The SHADOW of Success! (Encouragement for Creators; Diet for Dreamers)

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Last thrilling issue (11/14/19):

Cutting edge in 1931: Philco Model 90 Cathedral Radio!

During the height of the Great Depression, Street & Smith, a leading publisher of pulp fiction, decided to launch a radio drama to promote their Detective Story Magazine. But their marketing strategy yielded unexpected and unusual results: the show’s mysterious announcer, the Shadow, quickly became the most popular aspect of the weekly broadcasts. So, instead of listeners flocking to newsstands to purchase Detective Story, they went searching for “that Shadow mystery magazine.”

Street & Smith didn’t publish such a pulp. Furthermore, the company thought it had finished with magazines featuring a single continuing character. But Street & Smith wasn’t about to let a golden opportunity slip by. The publisher quickly decided to go with the flow and give readers what they wanted. Only one problem: at the time, the Shadow was nothing more than a sinister-sounding voice on the airwaves — accompanied by a bone-chilling laugh. Who was this man of mystery?

Enter Walter Gibson, a young and, as it turned out, extremely prolific writer. Gibson (1897-1985) had been a carnival magician, then a Philadelphia newspaperman, and was currently ghostwriting books for the greatest magicians of his day, including the legendary escape artist
Howard Houdini. When he arrived at the New York offices of Street & Smith to propose an idea he had for a new literary project, the editors waylaid the writer with an unexpected and unusual opportunity: We’re not sure who or what this mystery man is, or from where he came, but we need you to pen a Shadow novel — and we need it quick!

Gibson decided to go with the flow. He went home and quickly outlined the entire novel; and after a few days, he’d already finished the first 3 or 4 chapters. Then he received a call from an editor at Street & Smith, a potentially aggravating and frustrating call! The publisher wanted to get their new mystery pulp on the streets as soon as possible, so there wasn’t enough time to commission a cover painting for the novel. But, heh, the publisher had an unused piece of cover art already on file, which prominently featured a Chinese character. “So, Mr. Gibson, can you put a Chinese guy into your novel?”

The writer could have fumed, “Why didn’t you ask me that to start with?!?” Instead, he simply shrugged and got back to work. Gibson’s mind was made up; he’d gone with the flow. He added the requisite Asian plot elements — which he quickly realized added greatly to the story — and continued pounding the typewriter keys until he’d produced the pulp novel The Living Shadow. This impromptu novel introduced the now-legendary master sleuth who waged an unending war on everything from phony spiritualists to corrupt politicians to the evil lords of the criminal underworld; the wealthy Lamont Cranston by day, a cloaked figure by night, adept at magic and hair-raising escapes!

Gibson’s novel, written under the house name of Maxwell Grant, appeared in early 1931, in the first issue of The Shadow Magazine. The new pulp sold out almost immediately, and it wasn’t long before Street & Smith increased its publication to twice a month! Oh, and the publisher insisted that Gibson write all the adventures of his masked avenger!

Gibson stated, the publisher “asked me to write one a month, and next thing they wanted them twice-a-month. …[So] I just dropped everything else and did the Shadow for 15 years. I was pretty much Depression-proof.” All told, Gibson penned an astounding 282 Shadow pulp novels over the next two decades, and lived quite comfortably while doing so. These books are still popular today, still being devoured by readers, and the Shadow is one of the most iconic, most copied characters of the 20th century! In fact, the Shadow served as the inspiration for another literary cash cow, a certain caped crusader called the Batman!

In Gibson’s case, it paid (literally) to go with the flow, just as Street & Smith had. Of all the numerous books and magazine features the writer produced, the Shadow remains his best-known and most popular work — his great creative legacy. And yet, Gibson could have said “no”; or chosen to write only a few novels featuring the mysterious crime fighter, before moving on to write “the great American novel” or some such nonsense.

In the pursuit of your goals and dreams, and in all of your creative endeavors, whenever you come to a crossroads, or encounter an unusual
and unexpected opportunity, ask God to help you make the right decision. It’s quite possible you’d best be served just going with the flow. After all, who knows what direction good people should take? The Shadow knows! (And you can trust God to let you in on the secret!)

“The steps of good men are directed by the Lord. He delights in each step they take. If they fall, it isn’t fatal, for the Lord holds them with his hand.” (Psalm 37:23 TLB)

Next issue (Monday), don’t miss the startling true story of a struggling writer who tried to break into the world of pulp fiction — and eventually made a real dent!

