While the Grand Rapids Area Library prepares to kick-off a community-wide Big Read with Dashiell Hammett’s classic detective novel, “The Maltese Falcon,” several themed events have been scheduled throughout the month of February to bring out the mystery-lover in people of all ages.
No one has this genre more at heart than local mystery author Gordon Sirvio whose latest compilation of stories, “Murder Picnic Mysteries,” has recently been nominated for, nonetheless, but the Dashiell Hammett Thin Man Award for best literary crime fiction.
Deemed one of the best American private-eye novels of all time, “The Maltese Falcon,” is one of 16 books designated by the National Endowment for the Arts Big Read program designed to restore reading to the center of American culture. The Grand Rapids area is one of 127 communities nationwide selected to receive a Big Read grant from the NEA, for the second year in a row. Fifteen of this year’s grantees chose “The Maltese Falcon,” inspiring communities from Oregon to Florida to celebrate the author who got his start in pulp fiction of the 1920s then later came to perfect hard-boiled crime fiction.
At his home in rural Deer River, Sirvio sat at his dining room table, surrounded by bookshelves full of classic mystery, science-fiction and thriller novels. Before him, four of the eight books he has published within the past eight years, including an Edgar Allen Poe-esque thriller titled “Faces of Doom,” an Agatha Christie-style mystery titled “The Deuce of Pentacles,” an action-packed, pure pulp sci-fi story titled “Eyes of an Eagle,” and his most recent Minnesota pulp mystery “Murder Picnic Mysteries.”
The preface to “Murder Picnic Mysteries,” tells of a young Sirvio who would climb into his family’s attic to lose himself in boxes of his father’s old pulp novels. Ranging from dime westerns to twenty-cent sci-fi stories to popular early Twentieth-Century mystery styles, the stories he once read as a boy would propel Sirvio to produce a collection of rural farm mysteries as tribute to the pulp tales of the past.
Sirvio discussed the special characteristics of pulp fiction that have captivated him since childhood. Originally written for publication in magazines of the 1920s-40s, pulp is very descriptive, condensed writing. It’s this descriptive nature of pulp that forces the reader to think that Sirvio likes best about the genre.
“Modern writing leads the reader more,” said Sirvio. “What used to take 100 pages, now is 200 pages. It’s not better, just different.”
Sirvio, who writes under the pen name of S.A. Gordon, writes all of his material in the pulp-style.
“So, it’s like what you would find in a 30s, or 40s magazine.”
And by writing for this format, Sirvio brings back a bit of history. Like his characters in “Murder Picnic Mysteries,” who take their audience back 70 years to a rural Minnesota farm community, Sirvio’s creations are meant to remind readers of a world that moved at a slower pace and had time to really take note of their surroundings.
“Back then, everyone knew the life,” explained Sirvio of the classic descriptive short-style of pulp like characters who tell the temperature by the frost on a nailhead above their beds. “If you’ve read a lot of pulp stories, you can feel the development of the author.”
It’s the wide range of style in pulp writing that keeps Sirvio reading and writing the style. From Robert Heinlein and Arthur C. Clarke to Ray Bradbury, the spectacular ideas and writing of science fiction pulp authors fascinate Sirvio.
“If you talk to scientists a generation ago, you’ll find they all read pulp,” said Sirvio. “There would be no Apollo program if there was no pulp fiction.”
Sirvio said he knows of only about a dozen or so writers still producing pulp and most are not well-known among mainstream writers. One reason Sirvio believes pulp has faded a bit over time is that pulp collections are usually smaller books and don’t stand out on bookstore shelves next to big, flashy novels.
One savior for pulp, Sirvio has found is electronic publishing where the genre has become popular. Because it has such a niche market, Sirvio believes it does not grab the attention of the big name publishers.
With stories appearing in various periodicals and anthologies throughout the world, as well as through electronic publishing venues, Sirvio has gained his biggest readership in the Boston, Mass., area and Australia and New Zealand. He started his own publishing company about five years ago, called Taconite Runes, and frequently writes book reviews for Midwest Book Reviews. He is currently looking for a literary agent to help promote his pulp work. During his free time, Sirvio often leads presentations and classes throughout the community.
To contact Sirvio, e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org or for more information about his books, visit http://TaconiteRunes.com.