“All that can save fiction is enormous verve, a real sweep, plus richness of character, blood that can be seen shining through. (...) I cannot write prose if I think… I don’t believe that Shakespeare stopped to think out reasons for doing things. I believe he simply worked by instinct, the sure workman’s instinct.” -- Max Brand
"While Faust’s work is uneven, so much of it is so good, and so distinctively his own, that it’s a shame it hasn’t been examined more seriously." -- John C. Hocking
Frederick Faust, better known to millions of fans over the last hundred years as "Max Brand," was born on this date in 1892. Awhile back, I wrote a post on H. Bedford-Jones where I called him "King of the Pulps." I may need to change my mind on that one. I was following the opinion of Darrell C. Richardson--whose opinions and erudition I esteem greatly--in that instance. I think I'll have to belatedly disagree with Darrell this time.
While Bedford-Jones is calculated to have written about twenty-five million words for the pulps in his career, Faust wrote at least that many in a shorter career--Faust died five years before Bedford-Jones, almost to the day. Both men wrote in various genres, but Faust appears to have made better money doing so. The tie-breaker for me is that Faust was also more successful in non-pulp venues and he was a better writer, in my opinion. Check out Faust’s IMDB entry and compare it to that of Bedford-Jones.
Ryan Harvey is an ace blogger and occasional author of sword and sorcery. He’s also one of the staunchest partisans of Faust’s fiction on the Interwebs. He’s read more of Faust’s stuff, thought harder about it and written more on it than I have. Click on over and check out this fine blog post from Mr. Harvey here:
Faust was an excellent short story writer and that is how I first encountered him as an adult. Ryan Harvey takes a look at that here:
However, Faust really made his mark as a novelist. Here's what Harvey had to say about that:
"The reason that Faust turned to writing novels (which at the time were published in the pulps in serial form) was because editor Bob Davis at Munsey Publications needed a writer to replace Zane Grey. Grey had captured readers’ attention in 1913 with Desert Gold in Street & Smith’s The Popular Magazine, one of the general interest pulps that were the most widely read in the ‘teens. Grey then started to sell to Bob Davis at Munsey and its stable of successful magazines. But after 1916, Grey broke into the higher paying market of the 'slicks' with a sale to Collier; he moved on, never to return to the rough-paper magazines.
”The young Frederick Faust landed in Bob Davis’s New York office at the right time. Faust had relocated from California to New York in a futile bid to get into the army and go overseas to fight in the war. (Like Captain America!) His heart condition kept him out, so he tried to make a living as a poet in the city. Poetry paid as well then as it does now, and soon Faust was broke and desperate. He got an introduction to Bob Davis. The editor discovered in Frederick Faust a writer overflowing with skill who could dash out prose professional enough that it could be typeset right off the rolls of his Smith-Corona typewriter. In 1917, right as Faust started to sell, Davis wrote to him with this advice: ‘I regard you as a man of tremendous potentialities. With a few short strides you can bridge the chasm between yourself and fame and take a high place among the writing elite of this generation. Notwithstanding the trip is a short one, it is on a tight rope.’ “
Ryan Harvey believes--and I just might agree--that The Seventh Man may be Faust's best novel. Its protagonist, Dan Barry, is an untamed soul cut from the same cloth as those of Jack London and Robert E. Howard. Barry is a man who is just too much of the Wild to fit in, even in the frontier society of the Old West. In his novels about Dan Barry, Faust hints at the supernatural, as he does in many of his other Western tales. Here is another great post from Harvey that looks at The Seventh Man and the intensity that Faust could bring to a story:
Jason M. Waltz, sword and sorcery author and publisher over at Rogue Blades Entertainment, has this to say about The Seventh Man:
"That book rocked my world as a youngster and of all the books in all the libraries in the world, this is the one that has stuck within my soul forever. Dan Barry rooted himself as the larger-than-life character that took up the most space in my memory, my id, from childhood to young adulthood. I yearned to be Dan Barry. Even today there are few characters that stand equal to the man in my pantheon of heroes."
Faust didn't just write Westerns; far from it. From the beginning, he also crafted tales of historical adventure, ranging from the Crusades to the Renaissance. Chief among those would be his stories about Tizzo the Firebrand, who wields a bloody axe from one end of Cesare Borgia's Italy to the other. Clovelly, set in seventeenth-century England, is another excellent swashbuckling novel. As author James Reasoner, an expert on the pulps and a connossieur of historical adventure, has said, "I wish somebody would reprint more of [Faust's] historical fiction. What little I've read of it was top-notch." Luckily, Altus Press has recently reprinted not just the complete adventures of Tizzo the Firebrand, but also Clovelly.
As has been pointed out numerous times, Westerns--along with hard-boiled crime fiction stories--are first cousins to Howardian sword and sorcery. The protagonists in many of Faust's/Brand's Westerns feel Howardian to me. They are intense, brooding men who are quite capable of dealing death and often do. They stride and ride across a mythic landscape torn asunder by human fallibility and violent passions. In the case of Faust's historical adventures, the tales of Tizzo could easily be set in a post-Conan Argos or Ophir with some very minor tweaks.
When World War II broke out, Faust, who had tried to enlist during World War I, volunteered to serve as a war correspondent attached to an infantry unit. He died on the Italian front. He is reported to have refused medical attention for his wounds so that the infantrymen could get first attention. He was two weeks shy of his fifty-second birthday. Faust received a posthumous Purple Heart with a commendation. The commendation reads: “He lives—in a way that humbles the undertakings of most men.”
Today, on what would've been his one hundred and twenty-seventh birthday, his work does still live. Keeping in mind that Memorial Day was just a couple of days ago, raise a glass to the shade of Frederick Faust. *
Much of Faust's enormous body of work can be found, as usual, at Roy Glashan's most excellent online library here.
*Did I mention Faust loved horses and dogs? A good man.