Friday, April 22, 2011

John D. MacDonald on Dashiell Hammett

Ed here: Steve Scott does excellent work on his The Trap of Solid Gold website dedicated to the work and life of John D. MacDonald. Be sure to check it out. Here's a sample.

JDM on Dialogue

"I never met [Dashiell] Hammett and never corresponded with him. Here are some small and unimportant ways in which our lives touched. Hammett and I were both discharged from the Army in September of 1945 at Fort Dix, NJ. I was 29 and he was 51.

"His first novel, Red Harvest, was published in 1929 when he was 33. My first novel, The Brass Cupcake, was published in 1950 when I was 34. Both novels are still in print.

"His last short story in the pulp magazine Black Mask was "Death and Company," published in 1930. Seventeen years later, my first story in that magazine was titled "Manhattan Horse Opera," which doubtless shows a smidgen or two of the Hammett influence. He influenced us all: The straight, simple prose style. Everything deleted except what moved the action forward. Characters shown through action and through dialogue -- with a special emphasis on making the dialogue ring true. This is a very chancy area. You cannot have people talking the way people actually talk. Transcribe a tape of any casual conversation, and you will see what I mean. You have to do dialogue that, if spoken exactly as written, would sound just a little bit stilted -- yet on the page, it creates for the reader the imitation of a total reality."

-- from John D MacDonald's book review of Shadow Man (a Hammett biography) published in the August 2, 1981 edition of the Washington Star.

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