ “Invention for Murder” will indicate how clearly the characters are drawn and how an interesting situation is suggested at the very opening of the story without any note of physical violence:

The man’s name was Bayard and his card read, “Investments.” Drew Kiley said, “Come in,” while his mind pondered, without results, the steel cabinet drawer in the corner where he had catalogued the principals in every crooked stock deal in the country.

This Bayard was big-bodied, with bristly gray hair and a military mustache. His cheeks were a well-massaged pink; his voice deep and oily, and he was too obviously affecting a calm that he didn’t feel.

“Would the young lady come in?” Drew asked. The young lady picked at her purse nervously and glanced quickly at Bayard. Her face was a long oval, her cheek bones high, her lips finely cut. Her eyes were frightened, bewildered, and she was concealing a deep agitation.

Black Mask, F. Ellsworth, Editor, 515 Madison Avenue. Under the new editor, this magazine has a slightly broader editorial policy than it had under Joseph Shaw who publicized Erle Stanley Gardener, Dashiell Hammett, and many other top notch detective story writers; but the magazine still publishes the most realistic fiction found in the detective field. Except for the short-short, one of which is published each month, it is better to tell your story from the viewpoint of the hero. Nothing soft and sentimental and emotional is welcomed by this magazine. Woman interest is perfectly all right, but even love is treated realistically and is understood to have a basis in sex, though sex itself is not used.

One short-short is used in each issue. Short stories up to 6,000 words; novelettes 10,000 to 20,000.

Detective Story, F.E. Blackwell, Editor, 79 Seventh Avenue. No gangster fiction is used. Good writing; strong characters and interesting situations are desired in place of gunplay. Some crook pattern stories are used in short lengths. Stories up to 6,000 words; novelettes 10,000 to 20,000; novels 45,000 to 50,000.

Detective Action Stories, Ralph Perry, Editor, 205 E. 42nd Street. This magazine does not want the “cops and robbers” story. The title is something of a misnomer because constant, fighting action is not used, nor is the purely deductive story. Convincing situations are essential and the editor likes stories which involve ordinary human beings, whether they are poor, middle class or well-to-do.

At the moment the particular need is for short stories of 5,000 words or less; but it does use short stories up to 7,000 and novelettes of 10,000 to 20,000.

Pocket Detective Magazine, Robert Arthur, Editor. 79 Seventh Avenue. A new monthly, wanting shorts, 3,000 to 10,000 words. The stories must have convincing plots, strong motivation, and interesting characters. No cheap characters or sordid settings, no gangsters, vicious or petty criminals. Interesting settings, interesting people in strong mystery or detective plots are what they are looking for. No photographs. Short fillers, oddities of crime or criminals. Similar to Reader’s Digest in size and format.

Group 3. The Character and Action Magazines

The chief difference in the requirements of the magazines in this group and in the group just discussed, is in the pace of the story. These magazines want good writing and good characterization, but the stories contain more physical action than those discussed in Group 2, but less action than in Group 1. This group does not stress realism as strongly as does Group 2, and the editors are looking for “color” in the stories used.

Popular Detective, Leo Margulies, Editor, 22 W. 48 Street. Popular publishes a variety of stories, some of them having very little action. This magazine does not care for the gangster type story or the story motivated by revenge for an old wrong theme. There should be several suspects and the hero’s evidence at the end, when he exposes the villain, should be strong enough to carry reasonable weight before a jury. Crook pattern stories are used in short lengths if they are very clever. Hero pattern stories for this magazine must have strong motivation for the crimes, clever sleuthing, and there should be no deliberate falsity of plotting to unfairly mislead the reader.

Short stories up to 6,000, and four novelettes of 8,000 to 10,000 words each.

Detective Tales, Rogers Terrill, Editor, 205 E. 42nd Street. Human interest detective stories are wanted for this magazine. The hero should be both colorful and convincing. Woman interest is used and provides a mild emotional note. The women are not just objects to be rescued and to provide motivation; they are glamorous and brave and capable of taking part in the action themselves.

Shorts of 1,000 to 6,000; novelettes 9,000 to 15,000 words.

Federal Agent, Arthur Lawson, 149 Madison Avenue. This bimonthly uses stories of all branches of Government lawmen—the F.B.I., Postal Inspectors, Treasury Department, etc. The distinguishing point about this magazine is its insistence upon accuracy in the methods used by its heroes. All the modern scientific branches of crime detection which the Government employs are featured in its stories, but this scientific material should not slow down the pace of the story.

Ace G-Man Stories, Rogers Terrill, Editor, 205 E. 42nd Street. This magazine uses stories of F.B.I. heroes. Color is stressed, and the heroes should have an emotional interest in the cases on which they are working.

Dime Detective, Kenneth White, Editor, 205 E. 42nd Street. Your hero can be a private detective or a lawman of any kind; but he must be colorful and everything he does must be convincing. The editor will buy no story about which he thinks even one reader will write in and say that it contains an inaccuracy. Clever crook pattern stories are used in short lengths. No gangster stories. Short stories up to 6,000; novelettes of 10,000 to 15,000.

Group 4. The Emotional Story

The distinguishing quality of this group is its insistence upon strong emotion throughout the stories. In every story the hero is emotionally involved and the action grows out of these emotional situations.

Headquarters Detective, Mary Lou Butler, Editor, 67 W. 44th Street. Stories for this magazine must feature law officers working for some town, city, county, state—or for the Government. A brief quotation from “Hell’s Heroes” will let you see the emotional note demanded. Stella Logan, Paul Bourke’s sweetheart, has just been told that her father, head of the Arson Squad, was seen in a warehouse just before it was set on fire.

“In the warehouse?” she repeated the words mechanically. “But that’s ridiculous! Why would dad be there? You’re framing him!”

MacSorley shook his head patiently. “Unfortunately, no! Bourke, here, talked with the watchman just before he died. The watchman identified your father.”

Her slim body went rigid. She jerked around until her pale face was close to Bourke’s own. “Paul Bourke—you! I wouldn’t have believed you capable of such a low, despicable trick! You believe anything so fantastic against dad! Oh! It’s contemptible! After all he did for you, all—” She choked, unable to go on.

Bourke kept his face impassive, but inwardly he was seething with compassion for her. “I couldn’t do anything less than report it. That’s my duty,” he growled doggedly.

“Duty!” she cried hysterically. “You call turning on your best friend duty! You’re a Judas! I never want to see you again! Never! Never!” She flung away from him, ran to the door.

Detective Romances, Harry Widmer, Editor, 67 W. 44th Street. The title tells the story on this one. Good character and good detective work is needed in the solution of clever crimes, but the hero is in love and the crime must be instrumental in uniting the hero and heroine.

Strong emotional situations, any type of hero.

Shorts up to 5,000 words; novelettes of 10,000 words to 15,000.

Ace Detective, Mary Lou Butler, 67 W. 44th Street. The stories here are similar in emotional tone to those found in Headquarters Detective; but the heroes can be private detectives or men who are not actually law officers of any kind but who are caught up in a criminal situation and must solve it. Criminal viewpoint stories are also used here.

Group 5. Fast Action and Color

The stories desired by the magazines in this group are similar to those used in Group 3. But on the whole the characters are a little more exotic, and while convincing situations are demanded, imagination and color are stressed rather than realism.

