Wednesday, July 03, 2013

"So I just had him deal with those cops, you know?"

One of the pleasures of working on my forthcoming collection of Donald Westlake's nonfiction, The Getaway Car, has been reading a lot of interviews across many years. Westlake was something of a performer in interviews--he had a number of essentially stock answers and anecdotes that he broke out at appropriate times, but 1) they're good ones, and 2) there's enough variation in questions and focus among the interviews that you're able to pick up something new from pretty much all of them.

The best I've found yet, and one that I'm planning to include, is an interview by William DeAndrea for Armchair Detective's Fall 1988 issue. It's a long interview, touching on pretty much every question any Westlake fan would want to ask, and it also offers new details from or angles on familiar stories. Like this one, about the origins of Parker:
WESTLAKE: Of course, the first book wasn't going to be part of a series. Nothing happened the way I anticipated it was going to happen with that book. I was doing one a year in hardcover from Random House, and I thought, okay, time to have another name, and I'd been reading all these Gold Medal books--which is where Peter Rabe came from--so I wrote this novel to be a Gold Medal paperback original novel. Certainly not a series. In fact, Parker got caught at the end. The editor at Gold Medal turned it down, and I was confused. Then it was sent to Pocket Books. There was an editor at Pocket Books named Bucklyn Moon. Buck Moon.

DEANDREA: Great name.

WESTLAKE: Yeah. He was an interesting guy. He was a white guy whose three great interests were mystery[en-dash]private eye-[en-dash]crime novels, poetry, and black writing. He edited anthologies of black poets, for instance; he was the American champion of Chester Himes--Gravedidgger Jones, Coffin Ed Johnson. These things all came together in him. At that time, I was represented by Scott Meredith, God help me. Buck called Scott, and then he called me, and said, "Is there any way for you to let Parker get away at the end of the book, and give me three a year?" I said, "I think so."

DEANDREA: "And you're gonna pay me for them, and everything?"

WESTLAKE: In 1961, the two companies that paid the top were Gold Medal and Pocket Books, and Gold Medal was a little better, because they paid on copies printed. Which is rather a wonderful thing. When I eventually did get published by them, when they would do another printing, they'd just send you a check for the number of books they'd printed.

DEANDREA: They work that way in Germany.

WESTLAKE: Well, Otto used to work that way with Mysterious Press. Until he became a serious publisher. (Laughter) But, at that time, a $3,000 advance was very good. So in '61, being told that for my second name I would do three books a year, which would be no problem, that would be $9,000 already. On the first of January, I know I'm going to make at least $9,000 this year--that's terrific. And I'd really had to distort the book to have the guy caught in the end anyway, so I just had him deal with those cops, you know? Parker unchained.
In order:

1. I knew of Bucklyn (elsewhere spelled Bucklin) Moon from this story, but I had never heard about his interest in African American literature.

2. Gold Medal paid on copies printed? Holy hell, that's amazing. Should I, a publishing professional, have already known that that's how a mass market paperback publisher once worked? Because I certainly didn't. Wow. 3. I have read many accounts from Westlake of rewriting the ending of The Hunter, but this is the only one I've come across where he explains that it was hard to have Parker get caught, convincingly, in the first place--and what fun is in that line "So I just had him deal with those cops, you know?" We know. Oh, do we know.

Trust me, folks: this book is going to be a lot of fun.

No comments:

Post a Comment