2: Pulp Fiction

Tom talks with historian and writer Allan Converse about his novel-in-progress, The Dying Nude.

Valentine “Val” Cowan, the novel’s hard-boiled heroine, investigates the murder of a left-leaning modern dancer in a detective story that brings 1950s New York to life. Communism, organized crime, abstract expressionism, burlesque performance, beats and bohemians, and the city’s (largely underground) lesbian community form the rich setting for Allan’s contribution to crime fiction.


Listen to Episode 1 Episode 2: Pulp Fiction

Listen to "The Dying Nude" Allen reads from his novel, The Dying Nude.


An excerpt from The Dying Nude was published in the Fall 2011 issue of Printer’s Devil Review.

Image Gallery

View covers image #2 image #3 image #4 image #5 image #6 image #7 image #8 image #9 image #10 from crime and lesbian pulp novels.

View photographs image #2 image #3 image #4 image #5 image #6 image #7 image #8 image #9 image #10 of people, places, and things in 1950s New York. 

About Our Guest

Although born in 1959 in the Joan Crawford Wing of the Hollywood Presbyterian Hospital in Los Angeles, Allan Converse grew up in New York City. He graduated from Vassar College in the 1980’s and holds degrees in history from Northeastern and Brandeis universities. He is currently writing a work of military history about the British and Australian armies in World War II for publication in Australia. He teaches history at several colleges and universities in the Boston area.


Detective & Crime Fiction

Some books from Allan's collectionDetnovel.com.  Maintained by William Marling, professor of English at Case Western University, this site is devoted to the history of the hard-boiled detective genre and its authors.

Classic Mystery. Designed and written by Michael E. Grost, a mystery fan who lives near Detroit, the site contains reading lists, author bios, and essays related to mystery and crime writing, mainly of the pre-1965 era.

The Black Mask. The official website of the the classic hard-boiled pulp crime magazine.

The Simple Art of Murder. Raymond Chandler’s influential essay; it helped to define the hard-boiled genre.

Masters of the Genre

Dashiell Hammett (1894-1961). Author of The Maltese Falcon, The Glass Key, and The Thin Man, Hammet created The Continental Op, Sam Spade, and Nick and Nora Charles.

Raymond Chandler (1888-1959). Author of The Big Sleep; Farewell, My Lovely; and The Long Goodbye, Chandler also served as a scriptwriter for such films as The Blue Dahlia and Double Indemnity. Chandler is best known for his wise-cracking and world-weary protagonist, Philip Marlowe.

Kenneth Millar (1915-1983), aka Ross MacDonald.  Author of The Moving Target, The DoomstersThe Galton Case, and The Underground Man, Millar’s serial sleuth is the thoughtful and empathetic Lew Archer.


Betz, Phyllis M. 2006. Lesbian detective fiction: Woman as author, subject, and reader. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland & Co.

Cava, Frances A. Della, and Madeline H. Engel. 2002. Sleuths in skirts: A bibliography and analysis of serialized female sleuths. New York: Routledge.

Horsley, Lee. 2005. Twentieth century crime fiction. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Mizejewski, Linda. 2004. Hardboiled and high heeled: The woman detective in popular culture. New York: Routledge.

Priestman, Martin. 2003. The Cambridge companion to crime fiction. Cambridge companions to literature. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Rzepka, Charles J. 2005. Detective fiction. Cultural history of literature. Cambridge: Polity.

The Lesbian Pulps

Strange Sisters. An archive of lesbian paperback artwork from the 50s and 60s.


Ann Bannon (1932- ). The author of a series of five lesbian pulp novels known as “The Beebo Brinker Chronicles.”  In a 1999 interview, Bannon spoke with Fresh Air’s Terry Gross about her work.

Patricia Highsmith (1921-1995), aka Claire Morgan.  Author of The Price of Salt, Strangers on a Train (adapted into a film by Alfred Hitchcock), as well as The Talented Mr. Ripley and four other books featuring her murderous anti-hero, Tom Ripley.

