Jonathan Malone Novels Masthead

New Genre, Old Genre

Initially, upon reading and studying many of the writers of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, I was amazed that so many of them wrote for periodicals. These periodicals were enormously popular. It should not be so curious, however. Print technology allowed for it. Of course, radio developed in time, but, back then, authors did not have to compete with modern distractions, such as television, cell phones, or Internet. Even Dostoyevsky and Dickens wrote for newspapers. Edgar Allen Poe in fact edited a journal, the Literary Messenger, and had a lifelong dream of doing so. It featured some of his best stories and literary criticism.

The list of pulp writers of note is too long to mention here without the risk of leaving someone out. The pulps were generally not considered great literary productions. If these authors were successful they were usually hauled in as screenwriting talent for Hollywood. But even writing for the pulps could be enormously lucrative. Frederick Faust, aka Max Brand, was making $50,000 a year during the Depression writing westerns. A whole Smith and Street title was devoted exclusively to him, Western Story. Walter Gibson, author of most of The Shadow pulps was similarly well heeled during the Depression. He was earning $100,000 annually, I think.

Pulps magazines were divided into genres: adventure, westerns, detective, mysteries, heros, science fiction, fantasy, etc. I have dreamed up stories for most of these genre and would like to write and publish novels in them. However, one only has so much time. One must prioritize.

I am also a Christian, a somewhat serious one, being also an ordained minister. Naturally, this throws a damper on these genres, unless one is writing strictly for money. Besides this I have been interested in grand themes in subject and style: poetry, history, and great literature. Not a few writers chaffed at the limitations of the pulp format. There were advantages to learning economy and form, but naturally the pace of production and the format tended to hamper creativity in prose if nothing else. To say nothing of the general architecture of the story.

While studying martyrologies of church history, I began to see that they were literary productions themselves, whether they were a kind of journalistic reporting, that is, a chronicle, or altogether fiction. Sometimes a traditional story arc could be discerned. Also being a student of secular history, I instinctively viewed the hagiographies through, now, a broader lens, now a magnified one. This allowed me to see the possibility of certain motivations in the characters of the stories and the dynamics of the respective drama within the historical context. As I searched the historical record, I realized that if anyone else had glimpsed some of these historical insights, they were not documented. They were not well known, in any event.

The material began to interest me more and more. Everything was there. All the makings of drama and, what's more, a grand context or subject. The great filmmaker John Ford once said something to the effect: "If, on the one hand, you have a great script with a weak theme or subject and, on the other, a weak script with a grand subject; the latter is more desirable. What we want is a great subject." Having said this, he by no means diminished the necessity of a well-written script. Elsewhere he said: "All day long, we are analyzing stories. Story analysis is all we do."

Great sacrifice in the context of the Roman Empire, what material. It may lack some of the prosaic qualities of a western, for example. Some of the fantastic elements of sci-fi or fantasy. It might be a little more plodding and interior than an adventure. But many of those elements can be brought to bear on the material, nonetheless. I bring them to bear.

Chiefly the problem with such material is that it could read like the eulogy of an elaborate funeral. One certainly would not want that. Therefore, just as it had been with the original Christians that penned the passion stories, the victory must seen through a Christian lens. It must be a spiritual victory. This has been a challenge from a literary perspective. Other genres do not generally allow for exposition of scripture, but a Christian's victory must be illuminated through a Biblical lens. Maryrologies provide an opportunity also to explore theology since the setting of the early church was one of doctrinal struggle.