[The following is an updated reprint of a column which originally appeared in the April 28, 2005, issue of Hellnotes.]
E. Hoffmann Price was a noted pulp writer, who, along with H.P. Lovecraft and Clark Ashton Smith, dominated the magazine Weird Tales in the 1930s. He wrote in many genres, including horror, fantasy, detective, adventure, and western. In addition, he was a master of the “spicy” story.
Edgar Hoffmann Trooper Price was born July 3, 1898, in Fowler, California. He never said much about his boyhood, so not much is known about this period of his life. Initially, he embarked on a military career. He served in World War I with the American Expeditionary Force in France, with the 15th U.S. Cavalry in the Philippines, and on the Mexican border. After the war, he was educated at West Point, graduating in 1923 with a Bachelor of Science degree. He served with the Coast Artillery Corps in 1923-24. In the military, he learned about horses, swords, pistols, and war tactics, all of which helped him make his action stories vivid and authentic. His worldwide travels both in and out of the military also aided his writing by giving him the background needed to create the exotic settings he favored.
For eight years, beginning in 1924, he worked for Union Carbide Corporation at a plant outside New Orleans. To occupy his spare time, he bought a typewriter and started writing stories. After numerous rejections, he sold his first piece, “Triangle with Variations,” to the magazine Droll Stories in 1924. He started a string of sales to Weird Tales and was on the editorial staff of that magazine in its early years. He then branched out into the detective pulps. After he was fired from his Union Carbide job in 1932, he turned to full-time writing as a career. Over the next 20 years, he published more than 500 stories as well as articles and novels.
Price wrote over 150 stories for the spicy pulps from the mid-1930s to the mid-1940s. He sometimes used the pen name Hamlin Daly, but he usually wrote under his own name. These magazines had lurid, often explicit, covers featuring nearly-nude women in sexual or threatening situations. The stories themselves were sexual and violent, pushing the boundaries of what was acceptable at that time. The magazines were often sold under the counter and packaged in plain brown wrapping for the trip home. But Price maintained a level of quality in these stories. He wrote in the introduction to a collection of his, “Though the Spicy mags were trivial tripe and trash, I took each story seriously. Despite the limitations of the formula, all the built-in juvenility and silliness, I researched and wrote as honestly as I could. Each was a step toward becoming a regular writer, appearing in real magazines.”
During World War II, Price drew on his military education and experience to write war stories, which were published in Argosy, Adventure, Short Stories, and other magazines.
Price appreciated the work of other pulp writers. He corresponded extensively with them and traveled the country for personal meetings. He especially admired Lovecraft, Smith, and Robert E. Howard. He was a supporter of Smith’s work (probably because they both lived in the same state), and he collaborated on several stories with Lovecraft, who greatly admired his work. Price also wrote many stories with Otis Adelbert Kline.
Price wrote articles for fanzines about his fellow writers and about the early days of pulp fiction. When the pulps declined in the 1950s, instead of turning to the increasingly popular paperback novels, Price followed other paths. Besides some odd jobs, he became an astrologer and wrote columns on the subject for San Francisco newspapers, which became his primary source of income for the following 20 years. When he was forced to retire from the newspapers at age 70, he returned to writing fiction, saying, “Being a ‘senior citizen’ was an unbearably stupid prospect, so I went back to writing, and I am doing a better job than I did during my earlier years.”
In the late 1970s, Price started writing novels, which did not receive much notice. His first was Grubstake (1979), a western. This was followed by two fantasy novels, The Devil Wives of Li Fong (1979) and The Jade Enchantress (1982); and by a science-fiction series: Operation Misfit (1980), Operation Longlife (1983), Operation Exile (1985), and Operation Isis (1986).
Three collections came out late in his career. Strange Gateways was published by Arkham House in 1967. Far Lands, Other Days (1975) was issued by Carcosa, a publishing company begun in 1973 by Karl Edward Wagner and David Drake, which published a small number of limited editions. Three Cliff Cragin Stories came out in 1987. And one collection was published posthumously: Satan’s Daughter and Other Takes From the Pulps (Wildside Press, 2004).
His collection of essays on various old masters of horror, Book of the Dead: Friends of Yesteryear: Fictioneers and Others, was published by Arkham House in 2001. These essays are based on his memories of these writers rather than on research, making for lively reading.
Price studied Asian culture and made lots of friends in the Asian community in California, which was unusual for the times, and he became a practicing Buddhist. He had a Chinese name, Tao Fa, and sometimes signed his letters using a “chop,” a stamp with a name in Chinese characters which is used as a seal or signature.
Price died on June 18, 1988, in Redwood City, California. It is reported he died at his word-processor, working on yet another masterful tale.
Price’s collection Far Lands, Other Days was nominated for Best Collection by the World Fantasy Convention in 1976. The following year, he was nominated for the World Fantasy Life Achievement Award, but he didn’t win that award until he was again nominated in 1984.
Wildside Press has available Satan’s Daughter and Other Tales From the Pulps, Valley of the Tall Gods and Other Tales From the Pulps, and facsimile reprints of pulp magazines with Price’s tales, such as Spicy Mystery Stories. Still in-print from Arkham House is Book of the Dead. Price’s novels and other collections are out-of-print, but used-book dealers sell the novels for a song and the collections at reasonable prices.