J.D. Cowan, The Pulp Mindset

In a world where people have forgotten what good entertainment looks like, author J.D. Cowan made a quick introduction to the new landscape of escapist literature, aimed at the crowd of aspirant writers, and ended up with a manifesto of what the movement called NewPub is, should and will be in the years to come.

You can buy it here!

The Pulp Mindset begins by stating a fact: the world of traditional publishing, OldPub, has been suffering a slow but unavoidable death that has only accelerated, now that the web has given creators more space to reach the public and avoid this painful rite of passage of going through agents and publishers to be accepted and allowed a small space in bookstores which no one pays a visit to anymore. As the market starts to move out of the corporate era, art is going through a transitional period.

In such a time, new writers feel easily lost. Accepting the change requires comprehending a confusing landscape, on the other hand the old ways rely more on the appearance of being a succesful business than on providing a good service. Hence they need for something that can help them find a way in the still-forming world of NewPub, the future of writing and independent publishing. They are often attached to outdated ideas and prejudices originated by the OldPub dinosaur, and Cowan proposes to help them free their art and unleash their creativity. This is not a guide on how to write or manage a creative process, but it is a book on how to take advantage of the transition.

OldPub’s bad art and business model has shrinked the number of readers all around the West. Following their steps is simply discouraged. To Cowan, the only way to win your place in this changing landscape is to acquire the mindset of a specific generation of writers, operating in a time were readers were copious and stories abundant: the pulp era.

What do you think of when you hear or read the word “pulp”? Tarantino? Cheap writing of low quality? If this is your answer, this book will tell you what pulp really was, because after the introduction Cowan proceeds with a quick history of how the pulps were born and what they were. If you are to follow their steps, you need to know them, read them and learn from them.

So, what do we have to learn from them? Their mindset, of course! Pulp writers did not write their stories checking a series of boxes prescribed by their publishers, but focused their art on wonder, action, and professionalism. Something happened that drove the industry away from these three pillars, and Cowan will tell you what it is: a mix of assaults on imagination, writing courses directed at selling wrong images and ideas of writers, attempts at subverting the industry to produce bad propaganda, and so on. If you have ever been interested in the publishing industry, or if you have ever searched for related news and information, you will see all of that.

A return to action-centered stories, wonder and professionalism is what you need to thrive in the incoming literary landscape. Cowan dedicates the next chapters, the core of the book, to these very topics. Resuming them is not the scope of this post, so if you’re curious go to read the book.

The Pulp Mindset ends with a call to action. Now that the advice has been given, and the stakes have been set, all the future writer needs is to join the revolution and start to work.

As a student who is compelled to read lot of poorly-written books to pass his exams, to me it is always a pleasure when a non-fiction work is written with competence. You will soon notice that the author is a fiction writer with a good amount of skills and experience: the prose is clear and fluid, able to convey information and keep your attention – and enthusiasm – high. He masters pacing in the same way a good pulp writer does. Moreover, Cowan has come up with a good way to make you ingest a pill that may be hard to swallow. He reveals the prejudices and failed tropes of the old book industry, and destroys them, all while keeping the reader hyped up for what is to come. He is not throwing rants and reproaches at the reader, he is not torturing you with a list of things you have been doing wrong. He is telling a story of the return of the pulps, a tale set in a revolutionary future you will help build up. Cool, inspiring, and effective.

At this point, though, you may ask: what does this book offer to new writers, if there is no direct advice on how to write? Put it this way: I remember, when I first discovered the so-called BookTube, finding out that most new writers spend years building their own fictional words to the smallest, useless detail; imaginary lands that are more or less a variation of Middle Earth or the Forgotten Realms. Those who manage to get through all that finally get to write the actual book, and here come two problems:

  • they do not know how to write a story: all they have done until then is writing notes that may be useful for the actual book, or may be not. After years of efforts to be a writer, they still lack the main skill.
  • once they start to elaborate their story, their plan is to produce another variation of the Wheel of Time series. This format is outdated. No one I know in my daily life has ever gone through books bigger than the seventh Harry Potter, most of them did it just because it was Harry Potter, and all of them will never do it again. There are many reasons behind this: sure, in this digital age people have access to much more product than ever before, and want to enjoy as much of it as possible. But there’s another reason, and it is that the format has become stale. Most books are big just because they have to be big, and are full of fluff.

