The book that changed my life was a humble, second-hand paperback reprint of an old pulp magazine story written at the height of the Great Depression.
On a cold autumn day, my maternal grandfather handed me the second Doc Savage novel, The Land of Terror. I was always a reader, always had one or more books going. My granddad—the man to whom I dedicated my first-published novel, Head Games—often gave me books in that manner. Some interested me; most frankly didn’t.
This one grabbed me by the young scruff like no other, before or since. It was pure pulp-lit and the story moved like lightning. I was, I think, all of eight, and I read the book cover-to-cover at a sitting, another first for me. I sat on the floor with my back to a wall register, sucking up the heat and that first-season furnace smell of charred dust in the heating ducts, but I was really just lost in that crazy thriller about a globetrotting, latter-day knight errant and his band of scrappy, quirky aides. When I finished the novel, I read it again, and a third time after that. I started a years-long quest after the myriad Bantam reprints of Doc Savage pulp magazines with their moody, hyper-realistic James Bama covers (alas, Bama didn’t provide The Land of Terror’s cover).
I completely skipped the Hardy Boys and the usual kids-level series my peers devoured—I found such books drivel compared to the Doc novels.
Inspiration comes from the strangest of places and drives our lives in new directions. For me, for better or worse, it all started in that little house on Woodlawn Avenue with this teaser on the back cover that spurred me to open that book and read on:
“A vile greenish vapor was all that remained of the first victim of the monstrous Smoke of Eternity…”
Craig McDonald is the author of the Hector Lassiter series
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