Escapism Rocks!

by James Scott Bell

There’s always been a certain amount of stress associated with being alive. In pre-historic times, this was largely based on concerns over being eaten by large animals. Or by having pointy things stuck into your body by the tribe down the road. At the same time, you had crops to attend to and weather events to deal with. All with no TV, internet, or Candy Crush.

Later on, the Greeks sat around inventing philosophy and giving people more reasons for stress, as in, trying to figure out the point of this bewildering existence. Religion was asking the same questions in places like India, China, and Jerusalem.

As the great historians say, stuff happens. Like war. More stress. In America we had a war oddly called “Civil.” And later joined the right side in a couple of wars big enough to be called “World.”

In between WWI and II, we had the Great Depression, and the stress of actually getting food onto the table. Jobs were scarce. Prospects, in many cases, dim.

Which is where escapism stepped in to offer rays of entertaining sunshine. You had the movies, of course. For a dime you could spend a few hours with Astaire and Rogers, Gable and Tracy, Hepburn and Grant. Radio was pervasive, providing laughs from Benny and Hope and Fibber McGee, and adventures with The Lone Ranger and The Shadow. And comfort by way of “fireside chats” delivered by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt himself.

But by far the most popular form of escapism came by way of the pulp magazines. In the 1930s the pulps were booming. Newsstands and drug stores carried dozens of magazines with names like Black Mask, Dime Detective, Amazing Stories, Adventure, and Thrilling Western. Popular series characters (what the great pulp writer Erle Stanley Gardner called “the writer’s insurance policy”) included Nick Carter, Doc Savage, Tarzan, Conan the Cimmerian, Buck Rogers, Sailor Steve Costigan, and Bill Lennox.

Indeed, some of our best American writers came out of the pulps—people like Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler, Robert E. Howard, Fredric Brown, and Horace McCoy. Not to mention the many steady professionals who knew one thing above all—how to tell a dang good story.

And just what did these stories have in common? I think Gardner himself said it best:

“The public wants stories because it wants to escape.…The writer is bringing moral strength to many millions of people because the successful story inspires the audience. If a story doesn’t inspire an audience in some way, it is no good.”

I believe this is still true. Which is why I’m launching my own short fiction channel via Patreon.

If you’re not familiar with Patreon, it’s a site where artists of various stripes can find support for their work. Friends, family, and fans become patrons of the artist. Usually that comes in the form of monthly pledges, in return for which a patron receives various benefits, such as early access to new work or a personally autographed print.

But there is another model called “per creation,” which seems to me more applicable to writers. In this model, patrons are not charged monthly, but only when an actual story is published. My job is to deliver the goods, which means entertaining escapism for a busy reading public. Stories you can read on the subway or the bus, or while waiting for the doctor, or simply at home after a long day when you don’t feel like cracking Moby Dick.

All of the details about this venture are on my page. I hope some of you will join me in this venture. The stories I publish will not appear anywhere else. You’ll be able to read this exclusive content online, on your phone via the free Patreon app, or on your Kindle, Nook or Kobo ereader.

My first story will come out June 1. It takes place in Hollywood in 1945. There’s a movie studio, a murder, and a studio troubleshooter named William “Wild Bill” Armbrewster. He’s going to be a series character, so this would be a good time to get in on the ground floor.

Because in times such as these, escapism rocks.

So what are some of your favorite books, movies, or TV shows when you simply want to escape?

25 thoughts on “Escapism Rocks!

  1. Coming to you from the Pikes Peak Writers Conference where I’ve had the pleasure of learning from John Gilstrap.
    My go-to escape books are the In Death books by JD Robb.

  2. I’ve always heard “escapism” defined as “an escape FROM reality,” but I’ve always defined it for myself as an escape INTO reality. I love noir because it is a way to take recognizable elements from my life — I’m a drifter with no permanent home who makes his own living — and turn up the heat so that the endless parade of highways and motels and gas stations and rented rooms and afternoon bars takes on a resonance beyond diversion, to find deeper meaning in a context I can recognize as my own. I don’t disdain forms of escapism beyond realism, but I’ve never loved science fiction or fantasy because I can’t see myself in them, and so the point of escaping into them is lost on me. But I can see myself just fine at a diner on the edge of town. That’s an outline I can trace. The cigarettes and the gun and the shovel in the trunk … that’s my imagination providing the shadings and texture. It passes the time like nothing else. Except maybe the novels of Charles Williams and John D. MacDonald and Elmore Leonard and Peter Abrahams (and Laura Linney reading Nancy Drew) on audiobook somewhere between Tucson and Tucumcari, or Tehachapi and Tonopah….

