New York City, 1936: It’s a rare evening at home for Richard Blakemore, hardworking pulp writer by day and the masked vigilante only known as the Silencer by night. But even though crime never rests, next month’s Silencer novel doesn’t write itself. And besides, Richard enjoys the chance to spend some time with his fiancée Constance Allen.
Pulp fiction thrives on exaggeration and non-stop action. And as always, the question is how much of the Silencer’s adventures are fact and how much is fiction?
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Some background information:
- Fact or Fiction is a short story of 2700 words or approximately 10 print pages. This story is a digital premiere and has never been published previously.
- Fact or Fiction was one of the stories written during the 2016 July short story challenge, based on a much shorter tale that was originally intended for a flash fiction anthology that fell through.
- Like The Great Fraud, Elevator of Doom and Mean Streets and Dead Alleys, this is a more low-key Silencer adventure. In fact, it’s the equivalent to the Silencer spending a quiet evening at home, though we also get snatches of a previous adventure.
- What sparked Fact or Fiction was the realisation that we hardly ever see Richard writing, even though as a pulp writer he probably would have spent a lot of time writing. So I had the idea of writing a story featuring Richard spending a quiet evening at home, which also explores just how realistic the Silencer’s adventures as chronicled in the pulps really are.
- Human trafficking or “white slavery”, as people in the 1930s would have politically incorrectly called it, was a common subject for pulp fiction in the first half of the twentieth century, usually describes with so many euphemisms it’s hard to discern what the story actually is about. Indeed, variations on the human trafficking plots from the pulps continue to show up in crime dramas like CSI and its various spin-offs well into modern times.
- Diamond Street in the town of Hudson, New York, the setting for “Satan’s Silken Slaves”, the pulp novel Richard is writing in Fact or Fiction, was an unlikely hotbed of prostitution and crime in the 1920s and 1930s.
- The New York Society for the Suppression of Vice was a real organisation which exercised considerable power in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century and took on Broadway, the pulps and highbrow literary fiction, all in the name of public decency.
- The kitten that Richard rescued in Elevator of Doom reappears in Fact or Fiction, now named Edgar for Edgar Allan Poe, Edgar Rice Burroughs and Edgar Wallace. And yes, I like the idea that Richard and Constance would give their cat a literary name.
- The female cover artist of the Silencer magazine is loosely based on Margaret Brundage, cover artist for Weird Tales and Magic Carpet Magazine in the 1930s and early 1940s. And indeed, Tales of the Bizarre, the pulp magazines featuring “ghosthunters, barbarians and tentacled monsters from the deep” is a Weird Tales stand-in, which frequently featured Seabury Quinn’s supernatural investigator Jules de Grandin, Robert E. Howard’s Conan the Barbarian and Cthulhu, H.P. Lovecrafts tentacled menace from beyond. Though the actual Weird Tales also exists in the Silencer Universe, since Richard buys a copy (and namechecks Margaret Brundage among others) at the end of Mean Streets and Dead Alleys.
- Chock full ‘o Nuts, which Richard briefly mentions, was a chain of coffee shops/lunch counters that operated in New York City from the 1930s to the 1970s and was known for their high quality coffee. They’re still around, too, albeit under new management, and even opened new coffee shops.
- The cover image is digital art by PhilCold.