Rural Missouri - December 2010 - (Page 8)

images courtesy of the La Plata Library Above: Lester Dent and his wife, Norma, share a moment in the radio room at their home in La Plata. Among Dent’s many interests was radio. He built much of his own equipment. Right: Dent went beyond merely writing stories. He lived the adventurous life of Doc Savage, exploring remote areas, living on a sailboat and prospecting for gold. He reportedly found only about $8 worth of gold, but gained the fodder for hundreds of stories. by Jim McCarty “There was death afoot in the darkness. It crept furtively along a steel girder. Hundreds of feet below yawned glassand-brick-walled cracks — New York streets. Down there, late workers scurried homeward. Most of them carried umbrellas and did not glance upward.” o begins a legend in pulp fiction, the first Doc Savage adventure story penned by Lester Dent from La Plata. Titled “The Man in Bronze,” the story introduced Depression-era readers to the world’s first superhero and launched the career of a man who would become one of the nation’s most prolific writers of fiction. One would be hard-pressed to find a less likely candidate for a successful writer than Lester Dent. He was born in La Plata in 1904, but moved to Oklahoma when he was four months old. The family later moved to Wyoming by covered wagon. In 1919, the family would return to La Plata for good. Lester flunked English four times in high school. He enrolled in the Chillicothe Business College planning to become a banker. However, he discovered the starting salary for a telegraph operator was $20 a week better than what bank tellers made, so he changed his major to telegraphy. Working the night shift as a tel- S • La Plata graph operator for the Associated Press, Dent found his life’s calling. A fellow operator showed him a check he earned for a story published in one of the pulp magazines common to the day. “The impulse to write arose from a combination of two things — greed and shock,” Dent wrote in a short autobiography in 1938. The shock came from discovering magazines paid for writing. The greed came from seeing the check his co-worker earned. “The result was, I started writing,” Dent wrote. “I turned out 13 stories, some of them book length, and all came back with a perfect record of consistency.” Undaunted by the rejections, Dent wrote one more story and this time found success. Top-Notch Magazine paid him $250 for an action-adventure story called “Pirate Cay” that appeared in September 1929. A year later, Dent received a telegram from Dell Publications in New York. The firm offered to buy another Dent story. The telegram ended: “Suggest when you have completed story if you are not making over one hundred dollars a week that you get leave of absence or that you get canned from your paper and put yourself aboard train with manuscript for New York. Want to talk to you and tuck you under my wing personally for few weeks. After that you won’t need to worry about your fiction future.” The statement proved accurate. 8 RURAL MISSOURI

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Rural Missouri - December 2010

Rural Missouri - December 2010
Lester Dent
The Owl Innkeepers
Mail Bag
Out of the Way Eats
Best of Rural Missouri
Hearth and Home
News Briefs
Just Claus
Too Good to Be True?
Around Missouri

Rural Missouri - December 2010