Double-barreled inspiration

Inspiration strikes writers at often unexpected times, such as the time Hugh B. Cave found himself staring into the business end of a shotgun after entering what he thought was an empty shack.

Cave, a prolific writer of pulps during the 1930s, was the guest of honor and spoke at the Windy City Pulp and Paperback Convention held April 5, 2003, in Lincolnwood, Ill., near Chicago.

He wrote stories for nearly every conceivable pulp market with the exception of science fiction. Today, Cave is chiefly remembered for his horror stories, a field in which he continues to write. (One of his latest, “The Restless Dead,” was released earlier this year by Leisure Books.) He has received lifetime achievement awards from such organizations as the International Horror Guild and the World Fantasy Association.

Cave recounted the inspiration for one of his most popular stories, “Murgunstrumm,” about a monster-man that Cave still affectionately refers to as “Murgy.” (It originally appeared in an issue of Strange Tales.) He’d been out fishing one day, when he happened across what he thought was a deserted shack. Going inside it to investigate, Cave said he was confronted by an old man weilding a shotgun, who ordered him to “get the hell out.”

As Cave told the story, “I went home that night and vowed to get even with that old man. So I sat down and wrote a story, and he became Murgy!”

By Cave’s own account, he has lived the lifestyle most writers only dream about. Except for a brief stint with a publishing house, which got him interested in writing for the pulps, he never had a regular job, with writing providing his only income.

“You have to remember,” Cave said, “in the old days, when a nickle bought you a cup of coffee, I was making $5,000 a year, which was enough to get by on.”

Cave’s career moved on to the “slicks,” such as Saturday Evening Post, where he was very successful, and then into books. He has written five books about World War II, in which he served as a war correspondent, and a number of books and novels regarding Haiti, where he and his family lived on and off for five years after the war. His friendship with a voodoun leader there enabled him to attend voodoo ceremonies. He has used voodoo as a background for many of his novels, including “The Restless Dead.”

At the close of his talk, some fans presented him with cakes decorated with pulp magazine covers featuring his stories that had been designed into the icing.