Friday, June 02, 2023

Block from the Beginning

Consider this an early birthday present to Lawrence Block, the prolific New York crime fictionist and Mystery Writers of America Grand Master who will turn an amazing 85 years old on June 24. Robert Deis, an expert on the art of vintage men’s adventure magazines, and Wyatt Doyle, the self-proclaimed “ringmaster” at publisher New Texture—who together produce the Men's Adventure Library line—recently released two editions of their latest entry in that series: The Naked and the Deadly: Lawrence Block in Men's Adventure Magazines.

Block started his writing career in the 1950s, when he was an editorial associate with the Scott Meredith Literary Agency, charged with reading and generally rejecting paid submissions by folks angling for entry into the publishing world. He got his feet wet by penning fiction and very lightly researched non-fiction (mostly under pseudonyms such as Sheldon Lord) to be placed in male-oriented periodicals on the order of Real Men, All Man, and For Men Only, earning “a cent a word, sometimes a cent and a half,” as he explains in this book’s introduction. Many of those stories, he recalls, “I wrote of my own initiative,” but other times “an editor would call the office with an assignment. He needed 2,500 words to fill a hole in an issue [of a magazine] that was about to go to press, say, or he had a terrific idea and needed someone to write it up. A shipwreck, or a disaster, or a Very Bad Man—generally something it would never occur to me to write, but more often than not an occasion to which I was prepared to rise.”

(Left) The expanded, full-color hardcover edition of The Naked and the Deadly, with bonus content. (Right) The slimmed-down, black-and-white paperback version, which the editors say honors “Block’s many successes in that format.”

The softcover edition The Naked and the Deadly contains a dozen dusty Block tales, printed in men’s adventure magazines (MAMs) between 1958 and 1968. “Some of the stories included,” says the blog Paperback Warrior, “will be familiar to long-time Blockheads. ‘Great Istanbul Land Grab’ and ‘Bring on the Girls’ are extracts from existing Block novels”—The Thief Who Couldn’t Sleep and The Scoreless Thai, respectively—“starring his sleepless adventurer Evan Tanner. There are also three novellas starring his private detective Ed London previously reprinted in Block’s [2008] collection, One Night Stands and Lost Weekends.” Paperback Warrior questions the fact that the initial story on offer here, “Queen of the Clipper Ships,” is included, given that the author asserts he didn’t compose it. But editor Doyle tells me “Clipper Ships” has been previously credited to Block, thanks to its original “Sheldon Lord” byline, and was used at the author’s request:
When [Block] told us the story wasn't his, naturally we said we’d take it out. But he said nope, he wanted it in. So we proposed it as a special bonus for the deluxe hardcover alone, but he insisted it be included in all editions. And then of course in his intro, he says, I didn’t write it, but since it’s been attributed to me all this time, it’s mine now. This kind of playfulness has been a component of nearly every conversation with LB while working on the book, so we like that this bit of it carried over into the book for readers to share in. And of course almost all of the supplementary info in the expanded hardcover’s editorial comments illustrates where various bits and bobs were borrowed, swiped, repurposed, and reused, in the grand MAM tradition.

Though the decision to Include “Clipper Ships” was Block’s, in the end it’s become one more way the book endeavors to immerse the reader in the MAM experience.
As regards that aforereferenced hardcover version of this collection, it features an additional 60 pages of material, including magazine covers and interior spreads; context regarding the oft-salacious slant of MAMs; Block’s history of employing noms de plume; and “an entire 8,000-word story exclusive to the hardcover edition.” Said bonus yarn, “Erotic Life of the ‘Fly Me’ Stewardesses,” is an excerpt from Sex and the Stewardess (1972), “one of far too many purportedly factual books I wrote as John Warren Wells,” Block remarks. Yes, the hardcover edition is priced at $39.95—a full $23 more than the paperback—but it’s handsome and well worth the extra expense.

By the way, if you are a real Lawrence Block enthusiast, there are 200 copies available of a signed and numbered edition of the expanded hardcover. Pick up one of those here while supplies last.

I can only agree with Paperback Warrior’s assessment that “overall, this collection from a mystery grandmaster is an easy recommendation. If you’re on the fence, take the plunge.”

READ MORE:The Naked and the Deadly—Lawrence Block,” by James Reasoner (Rough Edges).

SEE MORE: Paperback Parade editor Gary Lovisi examines The Naked and the Deadly in this YouTube video.

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