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Go With the Flow? (Diet for Dreamers; Encouragement for Creators)

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Ever feel like your swimming against the current? Sometimes, in the pursuit of our dreams, we actually end up doing just that. Opportunities often drift our way, but we can be so intent on charting our own course that we refuse to be swept along by the “good tidings” life often has to offer. In other words, “The way of fools seems right to them, but the wise listen to advice.” (Proverbs 12:15 NIV) Ouch!

People are always looking for the next “new thing”; and creative people, in particular, tend to quickly get bored with their own proven successes. Go figure. But novelists have been known to “kill off” beloved fictional characters because they want to write something different; singers may leave the music genres in which they’ve enjoyed the most popularity; and actors who play the leads in hit TV shows are notorious for departing to become movie stars! Sometimes, these decisions pay off. Sometimes, however, these dreamers would have been better off just going with the flow.

Businessmen and women may abandon lucrative ventures in order to pursue something else; and people are continually quitting comfortable, high-paying jobs to chase after “pie in the sky.” Discontentment? Restlessness? Stubbornness? Plain stupidity? Sure, it’s good to be challenged, to explore new avenues, and to continue growing. But there are occasions when staying put has its merits!

Now, we’re certainly not suggesting that anyone should give up on his or her dreams, but we are suggesting that the course you take in the pursuit of these dreams doesn’t necessarily need to be the one you carefully plotted years ago. Life and circumstances frequently dictate the need to make navigational changes: to seize certain opportunities when they come your way; to be content working within your own gifts and talents, and sticking with a proven success — If it ain’t broke, then stop trying to fix it!

And to be willing to go with the flow! Here’s the story of a writer and a publishing house that did just that.

Throughout the 1920s, Street & Smith Company, one of the leading publishers of the day, ruled the newsstands in America. The publisher had enjoyed great success with its mystery and adventure pulps — monthly fiction magazines packed with highly entertaining novels and stories printed on cheap pulp paper — and with a series featuring a continuing character, a fictional detective named Nick Carter. But with increasing competition at the newsstands, not to mention the disastrous effects of the Great Economic Depression of 1929, Street and Smith soon found it was losing valuable ground.

As it entered the 1930s, the company made several decisions that would greatly impact its future. First, there would be no continuing characters in its pulps — a big mistake! Second, Street & Smith would promote its flagship publication Detective Story Magazine by contracting to have mystery tales from the periodical adapted for radio broadcast — a big success! Third, since there were no continuing characters, the stories would be tied together as a series by a mysterious host who would introduce and comment upon each new segment of the show — a big idea that would set the format of anthology shows for decades, both on radio (The Whistler, for example) and television (with popular series such as Rod Serling’s The Twilight Zone).

The new radio show was a hit. But a curious thing happened, and Street & Smith realized it was best to just go with the flow! The host of the weekly series became the most popular aspect of the broadcast. The actor hired to perform as the mysterious narrator known only as The Shadow had decided to play the character to the hilt, employing an eerie, whispering delivery punctuated by a maniacal laugh. We’ve all heard a sample of the type of melodrama the narrator gleefully delivered: “Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men? The Shadow knows! Haaa-hahaha-haaaa!

Street & Smith soon learned their advertising ploy had backfired … sort of. The radio show was supposed to increase sales of the magazine, but the newsstands were reporting that listeners were confused. Instead of picking up Detective Story Magazine, potential readers wanted to buy “that Shadow mystery magazine.” Only there wasn’t such a thing! No problem, Street & Smith decided to give readers exactly what they wanted, a pulp with a continuing character — like the publisher’s previously cancelled series of Nick Carter dime novels — called the Shadow!

No one could have predicted this ironic outcome, or this unforeseen creative and financial opportunity. Nothing had worked out the way Street & Smith had planned it, but the publisher wasn’t about to pass up a good thing. The company would just go with the flow. A wise decision, too, because the Shadow would soon become a profitable media juggernaut that would influence movies, magazines and comics for decades! But at this point in history Street & Smith still had one tiny problem: no one had yet figured out just exactly WHO this Shadow fellow was!

Enter a successful young writer who’s suddenly faced with the opportunity of a lifetime … and a creative choice that could make or break his fame and fortune. Will he go with the flow — or chart an entirely different course? Join us in our next thrilling issue for the conclusion of this startling but true story!

In the pursuit of your goals and dreams, and in all of your creative endeavors, whenever you come to a crossroads, or encounter an unusual and unexpected opportunity, ask God to help you make the right decision. Could be that you’d be best served just going with the flow.

“Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, ‘This is the way; walk in it.'” (Isaiah 30:21 NIV)

“Getting wisdom is the wisest thing you can do! And whatever else you do, develop good judgment.” (Proverbs 4:7 NLT)

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