Monday, February 28, 2011
Day Keene - David Laurence Wilson
Ed here: As a recovering alcoholic (thirty six years dry this April) I should have read between the lines whenever I ran across references to Day Keene's drinking. The stories are usually presented in a larky sort of way, as if Keene was just a happy drunk whose company was enjoyed by all.
David Laurence Wilson is doing impressive and lasting work in recreating the lives of the Gold Medal generation of writers. I'm eager to read his long piece on Keene in the book posted above.
We've exchanged a few letters lately. Here are two of them.
"Yeah, hard to know about Keene. There were different opinions, a saint or a bastard. I knew about McCampbell (Keene's agent). When Harry was having trouble with him Keene sent him a letter referring to McCampbell as "God". And when McCampbell retired he threw out what was described to me as "pounds" of correspondence with Day Keene. Like the manuscripts Harry threw out, in the depths of his depression, I wish I had a few ounces of that stuff now."
"Yeah ... I know a lot about Keene, so there is that responsibility to get it right, ... but I certainly don't know as much as I'd like. His alcoholism made it difficult for those around him. His son wrote me: "The fact was on the other side of the glamour, the flip side of the character he made of himself, was the drinking. This was a bad scene. The whole family spent a lot of years worrying about him when he didn't show on time." You certainly don't have to be a saint to take up the craft of writing."
I'll try to fit all of it into the essay for Stark House, and eventually, my own collection of essays and interviews on that generation of fiction writers.
There's also that persistent theme of violence against women in most of Keene's crime books, prostitution and rape. Granted, he's from a different generation. These books are fifty to seventy years old, a million miles away from your own fiction, for example.
On the other hand, Keene wrote Seed of Doubt. Despite some antiquated attitudes, it also includes one of the most self-empowered woman characters who came from that generation of crime writers.
Harry (Whittington) was the humanist in that group, I think. Wyatt Blassingame, I think, was a good guy, and I think we're both very respectful of Bill Gault.
There were a few saints in the trade."