Nothing is done in the stories in this group which is impossible and no characters are used who are implausible, but characterization is achieved by obvious rather than subtle means. Some of the stories published by the magazines in this group are just as realistic as those published in Group 3. They have been put into a separate group because these magazines also publish stories which are more colorful, exotic, swiftly paced than the stories found in Group 3. These groupings were flexible!

Thrilling Detective, Leo Margulies, Editor, 22 East 48th Street. A very good example of what I mean by “color” for heroes and situations can be found by reading the series of short stories running in this magazine about a character known as “the Human Encyclopedia.” This character has read all the best encyclopedias, has a photographic memory, and so knows just about everything which has ever been written in an encyclopedia, and he uses his knowledge in solving crimes.

Leo Margulies showed his editorial brains by going after this series by Frank Gruber when it was turned down elsewhere. Selznick studios bought movie rights and brought Gruber [a Digest subscriber, by the way] to Hollywood at a good salary.

Clues-Detective Stories, R. Orlin Tremaine, 79 Seventh Avenue. Both hero and crook pattern stories. Shorts to 5,500; novelettes 8,000 to 15,000.

Ace High Detective, Ken White, Editor, 205 E. 42nd Street. Both hero and crook pattern stories are used here, and the yarns are very similar to those found in Dime Detective.

G-Men, Leo Margulies, Editor, 22 W. 48th. This magazine uses short stories up to 6000 words about all branches of government law enforcement work. However, since the lead novel—written on order—is about an F.B.I. hero, stories of other branches or the Government law enforcement organizations will have a better chance here.

Ten Detective Aces, Harry Widmer, Editor, 67 W. 44th Street. Stories with an emotional note, both hero and crook pattern. Shorts 1,000 to 5,000; novelettes 10,000 to 18,000.

The Spider, Rogers Terrill, Editor, 205 E. 42nd Street. Only shorts up to 6,000 with a colorful character defeating some big menace.

There are nine magazines devoted exclusively to the publication of stories of true crimes. Space does not permit a discussion of these magazines in this issue. However, if interesting crimes have been committed in your neighborhood and your law enforcement officers have solved them, it will pay you to read these magazines carefully, find out if you can get a police officer who worked on the case to sign the story with you and if so, query the editors of the magazines to see if they would be interested in having you write up the case for them. For further data see the Digest for November, page 19. Here is a list of the magazines which use stories of true crimes:

Inside Detective, West F. Peterson, Editor, 149 Madison Avenue; Master Detective, John Shuttleworth, Editor, Chanin Building; Official Detective, Harry Keller, Editor, 731 Plymouth Court, Chicago; Startling Detective Adventures, Leonard Diegre, Editor, 22 W. Putnam, Greenwich, Connecticut; True Detective Mysteries, John Shuttleworth, Editor, Chanin Building; American Detective Cases, Rose Bolsen, Editor, 551 Fifth Avenue; Front Page Detective, West Peterson, Editor, 149 Madison Avenue; Daring Detective, Leonard Diegre, Editor, 22 W. Putnam, Greenwich, Connecticut; Real Detective, Arthur Medford, Editor, 44 West Madison Avenue; True Crime Stories, Martin Goodman, Editor, R.K.O. Building.

So endeth the chapter. There are thousands of dollars to be made writing detective stories if you will learn your background accurately, and learn the editorial policies of the magazines for which you wish to write by a careful reading and study of the stories they publish.

Crime pays nobody, as the grinning ghoul who dismembered Aunt Hattie in the nursery found out, except freelance writers.

Authored by Lurton Blassingame; from Writer’s Digest (January 1937).

The Short Career of Robert Reeves

Although undergoing a period of decline, the pulp magazines of the 1940s provided an outlet for several fine young writers. Among the regular contributors to the crime pulps were Ray Bradbury and John D. MacDonald, then just beginning their illustrious careers. Discussing the Black Mask writers of that era, Anthony Boucher says:

One of the last of the writers developed by Black Mask, and one of the best, was Robert Reeves, who began pulp writing with the offbeat equipment of a degree in anthropology and a career as stage manager for the Theatre Guild. Today he’s possibly the least known of the major tough writers—probably because he died young without going on to the great success in slicks or films or radio that so many others achieved.1

The writing career of Robert Reeves spanned less than a decade. His first work was published in 1939 and the last in 1945. His contribution to the mystery genre, though small in quantity, was impressive. My research indicates that he produced three novels, nine short stories for Black Mask, and two short stories for Dime Detective. He may have written for other magazines, but I have been unable to locate any additional stories by him.

Robert Reeves

Robert Reeves

Little exists in print on the life of Robert Reeves. Dust jacket notes tell us he was born in New York City in 1912 (or in the last months of 1911) and raised on the south shore of Long Island. The best source of information on his education and early work experience is a short piece in Black Mask, from which we learn that he:

acquired an A.B. at New York University, Washington Square Branch, where he majored in History, English and Anthropology. He promptly put his education to work as driver of an armored Post Office Department truck. Among other activities that engaged his attention from time to time are carpentry, cabinet-making, candy-making, reading for Fox Films and various and sundry Broadway play-brokers. He had several years experience in show-business as a casting director, play doctor, stage manager and assistant producer. Stage managed for the Theatre Guild at one time. Has forsaken his other interests now to concentrate on the problem of making Cellini Smith support him.2

And Cellini Smith, Reeves’s private eye character, did support him—at least for a few years.

Most, if not all, of the Cellini Smith novels and short stories were written after Reeves moved to California in the late 1930s, probably in 1938. It is likely that he hoped to break into the movie industry, but all we know for certain is that he settled in geographical Hollywood, that section of the sprawling city of Los Angeles where members of his family had lived for some years.

Cellini Smith made his initial appearance in Dead and Done For, published by Knopf in 1939. The second Smith novel is No Love Lost (1941), which is also known as Dog Eat Dog—an earlier and shorter version that had been serialized in Black Mask—and as Come Out Killing, the slightly abridged 1953 paperback edition. The third and last in the series is Cellini Smith: Detective (1943).

Strictly speaking, Dead and Done For is not a private eye novel. The main character, Cellini Smith, keeps books for a gang that runs the pinball machines—an illegal activity—in New York’s Lower East Side. Cellini is a college graduate, his education paid for by the boss of the gang, Tony Moro. When Moro is arrested for the murder of a Broadway producer, Cellini investigates the crime in order to prove his boss innocent. Making a swift transition from bookkeeper to detective, he solves the case, but not before the number of corpses multiplies. In this book, and in this book only, Cellini bears some similarity to a character in Mario Puzo’s The Godfather named Tom Hagen, the role played by Robert Duvall in the movie.

Dead and Done For is a superior first novel, firmly in the hardboiled tradition. Reeves makes good use of his background in the theatre, and a minor character, Nicky, seems to be modeled on Reeves himself.

The next two Cellini Smith novels are set in Los Angeles. No longer tied to the underworld, as a result of certain events in the first novel, Cellini becomes a private investigator. Assisting him is sometime boxer Duck-Eye Ryan, formerly a gunman in the Moro gang, who functions as a comic sidekick. Another running character in these novels, and in the Cellini Smith short stories, is homicide detective Ira Haenigson, Cellini’s friendly enemy in the Los Angeles Police Department.

