Taking a gander at the books New Pulp Press has published, one can’t help but see a pattern: narratives peppered with hyper-violent and deviant episodes; protagonists with more rage than an inebriated Mel Gibson and more social issues than Lindsey Lohan. And while our books have yet to be banned, I have heard some rumblings about us desecrating the sturdy crime novel. Does our willingness to publish this type of grotesquerie show a sadistic and pornographic obsession with watching characters self-flagellate, with watching characters self-destruct, or is something more happening here?
The problem, I think, has less to do with violence and gore, and more to do with who is committing this violence and gore. Because it is undeniable that most crime fiction novels, hell, most every novel for that matter, have some form of a grotesque or wholly evil character. That dualism—between a flawed but heroic protagonist and an amoral antagonist—has been a staple in literature for a few thousand years or so. What makes our books different, I think, is the role reversal: our protagonists tend to be those of grotesque nature. And other than A Choice of Nightmares by Lynn Kostoff (who provides some much needed class to our operation) and Rabid Child by Pete Risley (who brings no class at all to our operation), every one of our novels have been written in first-person point-of-view. This narrative form blurs the simple dualism, forcing us to relate to, and often times root for, a character who is doing terrible things.
From the top down, we live in a society that disdains this blurring of dualism. We want our moral decisions to be simple, obvious, black-and-white. We can remember President Reagan labeling the Soviet Union “The Evil Empire” or President Bush warning other countries that they were either with us or against us or our pastor warning us to worship God, not the devil. This type of narrative—in our stories and our own lives—is immensely appealing. That’s why it sells. Concrete is easier than abstract, linear is easier than circular.
Too often crime fiction and suspense novels fall into this trap of simple dualism. As much as I admire Chandler for his prose and depth of character, he presented Marlowe as a moralistic knight in contrast to the blackmailing gigolos and femme fatales scattered through his novels. And in contemporary crime fiction, bookshelves are filled with novels featuring protagonists that “we can relate to.” Tough guys who share the same moral code as us. But is an imagined friendship with a novel’s protagonist really what should fulfill us as readers? Should we pick our protagonists the same way we pick our president: the person with whom we would most like to have a beer? I suppose there might be one or two protagonists in our line of books that I would be willing to have a beer with (Frankie Avicious from The Disassembled Man might be fun), but I would certainly make sure I was heavily armed.
And one other thing. Aside from being interesting character studies, aside from forcing us to look at “evil” in a different perspective, these types of pyscho-noir novels allow for greater experimentation in the narrative form. Moving away from hyper-realism (do we really long for more cases ripped from the headlines?) our books tend to be impressionistic, surrealistic, absurdist. Instead of focusing on whodunit?, our unreliable narrators force us to ask a different question: What the hell is actually happening? After all, when you’ve got a deluded psychopath telling you his life story, it’s hard to know what to believe.
Here at New Pulp Press, we have been fortunate to present warped protagonists from talented writers such as Dave Zeltserman, Jonathan Woods, Nate Flexer, Lynn Kostoff, Gil Brewer, and Aaron Philip Clark among others. And we are very excited for a pair of upcoming novels featuring two of the strangest protagonists we’ve ever delivered. In The Bastard Hand, Heath Lowrance presents us with Charlie Wesley, a nice enough fellow who has just been released from the insane asylum. Along the way he meets up with a moonshine drinking reverend, has lucid conversations with his dead brother, and begins to notice that his hand glows angel-like from time to time. And he’s the one entrusted to tell us the goddamn story! Meanwhile, in badbadbad, Jesus Angel Garcia has created a narrator named Jesus Angel Garcia who works by day as a webmaster for the First Church of the Church Before Church and at night as the sexual messiah on fallenangels, on online social network for extreme desires. Needless to say, our narrator has some serious identity issues.
Our books aren’t for everybody. Trust me on this one—I’ve seen the sales records. But for those of you who have grown tired of the formulaic plots, have grown tired of the charmingly rugged protagonists, have grown tired of the stale narrative, then give our books a try. At the very least, you’ll shake your head and say, “Goddamn, I’m glad I’m not that guy.” But if we’ve really done our jobs, you might say, “Goddamn, with a few different circumstances, I might have become that guy.”