Monday, April 11, 2016


Robert F. Dorr is a writer’s writer—A man who has consistently put words on paper and been paid for them since he was sixteen years old. He has been a roving wordslinger for over six decades. His prodigious output includes 80 books, over 6,000 magazine articles/stories, and 2,000 columns. Almost all of his writing has been non-fiction featuring wartime aviation or military history.
Last year, he completed and published two novels, Hitler’s Time Machine and Crime Scene: Fairfax County. These have been his first forays into the realm of fiction—if you don’t count the numerous "true stories" he wrote for the men’s adventure magazines.
Now 76 years old, Bob was diagnosed in the latter part of 2015 with Glioblastoma Multiforme—a fatal form of brain cancer. Successful surgery removed the tumor, but the procedure only gave him a little more time before the inevitable. Bob, however, has no time for self-pity. He is upbeat, positive, and determined, continuing to promote his latest novels, reaching out to support other writers, while fearlessly interacting with the social communities made possible by new technologies. He regularly talks on the phone with well-wishers and fans, but knowing his time in mortality is short, he spares his deteriorating typing skills for writing notes of gratitude and love to friends and family.
I first became aware of Bob though my interest in the Men’s Adventure Magazine Blog website and the associate Men’s Adventure Magazine Facebook Group. With his history of writing for the men’s adventure magazines, Bob was an active presence and knowledgeable contributor to both the website and the Facebook group.
Moderated by Robert Deis, the Men’s Adventure Magazine Blog is the premier resource for collectors of the post-WWII men’s adventure magazines. The website presents an in-depth examination of the various aspects specific to the genre—the covers; the artists; the writers; the pulp-fiction style stories; the true (in the loosest sense) non-fiction articles; the vintage ads; and all other aspects of this style of magazine, which proliferated on America’s newsstands from the 1950s through the mid-1970s. On the allure of these publications, men’s adventure magazine guru Deis proclaims, “Grandpa didn't read Twilight…”
With titles such as Men, All Man, Man’s Action, For Men Only, Male, Gusto, Untamed, an Man’s Life, the men’s adventure magazines left no male fantasy or interest unexplored. They are best remembered in pop culture for their vivid, lurid, and often titillating covers depicting bare-chested, all-American he-men, in close combat with sneering Nazis, savage island natives, wild beasts, and even wilder women.
As an offshoot of the website, Deis—along with his partner in crime and publishing, Wyatt Doyle—began publishing a series of beautifully produced anthologies of stories torn from the pages of the men’s adventure magazines. Under the umbrella of The Men’s Adventure Library, Deis and Doyle made these great stories accessible again in their three collections, Weasels Ripped My Flesh, He-men Bag Men And Nymphos, and Cryptozoology.
While two of Bob Dorr’s stories made it into Weasels Ripped My Flesh, Deis and Doyle decided a standalone collection of Dorr stories was a must. The resulting anthology, A Handful of Hell, was published in January. The stunning cover and beautifully reproduced illustrations from the original magazines make an inspiring canvas for the dynamite explosion of war action, valor, heroism, and down and dirty combat Dorr’s stories deliver.

I recently had the pleasure of interviewing Bob about A Handful of Hell. Due to the cruel machinations of the brain cancer, he spoke slowly, but clearly on the phone from his home in Oakton, Virginia, where he lives with his wife, Young Soon, and keeps track of his two sons and their families. He can be blunt and irascible, not suffering fools gladly, but if he considers you a friend his generosity abounds.
Since five years old, Bob was fascinated by the Air Force and military airplanes. When he was twelve, he bought a battered typewriter with money from his paper route, and began writing his first stories about planes.
In 1962, after a four year tour with the Air Force where he became a Korean language expert, Bob began to pursue writing professionally.

"The men’s adventure magazines were very visible on the drugstore racks, so I felt they must need somebody to write this stuff. I used Writer’s Digest to track down the editors and what the magazines were interested in. I then read the magazines to learn their style..."
In 1965, he was attached to the Foreign Service arm of the U.S. State Department.