In No Love Lost, Cellini is hired by a group of prizefighters to solve the murder of boxing promoter Miles Morton. The boxers are certain that local professional wrestlers, whom they despise, are responsible for Morton’s death, but Cellini finds other suspects and uncovers a link to a scheme to ship crude oil to Japan (the time is shortly before the attack on Pearl Harbor).

Cellini Smith: Detective has a similar plot. Here the victim is a young hobo, Danny Meade. The clients are Meade’s friends, also hoboes, and the likely suspects are members of a rival hobo organization, the Ramblers. The motive in the case involves the location of a deposit of tungsten ore, a material needed for the war effort. Much of the action takes place in a burlesque theatre, giving Reeves another opportunity to display his knowledge of show business.

As may be gleaned from the above remarks, neither of these latter two novels is to be taken seriously. In Dead and Done For, Reeves maintains a nice balance between toughness and humor. In the Los Angeles books, however, humor predominates. Some evidence can be found to support Anthony Boucher’s comment that Cellini “is unique among hardboiled private eyes in being admittedly an intellectual—and tough enough to get away with it.”3 Cellini does read books on anthropology and does occasionally make a witty quip, but his methods of detection rarely exhibit any real thought or ingenuity. I tend to agree with Ron Goulart, who says that Cellini Smith is “vaguely incompetent” and that the Reeves novels are “fine examples of the screwball side of the hardboiled school.”4

Of the eleven short stories Robert Reeves wrote for the pulps, seven feature Cellini Smith. All seven are set in Los Angeles, and most of them are mildly comic. The murders Cellini solves often occur in unusual settings: on an airplane in flight (“The Flying Hearse”), in an Army induction center (“Murder A.W.O.L.”), in a sanitarium for alcoholics (“Alcoholics Calamitous”). During World War II, Cellini becomes the security foreman at a Burbank aircraft plant, unhappy that he is frozen on the job and cannot volunteer for military duty.

Reeves created one other series hero, Bookie Barnes, who appears in three amusing short stories. Barnes is a truck driver who investigates crimes he encounters on the highway. He is called “Bookie” not because he makes book but because he attended college and once read a book.

The only non-series short story by Reeves is “Dance Macabre,” a crime story with a nightclub setting. The main character is Firpo Cole, a former pickpocket who does odd jobs in the club. This downbeat tale is not at all typical of Reeves’s work.

The fiction of Robert Reeves is worthy of further discussion, but I have chosen to devote the remainder of this article to an account of his final years—a story that, to my knowledge, has never been told. Despite an extensive research effort, this account is incomplete. Perhaps there are TAD readers who can provide additional facts.

On July 22, 1942, a spectacled, balding, thirty-year-old bachelor named Robert Reeves enlisted in the United States Army. After basic training, Private Reeves returned to Los Angeles to work at the recruiting and induction center. Later he was assigned to the Army Air Corps, serving in the 500th Bombardment Squadron of the 345th Bombardment Group.

While in the service, Reeves continued to write. In the years 1943 to 1945, he had one novel—Cellini Smith: Detective—and three short stories published. On the dust jacket of the novel, he mused about the postwar years:

Ambitions and aspirations after the war is over? It is difficult to say. I know one writer who wants to go to Tibet on a donkey, preferably in the company of Jane Wyatt, and another who wants to have his ashes scattered over the M.G.M. lot from a P-38. My ambition is to march down Unter Den Linden and then get a thirty-foot twin-screw boat strictly for fishing purposes.

But Reeves did not celebrate the Allied victory in Berlin, nor did he fulfill the dream of owning a powerboat.

His unit, the 500th Bomb Squadron, flew B-25 medium bombers on combat missions in the South Pacific from June 1943 to the end of the war. The squadron was stationed on New Guinea, Biak, Leyte, and other Pacific islands. By the summer of 1945, it was flying from Clark Field on the Philippine island of Luzon. The Japanese in the Philippines had been defeated, but B-25s were carrying out sorties over Formosa and night attacks on Japanese shipping.

I have been unable to establish whether Reeves flew combat missions or performed duties on the ground, but official records show that he died on July 11, 1945, only a month before the war ended. At the time of his death, Reeves held the rank of captain. His body was buried in foreign soil and re-interred, in 1950, at Fort McPherson National Cemetery near North Platte, Nebraska—far from the cities of New York and Los Angeles where he had spent most of his life. The fact that Reeves and four other GIs were buried in a common grave may indicate they died together in a plane crash.

Although now virtually forgotten, Robert Reeves was a talented mystery novelist and an important Black Mask writer. His untimely death cut short a career which had the potential of becoming a notable one.


  1. Anthony Boucher, Introduction to Come Out Killing by Robert Reeves (New York: Mercury, 1953), p. 4.
  2. “Behind the Black Mask” (department), Black Mask, October 1940, pp. 44-45.
  3. Boucher, p. 4.
  4. Ron Goulart, ed., “An Informal Reading List,” in The Hardboiled Dicks (Los Angeles: Sherbourne, 1965), p. 196.

Robert Reeves: A Checklist

The three listed novels feature Cellini Smith.


  • Dead and Done For. Knopf, 1939; Ryerson (Toronto), 1939; Cassell (London), 1940; Grosset & Dunlap, 1941. Also published as Pas folle, la guepe! trans. Jacques David and Henri Robillot, Gallimard (Paris), 1951.
  • No Love Lost. Holt, 1941; Oxford (Toronto), 1941. Also published as Come Out Killing, Mercury pb, 1953. (An earlier, shorter version serialized as “Dog Eat Dog” in Black Mask, September–November 1940.)
  • Cellini Smith: Detective. Houghton, 1943; Allen (Toronto), 1943; Pony pb, 1946. Also reprinted in Thrilling Mystery Novel Magazine, Jan. 1946.

Stories in Black Mask:

  • “The Flying Hearse” (March 1941; Cellini Smith)
  • “Dance Macabre” (April 1941)
  • “The Cat with the Headache” (June 1941; Cellini Smith)
  • “Murder in High Gear” (August 1941; Bookie Barnes)
  • “Bail Bait” (January 1942; Cellini Smith)
  • “A Taste for Murder” (November 1942; Cellini Smith)
  • “Murder A.W.O.L.” (November 1944; Cellini Smith)
  • “Blood, Sweat and Biers” (January 1945; Cellini Smith)
  • “Alcoholics Calamitous” (September 1945; Cellini Smith)

Stories in Dime Detective:

  • “Over a Barrel” (March 1942; Bookie Barnes)
  • “Murder Without Death” (June 1942; Bookie Barnes)

Authored by John L. Apostolou. Copyright © 1985, 2020 Steeger Properties, LLC.

Dialogue by Joseph T. Shaw

Joe Shaw is the former editor of Black Mask and holds many warm personal friendships with authors he coached in the years he worked with the Warner Publications. At present Shaw is an agent, and does editorial assignments for various publishers.

Joseph T. Shaw

Joseph T. Shaw

In a writing job, dialogue stands out the most; it is also the potent element and certainly the most versatile. Excellent dialogue appears rarely, but it then invariably commands its just reward; and for that reason it certainly deserves your careful study and attention.

A cardinal rule in practically all writing is that the author should keep out of it entirely and allow his characters to tell the story. Nothing weakens or spoils even good dialogue so much as to have the author act as interpreter between the quoted lines.

Bill swung around upon Ed.

“You blankety blank blank!”

