I have always believed I was the only writer in the Fagalde family. I was wrong! Looking for a missing in-law led me to Genealogybank.com, which led me to discover May Eliza Frost, aka Mrs. Glenn Fagalde, who wrote pulp fiction under the name Eli Colter. And she wrote it in Oregon! Our names have both appeared in the Oregonian!
In a clip from the society pages of the March 29, 1936 Oregonian, the columnist writes about a gathering of authors that included Mrs. Fagalde. “Eli Colter (Mrs. Glenn Fagalde) is just as individual a personality as her many novels. Although she is known for her western stories of characteristic flavor, she has also distinguished herself in the writing field of the supernatural. The titles alone of her novels intrigue all ages from 8 to 80. Bad Men’s Trail, The Adventures of Hawke Travis, and Outlaw Blood are typical examples of this unique woman writer doing westerns with a swagger.”
Back in the olden days, many women writers felt the need to take male pen names in order to get published and respected. I imagine readers would have trouble believing Wild West and supernatural stories written by a woman named May Eliza. It’s such a sweet name. But Eli’s characters are anything but sweet.
It’s fascinating to realize she was spinning her tales in the years when my dad was young, reading those old hardcover westerns with blue or green covers. He might even have read something by Eli Colter, with no idea she was married to one of the Oregon Fagaldes.
I just finished reading The Adventures of Hawke Travis, originally published in 1931. This is a real Wild West tale. Hawke Travis is a roaming gunman and gambler who doesn’t mind breaking the law for a good cause or killing a man who deserves it, but he will never double-cross his friends or kill for no reason. If the law ever catches up with him, he’ll probably hang, but he has a gift for slipping away just in the nick of time. Hawke claims to have been a teacher, a lawyer and a few other things, changing like a chameleon to fit in whatever place he wanders into, but beware those black eyes and the Colt 44 he keeps tucked in his waistband. Is the story realistic? No. But it’s pure pleasure to read. The old-time language trips off the tongue. It feels as if the narrator is sitting right next to you telling the tale. And if they appropriate Spanish words–calling each other “hombre” and such–and use “that’s mighty white of you” as a compliment, well, we have to consider the era in which the stories were written and let it go. At least the few women we encounter in Hawke’s adventures are feisty and damned good shots.
When I first read about Colter’s books, I thought they would be difficult to find. But Amazon.com has them. So do various other booksellers, thanks to Colter’s estate and publishers keeping the books in print. I may have to read some more. This is very exciting to me, even if the Fagalde name isn’t mentioned in conjunction with her work.
In addition to westerns, Colter wrote stories of the supernatural for pulp magazines like Weird Tales. Black Mask Magazine, and Strange Stories. Through the miracle of the Internet, I downloaded “The Last Horror.” Shiver. Look out, Ray Bradbury.
In a bio of Colter at the Weird Tales website, the writer says Colter’s tales in Strange Stories alternated with those of an author named Don Alviso. Both sets of stories came from the same mailing address because Don Alviso was actually Glenn Fagalde, her husband. Alviso was my great-great-great grandmother’s maiden name.
The couple eventually left Oregon for Azusa, California, where their household became the center of a writer’s colony. Glenn Fagalde died in 1957, and “Eli” lived on to 1984. By then, I was writing my own stories in San Jose.
Times have changed. I feel no need to write under a man’s name, although I like the sound of “Sam Lick” or how about “Slick Lick.” Very macho. How about Dona Fagalde? At most writers’ gatherings now, live or on Zoom, most of the participants are women. But I’m proud of May Eliza. She had spunk and could spin a damned good yarn.
You know what else? In her younger days, she played the piano and pipe organ in movie houses to make her living. We have the piano in common, too.
We tend these days to think everything that happened before the turn of the current century is too old to pay attention to, but there’s gold in them thar old books.
Read any good old books lately?