PW: Bad News is the first Dortmunder book in five years. Why that long?
DW: Some years ago my agent, my editor, my wife and myself agreed that I would write about Dortmunder every third book. When writers have a continuing character, there's a great tendency to visit him too often. After a while there's not much story anymore, there's just shtick. I didn't want to do that to Dortmunder. So I decided every third book and the other two books will be something else. When it took a long time to find a novel to follow The Ax, I finally said, the hell with it, I'm just gonna write about John Dortmunder because I can always do that. So I started Bad News and was halfway through when I thought of The Hook [a standalone novel published in 2000]. I put Bad News away and only finished it after writing The Hook. So the five years was not John's fault, it was The Ax's fault.
PW: In the first line of Bad News you say, "John Dortmunder was a man on whom the sun shone only when he needed darkness." That really sums him up, doesn't it? Poor Dortmunder, he starts these scams and he thinks they're going to be so simple.
DW: Yeah, well, whenever anybody describes him as bumbling or inept, that's not the way I think of him. As you go through life you may say, well, the best that could happen is this and the worst that could happen is that. And most of us kind of go along in the middle. With John, whatever's the worst is what's going to happen. What I think of him as is dogged. He picks himself up and keeps going because what else are you gonna do?
PW: He has great ideas, but they don't always work out.
DW: In one book I quoted Damon Runyon's line, "All of life is 6 to 5 against." And I said, "John Dortmunder would kill to get those odds!"
PW: I hear that the previous Dortmunder book, What's the Worst That Could Happen?, has been made into a film.
DW: Yeah, it was shot last fall. Sometimes the casting of characters turns out to be a complete surprise to me. The first time this sort of thing happened to me was under my other name of Richard Stark. There was a movie in 1967 called Point Blank with Lee Marvin who played my guy Parker, and then there was a movie called Split in which Jim Brown played Parker, and then Jean-Luc Godard took one of the other ones and made a movie in France in which he changed everything around and turned Parker into a girl reporter. At that point, a friend of mine said, "So far Parker has been played by a white man, a black man, and a woman. I think the character lacks definition!" This time Dortmunder is played by Martin Lawrence. So now Dortmunder has been played by a few white men and one black man, and I'm looking forward to Linda Fiorentino!
PW: What are you doing next?
DW: For years, I've thought that the interface between politics and crime has always been Watergate. And I've sort of tiptoed around that thing. How could I get my kind of people involved in something like that? So what I'm doing now is writing about a guy whose world is the criminal world and getting him involved with politicians. It begins with my guy being held in a federal jail, and he's really upset because he wasn't trying to commit a federal crime. He doesn't mind state prisons, but he just doesn't like the federal thing at all. He thought that truck was full of computer chips and it turned out to be full of registered mail.