And the eager author, while his readers await Ed’s comeback, writes: “Bill was not smiling when he said this. He was angry. Moreover, he wanted to make Ed angry, force him to make the first move, to reach for his gun.”

“Now, Bill, you just oughtn’t to use names like that.”

And the eager author again: “Ed was a mild-mannered man. He didn’t relish a fight and he had a very wholesome respect for Bill’s speed on the draw and the accuracy of his shooting. He obviously preferred to swallow the insult than to risk the test.”

One must never even think of employing dialogue as a filler of space, without purpose, to break the long run of descriptive matter. I’m sure you have frequently seen stories where it seemed that the author, discovering pages without a spoken word, has suddenly decided that there must be a bit of dialogue thrown in here. Then comes the query, to himself: “Who shall I have talk? What will I have them say?”—and the compromise, “Oh, I’ll give them a half dozen lines about the weather.”

You are right. I’ve seen that far more often in manuscript than in published form, unless, indeed, you want to go back to the older, traditional English style with its inconsequential wordiness.

Dialogue should never be used without purpose, without a definite contribution to be made. If it needs introduction—and it can itself introduce a story, even a book—its most natural entrance is in the logical evolution of a situation, where characters have reached a point when they must talk it out, where the story demands it. Then let the characters you have portrayed tell the story you have set up, themselves; not in your language and with your own expression, but in their own.

For, essentially, dialogue must be real. It can be smart, if your characters are smart; it can be original, if your characters have that spark. But it must always be in character, not only with respect to the personalities to whom you give speech, but also with regard to the actual situation and its natural requirements. If it’s real, it strikes you pleasingly; if incongruous, it hits you like a slap in the face.

Of course the attempt for realism can be carried too for. Several writers have gained a measure of renown for their reproduction of what purports to be actual speech; but what is good in one medium is not so good in another. Most people say too much anyway, and are often repetitious. If you have to read every word they say, even in a short dialogue, it grows monotonous and you easily lose the thread of the discourse. Written dialogue should be edited, like everything else borrowed from another medium. As a rule, it should be terse, with only significant expressions remaining.

The staccato form is often effective in stepping up the speed when approaching a climax. Here, however, is an example of the reverse, and is given to show not only how suspense is sustained right up to the instant action breaks—and incidentally bringing the book to its peak—but also to indicate the calm steadiness of the speaker who, facing a seemingly unbeatable opponent, a moment later very nearly kills him with his bare hands. Moreover, in this instance, the ordinary short, sharp speech would be insufficient, since the “I” character feels it necessary before they fight to make absolutely clear to the third person, the woman, exactly what the situation is, to which she in a way has contributed.

“I will tell you, my dear,” I said, smiling at her, “it is because we are men and you are only a woman. And we are men in the raw, too, for things have come to that pass where you are no longer to be wooed but only to be won. Edward Leng, the Oriental barbarian, will have it so, and I, the Celtic one, am no better. You have proclaimed your very splendid ideals and given us an unmistakable dismissal, but the ultimate and lustful savage in us has no use for these things. We are going to fight savagely for you, and notwithstanding ideals and dismissals, you will be the chattel of the victor. Now, my pagan woman, if you will stand aside, we will settle this small matter of ownership. You will be safe in that doorway, or if you want to escape the victor for the time—only for the time—you can flee while we struggle….”

Leng… was now laughing in grim merriment.

“You surprise me pleasantly, King,” he said. “You and I are the same man at bottom. You have proclaimed my philosophy better than I could myself.”

“I know that,” I said. “It was your philosophy I proclaimed.”

“Come on then and throw me outside,” he said; and before he had finished speaking I was on him.

This is a rare passage. In the space of a paragraph it sets up the whole situation, makes the purpose, of the antagonist, brutally clear, exposes his character to the last fiber, and while extolling the woman, leaves no possible doubt of what she faces in the event that Leng is the victor. At the same time, it shows the high quality of King who, having found no other way to solve the situation, gives himself willingly to the test. Needless to say, it is a passage from a very thoughtful book, the sort we all hope to write someday.

Here’s another example of careful writing of a different type, sharper, yet made more impressive by its restraint. Nick Charles tries to talk a man away from an idea of using his gun.

Nora was saying: “He made me let him in, Nick. He said he had to—”

“I got to talk to you,” the man with the gun said. “That’s all but I got to do that.”

I said: “All right, talk, but do you mind putting the gun away?”

He smiled with his lower lip. “You don’t have to tell me you’re tough. I heard about you.” He put the pistol in his overcoat pocket. “I’m Shep Morelli.”

“I never heard about you,” I said.

He took a step into the room…. “I didn’t knock Julia off.”

“Maybe you didn’t, but you’re bringing the news to the wrong place. I got nothing to do with it.”

“I haven’t seen her in three months,” he said. “We were washed up.”

“Tell the police.”

“… But listen; what’s the law doing to me? Do they think I did it? Or is it just something else to pin on me?”

I shook my head. “I’d tell you if I knew…. I’m not in this. Ask the police.”

“That’d be very smart. That’d be the smartest thing I ever did…. The boys would like me to come in and ask ‘em questions. They’d like it right down to the end of their blackjacks. I come to you on the level. Studsy says you’re on the level. Be on the level.”

“I’m being on the level,” I assured him. “If I knew anything I’d—”

Knuckles drummed on the corridor door, three times, sharply. Morelli’s gun was in his hand before the noise stopped….

And here’s Nick and the copper, after Nick was shot:

“… How’d you people happen to pop in?”

The copper … said: … “Mack here sees this bird duck in, he gives us a ring and we … come on up, and pretty lucky for you.”

“Yes, pretty lucky for me, or maybe I wouldn’t ‘ve got shot.”

“This bird a friend of yours?” “I never saw him before.”

“What’d he want of you?”

“Wanted to tell me he didn’t kill the Wolf girl.”

“What’s that to you?”


“What did he think it was to you?”

“Ask him. I don’t know.”

“I’m asking you.”

“Keep on asking.”

“I’ll ask you another one; you’re going to swear to the complaint on him shooting you?”

“That’s another one I can’t answer right now. Maybe it was an accident.”

These two bits are either side of a shooting, and one point of interest is that both give practically the same impression of Nick Charles, cool, with his wits about him and apparently unworried. In the first of the two scenes, Nick knows very well that Morelli, a gunman on the dope, will shoot, as he does, on the slightest suggestion that he is being crossed; yet there is nothing flurried or strained in Nick’s talk; nor in Morelli’s either, which makes him a more dangerous, deadly type than if he were hysterical or threatening. Nick admits that he “could hear the blood in my ears and my lips felt swollen,” yet he holds the same poise under the gun to mask his own action. It can be noted that the restraint of this dialogue renders the action that follows, and the whole scene, more real and impressive.

The full effect of the action is accomplished because the emotion produced by it is not anticipated, and therefore not spoiled, by exactly similar emotion being exploited before it actually occurs.

I often have had reason to think that most dialogue is done too hastily. It is possible that the writer has his mind preoccupied with the action toward which he is approaching and, considering that it is the all-important part of the story, gives divided attention to the buildup and particularly to the talk that introduces it.

Dialogue has practically all the properties which a story demands. It can be both a story builder and a character builder. Of Mice and Men employed the functions of dialogue to their fullest extent. A sparse word of setup—the scene—a meager description of one big man and one small man, and dialogue supplies all the rest.

