Rediscovered: “Reasons Why Writers Write” — Encore Variants


I just did the Palm Sunday Walk in memoriam Charles Willeford — mostly locals showed up, but we did have a couple haul in all the way from Massachusetts — so how about we continue the memorial action with a second installment of Guest Blogger Michael S. Chong’s series of cool Willeford stuff he’s found by surfing around the web?

The idea was that Michael had noticed some items not recorded in the bibliography in my book Willeford. Technically, Keasler’s “Reasons Why Writers Write” isn’t in the biblio — but I’ll add a note at the end that ought to be of interest.

Here’s Michael, first with some background on how he tumbled into Willeford fandom, then with the data on this bit of newsprint:


Working my way through the Black Lizard editions after being turned on to Jim Thompson and David Goodis, I was using the line as a guide to great crime fiction. The Black Lizards got me reading Fredric Brown, Peter Rabe and Dan Marlowe. Through my perusals of the back listings in the Black Lizards, I wanted to read Charles Willeford, but the problem was, I couldn’t find them browsing the usual used bookstores and sales.

After much searching, at one of those paperback exchange shops, I found a battered blue and yellow copy of Miami Blues, the one that says “Now a major motion picture” on the cover. After reading that, I wanted more — and the rest of the Hoke Moseley quartet were not difficult to find. (I also have read Grimhaven, with apologies to Betsy Willeford, but I did not pay for it if that’s any consolation.)

There was an absurd reality to his characters. What is that quote of Willeford’s? “Just tell the truth, and they’ll accuse you of writing black humor.”

Eventually, I came across the Black Lizard editions of Pick-Up, Cockfighter and The Burnt Orange Heresy at the late, lamented Jamie Fraser bookshop in Toronto. The RE/Search double of High Priest of California/Wild Wives was found at an outdoor book market in the Netherlands. At Los Angeles’s Mysterious Bookstore, I got a PBO copy of The Machine in Ward Eleven and at Partners & Crime in New York, I got a Black Lizard copy of The Black Mass Of Brother Springer. I don’t recall where I found The Woman Chaser or The Shark-Infested Custard but I think those are my favourites along with Heresy.

Could there be any more different genres and styles than these works? What is common across them is a sense of absurdity but a grounding of reality in the chaotic worlds the characters inhabit. His memoirs I Was Looking For a Street and Something About a Soldier share the same distinct perspective on the world. As time goes by, I reread these the most.

“Reasons Why Writers Write” is a John Keasler column found in the Danville Bee from”Friday, March 14, 1975.” For this piece on why people become writers, Keasler went to his friend Willeford and James Jones, here called Jim, writer of From Here to Eternity and Some Came Running.  Willeford relates how he began as a writer and when he “decided to go into the literary life.”  This being Willeford, it is both unique and funny.


Okay — me again. As soon as I scanned the article and noticed “a Bright Saying for Children” the aging brain cells began to spin, and I looked through the biblio in the back of Willeford. There, page 457, I found what I remembered, a cite for John Keasler, “Why Does a Writer Write?” from the Miami News, April 25, 1975. Same article, slightly different title. Since Keasler’s column was syndicated, who knows how many appearances any given article may have had, and how many times some local editor on the way changed the title?

Michael’s discovery pre-dates the Miami paper, and perhaps some other paper has an Ur appearance. Big can of worms. Something for any dedicated Willeford researchers that come along to beat their brains out over — which, if you’re into that sort of thing, is kind of fun.

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