In Part Four of the Birth of Don Pendleton's The Executioner: Mack Bolan Series , Don Pendleton spoke of critics. This again was in about 1973, at a time the Executioner had really taken off. You may want to read Part One, Part Two and Part Three prior to this one. See Posts below this one.
Of course, there is that other thing: the unfavorable comments of the critics. I don’t suppose that I’m any more thin-skinned in that regard or any more thick-skinned than most writers are. This is one of the things that every person in the creative or performing arts is wide open to and we have to simply accept it. Don’t have to like it. My own personal view of the written criticism is that it is a literary cannibalism. The critic is literally cannibalizing another piece of work in order to create a piece of work of his own. It must be recognized by knowledgeable people that reviews, criticisms, are, in fact, a valid art form in their own right. The person who writes these pieces of literature are in their own way attempting to create something. But in order to create something it’s necessary to borrow from another’s piece of work–and it just so happens that it makes much better reading and a much more effective criticism if you can really lace into the other guy and tear him apart. After you’ve said, it’s good, it’s great, it’s wonderful, what else can you say? Of course, there are many, many, very sensitive critics in all fields of the arts who are able to come up with some very meaningful criticisms which do add to a piece of work but, by and large, the average run of the mill critique of any art is a cannibalism. So I sort of accept that unfavorable stuff in the same spirit that it is given–I don’t pay much attention to it. I believe the best piece of criticism that I can read regarding my books are my royalty statements.
But there are some valid criticisms about my books which perhaps I should try to answer. It has been said that the books are hastily put together. Haste is a relative term. For a person whose normal writing speed is three or four pages a day or perhaps three or four paragraphs a day, then to put out a full length novel in thirty to sixty days is absolutely a hastily done piece of work.
I average about ten pages a day and I could do double that amount. I have done double that amount, many times. But yes, at some cost to the work. But I suppose that I sweat and agonize over my phrases just as much as any writer who has ever lived. I change, rewrite, revise, carry on as though I was writing the great American novel. I work very conscientiously and with very great pains to put together prose that is easily assailable. I have adopted a sort of conversational style in my writing in these Executioner books, particularly. I try to write more or less as people speak and yet to do so in such a way that there is no ambiguity as to the meaning of what I’m saying. I don’t concentrate on the fine points of grammar. When we run across people in everyday life who are speaking in precise grammatical terms they invariably come off sounding affected, stilted, and I certainly don’t want to write in that fashion.
I know all the rules of sentence structure, use of words, but hell, I’m not writing grammar books. I’m writing fiction. I’m trying to write very hard-hitting, very suspenseful, edge of the seat, eye-ball jerking fiction. I don’t priss around my study with a dictionary in my hand, a thesaurus on my hip, nor do I have a word usage chart on my wall. I’m continually working toward the fast moving, the fast flowing, the evocative, the shocking. I’m trying to keep the reader hooked, page by page, by page. This is my approach. Now to someone who wishes to sit down and tear apart this type of writing, it is the easiest thing to do. I would only like to point out that we can sit down with any of the great works of literature and if we are looking for the weak points, if we are looking for the points where the author had not followed every little rule, yes, we can tear it apart. We can tear Charles Dickens right down to the bone. We could make Ernest Hemingway look like a sixth grade drop-out. It’s not the guys who write by the book who write the books that sell–books that become meaningful. It’s by and large, the guys who say to hell with what I’m supposed to do–this is the way I see it should be done.
I frequently invent words. There are many, many invented words in the Executioner series. I’m not afraid to invent words. The people who compile our dictionaries are constantly working adding new pages to the dictionary. They have to do that because there are people in the world who aren’t afraid to invent new words.
As far as the rules for writing literature–there are no rules. I don’t believe any man ever sat down at a typewriter and began writing a book and did, indeed, manage to write a book that was worthy of being published that followed some sort of formula set down by someone else on how to write the book.
What I regard as my last word to the critics is simply this: No national critic ever noticed the Executioner books until they had become nationwide best sellers. My pitch was made to the readers and the readers responded. If the critics want to come along now and notice me simply because I forced them to notice me by the wide sales of the books, then they can say whatever they please. I simply don’t give a damn. However, if they are going to discuss the books in print, I don’t think it would be unreasonable of an author to ask that they do read the book before they attempt to criticize it. They shouldn’t simply turn to page thirty and pick out a couple to sentences to criticize and then turn to page ninety and then pick out a couple more sentences and call that a criticism of the work.
Don was correct in saying that his readers are who mattered. After all, they are the ones buying the books and coming back for more. Forty years later Don Pendleton's fictional hero, Mack Bolan is still alive and kicking.... The Executioner Series has had at least three generations of readers now. It may be four generations in some cases, as I recall in about 1985 when he did a booksigning at the Pentagon, there was an Air Force Officer who told us his father and son were fans. His son was in Air Force also. So by this time...that Officer's son may have children who are reading the books. I say children because the fans of the books have always included young and older women, along with the boys and men. Everyone loves a hero.
And before I'm asked, no, movies have not been made. I still have hopes that some day Mack Bolan the Executioner may make it to the big screen. When it happens, I hope we recognize him.
The drawing of Mack Bolan was commissioned by Don in 1975 and was done by a young talented artist, Mike Cagle of Indiana.
© Copyright Don Pendleton, Linda Pendleton.