“Lennie! Lennie, for God’s sake don’t drink so much. Lennie, you gonna be sick like you was last night.”

“Tha’s good. You drink some, George You take a good big drink.”

“I ain’t sure it’s good water. Looks kinda scummy.”

Then Lennie makes ripples in the water. “Look, George. Look what I done.”

George looked sharply at him. “What’d you take outa that pocket?”

“Ain’t a thing in my pocket.”

“I know there ain’t. You got it in your hand. What you got in your hand—hiding it?”

“I ain’t got nothin’, George. Honest.”

“Come on. Give it here.”

“It’s only a mouse, George…. I don’t know where there is no other mouse. I remember a lady used to give ‘em to me….”

“… An’ she stopped givin’ ‘em to ya. You always killed them.”

“They was so little. I’d pet ‘em and pretty soon they bit my finger and I pinched their head a little and they was dead—because they was so little….”

“Well, you ain’t pettin’ no mice while you walk with me. You remember where we’re goin’ now?”

“I forgot again.”

“We’re gonna work on a ranch like the one we come from up North. Now, look—I’ll give th’ boss th’ work tickets, but you ain’t gonna say a word. You just stand there and say nothin’. If he finds out what a crazy bastard you are, we won’t get no job, but if he sees ya work “ before he hears you talk, we’re set. Ya got that?”

“Sure, George. Sure I got it.”

“O.K. Now when we go in to see the boss, what you gonna do?”

“I… I… I ain’t goin’ to say nothin’. Jus’ gonna stand there.”

From even these few lines there can be no question of the characters of the two men; in fact, the whole setup of the story is here, even to the planting of the first indication that big Lennie is a killer, not through any “meanness,” but because of his enormous strength, the feeble mind that controls his impulse to bear down when the object of his petting resists. The work is open to criticism as a book. It is to all intents a play presented in book form, for when dramatized, the descriptive passages were used as stage directions. But it does show the extent to which dialogue can be employed; for here, almost unassisted, dialogue not only makes characterization brutally clear, but it also exposes the motive of the story, expresses thought, outlines the action and carries on and develops the story. Such dialogue cannot well be broken down or substituted by another type. This dialogue is the story.

While not so definite in characterization, another excellent example of the employment of dialogue to forward the story is Octavus Roy Cohen’s popular Collier’s serial, “I Love You Again.” And perhaps of more immediate interest is the work of a writer who a few short years ago was a leader in rough-paper detective fiction and is now pointed to by the smooth-paper editors for his outstanding ability in story construction.

Now, if you analyze those older stories of Frederick Nebel, you will observe that they are very close to ninety percent dialogue. Years ago, as it has been suggested in the beginning of this paper, Nebel set himself definitely to study and acquire command of the various functions of dialogue, and he was one of the first of a particular group to use dialogue to develop his plot. That dialogue did not show the studied effect of smartness but in other respects it can be taken for a pretty safe model. For one thing, it was always in character. It was hardly necessary for the text to point out that MacBride said this, and Kennedy said that. Their respective speech was unmistakable and reflected clearly not only the character of each man but also his method of thought, mood and mannerism.

The talk between the two, and with the other characters, brought out the story, built it up and then introduced the action climax.

Kennedy in his quiet way has been snooping, found the trail of guilt leading to a man whom the blunt McBride has not suspected, and in place of telling it to McBride, lets the man implicate himself:

Kennedy said quietly: “… Torgensen was killed by a .38. That phone call I just had was from Headquarters. They’ve got the gun over there. I found it in a dump heap across the way from the station. Haims at Headquarters says it checks with slugs found in Torgensen. A dealer down in Beaumont Street told me how he sold it to Lewis Friel.”

Friel shouted: “That’s a lie!”

“You can’t prove it’s a lie.”

“Oh, can’t I,” snapped Friel. He pulled a gun from his pocket and said:

“There’s my gun and I’ll face that dealer and make him prove he sold me the gun you’re talking about.”

Kennedy said: “Steve, take a look at his gun.”

MacBride strode across toward Friel. Something snapped in Friel’s eyes and he jumped back. “Hold on there!” he said.

MacBride scowled. “Don’t point that gun at me.”

“I’m pointing it at you.”

Marcia said: “I’ve got them from this side, Lewis.”

Kennedy turned. Marcia Friel was holding a very small automatic.

Lewis Friel said to Kennedy: “You almost trapped me, smart boy.”

“What do you mean, almost?” Kennedy drawled.

And after the fireworks, MacBride, lying in a hospital bed, said:

“Talk to me, Kennedy… What about that gun you had Haims examine?”

“I did find it where I said I found it, down near the station. Some jumpy guy must have tossed it away. So when Haims told me over the wire that it didn’t check, I told Lewis that it did just as a gag. He pulled his gun and I meant to have you take that and check it.”

All of the foregoing are samples of good dialogue, and an examination of the fuller works, of which these are merely brief excerpts, will show clearly the important part they play in establishing the quality of the respective stories. If the dialogue was bad, in respect of being careless, out of character, faulty with regard to situation and emotion, without significant meaning, these books would not have achieved the success they did. And it should be borne in mind that the works of the writers quoted are all of outstanding merit and made so in largest measure because of the excellence of their dialogue.

A writer brought in a book-length script with the candid desire to learn why it had not been accepted by one of the very publishers to whom it had been offered. He believed his story was intrinsically a good one, and he was correct. The dialogue was thoughtful and meaningful and at times smart; but an analysis showed that the speech of his dozen or more characters had a notable sameness, expressing the thought, the method of thinking and the philosophy, not of the respective characters, but of the author himself.

Comparisons are odious; and it would not be in good part to reproduce a passage of some published story and attempt to pick upon its dialogue weakness and fault. But if your story does not sell—granted that essentially it is a good story—or if it sells but does not hit, you might have a look at your dialogue and see if it has taken enough part in the telling of the story, if it is in real, true character—that is, if it reflects truthfully the character of the respective person and the emotion of the particular situation—if it has significance of meaning or is merely a wasteful jumble of words hastily thrown together; in short, see if it correctly exposes characterization and develops the plot of your story; see if it produces any of the varied emotions or falls flat.

Your writing of good, effective dialogue can be improved by study and practice. First, you must know your respective characters thoroughly, just what sort and type of men and women they are, how they will act and react in a given situation. Of course you know your plot and just in what manner you want to develop it. Then cast yourself into the character that is to speak and express the thought, the feeling and the meaning that particular character would naturally express under the circumstances and in his language and in his way of speaking.

Dialect in dialogue is not a short cut to characterization. It may denote personality, whether a person be black or white, foreign or domestic, ignorant or educated. It should never be difficult to read and understand unless, in rare cases, the purpose is to cause the reader to pause in his running, to read slowly and thereby to get the full gist of the passage. But as a rule it should not check for a moment the run of the story and should be given in small doses. It can get monotonous and annoying. Often a suggestion of dialect is wisest, especially if the particular speaker has much to say. Its chief forte is color and glamour, when skillfully handled. And again we take a bow to Octavus Roy Cohen:

“How come you ain’t usin’ yo’ muscle mo’ frequent, Frenzy?”

“Is you incineratin’ I ain’t doin’ my share?”

“Well, you suttinly ain’t doin’ no mo’ than.”

