This was supposed to be a review of Roddy Doyle’s “The Deportees and Other Stories.” When I picked the book up off my “Need to Read This” shelf, my intention was to just read it and review it.
I’ll give you my review right now and get on with how it inspired me after that.
It’s great. As usual, the Irish writer just amazes me with his ability to use dialogue to tell us the story. He offers a variety of truly distinct voices. The themed collection of short stories, about immigrants to Ireland, hits on so many angles that it seems like a complete picture of all the issues newcomers to the Emerald Island face.
OK, so there you go. It’s been reviewed. Go buy it. You’ll find it quite inexpensive on Amazon and elsewhere since it was first published in 2007.
In fact, do yourself a favor. Go buy all his books — “The Commitments,” “The Snapper,” “The Van,” “Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha” are all great examples — you won’t be disappointed. Doyle has an amazing gift for dialogue. You’ll fly through his books in no time.
With all that praise behind us now, let’s look at the way “The Deportees” was put together, and what it means to the burgeoning genre of New Pulp.
What’s New Pulp? It’s a growing movement by writers and publishers to embrace the ideals of adventure, crime, fantasy and sci-fi stories of the past and use them as an inspiration for new work. These new stories, fueled by the open-ended digital publishing marketplace, aren’t meant to be “great literature.” Instead, these stories are meant to be fun, easy-to-digest and packed with action and excitement.
“New Pulp” has actually been with us a long time and in a variety of forms. Look at the movie “Jaws” or video games like “Tomb Raider.” Then there’s comic books like “The Rocketeer” and TV shows like “Hercules: The Legendary Journeys.” They all are essentially New Pulp — they’re popcorn entertainment meant to excite us. Nothing more than that.
Blockbusters like those and the pulp magazines of the past are what fueled the soldification of New Pulp as a genre — through eBooks and small publishing houses who have been trying to explain just what it is they are offering: A literary home for those sorts of stories.
These are the true pulp magazines of the present. There’s a million players all trying to get noticed in this digital flood. Some are good. Some are bad. Some deserve much wider recognition.
This brings us back to Roddy Doyle’s “The Deportees” and how it can help the movement. In the forward of the book, Doyle explains that he had an opportunity to meet with the publishers of a small newspaper in Ireland, Metro Eireann. This newspaper was primarily meant for consumption by the immigrant population and had limited resources and space. Roddy Doyle, considered one of Ireland’s greatest living writers, asked to meet with them and talk about this “New Ireland” that was blooming. At the time, the Irish economy was unstoppable and immigrants were flooding into the country to find work. Doyle wanted to explore this new face of Ireland, and he wanted the newspaper’s help
With that, the editors of Metro Eireann and Doyle reached an agreement. Doyle would write for the monthly newspaper, but his space would be limited. He only had 800 words to work with for each installment.
And Doyle started working on the stories that eventually became what was to populate the pages of “The Deportees.”
But, thanks to the mandate from the newspaper editors, it was a book filled with 800-word chapters. And there’s the key to the greatness of “The Deportees.” These chapters never get dull. They’re never a slog to read through. They deliver just what’s needed to move the story along, and almost always end with a tantalizing cliffhanger.
Sometimes these cliffhangers are merely that a decision has been made or that a key fact has been revealed, but they keep you wanting more.
And this format? This is just perfect for use in New Pulp. Short chapters. Intriguing (but not necessarily action-packed) cliffhangers.
There’s also the whip-smart dialogue, too. It’s impossible to express just how good Doyle is with putting words in peoples’ mouths.
But the short chapters. They are wonderful. Perfect in length, and certainly something New Pulp writers can imitate.
So, New Pulp writers, read this simple piece of advice:
Keep your chapters short, between 800 and 1,000 words. Call them “bathroom-break short” if you will. Your readers aren’t the type who spend hours at a time reading. They can, however, give you 5 to 20 minutes. Write for that length. Consider your chapters to be scenes rather than character studies. When they move to a different locale, it’s time to end the chapter. When a little problem is solved, it’s time to end the chapter. When the dialogue of that conversation is done, it’s time to end the chapter. All these are your opportunity to (a) give your readers a breather and (b) use your words to make them want to read more.
If you can do that, along with the plot-driving dialogue (internal or external) and the tantalizing cliffhanger endings then you’ll really have something to offer New Pulp.