WRITERS ON WRITING
I’ve just completed another few months being Richard Stark, and a very pleasant time it was. Richard Stark is the name I write under when I’m not writing under the name above, which is the name I was born with, and these days it is doubly pleasant for me to visit with Stark, because for 23 years he wouldn’t answer my calls.
The relationship between a writer and his pseudonym is a complex one, and never more so than when the alter ego refuses to appear. I became Richard Stark in the first place, 40 years ago, for both of the usual reasons. As a young writer, effervescent with ideas, I was turning out far too much work to ship to the publishers under just one name. Also, being a writer who worked in a variety of styles, I thought it a good idea to offer brand-name definition. Westlake does this, Stark does that.
But then, in 1974, Richard Stark just up and disappeared. He did a fade. Periodically, in the ensuing years, I tried to summon that persona, to write like him, to be him for just a while, but every single time I failed. What appeared on the paper was stiff, full of lumps, a poor imitation, a pastiche. Though successful, though well liked and well paid, Richard Stark had simply downed tools. For, I thought, ever.
It seems strange to say that for those years I could no longer write like myself, since Richard Stark had always been, naturally, me. But he was gone, and when I say he was gone, I mean his voice was gone, erased clean out of my head.
Read the full article on the NY Times website here.
Also available in the non-fiction collection, The Getaway Car (2014), edited by Levi Stahl for University of Chicago Press.