Saturday, January 31, 2009

Edward Mathis

I was at a Half Price today and found a Dan Roman private eye novel by Edward Mathis. After reading a few pages I bought both the Mathis novels there.

Mathis was the real thing--a fine writer with a slant and style all his own. He brought us a dusty tapped-out Texas I'd never encountered before.If he reminded me of anybody it was the proletariat novelists of the Forties and Fifties such as Harvey Swados and Clancy Sigal.

I'm looking forward to rereading him. He was a serious contender for the big prize.

Here are some comments from Kevin Burton Smith's excellent profile of him on Thrilling Detective:

Dan Roman
Created by Edward Mathis (1927-1988)

"... life was nothing more than a complicated mosaic of personal triumphs and tragedies, of chance encounters and random couplings and... we no more controlled our fate than the rabbit ruled the hound. The road was already there, the course charted; about the best we could do was give it a nudge once in a while, try our best to keep from crossing the center line."
(Dark Streaks)

Texas private eye DAN ROMAN was a little bit country, and a little bit Lew Archer, although he tends to lean toward the shitkicker side, referred to at one point as "mean enough to bite and tough enough to hold on." Still, he can also display plenty of compassion when the occasion warrants it.

Middle-aged, Dan favors cowboy boots, pickup trucks and deer hunting (although he no longer enjoys it quite as much as he used to). Besides his hunting rifles he owns a Smith and Wesson .38 airweight and a small .22 automatic.He also likes to read, smoke, and enjoy an occasional Jack Daniels or Scotch. He also drinks a lot of beer , particularly Miller, although he claims he doesn't really like it all that much since, as he declares in Dark Streets and Empty Places, "it all tastes like bear piss anyway."

Hmmm... maybe he should switch brands...

There's a dark quality to the series, helped along considerably by the ongoing tragedy that seems to follow Dan along. An only child, he was born to strict religious parents who weren't particularly loving. So perhaps it's no surprise that he spent a lot of time with the cowboys on the working ranch he grew up on rather than his own parents. Still, he spent the summer he turned fourteen (the "best summer of his life") helping his father build a hunting cabin. It was then he discovered that his father was a secret drinker -- a secret that was revealed to one and all a few years later, during Dan's last year of high school, when his mother passed away and his father hit the bottle hard.

for the rest go here http://www.thrillingdetective.com/eyes/roman.html

Friday, January 30, 2009

John D. MacDonald

John D. MacDonald Biography

Schaffner Press: Upcoming Releases Archives: "BLOODSHOT RAINBOW: The Life and Work of John D. MacDonald
James Walling
Fall '09
Trade Paperback

The Bunyburst and Bill Crider ran a piece on this forthcoming biography. I'm extremely happy with the news.

By coincidence I took the John D. MacDonald Reader with me to chemo this afternoon. The Reader was the only paperback we published during my tenure as the editor of Mystery Scene. The occasion was the sudden and shocking death of John D.following heart surgery. Shocking because the the word from the hospital was that everything was fine. But then he got an infection and died.

The Reader consists of writers such as Don Westlake, Larry Block, Stephen King, Dean Koontz, Harlan Ellison, Charles Willeford, Max Collins, Jon Breen and many others writing about how much John D. had influenced them. Dorothy MacDonald, John D.'s wife, wrote me a long letter about how much the Reader had meant to her. Dorothy was gravely ill as well and died soon after. (John was a supporter of the magazine--he always subscribed and twice he included one hundred dollar checks in addition to his subscription. And he insisted on subscribing even after the donations.)

Yesterday I was cleaning out a shelf I rarely look at and came across two copies of the Reader. I didn't get a chance to read it in any depth so I took it along with me this afternoon. I was moved reading what everybody said about him. The affection and respect they had for him was honest and emotional. A friend had died. A good friend.

I've been reading John D . most of the week. I always go back to him because every time I read him I learn something about my craft. I mean that literally. Even in the least of his novels you'll find a set-up or a fresh way of doing something familiar that makes you better. Just about everybody who praised him in the Reader made the same point.

I hope this biography is formidable and I hope it brings John the new readers and respect he deserves.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Crime Club

On Mystery*File tonight there's a review of a novel by Amber Dean. Who? Yes, Amber Dean. I've written before about my sentimental attachment to Doubleday's old Crime Club line which lasted from the Thirties into the Nineties.

Ellen Nehr compiled a history of Club novels, all of them from 1928-1991. Most of the names and novels perished with their times. I came to them in the early Fifties when I was twelve and tired of The Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew. I wasn't old enough to understand everything I read in them but within the confines of rather predictable conventional mysteries many of them were pleasant reads.

And three or four times a year there'd be stand-outs. I liked many of the Brits, especially. Seance On A Wet Afternoon was a Crime Club as were both of Dolores Hitchens' exemplary private eye novels. Of course there were always books that baffled--why in God's name was this published? And the same with covers. As the line lost library subscribers Club covers began to resemble the 70s and 80s Doubleday Science Fiction line. You prayed for blindness.

But I'm glad Mystery*File keeps reviewing some of those old ones. They played a vital if usually unremarkable role in mystery history.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Another great moment in publishing

Day after day we hear about publishing houses letting employees go. Day after day we hear about how bad the holiday season was for books. Day after day we hear how the publishing industry just has to get smarter. Ladies and gentlemen I give you from The Huffington Post:


Dating A Banker Anonymous: Wall Street Wives And Girlfriends Seek Comfort In Support Group And Blog

The Huffington Post | January 28, 2009 09:05 AM


And now Fashionista reports that the DABA Girls Dawn Spinner, Laney Crowell, and Megan Petrus ARE GETTING A BOOK DEAL (Capital letters mine-Ed)
***

The New York Times reports on women who have been hit hard by the economic crisis: the wives and girlfriends of bankers. Clinginess, cooking at home, canceled credit cards... these are just a few of the unfortunate consequences, these women report.

For Christine Cameron, the recession became real when the financial analyst she had been dating for about a year would get drunk and disappear while they were out together, then accuse her the next day of being the one who had absconded.

Dawn Spinner Davis, 26, a beauty writer, said the downward-trending graphs began to make sense when the man she married on Nov. 1, a 28-year-old private wealth manager, stopped playing golf, once his passion. "One of his best friends told me that my job is now to keep him calm and keep him from dying at the age of 35," Ms. Davis said. "It's not what I signed up for."

The women have banded together to start an unofficial support group called Dating A Banker Anonymous, which meets once or twice a week in New York for brunch or drinks.

They also update the Dating A Banker Anonymous blog, which states their mission thusly:

Are you or someone you love dating a banker? If so, we are here to support you through these difficult times. Dating A Banker Anonymous (DABA) is a safe place where women can come together - free from the scrutiny of feminists- and share their tearful tales of how the mortgage meltdown has affected their relationships. DABA Girls was started by two best friends whose relationships tanked with the economy. Not knowing what else to do, we did what frustrated but articulate girls have done since the beginning of time - we started a blog. So if your monthly Bergdorf's allowance has been halved and bottle service has all but disappeared from your life, lighten your heart with laughter and email your stories to dabagirls@gmail.com. Warning all stories sent will be infused with our own special brand of DABA Girl humor.
stumble digg reddit del.ico.us mixx.com

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

John Updike; Trophy Wives

I started reading John Updike early on in the Sixties. I've managed to keep his first two collections all this time. I've always thought of him as a kind of Rembrandt of prose, bold portraits subtly nuanced. He was one of those writers you could read for the simple pleasure of enjoying language yet he was never pretentious or overwrought. My biggest thrill with Updike was reading Rabbit, Run for the first time. For a proper New Englander like Updike Rabbit was a punch in the face. I sensed it also freed him. When you look at the variety of subjects he dealt with in his later career you can look back and see that Rabbit opened the door. By chance two weeks ago Carol read one of his recent stories and passed it on to me. What a fine writer and, I suspect, fine man he was.

--------

I received four off-line e mails from friends of mine, all female, about my comments on The Real Housewives of Orange County last night. I was aware that what I said was sexist and shallow but that seemed to me--and still seems to me--appropriate given the subject matter. These women are under the impression that they're trophy wives. I'm sure there's romantic love involved but there's also the cool hard taint of a business deal. All I was saying was that if I had a million dollars and wanted to buy me a trophy wife I'd go to a different car lot from the ones where these were found.

Monday, January 26, 2009

TV Stuff

This is for Bill Crider.

Even when I'm on the exercise bike and watching tv I can't handle those entertainment news shows. I look for mindless stuff but not THAT mindless. I did however catch forty seconds or so of a Paris Hilton "interview" in which she was asked if she presently had a boyfriend. Her reply (verbatim): "Not right now. I've decided to focus on myself for awhile!"

The Office

Several of the tv blogs I read have dumped on the last two episodes of The Office and I have to agree. Part of my irritation comes from the fact that they set up this battle between Dwight and Andy for the cold witchy heart of Angela in this season's first episode and the following episode doesn't even refer to it. I know they want to keep the suspense going but I don't think it's kosher to do it by avoiding the subject entirely. And the Steve Carrell storylines the last two times out have been miserable.

The Real Housewives of Orange County

So there I was on my exercise bike...I started watching an episode after a long abscence. I know this will sound sexist but so be it. These are greedy women. All but one of them has made the point that they wanted rich husbands who who pamper them and that's what they got. However if I was a rich husband and was forking over the kind of dough these babes are spending...I would want a much higher caliber of greedy woman. The two newbies are good looking in a beauty paegent way but the regulars have had so much plastic surgery (which they talk about frequently) that you wonder what they looked like to start with. The husbands (who put up with amazing bullshit) have paid for new cars but gotten used cars for their dollars. I'd push for a Porsche. They've settled for a Kia.