“Ise expendin’ my full stren’th.”

“Says which?”

“Says Ise puttin’ out my foremostest muscle. An’ don’t you like it, you can lump it.”

“Life sho’ is queer, ain’t it, Frenzy?”

“Did I say it wasn’t?”

“You ain’t said nothin’. I jist ast you wan’t it?”

Authored by Joseph T. Shaw; from Writer’s Digest (June 1939).

In Defense of Carroll John Daly

There is a misconception that has long existed among critics and scholars of hardbolled detective fiction that is in sore need of clearing up. Namely, that Dashiell Hammett was a far better writer of detective fiction, and far more influential, than Carroll John Daly.

It is recorded fact that Daly, in the pages of Black Mask in 1923, produced the first hardboiled private eye story, predating Hammett’s first Continental Op tale by a number of months. It is also a fact that Daly was no flash-in-the-pan. His main character, New York shamus Race Williams, was a star attraction in the pulps as late as 1955. These are facts which the critics and scholars cannot argue. Yet upon admitting them, they—from Ron Goulart to David Madden to William Nolan to Steinbrunner/Penzler and back again—all declare Daly as “unreadable” by today’s standards, suggest that his only real contribution to the genre was being the first at bat, and express relief that development of the form was left to more competent hands like Hammett and Chandler.

Well. At the risk of being found guilty of blasphemy by my colleagues, I submit that Daly and Hammett rank neck-and-neck as detective story writers. Further, I submit that Hammett’s stylistic influence was severely restricted to one decade and one immediate group of disciples. Today, Daly’s influence is still splattered across every paperback rack in the country.

Dashiell Hammett wrote three serious novels against a crime milieu—Red Harvest, The Maltese Falcon and The Glass Key—which certainly rank him as a mainstream heavy and which are arguably masterworks, no matter who’s defining the terms. But as for much of his Black Mask work, which may have led to bigger things but which on its own constitutes genre writing, the best gauge of its comparative quality versus Daly’s work is to be found in the results of the various reader polls conducted by Black Mask all through the twenties.

The importance and relevance of these polls cannot be overstated. This is the audience to whom the output of these two writers was immediately aimed. Make no mistake. If the readers had not laid their dollars and cents on the newsstand counters, there would have been no hardboiled detective genre. The publishing business was no different then than now. It’s the nature of popular culture. If it’s not popular, if it isn’t accepted and encouraged by sales, it doesn’t get published.

The results of those polls? Daly consistently ranked with Hammett and Erle Stanley Gardner as the readers’ favorite.

Understandably, Joe Shaw, who edited Black Mask during the twenties and who encouraged Hammett in the development of his objective prose style, vehemently despised the ultra-subjective work of Daly. Yet the readers demanded Daly’s wild, free-swinging Race Williams yarns. Daly was one of the most popular detective writers of his time. Whenever his name appeared on a Black Mask cover, sales jumped 15%.

Hardly the mark of an “unreadable” author!

And so we come to the matter of influence. Hammett’s primary contribution to the genre, developed during his Black Mask days via his Continental Op stories, was a realistic portrayal of the urban underworld, presented in sparse, diamond hard prose. Yet in most of these early stories (“Fly Paper” and “The Cutting of Gouffignal” are the most notable exceptions) the Op is portrayed as a procedural company man and the adventures themselves often come across as lifeless and flat as the true-to-life detective agency reports which Hammett was admittedly attempting to imitate.

Sure, Hammett played a part in the development of the moral “code” of the American private eye. But in this he must share honors with any number of other Black Mask Eye writers. His major influence was one of introducing realistic content.

As for any immediate stylistic influence, it was at most shortlived. The imitators of Hammett’s precision drill writing style (Raoul Whitfield, Frederick Nebel, Paul Cain, Rogery Torrey, etc.) didn’t last long. By the late thirties most of them had already disappeared. By the early forties the subjective style of Raymond Chandler had come to the fore. Chandler envisioned the Eye as a lonely, honest, wisecracking, poetic, worldweary modern knight—a concept that certainly owes more to Daly’s Williams than to Hammett’s Op—and it is this concept which is with us today in the work of people like Ross Macdonald, Robert B. Parker and Bill Pronzini.

Hammett’s man was the most realistically drawn, to be sure, but this objective bureaucrat from the Continental Agency was not the generally accepted concept of the Eye that has endured.

Daly’s contribution to the hardboiled genre was indeed monumental; far more than simply being the first at bat. And his impact was felt far beyond the private eye field alone. The Shadow, The Spider, The Phantom Detective—all the famous masked avengers of the pulps were merely gussied up versions of Race Williams. Daly took the two-gun American Hero from the wooly plains of the West and transplanted him in New York. He allowed his hero to retain all those traditional fantasy concepts of what the American Hero is and has been since the days of Cooper’s Natty Bumppo, and he gave him the desire and ability to back up his code of individualism, his distrust of authority and his interest in Justice over Legality, with a pair of smoking .44s.

And yes, Daly is still with us today, though, with the exception of a fine novelette in last year’s The Hardboiled Detective and a scheduled appearance in this year’s The American Detective (edited by Steve Krauzer, dua from NAL), he has been out of print for more than twenty years. Beyond his spiritual influence over Chandler and Chandler’s host of pupils, Daly has had a much more direct influence on a number of other contemporary thriller writers.

Mickey Spillane freely admitted to being a Daly disciple. In fact, Spillane’s second Mike Hammer adventure, My Gun is Quick, was closely patterned after Daly’s 1929 Race Williams novel, The Hidden Hand. Daly’s modern counterpart is Don Pendleton. Pendleton’s “Executioner” hero, Mack Bolan, could well be Mike Hammer’s son and Race Williams’ grandson. The laws of the land are inefficient? The salt of the earth are being ripped off? Here comes the tough guy with his personal moral code and his blazing guns and everything’s all right again. Only the packaging is updated. And it’s interesting to note that Spillane and Pendleton are as universally berated by the critics as Daly is—and just as widely read and imitated!

To say nothing of Daly’s other major pulp character, Police Detective Satan Hall—the original renegade killer cop who was the basis for Dirty Harry, Spillane’s The Gill from The Last Cop Out (1973) and countless others.

In addition to being important as an influential pioneer, it should also be pointed out that, the critical establishment aside, Carroll John Daly was a damn good thriller writer. He had his faults, sure. His characters on occasion speak more like 19th century Victorian actors or refugees from a dime novel than like hardbolled underworld types. He was prolific; there is, inevitably, a certain amount of repetition in the Daly canon. As well as a pronounced 1920’s naïveté (if that may be considered a fault). And some of his novels are episodic—much like Hammett’s first two books—rather than existing as sustained works building to one all-powerful climax.

Yet few pulp writers, then or now, could match Daly for raw readability; for sequences of almost unbelievable headlong pace; for putting you right there in the action as only a truly masterful suspense artist can. His best was topnotch blood and thunder writing, and he did more high quality work than even his most generous critics generally give him credit for.

The defense rests.

A Very Select Checklist: The Best of Carroll John Daly

  • The White Circle. Clode, 1926.
  • The Snarl of the Beast. Clode, 1927.
  • The Man in the Shadows. Clode, 1928.
  • The Hidden Hand. Clode, 1929.
  • The Tag Murders. Clode, 1930.
  • “Satan’s Vengeance.” Never published in book form; a serial appearing in Detective Fiction Weekly, 7 March through 25 April 1936.
  • “City of Blood.” Dime Detective, October 1936.
  • “Hell With the Lid Lifted.” Dime Detective, March 1939.
  • “Not My Corpse.” Thrilling Detective, June 1948.


