In his whimsy memoir/book of essays, Honk if You’re a Writer, Art Plotnik devotes a chapter, “Sexual Solitude in a Fool’s Paradise,” to his time as a sleaze writer, which he took up after several years as a professional journalist. Like many reporters, he secretly wished to become a novelist. His old college buddy, Bill Coons, told him of a chance to “ghost” a Don Holliday book for Hal Drenser. learn the craft of sex books, make some needed money, and perhaps make it a gig: the composition of “potboilers.”
Posing as literature, potboilers skirted the obscenity laws and could be sold on newstands and drugsore racks as well as shops specializing in “one-handed magazines.” Titles often sold in the 100,000-copy range.
No one has to write potboilers; virtuous writers can always starve or sell Tupperware. But since the opportinity was there, many good fiction writers turned to potbpoilers to make ends meet. (p. 74)
Plotnik is one of the few writers of the 1960s sleazecore who didn’t try to hide the fact he was doing this for money. He saw himself as a craftsman, a professional doing a job for a buck; feeling that the writing would hone skills for later, more serious commercial fiction, the way Donald Westlake, Evan Hunter, Larry Block and Bob Silverberg eventually did…and Dresner, too. He took a pragmatic view of work-for-hire:
As Plotnikov began his next book, he thrilled to the idea that eachpage completed was money earned — $4.28 to be exact — and that when he pumped out two pages of orgiastic cries in thirty minutes, he earned the then-dizzying of $17.12 an hour or $684.80 a week! (p. 77)
Not bad wages — in 1961 money, that was $170 and hour, and about $6,000 a week, the salary of a good lawyer. That’s what TV writers get these days…but no most fiction writers, for sure.
The Girl Takers took “Plotnikov” two weeks to write; according to him, it was based on some real events in his life, “a cross-country fling taken six years earlier” (p. 75). This little book does have a weird “feel” of the autobiographical in it, although it is not written in the first person.
John is a big beefy ex-sailor driving from Montreal to New York, having left one of many girls there in Canada. He’s a free-wheelin’, free-lovin’ guy out to explore all the women the world has the offer. But he’s heading to New York to see his ex-girlfriend, Sheila, that he still has a yen for — he broke up with her a year ago when she pressured him for marriage.
He sees a guy hitchhiking and picks him up. He’s William, also escaping a woman — a girl he was dating since he was 16, but who turns out to be frigid and less than loving. William is still a virgin at age 21, so the women worldly John, age 25, talks William into traveling around with him, and he will teach William how to pick up and bed all the millions of girls out there in 1960s America.
In a weird way they are like the low-rent versions of Kerouac’s Dean Moriarity and Sal Paradise, driving fast across the country in search of experience and truth. As On the Road was at its height of popularity among all young men at the time, it seems this was Plotnik’s intention.
The cover art is actually a scene from the book, for a change in sleaze. John and William share a room and across the way, they often see a woman walking around in her underwear — and then one day she is naked and dancing in front of a mirror. Turns out she’s a stripper, and William decides she must be the first woman, she must take his virginity. Being a good friend, William sets this up, after paying her — she is a stripper and a working girl. “I need the dough.”
After a brief reunion with Sheila in New York — she still wants marriage — John and William set off to California, on the road, meeting a variety of women, yet still drawn to their pasts and wondering if they both chose the correct road to travel down.
A whimsy read, nothing heavy here. A 7.5.