REMINDERS: (1) Have you taken our polls? (Very bottom of page)
(2) Obtain, Read, and Comment on the current book!

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Cynthia Riggs Shares Her Thoughts on Westlake

I decided to ask Cynthia Riggs about Westlake. I am delighted that she took time to respond. So first comes my letter to her, followed by her reply.
Hi Cynthia,

I'm still puzzling over your Crimebake panel comment about Donald Westlake.

Last week, our mystery book club in Manchester-by-the-sea discussed Richard Stark's Dirty Money.

--Stark's central characters are losers
--Your book's central character is a good "guy" (apologies to Victoria)

--Stark's central character (Parker) has no appeal and seems flat, devoid of depth and feeling
--Victoria is appealing and there is plenty of depth - information about the character that creates the interest and appeal

--Stark's story has no ending; it's like the end of a chapter. It's like a puzzle piece.
--Your stories have resolution.

--While the Dortmunder series has a kind of humor, Stark's series are grim to the core with no real humor (at least to us)
--While Victoria encounters many murders, she is a good sport and there are lighter moments in the stories.

So -

At the risk of sounding really really dumb, and knowing that a fellow panel member happened to agree with the Westlake choice quite independently, still -

What exactly was it or is it about Westlake's writing that you admire?

Dear Richard:

I'm honored that the mystery book club compares my writing with Donald Westlake's. He's one of my favorite not-exactly-mystery writers. And, of course, I like hearing that you think Victoria Trumbull is appealing, has depth, and is a good sport and a good guy.

Westlake's caper books are quite different from his Stark books, which I like, but they're not among my favorites.

Dortmunder appeals to me because I love the concept of a failed burglar concocting yet another elaborate scheme that, yet again, fails. For some reason, I find that comical. I guess reading about losers makes me feel better about my own failed ventures, and thinking that an occasional venture of mine may succeed, unlike Dortmunder's.

Westlake has remarkable control over his writing. I'm sure he intended his losers to seem flat, which they are. Much like the characters in the works of Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett. His writing boils the story down to its essence. I'd say like poetry, but that's not exactly right. Doggerel, maybe, in its kindest definition. Westlake's settings are sketchy, his dialogue is a mere suggestion of the way people talk. The plot's the thing, leaving all else to the imagination, a carefully crafted, intricately engineered structure with cartoon people moving through. His spare dialogue and the absurd situations he sets up make me laugh. I'm not amused by much of today's over-written, in-your-face humor -- Seinfeld and Janet Evanovich, for instance, treat me as if my reading comprehension is at the third grade level. Reading Westlake I sometimes feel as though I'm the only reader who's ever seen through and around and beyond what he's put on paper, and believe I've discovered new territory. I suspect that's the way his other fans feel.

I consciously imitate some of Westlake's style, and find myself laughing aloud as I write.

Thanks for writing to me.


No comments:

2009 POLL #2--Do Mystery Stories and Political Bias Mix? What is closest to your view?