Sunday, May 22, 2011

Blogpocalypse Interviews Dr. ADAM OPENHEIMER

As many of you know, I'm a huge fan of pulp master Emerson LaSalle, and when I heard that they would soon be re-issuing his novels, I tried to find out as much as I could about it. I was fortunate enough to find the contact information for Dr. Adam Openheimer who is professor emeritus at Gothic State University and the nation's leading (only?) Emerson LaSalle scholar. He was kind enough to answer a few of my questions.

Blogpocalyps: What is it that first got you interested in Emerson LaSalle?

Openheimer: I fought in Korea, and we'd spend a lot of days on the march or in a foxhole or wherever just waiting. So we'd do just about anything to relieve the boredom. I traded a deck of playing cards for a dog-eared copy of Sheriff Dracula. I complained every single page all the way through it, so much that I'm sure I irritated the fellow in the foxhole next to me. Such lunacy! Such utter nonsense! And yet I couldn't stop reading. I simply had to keep turning pages to see what crime against literature LaSalle would commit next. I attended Slippery Rock University and earned my B.A. on the G.I. Bill and continued to read LaSalle, claiming I was trying to discover how such trash could continue to be published, but what was really happening was that I was falling in love. When I eventually began work on my Ph.D. at Princeton, I knew without a doubt what the subject of my dissertation would be.

Blogpocalypse: LaSalle was still alive and writing when you were studying his work at Princeton. Did you ever meet him? Did he ever contact you?

Openheimer: I wrote a review of LaSalle's novel Pray for Rain, Tommy Sunshine for the Kansas City Star in which I praised LaSalle's imagination and the usual energy he brought to his work, but I was rather hard on what I thought was a heavy-handed use of theme. Subtlety was never LaSalle's strength. He evidently took issue and send me a dead herring in the mail. Years later, I met him in person at a convention in ... oh ... 1978 or 1979 and asked him if he remembered mailing me the fish. He said that didn't really sound like something he'd do, but when I got out to the parking lot later all four tires on my Buick were flat.

Blogpocalypse: Tell us how you got involved with the reissuing of LaSalle's novels.

Openheimer: I was contacted to determine which ones were the best candidates ... the cream of the LaSalle crop, I guess. I can't really talk too much about it, but I can say GESTAPO MARS will be the first novel reissued. It's one of his best ... and his most ridiculous in certain ways. Pulp publishing practices at the time also hindered the selection. Many of the novels are full of filler. Vixen Shamus is a good example. It's brilliant, but once you take out the forward, the afterward and all the advertisements for other books and an inexplicable list of Hungarian baby names, the "novel" ends up being only fourteen thousand words long and that's not really marketable. These are the sorts of issues we're dealing with. I guess you can say I'm basically an overall consultant on the project.

Blogpocalypse: Which LaSalle novel is your favorite?

Openheimer: I'd say Spaceport Floozy. That's LaSalle really tapping into the exploitation vibe, but still retaining strong sci-fi sensibilities. It's the longest running rollercoaster of sustained sex and violence I've ever seen in a novel by any author.

Blogpocalypse: Why has it taken so long for LaSalle to be recognized?

Openheimer: I think the gatekeepers long decided that Philip K. Dick filled that niche well enough and we really didn't need two of those guys. That's one theory. I think it's also likely that nobody can really put their finger on why we actually like Emerson LaSalle when he seems to do so many things wrong. Yet after a reader finishes a LaSalle novel, it's not long before they start looking around for another. My roommate at Princeton would moan and complain upon completion of each LaSalle novel he read, and I finally said, "Then stop reading them, you jackass." He said it was impossible. They were like bowel movements. Sooner or later it had to happen. Same with LaSalle novels. Sooner or later you have to pick up the next one. It's not a choice.

Blogpocalypse: Any more hints about when readers can get a hold of Gestapo Mars?

Openheimer: Sorry. I'm sword to secrecy.


Graham Powell said...

Openheimer makes LaSalle sound like Harry Stephen Keeler, only without the deft characterizations and smooth sentences.

Lichanos said...

"Then stop reading them, you jackass." He said it was impossible. They were like bowel movements. Sooner or later it had to happen.

Okay, I'm hooked. Which novel should I start with?

BTW - you got a Ph.D. from PU doing a study of this guy? In the 1970s? You must be some smooth talking scholar.