The Pulp Mindset puts the reader in the ideal condition to think about all of this. It is not a book about how to write, but one about what kind of writer you should be if you want a place in the incoming cultural revolution. The best thing to do is read the book and plan upon it your future writing career. It will help you face hard truths with enthusiasm and a desire to accept the challenge.

Bonus point: Cowan does not limit himself to list a few of the old time pulp authors, but also suggests books which are similar in scope to his own. If you feel like you need more, you get a good amount of further information to check out.

Join the revolution! Until next time.

J. D. Cowan’s Amazon page

J. D. Cowan’s Blog

Quicksand Entertainment

These days, we drown in media. Pick any existing form of mainstream communication and entertainment, and you’ll find a saturated market, full of infinite crap ready to be thrown at you.

We are constantly stormed by product of bad quality and malicious intent. Turn on your TV, and wait for something that is relatively interesting, something which picks your genuine attention and not your demand of gossip (that is, no news, no reality TV, etc.). Personally, if I did this, I’d wait for hours, at least until after dinner, to have a chance at finding a good show. And, who’d have guessed, it would generally be old movies.

It’s only this kind of thing for HOURS!

Try radio and go through hours of useless talking, interrupted by a couple minutes of the same shitty five songs big labels want you to listen. Videogames? Most of the “tripul A” industry costantly releases the same game with different skins. And let’s not touch books, or this rant will be too long; go to a bookstore and see for yourself.

I am aware and sure that these industries are either tanking or stagnating, one more than the other. In truth, what I really want to talk about is the fact that a part of the public has been boiling inside that old pot for so much time that is incredibly hard to pull it out of the hot water. Be it the middle-aged lady watching soap-operas all day, or the comic book nerds that just can’t stop simping for Marvel and DC, these guys will continue drowning in the quicksand that is the current entertainment industry.

“Marvel can’t swallow you up if you just stop caring!”

Since I’m more oriented towards books, I ask myself how much new authors in the indie scene should try to make themselves known to such audience, instead of solidifying their readership as an underground, but intellectually active, movement. I don’t mean we should gatekeep towards normies (we need normies to save media, I believe), also because a lot of people trapped in Quicksand Entertainment aren’t normies at all. My point is this: I’m noticing that many people just want to stay inside the mainstream. I don’t know why, but so it is.

These people will never care about all the cool stuff they’d find if they started looking elsewhere and, although it’s true that slow and steady wins the race, you can do only as much to convince them. In the end, it’s only a matter of personal decision. And many have chosen that only Big Brand X is allowed in their lives.

Should creators stop their effort, then? Never. First, because I want more cool books. Second, the movement will grow, and that’s a fact. Corpos can try to stop it however they want, some things can’t just die. What must be acknowledged is that, big as it can become, the NewPub/PulpRev/Superversive scene is going to be an underground phenomenon. The mainstream of the future may follow their steps, but these scenes are destined to be an alternative and a rebellion. A true rebellion, hence spread only up to a certain point.

Be a rebel! Read cool books! #resist

This brings me to face another crucial aspect. A writer who wants to live off his own stories should keep striving for that, but it’s important to keep in mind that you’re doing this as a contribution for a better future. Western culture will eventually recover from its malady, and it will happen thanks to our contribution. Both writers and readers, because as the first must create for the future, the second must preserve those creations and bring them into the future.

And of course, this is true for all art.

Thanks for reading. Stay tuned!

The Floating Islands – VI

The shuttle made its way above the Islands’ trees, standing out against a sky of a thousand colors.

Maghbel looked curiously to the little dragon which was helping them to return to the Legacy.