The show has also taken a nasty turn. The best looking of the newbies is mucho younger than her fiance who is likely dying of cancer. In the episode I saw she goes to a party with the other housewives and gets loaded and flirts with a young man all the ladies say is "hot." If this kid is hot Dick Cheney is a hunk. Anyway, she is encouraged to get drunk by the other newbie who hates her apparently because she's jealous of all the attention the other one gets. There's a sad creepy call from her to the dude'ss hospital bed. The guy's having massive chemo infusions. He is depressed and barely able to speak. I think this was put in to show (as she insists) that she really cares about the guy. And maybe she does but man she keeps telling the other housewives "not to judge me" and while I agree that they've been pretty hostile to her getting smashed at a party isn't a good way to present yourself to the camera. I felt a little sorry for her. She's not very bright and she likes to party and in her way she probably does care about the guy who could (I think) be her grandfather...but man this whole party number was nasty nasty shit. (The one exception is this former hippie-surfer whom none of the other women like but who seems to be bright and decent and of course you're wondering what the hell she's doing with these ciphers.)

The first two seasons were fun. All these nit-wit money-grabbers wanted was stuff and more stuff. Even the family problems were minor (no heroin as yet). But this isn't fun. I'll be interested in the ratings. You watch these women to feel morally superior to them. You don't watch them to suicidal when the credits come on.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Henry Kuttner "debased and perverted hack"

As many of you know, Mike Resnick is a highly acclaimed writer of both science fiction and fantasy. His books and stories are held in great esteem around the world. Mike is also an editor and a sometime historian of the science fiction field. In a long fine piece on the history of science fiction magazines there's a reference to Henry Kuttner. Since we've been discussing HK lately I asked Mike if I could quote that section here.

MIke Resnick:

Back in the Good Old Days of the pulps, more often than not the cover art showed a partially-clad (or, if you prefer, a mostly-unclad) girl, usually at the mercy of aliens who seemed more interested in ripping off the rest of her clothes than doing anything practical, like killing or communicating with her.

The thing is (and I refer you to the two introductory articles in my anthology, Girls For the Slime God), only one magazine actually delivered the salacious stories that went hand- in-glove with those cover illos, and that magazine was Marvel Science Stories. The first issue, back in August of 1938, featured Henry Kuttner's "The Avengers of Space," a rather pedestrian novella to which I suspect he added all the sex scenes to after it had been turned down by the major markets. Then out came issue number two, and there was Kuttner with another novella of the same ilk: "The Time Trap."

What was the result?

Well, there were two results. The first was that Kuttner was labeled a debased and perverted hack, and had to create Lewis Padgett and Lawrence O'Donnell, his two most famous pseudonyms (but far from his only ones) in order to make a living, since it would be a few years before the top editors wanted to buy from Henry Kuttner again.

The second was that the United States government, through its postal branch, gave science fiction its very first official recognition. They explained to the publisher that if the third issue of Marvel was as sexy as the first two, they were shutting him down and sending him to jail.

And with that, Marvel Science Stories became the most sedate and—let's be honest—dull science fiction magazine on the market. It died not too long thereafter, the first prozine to be slain by the government.

Ed here: As pulp readers know Leo Margulies rescued his stable of magazines by adding "Spicy" to the titles. Spicy Western! Spicy Romance! Spicy Detective! I'd never heard of anybody trying that with sf. HK was one enterprising guy.

Perspective--dammit

From Galleycat:

Publishers Assess the Damage from November
Last week, the U.S. Census Bureau issued its retail figures for November 2008, including a 13 percent decline in bookstore sales compared to the year before. Now the Association of American Publishers has released its numbers for the month, reporting a 14.4 percent decline—and, when all the revenue for the first eleven months of the year is tallied, it's down 4.4 percent from the year before.

Nearly every category experienced severe declines; children's and YA hardcovers were one of the few categories to improve, showing a 14.3 percent from November 2007, but the year-to-date sales are still down 20.6 percent. Oh, and e-book business more than doubled for the month, and is up nearly 64 percent for the year—but you could take e-book sales for all of 2008, quintuple them, and you still wouldn't have as much money as publishers report in sales for even a lousy month like November.

Friday, January 23, 2009

your money and mine

This is from my favorite political website Talking Points Memo and head dude Josh Marshall is my favorite political writer. You want to know where your TARP money is going?


John Thain's Top Ten Greatest Moments
By Zachary Roth - January 23, 2009, 2:55PM
If there's one corporate honcho who's emerging as the poster boy for all the varied Wall Street sins that the financial crisis has exposed -- not just greed, but callousness, obliviousness and general incompetence -- its Merrill Lynch's former CEO John Thain.

Over the last few days, the revelations about Thain's mismanagement of Merrill have been coming thick and fast -- culminating with his ouster yesterday as an executive at Bank of America, which bought Merrill at the height of the financial crisis last September.

Thain, a top John McCain backer who was tipped as a candidate for a White House post had the Arizona senator won the presidency -- has amassed quite a record in his short time at Merrill. Lavish personal spending, absentee leadership, bonuses for billions in losses -- it's almost been too much to keep track of.

So we've created a handy rundown of Thain's top 10 greatest moments over the last turbulent year. (You might also want to check out our Merrill Lynch timeline to brush up on how Thain's missteps fit in with the larger story of his firm's collapse.)

In rough chronological order, here are John Thain's top 10 greatest moments:


1. The Great Redecoration

Thain pays $1.2 million last year -- well after Merrill's huge losses on mortgage assets are known -- to refurbish his office suite. That includes $800,000 to interior designer Michael S. Smith, who's also redecorating the White House for the Obama family. (More Smith clients: Steven Spielberg, Michelle Pfieffer, and Cindy Crawford.)

Other expenses from the big redecorating project, all signed off on by Thain personally:

Area Rug: $87,784
Mahogany Pedestal Table: $25,713
19th Century Credenza: $68,179
Pendant Light Furniture: $19,751
4 Pairs of Curtains: $28,091
Pair of Guest Chairs: $87,784
George IV Chair: $18,468
6 Wall Sconces: $2,741
Parchment Waste Can: $1,405
Roman Shade Fabric: $10,967
Roman Shades: $7,315
Coffee Table: $5,852
Commode on Legs: $35,115

At this time, reports CNBC's Charlie Gasparino on The Daily Beast, Thain is "preaching the virtues of cost control, telling employees to reduce expenses including car services, entertainment and travel".


2. The Unfortunate Chair Incident

During a summer 2008 meeting with his top financial officer, Thain, angry about Merrill's huge mortgage-asset-related losses, hurls a chair against the wall, shattering a nearby glass panel.


3. Just Can't Quit Those Mortgage Assets

Even after Thain has been forced to beg Bank of America to save his desperate firm, his traders, thinking the market has "bottomed out", keep trading risky mortgage securities. Those, of course, are the very assets that had helped bring on the massive losses, mostly incurred before Thain's tenure, that made the Bank of America deal necessary.


4. The Bonus Fiasco

In October, Thain suggests he should receive a $30-$40 million bonus. By December, he compromises: $10 million. After a blizzard of public criticism, including from New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, he drops his request for any bonus. Later, he denies having asked for one at all.


5. The In-Retrosepct-Ill-Advised Ski Trip

In mid December, Bank of America CEO Kenneth Lewis learns that Merrill's fourth quarter losses will be much larger than expected. Lewis gets the bad news not from Thain himself, but from the transition team handling the merger -- perhaps because, after the losses surface, Thain takes off for his ski house in Vail. (A "person familiar with the matter" tells the Journal, hilariously, that Thain was "working and available" while in Vail.)


6. The Failure To Impress The New Boss

Asked by Lewis about the new losses, which will officially come to $15.3 billion, Thain "didn't really have a good grasp of what was going on,", one source tells the Wall Street Journal. Ultimately, the federal government will in January give Bank of American $20 billion -- on top of the bailout funds it had already gotten -- to help it absorb the Merrill losses.


7. The Troubling Lack Of Candor

Under Thain, Merrill appears not have been as forthcoming as it might have been with its new owner about the state of its books. A Bank of America spokesman tells the Journal today: "Their fourth quarter was way beyond anything they said would happen." Even worse, Thain may also have been less than straight with Merrill itself. He doesn't fully inform his own board that, thanks to Merrill's losses, the federal government might need to step in to ensure the B of A deal goes through, according to complaints from board members.


8. The Other Bonus Fiasco

Merrill, with Thain still in charge, accelerates its yearly bonus payments, doling out an estimated $3-4 billion in bonuses before January 1, 2009, when Bank of America will take control. Some at B of A believe the expedited schedule is designed to avoid giving B of A a chance to cut those payments. New York AG Cuomo is now reportedly investigating.


9. The In-Retrospect-Ill-Advised Planned Trip to Davos

Thain plans a trip to Davos to attend the World Economic Forum next week -- even though Bank of America has discouraged the idea.


10. The Final Act

Thain pays $483,320 for 84,600 shares of Bank of America. The following day, he's fired.


Well, at least now he can make it to Davos.



Fro heavens sake, the damn Parchment waste can is...not kidding...MADE IN FRANCE! An American made one not good enough?

French fries were bad enough, now the taxpayer is funding fancy French waste baskets for filthy rich financiers who are robbing the US Treasury!

Posted by NobleCommentDecider in reply to a comment from Mark Regan
January 23, 2009 5:10 PM | Reply | Permalink


But... we must generously compensate such remarkable individuals or they won't take the critical positions of power in our free market economy and the USA will turn into a socialist country like Germany, Japan, or G-d forbid Canada!

