Man of Blurb

Dec 11, 2009 by

Man of Blurb

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?

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Lester Dent’s Secret Master Plot

Aug 1, 2009 by

Lester Dent’s Secret Master Plot

This is a formula, a master plot, for any 6000 word pulp story. It has worked on adventure, detective, western and war-air. It tells exactly where to put everything. It shows definitely just what must happen in each successive thousand words. No yarn of mine written to the formula has yet failed to sell. The business of building stories seems not much different from the business of building anything else.

Lester DentHere’s how it starts:

1. A DIFFERENT MURDER METHOD FOR VILLAIN TO USE
2. A DIFFERENT THING FOR VILLAIN TO BE SEEKING
3. A DIFFERENT LOCALE
4. A MENACE WHICH IS TO HANG LIKE A CLOUD OVER HERO

One of these DIFFERENT things would be nice, two better, three swell. It may help if they are fully in mind before tackling the rest.

A different murder method could be–different. Thinking of shooting, knifing, hydrocyanic, garroting, poison needles, scorpions, a few others, and writing them on paper gets them where they may suggest something. Scorpions and their poison bite? Maybe mosquitos or flies treated with deadly germs?

If the victims are killed by ordinary methods, but found under strange and identical circumstances each time, it might serve, the reader of course not knowing until the end, that the method of murder is ordinary. Scribes who have their villain’s victims found with butterflies, spiders or bats stamped on them could conceivably be flirting with this gag. Probably it won’t do a lot of good to be too odd, fanciful or grotesque with murder methods.

The different thing for the villain to be after might be something other than jewels, the stolen bank loot, the pearls, or some other old ones. Here, again one might get too bizarre.

Unique locale? Easy. Selecting one that fits in with the murder method and the treasure–thing that villain wants–makes it simpler, and it’s also nice to use a familiar one, a place where you’ve lived or worked. So many pulpateers don’t. It sometimes saves embarrassment to know nearly as much about the locale as the editor, or enough to fool him.

Here’s a nifty much used in faking local color. For a story laid in Egypt, say, author finds a book titled “Conversational Egyptian Easily Learned,” or something like that. He wants a character to ask in Egyptian, “What’s the matter?” He looks in the book and finds, “El khabar, eyh?” To keep the reader from getting dizzy, it’s perhaps wise to make it clear in some fashion, just what that means. Occasionally the text will tell this, or someone can repeat it in English. But it’s a doubtful move to stop and tell the reader in so many words the English translation.

The writer learns they have palm trees in Egypt. He looks in the book, finds the Egyptian for palm trees, and uses that. This kids editors and readers into thinking he knows something about Egypt.

Lester DentHere’s the second installment of the master plot.

Divide the 6000 word yarn into four 1500 word parts. In each 1500 word part, put the following:

FIRST 1500 WORDS

1–First line, or as near thereto as possible, introduce the hero and swat him with a fistful of trouble. Hint at a mystery, a menace or a problem to be solved–something the hero has to cope with.
2–The hero pitches in to cope with his fistful of trouble. (He tries to fathom the mystery, defeat the menace, or solve the problem.)
3–Introduce ALL the other characters as soon as possible. Bring them on in action.
4–Hero’s endevours land him in an actual physical conflict near the end of the first 1500 words.
5–Near the end of first 1500 words, there is a complete surprise twist in the plot development.

SO FAR: Does it have SUSPENSE? Is there a MENACE to the hero? Does everything happen logically?

At this point, it might help to recall that action should do something besides advance the hero over the scenery. Suppose the hero has learned the dastards of villains have seized somebody named Eloise, who can explain the secret of what is behind all these sinister events. The hero corners villains, they fight, and villains get away. Not so hot.

Hero should accomplish something with his tearing around, if only to rescue Eloise, and surprise! Eloise is a ring-tailed monkey. The hero counts the rings on Eloise’s tail, if nothing better comes to mind. They’re not real. The rings are painted there. Why?