Damian pointed his finger down. «It isn’t over yet»

Visible only from their position, two imperial cruisers stood imposing on the board of the island above which the pirates were flying, keeping a height lower than its surface.

«We must get back to the Legacy» said the Captain clenching its teeth. «Brace yourselves»

Mayweather pulled the horizontal bar and the aircraft rushed forward, diving inside the forest.

They found their airship in the midst of an assault by the imperial troops. The pirates had put together an improvised barrier, in a semi-circle around the ship, behind which they had positioned to defend it. Around them, dispersed among the trees, the imperial soldiers tried to make a breach.

Vice-captain Ernst ordered to fire, shouting above the enemies’ shots and everyone’s voices. He pointed his musket and pulled the trigger, followed almost immediately by the rest of the crew. The shots exploded in every direction.

The Captain landed the shuttle behind the imperial army, at an extremity of the semi-circle where there were few men and seemed easy to pass without being intercepted and assaulted.

The pirates got out and took their guns. Kieran charged his pistol, which he had used before against the monster.

Maghbel took the little dragon in her arms. Mayweather turned to her.

«If they see you with us, they’ll come for you. You can go away if you want»

The creature denied. «You could have left me inside the fortress, but you didn’t do it. And you saved me from that beast. I’ll help you»

«You won’t be safe here anymore, I fear»

«I’ll come with you. I’ll finally stop being bored»

«I don’t know if you can live among humans. Are you sure?»

Maghbel nodded.

«As you wish. Stay behind us and be cautious» said the Captain.

They stealthily walked towards the Legacy and finally met an imperial platoon. The pirates had fired again and hit one of the men.

The nearest comrade cried. «Man down! Man down!»

The soldiers answered to the fire, but their enemies were already crouched behind the barrier. Shots flied above their heads or crashed into the defenses.

«Damn!» shouted the officer, hidden behind a tree at the tail of its group. «It’s nosense to keep on like this, we must charge the barrier!»

Another of the soldiers answered angrily. «Of course, we can’t wait to be chopped up! We don’t go there alone!»

«Call the others, then!»

The pirates, stalking among the trees behind the imperial squad, chose silently their next targets. While shots and curses raged in front of them, toward the glade where the Legacy stood, they took position in different spots of the wood.

Mayweather waited for another series of shots by the airship’s defenders and for the Imperials to expose themselves again to answer to the fire.

The same soldier as before turned another time to the officer. «The communicator doesn’t work!»

The Captain made a silent gesture with his hand, ordering fire. The four pirates aimed the Imperials.

The officer was going to rant against his soldier, but his voice was covered by the bangs. He fell to the ground with the great part of his squad, without noticing that he had been hit in his back. Only one of the soldiers was left and when he saw the Captain and his men running in his direction he rushed crying in the thick of the forest.

The defenders were about to shot again. They heard Ernst’s orders. «Aim!»

Mayweather ran to the border of the glade. «It’s time! We must take advantage of their cover!»

He untied his bandana and waved it in the air. Behind the barrier, at about twenty feet from him, the defenders in front of him noticed the Captain’s blue cloth and red mane.

They acknowledged him. One of them gestured him to reach them while the others aimed their muskets at other directions to cover the group.

When they finally got beyond the barrier, panting and purple-faced, the little dragon saw the great ship and began to shrill excited, trying to slip away from Maghbel’s hands.

«Let it go» gasped the Captain. «Maybe we have found a way to run away»

The animal run over the ramp and entered the airship, ignored by the imperial soldiers’ fire. The Captain hoped it could solve the situation soon, because their enemies became ever braver and began to try different ways to make a breach in the barrier. The pirates started to have some difficulty.

They did not have to wait much, but they got another surprise. The engine of the Legacy turned on, causing an air vortex nearby. From the hull went out two gigantic wings like fish fin, of the same color of metal, glistening in the sunlight. Fluid and mobile at the start, as they were organic, these stiffened just later.

