Working at fantastic speeds (I once did a complete novel in three and one-half days, just to see if I could) we mastered the knack of improvising plots from scratch and making everything work out neatly at the required 50,000-word length: a wonderful exercise in structural discipline that has stood me in good stead ever since. There was no time to make mistakes: we had to get it right on the first draft, and we did, telling good stories in crisp, no-nonsense prose. And because we worked under pen names, we were free to let all inhibitions drop away and push our characters to their limits, without worrying about what anyone else—friends, relatives, book reviewers— might say or think about our work. We had ourselves a ball, and got paid nicely while we were doing it.
There’s a used bookstore on my way to my office that has a shelf that’s behind glass and on it are books individually wrapped in plastic. They’re pulp novels of the 50’s and the 60’s, with their gaudy titillating covers and titles. Most of them are soft porn of the time with their specially coded words for specific acts between consenting (and sometimes, non-consenting) adults. They’re also not cheap. Each book can run from $5 to as high $20 or more, depending on who the author is, usually a pen name.
But the shelf doesn’t just have these pulp porno novels. There are a few science fiction books in there, too, and those can get pricey based on their condition, especially when it says, “Like New.”
I often wondered who wrote these books, and so I was pretty intrigued to find out from the above-linked excerpt. But what interested me more, of course, was just prolific these authors were, much like some author now who publish at least one book a month on Kindle Unlimited. But unlike the 20K word books present-day Kindle publishers and authors are churning out, it’s interesting to note that back then, 50K words was the norm, and at the height of their career, they could produce three such books a month.
One way I managed to keep up this amazing level of output was to assemble a sheaf of what I called “modules”—prefabricated sex scenes that I could simply plug into any book. Plots and characters had to change from book to book, of course, but under the highly restrictive rules we were forced to use there were only so many ways to describe what my people were up to in bed, and so I extracted relevant scenes from my books—a basic seduction scene, a copulation scene, a voyeurism scene, a rape scene, a lesbian scene, and so on—and recycled them into the new manuscripts in the appropriate places, as needed. Nobody ever objected. (If computers had existed then, I could have done it all with a single keystroke. Instead I had to type it all out, over and over.)
Anyway, if you’re not offended by NSFW images (covers of the time), definitely give it a look. I think it’s an interesting part of history, especially when censorship was prevalent and it wasn’t out of the ordinary to get a call from the FBI. I don’t know if we’ll ever go back to that time, but it’s nice to know that these days, you can write (almost) whatever you want without hiding behind specific code words for doing “it.”