I am sure with a mind like his Thain will be scooped up by a great institution like the American Enterprise Institute or the CATO foundation.

Posted by NobleCommentDecider
January 23, 2009 4:58 PM | Reply | Permalink


Or, NobleCD, join that honorable (not)news source, Faux Mews.
A serious question: why are these characters not having to repay what they've stolen. I think of myself as an honorable person but I don't know how honorable I'd stay if I was sent into a bank and told to take anything I could over a pretty much unlimited time period.

Posted by soupson52
January 23, 2009 5:12 PM | Reply | Permalink


Listen the thing that is revolting is that he is not alone with his attitude and viewpoint how the world is designed for their benefit---to an extravagance end. It is no different than the attitude that royal families had in 18th and 19th Centuries where some literally lost their heads and others were revolted against.

I know I was an senior executive search professional in the private equity and investment bank market until it began to seek safe harbor in late 2006.

This is a generation that never "earned" it like the famous EF Hutton slogan, they merely mined their incomes on the backs of other people's money.

I am glad Cuomo did not get picked in the Senate so he can get an urgency of now going after the WS Banks.

Posted by RWN
January 23, 2009 5:23 PM | Reply | Permalink


Too bad about his bonus, man. That's $10 million that isn't going to get to trickle down to the rest of us.

You take a wad like that and go on a spree at Walmart and they'll have to hire a few more baggers, who then get to buy groceries. Before you know it this economy is moving again.

Posted by arbalest
January 23, 2009 5:54 PM | Reply | Permalink

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Thursday, January 22, 2009

Manuscript website

Lots of questions here: How much are the writers being paid? Are agents called in to negotiate? Will this become a standard part (numerous variations) for the new publishing paradigm? It's interesting to say the least. This is from Galleycat

Posted by JasonB | 01:23 PM | The Revolving Door | Email this post | 0 Comments

HarperCollins Signs Three Books from Manuscript Website

Harper Collins just purchased three books straight from their online manuscript site, authonomy.com. The books were Miranda Dickinson's romantic book Coffee at Kowalski's, Steven Dunne's detective story The Reaper, and Lynne Barrett-Lee's real life story, Never Say Die. All three authors sold world rights as well.

The bustling social networking site counts 100,000 users worldwide who have uploaded 2000 manuscripts. On average, community members spend about 20 minutes reading and critiquing stories when they log on to the site.


for the rest go here
http://www.mediabistro.com/galleycat/

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Juno goes to Pocket Books

Congratulations to my friend Paula Guran:

(from Locus today)

Juno becomes imprint of Pocket - posted at 1/20/2009 08:51:00 PM PT
Wildside Press fantasy imprint, Juno Books, is to become an imprint of Simon & Schuster/Pocket in a new co-publishing deal.

Juno Books editor Paula Guran said: "I'm tremendously excited about the opportunity to help take Juno to the next level through our association with Pocket Books. Both Juno and fantasy readers in general will gain immensely by sales and marketing reach of Pocket Books and Simon & Schuster, while still getting the best of our editorial sensibility."
Pocket Books senior editor Jennifer Heddle will work in concert with Juno Books editor Paula Guran.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Cinema Retro#13

From the saucy front cover photo of Janet Leigh to the gritty back cover promo sheet for a spaghetti western the new issue of Cinema Retro is packed with goodies.

The first thing I read was the interview with Karen Black. Her career took a mysterious nose dive back in the Eighties. She explains why in a long intelligent piece that will continue in issue #14.

I next turned to The Espionage Movies of Alistair Maclean. I was a big fan of his early books. Here Dean Brierly makes the case that the super-hits based on Macleans war novels made the espionage films seem lesser. I agree with Brierly's excellent defense of films such as The Satan Bug and The Secret Ways. Strong films.

Roger Moore's career is celebrated; Ernest Borgnine is interviewed; and the making of Hammer's Devil-Ship Pirates is chronicled. And the article on Bruce Lee recalls the man's career in fascinating detail. And there's much much more.

The magazine is filled with great color photographs and sidebars loaded with information. Do yourself a favor and subscribe.

Monday, January 19, 2009

The Dark World

If you were a science fiction reader in the Forties or Fifties you were likely a faithful reader of Henry Kuttner under his own or numerous pen-names. On my Kuttner shelf I have fine novels written in the sf, fantasy, mystery and adventure genres. He did it all and did it well.

He died in 1958 of a heart attack. He was forty-two years old. His wife Catherine (C.L.) Moore said that he'd had a premonition of his death the night before. He left behind enough wordage to do three writers proud. Yes, a lot of it was hackwork but the good stuff was great stuff.

He influenced many writers of future generations. Philip K. Dick was his most notable disciple. Roger Zelanzy credited Kuttner as the inspiration for his Amber series. If you doubt Zelanzy's shout out all you have to do is pick up the fine new trade paperback reprint from Planet Stories, The Dark World. You will soon see the seeds for Amber in it.

Richard Matheson dedicated I Am Legend to him. Kuttner wrote the last six hundred words of Ray Bradbury's first professionally published story. Bill Gault always talked about what a gentle, funny man he was--an exemplary writer to all the others.

The Dark World is a vital, mysterious adventure that takes place after a man of earth is transported to a world where he trusts nobody, a world Kuttner filled with a variety of creatures as colorful as any in H. Rider Haggard or early Edgar Rice Burroughs.

In all his best work there is an overriding psychological element in Kuttner's protagonists. Circumstances have given them a noirish desperation and that is evident here where Edward Bond spends much of the book confused and doubting everyone--and everything--around him. If this sounds familiar, read your Phillip K. Dick.

This is one of Kuttner's finest novels and one published as by Keith Hammond. When you look back on his career you see that a good share of his best work was published under pen-names, usually because he had two or three other stories in the same issue. I still remember Anthony's Boucher's moving tribute to him in an issue of Venture SF. I'd read so much of his work that I literally felt as if a good friend of mine had died.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Pro-file: Tom Piccirilli

This is a good time for Tom Piccirilli. The International Thriller Writers gave him the award for The Midnight Road and now his novel The Cold Spot had been nominated for an Edgar (best paperback). Tom is well on his way to well-deserved major stardom.

1 Tell us about your current novel.
THE COLDEST MILE hits bookstores in four weeks. It's the follow-up to THE COLD SPOT and continues on with the dubious adventures of my getaway driver Chase and his stone cold killer grandfather Jonah. In this one, Chase gets on the wrong side of the mob while hunting his grandfather for their inevitable showdown. When they do meet face to face, the situation is much different than Chase expects. Hopefully I've managed to amp up the noir atmosphere even more than it was in TCS.

2. Can you give us a sense of what you're working on now?
A novel called THE UNDERNEATH, which is a sort of crime novel-suspense hybrid, about a young thief from a family of thieves who returns home after several years away to meet with his brother who's on death row. The brother murdered a number of folks in a meth-fueled rage, and though he admits to the charges, he swears that he didn't kill one person attributed to him. So off goes the brother on a strange investigation that takes though an underworld he's familiar with and straight world he's not, where every brick he turns over brings another secret to the light of day, including several involving his own family.

3. What is the greatest pleasure of a writing career?
The satisfaction of having created something that is wholly my own and yet somehow manages to be a part of the overwhelming grandness of literature. Most of us get into this racket because literature itself has had such a profound effect on us. It's given us a kind of love, entertainment, excitement, joy, enlightenment, fulfillment that only books can give us. And becoming a writer is joining with that, becoming a part of it, and passing it on to other readers. I don't know, it's the kind of thing that bibliophiles will understand, and anyone who doesn't read simply won't.

4. The greatest DIS-pleasure?
No real security. No health insurance, no 401k, no pension. Living check to check, hand to mouth, and always the possibility that your best work is behind you. And if you're a lazy , then the sedentary life just cranks up the potential for weight gain and heart trouble and all those similar health concerns. But as soon as I finish this double cheeseburger I intend to lose 120 lbs, train intensively for 18 months, and enter the Iron Man competition.

5. If you have one piece of advice for the publishing world, what is it?
Treat every book as a potential bestseller. Give them all your very best where encouragement, publicity, are concerned, because you never know just what will catch fire with a little push. On any bestseller list there's at least a handful of books that appear to be uncommercial in the extreme. Julia Leigh's DISQUIET is a kind of surreal literary novella, and it's up there. Roberto Bolano's 2666 is a five-book monolith by a dead Chilean writer, and it's up there. You just never know what the public might pick up on, so allow even the most uncommercial work to have a chance, because it might just pay off.


6. Are there two or three forgotten mystery writers you'd like to see inprint again?
Hard Case Crime has done a wonderful job of bringing back some of my faves, but at a last looksee the likes of Fredric Brown, Bruno Fischer, and Peter Rabe were still mostly out of print. Or at least not as widely available as they should be. I'd love to see those guys back on the shelves, right up front with the bestsellers. Any fan of noir/hardboiled fiction will go apeshit for them.

7. Tell us about selling your first novel. Most writers never forget that
moment.
It was a trip. Even though I have a total love-hate relationship with my first novel (because it blows, don't read it, don't hunt for it, don't torment me with it at conventions) it was the one that carried me into the game. I made every mistake I could with it, both in the writing and in the submitting, but somehow it got picked up by Pocket Books. Jesus, I sent three chapters in over the transom when all I had were the three damn chapters. How stupid. But I was a kid, and the fates shined down on me.

8. What do you consider the highlight of your career thus far?
I just got an Edgar nod this week. That's pretty close to the top. Other highlights usually involve my literary heroes. Exchanging letters and email with great folks like Dean Koontz, Donald Westlake, Chuck Palahniuk, James Rollins, Stewart O'Nan, Ken Bruen, and Richard Matheson. It's a validation of the work and, as I mentioned, since we're all here because we're fans, it just tickles me to no end. The friends and fans you make are really what count most.