"When I started with the State Department in my frivolous youth, I wasn’t thinking about retirement. But I fortunately picked one of the two careers in the State Department where you could retire at age fifty." 
His duties with the State Department included becoming President Carter’s top expert on North Korea. However, none of his real world responsibilities stopped the pages flowing from his typewriter.

"When there was nothing else demanding my time for either job or family, I was at my desk with cigarettes and booze writing stories."
Wherever his State Department duties took him, Bob’s typewriter and writing records went along.

"I had a file folder for every story I sold. That folder contained all the correspondence related to that particular article or story. I kept a file drawer filled with these folders. When I moved on, so did my files..."
Bob also wrote for the confession and love magazines, cranking out true exposés of the intimate secrets of airline stewardesses and other salacious sounding subjects, their content tame by today’s standards. However, it was Bob’s action-based "true" war stories for the men’s adventure magazines that kept him in cigarettes and booze until the mid-seventies.

"I often made up characters and events, but always tried to be true to what the men who read these magazines (mostly combat veterans) experienced."
When the men’s adventure magazines disappeared from the newsstands, their hyper-action stories of combat, wild beasts, replaced by the "girly mags," which were more interested in nudes than words, Bob turned his skills to writing books about aviation.

"I would like to feel, if I was called upon, I could write about anything...But the Air force and military aviation became my specialization..."
His first book was a history of the Swedish Vinneg fighter plane, a standard fighter of the era built by SAAB. He received an advance of three hundred British pounds (approx. $750).

"I didn’t realize there was a new book about the F-16 being published every two weeks. I thought I had to write about something original…"
More aviation related books and articles followed until leaving the Foreign Service in 1989.

"The same day I retired from the State Department, I started writing full time. For a while, I had the idea I was going to achieve the goal of a million words a year. I never quite made that level, but I tried. I wanted to be the next Norman Mailer...the next Hemingway, or James Jones, but It was not to be. I still have pieces of the Great American Novel all over my house, but I could never pull them all together..."
In 2000, Bob found himself writing editorials for the Air Force Times. Known to be outspoken, he was a staunch defender of the military everyman. His op-ed pieces were never afraid to expose harsh truths senior military and Defense Department leadership might not want to hear.

"I interviewed the big guys to convey to them what the little guys wanted. Base visits were orchestrated and rarely told the brass what real airmen wanted and needed. My columns were for the ones doing the work. They have always given us better than we deserve…we owe everything to them."
Bob is delighted and proud of A Handful of Hell making the best of his stories from the men’s adventure magazines available again.

"My favorite is Night Intruders, which appeared in Real Magazine. It was real wartime fiction. It wasn’t a blown-up exaggerated topic, or overly hokey like other men’s adventure magazine stories."
In typically generous fashion, he has recently donated his archives—140,000 8x10 photos, 100,000 color slides, 6,000 books—to the Glenn L. Martin Maryland Aviation Museum (along with several other charities) in Maryland, making them  accessible to researchers.
Bob says the secret to his writing success is easy.

"You have to put your bottom in the chair. It didn’t matter whether the sun was shining, whether I had the flu, or any other type of distraction, I sat at my desk and put words on paper. I tell young writers the same thing I tell my dog...Sit...Stay..."
During the thirty-five years I spent as officer, detective, and detective supervisor in the trenches of the Los Angeles Police Department, there was a question we asked each other whenever a new lieutenant, captain, or deputy chief imposed themselves into our orbit—would you follow him or her up the hill?
The question has its origins in military combat, but for all its simplicity, the answer is complex...Is this an individual who will lead from the front or sit behind the lines letting others face the bullets? Is this an individual whose actions will bring out the best in those for whom he or she is responsible? Is this an individual who will stand-up, or will they throw you under a tank at the first sign of trouble? Under pressure, when it all hits the fan, is this an individual you can trust to make hard decisions with lives on the line?
Very few individuals met this criteria—the men and women you would follow up the hill into hell and beyond are diamonds amongst pyrite.
I would follow Bob Dorr up the hill...

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