Date: 07 Mar 2007

Jack (since you've written them) or anyone else,

I've got a few questions about the sexploitation books published by Midwood and others.

As I recently mentioned, I'm currently reading the Hard Case Crime reprint of Lawrence Block's Lucky at Cards, which seems to have been originally published as The Sex Shuffle by Sheldon Lord for Beacon. As I understand it, Beacon was a publisher of "euphemism books," as Donald Westlake describes this genre (since you had to get as close as possible to describing the act without using too graphic language, back in those days when books were still prosecuted for obscenity).

So my first question is, was there a heirarchy among these publishers? Although this is the first of this type book I've read, I have picked up a few over the years (usually speculating on the real author, sometimes just for the sleazy cover art). Just from the covers, paper and cover art, there seems to be a variety of quality -- does this also apply to the writing? For instance, a Beacon book I have looks far more, for lack of a better word, respectable than the "Original Nightstand Book" or "Original Midnight Reader." Interestingly, only Bacon lists authors in its back pages list of other books from the company "to enjoy"; the others list only titles.
(I remember as a kid, in the early '60s, going to Newstand in Wheaton, MD, after church for my father to pick up the Sunday New York Times. We parked in back and walked in the back door, so we had to walk past a rack of these books -- I remember the vivid colors of the covers of the latter two imprints above (I'm guessing they're really the same imprint, as they share author, spine color and cover style). I'd pick up a Fawcett reprint of Peanuts strips and, later, comic books. Too bad I was too young to pick up Gold Medal mysteries.)

Where did Midwood fall in the heirarchy? Were there separate genres? Was the only requirement sex scenes? And how many of those were required? Oh yeah, did they cost more? 60 and 75 cents seems pretty steep for a book published in the early sixties, more than Gold Medal charged then, I think. If so, did it pay its authors better? When did these lines vanish? I'm guessing as sex scenes became more common in mainstream books, it wiped out the market for this kind of book.

Lucky at Cards is surprising to me along these lines. The writing quality is right up there with Block's usual high standards at the time, after Grifter's Game (AKA Mona), Coward's Kiss and his Markham book, just before Girl with the Long Green Heart. So far, it's well plotted with an interesting end run around a will plot. And although the sex scene did seem pretty graphic for books of that era (though kind of mild for now), there has been only one in the half of the book I've read. I would have thought there would be one every 10-20 pages. So is this due to Block being a professional no matter where he was writing, or was there more to these books than just sleaze (not that there's anything wrong with good sleaze)? Does the same apply to Westlake? I have a couple Alan Marshalls, the above mentioned lower budget titles.


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