Imperials and pirates were both shocked. The fire had ceased and all the fighters were now looking at the airship, incredulous.

«Inside the Legacy, you all! Care not about the wings» cried the Captain.

Some pirate threw grenades to distract the enemies and allow the retreat. Some of the ones who had gotten to the ship were shooting to the Imperials to cover those who remained behind, the rest of the men went to execute the actions necessary to leave.

«Be quick!» shouted Mayweather. «Reinforcements won’t get here late, their fleet is near»

«Captain» called Ernst. «The navigation tools are all working, but the computer is giving me unreadable messages»

«It’s the little one. Ignore the messages and make the ship leave this place»

The Legacy lifted in the same moment the imperial airships came to give support to the soldiers on land and block the pirate vessel. But its cannons shot first. One of the enemy ships went down and fell behind the clouds.

The Legacy gained speed both steadily and quickly. The propellers were pushed at their maximum. The wings the little dragon had molded on the hull started to move again, giving further push to the airship, which left behind itself the multicolor glow of the Floating Islands and an imperial fleet angry and powerless.

Drying the sweat on his face, the Captain thought that if the Rebellion really wanted that weapons cargo, they would have to be ready to pay double price to compensate for the disturbance. But he did not do it, in the end. After all, he had left the Imperial Fleet not to exploit the Rebels, but to join them.

Part I

Part II

Part III

Part IV

Part V

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The Floating Islands – II

The creature screeched, sounding like two sticks scratched one against the other. Without ceasing to observe the pirates, it started to speak an incomprehensible language, made of puffs and gurgles that rang in the wood. A strange kind of music, sometimes similar to a rough recorder, sometimes to the sound of water poured in a glass, that returned at the end to the initial screeching.

The Captain frowned and jumped back, drawing his saber. The creature didn’t seem to threaten them, but the group’s nerves were tense all the same: they expected mortal dangers to fall on them in a moment and the excess of caution had made them distrustful. The others put themselves in guard, too.

The creature’s eyes gleamed. «Calm, calm!» she shouted, hastily. «You’re humans, aren’t you? Of course you’re humans! I can speak your tongue, can you hear?»

They understood her now, but her vocal timbre still was as before, and shrill whistles pierced the pirates’ ears. She giggled nervously. «Put down those goads»

The Captain didn’t obey. «What… are you?»

The creature’s bust put itself up. The bark of the tree seemed to melt and become malleable, the veining in the crack waved and twisted, until two slender and flexible limbs detached from the trunk, green as sprouts. With a puff, she got up on her feet, now totally parted from the tree. She was smaller than him for almost one foot, a mix between a young plant and a girl, hardly describable. Mayweather’s eyes focused on her hands: from each protruded three short branches, which closed and opened up again while the creature was apparently stretching herself after a long sleep. A tangled mane of leaves and lianas, dotted with little yellow flowers, crowned her head.

She raised her arms as to answer the Captain’s question. «Humans rarely come here. What are you seeking?»

She didn’t seem aggressive. Mayweather sheathed his weapon, but kept watching suspiciously the strange creature. «Our enemies ran after us and damaged our airship. We stopped here to hide and make repairs»

«Airship» repeated the creature, bringing one of her thin branches to her mouth, as to think. «Do you mean those shells with a strange shape inside of which you travel? There’s one in this very island»

Despite the unexpected stroke of good luck, the pirates didn’t want to cheer up, yet.

«What end did the crew meet, then?» asked Vince.

«I’ve never seen them, but I know the humans disappeared after a few days»

Damian swore.

Mayweather turned to his fellows. «Let’s give it a look and hope to find the spare pieces»

Damian grimaced, unconvinced. «If they’re compatible. And still working»

The Captain shrugged and talked again to the creature. «Can you bring us to this ship?»

*

Damian was right.

The airship was in a state of neglect: where the vessel wasn’t covered with plants, it had developed a dark layer of rust. It was impossible to see the original color or to read the names and the symbols it displayed once. From the size and what they managed to recognize of the shape, it was an old imperial cruiser, got there for some reason. The ship towered over them, as a massive mountain.