9. How about the low point?
Oh Christ. If I start thinking about them all I'll spiral into a fit of depression and it'll take me a month to climb out of the ditch. But losing contracts, getting dumped by publishers, having books I slaved over get dumped by publishers without any distribution or fanfare or reviews, years going by without seeing my books on the shelves, getting ripped off on royalties. It's so easy to feel like a complete failure in this game, no matter how many accolades or sales you may have racked up. There's always a boot on your back. It's hard to fight and it's hard to ignore, but if you don't make some kind of peace with it, it'll drive you right into the ground.

10. Which book or short story would you recommend to readers unfamiliar with your work?
I'd say folks can either start with THE MIDNIGHT ROAD or THE COLD SPOT. They're two of my most recent titles and pretty much show where my head, heart, and art are at the moment.

www.thecoldspot.blogspot.com

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Christine

It's impossible to call any book by Stephen King forgotten but by now some of the novels he wrote early on are less discussed than they once were.

Christine, as I'm sure most of you know from book and movie, concerns a 1958 Plymouth Fury with psychopathic soul. In a variety of ways it kills people. Now for those of you who don't like horror I suppose the premise is off-putting. A killer car? I spent a good part of my misspent youth in auto repair garages, going to drag races and dreaming of a chopped and channeled `53 Olds convertible I once saw. White leather interior. I genuflected when it passed by. Because I didn't know jack about cars I had to content myself watching the people who turned their machines into personalities as real--hell, more real--than some of the kids hanging around them. Believe me for kids crazy about cars Christine is a very clever metaphor.

To me this book is one of King's richest in terms of its humanity. As a novel about high school outsiders it's flawless; as a story about losers becoming just as nasty as the winners they hate it works well as a cautionary tale; and as a portrait of a small town and its people that rivals the masters King obviously read as a youth--Thornton Wilder, James T. Farrell, James Jones and John Farris and his Harrison High.

One chapter alone illustrates what I'm saying. Dennis, the frequent narrator of this story, tries to trace the history of the car (I'm declining a spoiler) and so he goes to visit the brother of the dead man who originally bought it. I don't want to push literary references here but the chapter reminded me of Lord Jim and how the story is told in retrospect and dialogue. The brother relates in fascinating fashion the entire life stories of three people, birth to death. And it's as exciting as any action scene.

King gives us true lives, joys, sorrows, fears as they are lived out over many decades. As I was rereading this the past few days I realized that this I what I miss in so much contemporary fiction, the reality and beauty of the everyday as lived by most of us. There is a moment when he crushes us with the brother's tale and we're left with a mixture of awe and dread in equal parts. ASnd there are many moments in Christine that are its equal.

King has in recent years been accepted by the literary establishment as a peer. But those of us who read him from the git-go knew that long ago.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Stuff

A shout out to Patti Abbott for her Forgotten Books Friday. One of the real pleasures of the week.

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Congratulations to the Edgar nominees. Tom Piccirilli's fine novel The Cold Spot was nominated for best paperback. I just wish excellent Dave Zeltserman's Small Crimes had also been nominated. And our Five Star book by Tom Epperson was nominated for best first novel.

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For all seven hundred and forty three of you who wrote to tell me that my "girl friend" link the other night was a porn scam...ok ok to quote PeeWee Herman. But I still don't know how they make any money on this.

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A great night for tv last night. With My Friend Earl we got to see Jaimie Pressly in a yoga contortion (walking with her legs over her shoulders) singing These Boots Are Made for Walking; Dwight and Andy both dumping Angela at the same time (stay tuned); and at least four members of the 30 Rock cast vomiting. You never saw this kind of stuff on Father Knows Best.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

The show must go on

I was at the doctor's today (flu) so I had my choice of reading Parents magazine or watching TV (I forgot to bring a book). The people ahead of me had apparently decided on one of those showbiz shows. I used to be under the impression that most of the jackasses in our country were in Washington. I forgot that the entertainment reporters in Hwood have a legion of jackasses all their own.

Poor Patrick Swayze. Terrible enough that he's dying, he has to do it in public. I remember when Raymond Carver was passing, he put out all these false press releases about how well he was doing just so the press would leave him alone ("I'm runnin thirty miles a day and my wife tells me I'm a regular demon in the sack!"). They bought his act. His death was a real surprise even though with his type of lung cancer there was no hope and they should have known better (or hell maybe they were just giving him a break).

This show today played a clip from when Barbara Walters interviewed Swazye two weeks ago. Now maybe because I'm in a similar predicament I'm biased here but when she asked him "Are you scared?" I immediately thought that this was one of the dumbest questions ever asked. Right up there when reporters shove a microphone in the face of a man who's entire family has just been burned alive in a housefire: "How do you feel?"

Is he scared? Yeah, he's dying. I've met a hundred people in chemo over the years and I never met one who wasn't scared. Again, maybe this is me. Maybe if I didn't have my own health problems the question wouldn't seem so stupid. Walters has never been what you'd call an intellectual giant but even by her standards he question struck me as dumb in the extreme.

Then they had this guy on who works on Swayze's new series. "We're all trying to get him to quit smoking." Now this is well-intentioned I know but it's also amusing (at least to me). Barring a miracle (and I mean a miracle) Swayze won't be here a lot longer. He's tough and admirable and fighting the good fight but pancreatic cancer is a bitch. So let him smoke. I've thought that in my final days I'm going to buy a carton of Luckies and go out French inhaling. Seriosuly. What the hell.

Finally a couple of hacks led with a question or two about the show then went immediately to his health. I don't know how actors get through all these promo interviews anyway. Same questions over and over. But I felt especially sorry for Swyaze because man he looked beat. Gray.

I know this is how the game is played. If I was so offended by it all I could have gone into a different waiting room where there was no tv only even older copies of Parents magazine. But I didn't. I watched. I'm just like all the other vampire hayseeds in Nathaniel West's Day of The Locust, spying on the griefs of the rich and famous. So I'm not claiming any moral superiority here.

It's just...Hell, Patrick, light up a Lucky for me and hang in there, buddy.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Scooping Bill Crider

I ran across this today and was surprised I hadn't seen it on my friend Bill Crider's website. Now I'm not going to provide link information because I don't like what this guy is doing. But given that revenge is a dish best served cold this is one chilly way to get back at the girl who dumped you. This may sound sexist but I'm told that a woman did this to her cheating ex revealing in the pics that he suffered from shrinkage even though he hadn't been in water recently.

"As I was about to walk up to her they both started walking towards the door and left the bar. I followed them from a distance. I saw her get into his car which was parked in a small dark road. I waited for a minute or two but the car didn't move. I walked up to the car and caught them having sex inside. My heart was broken and I immediately broke up with her.

"When we were going out she let me take dirty pics of her with my camera. To get revenge I decided to share those pics with everyone on the internet right here on this site. I'm hoping that lots of people will get to see her pics and know that she is a cheater."

To help me out please take the following link (its your link) and share it with your friends (through instant messenger or email) and the more people that click your link the more pics you'll be able to see. There are 59 pics, each click will reveal an additional pic at the bottom of this page. If 100 people click your link, a dirty video of her will also appear.

UPDATE: I've now gotten eight (eight!) off-line emails demanding that I print the link. I agree with Todd mason, she is indeed a babe. http://ihateliz.com/?id=d51zzouiqbncxj7fwp9ci6ueytndit

Monday, January 12, 2009

Don Westlake by Robert Byrne

A busy portable typewriter falls silent
Don Westlake, author of 100 novels, dies of a heart attack
BY ROBERT BYRNE

(A photo accopmanies the article-I'll try to run it tomorrow night. If somebody will show me how. Here's the cast: Suspects in a Murder Mystery Weekend staged at the Mohonk Mountain House in New York in 1987.¤ Left to right: David Morrell, creator of Rambo, prolific novelist Don Westlake, novelist Justin Scott, Playboy fiction editor Alice Turner, crime writer Chris Newman, writer Robert Byrne (with flask), and Death Wish author Brian Garfield.¤ In front is Caroline Penzler, then wife of Otto Penzler of The Mysterious Press.)

A friend of mine was on his way with his wife to a New Year's Eve dinner. He never made it. He was felled by a heart attack at the age of 75.

Don Westlake was a writing machine, turning out 100 novels under 10 pseudonyms. He's best known for the comic novels written under his own name featuring an unintentionally funny criminal named John Dortmunder and for the hard-boiled Parker crime novels written by "Richard Stark." He also wrote screenplays for one of my favorite fright-flicks, "The Stepfather," and for "The Grifters," for which he was nominated for an Oscar.

In one room of his four-story home on Blecker Street in Manhattan are floor-to-ceiling racks of books. I was amazed when he told me that every one was written by him: he had every edition of his works in hardback and paperback, sometimes multiple copies, as well as copies in scores of foreign languages.

All of his books were written on a small portable typewriter, which went out of production in the early years of his career. To keep it supplied with spare parts, he never
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missed a chance to buy the same model in antique stores and junk shops.

I knew him because we shared a couple of friends, novelist Martin Cruz Smith and mystery writer Joe Gores. Westlake and Gores once published novels that contained an identical chapter, and they did it without their publishers' awareness. That sense of fun made them both wonderful company.

For several years, Westlake wrote scripts for back-to-back "murder mystery weekends" at a rambling old hotel 80 miles north of Manhattan called The Mohonk Mountain House. Amateur actors, most of them writers he knew, put on playlets about a murder. Teams of hotel guests questioned the actors in an attempt to solve the crime. Actors had to stick to facts provided by Westlake and avoid saying anything that contradicted the stories of the other characters.

