The Secret of Red Gate Farm by Carolyn Keene (Mildred Wirt). I read this vintage Nancy Drew novel in third grade and it whetted my appetite for series books, especially episodes written in the 1930s and 40s. I only read Nancy Drew for a few years, but I believe that if I had not, I might never have gravitated toward what might be generally termed popular fiction. A while back, someone reprinted a bunch of early books, using the original texts and illustrations. I read a few. If I could write a Nancy Drew set in 1933, I probably would.
The Shadow’s Revenge by Maxwell Grant (Dennis Lynds). Little did I realize when I read this book in the mid-1960s that I would one day become friends with the creator of The Shadow, write a book about the series, and then pen two novels in which The Shadow encountered Doc Savage. It was year before I found another book in this series, so I must have read it three or four times. By the time I caught up with the others, the original pulp novels were being reprinted, and this modernized Shadow read more like Shadow-lite….
The Gods of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs. The first pulp novel I ever read and the beginning of a lifelong love affair with pulp fiction from the early 20th century. Barsoom was only the first of many fantastic worlds I would visit in my imagination. How could have imagined back in 1968 that one day I would write a novel featuring John Carter of Mars? Not me! When the opportunity to write Tarzan, Conqueror of Mars came to me, I plunged back into this series and found that its charms were still intact.
Dust of Death by Kenneth Robeson (Lester Dent). The first Doc Savage novel I ever read, which eventually led me to becoming the literary agent of creator Lester Dent, as well as writing over 20 Doc novels, most from his original notes. I know I read this installment three different times over the last 50 years. Each time Lester Dent fooled me. I keep guessing the villain wrong! And for good reason. I found a copy of the author’s outline. He changed who the Gray Inca was supposed to be in mid-story!
The Colour Out of Space by H. P. Lovecraft. This Lancer Books paperback was my first taste of pulp horror fiction. Decades later, I would write innumerable articles about Lovecraft, as well as over a dozen or so Cthulhu Mythos stories for assorted anthologies. Some of Lovecraft’s best fiction is encapsulated by the fiery photographic cover, particularly “The Call of Cthulhu.” I revisit these stories periodically. Despite my familiarity, they have not lost their power to hold my interest.…
Zothique by Clark Ashton Smith. Another pulp giant whose fantastically imaginative stories fired by own imagination. I read this collection several times and still love it. In the 1990s, I was privileged to edit a new edition of Zothique stories using Smith’s original manuscripts as its source. Necronomicon’s Tales of Zothique became the definitive collection, but I still prefer the Ballantine Adult Fantasy edition with its gorgeous George Barr cover. This is another collection I revisit often. Smith was at the peak of his imaginative powers when describing a future Earth when it was decadent and the sun was dying….
Conan by Robert E. Howard. Early in my paperback reading career, I vacillated between starting Andre Norton’s Witch World series and Howard’s Conan the Barbarian stories. When Marvel Comics announced their Conan comic book in 1970, that decided me. Some of my earliest fictional efforts were strongly influenced by Howard. I have to say that I preferred Solomon Kane and King Kull to Conan. But only by the thickness of the edge of a sword blade. “The Tower of the Elephant” remains to this day one of my favorite short fantasy stories.
City of Flaming Shadows by Grant Stockbridge. This wasn’t the first Spider pulp novel I ever read. But it was the one that made the strongest impression. The Spider was nuts. Manic depressive, paranoid, driven––a postmodern Jeckyl and Hyde superhero if one ever existed. Once again my younger self would be astonished to learn that my mature self would write several Spider stories and novels. The actual author, Norvell W. Page of Richmond, Virginia, fancied himself a 20th century Edgar Allen Poe. He wrote a ton of weird stories, but none as weird as the saga of gallant Richard Wentworth, alias the macabre Spider.
Tarzan of the Apes by Edgar Rice Burroughs. Like many, I initially spurn the Tarzan stories because I had grown up on the thin milk of Hollywood movies. But when I ran out of Mars books, I turned to Tarzan of the Apes and realized what a great character he was. Five years ago, I acquired the rights to revive Tarzan in a novel and have since pitted him against King Kong and sent him to Mars to meet John Carter. Tarzan of the Apes maybe one of the greatest adventure novels ever written.
The Great Gold Steal by Ted White. This is a Captain America novel written in the 1960s, by a well-regarded science-fiction writer. It was seriously written. To a kid who was reading Marvel Comics, it opened my mind to the concept that superheroes could be the stuff of non-campy prose fiction. Essentially, this far-ahead-of-its-time novel signified a new emerging sub-genre. The 21st century has borne out my dream. And in my own way, I have contributed to it whenever I contribute to prose anthologies featuring characters like Spider-Man, the Hulk, Superman and Batman.
Will Murray is the author of over 70 novels featuring such characters as Doc Savage, Tarzan of the Apes, The Shadow, King Kong, Nick Fury, Agent of SHIELD, The Destroyer, The Executioner, Mars Attacks and The Spider. His latest is Tarzan, Conqueror of Mars, in which the ape-man encounters John Carter of Mars. For Marvel Comics, he created the Unbeatable Squirrel Girl with artist Steve Ditko.
Discover more about Will Murray here