Ernest Hemingway—Lauran Paine can outwrite you! Franz Kafka—Lauran Paine can outwrite you! Count Leo Tolstoy—you too! Lauran Paine can outwrite all you pretty-boy novelists put together!
Maybe not in terms of quality, or art for art’s sake. But certainly in terms of quantity. In 35 years of serious writing, Paine has published 880 books—mostly Westerns—under 74 different pen names that run the gamut from the macho Jim Slaughter to the not-so-macho Amber Dana. From 1980 to ’84, Paine was listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as the world’s most prolific author. Then, in the current edition, he was mysteriously dropped in favor of Isaac Asimov who, with a piddling 285 titles in print, suffers from a tragic case of writer’s block in comparison to the fastest gun in the West.
“I want an apology from Guinness,” says Lauran, the Pained author. “Or else,” he adds, only half joking, “I’ll punch somebody’s lights out.” That’s pure Paine. Simple. Straightforward. Subtle as a right cross. Now 69, Paine got interested in the writing game back in the ’30s when he was a cowboy in Wyoming and a passionate reader of pulp Westerns. “They had a vocabulary of roughly 300 words, the longest maybe eight letters,” he recalls. “I thought, ‘My God, people make money writing this baloney.’ ” So Paine gave up life in the saddle to become a purveyor of cold cuts. His first book was Adobe Empire, for which he received $200. The pseudonyms were born of necessity, not modesty. “When I was starting out,” explains Paine, “you couldn’t sell more than three books a year to a publisher under one name. And at the rates they paid, you had to write one a week just to make a living.”
Paine earned “quite a bit more” than $200 for his latest novel, Skye. He and his second wife, Mona, share a hilltop A-frame in Fort Jones, Calif. Paine still works a cowhand’s hours—4 a.m. to 6 p.m.—with breaks for hikes, chopping firewood, “picking on rattlesnakes and chasing the deer out of Mona’s roses.” And he never, ever rewrites. “You lose something,” he reasons, “mainly time, which is all you have to sell, really.”
Paine churns out more than oaters. “After a while,” he says, “I get bow-legged with all these Westerns.” He’s done history, science fiction, mystery and romance. “Romances are the easiest thing in the world to write,” says Paine, “if you can stomach them.” In conquering his digestion, Paine must also come to grips with a problem all fiction writers wrestle with: empathy. “I don’t know much about women,” he admits. “But what man does? They’re emotional creatures.” So Paine has devised a formula to probe the depths of female psychology. “They want him, they don’t, they don’t know. By that time, you’re on page 251.”
As for the Guinness Book of World Records, editor David Boehm concedes, “There may have been a slipup.” He adds uneasily, “I would like to do a reanalysis [of the Paine oeuvre].” Sounds like that’s one editor who plans to keep his lights on.