Tuesday, March 16, 2010

"Sometimes poetic justice is just comic; maybe we should call it doggerel justice," or, More from Westlake's intros

In Sunday's post I wrote about an aside in Donald Westlake's introduction to Levine (1984), his collection of interlinked short stories about a New York cop. That was only one of many asides, however--the whole twelve-page intro is worth searching out for any fan of Westlake for its string of brief anecdotes about his early writing days.

Here, for example, he tells of his one non-Supertrain television credit, when a Levine story, highly influenced by Ed McBain, was adapted for the McBain-derived 87th Precinct:
Sometimes poetic justice is just comic; maybe we should call it doggerel justice. At the time "The Feel of the Trigger" was published an 87th Precinct series was on television; the only story of mine ever bought to be the basis of an episode in a television series was "The Feel of the Trigger." It ran as an 87th Precinct story on February 2, 1962. . . . Unfortunately, I couldn't be home that night, but a friend offered to tape the program for me. Remember, we're talking about 1962, not 1982, and the tape he was talking about was sound. He did record the program, and some time later I heard it, and my memory of it is a lot of footsteps and several doors being opened.
That doesn't sound all that bad: add Orson Welles and you've more or less got The Shadow, right?

Later, Westlake talks about starting, unexpectedly, to write comedy:
Let me make one thing perfectly clear: I was never a comic. All through my life, in grammar school, in high school, in college, I was never the funniest kid in class. I was always, invariably, the funniest kid's best friend. Out of college and in New York and beginning to make my career as a writer, I got to know a couple of funny writers and I was their best audience. I wasn't the guy with the quick line; I was the guy who loved the quick line.
The turn to comedy happened around the time Westlake started writing about Parker, which does seem like a sufficient reason: no one but Parker could endure all that grimness without needing to balance it somehow.

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