Wednesday, June 5, 2013

A Blast From the Past

I recently made a discovery at my favorite used book store. I found a sale on some old – I’m talking early 1960’s – trashy pulp novels, the kind you used to find on a rack in the drug store for $.35. Can you imagine the royalties on a thirty-five-cent book? No wonder they were called starving authors! These were the paperbacks you could buy out in the open, not the “plain brown wrapper” stuff they sold under the counter. I’ll save that topic for another blog.

You know the kind of books I’m talking about, the ones with steamy covers and lurid titles -- Strip the Town Naked, Nude in the Mirror, Nude in the Sand (probably a sequel), Station Wagon Wives, Hitch-Hike Hussy, Strumpet’s Seed, Bayou Bride and The Lady is a Lush. Sinatra could’ve had fun with that last one  – “That’s why the lay-dee is a lush!” 

These books were all sizzle but no steak, which is reflective of the times, but they do contain some suggestive passages. It’s doubtful that June Cleaver had any of them in her magazine rack alongside Ladies’ Home Journal, but Ward probably read a chapter or two while she was at the PTA meeting. And then there’s the Beaver, struggling with puberty…

The log lines are just as cheesy, promising something but delivering nothing. Here are some actual examples. The exclamation points are theirs, not mine.

“Too reckless with her charms, too lavish with her love!”

“The nights were cold, but her bed was warm.”

“She forced her warped desires on men and women alike!”

“Folks said she was born to be bad…and she set out to prove it.”

“Lost in the limbo of lust!”

“She showed men the way…the wrong way!”

“Drink turned her into a sex-craved animal!”

“The girls taught each other love.”

“Sex and savagery in the advertising agency jungle!”

Purple prose doesn’t exist in this universe, but some of the dialogue is straight out of an Ed Wood movie-

“Don’t make me call you what you really are, you harlot!” he snarled.

“Get excited and you don’t whether you’re going or what!”

“That’s a rotten thing to say!”
“Does a unicorn change its stripes?”

Some of the books claim to explore (exploit?) what they termed “the problems of society’s greatest curse – the third sex!” I assume this is a veiled reference to same-sex couples. One of the plots focused on women attracted to other women, but not once did I read the words lesbian, gay or Sapphic. The word nymph was liberally used, though.

Before anyone takes out a contract on me, I am not championing a revival of this type of politically incorrect writing. The majority of the stories I skimmed through were uncomfortably sexist and if there was a woman’s point of view, I missed it. These books were clearly intended for a target audience, the type of people you’d find in Mad Men or a Rat Pack movie. “Honey, I’m home! Fix me a Martini and get naked!”

For the record, that ain’t my attitude, so please put away the tar and feathers.  

I shared this to show how far things have evolved in erotic literature. In a way, we all owe a debt to the writers who pounded out these things for a penny a page because what most of us write are the direct descendants -- we’ve just been given the freedom to spice it up. To put it in perspective, the stories we publish today would have been relegated to the plain brown wrapper crowd in 1960.  

I’d like my dry Martini shaken, not stirred, please. Oh, and would you wear the black lace negligee and stiletto heels tonight?   

BONUS FEATURE: Here are some recent headlines that were too good to pass up.

New Mexico man arrested for driving drunk while having sex – It would have been a more serious charge if he was texting!

Digital currency founder indicted in $6B money-laundering case – They rejected his bail because it was low-res.

Illinois Judge accused of heroin possession – In his defense he said he was merely weighing the evidence.

Brawl Breaks Out in Ohio at Kindergarten Graduation – Sounds like someone missed their nap time.

Some IRS employees misused travel credit cards – They might have gotten away with it if they hadn’t used them to attend a Tea Party rally.

President Obama appears with lipstick stain on his collar – Senate convenes a hearing and calls Hillary Clinton as a witness; Obama asks Tiger Woods for advice on damage control.

“Michelle, I’m home! Fix me a Martini and…”

Tim Smith is an award-winning, bestselling author whose books range from romantic mystery/thrillers to contemporary erotic romance. More info about his books can be found at his website, www.timsmithauthor.com.


Tina Donahue said...

“She showed men the way…the wrong way!” - LOL - I love it. Tim, you are hysterical. What a great post. Again, you should be writing for TV. What a wicked sense of humor you have. :)

Fiona McGier said...

Interesting book titles! My Mom used to read the romance novels back then, but by and large they were bodice-rippers, not the ones about the sex-crazed teenaged nymphos. As you point out, those were most assuredly written by men, for men, since Playboy magazine was a nascent industry back then, and these books were more accessible. They left much to the imagination, but then some people have really GOOD imaginations! Like us writers, huh?

As for the news quotes, the one about the guy driving drunk while having sex just kills me! Any guy who ever asked me to try that sort of thing while he was driving got an earful of why that wasn't going to happen! I heard years ago about a couple doing just that, and when he got into an accident her head slammed up into the steering wheel, then back again and she bit down...and the rest was history! All together now: EW!

Tim Smith said...

Thanks. Those titles and log lines were real - I couldn't make up some of that stuff!

Fiona, you're right that these were a by-product of the Playboy/007 mindset, which is why I called them uncomfortably sexist. It's actually interesting to read things like this from 50-60 years ago, cringe, and be thankful that times have changed.

Renee Vincent / Gracie Lee Rose said...

Tim as always I was thoroughly entertained by your post. I'm sorry I missed it on the day it went live but was busy packing for the RAGT event. But I'm so glad I backtracked and found your post. Thank you for making me laugh OUT LOUD! I agree with Tina, you should be writing for TV!