Lester DentSECOND 1500 WORDS

1–Shovel more grief onto the hero.
2–Hero, being heroic, struggles, and his struggles lead up to:
3–Another physical conflict.
4–A surprising plot twist to end the 1500 words.

NOW: Does second part have SUSPENSE? Does the MENACE grow like a black cloud? Is the hero getting it in the neck? Is the second part logical?

DON’T TELL ABOUT IT***

Show how the thing looked. This is one of the secrets of writing; never tell the reader–show him. (He trembles, roving eyes, slackened jaw, and such.) MAKE THE READER SEE HIM.

When writing, it helps to get at least one minor surprise to the printed page. It is reasonable to to expect these minor surprises to sort of inveigle the reader into keeping on. They need not be such profound efforts.

One method of accomplishing one now and then is to be gently misleading. Hero is examining the murder room. The door behind him begins slowly to open. He does not see it. He conducts his examination blissfully. Door eases open, wider and wider, until–surprise! The glass pane falls out of the big window across the room. It must have fallen slowly, and air blowing into the room caused the door to open. Then what the heck made the pane fall so slowly? More mystery. Characterizing a story actor consists of giving him some things which make him stick in the reader’s mind.

TAG HIM. BUILD YOUR PLOTS SO THAT ACTION CAN BE CONTINUOUS.

Lester DentTHIRD 1500 WORDS

1–Shovel the grief onto the hero.
2–Hero makes some headway, and corners the villain or somebody in:
3–A physical conflict.
4–A surprising plot twist, in which the hero preferably gets it in the neck bad, to end the 1500 words.

DOES: It still have SUSPENSE? The MENACE getting blacker? The hero finds himself in a hell of a fix? It all happens logically?

These outlines or master formulas are only something to make you certain of inserting some physical conflict, and some genuine plot twists, with a little suspense and menace thrown in. Without them, there is no pulp story.

These physical conflicts in each part might be DIFFERENT, too. If one fight is with fists, that can take care of the pugilism until next the next yarn. Same for poison gas and swords. There may, naturally, be exceptions. A hero with a peculiar punch, or a quick draw, might use it more than once. The idea is to avoid monotony.

ACTION: Vivid, swift, no words wasted. Create suspense, make the reader see and feel the action.
ATMOSPHERE: Hear, smell, see, feel and taste.
DESCRIPTION: Trees, wind, scenery and water.

THE SECRET OF ALL WRITING IS TO MAKE EVERY WORD COUNT.

Lester DentFOURTH 1500 WORDS

1–Shovel the difficulties more thickly upon the hero.
2–Get the hero almost buried in his troubles. (Figuratively, the villain has him prisoner and has him framed for a murder rap; the girl is presumably dead, everything is lost, and the DIFFERENT murder method is about to dispose of the suffering protagonist.)
3–The hero extricates himself using HIS OWN SKILL, training or brawn.
4–The mysteries remaining–one big one held over to this point will help grip interest–are cleared up in course of final conflict as hero takes the situation in hand.
5–Final twist, a big surprise, (This can be the villain turning out to be the unexpected person, having the “Treasure” be a dud, etc.)
6–The snapper, the punch line to end it.

HAS: The SUSPENSE held out to the last line? The MENACE held out to the last? Everything been explained? It all happen logically? Is the Punch Line enough to leave the reader with that WARM FEELING? Did God kill the villain? Or the hero?

The End

Lester DentFrom: Jason A. Wolcott Newsgroups: alt.fan.doc-savage,alt.pulp Subject: Lester Dent’s Master Plot Date: Fri, 13 Oct 1995 09:20:29 -0500 Uploaded by Jason A. Wolcott, from Marilyn Cannaday’s biography of Lester Dent, “Bigger Than Life: the Creator of Doc Savage.” (c) 1990 Bowling Green State University Popular Press. Original publication circa 1950s

Published on the Original Hidalgo Trading Company in this format sometime in the late 90s.

Seriously, who remembers the exact date these days?

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