Dope Menace: The Sensational World of Drug Paperbacks 1900-1975


As faithful readers of my blog may have noticed, I’ve begun to promote my forthcoming novel, The Singular Exploits of Wonder Mom and Party Girl (PS Books, May 2009), somewhat shamelessly over the past few weeks. In some ways, the novel is a literary homage to “anti-dope” paperback novels of the last century — so I was very excited to find Stephen J Gertz’s Dope Menace: The Sensational World of Drug Paperbacks (Feral House, 2008), a nonfiction tome on that very subject, upon a recent visit to Doylestown Bookshop.

In Dope Menace, Gertz chronicles many of the social, legal, economic, and moral(istic) trends that helped to popularize and then undermine the market for drug paperbacks throughout the first three quarters of the twentieth century. From the earliest anti-drug tomes with titles like Plain Facts for Young Women on Marijuana, Narcotics, Liquor and Tobacco to latter-day tales of psychedelic excess like Beatnik Wanton (blurb: “She lusted in sin orgies and reefer brawls.”), Dope Menace provides not only an insightful examination of the ways in which popular literature reflected changing attitudes toward sex and drugs over the course of the twentieth century, but also what might prove to be a postmortem of the publishing industry itself. Yet as interesting as Gertz’s investigation of these phenomena may be, nothing speaks to the issues he discusses more clearly and colorfully than than the books themselves: dozens and dozens of book covers are reproduced in full color throughout the book along with wonderfully telling passages. Among my favorite titles: The Town That Took a Trip, Campus Sin Cult, and If the Coffin Fits.

If I have one complaint about this book, it’s about an issue that’s completely out of the hands of the author: I want to read almost all of the novels that Gertz mentions. Who, for example, could resist a title like Orgy Town, Prison Nurse, Rubber Goddess, or I Like it Tough? The only problem is that they’re all out of print and nearly impossible to find. But if you really need a literary fix along the lines of what Gertz discusses, you can always check out my book.

Michelle Wittle On Writing For Fun

Michelle Wittle On, Writing Tips

There is no such thing as writing for fun. It may be at times fun to write, but I firmly believe that true writing isn’t something you can just do for fun. Writing isn’t a hobby. It can’t be something that you were just bored on a Saturday and figured you should write about something.


I have mentioned before how writing is a bloodletting and I stand by my statement.


I can’t stand people who think writing is just a self-indulgent hobby.


Do you really think I enjoy characters smacking around in my brain? Is it really fun getting woken up at 3 in the morning knowing you have to turn on the computer and write this one scene down? Can you seriously look me in the eye and say it’s a blast not eating or sleeping for three whole days as this novel comes pouring out of you? You mean to tell me that it’s awesome getting your ideas rejected time and time again?


Writing as a hobby! It’s just not possible.


Let me clarify that a bit. A true writer, one who is committed to the craft of it (and may or may not be committed in another sense), would never say that writing is a hobby. It is something you either are or you aren’t. There is no in between and there is no hobby-ing here.


Writing is something you are born with. It is a gift handed down to you within your DNA. It can be a learned skill, but I don’t think a person can just fake being a writer. Writing is too much of an art and a science. You either have it or you don’t. You can learn techniques, but you can’t learn the art of it.


I am sorry if I offend anyone. It is just, to me, writing is everything. It is such a big chunk of who I am and it is just another link to my father and my family history. I hate when people look at what I do as just a hobby. Like I am some kind of bored woman who just dabbles in writing because I really liked English class when I was in high school.


I have been fascinated by words since I was four years old. I have been telling stories since I came out of the womb (sure, I didn’t use proper English until I was like 3, but still, I have a tape of me when I was real little just rambling gibberish for like twenty minutes…straight). I have been a writer and a storyteller my whole life. I don’t look too kindly on people who think I am just using my manicured fingers to write my blog before I meet the girls for lunch.


Sure, I let my life and others around me dictate that I couldn’t possibly be a writer. I even believed that I wasn’t one. Then one day, my writer self pushed forward and I haven’t stopped indulging her since. I may not always stop to write down my thoughts; but trust and believe they are in my head. I denied being a writer for so long and now look at me. My writing self didn’t go away; it just waited for the right moment. When that didn’t come, it took matters into its own hands and forced its way out.


True writing is not a hobby. I believe you either have it or you don’t. You can learn the techniques of it, but you can’t learn the art of it. Writing may hide inside you for while, but it will sneak out and smack you in the face. It’s up to you what you do when you get smacked.

Michelle Wittle On a Writer’s Toolbox

Michelle Wittle On, Writing Tips

All writers have a toolbox. Whether it is an actual box or just a box of files in their head, all writers keep things that help them write. I didn’t realize how important my own writer’s toolbox was until I started teaching again. I took my toolbox for granted. I didn’t pay too much attention to it. However, now I am seeing just how important it is in my life and I feel like I should share my toolbox with you.


First, I want to explain that I actually have a toolbox that I purchased. Before I was even in a classroom, I always thought that for non-writers, it would be a great idea to have a physical box filled with “writing tools” to help a non-writer out when they were stuck on something. When I started teaching high school, I just didn’t think they would buy into a physical toolbox and I never really had the time to devote to developing one with them.


However, now I am with little kids and I have about three hours with them, I revisited my age-old idea of a physical toolbox. Kids need a lot of stimuli and I’ll admit it, I had fun making the box.


It is an actual art box from AC Moore. It’s clear so I had to put all my favorite quotes on it. Then I went to my other favorite place, Staples, and purchased a billion index cards and these cute index cardholders. I got more pens (a girl can’t have enough pens) and highlighters. I hooked myself up. Then I went home and started constructing my box.


I already told you I wrote all over it. So, after I designed it, I grabbed a bunch of my favorite books that I know I wrote in and started finding quotes and adjectives that I liked so I could write them down on the index cards. As I writer, I know I have certain flaws. The first is naming my characters. I tend to gravitate towards “J” names and I always seem to want to use the same names all the time. One of the cardholders in my writer’s toolbox is for names. When I come across a cool name, I write it down and will now be placing it in my toolbox.


I also know that I have a hard time with adjectives. I tend to use the same sentence structure and the same words over and over again. So, I went through my books looking for cool words and writing them down to add to my toolbox.


Lastly, I have a hard time with cool ideas. If I don’t write the story down that is in my head, it will haunt me over and over again. This haunting will keep coming out in story after story and sometimes I am not ready to write that story. So, I took my favorite books and wrote down more quotes and ideas that I got from other quotes. Then when the time came and I needed a new idea, I would have a quick way to find them.


Do I think every writer should have a toolbox? Of course and I would argue that every writer already has one. It may not be a physical one, but we all see words and phrases we like and file them in our minds. Other books we read may spark a new thought within us and that thought gets filed away. We all do it. Writers love words and how they are placed together. We all look to our heroes and keep their words with us.


If you are having a difficult time writing and getting your thoughts organized, or even if you want to work on your weaknesses, I suggest creating your own toolbox. Take any form you like (whether it is just a journal, or a physical box) and when you find something you like, make a note of it. Creating a toolbox is a great way to procrastinate as well. Not that I advocate procrastination or anything, but if you need to just walk away from an idea for a bit and you want to do something constructive, making a toolbox is just a thought.