The Hack Werker Story

Hack Werker

Hack Werker was born Herschel Xavier Werkowski in Cluj-Napoca, Romania on April 23, 1940. His family moved to the United States when he was two amidst accusations that his abusive, alcoholic father Vlad was in fact a practicing vampire. Young Herschel’s early years in his adoptive country were not easy as Vlad struggled to find work and worked out his frustrations by beating his son to a bloody pulp, but the boy found solace in a neighboring brothel where he would barter for the services of the prostitutes by acting as a general fix-it boy and later by shattering the kneecaps of johns who were slow to pay their bills.

Herschel’s life changed drastically in 1955 by two momentous events: his abusive father was brutally murdered by an unknown assailant (many speculate that it was Herschel himself) and he published his first novel. Herschel had been strongly influenced by pulp novelists like Raymond Chandler and Jenő Rejtő and began writing short stories that were sadly plagiaristic of their work. By the time he was 12, he was writing as many as 50 of these stories a week, each one depicting an angry, abusive father figure much like Vlad and liberally peppered with the graphic and perverse sex scenes taken from his brothel life that would become the hallmark of his work. The few people who bothered to look at them agreed that the writing was terrible but the sex scenes were incredibly hot.

Encouraged by the reaction and freed from the violence of his former life by Vlad’s mysterious death, the boy took his father’s 1949 Chevrolet Step Van and drove to the city where he was certain that his dreams would come true: Los Angeles, California.

John Kane, circa 1955

On his 15th birthday, Herschel met the first of two men who would radically change his life. John Kane (born Jericho Winsétti in Malta) owned a small publishing house which specialized in pornographic fiction. Kane took an interest in the boy’s work and gradually became a father figure to him. When Herschel was arrested in a bar brawl and needed to be bailed out or when he required the services of a Tijuana abortionist after one of his frequent sordid affairs went wrong, it was Kane who came to his rescue. The publisher also took an interest in his young friend’s writing, encouraging him to attempt his first novel. The result was Reefer Girl, a flimsy and derivative piece about a female marijuana addict that was virtually unreadable save for the perverse and twisted erotic encounters that showed up (often from out of nowhere) every three or four pages. Kane was sure that he had struck paydirt and offered to publish Herschel’s maiden effort, under the condition that he use a pen name more palatable to his American readership: Hack Werker.

The first edition of Reefer Girl

Reefer Girl debuted to scathing reviews that eviscerated Werker’s Neanderthal-like writing ability, although sales were brisk because of the bizarre and freaky sex scenes. But Hack was dissatisfied because he felt Kane had cheaped out on the artist who created the cover for the first edition and he insisted that with better quality cover art, sales would skyrocket. Kane was unconvinced, certain that the sales were at their maximum and any more money spent on production would be lost profit. So the young novelist began cranking out novel after novel (often at the rate of three a week) which all shared the same boorish technique, salvaged as always by the really out-there sex stuff. With every publication, Hack badgered Kane to improve the presentation and the publisher, satisfied with the meager profits, always refused.

In the meantime, Hack had to make a living. The contract he signed with his surrogate father was grotesquely one-sided so that Kane reaped all the profits from the sales. So the writer parked his rusted van in the parking lot of a franchise of the fledgling Shakey’s Pizza Parlor chain and took a job as the night janitor with the understanding that he could live in the van on the restaurant’s property and crank out his terrible but strangely compelling novels during his off hours.

Jonny M.

And so it went for the next fifty years. Hack would live in his van parked in the Shakey’s parking lot and spend midnight until 8:00 a.m. cleaning toilets and scraping vomit from off the arcade floor, and toil the rest of his waking hours on thousands of crap novels with titles like She Tried to Be Good, Escape from Hell and The Slut. It might have ended there were it not for Kane (now a multi-millionaire after branching out into pornographic movies and websites with an emphasis on foot fetishes) deciding to publish new editions of Hack’s earliest novels with the polished presentation that he’s always dreamed of. In stepped the second major figure in Hack’s life, the graphic artist Jonny M. Jonny had been an enthusiastic member of a small cult of Hack’s devoted readership and when he was offered the chance to make new cover artwork for the reissue of Hack’s first novel Reefer Girl, he jumped at it. This time, with a salacious new cover announcing Hack’s terrible prose, sales went through the roof. Kane was so thrilled that he hired Jonny to make a cover for the reissue of Hack’s second novel Rock ‘n Roll Gal. As before, Hack’s characters were so poorly drawn that Jonny used likenesses of himself, his pug Winston (who was later replaced by his pug Boris after Winston faked his own death and moved to Monte Carlo) and a collection of friends that he was presently pissed off at to try and give the characters a sense of humanity, and again the results were financially off the charts.

So now past his 80th year, Hack Werker has finally found the mass audience that always eluded him. With over 50,000 terrible novels to Hack’s credit, Jonny M. continues to make cover art for the reissues as well as for the countless new titles that Hack continues to crank out. The one downside is that Hack is still shackled to that original one-sided contract that he signed with John Kane all those decades ago so he still lives in his 1949 van parked in the Shakey’s parking lot and he continues to clock in every night at midnight to clean the pizza parlor’s toilets. But now when he is applying Windex to the mirrors in the restaurant’s men’s room, he beholds the reflection of the most celebrated author of pulp fiction who ever lived.