Thursday, February 22, 2007

Collaboration Is My Game

Ed Gorman’s blog today features a recollection piece that, while small in size is nonetheless an important contribution to the recorded history of American pulp publishing. It’s the work of Stephen Marlowe (né Milton S. Lesser), who rose to some prominence during the mid-1950s on the basis of his science fiction and mystery stories. The Private Eye Writers of America eventually gave Marlowe its Lifetime Achievement Award in 1997, but this 79-year-old Virginia novelist is probably remembered best for having created Chester Drum, a well-traveled fictional private detective, who was introduced in The Second Longest Night (1955) and was last seen in a short-story collection called Drum Beat (2003).

In the wake of
Richard S. Prather’s death, Marlowe recalls for Gorman his colorful experience in the late 1950s of penning--together with Prather--a Gold Medal paperback novel in which their respective series protagonists would both appear. The idea, says Marlowe, was to “write a novel pitting our two private eyes, Shell Scott and Chet Drum, against each other until they could realize, almost too late, that they both were working the good side of the street in a complex case with nationwide implications. This was the novel that would become Double in Trouble, published by Gold Medal in 1959 at just short of double the length of a standard Gold Medal book.”

As Marlowe recalls:
There were circumstances that made the first draft, when we finished it, half again as long as that.

For one thing, until then, we had never met. We developed the plot as we went along, mostly by long-distance phone call. There were telegrams too, including one that went something like “Body of Hartsell Committee lawyer found in Rock Creek Park” that must have startled the Western Union operator.

For another, our work habits couldn’t have been more different. Dick liked to plan carefully as he went along, writing a detailed outline, chapter by chapter, from which he developed a first narrative take and then an expanded one that would become his first draft. I liked to work by instinct, writing as the ideas came, and outlining a chapter only when I’d finished drafting it. I’d got to calling this a post-outline, and it would prepare me for subsequent chapters, and it is still the way I write.
Fortunately, Marlowe and Prather found an agreeable style of working style--thanks to some gin-and-tonics and Prather’s “referee” wife. And Double in Trouble “went through several printings and made an appearance on the [New York] Times softcover best-seller list,” as Marlowe explains. Read all of his post here.

UPDATE: After Stephen Marlowe’s piece was so well received on his blog, Ed Gorman inquired whether the author had “ever considered writing his autobiography.” It turns out that Marlowe’s wife has been coaxing him to do just that, and now Stark House Press is adding its own encouragement. “[W]ith a contract in the offing,” writes Gorman, “it looks as if it may just happen. This would be a major addition to the history of our field and the story of a remarkable man and writer. Stay tuned.”

READ MORE:Double In Trouble: Shell Scott & Chester Drum,” by Steve Lewis (Mystery*File).

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