At the end of the weekend, the teams of sleuths dramatized the crime as they imagined it, and Westlake revealed his own solution. Prizes were given for accuracy and imagination. For the second weekend, the facts were altered enough to provide a new murderer.

In 1987, I was one of the actors. Between the two weekends my wife and I stayed with the Westlakes in Manhattan, it was one of the most enjoyable 10 days of my life. Don and Abby were amusing and upbeat people and perfect hosts. Abby has lost a husband like no other, a man who was loved by his many friends and admired by hundreds of thousands of fans.

The year we were at Mohonk, the murder was set in 1872 at the fictional Western town of Turnip Gulch. (The previous year, the scene was an ocean liner in 1923.) I played a drunken doctor named Homer Payne-Whitney, a good role because whenever I was asked a question that was tricky to answer, I could pretend to be in an alcoholic fog. The guests had been told that my character's parents had been killed by Indians. When I was asked, "What Indians?" I was able to safely answer, "The Cleveland Indians."

During the first weekend, Westlake, playing circuit-court judge Orner E. Plugge, questioned me in court. Before I could divulge crucial information, shots rang out from the balcony -- I was hit! I staggered around, clutching my chest, then dropped to the floor and died after a few violent twitches. It was the pinnacle of my acting career.

While staying with the Westlakes in New York, I heard Don say that he never knew if the dishes in the dishwasher were dirty or clean. Weeks later, I found a magnetic dial in a gift shop with an arrow that pointed to "Clean" or "Dirty" and mailed it to him. He replied that it helped a lot because every morning Abby pinned it to her blouse so he would know how she was feeling.

Byrne is the author of 23 books, including two novels about growing up in Dubuque. His Web site is www.byrne.org, and his e-mail address is bob@byrne.org.

Don Westlake #3

A bit over seven years ago I had two surgeries for thyroid cancer. I posted some larky comments about it on my blog. A number of people thought I was in denial, thus my humor. I don't think so. I'd been afraid of getting cancer all my life that when I got it I was relieved that it was the kind people survive. 90% survival five years out (the type I had). Five weeks later, due to a strange pain in the right side of my lower,I went back to my oncologist. The next diagnosis wasn't so good. I had mutliple myeloma. Incurable. 70% dead in the first three and a half years. No larky posts about that. Made a living will. Made a deal with Kate Stine for Mystery Scene. Gave away more than 2000 books. Hunkered down. The kindness and concern of people I knew (and many I didn't) was truly moving. A week after my first post on the blog I got a letter from Don Westlake. I figured he'd be sending good wishes. He did. And he accompanied those wishes with a check for a thousand dollars. "Figured you might need this." Turned out we didn't so I sent the check back. But that was Don Westlake.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Sarah Weinman on reading

The LA Times interviews Sarah Weinman today about her ability to read 462 books in one year without losing her mind. Very interesting piece. Here's a sample.

JC: Do you retain plot or characters best? Or something else?

SW: I retain characters more often than plot, but what seems to happen is that I latch on to specific moments, turns of phrase and dialogue as touchstones for me to recall what happened in the book. Kind of like freeze-frame. I've often wondered if the passage of time will make me forget what happened in a book, but more often than not, I'll pick up a book to reread and remember almost exactly what happened, the mood of the book, and how I felt at the time when I read it. If a book is great, there's an electric charge as I read the text and "hear" the voices in my head. But honestly, a lot of the books I read in 2008 were mediocre or forgettable, and if I hadn't been on a subway or captive on a plane or a train, I might not have finished them.

For the entire piece go here:

http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/jacketcopy/2009/01/how-to-read-462.html

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Donald E. Westlake interview

You'll find this along ith a great photograph of Don Westlake on the Mystery Scene website. I'm adding it here for people who missed it the first time around. Thanks to Kate Stine for letting me reprint it.

In Mystery Scene’s 2008 Fall Issue #106, Ed Gorman interviewed the author about his work.

DONALD WESTLAKE: THE STARK TRUTH

by Ed Gorman

Levi Stahl, the publicity manager of the University of Chicago Press, has exciting news for Richard Stark fans. “While we don’t reprint many mysteries, we explained to the editorial board that these weren’t just any crime novels, these were regarded as masterpieces…. great novels that have influenced writers around the world. We’re starting with The Hunter, The Man with the Getaway Face and The Outfit but we’re already negotiating for more books in the series.” This means, the Press hopes, that the initial three will be followed in chronological order by the next thirteen Parker novels, ending with Butcher’s Moon, originally published in 1974.

Ed Gorman for Mystery Scene: For all the ferocity of the criminals in the Stark novels, you present a hierarchy based on competence. Strictly Darwinian. There are times when I almost feel sorry for a few of the more feckless ones.

Donald Westlake: Okay, let’s see what we got here. You begin by suggesting the Parker novels are about competence, an idea I like very much. I’ve always said Parker is basically a workman, with the professional workman’s goal of getting the job done ably, efficiently and without interruption. It’s true his job is a dramatic one, but it’s still a job. The only way somebody’s going to be interested in watching a guy take the hinges off a door is if there’s a hundred thousand dollars on the other side.

Gorman: Brian Garfield wrote that you once described Parker as a 1930s Depression character. Then as more European than American. Were you trying to avoid the various hardboiled clich├ęs of the early sixties by thinking of him in these terms?

Westlake: It’s true that Parker comes out of the 30s bank robbers, and I knew in the 60s he was already from another era. The fact is, for a guy in the Midwest in the 30s who had brains and daring but no education and no contacts, crime was one of the very few open career paths. Later on, as other career paths opened up, fewer competent people went in that direction. In that way, he’s an anachronism, but anachronisms have their uses, like chiaroscuro, to highlight the contrasts. Every once in a while in the books, somebody living in our world finds himself in confrontation with this unreconstructed guy from a much harder age. I always like to watch those meetings.

Let me tell you a story about my father. He was a low-pay traveling salesman for much of his life. When I was a kid in Albany, NY, his territory for the various things he sold—you don’t make a living from one item—was eastern Pennsylvania through all of New England except Maine. He’d had a couple of heart attacks and one Friday, in Harrisburg, he felt another one coming on. (There’s no health insurance in this story.) He told the desk clerk he’d stay for the weekend, then bought a bottle of rye and went to bed. Every time he woke up he’d sip a little rye, and Monday morning he woke up hungry and alive. He never told the family until, a few years later, when he was hospitalized with another one, the doctors found the evidence and he admitted to it. That unblinking attitude of just-keep-moving is much of Parker.

Early on, I made a couple mistakes with Parker—socializing him in one way or another—but it was like a cook putting just the wrong thing in a recipe; you could taste it right away. So, as I got to know him better, I stopped making those mistakes. He’s already there; just let him be himself and everything will be fine.

Gorman: Is the story true that you showed a portion of The Hunter to some of your writer friends for their input before you finished it? Did your group back then do that often?

Westlake: I didn’t show The Hunter to anybody for input. I’ve rarely done that with any book. In fact, the only time I can remember doing that was with my first mystery, The Mercenaries, when I wasn’t at all sure what I was doing and I showed the first draft to a writer friend of mine, Larry Harris (who later, for some reason, became Larry Janifer), because I knew he was a good writer and a good editor and far better attuned to the market than I was. He called and said he wanted to come over and talk. When he got to the apartment he had the manuscript box in one hand and a six pack of beer in the other, and he said, “We’re in trouble.” We went through the manuscript, and if there was a beginner’s mistake I hadn’t made I can’t think what it might be. It was a terrific learning experience, and the next draft sold to Lee Wright at Random House, who later became Larry’s editor as well. Otherwise, my first three readers, only when the book is done, are, in order, my wife, my agent and my editor.

Gorman: One critic noted “Westlake has been the mad scientist of crime fiction for nearly 40 years now, and the Stark books showcase some of his more daring experiments with style and structure.” Do you make a conscious decision about approach before you write or do you let the story make the decisions?

Westlake: Story defines the books for two reasons, both because story is what fiction is about and because, since I don’t outline or prepare in any other way, the story is forced to emerge or die. “Narrative push,” as I know you know. Once we have the fuel on board—and then, and then, and then—it’s nice to be able to try different things. Not to get digressive, but to give the story little extras. For instance, in one book I saw I had an opportunity, if I wanted, to tell one section in first person from Parker’s point of view. Since he isn’t someone who tends to want to tell other people anything, particularly anything unnecessary, I wondered if I could do it, what he would sound like, and would it turn out to be one of those false notes. In the event, it was fine. (And no, I can’t right now remember which book.) More recently, in Ask the Parrot, I suddenly realized I could do one chapter from the parrot’s point of view, and that made me very, very happy.

Gorman: You’ve written that you didn’t know how editors let alone readers would react to a hero like Parker. Were you surprised when your editor asked for more?

Westlake: When I wrote The Hunter it was supposed to be a one-off. A difficult unpleasant guy without redeeming qualities bent on revenge. Then Bucklyn Moon, an editor at Pocket Books, said he liked the book and wondered if Parker could escape at the end and me write “three more books a year about him.” (I actually did, the first two years.) I really had to concentrate on that, because Parker was everything a main character in a novel was supposed to not be. The big question was, could I go back to him, knowing he was going to be a series character, meeting the readers again and again, and not soften him. No sidekick or girlfriend to have conversations with, no quirks or hobbies. That was the goal. Somebody who, in a western, would be a lone traveler in the dimness on the other side of the campfire from the hero. Now that menacing but unimportant minor character would be asking for everybody’s attention. No, not asking, assuming.