The area was inhabited by a large group of monkeys, with shorter limbs than usual, but their muzzles and ears were typical of a cat. One of the effect of the wild magic which permeated the Islands: the more one is exposed to it, the more his shape changes and mixes with those of other living beings.

Maghbel – this was the name of the creature that led them there – pointed at the monkey-cats and then the ship. «They live there. You should offer a gift to make them your friends»

«Food?» asked Kieran.

Maghbel shook her head. «No, they’ve got plenty. Give them something shiny, that draws interest»

The Captain slipped a silver bracelet off his wrist. «Let’s try with this»

Pushed forward by the roots she had on her feet, Maghbel led the pirates to the entrance of the airship. The hatch, left down, made a ramp that brought to the open entrance, but it was swallowed up by the forest. The monkey-cats that strolled about the ship started to follow them and utter shrill cries in their direction. The pirates followed Maghbel’s advice and ignored them cautiously, walking at a slow pace, taking care not to send unintentional signs of challenge.

Arrived at the entrance, the one that had to be the alpha male of the pack loomed up in front of them. A little taller and bigger than the other ones, it stopped at a short distance from the intruders and uttered a low and guttural sound.

The Captain showed the bracelets and came closer to the pack leader. It looked at the thing with prudent interest for some time, until, grasping the jewel, shouted friendly. The monkey-cats relaxed: some began to crowd merrily around them, the others moved away.

Mayweather got closer to Maghbel. «Was it that easy?»

«Just because you’re with me. Let’s enter, but keep caution»

The pack allowed the pirates to explore the ship from top to bottom and examine what was inside it. The wear and tear of time and humidity, unfortunately, had taken the better of it and no piece could be useful anymore. The only thing they managed to recover was the logbook: the airship was send on the island purposely; it was part of a research project about the technology used by the Ancient Peoples, who had understood magic better than anyone else and had infused it in their artifacts. The Empire believed to have located one of their fortresses and had arranged an expedition to take and analyze every instrument or project could be found there.

The Captain’s curiosity stirred up again.

Part I

Part III

Part IV

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The Floating Islands – I

A boom shook the entire airship, preceding the announces from the on-board computer.

Warning! Navigation systems damaged. Can’t set a route. Can’t log to the radar and the virtual maps. Helm control settings have been transferred from “Semi-automatic” to “Manual” due to system errors. Helm unlocked. Lower cameras not functioning.

The vessel began to wave and roll without control, pushing some members of the crew from one side to the other of the bridge. A second flurry of cannon shots centered the hull and a tremor spread again through the entire ship.

Stern bridge damaged.

Marion rushed towards the helm, with an effort that seemed superhuman to her. She slipped on the floor in the moment the ship leaned to the right, but managed to clutch the control post and not to crash against a wall.

The helmswoman rose up, swearing, trying to put the Free Spirit back in balance. With a quick jerk she avoided another series of cannon shots coming from the small imperial fleet which was running after them.

Marion activated remote communication and send a message to the stern deck. «Captain, we’re in a bad one»

The captain’s voice came croaky from the control post loudspeakers.

«Everyone understood it»

«What do we do? We can’t cross the Great Route like that!»

«Give me a moment. One… two… farewell!»

Marion turned to watch the back screens. A lightning flashed horizontally in the air, between their ship and an imperial corvette. The high intensity electric current spread through the enemy aircraft shutting down its information systems. Its engines suddenly stopped working.

The men on the bridge held their breaths while the target started slowly losing height, sinking into the clouds.

«I like this stuff» said the Captain. «It’s a shame it needs twenty minutes to recharge»

The functioning cameras showed that the enemies had slowed down, made cautious by the pirates’ sudden display of strength. A pair of other corvettes went down, certainly to aid the ship that was swallowed by the clouds.

A message from the frigate Albatros of the Imperial Navy!

