Donald E. Westlake

Donald Edwin Westlake was an American crime novelist, who has written over one hundred novels and nonfiction books. He is the creator of John Dortmunder, the most clever and least lucky thief in crime fiction, and, writing as Richard Stark, the hard-boiled heist master Parker.

The novelist was known as Tucker Coe, Curt Clark, Samuel Holt, Timothy J. Culver, J. Morgan Cunningham, and Judson Jack Carmichael.

Donald E. Westlake has authored more than a hundred books, mostly in the genre of crime fiction, but also in genres ranging from biography to history, science fiction, and children's stories.

He was a three-time Edgar Award winner in three various categories (1968, Best Novel, God Save the Mark; 1990, Best Short Story, "Too Many Crooks"; 1991, Best Motion Picture Screenplay, The Grifters). In 1993, the American Society of Mystery Writers awarded Westlake the title of Grand Master, the society's highest honor.

In his short biography, Westlake tells how he began to become a writer.

"I knew I was a writer when I was eleven; it took the rest of the world about ten years to begin to agree. Up till then, my audience was mainly limited to my father, who was encouraging and helpful, and ultimately influential in an important way.

I was about fourteen. I’d written a science-fiction about aliens from another planet who come to Earth and hire a husband-wife team of big-game hunters to help them collect examples of every animal on Earth for their zoo back on Alpha Centauri or wherever.

...I showed it to my father. He read it and said one or two nice things about the dialogue or whatever, and then he said, “why did you write this story?”

So he asked it a different way: “What’s the story about?” Well, it’s about these people that get taken to be in a zoo on Alpha Centauri. “No, what’s it about?” he said.

I didn’t know. I didn’t know what the moral was. I didn’t know what the story was about.

The truth was, of course, that the story wasn’t about anything… But it isn’t what I thought I wanted to be. So that question of my father’s wriggled right down into my brain like a worm, and for quite a while it took the fun out of things…

The question kept coming, and I had to try to figure out some way to answer it, so, slowly and gradually, I began to find out what I was doing. And ultimately I refined the question itself down to this: What does this story mean to me that I should spend my valuable time creating it?"

Donald Westlake began his career in the late 1950s, typing novels for publishers-often writing up to four novels a year under different pseudonyms.

Westlake's cinematic prose and lively dialogues made his novels attractive to Hollywood, and his books have led to several films starring stars such as Lee Marvin and Mel Gibson. Westlake himself wrote several screenplays, earning an Oscar nomination for his adaptation of The Grifters, Jim Thompson's classic noir.

Don’s youngest son, Paul Westlake, said his father was the consummate storyteller with an outstanding level of discipline and a sheer volume of creative output.
years of life: 12 July 1933 31 December 2008


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