Hot Sex, Gory Violence

Newsweek published this My Turn essay of mine back in mid-1980s, while I was still a college student and writing books as "Ian Ludlow."  I stumbled across the essay again today and thought you might enjoy it:


One Student Earns Course Credit and Pays Tuition

My name is Ian Ludlow. Well, not really. But that’s the name on my four ".357 Vigilante" adventures that Pinnacle Books will publish this spring. Most of
the time I’m Lee Goldberg, a mild mannered UCLA senior majoring in mass communications and trying to spark a writing career at the same time. It’s hard work. I haven’t quite achieved a balance between my dual identities of college student and hack novelist.

The adventures of Mr. Jury, a vigilante into doing the LAPD’s dirty work,  are often created in the wee hours of the night, when I should be studying, meeting my freelance-article deadlines or, better yet, sleeping. More often than not, my nocturnal writing spills over into my classes the next morning. Brutal fistfights, hot sexual encounters and gory violence are frequently scrawled
across my anthropology notes or written amid my professor’s insights on Whorf’s hypothesis. Students sitting next to me who glance at my lecture notes are shocked to see notations like "Don’t move, scumbag, or I’ll wallpaper the room with your brains.

I once wrote a pivotal rape scene during one of my legal-communications classes, and I’m sure the girl who sat next to me thought I was a psychopath. During the first half of the lecture, she kept looking with wide eyes from my notes to my face as if my nose were melting onto my binder or something. At the break she disappeared, and I didn’t see her again the rest of the quarter. My professors,  though, seem pleased to see me sitting in the back of the classroom writing furiously. I guess they think I’m hanging on their every word. They’re wrong.

I’ve tried to lessen the strain between my conflicting identities by marrying the
two. Through the English department, I’m getting academic credit for the books. That amazes my Grandpa Cy, who can’t believe there’s a university crazy enough to reward me for writing "lots of filth." The truth is, it’s writing and it’s learning, and it’s getting me somewhere. Just where, I’m not
sure. My Grandpa Cy thinks it’s going to get me the realization I should join him in the furniture

I don’t admit to many people that
I’m writing books. It sounds so pompous, arrogant and phony when you
say that in Los Angeles. See, everybody in Los Angeles is writing a
book or screenplay. Walk into any 7-Eleven, tell the clerk you’re an
agent or producer, and he’ll whip out a handwritten, 630-page epic he’s
been keeping under the register for a chance like this.

I do involve my closest friends in the secret
world of Ian Ludlow. When I finished writing my first sex scene, I made
six copies and passed them around for a critique. I felt like I was
distributing pornography. "How do you compliment a sex scene?" a girl I
know complained. "It’s embarrassing." Another friend rewrote the scene
so it sounded like a
cross between a beating and extensive surgery.

Among my family and even my friends, I find
myself constantly apologizing for what I’m doing. Maybe I wouldn’t if I
were writing a Larry McMurtry or John Updike book. But I know what this
is. This is a black cover with a rugged hero in the forefront, shoving
a massive gun into the reader’s face. I feign disgust, mutter something
about "a guy’s got to break in somehow," and quickly change the subject.

But the truth is, it’s fun. And since Ian
Ludlow is the guy who will take the heat
for it, I can let myself relax and enjoy it. I’m building on those
childhood hours spent in front of my mom’s ancient Smith-Corona,
banging out hokey tales about super spies and super villains. My work
is still hokey; except  now someone is paying me for it. And paying me
not badly, either; I can pay for a whole year of college from the
advances for the four novels.

The opportunity came my way thanks to a
journalism professor who writes those bulky conspiracy thrillers and
harbors dreams of being the next Robert Ludlum. I used
to read his manuscripts and debate the merits of Lawrence Sanders and
Ken Follett. Then, when Pinnacle asked him to do an “urban man’s
action-adventure series,” he passed it on to  me. Pretty soon I was
buying books like “The Butcher,” “The Executioner, “The Penetrator,”
“The Destroyer” and “The Terminator” by the armful and flipping through
the latest issues of Soldier of Fortune and Gung Ho. After a week or
two of wading through this, I was ready to spill blood across my home
computer screen.

There’s a part of me that doesn’t like what I’m doing. It lectures
me while I’m making some bad guy eat hot lead. It tells me I should be
wrting a novel about relationships and feelings, about the problems my
peers are facing. I will, I say to myself, later. There’s plenty of

My God, has it really been twenty years since I wrote that? What’s
really astonishing is how little I’ve changed. I’m still writing the
same kind of stuff — and I’ve yet to write that "Larry McMurty" novel.
I like to think that, even now, there’s plenty of time.

3 thoughts on “Hot Sex, Gory Violence”

  1. You were lucky to be in college at a place and a time when one could get academic credit for college-level work done elsewhere. A while ago I sought to obtain academic English credits for my various novels, now well over fifty, which have consistently won great reviews (including a starred lead PW review), awards, and significant sales. No luck. My western and historical novels didn’t qualify. So, no credits.
    I am glad you were able to do it. Your work no doubt was superior by far to the run of the mill stuff the professors were coping with from other students and your professors recognized that reality. You should hear my English professor wife talk about what passes for college English these days!

  2. If I’ve got your age right, you were probably in college from about ’80 to ’84 or ’81 to ’85. I was at Michigan State from ’82 to ’86 and I would have benefited from being around some writers, that’s for sure. Except by the time I decided to become one I was a senior nearing the completion of my microbiology degree. Ah well. At that time Jim Cash was a professor at MSU’s English Department teaching film, and his writing partner out in LA was Jack Epps and the term I took creative writing, which would have been summer of ’86, I believe, they had three movies released: “Top Gun,” “The Secret of My Success” and I think the third was “Turner & Hooch.” The following year or two was “Dick Tracy.” They were on a streak, but unfortunately, my creative writing instructor didn’t seem to think much of their writing, apparently not equating that kind of success with any kind of quality. So goes the college creative writing experience.
    Mark Terry

  3. I took a creative writing class with Brian Moore, the author of THE STATEMENT and the screenwriter of TORN CURTAIN among other things. I couldn’t believe I had a teacher with such amazing credentials. The other great thing about UCLA was that professional screenwriters and novelists were speaking on campus all the time. I got three educations there — classroom, speakers, and what I learned from the interviews I did with actors, writers, directors, and studio/network execs as a freelance journalist.


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