AS TOLD TO CHUCK MILLER-Pulp Interviews
Chuck's Guest today- Craig Lockwood
CHUCK MILLER: Surf Pulp is something that not too many of my colleagues who have loosely banded together under the "New Pulp" umbrella have been exposed to. And it's a wonderful thing, since we are looking to broaden the definition of "pulp fiction," and expand its visibility and appeal. Could you just give us a brief synopsis of how you got the idea and what steps you took to see it through all the way to Hard-Boiled Surf Pulp Fiction #1?
CRAIG LOCKWOOD: I’ve often wondered if the term “New Pulp” or “neo-Pulp” isn’t misleading. While the great pulp publishing and fiction industry died out forty years ago, Ellery Queen and Analog are still published. So at least a tenuous thread to the pulp-past was maintained. And the pulps have been an enduring and arguably profound influence on America and Europe’s popular literary culture.
What’s telling is that when I started this project with Rick we had no idea that there was anything like a pulp revival.
I’d had the idea of publishing an all-surfing-related fiction magazine for years. And I loved the old pulp form. I’d done a pulp paper book The Whole Ocean in 1986.
Twenty-three years later I’d just finished writing a big book for a publisher, and decided to see if I couldn’t put an inexpensive magazine—a real pulp—together.
Rick’s a talented illustrator who had been an aficionado of the American pulp illustrative style of the 1930s and ‘40s and ‘50s. I’d read the sci-fi pulps like Galaxy and Analog, and the mystery mags like Back Mask and Ellery Queen, as a kid and been entranced the storytelling and action. My first published fiction – and the piece was wholly an adventure pulp sory -- was in SURFER Magazine—despite SURFER being a “slick.”
Both of our mutual interests and our livelihoods center around surfing and the surfing sub-culture.
That term may seem like an anomaly, but today there is an entire sub-culture—which is something like car-culture—but based around surfing, that had been growing in California since the 1930s. And I’m not talking “Gidget.”
There’s a multi-million dollar sustaining “surfing industry” that includes surfing apparel, surfboard manufacture, surf-related destination travel, surfing fine art with prestigious museum exhibitions, surfing cinema, TV shows, surfing music, surfing literature—including surfing journalism, with books and magazines—and even occasional surfing theater, and believe it or not, a nascent surfing academia.
And of course, there’s surfing crime. Which some older readers may recall getting both national notoriety and tabloid ink during the 1960s with a Florida criminal character nicknamed “Murph the Surf.”
Rick is academically trained, and a graduate of Art Center, here in Pasadena, California, which is one of he nation’s finest art schools. I studied creative writing at the University of California, Los Angeles. Rick’s work hangs in both private collections and at McKibben Gallery in Laguna Beach as well as in Rémi Bertoche, in France.
I’ve been a journalist and editor since college, mainly surfing but in the beginning the pickings were slim so I also worked as a lifeguard and deputy sheriff. Later I served as a war correspondent in Southeast Asia, Balkans, the Middle East and Afghanistan, a crime reporter, and a surfing historian whose last book “Peanuts” An Oral Biography Exploring Legend, Myth and Archetype In California’s Surfing Subculture” was reviewed last year by surfing’s most prestigious magazine, The Surfer’s Journal, as “This year’s Best book on Surfing, 2010.” Currently I serve as co-chair of the Oral History Committee of the Surfing Heritage Foundation, which is an endowed institution and museum. But I also shape surfboards and racing paddleboards – it’s all handwork – as a hobby/business.
We were well into the project when we started discovering you guys.
We looked at each other and went “Wow! Here’s real talent, good writing, and great storytelling.”
And you—the pioneers—were all out there taking great waves and cranking these stylish pulpy bottom turns and looking good.
It was like wandering through the desert thirsty and alone and discovering this well-supplied big wagon train with the Bonanza cast at the reins.
CHUCK: What would you say to potential readers who might be leery of your work because of their unfamiliarity with surf culture and the perception that this is a very specialized area that they just wouldn't "get?" I think this could be really significant in terms of opening up new connections and exposing people to familiar concepts in a new context. That can be a difficult barrier to break through, which is sad because I think there are far more things in common than not.
Chuck, you nailed it. There are definitely more things in common in pulp fiction than not. To paraphrase Marshall McLuhan: The medium is the milieu.
I suspect we both see pulp fiction as a wonderful dimensional door through which readers are transported by writers into other realities. The vehicle of transmission is the combination of the author’s words and the reader’s imagination.
Surfing, and surfing fiction does reflect aspects of surfing’s specialization, just as espionage fiction is specialized. But specialization need not be exclusionary, and it’s never a reason to neglect the opportunity of an exciting read.
The English mystery writer Dick Francis, himself a jockey, set all his stories against a background of horse racing—which is like surfing, a kind of sub-culture. I’ve only been to one horse track in my life, and know nothing about horse-racing, betting on horses, or horse-racing as an occupation. But I’ve read and enjoyed at least a dozen Dick Francis mysteries, full of racetrack jargon, and enjoyed them.
Reading masters of a specific genera—such as spy fiction’s John Le Carre´, or Alan Furst—means being immersed in that specific fictional world. This is a world the author has created. And when the author is good, and when the narrative’s coherent and the drama compelling we’re exposed and become both intellectually and emotionally involved in a very specialized environment—say Carré’s Cold War London in 1965, or Furst’s Eleventh Arrondissement in 1940 Paris, during the Nazi Occupation.
And in that fictional environment the magic of a reader’s imagination, a skilled author’s description, narrative and dialog—all provide enough information for the reader to understand and personally assimilate the political climate, the geography, the tradecraft and techniques, the idiom and argot of espionage.