Gorman: Do you still hear from prisoners commenting on Parker’s skills and offering suggestions for taking care of business?

Westlake: Prisoners used to be readers, but now they’re weightlifters. I used to get letters from guys because they thought they could shoptalk with me, that I wouldn’t moralize or condescend. Techniques and stuff weren’t part of it, but they did have some very nice stories to tell, none of which got directly into any book, though the attitudes show through.

Gorman: There have been so many editions of the Stark books around the world that you might be forgiven for not getting excited each time you see a new one. But given the breadth of the University of Chicago publishing program for the Parkers, you must feel pretty damned proud.

Westlake: I know I should get over being astonished by Parker’s longevity and success, and pretty soon I will. The University of Chicago Press was not a scalp I ever expected to see on my belt. Just to get that 3-D effect, later this month at a comics convention in San Diego, a small outfit is announcing the launch (some day) of Parker graphic novels. (They’ve promised me a T-shirt.) The illustrator, Darwyn Cooke, is hard at work in Canada. When you’ve got the University of Chicago Press and a graphic novel publisher both looking at the same material, the only thing to do is just keep moving on.

Gorman: Finally, the late Bill DeAndrea once quoted you as saying `You don’t know what it’s like to have a pen name who’s doing better than you are.” How do you feel about that today?

Westlake: The issue of being one-upped by your pen name—it isn’t quite the same thing as Evan Hunter, who was just about drowned out completely by Ed McBain, but Stark does tend to outperform Westlake whenever they start even. It happened the first time around, when Point Blank became one of the seminal movies of the twentieth century and Stark was earning more than Westlake, and it’s happened again this time around. I am very glad I don’t have to figure that out.

Ed Gorman’s latest novel is Sleeping Dogs (St. Martin’s Minotaur). Visit his website at .



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Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Great news-The Prisoner returns

The Prisoner Returns To Television, But Where's the Novel?
From Galleycat today:

Today AMC resurrected all 17 episodes of the classic British television show, The Prisoner, and GalleyCat has one simple question: Who will bring back Thomas M. Disch's novel based on the surreal spy show?

Disch died last year, but among his many writing credits was the first novelization of The Prisoner--a spy thriller miniseries seemingly scripted by Franz Kafka and shot by Federico Fellini.

The free web video versions of the original series will prepare uninitiated viewers (and fans who couldn't afford the expensive DVD set) for the AMC remake of The Prisoner, scheduled for release this year. It's the perfect time to resurrect Disch's novel as a digital book or paperback.

And that's not the only Prisoner tie-in material we'd like to see resurface...

Go here for the rest including some mighy fine Jack Kirby artwork:

http://www.mediabistro.com/galleycat/adaptation/the_prisoner_returns_to_television_but_wheres_the_novel_105108.asp#more

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Pity Him Afterward

Friday, May 25, 2007
Pity Him Afterward*

Every once in awhile I get stoned just watching a literary master do his work. The last two nights I was flat out dazzled from beginning to end with Donald Westlake's 1964 novels PITY HIM AFTERWARD.

The story concerns an escaped madman who takes the identity of a man who is headed to a theater that does summer stock. While we see the story several times from the madman's point of view, we're never sure who he is. This is a fair clue mystery.

In quick succession, a young woman who works summer stock is found murdered in the house where the young, struggling actors stay. A part-time chief of police appears to find the killer.

Two points: writers owe their readers original takes on familiar tropes as often as possible. The madman here is no slobbering beast but rather a deranged and sometimes pitiful lunatic (the opening three thousand words are among the most accomplished Westlake pieces I've ever read). And the police chief Eric Songard is one of the most unique cops I've come across in mystery fiction. He works nine months of the year as a professor and summers as a police chief. The small town he oversees usually offers nothing worse than drunks and the occasional fight. Murder is another matter. Westake gives us a cop whose self-confidence is so bad all he can do is try and hasten the appearance of the regular cops from a nearby district. Meanwhile he has to pretend he knows what's going on. He could easily have gone to series. He's a great character.

As the story is told, we get a beleivable look at summer stock with its low pay, brutal hours, frequent rivalries. The payoff is that some of the actors will get their Equity card at the end of the nine week run and thereby become professional actors.

Then there is the telling. The craft is impeccable. Precise and concise and yet evocative because of the images Westlake constantly presents us. You also have to marvel at the rhythm of his language, watching how'll he'll shave an anticpated word here for a certain effect, add a word there for the sake of cadence. These sentences are CRAFTED.

There are so many great Westlake novel it's impossble to rank them. But given what he accomplished, I'd have to say this is one of his early best.

Monday, January 05, 2009

Commentary from Crime Writer Dave Zeltserman

Commentary from Crime Writer Dave Zeltserman

Everyone who's been paying attention knows that many, if not all, of the large publishing houses are struggling badly right now. The numbers show that there has been a gradual decline in readers, and the explanation usually given is blaming things like shifts in technology (people spending their reading time surfing the web as instead of reading books) and more entertainment choices; such as video games and more TV and film options.

You can't argue with numbers, but I don't believe these reasons cited is why readership is down. J.K. Rowling and her Harry Potter books show that readers will flock to compelling books. Instead I'm blaming it on several seismic changes that I've witnessed to the publishing landscape since the early 90s when I started writing, and I believe these events have more to do with the current state of publishing than anything else.

My next few columns here on DaRK PaRTY will be looking at these seismic events and how they affected publishing.


Major seismic event: The Cheap PC.

When I finished my first novel “Fast Lane” in 1992, personal computers (PCs) had been around for a while but they weren't cheap, and most families didn't have them. They were mostly for hobbyists and computer professionals. So back in 1992 when I sent query to editors at many of the major New York publishing houses, most of them responded, with around 10 of them requesting the manuscript.

When I finished my next novel “Bad Thoughts” in 1997, one editor at Warner Books responded to my query letter. The difference: PCs had become cheap, and as a result publishing houses were being flooded with manuscripts and these houses responded by slamming the doors shut and making literary agents the gatekeepers. Writing a book in longhand or pecking away with a typewriter takes work and serious commitment. Using a PC makes it ridiculously easier, and really makes it so that anyone can write 300 pages, and a lot of people were doing exactly that.

Publishers shutting their doors to first-time writers was a big event, as was making literary agents the de-facto gatekeepers. It removes the editors from one step in the process, and puts more emphasis on commercial feasibility as opposed to literary merit and developing talent. But that was only one effect of cheap PCs and the sea of manuscripts, which they had unleashed.

Of course, another obvious one was that it made it a lot easier for serious writers to get lost in this unrelenting tidal wave of manuscripts. If an agency was now getting hundreds of manuscripts sent to them each week instead of tens, less time was going to be spent evaluating any of them, making it harder for these better books to surface.

Then you had new technologies and businesses that needed to be developed to sop up the demand that these new writers had to be published. Publishing on Demand (POD) technology and quick, easy self-publishing businesses came out of this. iUniverse alone has more than 20,000 mystery novels that have been self-published. Let me repeat that. 20,000 mystery novels from just one of these self-publishing outfits.

With POD technology, anyone can become a publisher with little investment. This may make publishing a more democratic endeavor, but it's not a good thing.

But let's go back to maybe the most critical effect this had on the more legitimate publishing houses. As literary agents were wading through manuscripts it was only natural for them to spend less time with any one manuscript and to quicker toss a submission, as well as looking for patterns to spot the more formulaic books that have higher perceived "commercial viability".

But again, this was only one of the major seismic events that have led houses to care more about "relentlessly commercial" writing than the value of the book, and I'll be discussing more of these in future weeks.


(Dave Zeltserman lives and writes in Massachusetts. His crime novel “Small Crimes” was called a “thing of beauty” by the Washington Post and National Public Radio named “Small Crimes” one of its five best mystery novels of 2008. Dave also publishes his own blog, Small Crimes. He publishes the column Thoughts from the Shadows for DaRK PaRTY.)

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Don Westlake-John D. MacDonald; Signings; Blockbusters

Elizabeth Foxwell has a photo of Don Westlake and John D. MacDonald together. John D. looks like a delighted child.

http://elizabethfoxwell.blogspot.com/

----------------------------THE ETERNAL QUESTION

From Tor.com

Who Are These Fools, and Why Should You Care?

Jon Evans

"A couple of the responses to my Greg Egan post theorized, to my surprise, that Egan’s relative lack of commercial success is due largely to his reclusivity—“no book tours, no signings, even his website has no blog or reader feedback area, nor any email address.” This started me wondering: how much of a personal connection to authors do most readers nowadays want and/or expect?

"I suppose I’m surprised because I’ve long been on the other extreme. I’ve never even considered sending fan mail to a writer whose books I like, much less searching online for a picture. Except for those years during which I accidentally stalked William Gibson1, and that time I was sternly scolded by Michael Ondaatje1, I don’t think I’ve ever attended a reading or signing2. I care about authors’ work—a lot—but I don’t really care about them."


Ed here: In more than a quarter century I don't think I've done more than a dozen signings. This may be why only a tiny fraction of the reading public has ever heard of me let alone read any of my books. But I'm not sure of that. In twenty-five years I've seen dozens of writers spend hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars packing themselves off to innumerable signings, meetings, workshops and remain solidly mid-list for their trouble.

I admit that I'm not especially sociable in groups of any kind. I tend to head for the corner. I just never know what to say. So I've never thought I was doing anybody any favors by inflicting myself on them. Easier just to stay home and write.

But my sense now is that (and I may be full of beans of course) with indy bookstores dying signings will become even less valuable for mid-listers. The indies know the books and the writers and know how to sell them. The other types of stores aren't very good at it.

