Westlake the Great

The current issue of the Hudson Valley-based online magazine Chronogram has a great interview with Donald Westlake (who splits his time between Upstate NY and Manhattan, mostly to attend Writers Guild meetings and take part in a weekly poker game. To be a fly on the wall at that…) where he chats about his current and upcoming projects, prose vs. screen, and those manual typewriters of his:

Actually, Westlake uses two typewriters. The first, with elite type and

narrow margins—”so I don’t have to interrupt to change pages too

often”—is for banging out first drafts. Westlake makes corrections by

hand and then retypes the manuscript in a conventional format. Though

he uses a computer for e-mail and electronic submissions of book

reviews (“the New York Times won’t accept print anymore”), he shudders at the thought of composing his prose on a screen.

He also wonders, rightly so, about the decline of short story markets:

“I don’t know where fiction went,” he ruminates. “There was a time

when there was a great appetite for short fiction. There were magazines

appealing to women, men, outdoorsmen, mystery fans, science fiction

fans; Westerns, true-crime magazines. They’re all gone. When I was a

kid, the Saturday Evening Post would print seven short stories and three chapters from serials. Where did that hunger go?”

He offers a cautionary tale from Playboy’s fiction editor. When the Writers Guild went on a prolonged strike in 1976, Playboy

received “hundreds and hundreds” of short stories from out-of-work

screenwriters. When the Guild struck again in 1988, there was no such

surge. “This is the first generation of TV and screenwriters who don’t

come from print,” Westlake says. “If Sony didn’t write it, they haven’t

read it.”

That said, Westlake himself says how the need to tell stories spurred him to read, then write. And I can’t imagine that instinct will die out simply because people are reading different material, or differently….