An Interview with Cora, a German cinema scandal, vintage German pulp fiction, writing tips and more

First of all, I’ve been interviewed once again and answer 5 questions for authors and talk a bit about Murder in the Family at Randomize Me. You can also find links to other interviews I have done around the web archived at my Interviews page.

First of all, here’s a fascinating untold story involving Rainer Werner Fassbinder, probably the most famous director of the new German cinema of the 1970s and early 1980s. I freely admit that I’m not a fan of Fassbinder’s work, with two exceptions: One is the stageplay Bremer Freiheit, based on the case of Gesche Gottfried, a 19th century female serial killer and last person to be publicly executed in Bremen. Fassbinder worked at the Bremen theatre in the late 1960s and early 1970s and came upon the story while here. I played the lead in a school theatre performance of the play some twenty years ago.

The other Fassbinder work I like is his 1974 film Angst Essen Seele Auf (Fear eats the soul), the story of a German cleaning lady, played by legendary actress Brigitte Mira, who falls in love with and marries a much younger man from Morocco. Predictably, it doesn’t end well.

Now director Viola Shafik has uncovered the secret behind Angst Essen Seele Auf and tells a fascinating tale of gay love, racism among supposedly enlightened 1970s intellectuals and a broken family. In short: Fassbinder, who was gay (one of the few openly gay public figures of the time), met El Hedi Ben Alem, the actor who played Brigitte Mira’s Moroccan lover Ali, in Paris. The two of them had an affair, even though Ben Alem was married and had a family in Morocco. Fassbinder, who apparently dreamed of a family and children, brought two of Ben Alem’s four children to Germany, only to turn out to be utterly useless as a father. One of the kids was stuck in Germany for several years, neglected and alone. Meanwhile, Fassbinder’s supposedly so enlightened leftwing friends were showing their racist backsides. The story did not end happily for anybody involved. Fassbinder and Ben Alem eventually broke up. Both died young, Ben Alem in 1976 in a prison in France and Fassbinder in 1982.

On a slightly related note, Strange Horizons has a great article by Rochita Loenen-Ruiz about writing, identity and how difficult it can be to break free from western and more specifically US storytelling tropes as well as from western/US expectations how an authentic [insert nationality here] story should sound. At some level all of us writers from outside the US (as well as writers from minority cultures in the US) struggle with this, even those who like me come from countries that are considered part of the western world.

Nick Mamatas responds to the latest “literary fiction is superior to genre fiction” article by Arthur Krystal, who seems to specialize in such fare, in the New Yorker.

Pulp scholar Jess Nevins has an interesting article on German SF pulp fiction between approx. 1900 and 1945 at iO9. The headline about totalitarian regimes is a bit hyperbolic, because of the three different political systems that existed in Germany between 1900 and 1945 only the Third Reich was unabashedly totalitarian. You could probably make a case for the Second German Empire as a totalitarian state, though personally I’d view it more as an attempt at a constitutional monarchy that did not work very well. The Weimar Republic, meanwhile, was a democratic system, though again one that did not work very well and turned into a quasi-totalitarian state from 1930 and a fully totalitarian one from 1933/1934 on.

But otherwise it’s a good comprehensive overview of early 20th century German pulp fiction, though there’s a lot more to the story of Walter Kabel and his creation detective Harald Harst. I’ll probably write an essay about that some day and put it in the collection of my scattered essays on German pulp fiction (check the bibliography for an overview) that I’m planning to self-publish someday. It’s a complete for the love project, since I doubt a collection of essays about obscure German pulp characters will sell more than a handful of copies. But there is so little information about many of those characters and writers out there and even less in English that I still think collecting my own essays, now all out of print, will be worthwhile.

The Washington Post has an article on the impact Nora Roberts and her books have had on her hometown Boonsboro in Maryland. I’m always happy to see writers stay wherever they feel at home rather than pack up and move to Berlin or Brooklyn or some other supposedly hip place.

Lynn Viehl at Paperback Writer has some great tips for how to create portraits of characters for personal usage. This might come in handy for someone as artistically challenged as me.

Wordplayer has a great article by Stephen King on writing description.

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6 Responses to An Interview with Cora, a German cinema scandal, vintage German pulp fiction, writing tips and more

  1. My wife, Ursula, is originally from Switzerland. When it comes to pulp fiction, she still fondly recalls reading in her youth the Jerry Cotton series of magazine novelettes. You can’t get much more pulp fiction than that.

    • Cora says:

      Jerry Cotton is still around and still hunting evildoers in his red Jaguar, almost sixty years after he first debuted in 1954. So are some other old standbys such as SF hero Perry Rhodan, supernatural detective John Sinclair and a lot of the doctor, romance and western pulps.

      Some of the German pulps are now available in e-book form, Perry Rhodan for one. But I have no idea if Jerry Cotton is available in e-book form yet.

      BTW, the Jerry Cotton novelettes are written in the first person and the authors are never named (though their names are known by now) and so a lot of German readers in the 1950s and 1960s assumed that those stories were the memoirs of an actual FBI agent. And so the FBI office in New York was bombarded with letters from Germany addressed to one Jerry Cotton. The legend goes that the letter flood got so bad that the FBI had a special form letter stating that there was no agent named Jerry Cotton at the FBI office in New York. Some people even claim that the form letter was signed by Edgar J. Hoover himself. However, I’ve never seen one of those letters and never met anybody who has. And the FBI declined to comment whether such letters existed (yes, I did ask), so I suspect it’s just an urban legend.

      • That is one funny story, Cora.

        • Cora says:

          I still wonder what the people at the FBI office in New York made of the e-mail I sent them asking whether they really used to have form letters stating that no agent named Jerry Cotton exists. Especially since the FBI doesn’t seem to have a press office or at least no contact address for the press office.

  2. gold price says:

    Pulp magazines (often referred to as “the pulps”), also collectively known as pulp fiction, refers to inexpensive fiction magazines published from 1896 through the 1950s. The typical pulp magazine was seven inches wide by ten inches high, half an inch thick, and 128 pages long. Pulps were printed on cheap paper with ragged, untrimmed edges.

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