Donald E. Westlake (Author - 'Watch Your Back!')
'Backing Into Yet Another Hit!'
John Dortmunder hasn't gotten where he is today by turning a blind eye to an easy heist. So when his friend and fence Arnie Albright discovers that Manhattan billionaire Preston Fareweather has left a treasure-filled Fifth Avenue penthouse practically unguarded, Dortmunder & Co. spring into action.
But into the life of a crook a little rain must fall…and sometimes it's a deluge. The one place that Dortmunder's crew can always count on, their shrine and hangout-the O.J. Bar & Grill-is under siege from some real criminals: the Jersey Mob. Now Dortmunder and his team must liberate Fareweather's treasure and fight off a would-be Tony Soprano at the same time. And in a duel of brains, brawn, and dumb luck on two fronts, Dortmunder had better hope somebody's got his back!
Donald E. Westlake has written numerous novels over the past thirty-five years under his own name and pseudonyms, including Richard Stark. Many of his books have been made into movies, including 'The Hunter,' which became the brilliant film noir 'Point Blank,' and the 1999 smash hit 'Payback.' He penned the Hollywood scripts for 'The Stepfather' and 'The Grifters,' which was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Screenplay.
The winner of three Edgar awards and a Mystery Writers of America Grand Master, Donald E. Westlake was presented with The Eye, the Private Eye Writers of America's Lifetime Achievement Award, at the Shamus Awards. He lives with his wife, Abby Adams, in rural New York State.
Chatting recently with Donald, and knowing about an old nickname of his from days gone by, I first wondered if 'Dewdrip' was anything that anyone still called him these days?! "One of the nice things about maturity is that discourse becomes civil. I haven't been verbally insulted to my face for many years, except, of course, by other drivers."
Regarding your two and a half years in the United States Air Force, what position did you obtain and what experiences did you take from it? "The Air Force position I mostly obtained was serf. In military terms, my rank went; a)Airman Basic, b)Airman Third Class, c)Airman Basic, d)Airman Third Class, e)Airman Basic, f)civilian. The reason for this yo-yo effect was that I couldn't get past my conviction that life started at 5 PM, and so I kept getting busted for being late to work. Since the military can't call anything by its rightful name, this was known as 'failure to repair', which sounds like they didn't fix your lawnmower, but actually means 'failure to repair at the appointed time to the appointed post of duty'."
Is it true that you still write your books using a typewriter and not a computer in this day and age? "Of course I write on a manual portable typewriter. This little wussy machine here is for fripperies. For serious work, you need a machine that fights back. By now, I have strangler's fingers."
Exploring your latest book 'Watch Your Back!', what made you break your own vow on not writing two novels about John Dortmunder in a row? "I couldn't think of any other story. I made a little note to myself one day -- "Dortmunder annoys Tony Soprano" -- and thought fine, I'll get to it whenever. And it simply wouldn't leave me alone."
And please do tell us more about your usage of the exclamation point within the title! "Ah, the exclamation point. I initially thought to call the book NO GOOD DEED, but then I went to Amazon, and one-fifth of all books in print are called NO GOOD DEED, so I fished on and eventually reeled in WATCH YOUR BACK. Then it occurred to me there are two meanings to that phrase, the American and the New York, which, as usual, clash with one another. The American phrase is a friendly warning to look out for betrayal. The New York meaning is said by a guy pushing a garment rack up the street, and it means, "Move it, or six dozen frocks are gonna roll over your back." How to tell Americans I didn't mean their namby-pamby definition? The exclamation point, I hope, implied the threat."
Having read this book I found it to be very funny and very satisfying, but having also read a few of your other stories, do you feel that you are starting to intentionally complicate your plots further and further as you progress in the series? "I don't believe my plots have gotten more complicated. They've been out of control from the beginning. What happens is, I send some people off with the skimpiest of marching orders -- "Steal a car and rob that bank" -- and they just keep muddying things up. Tom Clancy's characters know how to travel in straight lines, but my characters are human."
At what point did Donald E. Westlake, become amongst others, Richard Stark ... and why? "Westlake first published a short story in 54 and a novel in 60, and Parker came along in 62. In those early days, I was writing far too much -- well, nobody was asking me for interviews -- and us prolifics use more names to get the excess stuff off the desk. Later, it became more of a brand-name issue; Westlake does this, Stark does that."
Are you already working on your next book, perhaps? "I am embarrassed to admit that Westlake is near the finish of the third
goddam Dortmunder novel in a row. Well, separated by Starks, but still. I
think this one is called WHAT'S SO FUNNY?, so obviously I'm looking for
trouble. And this time I don't even have the excuse of being haunted by a
story; I just wanted to go hang out again. When I started it, all I knew
was that an ex-cop named Eppick had come to the O.J. to see Dortmunder, and
the concept made Dortmunder nervous. I spent most of the first chapter
thinking 'what the hell does he want with Dortmunder?'"
Finally, do you presently have any other novels that are being considered for adaptation for movies or television? "There's nothing new screenwise at the moment. In 2004, three movies were
made from my stuff in France, the best of them done by Costa-Gavras from my
novel THE AX. None of the three is getting American distribution. The
movie business is going to hell in a handbasket, and the richness of foreign films is being removed from our diets. I grew up with everything from Ingmar Bergman to Ealing Studios comedies with Alec Guinness. There are a dozen post-graduate lessons in comedy in BIG DEAL ON MADONNA STREET. New writers' brains are not being mulched in this way. What will be produced by people who think a good time is SPIDERMAN?"
"There. Always end on a sour note, that'll keep em comin back!"
If you would like to win an AUTOGRAPHED copy of Donald's new book 'Watch Your Back!,' and you think you know all there is to know about the great man, just answer this easy question: In which Donald E. Westlake book does the central character have to steal a video that, if made public, may prevent the president's reelection?
Send me your answers and if you're correct you'll be in the running to win one of these great new AUTOGRAPHED books! Just send us an e:mail here before July 1st with your answer and the subject title 'WATCH YOUR BACK! BOOKs' to: firstname.lastname@example.org
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