Now, as with any truism, there are many exceptions. There are mid-list writers who can move a fair share of books at signings. And promotion of some kind--especially media promo--is vital. But I know there are writers who spend more money on travel and promo than they receive as advances. I'm not sure that makes any sense.

I'd like to hear what you writers think.

-------------------------More Mid-List Blues

Interesting article posted on the PW online. The topic is why in these dire economic times publishers will throw even bigger money at certain titles. The ones most of us groan about when they make the news.

"Yes, that's right -- amid the worst economic crisis to hit the United States in decades, publishing executives are still making what many see as outrageous gambles on new manuscripts."

(more)

"The move by HarperCollins is only one of the latest in a string of big bets by companies employing a blockbuster strategy -- a common approach among movie studios, television-production companies and music labels. A spokeswoman for the publishing house says it doesn't disclose author advances. (HarperCollins Publishers is a unit of News Corp., which also owns Dow Jones & Co., publisher of The Wall Street Journal.)"

(more)

"In the past, the strategy seemed to work wonders. For example, Grand Central Publishing, a division of Hachette Book Group USA, generated roughly 80% of its sales and an even larger share of its profits from just 20% of its titles in 2006. In 2007, Grand Central purportedly shelled out $1.25 million for the rights to Vicki Myron's "Dewey: The Small-Town Library Cat Who Touched The World," a nonfiction book about a fluffy orange kitten found abandoned in the returned-book slot of an Iowa public library."

(more)

Dewey
Vicki Myron's book about her adopted orange tabby cat, Dewey Readmore Books, briefly occupied the No. 1 spot on the New York Times bestseller list and now sits at No. 2. The feline inhabitant of the Spencer Public Library in Spencer, Iowa has passed away, but a sequel might be in the works -- last month Ms. Myron reportedly adopted a cat named Page."

(more)

"A prudent manager in any other industry might be left scratching his head: Why would Grand Central put itself in the position of having to outsell all cat books released in recent memory to earn back its seven-figure advance? Rather than putting all its eggs in one basket, wouldn't it be smarter for a publisher to place a larger number of smaller bets -- particularly in today's harsh economic climate?

"Hardly. Despite its double-or-nothing daring, the blockbuster strategy remains the most sensible approach to lasting success."

(for the rest go here)

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB123093737793850127.html

Saturday, January 03, 2009

The following piece is being previewed here. It will appear in the Private Eye Writers of American newsletter.

A Mourner for Don Westlake
Max Allan Collins

Don Westlake would not approve of this piece, or would at least
pretend he didn't, because he abhorred sentimentality, and even distrusted sentiment. I will leave career recaps to others, and apologize for the personal nature of this, which is a reflection on how this fine writer and fine man changed my life.

In 1967, I saw the movie "Point Blank" at a drive-in, and that very
evening went to an all-night supermarket to pick up the movie edition of the source novel by a writer called Richard Stark. I soon discovered that the anti-hero played in the film by Lee Marvin (as "Walker," not "Parker") was the star of a paperback series that had been around for several years.

I began to scour used bookstores for them, and on my honeymoon risked my life (and my new wife's) going through every trash-heap used bookshop in the city until I located the one Parker I was missing - The Mourner.

I became so enthralled with Richard Stark and his stingy third-person approach that for a time I had trouble reading anybody else, so I turned to a very different kind of book by a very different kind of writer - Donald E. Westlake. These chatty, first-person crime comedies caught my imagination in a way that rivaled my Stark obsession, and I kept my Stark and Westlake collections side by side, a divider between them, on a bookshelf of honor.

Don liked the next part of the story: when Anthony Boucher revealed in his New York Times column that Westlake and Stark were one writer, I picked myself up and promptly removed the bookshelf divider. Then I went looking for another byline of Westlake's revealed by Boucher, Tucker Coe. (Coe's brief but wonderful Mitch Tobin series is Westlake's major
contribution to the private eye form.)

In high school, I wrote imitative Mickey Spillane novels; but in college I tried to be Richard Stark. At the University of Iowa, the great mainstream writer Richard Yates (Revolutionary Road) helped shape me into a real writer and my Parker pastiche, Bait Money, got an agent in Knox Burger, legendary former Gold Medal editor.

During this same period I had somehow tracked Westlake down, and a long correspondence began. For 15 or 20 years, we exchanged lengthy letters - five to fifteen pages, his double-spaced and often typed on stolen hotel stationery - in which Don encouraged me and schooled me and was a genuine mentor to me. He knew Burger (who had edited the Parker novels at Gold Medal) and called Knox and advised him to take Bait Money on.

When that novel finally sold (in 1973), I had a dilemma - the publisher wanted a series. My Parker-ish lead, Nolan, died at the end - I figured one Parker imitation was homage, but a series would be highway
robbery. I wrote Don. He wrote back and generously said to write as many of 'em as I wanted. He said the father and surrogate son relationship at the core of Bait Money was something quite apart from Parker. I wound up doing eight of those, and launching my career.

In 1977, when I landed the DICK TRACY comic strip scripting job, Don invited my wife Barb and me to New York, put us up in his apartment, and threw us a party, at which this Iowa boy met Lawrence Block, Justin Scott
and Otto Penzler, among other luminaries. Once, Don and his talented, gracious wife Abby traveled through Iowa and stayed overnight in Muscatine.

In letters and occasional phone calls, we talked comics and he loaned me his rare Harvey Kurtzman Trump magazines and I sent him various underground comics; he introduced me to the work of Brit TV genius Dennis Potter, loanedme unproduced screenplays and unpublished novels of his, and we talked and sometimes argued about movies. On New York trips, we always saw Don and Abby, sometimes staying with them.

In the '70s and into the '80s, we remained close, and Don did me the honor of making me the villain at one of his Mohonk Mountain Lodge mystery events (I wrote a novel around it, Nice Weekend for a Murder, basing characters on both the Westlake and Stark personas). On a two-man panel we did at a Bouchercon, Don said my Nolan novels were the methadone to his Parker heroin (at Mohonk, he'd introduced me as the Jayne Mansfield to his Marilyn Monroe, and I pretended to take offense, saying I preferred to think of myself as Mamie Van Doren).

The relationship took on a strain when Don attempted to convince me that my novel True Detective should be re-written in the third person and the private eye narrator changed to a reporter or a cop. Don, though a master of the form, was not really a fan of the private eye genre. Burger rejected the book, too, and that was a low point. Fortunately, my other mentor/idol, Mickey Spillane, read the book and loved it, and Bob Randisi connected me with top agent Dominick Abel; the book sold and led to a long-running series. Eventually Don provided a blurb for it.

There comes a time when a mentor and pupil reach a crossroads - where the pupil comes into his own, and the mentor has trouble dealing with that pupil in this new way. Don and I stayed in touch with occasional letters, saw each other at Bouchercons and Edgar dinners, and he generously gave me any number of blurbs - his Road to Perdition blurb was particularly generous - and I like to think he was proud of what I accomplished.

The last time I spent quality time with him was a couple years ago at an event in London at the National Film Theater, where a number of films from his books were shown. I was able to witness the first ever meeting between John Boorman, director of the now classic Point Blank, and "Richard Stark" - and, in the midst of their warm meeting, I got them both to sign a laser disc jacket, with Don's inscription saying, "Hey Al - we all started here." He meant Stark/Westlake and Boorman...and Collins. He knew very well that the film Point Blank had led me to the Parker novels, and that my Parker imitation was my first professional sale, with my biggest success, Road to Perdition, a frankly Stark-influenced work.

In 1991, a Heller collection was reviewed by Publisher's Weekly, who somehow got the idea I had recently died. The review - a bad one! - got the word around that I had passed away. In my office, my phone rang and it was Don.
"Al!" he said. "You're not dead?"
"No."
"Good," he said, and hung up.
How I wish I could reverse that call right now.

Friday, January 02, 2009

Don Westlake #2

Six letter writers asked me to recommend three or four novels by Don Westlake. Hard as it is to believe (and it is) there are still readers of crime fiction unfamiliar with DW.

Tonight I'm going to talk about three of his lesser known works, though be no means are they lesser in accomplishment. I'm doing this because other blogs have covered most of his prominent material.

I was especially happy to see several bloggers talk about the private eye novels Don wrote as Tucker Coe in the early sixties. I consider athem masterpieces. In fact when Marty Greenberg and I started Five Star (and were doing reprints) we did all five of them in hardcover. The problem was we couldn't get trade publications to review them because they were reprints, even though this was the first time they appeared under Don's own name. Don wrote a very interesting essay about how the Tucker Coe's came to be. Until last night's blogs I was under the impression that the only three people who knew about these novels were James Reasoner, Kevin Burton Smith and I.

Levine: This is a collection of novelettes with an aging Jewish detective in the lead. He has a serious heart condition and is constantly afraid he's going to die. The stories are imbued with deathand not only of the victims but of the man investigating their demise. This is early but solid work. It also shows how DW could make any sub-genre his own. There is no other police procedural series like this one.

Pity Him Afterward: Some of DW's finest writing can be found in the early pages of this book. Really bravura prose in his descriptions of an angry disoriented escapee from a mental hospital who murders his way into a job in a theater group performing shows for the summer. The police chief here is unique in every aspect and DW's background as an actor in stock takes readers through the struggles of would-be thespians. An excellent novel.

Anarchaos: A nifty hardboiled science fiction novel that first appeared under the byline Curt Clark. "Anarchaos is a planet, inhabited by humans, where anarchy is the only law; where each man protects himself as best he can; and where the weak are soon dead. Malone's brother had dies that way, and Malone has come to Anarchaos, carrying a small arsenal of weapons, to find the man who killed him, knowing that he is facing an entire planet of enemies." Malone and Parker could be brothers. Grim and cunning.

