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Pulp fiction rooted in N.H. back for a third round

Last modified: 11/23/2013 12:15:49 AM
It all started with a breakfast. The next thing Rick Broussard and George Geers knew, New Hampshire was lousy with wormholes, politician clones and the undead.

“We were having breakfast together and (Geers) said, ‘Rick you really ought to write a book,’ ” said Broussard, who by day may be the executive editor of New Hampshire Magazine, but by night is the mayor of murder, mayhem and the strange as editor of a pulp fiction series of anthologies Geers happily peddles through Plaidswede Publishing Co.

“I love genre fiction,” Broussard said. “I grew up on Doc Savage and used to read stuff that was old already when I was a kid. I loved that musty old style of H.P. Lovecraft. So genre fiction is what I cut my literary teeth on. And I thought we should have something like that, but the only way I thought we could package it was to make it New Hampshire specific. We would use New Hampshire as a backdrop.

“He said, ‘That’s a great idea, let’s do it.’ ”

The result is a six-part, possibly more, series of pulp fiction anthologies, the most recent of which is Live Free or Sci-Fi, a compendium of imagined futures, technological and scientific marvels, and just plain weird stuff. And this installment like the others – Live Free or Undead and Live Free or Die, Die, Die – is full of local writers, many of whom will be giving a reading at Gibson’s Bookstore in Concord on Saturday.

“It’s really creating a kind of capsulization of talent from each year,” Broussard said. “Each year we kind of go out and harvest new talent, and we just give them an objective: focus on the state and give it a really nice pulp attitude and a subject matter. So it’s like an annual review: Here are the new writers, the new crop.”

One of those writers, whose work has appeared in previous books in the series, is Alex Caldwell of Tilton.

“It’s completely out of my field, sci-fi. I mean, I like science fiction, and I grew up in a Star Trek family where it was really a religious kind of evening when there was a new one on,” Caldwell said. “But I’ve never tried my hand at it.”

So although he was a little apprehensive, he gave it a go and started the way he starts his nongenre short stories: He ruminated on a title.

“I thought of all the sci-fi tropes,” he said. “And I thought of the wormhole, and I wanted to make an alliteration so I said, ‘The Wormhole of Wilton, NH.’ And that’s how I started. And I started to wonder what would happen if a wormhole – which is a device they use on Star Trek – opened up in Wilton, New Hampshire.”

While the story seems fantastical, its roots are in reality.

“It’s based on me,” Caldwell said. “I grew up in a small town called Brooks, Maine – right below Bangor – and it’s in the middle of the woods. And it has this general store with a great porch. And the porch was kind of a harbor for this small town, and it was literally at a crossroads. . . . So it was always this kind of epic place for me, this porch and this general store.”

Caldwell grew up in a small town but chose to go away to Cairn University in Philadelphia, Pa., for college. The year after he graduated he came back home.

“There’s this inertia that you feel when you come back to a small town after being in a high tempo kind of environment, where you have 1,000 big ideas coming at you per week and these deep coffee house discussions and then you come back to a town of 200 people,” he said. “It’s weird to go back home.”

And things get decidedly weirder with a wormhole to Australia on Main Street.

“You can go a little crazy back home in a small town,” he said. “You might welcome a wormhole.”

Now settled in Tilton with two daughters, a wife and no wormholes to speak of, Caldwell, who is a full-time freelance writer and is working on his first novel, said this short story will likely be his only foray into sci-fi.

“It was a lot of fun,” he said. “And I’m really proud of how it came out.”

This will not, however, be the last genre anthology for Broussard and Geers, who have already planned the next two, which will be the romance-themed Love Free or Die and the Western-themed Live Free or Ride. And Broussard argues that there is an audience for this sort of fiction.

“It may well be that we live in such a hyper-sophisticated world with technology, communications, and this whole sense of globalism has made us, I guess made us sensitive to or made us appreciate things that are rustic and hand-hewn,” he said. “And that’s really what pulp fiction is, you can see the grain in the writing. Just like you could originally feel the grain in the paper, that’s where it got its name.”

So this is not stuff that’s been polished, he said. In fact, much of what came in needed a great deal of editing.

“But really what it is, is a visceral impact. Sometimes that’s achieved with humor, sometimes it’s with a certain salacious or sensationalist approach to writing, but it’s always because it draws you in. These are the stories that I got sucked into,” he said. “It’s stuff that’s been thrown out there, and if the genius is there it sticks. If the story is good, it adheres to the imagination; if it’s not, it slides down the wall and is forgotten.”


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