Man of Blurb
December 11, 2009 - shenanigans
He is an unassuming man. You’d pass him on the street without a second look. Under that façade is the most respected man of his profession. Though you’ve never heard his name before you’ve read some of his best work.
He knows most people have no idea of the years he spent perfecting his craft. The long hours. The deadlines. A marriage sacrificed. No fame or fortune. He doesn’t care. Fortune is not why he did it.
He is probably the first man you connected with Doc Savage. No, not Jim Bama. Think back to when you saw Fear Cay for the first time. You turned over that pristine copy to read:
It was all a great mystery. Who was this man called Dan Thunden who claimed he was one hundred and thirty years old? Did he really have the secret of the fountain of youth? What was this island called Fear Cay that spelled horror and death? What was the strange thing that turned men to bone? These were the mysteries that Doc Savage and his fearless crew had to solve at peril of their very lives.
Nick D’Annuzio laughs when he recalls writing that pithy description, “Asked a lot of questions — never gave many answers.” From The Man of Bronze to Up From Earth’s Center D’Annuzio was “The Man of Blurb.”
The blurb — that bit of marketing designed to lure you into buying a product. Blurb writers are not a high-priced commodity in the publishing field. Usually they’re omnivorous readers who majored in Liberal Arts. D’Annuzio did and went back to get a Masters in Marketing. He still studies today, “It’s a little more casual now. I check out the mags. ‘Next Month’ columns and the like. Oh, and the news. Amazing how much a politician can talk and how little he’ll give away in 30 seconds. Always gives the impression he’s Thomas Jefferson though.”
How did Nick and Doc get together? “When I was nine I picked up an issue of National Geographic. I skipped past the tribal pictures – too young then – and was fascinated by the writing. Not the articles. They were long and boring. I was astounded by the Next Month column. I wanted to read those articles!”
Imagine how disappointed I was when I saw that next issue. More long and boring articles. But my spirits soared with ‘Next Month.’ I knew then and there I wanted to be a blurb writer. Didn’t know the word yet, but I knew I wanted to write them. As a matter of fact, I ended up ghost writing a few of those National Geographic columns when (Richard) “Professor” Laflamme had that strange accident in 78.”
For a man who gets to the point when he writes, D’Annuzio often wanders to the point when he speaks.
“Yeah, you asked me about Doc Savage.” He pulls out a folder. He has kept all his notes. “Back in ’62 I packed up my Bug and traded notebooks at Northwestern for legal pads at Bantam. My first project was a one-shot — Doc Savage. If it took off we’d have 180 more to go. I took home the galleys for “The Man of Bronze” and worked all night.
High above the skyscrapers of New York, Doc Savage engages in deadly combat with the red-fingered survivors of an ancient, lost civilization. Then, with his amazing crew, he journeys to the mysterious “lost valley” to search for a fabulous treasure and to destroy the mysterious Red Death.
“Sure, I had to get their attention without giving anything away. That isn’t easy. I wasn’t quite into the swing of things then. Too many declarative sentences and no questions. I cringe when I read it today. That’s what they wanted though. You always make the company happy.”
D’Annuzio dug out his first draft for the blurb, “Who dares to challenge the Man of Bronze? Does Death always win? Will Doc and his team defeat Death in the Valley of the Vanished? Will the mysterious Red Death claim them? Will it snuff their lives — as it did the only man who truly knew the origin of Doc Savage — his father, Clark Savage, Senior?”
He is still proud of that work. The editors at Bantam wanted less philosophy and more action. “Get murder, danger and the bad guy in every one. That’s what they wanted. I gave it to them. I grabbed you with 50 words or less.”
D’Annuzio remembers the glory days of Doc Savage in the 60s. Sometimes they seemed to write themselves, “I’d work every night from midnight to 2 am. That’s the absolute best time to write a blurb. You’re right on the edge of sleep. Your mind can’t hold a complex thought. Words are ethereal.
Like Lester Dent, D’Annuzio had a touch of wanderlust. He once traveled the Caribbean in a seaplane and farmed a few blurbs out. He won’t reveal who, but assures us we’d recognize the name.
Cadwiller Olden was only three feet tall, but he was the most dangerous man on Earth. With his legion of brutal giants, and control of REPEL — a massive, devastating energy force — the murderous midget began an all-out assault against the defenseless bastions of the free nations. As the entire world huddles in fear, Doc Savage battles against the bizarre doll criminal, and the unleashed fury of his deadly tool of destruction, REPEL!
“He just didn’t work out. Too wordy. Writes a great horror story though.”
Ask D’Annuzio what blurb he is most proud of and you’d be surprised, “None. It wasn’t the blurbs I sweated over. They just flowed — it was the titles I put my heart into.”
D’Annuzio not only wrote blurbs for 181 adventures – he was the first blurb writer who titled his work. Each blurb featured the title in bold on the back cover. “I was able to give alternate titles to 82 of the Doc Savage novels. I started with Soul of the Mystic Mullah. They were sporadic at first. Bantam didn’t place much emphasis on them. They’d just not use the title line sometimes. After Bantam started receiving letters from my fans – yep, those days we had blurb groupies – usually Bryn Mawr girls – they didn’t miss a one from Doc Savage Out West to Trapped in a Steel Tomb.
A new editor was assigned to the Blurb Department at about the same time the Doc Doubles started. “At first I had about the same amount of lines, but gradually I had to fit into less space. The omnibuses almost killed me. No titles and usually just room for a sentence or two to grab you. I was really looking forward to the time we start publishing the new adventures. One story per book and room for a paragraph or two blurb.
It wasn’t meant to be. D’Annuzio was shocked to find that Bantam didn’t call him out of retirement for the new editions of Doc Savage. “Said they wanted new blood. Said my last one was the capstone of my career.”
A shipwrecked lunatic, a mysterious cavern, and a plump little man with a fear of fire lead Doc on his strangest and most legendary adventure ever — straight to the gates of hell itself!
His career is far from over. Brill’s Content called him for the blurbs they used in their early promotional work. Utne Reader depends on D’Annuzio as their Senior Blurb Editor. And the New Yorker has featured three all D’Annuzio blurb issues in the past two years. Still, D’Annuzio hopes someday to again pen the words “fearless crew” for Doc Savage.
* Editor’s note: We received this article with no return address. A call to Bantam revealed that the publisher had employed a Nick D’Annuzio, but not as writer. D’Annuzio was the publisher’s night janitor from 1960 until his “sudden” retirement in 1993. A source speculated D’Annuzio had moved to Florida. Others speculate the blurbs were written by Doc Savage himself. Who knows?
Let’s face it. You picked up that first copy of Doc Savage and looked at the cover…you said “Cool”, “Neato”, or “Far Out” (depending on your age)…but you were sold when you read that blurb on the back. That’s what made you rush home to read your first Doc Savage. And we’ve interviewed* the man that wrote most of those one-paragraph classics….