The things you read in books

So, I’m reading a book about the life and times of Billy the Kid*.  Billy being one of those folks, like Doc Holliday, who didn’t leave much of a paper-trail, the book (so far) is more about the times than the man.

Though I’d like more Billy, I’m being tolerably amused by the recounting of the times, and the large cast of characters who lived during them, and the author’s choices of relevant information.

For instance, in attempting to put the Wild West and the Wild West Hero, into context with the times, the author pursues a discussion of dime novels, which I reproduce in part here:

The dime novels published by the brothers Erastus and Irwin Beadle of the mass-market publisher the House of Beadle and Admas were some of the most popular of that era, starting in June 1860 with Malaeska: The Indian Wife of the White Hunter.  Considered the first dime novel, Malaeska tells the tragic tale of an Indian maiden married to a white settler.  It proved a romantic sensation and sold more than sixty-five thousand copies within the first few months.

Nathaniel Hawthorne complained bitterly about what he perceived as a gaggle of female romance writers, whom he called “this damned mob of scribbling women,” who clogged the bestseller lists and prevented his own literary works from being read and discussed.  . . .With the appearance of the typewriter in the 1870s imaginative authors could earn good wages at a penny a word.  Many of them could knock out a thousand words an hour for hours on end. 

Not only were the damned women writers even then Doing It Wrong and Spoiling Everything, but they were earning a penny a word for doing it.  In my lifetime, I remember — and submitted to — markets that paid 1/2 cent a word.  Also — 65,000 copies?  *swoons*

. . .There’s an afternoon run to Bangor on today’s calendar, which means writing is happening in 3. . .2. . .1. . .

*Billy the Kid:  The Endless Ride, Michael Wallis


One thought on “The things you read in books”

  1. Wow. Talk about sales volume.
    I love the stories from that era…when Chris Corbett came by the store to sign “Orphans Preferred”& “The Poker Bride” he talked about the need to find sources that weren’t drunk when they were interviewed. The interviewers were fascinating too – there was one rich lady who really worked at it and she was one of the best sources on the Poker Bride.

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