Marion activated again the microphones. «Captain, they sended us a message»

«Ignore it. We’ll bring the weapons to the Rebellion, and no imperial doggie’s gonna stop us. Lead the ship towards the Islands, I’m joinin’ you»

With her heart in her throat, Marion looked at the frontal screens, where the blue sky was interrupted by the infamous Floating Islands. At different heights, chunks of rock and earth levitated into the nothingness, like they had been torn out from the soil and put to hang in the skies by an invisible and unknown hand. The surfaces of the Islands were covered by a thick growth, sign that the man’s hand could never rule that place, nor will it ever. That place was impregnated with magic, wild and unstable, and where it is so strong life is too dangerous for men.

«Are you sure?» murmured the helmswoman, hesitant.

«We haven’t choice. We must shake them off and repair the Free Spirit»

Marion made the airship veer towards the archipelago. From the borders of the Islands overhung plants and bushes as big as a man, of species and varieties unknown to the helmswoman, along with roots of trees that seemed very ancient. Into the green stood out flowers with fleshy petals and big juicy fruits that seemed to emit their own light. In truth, the entire woods that covered the Islands emitted a glow unnatural and bewitching at the same time: different colors were reflected into the atmosphere returning to the Free Spirit‘s screen a rainbow aura that drew the crew’s curiosity and attention.

Captain Mayweather reached the bridge precisely when the airship inserted itself between two islands, entering in the heart of the archipelago. In the back screens, the imperial fleet had stopped, keeping itself at a reasonable distance from the shining mist of the Islands. Mayweather looked at that scene until the fleet disappeared behind the foliage, tiding up the bandana on his head.

«Let’s see if they’re ready to follow us here»

The Free Spirit landed with difficulty on a grassy clearing. The low growth, however, was as high as a man and the crew had to go down there and labor to bring it back to an acceptable height before the ship could finally touch the ground.

They did a complete analysis of their situation. It was impossible to think they could set out again without repairing the navigation instruments and they lacked some necessary spare parts, but at least the hull was still in decent condition and the weapons cargo for the Rebels wasn’t damaged.

«Do what you can» ordered the Captain to the man in charge of the on-board computer. He nodded with the resigned look of a soldier sent to war with poor equipment.

Near the Captain, the airship command waited for instructions.

«I want to explore the island, since we’re here. It’ll be a brief check. Vince, you come with me» said Mayweather pointing to the first officer.

Then he turned to vice-captain Ernst. «You’re in charge until my return»

Two gunners were added to the exploration team, named Damian and Kieran. The four pirates took their weapons and ventured into the wood.

They walked stealthily between the trees, making their way trough high grass and fronds taller than them. Over their heads, a various twittering signaled the presence of fauna, along with a rustling that could not be caused from the wind, which did not enter in there. The air, in fact, was damp and almost still, and in little time the scouts’ shirts were damp with sweat. It was an entire different weather in comparison to the clearing where they had landed, struck by strong cold winds.

About an hour passed since the start of the expedition. It was then that they found the tree.

They encountered it by chance and at the start they didn’t understand clearly what their eyes were watching. The trunk had a great vertical split at the center, the two halves were open like they were a book. But their marvel came from what there was inside it.

It wasn’t easily to distinguish from the rest of the wood, it seemed made of the same material. Following the ivy clinging around her they managed to find the neck, then the chin and the head.

«A statue?» asked Kieran, to himself rather than to someone in particular. This was in fact the first impression the figure embedded in the tree could give: the statue of a woman shaped with the same wood of the tree, so that only a part of the figure came out from the plant. The hips were the point in which the statue became one with the tree.

The group came closer, won by curiosity. A green bark had developed around the statue, like that of a young tree.

The Captain was now at a span from her face, when the woman’s closed eyes trembled.

The eyelids of green wood opened with the same fluidity of the human skin, revealing two dark eyes, like two pools of water containing a yellow twinkle in the center, a far glow that hinted intelligence.

The creature looked at Mayweather with a curious expression.

Part II

Part III

Part IV

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