Wednesday, February 2, 2011

JDM on Other Writers

"[Dashiell Hammett's] strengths, and they were so considerable as to elevate his work from hack to art, were in persuasive characterizations, deft, understated, graceful transitions, remarkable dialogue and such little touches of reality in description that he could bring a walk-on completely alive in about two sentences."

-- JDM's 1981 review of Shadow Man by Richard Layman, in the Washington Star

"Some of the people I like to read nowadays are Thomas Williams -- some of his titles are Town Burning, The Night of Trees and The Hair of Harold Roux. I like Charles Williams -- Charley's good, particularly his books Scorpion Reef and Aground. And Nabokov -- splendid, except when he gets too fanciful; when he gets too far away from his story line into erudition, he begins to intrude, he begins to spoil his own narrative effect, almost mischievously. I like John Cheever, very much, and Peter DeVries. Let me see now... that fellow who wrote The Spy Who Came in From the Cold -- John LeCarré. And Eric Ambler I like, and John Updike. And James Jones -- he was a plodder, and was predictable, but he has such a vivid and marvelous control of his own ability. He could create a scene that becomes as unforgettable as if you'd seen it yourself.

"Q: How about the writers you don't like so well?

"A: They're the big, world-famous solemn hacks, such as Leon Uris, Allen Drury, James Michener sometimes, and Irving Wallace, Harold Robbins and Arthur Hailey. These people have a great sense of story, which keeps them going, but at the same time they have very little humor, and of course almost none about themselves. There's no wryness or wit in their writing, and there's no magic and poetry, no sense of exactly the right word... You can perform a little exercise in Uris. You can open a book of his that you have never read before, anywhere. Cover the bottom half of the page, and read the top half, and you will pretty much be able to predict exactly what the lines are going to be and what the people are going to say to each other on the half that's covered."

-- Interview with Ed Hirshberg, published in the 1979 Writer's Digest Yearbook

"I think Ross Thomas is a very good writer, I like his books very much."

-- Interview (1981) with Dick Lupoff, published in the first issue of Mystery Scene Reader, 1987.

"Stephen King is a far, far better writer at thirty than I was at thirty, or at forty."

--Introduction to King's short story anthology Night Shift

"[Norman] Mailer is one of my literary heroes not only because of the restless flood of his talent -- at times he has reminded me of a one-man band, snare drum, bass drum, banjo and a harmonica around his neck on a wire brace -- but also because, along with Saul Bellow and John Updike, he keeps on charging ahead just as if the novel were at the center of the contemporary cultural experience instead of that weeny little thing out there at the far edge of literacy."

-- JDM's USA Today review of Mailer's 1983 novel Tough Guys Don't Dance

"If I were in this business for the purpose of making big money, I would probably be Harold Robbins or Irving Wallace, and I envy them not, financially or professionally... I am just a plain, stubborn eccentric who constantly goes around making the mistake of saying just what he believes."

-- Letter to Harry Ackerman, 1970

"Shute, yes. Charles Williams, yes. Peter De Vries, yes. Cheever, yes. [Vance] Bourjaily and [John] Hersey, yes.
"Michener, Robbins, Wallace, Drury, Uris and friends -- no no no no no."

-- Letter to Dan Rowan, June 12, 1967


  1. I just subscribed to your blog and even though I have read both JDM bios I am really learning a lot about JDM from your writings that I didn't know before.

    I am a long time JDM reader (40 years now) and attended several of the JDM conferences in Sarasota in the 1990's. I plan to go down to UF Gainsville and spend a few weeks going through the JDM collection someday.

    Thanks for your efforts. They are much appreciated.

    Best Regards,

    Hugh Pickens

  2. Thanks Hugh, I appreciate it. I'd love to get to Gainesville one day myself.