This article was originally published in The Mystery FANcier, May 1978 (Vol. 2, No. 3).

Authored by Stephen Mertz. Copyright © 1978 by Stephen Mertz, reprinted by permission of the author.

Curt Siodmak: The Black Mask Interview

On the set of I Walked with a Zombie, Curt Siodmak Remembers His Horror Movie Days

He lives in a small village called Three Rivers, halfway between San Francisco and Los Angeles, at the foothills of the Sequoias. The house is situated on top of a hill and sheltered from encroachment of neighbors by fifty acres of grazing land, which is studded with trees. Through the huge glass windows of the redwood house, which was built by the famous architect Neutra. Snowcapped mountains stretch in a circle. Once a jeep came down the fire trail at night. Siodmak wanted to move. Too many people, he complained. In day time he feeds his cows, the horse, two ravens which knock at six at his window asking for food. At night a score of racoons show up punctually. There are bobcats, and also a talkative mountain lion, who walks back and forth at late hours, answering in his own language when talked to. This is a hermit’s life, and one wouldn’t be surprised to see the Frankenstein monster lumber down the mountainside.

There is something owlish in Siodmak’s appearance, in his large glasses and bald head, but also something authoritative since he is used to directing pictures or giving lectures at colleges and universities. His latest one was a course in Modern Science Fiction. The Window Into the Future for the University of Santa Cruz. Sitting in his book-lined office, one wall covered with paintings of the Dutch school, Siodmak faces a wall and not the mountain view when he is working at his typewriter. He doesn’t want to be distracted by the beauty around him.

You knew Val Lewton, the producer of The Cat People, Bedlam, I Walked With A Zombie, Isle Of The Dead, The Leopard Man, The Curse Of The Cat People, The Body Snatchers?

Yes. I met him in circumstances perfect for a horror picture. My agent made an appointment for me to see him at RKO studios. He sat on Stage 2, watching the shooting of Cat People. The stage was huge, cavernous, the biggest one in Hollywood. In a corner a living room set was built, the rest was dark. Lewton was a big man, an eternal pipe in his mouth. He sat on a chair too small for him. A commotion was going on the set, a noise which had the overtones of panic.

“Lolita got loose,” he said between two puffs from his pipe. Lolita was the black panther used in the film. Simone Simon, the French star, convincingly turned into that black cat and committed murder. Lewton seemed to get pleasure out of scaring me, knowing I didn’t appreciate a black panther roaming a dark set. He had a streak of sadism in him. He told me later that in school he cherished a game: you put your hand on a wooden desk and the boy next to you tries to stab your hand with a pocket knife. The trick was to withdraw the hand the very last moment possible. Once he nailed a friend’s hand on the desk top with dire consequences. I guess that that frame of mind helped him to become a famous horror motion picture producer. “Just sit quiet and Lolita won’t bother you,” he said. “But she might eat you.” I whispered. There, between his spread fat legs a dark cat’s head appeared. The round head turned upwards, the ears folded back, a huge mouth opened, and I looked into a red canyon framed by long white teeth. I heard a growl, deep and menacing. Lewton froze into a statue. I turned into a slab of marble. “She growls.” I managed to say. “She purrs'” he insisted, but his ruddy complexion had become white. He slowly lifted his hands over his head and signaled like a semaphore. Presently the trainer came along, waving a huge lollipop. The panther slid out from under Lewton’s chair. She took a last look at Lewton’s fat thighs, undecided if she should take a bite out of them or lick the lollipop. Her sweet tooth made the decision for her. The trainer gave her the lollipop, picked her up, and threw the two hundred pounds of cat over his shoulder. That’s how I met Val Lewton. In style!

You wrote I Walked With A Zombie for him.

Yes. We discussed that idea after I regained my composure. But in his office. I couldn’t concentrate on the dark set. After I told Lewton my approach to the film, he promised to leave me alone. I hate interference by producers. They pay me to put my ideas on paper, not theirs. I found out that he was a frustrated writer. He had ideas that didn’t fit my conception. But he had great taste and culture and intelligence, a fact that showed in his pictures. He created the intelligent Lewton horror films. He tried a novel approach to horror pictures, and succeeded. He put recognizable people into fantastic stories. Now, don’t confuse Science fiction with Science fantasy. I never wrote about people from other stars, wearing antennas, or having shapes unknown to us on earth. All I did in my science fiction novels is selecting an idea which I believe will happen in the near future. I project that idea on people of today. How would we react, if, as in my novel The Third Ear, people could read each other’s thoughts, or in Hauser’s Memory, if we could transfer memory from one person to another… a young man also having the memory of an old one, who has lived his life. Or in my latest novel City in the Sky which Putnam’s published in May, if we would build a huge satellite in space as big as a city. What kind of people would live there and how would they act? The astronauts didn’t change their attitude and returned unchanged, they were space mechanics when they left the earth for the moon, and our expectations that humanity would improve with that exploit didn’t happen.

Then you had freedom to do what you liked when you worked for Lewton?

No. Val changed part of the story and some dialogue, working closely with another writer. But when an idea is good it cannot be completely destroyed. The original idea will always shine through, despite the efforts of the producers and directors to put their stamp on it. My novel Donovan’s Brain was made three times into a motion picture. Every time the producers and writers improved on it and every time the film fell apart. John Huston is for me the most intelligent film maker. He understands stories and has appreciation for them. He took The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett, broke it down in camera angles, telescoping it, since a motion picture is never a full sized novel but an extended short story. Why tamper with a book that is a classic? We writers are craftsmen. When we finish, come the geniuses, producers, directors and actors. They think they can do better in a week of rewrite than the original author who might have spent a couple of years on the book.

You seem to be bitter.

No. I know the game and it doesn’t faze me. I had an imaginary altar in my office at the studios and when things became annoying, I just went there in my mind and prayed.


I prayed to Pegasus and said “my weekly check. My weekly check.” That brought me down to earth. After all I was working for money.

Then you are a cynic.

Maybe I am. But I am not enamored with my work. As soon us I am through with it, I think of the next one. When I sold Donovan’s Brain to Republic Studios for very little money since I was flat broke, Herbert Yates, the studio head, called me in. He said. “Siodmak, you’re crazy. A scientist like Dr. Cory in your novel doesn’t live in a little house in the desert. He lives in castle! And there and there is a great part for Vera.” She was the girl, an ice skater from Czechoslovakia, whom he later married. “And the title is The Lady and the Monster. That’s there I quit. Then Allan Dowling bought the rights from Republic. I was assigned to write and direct. They didn’t like my screenplay which was the novel just broken down. They wrote a new one, in a week! In it God destroys the brain with a thunderbolt. That’s where I left the projection room. A third time the story was done in England. It was called The Brain. In it an actress stripped and they infused a cancer cure. You know, I still have to see one of those versions completely. I never sat through one of them.

You contradict yourself. You said you don’t care what happens to your stories when you finish them and still you are up-tight about them.

