Saturday, February 18, 2012

Carolyn Hart; Max Allan Collins

Dear Ed,

I had the great good fortune to be interviewed on OK public tv this week. It is always fun to talk about mysteries and writing. Here is the link if you think there are any who might be interested.

DEATH COMES SILENTLY, the 22nd Death on Demand title, will be published by Berkley Prime Crime in April. Coming in October will be WHAT THE CAT SAW, a novel of suspense.

Love - C
----------------------------------MAX COLLINS

Max (Al) Collins, along with Charles Ardai at Hard Case Crime, is responsible for bringing Donald Westlake's last novel into print. Westlake sent the manuscript to Al many years ago to see what he thought of it and to see if Al might collaborate with him on revising it. But ultimately Westlake scrapped it when Martin Scorcese's King of Comedy appeared. Don thought there were too many similarities.

Al recounted this on his blog recently and then talked about how good the novel's reviews have been. But then he cited a curious and to me clueless piece of one of the good reviews.

"Another good review began oddly, stating that there might be something fishy about this discovery if it hadn’t come from me, because after all I can be trusted. You see, the reviewer (Steve Donoghue) says “a more honest thousand-word-a-day hack isn’t living.

"Here’s the thing. I resent the word hack. Any writer would. It is the “n” word of the writing world. Further, if Steve Donoghue thinks that a “hack” is anybody who can turn out a thousand words a day, he is (in my case at least) 1500 words short. And trust me, Donald E. Westlake never had a thousand-word writing day in his life. Ed McBain probably never had a day under 5000 words.

"Anyway, speed or lack of it has no bearing on the quality of writing, which should and does speak for itself. I rewrite heavily, but my practice is not to rewrite the life and spontaneity out of a work. Barb considers herself slow – 1000 words would be a good day – but the result is terrific and has an off-handed feel as if she just threw it off quickly. That’s an art in itself.

"I understand that – like Don – I am a prolific writer. This does not mean that I don’t work hard at writing. In fact, I work very hard at it, and if I write 2500 words of a Nate Heller or Jack Starr or some other historical novel, many hours of research have gone into it. And it’s not just research. One thing that Barb and I share in our approach is a propensity for thinking about what we’re going to write for at least as long as it will take to write it.

"For me writing is an art, yes, but first and foremost it is a craft, and selling what I’ve crafted is my business – you know, like trouble was Phillip Marlowe’s. When a reviewer – whether in the New York Times or on a blog – dismisses a writer as a “hack,” or talks about a writer “churning out” or “grinding out” a book, that reviewer is indulging in a lazy, prejudiced, sloppy way of thinking…and writing. Those of us who do this for a living – and are not lawyers or doctors or teachers who write on the side, and are not blockbuster writers who can afford to write a thousand words a day, or less – deserve more consideration if not respect than being called the “h” word."

* * *

Bravo! Al speaks for many of us who get treated to the "grind `em out" accusation. Sometimes these are made by snobs who think most popular fiction is trash. But I wonder if, sometimes at least, these accusations are leveled because of stupidity. How could this Steve Donoghue not know how insulting his words were? It's easy for me to imagine that he thinks that anybody not producing work at the level of Proust is writing trash--so therefore it must be easy to "crank `em out."

Bill Pronzini told me that at a signing once a woman came up and told him that she enjoyed his books "But when are you going to write something serious?" Lady, you may not think these books are serious but they are to us.

My own personal favorite came from a wealthy girl I dated awhile. She was always amused by my choices in books and movies. She feigned great interest in finer expressions of literature and music. She amused me as much as I amused her. We broke off on what I thought were good terms. Several years later I got a letter from her (by now she'd married a neuro-surgeon and lived in Georgetown). She had, she said, read one of my books. "It's the sort of novel anybody could write if they just had the time." Whoa baby. I guess those good terms weren't as good as I'd thought, eh?

I posted a letter from Carolyn Hart above. Excellent writer and very nice woman. Carolyn slaves over her work as Al does as I do as every single writer I know does. It's hard work. I know there's supposed to be some mysterious "formula" but if there is none of us have found it yet. I always joke that my full name is "Prolific Ed Gorman." I was for the first half of my career but I don't think writing two short stories and two sixty thousand word novels a year for a writer of popular fiction is going to get me an invite to the Prolific Olympics. I try to write 1500-2000 words a day. I am a professional writer. It's my job to do so.

And as Al said, speed is irrelevant. One of my favorite writers is Georges Simenon. More than five hundred novels before they planted him--and that's not counting the three hundred or so magazine length pulp novels he wrote before being published under his own name and in book form. My friend Bob Randisi is another example. He has made lasting contributions to both the crime and western genres, books I've read and re-read with pleasure and admiration. And look at Al. Nate Heller? Quarry? Road To Perdition? Ms. Tree? Etc.

I'm sure I sound defensive here but I don't mean to. I'm so used to being Prolific Ed Gorman that I kinda like it actually. Seriously. It's the "grind `em out" and "crank `em out" stuff that gets to me. My work may be junk but I work hard at producing it. At least give me credit for putting in long hours at the machine. And as for Steve Donoghue I don't know if he was just trying to be glib but he owes Al an apology.



James Reasoner said...

Don't forget "churn 'em out". I've been on the receiving end of that one.

RJR said...

Ed, you, Al, James and I should change our first names to "Prolific." I wholeheartedly support both your and Al's comments. 1,000 words a day? Sometimes I wish I could slow down to 1,000 words an hour!