Marijane Meaker (1927- ), aka, Ann Aldritch, aka Vin Packer, aka M. E. Kerr, aka Mary James.  Her work includes the lesbian romance Spring Fire; as well as two journalistic studies of lesbian communities in New York; We Walk Alone and We, Too, Must Love. Meaker was also interviewed on Fresh Air in 2003; she discusses her carreer as a lesbian paper-back writer and her relationship with Patricia Highsmith.


Forrest, Katherine V. 2005. Lesbian pulp fiction: The sexually intrepid world of lesbian paperback novels, 1950-1965. San Francisco: Cleis Press.

Stryker, Susan. 2001. Queer pulp: Perverted passions from the golden age of the paperback. San Francisco: Chronicle Books.

New York City in the 1950s

History of Gay Bars in NYC. A fascinating site devoted to the history of New York’s lesbian and gay bars, including the mob’s involvement in them.

New York Historical Society. Home to both New York City’s oldest museums and one of the nation’s most ditinguished independent libraries.

New York: A Documentary Film. This seven-part, nearly 15-hour documentary explores 400 years of New York’s rich history.

Museum of the City of New York.  A museum with a unique mandate: to explore the past, present, and future of this fascinating and particular place and to celebrate its heritage of diversity, opportunity, and perpetual transformation.

New York School Painting

An overview of Abstract Expressionism by Paul Stella in The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History.

A video, filmed in 1950, of Jackson Pollock painting.

The critic Clement Greenberg was perhaps the most influential voice in support of Pollock and other New York School painters.  “Avante-Garde and Kitsch” (1939) and “Modernist Painting” (1960) are characteristic of his thinking at the time.


Herskovic, Marika. 2000. New York school: Abstract expressionists: Artists choice by artists: A complete documentation of the New York painting and sculpture annuals, 1951-1957. New Jersey: New York School Press.

Shapiro, David. 1992. Abstract expressionism: A critical record. Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press.

Sandler, Irving. 1978. The New York School: The painters and sculptors of the fifties. New York: Harper & Row.


Burlesque. From University of Virginia theater professor John W. Frick’s guide to burlesque for his course “The History of American Popular Entertainment.”

The American Variety Stage is a multimedia anthology selected from various Library of Congress holdings.  The collection includes several vintage film clips of burlesque performances.

Life Magazine offers a gallery of classic burlesque photographs.

Striptease.  A discussion of striptease past and present on the BBC program Women’s Hour; the participants are Rachel Shtier, author of The Untold History of the Girlie Show, Prof Lynda Nead, Birkbeck College, and Immodesty Blaize, Burlesque artist.

A few years back, Alana wrote an article for Bitch Magazine about the renewed interest in burlesque:

Kumbier, Alana. 2002. Tales of the ta ta sisterhood: On the burlesque revival in American culture. Bitch Magazine: A Feminist Response to Pop Culture. Spring 2002.


Allen, Robert Clyde. 1991. Horrible prettiness: burlesque and American culture. Cultural studies of the United States. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press.

Briggeman, Jane. 2004. Burlesque: Legendary stars of the stage. Portland, Or: Collectors Press.

Goldwyn, Liz, and Jennifer Augustyn. 2006. Pretty things: The last generation of American burlesque queens. New York: Regan Books.


terrific sense of the time

Great evocation of the noir style: dialogue, lighting, pacing.
The lesbian subculture is a terrific new, unfamiliar framework for developing the characters.

Your comment

Thanks very much for your kind comment. I do find the 50's lesbian subculture a fascinating background for this sort of fiction, and I am having a lot of fun exploring it. I only hope that I can render it accurately.

I should say that some authors have already written mysteries set in the 50's lesbian world, but these have been humorous, campy pieces. The difference is that I am trying to write this as seriously as I can (though I do have some wisecracks in the dialogue, of course). Crime happened in that world, and crime is always serious.

I love it so far!

Hi Tom and Allan!
I haven't had a chance to listen to the whole episode yet, but just visiting the page to see the links--I am really impressed with this meaty website and can't wait to explore all the links. :D

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