Of course one cares. A writer is always on the defense. And that’s for a valid reason. Writers are often alcoholics. Hemmingway, Faulkner, Fitzgerald, O’Neill. You name them. They suffer that the words which they need to express an emotion, often do not exist. An idea can be expressed only approximately, since the number of words in any language is limited. There is only one example of infinity for me, that is color-there is an infinity of shading of red, or blue, – of any color. The trouble is to mix them as the eye of the mind sees them. The painters also suffer from the inability to put on canvas what their inner eyes see. The same happens to writers, only worse. They have a limited vocabulary to choose from, no more words than there are in a dictionary. Writers like Vladimir Nabokov invent words—you can’t find them in the Webster. I guess he stays sober.

I see 35 of your screenplays registered by the Academy of Arts and Sciences.

That’s about half of the pictures I wrote. Some I also directed. I worked in Europe a great part of my life in Germany. France, Italy, Switzerland, Sweden, even behind the Iron Curtain, in Czechoslovakia, during the golden time of their picture making until the Communists stopped it.

A horror story?

No. A ski film: you can’t show horror pictures in those countries. They don’t accept them. They are thin skinned about blood on the screen. Like the Nazis were.

Why should that be?

Bad conscience, I guess. I put, with the help of a song writer and musician Frankenstein into music. A musical for Broadway. It is called The Song of Frankenstein.

That’s amusing. What happened to it?

We never finished. Michael Butler, the producer of Hair, came out with a jazz version of Frankenstein. Since he was riding high at that time, we lost faith. Also it is almost impossible to get the million together which such a show would cost. But it had an excellent idea.

Can you tell me the idea?

Sure. Human beings are monsters. But why is the monster called a monster? It is only a couple of days old. Nobody has hurt it. Why should it be mean and vicious? The monster was the only human thing in your play.

That makes sense. Have you given up the idea of finishing the show?

No. I want to go back to it. I hate unfinished things in my life. I don’t think I ever abandoned a project. It would haunt me to know that a book has not been completed. Or a story has been left unfinished. I don’t care so much if I find a publisher. But my projects have to be complete.

Did you know Boris Karloff?

Of course. I wrote many pictures for him. He was a very tall man and very soft spoken and gentle. His pleasure was reading stories to children, gentle stories. He was highly intelligent and not conceited. I once wrote a screenplay for him at Universal Studios called Black Friday. He thought he wasn’t a good enough actor for the lead and took a secondary part, suggesting Stanley Ridges, a very good stage actor to play the part. Lon Chaney, Jr., was a friend of mine. I never met senior. Lon was a very patient man and a pro, who suffered from having such a famous father. You know it took almost six hours to put the Wolfman’s mask on his face, the claws, the hair, and two hours to take it all off. He could eat only liquid food through a straw when he wore that mask. Jack Pierce, the famous make-up man, devised the Wolfman’s mask. He also designed the Monster in Frankenstein.

How did you get into the horror business?

I always wrote science fiction stories. There is a magazine, Amazing Stories, Volume 1, 1926, which already had one of my stories; when I was still in school in Germany my stories were already published over here. I still have a copy of “The Eggs From Tanganyika”, which was the title of that piece. That story was the pattern of my future work. The idea was simple: Explorers find giant eggs in the Gobi desert. They take them to New York. The eggs hatch and giant flies emerge from them. They fly in the stratosphere and swoop down to pick up a human to devour him. The conclusion is that since they are so immense, they propagate only in small numbers like elephants and not like flies.

Then your stories had a scientific basis?

Yes. My science fiction books have. Whenever I start a novel, I call the most outstanding scientist in that field, asking him to supervise the technical part of the novel. I’ve had no refusals so far.

Because you are well known?

I don’t think I’m that well known. But most scientists are as bored with their jobs as other professionals. They dread the repetitious lab work. To work with a writer is a welcome diversion. You know, I believe that every human being is a frustrated writer. When you have a pencil you believe you can write. People who own a violin wouldn’t think of playing it without taking lessons. Everybody thinks he has a novel hidden in himself. But he doesn’t bring it out.


Laziness. Boston University collects my manuscripts. They want papers of contemporary writers. I just sent the pages off which I messed up with my last novel City in the Sky. The package came to 35 pounds of paper! About 2,000 pages, cut down to 220 printed ones! That should scare everybody. Nobody works as hard as a writer. Do you get paid talking to me?

I have to make a living.

So do most of the people if you don’t marry rich or inherit wealth. But when you have a job like directing a picture or having an assignment in a studio, you have to be there on time. When a writer gets up in the morning, who asks him to work? His work, like that of a sculptor or printer, is speculative. It might be worth nothing in currency or it might make him rich. So-called creative artists need an immense self-discipline which few people have.

You still didn’t tell me how you got into the horror business.

Hollywood at the time, I mean the ’40s, didn’t only typecast the actors but also the writers. I wrote the story and screenplay of The Return of the Invisible Man for a young Vincent Price at Universal. The picture made money and I was in the groove. Of course Donovan’s Brain helped a little. From then on I wrote many horror pictures for U., but also musicals like Frisco Sal for Susan Forster, and Shady Lady for Ginnie Sims, but the horror made the money for the company.

But you originated the Wolf Man.

A producer, Jack Gross at Universal, wanted to do a werewolf story. I gave the Wolfman his character-a human being that wants to die since he knows that he will change into a wolf and kill when the moon is full.

Even a man who is kind at heart and says his prayers at night might become a wolf when the wolfbane blooms and the moon shines full and bright.

I made that ditty up. Now people believe it is part of European Folklore.

Those pictures scared me when I was a kid. I didn’t dare get out of bed in the dark, afraid of the monsters hiding in the room.

You see, I did a lot for the American family life. I scared the little kids so much that they stayed in bed and the parents could play bridge. But these stories also have a deep atavistic meaning. They appeal to our hidden basic instincts which we remember subconsciously since the time our forefathers lives in caves. Man wanted to identify himself with the strongest animal he feared. The wolf was the most dangerous animal in Europe at that time. So, there was the Tigerman in India, the Snakeman in the Pacific. The fairytales are in my opinion the fear of winter. Little Red Riding Hood is swallowed by the bad wolf-the winter-the young hunter, spring, frees her and kills the winter with its cold and hunger. Sleeping Beauty has the same theme: the bad witch-winter-poisons her. Spring, the young prince kills the witch, Sleeping Beauty coughs up the poisoned apple, comes back to life and the thorns start blooming with a million roses. Very poetic!

What is your next plan? Another book?

No. I want to go on a lecture tour, to meet young people and to get a new lease on life which a writer needs after having been under house arrest while writing a novel. Or work for magazines like Black Mask, which I like for its literary background and its appreciation for classical stories. But I don’t know. Maybe I am going to do a motion picture in Morocco. There is a chance that the Moroccan company likes my screenplay I treasure and which I wrote ten years ago. I had a deal with the Egyptians but the 1967 war broke out and the film didn’t materialize. I like to direct. It is fun working with people, and seeing on the screen what has been a written work. We live in a visual age. But films have a very limited life. How is your Latin?

My Latin? Why? Not so good.

Non lettera scritta sed lettera impressa manet. Not the written word remains, only the printed one. A film is like the written words. They die with the time—but a published book or a printed story might last forever. You collect for Black Mask classic stories or stories of known writers. If those stories were on film, the film would have aged. But the printed words don’t seem to die.

Authored by Keith Alan Deutsch.