    • A good insight, Jim, about escaping “into.” For in great fiction we should find a shape to reality from the author’s mind, giving it as a gift to us. We are then free to use it as we wish. I’m with Gardner that when a story also inspires—that is, quickens the virtuous impulse—it has reached a pinnacle.

  3. I had never even heard of Patreon until about six months ago when I discovered a writing podcast called “Writing Excuses”.

    As to escapism, you are very timely. My parents raised me up right on good ole country music, and part of that upbringing was watching Hee Haw every week. I’ve missed it a lot since those days & unfortunately many of those wonderful musicians are gone now. But last night I discovered some Hee Haw clips on the Internet and it was wonderful to see again. I’ve decided that once I get through the torture of moving, if I can find the entire Hee Haw collection, I’m going to re-implement that as a Saturday evening ritual.

    • Wow. Hee-Haw! There’s a blast from the past. Though I wasn’t a frequent watcher (unlike the 30 million weekly viewers), I always enjoyed Roy Clarke, wherever he appeared (e.g., Johnny Carson). Man, could he play that guitar.

    • BK, we must’ve discovered writing excuses at the exact same time. I’ve only heard of patrion through them. Amaning podcast.

  4. Good luck with your new “channel” for delivering reader escapism. I’m looking forward to reading your short stories.

    I enjoyed your recent Sister Justicia – Hot Cross Nuns. I noticed this morning that I couldn’t find it on your Amazon pages. On the other hand, I was amused that one of the “other author/book suggestions” on page two of your list was “The Ultimate Guide to Writing Erotica for Profit.” I’m presuming that wasn’t another series (like the zombie lawyer series) under another pen name. If it is another pen name, will we be reading tips on writing erotica in the future on TKZ?

    • Ha ha. Too bad I have no control over that dang algorithm!

      If you want my advice on this matter, however, it’s simple: write the scene in a way that could have been shown in a 1940s movie.

      You’re welcome.

  5. I’ve been hearing about Patreon lately. I will definitely check you out. Could I disrupt the flow and ask a business question? It’s this: Does everything posted there need to be new? Is it considered a publishing site? And if you do post individual stories there, can they later be published in a collection? Thanks.

    • Hi Nancy. No, Patreon is not limited to publishing. Indeed, it started as a crowdfunding site for people to support various creative artists, to make it financially possible for them to continue. In return, patrons get a variety of benefits the artist sets up.

      As a writer, you don’t have to post just “new” material, but I’ve chosen to do so because it didn’t seem such a great deal for patrons if I recycled old stuff.

      Patreon does not own any of your rights. So if you wanted to later put the stories into a collection, you certainly could.

  6. I setup an account with Patreon last year, with great intentions, but life and deadlines got in the way of following through with my plan. I don’t think I even got as far as setting up my page. So, I’ll be curious how it works for you. Perhaps you’ll post an update once you’re rockin’ and rollin’?

    Best of luck, Jim!!! I have no doubt you’ll find success there, as well. 😀

  7. My go-to escape books will always be the hunger games, though I haven’t dipped back into them in a while. I just finished reading all of Robin LaFevers books, which gripped me and let me “escape” into a darker reality.

    But if I truly want to escape for a good two hours, I’ll watch one of the Pirates of the Caribbean movies or an Avengers movie. And I must put out there that I saw End Game yesterday. Best. Finale. Ever.

    • My wife and daughter saw Endgame and said it was awesome. If I were into that whole franchise, I might have seen it as well. My favorite finales of the last few years were Mad Men and Breaking Bad.

  8. Well done Patreon page, Jim. Your intro vid complete with Maltese Falcon and the hat is perfect. I also didn’t know that Patreon had a “per creation” option; seems well-suited to writers.

    As for Escapism, one of my earliest was ERB’s “Tarzan.” Not only do I have the entire 22-book mass market PBK collection, but like Jim, I lived next door to Tarzana in the Valley in L.A. And I’m a swimmer who adored Johnny Weismuller’s lead role in the movies. He was by far the best Tarzan, IMHO, and for a time in my youth I could belt out a damn good Tarzan yell myself and was a bit famous for it in swimming circles. Strange but true.

    • Harald, yes to all you said. Tarzan of the Apes was the first “real” novel I remember reading…and could not put down. And there has been no Tarzan better than Weismuller…I was always disappointed in later incarnations who spoke perfect english…even though that’s how he is in the books!

  9. When I want to escape from the stress of the day I stay away from the TV. Facebook is a time and soul-sucking black hole, so I avoid that as well. My go-to is a bit of Buffalo Trace with one of the following:

    1. Dick Francis
    2. Lee Child (something like 500-page pulp stories)
    3. Actual pulps I print off from the internet. Robert Leslie Bellum, Seabury Quinn, Achmed Abdulla… there are many I enjoy and I love discovering new ones.

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