Being the Experience of a Writer who, For Twenty-Two Years, has kept a Story-Mill Grinding Successfully
by William Wallace Cook
(writing under the alias John Milton Edwards)
Norton Creek Press, January 2016, 182 pages. Suggested retail price, $19.95. ISBN 0981928498.
William Wallace Cook was a famously prolific writer, turning out so much pulp fiction that he was called “the man who deforested Canada.”
Best remembered today for his plot-generation book, Plotto, Cook (writing under the pseudonym John Milton Edwards, also chronicled his first two decades as a high-volume pulp writer, in his book, The Fiction Factory. He tells how he got started as a fiction writer and the ups and downs of freelancing at the turn of the last century.
In addition to being fascinating reading in its own right, the book shows how much harder writing used to be. Cook was not only an early adopter of the typewriter, gratefully abandoning his fountain pen, but also of the index-card-based filing system, which made his precious collection of background material (newspaper and magazine clippings) far more accessible.
There’s no better chronicle of an author writing quickly and with increasing ease, year after year.
This Norton Creek Press edition is an exact reproduction of the 1912 original edition.
Jerry Lentz Video Review of The Fiction Factory (original edition)
“This is one of my favorite books of all time. I’ve had so many people try to buy this from me … and steal this from me.”
A Note About Pulp Fiction
Even today, a lifetime after pulp fiction vanished as a category, people have trouble deciding what to think about it, since it isn’t lofty and highbrow the way “serious fiction” is supposed to be. But while serious fiction was mostly written by people who made their living doing something else, pulp fiction provided the livelihood for many writers. In terms of price per word, it paid poorly, so speed and volume were required—without sacrificing quality—for anyone making a go of it.
Cook was a good example of a twentieth-century writer, and one of the few who became one during the nineteenth century. He kept his stories moving along at a brisk pace and filled them with incident rather than ornament, keeping the readers engaged and bringing them back for more. Since pulp fiction consisted almost entirely of periodicals, motivating readers to buy not just this issue, but the next one, was all-important.
About William Wallace Cook
Born in Michigan, Cook spent some years in Arizona for his health, and the Old West ambiance he soaked up there allowed him to become a much-sought-after writer of Westerns. His interest in technology no doubt was the source of his science fiction novels, such as “A Round Trip to the Year 2000,” written before SF was an established genre. And it will come as no surprise that Cook wrote screenplays for some very early silent movies, starting in 1912 with “It All Came Out in the Wash.”