Thursday, January 01, 2009

A Don Westlake Pro-File from 2006

Gormania
Sunday, March 05, 2006

Pro-File: Donald E. Westlake
Donald E. Westlake

DONALD E. WESTLAKE has written numerous novels over the past thirty-five years under his own name and pseudonyms, including Richard Stark. Many of his books have been made into movies, including The Hunter, which became the brilliant film noir Point Blank, and the 1999 smash hit Payback. He penned the Hollywood scripts for The Stepfather and The Grifters, which was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Screenplay. The winner of three Edgar awards and a Mystery Writers of America Grand Master, Donald E. Westlake was presented with The Eye, the Private Eye Writers of America's Lifetime Achievement Award, at the Shamus Awards. He lives with his wife, Abby Adams, in rural New York State.

Ed here: As I've said before, I believe that Don Westlake is flat out the best crime ficton writer of our time--the most skilled, the most daring and the most accomplished. I think he's wrtten a number of masterpieces but of them all I'd have to say that The Ax is probably his best for sheer brilliance of craft and relevance to our time. Here are a few review quotes to remind you of just how fine that book is:

Charles Taylor has this to say about Westlake's The AX:

"The murderous characters that unnerve us the most are the ones we can feel close to, the ones who make us feel protective of them, make us realize what human traits we share with them. No one has ever captured those qualities better than Anthony Perkins playing Norman Bates in Psycho. And though he's a very different character, the middle-aged businessman in Donald E. Westlake's devastating novel The Ax who, after he's laid off, resorts to killing the competitors for the job he desperately needs, makes us feel the horror of seeing murder as necessity (talk about a thriller that really represents our contemporary dark side; nothing Harris has written can touch The Ax.)

"If there were a different set of values at work in our glum society, Westlake would have won National Book Awards and Pulitzers...[and] there would be statues of him in every municipal park."
-Washington Post Book World

"No one can turn a phrase like Westlake."
-Detroit News and Free Press

"Westlake is one of the best crime writers in the business...inventive, suspenseful, muscular, angry, horrific."
-Los Angeles Times
The Ax

Pro-File: Donald E. Westlake



Tell us about your current novel.

1. I'm breaking my own rule again. For 25 years or more, my rule has been
to limit myself to 1 Dortmunder in every 3 Westlake novels, in an effort to
keep the series from growing flat or thin or anything else bad -- which
I've seen with people sometimes who go to the well too often. So, when I
finished THE ROAD TO RUIN I was supposed to write 2 non-Dortmunders, but for
a couple of months the only story I could think of was another damn
Dortmunder, so I finally gave up and wrote it, and that was WATCH YOUR BACK!
So now I'm supposed to do 2 from column B again, and hit me with a brick if
I'm not hanging out with John, three times in a row. It's 284 pages so far
and does not yet have a title, not even YOU AGAIN?

Can you give us a sense of what you're working on?

2. Right now I'm working on page 285, with very little success so far,
except I think one of them -- or maybe both of them -- will go out that
window onto the roof next door. Which will give me an even bigger problem
on page 286.

What is the greatest pleasure in your writing career?

3. At the party after the New York premiere of THE GRIFTERS, I went over to
say congratulations to Stephen Frears, but before I could speak he grabbed
my elbow and leaned in close and said, "Wull, we got away with it." That's
the greatest pleasure, not in writing, which is its own greatest pleasure,
but in the writing career. Year after year, we get away with it.

What is the greatest DIS-pleasure?

4. The greatest displeasure in my writing career used to be my occasional
indentured servitude in Hollywood, but now it is the ramshackle mess that
has become of New York publishing. Doesn't anybody here know how to play
this game?

Do you have any advice for the publishing business?
5. Pay attention.

Are there two or three writers you'd like to see in print again?
6. There are specific books from uneven writers, but I don't want to do a
list, so I'll make one stand for them all. I believe Joel Townsley Rogers'
THE RED RIGHT HAND should be reissued every 5 years forever.

Tell us about writing your first novel. Most writers never forget that moment.
7. Well, I wrote a mystery I called THE CUTIE, a title which died along the
way, which would have been better if it had died for a better title, instead
of for THE MERCENARIES. I was represented by Scott Meredith then, which was
very much like being a cow on a dairy farm, and Henry Morrison was his
assistant. He wanted to send my cutie to a paperback house, but I said I
wanted it in hardcover. He told me there were only 2 hardcover houses at
that time worth thinking about, Simon & Schuster and Random House, neither
of which would want it. I insisted, and he said, okay, we'd waste the time
and then sell it paperback.
So it went to Clayton Rawson at S&S, who was personally insulted that
anyone would send him such trash (s'truth). Then it went to Lee Wright at
Random, who called Henry and said it was a near miss, she was sending it
back but wished I lived in New York so she could talk with me. "He lives in
New York! He lives in New York!" It was arranged I'd meet with her and
pick up the manuscript. Henry said to me, "LISTEN to her!" So I spent two
hours listening to her and she made me see the bad pulp habits that had led
me astray, and it was agreed I'd rewrite and she'd look at it again. I did,
she did, and she bought it. She was the best editor I ever had, very smart
and very funny, and she knew her business. She once told me she was such a
sucker for story that she had to read a manuscript 3 times before she could
get objective about it and be of use. Look for an editor like that, eh?
The suits were always oafish, of course; they made her also be the cookbook
editor, though she'd never cooked anything in her life. She once said, "I
walk into the kitchen and my thumb starts to bleed, and I haven't even
picked up the can opener yet."
posted by Gormania at 3:10 PM
4 Comments:

Duane Swierczynski said...
Not to turn all fanboy here... but let's face it; I am a fanboy. For some, Clapton is god. For me, it's all about Donald Westlake. Couldn't agree with you more about THE AX. That was the book that, in 1997, set me searching for everything else with his name on it. And then I learned about this Richard Stark guy...

6:36 PM
Rob Gregory Browne said...
Duane, you and I are in the same club. I read my first Westlake novel, SOMEBODY OWES ME MONEY, serialized in Playboy when I was twelve years old.

Westlake is the guy who made me want to be a novelist. The guy I always thought about when I spent the next several decades NOT being a novelist and got sucked into Hollywood instead.

The Richard Stark books have always been favorites as well. I turned my son onto them and he loves them all.

I'm proudly labled a fanboy when it comes to Westlake. He taught me to write.

And now that I'm finally that novelist I've always promised to be, it's all Westlake's fault.

11:37 AM
Rob Gregory Browne said...
P.S. He didn't teach me to spell.

11:39 AM
Maintenance Man said...
I have only read one book by Westlake. Lucky for me, it was The Ax. Recently I wanted to reread the book because it was so good. To my dismay, I had lost the copy I had purchased 10 years ago. All I remember is that this book rocked, so I just went out and got the book again. Now I plan to read my second book by Westlake. Any suggestions fans?

10:12 PM
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From The NY Times--Donald E. Westlake

By JENNIFER 8. LEE
Published: January 1, 2009
Donald E. Westlake, a prolific, award-winning mystery novelist who pounded out more than 100 books and five screenplays on manual typewriters during his half-century career, died Wednesday night. He was 75.

Enlarge This Image

David Jennings for The New York Times
Donald E. Westlake in 2001.
Mr. Westlake collapsed, apparently from a heart attack, as he headed out to New Year’s Eve dinner while on vacation in San Tancho, Mexico, said his wife, Abigail Westlake.

Mr. Westlake, considered one of the most successful and versatile mystery writers in the United States, has earned three Edgar Awards, an Academy Award nomination for screenplay writing, and the elite title of Grand Master from the Mystery Writers of America in 1993.

Since his first novel, “The Mercenaries,” was published by Random House in 1960, Mr. Westlake has written under his own name and several pseudonyms, including Richard Stark, Tucker Coe, Samuel Holt and Edwin West. Despite the diversity of names, one shared feature was that almost all his books were set in New York City, where he was born.

He used many names in part to combat skepticism over his rapid rate of writing books, which at some points reached four a year.

“In the beginning, people didn’t want to publish more than one book a year by the same author,” said Susan Richman, his publicist at Grand Central Publishing, his current publisher. In the later half of his career, Mr. Westlake had narrowed himself to his own name and Richard Stark, author of a dark series about a one-name criminal named Parker.

The full panoply of all his books was a spectacle to behold, his friends said. “We were in his library, this beautiful library surrounded by hundreds and hundreds of titles, and I realize that every single book was written by Donald Westlake, English language and foreign language editions,” said Laurence Kirschbaum, his agent.

Mr. Westlake’s cinematic style of storytelling, along with his carefully crafted plots and crisp dialogue, translated well to the screen. More than 15 of his books were made into movies, some multiple times. In addition, he himself wrote a number of screenplays, including “The Grifters,” which was nominated for an Academy Award in 1991.

Donald Edwin Westlake was born to Lillian and Albert Westlake on July 12, 1933, in Brooklyn, but raised in Yonkers and Albany. He attended a number of colleges in New York State, but did not graduate from any of them. He married his current wife, Abigail, in 1979, and the couple made their home in Gallatin, N.Y. He was previously married to Nedra Henderson and Sandra Kalb. He is survived by his wife; his four sons by his previous marriage, Sean Westlake, Steven Westlake, Paul Westlake, Tod Westlake; two step-daughters, Adrienne Adams and Katherine Adams; a step-son, Patrick Adams; his sister, Virginia; and four grandchildren.

He was writing all the way till he passed away. His next novel, “Get Real,” is scheduled to be released in April 2009.