Penny for Your Thoughts?


I am fascinated by pulp fiction.



But what is it, exactly?

I’d heard of penny dreadfuls, dime novels, and pulp fiction, although I didn’t know much about them.

These cheap magazines and books have a rich history.

Pulp fiction got its name from the pulpy paper it was printed on. It was inexpensive to make and cost very little to buy. How much? Oh, um, something like, I don’t know… A penny and a dime? Yes. And that’s where they got their names.

These were made for the masses. And they were loved. I mean…what was not to love? They were accessible, quick to read, and, maybe most importantly, affordable.

Dime novels (US) and penny dreadfuls (UK) were widely read in the late 19th century. Later, pulp fiction magazines found their way onto shelves, succeeding dime novels and penny dreadfuls but preceding comic books (which some say were just distant relatives of pulp fiction—I can totally see that).

The stories themselves introduced (some) unforgettable characters and were written by (some) well-known authors. Among them, Ray Bradbury, Agatha Christie, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Dashiell Hammett, H.P. Lovecraft, Upton Sinclair, Mark Twain, H. G. Wells, and Tennessee Williams. According to Mashable, Raymond Chandler’s novel The Long Goodbye started out as a pulp fiction book. (This one is sitting on my bookshelf and I had no idea it began its life as pulp.)

These stories were so popular, publishers continued to print them during The Depression and WWII era. Literacy was on the rise as well as a desire to escape “real life”.

But escapism doesn’t have to be well-written.

I’m not going to dump on the stories but I will say they weren’t known for their breath-taking writing. They are not “literary”. Far from it. They’re jam-packed with story. That’s pretty much it. It’s non-stop action, good guys vs. bad guys stories. Okay, that’s oversimplifying it a bit but you get the gist.


Pulp Fiction 1

“Oh dear, something is not quite right here!”


So why am I all fired up about this?

It’s appealing to me on many levels.

I’ve had a strangle-hold on myself for months. I enjoy writing on my fiction site, Lemon Shark Reef, because the restrictions I’ve placed on myself don’t apply as much (if at all) over there. I love that site. *swoon*

But I’m all over the place. Which, on one hand, is a really good thing. I love writing from prompts, challenging myself to a set word count, trying new voices, creating new characters. I have so much variety in my short fiction—it’s kind of awesome.

However. When I sit down with any decent amount of time, I just stare. I don’t know what to write. Not because I don’t have any ideas but because I have too many. I also have all that fab flash I could expand into a (longer) short story. Or even a book.

I should revel in the fact that all those ideas are just floating around waiting to be grabbed.

Should. It’s not where I’m living right now.

My post about getting the hell out of my own way? Yeah. Really? How?

By placing more limits on myself.

You heard me.

I had a frickin’ epiphany.

Amidst the chaos of my life, I need some order. (If you had suggested even a few years ago that I should let someone tell me what to write and how to write it, I would have laughed in your face. I know. I’m rude.) Yet, here I am. Inviting it in.

Please, for the love of all that is good and covered in chocolate, someone tell me what to do.

Ah! A formula. There’s a popular blueprint by Lester Dent. (Which is such a cool name, he could have been his own character in a pulp. Just saying.) So why don’t I just go ahead and follow that, write something, and get back to my life.

I tripped across this great post on Twitter by Icy Sedgwick, who writes pulp fiction. I was intrigued. She says we should try writing this. Hmm…

Pulp fiction is so far out of my comfort zone I’m going to need a passport.

But, hey, I already have a map, right? So I can’t get lost. And, when I get there, I’ll learn the language through the immersion method, explore the famous landmarks (there are tons of sites with archived pulp).

I might love the land of Pulp! Eh. I might not. But I will have an adventure and, right now, that’s just what I need. Ditch the perfectionist and bring on the fun, you know?

Pulp was cranked out. Quick and dirty. Tell the story. This would really get you writing a book (or three) in a short amount of time. With much of pulp fiction, it didn’t have to be good, it had to be done.

This genre or type or kind or whatever of writing has the good, the bad, and the ugly of storytelling. Pulp novels were also known as “potboilers” which is a not-very-nice term to describe crappy writing that pays the bills. Some authors have called their own pulp a potboiler, hurling wicked rude literary insults at themselves. Others have said it’s a fun way to practice the craft and, hey, while you’re at it, look at my pulp that’s now a famous book (and movie).

My thoughts?

As far as books go, there is good writing and bad writing in every genre, in self-published as well as traditionally published.

As far as pulp goes, what I’ve found is that there are a lot of articles leading back to Lester Dent’s famous formula and cool historical facts. But what I’m not seeing is a definition. So I’m still stuck, by the end of it all, on my original question: “What IS pulp fiction?”

I’m left with the answer that there isn’t a clear answer. It is its history. It is its formula. It is what it is.

And I want to write it.

How dreadful can a penny dreadful really be? Only one way to find out.


