03 January 2009

The Quiet of a Manual Typewriter

From the New York Times obituary for Donald E. Westlake, the talented writer of mysteries, thrillers, caper novels, and a lot of other genre fiction published since 1960:

Mr. Westlake resisted computers and typed his manuscripts on manual typewriters. “They came in perfectly typed,” Mr. [Laurence] Kirshbaum said [as his agent]. “You felt like it was almost written by hand.”

Otto Penzler, a longtime friend of Mr. Westlake’s and the owner of the Mysterious Bookshop in TriBeCa, said, “He hated the idea of an electric typewriter because, he said, ‘I don’t want to sit there while I am thinking and have something hum at me.’”

Mr. Westlake kept four or five typewriters and cannibalized their parts when any one broke, as the typewriter model was no longer manufactured, his friends said.

“He lived in fear that he wouldn’t have his little portable typewriter,” said Mr. Penzler, who once gave him a similar typewriter that he had found in a secondhand store.
(Penzler is also a mystery editor, and in 2000 he and Westlake co-edited a collection of Best American Mystery Stories of the year.)

The Times item is accompanied by a photo by David Jennings showing Westlake with two of his beloved machines in 2001.

A detail found not in the obituary but on Westlake's website: In 1970, the Signet paperback imprint published Comfort Station, by J. Morgan Cunningham, who was aiming to please the fans of Arthur Hailey. Westlake supplied a blurb for that previously unknown author: "I wish I had written this book!" In fact, he had--Cunningham was one of the many pseudonyms Westlake used over the years, and he was having a little fun.

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