Compared to this kind of complex arcana, surfing’s lexicon is relatively easy. Especially when the format’s a short-story or novella. Here the author is going to be focusing less on some incidental technical aspect—such as a specific surfboard’s design limitations in a given wave—than say, on the protagonist’s efforts to get to the exotic location where a previously un-ridden but fabled wave exists. And—as in all adventure fiction—that requires an author’s commitment to narrative and a reader’s exercise of imagination.
And, if the author is skillful, he or she provides the reader sufficient expository detail so their imagination takes over. This, after all, is how we are able to read and immerse ourselves in—and find credible and enjoyable enough, and thus continue reading—our pulp fiction superheros.
Surfing is an activity rooted in American culture. Surfing comes out of that culture, and so much of what surfing authors are writing about is at least familiar. Most of us have either been to a beach, or seen film or stills of the ocean, and waves, and surfers. We have a sense of the beauty, power and grandeur of the sea.
I’m not a skier, have never skied, hate snow, don’t know the precise meaning of terms like “mogul” or “screamin’ starfish” or “slow-dog noodle turn” and have never experienced the thrill of flying down a mountainside in deep powder. Yet I’ve read and enjoyed skiing-related fiction. So it wasn’t what I knew that entertained me, it was the author’s skill in creating a literary door through which I could venture in imagination.
I didn’t have to be an anthropologist like Colin Trumbull, living with the m’Buti, in the Congo and having to learn an entire non-cognate language to figure out the sub-culture. If I didn’t know the terminology, the story carried me along.
In one of our Vol. 1 No. 1 issue’s stories, “Sorcerer of Siargao” by Susan Chaplin, her surfer-protagonist is described this way:
“Marla was tall, with big shoulders and clear blue eyes. At forty-seven and recently divorced she was living out some pre-divorce impulse to surf her way around the world.”
There is nothing very exclusionary here for a non-surfing reader. You get her logline. Restless middle aged woman seeks adventure. The rest is storytelling—through a surfer’s eyes.
In “The Big Deep” hard-luck hard-boiled surfing private eye Sam Sand tells surf syndicate enforcer Gang Lopez who’s bringing him an impossible-to-solve case: “Gang, you been laminating without a mask?”
Now a non-surfer may not have a clue that this wisecrack refers to the manufacturing process of saturating the “laminate,” the two fiberglass layers of a hand-shaped surfboard blank’s skin with catalyzed polyurethane resin, but you know he’s skeptical—and is obviously saying it in a colorful way.
One thing those of us who are attracted to the pulp milieu share is that we love imaginative storytelling. So if Hard-boiled Surf Pulp which is aimed at a primarily surfing audience has any chance of attracting non-surfing readers we think it will be because our writers can tell stories well.
CHUCK: Name two or three of the biggest influences on your writing. Not necessarily limited to authors, but including ANYTHING that you think has shaped your style and the worldview that your fiction is built on.
My biggest initial influences in desire to be a writer were genetic, i.e., my mother and father.
My dad was a hard-boiled, hard-core, hard-bitten, hard-case WW I combat veteran—a newspaperman/journalist, war correspondent, and occasional pulp writer during the 1920s and ‘30s. He became a wire-service bureau chief, in Lisbon. My parents had lived in the same Paris neighborhood as Ernest and Hadley Hemingway and were part of the same literary and artistic circles.
My mother was an artist, a sculptor of some renown, and the daughter of three generations of newspaper men. And she had the storyteller’s gift. She’d been a fashion illustrator for Vogue Magazine, so her artist’s eye missed nothing. Decades after an event she could recall the most precise details, inflect the tone of voice of someone who’d been speaking, mimic accents, and connect everything to the weather, the political climate, how the women and men were dressed, how the food was prepared, was served and tasted.
Just before World War Twice they returned to California and Hollywood where he became a screenwriter for Fox. I came along soon after. Then the war came along and my father was killed, soon after Pearl Harbor.
As a child without a father—growing up in Hollywood during the war—my mother would tell stories about her early life. I was fascinated with her accounts of her famous family’s history, of my father’s life, their travels—including some exciting adventures with narrow escapes—and the now all-but-forgotten literary figures they’d known such as John Dos Passos, Sinclair Lewis, Theodore Dreiser, Sherwood Anderson, Sylvia Beach, Gertrude Stein, Ford Maddox Ford, James Joyce, Raoul Whitfield, and Dashiell Hammett.
When I was very young my mother would tell me serial stories of characters she’d invent. Then, taking a big drawing pad and using charcoal pencils, she’d quickly illustrate them while she was telling the story, drawing the characters—horses, boats, cars, guns—and the most outrageous and weirdly costumed arch-villains. We had a house full of books, and a beach house in Laguna Beach and so I grew up reading and surfing.
Pulp magazines were still on the newsstands when I was a kid and I became interested in reading and collecting science fiction magazines. Without question, much of my interest in writing fiction came from that early pulp exposure.
Going to the local newsstand with my weekly allowance was a ritual. What a visual feast! There were dozens of lurid covers, adventures, detective mysteries, westerns, romances, creepy shudders, and the ones in the back at the top—beyond kid’s reach—the spicy pulps.
So I pictured myself being able to write for these kinds of exciting magazines. I was just learning to type and submitted a few science fiction shorts in my early teens—which were promptly rejected.
Unfortunately, by the time I had begun to write well enough to perhaps be accepted, the pulps were approaching extinction, and everyone in my college writing classes was trying to write like Jack Kerouac, J.D. Salinger, Kurt Vonnegut or Joseph Heller.
Ray Bradbury’s fiction was a strong early influence, and he spoke frequently at Robert Kirsch’s Art of Fiction course and workshops at UCLA where I was a student. I’ve never forgotten his closing words at one of his lectures:
“Always quit while you’re hot. And don’t forget to put the cover on your typewriter.”