Donald Westlake was a prolific American author who gained a large and loyal following through six decades of nonstop writing. He was born in Brooklyn, New York on July 12, 1933. After a stint in the Air Force, he worked for a literary agency in New York City, and started his writing career.
Toward the beginning of his career, he wrote about organized crime with an insiders view. During the late fifties and early sixties when writers were paid a penny a word for pulp fiction, he soon added children’s tales, hard-boiled crime, and science fiction to keep his family fed.
By the early sixties, he had established the one-name character of Parker under the pen name Richard Stark. Westlake wrote twenty Parker novels between 1962 and 1974; then Stark went silent until 1997. Among his most famous pseudonyms were Richard Stark, Tucker Coe, Samuel Holt, and Edwin West. Parker and John Archibald Dortmunder were among his best-known characters. His last Dortmunder novel, Get Real, was scheduled for release in April 2009
Westlake explained the reason he had so many pseudonyms was neither earlier publishers nor the reading public could keep up with the output he generated. Short story magazines would only publish one byline per issue, thus pseudonyms gave him a way of having two different story lines with different characters in the same edition.
Although many of his early novels were humorless, he later became known for his comic mysteries and offbeat characters. It was said he created his own niche in writing comedic slapstick and one-liners within the backdrop of crime. Most of his novels were based in New York City.
The award winning Westlake received three Edgar Awards in three different categories, the Mystery Writers of America Grand Master Award in 1993, and his screenplay for The Grifters (1990) was nominated for an Academy Award.
Several of his books became motion pictures including Point Blank (1967) with Lee Marvin, the Hot Rock (1972) with Robert Redford, The Outfit (1973) with Robert Duvall, and Bank Shot (1974) with George C. Scott.
Known to write between 10:00 p.m. and 4:00 a.m., he usually typed around 7,000 words a night. He loved being alone in his small room in the middle of the night with just his typewriter and his stories.
Donald E. Westlake died New Year’s Eve, 2008, while vacationing in Mexico.
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