Do you read pulp fiction? Have you read dime novels or penny dreadfuls? Which characters do you know from pulp? (Tarzan doesn’t count. Sorry. Everyone knows Tarzan.)

Are you going to try writing some pulp fiction?


I Need to Get the Hell out of My Own Way


I walked away from writing.


Get Out of My Own Way - sig


It seemed like a good idea at the time.

But I ran back—characters shouting in my head and fingers itching for the keyboard.

I need to write.

Without it, I am incomplete. I am miserable.

So why am I not writing? To be fair, I’ve started flash fiction again. But I’ve stopped there.

I’m not taking a scene or idea and running with it. I’m not working on any of my novels. What’s going on?

Well, I’m busy. My health isn’t great. My to-do list is growing every day. I have deadlines, meetings, and appointments. Did I mention kids? Because. Kids. I have a lot going on in my life right now.

When it comes to writing, I always have an excuse ready. Except I call it a “reason” because I’m a word nerd and these small differences often wind up making a big difference.

Excuses are crap, my writer-self says.

Reasons are real, tangible things that get in my way, my writer-self says.

I hate to admit it but it’s true. Think about this. You MAKE excuses, you HAVE reasons. See? My writer-self is right. Also, she’s full of shit.

I need to get out of my own way.


My Sunday thoughts in 200 words or less.ThoughtBubble


Have you ever caused your writer’s block? Been your own problem? Are your “reasons” just excuses in disguise? 


Taking the Red Pen to Your Comments


If you’ve commented on my blog, chances are, I’ve edited you.


Red Pen Comments - sig


Please pop your eyes back into your skull and know this: I do not rewrite comments. I edit. Or, more precisely, proofread.

Why? Well, for one thing, I can’t help myself. I mean, I can not help it. My OCD-ish tendencies notice typos like a giant slug in a rose garden.

When I see an extra space, I delete it. When I see a forgotten period, I add it. If you type ‘dp’ when you clearly meant ‘do’, I change the ‘p’ to an ‘o’.

That’s how I roll.

Second. If I know someone pretty well, know their writing, and see an error, I’ll correct it. It might embarrass them to have a misspelling. Eh. It might not.

But I have had plenty of people submit a second comment correcting their typo. “Oh no!” or “Sorry! I meant to write…” I trash that and just fix it for them. Unless it’s a funny comment. Then it stays. (Seems I’m not the only one with typo/commenting issues. Just saying.)

I wish people would do this for me. *sigh*

Third. If you leave a really long link, it messes up my mobile site and the page just sort of floats around making it difficult to read. So I turn your long link into a short link.

Instead of http://sarahbrentynflash. 2015/09/01/ legume-allergy- leads-to-domestic-troubles-2/

It neatly says: Legume Allergy Leads to Domestic Troubles

If you’re new to Lemon Shark, I won’t edit you. I don’t know you or your writing style.

You could be using slang or live in the UK and your ‘realise’ is not a typo but a right proper way of spelling ‘realize’. You could be the next e e cummings and like using all lower-case. It’s cool. Your little letters are safe with me.

I love my readers and their comments. I do. I appreciate the time it takes to read and respond to a post. I also have some kick-ass commenters at Lemon Shark who add so much to the discussions.

You might be a bit offended by this confession but do give me a bit of a break. (I’m trying to uncover my true colors—refer back to mention of OCD).

And, if it helps, I edit my own replies. All. The. Time. Especially from my phone. Damn auto-correct. Also, the cute emojis sometimes show up very differently once I hit “post comment”. I’ll put a frog face (no, I don’t know why I’m putting a frog face) and then it’s like… Wait. What is that? Edit. Change. Aw. A smiley face with its tongue sticking out. Much better.

So, if you’ve commented here, I’ve probably edited you. #SorryNotSorry


Have you ever edited a comment? Are you going to stop commenting here because of my confession?


(Someone please make my day and tell me you’ve found a typo in this post.)


Mine Your Own Tweets


Break out your spinning wheel. With all the straw stuffing your Twitter timeline, you can find some serious writing gold.

Look at your tweets because there’s a story there. Possibly many.

Right there. See that? It’s the beginning of a blog post. Maybe even a personal essay. It could be turned into some flash fiction.

Mine your tweets. You’ll find some gems in there.

Scroll through your Twitter account. Tweeting doesn’t carry the same pressures as other types of writing. They’re often spontaneous, unfiltered thoughts.

Tweets have your voice, your experiences, your opinions. And something about the content made you want to put it in writing and publish it.

Not all that glitters is gold, though, right?

So let those zingers and one-liners be. If it fit into 140 characters neatly, leave it alone. Or pin it to your profile page. But don’t drag it out and drag us through a post about something that should have been left on your timeline. If you have to force it, let it be.

Otherwise, grab that tweet and spin it like Rumpelstiltskin.



Illustration by Paul Zelinksky


My Sunday thoughts in 200 words or less.


Do you ever look through your Twitter (or Facebook) timeline? Do you grab ideas/words/stories from there?