We’ve all been there, whether in the course of pursuing a lofty dream, or simply working hard to achieve a worthwhile goal. We often encounter circumstances and situations that can — if we allow it — kill our enthusiasm and destroy all our hopes. These “dream dampeners” come in many forms, from lost opportunities to failed attempts, from unexpected obstacles to sudden setbacks, from closed doors to dead ends. But one of the most sinister situations of all is the infamous “false start.” Nothing can dash our hopes more quickly than believing we’re finally on our way, or that we’ve finally arrived — at last! — only to have the bottom fall out beneath us.
Here’s the thrilling story of a man who endured several false starts and dead ends on his road to success.
During the mid-1920s, a twenty-two-year old telegraph operator for Western Union dreamed of bigger, better, and more creative, opportunities. He was a voracious reader and a big fan of the dime-novel magazines known as the pulps; and he was confident that he could write stories just as exciting as — if not better than — the ones being churned out monthly in dozens of these cheap adventure magazines. So, over the next three years, while working a mostly uneventful graveyard shift, now as a telegrapher for the Associated Press, Lester Dent wrote and submitted story after story. And in return, received rejection after rejection from the editors of these pulps.
Finally, Dent made a sale! Street & Smith’s prestigious Top Notch magazine agreed to publish one of the writer’s adventure stories, “Pirate Cay,” in its September 1929 issue. Dent felt he was well on his way: he had made his first professional sale to his beloved pulps, and subsequent sales shouldn’t be that difficult — not for a paid and published author who had cracked one of the leading fiction markets! Then again….
Dent continued to struggle as a writer, and continued to receive rejections from other publishers. And even Street & Smith didn’t seem interested in Dent’s subsequent stories. Then, quite unexpectedly, Dent was contacted by Dell Publishing Company in New York City! Someone at the company had chanced across “Pirate Cay” and wanted to hire him to write exclusively for their magazines! What’s more, Dell was offering a salary of $500 per month! An astounding amount for the time.
Dent was astonished at his good fortune. He’d never expected his writing career to make such an abrupt (and lucrative) course change; but he wasted no time in accepting Dell’s generous offer. At long last, Dent had arrived! Or had he?
At the beginning of 1931, Dent relocated his family to New York, where he settled into his new position as a Dell magazine novelist. He learned the secrets of being a prolific plotter of pulps. (Repeat that three times fast! ) He also taught himself to write quickly, and to produce exciting fiction that required few edits or rewrites. Life was good! Of course, all this was happening during the Great Depression. And Dell had overextended itself at the newsstands. The publisher’s entire line of pulps imploded less than five months after Dent had “arrived” — both literally and figuratively.
Dent was out of a job — and back to square one, submitting stories to various magazines, sometimes making a sale, but more often getting a rejection notice. And even Street & Smith, which had published Dent’s first story, wasn’t buying his fiction. The shadow of financial difficulties was darkening the writer’s future — and it would take another kind of “shadow” to rescue Dent!
Street & Smith was enjoying great success with their new mystery pulp, The Shadow. In fact, the magazine sold so well that the publisher was releasing a new Shadow novel every two weeks. But the editors at Street & Smith were worried: one man, Walter Gibson, was writing all of these pulp tales; and if anything should happen to Gibson….
Suddenly remembering that promising new writer they’d published many months earlier, the editors at Street & Smith called on Dent to try his hand at writing a Shadow novel. If Dent did a good job, he’d become Gibson’s backup on the popular feature … or so Dent was led to believe.
Lester Dent spent the next three months writing The Golden Vulture, an exciting novel in which he perfectly captured the dark atmosphere of a Shadow adventure, while nailing the mysterious character Gibson had created. The editors loved it! Dent had done it! He was going to be working on one of the most avidly read new pulp characters of the day. Or was he?
Street & Smith applauded Dent’s efforts, paid him for his novel, and then promptly filed it away for a rainy day. “All that work,” Dent may have thought, “for nothing!” How many more false starts and setbacks was he to face? (How many false starts have you faced, dear reader?) Dent kept on writing, and he never lost hope in his dreams — and neither should you!
So the writer was mentally and emotionally prepared for the next opportunity that came his way. Street & Smith wanted to create another pulp hero to further capitalize on the success of the Shadow. Only this time, the publisher wanted elaborate adventure stories featuring a character who would use science and gadgets in the same way the Shadow used magic and disguises. Such grand and brainy exploits were exactly what Dent wrote best, hence, following the writer’s successful Shadow-novel tryout, the editors at Street & Smith invited Dent to help create their new character and write his first adventure.
Dent might have wondered if this were yet another false start, another dead end. If he did, he certainly didn’t allow his reservations to dampen his enthusiasm. He hurried home and immediately got to work on the now legendary novel, The Man of Bronze, which Street & Smith published in March 1933, in the premiere issue of Doc Savage Magazine. It marked the beginning of 181 pulp adventures for the character who was the forerunner of comic book superheroes (and who served as one of the inspirations for Superman, the Man of Steel.)
Over the next 16 years, Dent would write most of these 181 novels, which are still in print: from 1964 to early 1990, Bantam Books reprinted these adventures in popular paperback editions; and the novels are currently being released by Sanctum Books in a format that resembles the original pulps magazines. As a result, Doc Savage is just as popular today as he was 70 years ago. In fact, proving the character is still a hot commodity, Hollywood has announced plans for a big-budget Doc Savage movie with Dwayne (the Rock) Johnson playing the “Man of Bronze.”
With so many false starts and dead ends, Lester Dent could have lost hope and abandoned his dream. We’re glad he didn’t! “He does not fear bad news [lost opportunities, failed attempts, closed doors, false starts, dead ends, delays, setbacks, self doubt and disappointments of every kind]. He is confident; he trusts in the LORD.” (Psalm 112:7 NET Bible)